DISCUSSION: Truth strengthens the case for Palestine

Issue 

COMMENT BY SOL SALBE

Green Left Weekly is partisan on the issue of Palestine and Israel. Like some others on the Jewish left, I regard this as redressing the balance of media coverage on this issue.

My own background as a child of two Holocaust survivors who found refuge in what is now Israel gives me a different perspective. To me visiting the issue of Palestine without mentioning World War II and its impact is like visiting Sydney and ignoring the Opera House. But that is not the issue here. I have no problem with a 100% Palestinian narrative, as presented by Nikolai Haddad in GLW #539.

What disturbed me were the inaccuracies that crept into the article. Mistakes and errors make it easier for the enemies of the Palestinians to chip away at the Palestinian case by proving some of these points wrong. They hand a ready-made argument for the Zionist right to use in the Jewish community against the left. They would argue: "See, these people don't know anything. They are only anti-Semites."

This rhetoric can find resonance not only in the Jewish community but also in other broad layers that we want to wean away from blind support for Israel.

Some factual errors may appear trivial. For instance, the UN General Assembly, not the Security Council, passed the resolution to partition Palestine. And it does matter. Not only did the two-thirds majority indicate broader support in the UN, it also reminds us that Australia played a pivotal role in the process with future Labor Leader Herbert Evatt chairing key committees.

It was a labour movement issue. The trades hall in which Friends of Palestine meets in Melbourne was used for the Australia [Jewish] Palestine Committee 56 years ago. Unions were very sympathetic to the Jewish cause following the Holocaust. No doubt, the Palestinian al Nakba (the Catastrophe) was not an intended consequence, but the Australian labour movement has a moral obligation to undo some of the damage.

The article goes on: "Zionist military and paramilitary forces expelled more than 750,000 Palestinian civilians from their homes to clear the land for the future 'Jewish state' of Israel, in an attempt to 'solve' its 'demographic problem'".

The well-known Palestinian writer, Ghada Karmi, in Melbourne recently put it somewhat differently: "More than 750,000 Palestinian civilians were either expelled by Zionist forces, forced out or simply fled."

Dr Salman Abu Sitta used a similar formulation. Not all the 750,000 were expelled. Many feared for their lives and fled. We lose credibility if we claim that they were all expelled. It's better to use a more accurate and more defensive formula.

Again: "London facilitated the large-scale migration of European Jews to colonise Palestine, ignoring the wishes of the indigenous inhabitants who saw their land being expropriated."

This is simply not true. While at times the British favoured the Zionist immigrants, overwhelmingly they played one nation against another. For most of the time they were hostile. Certainly, they blocked Holocaust survivors from entering the country. Well-known Sydney left identity Max Watts tells me that he remembers running between the Dutch Legation in New York protesting colonialism in Indonesia, and the British Legation, where he protested the treatment of Jewish refugees.

Sometimes the errors have a serious political implication: "The belated 'invasion' of the weak and divided Arab armies on May 15 did nothing to save the Palestinians from disaster. Outnumbered and outgunned, they were swiftly defeated."

The problem with the Arab armies wasn't so much quantitative as political. They were certainly not outgunned and outnumbered at the beginning of the war. They regarded preventing each other from grabbing Palestine as a more important task than fighting the Israelis.

The Arab Legion of King Abdullah of Transjordan was a very effective military fighting force. It defeated the Haganah in several battles (it even took prisoner a junior officer by the name of Ariel Sharon!). But King Abdullah was not interested in liberating the Arabs of Palestine.

Some quotes, facts and figures simply make me feel uneasy. I have been involved in demolishing Zionist myths for 35 years. Nowhere in my library or on the internet (in Hebrew or English) have I seen this quote from David Ben-Gurion's War Diary: "During the assault, we must be ready to strike the decisive blow: that is, either to destroy the town or expel its inhabitants so our people can replace them."

Ben-Gurion, whose politics I loath, was a cunning person. The quote reflects his thinking but did he put it on paper?

Similarly, were there really massacres in at least 110 towns and villages? In 1999, Dr Abu Sitta wrote: "About 34 massacres have been reported during the al Nakba, all part of the Israeli military campaign. Many more are still yet uncovered."

I don't necessarily accept his figure, but even working with it the numbers don't add up. For most of the last three and a half years Palestinian scholars have been busy surviving rather than researching. Of course, Israeli historians have done a lot of the research as the recent case of Tantura, which was unearthed by an Israeli, but from 34 to 110?

Space constraints prevent me from dealing with all the points. There is one more issue, however, that needs to be dealt with. It concerns Palestinian refugees' right of return. For something close to my view, I recommend Uri Avnery's "Right of Return" (The sad truth is that most of these trees have been uprooted. The villages have been burnt and bulldozed. In a globalised world, Palestinian oranges and olives may find it hard to compete. The future of the Palestinian refugees inside Israel or outside it is unlikely to involve tilling the land. By all means let's discuss the issue, but let's discuss the facts as they are and not as we wish them to be.

[Israeli-born Sol Salbe has been campaigning for Palestinian human rights for 35 years. He is a member of both the Greens and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. He has submitted this item in a personal capacity.

From Green Left Weekly, June 11, 2003.
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