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Whose Side Are You On?

To the Editor:

I really have to wonder where someone like Thomas Ellis [Letters, Oct.3] gets his statistics to support his claim that millions of Palestinians desire peace. I did see a recent poll that 75 percent of Palestinians support suicide bombings. I did see the Palestinians joyfully dance on Sept. 11. I wonder how he can ignore groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who have significant support among Palestinians, and who crave peace, but without any Israel at all.

It’s not that the speakers at the United We Stand Against Terrorism and With Israel rally support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They support a lasting peace, not a peace that will endanger the future existence of Israel. Most, if not all, of the speakers, support a two-state solution. So do most Israelis. Their vision of peace, however, is one which provides for the security of Israel, and not, as it has been stated by many Palestinian leaders, a peace which is only the first step toward the ultimate destruction of Israel.

Mr. Ellis should not ignore the fact that Israel never wanted to occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Occupation came as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel had to defend herself from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, all of whom vowed to destroy Israel. He should not ignore the fact that the Palestinians refused to even discuss peace until 1991, 24 years after the occupation started. Perhaps the whole matter could have been resolved a lot sooner if Israel had someone with whom to negotiate. He should not ignore the fact that Jordan did not even relinquish its claim to the West Bank until 1988. (The West Bank was never a discrete political entity. It was captured from Jordan, which never granted Palestinians independence.) Finally, he should not ignore the fact that Israel has jumped at the chance for real peace when it has been offered to her—first by Egypt and then by Jordan. Where, exactly, does one look to find the Palestinian track record of peace?

I must also question Mr. Ellis’ motivations. Why do he and the members of his group clamor so loudly just against Israel? Where is his concern for the many more millions of disenfranchised Arabs who suffer daily at the hands of dictators and religious monarchs? What about the millions of Moslem women who are treated like chattel throughout the Arab world? Why do Palestinian gays and lesbians come to Israel for safety? If Mr. Ellis truly believes in the cause of human rights, why doesn’t he organize rallies against Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan (where slavery is still rampant)? Perhaps he knows, as do the supporters of Israel, that the causes of peace and human rights can be achieved through negotiation with Israel. Perhaps he knows that rallying against the rest of the Arab world, where atrocities have continued unabated for years, would be futile.

Israel and her supporters simply no longer trust Yasir Arafat. His failure to prepare his people for compromise with Israel, and his failure to rein in terror, have damaged the cause of the Palestinians who do want peace. If, indeed, there are millions of Palestinians who want peace, as Mr. Ellis alleges, then perhaps it behooves them to select a leader who can move the process forward. Instead, the Palestinians tolerate a leader who cares more for his own safety (from threats by militant Palestinians) than he does for the people he purportedly represents.

As soon as the Palestinians stop rallying behind ill-chosen leaders like Arafat, as soon as they present a united front for a true peace with Israel, peace will come. Only a fool would think that most Israelis want the present state of affairs to continue.

Michael Kohn

To the Editor:

I think folks such as Thomas Ellis who have appropriated the peace label for themselves would be more intellectually honest to simply acknowledge that they side with the Palestinians—notwithstanding the violence and terrorism on the Palestinian side. Does he seriously think that a tiny country like Israel wants to be involved in a hellhole like Gaza and the West Bank and to oppress the Palestinians? Does he know or care that much like the Palestinians, every Israeli family has either suffered casualties or personally knows someone who has died or been injured in this conflict? Does he seriously think that a country like Israel which underwent a high-tech boom in the ’90s wants to go back to world ostracization and being an economic basket case? Doesn’t he know that the majority of Israelis with the support of the majority of American Jews would have backed giving up the settlements under Rabin/Peres or Barak, Biblical attachments and all, if it would have ended the conflict and the terrorism?

To simplify this conflict as being solely about the occupation ignores that the continuing Arab terrorism against Jews goes back at least to the 1929 massacre of the centuries-old Jewish community in Hebron. The Hebron massacre occurred long before Israel’s creation in 1948 or Israel’s gaining control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The targeting of Jewish and Israeli civilians continued through the 1950s and was the cause of the 1956 war between Israel and Egypt, again long before the events Mr. Ellis complains of. It continued through the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s with Munich and Ma’alot and Leon Klinghoffer and sadly continues unabated to this day.

And as someone who has read and appreciated Ms. Page’s fine and sensitive writing in Metroland for years, I have to say, et tu, Jo Page? Ms. Page questions Israeli “manifest destiny” [Reckonings, Sept. 26], much as Mr. Ellis criticizes the occupation. No question that Israeli policy on the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan has zigzagged over the years, and the Palestinians have suffered. But overall, over the last 30 years, Israel gave land to the Egyptians and Syrians as part of the disengagement agreements in the mid-1970s and gave the entire Sinai peninsula back to the Egyptians as part of the Camp David accords in 1979. Israel gave land to Jordan as part of a peace treaty in 1994 and also withdrew from all the major Palestinian population areas as a result of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. When Ehud Barak met with President Clinton and Arafat in 2000 at Camp David, he offered to give back virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, dismantle most of the settlements and share power in Jerusalem. In fact, when you look at the overall picture, Israel looks to be fairly inefficient in the manifest destiny department.

Eight-hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians expelled since 1967? Ms. Page does not mention that the Palestinian population grew dramatically post-1967 when Palestinian infant mortality was sharply reduced due to the Israeli introduction of better health care. Similarly, the Palestinian economy grew in leaps and bounds following 1967, which also contributed to Palestinian population growth. If Israel was in the business of ethnic cleansing, they’ve been pretty inept at it.

Pursuant to the Oslo accords, Israel ceded control of Palestinian daily life during the 1990s to the Palestinian Authority in the Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. This meant that the Israeli military left these areas. To the extent that Israel has been forced to reoccupy, this has been in direct response to Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians. Arafat’s own Fatah organization has claimed credit for numerous terrorist attacks even as it denounces terrorism in the mainstream media. Where are the voices of the “peace camp” when Israelis are killed?

Rick Zimmer

To the Editor:

Jo Page’s piece is obviously a product of ill will toward Israelis, and, I would say, Jews in general. I make that claim about anti-Semitism because Israel has about half of all the Jews in world, and so to vehemently and unfairly criticize Israel is to effectively criticize Jews in general.

She writes that in the current crisis, “It’s easiest to see the situation in terms of crazed Palestinians and victimized Israelis.” Well, yes—it is easy to see it that way, because that’s the way it is. Israeli civilians are blown apart by homicide bombers as they try to go about their daily lives, and thus Israel has to respond with checkpoints and curfews in order to keep terrorists out. Israel cracked down on Arafat (not hard enough) because he is the so-called “elected leader” of the Palestinians, and thus is rightly to be held accountable for the latter’s terrorism. If we here in the U.S. experienced anything like what Israel experiences on a daily basis, we would take much, much harsher action than Israel has to this point (proof: look at how we responded to 9/11). Israel’s reactions to terrorism and the murder of her citizens have actually been quite restrained.

I’m sick of all the bias against Israel in the media, especially the left-leaning media. You know what? It’s just a cover for age-old anti-Semitism. Jo Page should recognize that.

Lev Jacoby

Jo Page replies:

Lev Jacoby appears to think that my criticism of Israel’s policies and actions is the same thing as a rejection of Jewish identity. But by that logic, his own valid criticism of the heinousness of suicide bombings would mean that he rejects Arab identity.

In addition, it is unclear to me why he thinks the ratio of Israeli Jews to Diaspora Jews makes what I wrote anti-Semitic, in his view. Leveling unsupported charges of anti-Semitism is incendiary speech, stifling both compassion and dialogue, each of which are needed in greater measure.

Rick Zimmer is absolutely right about the lowered infant mortality rate. And the increased birth rate among Palestinians has boosted population as well. But he is absolutely wrong in reading into what I have written charges that the Israelis are practicing ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Perhaps that is what the statistics suggested to him, but there was no editorial prompting in that direction from me.

Editor’s Note:

Erin Sullivan, formerly Metroland’s managing editor, now is news editor at City Paper, Baltimore’s alternative newsweekly.

Metroland welcomes typed, double-spaced letters (computer printouts OK), addressed to the editor. Or you may e-mail them to: Metroland reserves the right to edit letters for length; 300 words is the preferred maximum. You must include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers. We will not publish letters that cannot be verified, nor those that are illegible, irresponsible or factually inaccurate.

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4th Floor, Albany, NY 12210
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