Israeli Myths

Two weeks ago George Bush bestowed his public support on Ariel Sharon’s plans for unilateral action in the West Bank and Gaza and dispelled “some longstanding myths” by recognising “realities on the ground”.

This disingenuous White House cue provides an opportunity to debunk a few other myths –” myths central to decades of Israeli propaganda.

The myth that at the end of the nineteenth century Palestine was ‘A land without people for a people without land’: Israel Zwangwill –” a contemporary of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism – uttered the phrase first. It subsequently became the marketing slogan for the Zionist project. Now almost everyone accepts –” Zionists included – that 700,000 Arabs, Moslem and Christian, were coexisting at the time alongside 70,000 Jews.

The myth that Jewish immigrants made the desert bloom: Palestinians have always held a deep attachment to the land. One hundred years ago, most of the agricultural activity was in the hands of peasants. Their citrus groves, orchards and olive trees were widely admired by visitors from Europe. According to historian Neville Barbour in The Gun and The Olive Branch (David Hirst 2003), subsequent Jewish agricultural development was more a consequence of the provision of superior funds rather than enhanced human capability. Initially philanthropists such as Baron de Rothschild provided the financial support for the Zionist enterprise – more recently, of course, it has been the United States, whose taxpayers between 1949 and 2000 contributed $140 billion in aid to the Israeli economy. In pre Zionist times, however, the desert was already blooming –” more importantly it bloomed sustainably. Today the intensive methods used by Israeli agriculture has left the Jordan River dry and aquifers dangerously depleted. The demand for water far exceeds the potential for local replenishment and it has to be imported from neighbouring countries including Turkey.

The myth that the wars of 1948 and 1967 were the result of Arab aggression: From 1942 onwards Plan Dalet was designed and refined by Zionist planners to cleanse Arab inhabitants from the region and to expand Jewish territories beyond areas granted to the embryonic Jewish state by the UN. Once the Partition of 1947 had taken place, Plan Dalet was put into immediate effect and, before regular Arab armies crossed the newly drawn borders of Israel and Palestine, two hundred and fifty thousand Palestinian refugees were already fleeing Haganah and Palmach forces –” amongst them survivors of the infamous Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin.

The 1967 war was in reality a pre-emptive strike. Plans for such an eventuality had been in the making since the end of the 1956 conflict. What is more, when the ’67’ war did break out –” contrary to views expressed at the time –” Israel’s very existence was not under threat –” a fact acknowledged by General Matitiahu Peled five years later when he stated, “There is no reason to hide the fact that since 1949 no-one was able to threaten the existence of Israel”. In The Gun and the Olive Branch, David Hirst also quotes Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Chief of Staff, who said, “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war”. As far as Israel was concerned, the war of 1956 was simply unfinished business and in 1967 prevailing regional circumstances provided Israel with the pretext to conclude it.

The myth that Israel is a democracy: It is not a democracy in the western sense. It is an ethnic democracy. Twenty per cent of Israel’s citizens are Israeli Palestinians. They are entitled to vote, and they are required to pay taxes, but they do not have equal rights. Discrimination is rife –” Israeli Palestinian property rights are curtailed, many towns and villages across Israel are reserved for Jewish residents only, and state benefits and social security for Israeli Palestinians are reduced. They are also subject to official employment restrictions. Democracy in Israel remains the privilege of Jewish citizens only.

The myth of Prime Minister Barak’s ‘generous’ offer at Camp David: The failure to reach agreement at Camp David provided useful cover for the Israeli establishment to continue the war against the Palestinians. When the Palestinians signed the Oslo agreement in 1993, they accepted for themselves only 22% of the land of Palestine –” the West Bank and Gaza i.e. the land that had been captured by the Israelis in 1967. The other 78%, which together with the 22% comprised the original area of mandated Palestine, they conceded to Israel. This concession, however, was insufficient for Ehud Barak. He wanted 69 illegal Israeli settlements to be included in the final deal –” leaving 85% of Israeli settlers in place in these occupied territories. The result would have been an unviable, non-contiguous Palestinian state, consisting of a northern, central and southern version of a southern African Bantustan, linked by slim slips of territory. Barak also insisted that Israel retain control over Palestinian borders and airspace and the all important water resources; nor was the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees discussed at Camp David and there was no agreement on the future status of East Jerusalem. Generous offer? More like a demand for surrender.

The myth that Palestinians need peace more than Israel does: The reality is that the Palestinians have little left to lose. They have suffered so much and waited so long that, provided further delay leads eventually to a just settlement, they would and could endure further deprivation and suffering. Israel, on the other hand, cannot allow the conflict to continue indefinitely – not without inflicting grave damage to its reputation and to its increasingly fragile and fractious consumer oriented society. To quote Thomas Friedman in the International Herald Tribune on 11/03/02: “Some in Israel and on the American Jewish right agree that it is already a war of civilisations and that the only thing to do is kill Palestinians until they say “uncle”. That is called ‘realism’. Well, let me tell you something else that is real. If this uncompromising view is to become dominant in Israel and among American Jews, then cash in your Israel bonds right now –” the country is doomed”.

Thank you Thomas Friedman. At least that is clear. However, until now, Israelis don’t seem to have heard you.