A few days ago, Palestinian-American journalist/comedian Ray Hanania wrote an interesting Facebook post. I didn’t know much about him, but I follow him on Twitter and never saw anything particularly offensive there, which is why I was so disturbed when I actually sat down to read what he posted on Facebook.
The post itself was a response to a message he received from an Israeli. So it would seem he is already more open-minded than the PA and most in the Arab world since he is willing to engage in “normalization,” that is, talk to Israelis like fellow human beings (something he did more publicly with the “Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour,” to his credit). But in his quest to “respond to these lies, or twisted propaganda” he shows that he is just as beholden to traditional Palestinian myths as any card-carrying member of Fatah.
But Mr. Hanania’s post was polite (mostly) and the eternal optimist in me would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I decided to – as dispassionately possible – respond to his points and explain where he went wrong and how his many omissions and falsehoods paint an inaccurate picture of our history. If nothing else, it should help others counter these myths.
“The Arabs rightly rejected in 1947 the UN Partition plan for Palestine which divided the country into six overlapping segments that formed two states. Except, the Jewish State was far larger than the Arab State, even though the Jewish population at the time was only 33 percent of the entire country.”
Yes the Jewish State was larger, but the vast majority of its territory was the Negev desert due to Ben Gurion’s hopeful, yet so far unfulfilled vision of it becoming the demographic heart of the state. However, it was also clear that the new state would soon be inundated with refugees (both from Europe and the Muslim world) and these numbers needed to be taken into account as well. It is beyond hypocritical for the Palestinians, who constantly bring up the needs of their own diaspora community to then turn around and say the Jewish diaspora community has no rights.
More importantly, Mr. Hanania’s assertion that the Arab rejection of peaceful partition was unjust because “the Jewish State was far larger than the Arab State” rings hollow when confronted with the fact that the Arab “counter proposal” from Sub Committee 2 was not for a larger Arab State and a smaller Jewish State, but for a single Arab State and no Jewish State at all! Hanania could argue that the Jews got too much land without being anti-peace or anti-Jewish, but he can’t reasonably argue the Jews got too much land from one proposal and therefore they should have gotten no land from another.
“The fact is that not one Arab State began fighting with Israel until May 15, 1948 … but in the two years before that, the Haganah and the Irgun and the Stern gang were involved in numerous and vicious military attacks against Palestinian civilians and the British government.”
This is all true and yet it doesn’t tell the full story by any stretch. Not one Arab State began fighting with Israel until May 15, 1948, not because they were trying to give peace a chance, but because the territory was being occupied and run by the British. The Arab states were certainly waging a war of words and had they invested as much energy into their war effort as they did in their propaganda campaign, perhaps they would have fared better. What’s more, both Jordan and Egypt were not only still controlled by Great Britain to varying degrees but their militaries were actively being funded, supplied and trained by the United Kingdom; by treaty the UK had 10,000 troops stationed at Suez who would not sit idly by while armies marched on British positions in Mandatory Palestine. The Jordanian Arab Legion was led by British officers who would not allow for attacks on British territory, though they happily led the forces into battle against the nascent State of Israel once the British withdrew.
The local Arabs, on the other hand, did not wait until Israel declared independence to start fighting. Not only had they been fighting against the Yishuv for decades, but riots and attacks escalated as soon as the UN voted for Partition in November 1947. Since they chose to begin the war while the British were still firmly in control, the Zionist leadership was able to adopt the policy of Havlagah, leaving most of the defense to the British authorities (at least for a few months).
Yes the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi carried out attacks in the years prior to Independence; some of which were defensible like attacks on British and Arab military installations, some of which were indefensible, like attacks on civilians. However, neither the extremist Irgun nor mainstream Haganah had a policy of killing or expelling all Arabs, rather their main goal was to change the unfair and deadly British policy of restricting Jewish immigration while Jews were dying in the Holocaust and later languishing in DP camps.
“The Arabs rejected the plan, and lost in 1948 and again in 1967 when Israel took advantage of the bombastic rhetoric of Egypt as a justification to attack and occupy the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem. That is a fact.”
No, Mr. Hanania, that is not a fact, that is rank propaganda. Israel did not start the Six Day War because of “the bombastic rhetoric of Egypt.” This rhetoric was coupled with concrete actions like the expulsion of UNEF “peacekeepers” from Sinai, replacing them with the Egyptian army and the actual casus belli: the closure of the Straights of Tiran to Israeli shipping. After war finally broke out with Egypt, the Israeli government sent secret letters to the King of Jordan begging him to stay out of the war, however, he rejected these entreaties and joined the war leading to Israeli counter-attacks and the conquest of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. Had Jordan sat out the war, it would not have been targeted, which is exactly what happened in 1973.
“That’s why the Arabs have since accepted Israel’s right to exist.”
The Arabs have not, in fact, accepted Israel’s right to exist. Some have recognized that a state called Israel does in fact exist, however no Arab state or leader has accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. This is like the Soviet Union saying they accept America’s right to exist but not as a Constitutional Republic. Recognizing Israel’s right to exist but not its raison d’etre is completely empty and is the source of the current conflict. I’m sure if Israel recognized a state of Palestine, but refused to recognize it as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, Mr. Hanania would agree such a recognition would be hollow.
“The fact is during the years after 1948 and after 1967, Israel HAS NOT treated the Palestinian civilians with respect. Israel has brutalized and oppressed Christians and Muslims (my family included) and have stripped them of their rights not just to their land but to their dignity. You have pushed them into buntastans driven by apartheid-like discrimination. You and I both know Gilo is a racist settlement that discriminates against non-Jews.”
I won’t deny that Israel did things it shouldn’t have or done things poorly that could have been done better in regards to Palestinian civilians. However, the fact of the matter is that Israeli Arab citizens and Jerusalem residents, by a wide margin, consistently express their desire to remain in Israel in any final peace deal. That means that even if they were able to stay in their homes, with their lands and have the border move around them, they want to stay under Israeli democratic control – flawed as it may be – rather than be ruled by a Palestinian government. Jews from the Muslim world can’t even be asked the inverse of this since the vast majority of them were expelled or compelled to leave after being stripped of their citizenship, property and lands.
It is odd that Mr. Hanania would single out Gilo as a “racist settlement that discriminates against non-Jews.” Gilo is built on land that was legally purchased by Jews in the 1930s but were prevented from living on it during the Jordanian occupation and has since been annexed to the Jerusalem municipality. What’s more, Gilo is one of the few areas where concrete separation barriers have actually been removed due to decreases of violence in the area, showing that such measures are in fact temporary and based not on race (there are Arab residents of Gilo after all), but on security necessity.
“The Saudis and Arab League have put forth a fundamental peace plan based on Two-States and recognizing Israel. In fact, the majority of the Arabs HAVE recognized Israel as a state and so have the Palestinians (PLO and PNA)”
We have already discussed how the PA has never recognized Israel as a Jewish State (do we really need to point out Hamas refuses any recognition as well?) but while Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania have made peace with Israel as a state, they and the rest of the Arab world have not made peace with Israel as the Jewish State. The peace plan Hanania is referring to is the Arab Peace Initiative and while it is certainly a step in the right direction there are 2 major problems with it:
- It does not recognize Israel as the Jewish State and instead calls for resolving the “Palestinian refugee problem” along the guidelines of UNAR 194, which supports the “right of return.”
- It was presented as a take it or leave it deal, which means it was yet another attempt by the Arabs to simply get everything they want without giving Israel even the chance to counter-offer or raise its own concerns or needs.
Could Israel have had a better political response to this? Sure, but the fact remains that while the Arab League has reaffirmed support for the Initiative, it has not wavered from its all-or-nothing approach and continues to refuse direct negotiations that might actually bring about a workable and equitable deal.
“But, has Israel officially recognized the right of Palestinians to statehood? And why does Israel reject Two-States and not simply agree to a land swap deal? The answer is Israel does not want to surrender the land. It is about the land. AND, Israel does not want to share Jerusalem, nor does it want to address the issue of the refugees that lost their lands and homes in 1948.”
Sorry to burst Mr. Hanania’s bubble, but Israel HAS officially recognized the right of Palestinians to statehood. Not through meaningless speeches (though we have plenty of those as well) but through concrete actions. Israel accepted Palestinian statehood at Camp David in 2000, it accepted in as part of the Clinton Parameters in 2001, it de facto accepted it in 2005 when it handed over all of Gaza to Palestinian control, it was reaffirmed by Israeli voters in 2006 when they voted in Kadima solely based on its Realignment plan, it was also official government policy when Prime Minister Olmert offered a peace plan in 2008. That is 5 times the Israeli government not only recognized the right of Palestinians to statehood but actually put offers on the table to make it a reality. It was the Palestinian Authority that said no to each and every one of these deals and did so without making a single counter-offer.
“(I know many Israelis counter than many Jews lost their lands and homes in the Arab World, but they unilaterally argue that the tradeoff should nullify the consequences. I disagree. Compensate both.)”
It is refreshing that Hanania at least acknowledges the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from the Islamic World (it wasn’t only Arab countries), however he is wrong about this as well. Most Israelis do want compensation, recognition and apologies for these actions, however when we bring it up we are told that we are just adding another needless obstacle to peace since none of these Jews are still refugees today (since Israel treated them like human beings and didn’t weaponize them the way the Arabs have with the Palestinians). We also recognize that it is incredibly unlikely that we will ever get anything in the way of an apology, let alone compensation, and therefore many simply say we should call it even (even though more Jews were made refugees and lost property of far greater value). I agree both should be compensated accordingly, but I’m also open to simply being pragmatic.
“Secondly, I also argue and believe that the mainstream news media is biased and anti-Arab and very pro-Israel. There are probably 1,000 more Jewish journalists in the United States for every one Arab journalists in the United States and I believe that is significant in driving this bias because it is the American mainstream news media that defines the world’s perceptions of the conflict, more than any other country (Arab, Israeli or European) … I do blame my own community for not doing more, but I also blame the wall of racism the media puts up to silence any Arab American who writes in a positive way about Palestine at the expense of Israel’s image”
Sadly Mr. Hanania now dredges up classic Jew-hatred. Just because he is married to a Jew doesn’t mean he can repeat the old “Jews run the media” canard and claim it’s something new. Are there lots of Jewish journalists? Sure. Are they all working to ram though a pro-Israel agenda across the board? If so, they’re failing badly. In fact, many Jewish journalists end up bending over backwards in favor of the Palestinians just to prove they aren’t biased. It is welcome that Mr. Hanania takes responsibility for the lack of Arab American action, but until I see Arab journalists bending over backward to prevent the appearance of anti-Israel bias, I don’t think anyone can make a serious claim that the media is pro-Israel. In the meantime, it would be prudent for Hanania to apologize for trafficking in antisemitism.
We hear from Israelis about wiping out the Palestinians. Transfer. Denying equal rights. Denying land rights. I own 33 dunum of land inherited from my great great grandmother adjacent to Gilo … you can go visit it anytime you want but I can’t do anything with it because I am Christian Palestinian American … It was West Bank land. Why does Israel prevent people like me from making claims to our land that we own?
This is a poor attempt at deflection. The Israeli who Mr. Hanania was originally responding to asked why Palestinians don’t speak out for peace. When was the last time there was a rally for peace and two states for two peoples in Judea, Samaria or Gaza? Has there ever been a single one? Israelis hold them regularly and they are attended by MKs of both the Right and Left. Palestinians have no problem coming out to celebrate terror attacks and the PA actually spends 5-6% of its annual budget on salaries for terrorists and their families as payment for a job well done. I’m sure if the Israeli government was paying a salary to Baruch Goldstein’s family Mr. Hanania would be outraged (and rightly so) but apparently when the PA does this, it make Abbas a “moderate.”
If Mr. Hanania really does own land near Gilo, I encourage him to file a claim with the Israeli Supreme Court. Many Palestinians have done so and won and there are claims under review right now. No one is preventing him from making a claim, but one also can’t just show up somewhere, say you own it and expect people to just hand it over. He should file a claim and get his day in court. If it is denied, then he can complain, but not before.
“I don’t defend Hamas. But I do know that Hamas grew out of a stupid policy by Sharon and Shamir to undermine the PLO in the 1980s. The Israelis nurtured Hamas into existence by supporting Sheikh Yassin believing a religious entity would be more docile and less political and would create a rival leadership to Arafat, who was secular.”
“I don’t defend Hamas. But…” I have long believed that you can tell whether someone is serious about condemning something by seeing if they follow the condemnation up with a “but.” It is a way to qualify a condemnation (or in Mr. Hanania’s case, merely a refusal to defend) that robs it of any real teeth. This is born out by his refusal have Hamas or the Palestinians take any responsibility for their own actions. Israel does deserve a minor share of blame for any misguided actions it took towards Hamas at the beginning, but Hamas is to blame for its own actions, its founding, its ideology of genocidal Jew-hatred and for murdering hundreds of Jews. If one can’t simply state that this is an organization that deserves nothing but unequivocal condemnation, then you are truly morally bankrupt.
“Arafat was no more a terrorist than Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir or Ariel Sharon.”
I won’t bother going in to just how disgusting and wrong this is. But I will say this: Most Israelis have a lot of respect for Begin, Shamir and Sharon. The only thing I will say is that when Israelis talk about these men, most will talk about their roles in fighting the British occupation, fending off the invading Arab armies and their leadership as Prime Ministers. If you go to the Begin Museum, you won’t find exhibits celebrating Irgun attacks on Arab civilians and at Sharon’s funeral, no one spoke reverently about his indirect role at Sabra and Shatilla. The same cannot be said for Palestinian reverence for Arafat and Ahmed Yassin (did Hanania really felt the need to call him Sheikh?!). Fatah recently celebrated its 52nd anniversary. Not 52 years since it was founded, but 52 years since its first terror attack (2 years before the occupation began, it should be remembered). If in the future Palestinians want to rewrite history and remember Arafat as a founding father who spoke out for Palestinian rights at the UN and in Washington, at least then they would only be lying instead of filling their kids with hatred and a glorification of death.
“When the Israelis left Gaza, they didn’t “leave” They relocated and surrounded Gaza and imposed a vicious and brutal embargo to punish the civilians living there.”
No, the embargo was only put in place after Palestinians voted in Hamas and it violently took over the territory. What’s more, I don’t hear Mr. Hanania’s or anyone else’s moral outrage at the hermetically sealed Egyptian border, while dozens of tons of goods and building materials cross the Israel-Gaza border daily.
“How do Israelis live with themselves being brutal people given that they survived the most brutal and vicious assault on humanity ever, the Holocaust? The Palestinians in Gaza are constantly attacked at whim and will by Israel. The Israelis attack Gaza all the time and when Palestinians respond with far less superior weaponry, the Israeli respond with even more brutal force. How many missile and fighter jet attacks have there been against the Palestinians in Gaza? Far more than Palestinians have fired rockets at Israelis.”
Palestinians are not “attacked at whim” by Israel. Israel responds to rockets aimed at its civilians and fired from among civilians as any nation would. Actually, that’s not true. Israel responds in a much more restrained and careful way than any other nation facing similar threats ever has. Not only does Israel carefully review each strike as against all available intelligence, but it make phone calls, sends texts messages, drops fliers, does roof knocks and often calls off attacks when it is clear that civilians have not left the area or are being used as human shields. We are not the brutal ones, Mr. Hanania, it is the Palestinian terror groups of Gaza, the ones attacking civilians and callously using their own people as shields, who are the brutal ones. The fact that they are prevented from causing more destruction is not due to their lack of effort but to our military and moral superiority.
“There is continued peace talks from the Palestinians and the Arab side. The Arab League peace plan remains on the table. The Palestinians have agreed to participate in peace talks hosted by the French. But it is Israel that rejects peace. They want to control peace. Israel has the power to make peace but the government, which is fanatic and far right, does not really want peace. If they did there would be peace.”
There is plenty of peace “talk” from the Palestinians and the Arab side, but there is no action. Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu to negotiate without preconditions. Abbas is willing to talk with the French, but not with the Israelis. His entire strategy has been to try to get the international community to impose a pro-Palestinian solution from the outside; a solution where Israeli interests aren’t taken into account. The Arab Peace Ultimatum is still on the table, but actually meeting with Israeli leaders to negotiate a deal that doesn’t require Israel to hand over everything up front for nothing but a promise? That’s nowhere to be found. The Disengagement of 2005 proved that Israel does not have the power to make peace on its own. Until the Palestinian leadership sits down and agrees to a compromise with Israel, there will be no Palestinian state and no peace for anyone.
“If Israelis openly said they recognize the right of Palestinians to statehood, agreed publicly and in writing (not vocally as Ehud Barak did with Clinton and Arafat), and if they said they would support a reasonable way to “share” Jerusalem and address the rights of Palestinian refugees, we would have peace today.”
The reason why Israel only agreed to Palestinian statehood vocally at Camp David and in 2008 was because the Palestinians refused to accept the deals! Had the Palestinian Authority accepted the deals, then it would have been in writing as a final peace agreement with everyone’s signatures on it. But Israel isn’t going to write down a far-reaching deal, giving up strategic territory and resources, just to have Abbas pocket it and ask for more. Given that Arafat and Abbas both turned down offers without making counter-proposals there is no reason to think that this time would be any different. If Abbas is interested in turning over a new leaf, he is the one who needs to convince us since he’s the rejectionist, not the other way around.
The vision of peace that Mr. Hanania laid out in his original post is actually incredibly close to the deals that were offered in 2000, 2001 and especially 2008. In all instances it was Israel that accepted those deals and the Palestinians who rejected them out of hand. What’s more, his interesting compromise of 1 settler for 1 Palestinian “refugee” is a compelling compromise that might work out in negotiations had Abbas not already explicitly said no Jews can live in the future Palestinian state. It would stand to reason that if Mr. Hanania truly believes in this vision of peace, he should work to get the Palestinian Authority to agree to such a deal. Israel already has on multiple occasions.
“But keep in mind, we almost had that but it was an Israeli Jewish settler who murdered Yitzhak Rabin and it was an Israeli violent extremist, Ariel Sharon, who provoked the region into conflict away from Rabin’s peace. Had Rabin not been murdered by an Israeli, we would have peace today.”
This is the biggest myth of all. It was not Yigal Amir’s bullet that killed Oslo, it was Arafat’s complete rejection of Camp David, the Clinton Parameters and Taba. In fact, if you read Rabin’s speeches and writings from the early 90s, it is clear that he would not have made as generous an offer as Barak put on the table in 2000. What’s more, it wasn’t Sharon who provoked the Second Intifada, it was Arafat who orchestrated it and unleashed after rejecting Camp David. Arafat’s Minister of Communications openly admitted as much (to Palestinian cheers):
Suha Arafat has publicly confirmed this as well. And yet “moderates” like Mr. Hanania continue to keep alive the myth that the Second Intifada was just a spontaneous reaction to Ariel Sharon.
“I have taken the time to respond so maybe you might hear what I am saying. You can chose to listen and understand or simply engage in a back and forth of argument without accepting anything I have said as legitimate grievance.
Peace means listening to both sides.”
There is a difference between accepting legitimate grievances of the Palestinians (of which there are some) and accepting lies and half-truths that distort reality. Mr. Hanania requests we hear what he has to say but does not seem willing to do the same for us.
I agree that the violent sectors of the Palestinian and Arab and Muslim community are growing. It is a fact. That violence is getting worse and is driven by emotion and anger that turns into hate … but to pretend that is not what is happening on your side is shameful
No. The violence, hatred and anger coming from the Palestinian community is not driven by emotion and anger. It is driven by a carefully crafted policy of incitement by Palestinian leadership and whole-heartedly helped along by everyday Palestinians on social media who have already chosen to hate.
Is there hatred on the Israeli side as well? Of course there is. The difference is that we don’t pay our extremists, we lock them up. We don’t praise and give military honors to the few Jewish terrorists who actually murdered Palestinian civilians, we condemned them from Right to Left and threw them in jail. Every society has extremists, it is how that society reacts to them that is important. Certainly Israel can add to its ongoing campaign against Jewish extremism, but the Palestinians haven’t even begun their own. To pretend there is any kind of equivalence in this regard is shameful.
Thank you for writing and I hope this effort was worth it for you
Thank you for reading my response. I hope my effort was worth it for you as well.
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