Monday, March 16, 2015

Letter to Southampton University

Some days ago, I sent a letter by e-mail to Professor Hazel Biggs, Head of the Law School in Southampton University, where an anti-Irael conference is due to take place next month. A copy was also sent to the university's Vice Chancellor. Neither has had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt.

Here is a copy of the letter, accompanied by a detailed analysis of participants by David Collier. I have placed several phrases in bold type in order to emphasize the radical nature of those taking part and the clear purpose of the conference. This is not a free speech matter, but a concern about academic integrity and balance. That such a distorted mockery of academic scholarship should take place under the auspices of a modern British university is a disturbing sign of how far rational and unbiased debate in academia is being hijacked by politically radical individuals and groups.

FAO Prof. Hazel Biggs
Head of the School of Law
Southampton University

Dear Professor Biggs,

I hope you will not object to my writing to you out of the blue, but I do want to address you as Head of Southampton University’s prestigious Law School, with regard to the “International Law and the State of Israel : Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” conference (<>) to be held over the weekend of 17-19th April. The conference is advertised as a project of Southampton University, where it will take place, it is co-organized by one of the professors in your school, Professor Oren Ben-Dor, and its Southampton organizing committee is made up of Professor Ben-Dor, a Professor Suleiman Sharkh from Southampton’s school of engineering, Ms Juman Asmail, a recent graduate of your school, a political activist, and co-founder of the Southampton Students for Palestine, and Ms Jo Hazell, who appears to be an administrator based at your school.

My interest in and concern about this conference comes from my own academic background. I have two 4-year MAs from Trinity College, Dublin and Edinburgh University, and a PhD from Cambridge (1979). I have lectured at the University of Fez in Morocco and at Newcastle University, where I taught Arabic and Islamic Studies. Currently, I am a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York Gatestone Institute. My research involves Islamic issues, Iran, Shi’ite Islam, the development of Islamism, and issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians. Despite all this, I shall not attend the conference. My reason is simple: it is the most blatantly biased and unacademic event I have ever come across, certainly in this country. A conference in which all the participants represent one political view, where the conclusions are foregone, and from which anyone with even a mildly defensive position towards Israel would face ridicule or insult from the majority of those present is not, for me at least, something that any university school, let alone with an international reputation like yours, should consider endorsing or hosting. This is not a matter for polite debate: the egregious bias of the participants alone places this event well outside the norms of academic discourse.

I have pasted in below my signature a long list of the participants (and I have placed many phrases in bold type). Someone called David Collier (whom I do not know personally) has taken considerable effort to check the activities and affiliations of those planning to take part in the conference. I was shocked when I read through the list with his annotations. I for one, as someone who supports Israel’s record, know I would not be welcome there. It does not read like a balanced list of academics, but like a roll-call of extremists and political activists. Not one speaker listed takes a pro-Israel or even middle-of-the-road stance. Almost every single name is recorded as participating in the deeply unacademic boycott of Israel, through which any form of dialogue or academic cooperation with Israeli academics and students is forbidden, with a minority of individuals dictating how their colleagues should behave. This is not by any stretch of the imagination an academic conference, but a joint gathering of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement. The participants represent a hardline group of academics who have never called for a boycott of countries like Iran, whose human rights record is abysmal and where young members of its largest religious minority are banned from entry to colleges and universities; or Saudi Arabia, where a liberal journalist was recently sentences to 1000 lashes, ten years in Prison and a huge fine for writing things we might see as utterly unexceptional, and who now faces retrial on a charge of apostasy, which may lead to a death sentence. Where are the academics calling for boycotts of these and numerous other places where there is no free speech and no freedom to debate issues in the university sector. There are no restrictions on free speech in Israel as a whole and certainly not in the universities, yet British academics boycott it and even work to destroy the country entirely.

I do not want this to sound like a rant, and I trust I have not expressed myself in ranting terms. But as someone with a lifelong involvement in academic pursuits, I am concerned that modern British campuses have become much less open to honest speech and debate than they were when I was a student. Pro-Israel speakers have been hounded out of lecture theatres in more than one place, anti-Semitism has become common on many campuses, and frank discussion on Islamic issues is rare. These are general problems, not yours; but this proposed conference definitely falls within your remit, which is why I feel it proper to write to you in these terms. Having recently published a lengthy paper exploring the question of whether Israeli troops committed war crimes in 2014, and finding that they almost certainly did not, and did not do so overall, I would be interested to take part in a conference that deals in part with this matter. But I barely need say that I would be afraid to set foot in the hall and to deliver my paper there, knowing that I would face a storm of condemnation merely for expressing support for the despised ‘Zionist entity’. Rationality has taken flight in all public discussion of Israel, in the media, on university campuses, within political parties. Academia should be free from that, and no academic should be frightened of taking part in a university-hosted conference.

I can only ask you, in the spirit of fairness and academic freedom, to confer with the appropriate people in your university in order to decide whether a conference as thoroughly biased and academically unsound as this has any part to play in the advancement of scholarly debate or whether you are prepared to host an exercise in hate speech, discrimination, and the politicizing of academia. A group of extremists has clearly hijacked your school and Southampton University. If there was ever a sound case for the banning or total restructuring of a conference, this is surely it. If you can respond to me (and to the many people I know who stand behind me) and let me know your thinking about this contentious issue, I shall be most grateful.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin


(I have tried wherever possible to ensure maximum accuracy in this listing. Given the size of the list and the nuances involved, it was a large undertaking. Language was also a barrier, with some academics producing little or no work in English – I apologize in advance if any errors have been made.) (David Collier)

PANEL 1 –  History(s) of Palestine and International Law

Prof. Gabi Piterberg from the University of California at Los Angeles. Piterberg has called Israel’s system akin to Apartheid and actively supports the boycott. <>   More on his perspective here <>

Professor Nur Masalha, St. Mary’s College, University of Surrey. Frequently described as a Palestinian activist <>  online. Supports the general divestment and the academic boycotts <>

Professor. Ilan Pappe, Department of History, University of Exeter. Hardly needs an introduction <> , also described as an activist.  He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Firmly believes Israel is racist, apartheid, an ethnically cleansing state and so on. Actively supports the boycott <>

Dr. Victor Kattan, Law Faculty, National University of Singapore. Actively supports the Palestinian position. <>  Called for papers  <> on BDS and actively supports the boycott <> .

Professor Nadim N. Rouhana, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Spoken on the one state solution (which would involve the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and lead to an Islamist state under Hamas). <>   And spoke during Israeli Apartheid week. <>

After lunch speaker – Professor Richard Falk. Professor of International Law, Princeton University. Another one that needs little introduction, with his own personal wiki section  <> on the conflict.  Has compared Israel’s policies to the Nazis and wrote an article called “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust <> ”. Actively supports the boycott, calling it a ‘civic duty’. <>

PANEL 2 – Political Philosophy and Political Zionism

Professor Yosefa Loshitzky, School of Oriental and African Studies. Loshitzky is currently writing a book  <> called ‘Just Jews? Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Contemporary Culture and Beyond’. Make of that what you will. Talks about how Israelis enjoy <>  the suffering of Palestinians, uses Nazi metaphors  <> to describe the conflict and actively supports the boycott <> .

Professor Brad Roth <> , Wayne State University. Less writing available online, but actively supported a boycott <> .

Dr. Sylvie Delacroix, University College, London. The first of the panellists who I could not place on any boycott list. Has spoken about <>  the Palestinian constitution (the YouTube title is misleading). An article she wrote on the subject was titled in deference <>  to a Mahmoud Darwish quote. Her only reference to violence was to suggest the first Intifada <>  which “may never have managed to be completely non-violent”.  An interesting description of a 6 year fight that saw 200 Israelis killed, 3000 injured and an extraordinary 1000 Palestinian lives lost to intra-Palestinian violence. Having said that, credit where it is due, Delacroix seems to take the most balanced academic approach of all those referenced to this point.

Dr. Ronit Lentin, Retired Associate Professor Sociology, Trinity College, Dublin. Wiki states  <> Lentin “has published extensively on racism”, described by BDS Sydney  <> as an ‘activist’,  Lentin has said “Israel is determined to eliminate the Palestinians <> ”, “a logic of genocide”. Actively supports the boycott <>

PANEL 3: Apartheid as an International Crime – the legal implications for Palestine

Dr. John Reynolds, Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway. Reynolds participation in a 2013 paper ‘Apartheid, International Law <> , and the Occupied Palestinian Territory’. States elsewhere that Israel is a colonial power <> , the resistance is understandable, the rockets are understandable and supports the boycott  <>

Dr. Anthony Löwstedt, Webster University Vienna. Lowestedt claims that 98% of “all gross human rights <>  violations so far committed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are sole responsibilities of the Israeli Jews, and talks of Israeli apartheid. <>  In that piece Lowestedt claims that “the Israel lobby does not take it well that students are still to some extent being told and taught the truth about Israel and Palestine”. He references  “The Israeli state death squads” and claims that ““In many cases, it is enough for a Palestinian to get killed if s/he even looks at a military installation or a soldier the wrong way”.  He claims “the supreme goal is to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from  <> Palestine” although whilst in Israel he “did not get to discuss this matter in detail with Israelis”. Riddled with inaccuracies such as “you must be a Jew to serve in the Israeli army and if you are not a Jew you cannot serve in the army”, distortions and statistical headstands, these pieces show that Lowstedt’s opinion is driven fiercely by his internal clock rather than through some academic process of research.

Professor George Bisharat, University of California. Bisharat is a Palestinian-American professor <>  of law who clearly supports a one state solution <> . He believes Israel is committing war crimes <>  and calls for a boycott of Israeli apartheid <> . Bisharat continually uses Nazi references <> , talks of massacres and master plans <>  and frequently addresses complex historic events with simple sound bites <> , one sided propaganda, and outright distortions.

Professor Oren Ben-Dor, Law School, University of Southampton. One of the organisers and ‘hosts’ for the event, he has claimed “Israeli Apartheid is the Core of the Crisis <> ”, going on of course to claim “Only when this realization sinks in will it be possible to envision a stable political solution–a single state over all historic Palestine”. Ben Dor actively supports the boycott <>   and another piece against the silencing of Gilad Atzmon, <>  provide a wonderful insight into the hypocrisy and double standards <>  of leading academics who promote the Israeli boycott.

The panel is followed by ‘Unmade Film’ an exhibition by Uriel Orlow which parallels the Holocaust and Deir Yassin. Orlow recently spent an evening with the Hackney Branch of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign <>   and has frequently signed up <> for anti-israeli petitions. The closing act of the day is Elias Khoury <> , A Lebanese author.  Khoury ‘spent years gathering from refugees their personal histories of the mass expulsions that attended the creation of Israel. He felt the stories should be given to an Arab Tolstoy <> , and imagined himself in the role’

PANEL 4: Legitimacy, Self-Determination and Political Zionism

Professor John Strawson, University of East London. Strawson held a previous post at Birzeit University <>  and appears as a signee on anti-Israeli declarations <> .  Strawson is the first academic on the list who seems to reject the label Apartheid, which in turns raises the question – why wasn’t he on the Apartheid panel?

Dr. Ghada Karmi, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies University of Exeter. Writes frequently on Palestinian issues in newspapers and magazines.  According to the Wiki page <> , Karmi clearly believes that “Israel does not deserve to continue as a state”. In favour of a one state solution she notes “would be the end of a Jewish state in our region”. Karmi openly calls herself an activist <> , describing Zionism a “loathsome” ideology. <>  Karmi incredibly declares in the same piece that the radicalization and extremism of Arab societies “can be traced back to Israel.” Apparently another academic with a mental block, she declares there were no pogroms in Arab lands, and actively promotes the boycott <> .

Dr. Blake Alcott, Unaffiliated Researcher, London. Alcott’s article  ‘a two-state solution is a Zionist solution’ <>  clearly states his position as he declares that the Zionist goal is for ‘eretz israel’ to be ‘Araberrein’, which again sees Nazi terminology used in descriptions of Zionism. Calls Noam Chomsky a ‘soft zionist’ and actively supports the boycott <> . Hypocritically, Alcott finds bias uncomfortable  <> when it doesn’t suit him.

Ntina Tzouvala, Doctoral Researcher, Law School, University of Durham,UK. Still working towards a PHD <>  and not much to find on Tzouvala in English

PANEL 5 Israel’s Domestic Law: Inbuilt Limits of Constitutional Reflection?
Lea Tsemel, an Israeli lawyer <>  and leading human rights activist. Described by the BBC <>  as “the woman who defends suicide bombers”. Has stated the country took a cue from Nazi Germany <> –“the same racism, the same hatred, the same ideology of super race. Tsemel has supported the boycott <>

Sawsan Zaher, Senior Attorney at Adalah. <>  Stated that ‘discriminatory policies are one thing but when you have discriminatory laws, this is apartheid <> ‘.

Dr. Valentina Azarov (Al-Quds University). Quite an academic backstory <>   but hardly one that suggests academic even-handedness. Actively supports the boycott <>  and believes the solution to the issues  <> are to be found in the international criminal courts.

Dr. Mazen Masri, City University, London. Has served as legal advisor to the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Masri is active in supporting the boycott  <>  and uses parallels of apartheid <>  to describe the israeli system.

PANEL 6: Israeli Citizenship and Israeli Nationality.

Dr. Jeff Handmaker, the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus <> . Suggests companies such as IKEA are complicit <>  in a serious human rights violation, lending support to the settlement enterprise. Apartheid, war crimes, cover-up’s, quite the collection. Handmaker has argued that ‘true humanity’ <>  will be found when “the Israeli regime is held accountable for decades of repression, dispossession and regional destabilisation.”

Yoella Har-Sheffi (sp?). Har-Sheffi is apparently not a practising University Academic, so beyond understanding she is in the legal field, there is little to find on her in English. She did argue for the ban of Wagner to be lifted, <>  was ‘fired’ from her mainstream paper as a journalist for her beliefs and openly deplored Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians <> . Called on  the UK government to recognise Palestine <> .

Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, writer, Journalist, member of Jaffa One State. Yeshua Lyth says that a secular democratic state is actually a call for the annihilation of Israel <> , a call she supports. Claims Israel built an apartheid state on the basis of religion  and ethnicity. <>  Actively supports the boycott. <>

Noura Erakat, Assistant Professor, George Mason University. Described as a  <> Palestinian American legal scholar. Goes beyond Apartheid  <> to declare Israeli policies are “ethnic cleansing”. Erakat’s party pieces are pure propaganda, full of distorted facts and out of context responses <> . Erakat actively supports the boycott. <>

PANEL 7: Israel’s Regime of Property Rights, Labour, Education and Housing

Dr Uri Davis, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem Abu Dis, and University of Exeter, UK. Although an academic, the wiki page <> , refers to him as an activist, who was the ‘founding member of the Movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine’. Actively promotes the boycott <> .

Mia Tamarin. Israeli who studied in the UK and applied for conscientious objecter status and became an activist on her return to Israel. Beyond doing the rounds, being held aloft by those on the other side of the great divide and clearly suited to the agenda <> , one can only ask academically, what she is doing there.

Dr. Haitam Suleiman, al-Quds University, Jerusalem, and Prof. Robert Home, Law School, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, United Kingdom.  Have worked together on a paper <>  that suggests Israel’s story now lies ‘within a colonial and postcolonial narrative’ and explains the article is the outcome of field research undertaken by a Palestinian Arab living in Israel (Suleiman).

Claris Harbon, Doctoral Researcher, McGill University. Specialises mainly on subjects concerning the subordination of subaltern minorities  <> and disempowered groups such as Mizrahis (Jews of Arab/Muslim Descent), women, Arab- Israelis and children. Works on another aspect of a discriminatory Israel, specifically from an Asheknazi /Spharedi <>  angle.

PANEL 8: Palestine in Comparative Re-thinking of International Law

Dr. Monika Halkot, Department of Communication Arts, American University of Beirut, Lebanon.  Unable to locate via the English university website <> , despite the comprehensive listings. Unable to locate on Google.

Dr. Marcelo Svirsky. Wollongong University, Australia. Only need to read this piece ‘From Auschwitz To Sderot: The Decline Of Our Humanity <> ‘ to understand his position. Actively supports the boycott <> .

Dr. Michael Kearney, School of Law, University of Sussex, UK. International Law speech that deals with Israeli ‘apartheid’ <> , an article on Israeli ‘war crimes’ <> .

Professor Ugo Mattei, Distinguished Professor of Law <> , and Alfred and Hanna Fromm Chair in International and Comparative Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Signed the ‘One State Declaration’
>  (the end of Israel).

PANEL 9: Assumption of Responsibility for the Suffering in Palestine

Dr. Regina Rauxloh, Associate Professor in Law, University of Southampton. Israel does not  <>  appear to be Rauxloh’s field, so I assume if her associate, Professor Oren Ben-Dor was not holding this on this own home turf, Rauxloh wouldn’t be present.

Professor Kevin Jon Heller, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),London. Another academic from <>  SOAS, he states here he is “generally wary of academic boycotts <> “, so it would be interesting to know how he voted in the recent SOAS wide boycott vote that saw a 60-40% split  <> amongst ‘SOAS staff’. Heller not as rabid as his colleagues, but still maintains a clear fascination <>  with tweets such as “Israel doesn’t need tunnels. It sows #terror through bombs, artillery, missiles, tanks, ground troops”.

Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Hebrew University, Jerusalem <> . Talks of policies of fear and colonialism, <,%20Fear%20and%20Israeli%20Colonialism>  politicises the internal violence against Palestinian women by suggesting “Colonialism is empowering killers <>  and sustaining internal crimes through bureaucratic and legal means”. Is part of the pro-Palestinian speaking  <> circuit, incredibly suggests here that ‘ Rape and other forms of sexual violence against Palestinian women <>  have always been an element of the settler colonial state’s attempts to destroy and eliminate indigenous Palestinians from their land’.

Salma Karmi Ayyub, Criminal Barrister, UK. Is or has been an external consultant  <> for the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq. Writes frequently about possible Israeli war crimes, <>  taking Israel to the ICC <>  is described as a leading Palestinian activist <> who discusses and defends BDS <>  in this video.

PANEL 10: Responsibility for Return

Dr. Salman Abu-Sitta, Land Society Palestine. Abu-Sitta is a Palestinian researcher <> . He writes about Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian right of return. States “Palestine is the patrimony <>  of Palestinians. No amount of spin, Hasbara, or Za’bara, myths, bombs, F16s, roadblocks, siege, walls, ethnic cleansing and Apartheid will change that. Remember that”.  Supports a boycott.

Dr. Ruba Salih, Reader in Gender Studies, SOAS, London. Palestinian academic, has written and researched Palestinian issues, including this piece on the refugees <> . Opposes sanctions against Iran <>  as sanctions hurt the children and the weak, supports boycott against Israel <> .

Dr. Catriona Drew, School of Law, SOAS. Unsure of her academic  position as only has one article listed on the SOAS <>  site. Called on the UK to stop <>  the violence in Gaza. Does not publicly appear to participate in BDS.

Dr. Mutaz Qafisheh, College of Law, Hebron University. Wrote on Palestine in the UN. <>  Was a Legal Advisor and Project Manager  <> for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

PANEL 11: Responsibility and Belonging, Religion, Politics and Law.

Dr. Hatem Bazian, Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A Palestinian activist, Bazian’s ‘reading list’ <>  for Palestine highlights how he views balance and  integrity in academic research. From an online search, Bazian seems one of the most extreme of the ‘esteemed academics’ on display at the conference. Talks of Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing, Murder and Oppression. <>   Called for an international day of action for Palestine <> , is an activist on Twitter <>  and Facebook <>  and actively calls for a boycott <> .

Professor Yakov Rabkin, Professor of History, University of Montréal. Author of a book A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism <> . Claims Israel’s ‘turn to the right’ <>  is now termed fascist by ‘the mainstream’ and Israel has “become a beacon for right-wing movements around the world thanks to a gamut of ideological, political, economic and military values contained in political Zionism”. Active against Zionism, fights against the anti-Semitic label of the boycott and promotes the legitimacy of the boycott <> , if not the boycott itself.

Professor Haim Bresheeth, School of Oriental and African Studies. Another scholar who is a self-described activist. In a piece that I am sure even he may consider foolish  <> today Bresheeth states that Israel can only be explained by the many decades of instrumental colonialism, a place where to be ‘pro Israeli’ is to be foolish. That Israel will only relent under the most intense political, financial and cultural pressure from the world community. That pressure is now developing swiftly, and is now more likely than ever to lead to the collapse of the apartheid state  <> in the Middle East. Actively supported the boycott <> .

Professor Gil Anidjar, Department of Religion, Columbia University. Another academic whose name seems to be tied in with anything that is against Israel. Saw the Geneva Accord <>  as too bad a deal for Palestinians, agreed with a statement that calls the current situation apartheid <>   and actively supports boycott. <>

PANEL 12: Responsibility and Belonging: Palestine as Political, Ecological and Legal Space

Professor Joel Kovel, Unaffiliated Researcher. Another academic referred to as a ‘political activist’ <> . Kovel’s 2007 book Overcoming Zionism argues that “the creation of Israel was a mistake”.  Argues that Israel practices  ‘state-sponsored racism’  fully as incorrigible as that of apartheid South Africa and deserving of the same resolution. Has been active in calling for a boycott of Israel. <>

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio. Described as  a ‘de-colonizer’ <>  and in that video says the system meets the definition of Apartheid. One of the founders of Zochrot <> . Bronstein Aparicio Actively supports the boycott <> .

Mr. Walaa Sbeit, musician, Iqrit, Palestine / Mr. John Assi, Director of the UNESCO Chair on Human Rights and Democracy at al-Najah University. Sbeit is a Palestinian musician <>  whilst Assi, from a University in Nablus, is active in calling for a ‘nuclear free Israel’. <>

Professor Virginia Tilley, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University. Wrote a book called ‘the One State Solution’ <>  and led a research team that “found that Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are consistent with colonialism and apartheid <> ”. This piece is a must read <>  to understand Tilley’s mind-set and Tilley actively supports boycott <> .

PANEL 13 / A round table is planned with new speakers expected to be added.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Here's a letter to the Editor of the Financial Times. It wasn't published. Grrrr

Dear Sir,
Your correspondent David Gardner may live in Beirut, but he dwells in a very different world than mine. In his defamatory article on the Israel-Palestionian peace talks (‘US plays the crooked lawyer in an Israeli-Palestinian drama,’, April 4), he parades a host of assertions that no sane observer of the situation would accept as factually correct. But he makes things worse by his egregious complaint that Benjamin Netanyahu is blocking the way to peace by refusing to release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners currently serving life sentences for committing brutal murders of innocent civilians, namely Jewish men, women, and children.
Over the years, Israel has released hundreds of murderers with blood on their hands, and the Palestinians have welcomed them home with loud applause, as heroes and heroines. Do David Gardner and I even live in the same moral universe? The Palestinian prisoners may suffer for their heinous crimes, but is that unjust? For that matter, there are hundreds of Israeli families who still suffer daily from the loss of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and much-loved children. Will the Palestinians put that right? Do they even care? Do they want peace or another chance to fulfill their ambition of 66 years: to drive the Jews into the sea and establish a Palestinian state, as they say every day, ‘from the river to the sea.’ No more Israel, no more Jews, and badges of honour for every miserable murderer in sight.
Yours sincerely,
Dr. Denis MacEoin
Senior Distinguished Scholar, the Gatestone Institute

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The letter below was written to the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield a few months ago. I have had no reply from him.

FAO Rt Rev. Stephen Platten
Lord Bishop of Wakefield

Your Grace,

I believe you have a special interest in Northumberland, so I hope you will not take amiss an e-mail letter from Newcastle upon Tyne. I am writing from home, which is within easy walking distance of St. George’s Church in Jesmond, perhaps the most distinguished and certainly the most beautiful in the North of England, and which you may have visited on trips to the region.

I was for several years Lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, and I have written at length on Islamic subjects, including articles for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam . As an Islamicist, I take on ongoing interest in modern aspects of the religion, including matters of Middle East politics. My specialisms are Iran (my PhD is in Persian Studies) and, for over a decade now, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, especially its religious features, which are too often neglected by the press and most commentators.

Because of this, I found myself taken aback by a remark you made in a recent House of Lords debate on The Arab Spring. Inter alia, you remarked that ‘In Israel, Arab Christians are fleeing their ancestral land and homes. Many of your Lordships will know the statistics, and the numbers seem to increase as the weeks, months and years go by. Alongside the events in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, it is a human tragedy of historic proportions.’

I wonder how you came by this conceit, for it is entirely untrue. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where, since 1948, Christian numbers have been growing, so that the Christian communities living there are now larger than they were before it became a Jewish state. In percentage terms, the Christian community of Israel, has increased by 1,000%. Christians are among the best-educated and prosperous sectors of the Israeli population. Nobody is fleeing. When Israel controlled the West Bank, the population of Bethlehem rise by 57%, but when the city was returned to Palestinian Authority control, a combination of death threats, acts of violence and desecration of holy places like the Churchy of the Nativity has seen the Christian community drop from 15% overall to 2%.

The same story is true across the Middle East, where general prejudice and Islamist murders have combined to produce an exodus that may yet result in a total disappearance of Christians from the region – except in Israel. Yet you chose to singlew out Israel as, seemingly, the on ly country that has conditions that force Christians to flee.

As regards conditions there, let me introduce something you may be unaware of. My particular academic contribution has been the study of the Baha’is and their predecessor sect, the Babis. As you may know, the Baha’is have been severely persecuted since the arrival of the Islamic Republic. Hundreds of leaders have been executed – including several women and a fifteen-year-old girl for the crime of teaching Sunday school). Young Baha’is are forbidden to enrol in university. Older Baha’is are denied their state pensions. They are not allowed to meet, to publish their scriptures, and more. Most shocking to me is the destruction (by which I mean bulldozing) of all their holy sites (most of which I have visited) and all their cemeteries (from which corpses have been exhumed) in acts of the purest spite.

Why mention the Baha’is? Well, one of the most popular tourist sites (a UNESCO World Heritage site) in Israel is the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, a complex of white marble buildings and splendid gardens that may be the finest in the Mediterranean region. There is another Baha’i shrine (their holiest, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) across the bay, near Acre.

There is nowhere in the Muslim world where the Baha’is can openly declare their faith. But Israel has laws that prescribe equal treatment for the followers of all religions and the protection of Holy Places. Thus, the Baha’is are protected from any interference in the practice of their faith. I have to ask if you believe that a country that treats so well a religion that is hated across much of the world would have policies that have led large numbers of Christians, especially Arab Christians, to flee. Arab Christians, rather than flee the Jewish state, prosper, are the best educated group in the country, serve in parliament, serve (voluntarily) in the army and for national service. Why would large numbers of them flee?

Will you promise me that, when you have a chance, you will correct the statement you made? Israel suffers badly from the many outright lies that are told about it (‘A Nazi State’, ‘An Apartheid State’). It is, therefore, deeply disturbing to find an eminent, highly educated member of the clergy adding another falsehood, in blatant contradiction of what I know and expect from such a person. Perhaps this was just a slip of the tongue, and in that case, you have my apologies for having taken you so to task for a tiny error. But since the content of the error is greater than the slip, perhaps you will still honour Israel’s Christian population with an apology – and perhaps a visit sometime. A visit. Not to visit the anti-Semitic elements within the community, the supercessionist members of Sabeel or the supporters of the Kairos document, but just plain down-to-earth Christians who regard Israel as the best of homes, who have a sense of an ongoing relationship with the Israel of Jesus.

If you ever visit Newcastle, I’ll be happy to meet. I wish you the best in your work


Dr. Denis MacEoin
The following piece was published on 24 November 2013 in Algemeiner.

Malala, Pakistan, and Israel

November 24, 2013 5:03 pm 19 comments
Malala Yousafzai. Photo: Wiki Commons.
A few days ago, I was sitting at home undergoing a multicultural musical experience. I was, in fact, listening to a number of Qawwali songs from Pakistan. For many years, singers like Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers (all now deceased) have been favourites of mine. Qawwali will never take the place of the Portuguese fado I have known and loved for so long, or the traditional Irish music I have known all my life. But it is a vibrant and energetic form of singing and musicianship that carries in its heart the Sufi poetry of the region, of northern India, parts of Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Look for it on YouTube, it will surprise you.
Although this is religious poetry from the Sufi tradition, it plays a wider part in society. One excellent performance by Aziz Mian has an audience made up of upper-class Pakistanis, including young women, some of them extremely beautiful (go here). That in itself shows the complications of Pakistani society.
Sufism is a spiritual tradition that has always stood in contrast to the worldly concerns of the rich and powerful. In Qawwali concerts like this, two realities are mixed. Not only that, but men and women are sitting together, another contradiction and an affront to the religious authorities who like to tell other Pakistanis how to live their lives. There are Westerners in this audience, and even if the men and women dress in traditional clothes, there are no veils. It’s hard to believe an assembly like this would shut the door on non-Muslims who wanted to watch and listen to a great figure of Pakistani culture.
‎In the West, a better-known product of Pakistani culture is a 16-year-old schoolgirl from the Swat Valley. Just over a year ago, Malala Youssefzai lay dangerously wounded after a Taliban assassin shot her in the head at close range. Malala was already an advocate of education for girls, but the Taliban condemned female education and shut down as many schools as they could, threatening death to students and teachers alike. The bullies won out, bombing and burning out schools that would not bend to their hatred of women and knowledge. Malala spoke out from her small village school until, in 2012, the Taliban decided to take revenge and silence her voice forever. Except that their ill-fated attempt did the opposite.
In Birmingham, in the wicked West, doctors saved her life. In due course, she recovered from her injuries. Since then she has gone on to become a symbol of everything the Taliban hate, a symbol for peace, co-existence, and, above all, education. She is known all over the world. She is already one of the most famous Pakistanis, male or female, to have lived. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest ever nominee, and she came very close indeed to receiving it.
She has been given enough prestigious awards to last her several lifetimes, and may well enter the Guinness Book of Records for their sheer number. She has been received by the U.S. President and the Queen of Great Britain, by Prime Ministers, and innumerable dignitaries everywhere. She has spoken to the General Assembly of the United Nations. No matter where she goes, people listen to her. She talks of peace and education, and her message goes deep. Instead of silencing her, the Taliban turned her into a megaphone to trumpet aloud the emptiness of their philosophy.
You would think the Pakistanis would love her to bits, and, of course, large numbers of them do. She’s bigger than all the Qawwali singers put together. Her name is everywhere. One day, she could stand for the post of Prime Minister. And God help the Taliban if that day ever dawns.
But a week or two ago, I came across a news item that disturbed me greatly. Two organizations representing private schools in Pakistan have banned her book, I Am Malala‎ from more than 40,000 schools across Pakistan. The book, apparently, is an insult to Islam and shows Malala herself to be nothing more than a tool of the West. So, the leaders of an important sector of the Pakistani educational world has chosen to ban Pakistan’s best-known and most loved proponent of education, not just in Pakistan, but all around the world. It sounds like some sick joke, but it’s true. This is happening in a country that can’t even provide even primary education for half its children.
Malala’s influence on young Pakistani girls and teenagers has been and remains enormous. Pakistan (as I shall argue) needs educated men and women to produce a better-educated workforce that will help the country compete in the international marketplace. According to UNESCO, Pakistan’s literacy rate places the country at 113 out of 120 countries surveyed. In some places, the female literacy rate stands at 3 percent. And two educational bodies are banning an innocuous book by the country’s foremost advocate of female education. And Pakistanis almost lead the world in their hatred of Jews and Israel.
Why has this estimable book been banned? Simple: about a month before the edict, the Pakistani Tehreek-e Taliban had issued the threat that it would target any shop that tried to sell the book. They added that they would kill Malala in the end.
The problems with the book are essentially religious problems, problems that show yet again how obstinate Islam is to the slightest hint of change. For example, we are told that when Malala (or her ghostwriter) wrote the name of the prophet, Muhammad, she did not add the letters PBUH — Peace Be Upon Him — or SAW to stand for the Arabic equivalent, Salla’llah ‘alayhi wa sallam. We are once more in the realm of a neurosis that has put its grip on Muslims around the world. I encountered this same problem in the 1970s in Iran: nothing has changed.
Writing in English, it is not common usage much less obligatory to place honorifics after names. You can call me Denis MacEoin MA, PhD if you need to, but just the name will suffice in all but very formal situations. Adding phrases like these (and they are used after more than just the names of prophets) makes it very hard indeed for scholars of religion or history to write in a neutral style.
Malala’s next mistake was to pass on her father’s views on Salman Rushdie’s infamous novel, The Satanic Verses, which had drawn down on the author threats of murder and mayhem. ‘Malala says that her father sees The Satanic Verses as “offensive to Islam but believes strongly in the freedom of speech.” “First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book” the book quotes her father as saying. So it’s not enough to find the book offensive, but we can’t even read it or talk about it? And Pakistan is almost at the bottom of the heap when it comes to education. Need we ask why?
Another matter found offensive by these giants of Pakistani education was Malala’s reference to the two million-strong Ahmadi community, a religious group that has been declared non-Muslim by the Pakistani government, and which suffers prolonged and severe persecution without any attempt to protect them by the authorities. Malala simply calls for some degree of tolerance and is castigated for it by the obscurantists who control everything in a country determined to set its face against the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.
Despite the largely secularist policies and intentions of Jinnah, Pakistan is still under the thumb of the holier-than-thou men in beards and turbans, men who always know more than anyone else, even the best educated, who are always closer to God than anyone else, and who reckon they know how to put their fingers on apostasy and unbelief wherever they rear their ugly heads. Even if they don’t raise their heads, the mullas can always make them up.
Fortunately, there are other voices in Pakistan. Perhaps the loudest is Pervez Hoodbhoy‎, an openly-avowed supporter of Malala, the remarkable Professor of Nuclear Physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, a man who has won almost as many awards as she has. Active in many fields, he has devoted much of his writing and debating to education, and he has extolled the benefits of secularism and deplored the harm done to his country by the religious leadership and their insistence on hardline, unchanging traditionalism.
‘No major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries now. That arrested scientific development is one important element—although by no means the only one—that contributes to the present marginalization of Muslims and a growing sense of injustice and victimhood.’ (‘Science and the Islamic World – The quest for rapprochement’, Physics Today, August 2007.)
In a compelling and insightful article, he examines the roots of the modern problem through four ‘metrics’: the quantity of scientific output, the role played by science and technology in national economies, the extent and quality of higher education, and the degree to which science is present or absent in popular culture.
‎He cites a study from the International Islamic University in Malaysia, which shows that Muslim countries have a mere 8.5 scientists, engineers, and technicians per 1000 population, compared with a world average of 40.7 and 139.3 for countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Forty-six Muslim countries together contributed 1.17% of the world’s science literature, yet 1.66% came from India and 1.48% from Spain. Of the 28 lowest producers of scientific articles in 2003, no fewer than half belonged to Muslim countries. By another measure, he points out that his own country, Pakistan, has produced a mere 8 patents in 43 years. More Israeli (population 7.5 million) patents are registered in the United States than from Russia, India and China combined (combined population 2.5 billion).
He adds that “no Pakistani university, including QAU, allowed Mohammad Abdus Salam to set foot on its campus, although he had received the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his role in formulating the standard model of particle physics.” The reason? Abdus Salam belonged to the deeply unpopular and much persecuted Ahmadi sect (referred to by Malala), the only Islamic denomination to forbid jihad. Imagine any of my old universities (Dublin, Edinburgh, or Cambridge) refusing entry to a Nobel Prize winner who happened to be a Jew or a Muslim or a Seventh-Day Adventist.‎
This inability to match up to the challenges of the modern world has much to do with a reluctance to obtain knowledge from non-Muslim sources. The UN Arab Human Development Report for 2003 makes this clear:
given that ‘English represents around 85 percent of the total world knowledge balance,’ one might guess that ‘knowledge-hungry countries,’ the Arab states included, would take heed of the sway of English, or at the very least, would seek out the English language as a major source of translation. Yet, from all source-languages combined, the Arab world’s 330 million people translated a meager 330 books per year; that is, ‘one fifth of the number [of books] translated in Greece [home to 12 million Greeks].’ Indeed, from the times of the Caliph al-Ma’mun (ca. 800 CE) to the beginnings of the twenty-first century, the ‘Arab world’ had translated a paltry 10,000 books: the equivalent of what Spain translates in a single year.
Now, surely you’ve been wondering when I would get back to Israel. That was the real reason for my writing this piece. There is, of course, an enormous disparity between the scientific, medical, and technological work done in Israel, the Start-up Nation, and the near total absence of such work in Pakistan, with its 8 patents in 43 years. In part,it’s a failure of education for the population; but Hoodbhoy says that isn’t the real cause of the backwardness. More than anything, it’s a total failure of all Muslim societies to understand that proper knowledge is obtained through hard questions, painful criticism, and a lack of control over what may be asked or answered. When trivial religious reasons are cited for the banning of a book, when certain types of research are considered inappropriate or blasphemous, when academics or journalists can lose their jobs for daring to point out deficiencies in society or religion — obscurantism triumphs and whole populations are forced to live in the Dark Ages.‎
Critics of Malala say she has become a tool of the West, a Trojan Horse whose books attempts to bring dangerous Western views into the public arena. As usual, conspiracy theories abound, protecting Muslims from even the mildest of criticism, the very whiff of dialogue. It is this same obscurantism that has created in a majority of Muslims — Deobandis and Barelwis alike — the false idea that the state of Israel is inimical to Islam, that it wages war on innocent Muslims, that it is a modern embodiment of the Jewish conspiracies of the time of Muhammad, that Jews are bitter enemies of Muslims, and that it has been planted by the West in the Arab world to serve as a modern colony.
Sensible debate would have shown many years ago that Jews are not enemies and that Israel prefers to help Muslims, not hurt them — something it has demonstrated again and again yet never received much gratitude for. The Taliban use violence or the threat to use it, while other ‘ulama use other forms of threats to ensure their control over all intellectual issues, pretending they know God’s will and offering a wide range of social sanctions. In a country like Pakistan, where the very thought of shame can prompt a man to murder his wife or daughters, the mere suggestion of divine displeasure is more than enough to make all but the most foolhardy to pull back from controversy or the very breath of it. Apostates are killed.
It’s like this across the Muslim world, but the religious fanaticism is getting worse in country after country. Everywhere it is a way to sign your own death warrant just to say you like some Jews or that you visited Israel and found it a good place for a Muslim to be, or that you think Riff Cohen is cool (and she is!) or you are turned on by the laid-back voice of Ethiopian-Israeli singer Ester Rada or that hating Jews is a no-no or that it’s time for the Palestinians to build their state and to leave Israel alone. Or whatever. Palestinians have been executed for selling land to Jews. Your life isn’t yours when the self-appointed dictators of Islamic righteousness take over.
The backwardness of the Islamic mentality manifests itself in innumerable ways, but nowhere more than in hatred of the state of Israel. Like the postmodernist thinking that has infected so much of the Western left, this hatred rocks the known world from its moorings. Next time there’s an earthquake or a tsunami in the Muslim world, the governments concerned will help their people by refusing entry to the highly trained and experienced Israeli aid workers who have already helped the distressed in 140 countries. In 2004, following a major earthquake in Iran, Israelis offered aid: they were told where to go. Some years later, after a disaster in Pakistan, both Indian and Israeli volunteers were turned back at the border.
Left-wing activists call Israel a Nazi state and an apartheid state, when the opposite is true. The Malala Youssefzai case is a pale reflection of this, turning things round in accordance with the whims of bigoted and uneducated shaykhs. There are educated Muslim clerics, but few have more than a smattering of secular or Western knowledge. They don’t know how to read a book like The Satanic Verses or I Am Malala, and they can’t read a progressive, balanced country like Israel. Only rare men like Pervez Hoodbhoy speak out about the challenges faced by Pakistan, because they have had a secular education. Christians went through the Enlightenment and came out better for it. Jews went through the Haskalah and, to a large extent, became the kind of Jews who created modern Israel. But the Muslim world has known no Enlightenment and no Haskalah, hasn’t even had its own Reformation. It’s time politicians recognized that this is the source of the impasse between Israel and its neighbours. Politics are not, on the whole, the problem. The problem is unenlightened men who treat a progressive schoolgirl like a pariah.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

This is the second half of my long letter to Malcolm Levitt. You may have to go back to the previous post to start from the beginning.

Does permitting non-Jews to serve in parliament seem like a veneer? Does granting university places to Arab students in proportion to the Arab size in the general population seem like a veneer? Or perhaps you think that, at some future date, Arab graduates will have their brains sucked of everything they have learned? Or that all the votes that have been cast by Arabs will be taken back as if in a magic trick? What non-Jewish elements do you mean? Be precise, and demonstrate whether the severe discrimination you speak of is state-ordained or simply the sort of discrimination that one can find in any country.

No, it is in part state-ordained (see the list above)
I don’t disagree that there is a certain amount of state-decreed discrimination. Some of that will wear thin before too long, partly because the state has taken a lot of affirmative action projects in education and elsewhere, partly because many Israelis hate discrimination because they know how much damage it does to the society in which they live, and partly because many Israeli Arabs demand better treatment and do so in legal ways. But again, I have to ask why Israel’s state discrimination is seen as egregious. Egyptian state discrimination against Coptic Christians (who have been in the country longer than the Muslim Arabs) is obnoxious. Lebanese, Syrian (in the old days), Egyptian, Iraqi and other state discrimination against Palestinians has been and is deeply disabling. But Israel is always held to blame. Britain is now a mix of conflicts between fascists (BNP, EDL), the Left, and Muslims (of various stripes). Similar divisions exist in Hungary, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Israel is somewhere in between. Make a case of it by all means, but why do so many make it a special case?

Is Israeli discrimination more severe than that found in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Sudan, to give three examples?

See (1) above.
And see my response to that.

I think that last comment  – ‘for the time being’ – unnecessary and cynical. Israel has consistently improved conditions for Arabs, both Christians and Muslims, since 1948, and I am unaware of any sense in which circumstances for non-Jewish Israelis have gone into reverse in that period, in fact I know for a fact that they have improved to the point where Israel’s Arabs enjoy better livelihoods, working conditions, and general living conditions than their brethren in most other Arab countries. Do you really think that the countries responsible for the misnamed ‘Arab Spring’ or for the tyrannical regimes that preceded and succeeded those upheavals have anything, the slightest thing, to teach Israel about how to conduct its affairs and treat its citizens well? Egypt kills Coptic Christians, persecutes them, burns down churches; Libya is full of intolerance; Lebanon sees a widening rift between Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’is, while refusing Palestinians the right to work in over seventy professions; Syria piles intolerance upon intolerance. There is now a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East. But in Israel the Christian community is still growing after 65 years. Can you really say that any of this is evidence that Israel deserves to be criticized by you or anyone else, while a country like Iran, that allows the demands of religious extremism make life a misery for most of its citizens. In my earlier e-mail, most of which you have ignored, I drew attention to a key fact, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East (and as far afield as the Muslim world in its entirety) that not only tolerates the Baha’i religion but encourages it to the point of running its international affairs from Haifa and possessing beautiful buildings and gardens, while all Baha’i properties in Iran were turned to rubble long ago. Why would a country that stands out in so many ways be your choice to find fault with? If you truly care about human rights, why on earth aren’t you picketing the Iranian embassy, the Libyan embassy. The Egyptian embassy or (some years ago) the Syrian embassy or the Saudi embassy. Those are countries that really do make life impossible for their non-Muslim (and many of their Muslim) citizens. Their breaches of human rights are egregious and well known. Yet you bother about Israel, a country I for one would be more than happy to live in, even though I’m not a Jew.

See (1) above.
I really don’t think that is adequate. You have not made out a case (nor has Ben White) for holding Israel more greatly to task for imposing greater discrimination, let alone outright persecution against anyone that begins to match the doings of so many Muslim countries that are allowed free passage from the international human rights lobbies. The UN Human Rights Council is a disgrace, and bodies like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others fall severely short of balance in their accusations. Hatred of Israel has reached extraordinary heights in the past two decades, just as anti-Semitism has returned as a major plague in Europe and elsewhere for the first time since the Second World War. The two are closely linked, but just as Islamic calls for Israel to be expunged from the family of nations reach a crescendo, we find international rights bodies turning their faces from the truth that, if Israel were to vanish, it would only be a matter of time before the world’s remaining Jews were led to their deaths along quiet passages at the backs of our cities, by sad-eyed men dressed in black, armed with tasers and wearing dark glasses that would blur the ugly scenes and headphones that would play fine music to blot out the cries of anguish.

But you speak of Israeli government policy in the West Bank, and that it is this you find severely discriminatory. No doubt there is much to be deplored. Life in the West Bank cannot hope to be normal, given the very nature of the occupation and the sort of society that has been created there by political and religious leaders. But I think you miss something very basic in your portrayal of Israel and the West Bank – context.

Ah context!

Indeed, context is very important. And the most important context, in my opinion, is that Israel was created by an act of ethnic cleansing, in which approx 700k Palestinians were driven out of their homes, and shot if they tried to return to their homes or harvest their crops. You are framing the issue as one of confrontation between Israel and the neighbouring Arab states. But that is not the essential conflict. The conflict is between Zionist jewish immigrants (mostly arrivals during the 1900's) and the indigenous population, who have been there since time immemorial (and probably in large part descendants of converted Jewish populations in ancient times). Unsurprisingly, and entirely predictably, the indigenous population have resisted, and will continue to resist, the robbery of their land and resources. That is the context that needs addressing.
Let me start with your outrageous statement that ‘Israel was created by an act of ethnic cleansing, in which approx 700k Palestinians were driven out of their homes, and shot if they tried to return to their homes or harvest their crops.’ This simply isn’t true. Israel was created before any single Arab became a refugee. You’ll be aware that the Israeli historian Benny Morris pushed the ethnic cleansing line in his early work, but when he went back into the archives, he reached exactly the opposite conclusions. There was, he argued, no overall military plan to ethnically cleanse Israel of its Arab population. The Haganah’s Plan Dalet was a proposal on the use of military force when Arab armies invaded (as they did) and attempted to wipe out the Yishuv (as they tried). If a war was being fought, some villagers would have to step out of harm’s way when battle commenced (think of what would have happened in Britain if the Germans had invaded in 1940). In fact, this only happened in Lydda and Ramle. There is ample archival evidence that, as I have said elsewhere, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab Liberation between them exhorted the Arabs to leave. Haifa is the outstanding example of a town whose Jewish authorities pleaded with the Arabs to stay, but where the Arabs, seduced by Arab officialdom, chose to depart. You have to consider incidents like that when casting wild claims that the Jews ‘ethnically cleansed’ their Arab neighbours. Morris’s research is supported by Efraim Karsh in Palestine Betrayed. It was the Arabs who invaded newly-fo0unded Israel, not vice versa. The Jews had been more than open to the idea of living cheek by jowl with their Arab neighbours. The whole naqba concept is ahistorical and shows a profound unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to accept responsibility for their own actions, for the threats of death and destruction that were hurled repeatedly at the yishuv, and for the complete moral vacuum into which they have thrust themselves. I would like them a lot more if they hadn’t spent 65 years trying to kill as many Jews as possible.
You say the conflict is between Jewish settlers and the indigenous people. Of course, the Arabs haven’t been there ‘since time immemorial’. Most Palestinians (you can see it from their names) arrived in the region in the late 19th century, from surrounding countries such as Syria (don’t forget, British Palestine was previously southern Syria), Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and further afield. According to Ottoman statistics, the population of southern Syria in 1860 (a good year to choose as an example) was 411 thousand.
One topic is of considerable relevance to the creation of the modern state of Israel, and that is the above contention that Palestine in the late nineteenth century was severely underpopulated. What this means, of course, is that when Jewish settlers arrived in British Mandate Palestine they did not arrive in huge numbers and push the Arab population out, as is so often claimed. There was more than enough room for everyone, and the United Nations resolution 181 (1947) that adopted the UN partition plan (one of several partition plans) made it possible for both Jews and Arabs to have their own states. What happened in 1948 threw this plan into disarray, when the Jews created the state of Israel, the Arabs rejected their own option to establish a state, and several Arab countries invaded Israel with the explicit intention of exterminating the Jews and ‘purging’ the country.
James Finn was the British Consul in Jerusalem between 1846 and 1863, during the latter days of the Ottoman empire. He reported in some years to James Howard Harris, the third Earl of Malmesbury, who was twice British Foreign Secretary. In a report to Malmesbury dated 1 January 1859,[1] he wrote of the ‘thinly scattered population’ and declared that ‘the Mahometan population is dying out’. An earlier report dated 15 September 1857 was sent to George Villiers, the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In this, Finn wrote ‘the country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population’.[2]
A more poetic but for all that a more depressing account of the country is given by the American author, Mark Twain, who visited Syria in 1867. If one were looking for a dreary sort of solitude, he writes, ‘Come to the Galilee for that… these unpeopled deserts, these rust mounds of barrenness that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines.
‘Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes,’ he goes on. ‘Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists – over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead – about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour’s presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the “desert places” round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes. Palestine is desolate and unlovely.’
Norman N. Lewis was the author of a book on the Arabs of Syria, Nomads and Settlers, in Syria and Jordan 1800-1980. This volume was based on material gathered by the author over some forty years. Lewis made ample use, inter alia, of nineteenth-century consular papers from Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo ‘and other Syrian cities’, material which he catalogued at the British Legation in Beirut and later at the British Library in London.  concurs: ‘Travellers in the interior of Syria in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century were shocked by the “wretched” condition of the peasantry and by the frequency with which they encountered uninhabited villages and uncultivated fields even in fertile districts. Some of those who went far afield, to the Jazirah for example, were impressed by the vast expanse of obviously cultivable land which had evidently lain untilled for centuries.’
Why did this happen? Lewis provides some sound explanations:
‘Some of the reasons for the temporary or permanent abandonment of villages and of land were plain to see. Peasants fled rather than ‘entertain’ soldiers on the march or Ottoman grandees on a journey. Villages were sacked in the course of local civil strife, ravaged by soldiers or by ex-soldiers turned bandit, raided by Kurds or beduin. The state of public security in the countryside was abysmally low.

This picture may change our opinions about the early period of Jewish expansion in the Holy Land, but desolation only impinges on demographics and the context within which newly arrived Jews found themselves. The contrast between what the Arab and Turkish inhabitants of Palestine had done with the country over centuries and the agricultural achievements of the Jews in turning swamp to soil and desert to irrigated fields should grab our attention.
As for the make-up of those who inhabited this scarcely-populated land, we know that, in the 1830s, an Egyptian General, Ibrahim Pasha, conquered Syria (including most of modern Israel) from the Ottomans and held it for several years. When he departed, he left behind him ‘permanent colonies of Egyptian immigrants at Beisan, Nablus, Irbid, Acre, and Jaffa (next to modern Tel Aviv), where some five hundred soldiers’ families established a new quarter.’ It is also known that Circassian immigrants turned up in 1878, followed by a second wave in 1885. Before that, De Haas, whom we have just quoted, says further that ‘The Muslims of Safed are mostly descended from… Moorish settlers and from Kurds.’[3] In 1878, the small population that inhabited the barren tracts of Southern Syria attracted large numbers of newcomers composed of Circassians, Algerians, Egyptians, Druse, Turks, Kurds, Bosnians, and others.[4] According to Lewis, ‘Kurdish and Turkoman nomads were found in northernmost Syria’.
Lewis also stresses the late appearance of some of the more important tribes: ‘The most powerful tribes in Syria were relative newcomers. They included the Shammar… and a number of tribes of the ‘Anazah group, including the Wuld ‘Ali, Hasanah, Fid‘an, Sba‘ah, and Ruwala.’
But it would be a mistake to imagine that there was no Jewish population in nineteenth-century Palestine, or that Jews just arrived there after the First World War and stole the land from the Arabs, finally expelling them in 1948. By 1851, Jews formed the majority of the inhabitants of Safed and Tiberias, and in less than ten years, they were at least half of the population of Jerusalem. Muslims were only one quarter. And the Jewish presence was not just in the cities but on the land, where Jewish farmers ploughed the soil as they had done for centuries. The first Jewish colony of modern times was not a kibbutz but the town of Petah Tikva, founded in 1878 by religious pioneers from Europe and Jerusalem, and today a city of over two hundred thousand inhabitants. Changes were taking place for Jews and Arabs alike, and those changes were driven by natural processes like the barren and unexploited soil, the atmosphere of immigration, or human actions, like the Ottoman Sultan’s edict allowing Jews to buy land in the region.
Again, you say:
The conflict is between Zionist jewish immigrants (mostly arrivals during the 1900's) and the indigenous population, who have been there since time immemorial (and probably in large part descendants of converted Jewish populations in ancient times). Unsurprisingly, and entirely predictably, the indigenous population have resisted, and will continue to resist, the robbery of their land and resources. That is the context that needs addressing.
But the conflict is not between Zionist immigrants. Rather it is between two things: between the modern Western mindset and its theories of international law and human rights on the one hand and Islam and its theories of territorial possession through jihad, coupled with a centuries-old belief in divinely-ordained law and a rejection of human rights (only Muslims have rights in Islam: dhimmis have no rights to life or territory, save what Muslims choose to bestow on them). Had the Jews moved to almost any other place in the world outside the Muslim sphere, there would have been little trouble. Had Muslims moved to Palestine, as Norman Lewis’s Bedouin did, they would have been welcomed with only some friction. Had other Europeans moved to Palestine, there would have been the same attempts to expel them. The fault does not lie with Jews fleeing pogroms, prejudice, and a Holocaust to a country designated for them under international law, a country with space for new arrivals. It lies with the religious prejudice and the grudging defiance of international norms within a very short time of the creation of the Arab League as a token of the Arabs’ bid to be part of the world community.

Looked at without context, conditions in the West Bank must seem arbitrary and unnecessary. But the picture changes greatly once context is allowed to play a part in the argument. It would be absurd to believe that Israel, which strives hard to treat its Arab citizens well and to promote their well-being through education, the use of Arabic alongside Hebrew as a national language, the protection of Muslim and Christian Arab holy places, and the arrest of Jewish racists who harbour ill-will towards Arabs it seems absurd to think the same government would arbitrarily decide to treat West Bank Arabs harshly. That would make no sense at all, surely. The situation in the West Bank has brought much opprobrium on Israel and tarnished its reputation internationally. In the long run, Israel knows that the West Bank will in the end be given over to its Arab population as the basis for a future Palestinian state.

I disagree profoundly with that judgement. The clear evidence on the ground is that Israel intends to retain complete command of the useful bits of the West Bank (water resources and major historical sites). It is proceeding to do that by erecting settlements, walls, and Jews-only roads which divide up the country into small enclaves (essentially prison camps) in which a limited amount of self-government is permitted for non-Jews. There is no prospect of Israel permitting the formation of a viable Palestinian state. The situation in the West Bank is extremely harsh. A glance at some of the case histories documented by B'Tselem ( should be sufficient.
This is a big topic. I don’t think the West Bank is as bad as you paint it, though. The territory is largely under Palestinian Authority control. In Area C, Israel has no control over Palestinian civilians. Area A is under full PA control. And Area B is under joint Israeli/Palestinian Authority control.
Why is there a need for any control at all? Because the Palestinians have, since 1947, conspired against Israel, sent out terrorists to kill any Jews they find, used car bombs, suicide bombers and anyone else with a weapon to take terrible revenge on Israelis who have done nothing to harm them. Are little children and babies responsible for the sufferings of the Palestinians? In the West Bank, there is currently great frustration following the successful construction of the security barrier, which has prevented terrorists from inflicting death and injury on innocents. But in the West Bank, murderers are accorded the highest praise if they die, and are honoured everywhere; if they end up in an Israeli prison, their needs and the needs of their families are met by donations from various charities. Would that be tolerated for a moment here? Would Mark Bridger, who killed April Jones, gaze out of his prison window and see posters with his face celebrating what he did? I do not accord Palestinian terrorists any honour at all.
I fear the Palestinian position can best be summed up in these words spoken by none other than Fawzi Qawuqji, who was soon to be head of the Arab Liberation Army, the Arab League’s principal Palestinian armed force in 1948. He said this in the days leading up to the UN General Assembly vote on partition towards the end of 1947. If the vote went against the Arabs, he threatened, ‘we will have to initiate total war. We will murder, wreck and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American or Jewish.’ You need to contemplate this, for Palestinians and other Arabs and Iranians are still saying much the same thing today, 66 years later. It is scurrilous, infamous, and boorish. It is the language of a bully or a gangster. I am sure you do not disagree. But it typifies the Arab approach to this problem. The bullying tone has not once been renounced. Cooler heads have not stood up and been counted. Such threats can be replicated all down the years, in the mouths of hundreds of Arab and Palestinian leaders, in the sermons of imams, muftis, khuttab, ayatollahs, Maraji’, and other Muslim eminences. It is always spiteful, it has no regard for rights, it disavows democracy and civilized behaviour, it sneers at political settlement, it arrogates to Arabs and Muslims the only rights, including the right to political control, it denies even the most basic rights to other people. In shari’a law, a Muslim may not be prosecuted for killing a non-Muslim. Non-Muslims barely count as human beings. Islam itself needs to undergo as much of a moral and ethical shift as Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. But who is addressing that dilemma?
But while preparations for attacks continue, while militant groups march and train, why should Israel not impose security restrictions on the Palestinian community? There is an easy way to stop Israeli control: stop the violence.
As regards water: In 2008 Palestinian per capita daily consumption was 270 litres per day, Israel’s was 405, a factor of 1.5, not 4. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria consume about 5-6 times more water per capita than Israel. Israeli consumption has dropped dramatically due to the need to use water more economically after consecutive years of drought. (Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Israel Water Authority). The claim that the Palestinian water supply is beneath that recommended for basic living standards is entirely false. The Water Agreement (Oslo II, September 1995) determined that water supply to the Palestinians would increase during the period of that Interim Agreement by 28.6 MCM/yr, of which 5 MCM/yr would be supplied to the Gaza Strip and 23.6 MCM/yr to the West Bank. It was agreed that this quantity would be in addition to the quantity consumed by the Palestinians in 2005, namely, 118 MCM. In other words, it was agreed that water supply to the Palestinians during the Interim Agreement period would in the West Bank increase by 20%. This quantity of water would be part of the quantity defined as the ‘Future Needs’ of the Palestinians in the West Bank, ie about 70-80 MCM/yr, which would be provided in the framework of the permanent arrangement. In practice, during the 13 years that have elapsed since the Interim Agreement was signed, water supply to the Palestinians in the West Bank has been increased by 60 MCM/yr (not including Gaza), ie by about 50%.
I recommend the following paper, issued by the World Bank and the Israeli Water Authority, which should help show that the Israelis are not bent on stealing Palestinian water and actually help enormously in providing water supplies to the West Bank.
I agree that life for Palestinians in the West Bank cannot be comfortable. The enclaves you mention are areas caught between the green line and the security barrier, but they aren’t prison camps. But I don’t see the short-term solution. The long-term solution is relatively simple. The Palestinians must embrace speech, in word and in deed. They then need to start a long process to give Israel confidence that there will be no more terrorist attacks and that another international war will not take place. They have to invite teachers into their schools, from the UN, the UK, and Israel who can start the work of re-educating Palestinian children. They have to teach them that Jews are not apes and pigs, that killing innocent people is not praiseworthy, and that peace is always better than war. Once this has gone on for a generation or so and Israelis have confidence, the restrictions may be lifted. It is all harder work than fighting, but its consequences will be profound.

So why on earth wouldn’t it pull out now or at least be nice to the Palestinians?
It can’t pull out now. That would be suicide. Not so long as Israel is surrounded by forces (Palestinians, Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qa’eda, Fatah, Iran, most Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Somalis, Afghans [especially the Taliban], many Pakistanis, jihadi recruits from Europe and North America – the list is long) Israel cannot relax its vigilance. If it pulled out of the West Bank, it could expect exactly what it has received after leaving Gaza. I want to see a successful Palestinian state, but I don’t want to see it turned into an armed fortress, a ribat from which fighters from round the world fight a final jihad against the Jews. So what do we do if we want to see a Palestinian state that isn’t dedicated to the overthrow of its next-door neighbour? The world community has to get its act together, grasp the seriousness of what is happening, stop telling the Israelis how to behave except when they really merit censure, and accept that Palestinian fudging on peace and outright rejection of peace, Palestinian racism and threats of total apartheid, and Palestinian incitement to violence are all unacceptable, whatever the Palestinians deem to be provocation from Israel.
Well, Israel already is nice to the Palestinians.
Sorry, but that is a very ignorant statement.
I make it in the full light of understanding much of what goes on, not from ignorance. Please re-read the paragraph below, together with some additional comments after it.

You are wrong to imply that all Israeli treatment is severely discriminatory. Every year, Israel treats many thousands of Palestinians in its own hospitals. They are not discriminated against at all. They sleep on the same wards as Jews, they are operated on in the same operating rooms by the same surgeons, and for the most part they go home with very favourable opinions of the hospital staff, the first Israelis many of them will have met. Every year, Israel provides 30 million cubic metres of water to the Palestinian Authority (and 70 million to Jordan). Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children are given heart transplants through an Israel charity, Save a Child’s Heart. Under Israeli occupation, the West Bank economy has grown at a terrific rate, quite unlike the case in Hamas-occupied Gaza. Here’s something from a 2011 report by the Washington Institute:

‘Following the establishment of Prime Minister Salam Fayad's government in 2007, the West Bank witnessed rapid GDP growth each year through 2010, including a 12% spike in 2008, 10% in 2009, and 8% in 2010. The IMF attributes this growth to donor aid, improved security conditions, decreased Israeli restrictions on movement, and private-sector confidence due to good management by the Palestinian Authority (PA). In dollar terms (at constant 2004 prices), West Bank GDP climbed from $3.3 billion in 2007 to $4.4 billion in 2010, while per capita GDP went from $1,580 to $1,924, an increase of 22%. The growth looks even better when viewed over a longer period: in 2010, West Bank GDP was 50% higher than in 2000, and 124% higher than in 1994.’
Some other points need to be added. When Israel pulled out of Gaza, it left behind greenhouses purely for the benefit of the people of the strip, together with domestic and other buildings. The Gazans, out of pure spite, destroyed everything. That was definitely Israel and donors being kind only to see their kindness rebuffed. But every year since the withdrawal, Israel has sent in thousands of tons of aid to Gaza, from food, building materials, medical supplies and medicines, and seventy percent of Gaza’s electricity from Israel’s own national grid. Without Israel’s niceness, Gaza would collapse in days. Despite that, Hamas continues to smuggle hundreds of rockets for use against Israel. In addition to the two Israeli charities that provide heart surgery for Palestinian children, thousands of Palestinians are treated every year in Israeli hospitals. Just today, I read a news story about how the life of a ten-year-old Palestinian boy from a village near Hebron has been saved at the Schneider Medical Centre in Petah Tikva. The boy received a kidney transplant. The donor was an Israeli Jew. Yet you sneer when I say Israelis are kind to Palestinians. There are dozens of  schemes and projects that promote tolerance and goodwill between Arabs and Jews, or provide opportunities for the two sides to work together. They all involve Israelis being kind to Palestinians and Palestinians putting aside their grievances to cooperate with Jews.
The Alliance for Middle East Peace is made up by over 70 leading NGOs and has an independent international; fund for peace. Friends of the Earth Middle East brings together activists from the West Bank, `Israel and Jordan. It works, among other things, to promote the sharing of water resources. The Valley of Peace initiative for economic development brings together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Among other things, it runs fifty factories where Jews and Palestinians work side by side.
Friends of the Earth Middle East brings together activists from Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, and works, among other things, on ways of sharing water resources fairly. There are the Peres Centre for Peace, the Aix Group economic study team, the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, Givat Haviva’s Jewish-Arab Centre for Peace, found in 1949 by Ha’Kibbutz Ha’Arzi Federation, the Parents’ Circle, which brings together families from Israel and the West Bank who have lost family members in the struggle, founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son Arik was killed by Hamas; Avi Levi, director of Green Action, works in the West Bank with Arab farmers to help them set up cooperatives; Olives of Peace (rather similar to Green Action) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian business that sells good quality olive oil (under the brand name Peace Oil, which I have used); since 1970, the Israeli Jewish-Israeli Muslim village of Neve Shalom has been a model of co-existence, organizing humanitarian projects, including yet more medical aid to Palestinians, two schools and a training facility called the School for Peace; the Hamidrasha Jewish-Arab beit midrash, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian men and women study together and learn from one an other; the Ir Shalem co-existence programme, run by the left-wing organization Peace Now; there is the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, of which you should know; the famous West-Eastern Divan, founded by Daniel Barenboim, whose orchestra brings together young Israeli and Palestinian musicians and tours them internationally; Middle East Education through Technology, which works with MIT and the Hebrew University and brings young Israelis and Palestinians; Hand in Hand, four schools for Arab and Jewish pupils, using both Hebrew and Arabic; the Institute for Circlework, founded by a Jewish German, Jalaja Bonheim, to empower Jewish and Arab women ­ and many, many more. Most of these are Israeli-initiated enterprises, others are Palestinian in origin. Seeing all this, how can you say that Israelis are not kind to Palestinians? That some soldiers and some haredi settlers treat Arabs badly is true, and it gives me cause for concern. But there are so many positive things about Israel and its treatment of an implacable enemy, that I prefer to engage with that than to play ball with the thoroughly negative, anti-peace philosophy of the Palestinian leadership, which offers nothing but hostility, Judaeophobia, a hatred of the West, of democracy, and international law.

Could that have been achieved under a policy of severe discrimination?
Answer: yes. Its not too surprising. All sorts of horrors, eg slavery,  are often quite good for the economic figures.
I find this cynical beyond belief. To speak of ‘horrors’ is ugly, and it is completely wrong to drag in slavery where it bears no relevance. Jews only ever played a very minor role in the Transatlantic slave trade, and there were many Jews who took part in the anti-slavery movements, such as Ernestine Rose (described by slavery supporters as ‘a thousand times below a prostitute’), Heinrich Heine, or Nathan Meyer Rothschild. Modern Israel is entirely free of slavery. Mauretania has about 600,000 slaves, some 20% of the population. The UEA, including Dubai, have an extensive quasi-slavery network, including child slaves and trafficked women.  Saudi Arabia has a large slave population. Sudan still has the largest slave population in the world. Rather than refer, however obliquely, to slavery in a context that implies Israel, might you not be better to involve yourself with one of the charities that works to free slaves and to end the cultural predisposition for slavery in Africa and the Gulf States?

But let’s get back to context. How familiar are you with the historical background to the present situation?
Very familiar, I would say.

You will, I’m sure, know all about the way Israel was created, how the United Nations awarded two states, one to the Jews and one to the Arabs.

This was done without consulting the local population and was a collosal mistake. A small minority of the population was awarded 50% of the land, without taking into account the views of the others. We live with the legacy.
As a matter of fact, the local population was consulted more than once, notably after the Peel Commission reported. Their rejection of every kind of compromise was based on attitudes that had no relevance for modern international law, based on Islamic intransigence in the face of legal moves not derived from shari’a law. You say a small minority of the population was given 50% of the land. That is not true. The original Palestine mandate was large, and much of it was made up of the stretch that became Transjordan (later Jordan), which was handed in its entirety to the Arabs. It forms 80% of the original area set aside for a Jewish and Arab homeland. The final UN partition plan gave 56% of what remained to the Jews, and 43% to the Arabs. But that’s not all. The Arabs already had the giant territory of Jordan, which is today a Palestinian state with a 90% Palestinian population. In the partition plan (if the Arabs had accepted it, the Arab state would have a 99% Arab and some other population, with 1% Jews. The Jewish state would have 55% Jews and 45% Arabs. The international sector would have had 49% Jews and 51% Arabs. Overall, the Arabs received 61% of the mandated territory and the Jews a mere 33%. One-third, not a half.
We live, not with the legacy of the partition, but with the legacy of the Arab refusal to give even an inch, combined with the readiness of the Arabs to have recourse to weapons, to prefer murder to round the table talks, to the Khartoum Declaration of ‘No negotiations with Israel, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel’, the Hamas Charter’s declaration that talks and negotiations are ‘a waste of time’ and that the only solution to the problem is through jihad. I do not give people who think like this the right to dictate how I or my friends should live or where we should live or if we should live. If they invade Israel or attack or kill Israelis, they should be hunted down and killed or disarmed. That is the moral thing to do. Otherwise, the Jews might as well have invited all the post-Reich Nazis to come to the Middle East (as so many did) in order to continue the Holocaust. Is there a difference? None that I can see. That is the legacy Israel still has to fight against.

Of course, the British had already given away a large tract of the future Jewish homeland when it created Jordan, but in the end it all boiled down to two states. Exactly the same thing as everybody’s ‘twin state solution’ today. The Jews took what they were given and were invaded by five Arab countries. The Arabs refused to establish a state unless it included the entirety of mandate Palestine. The rest is history. The Arabs have fought several wars to drive the Jews out of the region, they have openly stated (if we want to talk about explicit policies) a catch-all doctrine of ‘No negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel’. Would it make your life easy if your research partners adopted such a policy? The Arabs have turned down more generous peace offers down the years than any beleaguered people in history. And Mahmoud ‘Abbas still says there can be no Jews in a future Palestinian state, while insisting in Arabic that Israel will be wiped out and replaced by a greater Palestine. These are not easy conditions in which to work for peace.

Israel defines itself as a "Jewish state", and states that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel - an attitude calculated to enrage 1.5bn muslims. I am not sure of the situation now but partners in the previous Likud government advocated a greater Israel including all of present-day Jordan. I believe that the new star of Israeli politics (Benny something) runs on a popular platform that there will be no Palestinian state. The consequence of that is either permanent apartheid, or expulsion of the Palestinians. No, these are not easy conditions in which to work for peace.
Malcolm, Why should 1.5 bn Muslims be enraged if Israeli regards Jerusalem as its capital? What has it to do with them? Jerusalem was never the capital of any Muslim or Arab state. It is not particularly holy for Muslims. Muhammad originally made it the focus for prayer (the qibla) when he was living in Mecca. Some months after his arrival in Medina, he turned round 360 degrees to face Mecca instead, and that has been the Qibla ever since. Neither the Dome of the Rock (the Qubbat al-Sakhra) or the al-Aqsa Mosque was built in the time of Muhammad, and al-Aqsa is something like the fifth or sixth mosque built on that spot . The Temple Mount is, by contrast, the holiest place on earth to Jews, since it is where the Jewish Temple once stood. Why should Israel hand it over to anyone else? When the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they destroyed some 50 synagogues. In Hebron, the Ma’aret Ha-Machpelah, the second holiest place to Jews, is divided between Jews and Muslims, with a vastly greater portion in Muslim hands. Israel, on the other hand, does a fantastic job under its law for the protection of holy places to safeguard all Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i sites. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia almost every single site associated with Muhammad and his companions has been reduced to rubble in order to prevent pilgrims praying there, which would constitute polytheism. The 1.5 bn Muslims would do better to be enraged about the Al-Sa’ud dynasty that takes on itself the right to permanently dispose of Islam’s holiest places.
I really think you should ignore Israeli extremists, just as you would ignore British extremists like the EDL or BNP. Israel has offered a full state to the Palestinians since 1948 and well before, and no Israeli majority will go with the sort of expansionism you cite. Religious extremists do talk about the full recovery of Judaea and Samaria, but that is not at all likely to happen. If the Israelis tried it, they know a massive war would break out and that every country on earth would oppose them. They (including Likud) are realists., Israel was set up to be ‘a Jewish state’ from the beginning, and since there are dozens of ‘Muslim states’ and ‘Christian states’, I think it not unreasonable of the Jews to want a very tiny one of their own. The ‘Benny’ you refer to is probably Naftali Bennet, a former member of the Yesha Council, the principal organ of the settler movement. You’re right, he does have some offensive ideas. But you should be aware that Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned Bennet in the strongest terms.
All that prevents the Palestinians from having their own state is the Palestinians. Israelis have made the offers, done the pullouts, suffered the wars and the intifadas, put their children into uniform generation after generation, swallowed the rocket attacks, made more offers, given the aid, cured the sick, buried their dead, asked for respect, listened to the hate speech, swallowed the lies, prayed for normality, and faced contumely abroad. The Palestinians have rejected every peace offer Israel has ever made, and as a result they have lost thousands of dead, warped their culture, debased their children, pronounced again and again ‘The Jews love life, but we love death, so we will win’, as if this was to do with winning, and they have made conflict their raison d’être. They live in a miserable world, surrounded by a fence, posters of their dead on their walls, their children armed, their mothers singing how happy it makes them to know their sons are dead. It is a bizarre world, especially in Gaza, like 1984 or David Karp’s dystopia in One, and it is all their own doing.

But until the Palestinians agree to make peace with Israel (as Egypt and Jordan have done), Israel simply cannot pull out of the West Bank. It has already pulled out of Gaza, with disastrous consequences for both sides. Why would Israel wish further violence upon itself?

Because Israel cannot be a democracy (even in the limited sense of a Jewish state) if it continues to rule over another non-Jewish people against their will. So Israel has to make peace. Seriously. Not trying to get away with talk of peace while transparent land robbery continues. Everyone sees through the charade.
Israel does not rule over another non-Jewish people against its will. In Israel proper, everyone has a vote and a majority are happy to live in Israel, where their life prospects are much better than they would be in any Arab state. Israel did not choose to rule over Gaza or the West Bank, or, for that matter, Sinai, the Golan, or southern Lebanon. It pulled out of Sinai, Gaza, and southern Lebanon, and remains in the Golan. Prior to the 1967 war, Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, by Jordan. When Egypt, Jordan and their allies massed troops on Israel’s borders, with the intention of launching a massive attack, Israel had no choice but to counter that offensive. The Arabs lost and Israel came into possession of Gaza and the West Bank. If the Palestinians had come to their senses and responded to Israeli peace offers, both Gaza and the West Bank would soon have been free for the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, the Palestinians have preached fire and brimstone ever since, and Israel has been forced to remain in the West Bank to preserve some degree of security. Israel is visibly a democracy, but a democracy that faces widespread opprobrium and repeated attempts to destroy it or, in Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad’s words ‘to annihilate it’ (qal’ o qam’ kard). There is no ‘transparent land robbery’.  UN Resolution 242, with which you may be familiar, was drafted both to guarantee the Palestinians their state but to provide Israel with a strategy to avoid returning to the pre-5 June lines. Israel was required to withdraw, but not from all the territories. In accordance with this, various Israeli peace offers have specified land swaps in order to replace territories lost by Palestine. But the Israeli withdrawal was made contingent on Palestinian acceptance of peace, something that has not once been forthcoming. The offer of land is still there, but how often does someone have to bite the hand that feeds him before the hand gives up?

And it is the violence that lies behind the sometimes harsh conditions imposed on West Bank Palestinians. You cannot take the violence out of the equation. It is the overriding context. The Jews do not undertake their obligations in the West Bank lightly or gratuitously. Under the Balfour Declaration adopted in the San Remo Agreement, and also under the cession of sovereignty under Article 95 of the Treaty of Sèvres, there is a limitation on the political rights of the Jews. They are prohibited from impairing the civil or religious rights of non-Jews when they exercise sovereignty. But no nation on earth can give up its right to self-defence. Palestinian culture, on the other hand, will not give up its right to aggression. Calls for jihad, praise of ‘martyrs’ (i.e. suicide bombers), threats to kill Jews because they are beasts or viruses or cancers are a staple of Palestinian TV, of mosque sermons, and of political speeches in Arabic. And over the years since the 1920s, violence directed against Jews and Israelis has been fierce, regular, ruthless, and deeply destructive. The two intifadas killed thousands of Israelis and destroyed entire families.

Lots of violence on both sides, sure. But you surely know that Israel has killed approx 7 times as many Palestinians as the inverse.
A not negligible proportion of Palestinians have killed themselves, by using suicide vests or guns or other homicidal devices, knowing full well that they may be killed by IDF troops or agents of Israel seeking to find the killers of innocents. It is not surprising if the number of Palestinians killed is greater than the number of Israelis, given how often the Palestinians have thrown themselves recklessly against better armed opponents. That’s a shame, but it is how things have been. Sven times is, in any case, incorrect. The true figure is less than four time. From the beginning, 24,841 Israelis have been killed and 90,785 Palestinians. And it’s about twice for the wounded: 35,350 Israelis against 67,602 Palestinians.
Why not look at this table, which shows that the Israel-Palestine conflict is low down the list when it comes to fatalities.
Conflicts since 1950 with over 10,000 Fatalities (all figures rounded)
1. 40,000,000, Red China, 1949-76 (outright killing, manmade famine, Gulag)
2. 10,000,000, Soviet Bloc: late Stalinism, 1950-53; post-Stalinism, to 1987 (mostly Gulag)
3, 4,000,000, Ethiopia, 1962-92: Communists under Mengistu, artificial hunger, genocides
4. 3,800,000, Zaire (Congo-Kinshasa): 1967-68; 1977-78; 1992-95; 1998-present
5. 2,800,000, Korean war, 1950-53
6. 1,900,000, Sudan, 1955-72; 1983-2006 (civil wars, genocides)
7. 1,870,000, Cambodia: Khmer Rouge 1975-79; civil war 1978-91
8. 1,800,000, Vietnam War, 1954-75
9. 1,800,000, Afghanistan: Soviet and internecine killings, Taliban 1980-2001
10. 1,250,000, West Pakistan massacres in East Pakistan (Bangladesh 1971)
11. 1,100,000, Nigeria, 1966-79 (Biafra); 1993-present
12. 1,100,000, Mozambique, 1964-70 (30,000) + after retreat of Portugal 1976-92
13. 1,000,000, Iran-Iraq-War, 1980-88
14. 900,000, Rwanda genocide, 1994
15. 875,000, Algeria: against France 1954-62 (675,000); between Islamists and the government 1991-2006 (200,000)
16. 850,000, Uganda, 1971-79; 1981-85; 1994-present
17. 650,000, Indonesia: Marxists 1965-66 (450,000); East Timor, Papua, Aceh etc, 1969-present (200,000)
18. 580,000, Angola: war against Portugal 1961-72 (80,000); after Portugal's retreat (1972-2002)
19. 500,000, Brazil against its Indians, up to 1999
20. 430,000, Vietnam, after the war ended in 1975 (own people; boat refugees)
21. 400,000, Indochina: against France, 1945-54
22. 400,000, Burundi, 1959-present (Tutsi/Hutu)
23. 400,000, Somalia, 1991-present
24. 400,000, North Korea up to 2006 (own people)
25. 300,000 Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, 1980s-1990s
26. 300,000, Iraq, 1970-2003 (Saddam against minorities)
27. 240,000, Colombia, 1946-58; 1964-present
28. 200,000, Yugoslavia, Tito regime, 1944-80
29. 200,000, Guatemala, 1960-96
30. 190,000, Laos, 1975-90
31. 175,000, Serbia against Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, 1991-1999
32. 150,000, Romania, 1949-99 (own people)
33. 150,000, Liberia, 1989-97
34. 140,000, Russia against Chechnya, 1994-present
35. 150,000, Lebanon civil war, 1975-90
36. 140,000, Kuwait War, 1990-91
37. 130,000, Philippines: 1946-54 (10,000); 1972-present (120,000)
38. 130,000, Burma/Myanmar, 1948-present
39. 100,000, North Yemen, 1962-70
40. 100,000, Sierra Leone, 1991-present
41. 100,000, Albania, 1945-91 (own people)
42. 80,000, Iran, 1978-79 (revolution)
43. 75,000, Iraq, 2003-present (domestic)
44. 75,000, El Salvador, 1975-92
45. 70,000, Eritrea against Ethiopia, 1998-2000
46. 68,000, Sri Lanka, 1997-present
47. 60,000, Zimbabwe, 1966-79; 1980-present
48. 60,000, Nicaragua, 1972-91 (Marxists/natives etc)
49. 51,000, Arab-Israeli conflict 1950 – present (+ 8,000 to 15,000 Arabs 1948-49)

Hence the checkpoints, patrols, separate roads and the checks on a people many of whose young men and women are devoted to violence. I could continue at length in describing Palestinian terrorism, but I’m sure you don’t have that much patience, so I’ll focus instead on a single instance, from which you may draw broader conclusions.

In December 2004, Wafa al-Biss, a young Palestinian woman from Gaza was treated for severe burns at Beersheva’s Soroka Medical Centre. She remained in hospital till January 2005. In the following June, she had to return to the hospital for further treatment. On her way to Beersheva, she had to pass through a checkpoint, where she was found to be carrying a 22-pound bomb strapped to one leg. She tried to detonate it there and then, but was prevented. After several years in prison, she was released as part of the deal freeing terrorists for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Schoolchildren awaited her on her return home, and she said to them ‘I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs.’ That is fiendish beyond all human expectation. Wafa al-Biss planned to detonate herself among the doctors and nurses who had saved her life, and among as many children as possible. Do you think checkpoints are mere discrimination? Wafa is not the last Palestinian stopped wearing a suicide vest and planning to gain access to a hospital, to a hospital where Israel doctors and nurses treat ailing Palestinian entirely without discrimination. Checkpoints and other restrictions that are imposed on the denizens of the West Bank are entirely self-inflicted. It is all about security. Violence and security, twin contexts for restrictive treatment. It is surely obvious: stop the violence and the preaching of violence and you will be treated like anybody else. I can remember checkpoints vividly in Belfast. Just a short walk through town would take me through several checkpoints manned by the army or the police. It was a restriction, but I never grumbled because I knew why checkpoints were there. Once, almost my whole family was wiped out when a bomb exploded under their train. By pure chance, the train was travelling more slowly than usual. If further restrictions had been suggested, would I or my family have said ‘no’?

I appreciate the personal anecdote and I do understand the difficult situation Israelis are in. But Israel cannot get out of its mess by pretending that it is not to blame. Israel is continuously grabbing more and more land and water by settlements. Jewish thugs are entering Palestinian houses and turfing the family out on the street while the IDF stands and watches. Do you not know this? I do not know which side of the divide you were in N Ireland. But suppose you were a catholic. A protestant gang comes into your family house and throws you and your old mother onto the street. The police stand by and laugh. What do you do? Would you be immune to the call for violent retribution?

You seem to have a lot of time for identifying with the predicament of Israelis, but nothing whatsoever for the (much worse) predicament of Palestinians.
But Israel is not grabbing more and more land. The land swaps already on the table will produce 100% of what will be Palestinian territory. The UN has agreed to let Israel retain some of the West Bank in order to provide security for the Jewish side. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, what happened? Has Hamas’s response to freedom been at all helpful to the peace process? That is why Israel is reluctant to pull out of the West Bank too quickly, knowing that Hamas is geared up to take control of the territory.
Israel is providing greater and greater amounts of water to the Palestinians. It is completely in line with its requirements under the Oslo Accords, and currently supplies 30% more water than strictly required. 96% of Palestinians now have running water. Despite Palestinian claims, Israelis and Palestinians use almost the same amount of water. As of 2012, per capita water use is 150 MCM for Israelis and 140 MCM for Palestinians. However, Palestinian mismanagement of water resources has led to the loss of one-third of their own water. The Palestinians do not treat 94% of their wastewater, whereas Israelis recycle 75% of theirs. Palestinians get the highest amount of aid of any community in the world, so there should be plenty of money to cater for this.
Where Jewish thugs enter Palestinian houses I share your distaste. If IDF soldiers stand by, they should be court-martialed or disciplined in some other way. I do care about the predicament of ordinary Palestinians, but I have no sympathy at all for their disastrous leadership, which has got them into a succession of disasters year after year. And to the extent that many ordinary Palestinians support violent action against Israelis, praise murderers, listen to mosque sermons that heap the very worst abuse on Jews (and do note that, in Arabic it is much, much more common to speak of al-Yahud than al-Sahyuniyya), watch television shows that would be banned in any Western country, bring their children up like the children in Ishiguru’s Never Let Me Go, knowing they will die as they reach adulthood, hand round sweets on hearing of murders like the massacre of the Fogel family – that is to say, when them behave like reprobates  and scoundrels, then I cannot praise them or smile at them, because I know the next bomb will be for me or a friend of mine. Is it asking too much of them to behave like grown-ups, to act to give their children lives, to start businesses, to recognize that they live right next door to one of the most successful countries in the world, and to ask for help from Israeli expertise?

Further down you write that ‘since Israel maintains total military control of all of historic Palestine it should be viewed as a single unit’. Apart from the non-sequitur, this illustrates the gulf between us in terms of academic disciplines. The statement is nonsensical. Israel occupies only a part of what you term ‘historical Palestine’. Put simply, there was never any entity called Palestine between the Roman departure (when it was Syria Palaestina), the Byzantine period and finally the era of the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid empires and the creation of British mandate Palestine. Under the preceding Ottoman empire, it was regarded as essentially southern Syria, and it was as part of Syria that the Arabs in the 1930s and 1940s wanted to treat it. The British mandate area is the only one relevant to present claims. It is much smaller than the area of Syria Palaestina, which may be historical but is wholly irrelevant to modern international boundaries. A large part of it was the area handed to the Hashemite Arabs to form Transjordan (now Jordan). Israel is not in military occupation of Jordan. Gaza was at one point occupied by Egypt, but then fell into Israeli hands until 2005, when it was handed back to its Arab residents. Israel is not in military occupation of Gaza. Israel itself is not under military occupation, since it was legally established as a state through the San Remo conference, the League of Nations, and the United Nations. The only area under Israeli occupation is the West Bank, but things are not that simple.

Following the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel relinquished much of its control over the West Bank. The area is now divided into three sectors. Sector A is totally under Palestinian control and includes 55% of West Bank Palestinians. Area B has Palestinian civilian administration with Israeli security. It includes 41% of West Bank Palestinians. And Area C is under Israeli control but includes a mere 4% of West Bank Palestinians. What this boils down to is that Israel has military control over 4 per cent of all West Bank Palestinians and no control over 96%, nor any over all the Palestinians living in Gaza. So in what sense does it make sense to speak of ‘all of historical Palestine’ (whatever you mean by that) as ‘a single unit’.

Thanks for the history lesson, but it's all pretty irrelevant. The general understanding of the term Palestine is the area between the med and Jordan valley/Dead Sea.
Well, I’m the historian, and I don’t understand why you would consider all that irrelevant. The definition of Palestine you give is only the area used to define the British Mandate (and it goes right to the eastern border of Jordan if you take the original British Mandate area). There was no ‘Palestine’ prior to 1920, and only the Arabs and Palestinians use your definition today. But the area you mean was southern Syria, and in the lead up to 1948, there was considerable rivalry between Syria and Jordan, both of whom wanted it to form a Greater Syria (yes, even the Jordanians).

If you mean that the whole of mandate Palestine (minus Jordan) should become a single entity, in other words, one country then I must tell you that that would not only spell the end of Israel, it would almost certainly lead to a genocide of today’s 6 million Jews. Hamas alone have promised that task to themselves, and if you read their Charter, you will see the threat spelled out in stark language. That Charter is readily available online. Here’s a link to a translation (which I recommend) from Yale University: No-one who ha                                                                                                              s not read it (or any of the crucial documents included in the classic compilation, the Israel-Arab Reader) really has a right to make suggestions for the future of Jews living in Israel, however well meaning those suggestions may be.

See above about the situation in Gaza. The horrendous conditions has provided fertile ground for violent extremism there. But the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, including the majority from Hamas, are ready to make an accommodation with Israel. It will certainly not be easy, and a two-state arrangement is almost certainly necessary as an intermediate step. Unfortunately Israel has done everything it can, with its destructive settlement policy, to make a two-state arrangement even more difficult than it would have been.
Malcolm, I can agree with some of this, but not all. You blame the extremism on the ‘horrendous conditions’ in Gaza, but the truth is very different. The beginnings of Salafi Islam in its modern form go back to the 1920s with the work of a fundamentalist writer, Rashid Rida in Egypt. He was soon followed by Hasan al-Banna’, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, also in Egypt, modeled on the Hitler organizations on the 1930s. Later, the great Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, created the most extreme style of Muslim thought and wrote a seminal book, Ma’rakatuna ma’a’l-Yahud, Our Struggle with the Jews. Back in the 1940s, the Brotherhood engendered branches in other countries, one of which was the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, now known as Hamas. In India Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi became greatly influential in the Arab world after his anti-democratic, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish books were translated into Arabic.
Islamic terrorism has deep roots, and those roots have been as much in comfortable and prosperous cultures as in impoverished ones. Today, Gaza boasts luxury hotels and restaurants, its elite drives expensive sports cars, house prices are galloping up. Things are bad, but not so bad. That has not led to any diminution of attacks on Israel, any reduction in the hate speech directed against Jews, or any willingness to talk with an enemy who has offered and still offers benefits to the people of Gaza.
I certainly do not agree that ‘Israel has done everything it can, with its destructive settlement policy, to make a two-state arrangement even more difficult than it would have been.’ Read the Hamas Charter, as I suggested earlier. The Charter inveighs against peace plans of all kinds and insists that only war can solve their problems. How do you expect to get a two-state solution when one side sets its face firmly against such a solution and demands only what it wants and to hell with everybody else? These are people who threw their own Palestinian rivals out of windows in high-rise buildings. If not actually insane, Hamas fall little short of it and clearly suffer from personality defects that rule out a healthy nationalism, moderate religion, and a willingness to talk.

You say, moreover, ‘the fact that there is a fraction partitioned off in such a way as to have a local Jewish majority and which is favoured with a high degree of democratic rights is not highly relevant, in my opinion’. That is pure bigotry, and I don’t hesitate to say so.

Why this should be bigotry is unknown to me.
Perhaps I misunderstand you. But the implication is that a Jewish-majority entity, even with democratic rights, is not relevant to our discussion. What if it were an Arab-majority entity with democratic rights? Would that seem relevant? I would consider either to be relevant to any discussion of a two-state solution.

Israel was created  in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman empire as were Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, all of which had the same rights (though the Arabs dispensed with democracy pretty quickly). It was created as a home for the Jews, a people who were severely persecuted in Europe, killed in their millions, and treated as second-class citizens in the Islamic world. That was its raison d’être, and it has fulfilled its promise very well indeed. The fact that in this region only the Jewish state knows how to govern itself, functions democratically, provides full freedom for the press, gives opposition parties and anti-Israel NGOs the same rights they would have here is highly relevant. All the Arab states have had exactly the same chance as Israel to lead democratic lives and all have disintegrated into tyranny and religious extremism. That is a very good argument for saying that Israel, not any of its wanton neighbours, should be the model for government across the Middle East. But all the surrounding states spit nothing but the most vicious antisemitism and seek to destroy Israel, with all the good things it has done for mankind.

See above. The conflict is not between Israel and the Arab states, but between Zionist jews and Palestinians.
As I have said before, it is both of these and more. A majority of Jews support Israel. 75% of US Jews polled in 2010 said that caring about Israel is a significant part of their Jewish identity. So, most Jews are Zionists, and for good reason. But this is not mainly a conflict between Zionist Jews (or Zionist non-Jews like myself) and Palestinians, nor a clash between Israel and the Arab states. Many Arab states are not much involved in the conflict. Most important, and related to what I have just said about Islamic extremist, the rejection of Israel coincides with the emergence of a resurgent Islam and the growth of intemperate, fractious, and intolerant forms of Islamic belief and practice. Traditionally, Islam has never conceded much to non-Muslims, and this absolutism is rampant in the modern era. Why should Israel or Jews be held to blame for Islamic obstinacy?

‘Even these local democratic rights have some severe discriminatory aspects such as the “law of return” which is racially based and inhumane.’ The international community created Israel as the world’s only Jewish state.
True. But this was done without consultation, and against the wishes, of the inhabitants of the area.
That’s not true. I’m tempted to embark on another history, but I’ll try to restrict it here. Israel was not created ‘without consultation’. Endless consultations took place between the different parties involved before and following the UN partition resolution. It seems that the Arabs, however, were quite weak in their approach to lobbying, whereas the Jews were much better at it. The decision to create a Jewish homeland within or alongside an Arab state was made in the wake of one war and completed in the wake of a second, when the League of Nations and the United Nations dealt with the fragmentation of the Middle East, first after the total collapse of the utterly undemocratic, non-consultative Ottoman empire. There were numerous Arab organizations capable of negotiating with the British and members of the UN. The various members of the Arab League met regularly and were represented by the rulers of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, who talked with the British, Americans and others. There was no lack of consultation. You are quite to say that partition was against the wishes of the inhabitants of the area, but had they agreed to two states, it is highly likely that the outcome would have been to their benefit.
Today, as endless government reports and individual surveys will tell you, antisemitism has grown out of measure in Europe and the Middle East, to the point where Jews have fled or are fleeing countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Holland has gone into antisemitic overdrive. Belgium the same. Attacks on Jews are up everywhere. Even as a non-Jew I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. But in my childhood and youth I thought genocide of the Jews to be a thing of the past, buried in all our memories, never likely to come into the light again. I was wrong. Yet knowing that another Holocaust is no longer such an impossible thing, I read the words of a rational man, and I see him determined to weaken the one country in the world that can guarantee a safe haven for any Jew who seeks it. Jews have a right of return because Jews need the protection it affords.

Fine. I do not have a problem with that. But Palestinians who were expelled from that same place must also have a right of return. In fact they already have a right of return, enshrined in the Geneva conventions and numerous UN resolutions. The problem is that Israel and its supporters block its implementation.
The right of return issue is complex enough to take up the time of whole university departments. All the covenants and resolutions that bear on this subject have been analyzed, discussed, agreed with and disagreed with ad nauseam. It is arguable that the Palestinians who left Israel in 1948 and 1967 do not have a right of return. And I see no sign of a right of return or compensation for the roughly 900,000 Jews who were forced out of the Arab world post-1949. I do not like the idea of a right of return, not just for the 1948-49 refugees, but also for their descendants to the present day. I cannot see why Israel should bear the cost of repatriating people who were pushed out of their territory by Arab committees and armed forces. Given the subsequent behaviour of the Palestinians, I do not for a moment understand why Israel should allow into its territory people who have fought against it, agitated against it, boycotted it, and threatened it with extinction should they ever get a chance. Note that this privilege is never extended to other refugees from around the world. Those who were displaced after World War II were eventually given new homes and granted new citizenships, but the Arabs have refused citizenship for Palestinian refugees, kept them in camps, and demand they be returned to Israel, where they will, in all probability, cause disruption and renew violence. The abstracts cited by the Arabs bear no relationship to the ongoing for a Jewish safe haven in a world awash with anti-Semitism.

The result is that a Russian who can rustle or bribe through some papers stating 1/4 Jewish ancestory on his mothers side can arrive in Israel and claim citizenship, while my friend in Southampton, who has the keys and the legal deeds to his family's house in Majdal Askalan (now Ashkelon), cannot cross the borders.
Is your friend a British citizen? If so, he lives in a stable country, and no doubt his children are well educated and will have successful futures. If he is a British citizen or intends to become one, he can pass into Israel on the same basis as myself. This country is full of people from disparate countries, many of whom are asylum seekers and refugees. They are not given an automatic right of return to their homeland, simply because that ‘s not how the i

I do not challenge your right to criticize Israel. But you carry that criticism into irrational and prejudiced territory. I have asked you to examine real facts about Israel, but you come back to me with surmises and inaccuracies. Your profession drives you to do better than that. To visit Israel with open eyes. See fault by all means, but do not load your criticism with existential weight, do not call for the extinction of one of the best, most creative, most human rights focused countries in the world – for such I hold Israel to be.

I do not call for the extinction of Israel. On the contrary, I think that a wise Israeli government would immediately withdraw the settlements, agree to implement UN resolutions, allow the refugees to return or be compensated, and allow the formation of a truth and reconciliation committee on the S African lines in which the crimes of both sides will be aired and defused. A secure Palestinian state would be set up alongside a secure Israel. I think that is surprisingly likely. My experience of Israelis and Palestinians has made me realize that the two peoples are astonishingly similar.
I agree with some of this, but not all. If giving up the settlements would guarantee peace, I would agree to it. Removing settlements did help foster peace in Sinai. That included the struggle to take families from their homes in Yamit. But I don’t see any precedent for that, do you? Pulling out of Gaza did diddley squat for the prospects of peace, and actually worsened the situation. And just as you call for the Palestinian refugees to be restored to Israel, yet you refuse to let 350,150 Jewish settlers stay in the West Bank. A truth and reconciliation committee would, no doubt, be a good idea, but not if it resulted in reiteration of all the trumped-up charges against Israel. Crimes there have been, but most of what Israel has done has been legal. I’m pleased to read that you think two secure states side by side is ‘surprisingly likely’, though I confess that I’m less optimistic. If this were a straightforward political struggle, I’d agree. But the introduction of Islamic defiance at a period when Islamic is on the march and wants nothing to do with Western ways of doing things makes me skeptical about the likelihood of change. The two peoples are indeed astonishingly similar, but the two religions are poles apart.

In the fullness of time I would hope that the two states merge into a single democratic entity.
Malcolm, I’d like to look again and finally at this last statement of yours. I believe it is the most crucial thing and the truest signal to the nature of the dispute between us. It is easier for me to see, I believe, because I am greatly experienced in Islamic Studies. Your statement is – tell me I’m wrong if I misinterpret you – founded on your experience with European, North American Australian, Christian, and Jewish democratic understandings of the state, of treaty-based internationalism, of human rights, and of the multicultural society. If I thought that a future Jewish-Palestinian entity would be based on the Westphalian theory of international order, on the original ideals of the League of Nations and the United Nations, I might well agree that it would be the perfect solution, though I would remain cautious of a world that did not permit a Jewish state. Nevertheless, it is an ideal to aspire to, and I commend you for it.
But I must say that I think you are very wrong indeed in what you assume. The issue is not Western international law. It never has been. The core of this matter is Islamic law. A long lecture on this subject would take pages upon pages, and I have no desire to inflict that on you. I will concrete only on what is salient to this discussion. First, shari’a law is divine. Its basis lies first in the Qur’an, the unalterable word of God. No-one in over 1400 years has ever challenged this text. Its second basis is made up of six canonical books, the collections of the sayings and doings of Muhammad. These are not God’s word, but they are the next best thing to it and cannot easily be challenged. Finally, some shari’a is founded in the sira or biography of the prophet. The methods of modern historical science do not apply to either the hadith or the sira (or only for Western scholars and a tiny number of Muslims).
This means that the matters I am about to mention can never be challenged without a real risk of apostasy, which will be met with threats of physical violence and attempts on the writer’s life. A majority will always favour retention of laws derived from these sources.
According to Rudolph Peters, the world’s leading analyst of Islamic holy war, the Islamic law of nations is based, not on treaty obligations or the deliberations of international institutions, but on the law of jihad. It is as simple as that, and it works in a manner utterly different to the concepts of Western nations, all of which are negated by Islamic thinkers. The law of jihad states that Muslims are bound to spread the faith of Islam by preaching followed by physical conquest of non-Muslim territory. The early history of Islam (starting with the prophet) is one of continuous conquest, and later Islamic history is a story of further jihad accompanied by mercantile endeavours and open conversion. If a territory starts out as the abode of pagans or atheists, there will be a call to conversion, followed by mass killing. If (as happened in the early phase) the territory belongs to Christians (or, in theory, Jews, or, in Iran, Zoroastrians) the inhabitants will be fought if they fight back and may be killed in battle. But on conquest they may choose between death and the status of dhimmis or protected people, provided they pay the jizya or poll tax and observe various regulations that enforce their role as submissives (Islam itself means ‘submission’). This has taken place throughout Islamic history. It has been marked by the decline in Christian and Jewish communities, especially in the modern period.
The principle behind all this is that Muslims are regarded as the followers of God’s final revelation, possessors of his final word (with the Jewish and Christian scriptures dismissed as ‘corrupt’) and, as such have a permanent mission to bring Islam to the rest of mankind, by preaching where possible, but mainly through conquest by jihad. For the rest of the world, this is a threat, and one that has a present-day reality in the spread of violent Islam terrorism.
Should your unitary state ever come into being, I would count the lives of Israel’s Jews in days. Remonstrations from the United Nations, the European Union, and anybody else would be disregard. Because the Jews have fought against the Arabs (and, in a fashion, against the Iranians), the desire to drive them to condign punishment would override all other sentiments. They would be treated as Muhammad treated the Jews of Medina in his day. Killing them would be another Final Solution. The Western powers, recognizing the need not to antagonize the Arabs, newly come into possession of Israel’s shale oil and gas reserves, would not seek to rock the boat.
Naturally, the Jews of Israel (and others from round the world) would not want to let that happen to them, so the conflict would continue and perhaps the Arabs would be expelled for a second time. But there are dozens of Islamic countries, and the creation of a single entity would doubtless encourage all of them to send forces in order to root out the Jewish presence once and for all.
What would not happen is the happy home you envisage. Israel is not in the heart of Europe, and Europe has lost its love for Jews and the Jewish state.

In the end, I believe there is one hypostatic thing that separates us. This is a willingness on my part to accept as benign a democratic, law-based, rights-observant state, with many warts and blemishes, with repeated yet scarcely deliberate failures to live up to its own ideals and aspirations. I am willing to accept Israel as it is, with constant hope for improvement ­– something that has, in so many ways and by so many measures, already taken in place, albeit in part. This has happened against the odds, for no other country in human history has been so hated and so often threatened with extinction.
Whereas you, even though you know how much better Israel than most other countries, choose to exceptionalize it, seeing its faults to the exclusion of its merits and ignoring the far greater faults of those other nations whose inhabitants cry out for your support, and at the same time finding nothing good to say about the positive contributions Israel has made internally and internationally. It has saved lives all round the world, through its agricultural innovations, its medical inventions, its scientific discoveries, and its aid missions.
I don’t know what to do about this. I have been a confirmed lover of Israel (and I hope not a foolish one) for almost all my life, you have been an anti-Zionist, possibly for just as long. There is nothing I can do to help you adopt a more moderate position. What I do know is this. If you, the international Left, the Muslim world, and the Palestinians, along with millions of people who couldn’t care less about Israel succeed by whatever means, it will bring about, in months or years a second Holocaust. I am as certain of that as I am of anything. You say you do not hope for the destruction of Israel, and I believe you, but you do hope for a jolly reunited Palestine to which all Palestinian refugees will return, and not just the refugees from 1949, but generation upon generation of their descendants. That alone would spark off massacres of Jews, in fulfillment of eighty years of threats of genocide, threats that are still written and uttered to this. Think of the ‘Arab Spring’, think of Syria, think of the slaughter of Christians in most Muslim countries. The threats are directed at the Jews, and not just the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. The destruction of Israel would open floodgates elsewhere. And with the deaths of 6 million Jews in Israel, all the infrastructure of Jewish settlement would be destroyed. Think what happened in Gaza when Israel pulled out. There would be no more world-level science (censorship of science is endemic in the Muslim world, evolution is taught nowhere), no more Nobel prizes (Jews have some 200 out of a world population of 14 million, Muslims have 9 out of a world population of 1.6 billion), no  more ranking on the Nasdaq Index, no more significant work in medicine, restrictions on literature (much more censorship), and much greater loss across the board.
I have spent a lifetime studying Islam, and I believe the Muslim world contributed greatly to the sciences, to alchemy and hence to your own discipline of chemistry, to art and architecture, to poetry, to natural history, to the development of the astrolabe, to astronomy, to philosophy and mystical philosophy, to painting (mainly through the miniature form), to exploration, to trade, and much else. But today, all that is gone, and the Muslim world contributes very little indeed to the sciences or culture. Instead, modern Islam, from about the 19th century, has given us the culture of jihad, a continuation in places of slavery (and the Arab slave trade was the longest and most widespread form), and has bequeathed the Taliban, al-Qa’ida, Hamas, Hizbullah, the writings of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al-Banna’ and Abu’l A’la Mawdudi, daily car bombs and suicide bombings, beheadings, the oppression of women, gays, and religious minorities, the insanity of much of the Arab world, the madness of Iran, the craziness of Afghanistan, the ongoing bigotry and violence of Pakistan, 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, the endless bombings and massacres in Israel, Woolwich, the Bombay assaults, the Boston Marathon bombings – a tiny few from all the terror attacks worldwide. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of therse attacks: if you look at it, you will see a great swathe of Israeli flags, indicating the excessive number of individuals killed in Israel.
If Israel falls, that is what will replace it. Mindless terrorism. Hamas will kill anyone, Jew or Muslim, who stands in the way of an Islamist state. Hizbullah will move in, followed by forces from Iran. Fatah, Islamic Jihad and others will make their own bid for power. Now, you may think that ‘In the fullness of time I would hope that the two states merge into a single democratic entity. That is not how things would turn out, and I’m sure you know it. Mahmoud ‘Abbas has already declared that no Jews will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. Hamas want to kill all the Jews. Iran takes the same view. Most of the Islamic world believes that Jews are vermin who deserve to be eradicated. The last thing that will emerge from a merger of two states is a single democratic entity. There are no true democracies in the Middle East bar Israel. Take away the Jewish ethic that has created Israel as a real democracy and you will see the area revert to savagery. Why would you doubt it? There are too many anti-democratic forces at work in the Middle East to make it beyond belief that all the theocrats and dictators will give up their old ways and start embracing the Jews as their long-lost kin.

Thank you, Malcolm, for taking the trouble to read so far, and for your patience in engaging in what has become a protracted debate. If you want to take this further, I’m game for more. And if you think we have reached a point beyond which further discussion is pointless, as you have suggested, well at least we have both tried. Keep well and don’t inhale too many toxic substances.

Best wishes,


[1] ‘Past or Apprehended Disturbances’, p. 61.
[2] F.O. 78/1294 (Political No. 36) in A. M. Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem (In Relation to the Jews of Palestine, 1838 – 1914) 2 vols., London, 1939-1942, vol. 1, p. 249.
[3] Ibid. p. 425.
[4] Peters, From Time Immemorial, p. 196.