Alan Dershowitz has been referred to as “America’s most public Jewish defender” and “Israel’s single most visible defender—the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.” He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He graduated from Brooklyn College and then attended Yale Law School. He has published more than 1000 articles in magazines, newspapers, journals and blogs such as The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, Huffington Post, Newsmax, Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. He is the author of 30 fiction and non-fiction works including “The Case for Israel” and “The Case for Peace.”
If you ask amongst all the displaced people in the world, who deserves a state, the Palestinians would not make it very high. The Kurds would rank much higher, as would the Tibetans. The Palestinians turned down a two-state solution in 1938, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2001 and 2008. If you are asking if I think the Palestinians deserve a state? Yes. But, they are not on a high level of deserving. Do the Israelis deserve for the Palestinians to have a state? The answer to that is yes. It would benefit Israel tremendously to end the occupation. The precise borders would, of course, have to be negotiated, but there is already in existence an agreed-upon international formula for resolving this divisive issue. Resolution 242, enacted by the UN Security Council in 1967, provides as follows: [The Security Council] (1) Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both of the following principles: (i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent  conflict: (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force. The “legislative history” of that important resolution provides guidance on how the borders should be determined. Soon after the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, the Soviet Union agreed to rearm Egypt. Egypt, in turn, embarked on an intermittent war of attrition against Israel. As Egyptian attacks escalated in frequency and severity, America’s ambassador to the UN, former Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg (for whom I had, three years earlier, served as a law clerk and with whom I continued to consult on legal matters at the UN), drafted language that he hoped would frame subsequent peace negotiations. The United States found a willing cosponsor in Great Britain and negotiated language that eventually was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Security Council. Notably, the Security Council recognized that it could not reasonably ask Israel to return to the old armistice borders—agreed to as part of the end of the War of Independence in 1949—from which it had been threatened just months earlier. Resolution 242 demands Israel withdrawal only from “territories,” and not “the territories” or “all the territories.” This is no legal technicality; the definite article was omitted quite intentionally, and after extensive discussion, so that Israel would be free to negotiate reasonable and mutually-secure borders with the defeated states that had threatened it. The Soviet Union had insisted that the resolution demand the return of “all” or at least “the” captured territories, but that view was rejected.
This legislative history clearly establishes that the pre-1967 “green lines”—the borders that contributed to the 1967 war—are not the “secure and recognized boundaries” contemplated by Resolution 242. Nor would major additions to the Israeli territory be consistent with the resolution. Relatively small adjustments, designed to assure mutual security would, however, be acceptable. The Clinton-Barak proposals would have allocated to Israel small areas crucial to its security and made small adjustments to the Green Line amounting to less than five percent of the West Bank. In return, Israel offered to cede to Palestine certain areas inside Israel, adjacent to the West Bank. It has been suggested that the exchange should also focus on Israeli land now populated by Israeli Arabs, who may want to become part of the new Palestinian state. That would seem a logical exchange—Israeli land populated by Palestinians becomes part of the Palestinian state, while Palestinian land (or, more accurately, disputed land) populated by Israelis remains part of Israel. Logic, however, is subordinate to democracy and Israel is a democracy in which Arab citizens have the same rights as Jewish and Christian citizens. Arab-Israeli citizens and their land could not lawfully be “traded” to the Palestinian state without the consent of these citizens, perhaps by a local referendum that supported such an exchange. At the moment, the vast majority of Israeli Arabs want to remain part of Israel.
The precise borders of a Palestinian State should be decided by a combination of factors. First and foremost, must be Israel’s security needs. After all, it was Israel that was threatened with annihilation in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Israel poses no threat to its neighbors if it is not attacked. Fortunately, Israel’s reasonable security needs can now be met without significant effect on Palestinian population centers. In addition to these minor security changes, there will have to be some border adjustments that recognize the new residential realities on the ground with Israel maintaining major settlement blocks (Gilo, Ma’ale Adumim) in exchange for land.
International law is that law which is equally applicable to all countries. If it is not equally applicable to all countries, it is not law. The Chinese judge who was the chief judge in the International Court in The Hague could apply the same rules he applied to Israel to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Chinese building of walls in Tibet, and the Chinese settlements in Tibet. But the fact is, the Chief Justice of the Hague would never apply that rule to China, only to Israel. Therefore, it is not law; it is power and politics. Also, the law maker/definer has to be an institution which is equally open to all countries. For example, the fact that Israel cannot serve on the International Court in The Hague would disqualify this court from administering justice in the same way that a Mississippi court in the 1920’s could not administer justice fairly to blacks as well as to whites, because blacks could not serve on the court and rules it applied to blacks did not apply to whites.
That being said, since 1973 I have been opposed to Israel settling civilians in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). I understand the importance of that land to the Jewish heritage, but people are more important than land, and peace is more important than property. Israel made a terrible mistake pushing its settlement policies in the West Bank. I think immediately following the Six-Day War they should have followed the Alon Plan—simply annexing areas of captured territory that were essential to their defense. States have done that traditionally. Perhaps they could have built a ring of settlements in those areas, but not occupied people, and not created settlements that displaced people. I have a view that almost nobody agrees with: I am against the settlements—although I believe they are there and not going to move, and the solution to the problem is to keep these settlements and create land exchanges—but I am not opposed to its military occupation. For example: In Gaza, I think Israel made a mistake. They should have evacuated settlements but maintained a military presence. I think it is true in the West Bank as well. I draw a distinction between a military occupation under international law, which is permissible until and unless belligerency ends. And certainly Gaza and Lebanon showed that belligerency didn’t end.
In 1947, the UN partitioned the British Mandate into two potential states–one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Jewish leaders accepted, and the Palestinians rejected. When Israel declared statehood in 1948, all the surrounding Arab nations and Palestinian leadership attacked the nation state of the Jewish people, killing one percent of its population. It left Egypt to occupy Gaza, and Jordan to occupy the West Bank. Between 1948 and 1967, the Palestinian leadership engaged in massive acts of terrorism against the Jewish population of Israel. This is before there was any occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Between 1951 and 1955, nearly a thousand Israeli civilians were killed by Fedayeen in cross-border attacks. The Israeli occupation resulted from the ’67 war which Egypt began by closing the Straits of Tiran in violation of international law and amassing its army on the Sinai peninsula. Israel destroyed Egypt’s air force and tried desperately to keep Jordan out of the war. When Jordan attacked, Israel responded and legitimately occupied the West Bank. In 1967 Israel accepted UNSCR 242 calling for exchange of land for peace. Palestinian leadership and all the Arab countries met in Khartoum and issued their 3 famous No’s: “No peace, no negotiation, no recognition.” Since that time Israel has offered the Palestinians a return of the captured land in exchange for peace on at least three occasions. The Palestinian leadership has refused to accept these offers, even when Israel unilaterally ended its occupation and its civilian settlements in all of the Gaza strip (hoping Gaza would become the “Singapore of the Mediterranean”), Hamas used the end of the occupation as an opportunity to fire thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets. Israel responded, as any democracy would, and in the process civilians were killed—largely because Hamas had adopted a tactic of firing its rockets and building its terror tunnels from within densely populated civilian areas. Most recently individual Palestinians have been incited to kill Jewish Israelis by using knives, and Israel has responded to terrorism with checkpoints, with a security barrier, house demolitions, administrative detention, and other compromises with civil liberties (some of which I disagree with) that are typical of democracies seeking to strike a balance between preserving the rule of law and protecting its civilians from terrorism. There should be no unilateral withdrawal and there shouldn’t be an end to the military occupation until there is peace. There should remain a significant presence in the Jordan valley.
The Arab-Israeli conflict should end with a two-state solution under which all the Arab and Muslim states—indeed the entire world—acknowledge Israel’s right to continue to exist as an independent, democratic, Jewish state with secure and defensible boundaries and free of terrorism. In exchange, Israel should recognize the right of Palestinians to establish an independent, democratic Palestinian state with political and economically viable boundaries. For these mutually compatible goals to be achieved, extremists on both sides must give up what they each claim are their God-given or nationalistic rights.
Those who favor peace must develop a strategy for responding to terrorist attacks that are designed to thwart the peace process. The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority should discuss the likely scenarios—small terrorist’s attacks, large attacks with multiple victims, Palestinian attacks, Hezbollah attacks, and so on. Agreed-upon general parameters should be negotiated, so that there are no real surprises—or excuses. Having said that, it must be added that since all possibilities can never be anticipated, there will necessarily have to be some improvisation and even some surprises. But cooperation is essential, even if it only minimized the inevitable conflicts.
The United States could work together with Israeli intelligence to send a powerful message to potential terrorists that they will not be allowed to derail the peace process, that any terrorist act will be answered by an international or multinational response, and that they will not be able to drag Israel into participating in a “cycle of violence” destructive of peace. Thomas Friedman has suggested stationing a US-led NATO force in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in order to secure Israel’s borders. Martin Indyk, President Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and Middle East adviser called for a NATO “trusteeship” in the occupied territories that would ensure both military and political stability in an emerging Palestinian state. NATO would seize control of the occupied territories from the PA and hold them “in trust of the Palestinian people.” NATO would oversee the building of democratic institutions, help draft a constitution, create an independent judiciary, and install the mechanism for free elections. NATO would enable withdrawal by Israeli forces from the territories by deploying special counterterrorism forces. “These [forces] would not be peacekeepers or monitors; rather, they would be tasked with maintaining order, suppressing terrorism, and restructuring and retraining the Palestinian security services.” Palestinians would “try to portray it as part of a Western, imperialist occupation,” while “Israelis would be concerned that the international force would not have the IDF’s motivation to confront the terrorists, and would be deeply frustrated when the IDF were not permitted to engage in hot pursuit of terrorists on trusteeship territory.” Also, Israelis would fear that the American people would blame Israel for American casualties, and that U.S. support for Israel would wane. Also, it would breach a fundamental tenet of Israel’s national security doctrine that requires Israel to defend its own citizens by itself.
These proposals all have serious potential downsides and risks. But they all reflect the concern that if only Israel responds to the entirely predictable terrorist “veto,” it will indeed become an effective veto, because Israel’s response will be blamed for generating a “cycle of violence” that is incompatible with a peace process. If it becomes clear that any such cycle will be broken by the firm responses of others—and with the approval of the international community—this may serve as a disincentive to even trying to invoke the terrorist veto.
Once a permanent border is agreed on, the issue of a security fence diminishes in importance, because any such fence (like the existing Gaza fence) would be on the border, not inside Palestinian territory. To the extent that the Palestinian government could control violence from within its borders, the fence would become unnecessary, and eventually the borders could reopen without the need for security checkpoints. But until that time, the border fence would help make good neighbors by reducing both terrorism by extremists and retaliation by the Israeli military.
Anyone who has visited the “holy land” understands that there is a Jewish Jerusalem and there is a Palestinian Jerusalem. Israel should control Jewish Jerusalem and the Palestinians should control Arab Jerusalem. That is easy to articulate in principle, but difficult to implement in practice.
The division of Jerusalem is difficult to implement because the demographic map is not easily turned into a political map. It is also difficult because some of the most powerful religious symbols are literally on top of each other—the Al-Aqsa mosque sits atop the traditional location of Solomon’s Temple—and because other religious sites are in close proximity to one another.
Any such resolution should place primary emphasis on democratic principles—Israel should govern Jewish areas, while Palestine should govern Muslim and Arab areas. It should acknowledge the symbolic religious claims of all sides. The Western Wall (broadly defined) must remain under Israeli control so as to permit full, safe, and uncontested access to that place of prayer. The Al-Haram area—which includes the Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock mosques but also overlooks the Western Wall and includes the Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews—will require a more sophisticated and layered approach. The mosques themselves should be under Islamic control and Palestinian sovereignty, but the Mount should be divided or shared. The surface of the mount, on which the mosques stand, should be largely under the sovereignty and control of the Palestinians and Muslims, but with an area set aside for Jews who want to pray on the Temple Mount, and another security area from which to protect Jews praying below at the Western Wall. The “inside” of the Temple Mount, which is the traditional location of Solomon’s Temple, should be under Israeli sovereignty, but that would be largely symbolic, since no one can get “inside” the Mount without excavating. All excavation should be subject to approval by some international excavation commission composed of recognized experts with no political agendas.
The rest of the “Old City” of Jerusalem is relatively easy to divide, since it is already divided into the Jewish, Armenian, Muslim, and Christian quarters. Israel should retain nominal sovereignty over all but the Muslim Quarter, but it should cede control over the Christian Quarter to Christian religious authorities. The Muslim Quarter should be under Palestinian or Islamic Authority.
Many technical issues remain, but creative legal, political, and religious formulae are available to help resolve them, if there is a good-faith effort to achieve a just result. Jerusalem, instead of being a barrier to peace, can become a city of peace, in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians live in harmony.
Yasser Arafat’s constant refusal to acknowledge any Jewish religious or historic claim to Jerusalem in general, or the Temple area in particular, proved to be a major barrier to peace during the Camp David process. President Bill Clinton told me that after listening repeatedly to Arafat’s “archaeological evidence” that Solomon’s Temple was not even in Jerusalem and that Jerusalem was never a holy city to the Jews, he finally told him that he didn’t want to hear any more about that nonstarter. Jews believe that Jerusalem and the Temple with its Western Wall are at the center of Jewish history (archaeological excavations confirm this, despite Arafat’s revisionism.) Any attempt to base negotiations on a rejection of this belief is not only doomed to failure but, as President Clinton realized, it is also calculated to produce stalemate—which is what Arafat wanted.
There are some Jews and Christians who similarly seek to denigrate Islamic claims to Jerusalem, arguing that it has become Islam’s “third holiest city” only recently, as part of the political campaign on behalf of Palestinians. The conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby said, “From 1948-1967, when East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were under Muslim rule, they were ignored by the Arab world: No foreign Arab leader ever paid a visit, not even to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinians place so low a priority on Jerusalem that the PLO’s founding charter, the Palestinian National Covenant of 1964, makes no reference to it. Only when the Jews returned after the Six Day War did the Arabs grow passionate about Jerusalem. Nowhere in the Koran is there anything like the 137th psalm with its aching love for Jerusalem. Indeed, nowhere in the Koran is Jerusalem even mentioned. For it is Mecca, not Jerusalem, to which Muslims turn in prayer. Not for all the world would Muslims agree to divide Mecca—least of all with their enemies. To demand that the Jews sacrifice part of their eternal city is no less outrageous, and should be just as unthinkable.”
These and other historical arguments (such as those disputing the claim that Mohammed ascended to heaven) too are nonstarters. Muslims hold these beliefs and they should be respected.
Despite all these, and other difficulties, the negotiators at Camp David came very close to a compromise resolution that can still serve as a guide to future negotiations over Jerusalem. At the start of these permanent status talks, held at Camp David in July 2000, President Clinton set out his framework for dealing with Jerusalem in a memo to both parties: On Jerusalem, we took a more conceptual tack. Jerusalem would be described as being three cities in one. It was a practical city that had to be governed and managed on a day-to-day basis; it was a holy city, holy to the world, holy to the three monotheistic religions, home to more than 57 holy sites in the Old City alone; and it was a political city.
The proposed division included four main points: 1. Jewish areas outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries would be annexed to the city, including population centers such as Givat Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion. 2. Arab areas outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries would become the heart of the new Arab city of Al-Quds, including regions such as Abu Dis, al-Azaria, Beit Jala, Anata and al-Ram. 3. Arab neighborhoods inside Jerusalem’s present boundaries would either be annexed to Al-Quds or would be granted extensive self-rule. Though some of these areas would remain formally under Israeli sovereignty, in practice Israel would have little authority over them. 4. Jerusalem’s ancient, walled Old City would be divided, with the Muslim and Christian quarters offered autonomy under formal Israeli sovereignty, while the Jewish and Armenian quarters remained fully under Israeli rule. The Palestinian state would gain religious autonomy over the Temple Mount, though Israel proposed that an area be set aside for Jewish prayer on the site.
The Temple Mount was a principal point of contention with Arafat. His insistence throughout negotiations that “Solomon’s Temple was not in Jerusalem, but in Nablus” was, as Dennis Ross described these remarks, “challenging the core of Jewish faith, and seeking to deny Israel any claim to the Old City.”
The December 23 Clinton Parameters, which Israel accepted and the Palestinians rejected, suggested that “the most promising approach is to follow the general principle that what is Arab in the city should be Palestinian and what is Jewish should be Israeli; this would apply to the Old City as well. “On Jerusalem,” according to Ross, “…Israelis would have to accept Palestinian sovereignty in the Arab neighborhoods outside the Old City, meaning the inner municipal neighborhoods. This went beyond Camp David.”
President Clinton ended up recommending two approaches to dealing with the Temple Mount, both involving international monitoring systems. The first granted Palestine sovereignty over the Mount’s surface, with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall and surrounding holy Jewish sites, along with a commitment by both parties not to excavate beneath or behind their own areas. The second suggested that the two sides agree to the same division of sovereignty with a “shared functional sovereignty over the issue of excavation under the Haram or behind the Western Wall.” Under this joint regime, “mutual consent” would be necessary for any excavations.
Even the Saudis, who regard themselves as the guardians of Islam, were prepared to sign off on the division of Jerusalem proposal by President Clinton. It was Arafat’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to continue to exist as a democratic Jewish state with a Jewish majority that led him to reject the Clinton-Barak proposals. He would not give up the “right” of Palestinians to destroy Israel demographically by “returning” millions of Arab “refugees” to their “homes” in Haifa, Jaffa, and Lydda.
But pragmatic division is possible if there is a real desire for peace on all sides. Peace will require that with regard to Jerusalem, as with other divisive issues that have symbolic significance, the spirit of compromise must trump ideological absolutism. Compromise should include sensitive recognition by all sides of the symbolic importance of certain areas, structures, and histories.
In 1947, the UN partitioned the British Mandate into two potential states—one for Jews and one for the Arab people. The Jewish leaders accepted, and the Palestinians rejected. When Israel declared statehood in 1948, all the surrounding Arab nations and Palestinian leadership attacked the nation state of the Jewish people, killing one percent of its population. The results of this attack were two refugee problems. Approximately 700,000 Arabs became refugees, and a similar number of Jews had to leave Muslim countries in which they had lived for thousands of years. If the Palestinians had accepted the 1948 UN resolution, there wouldn’t be a single refugee. At about the same time, tens of millions of other refugees were displaced from locations in which they and their ancestors had lived for decades, sometimes centuries—certainly more than the two years required for being considered a Palestinian Refugee (See UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee). For example, the Sudeten Germans, who were moved en masse out of the borderlands of Czechoslovakia, had lived there for hundreds of years. The Jews of Europe—what remained of them after the Holocaust—had lived in Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Soviet Union for hundreds of years. The Cypriots, and many others have similar claims, but in every other situation, the refugees have moved on. There is in life a statute of limitation. We are at almost 70 years beyond 1948–get over it, move on, build yourself a state. Don’t live in the past. Don’t live in the refugee camps. The Jews who survived the holocaust got over it. They don’t walk around with keys to their homes in Poland, Lithuania, and Yemen. They live in the present and in the future. It is time for Palestinians to do the same. Although, I understand it has not entirely been their fault as Arab nations have used them as political pawns.
The unwillingness of the PA to recognize Israel as the legitimate nation state of the Jewish people, and to recognize that in 1948 and 1967 there were exchanges of populations that are permanent, is the major barrier to peace. There will be no right of return. It is one of the phoniest rights claimed under international law. It is just like the vast majority of Israelis won’t return to Egypt, to Iraq, to Iran and to North Africa. However, there should be a symbolic recognition of the rights of Palestinian Refugees and a reasonable number of Palestinians allowed to return to Israel.
While the goal of the Arab leadership was not only to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in any part of Palestine, but to transfer the Jews of Palestine out of their historic homeland and make all of Palestine empty of Jews, Jewish leaders were willing to make painful compromises as long as they could have a Jewish homeland in those areas of Palestine in which they were a majority. There were, of course, Jews who wanted to control all of Palestine—or at least the 20% that was left after TransJordan was partitioned from what was originally Palestine into an exclusively Arab state. But compromise was always seen as a pragmatic necessity by the mainstream Zionists and their leadership. The reality of a Jewish homeland with a Jewish majority population was far more important than the size of that homeland. Indeed, self-determination was realistic only in those parts of Palestine that were already Jewish by demographics and by the presence of Jewish institutions on the ground. The Jewish refugees from Europe, together with the Sephardic Jews and their descendants, were creating a Jewish home only in certain areas of Palestine, making territorial compromise inevitable and leaving room for another Palestinian state on the west bank of the Jordan.
Those who absurdly claim that the Jewish refugees who immigrated to Palestine in the last decades of the nineteenth century were the “tools” of European imperialism must answer the following question: For whom were these socialists and idealists working? Were they planting the flag of the hated czar of Russia or the anti-Semitic regimes of Poland or Lithuania? These refugees wanted nothing to do with the countries from which they fled to avoid pogroms and religious discrimination. They came to Palestine without any of the weapons of imperialism. They brought with them few guns or other means of conquest. Their tools were rakes and hoes. The land they cultivated was not taken away from its rightful owners by force or confiscated by colonial law. It was purchased, primarily from absentee landlords and real estate speculators, at fair or often exorbitant prices.
As Martin Buber, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, observed in 1939: “Our settlers do not come here as do the colonists from the Occident, to have natives do their work for them; they themselves set their shoulders to the plow and they spend their strength and their blood to make the land fruitful.” Nor was the land they sought to cultivate rich in natural resources such as oil or gold, or strategically positioned as a trade route. It was a materially worthless piece of real estate in a backwater of the whole whose significance to Jews was religious, historical, and familial.
Clearly these Jewish workers were not your typical imperialists. They were the refugees from oppressive regimes who were seeking to begin new lives in a place their ancestors had long ago settled and from which most but not all of them had eventually been driven. Moreover, as the British historian Paul Johnson has documented, the colonial powers did everything possible to thwart the establishment of a Jewish homeland: “Everywhere in the West, the foreign offices, defense ministries and big business were against the Zionists.” The Jewish refugees who came to live in Palestine had to overcome Turkish, British, and Pan-Arab imperialism in order to achieve self-determination.
The Palestine to which the European Jews of the First Aliyah immigrated was vastly underpopulated, and the land onto which the Jews moved was, in fact, bought primarily from absentee landlords and real estate speculators.
In addition to Palestine being an appropriate place for Jewish refugees because of its close connection to their history and ideology, it was also seen as appropriate because of the demographics of the land to which they were moving, or, in their word, returning.
As a geographic entity, Palestine had uncertain and ever-shifting boundaries. Palestine was not a political entity in any meaningful sense. Under Ottoman rule, which prevailed between 1516 and 1918, Palestine was divided into several districts, called sanjaks. These sanjaks were part of administrative units called vilayets. The largest portion of Palestine was part of the vilayet of Syria and was governed from Damascus by a pasha, thus explaining why Palestine was commonly referred to as southern Syria. Following a ten-year occupation by Egypt in the 1830s, Palestine was divided into the vilayet of Beirut, which covered Lebanon and the northern part of Palestine (down to what is now Tel Aviv); and the independent sanjak of Jerusalem, which covered roughly from Jaffa to Jerusalem and south to Gaza and Be’er Sheva. It is thus unclear what it would mean to say that Palestinians were the people who originally populated the “nation” of Palestine.
Furthermore, absentee landowners owned much of the land that was eventually partitioned into Israel. According to land purchase records, many lived in Beirut or Damascus, and some were tax collectors and merchants living elsewhere. These landlords were real estate speculators from foreign countries who had no connection to the land and who often exploited the local workers or fellahin. Like refugees in other countries, the Jewish refugees in Palestine bought land, much of it nonarable. Palestinian propagandists have wildly exaggerated the number of Arab families actually displaced by Jewish land purchases. Benny Morris is an Israeli historian whose writings have been criticized by some for their “one-sidedness…against Israel,” and he is frequently cited by Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and other critics of Israel as among the “new historians” who do not present the “Zionist line.” Said has characterized Morris, and other “revisionist historians,” as having “a genuine will to understand the past;” and what they say about it is “without a desire to lie or conceal the past”—high praise indeed for one so harshly critical of Zionism. Morris has been praised by the New York Times Book Review for having written “the most sophisticated and nuanced account of the Zionist-Arab conflict.” He summarizes the historical record as follows: “Historians have concluded that only ‘several thousand’ families were displaced following land sales to Jews between the 1880s and late 1930s.” This is a fraction of the number of people displaced by the Egyptian construction of the Aswan Dam, the Iraqi displacement of the Marsh Arabs, and other forced movements by Arab governments of fellow Arabs.
The BDS movement, directed solely at Israel (the only nation state of the Jewish people) is immoral, illegal, undercuts the two-state solution, makes a compromised peace less likely, and is bad for Palestinians. This is why Mahmoud Abbas and almost every leader in the world is opposed to it. I am not always opposed to all forms of economic pressure, but I am opposed to all academic and cultural boycotts. What I strongly oppose is the double standard under which Israel is singled out by the BDS movement today. What is the BDS movement? Who supports it? Who opposes it? What’s its impact on the peace process? First and foremost, the BDS movement is against the two-state solution. Listen to its founder, Omar Barghouti, talk about the two-state solution: “Good riddance, the two-state solution is finally dead, someone has to issue the official death certificate, we can all move on…. Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” Even Norman Finkelstein (certainly not a friend of Israel’s policies) opposes BDS because there is a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel, and that segment includes its leaders. My major reason for opposing BDS is that BDS is directed only against Israel. Not against the PA which has repeatedly refused to accept Israel’s reasonable offers to end the occupation. Nor is it directed at the dozens of other nations which are tyrannical and have genocidal policies and actions. What about other countries that are enforcing military occupations with far less justification than Israel is. Russia, Turkey, China, Indonesia, Armenia, Azerbaijan—all continue to occupy territories that lawfully belong to their neighbors. Where is the boycott movement, the official BDS movement against these oppressors?
There is no such thing as the BDS movement. If there were, if it sought to boycott, divest, and sanction generally, and if it sought to apply this death penalty economics to all countries across the board, then it would be a movement. And, that movement would have to apply the major rule of human rights: You go after the worst offenders first and those countries where there is no opportunity for the victims to seek relief within the country—through a judiciary, through the media, legislation, plebiscite, or elections. If there was a generalized BDS, Israel would be 196th on the list if you applied going after the worst first and for those with no recourse within system… But what is BDS? It is part of a more generalized effort to destroy Israel. People who founded it didn’t say let’s have a tactic and apply it, they said (admitted it), our goal is Palestine will be free from the river to sea. The goal is to destroy Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. What tactics can we employ to achieve this end? They said, “wow, BDS, let’s apply it only against Israel.” I hear the response, “it’s not an excuse, just because other countries are worse, doesn’t mean Israel isn’t really bad.” Reminds me of when President Lowell (President of Harvard in early 20th century) said we have to put quotas on Jews because there are too many. Judge Learned Hand wrote to Lowell and said, “Why are you doing this?” Lowell said, “Because Jews cheat.” Learned responded, “but non-Jews cheat too.” Lowell then said, “Judge you are changing the subject, we are only talking about Jews right now.” You can’t only talk about Jews and you can’t only talk about the nation state of the Jewish people. You have to have a single standard, and to refuse to apply a single standard is to refuse to apply human rights. Human rights must be general and apply across the board, and that’s the basic flaw in what you call the BDS movement.
I ask anyone to name one country in the world faced with threats comparable to those faced by Israel that has had a better record of human rights, a higher regard for the rule of law, and more concern for the lives of enemy civilians.
Yes, there is apartheid in the Middle East. It exists in Saudi Arabia where there is gender apartheid and religious apartheid. But Israel? A country in which equality is extended to Arabs, Christians, Muslims, blacks and whites; in which Arabs serve in the Knesset and on the supreme court; in which they serve with equal status at universities and in which affirmative action is part of Israel’s policy.