Joseph Massad’s Falsehoods, Columbia’s Embarrassment

Joseph Massad’s October 27, 2011 article “Truth, facts and facts on the ground” (Al Jazeera English) is remarkable for the sheer number of falsehoods the author, a Columbia University professor, employs to cast all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict onto a supposedly apartheid Israel, while portraying the Arabs — and the Palestinians in particular — as blameless and innocent victims.

Many of Massad’s assertions could only amaze informed observers, such as his charge that “Tel Aviv is the only Western city that does not have any Arab or Muslim inhabitants.”

Has Massad ever been, to use his term, “on the ground” in Tel Aviv? One would assume so, since no scholar would write about Tel Aviv never having been there. But how does he not know that thousands of Arab Muslims live in Tel Aviv, especially in the largely Arab neighborhood of Yafo (Jaffa)? Perhaps he will claim he meant there are no Arabs or Muslims in Tel Aviv outside of Yafo. But even excluding the residents of Yafo, there are almost 2000 other Muslims resident in the rest of Tel Aviv.

Here are the details should Professor Massad wish to go to a library and actually do some research. According to the 2009 Tel Aviv Statistical Yearbook (Table 2.21, page 92) Tel Aviv’s total population was 392,500, of which Jews and others were 375,200, and Arabs were 17,300. Of the Arabs, 15,500 lived in Quarter 7 (Yafo), meaning that 1,800 lived in the rest of Tel Aviv, amounting to more than 10% of Tel Aviv’s Arab population.

In fact, Professor Massad could have used online telephone listings to look up Arab residents of Tel Aviv, such as Mr. Musa Mochamad, who lives in the beautiful new neighborhood of Neve Sharet, not far from the Neve Sharet country club.

In other words, Professor Massad could not have been more wrong about Tel Aviv.

Moreover, if Professor Massad was outraged by the (false) idea that there are no Muslims in Tel Aviv, is he equally outraged by the fact that in Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims, Jews and Christians are not even allowed to visit, much less reside? Helpful highway signs in Saudi Arabia make this all too clear:

The same discriminatory restictions apply to Medina as well, and to the entire area around these two Saudi cities. And the prohibition is strictly enforced by the Saudi authorities, as per this report of a Christian Sri Lankan being arrested for being in Mecca. Has Professor Massad ever protested this genuine Saudi apartheid, or is he devoted to human rights only when it is a useful tool to bash Israel?

Just as bizarre as the Tel Aviv charge is Massad’s claim that in a recent speech to the United Nations the Israeli Prime Minister called for the expulsion of Israeli Arabs: “Netanyahu concludes with a call to expel the 1.6 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens.”

Of course, Netanyahu said nothing of the sort in his speech, and in fact said the opposite:

The Jewish state of Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the more than one million Arab citizens of Israel. I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. It will be Jew-free – Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing.

How then could Massad claim that Netanyahu called for expelling Israeli Arabs? Only by deliberately misinterpreting Netanyahu’s support for a Palestinian state:

President Abbas, stop walking around this issue. Recognize the Jewish state, and make peace with us. In such a genuine peace, Israel is prepared to make painful compromises. We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects. They should live in a free state of their own. But they should be ready, like us, for compromise.

In other words, Israel does not want to annex the West Bank, making the Palestinians there Israeli citizens, nor does it want to rule over them by administering the West Bank without annexing it, so it favors a Palestinian state in which the residents of Gaza and the West Bank will run their own lives. Indeed, throughout Netanyahu’s speech it is clear that when he refers to Palestinians he is referring to Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank, and not the Arab citizens of Israel.

The bottom line: Massad’s charge that Netanyahu called for the expulsion of Israeli Arabs is an enormous and shameless lie.

Unfortunately, the rest of Professor Massad’s article is just as false and misleading as his claims about Tel Aviv and Netanyahu’s speech.

For example, he begins by insinuating that the failed negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel are Israel’s fault. In fact, negotiations have resulted in neither a Palestinian state nor peace because the Palestinians have rejected multiple peace offers made by the Israelis.

Massad lists issues he claims are outside the purview of negotiations, presumably by dictate of Israel, including the so-called Palestinian “right of return.” However, this is very much an item for negotiation. Specifically, Article V of the “Oslo Agreement” states “It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.”

Massad also includes in his list of “off-limits” core issues a number of half-truths and outright fabrications. While he pointedly writes about 760,000 Arabs he claims were expelled from Israel at its founding, Massad neglects to mention the over 800,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries during and after the fighting. Nor were there 760,000 Arab refugees — the real figure is somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 (a report by the UN Mediator on Palestine, put the figure at 472,000 about half-way through the war). Furthermore, the vast majority were not expelled. Arab leaders urged them to go, including Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as Said who sa id, “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)

Regardless, if the Arabs had absorbed their refugees as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees, there would be no refugee camps to this day. It is hardly the fault of Israel that Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states have discriminated against their Palestinian “brothers,” seeking to maintain, rather than allay, their misery in order to use the issue to distract their citizens from their own oppression. 
Moreover, had the Arabs and the Palestinians not rejected and violated UN GA Resolution 181 (the Partition Resolution), there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee, and there would have been a state of Palestine created in 1948. 

But these distortions and omissions are only his warm-up. Massad launches into full-blown fiction when he denies the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. He claims that, “The uncontroversial academic and historical facts that European Jews are descendants of European converts to Judaism from the centuries before Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century are unquestionable axioms in academic scholarship.” This is neither uncontroversial, nor unquestionable, nor an axiom, nor a fact.

The truth is that multiple genetic studies have proven that modern Jews — even those from Europe — originated in the Middle East, that they maintained their genetic integrity, not to mention their cultural and religious identity, throughout thousands of years of Diaspora, and are not descended from European converts.

For example, a recent study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics titled Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry found that:

The IBD (identity by descent) segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry… Thus, this study demonstrates that European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic threads.

That is Professor Massad’s claim that “All respected scholars recognise [sic] them as descendants of converts to Judaism,” could not be further from the truth.

While Professor Massad is obviously no expert in genetics, he seems to be just as misguided in subjects where does have alleged expertise. Thus, he claims Israel “waged war against the Palestinians” in the wake of the 1947 Partition Plan. The Partition Plan would have created yet another Arab State, along with the one and only Jewish State, but was completely rejected by the Arab nations, as even Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has recently admitted.

Massad asserts that at that point, Palestinian Jews began expelling Palestinian Arabs.

Quite the contrary, Arab leaders such as Jamal El-Husseini, Deputy Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee promised to fight partition with violence to the point of “drenching the soil of our beloved country with every drop of our blood.” And violence they brought. The day after the passage of the United Nations resolution, eight Jews were killed by Arabs. By the end of the week 36 Jews were killed and a large number wounded in Arab attacks.

While he admits that Arab armies invaded Israel on May 15, 1948, Massad ignores the thousands of Arab fighters that invaded earlier. As described in its First Special Report to the Security Council, the United Nations Palestine Commission reported on:

  • “the entry into Palestine of large parties of trained guerrillas from adjacent territory. A band of some 300 men had established itself in the Safad area of Galilee”
  • “a second large band of some 700 Syrians had entered Palestine via Trans-Jordan during the night of 20-21 January. This band had its own mechanized transport, its members were well equipped and provisioned, and wore battle dress. The party appears to have entered Trans-Jordan from Syria and then crossed into Palestine”
  • “a further party of troops belonging to the ‘Arab Liberation Army’ arrived in Palestine via the Jisr Djamiyeh Bridge during the night of 29-30 January. The party, numbering some 950 men transported in 19 vehicles, consisted largely of non-Palestinian Arabs, all in uniform and well armed.”
  • “it is now definitely established that a second party of some seven hundred guerrillas (believed to be under the command of Fawzi Bay al Kankji) entered Palestine via Djamiyeh Bridge on 29th/30th January. It is understood that this band dispersed rapidly among the villages of Samaria and that there is now in that district a force of not less than 1400”
  • “strong Arab elements inside and outside Palestine to prevent the implementation of the Assembly’s plan of partition and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including armed incursions into Palestinian territory.”

The above is by no means a complete list of Arab fighters who infiltrated into Palestine from surrounding nations. There were many more.

It is true that on May 15, 1948, Israel was indeed invaded, though Massad claims it was only by “three (not five!) Arab armies” and their motive was “to stop the expulsion of the Palestinian people.” This would be news to the five Arab armies that invaded Israel – from Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq, with additional Saudi Arabian and Yemeni troops (so seven!) – and to Arab leaders like Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, who had on October 11, 1947 declared the invasion’s true purpose to Egyptian newspaper Akhbar al-Yom by saying, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”

The 1956 Suez War, which Massad erroneously characterizes as an unprovoked Israeli invasion of Egypt in coordination with Britain and France, was in fact prompted by Egypt’s sponsorship of terrorist activities, massive arms buildup, and threats of war. Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din declared, “We shall not be satisfied except by the final obliteration of Israel from the map of the Middle East,” and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser clearly stated, “Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine….There will be no peace on Israel’s border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel’s death.” (Middle Eastern Affairs, (December 1956), p. 461.)

Egypt had closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping, ignoring a United Nations Security Council resolution to reopen it, blockaded the port of Eilat, contrary to international law, and nationalized the Suez Canal, much to the dismay of France and England who owned it, but these facts are inconvenient to Massad’s fanciful narrative, so he simply ignores them.

Again, when addressing the war of June 1967, Massad ignores all inconvenient facts. Egypt expelled the UN Emergency Force peacekeepers from the Sinai, massed troops on Israel’s border and again closed the Straits of Tiran, blockading Israel’s shipping lanes, which President Johnson acknowledged to the New York Times was “illegal and potentially disastrous to the cause of peace.” Indeed, blockading the straits — an international waterway — was a casus belli, an act of war, meaning that even before the shooting started, Egypt had declared war on Israel.

Egypt also signed military pacts with Jordan and Syria, also massing troops on Israel’s border.

Concurrently, Arab leaders were threatening Israel with war, and threats of war are illegal as they are contrary to the UN Charter, Article 2 Section 4.

 “We shall never call for nor accept peace. We shall only accept war. We have resolved to drench this land with your (Israel’s) blood, to oust you as aggressor, to throw you into the sea.”  Hafez Assad, then-Syrian Defense Minister, May 24, 1966, who later became Syria’s president. (Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. pg. 63)

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”  President Gamal Abdel of Egypt, May 27, 1967, nine days before the start of the Six-Day War. 
 “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.”   President Abdel Rahman Aref of Iraq, May 31, 1967

Because Israel captured territory from Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Massad states that Israel “occupied” “all the remaining lands of Palestine.” This is another deception, considering that 75% of the land of the original British Mandatory Palestine was used to create the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Again, Professor Massad should be an expert in this area — does he really not know these facts?

Egypt and Syria invaded Israeli-administered territory in 1973, which Massad states “Israel had earlier occupied,” but Massad views this Arab invasion benignly as a failed attempt to reclaim land they themselves had occupied in 1948. (Apparently, Arab occupations are fine.) Massad asserts that the Arab armies “did not invade Israel itself” although that was clearly the intent, as evidenced by the statements of Arab leaders:

The battle with Israel must be such that, after it, Israel will cease to exist.”  Libyan President Mohammar Qadaffi, al-Usbu al-Arrabi (Beirut) quoted by Algiers Radio, Nov. 12, 1973

“After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab-occupied territories.”   Jordan’s King Hussein, Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973

Unquestionably, Israel engaged Lebanon and Gaza, but these incursions were in response to terrorist activity emanating from these territories. Ironically, Massad writes that “in 2008-2009, Israel invaded Gaza,” but neglects to mention that this was only possible because Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and it was subsequently taken over by Hamas, a violent Iranian-supported terrorist group designated as such by the United States and even by the European Union.

Massad claims that “during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Israeli rockets killed over 1,400 Palestinians while Hamas rockets against Israel did not kill a single Israeli.” Again, not true. First, many of the Palestinia ns killed during the fighting were not hit by Israeli missiles, but by Israeli infantry, etc. And four Israelis were killed by missiles and rockets fired from Gaza during the fighting, including three civilians. That this figure was not much higher was not for lack of trying by Hamas and related terror groups in Gaza, which fired over 770 missiles and rockets into Israel during the fighting. It was rather due to the fact that most Israelis in range of Gaza were living in bomb shelters soon after the clashes erupted.
Massad’s figures are also wrong, he ignores the illegal and immoral Hamas policy of using civilians as human shields, thereby increasing Palestinian civilian casualties, and he also completely ignores the context of the thousands of rockets and mortars that were fired into Israel for years prior to Operation Cast Lead. 
Other unscholarly distortions include Massad’s statement that Israel’s “first hijacking took place in 1954.” In fact, what happened in 1954 on December 12 was an airplane originating in Syria, a country at war with Israel, violated Israeli airspace. Israeli jets forced the plane to land at Lod Airport, investigated and released the plane, the crew and all passengers by the next day. The action was neither illegal nor a hijacking and certainly was not up to the standards set by Arab terrorists. Involving only airplanes and air travel, the following are but a few in a grim list:
  • July 22, 1968 – Rome, Italy; The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carries out first hijacking, diverting an El Al flight to Algiers. 32 Jewish passengers were held hostage for 5 weeks.
  •  October 1968 – Hijacking of El Al aircraft en route to Algeria.
  • December 26, 1968 – Athens, Greece; 1 killed and 1 wounded in a shooting attack on an El Al aircraft at the airport, carried out by the PFLP.
  • February 18, 1969 – Zurich, Switzerland; A pilot and 3 passengers killed by terrorists that attacked an El Al Boeing 707 on the airport runway.
  • February 10, 1970 – Zurich, Switzerland; 1 killed and 11 wounded by 3 Arab terrorists who unsuccessfully attempted to hijack an El Al flight at Zurich airport.
  • September 6, 1970 – Dawson Field, Jordan; 3 airliners holding over 400 passengers were hijacked, and taken to the Jordanian airport by the PFLP. The hostages were released in exchange for terrorists held in Germany, Switzerland, and England.
  • May 8, 1972 – Lod airport, Israel; 1 passenger killed during a rescue operation by Israeli commandos on a hijacked Belgian airliner; two of the 4 Palestinian Black September terrorists were killed and two were captured. The hostages were freed. Two Israeli soldiers were injured, including a young Benjamin  Netanyahu.
  • May 30, 1972 – Lod airport; 26 killed and 78 wounded after PFLP and Japanese Red Army terrorists open fire in the passenger terminal.
  • June 27, 1976 – Entebbe, Uganda; An Air France airliner was hijacked by a joint German/PFLP terrorist group, which diverted the flight to Entebbe airport. About 258 passengers and crew were held hostage until all non-Israeli passengers were released. On July 4th, Israeli commandos flew to Uganda and rescued the remaining hostages. All terrorists were killed, as well as 3 passengers and the commander of the rescue mission Lieutenant-Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • August 11, 1976 – Istanbul, Turkey; 4 killed and 20 wounded by PFLP and Japanese Red Army terrorists in an attack at Istanbul airport.

Massad makes the further fictional charge that “Israel remains the only Middle East country that blew up a civilian airliner,” referring to a Libyan airliner that was shot down by Israeli jets in 1973. What Massad conceals  from readers is that the plane was intercepted by Israeli fighters after it invaded Israeli airspace, and that it ignored multiple signals from the Israelis, including hand signals to the pilot, to follow them and land the plane. Because Libya was (and remains) in a self-declared state of war with Israel, when the plane also ignored warning shots the decision was made to shoot it down. All this Massad just happens to omit.

Massad also counts on his readers not recalling which countries and movements have repeatedly attacked planes, and in fact blown up civilian airliners. For example Pan Am Flight 103, the American passenger airplane blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in December of 1988, by operatives of Libya with the possible involvement of Palestinian terrorists engaged by Iran. In contrast to the Israeli downing of the Libyan plane, the Lockerbie bombing was a pure terrorist attack explicitly aimed at killing as many civilians as possible, and unfortunately it succeeded in killing 270 innocent people.

When Massad moves on to the topic of Arab-Israeli negotiations, the false “facts” continue to flow. He asserts that United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 “stipulate that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories.” In fact, Resolution 242 calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories.” The resolution intentionally omitted the word “the” before the word territories, because it was never the intent that Israel should withdraw from all the territories. The amount of withdrawal was left for negotiations between the parties. Massad’s claim that Resolution 242 “specified where Israel should be withdrawing to after the 1967 war,” is a complete fabrication. Boundaries are absolutely not outlined at all and were not intended to be by drafters of the resolution.

Massad also falsely claims that Israel refuses to:

… compensate and return the property of the quarter of a million Palestinians (internal refugees and their descendants) who are Israeli citizens whom it expelled from one part of the country to another part of it.

In fact, Israel has a Custodian of Absentee Property, through which it has indeed given both land and monetary compensation to Israeli Arabs who lost property in 1948. In contrast, not a single one of t he hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after 1948 have ever received even a penny of compensation from any Arab government.

Massad goes on to assert that Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria is “categorically considered illegal.” International law is at best unclear on this and, in fact, seen by many as supporting the rights of Jewish settlers since the Palestine Mandate called for “close settlement by Jews on the land.” As for the matter of Palestinian refugees, again Massad engages in fiction, claiming the matter is “settled by UN resolutions and international law” when in fact the matter is to be negotiated as part of a comprehensive peace, and international law does not support a Palestinian “right of return.”

Continuing his assault on the facts, Massad charges there are “at least 30 laws that grant Jews racial, religious and colonising [sic] privileges over Palestinian citizens of Israel – including the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories …”

This is simply untrue but alludes to the pernicious lie that Israel is an apartheid state. Even Richard J. Goldstone – whom Massad doubtless heralded a few years ago – recently wrote that this is a slander meant to delegitimize Israel. As a South African judge, Goldstone should know a bit about apartheid.

And specifically regarding Massaad’s marriage law charge, he is once again wrong. The law did not ban marriages between “Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories,” it merely said that a Palestinian from the territories would not gain the right to live in Israel by marrying an Israeli (whether Jewish or Arab), a reasonable rule in light of the Palestinian terror war then underway. And there was nothing in the law that would stop the Israeli from living with his or her spouse in the Palestinian territories or elsewhere.

Continuing his deceptions, Massad claims, “no Palestinian official since the negotiations started has ever dared to state unequivocally that Jewish colonial settlers must be returned to Israel.” Massad is overlooking the fact that Palestinian Authority President Abbas was quoted by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, as stating on July 28, 2010 in Cairo, “I would not agree… that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land,” and that Palestinian Ambassador to Washington Maen Rashid Areikat was asked if every Jew inside the borders of Palestine would have to leave, and he answered “Absolutely.”

Massad blithely claims, offering no evidence, that Israel has separate land use laws for Israeli Jews and Arabs. In fact, state-owned land is equally available to all citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Furthermore, Israeli Arabs, though only 20% of the population, own half the private land in the country.

Massad concludes with an inane fable about the Pale of Settlement and Bantustans, the imagery of which simultaneously turns Israel into the anti-Semitic Russian Empire and apartheid South Africa. Yet, seeming to undercut his own argument, this narrative also invalidates the Palestinian State for which the Palestinians are themselves lobbying the United Nations. It is hard to imagine why they would work so hard to create a Palestinian State that “would not even have the formal accoutrements of sovereignty,” and “whose existence would neither be a fact nor the truth.”

However, facts and truths are apparently not Joseph Massad’s strong suit, an embarrasing weakness for a Columbia University professor. If Al Jazeera plans to continue to publish his stories, the web site should openly admit they are not a journalistic enterprise at all but instead a journal of propaganda, or at best, creative fiction.

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