In The Washington Post, the Truth Zahi Khouri Ignores

The Washington Post‘s August 9 Op-Ed, “The Palestine Romney Doesn’t Know,” is yet another in a string of factually inaccurate and misleading guest columns on Arab-Israeli matters. Contributor Zahi Khouri reiterates the same litany of excuses which seek to spare Palestinian Arabs any responsibility for their situation.
As their leaders lay the groundwork for another potential unilateral bid for statehood at the United Nations, some Palestinian Arabs refuse to acknowledge the culture of hatred and death their leadership propagates and celebrates. That leadership includes Hamas, a terrorist group sworn to Islamic domination and genocide of the Jews and Fatah, a corrupt group that steals from its own people and repeatedly rejects negotiations for a two-state solution. While challenges abound in the Middle East for all, it is time for Palestinian Arab leaders, including business leaders like Zahi Khouri, to begin telling the truth.
Israel did NOT steal Palestine and Palestinian culture
Khouri writes that:
Thanks to a deal struck with the British viceroys of Mandate Palestine, [Israel] made away with a land, a set of institutions and, indeed, a [Palestinian] culture that was not its own.

It must first be noted that under international law the Jewish people have a recognized right to the State of Israel. Furthermore, there was never an independent Palestinian political entity, much less a state. Historian Eli Hertz writes:

In a report by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan for the year 1938, the British made it clear: Palestine is not a State, it is the name of a geographical area.
During the next 2,000 years Palestine was never an independent state belonging to any people, nor did a Palestinian people distinct from other Arabs appear during 1,300 years of Muslim hegemony in Palestine under Arab and Ottoman rule. During that rule, local Arabs were actually considered part of, and subject to, the authority of Greater Syria (Suriyya al-Kubra).

Indeed, there was never historically a distinct Palestinian people or culture. As CAMERA observed, “the lack of a distinctive Palestinian national identity apart from the wider Arab identity has been argued by many Arabs themselves,” quoting late author and scholar Marie Syrkin’s 1970’s essay:

The characterization of Palestinian nationalism as ‘artificial’ does not come from Zionist adversaries but from classic Arab sources. In the period before and after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration Arab nationalists consistently protested the use of the name ‘Palestine’ or the adjective ‘Palestinian’ to demark them from other Arabs in the region. All the declarations for the nascent Arab nationalist movement from 1880 on concentrated on ‘the unity of Syria’ with no references to Palestine as other than ‘south Syria.’ Nothing could be more explicit than the statement of the General Syrian Congress in 1919: ‘We ask that there should be no separation of the southern part of Syria, known as Palestine, nor of the littoral western zone which includes Lebanon, from the Syrian country. We desire that the unity of the country should be guaranteed against partition under whatever circumstances….
George Antonius, the Arab historian, makes sure that there will be no misunderstanding on this score. In The Arab Awakening (1939), he writes: ‘Except where otherwise specified the term Syria will be used to denote the whole of the country of that name which is now split up into mandated territories of (French) Syria and the Lebanon, and (British) Palestine and Transjordan.’
The extremist Mufti of Jerusalem originally opposed the Palestine Mandate on the grounds that it separated Palestine from Syria; he emphasized that there was no difference between Palestinian and Syrian Arabs in national characteristics or group life. As late as May, 1947, Arab representatives reminded the United Nations in a formal statement that ‘Palestine was… part of the Province of Syria… Politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity…. (The Palestinians People, History, Politics; edited by Curtis, Neyer, Waxman and Pollack; 1975, p. 200)
Most Palestinian Arabs had NOT lived in what is now Israel for centuries
Khouri states, “we had to abandon our successful businesses and centuries-old homes.” Though some Arabs had certainly resided there for centuries, as had some Jews, the territory of “Palestine” was sparsely populated for centuries. In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote of the region:
A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.

Many Arabs migrated from other parts of the Ottoman Empire and into British Mandatory Palestine when an influx of Zionist Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought capital and technology and, with those, economic development. Scholars have shown through demographic analysis that:

Consequential immigration of Arabs into and within Palestine occurred during the Ottoman and British mandatory periods. Among the most compelling arguments in support of such immigration is the universally acknowledged and practiced linkage between regional economic disparities and migratory impulses.

Palestinian Arabs were NOT forced to leave Israel in 1948
Khouri asserts:

Like more than three-quarters of Palestine’s population, my family was forced to leave this land after Israel’s creation in 1948.

Though some Arabs were undoubtedly pushed out, many fled the fighting as refugees flee conflict around the globe to this day. Furthermore, as CAMERA reported:

Arab leaders urged them to go, including Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as Said who said, “We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.” (Quoted in Myron Kaufman, The Coming Destruction of Israel, NY: The American Library Inc., 1970, pp. 26-27)

Palestinians in other Arab states have NOT “been a force for hope, development and prosperity”
In Khouri’s account:

Most of us went to other Arab countries, where Palestinians became known for our business acumen and management know-how, and helped to build nascent private and public sectors. Ask our fellow Arabs in Lebanon, Jordan or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region and they will tell you: Palestinian culture, with its premium on education and hard work, has been a force for hope, development and prosperity.

Sadly, Palestinian Arabs have not been treated with respect by their Arab brothers.
In Lebanon, basic human rights are denied to Palestinian Arabs. They are legally prohibited from high-status professions including law, medicine, pharmacy and engineering, excluded by law from owning real estate, denied civil identity registration and with it access to basic health services, education, civil, social and economic rights, registration of marriages and registration of newborns. The Lebanese army severely restricts Palestinian refugee camps where curfews are in place, where residents pass through military checkpoints, and where walls are being constructed, isolating them from their surroundings. Palestinian Arabs have been subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture and denied legal representation.
In Jordan, Palestinian Arabs have encountered discrimination and many are treated as foreigners and required to pay fees in foreign currency, making it difficult to enroll in Jordanian universities. Career options of Palestinians are limited to the private sector, access to decision making circles and state institutions is denied. Though the Jordanian regimehas said it will cease the practice, many Jordanian citizens of Palestinian descent continue to be stripped of their citizenship, and with it numerous rights.
And in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait which brought about the first Iraq war, Palestinian Arabs were ejected from the states of the Persian Gulf region.
The U.S.-sponsored peace process has NOT been detrimental to Palestinian Arabs
According to Khouri, “the U.S.-sponsored peace process has made us poorer.” In fact, the U.S.-sponsored peace process could have brought about Palestinian statehood on several occasions, had Israeli proposals not been rejected by Palestinian leaders.
Furthermore, Palestinian Arabs have thrived under what Khouri calls “Israeli’s brutal occupation.” Their standard of living vastly improved, compared to what it had been under Egyptian and Jordanian occupation. In an article in Commentary Magazine written in 2002, historian Efraim Karsh described the reality:
During the 1970’s, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world — ahead of such “wonders” as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself.
Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians also made vast progress in social welfare. Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the West Bank and Gaza fell by more than two-thirds between 1970 and 1990, while life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared with an average of 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa). Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000 (in Iraq the rate is 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23, in Syria 22). And under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated.
No less remarkable were advances in the Palestinians’ standard of living. By 1986, 92.8 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had electricity around the clock, as compared to 20.5 percent in 1967; 85 percent had running water in dwellings, as compared to 16 percent in 1967; 83.5 percent had electric or gas ranges for cooking, as compared to 4 percent in 1967; and so on for refrigerators, televisions, and cars.
Israel does NOT “commandeer” Palestinian Arab water
In Khouri’s view, “Every resource — water, land, soil, minerals, airspace, humans — is controlled and commandeered by Israel, which then deigns to sell us back a small portion.”
The truth is quite different. On water, CAMERA reported:

Every year over 40 MCM (million cubic meters) of water from sources within Israel is piped over the Green Line for Palestinian use in the West Bank. Ramallah, for example, receives over 10 MCM annually. And despite the virtual declaration of war against Israel by the Hamas rulers of Gaza, Israel still sends to Gaza over 4 MCM of Israeli water annually. Thus, it is the Palestinians who are using Israeli water.

CAMERA further noted:

In 1967 total Palestinian usage in the West Bank was 60 MCM, amounting to a per capita annual usage of 85.7 CM, while in 2006 total usage had tripled to 180 MCM, amounting to a per capita annual usage of 100 CM (see “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” Israel Water Authority, 2009; p 15)
This huge jump in Palestinian consumption was possible only because Israel drilled or permitted the drilling of over 50 new wells for the Palestinian population, laid hundreds of kilometers of new water mains and connected hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns to the newly built water system, and supplied Israeli water to the Palestinians through this new system. (Background: Water, Israel and the Middle East, Israel Foreign Ministry 1991; Marcia Drezon-Tepler, Contested Waters and the Prospects for Arab-Israeli Peace, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 30, No. 2, April 1994)

It is impossible to adequately dispute all of Khouri’s falsehoods and fill in his mendacious omissions in this space. But The Washington Post could have, with the most perfunctory fact-checking, identified enough to have disqualified this polemic. Traditional journalism standards call for commentary to be based on fact. This Post Op-Ed did not begin to measure up.

Comments are closed.