The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Wilson Center) is a DC think tank that was established as part of the Smithsonian Institution by a 1968 act of Congress. The Center’s reputation is as a scholarly and non-partisan institute, or as its promotional text asserts, “the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research … bringing fresh thinking and deep expertise to the most pressing policy challenges we face today.”
But nothing dispels that reputation and description more than a May 20, 2022 paper on “Statelessness in East Jerusalem” featured on its website and authored by outgoing Wilson Center Fellow Laura Robson. The author, an Arabist who begins an inaugural professorship of history at Pennsylvania State University’s College of the Liberal Arts, focuses on the Middle East and the Muslim world. Credentials notwithstanding, her Wilson Center piece is far from a sober, evidence-based, scholarly analysis. Quite the contrary: It is an exercise in partisan, political propaganda.
From the introductory paragraph, the article is rife with incendiary, anti-Israel accusations and implicit justification for Palestinian violence.
Robson begins by falsely declaring that Israel “storm[ed]” the al Aqsa mosque compound “in response” to Palestinians protesting an “Israeli Supreme Court decision on the eviction of six Palestinian families from the old Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.” In this way she borrows from both Hamas’ terminology – “storming” – and pretexts for violent aggression – Sheikh Jarrah and al-Aqsa. Moreover, she draws false connections and omits Palestinian/Muslim responsibility for the conflict, blaming Israeli actions for the results of a war initiated by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad— which she pointedly avoids identifying as US-designated terrorist groups. She writes:
When Israeli troops responded [to Palestinian protests in Sheikh Jarrah] by storming the compound at al-Aqsa Mosque, Hamas issued an ultimatum demanding their withdrawal from both al-Aqsa and from Sheikh Jarrah. Upon its expiration, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired a salvo of rockets into Israel. The subsequent military encounter between Hamas and the IDF resulted in at least 256 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths and the mass destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure in Gaza via Israeli airstrikes.
This is an erroneous distortion of the 2021 Hamas-Israel war on so many counts.
Linking Israeli security actions on Temple Mount with protests in Sheikh Jarrah
Under the Temple Mount status quo, the Waqf controls the mosque and Israel is in charge of the overall security of the site. Israeli security enforcement on the Temple Mount/al Aqsa compound has nothing to do with Palestinian protests in Sheikh Jarrah.
The only ones linking al Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah were Hamas and its terrorist cronies who used it as a false pretext (claiming Jews wanted to take over Muslim sites and chase them out of the holy city) to incite a violent Palestinian jihad against Israel in the name of Jerusalem.
Ignoring Palestinian incitement and aggression while adopting Hamas terminology and pretexts
Long before violent Palestinian rioting and Israeli security forces riot dispersal on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Hamas and terrorist leaders from the Gaza strip had already planned their jihad against Israel under the fabricated pretext that the Jews were scheming to storm and take over the holy site during Ramadan. This was, after all, the historic battle cry to incite Jihad for Jerusalem, and the ultimate pretext for the Hamas-initiated war on Israel, which it dubbed “Operation Sword of Jerusalem.”
Throughout Ramadan, Hamas and terror groups urged Palestinians to take up arms against Israel until Jerusalem and all of Palestine was liberated. As one example of the relentless incitement, Hamas Political Bureau Member and former Minister of the Interior Fathi Hammad exhorted Palestinians in Jerusalem to cut off the heads of Jews with 5-sheqel knives (an echo of the rhetoric that brought about the 2015 “knife” or “stabbing” intifada).
Despite Israeli attempts to tamp down incitement and lower tensions by rerouting its annual Flag Day parade and temporarily barring Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, Palestinian leaders falsely claimed that Israel planned to storm and takeover al Aqsa, urging riots on the Temple Mount to defend Musllim holy sites. Heeding these exhortations, Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the mosque and hurled rocks, bottles and incendiary devices at a police post and toward the Mughrabi gate near the Western Wall, the only gate from which non-Muslims are allowed to enter the compound. This prompted police to enter the compound, whereupon they were attacked. They responded with stun grenades as they sought to bring the riot under control. Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif threatened further attacks if Israel did not remove all security forces from the area of the Al Aqsa compound and from Sheikh Jarrah and release all Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails by the end of the afternoon. When Israel did not accede to the terrorist organization’s demands, rockets were fired from Gaza into Jerusalem. (For links to sources, see: “Jihad for Jerusalem 2021“)
Inverting the story by omitting Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians while indicting Israel for damaging civilian property
The Gazan terrorist groups did not merely fire one “salvo of rockets” as Robson claims. Hamas operatives and those operating under its auspices fired more than 4300 rockets and missiles targeting civilians inside Israel for nearly two weeks. It was part of Hamas’ war on Israel, dubbed its “Operation Sword of Jerusalem” which also involved launching incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel and encouraging Palestinians in the West Bank and Arabs inside Israel attack their Jewish neighbors ― “attack the settlers, attack the posts, attack the roadblocks and checkpoints.”
Of the 4360 rockets that were launched from Hamas-governed territory targeting Israeli civilian centers, 3,573 fell inside Israeli territory. The rest missed their target: They either fell into the sea or exploded inside the Gaza Strip, causing both damage to infrastructure and casualties among Palestinians living there. It is estimated that more than 90 Palestinians were killed inside Gaza by rockets aimed at Israel, accounting for more than a third of the alleged number of reported Palestinian deaths.
As for Israeli civilian damage inflicted by Hamas rockets, Robson omits it from her account. Were it not for Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system that intercepted about 90% of those rockets, many more Israeli civilians would have been killed. As it was, the rockets not only killed 13 Israelis but wounded hundreds of civilians and inflicted property damage to Israeli civilian homes, schools, industry, commerce and agriculture.
Nor does Robson acknowledge that in contrast to Hamas’ deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians, the IDF engaged in defensive, precision targeting of key infrastructure and personnel belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The IDF’s targets included a Hamas tunnel system that extended through Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Yunis that was used as command centers, hideaways and for weapons transport; terrorist commanders and operatives, accounting for the majority of those killed in Gaza; high-trajectory rocket launchers; weapons manufacturing sites, including research and development facilities and weapon depots; Hamas administration buildings that housed security forces and banks that funded terrorist activities; terrorist bases, posts, command centers and coordination centers. That Hamas hid their terrorist activities and centers in civilian buildings makes it, and not Israel, responsible for any civilian damage inflicted there.
Underlying Premise of the Article
The main point of the article that “East Jerusalem stands as a symbol of statelessness” where Palestinian residents “suffer the practical consequences of their individual and collective lack of citizenship” is distorted by the false and partisan assumption that only Palestinians, but not Jews, legitimately claim the territory. The author contends:
In the 1948 Arab Israeli war, Zionist forces expelled some three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs from their homeland.
This is a distortion of history: Three quarters of a million Arabs were not “expelled” by Zionist forces. The vast majority of Arab refugees were urged by their leaders to temporarily leave their homes during a war launched by their armies and fighters seeking to eliminate the Jewish state.
Even more pointedly, had Arab leaders not rejected the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution that called for the land (then controlled by the British Mandate) to be divided into a Jewish state and an Arab state, had they not chosen instead to wage war on Israel in violation of the UN Charter, then Palestinian Arabs would have already been citizens of their own state for 74 years and there would have been no stateless Palestinian refugees.
Robson ignores this essential point, just as she ignores the fact that the Palestinian Arabs’ homeland to which she refers is also the Jewish historic homeland, where Jews have resided for millennia since biblical times, including periods where they were sovereigns of the land. The Land of Israel, and the holy city of Jerusalem in particular, have always been central to Judaism and the focus of Jewish pilgrimages and prayer.
In other words, rather than presenting the conflict honestly and contextually as a bilateral one where territory claimed by both nations is under dispute, the historian ignores basic historical facts in order to create a narrative of expulsion and dispossession of Arabs by Jews.
While Robson writes of Zionist expulsions of Palestinian Arabs, she pointedly avoids mention of Jordan’s expulsion of Jews from the areas seized by its forces. And she exhibits the same double standards in portraying the annexation of Jerusalem.
Jordan, representing the local Palestinian Arab population at the time, captured east Jerusalem in 1948 and annexed it in 1950, but Robson does not refer to this “annexation” of eastern Jerusalem, much less to the fact that almost the entire international community, including Arab and Muslim countries, deemed Jordan’s annexation illegal.
Regarding Jordan’s annexation, the author uses only benign descriptions: East Jerusalem was “ruled by the kingdom of Jordan,” it was “administratively incorporated into Jordan (the only Arab state to offer displaced Palestinians citizenship),” there was a “Jordanian takeover and the provision of Jordanian citizenship…”
What about Jewish citizenship?
The author pointedly ignores the fact that Jordan never had any intention of granting Jewish residents of east Jerusalem citizenship or even permanent residency. Instead, Jordan expelled the Jews from their east Jerusalem homes, demolishing their buildings, destroying and desecrating their synagogues and cemeteries. Nor does the author mention that in addition to barring Jews from living in east Jerusalem, Jordan, in direct contravention of the 1949 armistice agreements, denied Jews access to their holy sites and cemetery on the Mount of Olives throughout its occupation of east Jerusalem.
In contrast to Jordan’s capture of east Jerusalem as the result of a war of aggression meant to wipe out the Jewish state followed by its ethnic cleansing of Jews from the area, Israel gained control of east Jerusalem in a defensive war, after pleading with Jordan not to join the other Arab aggressors. And in contrast to Jordan’s expulsion of Jews from their homes in east Jerusalem, Israel immediately gave Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem Israeli identification cards and granted them permanent residency status that allowed them to vote in municipal elections, receive national insurance (social security) and health coverage, including monthly aid stipends. In addition, Israel formally offered Palestinian residents the option of applying for Israeli citizenship, but the vast majority declined to do so, not wanting to be seen as accepting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Robson, however, describes Israel’s annexation in harsh, accusatory terms totally unlike those with which she described Jordan’s annexation. According to Robson, East Jerusalem was “unilaterally annexed to an Israeli state that declared the historic reunification of the city, in defiance of the international consensus that such an ‘acquisition of territory by war’ violated international law.” She misleadingly declares that Palestinian residents were “given residency permits, but not offered citizenship.” By omitting here that Palestinians were, in fact, invited to apply for Israeli citizenship although few chose to do so, Robson is disingenuous yet again.
In a partisan, propaganda piece that erases Jewish claims to Jerusalem and views only the claims of Palestinians as legitimate, it is no surprise that Robson goes on to put forth a litany of clichéd falsehoods about Israel’s administration of Jerusalem –of creating laws to deny Palestinians building permits, declaring national parks in order to reduce Palestinian living space, restricting Palestinian access to basic services, constantly evicting Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, etc. — that are either echoed from such biased organizations as B’tselem or stated in her own voice. (These falsehoods have been repeatedly debunked in other CAMERA articles on our website.)
Although the Wilson Center has appended a disclaimer to the article – “The views expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not reflect an official position of the Wilson Center” – Robson is an outgoing Wilson Center Fellow whose piece is featured on the Center’s website. Contrary to its claims of impartiality and scholarship, the Wilson Center is therefore complicit in promoting biased propaganda that ignores history, distorts the facts, and delegitimizes Jewish claims to its patrimony in Jerusalem and land of its forefathers.