July/August 2000

Ashrawi's Free Ride

By Andrea Levin

Hanan Ashrawi is back.

While Israeli, Palestinian and American officials met at Camp David, she made the rounds of American television and radio as official spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation. Her familiar bulldozer denunciations of Israel, filled with gross misrepresentations of fact and history, are strikingly unchanged from a decade ago. And, as in previous US appearances, Ashrawi enjoyed unique indulgence in journalistic quarters, often being greeted by her first name and rarely being challenged.

For unschooled interviewers, Ashrawi's barrage of quasi-Marxist lingo, distorted legal references and mangled Middle East history is surely daunting. Thus, National Public Radio's John Ydstie offered no objection to the PA representative's mischaracterization of UN Resolution 194 which, she claimed, "very clearly states that the Palestinian refugees have the right to return and for compensation."

That resolution did not guarantee the right of return; it included as well alternatives of "resettlement" and "compensation," options that had equal weight in the resolution's wording.

Notably, all the Arab states voted against Resolution 194, precisely because it did not establish a "right of return" and because it implicitly recognized Israel.

Similarly, CNN desk anchor Daryn Kagan offered only tentative inquiries as the PA representative condemned Israel's policy of giving safe haven to any Jew while opposing the influx of millions of Palestinians. Nor did Kagan challenge Ashrawi's declaration that "all refugees throughout the world have the right to return, according to law."

In fact, the opposite is true. About eight million ethnic Germans, for example, were expelled from Poland and from German lands acquired by Poland at the end of World War II. In recent years, as a condition of German reunification, the WW II allies, including the United States, insisted that the German nation give up all claims against Poland for losses that had resulted from Germany's aggression.

Ashrawi's longest interview was heard on The Connection, a national talk radio show based in Boston. Host Christopher Lydon was ostensibly balancing her with Israeli Yoram Perri, but the Palestinian's uninterrupted monologues dominated the broadcast. Nor did Lydon, a sympathizer with Arab perspectives, challenge the string of absurdities uttered.

First came the history in which Arabs are blameless and victimized. As though the events occurred in a vacuum, Ashrawi declared, "And then with the Partition Plan and Resolution 181, then Israel occupied 22% of Palestine and it ended up with 78% of Palestine."

The Arab rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan - a blunder of historic proportions for them - was followed by the failed war of attempted annihilation against the Jews, but in all of Ashrawi's windy rhetoric there is not a note of the truth about Arab responsibility in this.

Nor is there any indication that six thousand Jews were killed countering the first Arab attempt to obliterate Israel. Ashrawi fills in another gaping problem of history with fiction, claiming: "There was a Palestinian state... Just because we were under occupation. Just because we were placed under the British Mandate. Palestine existed.... My birth certificate says Palestine.... Anything before 1947 said Palestine."

To this nonsense Lydon says nothing.

Of course, there was a Palestine, carved out of the Turkish empire and given in trust to Britain by the League of Nations for the reconstitution of the Jewish national home. There was not, and never has been, an Arab nation of Palestine.

Ashrawi also claimed that Palestinians own 70% of West Jerusalem, a number taken out of thin air, and that East Jerusalem is "predominantly Palestinian, its culture, its life, its institutions, its inhabitants. They're all Palestinian."

In fact, Jewish and Arab population numbers in eastern Jerusalem are almost equal and such important Jewish institutions as Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital, along with ancient and modern Jewish religious sites and cemeteries, are located there. Ashrawi also ignores the truth that Jerusalem - the entire city - has had a Jewish majority since the middle of the 19th century.

Lydon was uninterested in the facts.

Frequently Ashrawi inverts reality regarding Israelis and Palestinians. Thus she repeatedly claims that Arafat has "prepared his constituency for peace." Few assertions can be more outlandish. Arafat has done the opposite, constantly exhorting his people via official statements, the PA media and the education system to hew to maximal goals and view Israel as an enemy ultimately to be expunged.

On the other hand, Israel teaches peace in its schools, and its populace has accepted many concessions to the Palestinians, with its Prime Minister encouraging additional accommodation.

One exception from some years ago to the journalistic fawning over Ashrawi was Barbara Amiel's remarkable 1993 profile of the Palestinian spokeswoman in the London Sunday Times. Amiel was struck by the "lies and distortions" in Ashrawi's retelling of events. Then, too, the Palestinian spokeswoman blamed Israel not only for such epic events as the Palestinians' flight in 1948 and the 1967 war, but for myriad fictitious policies related to the Intifada.

Amiel concluded after considerable time with Ashrawi that she "probes the questioner's areas of knowledge. If she senses ignorance, she will let total untruths stand. If it seems that one may be able to contradict her, by knowing for example about the rejection by the Arabs of the Peel partition plan in 1936... she will say that such a decision was an Arab 'mistake.' She won't even argue."

Ignorance is no doubt part of the problem of Ashrawi's interviewers, but so, unfortunately, is a willing bias.

The writer is Executive Director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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