Naomi Shihab Nye’s comparison between trouble in Ferguson, Mo. and the Gaza Strip (“On growing up in Ferguson and Palestine,” The Washington Post [online], Aug. 28, 2014) scrambles autobiography, political fiction and anti-Israel propaganda.
Nye, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, writes about moving from Ferguson, Mo. to “Palestine” when she was a child. She attempts to leverage the coincidence of her childhood hometown—in the news this summer for protests and looting that followed the killing of a black teenager by a white policeman—and family ties to eastern Jerusalem to misrepresent the Arab conflict with Israel.
But even poetic license fails Nye’s clumsy effort to equate African Americans and Palestinian Arabs as oppressed minorities. She invokes the term “Palestine” repeatedly but fails to define it. To do so would deflate her argument, such as it is.
The only modern political-geographic entity called Palestine was the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine. It was created out of part of the Ottoman Empire by victorious World War I allies to enable reestablishment of the ancient Jewish national home. Mandatory Palestine—minus amputations of Jordan and the Golan Heights—expired in 1948 with Britain’s withdrawal and Israel’s independence.
Nye claims “my father and his family became refugees in 1948 when the state of Israel was created. They lost everything but their lives and memories. Disenfranchised Palestinians ended up in refugee camps or scattered around the world.”
Either history is lost on Nye, or she means to lose it for her readers. Palestinian Jews accepted but the Arab states and Palestinian Arabs rejected—with widespread terrorist attacks—the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan. In 1948, the Arabs went to war to destroy the new Jewish state.
Regardless, Palestinian Arabs were self-disenfranchised. They became so by rejecting partition, by attacking the Jews and by fleeing the war they and the invading armies of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan started but lost.
Later, Nye clarifies her geographic ambiguity a bit by saying that in 1966 she moved with her family to the West Bank. It was illegally occupied by Jordan then, but she does not say so. By West Bank she may mean eastern Jerusalem:
“I was the only non-Armenian attending the ancient Armenian school in Jerusalem’s Old City,” she says. “[I]t was fine to be ‘the other’ for a change, but I wished we could have Jewish friends too. And I wished the Jewish Israelis we weren’t seeing across that line could know the families of Palestine as we did, sharing their humble parties under blossoming almond trees.”
Never mind that Jews of the Mandate had been “families of Palestine.” Nye’s references are anachronistic and tendentious in any case. Before 1948, many Arabs of the Mandate considered themselves part of greater Syria. In 1966, few West Bankers, most of whom had Jordanian citizenship, though of themselves as living in “Palestine.”
Perhaps the writer didn’t see Jewish Israelis because the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem were separated from western Jerusalem and the rest of Israel by barbed wire, machine gun posts and other fortifications left from the ’48 war. The Jordanian Legion had “ethnically cleansed” Jewish residents of the Old City, which included the Temple Mount and Western Wall, destroyed historic synagogues and blocked Jewish access.
Chronicling family moves between Jerusalem and the United States, Nye laments that “back in Palestine/Israel, nothing improved for the Palestinians and they were always blamed for it.” “Palestine/Israel” is attempted linguistic judo. It implies something exists that does not, not before negotiations according to U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Accords and 2003 international “road map.” It also means to equate Israel to or diminish it with the status of notional “Palestine.”
Nothing improved for the Palestinian Arabs in large part because of their own actions. The 1993 Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Oslo accords envisioned “final status” talks about the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1998, but were sabotaged by Palestinian noncompliance, including failure to end anti-Israeli incitement and terrorism. Palestinian leadership rejected Israeli-U.S. offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace in 2000 and 2001—with the bloody second intifada. It rejected a similar Israeli-only proposal in 2008.
Yet for Nye, the Palestinian Arabs are victims with no responsibility for their choices, actions and consequences. She complains that the United States sends “weapons and money to Israel.” America supports Israel because of shared values—the latter is the lone Western-style democracy in the Middle East—and strategic interests.
Though Nye does not say so, Washington is a major donor to the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) subsidizing Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite their anti-American attitudes. The Palestinian Arabs are the world’s leading recipients of foreign aid per capita, but the writer omits this as well.
Nye refers to “a gigantic, ominous Separation Wall”—Israel’s West Bank security barrier, for most of its length not a wall but a combination of fences, gates, ditches and sensors. She does not say why it was erected, which was to help block Palestinian terror attacks including suicide bombings inside Israel that murdered more than 1,000 people—Jews, Arabs and foreign visitors—during the second intifada (2000 – 2005).
Massacres were planned, just not those Nye complained of. Hamas’ extensive tunnel network into Israel, the discovery of which necessitated Israel ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, were meant to facilitate the slaughter of Jews.
Nye writes “[o]f course, we wished Hamas would stop sending reckless rockets into Israel, provoking oversized responses.” This is exactly what Israelis wished—that Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the other Gaza-based terrorist groups would stop committing aggression. But Nye attempts to hide reality by evasive word choice—“reckless rockets provoking oversized responses.” The more than 4,000 mortars and missiles Palestinian Arabs fired at Israel—each one indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, each one a war crime—forced 6 million of Israel’s 8 million people to anticipate the next warning siren and their next dash to the nearest bomb shelter. What size response would Nye find appropriate if Ferguson was bombarding nearby St. Louis in a similar manner?
“Oppression makes people do desperate things. I am frankly surprised the entire Palestinian population hasn’t gone crazy. If the U.S. can’t see that Palestinians have been mightily oppressed since 1948, they really are not interest in looking, are they?” Nye writes.
Sounds like she’s invoking the insanity defense for Palestinian terrorism. Strange, oppression by Muslim Egyptians hasn’t made the country’s Coptic Christians “do desperate things.” Likewise Maronite Christians in Lebanon and Berbers (the ethnically indigenous North African Imazighen peoples). What desperate things have the black African Christians and animists of Darfur, subjected to genocide-like aggression by Arabized tribes in Sudan, perpetrated? The often-threatened Kurds in Iraq and Jews in Israel have chosen to defend themselves—logical, not desperate decisions by minorities faced with Arab-Muslim intolerance.
Palestinian Arabs have been mightily oppressed since 1948—in Lebanon, where they’re denied citizenship and restricted in residency and vocations; in Jordan in 1970 and 1971 when King Hussein defeated a PLO coup attempt by killing thousands and ousting many more; by Kuwait, which expelled hundreds of thousands after they sided with Saddam Hussein’s invading Iraq in 1991; in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s regime reportedly has starved some to death in the current civil war and always by their own leadership. Nye, her vision narrowed by anti-Israel blinders, can’t see that.
She asks, referring to Gazans, “will the United States ever speak out in solidarity with scores of exhausted people burying their dead, staring up with stunned eyes, mystified?” It has in Iraq, where U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State—an ideological relative of Hamas—at least temporarily have prevented new burials by victims of religious and ethnic intolerance. It did for Muslims of Kosovo, bombing attacking Serbs. It did for itself and terrorized Afghans, overthrowing the Taliban regime. And it has regarding Israel’s right to defend itself against similar terrorist aggression.
Nye writes that the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in schools in 1968, when the year actually was 1954. Her Arab-Israeli reflections similarly lack historic and contemporary precision. Their value to Washington Post readers, even those of the online product where journalistic standards of accuracy and context often retreat in favor of “individual visitors” and mouse-clicking “page views? Nil.