smOTHERed VOICES in The A2 News
by Thom Saffold with Eric Lormand
[Editor’s note: Thom (Saffold) has made two trips to Palestine this summer to help launch the International Solidarity Movement (see pp. 12-14). On July 15th he described his first trip, then in progress, in an "Other Voices" column in The Ann Arbor News. The News published three letters in response, and a puzzling "editor’s note". When the News inexplicably refused to publish Thom’s rebuttal, he approached Agenda. Here is his "Other Voices" column in full, followed by each point in the letters and News comment arranged by theme, with the relevant part of Thom’s rebuttal (shaded text), and added replies of mine.--Eric]
The three critical letters are from Helen and David Aminoff ("Hope for peace in negotiation", 7/20/01), Harry Fried ("Commentary on Mideast conflict lacks depth", 7/25/01), and Benjamin H. Klein ("Loathing for Israelis makes view laughable", 7/27/01). Quotes from the letters are italicized and followed by the authors’ surnames in brackets.
WHO "STARTED IT"?
"Saffold refers to the Israelis [as having] invaded another country... [but] ... in 1948 [the Arab world] made war to prevent [the State of Israel’s] birth. In 1967, they once again invaded with the express aim of destroying Israel.... There are two peoples with legitimate claims for the same land...." [Aminoffs] "[I]dentifying a "right" and a "wrong" side in this conflict is both absurd and foolish; after 50 years of fear and violence, we are way beyond such easy classifications." [Fried] "No responsible, respected analyst of the Arab-Israeli conflict will tell you that one side is entirely to blame for the current round of hostilities." [Klein]
I [Eric] add five responses. First, Thom’s article says nothing about who invaded whom. Nor should it—he’s writing about Israel’s occupying Palestinian land today, and about the daily miseries and death this causes—overwhelmingly to Palestinians, but also to Israelis.
Second, even if the "Arab World" (including Palestinians) invaded Israel, this would not justify the ongoing occupation. Germany invaded France multiple times, but victorious France rightly never "occupied" Germany, bulldozing entire German towns and replacing the inhabitants with French settlers.
Third, in 1967 Israel was the invader by the admission of its own leaders such as Prime Minister Begin: "The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him." (New York Times, 8/21/82) And in the process, Israel decided to steal the Palestinian land most in dispute today.
Fourth, the Israeli state was "born" in 1947 as a child of rape--due to immediately prior invasions of Palestine. Early Zionists knowingly bought land stolen from Palestinians by absentee Ottoman "lawyers"—land stolen in order to fetch the money. Paying someone to steal is as wrong as stealing. After WWII, outside powers stole 48% more of the Palestinian’s total land and simply added it to the Zionists’ previous 7%. Israel knowingly accepted this stolen gift from the same body (the General Assembly of the UN) that has been ordering it out of the rest of Palestine since 1967.
Fifth, as for the situation today, if the sides and their actions are symmetric why do Palestinians cry out for international peacekeepers and human rights monitors (with the support of nearly everyone on the planet) and why does the Israeli government reject this (with the sole support of the US government)? Simple: Israel (with official US help) is the side with a secret shame to hide from the world.
Maybe in some ideal world we should all be Gandhi duplicates, and maybe if all Palestinians were Gandhi duplicates there would be no "current hostilities" but instead a nationwide hunger strike unto death that might shame the outside world into forcing Israel’s rule to an end. So yes, Palestinians are responsible for falling short of this (pretend) ideal.
"[In war] inevitably, mistakes will occur on both sides. The difference is that when Israel makes a mistake, they issue an apology, as did Foreign Minister Peres recently after the mistaken demolition of houses in Shuafat." [Aminoffs]
Consistently throughout the century, the death toll for Palestinians is ten times the death toll for Israelis. The Palestinians do not even have an army, or a nation, so it’s hard to see how they can fight a "war" with Israel. In any event, no one bulldozes an entire town and fills in the alternative caves "by mistake". "Oops, sorry for the ethnic cleansing."
THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY AND EDUCATION
"[W]hen terrorists seek to martyr themselves and take innocent lives with them, they are applauded and their families receive payments from the Palestinian Authority and their supporters; and others, many of them children, are encouraged to follow in their footsteps to martyrdom, while, at the same time, schools are teaching hatred of the peoples with whom they ultimately have no choice but to live together in peace. … [T]he centerpiece of the Palestinian Covenant which never has been changed calls for dismemberment of the State of Israel, but, the world does not want to believe." [Aminoffs] "[T]he events [Saffold] observed on the ground have a larger context, one that begins in the minds of the Israeli and Palestinian political and military strategists .... Much of what is said [in speeches by high-ranking members of the Palestinian authority] seems most divisive if one chooses to listen." [Fried]
Divisiveness in the defense of liberty is no vice—unless we’re holding people to Gandhian standards, maybe. Should Palestinians teach their children that their land and water and lives are rightfully someone else’s? No, they should make a clear "division" between the way things are and the way things were and should be. Meanwhile, the beginning of Naomi Calick’s article (see p. 12) describes her own stereotypically divisive education as a Jewish-American child.
Palestinian children are not so stupid that they need special instruction or speeches to dislike the tank that shelled the house or the soldier that kicked mommy in the belly. The Israeli occupation is the dominant teacher of Palestinian youth.
As for the dismemberment of Israel, even US recognition was contingent on Israel’s allowing Palestinians the right of return to or compensation for their stolen lands. If the US had moral courage, it would therefore rescind its recognition of Israel. The Israeli government’s refusal to grant this right is the only meaning of, the only cause of, and the only reason for ideals of replacing it with a government that reflects the rights of all the people without regard to race, religion, or ethnicity.
"[Saffold] uses phrases such as "peace-loving" when describing the Palestinians as opposed to "humiliation, intimidation" and "killing" when discussing the Israelis." [Klein]
While Thom referred to Israelis’ unpeaceful actions, he did not contrast their character with "peace-loving". At one point his initial column does refer to Israeli "society" as being uninterested in protecting Palestinian rights and lives, but clearly this is meant not to describe each person in the society—which would include Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews horrified by the occupation—but only as covering the overall balance of opinion in the society.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
"It seems to me that Israel’s perspective is that they cannot to afford to lose even once against what they perceive to be a hostile and unwelcoming adversary. The Palestinian’s perspective seems to be that they can afford to lose as often as necessary, because they only need to win once, therefore they provoke hostilities from the Israelis with whatever means they have. … There are no winners, and only losers, in the game being played now." [Fried]
Here the letter writer makes a truly desperate claim. When Palestinians "lose" they lose their lives and their basic human rights. To say they Palestinians can "afford" to lose as often as necessary is not only to say that their lives and rights count for little, but that they agree, that Palestinian parents hardly care whether they lose their children (or their children’s basic rights). Fried has just arrived at a startling proof of the Divine Special Creation of the Palestinians—for how could a population that doesn’t care for its kids have evolved by Darwinian selection? And the idea that this is a "game" to the Palestinians--or that a way to "win" it is to throw a rock at a tank or stand in front of one’s third house as it too is being bulldozed to make room for the chosen people--is beneath even ridicule.
"[Saffold] gathers his ‘facts’ by interviewing Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers. How does he reach the conclusion that Israel attacked ‘without provocation’ the ‘peace loving’ village where he is being hosted? By interviewing 20 local Palestinian residents? Gimme a break. By the way, the Arabs are shooting at the Jews of Hebron every day. Just ask 20 Jewish residents of the city and they’ll tell you. [Klein]
We can see from this that Thom seeks out Israeli voices as well as Palestinian voices—no surprise given his demonstrated journalistic skills. And he knows firsthand that even an American can be arrested without provocation.
I’m sure Thom would have been happy to ask Israeli soldiers, had they not been pointing tank turrets at him—without provocation. Or I’m sure Thom would have been happy to hear the Israeli commanders defend their actions in court—but apparently, as is typical, no charges were brought by the soldiery. Can Klein explain why not? If tanks shot up his neighborhood, he would scream for either (i) an official admission that there was no provocation or (ii) an official charge against the alleged provocateurs so they have a chance to defend themselves publically in court. But such exposure to the world is exactly what the Israeli government loathes. For what kind of "provocation" would justify ripping family homes with tanks?
Obviously, even if each day there are bullets coming from "the Arabs"—note Klein’s ethnic overgeneralization—this doesn’t mean that these Arabs (of which Thom wrote) had done anything to provoke the crackdown.
CHARGES OF IGNORANCE, IRRATIONALITY, OR ILL WILL
"[I]t never ceases to amaze [us] how an individual can visit an area that has a history spanning thousands of years, that has been in conflict for over 50 years and, in just a few days, become an expert." [Aminoffs] "I got the impression that Saffold had only recently been introduced to the Israel-Palestinian tragedy. … Saffold should reflect on his experiences, … instead of jumping so quickly to conclusions of who is right and who is wrong." [Fried] "Saffold, to put it bluntly, has no idea what he is talking about. … [I]t appears as if he has a deep loathing for Israelis that he allows to color his opinion in such a way as to make it positively laughable." [Klein]
Instead, the letter writers rudely and irrationally jumped to conclusions about Thom on the basis of only a single piece of his writing. Assuming the letter writers are smart and of good will, it must be that naivete is the only diagnosis that occurs to them other than Thom’s being outright evil. Somehow the hypothesis that he could simply be correct was apparently not even available for them to consider.
THE COWARDICE OF THE NEWS EDITOR
"While it may be a fine idea to devote space in the op-ed section to reader submissions, The Ann Arbor News is still responsible for what appears there. Thom Saffold’s horribly ill-informed and misleading Other Voices essay makes one wonder whether or not the newspaper agrees. … While readers may be interested in news and opinions from the area, nothing is served by allowing such extremely unbalanced articles to be printed. It does your readers and people who care about the region a great disservice." [Klein]
[ANN ARBOR NEWS] EDITOR’S NOTE: The News prints many letters and essays expressing views and interpretations of issues that differ from those of the paper’s editorial board. And while it’s true that the publication of material containing significant errors of fact is counter-productive, so is shielding readers from the views that others in the community hold tightly—and act on.
Of course, the editorial comment from the News is carefully worded. It doesn’t literally say anything about Thom. But the reader has to fill in disguised content to see the comment even remotely as an answer to Klein’s question: why did they print Thom’s article? And the News editor knows this.
First, the editor doesn’t say that publishing errors would be bad, but that it is bad—inviting Klein to infer that the editor detects significant factual errors in Thom’s article. But none are mentioned.
Second, the editor suggests that Thom’s views are a threat to readers, something they might wish to be "shielded" from. Far from a ringing defense of free speech, the News editor suggests that when she receives Thom’s submissions she thinks "Hark! I must warn the populace!".
By emphasizing that Thom "acts" on his views, the News makes the threat seem more ominous. How does this matter to Klein’s challenge? If Thom were unable to act on his views, would the News consider his views unpublishable? Why? Because Thom would then not be a threat to readers like Klein? How is he a threat?
Similarly, the News chooses to emphasize that Thom holds his views "tightly". What does this invite the reader to think, if not that Thom’s views are impervious to reconsideration? And would the News smother views held tentatively?
The News editor’s response is multiply and groundlessly insulting—through cowardly indirect insinuation. It is also a lie, for the News is inexcusably "shielding" its readers from Thom’s rebuttal—after printing at least three largely redundant criticisms of him, each full of significant errors of fact.
A (SINGLE) POSITIVE NOTE
"I want to begin by saying that I support Saffold in his mission to travel to Palestine and Israel to get a first hand look at the situation. More people should do this; I should do this." [Fried]
And so should I. And so should you. Not only to get a firsthand look at the situation, but to get a firsthand hand on changing the situation. See page 12-14 for ways to do so directly or vicariously through your crucial support of the International Solidarity Movement. As Naomi Calick’s story (p. 12) shows, there’s hope even for the Kleins and Frieds and Aminoffs of our nation. Maybe even for the editors.
For further discussion, see
by Justin Shubow & Eric Lormand
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