A Map’s Inconvenient Truth

The charge “anti-Semitism” is thrown around loosely by defenders of Israel as a way to discredit legitimate criticism and sometimes even the expression of inconvenient facts as happened recently regarding a map showing the steady erosion of Palestinian land, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

For the past few weeks, those taking local trains from New York City’s wealthier suburbs into Manhattan have encountered a succinct billboard history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The lesson comes in the form of four aligned maps showing the absorption of Palestinian land by Israel from 1946 to the present, along with a declaration that “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the U.N. as refugees.” In all respects, the ad is historically correct.

This educational billboard was made possible thanks to the efforts of Henry Clifford, chairman of the area’s local Committee for Peace in Israel/Palestine who purchased the billboard space to educate readers on what really is happening under the Israeli regime of occupation so generously supported by U.S. dollars. Immediately the ads were labeled “anti-Semitic” by area rabbis and Jewish community leaders.

Here is the reasoning of Dovid Efune, “editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner”: “This is anti-Semitic because when people think of the Jews they think of the Jewish state. Jews have seen this happen many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”

Three things are to be said about Mr. Efune’s reaction: 1) He seems not to care that the map display and UN statistic are accurate and what that means for the lives of millions of people. 2) No doubt quite inadvertently, he does infer that what the ad reveals is criminal behavior. 3) If there is any truth to the assertion that “when people think of the Jews they think of the Jewish state” it is because Zionist propagandists have, for over 64 years, incessantly insisted on that identification.

Those Jews who have publicly denied the connection between Judaism and Israel have been abused and libeled. So, to the extent that Jews in general are identified with Israel’s “committing a crime,” you can thank the Zionists for that.

Rabbi Joshua Davidson (no relation to me), the senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El in northern Westchester, New York, says the map ad presents “a distorted and skewed view of a complicated conflict.” Actually, that is untrue. The ad simply puts forth historical truth. In addition, the conflict really is not as complex as Zionists say it is. It is the consequence of a rather straightforward, post-World War I, imperialist land grab that, in the case of Palestine, is on-going even now.

It was and continues to be justified by religious mythology on the one hand and the history of anti-Semitic persecution on the other. The land grab was originally abetted by the British imperial politicians, some of whom imagined that they were helping to fulfill biblical prophecy, and others who saw a Jewish homeland in Palestine as a way of solving the “Jewish problem” in Europe. The Palestinians, being seen as inferior natives, were then and are now, still pushed aside.

Fanaticism on the Ground

Rabbi Davidson might object to such simplicity, but Dani Dayan would not. Dayan is the leader of the “Yesha Council of Jewish Communities,” a leading organization espousing Israeli settlement of the West Bank. Unlike Rabbi Davidson, Dayan does not seek refuge in historical complexity. He lays it on the line in a recent New York Times Op-ed:

“Arabs called for Israel’s annihilation in 1967, and Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories, and the right of Israelis to call them home today, is therefore unassailable.”

Unfortunately, the days when conquest automatically resulted in a transfer of sovereignty ended with World War II. The primary rationale for the creation of the United Nations and the expansion of international law was to prevent just the sort of behavior Dayan describes.

Also, like the statement of Dovid Efune, Dayan’s argument is logically confused. He is claiming that the hyperbolic rhetoric of Arab leaders in the run-up to the 1967 war somehow frees Israel from its obligations as a signatory to such international treaties as the 4th Geneva Convention. Article 49(3) of that treaty prohibits an occupying power from “transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Successive Israeli governments, both of the Left and the Right, have energetically violated that law by transferring civilians into these conquered lands.

Dani Dayan now proudly points out there are some 350,000 of these illegal squatters (the number goes up by 200,000 if we include the Israeli transfers into Jerusalem). And, because this now constitutes the new “status quo,” Mr. Dayan proclaims that Israelis have the “right to call” such territories “home.”

Where did he get that right? From his god? From very ancient history? From the fact he walks about the area with an Uzi submachine gun strapped over his shoulder? There is certainly no basis for it in international law.

Dayan presents these illegally accomplished facts on the ground as “irreversible” and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “unattainable.” He challenges his readers to understand the “realpolitik” truth of his position.

And, according to Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, it is hard to “doubt the force of Dayan’s reasoning on this central issue.” Well, if not settler leader’s reasoning, which is faulty, then certainly one cannot doubt Israel’s physical possession of increasing amounts of Palestinian land.

Apparently, the governments of the world have capitulated to Dani Dayan and vigilante squatters. Hamas, which would gladly defy them, is confined, also with international blessings, to Gaza, the world’s largest outdoor prison. Thus, there is no military presence on the ground that can gainsay Mr. Dayan. So what does this imply, that might makes right? Is that Mr. Dayan’s version of Israel acting as a “light unto the nations”? Apparently so.

The Need for Outside Pressure

But Dani Dayan and his settler movement have not written the final act in this tragedy. Even if we take note of his present position in the West Bank, and also admit that the “peace process” is a pitiful fraud, it is premature for Dayan to proclaim that he has won the struggle and we must all accept his “status quo.”

Colonialist ventures can be defeated in more than one way. The “usual” way is through prolonged and bloody armed struggle. Thanks to the world-class military machine the United States has helped Israel create and maintain, this is not a likely path to success. But such regimes have also been forced to transform themselves into more equitable, more democratic, and less repressive ones through concerted outside pressure. And such pressure is now as real and growing as Dayan’s squatter movement.

A major effort at outside pressure is the worldwide BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli-born professor at Exeter University in England, notes that this “campaign’s elasticity has made it into a broad process powerful enough to produce a new public mood and atmosphere.” As someone who has spent the last 35 years espousing the Palestinian cause, I can testify to the truth of that statement, even here in the United States.

It might very well be that Israel is here to stay. But that does not mean that it will always be the racist, oppressive society it is now. Consistently applied outside pressure, growing in scope and strength, can wear down support for ideologues such as those of Dani Dayan and his backers both in and outside of today’s Israel.

It can, slowly but surely, convince ordinary Israelis that they have a choice: go along with their expansionist leaders and face increasing international isolation or, as Pappe puts it, cooperate willingly in “finding a formula for joint living” that is, creating a better society that is tolerant and mindful of the need for justice, first and foremost for Israel’s victims, the Palestinian people. Also a nation that can be trusted to honor its obligations under international law.
It should be clearly understood that it is not just Israel’s future or that of the Palestinians that is at stake here. All of us have to ask what value we place on international law. What value do we place on a world that recognizes the primacy of law born of sane human reason, rather than religious mythology, apocalyptic fantasies, and tribal nationalism? It is all wrapped up together; as goes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so goes the viability of international law.

It is ironic in the aftermath of the Holocaust that international law was strengthened and now, as the history so simply displayed on Mr. Clifford’s billboards tells us, it is the Israelis who choose to cast it aside. If we allow this to happen, the world becomes more dangerous for all of us.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

4 comments for “A Map’s Inconvenient Truth

  1. Average American
    August 14, 2012 at 16:47

    Hello. I’m glad we’re being clear and blunt with the facts.
    – Israel is and has been since its Zionist foundations (Herzl) in pursuit of Eretz Israel, “Greater Israel”, from the Nile to the Euphrates, and from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.
    – Israel feels this area is already theirs, and the people who have lived on it for generations and centuries will have to adapt or move out.
    – Israel identifies itself as a Jewish state. We have seen by Israel’s actions this means anyone not Jewish is not welcome.
    – The leaders of Israel were the leaders of terrorist groups such as Irgun and Lehi. Menachem Begin ran the Irgun, which liked to roll grenades into Arab markets, set off car bombs near Arab gates to Jerusalem, blow up hotels, and hang British officers.
    – Israel is not a democracy, it is a theocracy, desiring for religious law, Jewish halacha law, to be the law of the land, and for rabbis to be the judges. This of course is no different than the surrounding Arab countries with ayatollahs instead of rabbis.
    – Israel wants, expects, demands, that the United States send it’s sons and daughters into battle for Israel’s Zionist ethnic-purity goals. Let them send their own.

  2. delia ruhe
    August 5, 2012 at 21:23

    I increasingly think of Israel — together with the US — as a bad influence on international affairs. Both states flout international law, Israel because it’s protected from the consequences by the US, and the Us because … Who’s gonna stop it? Is it any wonder that the United Nations has become all but irrelevant?

    This map that has the Israeli and the Jewish right in such a flap is old. I’ve been presenting it to my students for at least 10 years. It floats around cyberspace, and virtually every Internet surfer has seen it, yet the moment it gets an airing in the real world, the hysteria starts.

    Recently, the “British ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould said on Thursday that anyone who cares about Israel, should be concerned about the erosion of international support for the country.” I hope he’s right. Yet I do wonder whether Israel will know how to respond when this reaches a crisis point. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/world-might-lose-patience-with-israel-within-10-years-says-u-k-ambassador-1.455626)

    Israel is so used to getting its way simply by bullying and accusing everyone of antisemitism that I wonder whether Israelis can ever develop the diplomatic skills necessary to become a useful and cooperative nation within the family of nations.

    It’s as if they are driven to repeat biblical “history”: piss off the world, get slaughtered, get driven into exile. A rapidly increasing number of Israelis are securing second passports. I think we may soon be witnessing an ironic exodus.

  3. Ahem
    August 4, 2012 at 15:36

    Dayan and company believe that the rest of humanity (non-Jews) is just too stupid to understand the supposed complications of their pursuit. Well, there are many of us (non-Jews) who are more intellectually blessed than Dayan and company would have it. The cold, hard facts of Israel’s pursuit over the last 60+ years are being displayed succinctly by the maps. There’s nothing complicated about it. Dayan and company are concerned that the Israelis are being displayed as land grabbers, occupiers, and inflictors of pain and suffering on the Palestinians–and they are right to be concerned. The truth is being told pure and simple, and the only remaining complications are the lies Dayan and company need to conjure to absolve themselves.

    • mudplanet
      August 6, 2012 at 12:05

      The “important complication” is, in a word, racism. Dayan and the Zionists believe that Jews have rights that non-Jews do not have. And if you’re not a racist that assertion isn’t going to make any sense to you.

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