The following guest column was printed in the Brookline Tab on October 4, 2007.
Facts are the only path to peace
The controversy over Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh's recent appearance at Brookline High School reinforces once more the importance of hewing to factual accuracy and avoiding propaganda in discussions about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many in the community were outraged that the town offered the use of its facilities to Qumsiyeh so that he could present his erroneous account of the conflict. He has all too often resorted to false claims in order to cast Israel in the most vicious terms while absolving the Palestinians of any responsibility for their current circumstances. The facts matter in any worthwhile exchange of views and they do not support his many extreme contentions. As Alan Dershowitz has stated, "Peace can't be built on a foundation of lies."
People listening to Qumsiyeh should remember that there could have been a Palestinian state today about to celebrate its 60th anniversary. But in 1947, the Palestinians rejected a two-state solution proposed by the UN in which they would live side-by-side in peace with Israel. In 2000, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat again rejected Israel's offer to hand over 95 percent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to form a Palestinian state. Instead he unleashed the deadly second Intifada.
Regrettably, Palestinians have been taught such rejection of compromise by their schools, media, mosques and political leadership, which paint the Jewish people as interlopers in the region to be expelled. Nowhere has the Palestinian political leadership sought to convey to its constituency that the Jewish state is a legitimate nation with deep historical and religious roots in the region.
In characteristically loaded language, Qumsiyeh accuses Israel of "ethnically cleansing" the Palestinians to make room for Jews, but demographic realities reveal the absurdity of this charge. The Palestinian population growth rate has been among the highest in the world since Israel's founding. Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza have grown from 947,000 in 1967 when Israel took control to a current figure approaching four million.
One reason for the striking growth is the dramatic improvement in living standards since Israel began administering these territories. In 1967, few Palestinians had access to clean water. Today, 96 percent do. Since 1967, the average Palestinian life-span has increased from 48 to 72 years. According to the World Health Organization, Palestinians enjoy better health than their fellow Arabs in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Infant and maternal mortality rates as well as childhood disease levels are among the lowest in the region. Literacy rates are the highest among Arab states.
Palestinians have repeatedly sacrificed positive economic developments in the battle against Israel, making choices that have brought hardship. This is evident in their resorting to violence in the second Intifada in September 2000. Just as the economy of the West Bank and Gaza appeared to be recovering once more from the effects of the second Intifada, in January 2006, Palestinians gave a plurality of votes to the Islamist terror group Hamas, again sacrificing prospects for improved living conditions to uncompromising ideological goals.
All too many Palestinians cling to absolutist demands that would place the survival of Israel in jeopardy. For instance, Qumsiyeh disingenuously insists that Israel shed Zionism and "become a country for people of all religions rather than a country for and by Jews." Yet, Israel allows all its citizens the most freedoms of any state in the region. Its Arab citizens are the only Arabs in the Middle East to participate in free elections unfettered by religious stipulations. He makes no similar demand on the 22 Arab nations, most of which elevate Islam above other religions and frequently discriminate against non-Muslims.
Qumsiyeh denies established historical facts. In an article published for the World Economic Forum in 2006, he claimed Israel "initiated the 1967 Six-Day War in order to acquire more land," a view at odds with the historical record of Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian belligerence. He also accuses Israel of building its security barrier to cut-off Palestinian towns. In reality most of the barrier lies close to the line dividing Israel and the West Bank where it has served to block terrorist infiltration, reducing the number of Israelis killed by terrorists from 452 in 2002 to 27 in 2006.
So deceptive was Qumsiyeh's article that the Forum's executive director Klaus Schwab felt compelled to publicly repudiate it, stating: "This article is totally in contradiction to my own and the Forum's mission and values."
Those who deplore offering public facilities to Mazin Qumsiyeh and others who promote misinformation and propaganda are not, as he claims, simply refusing to engage in dialogue or seeking to silence opposing viewpoints. Rather they recognize that dialogue is futile if one side relies on falsehoods to advance its arguments.