Monday, August 22, 2016

In response to EoZ’s criticism of the pronounced anti-Israel bias reflected in Macmillan’s World Regional Geography textbook, the prestigious publisher has declared its willingness to take the “comments very seriously” and to inform the authors, Lydia Mihelic Pulsipher and Alex Pulsipher. This is certainly welcome news; however, I’m afraid that there are some very fundamental problems in the textbook’s treatment of Israel and Palestine as one of the “worrisome geopolitical situations” in the Middle East.

In fairness, it should be noted that it is of course very difficult to treat a long-running conflict that has been attracting so much attention and media coverage for decades in just a few pages. But it is noteworthy that the advertisement for the book emphasizes:

“Alone among books for the regional geography course, Pulsipher and Pulsipher’s World Regional Geography humanizes geographical issues, showing how larger geographical forces affect the lives of individuals and communities around the globe.”

In the case of the section on Israel and Palestine, the authors obviously decided to “humanize” the Palestinians, who are depicted right at the outset as the victims of Israel:

“Israel’s excellent technical and educational infrastructure, its diverse and prospering economy, and the large aid contributions (public and private) it receives from the United States and elsewhere, have made it one of the region’s wealthiest, most technologically advanced and militarily powerful countries.

The Palestinian people, by contrast, are severely impoverished and undereducated after years of conflict, inadequate government and meager living […] often in refugee camps. Through a series of events over the past 60 years, Palestinians have lost most of the lands on which they used to live.”

So we have Israel, which receives “large aid contributions … from the United States and elsewhere”, and the Palestinians, who – due to “a series of events over the past 60 years” – are reduced to eking out a “meager living … often in refugee camps.”

Given that Israel and Palestine are presented as one of the “worrisome geopolitical situations” in the Middle East, there is plainly no reason whatsoever not to mention that the Palestinians have the political support of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC); notably, the latter boasts of being “the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations.” You just have to read through the first paragraph of the OIC’s “History” on its own website to find out that it was established “as a result of criminal arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.” And you just have to read an article from yesterday to find out that up to this very day, Palestinians “recycle” the lie that a “radical Jew” set fire to Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. And it isn’t hard to find out that this lie is being widely promoted all over the Muslim world.

Which brings us to claims like: “the conflict between Jews and Palestinian Arabs” has always been – and continues to be – “less about religion than control of land, settlements and access to water;” or like:  the “second intifada … was primarily fueled by the expansion of Israeli settlements.” These claims are presented as facts, but one could literally fill a book (if not several volumes) with material documenting that in the Arab and Muslim world, the conflict with Israel has always been seen primarily as a religious conflict. It would actually be very important for a textbook that tries to explain “worrisome geopolitical situations” in the Middle East to acknowledge religion as a factor that has fueled the Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict. That’s why, soon after taking power in Iran, Khomeini declared “Quds Day,” which is meant “to proclaim the international solidarity of Muslims in support of the legitimate rights of the Muslim people of Palestine.” And incidentally, that’s why the “second intifada,” which was supposedly “primarily fueled by the expansion of Israeli settlements,” is also known as the “Al-Aqsa Intifada.” And that’s also why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared just last fall that Jews “have no right to desecrate the [Al-Aqsa] mosque with their dirty feet” – by which he meant to say that Jews should not be allowed to visit the Temple Mount.

Overlooking the political backing Palestinians have from the Arab League and the OIC also means overlooking the vast disadvantage Israel has in the UN, where, as Ben Cohen has explained so well, “a whole network of anti-Israel institutions and funding streams” created in the wake of the infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism has remained in place after the resolution was repealed in 1991; this institutional network continues to fuel anti-Israel initiatives and policies around the world. Why emphasize “large aid contributions” Israel “receives from the United States and elsewhere” while completely ignoring the considerable aid and leverage Palestinians enjoy due to the influence of the Arab League and the OIC?

And some related questions, particularly since the material refers to a video [154] with the title “60 Years After Israel’s Founding, Palestinians Are Still Refugees”: Why emphasize the Palestinian refugees created by the Arab and Muslim wars in response to Israel’s establishment while ignoring that the Arab states also proceeded to drive out the ancient Jewish communities all over the Middle East? Are there any explanations that there are Palestinian “refugee” camps in Palestinian-ruled Gaza and areas of the West Bank because Palestinian “refugees” are unique in the world since their “refugee” status is inheritable, and that they have a special UN organization that takes care of them and makes sure that they receive “the highest per capita [humanitarian] assistance in the world”?
And some more questions, given the repeated suggestions that Israel’s founding was a “nakba”, i.e. catastrophe for the Palestinians: what about the fact that (as I’ve explained previously) in late 1948, a group of Palestinian leaders officially asked for the incorporation of the West Bank into the Jordanian kingdom, and that Jordan annexed the area in April 1950? The annexation also meant that the people living in the West Bank — as the area was then named by Jordan — became Jordanian citizens. Anis F. Kassim, an international law expert and practicing lawyer in Jordan, explained in an interview published in February 2011 by the Electronic Intifada: “on 20 December 1949, the Jordanian council of ministries amended the 1928 citizenship law such that all Palestinians who took refuge in Jordan or who remained in the western areas controlled by Jordan at the time of the law’s entry into force, became full Jordanian citizens for all legal purposes. The law did not discriminate between Palestinian refugees displaced from the areas that Israel occupied in 1948 and those of the area that the Jordanian authorities renamed the West Bank in 1950.”

It was only in July 1988 that Jordan ceded its claims to the West Bank in favor of the PLO – using the opportunity to deprive West Bank residents of their Jordanian citizenship. As Kassim put it: “more than 1.5 million Palestinians went to bed on 31 July 1988 as Jordanian citizens, and woke up on 1 August 1988 as stateless persons.” (For the effects of Jordanian rule vs. Israeli rule of the area, see this excellent article from 2002 by Ephraim Karsh).

Given that from 1948 until 1967, West Bank Palestinians were apparently quite content to live in Jordan as Jordanian citizens, where exactly is “Palestine”? Specifically, what “Palestine” do Pulsipher & Pulsipher have in mind when they define “Zionists” as “those who have worked, and continue to work, to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine”? In the context of their overall presentation, this definition quite obviously suggests that there was a “Palestine” rightfully belonging to Palestinians that was – and continues to be – usurped by “Zionists.” It is also noteworthy in this context that Pulsipher & Pulsipher  refer elsewhere to “the space in the eastern Mediterranean that Jews had shared in ancient times with Palestinians and other Arab groups.” I guess it depends on what you call “ancient times,” but for Jews, “ancient times” were most definitely long before there were any “Arab groups”, let alone any “Palestinians” in this particular “space in the eastern Mediterranean.” And incidentally, back then, this “space in the eastern Mediterranean” wasn’t called Palestine, even though Pulsipher & Pulsipher emphasize at one point that “the word Palestine” has “roots far back in history.” All in all, I cannot help but see this as a fairly transparent and completely unscholarly attempt to suggest some ancient Palestinian history while downplaying the real ancient Jewish history of the area.

Last but perhaps not least, a book on geography should arguably also provide a correct image of the actual extent of Israel’s settlements. However, Pulsipher & Pulsipher are content to parrot popular claims about the ever-growing settlements, even though facts are not hard to come by: as veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat acknowledged grudgingly in an interview five years ago, “despite Israel’s continual policy of ‘occupation and settlement building,’ an aerial photograph provided by European sources shows that settlements have been built on approximately 1.1% of the West Bank.” Similarly, published estimates by settlement watchdog groups like Peace Now and B’tselem indicate that the settlements are taking up between 1.4-1.7 percent of the West Bank. Not all that much to show for more than four decades of relentless land grabbing and incessant settlement expansion.
Incidentally, in the same interview, Erekat also acknowledged “that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had offered a final peace settlement that would include territorial concession equivalent to the entire West Bank, the return of thousands of Palestinian refugees […], and the division of Jerusalem.” Yet, Palestinian President Abbas told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl in an interview about Olmert’s offer: “The gaps were wide.” Once again: so much for the idea that the conflict is primarily about “control of land, settlements and access to water” – particularly given that access to water is becoming less relevant in view of Israel’s advances in desalination programs.

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