The Baltimore Sun opinion column, Nonviolent protest nothing new in the Middle East (March 7) by Kimberly Katz, an associate professor of Middle East history at Towson University, is a misleading, repeatedly erroneous polemic.
Katz promotes the film “Budrus,” about a West Bank village whose residents have protested the route of Israel’s security barrier. She claims it is an example the kind of non-violent demonstrations seen in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries. To do so she implies that a local exception to Palestinian terrorism is representative. The professor also repeatedly — if unacademically — omits or distorts pertinent facts.
Among other things, Ms. Katz:
1) Implies Arab rebellions against autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere are large-scale versions of protests against the Israeli security barrier in the village of Budrus. This amounts to rhetorical hijacking. The long-ruling, corrupt Fatah movement in the West Bank, repressive when necessary (including restricting demonstrations in support of Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt), reflects the region’s besieged Arab autocrats. Hamas in the Gaza Strip echoes its Islamist sponsors in Iran, the latter widely unpopular at home.
Instead of attempting to conscript mass protests against corrupt dictatorships in Arab countries to argue an anti-Israel propaganda point, Katz more profitably might have considered the incessant anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish incitement in official Palestinian Authority communications media, school curricula and mosques in the West Bank, and similar indoctrination by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. A few days after Katz’s “Nonviolent protest” Op-Ed appeared, terrorists butchered five members of a Jewish family in the community of Itamar, near Nablus. Celebrated in Gaza, the murders followed the repeated airing by PA TV in the West Bank of a tribute to, among others, the killer of three high school students in Itamar in 2002.
2) Refers to “Israel’s creeping, self-described security fence …”
Any “creeping” the West Bank security barrier has done is in reverse. Originally planned to encompass approximately 12 percent of the territory, it has been re-routed by the Israeli military in response to Israeli Supreme Court decisions in cases brought by Palestinian Arabs to include less than eight percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the barrier.
As for “self-described” security fence, Katz omits basic historical cause-and-effect: The barrier was constructed in response to the “al-Aqsa intifada,” the 2000 – 2004 Palestinian terror war in which more than 1,000 Israelis — Jewish and Arabs, more than three-fourths of them non-combatants — and foreign visitors were murdered, most by Palestinian terrorists crossing unimpeded from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Neither does she does acknowledge that the barrier’s partial completion has contributed significantly to the roughly 95 percent decrease in lethal attacks from the area.
3) Claims Palestinian Arabs of Budrus, and, by implication, elsewhere “in the Israeli-occupied West Bank” have “lived under Israel’s brutal occupation since 1967 ….”
From 1967 to the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, Palestinian standards of living including electrification, number of health clinics and schools, infant survival rates and so on jumped dramatically over those under Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip from 1948 – 1967. After the 1993 Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Oslo accords, the West Bank and Gaza experienced an economic boom. A 2005 U.N. study, using data from 2003 — even after more than two years of “al-Aqsa” or second intifada fighting — found Palestinian Arabs with higher living standards than Arabs in Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen, and not far behind those in Tunisia and Jordan.
4) Alleges that “for Palestinians, the peace process has been marked by the loss of land and water resources, leading to an increasingly insecure economic situation, threats to their physical safety, and mass detentions and imprisonment.”
In 2005, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza. On the West Bank, virtually no privately-owned Arab land has been lost; post-‘67 Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria comprise little more than four percent of the territory and have been built almost exclusively on property that was state land under Ottoman, British, Jordanian and now Israeli administration or property purchased from private owners. Water resources available to West Bank Arabs have increased under Israeli management; from 1967 to 1995, Palestinian water use on the West Bank rose 640 percent, largely because Israel drilled or permitted the drilling of more than 50 deep wells into previously untapped or under-used aquifers. Today, rather than losing water to Israelis, Palestinian Arabs receive about 40 million cubic meters of water annually from Israel.
Threats to the physical safety of West Bank Arabs in recent years have come mainly from Palestinian criminals and, to Arab Christians in particular, from Islamic extremists. Improved cooperation between the Israeli military and Palestinian security forces has resulted in lower crime rates and help undergird renewed economic growth in the West Bank. Of course, Palestinians in the West Bank who protest against the ruling Fatah party, or in Gaza against Hamas, do find their safety compromised.
“Mass detentions and imprisonment”? Israel does hold several thousand Palestinian terrorists and terrorism suspects. That’s the result of tens of thousands of attacks and attempted attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Tanzim and a dozen other groups Katz never mentions but who employ what she disingenuously refers to as “violent means to protest and resist the injustices and excesses of the occupation.” These groups’ primary means are, of course, attacks against civilians. Such assaults have been condemned out of hand by figures including Pope John Paul II and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and are considered crimes against humanity under international law.
5) Declares that the Arab residents of Budrus and the rest of the West Bank have experienced “the ultimate failure of the 1987 Palestinian intifada” and that the ‘93 Oslo accords and subsequent “peace process” were “all process and no peace.”
a) Katz is conspicuously silent about the fact that in the five years immediately following the Oslo agreements, as many Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorists as in the 15 years prior to the “peace process.” That is, the PLO and its peace process-created governing offspring, the Palestinian Authority, failed to implement their pledge to end anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement and violence and resolve disputes through negotiations.
b) Likewise, the professor does not mention that had the PLO/PA wished to end Israel’s “brutal occupation,” it could have upheld its ‘93 commitments and gone to negotiations for a final status agreement in 1998, as envisioned by Oslo. Or, the PLO/PA could have accepted the 2000 or 2001 Israeli-U.S. proposals for a new Palestinian state on more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace. Or, Palestinian leaders could have agreed to the 2008 Israeli proposal for such a state on 98 percent of the territories. They did not and again Prof. Katz remains evasively and manipulatively silent.
6) Refers to Israel’s “illegal settlement building” and “the occupied West Bank.”
A professor of Middle East history, in contrast to an anti-Israeli polemicist, would be expected to know that “close Jewish settlement on the land” west of the Jordan River, in particular on state lands, was encouraged by the League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate, Article 6; that the United States subscribed to the Mandate as part of the 1924 Anglo-American Convention; that the 1945 U.N. Charter Article 80, “the Palestine article,” upholds the Mandate’s Article 6; and that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), a cornerstone of subsequent Arab-Israeli diplomacy, by not calling for complete Israeli withdrawal, recognizes that Jews as well as Arabs have claims in the disputed territories to be resolved through negotiations. Katz’s unqualified references to “the Israeli-occupied West Bank” obscure the fact that Israel, having gained the territory in successful self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War and retained it similarly in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, remains the legal military occupational authority — though the Palestinian Authority exercises day-to-day rule of the Arab residents — pending a negotiated agreement according to Resolutions 242 and 338 (1973).
7) Misleadingly says that “in the late 1980s, Palestinian youths used slingshots in street confrontations with Israeli soldiers in full riot gear while the Israeli army turned its military might on these ‘Children of the Stones,’ as Palestinian popular discourse came to describe them.”
“Children of the Stones” was a propaganda phrase favored by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, among others, to describe those at the front of demonstrations often organized or coopted by adults and that included, further back, gunmen. Israel turned a portion of its military might on Hamas in the Gaza Strip in December, 2008 and January, 2009 in response to thousands of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli villages and towns. By contrast, its response to the “first intifada” of late 1987 to 1992 was ad hoc, hesitant, and relied often on reservists not trained for police or counter-terrorism. Though the professor doesn’t say so, the first intifada was incited by the newly-coalescing Hamas in the Gaza Strip and extended by the PLO, which jumped on the bandwagon.
Though one might not learn it from the one-sided film praised by the professor, Israel officials want to resolve the issue of access to agricultural land around Budrus in a way that permits improved passage through the barrier by villagers while maintaining Israeli security, just as they have done elsewhere with transit gates for those with legitimate business.
CAMERA previously has cited the observation attributed to Professor and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. In the case of Prof. Katz, Towson University and The Baltimore Sun should remember Senator Moynihan’s words.