Cooked Up Charges Against Israel

Jonathan Cook, a free-lance writer whose tendentious articles charging Israel with gross wrongdoing frequently appear in Egypt’s Al-Ahram, in addition to other publications in the Muslim world, has received a pass from fact-checkers at the International Herald Tribune. Editors ignored calls to review erroneous claims in a May 27 guest column by Cook which distorts the history of Palestine’s division (“A cage for Palestinians: A 1,000-kilometer fence preempts the road map”). Cook erroneously writes:

The first attempt at partitioning the land between Jews and Arabs, undertaken by the United Nations in 1947, resulted in the Palestinian majority being offered 47 percent of its historic homeland, with the rest allocated to a new Jewish state.

Based on this premise, Cook goes on to calculate the percentage of “historic Palestine’s” land divided between Israel and the Palestinians. (He states: “the Palestinians can have a state on 42 percent of the 80 percent of the 22 percent of 100 percent of their original homeland.”) The premise, however, is flawed because 1947 was not the first division of Palestine. In fact, the original land of Palestine, as determined by the League of Nations, includes what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and the entire state of Jordan. In 1922, the British severed Mandate Palestine so that nearly 80 percent of it became Transjordan (now Jordan), from which Jewish immigration was barred. Palestinian Arabs, however, were not restricted from settling in Transjordan or what was left of Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations partitioned the 20 percent of what remained of Palestine, offering Israel only about half. And, when Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950 (another partition which Cook ignores), Arabs controlled approximately 80 percent of Mandate Palestine while the Jewish state held a mere 17.5 percent. (Gaza, under illegal Egyptian occupation, was the remainder.)

Thus, with the 1947 United Nations offer, 89.4 percent of the original Mandate (comprised of Jordan and almost half of the land that was left after Jordan’s creation) would have been in Palestinian Arab hands.

Cook’s unfounded theme of Jewish usurpation of historic Palestine is further amplified with his reference to the Palestinian Arab’s “historic homeland.” He ignores, however, that the same land served as a homeland to Jews a couple thousand years before it became known as Palestine in the second century (well before the Arab conquest of the area in the seventh century). And, despite expulsions and persecution, a Jewish presence remained in Palestine from biblical times to the present.

The writer also seeks to exonerate Palestinians for their own actions which led to territorial losses. He euphemistically writes: “The Palestinians rejected the [1947 partition] plan and the ensuing war established Israel.” Why does he gloss over the fact that five Arab armies, joined by Palestinian Arabs, attacked the nascent Jewish state in a struggle to eradicate it? Had they not waged war, they would not be in a position today of negotiating for land lost in battle.

Cook further seeks to absolve Palestinians of responsibility with the blatantly misleading statement that: “The Palestinians had to wait 46 years for the next offer.” There were, in fact, opportunities to seek peace and settle land disputes, but the Arabs chose to spurn them. For example, the Lausanne Conference, convened May 1949, would have provided such an opportunity, had the Arabs not refused to even sit with the Israelis and negotiate. In addition, why didn’t the Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza when they were under Jordanian and Egyptian control, respectively, from 1948 to 1967?

In yet another attempt to portray the Palestinians as the hapless victims of Israel, Cook egregiously misstates the contents of the Oslo accords. He claims: “Under the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinians were to receive 22 percent of their homeland–the territories of the West Bank and Gaza.” This is nonsense; the Herald Tribune ignored requests to provide a citation for such a preposterous assertion. Borders was one of the issues left to final status negotiations (Article V of Declaration of Principles). If the borders were spelled out under the Oslo accords, as Cook claims, why were they included in the issues?

Moreover, he deceptively claims that the Palestinians “accepted the terms.” While the Palestinians might have accepted the terms on paper, they did not accept them in practice. Among the terms which the Palestinians regularly violated during the peace process were refraining from incitement to violence, dismantling terror groups, confiscating illegal arms, limiting the size and makeup of the Palestinian police force, and ending political activity in Jerusalem.

Finally, Cook’s language–that Palestinians are “caged” in–is indicative of a disturbing underlying assumption: that Palestinians have an incontrovertible right to enter Israel regardless of ongoing terrorism. Although Cook mocks Israel’s need to protect itself by fencing out terrorists, he ignores the fact that there was no fence until terrorism originating from the West Bank and Gaza became a threat. From the 1970s through the mid 1980s, Palestinians had unfettered access to Israel because there was little terrorism originating there during this period.

It is no wonder, then, that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign regularly features Cook’s writing on its Web site. What is startling, however, is that Tribune editors gave space to Cook’s error laden piece and refused to correct or otherwise respond to concerns about its accuracy.

CAMERA Corrects: An earlier version of this article erroneously suggested that in a June 2002 column headlined “Massacre by Israelis at Jenin So Quickly Forgotten” in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Jonathan Cook gave credence to the notion that Israel committed a massacre in Jenin. He did not accuse Israel of a massacre in Jenin; he did level other dubious charges about Israel’s actions in Jenin. Dawn‘s headline did not accurately reflect the content of Cook’s column. CAMERA regrets the error.

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