The true zero sum: Terror v. democracy

BY

Dear Record

“If you have five Jews and kill three Jews, how many Jews do you have left?” One may think that this quote is derived from some Nazi-era literature. Actually this is a quote taken directly from a math book approved and published by the Palestinian Authority, taught by Palestinian teachers and recited by Palestinian students across the West Bank and Gaza.

Regrettably, the above example is merely the tip of a deeper problem — one that fundamentally threatens any peace deal in the Middle East. Nearly a decade after the signing of the Oslo accords, every significant political organization in the Palestinian Authority — from Fatah to Hamas — calls in its founding documents for the destruction of Israel and legitimizes violence targeted against Israeli civilians — terrorism.

Against the backdrop of legitimating calls of murder against Israelis and the liquidation of the Israeli state, it is not surprising that America’s leaders from Harry Truman to George W. Bush have given Israel strong military, economic and emotional support, and have been reluctant to meet with PA leaders. It is not that this country’s leaders have not understood the true tenets of democracy — a form of government that unfortunately does not exist today in Arab countries — or that they see Israeli-US relations as a zero-sum affair. America’s leaders support Israel because they have a strong grasp of the difference between polemic and historical truth. Perhaps they understand that it was the Arabs that rejected Security Council and General Assembly resolutions to partition the land and chose instead war. Perhaps they understand it was Arab blockades, troop mobilizations and cease-fire violations that caused the 1967 War. Perhaps they are aware that it was the Arab states that attacked Israel when the streets were deserted and Jews were fasting and worshipping on Yom Kippur in 1973. Perhaps America’s leaders understand that it was Arafat who rejected President Clinton’s peace proposal, and instead decided to pursue terrorism to achieve his political ends. After the tragedy of September 11, and later watching Palestinians celebrate in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank in pro-Bin Laden rallies, our country understands well the terror Israelis face on a daily basis.

The authors of ‘The illusory zero-sum of U.S.-Israeli relations’ [RECORD, November 8, 2001], Sam Foster Halabi and Wendy Pearlman, declare that historical perspectives play a crucial role in viewing the conflict. Unfortunately, the authors tried to dress up polemic as fact by presenting caricatured “Israeli” and “Palestinian” historical perspectives. Yet, few Israelis would recognize their perspective in the article’s caricature. Jews returning to Israel joined an already vibrant Jewish community in the Holy Land that had existed for more than three millennia. They knew that the Jewish community had remained a dominant segment of the population well into the 11th Century C.E., and that Jerusalem was a majority Jewish city even before the Zionists began their quest to revive the Jewish homeland.

It is peculiar to omit from the Israeli perspective — or indeed from any unbiased recount — the cold, harsh facts that Jews faced persecution at the hands of Arabs in the Holy Land well before the inception of Zionism, including pogroms in Jerusalem during the 1840’s. How can one overlook the Arab massacre of the Jewish community of Hebron in 1929, the Arab revolt of 1936-39, or the hundreds of Jews massacred by Arabs living in what was known as Palestine during the time of the Holocaust? Does the Israeli perspective not include the uncomfortable reality that Haj Amin al Husseini, the leader of the Arabs of Palestine from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, was a Nazi collaborator who lobbied Hitler for the murder of Jews?

Mr. Halabi and Ms. Pearlman also give an inaccurate analysis of Jewish “settlements.” There are over one million Arab citizens of Israel today, living under Israeli control. Are these illegitimate settlers as well? Of course not; they are people who happened to be living in Israel, most of whom have historical connections to their homes and homeland. And how did it come to be that there were no Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza from 1949-1967? First, Jews were terrorized and killed in those areas during riots in 1929. Then, under pressure from Arab riots in 1936-1939, Britain barred all land sales to Jews in those areas after 1939. Invading Arab troops in 1948-1949 massacred and expelled all remaining Jews. Finally, during the Jordanian and Egyptian rule of 1949-1967 (as during Ottoman rule until 1917, and Palestinian Authority rule today), land sales to Jews were punishable by death. Does this make the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Gaza less legitimate than that of Arabs inside Israel? Of course not.

Just as Mr. Halabi and Ms. Pearlman conveniently left out these crucial facts, one can argue that their Palestinian perspective, too, is askew. For example, it is a fact that during the period of Zionism, the Arab population of Palestine experienced unprecedented growth, fed in part by massive Arab immigration in the background of Turkish efforts to “Islamicize” the Holy Land. Moreover, many scholars believe that (as Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi writes), Palestinian national identity is a relatively recent phenomenon. These beliefs may or may not be part of an “official” Palestinian perspective; nonetheless, they illustrate the dangerous analytic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Mr. Halabi and Ms. Perelman wish to embark on.

To attempt to characterize Jewish and Palestinian perspectives to give one side historical legitimacy over the other and suggest a policy response on this basis only serves to increase the flames of hate and mistrust on both sides. Instead, we have a responsibility to focus on solutions to the problem. Let us discuss how and why we should force reforms within, or possibly replace, a Palestinian Authority that is both corrupt and cruel to its people, as Mr. Halabi and Ms. Pearlman admit. Let us think about how we can assure, when the terror actually does stop, true Palestinian autonomy and self-determination that is compatible with Jewish autonomy and self-determination. Palestinians and Israelis are spilling their blood everyday; they need solutions for peace not more ammunition for war.

David Peyman

Dear Record

Davis Wang’s preposterous and macaronic restaurant review (“He Said, He Said, He Said: Betty’s Wok & Noodle Diner,” Nov. 15, 2001) — if it indeed can be called a restaurant review and not epistolary masturbation — contains two unpalatable misstatements. The first is that The Harvard Crimson is “the college equivalent” of The Harvard Law RECORD. Founded in 1873, and to this day Cambridge, Massachusetts’s only daily newspaper, The Harvard Crimson is facile princeps among all student publications. The fact that Mr. Wang never achieved standing at The Crimson (despite his best efforts) should not entitle him to seek vicarious glory in its invocation.The second is that I had the indescribable pleasure of growing up with Keanu Reeves and have nothing but prostrate reverence for his acting and other abilities. Mr. Wang should pour his bitter sauce over someone else. His ill-flavored acrimony might in fact lend a certain haut-gout to his own immedicable lusting for waitstaff. What it must be like to slurp wet noodles in the lonely recesses of Betty’s, I shall never know.

Patrick S. Chung

Dear RECORD

I’m writing regarding last week’s “He said, he said, he said” review. I was all excited when I heard that Andrew, Davis and Dave were going to go to Moby Dick, a great little Persian restaurant on Huntington Avenue. Well, it turned out that they “took one quick look inside and beat a hasty retreat” to some other place. Moby Dick of Boston does not deserve this sort of treatment! For the record, Moby Dick is a really excellent fast-food Persian place! I’ve had Persian food all over the country, and whil
e Moby Dick is no Javan (Los Angeles) or Maykadeh (San Francisco), it’s a great place to get cheap, huge portions of yummy kabobs and sandwiches. Their prices are more than reasonable, and unlike Lala Rokh, the upscale yuppified Boston version of Persian food on Beacon Hill, Moby Dick’s food is simple and authentic. For example, when you order chicken kabab at Lala Rokh (about $20 after proving that you really do have a reservation and your entire party is present), you get four little chunks of chicken, a small mound of rice and half a tomato. although the food at Lala Rokh is tasty and the atmosphere is romantic, that’s NOT what Persian food and culture is all about! Real Persian food is about huge portions and casual, home-style hospitality.When you order chicken kabab at Moby Dick ($10 after you order up front, Aces-style, and the food is brought to you by the owners themselves), you get more rice than you could possibly eat in one sitting, a huge skewer of chicken that lines your entire plate, lots of tomatoes, fresh pita bread and a side of cucumber yogurt.Oh, yeah, a word about grilled tomatoes. When you ask for extra tomatoes at Lala Rokh — real Persians mush them up in the rice and eat them with kabob — they look at you like you’re crazy (none of the waitstaff are Persian) and return awkwardly holding half a tomato on a decorative bread plate; at Moby Dick, the cook/owner comes out with an entire skewer right off the grill, stands at your table, smiles and asks you how many tomatoes youwould like. That’s the kind of Persian hospitality you’ll find at Moby Dick. It’s not fancy, it’s not upscale, but it’s good.

Giselle Fahimian

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