American influential opinion makers, who generally managed to remain indifferent to the plight of the Palestinian people, are finding that ignoring Palestine is getting harder everyday.
This is largely the result, not of a fundamental change in how the influential media in the US views the Palestine tragedy, but of the unease produced by the remarkable insensitivity of the Bush administration and the political establishment, republicans and democrats alike, in the face of sustained and growing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and distressing disregard for Palestinian lives.
In a November report about Jewish settlements, the Israeli Peace Now movement showed how â€œIsrael has effectively stolen privately owned Palestinian lands for the purpose of construction settlementsâ€¦â€
The report also demonstrated with maps and figures leaked to it by an Israeli official, that â€œnearly 40 percent of the total area on which the settlement sit is privately owned by Palestinians.â€ The data, said the report, â€œhas been hidden by the State for many years.â€
On a moral note, the Peace Now movement concludes, the report shows â€œthe Israeli state acting in â€˜daylight robberyâ€™ of Palestinian land and handing it over to Israeli settlers.â€
There is nothing remarkable about the report, except possibly its graphic details and its official Israeli source, making it an admission of immoral and illegal conduct.
The reality of dispossession has been known and documented for quite sometime, but largely ignored in the West, and particularly in Washington. Sabri Jiyrisâ€™s classic book The Arabs in Israel, documented the process of dispossession in Israel proper, the late Ibrahim Abu Lughodâ€™s classic book the Transformation of Palestine presented similar facts about the process of confiscation of land and demographic and geographic transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state.
Israeli writer and leading dissident Israel Shahak documented a similar process by which Israeli authorities erased some 450 Palestinian villages from the face of the earth.
As Israeli writer Yossi Melman put it, the Peace Now report provided â€œthe basic database for what we — journalists, human rights organizations, liberal minded Israelis, and every Israeli with a grain of moral and ethical values — have known for many years.â€ (Washington Post. Nov 22)
Although the facts have been known for many years, the New York Times published the story of the Peace Now Report as front page news.
It treated the report tentatively, introducing a key paragraph with the conditional and referred to Israeli occupation as mere â€œpresence.â€
Still, the paper highlighted the implication of the reportâ€™s finding that 40% of settlement land is privately owned by Palestinians, namely that Israeli leaders had been lying: â€œIsrael has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and only takes land there legally or, for security reasons, temporarily.â€ (NYT.Nov 21.06)
The Washington Post also published an article by Israeli writer Yossi Melman discussing the Peace Now report.
Melman repeats some standard propaganda lines which presumably made his piece more appealing to the Washington Post, claiming for instance that the Palestinians could have had their state if Yasser Arafat had accepted the â€˜generous offerâ€™ made by then Israeli Prime Minister Yahud Barak at the Camp David Summit hosted by Bill Clinton in July 2000.
He argues that peace depended on Hamas if it renounced violence, recognized Israel and honored agreements signed by previous Palestinian governments. (Nov 22.06). This argument of course ignores the fact that Israeli leaders have not only violated their own commitments to the roadmap for peace, they have publicly bragged about freezing the political process. Sharonâ€™s own advisor Dov Weissglas admitted that this whole package of the roadmap â€œhas been removed from our agenda indefinitely.â€ (Haaretz, Oct 8, 04)
Melmanâ€™s argument is the same propaganda previously used by Israeli leaders to justify their refusal to deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization. When Yasser Arafat gave in to Israeli conditions and signed the 1993 Oslo Accords, various Israeli governments only intensified the repression and accelerated the dispossession of the Palestinians, while ignoring Oslo.
Still, it is remarkable that the Washington Post would publish an article under the headline â€œIsraelâ€™s West Bank Theft.â€ The very title challenges the established and long dominant view in American corporate media of a democratic Israeli state where rule of law and respect for human rights guide Israelâ€™s treatment of its Arab population and of the Palestinians over whom it rules in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Suggesting that Israel is less than a rule of law-state when it comes to the Palestinians, and that it engaged systematically in immoral and illegal conduct â€“beyond the systematic repression of Palestinians graphically shown on television screens- and actually printing the words â€˜theftâ€™ is a remarkable development for the influential media in the USA.
The New York Times story also mentioned another fact known to most of the world but not frequently mentioned to the NYTâ€™s readers. It highlighted the prevailing status in law of East Jerusalem as occupied territory and of the settlements as illegal: â€œâ€¦ much of the world regards East Jerusalem as occupied. Much of the world also considers Israeli settlements on occupied land to be illegal under international law.â€ (NYT, Nov. 21, 06)
Even more remarkable, the New York Times quotes a certain Avi Teksler, an official of the council of the settlement of Migron, built on private Palestinian land, who, with refreshing candor, admits that his settlement enjoyed the support of every Israeli government. In effect, he brags that the government-sponsored theft of Palestinian land â€œis how the state of Israel was created. And this is all the land of Israel. Weâ€™re like the kibbutzim. The only real difference is that weâ€™re after 1967, not before.â€
Prof. Adel Safty is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His latest book, Leadership and Democracy, is published in New York.