More Middle East Fiction from NPR

 So far in its series on the Middle East, NPR has proven that it can mangle history at least as well as it can mangle breaking news. Thus, while the network routinely features a preponderance of Arab and pro-Arab guests in its daily reporting, its stable of experts for this series is even more tilted in the pro-Arab direction, with nine harsh critics of Israel against only three guests who might seem likely to be fair to Israel.

Moreover, in NPR’s daily news reporting, pro-Arab guests are routinely given far more air time than are pro-Israel guests, and this propaganda technique is only amplified in the present series. For example, in the second installment, titled “The Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate,” the guests critical of Israel, Rashid Khalidi, Philip Mattar, and Tom Segev, speak a total of 438 words, versus just 99 words for Howard Sachar, the segment’s only guest who might be considered fair to Israel.

But the imbalance runs far deeper than that, as Sachar is never heard on most of the key issues covered. Thus when Rashid Khalidi states:

The Balfour Declaration involved a promise by an imperial power to establish a national home for a minority in a country that had a population which was not recognized in that declaration …

he clearly means to leave the impression that there was a country of Palestine, which the Jews somehow supplanted. And this was no verbal imprecision on Khalidi’s part; in a Collier’s Encyclopedia article he made the same entirely false claim in even stronger terms:

During the first half of the 20th century the term “Palestine” applied to a state for three decades, starting in 1917, when the region west of the Jordan – together with Transjordan, across the river – passed from Turkish rule to British rule … [In 1948 Palestinian Arabs] rejected the plan to partition their country.

Of course, contrary to Khalidi, there never was a country of Palestine, in the 20th century or any other. But Sachar, who might have spoken to this issue, is ignored at this point in the program.

Sachar is also ignored when Shuster states:

… by the end of the war the British army seized all of Palestine, aided by an Arab army organized by the legendary T.E. Lawrence and loyal to the Sharif of Mecca. The British had also made promises regarding Palestine to Feisal, the sharif’s son, to enlist their support fighting the Ottomans. Not surprisingly, those commitments were never fulfilled, says Rashid Khalidi.

In fact, contrary to Shuster and Khalidi, there were no promises about Palestine made to the Arabs. The British assurances to Feisal, contained in the so-called McMahon-Hussein correspondence, were expressly meant to exclude the areas that were to become Israel. (see Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 119)

Shuster’s other claim, that the British victory in Palestine had been “aided by an Arab army organized by the legendary T.E. Lawrence and loyal to the Sharif of Mecca,” is also fictional. In fact, the Jewish Legion, an integral part of the British forces, had played a far greater role than T.E. Lawrence’s forces in liberating “western Palestine” (ie Israel) from the Ottoman Turks. But with Shuster as host, the Jewish Legion is erased from history. This is important, since as Sachar has written:

… [the Jewish Legion’s role] in the conquest of Palestine eventually signified as much as the ordeal of the early Zionist pioneers, and hardly less that the Balfour Declaration itself, in reinforcing the Jews’ claims to their national home. (Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 115)

By omitting this from the program, Shuster succeeds in minimizing Jewish claims to their national home, and instead reinforcing Arab claims.

Also omitted from the program, and to the same effect, was the essential role of Palestinian Jews who volunteered to spy for the British against the Turks. Aaron Aaronson, his heroic sister Sarah, and the others who made up the famous NILI spy ring, played a crucial role in the British victory. Indeed, as recounted by Sachar:

“It was very largely the daring work of the young spies …,” wrote Captain Raymond Savage, Allenby’s deputy military secretary, “which enabled the brilliant Field-Marshal to accomplish his undertaking so effectively.” (Sachar, p. 105)

And that is not the end of NPR’s omissions in this series. There is, remarkably, no mention of the notorious leader of the Palestinian national movement, the so called Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who spared no effort to incite fellow Muslims to violence against the Jews. The Mufti, for example, played a key role in the bloody anti-Jewish riots of 1929. As Sachar put it:

… on the night of August 23 and the next morning, crowds of Arabs armed with weapons poured into Jerusalem. The newcomers gathered near the mosque courtyard to be harangued by the Mufti. Then, at noon, the mob attacked the Orthodox Jewish quarters, and violence spread rapidly to other parts of Palestine. In the late afternoon Arab bands descended on the Orthodox Jewish community of Hebron, murdering sixty and wounding fifty inhabitants… [A British committee of inquiry] found the Arabs responsible for the violence and apportioned “a share in the responsibility for the disturbances” to the Mufti and individual members of the Arab Executive. (Sachar, p.175)

But instead of asking Sachar about the origins of the violence that rocked Palestine in those years, Shuster instead turns to Philip Mattar (who is never identified on-air as the head of the PLO-founded Institute for Palestine Studies). Not surprisingly, as he did in the first program, Mattar distorts history here as well, informing listeners that “… spontaneous riots broke out. And then in 1929, a much larger explosion throughout Palestine.”

So, on NPR the Jewish Legion, the NILI spies and the Aaronsons, and now Arab incitement to violence and the notorious Grand Mufti, have all been erased from history.

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By ignoring the Mufti, NPR is thus able to keep from its listeners the fact that the leader of the Palestinian national movement was an ally of Nazi Germany and fled to Berlin at the outbreak of World War II, where he closely collaborated with the Nazi leadership, including Hitler and Himmler. Among the Mufti’s notable achievements during his Nazi years was his creation of a special Muslim Waffen SS Division in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Known as the Handschar Division, it committed brutal war crimes against Serb Christians, leading the postwar Yugoslavian government to indict the Mufti as a war criminal.

Could NPR have thought such details about the leader of the Palestinian movement would be of no interest to its l isteners? And were any Israeli leaders to have such an unsavory past, is it even remotely imaginable that NPR would omit any of the gruesome details?

Of course, details portraying Israel in a negative light are rarely omitted by NPR. Thus, Mattar is quoted to the effect that Palestinians rejected early proposals for partition (to create both a Palestinian and a Jewish state) because “at that time Jews owned only 5.6% of the country, whereas they were being offered 40 percent of the country.” His clear implication is that if Jews owned only some small percentage of the land, then Arabs must have owned the rest, in this case more than 94% of the country.

But this is nonsense – going back to Ottoman times, most of the country was state-owned land, not under any individual ownership. Indeed, under the Ottoman code one of the main land categories was miri, meaning land belonging to the Emir. During the Mandate, the British carried out detailed land surveys, marking off who owned what, and according to figures in the British Survey of Palestine (republished by Mattar’s Institute for Palestine Studies), at least 65% of the country was state land, and probably much more than that.

While Mattar was deceptive about land ownership, Khalidi was deceptive about what he termed “a constant problem in Palestinian history,” that outside forces such as the “British, the United States, Israel – preferred to deal with others rather than dealing directly with the Palestinians.” In fact, it is the Arab countries that have constantly undercut the Palestinians, forcibly keeping them in refugee camps, the better to use them as a political weapon against Israel, while ignoring their human needs.

To cite one example among many, consider the important early attempt at peacemaking known as the Lausanne Conference, which was convened in Switzerland in 1949. The Palestinian refugees, unhappy at their lack of representation at the conference, took up collections in their camps and sent a delegation to Lausanne, asking to be recognized and to take part in the negotiations. But the representatives, Muhammad Nimr al-Hawwari and Aziz Shihadeh, were spurned by the Arab countries, their credentials rejected. (Neil Caplan, The Lausanne Conference, 1949: A Case Study in Middle East Peacemaking) According to Walter Eytan, a senior Israeli diplomat at the conference:

As it turned out, the refugee group succeeded in establishing friendly contact with only one of the official delegations – that of Israel. The delegates of the Arab states would have nothing to do with them. Indeed, on one occasion, when the refugees tried to secure an interview with the Egyptian delegation, the Egyptians ejected them by force. (Walter Eytan, The First Ten Years: A Diplomatic History of Israel)

Had Khalidi told the truth about this – had he acted as a true scholar, in other words – he might have undercut his case, which depends on blaming outside parties, especially Israel, for all the problems faced by the Arabs and the Palestinians.

So NPR keeps its record intact. The second segment in its Middle East series, “The Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate,” was no less mendacious than the first. Or for that matter, than the network’s daily coverage of the Middle East.


For links to more of CAMERA’s critique of the series, click here.

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