Truth or Propaganda?

by
Gamaliel Isaac


 

S

tories of Israeli atrocities spread by the media, and Palestinian solidarity organizations have created considerable hostility to Israel.  How can we determine if these atrocities stories are truth or propaganda?

 

Method of Discerning the Truth

The steps I use in this article to evaluate the truth of Middle Eastern allegations are:

1) Examine what both sides have to say and if possible what neutral observers have observed

2) Isolate statements that are verifiable and verify them.

3) Look for contradictions and inconsistencies.

 

I. The Allegation of Unfair Academic Closures

One of the allegations leveled against Israel is that Israelis imprison Palestinian students for non-violent dissent.  To evaluate this allegation we will consider the report of two neutral organizations, the World University Service (WUS) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)  who sent a mission of enquiry to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to investigate academic freedom there.[i]

According to their report:

“The six principal institutions of higher education in the West Bank and Gaza have all been founded, or else upgraded to university status, since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967: indeed, almost all of the expansion of higher education has taken place since about 1972.  It is still continuing.  The Israeli authorities appear to have given permission, either at the beginning or retrospectively, for all the institutions to open, and have co-operated with them in several ways.

The rate of expansion of higher education has indeed been remarkable.  In 1967, apart from a few small colleges some of which formed a nucleus for later growth, there was little in the way of higher education inside the West Bank and Gaza.  By 1977-78 2,763 students were enrolled at the four main institutions: Birzeit, An Najah, Bethlehem and Hebron.  By 1983-84 there were 11,046 at the six we visited, and some 14,000 altogether if the smaller colleges are included…”

The authors wrote:

“At Birzeit, by chance, we witnessed two events symptomatic of problems in the occupied territories… [O]ur car overtook a stationary bus carrying Birzeit students: the bus had been stopped by Israeli soldiers and all the students had to get out to have their identity cards checked…  later that same morning the students organized a demonstration in the street just outside the old buildings of the university: this was to commemorate or rather reassert Palestinian condemnation of, the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29, 1947 – the Partition Resolution that outlined a plan for the partition of Mandated Palestine west of the River Jordan between a Jewish state and an Arab state…  The demonstration was peaceful and impressive, and there was no Israeli attempt to stop it. “

Why demonstrate against the partition plan?  That plan was meant to give Israel a state and the Palestinian Arabs a state that would coexist side by side.[ii] This demonstration could only be against the existence of Israel yet the Israelis did nothing to stop it.  What the authors personally witnessed was Israel tolerating extreme dissent. 

The authors heard second hand about another student demonstration that took place on January 31, 1984 at Birzeit University which was followed by a military ordered closure of the old campus for three months. (Birzeit had both a new and old campus).  A statement issued by the Public Relations Office of Birzeit on 4 February said:

"On the afternoon of January 31, the army came to the University where a peaceful student gathering was being held inside the campus… ”

Israel in an official announcement issued on 2 February explained their reasons for the closure. as follows: 

“The Military Government decided today to close the old campus of Birzeit University for a 3 months period, following violent disturbances and grave violations of public order which took place at the campus on January 31st 1984.  In the course of these events, some 400 students gathered at the campus, paralyzed the studies, raised PLO flags, rushed into the nearby streets and laid road blocks, set tires on fire and stoned the security forces which came to enforce order at the scene…

The IDF and the Civil Administration will not permit students who are motivated by the PLO and activated by hostile elements to exploit the institutes of higher education in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district for the purposes of incitement and hostile activities.

Conclusion:  The Israeli argument that they closed Birzeit in response to violence is more consistent with the author’s observations than the allegation that Israel imprisons students for non-violent dissent.

 

The Bombing Innocent Palestinians Atrocity Allegation

In October of 2000 a news bulletin interrupted the Arabic music on the Voice of Palestine radio: Israeli jets had just bombed the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the report said. 

"The Israeli criminals have fired missiles into the homes of innocent Palestinians," a breathless correspondent said. "Palestinian blood is flowing in the streets! Oh God, God, how can the criminals kill our innocent children?"

An hour earlier, another breathless Voice of Palestine correspondent had reported that the West Bank town of Hebron was "under siege" by armed Jewish settlers who were "shooting Palestinian women and children."

According to the correspondent Israeli troops were also burning homes in the West Bank town of Nablus.

Verification:

An investigative reporter for USA Today, Jack Kelley, decided to investigate these allegations.[iii] Immediately after hearing the broadcast about the Israeli attack on Bethlehem he hurried over and found no evidence of an attack. He went to Hebron to report on the siege by the Jewish settlers and found calm and quiet.  He went to Nablus to see the burning buildings and nothing was burning. 

Why report false information?  Tape editor Mahi Adwan explained.

"With my task here, I feel I complete the work of those who throw the stones."

Soon after she spoke, another bulletin was broadcast by the station. "Palestinian people: Our war is about to begin," yet another breathless commentator said. 

"Our brother and liberator in Iraq, President Saddam Hussein, has just phoned us to say that hundreds of jets and helicopters are taking-off from the aircraft carrier belonging to the criminal occupation force. They are heading this way to destroy our --"

Suddenly, the report came to an end. Perhaps the commentator realized that Israel's navy doesn't have -- and never has had -- an aircraft carrier as part of its fleet.”

 

The Jenin Massacre Allegation

One of the recent  accusations leveled against Israel is that Israeli soldiers [iv] massacred Palestinians civilians at Jenin.    Palestinian Authority Minister, Saeb Erekat stated on CNN April 10: "Im afraid to say that the number of Palestinian dead in the Israeli attacks have reached more than 500 now."[v]  The director of the hospital in Jenin, Abo Gali, said that Israeli tanks fired 11 missiles at the facility, destroying oxygen bottles, water tubes, sewage pipes, hospital wards, doctors rooms and an infirmary. "The whole of the west wing was destroyed," he testified. "Fighter planes launched their missiles every three minutes."  Abo Gali claimed that the Israeli army prevented all ambulances from reaching the hospital, insisting: "They didn’t want people to get medical treatment"  and " we had no food left."  Australian Christian humanitarian volunteer Dalry Jones said that Palestinians displayed photos of bodies, "gouged and pitted, torn. We were told this is from torture from the Israelis."

Verification:

Pierre Rehov a French film maker went to Jenin to investigate the above allegations and created a documentary[vi] about what he found.  In that documentary  Rehov  provides aerial images of the hospital on the last day of the incursion surrounding trees, the roof and floors are all intact.  He also shows footage of ambulances unloading casualties by the hospital doors and IDF soldiers assisting children and the elderly to reach treatment. Dr. David Zangen, the army’s chief medical officer in Jenin during the incursion, describes how the soldiers even treated Palestinian fighters, including members of Hamas. Rehov even shows a scene of an Israeli authorizing Abo Gali in person to receive anything he’d like for the hospital.

According to the Washington Times[vii], international workers investigated the camp and found no evidence of a massacre after which Palestinian officials drastically lowered the death toll to 56, a number consistent with what Israel had estimated.

Pierre Rehov discovered that Palestinians staged scenes for reporter’s cameras.  On Jan. 25, 2003, Rehov accompanied Palestinian journalist Ali Smoddi of the PA-controlled Jenin television station as he and his crew set out to interview a Palestinian man and his wife whose baby was just delivered by a doctor.  At the hospital, Smoddis crew does several "takes" of the fathers account of the birth, each with a different spin. In one version, the father claims that the ambulance they intended to meet was held up at a checkpoint for 15 minutes, and he was forced to deliver his infant son in the car, as the ambulance had not arrived. In another telling, the father says: "The soldiers took me down to the ambulance to check my identification and my wife gave birth in the ambulance and went to the hospital."

Dalry Jones, who had initially been believed the Palestinians regarding allegations of Israeli torture saw a Palestinian child blow up in front of her face, and came to the realization that the ripped apart bodies were the result of human booby traps that the Palestinians used against the Israelis.”

Pierre Rehov’s accounts of fabricated Palestinian street theater are supported by other sources.   An Israel Defense Force drone filmed a funeral procession on April 28, during which the stretcher-bearers dropped the purported corpse.  The "dead" man hopped back onto the stretcher, but the next time he was dropped, he walked away in a huff[viii]

Sami El Soudi, a Palestinian journalist also confirmed the street theater allegations in an article to the Metula News Agency[ix]  He wrote:

“Almost all Palestinian directors take part more or less voluntarily in these war commissions, under the official pretext that we should use all possible means, including trickery and fabulation, to fight against the tanks and airplanes the enemy has and we don’t.”

The staging of atrocities can be very amusing to Palestinian onlookers.  Israeli commentator Amnon Lord, a journalist for the Israeli paper, Makor Rishon wrote how he saw

"incongruous battle scenes complete with wounded combatants and screeching ambulances played out in front of an audience of laughing onlookers”

Inconsistencies:

A major problem with the Jenin massacre allegation is it doesn’t explain why Israelis sent men into Jenin to fight instead of shelling it from a safe distance.  This tactic mystified  Thaber Mardawi, an Islamic Jihad fighter in Israeli custody, who said: "I don’t know why they [the Israel Defense Forces] sent the infantry [into Jenin]. They knew they would be killed. To see a soldier pass in front of me, I’ve waited for this many years."[x]

 

Support For Israeli Atrocity Allegations

One would expect that at least some of the  Israeli victims of terrorist attacks would become radicalized.  Yitshak Pass became radicalized after he lost his daughter, a 10-month-old baby, Shalhevet. She was killed on a sunny Saturday morning by a Palestinian sniper. He was walking in the street with his wife, pushing a trolley, and a sniper shot the little baby in the head.   Dr. Baruch Goldstein became radicalized after he couldn’t keep alive victims of Arab terrorist attacks and after he heard mosque worshippers yelling Etbach El Yahud (kill the Jew)  The next day he opened fire on the worshippers in that mosque.

Dan Setton wrote a documentary called Israel’s Next War and explained the radicalized settler’s beliefs in an interview[xi].

“When a suicide bomber strikes, they don't think that the army should target the people who sent the suicide bomber. Because that's Israel's policy: to go after the cell, go after the leaders that sent the terrorist, bring them to justice or kill them. They say, "No. The assassin comes from the village next door. You go after the village. They kill our children, we kill theirs. They blow up our buses, we blow up a school." This is their strategic thinking. In the long run, they believe that this is the way that they're going to bring the conflict to a halt.

Conclusion:

The settlers are critical of Israel’s policy because it limits itself to going after the assassins.  This in itself is evidence against the allegation that the Israeli army indiscriminately kills women and children.  The fact that the Israeli army endangered their own soldiers in Jenin in order to avoid killing civilians is a dramatic testament to the efforts of Israel to avoid hurting civilians.

 

The Occupation of Palestinian Land Allegation:

An allegation that is often made against Israelis is that they are occupying Muslim land.   

One counterargument against this is that the nation of Israel dates back to 1272 BC which is 1800-1900 years before the Muslim faith existed.  Although in 70 CE the vast majority were exiled by the Romans those Jews who could, remained.

Verification:

The argument that there was a Jewish presence in Israel, even after the Romans exiled the Jews is supported by the fact that two famous Jewish works, the Mishna and the Jerusalem Talmud were both written around 200 CE.  The Shulchan Aruch was written in Safed in the 1500s.    An online documentary about Gaza [xii] shows Hebrew stone inscriptions demonstrating a historical presence of Jews there.

Counterargument:

Another counterargument to the claim that these areas are occupied Arab land is that the majority of Arabs living in the “occupied” areas are recent immigrants who immigrated there after the Jews created a thriving economy and made the desert bloom.

Verification:

The argument that most of the Arabs are recent immigrants is supported by the observations of two neutral observers of the region, Mark Twain and Ladislas Farago.  Mark Twain, in a book called The  Innocents Abroad[xiii] wrote about the emptiness and desolateness of Palestine:

“Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies…  Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the leader's presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. .. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the leader sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the "desert places" round about them where thousands of men once listened to the leader's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.”

Ladislas Farago traveled through Palestine in the 1930s and wrote[xiv]

"One always finds in Palestine Arabs who have been in the country only a few weeks or a few months...Since they are themselves strangers in a strange land, they are the loudest to cry: 'Out with the Jews!'...Amongst them are to be found representatives of every Arab country: Arabs from Transjordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, the Sudan and Iraq."     

Counterargument:

Ephraim Karsh in an article titled What Occupation?[xv] wrote: 

In 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded or destroyed to make way for the establishment of Israel. From biblical times, when this territory was the state of the Jews, to its occupation by the British army at the end of World War I, Palestine had never existed as a distinct political entity but was rather part of one empire after another, from the Romans, to the Arabs, to the Ottomans…

As is well known, the implementation of the UN's partition plan was aborted by the effort of the Palestinians and of the surrounding Arab states to destroy the Jewish state at birth. What is less well known is that even if the Jews had lost the war, their territory would not have been handed over to the Palestinians. Rather, it would have been divided among the invading Arab forces, for the simple reason that none of the region's Arab regimes viewed the Palestinians as a distinct nation. As the eminent Arab-American historian Philip Hitti described the common Arab view to an Anglo-American commission of inquiry in 1946, "There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not"...

Verification:  Many Arabs agree with Mr. Hitti[xvi], in fact Zuheir Mohsein, then a member of the Supreme Council of the PLO said[xvii]:

“There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.  We are all part of one nation.  It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity in contrast to Zionism.  Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for tactical reasons.  The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity.”

Counterargument 2:   Ephraim Karsh wrote that:

[O]n January 20, 1996, elections to the Palestinian Council were held, and shortly afterward both the Israeli civil administration and military government were dissolved…

Since the beginning of 1996, and certainly following the completion of the redeployment from Hebron in January 1997, 99 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have not lived under Israeli occupation.”

 

Allegation: The Israelis Are Oppressing the Palestinians:

Counterargument:  Efraim Karsh[xviii] wrote about this allegation as follows:

“During the three decades of Israel's control, far fewer Palestinians were killed at Jewish hands than by King Hussein of Jordan in the single month of September 1970 when, fighting off an attempt by Yasir Arafat's PLO to destroy his monarchy, he dispatched (according to the Palestinian scholar Yezid Sayigh) between 3,000 and 5,000 Palestinians, among them anywhere from 1,500 to 3,500 civilians. Similarly, the number of innocent Palestinians killed by their Kuwaiti hosts in the winter of 1991, in revenge for the PLO's support for Saddam Hussein's brutal occupation of Kuwait, far exceeds the number of Palestinian rioters and terrorists who lost their lives in the first intifada against Israel during the late 1980's…”

The larger part, still untold in all its detail, is of the astounding social and economic progress made by the Palestinian Arabs under Israeli "oppression." At the inception of the occupation, conditions in the territories were quite dire. Life expectancy was low; malnutrition, infectious diseases, and child mortality were rife; and the level of education was very poor. Prior to the 1967 war, fewer than 60 percent of all male adults had been employed, with unemployment among refugees running as high as 83 percent. Within a brief period after the war, Israeli occupation had led to dramatic improvements in general well-being, placing the population of the territories ahead of most of their Arab neighbors…

During the 1970's, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world-ahead of such "wonders" as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself…

Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians also made vast progress in social welfare. Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the West Bank and Gaza fell by more than two-thirds between 1970 and 1990, while life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared with an average of 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa). Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000 (in Iraq the rate is 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23, in Syria 22). And under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated.  

Verification:   There are many references[xix] that confirm Ephraim Karsh’s astonishing statements about the thriving economy of the Palestinians under the Israeli administration, before the Intifada.

Counterargument 2:   Menahem Milson wrote an article titled “How not to Occupy the West Bank” about Israeli efforts to make the life of the Palestinians as easy as possible.  He wrote:[xx] 

“There was no official Israeli document like the U.S. Initial Post-surrender Policy for Japan of September 1945 defining policy in the territories…The nearest thing to such a statement is an article by Shlomo Gazit (who headed the Israeli Military Government (IMG) under Dayan from 1967 to 1974) entitled “The Occupied Territories: Policy and Practice,” published in January 1970 in Ma’arachot, the monthly of the Israeli army…

Gazit wrote:

“Israel did not engage in the Six-Day War because of its expansionist intentions nor from a desire to rule the Arabs.  We entered the military campaign because we were faced with a serious problem of defense which we had to solve.  The territories which we occupied were occupied as essential defense positions for Israel, not because of [a desire to rule over] the population residing in them…” 

For those [residents of the territories] who yearn for independence, for sovereignty, for a flag, a national anthem, and all the other paraphernalia of statehood – for those, we cannot offer any practical solution.  However, as for the other aspect, that is, to what extent the Israeli Military Government changes or affects the ordinary regular way of life of the Arab residents of the territories – here we can do a lot in order to dull the acuteness of the problem… 

In order to help “dull the acuteness of the problem,” the IMG intends to abide by three principles.  The first is “non-presence”: the removal of any sign of Israeli rule – the Israeli flag, a military patrol, visible military headquarters.  The second is the principle of nonintervention: that the population should administer itself as it wishes.  The third, finally, is the principle of open bridges,” which makes it possible for the Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (as well as visitors from all over the Arab world) to move freely into and out of the area… 

It is the undisputed right of every Arab to continue to be a nationalist Arab with national awareness, to retain his traditions, religion, and language, to be proud of his past and of his national history…”

Milson explains: 

“The meaning of such an approach becomes clearer when we contrast the Israeli policy in the territories with that of the United States in occupied Japan.  The United States openly aimed at changing the political culture of Japan.  To this end it instituted a general censorship of all Japanese media, a comprehensive revision of educational curricula and school texts, and a ”purge” of public figures…

As for education: although Jordanian school texts were replete with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish materials, nonetheless, according to Dayan’s biographer Shabtain Teveth, the IMG decided “not to censor…”  

“As the Israeli military presence was reduced in accordance with this principle [non-intervention], armed PLO forces became active.  “By the end of 1970,” writes one observer, “the fida’iyin controlled the camps and, at night, the  towns.  Grenades were lobbed into marketplaces to disrupt commerce, and at places where people congregated who worked inside Israel, such as post offices, banks, and buses...  Most of the victims were Arabs…”

Verification:

Gazit’s argument that Israel needs to be in the territories for its own security is supported by a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense by the Joint Chiefs Of Staff of he United States which can be viewed online[xxi].   According to the memorandum Israel needs:

“Control of the prominent high ground running north-south through the middle of West Jordan generally east of the main north-south highway along the axis Jennin-Nablus-Bira-Jerusalem and then southeast to a junction with the Dead Sea at the Wadi el Daraja” 

You don’t need to be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to realize the importance of Judea and Samaria for Israel’s security.  One quick look at a topographic map makes it obvious. I’ve included such a map below which I obtained from a political advertisement[xxii] from the Hatikvah Educational Foundation[xxiii].  The mountainous regions are Judea and Samaria otherwise known as the West Bank.

 

Israel’s need to control it’s border with Egypt becomes clear when one considers the massive amount of weapons smuggling that is now taking place as a result of Israel ceding control of the border between Gaza and Egypt to the Egyptians.[xxiv]  These weapons include anti-aircraft missiles that could be used to shoot down Israeli passenger planes.
 

Conclusion:

Palestinians confabulate accusations against Israel in order to prevail in the propaganda war against her.   Readers are invited to post their comments about this article at http://misheshoel.tripod.com where I will post a response to the rebuttal to my article that follows.
 


Notes

[i] Roberts, A, Joergensen B., Newman F., Academic Freedom Under Israeli Military Occupation, Report of WUS/ICJ Mission fo Enquiry into Higher Education in the West Bank and Gaza

[ii] U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 for Palestine, http://www.mideastweb.org/unpartition.htm

[iii] Kelley, J. “All the News That Fits the Cause, USA Today 10/25/2000 pg 21A

[v] See CAMERA On Campus Fall 2002 for an in-depth review of PA misinformation.

[vi] Rehov, P., The Road to Jenin, http://www.pierrerehov.com/jenin.htm

[vii] Washington Times May 1 2002, “Jenin ‘massacre’ reduced to death toll of 56’ May 1 2002

[viii] The Jewish Week 5/20/02

[ix] Soudi, S.E., Metula News Agency Oct. 9, 2002 and “Probe: Famous ‘martyrdom’ of Palestinian boy staged”, Kupelian, D., Worldnetdaily 4/26/03 http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=32137

[x] Rehov, P. The Road to Jenin

[xii] Stop the Deportation, a documentary by Yedidim of Israel and Ariel Center for Policy Research  http://www.acpr.org.il/films/stop_deportation_katif.wmv

[xiv] Ladislas Farago, Palestine at the Crossroads, New York: Putnam 1937 p17

[xv] Karsh E, “What Occupation” Commentary Jul/Aug 2002

[xvii] Trouw (Dutch newspaper) March 31, 1977

[xviii] Karsh E, “What Occupation” Commentary Jul/Aug 2002

[xix] The annual yearbooks of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstracts of Israel and the annual reports of the Administrator of Activities in the Territories: The Administered Territories - Data on Civilian Activity in Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and North Sinai.  Other valuable sources include the regular reports of World Bank (e.g., "World Development Indicators," "West Bank & Gaza at a Glance"), as well as various UN reports: United Nations Statistics Division (e.g., "Indicators on Income and Economic Activity" "Indicators on Literacy,"); World Health Organization (e.g.,  "The World Health Report") etc.

[xx] Milson, M, “How not to Occupy the West Bank” Commentary, April 1986

[xxiv] Harel, A, Haaretz, “Egypt Source of Huge Quantities of Weapons”, April 2005, www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/568935.html