Trump’s Golan Declaration: Foolish And Dangerous

You wouldn’t expect Twitter to be the outlet for sound policy announcements, and Donald Trump doesn’t disappoint. He uses the social media platform as his

Crossing at border between Occupied and Syrian Golan

alternative to facing the media in press conferences, avoiding questions about his impulsive and often ill-considered decisions.

The latest example occurred on Thursday, when Trump took to Twitter to announce that he intended to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights, territory captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war. It is unclear from Trump’s words whether he was actually recognizing Israel’s sovereignty or simply broadcasting his intent to do so.

In either case, his decision is foolhardy. It is unnecessary for either security or geo-strategic reasons. Trump is turning a fundamental principle of international law on its head just to help reelect his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Read more at LobeLog

The Palestinian Refugee Issue is Not Going to Resolve Itself

When I started getting serious about action on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the associated US foreign policy, I found it imperative to Talbieh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordanconvince people that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail. There were the obvious critiques of the accords: the lack of any sort of human rights framework, the absence of consequences for failing to abide by conditions or fulfill agreed upon commitments, and the formal recognition of Israel without any mention whatsoever of a potential Palestinian state. But I saw an even bigger obstacle.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jerusalem is the most difficult stumbling block. But I have always maintained that it is the Palestinian refugees that were the most serious obstacle to a negotiated solution. Read more at LobeLog

Degel Shakhor (Black Flag)

The phrase “degel shakhor,” lierally “black flag,” refers to a principle in the Israeli military which is supposed to encourage soldiers not to carry out immoral orders. “Just

Ben Dunkelman in 1948

following orders” was not supposed to be an excuse.

Reality never measures up to ideals, and it is just as hard for Israeli soldiers to defy orders as it is for any other. This was true in 1948 and, as we have seen in the many reports from B’Tselem and the extensive testimonies of Israeli veterans that Shovrim Shtika(Breaking the Silence) has published, it is at least as true today.

But Bernard Avishai, in his latest blog piece, reminded me of the story of Ben Dunkelman, who refused to carry out an order to violate an agreement the IDF had made with the Arab citizens of Nazareth and expel those citizens from the territory the fledgling state held at the time. In the end, Dunkelman’s refusal spared Nazareth’s population from expulsion.

Avishai recounts the story with some important context, and you should check out his rendering. For this space, here is the Wikipedia summary, which gives you the basics of what happened.

In his autobiography, called Dual Allegiance,[3] Dunkelman tells the story of how, between July 8 and 18, 1948 during Operation Dekel, he led the 7th Brigade and its supporting units as it moved to capture the town of Nazareth. Nazareth surrendered after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders accepted to cease hostilities in return for solemn promises from the Israeli officers, including Dunkelman, that no harm would come to the civilians of the town.

Shortly following the capture, Dunkelman received orders from General Chaim Laskov to expel the civilian population in the town, but he refused to implement these orders. The Israeli journalist and translator Peretz Kidron, with whom Dunkelman collaborated in writing Dual Allegiance, reproduced his record of Dunkelman’s account of the capture of Nazareth in a book chapter entitled “Truth Whereby Nations Live”: Continue reading

Correcting the Historical Inaccuracies: Bibi vs Abu Mazen

Once again, history becomes the battlefield in the Israel-Palestine conflict. And as usual, both sides in the debate have their self-serving versions.

In 2011, there is a lot less gray area in this history. Most of the history of 1948 is clear as far as the facts are concerned. Serious students of those facts can still disagree on

Neither Abbas (l) nor Netanyahu can be called a historian

matters of interpretation, and honest scholarship, which is nonetheless influenced by the students’ own points of view as it is in all matters of history, is still often divided by the lines of the scholars’ sympathies.

What does get tiresome, though, is the willful distortion of history by politicians.

Both Mahmoud Abbas, in his New York Times op-ed, and Benjamin Netanyahu, in his ranting response, distort the factual record.

Let me try to set the record straight, at least for my readers. And let’s start with Abbas.

He wrote: “In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative [regarding partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state]. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.”

There’s plenty of context missing here, of course. One cannot expect a textbook reading in the limited space of an op-ed. But it’s simply not the case that the UN passed its plan and the Zionists simply started expelling Arabs. Continue reading

Yom Ha’atzmaut: Israeli Independence and Palestinian Dispossession

In today’s Ha’aretz, Merav Michaeli has written a most engaging op-ed on the occasion of Israel’s 63rd Independence Day. She focuses in particular on the Orwellian “Naqba Law,” which bars public funds for any organization that marks the Palestinian tragedy that was part and parcel of Israel’s creation.

This was the image my friend Emily Hauser used for her piece on Yom Ha'atzmaut. Great sentiment for the day.

Michaeli wrote:

“…after 63 years, Israel is unable to recognize that no matter how necessary and justified its establishment was, it was accompanied by wrongs and pain inflicted on others.”

For me, this defines so much of what we deal with today, and it is precisely this sentiment that tends to rub activists of both sides (with a good number of exceptions, to be sure) the wrong way.

The establishment of Israel came after decades of conflict. When I look at the history of the early days of Zionist settlement, I want to weep for all the time that a change in attitude on either side might have changed the tragic course of the history of Palestine.

European settlers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them the European attitude of superiority. The presence of this sentiment was unavoidable in Palestine, an area of the Ottoman Empire whose upkeep was not a priority in Istanbul at the time.

Yet the hysterical reaction throughout the Arab world to early Zionist settlement ignored both the historical connection that the Zionists awoke in some Jews and, much more importantly, the very real persecution most of them were fleeing in Europe. Continue reading

Benny Morris: A Man Everyone Can Love to hate

Benny Morris has a new book out where he examines the rise of the one-state solution in the discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict. I review it here.

The review has much of what i would want to say about Morris. But I think it’s important to emphasize two things.

One is that Morris is clearly racist in his approach. While he’s certainly willing to be critical, even cynical about Israeli leaders, he seems to approach every statement by an Arab leader as being a lie until proven otherwise.

The second, however, is that despite this serious problem, Morris’ work has been groundbreaking and, though inconsistent, very important. This current book was foreshadowed at the end of his previous one, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. That book, which spiralled downward at the end, was perhaps Morris’ best and is widely seen as the best book yet written on the 1947-49 war (a view i tend to agree with).

Morris is, in many ways, the antithesis of Ilan Pappe. The latter embraces the futility of objectivity and writes

Benny Morris

Benny Morris

unabashedly from a particular point of view. The former strives to be objective and, while he often falls short like the rest of us, he often does overcome his own baises and produce important work that doesn’t necessarily support his own personal views.

That’s why it’s important to recognize the two Benny Morrises. One is a very poor polemicist whose racism often seeps through. The other is an excellent researcher who is often successful at getting beyond his own biases and prejudices and whose work merits the most serious attention.

Benny Morris is an enigma, but you can’t deal with one side of him without the other. His work should not be dismissed because of his views, but his work should also not give credence to his more base views. And, it should also be noted, that being an excellent historian doesn’t necessarily mean one is a good political analyst.

More in my review, published here.