Media Critique #15 - Harper's Magazine and The Palestinian Question
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Media Critique #15 - Harper's Magazine and The Palestinian Question

Media Critique #15 - Harper's Magazine and The Palestinian Question

This overview of Palestinian issues is grossly one-sided. Such blatant propaganda does not belong in any respectable publication.

by Aish.com Staff

In the January 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, an article entitled "The Palestinian Question" by Alex and Stephen Shalom is riddled with distortions, lack of context, selective omission, and outright factual inaccuracy. The article -- which accuses Israel of "barbarism," "fierce prejudice," "systematic violence," and even "ethnic cleansing"-- goes beyond historical revisionism or propaganda. It approaches plain fiction.

WHOSE REFUGEES?

The Harper's article terms the 1948 War of Independence as a "civil war and then a regional war." In fact, it was an all-out Arab war designed to abort the Jewish State at birth, in rejection of the 1947 UN Partition Plan which called for separate Jewish and Arab states.

The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, declared in May 1948: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."

Israel's leaders accepted the U.N. partition plan. Had the Arabs also accepted the plan, Israel would have remained a miniscule state, a Palestinian state would have been created, and there would be no refugee problem.

Yet the Harper's article presents the Palestinian refugees as a problem created by Israel. The article accuses Israel of "ethnic cleansing,"and declares:

"The occupying Israelis, moreover, were not content to simply block the emergence of a Palestinian state; they wanted also to expel as many Palestinians as possible."

In fact, there is a large body of evidence that in many areas, particularly in the Haifa region, Israeli officials attempted to persuade Arabs to stay. On October 2, 1948, the London Economist reported an eyewitness account of the flight of Haifa's Arabs:

"There is little doubt that the most potent of the factors [in the flight] were the announcements made over the air by the Arab Higher Executive urging all Arabs in Haifa to quit... And it was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades."

The Jordanian daily Falastin wrote on February 19, 1949:

"The Arab states... encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies."

In an act of selective omission, throughout the 4-page article no mention is made of violent Arab attacks during this period which forced 600,000 Jews to flee countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Morocco -- leaving behind their homes, businesses, an estimated $30 billion in assets, and hundreds of years of Jewish history.

In another act of selective omission, the Harper's article focuses on the plight of Palestinian refugees since 1967, when they lived under Israeli control. But the article never condemns Jordan or Egypt for the 19 years (1948-67) when Jordan controlled the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. During this time, the Arab states never offered self-determination to their Palestinian brethren -- and kept them wallowing in poverty camps.

HISTORICAL REVISIONISM

The Harper's article dismisses the 1967 war in an off-handed fashion, "Israel conquered Jordan's share of Palestine." That's it. No mention of the existential threat faced by Israel on all its borders. No mention of Jordan's initial attack on Israel. (Israel had to pull troops from other fronts to counterattack.) And what is "Jordan's share of Palestine," cited by the Harper's article? It is the area allocated in 1947 to the stillborn Arab state -- that Jordan annexed illegally.

The article also ignores the long and bloody history of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, and downplays the serious nature of Palestinian violence. In the original article from which this Harper's piece is excerpted, the authors minimize Palestinian terrorism by terming it "the occasional mindless excesses by some frustrated Palestinians (such as the trashing of Joseph's tomb, a Jewish holy place)."

The Harper's article characterizes the 1987 intifada as "Palestinian children throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with automatic weapons."Palestinian riots are labeled "nonviolent resistance... remarkably disciplined and courageous."

The article also completely disregards Israel's historical claims to the Holy Land. The authors refer to Ariel Sharon's visit to the Moslem "Haram al Sharif" -- yet make no mention of this as Judaism's single holiest site, the location of the two Holy Temples and the focus of Jewish yearning for millennia.

To its credit, the Harper's article does place blame for Palestinian frustration on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat:

"Arafat has ruled the Palestinian Authority with a brutally authoritarian fist... Arafat has further alienated himself from the Palestinian people, who no longer see him as their champion but a s a corrupt collaborator."

DISTORTIONS ON THE RIGHT OF RETURN

The Harper's article echoes the Palestinian call for the "right of return," emphasizing that "the U.N. General Assembly has regularly reaffirmed its 1948 resolution endorsing the right of refugees to return to their homes."

However, the article fails to convey that the right of return -- which Palestinians say applies to 3.7 million people -- represents a call for the demographic overrunning of Israel. This is in direct violation of Resolution 194, which explicitly conditions the refugees' return on their willingness to "live at peace with their neighbors." The recent violence and incitement would indicate that Palestinians have little intention of living in peace with Israel.

The article also fails to mention that at the time, Resolution 194 was rejected by all Arab states because it was deemed too moderate.

Moreover, the Harper's article omits the basic idea that General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, nor part of the corpus of international law. The only U.N. resolutions that are binding and agreed upon by all parties today, including the PLO, are UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Resolution 242 affirms the need for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem," but never mentions a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.

In a blatantly distortion of facts, the Harper's article declares that:

"Israeli settlements -- whose presence even the United States government has always considered a violation of international law..."

In truth, the Clinton administration has pointedly avoided calling the settlements "a violation of international law,"referring to them instead "an obstacle to peace."Or in the words of Ronald Reagan:

"As far as I read 242, the United Nations Resolution, the West Bank was to remain open to all -- the Palestinians, the Jews, the Christians..."(Christian Science Monitor, 04 April 80)

CONCLUSION

The State of Israel is not the sole victim of the warped criticism of authors Alex Shalom (a consultant in New York City) and Stephen Shalom (a teacher of political science at William Paterson University). In recent years, these revisionists have attacked Henry Kissinger as a "war criminal;" accused the U.S. of "terrorism" for bombing a suspected terrorist plant in Sudan; criticized Germany for selling weapons to Turkey, a key U.S. ally; censured the U.S. Government for attacking suspected Iraqi weapons sites; and denounced American defense planners for dropping atomic bombs to end World War Two.

For more examples of Stephen Shalom's biased work, see recent editions of "New Politics" and ZNET commentaries.

Though the Harper's article is an "opinion piece,"such blatant propaganda does not belong in any respectable publication. As explained by James Hill, the managing editor of the Washington Post Writers Group:

"You have to hold columnists to the same standard as anyone at the newspaper. If a column writer is making egregious errors in the process of stating his or her opinion, eventually it's not the columnist who's doing that, it's the paper that's doing that."

Address your complaints to: letters@harpers.org

Though the Harper's article does not appear online, the original article from which the Harper's piece is excerpted, is online at:
http://www.uuhome.de/global/english/WTO046.html

Published: December 31, 1969


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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Todd, November 2, 2001 12:00 AM

Question: can Israel even theoretically do any wrong, ever?

Sad and wrong.
The state of Israel could run over your dog and you'd apologize for crossing the street!

Los Angeles, CA

(1) andy white, September 29, 2001 12:00 AM

Important information, but. . .

A listserv colleague recommended your site, which I will bookmark to read from whenever I have the time. I am glad to see the clarifications you offered.

One thing, though: it may be more helpful to note the deeper issues that lie at the bottom of the biases you find in the articles in Harper's. For instance, the reluctance of Arab nations to negotiate over what became Israel, as I understand it was based in part on the perception that Arabs were being punished for the sins of Europe and the USA. [There are, of course, other reasons. There will always be Palestinians who are anti-Semitic, no matter how charitable Israelis are.]

Another problem: it is partially correct to state that in certain regions the Palestinians were dealt with in a civil manner during the war for Israel. But it is wrong to use those references to imply that no Palestinians were killed or forced out of their villages. Many were, and those refugees must be acknowledged. The reality was complex, and in the long run it requires a village-by-village survey to figure out to what degree they walked out, and to what degree they were forced out.

Again, you provide a valuable source of information, I'd just like to push you all a bit further down the road you've already taken.

Best wishes,

Andy White
Arlington, VA

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