Aryeh Green: Guest opinion
August 18, 2011
Editor’s note: Melanie Sturm is off this week. Her column will resume Thursday, Sept. 1. In her place we are running a column from Aryeh Green. “Colorado is abusing its kids.”During my visit to Aspen last month, I was shocked to learn that the rate of child abuse in Colorado is on the rise, in contrast to the rest of the nation.But presenting a complex issue in such a one-sided, negative light is not only oversimplification, it’s a manipulative, propagandistic generalization intended to denigrate Colorado. If you bristled upon reading it, I can understand why.Many will understand then my anger and resentment, as an Israeli, reading Harvie Branscomb’s superficial treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict in his July 31 column. Branscomb ends his diatribe against Israel by asking us to “discard tired myths and propaganda.” I heartedly agree. I can’t cover all the history and legal issues here, but Branscomb’s article is full of egregious factual errors, myths and propaganda – which he perpetuates with biased and agenda-driven terminology.Branscomb based his conclusions on a brief visit to Israel; I write from the perspective of more than 25 years’ experience living in the region, as well as two decades working to promote Arab and Palestinian human rights and civil society.Space prevents a response to each of Branscomb’s falsities, but a few facts are central. Israel’s presence on either side of the 1949 armistice lines is neither “colonization” nor “occupation.” In fact, the international consensus for establishing a Jewish nation in its natural and historic homeland – including the areas known for millennia by cartographers as Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem/Zion – was the basis for Israel’s acceptance by the UN in 1949. Furthermore, Israel’s presence in the disputed territories was the result of a defensive military operation in 1967, like all Israel’s wars. The American government acknowledges Israel’s presence in the territories as prima facie legal; former Yale Law dean Eugene Rostow, U.S. under-secretary of state describes this as a dispute between “two legal claimants” – to be resolved in negotiations. This is fact, whether one advocates the building of Israeli communities in those territories or Israel’s withdrawal from them.Branscomb confuses Arab citizens of Israel with Arab residents of the territories (98 percent of whom live under the governance of the Palestinian Authority). And his contentions about Israeli society and its human rights record are fundamentally incorrect. This can be proven by data easily available to anyone who looks for it: Israel is a free society, under any objective analysis.Reasonable people can disagree about how to bring peace to the region. But Branscomb’s parroting of Palestinians’ terminology of conflict has the effect, if not the intention, of demonizing Israel as the cause of conflict in the Middle East, including calling Israel (and America) a “police state,” which “deliberately terrorizes its colonial subjects” and using other phrases of similar vilification.His reference to Arab terrorists as “imagined” is most revealing. Ten years ago, 3,000 Americans were murdered by (Arab) terrorists, and American forces have pursued the killers and defended America in faraway Afghanistan ever since then. In Israel, some 4,000 civilians have been killed, and more than 25,000 injured, by Palestinian Arab terrorists since 1948. As a percentage of population, think of this as if 150,000 Americans were killed on 9/11 and another 12 million injured: Imagine that.Objective observers acknowledge that the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East is, and has been for more than 100 years, the violent rejection by most Muslim, Arab and Palestinian leaders of a Jewish connection with the land and therefore Israel’s right to exist. Branscomb denigrates the insistence by Israel of its “right to exist,” thus missing the substance – to use his title – of the conflict.When Melanie Sturm noted on July 21 that “many Palestinian children prefer jihad to jobs,” she wasn’t “racist,” as Banscomb slanders. Rather, she revealed a truth from surveys of Palestinian society – a truth reflected in public complaints by Palestinian democracy activists.Branscomb’s calumny notwithstanding, Israeli children are raised in a liberal culture championing peace, tolerance, nonviolence and rule of law. They learn about Palestinians as people, their culture and even their “right” to independence. I know this having raised three children in Israeli schools, and from reports including the recent study of Israeli textbooks by the nongovernmental organization Impact SE.Conversely, Palestinian (and other) Arabs learn that Israelis and Jews are usurpers, colonizers, thieves and devils, with no connection or rights in this land. As also documented by Impact and other organizations, Palestinian children are raised in an authoritarian culture of hatred, violence, honor-killing, martyrdom and intolerance – a tragedy which disturbs Palestinian and other Arab civil society leaders as much as it does Israelis.These are (some of) the facts, and they are indisputable. Propaganda is meant to sow confusion and demonize rather than shed light on and clarify a complex reality. I support Branscomb’s call to learn “who is doing what to whom in the Middle East”; I suggest he, and others interested in truth, justice and peace, actually make the effort to do just that, rather than relying on the tired myth of Israeli intransigence and malevolence.Aryeh Green, a former advisor to Natan Sharansky and a leading freedom & democracy activist in the Middle East, is director of MediaCentral (www.m-central.org), a Jerusalem-based project of HonestReporting.com, providing services to the foreign press in the region.