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Israel, the Palestinians and terror - reinventing history


"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.

Most people can't remember what happened last week, let alone last year, and most people do not live in the places described, so there is little chance of detection.

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:

(remember, the last three years of Oslo were, by far, the safest years in Israel's history)

The last three years of Oslo (1997-2000) were not only the safest years in Israel's history, with virtually no terrorism.

Now it seemed to me that 1997 to 2000 encompasses four years, and not three, but who am I to argue with the mighty Rosenberg and Rosner? Perhaps my education in arithmetic was defective. My second grade arithmetic teacher, after all, was not a distinguished political analyst or journalist. It also seemed to me that those years were not particularly safe. Since I didn't trust my memory, I went hunting for facts. According to The Israel Minstry of Foreign Affairs , 41 people were killed by terror in 1997, 16 in 1998 and 8 in 1999. Eight people were killed by terror in 2000. In this "safe" period, 73 people were killed in terror attacks. "Only" 63 people were killed in terror attacks in the four years of 1982-1985, and therefore by that measure, that period was safer. Overall, 428 people were killed by terror in Israel between 1990 and 1999, the worst decade for terror since the foundation of the state. The 1980s were the safest decade by this measure, with 174 deaths. Now whom are you going to believe? Me, I am just a blogger - nobody pays attention to me. The dead people are dead and they can't protest. Thanks to the editors of Ha'aretz, Rosner and Rosenberg can determine what history ought to be for right-thinking people.

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:

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....

It is not clear if "the last three years" are 1998-2000 according to the way I was taught to count, or 1997-2000, the way Rosenberg counts. Nor iwasit an accident that Rosenberg now specified "civilians." Nonetheless, his count is wrong by any possible measure. From a different list of the Israel Ministry of foreign affairs we find:

Jan 6 98 Yael Meivar, 25, died of gunshot wounds sustained in a terrorist attack on Dec 31, 1997 near the settlement of Alei Zahav in Samaria.

Feb 11 98 David Ktorza, 40, of Jerusalem, was stabbed to death near his home.

May 6 98 Haim Kerman, 28, was stabbed to death in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Aug 5 98 Harel Bin-Nun, 18, and Shlomo Liebman, 24, were shot and killed in an ambush by terrorists while on patrol at the Yizhar settlement in Samaria.

Aug 20 98 Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, 63, was stabbed to death in the bedroom of his caravan in Hebron.

Oct 9 98 IDF soldier Michal Adato, 19, was stabbed to death at Moshav Tomer in the Jordan Valley.

Oct 14 98 Itamar Doron, 24, was shot to death near Moshav Ora, outside Jerusalem.

Oct 26 98 Danny Vargas, 29, of Kiryat Arba was shot to death in Hebron.

Oct 29 98 Sergeant Alexey Neykov, 19, was killed when a terrorist drove an explosives-laden car into an Israeli army jeep escorting a bus with 40 elementary school students from the settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip.

Jan 13 99 Sergeant Yehoshua Gavriel, 25, of Ashdod, was killed when terrorists opened fire at the Othniel junction near Hebron.

Aug 7 99 The body of an Israeli, shot in the head, was found in a burned vehicle.

Aug 30 99 Yehiel Finfeter, 25, of Kiryat Motzkin, and Sharon Steinmetz, 21, of Haifa, were murdered whlie hiking in the Megiddo region.

The deaths of civilians were placed in bold type above. You can see that eight people were killed, not counting the two settlers who were on patrol, and might not be considered "civilians." Eight is more than half a dozen in anyone's arithmetic. Overall, 16 people were killed by terror in 1998 and 8 in 1999. These were relatively quiet years, but not the "safest in Israel's history."
In November 2000, Israel and the Palestinians were still negotiating. A festive summit proclaimed an end to terror. In that month according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, another eight civilians were killed by terrror:

Nov 2, 2000 - Jerusalem

Two people were killed and 10 injured by a car bomb explosion near the Mahane Yehuda market. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nov 20, 2000 - Gush Katif

Two people were killed and 9 injured by a roadside bomb that exploded alongside a bus carrying children to school.

Nov 22, 2000 - Hadera

Two people were killed, and 60 wounded when a powerful car bomb was detonated alongside a passing bus on the town's main street.

Nov 28, 2000 - Kfar Saba

Two Israeli teenagers on their way to school were killed in a suicide terrorist attack near the "Meeting Place of Peace" gas station in Neve Yamin. The bomber, from the Hamas terror group, blew himself up in a gathering of students waiting at a bus stop. Four other teenagers were wounded, one critically.

If we include 1997 among the "three" last years of the Oslo agreement as Rosenberg did, then we must add many more victims:

Mar 21 97 Michal Avrahami, 32, Yael Gilad, 32, and Anat Winter-Rosen, 32, were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb on the terrace of a Tel Aviv cafe. 48 people were wounded.


Apr 25 97 Hagit Zavitzky, 23, of Kfar Adumim and Liat Kastiel, 23, of Holon were found stabbed to death in Wadi Kelt.

Jul 30 97 16 people were killed and 178 wounded in two consecutive suicide bombings in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem:Lev Desyatnik, 60, of Jerusalem; Regina Giber, 76, of Jerusalem; Valentina Kovalenko, 67, of Jerusalem; Shmuel Malka, 44, of Mevaseret Zion; David Nasco, 44, of Mevaseret Zion; Muhi A-din Othman, 33, of Abu Ghosh; Simha Fremd, 92, of Jerusalem; Grisha Paskhovitz, 15, of Jerusalem; Leah Stern, 50, of Jerusalem; Rachel Tejgatrio, 80, of Jerusalem; Liliya Zelezniak, 47, of Jerusalem; Shalom (Golan) Zevulun, 52, of Jerusalem; Mark Rabinowitz, 80, of Jerusalem.
Eli Adourian, 49, of Kfar Adumim, died of his wounds on August 11. Ilia Gazrach, 73, of Pisgat Ze'ev, died on August 29. Baruch Ostrovsky, 84, of Jerusalem died on October 3.

Sep 4 97 Five people were killed and 181 wounded in three suicide bombings on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem.
The victims: Yael Botwin, 14; Sivan Zarka, 14; Smadar Elhanan, 14; Rami Kozashvili, 20; and Eliahu Markowitz, 40 - all of Jerusalem.

Nov 19 97 Gabriel Hirschberg, 26, was killed by automatic gunfire in the Old City of Jerusalem.

I have included the names with a purpose. Each victim is an individual. To suit their political whims, Rosenberg and Rosner want to simply wipe out the memories of each of those victims. Smadar Elhanan, Anat Winter Rosen, Yehiel Finfeter, and all the others do not deserve to be erased from the history of mankind in order to further the lobbying efforts of the Israel Policy Forum.

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:

"Egyptian officials told Israeli media during the week that they are aiming for Hamas to sign two levels of agreements with Israel...The second is to strictly maintain the Hamas-led ceasefire of August 2004."

Chulov has apparently invented a cease fire. I have been unable to find any mention of a cease-fire, lull, Tahidieh, Hudna or truce in August of 2004 in contemporary news reports. On the contrary, on August 31, 2004, Hamas perpetrated a double suicide attack in Beersheba, in revenge for the killings of their leaders.

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.

Ami Isseroff

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by Moderator @ 02:45 PM CST [Link]


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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:
Ralph - As I wrote to Rosner's blog, being for peace does not excuse us from sticking to the facts.
Michael Volpin - 6 victims is not "less than half a dozen."
Gigi - If M.J. Rosenberg wants to make a claim about what years are safer for Palestinians we can do so and examine the claim. Actually, I rather suspect the pre-Oslo period might have been safer in general, but it was not discussed here. Do you happen to know what the infant mortality rate was in Gaza in 1966, and what it was in 1994? It is not so relevant even for Palestinians. I was much safer living in the USA, but I returned to the land of my ancestors (literally as my parents were born here) for a reason, and Palestinians should have the same right to freedom, if they will live in peace.

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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