Much of this material was originally published with the title “Christian Science Monitor columnist versus Israel” by the Jewish Advocate weekly newspaper on April 7, 2017.
The Christian Science Monitor, a weekly news magazine, is published by The First Church of Christ Scientist, that was founded in Boston in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy. The Church is generally not considered a part of normative Christianity. Other than a column in every issue based on Eddy’s teachings, the glitzy magazine is similar in philosophy and content to that of much of the news media, including the acceptance of the Palestinian victimization narrative.
A Feb. 20, 2017 CSM commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was probably driven by that part of the narrative that falsely claims that the main obstacle to a peace agreement (with the West Bank Palestinians) is the existence of Jewish communities (settlements). CSM executive columnist John Yemma’s attempt at balance falls flat. As a result, the prestigious magazine’s readership – purportedly millions of online visitors and thousands of print readers – was ill-served. Examining claims by Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to the West Bank – also known as Judea and Samaria – Yemma asks, “What decides a claim on land?” Yemma presents himself as unsure. His omission of important details ensures that readers will also be unsure.
Inaccurately applying Geneva Convention
Criticizing Israel, Yemma writes, “Under the Geneva Conventions which Israel has signed, an occupying power cannot transfer its population onto occupied territory.” But Israel has not “transferred” any citizens into the territory. Rather, Israelis have voluntarily relocated to the West Bank, for a variety of reasons, ranging from religious ones to a lower cost of living. The distinction is, of course, important. So too is the definition of occupied territory.
A Legal basis for the existence of West Bank Jewish communities
Even if the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, paragraph 6 provision referred to here, is prejudicially interpreted to encompass individual voluntary actions of Israeli civilians, another legal hurdle exists. A key prior document that legally enabled the settlement enterprise would have to be unjustifiably deemed null and void.
That document is the 1922 League of Nations Palestine Mandate, Article 6, which laid down the Jewish legal rights in Palestine and encourages “close settlement by Jews on the land” west of the Jordan River (the heartland of ancient Israel). This covered not only what was to become Israel in 1948 but also the West Bank (and Gaza Strip, though Israel chose to withdraw from that area in 2005).
Moreover, the Mandate, including Article 6, is upheld by the 1945 U.N. Charter, Chapter XII (International Trusteeship System), Article 80, which states that nothing in it shall “alter in any manner whatsoever the rights of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international agreements” to which U.N. members may be parties.
Inaccurately characterizing 19th century population movement
Equally problematic is the columnist’s claim that “Palestinian families were well established throughout the Holy Land when the Zionist settlement movement began in the late 19th century.” This is disputed by scholars (Joan Peters in “From Time Immemorial,” among others) who have shown that most of those who today identify as Palestinians descend from relatively recent migrations from surrounding territories. In fact, it’s likely that the Arab population began to blossom only well after the beginning of substantial Jewish immigration in the 19th century.
Falsely equating rights
Another major problem is an invalid equating of Palestinian rights to the land with Israeli rights to the land on the basis of ancestry. The idea, as presented by Yemma, that today’s Palestinian Arabs could have descended from the ancient Philistines “among other peoples” [Canaanites] is historical fantasy. Both the non-Arab Philistines and non-Arab Canaanites were destroyed – disappearing from history millennia ago, with no evidence of survivors.
By contrast, there is a continuous Jewish diaspora history from the Roman expulsions to the rebirth of Israel as a Jewish state, ample archeological evidence and biological evidence (for example, the DNA findings of geneticist Doron Behar and colleagues) indicating a likelihood for both Jewish genealogical continuity and Middle East origins for the vast majority of the world’s Jews including, of course, today’s Israelis. Consider that while today’s Israeli Jews speak the same language (Hebrew) and worship the same God (of the Bible) as the ancient Israelis, Palestinian Arabs neither speak the language nor worship the gods of the ancient Philistines or Canaanites.
Concerning these points, Yemma concludes, “So what decides a claim to the land – international law, possession, antiquity? Palestinians and Israelis can cancel each other out on all of those points.” Not exactly.
Flight from reality
Those who believe that the existence of Jewish settlements (constituting no more than six percent of the land mass of the West Bank which is ancient Israel’s heartland) is a major obstacle to a peace agreement are in a flight from reality. The Jewish state’s Arab neighbors had long sought the destruction of Israel prior to the initiation of the settlements enterprise in 1967 resulting from Israel’s success in a war of self-defense.
CSM fails to address genuine obstacles to a peace agreement. The Palestinian Authority insists on various conditions unlikely to be accepted by any Israeli government before peace negotiations can take place, including Israel abiding by Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (evidently 22 Arab Muslim states is fine but one Jewish state is one too many) and Israel’s acceptance of a “right of return” (that does not exist in international law) for millions of Arabs (nearly all of whom have never lived in Israel), which would inevitably result in the Jewish state becoming unviable.
Additionally, there is the recurring violence incited by longstanding and relentless anti-Israel and anti-Jewish invective from Palestinian media, mosques and schools. Such incitement to violence violates Article 26 (2) of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In
contrast, no such incitement to violence or hatred against Arabs exists in mainstream Jewish society that is analogous to that found in Palestinian society. For example, the Palestinian Arabs (and their anti-Israel supporters) demand a Jew-free West Bank. Israel’s mainstream makes no such demand to remove Arab residents within Israel.
The recent Palestinian violence – a year-long spate of stabbings, shootings and car rammings has been fueled by daily Palestinian incitement against Jews by Palestinian Authority (PA) officials who honor
and praise their acts of violence. The most recent wave of terror began around the time that an incendiary declaration was broadcast to Palestinians by PA controlled media. Among the sources reporting on this matter was the Wall Street Journal
on Oct. 18, 2015: “Mr. Abbas, the PA president, said the following on Palestinian television on Sept. 16: ‘We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.'”
Abbas has insisted that the recent Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis is a natural consequence of despair but the evidence shows that Palestinian incitement plays a major part in the phenomenon. The upshot is the incendiary attitude of Palestinians as a society towards their Jewish neighbors. For example, a December 2015 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) showed that a majority of Palestinians favor violence against Israelis.
Why does CSM ignore this?
How did CSM react to CAMERA’s submission challenging the Feb. 20, 2017 column? It denied that Yemma’s commentary was unfair, declining to provide its readers with CAMERA’s commentary. In fact, the only response printed is a bizarre letter
that objects to use of the term “Holy Land” on the grounds that it slights “Mecca and Medina, lands holy to Islam,” the “aboriginal people of Hawaii,” and the “entire planet.”
problematic history of commentary about the Jewish state includes a Yemma writing
in 1985 that purveyed anti-Israel propaganda regarding the influence of Jewish groups; a 2016 piece
containing a series of prejudicial, anti-Israel items; a 2014 piece
containing numerous factual errors and distortions; a 2013 piece
containing serious errors about the conflict with Hamas; a 2010 piece
falsely denying Jewish history and heritage in Israel and the West Bank.
The time is long overdue for the Christian Science Monitor to come to terms with history and today’s reality concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.