UPDATED: CAMERA prompts correction of George Bisharat Error

Update–Correction follows.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, the Los Angeles Times published “Two State Solution Again Sells Palestinians Short,” an op-ed charging Israel with “ethnic cleansing” of the Arab population in 1948. Written by George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, the essay contains numerous factual errors and questionable claims concerning Israel’s treatment of Arabs today and in 1948.

Factual Errors

1) Bisharat falsely claims that “Palestinians living in Israel”— (in other words, Israeli Arabs) —”cannot serve in the armed forces.”

This fallacy is particularly offensive given that many Israeli Arabs have died while serving in Israel’s army. The day that Bisharat’s column appeared, for example, the Los Angeles Times itself reported on Israel’s planned prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, mentioning Sgt. Maj. Omar Souad, an Israeli Arab soldier who was kidnapped by Hezbollah in October 2000 (Laura King, “Israel, Hezbollah Strike a Deal on Prisoner Swap,” Jan. 25) He is presumed dead. Some of the other Israeli Arabs who died in the line of duty for Israel include Sgt.-Maj. Madin Grifat, 23, of Beit Zarzir, killed by a mine in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 9, 2002, Maj. Ashraf Hawash, 28, of Beit Zarzir; Sgt.-Maj. Ibrahim Hamadieh, 23, of Rehaniya; Sgt.-Maj. Hana (Eli) Abu-Ghanem, 25, of Haifa; and St.-Sgt. Mofid Sawaid, 25, of Abu Snan, who were killed by Hamas terrorists who infiltrated their unit on January 9, 2002. Christian Arab Staff Sgt. Rogia Salame was mortally wounded by Palestinian gunmen in Gaza on Feb. 5, 2001. Likewise, Druse Border Police Cpl. Yusef Madhat was shot to death by Palestinians Oct. 1, 2000 at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

Morevoer, Mary Curtius of the Los Angeles Times reported on the Jan. 9, 2002 attack (“Hamas Takes Responsibility for Attack,” Jan. 10, 2002). She wrote:

Three [sic] soldiers of a mostly Bedouin unit were on duty at the rain-soaked position.

Bedouin, who are Arabs, are not required to serve in the Israeli army. However, they are allowed to volunteer, and about 2,000 Bedouin serve, according to an army spokesman.

In addition, on Jan. 14, the Los Angeles Times carried a page 3 report about Ariel Sharon speaking to Bedouin troops in the Gaza Strip. Entitled “Sharon Talks of Possible Troop Withdrawal From the Gaza Strip,” the Laura King article stated: “Sharon, speaking to Bedouin troops, who are often called to hazardous duty in Gaza, said he hoped the Israeli military presence in the Mediterranean seaside enclave would end. . .” The accompanying photograph, pictured below, is captioned: “Ariel Sharon is greeted by Bedouin Sheikh Awda abu Moamar. Sharon addressed Bedouin troops.”

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Though Israeli Arabs may opt out of military service, they certainly have the right to serve, and many exercise that right.

2) Bisharat also trots out the false Palestinian propaganda that “Palestinians [Israeli Arabs] have restricted access to land (most real property in Israel is owned by the state or the Jewish National Fund and is leased to Jews only.)” Legally and practically, Israeli Arabs have equal access to state-owned land (80.4 percent of all land in the entire country). About half of the land Israeli Arabs cultivate is directly leased to them by the Israeli government through the Israel Land Administration (ILA) (“Rural-Urban Land Use Equilibrium,” Tel Aviv: Ministry of Agriculture, 1979), as cited by David Kretzmer, The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel, Westview Press, 1990, pp. 60-61).

Moreover, Israeli Arabs have even enjoyed an affirmative action-type program, providing them with access to land at a cheaper rate than Jews. For example, the ILA charged Jewish citizens $24,000 for a capital lease on a quarter acre of land near Beersheva, while a Bedouin family in nearby Rahat paid only $150 for an equivalent plot of land (Ezra Sohar, Israel’s Dilemma, New York, Shapolsky Publishers, 1989, p. 97). In another case, Eliezer Avitan, a Jew from Beersheva, applied to the ILA to lease land at the same subsidized price that was made available to local Bedouins. The ILA rejected his application, so he sued, but Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in ILA’s favor, saying the administration’s discriminatory policy was justified affirmative action for Bedouins (Israel Supreme Court, Avitan v. Israel Land Administration, HC 528/88).

The ILA also administers Jewish National Fund land, which makes up 13.1 percent of the land in Israel. JNF’s official policy restricts its land for Jewish access only. In practice, though, JNF land is leased to Israeli Arabs on short-term and long-term bases. For example, the ILA has leased on a yearly-basis JNF-owned land in Besor Valley (Wadi Shallala) to Bedouins (Aref Abu-Rabia, The Negev Bedouin and Livestock Rearing: Social, Economic, and Political Aspects, Oxford, 1994, pp. 28, 36, 38). Through a legal loophole, Arab citizens have also gained access to JNF land for long-term housing purposes (Kretzmer, Legal Status, p. 64). All of this information is available in CAMERA’s backgrounder, “Land, the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” by Alex Safian.

3) Bisharat wrongly states, “In 1948, about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland…” While some Palestinian Arabs were expelled, such as those who resided in Ramle and Lod, the vast majority of Arabs fled of their own accord, many due to false rumors spread by Arab propagandists. For example, Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service’s Arabic news in 1948, admits that he and Hussein Khalidi, of the Arab Higher Committee (the representative body of the Arabs of British Mandate Palestine), fabricated atrocities in reporting about the battle at Deir Yassin “so the Arab armies [of neighboring countries] will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh said in a BBC television series “Israel and the Arabs: the 50 Year Conflict” that:

This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped [which was a fabrication] at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror.

Scholars such as Dr. Efraim Karsh and Arieh Avneri have demonstrated that claims such as Bisharat’s regarding mass expulsions and dispossession are wildly exaggerated. For example, in the July-August 2000 edition of Commentary, Karsh details the Arab flight from Haifa, one of the largest Arab population centers. In the Commentary article are a number of quotations that disprove or contradict Bisharat’s statements that Arab leaders allegedly exhorted the Palestinian Arabs to stay.

According to Karsh’s research, before fighting broke out, the Arab upper classes fled despite the urgings of Haifa mayor Shabtai Levy and other Jewish authorities that they remain. The Arab Higher Committee (AHC) in Beirut ordered an
evacuation, promising the Haifa Arab leadership that retaliatory action would be forthcoming — “it is only a matter of days” — and warning that “since there will be a lot of casualties following our intended action… you [would] be held responsible for the casualties among the Arab population left in the town.” About the Arab rejection of the truce and decision to leave, British commander Major-General Hugh Stockwell told the Arabs:

You have made a foolish decision. Think it over, as you’ll regret it afterward. You must accept the conditions of the Jews. They are fair enough. Don’t permit life to be destroyed senselessly. After all, it was you who began the fighting, and the Jews have won.

The next day, Haifa’s remaining Arab leadership met with Stockwell and his advisers to discuss their evacuation. Almost all of the 30,000 decided to leave, and a few days later, only 3,000 remained in Haifa. After the Arabs left, Jews urged their former neighbors to return. On April 25, the American Vice Consul Aubrey Lippincott reported to Washington that:

Jews hope poverty will cause laborers [to] return [to] Haifa as many are already doing despite Arab attempts [to] persuade them [to] keep out.

Two days later, according to Lippincott, Farid Saad of the National Committee (the official leadership body of Haifa Arabs), acknowledged that Jewish leaders had “organized a large propaganda campaign to persuade [the] Arabs to return.” In contrast, the Arab Emergency Committee employed scaremongering and threats to keep residents from returning. For example, Sheikh Abd al-Rahman Murad of the National Committee warned a number of escapees from the neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas that if they returned as they planned, the Jews would kill them allwomen and children alike.

Even Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, acknowledged the Arab leadership’s responsibility in creating a mass Arab exodus from Mandate Palestine:

Since 1948, we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return. (The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, p. 386-7)

Likewise, refugee Habib Issa recalled:

The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade. . . . He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions that Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean. . . . Brotherly advice was given to Arabs to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down. (Al-Hoda, June 8, 1951)


1) Bisharat implies that Israel is to blame for poor infrastructure in Israeli Arab towns: “Palestinian towns and villages are starved of resources, with many lacking connections to the country’s electrical or water systems.”

As Tzvi Bar, Mayor of Ramat Gan, pointed out in an Oct. 13, 2002 Ma’ariv article, Israeli Arab towns have inferior infrastructure largely because much of the Israeli Arab population has failed to pay its taxes:

Among the jobs of a local council is to build roads, set up a water and sewage system and infrastructure, and other assorted services. The Arab town councils also have to give these services to their residents. But, if the readers will examine the Ministry of the Interior data, he will discover–to his shock perhaps–that in the past decade the property tax debt in the Israeli Arab sector has accumulated to over two billion shekels! Not only that, but the Arab town councils, which include 10.4 percent of Israel’s total population, receive 24.3 percent of the total balance grants which are given to local councils throughout Israel. The meaning of this for the year 1999 alone is that the Arab local councils received grants exceeding half a billion shekels to their relative numbers. Why do the Arab local councils deserve to be supported by the government at the expense of the Jewish local councils?

2) Bisharat writes:

Ironically, those who today protest that the return of the refugees would destroy Israel unwittingly confirm this viewpoint, for the refugees are simply the Palestinians and their offspring who would have become Israeli citizens had they not been exiled.

Israeli Arabs who have grown up as Israeli citizens are quite a different population than many Palestinian Arabs who have been subjected to years of vicious anti-Israel propaganda disseminated in the Arab countries in which they have resided.

CAMERA continues to research other questionable allegations by Bisharat.

Update:  Times Prints a Correction Feb. 1

On Feb. 1, the paper printed the following correction:

Israeli Arabs — A Jan. 25 Opinion article by George Bisharat, “Right of Return” stated that Israeli citizens who are Palestinians cannot serve in the Israeli armed forces. In fact, although they cannot be drafted and most choose not to serve, Israeli Palestinians can enlist in the service.

Hopefully, once the Los Angeles Times completes fact-checking, a correction on the error regarding Israeli Arabs’ access to state-owned and JNF-owned land will also be forthcoming.

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