Less than two weeks after The Washington Post recycled as news “Breaking the Silence’s” bogus compilation alleging widespread Israel military abuses in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s war against Hamas, (see “Washington Post Falls for Breaking the Silence’s Report,” May 5, 2015, CAMERA) the newspaper similarly published an omissions-riddled “Nakba Day” reminiscence. The feature “Letter From Israel: Onetime Palestinian negotiator revisits boyhood memories in Jaffa” (May 16) by Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth, ostensibly detailed Nabil Shaath’s search for his childhood home.
The Post, in a two-column, color photo by Booth, shows Shaath wearing a suit and tie, smiling “at the gate of his once-stately childhood home in Jaffa, Israel.” It describes him as “the former chief peace negotiator for the Palestinians.” The customarily well-dressed Shaath, with a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, did play that role in the pre- and early post-1993 Oslo diplomatic process.
But he also joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1970, when the Soviet-supported PLO was one of the world’s leading terrorist organizations (“Nabil Shaath,” JewishVirtualLibrary.com). For decades Shaath served as a senior aide to the organization’s leader, Yasser Arafat, and his advice apparently contributed to the latter’s shoot-talk-shoot strategy.
Though well-dressed and well-spoken, with friends in the United States and Israel, a sense of Shaath’s approach to negotiating peace with the Jewish state can be gleaned from his view of negotiations and violence as intertwined. He has implied that a return to terrorism—formally disavowed by Arafat in 1993 to start the “peace process”—is a permissible response to Israeli rejection of Palestinian demands. For example, “the popular struggle is a fundamental principle whose importance equals that of the armed struggle, since it is the responsibility and task of all the people. The current distancing from the armed struggle [during diplomacy with Israel] does not mean its absolute rejection” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, a Palestinian Authority newspaper, May 21, 2010).
According to The Post, Shaath “served as a Palestinian negotiator at eight major talks and across the table from teams sent by five Israeli prime ministers. Once or twice, he said, he thought a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was within reach, only to see it recede.”
Why did it recede? Because Arafat and the PLO/PA refused to comply with 1993 and 1995 commitments to end anti-Israel incitement, to conduct “peace education,” to extirpate the terrorist infrastructure and to resolve all outstanding issues through bilateral negotiations? Because at Camp David in July, 2000 Arafat rejected the U.S.-Israeli offer of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for Palestinian-Israeli peace? Because two months later he launched the second intifada terrorism war? The Post neither asks nor tells.
In 2002, Shaath was one of those Palestinian spokesmen peddling the myth of an Israeli massacre in Jenin. In 2014, he was at it again, again courtesy of Cable News Network, wildly alleging that 70 percent of Arab casualties in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s war against Hamas were women, children and the elderly. The percentage probably was less than half that, including some likely killed by Palestinian mortars and rockets that fell short of Israel. (See “Fool Me Twice: CNN Falls for False Casualty Numbers,” Aug. 5, 2014, CAMERA.)
In 1998, a Palestinian legislative council investigation found evidence of criminal corruption against Shaath, but he remained in office.
The Post feature does not begin to sketch a complete picture of Shaath, which might impinge on the credibility of his “nakba”-related recollections. Instead, it allows him to cast his return for the first time in 20 years to his boyhood house as a “Nakba Day” update.
The paper says “on Friday, as on each May 15, Palestinians commemorated ‘Nakba Day’—translated as ‘the catastrophe’—which marks the mass exodus of indigenous Arabs [emphasis added] from British Palestine during the war and upheaval that attended the birth of the State of Israel.” That’s one way to put it, but not an accurate one.
The “catastrophe” marked now by Palestinian Arabs and their supporters was the failure of five invading Arab countries and Palestinian Arab “irregulars” to destroy the new Jewish state in 1948-1949. The “mass exodus of indigenous Arabs” from what became Israel was a consequence of that “nakba,” itself brought on by the Arabs’ violent rejection of the 1947 U.N. plan to partition British Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. (The majority of lands originally intended for the mandate and reestablishment of the Jewish national home went to the Arab state of Transjordan, today Jordan, in 1921.)
As for “indigenous,” many Arabs were relatively new arrivals in Mandatory Palestine, or moved from predominately Arab areas of the Mandate to those heavily settled by Jewish immigrants and offering improved employment, health and related benefits. That is, the Zionist enterprise attracted Arab immigration to what became Israel. (See, for example, “The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922 – 1931,” by Fred M. Gottheil, Middle East Quarterly, Winter, 2003.) The United Nations Relief and Workers Agency granted refugee status after 1949 to Arabs who claimed they had lived in Israel for a minimum of two years. This suggests recognition of the transitory nature of much of the population it served.
Simple arithmetic—too hard for words
But The Post, if not quite in full “Nakba Day” mode as it was last year (“The iCatastrophe of Nakba Day Reporting,” May 15, 2014), continued: “About 700,000 Arabs either fled or were forced to flee, according to historians, and began lives of exile in a vast diaspora, even as Zionist newcomers celebrated the miracle of their return to biblical lands, to independence and safety in the aftermath of the Holocaust.” That’s one way to put it, but again, not accurately.
Somewhere between 472,000 and 650,000 Arabs fled what became Israel. (See “Backgrounder: Palestinian Arab and Jewish Refugees,” CAMERA, May 12, 2009) and “Palestinian Arab Refugees: History & Overview,” Jewish Virtual Library, May, 2013.) The U.N. Mediator on Palestine gave the for
mer estimate. The latter is the difference in Arab populations between the last British and first Israeli censuses.
About 150,000 Arabs had remained in the new Jewish state. The larger the estimate of Arab refugees, the more likely it was to include double counting, since individuals could register at one refugee aid site, move on and register again at another.
In any case, The Post fails to mention that many “Zionists” (how about Jews?) were not “newcomers,” since most of the approximately 650,000 Jews in what became Israel had been there for years before the close of World War II and end of the Holocaust in 1945. Not only that, but they would soon be joined by nearly three-quarters of the 800,000-plus Jews forced to flee ancient Jewish communities in Arab countries in the late 1940s and ’50s.
The paper also fails to note that the Arab refugees “began lives of exile” because Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan—“aided” by UNRWA—confined them to “camps” and limited employment and other opportunities. Only Jordan granted citizenship to significant numbers. Meanwhile, impoverished, besieged Israel—then rationing food—absorbed approximately 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands and several hundred thousand more Holocaust survivors.
“It is not news that the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dueling narratives of 1948 remain unresolved,” The Post acknowledges. As the academic equivalent of a Borscht Belt comedian might say, “narrative, schmarrative.” The existence of “dueling narratives” doesn’t absolve the paper of its journalistic responsibility to evaluate sources, sift evidence and, in the words of legendary Associated Press General Manager Melville Stone, written in 1914, strive for as “truthful, unbiased report” as possible.
A curious family story
Not much about what The Post recognizes is Shaath’s “Nakba Day” “excuse to take a walking tour through old Jaffa, now an Israeli city [actually, a section of Tel Aviv, as once-independent Brooklyn has been a borough of New York]” is as truthful or unbiased as possible. There are useful hints, though—if readers already know the history. For example:
Shaath’s family, pre-Israel, is presented as having been affluent. “His father was the headmaster of a prominent secondary school for boys, Shaath explained, and so the family lived in a columnated [columned?] two-story home with a lush garden and a fish pond.”
But they left Jaffa for Alexandria, Egypt “in 1947, Shaath said. His father had gotten in trouble with the British Mandate authorities, who accused him of fomenting unrest against the empire.”
Of the flight of Palestinian Arab leaders in 1947, when Arab “irregulars” waged a terrorist civil war against Palestinian Jews, and in particular that of Jaffa’s local elite, Sir Henry Gurney, Britain’s chief secretary of Palestine, said “it is pathetic to see how the Arabs have been deserted by their leaders.” Was Shaath’s father fomenting unrest against the empire, or against the possibility of Jewish statehood in Mandatory Palestine? Again, The Post fails to clarify.
The article does supply some background and atmospherics familiar to anyone who’s visited Jaffa recently. “Jaffa today is about two-thirds Jewish and one-third Arab; the city is being rapidly gentrified and absorbed as a beach town of Tel Aviv.” Yes, except it hasn’t been a city for decades and is more a beach neighborhood in Tel Aviv than a town “of Tel Aviv.”
Of the former Palestinian chief peace negotiator, “reminiscing about the scent of jasmine blossoms and salty air,” according to The Post, “when he finally reached his old home, Shaath stood at the gate of a crumbling mansion. The first time he was allowed to return to see the house—with a military escort in 1994—he said he wept on the sidewalk. Today he was beaming.”
And why not? Another “Nakba Day,” another “walking tour … trailed by a clutch of journalists.”