MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
"The past isn't dead; it isn't even past," said William Faulkner. History is in fact being reinvented and remodelled all the time. "History" can mean the actual events that occurred in history, or it can be understood as referring to people's memory of what happened. For understanding and analysis, the actual events that occurred are important. For cheap political advocacy however, it is possible to modify history. This allows one to eliminate incovenient facts that do not suit your theories, or even to invent brand new events that never happened, but which ought to have happened in the best of all possible worlds. After all, what is remembered about history often becomes the "facts" for all intents and purposes, and people often remember things that didn't happen. If it is convenient for the beliefs of those remembering it, that is all that is necessary. Facts, history, what really happened etc. are all BORING after all. The main thing is to win the argument, whether or not you happen to be right.
If there were too many Arabs in Palestine in 1890 to suit your pet political fantasy, you can simply state that there were few Arabs here, as Joan Peters did. Very few people can contest your statement; certainly not Americans who had no family living in Palestine. If there were too many Jews living here in 1920 to suit your ideas, you can change that too at a stroke of a pen.
There are various media for propagating such falsehoods, of which the best are probably Op-Eds in respectable journals. The same journals that may pursue facts with scrupulous rigidity in their news reports, allow any old nonsense to be perpetrated on the public in their Op-Ed columns. Careless or mendacious columnists, pundits and politicos take full advantage of this liberty to foist their favorite versions of history on an unsuspecting public.
Take the case of M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum and Shmuel Rosner. Rosenberg was Rosner's guest on his blog. He made the following statement and repeated it:
Rosenberg was not content with that statement however. When I challenged him, in a letter to Rosner's blog (reproduced there in mutilated form) Rosenberg responded, in the same blog:
It may be convenient to believe that the Oslo years were the safest in Israel's history, but the facts do not support the contention - not about the last three years, not about the last four years, and certainly not about the entire Oslo decade. In 1996 Israel suffered 56 terror fatalities. It was the worst year since 1978. In 1996, the total was 41. Hardly the safest year in Israel's history. As to what conclusions we must draw from this regarding Oslo or Yasser Arafat, that is another matter. The "statistics" that Rosenberg cites are a gimmick, but the gimmick just isn't true. Allowing that 1998-2000 were years of relative quiet, we have to conclude that the Palestinian Authority was quite capable of maintaining the calm if they wished. Therefore, was the violence that did occur, before and after the quiet, also due to the Palestinian Authority and the Oslo agreements? If they were responsible for the quiet, they were also responsible for the violence. According to that reasoning, this must be the case for the "Tunnel Riots" of 1996, and also for the bloody riots of May 2000, during the "safest" years in Israeli history, when PA police fired on IDF soldiers.
While Rosenberg and Rosner seem to be interested in whitewashing the Oslo years, a different group are interested in whitewashing the Hamas. A whole school of punditry is busy giving the Hamas a face lift, and modifying history accordingly. For example, in the Australian, Middle East Correspondent Martin Chulov writes:
Winston Churchill once told his assistants, "Give me the facts, and I will twist them the way I want, to suit my argument." These gentleman however, have apparently discovered that the facts are unecessary, and if inconvenient, can be replaced by new "facts" of their own superior invention.
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Replies: 11 comments
Perhaps the confusion arises from the use of the term "in Israel".
"The fact that less than a half dozen civilians were killed in Israel during the last three years of Oslo was not a statistical fluke...."
Now, correct me if I am wrong, but isn't Hebron in the occupied West Bank? Perhaps it would be worth you running through the list again and ascertaining who was killed "in Israel" as Rosenberg actually stated and who was killed elsewhere. Not that it makes them any less dead, but it might clear up the confusion?
Posted by Chris @ 04/28/2006 08:48 PM CST
Ami is correct that M. J. Rosenberg can be sloppy about historical details. Although I published him once in Israel Horizons, and had communications with him then, I recall correcting him on some detail or other at another time, to complete silence in return.
The man clearly has his flaws, but it should be remembered that he's on the side of the pro-Israel peace camp -- a khaver.
Posted by Ralph Seliger @ 04/28/2006 09:20 PM CST
MJ Rosenberg was probably looking at the Israel Foreign Ministry's website on bombing victims,
which shows the last 3 years of Oslo, from September 1997 - September 2000, (exactly 3 years preceeding when s**t really hit fan) 6 Israelis were killed.
Posted by Michael Volpin @ 04/28/2006 10:33 PM CST
I'm not sure what the point really is of the above discussion - is it "when was the safest period in Israel's history?" Should that not include when was the safest period for Palestinians? I would entertain comments on the following link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4294502.stm
Posted by Gigi Pomerantz @ 04/28/2006 10:33 PM CST
Comments to various:
Be that as it may, Rosenberg made a claim ahout safety for Israel, and he is trying to sell the Oslo accords an that basis. If you want to claim the Oslo accords were good or bad or whatever for the Palestinian people, it is a whole 'nuther thing.
Posted by Moderator @ 04/29/2006 03:33 AM CST
Strictly speaking, regardless of Rosenberg's other apparent errors, I think it was out of line to accuse him of _trying_ to erase the names of the dead. Not including them (for space reasons) is an entirely different act. What meaning, I ask, could the name of a person one doesn't know have? Does it say Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan was a good person, or one who tried to manipulate his flock for riches? It says next to nothing to me, who didn't recognize any of the names.
I think you also make a mistake when you say "Allowing that 1998-2000 were years of relative quiet, we have to conclude that the Palestinian Authority was quite capable of maintaining the calm if they wished." Certainly some of the violence might directly be linked back to the PA leadership, but I unaware of any hard evidence concerning that. Outside of hard evidence, I believe it is fairest to suggest that the overall climate of those years, a combination of: war weariness, hope in Oslo, lessening of political rhetoric, positive beliefs about the intentions of foreign leaders, e&.; would lead to fewer individuals making a deadly choice.
For comparison, 100s of people wake up every day in Iraq and basically risk/throw-away their lives to fight Americans and the Iraqi army. The _US_ kills or captures 2-3 thousand insurgents every month, and has for more than two years now. Why have these 50,000 people decided to (in all likelihood) end their lives? It's not a leadership decision, in most of these cases. Sure, some crooks and some zealots organize some of this, but how much? It would be, in some-to-many respects, similar blaming President Clinton for every right-wing Christian terrorist blowing up a building or murdering a cop.
I feel like adding a sad story, about Poland in the 15th century.
Between the fall of the Roman Republic (48BC) and the end of the land-ownership requirement in America (early 1800s), Poland had the most representative government on Earth, where nearly 10% of the citizens participated.
Sadly, 100s of "Princes" had a veto over legislation, and as a direct result, very little legislation got passed.
I am told that this deadlock situation is, in fact, the reason that "Polish Jokes" are told (probably started by pro-Monarchical society in W. Europe).
In Israel, many times, the pace of any peace process has depended on the cessation of violence.
In other words, not 1000 Princes but any one of 3,000,000 Palestinians, plus any foreigners who might pose as them, were given a veto over the process.
It might only seem funny sometime in the future, it certainly doesn't seem so now.
Posted by JS Narins @ 04/29/2006 02:35 PM CST
Palestinian terrorism is not the actions of one or two people, and not of any foreigners posing as Palestinians. The use of terrorism and the multitude of organizations are an integral part of Palestinian society. Which is one reason why neither Arafat nor Abbas ever considered taking major steps to end terrorism, but instead tolerated it. The extent of terrorism activity has much to do both with supportive Palestinian and Arab public opinion and the extent of pressure by the Palestinian government. Arafat took credit for reducing terorism during the late ninetees. Unfortunatly, the result was that there was less terrorism during the right wing Netanyahu government than during Rabin's government. From an Israeli percpective it seems that terrorism increases under left wing governments.
It is time we stopped making excuses for the Palestinians or wait for them to stop terrorism. It is not going to happen. Surely not anytime before signing a peace agreemen, and possibly afterwards. The question is what to do next.
Posted by Micha @ 04/30/2006 01:42 PM CST
I cant believe Israel and Palestine. They have brought about bloodshed and pain for the innocent people living in the territory over a mass of dirt. Was all this destruction and mayhem worth it? I mean in the end what did it achieve? We are in modern times now, we are more knowledgeable and more diplomatic... why cant all humans live in peace - yes! we are humans and we are flawed - but we cant let that be an excuse? Why are we killing young innocent lives when we can be nurturing them and educating them about peace and harmony and how this world was created by god for us to all share and to enjoy.
How can such medieval cruelty still exist? Why is this world so barabaric? We should look at ourselves and grow up and see what hurt we are causing.
I am sorry but I am really frustrated about this whole Palestinian issue. I mean in Australia, the First Fleet Convicts stole the land of the Aboriginal people. Should there be another similar situation here? I dont think so. It is just not worth it. We only have short lives to live.. why waste it on something that is going to take away your life's time, and live longer than you will!
Posted by Lara @ 04/30/2006 03:56 PM CST
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Posted by CT Graphics @ 05/01/2006 12:03 AM CST
Lara, how nice it would be for westerners if they could attribute the motivations and the emotions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to primitive, medieval, ignorant, less advanced cultures. But this is not the case. The desires, fears, concerns, emotions and motivations of the Palestinians and Israelis are the same as those of other countries. They are neither alien nor distant nor beyond and forgotten by the west. The west is neither more knowledgeable,nor more diplomatic nor more advanced,only more comfortable, because the conflicts Israelis and Palestinians are still dealing with the west has, not very long ago, for better or worse concluded.
Posted by Micha @ 05/01/2006 02:26 AM CST
This is a fantastic page! It has been so helpful for my studies. I am currently taking a course at Harvard University called Middle Eastern Studies, and this page has aided me in writing numerous papers, and presentations. I thank you for all of your help!
Posted by Jenniffer Senglade @ 05/03/2006 07:34 PM CST
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