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The Palestinian Narrative: A Catechism of Lies

Contesting Palestinian fictions is like Whack-A-Mole: You can barely keep up.

The simplest "facts" of the Palestinian narrative -- like Arafat's birthplace -- are falsified.

In April 2002, world media reported a horrendous war crime in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, in the West Bank. British professor Derrick Pounder, part of an Amnesty International investigation team, confirmed to the world that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had mass murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of non-combatants.

"The truth will come out," Pounder said, "as it has come out in Bosnia and Kosovo, as it has in other places where we've had these kinds of allegations.”

When bodies failed to materialize, Israel was accused of burying the evidence in mass graves.

Eventually, though, truth did come out. Reports of a massacre of horrific proportions turned out to be made up. There was a battle in Jenin. An eventual UN report would say 23 Israelis and 52 Palestinians died, of whom 22 were civilians. But this was a military engagement not terribly extraordinary in the annals of war. The “total destruction of Jenin,” reported worldwide, turned out to be six percent of the town’s structures – a tragedy doubtless, but not anything resembling the apocalypse reported.

Reports of the Jenin “massacre” remain accessible on the BBC website as of today, without clarification or correction, more than two decades after the BBC (and Amnesty International) should have been humiliated by the false reports.[1] The mythical “massacre” is still shopped around as fact in online discussions.

But the “Jenin massacre” was not an anomaly. The entire Palestinian narrative rests on historical and contemporary assertions that range on a spectrum from based on a grain of truth to entirely false. Lies are inherent to both the Palestinian narrative and the movement’s strategy. The false narrative creates a distorted perspective of events that skews international audiences to the Palestinians’ side. And the strategy is to flood the world with so many falsehoods, part-truths, misrepresentations and prevarications that fact-checkers can’t keep up and an average observer just gives up.

The Palestinians, and the larger Arab world, bet correctly that, faced with confusion over who is to blame for a conflict between Jews and some other group, the world will side with some other group.

The Palestinian movement has created its own catechism to counter whatever truths an inquisitive, potentially pro-Palestinian young person might stumble upon in a legitimate library.

Briarpatch, A leading organ of the Canadian left, during the Second Intifada, presented a succinct interpretation of this narrative - and it owes far more to fiction than to history. (A similar four-part infographic – or misinfographic – shows Israel gradually usurping “Palestine.” This is the narrative version of that deception.)

“The first thing to grasp is that Palestine was a single country,” the author says, kicking the whole tale off with a falsehood. “Then in 1947 the United Nations, dominated by the United States even at that time, decided to divide this one country into two parts. The 35 percent of the people living in this one country who were Jewish got 55 percent of the land. The indigenous Palestinian population who were 65 percent of the population got 45 percent of the land. Jews owned only 2 percent of the land at the time … After this unequal division, the Jewish state, called Israel, uprooted and dispossessed 750,000 Palestinians living there. Ethnic cleansing before we used that phrase. The Israelis not only leveled the villages where they had lived, they even erased the names from the map. In addition to the uprooting and dispossession of this very large number of human beings, the Israelis militarily expanded the land they controlled from 65 to 78 percent of historic Palestine … Then in 1967, the Israelis invaded and occupied the remaining 22 percent of this previously single country, occupying the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.”

If we removed the falsehoods and deceptions from this statement, little would be left.

Palestine was not “a single country”; it was not a country at all. Since the defeat and expulsion of most of the Jewish population 1,800 years earlier, it had been dominated and governed by successive imperial powers, until Great Britain, which had seized it from the Ottoman Turks as spoils of the First World War, threw up its hands and delivered the mess to the new UN, which the author inexplicably describes as “dominated by the United States even at that time.”

The 35 percent of the people living in this “one country” who were Jewish did not, as he posits, get 55 percent of the land. The people who are now called Palestinians were not recognized as a people apart from other Arabs in the region, nor did they identify as such. Jordan (called “Transjordan” at the time), which was carved out of Palestine in 1921, was intended as the national home for the people now called Palestinians. That represented 80% of historic Palestine. The maps we all see incessantly on social media of Israel chipping away at “Palestine” is the 20% of Palestine left after Britain handed four-fifths of it to the local Arabs.

This would be fine, of course. If only the contemporary narrative didn’t depict the Jews of Palestine as thieving hordes who came in and took over something close to 100% of the land designated for Arabs.

The Partition Plan allocated 56.47%[3] of remaining Palestine to a Palestinian Jewish state and 43.53% to a Palestinian Arab state. The land allocated to the Jewish state, in other words, was slightly more than 10% of the original Palestine Mandate.

Yes, Israel expanded this territory when it was invaded by all its Arab neighbours, in 1948, and Israel expanded its territories again, when it was threatened with annihilation, again, by its Arab neighbours, in 1967. But even if Israel annexed all of the West Bank and Gaza, it would still only control about 20% of Palestine, not 100%, as the deliberately deceptive narrative contends.

Yes, but …

Yes, but there were Arabs living there. Yes, but some were displaced. Yes, but, we believe in indigenous rights.

Many or most of the Arab inhabitants of what is now Israel and Palestine did not have a long lineage in the area but arrived in the 19th or early 20th centuries, drawn by the economic growth spurred by – guess who! – Jewish pioneers, farmers and businesses.[4]

Even Jimmy Carter, the former U.S. president who late in life became a leading global voice in the hate-Israel movement, acknowledged that. So the idea that Jews came in and chased out indigenous peoples is a mythology that obtains mostly because it suits racist preconceptions of grasping Jews taking that which is not theirs.

It also denies the ancient and permanent indigenous land claim the Jewish people have to the place. The Jewish claim to eretz Yisrael is the world's oldest unceded land claim.

Back to the facts of the 1948-’49 war: while 750,000 Arabs were dispossessed at this time, ethnic cleansing is an absurd (and deliberately provocative) term. When the Arab League initiated a war of annihilation at the moment of Israel’s independence, some Palestinian Arabs were displaced, as people are during wars. Unknown numbers of others were encouraged by the Arab forces, through radio broadcasts, to leave voluntarily, with the promise that they would soon return to enjoy the spoils of the defeated (and presumably annihilated) Jews.

Secretary-General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, promised not just victory for the Arabs, but annihilation for the Jews: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."

As significantly, consider the fate of those who left and those who stayed. Those who remained were made full citizens after the war. They and their descendants are the freest Arabs in the Middle East and enjoy the longest life expectancy. (This is not to pretend there are not economic and social disparities in Israel. It is merely a comparison with neighbouring Arab countries where Palestinians have been held as non-citizens for 70 years by their Arab brethren.)

This level of success even extends to the West Bank and Gaza. Thanks to “the occupation” – yes, that’s right – Palestinians are among the Arab world’s most literate people and enjoy among the highest levels of post-secondary enrolment rates in the world.

By contrast, the 750,000 refugees who did not become Israeli citizens - and their millions of descendants - have, for 70 years, been sadistically exploited by Palestinian leaders and the larger Arab world as stateless human pawns in a battle against Israel.

The Arab League posited that the statelessness of Palestinian Arabs could be exploited as a public relations tool against Israel. It worked like a charm and continues to pay dividends to the entire Arab world to this day. Not only is the tragic statelessness of the Palestinians blamed on Israel, but the myth does double duty, allowing many of the world’s worst dictators, terrorist regimes and Islamist theocrats to divert the attention of their own subjugated peoples from moral and financial corruption and repression at home to that time-tested scapegoat of first resort: the Jews.

The entire world – almost without exception – has damned Israel for one thing or another, from minor policy matters to the sin of its very existence. Critics insist this near-unanimity is itself proof of Israeli iniquity, as if mob mentality has never made a mistake, particularly in its approach to Jews.

Meanwhile, ethnic cleansing was taking place – 850,000 Jews were forced from Muslim countries beginning in 1948. And where is the outrage about that? Where are displaced Jews in this narrative? They are ignored, because that history does not serve the Palestinian cause. (In fairness, the narrative also excludes them because most of them were made citizens of Israel or other democratic countries, rather than being penned up as perpetual refugees to prove a political point.)

Devoting this much deconstructing to such blatantly false history is necessary both because falsehoods are typical of the level of “scholarship” that underpins the anti-Israel movement and because nobody bothers to question facts when presented with arcana of this sort.

Numbers, like Palestinian activists, do lie.

In no example is this clearer than in the assertion that Israel is perpetrating “ethnic cleansing.”

The claim that Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed by Israel shows the willingness of Palestinian activists to found their ideology on provable lies.

The allegation of ethnic cleansing is exceptionally appalling because it is levelled falsely against a people who actually understand ethnic cleansing, not only in its most brutal form – mass extermination under the Nazis – but also in its more common form: forced expulsion, as almost every Jewish person from every Arab and Muslim state was ethnically cleaned in the past seven decades. However immoral and atrocious, “ethnic cleansing” is, for the Palestinian movement, it's just another lie thrown up to see what sticks. As a secondary benefit, it rubs salt in the Jewish people’s historical wounds, another defining trait of the movement.

The Palestinian movement does not make up every part of its narrative. Some of it is stolen, such as an assertion that has been repeated countless times that Israel poisons Palestinians – a myth pilfered directly from Medieval European antisemitism, which blamed mass illness, including the Black Plague, on Jews poisoning wells.

Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, got Hillary Clinton in trouble with this one. While the then-U.S. first lady was on stage with her, Suha Arafat repeated the trope that Israel poisons Palestinians. This was contested in international media only because Suha Arafat repeated it in the presence of Hillary Clinton. (Though, notably, it was Clinton who got in trouble for sharing the stage with Arafat when she spoke the lie, not Arafat who got in trouble for speaking it.) It is indicative of global credulity that Arafat thought she could get away with this outright lie in front of a mass of assembled world journalists.[8]

In the Arab world, where citizens have been fed a steady diet of lies about Israel for seven decades, there is fertile ground for the most outlandish allegations.

Propaganda insists that Israel seeks to destroy Muslim holy sites, notably the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Israel is accused of planning to take over the territory from the Nile to the Euphrates. Apparently because the experience managing the West Bank and Gaza has been so fulfilling and positive to the national psyche, Israel wants to govern everyone in the region.

In 2010, Egypt fabulously blamed Israel for shark attacks in the beach resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, alleging that “Zionist sharks” were trained to attack tourists in order to destroy the Egyptian tourism industry. Hilarious, right? But senior Egyptian government officials who made the allegation would not have done so if they knew they would be laughed at. They are products of a society where the soil is tilled with fantasies of Jewish control so fantastical that the idea of Mossad-trained sharks gobbling Russian and Ukrainian tourists elicits not hilarity but legitimate concern.

Having fed internal Arab audiences such things for decades, the Palestinians and their allies routinely offer up lies that seem laughable to critical viewers.

During the Second Intifada, after several child suicide bombers were foiled by Israeli soldiers before they were able to blow up themselves and others, official Palestinian media created this story of why an 11-year-old was carrying weaponry: “… the intelligence forces of the occupying authorities [eg. Israel] were the authors, directors and organizers of the script … As [the boy] was coming home from school, he was stopped by soldiers, who placed part of a rifle in his bag together with hand grenades and gas bombs, and then made the boy stand by his open bag so the weapons could be seen.”[9]

See what they did there? Foiled by the Israel Defence Forces, the Palestinian media accuses Israel of lying and makes up a farcical story to support their position.

The lies emanate not only from unofficial or quasi-governmental sources but directly from the mouths of top Palestinian leaders themselves. During the siege of Bethlehem, also during the Second Intifada, Arafat told Al-Jazeera that the Israeli military had attacked St. Mary’s Church and was encircling the Church of the Nativity.

“They burned the mosque that was located in the Church of the Nativity and ruined many churches and mosques,” Arafat said. Not only was this not true, it is another direct inversion, since it has been Arab entities – the Palestinian Authority and before them the Jordanians and Egyptians – who have been notorious for destruction of holy sites.

A favourite strategy of the Palestinian leadership has been, when their operatives are caught, to dub them collaborators. After the Dolphinarium discotheque bombing killed 21 young Israelis and wounded more than 100, Arafat claimed that the terrorist had an Israeli visa and was now under Israeli protection. This was part of a history of Palestinians claiming that Israel kills its own civilians to turn world opinion against Palestine.

Palestinian lies even descend to the simplest facts about its principal figure, perpetuating a myth that Arafat was born in Jerusalem, when he originated in Cairo.

Yet, when these lies are unveiled, one after another, the reaction is largely the same: If Israel is not responsible for a war crime of this exact nature, they’re guilty of just as bad.

These represent the tiniest tip of an iceberg of lies that define the Palestinian movement and its narrative. Corrections could fill volumes – indeed entire organizations exist[10] solely to correct the distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies perpetrated by the Palestinian leadership, official Palestinian and Arab news agencies, the international media that fall for the lies, and the overseas apologists who enthusiastically repeat existing lies or fabricate new ones.

Why, when the Palestinians use children as human shields and suicide bombers, would they have any reservations about such a comparatively negligible offence as pathological lying - especially when it works so spectacularly? And why, once the world community has decided to stand with a Palestinian movement that uses kindergartens and hospitals as military installations, would we be put off by the fact that their entire narrative is riddled with fabrications?

Some aspects of the Palestinian narrative are founded, like the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, on nothing but perverted imagination. Others have a grain of veracity at their core, like the outraged repetition that Israel deliberately delays ambulances at checkpoints or accosts Muslim men carrying prayer mats or frisks pregnant women, which are sad occasional truths, necessitated because Palestinians have used ambulances as terror bases, prayer mats to conceal AK-47s and not-actually-pregnant women to transport bombs to kill Israeli civilians.

Standing alone, each of these distortions or outright falsehoods can be dismissed, and is, though contesting Palestinian lies is like Whack-A-Mole: You can barely keep up. And each time one of these distortions is challenged, the response among activists is that the spirit, if not the letter, remains accurate. Israel may not have killed thousands of Palestinians and dumped them in mass graves, but they’ve done stuff just as bad.

Defending Israel against the most atrocious accusations is seen as nitpicking in the face of genocide. Because that is just how successful this comprehensive narrative of lies has been.

[2] Briarpatch. [“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a primer,” by Mordecai Briemberg, Briarpatch, May 1, 2002.]

[4] “… the Arab population increased from 760,000 in 1931 to 1,237,000 in 1945, mostly attracted by economic opportunity …” [Carter, p. 66]

[6] Government of Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics

[7] “At 70, Israel’s population is 8.842 million, 43% of world Jewry,” Times of Israel, April 16, 2018.


[9] [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 27, 2004]

[10] Examples: MEMRI, CAMERA, Honest Reporting and more.


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