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Israel & Palestine: In their own words

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

The founding documents of Israel, of the Palestine Liberation Organization and of Hamas explicitly explain their respective approaches. Why won't we take them at their word?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, reads the country's declaration of Independence -- hours before the new state was invaded by all its neighbouring countries.

A lot of people in the West spend a lot of time second-guessing the players in Israel and Palestine. We project onto the parties our own assumptions and prejudices. We portray “our” side as the embodiment of all things good and the “other” side as varying degrees of evil. Between these two poles we might find the truth.

But here’s a novel idea. How about we consider what the parties say about themselves and their objectives?

For a clear-as-a-bell contrast between the motivations of the two sides, let’s look at the founding documents of the players.

In a revised statement in 2017 intended to rebrand the group as more moderate in the world’s eyes, Hamas made the following declaration:

Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.

Media duly reported that Hamas was no longer calling for the destruction of Israel, which suggests they didn’t read the document. In essence, the statement declares: We’ll take what we can get now, then continue from there struggling to annihilate Israel.

To be fair, this is entirely in line with the “phased strategy” envisioned by Yasser Arafat all along. It is also precisely why there is no Palestinian state in the West Bank today.

Until Israel can be assured that a “free” Palestine somewhat adjacent to the 1967 lines will not be merely a launch pad for permanent war until the eradication of Israel, the Jewish state will never relinquish military control of the territories.

There is good reason why Hamas, who in some ways are PR geniuses, would try to divert attention from its original 1988 charter, which reads like a compilation of kooky antisemitic and other assorted conspiracy theories from the dark reaches of the internet. “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious,” the charter declares, before descending into nonsense that is actually quite comical. Some nuggets:

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying …

Occupying the tiny West Bank has been so delightful for Israel and its citizens that they aim to expand their reach from Egypt, across Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon all the way to Iraq and beyond and govern hundreds of millions of Arabs. That seems like a good strategy. Totally plausible.

We should not forget to remind every Moslem that when the Jews conquered the Holy City in 1967, they stood on the threshold of the Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed that “Mohammed is dead, and his descendants are all women.” …

And to think some of us had forgotten this detail. Speaking of women, the charter has specific, very Handmaid’s Tales roles outlined for them.

The Muslim woman has a role in the battle for the liberation which is no less than the role of the man, for she is the factory of men.

So romantical. Not relying on UNRWA schools and genocide-inciting textbooks to do the job, women are entrusted with igniting the fires of jihad in the kids at home:

The women in the house … [have] the most important role in taking care of the home and raising children of ethical character and understanding that comes from Islam, and of training her children to perform the religious obligations to prepare them for the Jihadic role that awaits them.

The charter owes a great deal to the Protocols of Zion, which the authors explicitly cite and appear to think is a real thing. If you thought Zionists and Jews were the only enemy, though, you should know that they can only realize their devious plans in cahoots with the Freemasons, Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs. “These are all centers for destruction and destroyers,” the charter declares. In most communities, Rotary builds benches in parks and the Lions Club organizes Father’s Day pancake breakfasts. Who knew they were working with Zionists on global domination!

With money they ignited revolutions in all parts of the world to realize their benefits and reap the fruits of them. They are behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and most of the revolutions here and there which we have heard of and are hearing of. With wealth they formed secret organizations throughout the world to destroy societies and promote the Zionist cause; these organizations include the freemasons, the Rotary and Lions clubs, and others. These are all destructive intelligence-gathering organizations. With wealth they controlled imperialistic nations and pushed them to occupy many nations to exhaust their (natural) resources and spread mischief in them.

Golly, those Jews and their friends in the service clubs are mischief-making little beavers, aren’t they?

In summary, the Hamas charter asserts: “It is necessary to gather all forces and abilities to face the Tartarian Nazi invasion.” This is a tight little call to action that conflates the discredited conspiracy theory that “so-called” Jews have no relationship to the Holy Land and are descended from Tatars, and also that yesterday’s Jews are today’s Nazis. In short, the Hamas charter reads like a manifesto from a deranged teenager killed in a shootout with police after a standoff in a clock tower. Were it not for the fact that it reflects the guiding principles of the government of Gaza, we should treat it with the derision and mockery it deserves.

The PLO Charter, on the other hand, represents the attitudes of the body that the UN and much of the Western world have chosen to accept as the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. In this charter, from 1968, the PLO outright denies any legitimacy of Israel, calls for its destruction and rejects any negotiation or compromise:

[A Palestinian] must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice his wealth and his life in order to win back his homeland and bring about its liberation. …
Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it. …
Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution. …
The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.

The authors take it upon themselves to define who and what is a Jew:

Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.

Despite recorded history affirming Jewish presence in the region for thousands of years and treasure troves of archeological evidence, historical revisionism is endemic in Palestine. The leaders repeat and the Palestinian education system inculcates, that Jews have no roots there. Many, if not most, Palestinians may actually believe this, having had truth withheld from them and being fed a curriculum of antisemitic and ahistorical falsehoods.

This is notable, and should be acknowledged by Western activists, who parrot allegations of an alleged “erasure” of Palestine. It is a recurring theme that Israelis did not and do not “see” Palestinians, literally or figuratively; that Israelis have attempted to “erase” the Palestinian people from history and maps, changing names of Arab villages to Hebrew names and an assorted litany of crimes.

It is even claimed that the Israeli love of hummus and falafel represents cultural appropriation. (No one ever seems to see as problematic the rather more significant appropriation of the Jewish concept of ethical monotheism and the Bible, which were effectively stolen and reformatted to create Christianity and Islam. Likewise, the declaration that “Jesus was a Palestinian” seems a bit more serious an appropriation than a little chickpea mush. But we digress.)

In contrast, the erasure of both Israelis and Jews by Palestinians is literal. They teach their children variations on the idea that Jews never lived there, that they showed up unannounced in 1948 and that the “Zionist entity” does not exist. Their maps do not delineate it; their textbooks acknowledge it only as an entity to be destroyed. Like so many things, the accusation of erasure is a projection.

Turning from these bloodcurdling documents to the equivalent on the other side, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, contrast those charters with these words, written as Arab armies amassed on the borders of the nascent Jewish state:

The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.
The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
The State of Israel is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.
We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the community of nations.
We appeal - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

The contrast could not be starker: Two Palestinian charters promising bloodshed and endless war; an Israeli founding document promising freedom, inclusion, equality, peace and pleas for coexistence.

We can argue that these are just words, that the blood-soaked language of the Hamas and PLO charters are just rallying domestic audiences, that Israel’s Declaration of Independence was preening for world acceptance. We can argue that the documents don’t reflect reality, that Israel did not live up to the claimed openness to peace, that the Palestinians are not in practice as murderous and maximalist as their founding documents proclaim. But at what point do we accept the words, honestly spoken, of two sides who have lived up to their founding documents with only minimal and occasional lapses from the promises therein?

Edward Said and others devote a great deal of time producing evidence that the Zionist idea was to push local Arabs out to ensure a Jewish majority. There are multiple examples of the Israeli military in the War of Independence “encouraging” or forcing Arabs to leave. There are also examples, especially in Haifa, of Jewish leaders begging their Arab neighbors to say.

But this would all be moot if the Arabs had ever exhibited any flexibility, compromise or tendency toward coexistence. The partition resolution provided a Jewish majority, with a significant Arab minority, in the land that was to become Israel. The Jewish world, including the Zionists in Palestine, accepted this situation nearly unanimously even though it was a fraction of what they believed had been offered by Balfour. By the very nature of the map associated with the resolution, there was to be no need of expulsions or other untoward acts to create a Jewish majority; it was set out in the resolution. The issue arose only after the Arab world rose up in violent rejection of that resolution and invaded Israel, resulting in the conflict that has now gone on for more than seven decades.

Arab villages were destroyed, homes demolished and residents forced to flee. This is terrible history and sad. It is also a direct result of the Arab war initiated ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians.

Remember also that not a Jew remained in the areas conquered by the Arabs in the 1948 war. More to the point, had the war gone the other way, we would not be talking about refugees, we would be talking about holocaust.

This is not to dismiss or diminish the atrocities that happen in war. But there should be some context both in why the war started — Arab aggression — and the fate of the civilians of the defeated forces compared with what would have happened had it been the Jews who had lost.

None of this hobbles the chroniclers of the Palestinian narrative. Ilan Pappé asserts: "[T]hat Zionism was a benevolent movement wishing Israelis to coexist as equals with the Palestinian native majority — is an absurdity and a travesty."

Pappé’s "scholarship" comes with a great deal of histrionics. But, while we can find all kinds of examples of Zionists who did not want to coexist with the Arab majority, we can find just as many whose aim was peaceful coexistence. The same simply cannot be said of the other side.

Had things been different in 1948, had the Arab world accepted the Partition Plan, not only would there be two states living peacefully now, but Palestinians would almost certainly be among the most economically and socially advanced people in the region due in large part to what would have been inevitable cooperation with their symbiotic neighbor, which grew into the very model of successful decolonization in the postwar world. This, in fact, was the prevailing vision of Zionism’s founders.

But we cannot change the past. The Arab leaders in 1948, like far too many today, simply would not abide a Jewish presence in the Middle East. That racist intransigence is repeated as clearly as could be in the foundational documents of both the PLO and Hamas. On the other side, the foundational document of the Zionists speaks of coexistence, peace and multicultural fraternity.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge. But neither side has strayed far from their original scripts. Israelis still strive for coexistence and peace, however hopeless such a dream may be with the leaders in charge of Palestine. The Palestinians continue their seven-decade crusade to drive the Jews into the sea.

The least we can do is take both sides at their word.


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