UPDATE! A few days after this post was written, this group sent out a press release. A phone number on it appeared to lead to Palestine House, a pro-Palestinian organization based in Toronto. The “investigation” into the possible partnership between this group and Palestine House is explored in a later post. But do read this one first, I worked hard on it. 😉
The new open letter sponsored by well known figures such as Naomi Klein, Jane Fonda and Danny Glover attacking Toronto International Film Festival for exhibiting Israeli films is simply a mendacious attack not only on Israel, but on freedom of expression and the truth. Presenting a complex topic with a one-sided, simplistic, censorious attack, the authors and signatories do a disservice to truth, to good people who care no less than they about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict fairly and soon, and provide support to the enemies of peace.
Last week, in a letter that has probably given him more media attention than any of his films, certainly far more than his recent short film would have ever received otherwise, John Greyson (clicking on this link will take you to my post about his claims) stated that despite his boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival for showing Israeli films about Tel Aviv, he was presenting an Israeli film in Toronto shortly. Of course, that film is heavily and in a one-sided fashion critical of Israel. Greyson’s self-serving hypocrisy, as a filmmaker who sits on the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival and who boycotts the Toronto International Film Festival for showing Israeli films that are not to his taste while promoting those that are agreeable to him or his colleagues, is disappointing and disturbing.
Particularly galling is that Greyson, whose recent short film speaks of the stifling of free speech that took place when a gay and lesbian film festival was shut down in Sarajevo because of predominantly Muslim pressure and, by his telling, violence, is seeking to stifle the freedom of expression of other filmmakers and of the Toronto film festival for showing a broad slate of Israeli films. Of note also is that Greyson, a homosexual filmmaker, is supporting a society which treats homosexuals in a manner incongruent with Greyson’s beliefs and advocacy over they years while he was attacking a society that is probably as friendly to homosexuals as his native Canada.
Yet, despite the hypocrisy, yesterday Greyson received open support from a large group of artists and filmmakers who joined him and Naomi Klein in writing an open protest letter to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). They wrote,
“We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”
After reading the letter, I began to wonder whether this was part of a new evolution of the Palestinian propaganda machine. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that Fatah, the key party behind the Palestinian Authority, met for their Sixth Congress and they voted on their future direction:
– they voted to KEEP the refugee camps open, because they are an asset in the “struggle.”
– They voted to maintain the right to violent struggle against Israel.
– They kept the part of their charter that claims Jews have no historic connection to Israel.
– Fatah also voted to bring into their fold one of the key terror groups involved in many of the suicide bombing and other attacks on Israeli civilians that have taken place in the last decade.
– They voted to build up their attempts to promote the Palestinian narrative by encouraging the international community to boycott and protest Israel.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the writers and signatories of this new open letter to TIFF, people like Naomi Klein, Alice Walker, Shawn Wallace and David Byrne have become supporters of these positions and wittingly or unwittingly they are now active members of the Palestinian propaganda machine. Theirs is propaganda that has taken on grotesque proportions intended to defame not just Israel, but all Israelis who do not participate in the Palestinians’ propaganda mission. There is no other way to describe what is being said about and done to the Israelis whose films are being shown in Toronto.
“What I think our campaign does is it notifies large cultural institutions that they can’t allow themselves to be used in a `white-wash’ campaign in this way,” Richard Fung [one of the group’s leaders] said. He is referring, according to the article, to the “white wash” of “human rights issues and concerns over Israeli settlements in the west bank and Gaza Strip.”
In other words, any film that comes out of Israel and shown at a major exhibition lauding Israel is part of a whitewashing campaign, and film festivals need to be criticized when they exhibit such films. Presumably, the only Israeli films that are acceptable to Klein, Fung, Greyson et al, and I would guess the people from Fatah, are films such as the one Greyson announced he would be presenting at the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival – those that show an extreme bias against Israel. This is coming just four or five months after the Palestinians began claiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, religious Jewish manuscripts including biblical books that are written in Hebrew and Aramaic, are actually Palestinian artifacts. Applying Richard Fung’s words to that incident, where a major museum was targeted, one can see an obvious pattern.
But their case is weak and cannot be supported by the facts. In order to justify their attack on TIFF, in their open letter the authors, just as Greyson did in his letter, make statements without proper context, with critical omissions and with a slant that attempts to link Israel with the crimes far beyond anything of which it is guilty. Let’s have a look, and then address their key points:
Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestineâ€™s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the cityâ€™s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.
We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this yearâ€™s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel dâ€™Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.
First, let’s dismiss the comparisons to South Africa and apartheid. In SA, apartheid segregated between blacks and whites by law. They could not marry each other, they could not ride the same public transportation, blacks could not vote or receive representation in the federal government.
None of these apply to Israel.
The claim, then, by advocates of this view that Israeli policies resemble apartheid, is that while there may not be apartheid in Israel, things are different in the territories. This isn’t true either and, sadly, they are confusing security needs for apartheid.
Let’s take one example. In 2000, 2001 and 2002, more than 7,000 (that’s not a typo, seven thousand) incidents of Palestinian attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis took place. Of these, the most infamous were dozens of suicide bombings, most of which took place inside the Green Line. However, areas outside the Green Line (where Jewish communities are called “settlements”), bore the brunt of the other attacks which were mostly shooting attacks, most often at cars on roads or toward communities.
The political context of those years was that Areas A and B according to Oslo, containing about 98% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank, were under Palestinian rule. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was in charge along with their police force and an additional 14 security services. During the years in which they had control over these areas, the violence against Israelis increased exponentially, both within and outside the Green Line.
There is a direct correlation between the length of time these areas were under direct Palestinian rule and the increase in the number and violence of the Palestinian attacks on Israelis, as well as a similar correlation between the peace offers extended or suggested by Israel and the number of attacks on Israelis.
In April 2002, after a month where more than 230 Israelis were murdered in suicide bombings and other attacks, Israel re-entered all Palestinian areas with its military. It increased the number of checkpoints, ramped up intelligence gathering and within the next two years would build most of the security barrier (most of which is fence but some of which – and what we always see in pictures – is solid concrete) and new roads that bypassed many Palestinian towns and were intended for Israeli drivers as a means to avoid the many shootings that had been taking place on the existing roads. Israel permitted Israelis to drive on these roads while limiting or restricting non-Israelis to other roads.
It is these security features, resulting directly from intense Palestinian violence against, primarily, Israeli civilians, that have developed into the situation depicted by these protesters and others as apartheid. In other words, a racial policy is ascribed to what was and is primarily a security policy that has evolved from brutal Palestinian attacks, usually on Israeli civilians, and often after peace offers by Israel.
It is immaterial to the accusers that Arab Israelis or non-Jewish Israelis can drive on the new roads, for example. It is immaterial to them that the checkpoints help to prevent attacks and that the security barrier forces terrorists to travel far out of their way to reach destinations, often thwarting intended attacks. The need to monitor the key Palestinian cities from which most of the violence emanated in the early years of this war, is cited as having in place a form of “bantustans.” It is not. It is a security measure.
The result of these measures has been to stifle Palestinian attacks quite effectively. These days, Israel considers 4-5 successful attacks a year by the Palestinians to be a serious security failure. They used to get that many in a day a few years ago.
Of course, the only place where Israel does not have these types of security measures is Gaza, from which Israel withdrew entirely. Over there, there are no checkpoints other than the border-crossings and no Israeli-only roads and no Israeli soldiers and no “settlers.” The result is that over in Gaza, they launched several thousand rockets and mortars at Israel because these security measures don’t exist. Yesterday 5 mortars were launched at an Israeli community near Gaza.
Another claim is that because Israeli citizens live inside communities outside the Green Line “settlements,” and they receive Israeli governmental services while the Palestinians receive services from the PA with inferior support from the Israelis, this is a form of apartheid. It is not. One group are citizens and the other is not. If a group of Israeli Arabs wanted to move to the West Bank tomorrow to open a “settlement,” they could do so and also demand and receive government services.
Of course, the vast majority of Arab Israelis would not even consider leaving Israel for any reason, as polls show regularly. By the twisted logic of the letter-writers to TIFF, these Arab-Israelis accept apartheid as their lot and prefer it to joining the new Palestinian state that could be created.
I view any and all claims that Israel practices apartheid or a form of apartheid with deep suspicion because it conflates security matters with racism when it comes to a conflict where over the past 90 years – long before Jews founded Israel and long before they had a majority of the population in the region – the Arab side has consistently used violence to express its position on Jews residing in the area.
These days, the violence has been pushed back by Israeli measures, so now we watch (amazed) as the Palestinians attack Israel with their heinous propaganda.
Now to address the letter’s comments about Tel Aviv.
Saying that Tel Aviv is “built on destroyed Palestinian villages” is a truthful statement that is also intentionally deceptive because it is without context or any other form of explanation of the facts.
The vast majority of Tel Aviv is built on what was empty land, purchased with Jewish money, built as part of a Jewish city and in large part driven to live there by Palestinian violence against Jews over the course of many years. Tel Aviv was founded in the early 1900s by Jews who were seeking a suburb outside Jaffa. Jaffa’s population included about 20% Jews. Their venture to create the precursor to Tel Aviv, Ahuzat Bayit, followed a pattern that repeated itself throughout the subsequent growth of the city: lands and deeds were purchased by Jews when needed or consented to by the Mandatory government when the lands were public lands. It grew rapidly as a center for the Jews in Mandatory Palestine over land that was virtually entirely unbuilt and uninhabited. Before 1948, when the city grew to enclose an Arab village, it was done through legal instruments and overseen by the Mandatory authorities.
There are two other critical pieces of information that tell us a great deal about Tel Aviv and its growth. In 1921, it became a separate municipality from Jaffa. The reason? The 1920 and 1921 attacks initiated by Arabs in key areas of Mandatory Palestine against the small Jewish minority brought about a need to separate populations and establish defensive capabilities for the Jews who were still a small minority there. Jaffa was no different. In 1936, Tel Aviv opened its own port, again because of major complications with the Jaffa port and general Arab violence that became prevalent throughout Mandatory Palestine between 1936 to 1939. The result, of course, was that Jaffa’s economy suffered.
Tel Aviv grew and established itself as the center of Palestine’s Jewish community’s cultural life. Artists, architects, writers and writers established themselves in the city, as did the provisional political leaders of the community.
By the time, 1948 rolled around, Tel Aviv had grown to 230,000 almost entirely Jewish residents while Jaffa next door was almost entirely Arab. I have seen population figures of between 40,000 and 70,000 for Jaffa. The UN’s recommendation to partition Palestine in 1947, would have left Jaffa in Arab hands while Tel Aviv was a central part of the Jewish areas. As the TIFF letter writers must know, the Arabs rejected UNGA 181, the Partition Plan.
Before the 1948 war began, the first attacks on Jews following the UN’s announcement of the Partition Plan came from Jaffa Arabs who killed 5 Jews in two incidents. When the time came for the war to start in 1948, Jaffa participated in the fighting with one famous example being the sniper fire directed at nearby Jewish neighborhoods (and their civilians, not soldiers) from one of the town’s important mosques.
Also before the 1948 war began, the 3 Arab villages that were then OUTSIDE Tel Aviv’s boundaries and control (of course these areas are now inside Tel Aviv because the city has grown dramatically over the past 6 decades), evacuated themselves. In one case, Sheikh Muwannis, it happened even though the Haganah was asking them to remain and protecting them from potential Lehi and Etzel attacks. There were attacks on Jews from this village but the Haganah preferred good relations than retaliation. Despite this, one by one, the three villages emptied themselves before the real war even began. They left of their own volition. Summeil and Jammasin are the two other villages. Some Palestinian advocates list 2 to 3 other villages that were supposedly in Tel Aviv, but two of them were really part of Jaffa and one is north of even today’s expanded Tel Aviv.
To emphasize that their departure was not the doing of the Jewish population, let’s quote the March 23, fully four months after the outbreak of hostilities, ALA (a key fighting force out of Syria and headed by Fawzi al Qawukji) commander-in-chief stated that the Jews â€œhave so far not attacked a single Arab village unless provoked by it.â€
The outcome of 1948, as Israel was emerging victorious after a very rough beginning of the war and a tremendous loss of life in the fighting as well as injured (1% of the Jewish population was killed – the equivalent of 3 million Americans today or 360,000 Canadians today, and the ratio of injured to dead was probably about 5 to 8:1), was that many Jaffan Arabs also fled the city although a few thousand remained. After the ’48 war, Israel annexed Jaffa to Tel Aviv, and eventually the city’s boundaries came to include the three villages listed above that had been abandoned before the war. Israel continued to build Tel Aviv out as it grew and built over these abandoned villages so that little remains of them. The Israelis renovated parts of Jaffa with space for homes, shops and restaurants. The Arab residents of Jaffa who remained or returned after the war, continue to live there to this day (I have spent a great deal of money supporting their businesses over the years). They are citizens of Israel.
But of course, this conflict has many shades of gray. Among the many residents of Tel Aviv, especially after 1948, were Arab Jews who had left or fled their countries with very little or with nothing. 800,000 such refugees were absorbed by Israel between 1948-1956. Of course, many were sent to “development towns,” but many were absorbed into Tel Aviv just as a few years earlier Holocaust survivors joined the city’s burgeoning population.
Palestinian advocates like to say the Palestinians had nothing to do with either the Holocaust or with the expulsion and departure of Jews from Arab states and as such are blameless in any consequences to those Jews while the Israelis are responsible for any consequences to the Palestinians derived from the immigration to Israel of these populations. Both claims are false. Haj Amin al Husseini, a key Palestinian leader, collaborated with the Nazis in Palestine and Iraq, while the Arab states and their leaders were encouraged by Palestinian leaders to rise up against their Jewish populations and against Israel. In any case, it is impossible to consider the abandonment of these Palestinian villages by their inhabitants as different from the displacement of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries as a result of the conflict over Palestine. Suggesting that somehow one is immoral while the other is not is immoral in itself.
And let’s not play games with facts. The Jews who left or were evicted from these countries were not welcome back. Their historic homes, their assets, their lives of centuries in those places were taken away from them and gone forever.
The abandonment and evacuation of Palestinian villages also must be considered with a view to what the Arabs were doing to Jews in areas they were conquering: expelling or killing every single one. This is how east Jerusalem became Arab east Jerusalem. Today, now that Israel is established, it is easy to stand around and shout about “stolen land” and “ethnic cleansing” but if that’s the case, the shouters need to be doing the same to the Jordanians and Palestinians. They don’t because in the end Israel emerged victorious not just in ’48 but also in ’67 and therefore even the lands the Arabs had conquered and occupied in ’48 ultimately fell into Israeli hands.
It is true that some of the Palestinians who were displaced in the ’48 war live in refugee camps to this day, just as it is true that they could have been absorbed into Arab states or could have left their homes in camps and built other ones. If there was ever any doubt about this, consider that other than Jordan, no Arab state agreed to make Palestinians citizens of that country, and that at the Sixth Congress, Fatah voted to keep the refugee camps going. There may be suffering there, but it is quite imprecise to lay the blame at Israel’s feet, especially considering the billions they have received over the years from the international community, and considering that Oslo gave the PA authority over their people, the Wye Agreement removed Israeli soldiers from their midst and the peace offers of 2000 and 2001 established the premise of a Palestinian state next door to Israel with 100% of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank in Palestinian hands.
It also needs to be said that of those original refugees, few refugees remain alive today. Their descendants, born in other places, are not refugees. They are called such because UNRWA is solely committed to caring for Palestinians and in order to maintain its existence which provides employment to about 30,000 Palestinians, it has continued to refer to them officially as refugees. EVERY other group of refugees that the UN considers refugees are governed by the UNHCR and their definition of a refugee is restricted to the first generation, the actual refugees. Not their offspring who are born elsewhere. Needless to say, this applies to all the Jewish refugees from Arab lands who were absorbed by Israel.
These days the Jordanian government is busy eliminating citizenship from its citizens of Palestinian origin; a decade ago Kuwait evicted every single Palestinian (there were 300,000) on its soil; The United Arab Emirates just announced they are evicting hundreds of Palestinians; countries such as Lebanon and Syria do not grant citizenship to their Palestinians even though they were born there and have never spent a day in Gaza, Israel or the West Bank; to this day Saudi Arabia and Jordan have no Jews at all – not one – living among them while countries such as Iraq, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon have long ago absorbed the wealth left behind by their fleeing Jewish communities. I’m sure the protesters and boycotters of everything Israel are not boycotting any of these countries or their (meager) cultural exports.
Now the following part is critical and people like Naomi Klein who base their campaigns on outright falsehoods such as the idea that Israel must be pushed out of its sense of normalcy to seek peace should pay heed.
Last year, 2008, Israel offered the Palestinians peace and a state once again. This time they even offered to turn the key areas of Jerusalem under dispute into an international city, dominated by neither the Israelis or the Palestinians. Presumably, they also offered all that was offered at Taba. This would include removal of the settlers on 97% of the West Bank land and giving the Palestinians land within Israel for the other 3%. This would include agreement to offer the Palestinians tens of billions of dollars in reparations. This would include giving the right to some refugees (from the real generation of refugees, the first one), to move into Israel.
There’s more that was offered, but what is more important is that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, refused the offer, just as they did in 2001 at Taba.
Then when Obama was elected, Abbas was quoted as saying he had no intention of negotiating for peace with Israel. He would wait. One of his aides suggested that the Palestinians believed such a tactic would destroy the present Israeli government within two years because it would create deep friction between Israel and the USA.
This is what the protesters signed to this letter to TIFF are supporting – refusal to accept peace and a Palestinian state and a desire to put the peace process on hold again, just as they did after the last offers by Israel in 2000 and 2001. If we use Naomi Klein’s logic, the Palestinians must apparently feel very comfortable and very secure in their “bubble.” Perhaps they are not suffering as much as suggested and actually desire to have the conflict continue because it serves them in some ways. In what ways? The money flowing in from international organizations as well as many governments means, for example, that the Palestinian per capita income is higher than that of the residents of some Arab countries. Organizations like UNRWA and the numerous NGOs that flower in Gaza and the West Bank also offer good jobs and employment opportunities. The reasons are numerous but the point is clear: the Palestinians have refused 3 offers in the past decade including one last year. They could have a state already and the BDS movement could rest. Naomi Klein could focus again on the evils of large corporations instead of Israel.
If they refuse offers of a state and peace, then what do the Palestinians want?
This is a critical question if people are going to go around boycotting Israeli companies, universities and culture. The signatories of the open letter to TIFF don’t say what they want but in other public forums, Naomi Klein has made it clear that the idea behind these boycotts and sanctions is to raise public awareness of Israel’s allegedly improper behavior so as to enable a change that would end the occupation.
Well, here is my question to Ms. Klein: Why does she need to boycott Israel? Why doesn’t she join her compatriots who penned this letter to TIFF and apply pressure on the Palestinians to agree to a settlement with Israel? In that settlement, as has been offered by two Israeli governments in the past decade, there would a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state.
I can even help the eloquent Ms. Klein pursue a strategy that is certain to reap rewards: eliminate UNRWA; adhere to UNHCR standards on who is a refugee; stop the flow of funds from international donors to the PA until they agree to form a state and then take steps to accomplish this; and boycott all Palestinian cinema, diplomats, cultural exports and their institutions such as universities and museums until they consent to peace.
Why not, Ms. Naomi Klein? Mr. David Byrne? Ms. Jane Fonda? Israel has offered peace and a two state solution. The Palestinians have continuously rejected the offers. They won’t even accept the right of self-determination of the Jewish people that they demand for themselves. They have charters, both Hamas and Fatah that is, that deny any Jewish historical connection to Israel. They claim Jewish history as their own, as we have now seen with the Dead Sea Scrolls in Toronto. They support and are supported by people who have no compunction using anti-Semitic stereotypes and accusations against Jews and Israelis (even if they say “Zionists” tongue in cheek). They have been targeting and attacking Jewish civilians since 1920.
Isn’t it time for peace?
Isn’t it time to eliminate the Palestinian dream of the destruction of Israel – the continued Palestinian resistance to close a peace deal and have two states side by side? Well, maybe it is. I think it is.
But even if you think it is, Ms. Klein, or Mr. Byrne or Ms. Fonda, be warned that if you dare say so publicly, you will be Lernered. Just like Uri Avnery. Oh well, on with the boycott and divestiture movement, I guess. Now, if only this was the way to end this conflict…or at least the ethical way to protest what is happening…
For more Jewlicious reading about this:
The PA did not change its charter as per their Oslo obligations. This was recently publicly confirmed before the Fatah conference by two of Fatah’s leaders including Dahlan.