22 Elul 5759 September 3, 1999 Issue number 234
David Schwartz, a long-time friend of Katzele's and a recent guest at BAYT for Shabbat, has diligently overseen distribution of Israel News in Monsey, NY for a few years now. This week he sent us the following note:
Just thought you might appreciate this little tidbit. Last week Dr. Mandel Ganchrow - the current president of the OU and a member of our shule was in Washington meeting with President Clinton. During their meeting he presented the President a copy of a prior week's issue of "Israel News" which had an article regarding the education of the Palestinian children and what they are being taught in their schools. (from Yediot Ahronot). Clinton read it and than Madeline Albright who, was there for the meeting asked for a copy ...as Dr. Ganchrow put it they seemed to be very upset as well as surprised as to what was being taught in the PLO schools. Clinton had the "Israel News" put in a plastic sleeve.........it goes to show you never know where those copies of "Israel News" might end up. At present Dr Ganchrow is going to be getting the private fax number to the White House so that they will be able to read "Israel News" (Erev Shabbat) on a current basis and not have to wait.
Thanks again for the invite to your Kiddush Club - it was GREAT.
IDF Unearths Another Illegal Gaza Tunnel
According to the IDF spokesman: Another tunnel running between the Palestinian and Egyptian sections of the Gazan border town of Rafiah was discovered in the past weeks. Inside the tunnel digging tools, ropes, and other devices were found, which were apparently used by terror organizations to bring arms, explosives and other things into the autonomous areas. The IDF is working with all means available to frustrate such activities. According to informed sources, the Palestinians are not cooperating at all in the discovery of the tunnels and are not taking any steps to prevent the tunnels. It should be noted that all tunnels were dug starting from the Palestinian side. (IMRA Aug 26)
Hamas Admits Killing Couple in Megiddo
Hamas has assumed responsibility for the double-murder of Yechiel Finfiter and Sharon Shteinmetz in Megiddo Forest Monday. A fax sent to Reuters Wednesday stated that the murders are a proof of Hamas' war against the "flock of settlers and the conquest," and threatened further attacks. The investigators of the crime are becoming increasingly convinced that it was a terrorist crime. Sharon, 21, studied in a religious girls' high school (Ulpana), volunteered for a year in a National Service framework at Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, and was about to begin her third year of architecture studies at Technion University. Yechiel, 25, studied in Yeshivot Ohr Etzion and Pirchei Aharon, served in the army, and studied electronics in the Technion. Their fathers work in the same department at Rafael - Israel's Combat Means Development Authority. Signs of heavy violence were found on their bodies. Communications Minster Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Tuesday that he sees no connection between the double murder and the developments in the talks with the Palestinians. "Even if a peace agreement is signed, terrorism will continue, and so will our unyielding war against it," he said. (Arutz 7 Aug 31, Sep 1)
Arnon: PA Police to Be Stationed in Machpelah
Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Hevron Jewish Community, said Wednesday that he was informed by senior government sources that the upcoming agreement with the Palestinians will allow them an official presence in the Machpelah Cave. "Palestinian para-military policemen will actually be stationed inside the Cave, in the Isaac Hall which is usually allocated for Moslem prayer. Anyone with eyes in his head can see where this is leading," Arnon told Arutz 7. Hevron leaders have called upon rabbis and Knesset Members to attempt to ensure that this concession is not made. Hevron leaders have also called on the government to stop its planned re-opening of the Arab market situated just outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. "I can't think of anything more obscene than this," Arnon said. "This land is totally owned by Jews - it was purchased by Rabbi Malchiel Ashkenazi in the year 1540 - and was the site of the Jewish Quarter until its residents were massacred in 1929. The Jordanians razed the buildings in the 1950's, and built a market place there. It is incomprehensible to me that an Israeli government will now allow this market, built on Jewish land whose owners were murdered, to be re-opened as a marketplace for the descendants of the murderers - and all this only meters away from the Avraham Avinu neighborhood!" Arnon acknowledged that the Hevron agreement stipulates that the market must be re-opened, "but only after the security situation has normalized - and the recent terror attacks here show that we are far from normalization." In the latest attack, a seven-year old Jewish boy was lightly injured Monday night when an Arab threw a bottle from behind the Hevron market into the boy's room. (Arutz 7 Sep 1)
Top-level Report: Arafat Not Fighting Terrorism
One of the most basic principles of the Oslo and Wye Agreements - an unyielding war by the Palestinian Authority against the terrorism infrastructure - has not been fulfilled over the past months. A memorandum submitted to top government officials states that Yasser Arafat has not issued orders to firmly fight the terrorist organizations, nor to collect the tens of thousands of illegal weapons circulating in Judea and Samaria. The security elements report that following the major terrorist attacks in 1996, Arafat responded resolutely, but that his weak reaction of late has led to the sprouting of new terrorist groups "under his nose." If a car-bomb hadn't detonated accidentally in Hevron last month, wrote the security elements, the Hamas explosives lab there would have gone unnoticed, and the major terrorist strike planned by Hamas against Israelis may well have succeeded. (Arutz 7 Sep 1)
Arafat: I Helped Barak
An interesting indirect exchange between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak this week: Arafat told American Congressmen visiting Gaza, "I hope Barak remembers that I helped him win the elections, by pressuring Azmi Bishara to withdraw from the campaign, which in turn led to the withdrawal of [Yitzchak] Mordechai and Barak's victory." Barak's reaction: "The Prime Minister's Office sees no need to respond to every piece of nonsense spouted by various elements." (Arutz 7/Maariv Sep 1)
Ramon Supports Har Homa
Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Chaim Ramon is in favor of the construction in Har Homa. At a gathering of the Economic Club in Jerusalem Tuesday, Ramon said that he is proud to be the one who, as Interior Minister some years ago, signed the approval papers for the Jerusalem neighborhood. He said that the government must continue to support the project. (Arutz 7 Sep 1)
Military Intelligence Warns About CIA Training of PA
The Palestinians, Military Intelligence maintains, also use the intelligence and knowledge against Israel. According to a senior member of the Israeli defense establishment, the American-Palestinian connection hurts Israel - and in a big way. 'Every course advances them, raises their level, helps them to become more professional. The CIA invests in them, gives them good courses. They get fantastic equipment, not just from the USA, also from European countries. The problem is that they also use the equipment against us, instead of using it to trap terrorists. So, for example, in the area of surveillance, they have a surveillance unit that monitors Israeli targets. And if you have advanced equipment, there is no problem monitoring military communications networks, intelligence networks or cellular telephones.' There is also criticism against the Americans and their view of the situation. 'The Americans see the Palestinians as partners who have to be strengthen to turn into an island of stability,' said the senior source in the defense establishment. 'According to the American thesis, the better Palestinian intelligence is, the more terrorists they capture and the stabler the peace. This is a naive assumption that ignores the conflict between us and the Palestinians. The Americans relate to this as if it were a conflict between the Israeli-Palestinian side against Hamas. They don't see that Arafat and Hamas are on the same side against Israel.' (IMRA/Yediot Ahronot Aug 27)
PA Has Naval Commando Unit
Yediot Ahronot reported Tuesday on yet another Palestinian Authority violation of Oslo - one that could have serious implications for Israel's security. "Under Israel's nose," reported Limor Shmuel, "the Palestinians have established a naval offensive commando unit," two of whose members were killed in a training exercise several weeks ago while practising the attachment of explosives to ships. The unit's equipment was apparently smuggled into Gaza via the underground tunnels from Egypt. The Oslo Accords permit the Palestinians to operate a Coast Guard, but prohibit offensive activity such as the formation of a commando unit. MK Dr. Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) commented on Arutz-7 today about the double murder and the reports of the Palestinian naval commando. Shteinitz observed that the killings "show once again that terrorism has returned to the political sphere both in threat and in practice... Palestinian terror does not operate in a vacuum: its infrastructure and development receives a blind eye, encouragement, and even active support from the PA. Egypt is also involved; the army has recently found another tunnel between the Sinai and Gaza for the smuggling of ammunition to Palestinians - raising serious suspicions about Egypt's real intentions...
What Oslo essentially created was a light Palestinian army adjacent to our main cities. The Palestinian paramilitary land forces, and now the sea commando, could seriously hinder the ability of IDF reserves to reach their positions in case of war with another Arab state." Shteinitz agreed with startling statements made yesterday by a leading IDF Military Intelligence official to the members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The officer said that Islamic terror represents a "strategic threat" to Israel.. This contrasts with expert opinions heard by the committee during previous sessions, according to which terrorism could not threaten Israel's existence. He said that Hamas is preparing to carry out major attacks on Israel, and that Hizbullah has received enhanced arms shipments from Iran, via Damascus. He also emphasized the dangers to Israel from Iran and Iraq. (Arutz 7 Aug 31)
Jordan Acts Against Hamas
The Jordanian government has closed the Hamas offices in Amman, and has issued an arrest warrant for four top Hamas leaders. The four - Khaled Mishal. Mussa Abu Marzuk, Muhammad Nazal, and Ibrahim Gusha - are presently in Iran. Twelve other Hamas members in Jordan were arrested. (Arutz 7 Aug 31)
Cohen's Anti-Yesha Decision
The State Attorney's Office has informed Trade and Industry Minister Ran Cohen (Meretz) that he is not authorized to suspend all benefits for industrialists from Judea and Samaria. (Arutz 7 Aug 31)
Jordanian Gesture to Palestinians - at Israel's Expense
Jordan's Prime Minister, Abdul Raouf Rabda, announced today that his country is willing to concede its authorities over the holy sites in Jerusalem, if the Palestinians so request. Speaking with the Arab radio station MBC, Rabda explained that his country is part of the greater Arab nation and does not see itself as a substitute for the Palestinians. (Arutz 7 Aug 30)
Arabs Desecrate Ancient Jewish Cemetery in Hebron
The Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery in Hevron, site of the tomb of Menucha Rachel Shneerson Slonim, was desecrated again last Thursday by local Arabs who dumped garbage at the site and broke numerous bottles on the graves. Hevron community leaders called upon the IDF to keep its promise to guard the cemetery and prevent any further desecration. (Arutz 7 Aug 27)
Burger King Closure Prompts Harsh Response
The Burger King Corporation announced last Thursday that it has canceled the right of its Israeli franchisee, Rikamor, Ltd., to operate its Burger King food court counter in the town of Ma'ale Adumim, northeast of Jerusalem. In a lengthy press release on the issue, Burger King cited "a breach of its franchise contract and misrepresentation. Specifically, Rikamor falsely informed Burger King that the food court would be located in Israel." In effort to pre-empt accusations that it had capitulated to the threats of an Arab boycott on its restaurants, the company added: "Burger King has made this decision purely on a commercial basis and in the best interests of the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the Burger King reputation for their livelihood. Burger King has no interest in taking sides in the Arab-Israeli peace process, except to welcome its early and mutually acceptable outcome."
American Friends for a Safe Israel (AFSI) Chairman Herbert Zweibon was unimpressed with the explanation: "Burger King certainly is taking a political stance by withdrawing its license," Zweibon told Arutz-7 last night. After a month-long campaign by the American Muslims for Jerusalem and 14 other Arab-American groups, the Arab League issued a statement this week saying that, if the Ma'ale Adumim restaurant was not closed, it would propose a world-wide Arab boycott of Burger King at the League's Sept. 12 gathering in Cairo. Rikamor directors are furious with the decision. Speaking in Los Angeles last night, Chairman of Rikamor's board of directors Meshullam Riklis rejected Burger King's claim that he had opened the Ma'ale Adumim branch without permission from the parent company. Riklis also announced that he had instructed his Israeli representatives to use "all legal means" to torpedo Burger King's plan to withdraw its license. Ma'ale Adumim mayor and Yesha Council head Benny Kashriel said that he would now work for an international boycott of Burger King restaurants, and that he has already been coordinating such a move with Jewish groups in the United States. (Arutz 7 Aug 27)
A New "Soviet Union"
Russian immigrant party leaders Natan Sharansky (Yisrael B'Aliyah) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) - who engaged in harsh political debates during the national election campaign this year - met again last week for political consultations. The two agreed to form a joint party list that will compete in the upcoming local Ma'ale Adumim elections and in the forthcoming Zionist Forum elections. Sharansky and Lieberman also plan to coordinate efforts to oppose an Israeli forfeiture of the Golan Heights to Syria. (Arutz 7 Aug 27)
Palestinian Officials Deny Holocaust
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is urging Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to pressure PA official Abu Mazen to publicly retract his claim that the Nazis did not murder six million Jews. Abu Mazen, whose real name is Mahmoud Abbas, is the author of a book, "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement," which argues that the Nazis may have really killed less than one million Jews and that "the Zionist movement was a partner in the slaughter of the Jews." Other senior Palestinians have also engaged in Holocaust denial in recent years, notes ZOA President Mort Klein. On December 8, 1998, Dr. Samir Sahda - General Secretary of the PA's Desk of National Institutions - wrote in the official PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that "Israel convinced the world of the lie of the massacre and racism which they were exposed to in Germany, and [thus] gained world sympathy." PA Communications Minister Imad al-Falouji and PA General-Secretary Ahmed Abdul-Rahman were among the leaders of a January 19, 1998 rally in Gaza in support of Roger Garaudy, who was on trial in Paris at the time for his Holocaust-denial activities. Abdu-Rahman said that films and books about the Holocaust "have told what happened to the Jews in an unbelievable and exaggerated manner, so why not give Garaudy the right to state his view of the issue?" (Arutz 7 Aug 26)
Bargaining with Contradictions By Moshe Zak
A funny thing happened to the government on the way to implementing the Wye agreement. It didn't want America's Dennis Ross as a broker, and instead had to settle for the incompetent mediation of the Egyptian, Osama el-Baz.
Ehud Barak had asked the Americans to leave the Israelis and Palestinians to settle their differences in direct talks. The prime minister rightly thought that American intervention in the details of the negotiations was liable to cause confrontations with the US on subjects outside bilateral relations, and that Yasser Arafat wouldn't want to drop the weapon of American assistance throughout the negotiations.
For as long as the Americans took care not to intervene in the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, they made progress. But after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright invited Abbas and Saeb Erekat for conversation at her house, a major crisis broke out. The agreement, which had almost been signed, suddenly had problems. The Palestinian team apparently assumed that, at the last minute before the signing of the agreement, they could frighten the Americans and force them to intervene on the topic of the Palestinian prisoner releases.
The dispute between Gilad Sher and Saeb Erekat is ostensibly about the number of prisoners that will be released from Israeli jails. But in actuality, it's a debate on a real issue: the retroactive legitimization of Palestinian terrorism. Arafat wants everyone set free wholesale. He wants to gain indirect American recognition for the terrorist organization that he set up before the Six Day War as a movement for national liberation, and which began terror attacks on Israel while Jericho, Gaza, Ramallah and Hebron were still under Arab rule.
Arafat believes that a comprehensive pardon of terrorists by Israel amounts to a tacit acceptance of the vile acts they performed. Such a pardon would aid him in the American arena, which is important to him because of the legislation there against terrorists and terror organizations. At the same time, he believes that if the administration intervenes with Israel on the prisoner issue, it can press for a wholesale release of Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinian demand for the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members from Israeli jails is full of paradoxes:
* On the one hand, the Palestinian security services report to their Israeli counterparts that they are arresting Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, and frustrating attempts by Hamas and the Jihad to attack targets in Israel. On the other hand, the Palestinians call for the release of members of these groups caught and sentenced in Israel for murder.
* On the one hand the Palestinians (many Israelis who have fallen into this trap, too) claim that the Oslo agreement is like a peace treaty, after which prisoners from both sides should be released. On the other hand, the Palestinians are calling to release prisoners who committed terror acts after Oslo was signed.
* On the one hand, the Palestinian security services have explained to us that the attacks of the last six years were performed by terrorists trying to undermine the peace process. On the other hand, they want the release of prisoners who belong to groups that oppose reaching an agreement with Israel.
THE expression "except for those with blood on their hands" in the context of a prisoner release wasn't invented in Israel. Not long ago, thousands of prisoners in Algeria were pardoned by President Bouteflika as a signal of national reconciliation. Nevertheless the Algerian authorities made it clear that the pardon wouldn't apply to prisoners "with blood on their hands." Terrorism is not a war between soldiers. It consists for the most part of frightful attacks on old people, women and children. Freeing terrorists is liable to be interpreted as approval of their actions. This is the cornerstone of the dispute.
Egypt is unable to mediate between us and the Palestinians on the prisoner issue. It's true that Egypt was successful recently in hoodwinking Israel into believing that it had been a moderating influence on the Palestinians and had brought them back to the negotiating table. But the fact is that the actions of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are carefully coordinated. They divide the stages up between them and plan who will say "Yes" and who will say "No."
For this reason, it would be wise not to shower Egypt with compliments for its role in settling the disputed issues with the Palestinians. That would be both untrue and uncalled-for.
And while the American administration is not concerned that Israel is replace it as a mediator, individuals in the administration are liable to be unnecessarily insulted. We certainly have no interest in America delegating their power of peace brokering to Egypt. (Jerusalem Post Sept 1)
Does Hafez Assad want a peace treaty with Israel? Just about everyone says yes - the all-powerful president of Syria hopes to wind down hostilities with his lifelong enemy.
They offer different reasons for this change. Assad wants to jump-start the decrepit Syrian economy. He wants the return of the Golan Heights (which many Arabs still blame him for losing in 1967). He hopes to make himself acceptable to the West. He is taking care of unfinished business for his successor, perhaps worrying that that successor will not hold out for a good enough deal.
This last theory is especially popular at present, imbuing a sense of urgency to the talks with Israel. Former secretary of state James Baker said, after meeting with Assad in June that "a window of opportunity now" exists but warned that it might not last long.
Whatever Assad's precise reason might be, all these analyses assume that some years ago - 1988 according to one Israeli scholar - Assad made a strategic decision for peace. At that time, he resolved to forgo war against Israel and bargain his way to a settlement. His subsequent military buildup serves mainly to position Syria for an acceptable deal.
It sounds good. But there's one problem: If Assad 10 or so years ago decided to wind down the conflict Israel, how come nothing has happened?
Negotiations began at the Madrid Conference in late 1991 and, it is fair to say, have gone just about nowhere until now. Hypothetical questions were discussed but nothing was fully resolved. Every time a breakthrough shimmered on the horizon, Assad took a step that derailed it.
Now, diplomacy takes time, lots of it. But the pace of these negotiations is more reminiscent of Waiting for Godot and the theater of the absurd than of a powerful state resolved to make a deal.
What explains the torpid pace? Proponents of the conventional wisdom have no reply. For example, in his book on this subject, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's chief negotiator with the Syrians, repeatedly throws up his hands in incomprehension at Assad's actions.
THERE might be a simple answer: Change assumptions. If one figures that Assad does not really want a deal, things fall into place.
There is one major reason to think this is in fact Assad's outlook - his fear that the Syrian population sees a treaty with Israel as not some technical arrangement with a neighbor but as a signal that their government has changed its fundamental orientation. That they would view a treaty with Israel as the ending of totalitarian rule and much else - the military losing its paramount position, economic controls loosening, freedoms increasing, and political participation growing.
For Assad, who has ruled Syria with an iron fist for nearly three decades, such expectations must be alarming. He knows how to rule as a dictator, not as a leader accountable to his electorate.
At the same time, continuing to negotiate with Israel brings Assad one hugely important benefit. It permits him to escape being branded a "rogue" state by Washington. Unlike his colleagues in Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Sudan, he gets visited by American secretaries of state. While they suffer US economic sanctions and even the occasional military punch, he is seduced.
Assad's actions since 1991 have been entirely consistent with this interpretation: make cosmetic changes in Syria, negotiate unendingly with Israel, and hope to pass a working package to his successor. Assad is playing at negotiations but has no intention to ever conclude a treaty with Israel. This explains why hopeful diplomatic signs never pan out, why negotiations close down just when they seem most productive, and why changes of government in Israel makes almost no difference to the process.
This being the case, Baker has it exactly upside-down. Far from this being a moment when a fleeting "window of opportunity" exists, Assad's frail health could make him all the more reluctant to take risky steps.
For Israel, this skeptical interpretation has two direct policy implications. First, go slow - there is no rush. Current trends (especially a precipitous decline in Syria's economy and Assad's expected demise) mean that holding out will be rewarded.
Second, approach the negotiations with Assad more as a public relations exercise than as a serious forum for closing down the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And wait for his successor to begin the talks in earnest.
The writer is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and author of three books on Syria (Jerusalem Post Aug 29)
Here is a question for those readers who have children in school. Do you think it is conceivable that the following question would be posed to pupils in an American school:
"How do you think the Serbs felt about NATO's bombings? Could they have accepted the term 'a war to stop the Serb genocide' as describing the war in Kosovo?" I did not invent this impossible question. I borrowed it from the new ninth grade history text book written by Eyal Naveh, which was approved by the Education Ministry.
Here: "How do you think the Palestinian Arabs felt about the establishment of the State of Israel? Could they have accepted the term 'the War of Liberation' or 'the War of Independence' for the 1947-8 war?"
In 1982 Britain and Argentina fought each other over the Falkland Islands. Where is the English school text book that provides the English child with the Argentinean point of view of the war? Naveh explained to the New York Times' reporter that up until now "we were not ripe" enough to show the pupils the Palestinian side as well. Are the Americans and English not "ripe" enough to educate their children to see the other point of view in pertinent conflicts that they are currently involved in?
There are exceptions, and these, Naveh said, were models for him: "Now we are capable of dealing with the problems in contention in the same way that the Americans deal with the Indians and with black slavery."
But the blacks were abducted, placed on ships in inhuman conditions and sold in the U.S. in slave markets. The conquerors of the "new world" did not return to the "land of their forefathers." They invaded a foreign land and systematically exterminated its indigenous residents.
The self image that Naveh wants to instill in the [Israeli] pupil is of the Jews as a conquering colonial super-power with a clear advantage in strength. The Arabs (100 million, enormous territory, oil) are to be perceived as blacks and Indians. In short, we are Goliath. And that is precisely the nationalistic Arab image that perceives the massacre of 1929 and the murder of the children of Avivim and Maalot as "David's slingshot."
On the issue of the Arabs who fled but were not expelled, Naveh declines to quote the conclusion reached by a European research group in 1957: "In the early months of 1948 the Arab League issued instructions to seek temporary shelter in neighboring countries so as to return later to their homes in the footsteps of the victorious Arab armies and to take their part of the abandoned Jewish property." Naveh softens things for the Arabs' benefit: "Tens of thousands fled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, hoping that with the help of those countries they would return home one day..."
According to Naveh, the Jews in 1948 had "an advantage over the Arabs," among other things "in terms of the number of soldiers." Naveh only leaves out one small detail, that we fought in cars against tanks and with rifles against artillery. The "terror organizations" are not terrorists for Naveh, but rather, "political organizations" and "resistance organizations fighting against the occupation and the State of Israel," that "committed acts of terror."
In a radio interview, Naveh explained that Trumpeldor was not fighting for the homeland: there was no homeland, it was within the boundaries of the British mandate... the Land of Israel was an archaic issue for him. He was a "Russian romantic." When Naveh was asked whether the Land of Israel was not the land of our forefathers, he responded with a question: "Says who?" "The Bible," suggested the interviewer (Ben Gurion said in 1936 to the Peale Committee: "the Bible is our mandate") but not according to Eyal Naveh: "Some people don't think so, and don't accept the Bible as the divine truth."
An exercise that appears in Naveh's book: "Write about the Six-Day War from three points of view: an Israeli soldier, an Egyptian POW and a woman resident of a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip that has just been conquered by Israel."
How will pupils who have internalized Eyal Naveh's theory reply? They will look upon their parents and teachers as strangers, will see them as occupiers, oppressors and thieves, and they will look upon the Land of Israel as something that does not belong to them.
If that is the generation that we are to raise, there is nothing left to ask but: why not pack our bags and take away our children who will no longer be able to fight for this land as their homeland? (Yedioth Ahronoth Sept 1)
Few spokesmen for the Palestinian cause in our day are as articulate, or as well-known, as Edward W. Said. The holder of an endowed chair in literature at Columbia University, president of the Modern Language Association, a prolific author of books and articles both scholarly and popular, a frequent lecturer and commentator on radio and television, a sometime diplomatic intermediary and congressional witness, Mr. Said has earned a reputation not only for polemical brilliance but for a fierce pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel zealotry. His most famous book "Orientalism," with its bold thesis that the Western study of Islam is itself a form of "colonialism," has had a profound and radicalizing influence on literary studies.
A great deal of Mr. Said's moral authority derives from his persona credentials. As a living embodiment of the Palestinian cause, he has made much of his own birth, childhood, and schooling in Palestine, telling a story of idyllic beginnings and violent dispossession.Here is Mr. Said's own oft-recited outline of his early life (in Harper's, 1992): "I was born, in November 1935, in Talbiya, then a mostly new and prosperous Arab quarter of Jerusalem. By the end of 1947, just months before Talbiya fell to Jewish forces, I'd left with my family for Cairo."
And again (in the London Review of Books, 1998): "I was born in Jerusalem and spent most of my formative years there and, after 1948, when my entire family became refugees, in Egypt."This same rendering of his early years recurs many times in writings both by and about Mr. Said. It undergirds his self-definition as an archetypal exile--one who, like his people, was separated from his homeland in a sudden act of historic violence.
But except for the detail of his birth, it is a tissue of falsehoods.
Here are the bare bones of the truth: Mr. Said's father, Wadie, grew up in Jerusalem but evidently emigrated in 1911 to the U.S. During World War I, Wadie reportedly served with American forces in Europe before returning to the Middle East with a U.S. passport to start what would become a successful business career. For at least nine years prior to his son's birth in 1935, Wadie Said was residing permanently in Cairo, where he and his family remained until 1962.
And Jerusalem? In that city lived Wadie Said's sister and her family. To these relatives, as to other destinations throughout the Middle East, the affluent Cairo-based Saids made periodic visits. In November 1935, during one of those visits, Edward Said was born. On his birth certificate, prepared by the Ministry of Health for the British Mandate, his parents specified their permanent address as Cairo, and, indicating that they maintained no residence in Palestine, left blank the space for a local address.
As for the family residence in Talbieh (Talbiya), Mr. Said had this to say in an interview with the Jerusalem Times in March: "I feel even more depressed when I remember my beautiful old house surrounded by pine and orange trees in Al-Talbiyeh in east [he means west] Jerusalem. . . . I went there a few days ago and took several photographs."
During a visit in 1992, according to Mr. Said, he was able to locate this house with the aid of a hand-drawn map and "a copy of the title deed." But if Mr. Said really had in hand a copy of the title deed, then he could not have helped noticing the absence on it of his parents' names, his siblings' names and his own name. The house in question belonged first to Mr. Said's grandfather and then to his aunt and her five children. Until 1942, it was wholly rented out to others, and thereafter one apartment in it was occupied by Mr. Said's aunt and her children (and, no doubt, occasional family visitors).
Nor is this the only way in which Mr. Said's account of an upbringing in "his" beautiful old house has proved baseless. He has spoken with characteristic vehemence about a famous later tenant. Pressing his role as victim, he has stated: "The house from which my family departed in 1948--was displaced--was also the house in which the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber lived for a while, and Buber of course was a great apostle of coexistence between Arabs and Jews, but he didn't mind living in an Arab house whose inhabitants had been displaced."
The truth is the other way around. It was Mr. Said's aunt who evicted Buber, and not in 1948 but in 1942--the very period when the young Edward Said was supposedly residing in the house.
That brings us to another element in Mr. Said's reconstruction of his Jerusalem childhood: his schooling. According to his standard version, he attended St. George's Anglican preparatory school in eastern Jerusalem. In a recent BBC documentary, Mr. Said is seen touring this school and turning the pages of an old, leather-bound student registry from his youth, where he points to the entry for one of his Jewish "friends."
Interestingly, we are not shown or told about any listing for Mr. Said himself in the St. George's student registry. And for good reason: Neither in the particular registry shown on camera nor in the school's other two registry books is there any record of his having attended this institution as he has claimed (although he might have been a temporary student on one or more of his brief visits with his Jerusalem cousins). Nor does the Jewish student he claims to recall remember Mr. Said.
What about the family's departure as "refugees" from Jerusalem to Cairo.
Mr. Said has repeatedly placed this event in mid-December 1947, citing the "panic" caused in Talbieh by the threat of Jewish forces. Yet, in the 51/2-month period leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, voluminous documents record only two incidents of intercommunal violence marring Talbieh's calm, and neither of these resulted in the permanent departure of local Arabs. The inevitable conclusion is that just as Edward Said and his immediate family were not long-term or permanent residents in Talbieh in the 1930s and '40s, so they were not resident there during the final months of the British Mandate. They cannot be considered "refugees" or "exiles" from Palestine in any meaningful sense of those two very weighty and politically charged terms.
Nor, of course, did they arrive in Cairo for the first time in late 1947. As scores of public records attest, Cairo is where the young Mr. Said grew up. There he resided with his family in luxurious apartments, attended private English schools, and played tennis at the exclusive Gezira Sporting Club as the son of one of its few Arab members until he was sent in 1951 to complete his schooling in America.
Mr. Said himself has now confirmed all this in his forthcoming memoir, "Out of Place." In this book, the man who for decades has presented himself to the world as a professional refugee, who has powerfully described the traumatic effect on himself and his family of their sudden, panicked exile from the beloved city of his birth and childhood, sharply reverses course. Jerusalem, it turns out, was not the soul and center of Mr. Said's youth; it was an occasional vacation spot. But nowhere in his new book does Mr. Said acknowledge that he is now telling a tale egregiously different from the version he has woven over three decades.
As Mr. Said would have it, his alleged 50-year exile from Palestine has been the "central metaphor" not only of his personal biography but of his very identity, driving his campaign for redress from Israel; he has repeatedly expressed interest in seeking reparations for "his" property in Jerusalem. In fact, he has no claim against Israel, and tellingly has never filed one. He does have one against Egypt, where his father's stores were first burned down by a revolutionary mob in 1952 and then nationalized by President Gamal Nasser. About these losses, however, Mr. Said has been silent. Edward Said has written that the intellectual's responsibility is "to speak the truth, as plainly, directly, and as honestly as possible." In his own case, the plain, direct and honest truth is radically at odds with the parable he has been at pains to construct over the decades. That parable, designed to augment the passions that have animated the revanchist program of so many Palestinian nationalists, is a lie. (The Wall Street Journal Aug 26)
The writer is a scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This article is adapted from the September issue of Commentary magazine.