Truths, facts and facts on the ground

Much of the international support that Israel receives is based on several lies it tells and re-tells as “facts”.

President Obama has repeated and endorsed the lies that Israel’s government  insists are “facts” [GALLO/GETTY]

In 1991, negotiations started officially and unofficially between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (and the Palestinians associated with it) and the Israeli government. At the time, Israel had occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip for the previous 24 years.

Today, 20 years later, Israel and President Obama insist that the only way to bring about peace, and presumably end the Occupation, is to continue with negotiations. It is unclear if what Obama and Israel are claiming is that Israel needs 24 years of negotiations in order to end its 24-year occupation of Palestinian land, so that by the time the occupation ends, it will have lasted for 48 years.

This of course is the optimistic reading of the Israeli and US positions; the reality of the negotiations and what they aim to achieve, however, is far more insidious.

The negotiations have been based on specific goals to end certain aspects of the Israeli relationship to the Palestinians, namely some of the parts introduced since the 1967 war and the occupation, and the beginning of exclusive Jewish colonial settlement of these territories.But what always remains outside the purview of negotiations is the very core of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship, which the Palestinians are told cannot be part of any negotiations.

These off-limits core issues include what has happened since 1947-1948, including the expulsion of 760,000 Palestinians, the destruction of their cities and towns, the confiscation and destruction of their property, the introduction of discriminatory laws that legalise Jewish racial, colonial and religious privilege and deny Palestinian citizens of Israel equal rights and reject the right of the expelled refugees to return.

Yet, this core, which the Israelis summarise as Israel’s right to be, and to be recognised as, a “Jewish” state, is what is always invoked by the Israelis themselves as central to beginning and ending the negotiations successfully and which the Palestinians, the Israelis insist, refuse to discuss.

But the core issues of the question of the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis have always been based on the agonistic historical, geographic and political claims of the Palestinian people and the Zionist movement.

While the Palestinians have always based their claims on verifiable facts and truths that the international community agreed upon and recognised, Israel has always based its claims on facts on the ground that it created by force and which parts of the international community would only recognise as “legitimate”, retroactively.

How is one then to sift through these competing notions of truths and facts on the one hand, and facts on the ground, on the other?

The core issues of the US and Israeli agenda were best articulated in the speeches delivered by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations (UN) last month in response to the PLO’s bid for statehood at the UN. It is there where both Netanyahu and Obama invoked what they called “truths” and “facts” to assert Israeli facts on the ground. As I will show, their strategy is engineered to convert Israeli facts on the ground from antonyms of truths and facts to synonyms with them.

The first ‘fact’  

Even Netanyahu has no genealogical connection to the ancient Hebrews [GALLO/GETTY]

Let me begin with what Zionists and the US have defined as the first “fact”, which is by definition not open to any doubt or question. Obama insists: “These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland.”

Netanyahu echoes Obama by listing this first “fact” as the first “truth,” or rather by making sure that “the light of truth will shine” at the UN through his words: “It was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland … was … branded … shamefully, as racism.” He added later “and we will know that [the Palestinians are] ready for compromise and for peace … when they stop denying our historical connection to our ancient homeland.”

Now, this insistence that the first fact, nay the first truth, that Palestine is the historic homeland of modern European Jews who resided in Europe and not of the Palestinian people who lived in it for millennia, turns out to be neither factual nor truthful, though it indeed remains the primary and first claim made by Zionism and anti-Semitism.

The claim relies on anti-Semitic notions propagated initially by the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century and later by secular anti-Semitism, both of which insisted that modern European Jews were blood and genetic descendants of the ancient Hebrews respectively, which is precisely how eighteenth century European philology’s reference to Jews as “Semites” would soon be transformed in the hand of political and racial anti-Semitism by the late nineteenth century from a “linguistic” category into a “racial” and biological one.

It is based on these anti-Semitic claims – that millenarian Protestants, secular anti-Semites, and Zionists called for the “restoration” of European Jews to the alleged homeland of their alleged ancestors.

The uncontroversial academic and historical facts that European Jews are descendants of European converts to Judaism from the centuries before Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century are unquestionable axioms in academic scholarship, including by Zionist historians.

No respected historian of European Jewry has ever argued that European Jews, or for that matter Moroccan, or Iraqi, or Yemeni Jews, were descendants of the ancient Hebrews. All respected scholars recognise them as descendants of converts to Judaism.

But even if the wildest genetic fantasies of anti-Semites and Zionists of Jews as a “race” were “proven”, would this make ancient Palestine, where the ancient Hebrews cohabited with other ancient peoples, the historic land of modern European Jews?

And even if one were to commit oneself to the science-fiction of Christian biblical archaeology which accompanied European colonialism in the nineteenth century and on which Israeli archaeology continues to be based, would that mean that modern Jews, now posited as direct genetic and biological descendants of the ancient Hebrews could claim the land where the ancient Hebrews lived with the Canaanites among other myriad groups as their own exclusive national domain and take it from its inhabitants who lived in it for millennia?

Could anyone today, except genocidal racists, link Germanic populations to an Aryan origin that started in northern India and based on that link, argue that northern India is the ancient homeland of all German-speaking people to which they must return and evict the current inhabitants of the land as nothing but recent interlopers in the land of the White Aryans?

These fantastical scenarios are precisely what Obama and Netanyahu tell us are undeniable facts and truths.

Indeed they both insist on them being the first fact, the very first indubitable principle of Zionism, which they want to impose on the international community and on the Palestinians!

The second “fact”

Obama’s second fact is asserted with a rhetorical flourish: “Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbours that have waged repeated wars against it … These facts cannot be denied.”

But these also are not facts at all. Not even Israeli historians of Israel’s wars agree with them. But Israeli politicians and ideologues of course do. In his UN speech, Netanyahu himself echoes Obama’s words by telling us that Israel is threatened by its neighbours, that it is “surrounded by people sworn to its destruction and armed to the teeth by Iran” and enjoins presumably the American part of his audience at least not to “forget that the people who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel’s neighbours.”

These racist overtones aside, the academic and historic record shows us however that it was Zionist forces who have waged war against the Palestinians in the wake of the 1947 Partition Plan starting on November 30, 1947.

By May 14, 1948, when Israel declared itself a state, it had expelled 400,000 Palestinians from their homes and was capturing their lands and territories, which were assigned to the Arab state. When three (not five!) Arab armies invaded Zionist-held Palestine on May 15, 1948, they were intervening to stop the expulsion of the Palestinian people and to protect their lands from being taken over by Zionist forces. At the end of the war, they failed miserably at their task. Israel was able to expel another 360,000 Palestinians and to capture half the territories of the Arab state adding them to the Jewish state.

  • In 1956, Israel invaded Egypt along with Britain and France. This was in addition to intermittent but continuous cross border raids into the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egyptian-held Gaza over the decades to come.
  • In 1967, Israel invaded Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and occupied their territories and all of the remaining lands of Palestine.
  • In 1973, Egypt and Syria invaded their own territories (Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights), which Israel had earlier occupied, in an attempt to reclaim them but failed. They did not invade Israel itself.
  • In 1978, in 1982, and in 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon killing tens of thousands of people.
  • In 2008-2009, Israel invaded Gaza.

These are the undeniable facts that the international community and historians and the actual documentary record proves. As such, Israel was never invaded by its neighbours, except in 1948 – which was an attempt to stop Israel’s invasion of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians.

That Israel won the majority of these wars cannot change the facts that it initiated them and that it has been the aggressor on its neighbours since even before its establishment in 1947. Indeed, Israel would launch raids on Iraq in 1981 and on Tunisia in 1985, neither of which was an immediate neighbour and without the slightest military provocation from either.

That Israel and the Zionist movement have been the aggressor in the region for the past century are the undeniable facts.

That Obama wants to assert that Israelis were victims of their neighbours is nothing short of imposing a fact on the ground by sheer American rhetorical and political power unrelated to real events. Obama’s invocation of honesty here turns out to be nothing short of a call for outright dishonesty.

But this “fact” for Obama derives from the “first fact”, namely, if European Jews have the right to colonise Palestine, expel the Palestinians, confiscate their lands, occupy them and discriminate against them by virtue of the first fact of their bogus historic claim, then any Palestinian or Arab resistance to the Zionists’ murderous campaigns is nothing short of aggression on Jews.

Obama proceeds to tell us other “facts”, including that “Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.”

While a handful of Israelis have been killed over the years by rocket fire, tens of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians, have been killed by Israeli rocket fire during times of war and peace. Perhaps the most recent example can shed some light on this.

During Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Israeli rockets killed over 1,400 Palestinians while Hamas rockets killed 3 Israeli civilians, and several others were shell-shocked and required psychological counseling. As for the murder of thousands of Arab children since 1948 and through the invasion of Gaza, Israel has killed at a rate of thousands of Arab children to one Jewish child in retaliatory attacks on Israel.

So, while Obama is indeed not lying that rockets have been fired on Israel and that historically Israeli Jewish children have been killed by attacks, he takes it out of the context of the much larger destruction and killings Israel engaged in against its neighbours since it was established, which is after all based on the first fact!

Obama’s half-facts, like his alleged full facts, end up being again engineered to impose Israeli facts on the ground. For these claims are being made to assert Israel’s need for “security”, which is of paramount importance, and which is the reason both Obama and Netanyahu claim that the negotiations have failed.

Let me quote several of Obama’s references to Israel’s security in his UN speech: “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable”; “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security”; “any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.”

So, basically Israel gets to invade the Palestinians and all its sovereign neighbours, some repeatedly, over the last six decades, and it continues to occupy their territories and invade their airspace and oppress the occupied populations and colonise their lands. However, for negotiations to be successful, Israel wants to ensure that its security be safeguarded from any resistance to Israeli attacks, colonisation, and occupation by those it continues to attack, colonise, and occupy. And this it can demand based on the first fact.

Israel poses a much greater threat to its neighbours than the other way around [GALLO/GETTY]

Obama, it should be noted, never mentioned the security concerns of Israel’s neighbours who have been the target of Israel’s attacks for over six decades. He did however mention the security of Palestinian children once alongside his several mentions of Israeli children despite the one-to-several-thousands victimisation ratio between them: “The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live in peace and security, with dignity and opportunity.”

Netanyahu picks up where Obama left off: “Our major international airport is a few kilometres away from the West Bank. Without peace, will our planes become targets for anti-aircraft missiles placed in the adjacent Palestinian state?”

What is most interesting about this statement is the fact that Israel’s airport has never been attacked by rockets, which is not to say that Israel has not attacked the airports of its neighbours. That, it has done with aplomb. In 1968, Israel bombed the Beirut international airport destroying 13 civilian airliners on the tarmac. It would attack Beirut airport again in 2006 – bombing runways.

As for plane hijackings, Israel was a pioneer in the Middle East, when its first hijacking took place in 1954. The Israeli air force would often seize flying civilian airliners in international skies and divert them to Israel, subject the passengers to inspection, interrogation as well as incarceration.

Indeed, Israel remains the only Middle East country that blew up a civilian airliner when it shot down a Libyan civilian plane in 1973, killing 108 passengers on board.

Negotiations and more negotiations

This takes us back to what Obama believes, the negotiations are and should be about, namely: “It is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: On borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.”

The negotiations which started in 1991 in Madrid and continued in earnest after the 1993 Oslo agreement, however, were based on UN resolutions that stipulate that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories (Resolutions 242 and 338), which would settle the borders question if it were not for Israel’s refusal to abide by the resolutions.

Moreover, the main issue that has terminated the negotiations and which both sides do not agree on has been Israeli Jewish colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

As luck would have it, the international community and international law both condemn Israeli colonial settlement in the 1967 territories, which are categorically considered illegal and have been declared as such myriad times by UN resolutions and policy statements.

It is curious that Obama never mentioned the colonial settlements in his speech, even though he had attempted a number of times in the last two years without success to intervene with the Israeli government to stop, or at least slow down, building them.

As for the issues of borders, the 1947 Partition Plan had already specified the borders of the two states, and Resolution 242, on which the negotiations are based, specified where Israel should be withdrawing to after the 1967 war, Israeli casuistry in that matter notwithstanding.

The Palestinian negotiating position echoes that of international law and UN resolutions while the Israeli position violates them. This also relates to the matter of the refugees which has also been settled by UN resolutions and international law while Israel remains adamant in its refusal to implement these resolutions by refusing to repatriate, compensate and return the property of the 760,000 Palestinians it expelled. Neither will it agree to compensate and return the property of the quarter of a million Palestinians (internal refugees and their descendants) who are Israeli citizens whom it expelled from one part of the country to another part of it.

But the so-called historical truths and the first “fact” that Netanyahu marshals to assert facts on the ground are endless.

He adds: “In my office in Jerusalem, there’s a … an ancient seal. It’s a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there’s a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That’s my last name …”

“… My first name, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin – Binyamin – the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there’s been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since.”

Netanyahu (a name which Benjamin Netanyahu changed when he lived in the United States to Ben Nitay allegedly because it was easier for Americans to pronounce) is itself an invented Zionist name, which, like all other Zionist names, began to bestow on European Jews an ancient Hebrew lineage.

Indeed Netanyahu’s father Benzion Mileikowsky was the son of Polish Jews converted to Zionism, who named their son Benzion based on their ideological commitments and changed their name to “Netanyahu” after they immigrated to colonise Palestine in 1920.

The names of Benzion’s father and mother (and Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandparents) were Nathan Mileikowsky and Sarah Lurie, common European Jewish pre-Zionist names.

For Benjamin Mileikowsky (Netanyahu), a descendant of Polish Jewish colonists, to claim ancient Jerusalem as his ancestral origin, would be seen as a curious ideological and mythical fabrication during a dinner conversation, but to assert it as a fact-based political and territorial claim to the land of the Palestinians at the United Nations, makes a mockery of international law, which is the basis of UN resolutions that condemn Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the city.

While Israel today maintains at least 30 laws that grant Jews racial, religious and colonising privileges over Palestinian citizens of Israel – including the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories – and more so against the Palestinian non-citizens living under Israeli occupation; Netanyahu claims, against these documented facts, that “The Jewish state of Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the more than one million Arab citizens of Israel.”

He adds a curious statement with regard to illegal Jewish colonial settlers in the Occupied Palestinian territories stating that “I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day – in fact, I think they made it right here in New York – they said the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. They’ll be Jew-free – Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing. There are laws today in Ramallah that make the selling of land to Jews punishable by death. That’s racism. And you know which laws this evokes.”

“Tel Aviv is the only Western city that does not have any Arab or Muslim inhabitants.

While no Palestinian official since the negotiations started has ever dared to state unequivocally that Jewish colonial settlers must be returned to Israel in line with international law, this unverifiable claim by Netanyahu, even if proven true, would not be racist or discriminatory, but rather anti-colonial, refusing to allow Israeli Jews to colonise Palestinian lands against international law by virtue of some Jewish privilege that invokes the “first fact”.

It is Israeli laws that restrict access to Israel’s lands to its non-Jewish Palestinian citizens, even though 90 per cent of that land was confiscated from the Palestinian people. It is also Israeli cities that remain Araberrein; indeed, as many observers have noted, Tel Aviv is the only Western city that does not have any Arab or Muslim inhabitants.

If any racist laws are being evoked here, they are evoked by Israel’s own racist laws and practices, not by Palestinian anti-colonial resistance.

But this statement clarifies where Netanyahu stands on the question of Jewish colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is not Jewish colonisation of the land of the Palestinians that is racist as the UN defined it in 1975, but rather the application of international law by preventing Jews from colonising the land of the Palestinians that is racist.

For Zionism and Obama, any attempt to reject the Zionist “first fact” is immediate proof of anti-Semitism. This is yet another example of how facts on the ground are transformed by Israel and its US backers into “truths” and “facts”.

Israel has many racist and discriminatory laws against its Arab citizens [GALLO/GETTY]

Indeed, Netanyahu (or is it Mileikowsky, or Nitay?) asserts: “I came here to speak the truth. The truth is … that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East at all times, but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.”

For Netanyahu and the Israelis, however, peace can only be achieved if the Palestinians recognise the rights of Jews to occupy their land, to colonise their lands, and to discriminate against them.

To do so, the Israelis offer a simple formula, which Obama has also endorsed and insists on, namely that the Palestinians must recognise Israel’s right to be a Jewish state.

Netanyahu does not mince words when he asserts that: “this year in the Knesset and in the US Congress, I laid out my vision for peace in which a demilitarised Palestinian state recognises the Jewish state. Yes, the Jewish state. After all, this is the body that recognised the Jewish state 64 years ago. Now, don’t you think it’s about time that Palestinians did the same? … Israel has no intention whatsoever to change the democratic character of our state. We just don’t want the Palestinians to try to change the Jewish character of our state. We want … them to give up the fantasy of flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians.”

Challenging the UN and international law, which has called on Israel to allow the Palestinians it expelled to come back to their homes, is identified as a “flood” that will undermine Israel’s raison d’être as a state that extends racial and colonial privileges to Jews, which indeed it would be.

Where Netanyahu is wrong is when he asserts that when the UN General Assembly called for the establishment of a Jewish State in 1947, it, by default, recognised the Jewish State’s right to expel the Palestinian people, colonise their lands, and confiscate their property for the exclusive use of Jews and to discriminate against them by law.

Not only did the UN Partition Plan grant no such rights to the Jewish state, it explicitly stated that the establishment of such a Jewish state means that this state cannot expel its non-Jewish population, and that “no discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex” (Chapter 2, Article 2) and that “no expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State … shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of expropriation full compensation as fixed by the Supreme Court shall be said previous to dispossession.” (Chapter 2, Article 8).

The fabrications and lies about UN recognition are being asserted by Netanyahu to the very international body that issued the Partition Plan, and are addressed to their face, as truths, when all they are is nothing less than facts on the ground established by Israel, condemned by the UN, and defended by the United States.

While the negotiations that the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis have engaged in have prevented the Palestinians from raising the 1947/1948 crimes of the Israeli state (and those committed in the decades to come) because they would render the “first fact” dubitable indeed, Netanyahu and Obama raise these crimes as a sacrosanct principle of the Jewishness of the state, indeed of the very “first fact” that they affirmed.

Indeed Netanyahu does the same with Israeli crimes post 1967, including the colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Finally, Netanyahu concludes with a call to expel the 1.6 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. He instructs PA President Abbas to: “Recognise the Jewish state, and make peace with us. In such a genuine peace, Israel is prepared to make painful compromises. We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects. They should live in a free state of their own. But they should be ready, like us, for compromise.”

We believe that the Palestinians should neither be the citizens of Israel nor its subjects.

– Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister

Netanyahu offers his call for a new expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a compromise that the Palestinians should accept. In doing so, his logic is impeccable. If Palestinians recognise the “first fact”, namely, Israel’s right to be a Jewish state based on fabricated historical claims, and that it should guarantee Jewish racial and colonial privilege, then it follows that they must accept another expulsion of Palestinians from that state to ensure that Jewish privilege continues to operate.

It is this formula of peace that the Israelis offer the Palestinians and which the Palestinians, even the collaborating PA, cannot accept.

When Obama asserts that “peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted,” he is being at best coy, for the peace that Israel seeks, as Netanyahu’s call for the expulsion of Palestinian citizens, rendering Israel finally Araberrein, clarify, will result in Palestinians and Israelis not living together at all.

The Pale of Palestinian settlement

The peace that Israel is proposing for Palestinians in fact evokes another memory, of how another country dealt with Jewish settlement, namely the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great and the creation of the Pale of Settlement in the late eighteenth century for Jews to be confined to, which they were for the most part till the early part of the twentieth century.

The Pale, like the Palestinian Bantustans, was the only territory where Russian Jews were allowed to live by the anti-Jewish czars, though Russian Christians also lived in it to ensure that there was no territorial contiguity for Jews. The Palestinian Bantustans would serve a similar function.

While Israel will become Araberrein, the Palestinian Bantustans carved out of West Bank and East Jerusalem territories would be criss-crossed by Jews-only roads and Jewish-only colonial settlements and cities, and by the Israeli army, which, as Netanyahu himself has proposed, will be stationed indefinitely in the Jordan Valley. 

The Pale of Palestinian Settlement will be then called a “Palestinian State” which the Israelis and the Americans will immediately recognise as “sovereign”, though it would not even have the formal accoutrements of sovereignty. It is thus that the Palestinian State, whose existence would neither be a fact nor the truth, will be recognised as a fact on the ground, indeed the very last fact that Israel and the US will be asserting.

For the Palestinians to survive the more than a century-long Zionist assault on their society and country, their only option is to resist this Israeli- and American- imposed “peace”, and all the so-called facts they impose on them, from the very first “fact” to the very last one.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University. His most recent books are The Persistence of the Palestinian Question and Desiring Arabs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.