Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Denial – a river in “Palestine”

Jul 27, 2021 | Tzvi Fleischer

Clinton and Arafat at Camp David, 2000 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Clinton and Arafat at Camp David, 2000 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On the ninth day of the July 2000 Camp David Summit between Israel and the Palestinians, hosted by then US President Bill Clinton, PLO head Yasser Arafat did something that appalled his American hosts. He invoked what veteran US mediator Dennis Ross called an “outrageous new mythology” – denying that a Jewish temple had even existed in Jerusalem, suggesting it had been in Nablus instead. Ross said Arafat “was challenging the core of Jewish faith and seeking to deny Israel any claim in the old city” of Jerusalem. 

President Clinton was reportedly “stunned” by Arafat’s claim.

Yet since then, other senior Palestinian leaders and negotiators have similarly denied that a Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem – including Saeb Erekat, Nabil Sha’ath, Yasser Abed Rabbo and even current Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. 

Palestinian denials of established history continue today. In late June, the PA sponsored a conference at Al-Quds Open University titled “The myth: Zionism between denunciation and dismantling”, held under the patronage of President Abbas. PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh attended, as did numerous other leaders of the ruling Fatah party. 

The conference featured several papers insisting all claims of Jewish ties to the region and to Jerusalem are lies. 

Moreover, at the conference, both Abbas and Shtayyeh expressed the fundamental belief that underlies the ongoing Palestinian denial of any Jewish history in the area – a central plank of Palestinian nationalism that insists that Israel is really a foreign-imposed “settler-colonialist” entity placed in the region by imperialist powers for nefarious purposes.

In his keynote speech, delivered on video, Abbas said:

“I salute the efforts made to hold this conference that refutes the Zionist narrative that falsifies truth and history… They planned, executed and financed the implantation of Israel as a foreign body in this region in order to break it up and keep it weak. The colonial powers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries organised the immigration of Jews to Palestine… this conference will have an important impact on clarifying and explaining the truth of the myths and false narratives of this Zionist project, which was created by the countries of the West for purely colonial purposes.”

Shtayyeh said similar things. He emphasised repeatedly that Israel is “a function rather than a state,” presumably meaning it was merely a tool to serve the purposes of colonial powers. Among those he accused of conspiring to impose this “function” on the area were Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon Bonaparte, “Balfour”, and an unnamed “American consul in Jerusalem.”

In a unique twist, Shtayyeh also insisted “the Jews of today are the Khazar Jews who were Judaised in the sixth century” – invoking an antisemitic myth about the eastern European Khazar kingdom, long disproven by genetic data, which is intended to deny Jews any link to the Middle East.

These claims came from the supposed Palestinian moderates of the PA, not the open antisemites of Hamas. 

Needless to say, this sort of zero-sum mythologising effectively renders peace impossible. If your enemy’s very existence is simply a lying plot to harm you – as both Abbas and Shtayyeh basically claimed – how is any coexistence possible?

At Camp David, Arafat’s shocking denial about the Jewish temple helped convince American mediators he was not serious about making a final peace. The continuation of similar Palestinian denial from even supposed moderates should convince everyone what the main obstacles really are that have prevented a two-state peace being reached in the years since then. 


War, Law and Truth

In the June edition of this column, I quoted the former head of the US Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Richard Natonski, and former US military lawyer David French. Both said that not only is it untrue that Israel’s actions during the conflict with Hamas in May violated the laws of war, as many had claimed, but that Israel’s efforts to minimise civilian casualties often went “beyond the requirements of the law of war” – in Natonski’s words. 

Now this view has been supported by one of the world’s foremost scholars on international humanitarian law and the use of force. 

Professor Michael Schmitt is the G. Norman Lieber Distinguished Scholar at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and also has affiliations with Harvard Law School, the University of Texas, University of Reading, and other universities. 

He has written a paper on Israel’s strike during the conflict on the Al Jalaa Tower, which housed Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices. Israel alleged that Hamas located an intelligence office within the building that, among other functions, was being used in efforts to jam Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

Schmitt concludes the strike was legal, despite the media offices in the building, arguing, “if the Israeli reports of Hamas using the building are accurate, the entire building constituted a single military objective, damage to which did not have to factor into the IDF’s proportionality calculation.”

More than this, he says the warning Israel gave to evacuate the building before striking “appears to have exceeded that required by the law of armed conflict.”

In an earlier article, Schmitt had reviewed IDF policies on the use of force generally, and similarly concluded, “in many cases, the IDF imposes policy restrictions that go above and beyond the requirements of LOAC [Law of Armed Conflict].”

War is horrible, and sympathy for both Palestinian and Israeli civilian victims of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel is not only understandable, but essential. 

But the analysis of genuine experts like Schmitt makes it clear that efforts to turn that sympathy into claims Israel must somehow have been acting illegally are either slanderous, grossly ignorant or both. 


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