Haifa, History and the New York Times

The New York Times seems to be allergic to the facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as if reporting the truth will cause a life-threatening medical crisis. The latest example is Diaa Hadid’s In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms, which despite its serious flaws is still worth reading.

Hadid’s report is about the presence in Haifa of, as she puts it, a “self-consciously Arab milieu that is secular, feminist and gay-friendly.” One of the Haifa residents interviewed by Hadid adds that:

Haifa is a center for Arabs, like Tel Aviv is a center for Jews. There is a cultural movement. There is a youth movement. There’s a kind of freedom here. We have our own parties. Our own places. Our own discos. We dance. We drink. We do it all in Arabic. This all began in Haifa.

While neither Hadid nor those she interviews can quite admit it, this oasis of tolerance in the roiling, war-torn Middle East could only happen in Israel. There is nothing like it in any Arab country, nor has there ever been. Perhaps unintentionally, Hadid gives it away when she writes that many of the avante-garde Arab shops and cafes are on Ben Gurion Boulevard.
In the entire Middle East it is only in Israel, protected by the Israeli army and Israeli police and Israeli laws and Israeli courts, that Arabs can enjoy Western levels of tolerance, freedom and security.
Besides the glaring omission of this crucial fact, there are a number of other serious problems with Hadid’s article, as exemplified in this telling paragraph:

For some, the blossoming Palestinian scene in Haifa is reminiscent of the city during British rule, when a lively Arab cultural life flourished. Much of that ended in 1948 with the war in which Israel was established, when Arabs fled, or were forced to leave, their homes in many cities, including in Haifa, said Mustafa Kabha, a lecturer in Palestinian history at the Open University of Israel.

Was Israel “established” by war? Not at all – Israel was established by a vote of the United Nations. Indeed, General Assembly Resolution 181, passed in 1947, called for partition of the land of the British Mandate for Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Despite serious reservations, the Jews accepted the resolution, while the Arabs rejected it and promised to go to war to destroy Israel.

Arabs invade Israel declared its independence at midnight on May 14, 1948, as the Palestine Mandate ended and remaining British forces withdrew. The next day five Arab armies along with Palestinian militias launched an all out war against the new state. It might be a good idea for Times editors and reporters to review articles in their own paper from those days, for example the one at left about the day the Arabs started the war.

So Israel wasn’t established by war in 1948, it survived an Arab war which tried to destroy it, after it had declared its independence and was recognized by both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Arab war against Israel was a violation of both UN Resolution 181 and the United Nations Charter, which calls upon member nations to:

… settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. (Article 2, Paragraph 3)
… refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. (Article 2, Paragraph 4)

To put it plainly, no illegal Arab war against Israel, no Palestinian refugee problem. Had the Arabs accepted the UN Partition Plan, there would today be a 67-year-old Palestinian state next to Israel.

Moreover, is it true that as a result of the war “Arabs fled, or were forced to leave, their homes in many cities, including in Haifa …”?

In fact, contrary to Hadid’s implication, the Arab exodus from Haifa was voluntary, to the amazement of British officers and Jewish town leaders, who pleaded with the Arabs to stay. Here’s how Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris describes it, in his book 1948 and After:

Under British mediation, the [Israeli leadership agreed to a ceasefire], offering what the British regarded as generous terms. But then, when faced with Moslem pressure, the largely Christian leadership got cold feet; a ceasefire meant surrender and implied readiness to live under Jewish rule. They would be open to charges of collaboration and treachery. So, to the astonishment of the British and the Jewish military and political leaders gathered on the afternoon of 22 April at the Haifa town hall, the Arab delegation announced that its community would evacuate the city.
The Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, and the British commander, Major-General Hugh Stockwell, pleaded with the Arabs to reconsider … but the Arabs were unmoved … (Morris, p 20)

These facts, which the Times ignored in its article and which it and other media generally ignore, are not just of historical interest – they are absolutely crucial to peace. Because if the Arabs continue to convince themselves, and teach their children, that Israel caused the refugee problem, that the Palestinians and the Arabs are blameless victims, and that UN Resolutions establish, for example, a “right of return” which Israel has somehow been allowed to flout, their sense of injustice and righteous anger will never allow them to make the difficult concessions that are crucial for a real, lasting peace.

Only when the Palestinians and the Arab world realize and accept their own culpability, their own substantial share of the blame for what has happened, will peace be possible. Those, like Diaa Hadid, and the Times generally, who assist the Palestinians to avoid that day of reckoning succeed only in nurturing grievance and perpetuating conflict.

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