Thursday, March 09, 2006

Annexation? Colonies? Inflammatory U.K. Media Bias

On March 6th The Scotsman ran a story with the incredible headline Israel 'plans to annex West Bank colonies' in response to Hamas. The story, of course, was about former GSS Chief and Kadima Knesset candidate Avi Dichter's detailing of Prime Minister Olmert's plans for unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria. The headline was the most inflammatory part of the piece, of course, and it colors how a reader not intimately familiar with the history of the area and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will view further disengagement. Allow me, if you will, to dissect and debunk this headline.

First, calling the West Bank settlements "colonies" is inaccurate. Some, such as Gush Etzion and pretty much the entire Etzion bloc, were Jewish property and Jewish towns prior to 1948. Israeli forces had to evacuate the population when the Jordanian army conquered the area during Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence. Why does 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation turn Israeli Jewish towns into colonies? Why was Jordan's occupation deemed somehow legitimate and Israel's subsequent control of the area for the next nearly 39 years somehow illegitimate?

Similarly the Jewish community of Hebron lived for many centuries in peace with their Arab neighbors. It was only the violence incited by then Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and the subsequent Hebron massacre of 1929, that drove the Jewish community out. The "settlers" in Hebron have simply reclaimed homes and property that was Jewish for centuries and restored a community in a city that is holy to the Jewish people. Hebron is, after all, the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. President Bill Clinton recognized this, proposing at Camp David in 2000 that Palestinians lease the Jewish enclaves in the city to the Jewish inhabitants and/or Israel indefinitely. His idealistic vision was one of Jews and Palestinian Arabs once again living together in peace. Does either the terrorism and slaughter of 1929 or the Jordanian occupation of Hebron from 1948 until 1967 negate the Jewish claims in the city and centuries of continued Jewish presence there?

Other settlements, such as Alfe Menashe and Gilboa, were placed at strategic high spots along the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line which divided Israel from Jordan. Alfe Menashe, for example, was a barren hill and the home of a Jordanian gun emplacement. From Alfe Menashe on a clear day one can see almost the entirety of the coastal plain, from Haifa in the north, to Hadera, Netanya, Herzliya, Tel Aviv, and even Ashdod in the south. That represents 70% of Israel's population. The Jordanians routinely used the site to shell Israeli cities. Does it make any sense at all to turn such a hillside over to a hostile enemy like Hamas? Building a town there and establishing a permanent presence was common sense and a prudent measure to insure there would be no future attacks.

The armistice line, despite attempts by the media to portray it as a recognized border, was nothing of the sort. U.N. Resolution 242 called for withdrawal from territories, but not necessarily a withdrawal to the Green Line. Rather Israel was to have secure and recognized borders reached through negotiation. Again, common sense dictates that if the pre-1967 arrangements left Israel terribly vulnerable certain adjustments would have to be made. Settlements like Alfe Menashe and Gilboa are within both the letter and the spirit of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338.

Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the U.N. in 1967 and the author of Resolution 242, put it this way speaking on the PBS new program The MacNeil/Lehrer Report on March 30, 1978:We didn't say there should be a withdrawal to the '67 line; we did not put the 'the' in, we did not say all the territories, deliberately.. We all knew - that the boundaries of '67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier... We did not say that the '67 boundaries must be forever.Russian delegate Vasily Kuznetsov was even more forceful in defending Israel's right to secure borders:... phrases such as 'secure and recognized boundaries'. ... there is certainly much leeway for different interpretations which retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only as far as the lines which it judges convenient.Nobody in their right mind would judge leaving a nation's citizens open to regular shelling and mortar attacks 'convenient'.

Mr. Dichter's announcement made no mention of annexation. Rather it said that in the absence of a partner for peace Israel would have to take unilateral steps to establish secure borders. The door is open for Hamas or any future Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as Arafat claimed to do and start a new peace process, one in which the Palestinians would again have a say in the final borders.

Finally, and perhaps most damning, is that pro-Palestinian media outlets like the BBC, The Guardian, and The Scotsman, rarely if ever mention just what Israel is giving up, what legitimate claims Israel and the Jewish people have in Judea and Samaria. The term "Jew" refers to someone from Judea. Jews, in Hebrew, are Yehudim while Judea is Yehuda. This is NOT mere coincidence. Judea and Samaria are the heart of ancient Israel, dotted with Jewish historical and religious sites. Yet Prime Minister Olmert is proposing surrendering 90% of this area to a hostile enemy that will tolerate no Jewish visitors and no Jewish worship. This would be a huge sacrifice for the sake of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and it is quite controversial within Israel. Yet the media outlets in question portray the area as Palestinian lands and the Palestinian claims to these lands as uniquely legitimate. The truth is that there are two conflicting claims. However, if one is taking sides, as The Scotsman clearly is, only acknowledging one claim helps shape public opinion, particularly considering this is presented as objective news rather than editorial.

With media outlets such as this is it any wonder that we have seen an incredible rise in anti-Zionism and even anti-Semitism in the U.K.?

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