Reading The Hoya’s Viewpoint section, I was dismayed and disappointed to read Anath Hartmann’s “Conference Speakers Distort the Truth of Israel’s History” (Oct.19, 2001, p.3). Using a fabricated quote from Chaim Weizmann (whom she grossly misidentifies as the then-mayor of Jerusalem) Hartmann propagates two main falsehoods. The first is that the Palestinian refugees left their land voluntarily in 1948, and therefore have no right to return. The second is that Arab countries expelled 300,000 Jews in the early 50’s. She also accuses the pro-Palestinian speakers at a conference in Gaston Hall last month of lying.

I often wonder why Israel’s supporters continue to rely on historical myths that were disproved by Israel’s own historians over a decade ago. Israeli historians such as Benny orris have used declassified Israeli documents and other sources to prove conclusively that the Palestinians involuntarily fled their land or were expelled in 1948. Israeli forces conducted the massacre of 130 women, children and old men at the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

Many more massacres followed, some even bloodier, all with the aim of causing panic and flight in the Palestinian population. Yitzhak Rabin wrote in his memoirs that he oversaw the expulsion of 60,000 Palestinian men, women and children from the town of Lydda. It is time for the American public to accept the historical fact that Israel committed ethnic cleansing, a war crime, against a mostly unarmed Palestinian population. No amount of historical cover-ups will ever change this, even after 50 years.

The quotes from Israeli leaders at the time (and even today, for that matter) explicitly supporting the expulsion of the Palestinians could fill a book. Even today, the idea of expelling the remaining Palestinians from historic Palestine appeals to some conservative Israelis as they grapple with the “demographic problem:” the growing Arab minority in their state who live as third-class citizens. Since 1948, the United Nations has passed, by margins of 140 to two, over 50 resolutions reaffirming the right of all Palestinian refugees to return, including the descendants of first generation refugees. There is no other issue like it in the history of the U.N.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated area on Earth, and one of the poorest. Not far from their ghettos, much of the land of their forefathers lies sparsely populated. Foreigners from Russia who are barely half Jewish are allowed to immigrate and settle in Israel, on land to which Palestinian families hold 400-year-old deeds.

Not only is the Palestinian right of return mandated by international law, it is also feasible. Repeated studies have shown that it is realistically possible to allow the refugees to return without displacing the Jewish population of Israel.

The other main falsehood from that piece was that Jews left Arab countries as refugees in the `50’s. While this may have been true in a small number of cases, the majority left voluntarily, attracted by the promise of living in Israel. Surprisingly enough, some in fact were coerced to leave by Israeli emissaries. Meanwhile, Hartmann wonders why “no outcry arose from the international public” regarding these events.

The answer is there in black and white, available from any number of reliable Israeli and Jewish sources.

One of the “blatantly anti-Israel speakers” Hartmann complains of was Robert Malley, an American diplomat involved in the Oslo negotiations. He actually represented a middle-of-the-road position. (I was there.) But since he has drawn on firsthand experience to challenge some of the orthodoxies accepted on faith by the Israeli side – namely the idea that the breakdown of negotiations was all the Palestinians’ fault – he has been slandered by those who would rather he kept quiet.

Hartmann goes on to say, “The Jewish people never gave up their claim to that tiny strip of land wedged between much larger Arab countries,” as if the Arabs should feel grateful that Israel didn’t bomb, bulldoze, massacre and expel its way through more land. Of course, no fair-minded person would deny that Jews have a claim to that land. But Jews were never the only people living there. The land that for thousands of years was known as Palestine has historic and cultural significance to Muslim and Christian populations as well, including the Palestinians. It is Israel that has set up a state which gives special rights to one of these groups while denying the internationally recognized rights of others. It is Israel which, during “peace” negotiations, has greatly expanded its for-Jews-only settlements built on illegally-occupied Palestinian land.

As Israeli bullets and tank shells rain down on the Palestinian Christians of biblical Bethlehem today, we would do well to support justice for all, not just the strong.

Basil Farjo is a junior in the College.

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