Wednesday 29 January 2014’s Damien Kiberd Lashes Out at Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon, Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur war (GPO/REX).

The Irish news website,, featured a rather belated (January 26th 2014) article by journalist Damien Kiberd, entitled “Damien Kiberd: Why was Ariel Sharon’s funeral such a lonely affair?”. It reflected, with an undue harshness, upon the legacy of the former Israeli prime-minister.

In recent years has developed a reputation for publishing articles that criticise Israel in a particularly intense fashion. Unfortunately, Kiberd’s article follows in this tradition.

Kiberd is a well-known journalist, and the presenter of several topical radio discussion programmes. He is known for possessing Irish Republican sympathies, and for belonging to the ‘Irish National Congress’ lobby group. He is also a principal patron of ‘The Ireland Institute’, an organisation that has published numerous anti-Israeli screeds, and hosted a variety of anti-Israeli events, such as mini film festivals, and art exhibitions.

Armchair psychologism

Kiberd, feigning a sense of fair-minded academic distance from his subject, initially asks the reader:
“WAS ARIEL Sharon a psychopath and a war criminal? Or was he just a good soldier…”
However, Kiberd would soon throw in highly-descriptive terms, describing Sharon’s legacy as “blood-strained”, and concluding that: “His ‘post hoc’ efforts to explain himself rarely convinced.”

Kiberd portrays Sharon as a boorish almost simple-minded individual:
“Like all strongmen Sharon posed a problem for those who were more politically astute than he. He was quarrelsome, plain-speaking and given to righteous insubordination.”
It is difficult to accept that Ariel Sharon was not an especially astute politician. He succeeded in a highly competitive environment. He took risks that few other politicians would dream of, and yet he again triumphed politically. To draw a somewhat undeserved parallel with a corrupt Irish politician, Sharon would give Teflon-Bertie a run for his money, regardless of the stove upon which Bertie found himself.

Kiberd noted that Sharon was a sabra, the term for a Jewish person born in the region, particularly before Israel’s foundation. Sabras have a reputation for being forthright, which those unfamiliar with the culture can interpret as rudeness. Sharon could be described as a paragon of the sabra -, tough, uncompromising independent. Thus, Sharon’s bluntness should be understood within the context of a culture that was particularly forthright in its speech, and his “plain-speaking” may have even been an asset politically.

Kiberd on Qibya

Damien Kiberd leaves the reader in little doubt where he thinks blame ought to be placed, in relation to the deaths of civilians in the village of Qibya (or Kibya), during October 1953:
“Following a grenade attack which killed an Israeli mother and two children, Sharon led a reprisal raid on the Jordanian village of Qibya. Sharon’s unit planted explosives in 45 Arab homes, killing 70 civilians, mainly women and children. Lamely, he claimed shortly afterwards that he thought the houses were empty.”
Between 42 [source: Armistice Committee meeting, October 27th 1953] and 69 civilians were killed at Qibya, along with military personnel. Whether or not Ariel Sharon’s account of the killing of civilians in the village is correct, Kiberd fails to note that Jordan and Egypt were conducting an unofficial war against Israel at the time, and the reprisal against the village was due to it being a continued source of attacks against Israel.

Israel was unable to protect its borders, which had effectively become lawless, leading to the killing of close to a thousand Israeli’s between 1951 and 1955, due to Fedayeen attacks inside Israel’s border. These circumstances led to the commissioning of Sharon’s special forces unit, and eventual war with Egypt in 1956.

Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert, Eighth Edition, 2005, page 58.

It may seem difficult to believe Sharon’s account in the present political climate, where the protection of civilians is of far greater importance. However, if the intent was to commit a genocide in Qibya, Sharon’s force would have prevented the movement of approximately 1500 people fleeing the village at the onset of the attack. The charges to destroy approximately 41 of the village’s grandest buildings, were set with little time to spare searching for civilians. Smaller diversionary attacks were initiated in other areas of the West Bank, to deflect the attention of the Jordanian army. Finally, many of those in Sharon’s unit were not experienced soldiers, with the attack on Qibya merely being their second mission as a force. Whatever the truth of the events, Kiberd refuses to give Sharon’s account a hearing.

Kiberd also attacks Sharon on the 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlers in Gaza:
“Again and for the last time he employed the same crude ‘force majeure’ type logic as he used more than fifty years earlier during the attack at Qibya.”
Kiberd’s puzzling claim is likely to be an error in terminology. However, it is interesting to note that the phrase ‘force majeure’ is a legal term, referring to an act of God/nature, or an accident of a significant kind, beyond the capacity of one contractual party.

On Sabra and Shatila

Kiberd lays moral responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre at Sharon’s feet:
“In 1982 following the slaughter of thousands of mainly Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon Sharon tried the old Ben-Gurion trick of shifting the blame. He said that it was the work of a vengeful Christian militia. Israel had no involvement. But a tribunal of inquiry established by Israel’s government accused Sharon of being “indirectly responsible”.
Kiberd clearly suggests Sharon was directly involved, or complicit, in the massacre. He states Sharon was pulling a “trick” of shifting blame onto a Phalangist Christian militia, as if it is untrue that such a group carried out the massacre! Tellingly, Kiberd uses the words “He [Sharon] said…”, which is oddly subjective phrasing. It reinforces Kiberd’s assertion that Sharon was indeed playing a “trick”, by inferring that the claim the militia carried out the massacre is in some way untrue. Moreover, Kiberd’s wording suggests Sharon’s version of the facts, regarding Phalangist involvement, is not corroborated.

Kiberd asserts, as a fact, that thousands of civilians were murdered at the camps. However, the death toll cannot be verified. It ranges from a few hundred (according to Lebanon) to several thousand. Most credible estimates are based on high hundreds to lower-thousand figures. Reuters state ‘hundreds’ died while the BBC claim it was “at least 800”.

Subsequently, Kiberd seems to accept that the Phalangists were instigators of the massacre:
“The Kahan commission said that the Defence minister had not shown the slightest consideration that by allowing the Falangist militia to have access to the camps he was inviting slaughter.”
Whilst the Kahan Commission did find that the risks of massacre were “neither discussed nor examined”, it is incorrect to suggest that the Commission indicated Sharon, as then Minister of Defence, shouldn’t have allowed the militia into the camp. The commission’s report stated:
“We have already said above that we do not assert that the decision to have the Phalangists enter the camps should under no circumstances ever have been made. It appears to us that no complaints could be addressed to the Defense Minister in this matter if such a decision had been taken after all the relevant considerations had been examined”
Thus, the Kahan Commission found that Sharon had failed to address the risks of this action, rather than state the act itself was unacceptably dangerous. Whilst the report harshly criticised Sharon, it did not go as far as to suggest his actions constituted an invitation of the Phalangists to commit a massacre.

The Commission also noted that there was good reason to allow the Phalangists enter the camp:
“The decision to have the Phalangists enter the camps was taken with the aim of preventing further losses in the war in Lebanon; to accede to the pressure of public opinion in Israel, which was angry that the Phalangists, who were reaping the fruits of the war, were taking no part in it; and to take advantage of the Phalangists’ professional service and their skills in identifying terrorists and in discovering arms caches.”
If Kiberd wishes to solely cite the Kahan Commission’s report, instead of obfuscation, it behoves him, as a responsible journalist, to point out that Sharon was found not to be complicit in the massacre.

With reference to Sabra and Shatila, Kiberd states that Sharon’s politicial career “was marked by rivers of blood.” That is an unduly colourful description when his own source, the Kahan Commission, noted:
“No intention existed on the part of any Israeli element to harm the non-combatant population in the camps.”

Casting a shadow on Sharon’s funeral

Damien Kiberd applies a somewhat absurd contrast, by making the rather fanciful comparison between the international circus surrounding Mandela’s death, and Sharon’s more sedate funeral service:
“The great and the good, who fought for front row seats at Mandela’s protracted funeral, decided a ‘no show’ was the wisest course of action.”
Whilst the turnout to Sharon’s funeral wasn’t substantial, it is stretching credulity to describe it as an embarrassment. The Western world was quite well represented. Even Egypt sent a low-level diplomat, a symbolic gesture, given Sharon’s role in their wars. The “no-shows” largely constituted Africa and South America, both regions having long been hostile to Israel at a diplomatic level. It is unlikely a significant number of diplomats from these territories would have turned up, regardless of the senior Israeli politician, except perhaps dovish types, being buried. The immense attention given to Mandela’s death is unlikely to be replicated for many years to come, an obvious point Kiberd is surely aware of.

Kiberd’s prejudice is all too evident when he engages in needless, rather conspiratorial, speculation:
“Biden and Blair may have swapped notes ahead of the ceremony. Rather than deal directly with Sharon’s blood-stained legacy both diffused the issue by employing metaphors borrowed from construction.”
Must former British prime minister, Tony Blair, and current US vice-president, Joe Biden, have necessarily agreed with Kiberd, to the extent that he sees conspiracy when they do not express their disapproval of Sharon, especially at a most unfitting time of his funeral service?
“Biden referred to Sharon as the “bulldozer”, his nickname in some quarters. Blair noted that he had left a “lot of debris in his wake”. In death, as in life, Sharon was not exactly the first name on anybody’s dance card.”
The sarcasm of Kiberd’s “dance card” remark clearly indicates that Sharon was in some way a boorish anti-social individual. Kiberd misleads the reader in the above quotes, by stripping away the context in which the terms were used by both Blair and Biden. It is widely reported that Sharon earned the name “bulldozer” due to the forceful way in which he negotiated, rather than for being supposedly unsociable, a point which “” also noted two-weeks before Kiberd’s article.

Moreover, Biden described his friendship with Sharon, which lasted several decades and felt “like a death in the family.”

To quote Blair’s remarks more fully:
“Once decided he was unflinching. He didn’t move, he charged. He could leave considerable debris in his wake.”
This is of course a reference to the dramatic about-turns in Sharon’s political career, which Kiberd twists into a reference concerning “Sharon’s blood-stained legacy”, making out that there was a near-conspiracy of silence by these guests at the former Israeli prime-minister’s funeral. He even finds it necessary to make an odd reference to Blair wearing a yarmulke at the funeral, as a sign of respect.

Did Kiberd ever consider that both Blair and Biden may have genuinely respected the Sharon, to have paid tribute without voicing subtle reservations? Why did Kiberd feel the need to misrepresent the tributes delivered by two friends at Sharon’s funeral, and to construct a further character assassination?

A conclusion

Damien Kiberd’s article contains a number of other errors of lesser consequence, for example he wrote:
“After the Gaza withdrawal in 2004 [note: the withdrawal from Gaza occurred in 2005] Sharon himself became the target of political extremists. One religious leader invoked an ancient curse that called upon the angel of death to kill him. Some weeks later his brain ceased to function.”
Whilst there was a number of verbal attacks on Sharon at this time, the curse to which Kiberd is most likely referring, for it was noted for citing the Angels of Death, occurred some six months before his stroke in January 2006. The other notorious curse against Sharon was delivered in March 2005. Kiberd wrote:
“Psychopath or a good soldier? The ‘no show’ of global leaders at his final goodbye nods to a life of contradictions.”
The above might suggest Sharon occasionally acted in a fashion that Kiberd would have found acceptable. However, Kiberd’s hatred for the subject of his article is also evident due to his criticism of Sharon’s evacuation of Gaza’s Jewish settlements! Does Kiberd support Jewish settlements? It is extremely unlikely but when it comes to Sharon, it’s a case of damned if he did, damned if he didn’t!

Kiberd clearly suggests, to the reader, that Ariel Sharon was a psychopath. His demonising article includes factual misrepresentations of the Kahan Commission’s report, with the likely intent of construing that Sharon was in fact responsible for the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, which he associates with the spilling of ‘blood’. Perhaps Kiberd should consider re-directing that ire at the actual architect of the massacre, one Elie Hobeika?

Mr. Kiberd asks “why Ariel Sharon’s funeral was such a lonely affair?” To a large extent, it is due to the lazy forwarding of half-truths by journalists not sufficiently motivated to read widely available reports, and, of course, those with a blatant anti-Israel agenda, peddling the prejudicial perspectives of propagandists.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Monday 20 January 2014

RTÉ’s Error-Laden Coverage of Ariel Sharon’s Death

(Updated: January 27th 2014)
Members of the Knesset guard carry the coffin of Ariel Sharon,
Jerusalem, January 13
th 2014 (Source: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

The mainstream media has long exhibited a distinctive hostility toward Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli prime-minister (2001-2006), and military commander of some renown, due to his successes in the Six Day War (1967), and Yom Kippur War (1973). Media coverage, in the immediate aftermath of Sharon’s death, was no exception.
The day of Sharon’s death (January 11th 2013), RTÉ, Ireland’s public service broadcaster, featured a report by journalist Carole Coleman, entitled “Divisive Israeli leader Ariel Sharon dies”, that exemplified this pointed hostility. In relation to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre, Coleman stated:
“When hundreds of Palestinians were massacred in refugee camps by Christian milita, Sharon was held personally responsible, earning him the reputation of a ‘war criminal’.”
Coleman clearly indicates that Sharon was in some way knowingly complicit to the massacre itself.

The Kahan Commission, established by Israel soon after the massacre took place, constitutes the principal study of the event. It is typically cited by journalists, when referring to Sharon’s supposed guilt in the massacre, and is very probably the source Coleman cites because it is renowned for ascribing “personal responsibility” to Sharon. However, like that of many other journalists who have cited Sharon’s “personal responsibility” in this regard, Coleman’s assertion is wholly misleading. The Kahan Commission wrote:
“We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office”
The Commission pointed out that these duties included the protection of those Arab-Palestinians living within the camps. It found that Sharon bore responsibility for failing to account for “the danger of bloodshed and revenge” that would likely follow from allowing an allied Lebanese Phalangist militia into the camps, to find PLO terrorists. Thus, his failings were due to negligence, rather than complicity or collusion. As a result of these failings, the Commission sought his dismissal as Minister of Defense.

The Kahan Commission criticised Sharon harshly but did not deem him to be anything resembling a “war criminal”. Rather, his reputation was muddied by a stream of accusations before and after its findings. As if to bolster her claim, perhaps as a form of citation, Coleman’s report features the well-known image of a February 1983 Time Magazine cover (Verdict on the Massacre: “It should have been foreseen”), which appeared soon after the Commission’s report. The edition featured an article, which claimed that Sharon had colluded in the massacre. It was without foundation, and Sharon took legal action in the US against the publication. The jury determined that he was defamed by the article. It found that Sharon had provided sufficient evidence to prove that Time Magazine’s claims were false.

Screen-grab of Carole Coleman's RTE news report, January 11th 2014

 In the report, Coleman went on to state that Sharon is responsible for initiating the Second Intifada:
“More controversy in 2000, when, as Likud leader, he visited the al Asqa Mosque, a site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. The visit caused outrage and sparked the Second Palestinian uprising.”
And so Coleman reiterates the well-worn tale that Sharon’s September 2000 visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount “sparked” the Second Intifada. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become widely known that Sharon’s visit was nothing other than a convenient excuse for initiating the Second Intifada.

It has been reported that Sharon’s tour of the Temple Mount was deemed to be acceptable by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Numerous Arab-Palestinian sources have confirmed that the PA President, Yasser Arafat, had planned the Second Intifada as an attempt to take the initiative, and strengthen his hand diplomatically, after he walked out of the Camp David talks.

Moreover, Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, did not include a tour of the environs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is situated upon the historic site. Israeli government sources state that the PA gave the Temple Mount visit the green-light as long as it did not include the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Coleman also claimed Sharon was going to pre-emptively pull out of the West Bank:
“He’s understood to have wanted a withdrawal from the West Bank, in preparation for an eventual Palestinian state.”
Without elucidation, Coleman presents Sharon’s plan as part of a prospective peace process. However, it seems Sharon given up on a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, as indicated by letters exchanged with President George Bush II. After the gesture of returning Gaza, without any concessions, Sharon sought to pull back a significant number of settlers that lived in communities deep within the West Bank area, whilst retaining the larger settlement blocs near the 1949 Armistice Line. Although Jerusalem would possibly be denied for a prospective Arab-Palestinian state, this strategy was nonetheless somewhat in line with prior negotiations for a two-state solution.

Doubling Down

The following day (12th January 2014), RTE News services continued to give prolific coverage to Ariel Sharon’s death, mainly featuring a report, entitled “Ariel Sharon lies in state”, by a journalist called Karen Creed. She stated:
“Many world leaders have paid tribute to Ariel Sharon’s significant role in Israeli history, while his critics regret that he was not brought to justice before he died. Across the Middle East many have condemned him as a tyrant, recalling his role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This Palestinian woman survived the massacre that was led by Sharon in Beirut in 1982 but her family were killed. She describes the 32 years of suffering endured since loosing her husband, son and brother-in-law, and says Sharon only suffered for eight years, referring to his time in a coma.”
Creed subsequently added: “On Sharon’s home soil a very different picture was being painted today of the military leader, heralded for relentlessly pursuing his country’s security”, suggesting she was presenting different perspectives, or perhaps subtlety indicating that support for Sharon was misguided, because similar contextualisation was not provided before, or during, the section referring to the Arab worlds celebration of his death, a point in the report that included the Arab-Palestinian woman’s views.

Although Creed’s report attempts to provide two broad perspectives of Sharon the man, it attacks his reputation more intensely than Coleman’s report, by presenting the assertion, that Sharon led the massacre, as constituting an established fact, when it describes the circumstances of the Arab-Palestinian woman. Notably, the report also includes an image of the same 1983 Time Magazine cover, which contained a discredited article claiming that Sharon had colluded in the massacre.

Moreover, Creed’s error is compounded by a failure to mention that the massacre was actually carried out by a Lebanese militia, rather than the Israeli forces under Sharon’s command. Thus, the report is particularly misleading, its effort to be balanced, or to appear so, an extremely superficial endeavour.


Carole Coleman has developed a reputation, in some quarters, for bias, due in part to an unprofessional interview with George Bush II, in which she latterly boasted that she wished to strike him during the event.

In years past, Coleman’s coverage of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict was often a source of discussion amongst Irish supporters of Israel. Her unreserved acceptance of Sharon’s guilt at Sabra and Shatila, the misleading reference to the Kahan Commission, the further citation of a discredited source, and the undeserved attribution of blame for the Second Intifada, will likely not alleviate those concerns.

The reflexive bias of RTÉ’s coverage of Ariel Sharon’s death was not dissimilar to that of its coverage of Lee Rigby’s murder, in which the national broadcaster gave full voice to Islamic extremists.

All news providers have an ethical responsibility to report news without prejudice. This is particularly important with public service broadcasters, because they often possess a near-monopolistic influence on the views of a nation. Commentator Eoghan Harris pointed out that “RTE is the most important influence in shaping the Irish moral imagination.” Unfortunate then that this imagination is moulded in such a poorly informed and politicised fashion.

Update (January 27th 2014)

After receiving a number of complaints from viewers, concerning Karen Creed’s report, RTE broadcast a correction at the end of their 6pm and 9pm news bulletins yesterday, a transcript of which is below:
“A recent RTE news report on the death of former Israeli prime-minister Ariel Sharon. It was stated that Mr. Sharon led the 1982 massacre in Beirut at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. While a subsequent Israeli government enquiry found that Mr. Sharon bore indirect responsibility, we were not correct to report that the massacre was led by him.”
Whilst the correction should be welcomed, it nonetheless lacks clarity by continuing to use the words ‘indirect responsibility’, without explaining that Sharon’s guilt was deemed, by the Kahan commission, to be negligence, rather than of actual complicity in the massacre. Moreover, the online media-player version of the January 12th report by Karen Creed has not been amended, nor does the transmitted admission of error appear to have been posted online by RTE.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Another Anti-Israel Libel by the British Independent?

Screen grab from the UK Independent website, Jan 8th, 2013.

The UK Independent carried a story on the 1st of January, by one Adam Withnall, charging that Arab-Palestinian children are tortured and caged. The article, entitled “Israel government tortures Palestinian children by keeping them in cages, human rights group says”, charged that Israel was keeping Arab-Palestinian children “caged” in public outdoor areas, over a period of months, in severe winter weather:
“An Israeli human rights organisation has accused the government of torturing Palestinian children after it emerged some were kept for months in outdoor cages during winter.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) published a report which said children suspected of minor crimes were subjected to “public caging”, threats and acts of sexual violence and military trials without representation.” [original published version]
Such claims would of course be shocking to most readers. To place children (as distinct from late-adolescent teenage ‘youths’), within highly confined outdoor cage-like structures, in appalling weather, over a period of months, would be rightly deemed an act of extreme (if not extraordinary) cruelty, one that would cause a calamitous impact to a robust adult's health, let alone that of children. Furthermore, such actions would be highly traumatising, constituting of a degrading form of treatment.

However, a sceptical response would have been justified, prima facie, for several reasons. Firstly, why would children be kept for several months at a “transition facility in Ramla”, when it is merely a transitional point for the processing of prisoners through the Israeli courts system? Moreover, considering the large number of anti-Israel NGOs criticising Israel’s reputation, which are highly-active in the region, why would this account of appalling cruelty have come to light so late in the day?


The prejudicial inaccuracy of Withnall’s article’s is exemplified by the fact that it failed to note that the relatively little-known Public Committee Against Torture in Israel is an anti-Israel NGO. Whether PCATI is right or wrong, its politicisation means it has less credence than balanced impartial sources.

PCATI advocates for Israel’s delegitimisation, which is outside of its relevant NGO prisoner-rights remit. The frequent publicising of accusations, of Arab-Palestinian prisoners being ill-treated by the Israeli authorities, without substantive proofs, demonstrates an extremely one-sided politicisation. NGO Monitor notes that one PCATI attorney, Majd Bader, publicly described Arab-Palestinian terrorists, who died for their cause, as “martyrs”. The group receives substantive funding, including monies obtained at an EU level.

Notably, PCATI takes very little interest in Arab-Palestinian abuses of its prisoners. One rare exception is a collective public statement, in 2011, by numerous anti-Israel NGOs, calling for Gilad Schalit to receive better treatment. However, PCATI’s contribution was to a statement made by an NGO collective that largely thought Schalit’s imprisonment by Hamas was justified, morally and legally.

CIFWatch’s rebuttal

CIFWatch published an excellent rebuttal, pointing out that the “caging” charge is extremely dubious. The issue concerned detainees, of unspecific ages, being held outdoors, for a number of hours in a particular Ramla facility, until the arrival of guards to transfer prisoners to the Israeli courts system.

CIFWatch asserted that the claim children were caged “for months”, actually relates to the fact that the practice began at the detention facility some months ago. Moreover, PCATI’s report does not refer to the period in which children are kept outside, suggesting that the claim of imprisonment, in an open public space, for months, has been entirely made up by the Independent.

There are no details of specific instances of sexual abuse and torture provided in the PCATI report, making them impossible to substantiate evidentially. However, the Independent presented these related claims as being of an equivalent substance to the issue of the detention of prisoners in open-air areas.

Prompted by CIFWatch, the Independent has made some corrections to the article, the most significant being the removal of the claim that Israel was keeping children caged in the open for months. The revision now states instead that the practice has existed for months.

However, Withnall’s article remains problematic, for it continues to present PCATI’s perspective with absolute credulity. Additionally, the article fails to note the significant corrections made, or even of there being a revision date, which likely helps facilitate the continuation of the previous months-of-torturous-caging narrative, which has been reproduced on countless anti-Israel websites, blogs, and forums.

State intervention

It is noteworthy that open-air detention was stopped, prior to the story’s exposure in the international media, after senior Israeli authorities became aware of the practice, in which the matter was brought to light at an Israeli parliamentary hearing, by the Public Defender’s Office. The Jersusalem Post, presumably borrowing from PCATI’s lexicon, describes these minors as children:
“The children were to be held outside for a number of hours overnight after their arrest until they were to be brought to court in the early morning. Livni’s office confirmed that she had personally intervened.
It was unclear who within the Prisons Service initiated the practice, why it was initiated or who decided to continue it despite the adverse weather conditions, but the service responded that since it had received criticism the situation had been improved.”
Despite the fact that the Israeli authorities began the intervention to stop this practice, unprompted by outside groups or institutions, the overly dramatic claims of PCATI, and various media institutions, have been used to justify assertions that Israel is ethnically cleansing the Arab-Palestinian populace, or that it constitutes further proof that Israel is an “apartheid” state, as claimed by the likes of Annie Robbins, editor of Mondo Weiss, an individual who agrees with the Palestinian Authority stance that murderers are “freedom fighters”, and forwarded Palestinian Authority propaganda that the shocking savagery of the 2011 Fogel family murders were perpetrated by foreign workers, rather than Arab-Palestinians. No wonder concern and sympathy is afforded for the plight of prisoners, over that of their many probable victims.

CIFWatch followed up with another article on the controversy. It affirms that the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) report (as cited in PCATI's report), and the PDO’s letter of complaint to the Ministry of Justice, only relate to certain Israelis arrested during night-time periods, who were detained in the open, until transported to court the following morning. There is no mention of Arab-Palestinian children in these communications. CIFWatch report that they contacted the Israel Prison Service, which confirmed that the complaint only refers to Israeli prisoners, some of which were adolescent youths, rather than children.


The practice of placing prisoners, for several hours, in open-air areas for transfer, constitutes a harmful activity, if weather conditions are poor. It is not harmful if weather conditions are clement. As the time-periods roughly coincide, the policy may have been instituted, for prisoners, irrespective of the particularities of national identity, due to space issues, with the substantially increasing level of violent incidents in recent months. Matters have become so bad that some commentators believe it may herald the beginnings of a Third Intifada.

Furthermore, it is hard to see how such treatment constitutes torture, which relates to the application of very intense pain or severe mental distress, such as mock executions, unless prisoners were exposed to poor weather conditions for extended periods of time, perhaps as a coercive measure. The Syrian regime has rightly been criticised for torturing men, women and children since 2011. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a thirteen years old boy, was one such torture victim:
“The boy’s head was swollen, purple and disfigured. His body was a mess of welts, cigarette burns and wounds from bullets fired to injure, not kill. His kneecaps had been smashed, his neck broken, his jaw shattered and his penis cut off.
What finally killed him was not clear, but it appeared painfully, shockingly clear that he had suffered terribly during the month he spent in Syrian custody.”
Of course, the horrific torture al-Khateeb was subjected to, represents a extreme case. Any one of the many acts of violence, which he was exposed to, would have been sufficient to demonstrate a case of torture. Black torture (physical) and white torture (psychological) are acted upon with an explicit intent, which is typically systematic in its structure, to degrade the mental orientation of a given individual, and push him or her in a coercive fashion, towards a particular objective. Conflating torture with that of neglect, does a disservice to genuine victims of such violence.

Rather, the level of discomfort caused to prisoners, at the Israeli detention centre, would constitute instances of poor prisoner treatment. Treatment that may be deemed neglectful or callous, and, as such, worthy of enquiry. Moreover, it was by no means systematic within the Israeli prison system. Little wonder the claims by PCATI et al, had to be exaggerated out of all proportion to the validated facts.

A conclusion

Children are routinely, and cynically, used by radical NGO’s, such as the Defense for Children Palestine to demonise Israel, often by resurrecting notions of blood-libel. It has been common tool of Arab-Palestinian leaders in recent decades, resulting in the promulgation of libels, e.g. the spreading of AIDS to 300 Arab-Palestinian children, Israeli’s distributing poisoned sweets etc. These stories seek to utterly dehumanise enemies, making them ripe for destruction by reducing any moral compunction. By emphasising and exaggerating similar claims, which, prima facie, were of a dubious nature, PCATI, Electronic Intifada, Mondo Weiss, the UK Independent etc., further this aim.

This story may constitute another example of a Western media complicit in forwarding what can justly be described as "conflict-propaganda", for which the British Independent has some pedigree, being second only, in the UK Media, to the Guardian newspaper, in terms of a manifest bias toward Israel. Thus, the newspaper still employs Robert Fisk, who has published extraordinarily vitriolic claims against Israel for many years, which have been undermined on so many occasions, he has become a figure of amusement for some within the journalistic profession.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Raja Shehadeh: A Moderate or a Moderate Façade?

“Raja Shehadeh is Palestine’s leading writer. He is also a lawyer and the founder of the pioneering Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq.” - Mountains to the Sea Book Festival, 2013.

Screen-grab from website of September 2013's
Mountains to Sea book festival (Dublin).

Since the millennium, Raja Shehadeh has become a common fixture at literary and cultural events throughout the West, and makes a frequent appearance in literary reviews etc. His books have earned him a substantial amount of praise and a number of awards, including the 2008 Orwell Prize, for which he again made the shortlist in 2013.
Raja Shehadeh works as a lawyer in Ramallah. He was educated in London, and his often semi-autobiographal works, all written in English, a mere two (as of 2011) translated into Arabic, are principally orientated toward Western audiences, although that is a view Shehadeh denies.
Shehadeh is quite a prolific writer, his books dealing essentially with a common theme: a highly personalised account of displacement in Palestine, often told in the form of a journey. They include themes of tragedy, misfortune, despondency, revelation, and some modest spiritual triumph against a brutish Israeli presence. Family features heavily, the drama of flawed relationships woven within an at times burdensome sense of history but one mitigated by a deep abiding love of the land and its history.
The books use substantive imagery as a central point of narrative. For example, the image of a bird’s song ending, or the tragic motif of Shehadeh’s father, Aziz, looking toward the city lights of Jaffa, which he left behind after moving to Ramallah in 1948, as featured in Strangers in the House (2001).
Raja Shehadeh stated in 2012:
“I saw writing as a way of serving the cause of justice and human rights. Human rights reports reach a limited sector of the population and so have limited impact, but if you write something that touches more people and is mass-distributed, the impact is that much stronger... If you’re affected by what you read, it becomes part of your experience and you take it in or feel it in a much stronger way.”
In the struggle for hearts and minds, feelings trump facts. Imagery and accusations, automatically triggering humane compassion, are incomparably more compelling than dry defensive argumentation.
It has often been observed that judgement is influenced more by emotion than by reason, and, therefore, those who suffer tend to obtain empathy and support. This fact has long been understood by the entertainment industry. For example, a victim wronged, is, from an audience’s perspective, the one who is best placed to seek justice. The individual, or group, destroyed ought to be in some way deserving, if the subject is especially cruel, malign, etc. If there could be a shadowy side to the humanitarian spirit, this characteristic would surely qualify.
Considering the highly politicised themes, a question may be asked of Shehadeh’s work: do the books constitute an authentic effort to tell personal stories which possess substantive political overtones, as is sometimes necessarily the case in certain contexts, or do they constitute a knowing propaganda, or perhaps possess elements of both? The impact of these books would seem to be quite significant politically, judging by his success. The stories relate to a serious conflict, which has been the cause of a substantive degree of suffering through the twentieth century, and will continue to cause much for the foreseeable future.
To question the more personal details of Shehadeh’s account of his life and family, which has been touched by tragedy, without good cause to do so, may constitute the needless crossing of a boundary. Yet it is nonetheless worth analysing the more general political claims of the author, due to the way in which they inevitably inform the broader narrative of his books.
This move should be especially pressing, given Shehadeh’s past political activism in al Haq, and the broad Arab-Palestinian move to utilise literature for propaganda’s sake, for example, the pro-boycott “Palfest” literary festival, of which he is a regular fixture.

Shehadeh’s work with al-Haq
Raja Shehadeh is a member of the English Bar, and the Palestinian Bar Association. The Palestinian Bar Association is apparently an affiliated member of the rather hateful Arab Lawyers Union of which it works closely – a telling feature of the conditions in which Arab-Palestinian lawyers work.
Outside of his literary career, Shehadeh is best known for his association with Al-Haq, which he co-founded in 1979, with another lawyer, one Jonathan Kuttab, who has been at the forefront of Israel’s delegitimisation, particularly in Christian circles.
First known as ‘Law in the Service of Man’, al Haq became a principle group upon which other NGOs and a significant segment of the Western media relied for information. Al-Haq, is described as an organisation affiliated to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, although it is also described as the “Palestinian branch of International Commission of Jurists”. The NGO would soon become a leader in lawfare based international campaigns, motivated by a desire to delegitimise Israel’s right to exist.
Since its inception, Al-Haq has presented distorted data to promote anti-Israel propaganda, often on the basis of pursuing heavily publicised lawsuits, which have little chance of success. Its mandate, to supposedly encourage the rule of law in a non-partisan fashion, suggests it would take an interest in any source of wrongdoing. However, al Haq’s conduct, with regard to addressing the many abuses Arab-Palestinian groups have visited upon their own people, have been extremely limited and only at times made public as a last resort. Self-censorship, with a failure to even catalogue abuses, is normative NGO behaviour for the region.
In 1990, Al Haq claimed that killings, within Arab-Palestinian society, by paramilitary factions, were in fact not human rights violations because these groups were responsible for keeping order. Apparently, the “network of informers” and “agents of the [Israeli] state” were killed spontaneously by an enraged Arab-Palestinian citizenry, which presumably mitigates blame. The hypocritical callousness of this position is reinforced by the fact that it was stated during the First Intifada, when close to a thousand Arab-Palestinians were murdered by their brethren.
Al Haq’s more recent links with terrorism, and its moral legitimisation of terrorism as “resistance”, are stark. Commentary Magazine notes the head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, is prohibited from travelling abroad by Jordan and Israel due to his substantive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Shehadeh helped establish al Haq’s morally problematic template, and he remained a director of the organisation for a lengthy period of time. Shehadeh left al Haq in the 1990’s but his tenure at the organisation is something for which he is still likely proud, with mention of it in seemingly all of his numerous guest profiles in a variety of publications.

Shehadeh’s curious understanding of the conflict
Raja Shehadeh’s views of the Israel-Arab conflict have had a notable impact on certain left-wing Israelis. Gideon Levy, perhaps the most notorious anti-Israel propagandist living in Israel today, stated of his first interview with Shehadeh:
“That meeting was a deep impression on me; I was moved by him, his intellect”
The meeting, when Levy was a young journalist in the early 1980s, marked the development of his interest in the conflict. However, others like Meron Benvenisti, himself well known for intensely criticising the Jewish State’s actions over the years, saw Shehadeh differently. He described Shehedeh's attacks on Israel as marking a “...hatred that does not know any bounds, and that blinds the eyes...”
Indeed, Shehadeh has long made many remarkable assertions, such as claiming Israel is ethnically cleansing the Arab-Palestinian populace. This view contravenes basic facts.
Claims of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem are fictitious. Jerusalem’s Muslim-Arab/Palestinian population has grown faster than its Jewish equivalent since 1967. The city had 68,000 Arab residents in 1967, which grew more than four-fold to 275,900 in 2009. During the same period, the Jewish populace rose at a much slower rate of 2.5 times.
Likewise, census figures demonstrate that the combined Arab-Palestinian populace of the West Bank and Gaza, was just under 955 thousand (including East Jerusalem) in 1967. The Palestinian Authority took over census collection responsibilities, under the Oslo Accords. The figures collected by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics have been deemed to be highly problematic but even allowing for dramatic over-estimation, for the purposes of political gain, the populace can still be understood as growing at a normatively satisfactory rate, one hardly compatible with ethnic cleansing.
Shehadeh has often charged that Israel conducted a “belligerent war” in 1967, from which it obtained the territories Arab-Palestinians now seek for a state of their own.
One would think that Egypt’s removal of United Nations peacekeeping troops from the Sinai, the blockading of the Straits of Tiran (an international waterway) to Israeli shipping, bellicose threatening language directed at Jewish State, the sending of large forces into the Sinai in breach of UN Resolution 997, and continued Syrian sponsorship of terrorism reaching across Israel’s borders (condemned by UN Secretary General U Thant), was significant enough for Israel to mount a pre-emptive strike?
Of the Security Barrier, which marks a division between the West Bank and Israel, Shehadeh stated:
“Undoubtedly it has an element of a spectacle and has given some Israelis a sense of security, even though it was not the wall that stopped the dreaded suicide bombings. That happened largely because of a change in tactics on the part of Hamas, which launched them.”
It is remarkable to claim that the security barrier merely gives a sense of security, when it played a substantive role in bringing suicide attacks down to almost zero during the Second Intifada, a point which Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah acknowledged.
Shehadeh claims Hamas’ tactics changed, which prompted an end to terrorist assaults. Whilst Arafat did indeed request that Hamas carry out suicide attacks, the majority of attacks against Israel appear to have been carried out by the well-armed security forces of the Palestinian Authority. To attribute a change in policy by Hamas is odd, when they vowed continued violence in Gaza soon after.
A 1984 meeting of international NGOs, run by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), and the Division for Palestinian Rights, at the United Nations base in Geneva, entitled “on the Question of Palestine”, featured a by then typically one-sided diplomatic assault on Israel, with groups like the ‘Arab Lawyers Union’ in attendance. The ALU has produced anti-Semitic material for some of these events. At the meeting, Shehadeh proposed that the international community adopt the strategy proposed by the Soviet Union, and its socialist client states:
“While advancing its new proposals on the Middle East, the Soviet Union pursues the prime aim of peace in the region and, hence, resolution of the Palestinian problem. […] For my part, I would like to assure those present that the Soviet Union has no aggressive intentions whatsoever, either in the Middle East or all over the world. A graphic illustration of this are all the recent Soviet peace initiatives.”
The assurance of the Soviet Union’s good intentions would have come as news to anyone familiar with the USSR’s conduct in Afghanistan, which was causing immense suffering, along with the greatest refugee crisis at the time. After installing a puppet socialist regime, which the Afghan people rebelled against, the Soviets invaded in 1979. Figures are difficult to establish but it is thought one to two million Afghani people died.
Shehadeh would approve of a Soviet peace brokerage, since the USSR towed the Arab line almost completely since 1953/4, and were a principle party leading the 1975 Zionism as racism United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, and the attempt to get Israel removed from the UN itself.
In Strangers in the House, Shehadeh makes one of his most remarkably a-historical assertions:
“In the twenty-first century, the case of Palestine remains one of the last surviving examples of a country usurped by a colonial project exploiting religion to deprive Palestinians of their land.”
Religion is of course only one element of the Zionist project, which originated in a secular fashion. Zionism relates principally to a people, rather than a mere religion. Moreover, there has never been an independent nation in this region since the end of the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt, in 135 AD Judea.
There are still occupations today that have an overt or underlying religious component, for example, the Pakistani occupation of the Gilgit–Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, territories where older religious cultures are oppressed seemingly with some degree of state collusion. More broadly, many territorial disputes do indeed have a strong religious dimension.

Pro-peace or pro-conflict?
Ostensibly, Raja Shehadeh, who himself was a peace negotiator during the Oslo talks, supports a two state solution:
“I have been consistent in my view that the solution lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. […] There are two possible outcomes to this hundred-year-old struggle: one is that the land would be partitioned into two states: Israel and Palestine. The other is that the present situation would continue and the conflict would continue to fester.”
The above is a fair assessment. Yet Mr. Shehadeh has long been a powerful proponent of boycotting Israel academically and culturally, whilst laying little substantive moral responsibility at the collective feet of the Arab-Palestinian community. Neither will assist the influence of moderation.
In the opening chapter of A Rift in Time: Travels with my Ottoman Uncle (2003), Shehadeh notes his feelings of disappointment in 1996, with the Oslo Accords:
“Those first years of the transitional rule of the Palestinian Authority were strange times. It was the rude awakening at the end of a fascinating and hopeful period for me, during which I had devoted all my energies to bringing about change and a conclusion to the Israeli occupation… Prompted perhaps by disappointment over the false peace heralded by the signing of the Oslo Accords, and despite all the fanfare on the White House lawn, my thoughts had been turning to the past.”
It had only been a year since Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin initiated the Oslo II process. The initial 1993 phase of the process, Oslo I, was a preparatory stage offering a degree of self-rule. However, Shehadeh also opposed this initial phase since it did not constitute an explicit path to independence:
“I’m not saying that people should not be involved in politics and not try, but everyone should know their limits.”
However, Shehadeh would also oppose subsequent processes that did offer explicit provision for an independent state. Tellingly, Shehadeh reveals that:
“The outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987 gave me hope that things would finally change and I dismissed all thoughts of leaving Palestine.”
The First Intifada was a time of extreme violence, despite the superficial gloss smeared over such a tragic event today. Shehadeh must surely be aware that the original Intifada, to a significant extent, constituted a campaign of terror that Arafat, and various factions, waged against the Arab-Palestinian populace, in which almost a thousand of his own people were killed by paramilitaries for supposedly being traitors, although many were in fact killed due to their political stances as dissenters, moderates as well as in familial blood feuds. To a significant extent, the Intifada was a purge of Arab-Palestinian society. As such, it is quite remarkable to characterise it as somehow being a time of hope, a stance seemingly indicative of extremism.
Shehadeh stated:
“It is likely that my father's murderer was an Israeli collaborator. Israel nurtured and protected the collaborators however depraved they were.”
Whilst Shehadeh presents himself as a moderate who became disillusioned by the two-state peace process, he in fact appears to have been hostile to almost all solutions to the conflict since at least 1984.
At the aforementioned CEIRPP International NGO Meeting in Geneva, Shehadeh asserted:
“[T]he debate on Western Europe's stance on the Palestinian problem and Middle East settlement has been going on for many years. I want also to point to its somewhat moderate character.”
During the 1970’s the European Economic Community developed a distinctive hostility toward Israel. This was made manifest in the Bahrain and Venice Declarations, both of 1980. These declarations legitimised the PLO by recognising them as the representatives the Arab-Palestinian people, at a time when they were still vocally expressing their dedication to Israel’s absolute destruction. There was no criticism with regard to the violence of the PLO, and a focus on Israel returning all the Territories contested. If Shehadeh supported a two-state solution, how could the EEC stance be unduly moderate?
“...the process of forcing on the Arabs the Camp David policy which is capitulatory in its essence and which does not serve to achieve settlement of the Middle East crisis.”
It is peculiar to present the Sadat-Begin Camp David accords as capitulation. To abandon its aggressive policies, Egypt obtained the Sinai and substantial aid, in return for recognising Israel’s right to exist.
With such hostility toward the most important Middle-Eastern peace process in decades, Shehadeh’s intense advocacy of initiatives, to dramatically increase pressure on Israel, had clearly inferred goals:
“…it is imperative for Western Europe to take sides. On whose side is it? Is it on the side of Israel which is trying to impose Camp David on the Arabs with fire and sword? […] It is necessary… to launch a new intensive campaign to ensure that the Western European countries take sides.”
Shehadeh’s early statements cast doubt on the view that he lost faith in two-state solutions during Oslo.
More recently, Shehadeh characterised Israel and its neighbouring Arab dictators, such as Mubarak, as having been involved in a “deadly embrace”, which allowed Israel’s existence to continue unabated for the last three decades.
Shehadeh says he departed from the views of his father, who sought a two-state solution, due to the issue of Jewish settlement:
“…Israel began building settlements in the occupied territories. I grew up feeling we were in a race with time. Every year the chances of peace were being diminished and our land was being usurped before our eyes. Unless something was done the remaining part of Palestine beyond the 1967 borders of Israel would also be lost.”
Claims that Jewish settlements are swallowing up the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) can be disputed. In 2011, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s prime negotiator, asserted that settlements constitute 1.1% of the West Bank. Around the same time, a survey, commissioned by anti-Israel NGO B’Tselem, found that 0.99% of the West Bank features constructed settlements, with applicable roads taking further space.
Nonetheless, if it were true that settlements were taking over the West Bank, would it not behove Shehadeh to have advocated the solutions proposed at Camp David, Taba etc., which offered almost all of the West Bank and Gaza? Seemingly not. In the London Review of Books, Shehadeh characterised Yasser Arafat as “admirable” for not having “betrayed his people” in accepting the offer made at Camp David. Arafat was offered most territorial demands. His response was to initiate the bloody Second Intifada, which one may assume is deemed less of a betrayal than peace.
Shehadeh’s stance on the Oslo talks, in which he was involved, is somewhat contradictory. Broadly speaking, he has expressed strong disapproval against them. For example, in 2011, he charged that they were hopelessly fixed from the outset:
“[T]he Oslo Accords have only consolidated this system of occupation rather than broken away from it… I could see that the problem began from the terms of reference of the negotiations themselves, which were very restrictive.”
Yet it would seem the Accords were left intentionally vague, to allow a starting point for negotiations. Much of the challenging substance of a solution, for example the status of Jewish settlements, would be located in the final stage of negotiations.
Two years later, Shehadeh would seem to have a change of heart over Oslo, but only with respect to pushing the issue of the “right of return”, a legally dubious charge based on UN Resolution 194, which would intentionally bring about the demographic nullification of Israel as a principally Jewish State.
As Arafat himself stated, during a closed meeting in Oslo with Arab diplomats in 1996:
“We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews.”
Unfortunately, a tolerant pluralistic approach from Arab-Palestinian Muslims is less likely than ever. For example, a recent Pew poll demonstrates that 89% desire having Sharia law as “the official law of the land.”
Shehadeh wants to go even further according to an interview conducted by one left-wing website:
‘He seemed disinterested in debating the contours of a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement or the feasibility of the so-called two-state solution […] “We should always be aware of what are dreams and what is reality. So my dream is not only one state, but one huge confederation in the entire eastern Mediterranean,” said Shehadeh, who envisions this to include both Israeli Jews and Arabs across the region.’
Thus, Shehadeh seems to be advocating a form of old fashioned pan-Arabism or even the re-emergence of the Islamic Caliphate! This is a remarkable assertion, considering the appalling way in which Jewish people have been treated throughout the Arab-Islamic world. In contrast to Martin Luther King’s noble vision of racial reconciliation, Shehadeh’s dream would perhaps be best left remaining just as it is.

Shehadeh’s stance on anti-Semitism
Several years ago Jewish Chronicle theatre critic John Nathan described as ‘anti-semitic’ the use of Holocaust imagery in a play about Gaza. The play in question, “Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea”, indicated that Israel is visiting a holocaust upon Gazan people, very much akin to the Jewish Holocaust or Shoah.
Raja Shehadeh disagreed with the claim, and although uninvolved with the Play’s production, he took the step of communicating with Nathan on the matter.
Nathan objected particularly to the set design, which strongly evoked Holocaust imagery. Shehadeh stated: “when I saw the brilliant set of the play, I found it compelling and moving, and inspiring many layers of associations.” He added:
“Many have made the analogy between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto… I was of the contrary opinion. Gaza is not a ghetto, I argued. It is a large prison. I found the insistence on resorting to terms usually associated with the Jewish experience of suffering disturbing. It sounded to me as though only by appropriating nomenclature related to the Jewish experience could we validate Palestinian suffering. As though our suffering cannot stand on its own.”
Shehadeh stated that he disliked analogies between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza etc., but, notably, not so much because it is offensive to Jews but rather because the Jewish experience should not be used to “validate Palestinian suffering”. The use of stronger language to describe Gaza is perhaps unintentional but, despite his objections to the application of descriptions relating to the Holocaust, he nonetheless appears to be drawing an equivalence of scale, dimension, or significance, between the two events.
Shehadeh went on to effectively imply that criticism of Israel is never anti-Semitic, when it is done in relation to addressing Arab-Palestinian issues. He wrote:
“Describing anyone challenging Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights, whether through literature or plays, as antisemitic is intellectually dishonest and censorious of legitimate criticism. But it is worse. It is self-defeating. It is often carried out by those who believe they are expressing loyalty to Israel.” [emphasis added]
Such stances clearly whitewash the fact that criticism of Israel is often anti-Semitic in tone. Moreover, it is absurd to suggest that those referring to “anti-Semitism” do so in an effort to be loyal to Israel, presumably to silence legitimate criticism. Anti-Semitism is a manifest reality in criticism of Israel. No nation should be above criticism, including Israel. However, a substantial amount of criticism, directed at Israel, does indeed possess distinctly anti-Semitic overtones.
An insensitivity toward this issue may be a significant factor. Shehadeh strongly advocated for the USSR’s involvement in resolving the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict, at a time when the USSR had become an anti-Semitic state, which advocated world Jewish conspiracies and discriminated against Jews in an intense fashion, a fact that garnered headlines internationally during the 1980’s.

A tale of two peoples
Raja Shehadeh suggested in a recent interview that reconciliation is the truest way of finding peace:
“I have come to realize now that the political arrangement of two states is only part of the resolution of the conflict. Unless there is true reconciliation and acceptance by the one of the other the tension will continue to simmer and true peace will be thwarted.”
This is a worthy sentiment, the kind to which the international community should pay some heed. It is a shame however that Mr. Shehadeh does not appear to take his own advice seriously. Shehadeh noted:
“For years Israeli propaganda denied that such a people as the Palestinians existed. This battle has been won.”
It is true some commentators disputed the notion that the ‘Palestinians’ constituted a people in their own right. The Arabs of Palestine were known under Ottoman rule as “South Syrians”, who originally sought unification with a Greater Syria, during the British Mandate era. A desire, amongst Arab-Palestinians, for territorial independence, re-emerged after Israel’s territorial gains in the Six Day War. Israel accepted this demand in the 1970’s.
Shehadah wrote, in his book Strangers in the House:
“Rather than counting on peace as the best guarantee for its security, Israel continues to count exclusively on its military might refusing to recognize its Palestinian foe as a national group entitled, like all national groups, to self determination.”
Menachem Begin recognised the aspirations of Arab-Palestinian people in 1978 when he signed the Begin-Sadat Camp David Accords. The “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” include the granting of autonomy and self-governance. This declaration occurred despite a lack of any Arab-Palestinian group or faction offering the promise of recognition for Israel.
However, even if there had been no recognition forthcoming from the Israeli State, it would still constitute a deeply one-sided view of the matter. Recently, Abbas has restated his absolute refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently commented:
“[There] hasn’t been, since the dawn of Zionism, a leadership that is prepared to recognize our right to exist as a nationstate for the Jewish nation and to recognize an agreement as the end of the conflict and the end to demands.”
Shehadeh is clearly a man who loves to roam. A lot of his work is pre-occupied with this act. Of course, amongst the idyllic scenery is the dreaded Zionist, the ugly mark of “the occupation”, of which the Jewish Settler is the most malign presence clashing with nature itself, an entity seemingly filled with “greed, bitterness and spite”.
To take one account as an example, amongst all of Shehadeh’s walks, where he comes upon Byzantine tombs, Ottoman olive presses, Roman fortifications and the like, there is nothing of note from Jewish history, other than to complain about an exhibit of Herod’s possessions in Jerusalem. The exhibit took artefacts from a site of Herod’s in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). He fails however to mention that these artefacts are of course culturally Jewish, rather than Arab or “Palestinian”. Where does the Jew fit amongst Shehadeh’s landscape?
Unfortunately little is said of the desire of Arab-Palestinian society to re-write history. In 2011 Hamdan Taha, director of the PA’s Department of Antiquities, said their digs would assist in “rewriting the history of Palestine.” An inability to recognise the rights of an opponent is a root cause of conflict. This component is a sticking point in Arab-Palestinian society, which Shehadeh seems reluctant to address.
For Shehadeh to state, with regard to Israel’s understandable reluctance to accept a ‘right of return’, that:
“ lies in a profound unwillingness to accept the very existence of the Palestinians as a people… there was once a nation living in the territory where Israel was established.”
Such statements demonstrate sufficiently that Shehadeh is only interested in one perspective on the conflict. Even if we are to accept that the Arab-Palestinian populace is a distinctive people, rather than part of a broader culturally Syrian grouping, what of the much older race, which in regional terms is more culturally distinctive, and more closely tied to the history of the region? Apparently, it is now popular amongst anti-Israel campaigners to deny that Jewish people even have any genetic linkage to the region.

A Conclusion
Raja Shehadeh presents a moderate dovish image. For example, reciting Martin Luther King's “I Have A Dream” on the BBC, to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous speech, and his recent “Is there a language of peace?” lectures, delivered in international venues, such as the British Museum, for some apparent reason.
Dr. Joseph Lowin, author and Hebrew language specialist, suggested a disturbing side to Shehadeh’s narrative. Upon readingThe Third Way (1982):
“I was astonished to find there not a portrait of an idyllic past clashing with an unpleasant present reality but a blatant rehearsal of anti-Jewish canards that go so far as to find even the Hebrew language an oppressor of his people. When it comes to Shehadeh, people of good will can become fools.”
There is a notable trend, as with many other Arab-Palestinian activists, of failing to pay heed to the possibility that Mr. Shehadeh possesses politically extremist positions, and, as such, whether his work may have a corrosive influence on international narratives of the conflict. Mr. Shehadeh is of course entitled to forward any position he so desires, however extreme. Nonetheless, the moral legitimacy of political narratives should be analysed in a balanced discussion of all contentious topics. Unfortunately, when it comes to Arab-Palestinian matters, this almost never occurs in the present political climate.
At the aforementioned CEIRPP International NGO Meeting, at the United Nations in GenevaShehadeh stated:
“It is necessary… to launch a new intensive campaign to ensure that the Western European countries take sides.”
For Shehadeh, the Western European community wasn’t nearly pro-Palestinian enough. He advocated a leading role for the anti-Israel USSR. Thus, for Shehadeh, the international brokerage of a peace deal should be hostile to Israel. Moderation, the adoption of a balanced approach, would seem to be wrong.
With regard to Shehadeh’s slanted views on the issue, perhaps his efforts at legalistic campaigning in international forums, and later forays in literature, can be understood as having a similar intent. Rather than an attempt to advance understanding if the Arab-Israeli conflict, his work, despite his protestations to the contrary, can be understood as part of a broader effort for the people of the world to “take sides”.

Published at the New English Review.