The Semantics of Struggle

9 May

Words Against the Grain


While reporting to the UN on Israel’s violation of basic Palestinian rights I became keenly aware of how official language is used to hide inconvenient truths. Language is a tool used by the powerful to keep unpleasant realities confined to shadow lands of incomprehension.


Determined to use the rather modest flashlight at my disposal to illuminate the realities of the Palestinian ordeal as best I could, meant replacing words that obscure ugly realities with words that expose as awkward truths often as possible. My best opportunity to do this was in my annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the General Assembly in New York. My courageous predecessor as Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, deserves credit for setting the stage, effectively challenging UN complacency with language that looked at the realities lurking below the oily euphemisms that diplomat seem so fond of.


Of course, I paid a price for such a posture as did Dugard before me. Your name is added to various black lists, and doors once open are quietly closed, if not slammed shut. If the words used touched enough raw nerves, you become a target of invective and epithets. In my case, my temporary visibility as UN Special Rapporteur meant being called ‘an anti-Semite,’ even ‘a notorious anti-Semite,’ and on occasion ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Strong Zionist pressures are now seeking to induce legislative bodies in the United States to brand advocacy of BDS or harsh criticism of Israel as prohibited forms of ‘hate speech.’ In April of this year pressures  by the British Jewish Board of Deputies led the University of Southampton to cancel a major academic conference on the Israel/Palestine conflict.


In relation to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the clarifying/some of the offending words are ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘settler colonialism,’ ‘annexation,’ ‘crimes against humanity,’ and ‘genocide.’ The UN evades such invasions of light by speaking of Israeli ‘occupation’ (as if a static reality without history) and without challenging certain strong normative tendencies, including the criminalization of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, the delegitimation of colonialism, and the unlawfulness of annexation (as in Jerusalem by legal diktat and the West Bank by the de facto settlement phenomenon).


It was my experience that using words that connect the realities with the norms changes the discourse that is used by some of those at the UN and in the media, especially among those who seek genuinely to understand the significance of what is actually happening. Right language encourages right action. What is right language follows from how convincingly the word links to the reality being pointed to, and whether ideological obstacles can be overcome. The weakness of Israel’s position from the perspective of controversy is being expressed by their avoidance of substantive debate, for instance, challenging the labeling of occupation as apartheid, and recourse instead to character assassination of those who dared to connect these dots.


I feel that Israel is losing this struggle to obscure the true nature of their activities, and its devastating effects on Palestinian lives and rights. Whether this will mean that Israel will alter its policies is far less clear, and certainly not assured, and the outcome of the 2015 Israeli elections and formation of the new coalition government would suggest that the most extremist Israeli government ever has been installed under the leadership of Netanyahu and the Likud Party.


Nothing should be more shocking to Western liberal sensibilities than the appointment of Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party as the Minister of Justice in Netanyahu’s newly formed coalition government. Ms. Shaked, while being a member of the Knesset, became globally notorious as a result of her post sent around during the Israeli attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014 in which she called the entire Palestinian population the “enemy” that “should be destroyed.” Leaving no room doubt she went on to say that even that even “its elderly and and its women” should not be spared, and that the killing of Palestinian mothers is justified because they give birth “to little snakes.” Ali Abunimah asks rhetorically, “If Shaked’s post does not meet the legal definition of genocide then nothing does.” What is as shocking as these sentiments of Shaked is the silence of the Western media and leaders in the face of such an appointment in the only democracy in the region. Imagine the self-righteous angry posturing from liberals in the West if Hamas dared to select such a personality from their ranks to serve as the Minister of Justice. As it is the Hamas Covenant is invoked to confirm genocidal sentiments although subsequent behavior and political initiatives have moved in a far more accommodating direction. What is at stake is the discriminatory manner of either noticing or not noticing the elevation of adherents of ‘genocide’ to the pinnacles of state power. This two-way approach to language is fully displayed in the political discourse surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict. And closer to home, compare Ayelet’s selection as Minister of Justice after her offensive tweet with the University of Illinois’ breach of Steven Salaita’s contract to become a tenured professor in reaction to his tweets expressing his outrage about Israel’s 51 day criminal assault on Gaza last summer. It conveys a lively sense of the extremity to which double standards are carried when it comes to Israeli behavior. 


There is another set of intense struggles around language that arise when a single word is insisted upon because of its emotive value, and possibly its legal ramifications. I am referring to the unconditional insistence of the Armenian diaspora that the catastrophic events that climaxed in the 1915 massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians should be acknowledged as ‘genocide’ by Turkey in the form of an official apology by the government and its leaders. The Armenian insistence stems from several motivations, it seems. Above all, the fact that once ‘genocide’ is admitted, then the link to ultimate evil is established beyond controversy, the Armenian narrative is validated beyond controversy, descendants of victims are granted a kind of clisure, and what happened to the Armenians is implicitly equated with what later happened to the Jews as a result of Naziism. It is psychologically important to prevail with respect to how these events are described so as to alleviate the pain endured over the years by the Armenian people because of what they have experienced as ‘genocide denial’ on the part of Turkey.


Turkey’s response to the Armenian allegations has evolved over the years, but it remains somewhat edgy. The 2014 statement of Erdogan seemed to accept the Armenian narrative to the extent of acknowledging the massacres and wrongdoings of 1915, while stopping well short of using the G-word. A few weeks ago, Prior to the centenary of April 24, Pope Francis brought his moral authority to bear by describing in a solemn mass as ‘genocide’ what happened to the Armenian people, and called upon Turkey to recognize these events for what they were. In reaction, Erdogan and other Turkish leaders stepped back, declaring that the issue of what happened in 1915 has not yet been sufficiently resolved by historians to justify attaching the word ‘genocide’ to this horrific set of events, that wrongdoing was not as one-sided as Armenians claim, and that the pope stepped out of line by issuing such an ill-informed and partisan statement concerning historical events that are complex and contested. 


Taking a different tack than that of Pope Francis, Barack Obama angered Armenians (even more than the pope angered Turks) by refusing to include the word ‘genocide’ in his centenary message to the Armenian people, instead using the Armenian descriptive Meds Yegham (the great calamity). Obama added that the 1915 events constituted a ‘massacre,’ produced ‘a terrible carnage,’ and were ‘a dark chapter of history.’ It seemed meant to be a strong statement of solidarity with the Armenian campaign, omitting only the word ‘genocide,’ but this omission was all that was needed to turn this expression of solidarity with the Armenian call for redress of grievances into an anti-Armenian statement that was unwelcome because it refused to show its support for all that now mattered to the Armenians, namely, that their victimization be regarded as ‘genocide’ beyond any doubt. For this goal to be reached, the endorsement by the U.S. Government is deemed to be necessary, and hence the Obama formulation fell decisively short.  No denunciation of the 1915 events that did not adopt the descriptive label of genocide was acceptable for the aggrieved and mobilized Armenian diaspora. This semantic hard line shows how much meaning can be invested in whether or not a particular word is used.


In response to Obama, representatives of the organized Armenian diaspora expressed their disappointment in harsh language, going so far as to say it would have been better if Obama had said nothing at all. They called ‘disgraceful’ his refusal to live up to a 2008 campaign pledge that if elected president he would identify the events of 1915 as genocide. Obama’s apparent justification for this semantic retreat is that as the head of state his primary obligation is to care for the strategic interests of the country, and Turkey as a NATO ally was too important to antagonize over such an issue. But my point here is to take account of the power of the word, as well as to notice that the language functions differently in private and public domains. To refer to 1915 as Meds Yegham is a strong affirmation of the Armenian narrative. By comparison, if Obama were to describe the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 as the nakba, there would be dancing in the streets of Ramallah and Gaza City. Such a designation, if ever used by an American president, would be correctly viewed as a mighty slap in Israel’s face and a great symbolic victory for the Palestinians. The point here is that the Armenians have been able to raise the threshold of semantic redress to the very highest level by this insistence on genocide, and accompanying sentiment that nothing else will be acceptable, while the Palestinians have yet to receive even a formal acknowledgement that they were victims of a calamity in the less incendiary terminology of Arabic, much less that of genocide or ethnic cleansing.


What are we to make of this bitter fight about the words used to describe a series of events that happened 100 years ago? First, and most obviously, words matter, and are made to matter deeply by political actors, especially when the purpose is to challenge conventional wisdom. Some words achieve a charismatic stature, and none more than genocide. [As an aside, I was never more attacked by Zionist activists and the mainstream media than when in 2007 I referred in a newspaper article to Israel’s policies of punitive siege imposed on the entire civilian population of Gaza as ‘genocidal’ (not ‘genocide’) in its intent and effect, a contention given governmental endorsement by Shaked’s appointment, but still manages to slip under the radar of Western moral and political sensibilities.


Secondly, the alleged Turkish reason for its objection to genocide is based on the factual contention that historical realities of 1915 remain contested, and can only be resolved by an international commission composed of historians enjoying unrestricted archival access. The Armenians summarily reject such an approach as proof of Turkish bad faith, insisting that there already exists an authoritative international consensus supportive of their claim of genocide due to the establishment of systematic, one-sided, deliberate massive slaughter designed to eliminate the Armenian presence in Turkey. Thirdly, the American position is aligned with the Armenians on the facts, but with the Turks on the appropriate language at governmental levels, which seems the weakest of all rationalizations for evading the charge of genocide. Fourthly, if the search is for a way to resolve the conflict, the Armenian tactic of invoking foreign governments and moral authority figures such as the pope, is dysfunctional although it does provide strong moral support for the campaign. If, on the contrary, the mobilization of support is primarily intended to generate a heightened collective memory of victimization among Armenians, then soliciting these external expressions of solidarity from leading moral authority figures is of great value.


I find my own view trapped midway between the positions put forward by Pope Francis and President Erdogan. On the facts, although as Turkey argues the events occurred in wartime with the Armenians acting as adversaries and sometimes engaged in violence against Turks, still the basic character of the events  certainly seemed to be genocidal in character, with entire Armenian communities being forced to make death marches. As a lawyer, however, I would refrain from using the label genocide as there was no crime of genocide in 1915, and criminal law can never properly have a retroactive application. As I have pointed out before, even the London Agreement of 1945 setting up the Nuremberg Tribunal to assess Nazi crimes did not include ‘genocide’ among the international crimes that could be charged even though the word genocide had been coined by Rafael Lemkin in 1944, or before.


Yet is it not appropriate in view of the consensus on the facts, to recognize the links to catastrophes that have been definitively called genocide by affixing the term to the onslaught against Armenians planned and executed by ‘the young Turks’ acting under Ottoman authority? Surely no sane person objects to categorizing the Holocaust as ‘genocide’ even though the death camps were established and the final solution occurred before the Genocide Convention of 1950, and was long underway before Raphael Lemkin had invented the word. Thinking along this line, and acknowledging that the crime of genocide had yet to be established, it would seem that it is politically, morally, and therapeutically correct to describe the 1915 tragic ordeal of the Armenian people as genocide, but legally irresponsible to do. In this gap between semantic contexts there seems room for a conflict resolving compromise. Yet the distinction drawn may seem obscure, and somewhat academic, unlikely in the end to be attractive for either side in the controversy.


How, then, can such an encounter over the word be resolved? It seems doubtful that Turkey will back down without some face saving ritual, and it is virtually certain that the Armenian diaspora having raised the temperature surrounding this single word to such a fever pitch will be content with anything less than a full fledged Turkish capitulation. The Armenian campaign will certainly continue to refuse to risk an ambiguous outcome arising from convening the sort of historical inquiry that Turkey proposes as the necessary next step in resolving the controversy. It doesn’t require much sophistication to conclude that the parties are stuck and likely to remain so for a long time.


This is a pity. Both sides would have much to gain by finding a way forward. It is quite likely that if the word issue was finessed, Turkey would be relieved, and go out of its way to preserve a vibrant memory of the events through such initiatives as a national museum, agreeing to a commemorative day, and hosting a variety of Armenian cultural events. If the Turkish leadership could persuade itself that the historical issue is substantially settled, and what matters is the present relationship, maybe then it could issue the kind of statement the Armenian people so fervently seek, and a mutually beneficial future could likely unfold. Both sides need to look in the mirror sufficiently to realize that more is at stake then fidelity to their fixed position for and against the use of the word genocide. Yet, the way in which psycho-political works, it is likely that the wait for such a sensible breakthrough to happen will be long. The burden of magnanimity is on the Turkish side, the stronger party and with less at stake concerning national identity.


Before concluding, I would mention another word that is obstructing reason and decency in the national and global political realm. It is ‘terrorism,’ used to demonize the grievances and the tactics of the adversary, and in mainstream discourse preempted by governments and their media apologists to create an unbridgeable moral distance between themselves and a political challenge.

“We refuse to negotiate with terrorists” is the rationale for keeping a hot war going. We should also notice that the language of terrorism is racialized. If the incident involves a white American, there is a tacit turn toward focusing on his mental condition and sociopathic sensibility, but if the suspect is Islamic a frantic search is undertaken to link the acts of violence with either jihadist groups or to trace its source to the Koran.


There are efforts to offset equalize word play. For instance, critics of hegemonic semantics introduce the phrase ‘state terror,’ to designate violence by state entities against their non-state enemies. This rejects the attempt by governments to immunize their own violence from censure, while branding the violence of their adversary as morally and legally prohibited because it is terror


We know that the accusatory language of terrorism is in the toolkit of governmental policymaking, and can be dropped when convenient. When a political actor is ready to negotiate, adherents of the former enemy are no longer described as ‘terrorists.’ Think how effortlessly the former leaders of the IRA, ANC, or even the PLO were seated at diplomatic dinner tables when the right moment arrived! Yet until the appointed hour, relying on the terminology of terrorism is the equivalent of a hunting license that can be used as a rationale for torture, disproportionate force, civilian casualties, extraordinary rendition, drone strikes, and special ops wherever, whenever without regard to constraints of law or morality.


Public reason in democratic society would greatly benefit from a renunciation of terrorism as a respectable term of art. Instead, the focus could be placed on what to do in effective and humane ways to sustain security and safeguard just political orders. In effect, to forego the temptation to call the enemy ‘a terrorist’ the path would be clear to talk as well as fight, and to resist the absurd dichotomy that we are totally ‘good’ and the adversary is totally ‘evil.’


But what if the insurgent challenge is demonizing the established order by contending that it is decadent, corrupt, and oppressive? Is it not reasonable if such a critique jumps the barriers of law, and mobilizes for violent struggle, to respond? Of course it is not only reasonable, but morally and politically imperative to respond as persuasively as possible, and to uphold the security of what is deemed legitimate societal arrangements. What is not helpful, actually diversionary, is to respond as if the struggle was between good and evil, and that is what happens as soon as the insurgent challenger is labeled

‘a terrorist.’ Such language exempts the defenders of the status quo from self-criticism and considering accommodationist tactics, proscribing negotiation and assessment of grievances. The response to ‘terrorists’ is war talk, rendering peace talk as irrelevant of worse.


Shall we also abandon the label of ‘state terror’ for crimes of the state associated with violence directed toward the innocent? Yes, as part of a wider semantic contract to banish ‘terrorism’ from the lexicon of political discourse. Yet, not unilaterally, as under existing conditions ‘state terror’ at least creates some understanding that it is the manner of deploying violence that should be repudiated rather than the blackening of insurgent reputation. As terrorism is used on behalf of the state, even violence carefully directed at state structures and their human instrumentalities are called ‘terrorists.’ In any event, state terror calls attention to policies and practices, and does not purport to demonize the state itself, leaving open possibilities of diplomacy and reconciliation.


At the very least, it would be a salutary move to call for a moratorium on the use of the word ‘terrorist’ from this day forward. And as with the fierce ideological struggles over ‘genocide’ it is best to know when to be provocative so as to expose suppressed realities and when to be pacifying so as to calm the atmosphere raising hopes for compromise and a shift of energies in the direction of nonviolent struggle.

32 Responses to “The Semantics of Struggle”

  1. Gene Schulman May 9, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

    I’m old enough to remember the childhood chant, “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Why don’t we drop the semantics and address ourselves to those issues that are being committed today? It is no longer sticks and stones but missiles and drones. Obama & Company don’t care what words are used against them, but they are the terrorists and genocide committers. Let the Pope use his moral force to criticize them.

  2. Jerry "Peacemaker" May 9, 2015 at 7:55 pm #

    Perhaps men or women who pass this way can deliver a message to Pope Francis to lend his voice for United Nations reform which makes it compulsory and binding for every UN member state to join the International Criminal Court or risk expulsion from the UN. What nation would refuse at that point, and risk being known to humanity as an “outlaw” state?

    Answer: not one.

    If such reform at the UN had occurred ten years ago, that in 2005 every nation signed on to the ICC, the world would be experiencing far less war and violence and equal increase in peace today. World high level officials would no longer have the ability to commit major crimes with impunity – essentially ending wars of aggression cold. Today two of five permanent UN Security Council members – Britain and France – joined the ICC. The other three, Chiina, Russia and the United States have not.

    When such UN reform happens, those who wish to never hear the words genocide or terrorism again in their lifetimes (everyone on Earth) will be closer to having their wish granted.

  3. Nora Lester Murad May 9, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Regarding “terrorism,” it is notable how quickly powers-that-be define a “terrorist” and that the label is applies no matter what the person has done or is doing (he could be making lunch for his child, for example, but he is a terrorist). Meanwhile, there is no definition of “terrorism” as an act. This means that terrorists are bad no matter what they do and that “good guys” are not terrorists no matter what they do.

  4. Fred Skolnik May 10, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    LIke Rabbi Youdovin, I will also make an exception and make a few remarks about your recent blog entries, as I see that you are still devoting your time and energy to the project of criminalizing Israel and whitewashing some of the most barbaric terrorist organizations on the face of the earth.

    You are writing as if critics of yours who challenge your redefinition of commonly understood terms like apartheid are the ones who are guilty of trying to hide the truth when what they are in fact doing is challenging your corruption of language for polemical purposes. You are also pretending that your arguments have not been addressed substantively hundreds of times on your own blog and that you are “paying the price” because of your “inconvenient truths” and not because of the wild and irresponsible language you use to vilify Israel, which places you beyond the pale of reasonable discourse.

    The people who first used the term apartheid with reference to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank probably didn’t understand what the word meant, or didn’t understand the meaning of a military occupation, or thought that the inhabitants of the West Bank were citizens or residents of Israel, or were simply being malicious in their eagerness to vilify Israel. When they finally understood the absurdity of what they were saying, they simply changed their tune and began saying that Israel itself was internally an apartheid state or society. even though the haters know that none of the features of apartheid exist in Israel, where Arabs can vote and serve as Knesset members and judges, pursue any profession, treat Jewish patients as doctors and nurses, defend Jewish criminals as lawyers, attend universities and teach in them, share all public facilities and spaces with Jews and go wherever they want. The tactic of the haters is to extend the meaning of commonly used terms of opprobrium for the sole purpose of making them apply to Israel. This ploy too does not stand up to scrutiny so the haters are faced with a dilemma. Some of them, like you, thus go back to the original accusation despite its absurdity, because once they’ve gotten the word apartheid into the air they can’t really let go of it.

    An occupation by definition entails separation between the occupying power and the occupied population and the existence of two different legal systems for occupying and occupied nationals. All separation measures instituted by Israel are solely for purposes of security and it makes absolutely no difference if the Israeli presence in the West Bank is in the form of army bases (certainly legal under an occupation) or settlements (irrespective of their illegality). If the Israeli occupation was a form of apartheid, then all occupations would be a form of apartheid, including the Allied occupation of Germany.

    I will only note in conclusion that your stubborn use of terms like ethnocracy to characterize the nature of the Jewish state is just one more instance of this corruption of language, in this case for the sole purpose of delegitimizing Israel. Israel is a Jewish national state in the same way that France is a French national state and Turkey is a Turkish national state. In this Jewish national state, the Arabs are a national minority, just as the Kurds are a national miinority in Turkey, and treated far better, as I’m sure you know. As for the right of return, dozens of countries, including France, Germany, China, Russia and Turkey, have similar laws favoring their own nationals over minorities.

    • Jerry "Peacemaker" May 10, 2015 at 8:55 am #

      Fred Skolnick,
      You wrote:
      “The people who first used the term apartheid with reference to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank probably didn’t understand what the word meant, or didn’t understand the meaning of a military occupation, or thought that the inhabitants of the West Bank were citizens or residents of Israel, or were simply being malicious in their eagerness to vilify Israel.”

      Could you respond to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s observation when first visiting occupied territory that conditions were much worse than those in South Africa? Would you disagree that Desmond Tutu has a clue of what the term apartheid means?

      Have you viewed the Russell Tribunal 2014 on YouTube and all the men and women presenters then come away from that and disagree with the general conclusion that war crimes were committed during summer of 2014 – Operation Protective Edge? Were the people who participated in Russell Tribunal only motivated by their desrie to “vilify” and “criminalize” Israel? Were the participants engaged in “as if”, “pretending”, or polemics – the art or practice of controversy?

      Was Operation Protective Edge a kind of mass illusion – Gaza wasn’t really destroyed, over 2,000 people didn’t perish, and the entire 50-days of bombing was the same ordinary everyday activity as when people work in their backyard garden, or “mow the lawn”?

      Finally sir, one more request. If an arrangement were made for you to sit down with and speak directly to surviving family members of the men, women and children who perished during Operation Protective Edge, what would you say – most importantly, would you include the word love?

      • Fred Skolnik May 10, 2015 at 9:18 am #

        Dear Jerry

        I have stated very plainly that occupation means separation. That is not what the term apartheid was coined for.

        The Russell Tribunal consisted of people with long records of anti-Israel bias, starting with Prof. Falk himself.

        Operation Protective Edge was a response to Hamas’s massive shelling of Israel’s civilian population. When you hide behind your children to shoot at my children, someone’s children are going to get hurt. If you didn’t open your mouth when Israeli women and children were being blown to pieces in buses and restaurants by Arab terrorists, then you are a hypocrite and a fraud.

    • ray032 May 10, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

      There comes a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus said unto her, Give me to drink………..
      Then said the woman of Samaria to him, How is it that you, being a Jew, asks drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
      John 4

      The more things change, the more they remain the same!

  5. Jerry "Peacemaker" May 10, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Thanks for responding. The chances of us putting our minds together and coming up with a real solution for the differences between the people of Israel and Palestine leading to true peace may be remote. Some hold a spiritual belief or philosophy that when we transition from life on Earth to the spirit world the first question we face is: “what did you do for your fellow man?” Perhaps utopian thinking, but peace is possible not only for Israelis and Palestinians but all of humanity. This explains asking if you would include the word love in a scenario of talking to survivors – because when people love one another as true brothers and sisters in the family of man, harming another – mentally, physically, or spiritually – becomes impossible. Perhaps the late Native American medicine man Rolling Thunder’s words – “the most basic principle of all is that of not harming others, and that means all people, all life and all things” – best conveys the message. In situations around the Earth where violence breaks out only love and positive spiritual power can truly heal.

    • ray032 May 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

      Jesus did teach ‘call no man on earth your Father for we have one Father in heaven’

      If the world believed, the prophecy of Isaiah about beating the swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks would be implemented in stages so the Nations would no longer learn war anymore.

      But that’s a faint hope in this world, as the war mongers leading to Armageddon are ascendant and the majority remain silent or supportive of war.

  6. Brenda Heard May 10, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

    Spectacular discussion on a topic that deserves more attention. Words colour our perceptions, but few people stop to consider that the same process of advertising products is used to sell political viewpoints. Many thanks, Mr Falk.

  7. alfatah69 May 11, 2015 at 1:44 am #


  8. David Davidian May 11, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Yes, Prof. Falk, it is interesting how language attempts to communicate solid ideas between intelligent people. It logically follows that the selective deletion of certain words and terms lessens our ability to critically evaluate issues and propose solutions. How convenient for the rapist who would gladly confront the accuser if the word rape was replaced with something less “legal”. I find your argument as untenable as claiming nobody died of smallpox before the name was coined.

    Yerevan, Armenia

    • Richard Falk May 11, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      I appreciate your comment, but you may misunderstand mine. I was suggesting that it would help both
      sides if their interaction could circumvent the roadblock of the word ‘genocide.’ And unlike small pox
      a crime that is not a crime on the date committed is not LEGALLY a crime. It can have the properties
      of what later becomes a crime, and morally and politically be as reprehensible. It is politics not
      law that makes both the Armenian community insist upon the word and Turkey refuse.

      • Jack Kalpakian July 26, 2016 at 7:17 am #

        It is actually not politics but a desire for justice. Your view of Armenian people reflects your internalization of the Gavur concept.

      • Richard Falk July 26, 2016 at 9:17 am #

        What is the Gavur concept?

  9. Laurie Knightly May 11, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Semantics have an important role in the relationship/tactics of adversaries that range from propaganda to law. It’s important, therefore, that more precise and universal meaning be inherent in their usage. A chief objective of jurists is to determine intent when making a determination regarding claims.

    The word ‘terror’ should be limited to a threat of violence to intimidate or cause panic, esp as a means of affecting political conduct. The actions could include massacre/murder, or might not, and the word has morphed beyond recognition. Considering the lengthy citing of the term in US lexicon, it would be difficult to expunge. Some replacement terms making their way into common usage would be a good start.

    Re to the word genocide, gens – a group of people, and cide meaning killing, there could be a breakdown in definitions as exists within the crimes of murder, manslaughter, homicide etc of individuals. If mass killing occurs when a group, such as the case of Armenia, when in a state of insurrection, for instance, it could be classified as second degree genocide.This could not be retroactive, of course. Again, the role of Zionist intent is crucial. ‘But in no war, for many centuries past has the objective been to remove a nation from its country and introduce another and evidently different race to occupy its lands, houses, cities and live there’, according to Sir John Glubb, a British general circa 1920, Commander in Chief of Jordan’s Arab legion. Currently, Francis Boyle, Palestine and International Law, uses the term genocidal aparthied to describe the aims/acts of Zionists.

    The comparison of Shaked and Salaita does not seem valid. Shaked was voted into office and Salaita was under consideration to be hired as a professor suitable for his job description. Public office in a democracy does not require aptitude/training/credentials etc for the occupation. Salaita wrote the book Israel’s Dead Soul in 2011 and other scathing criticisms of Israel – well before he was at the last level of acceptance by U of I. It was his stupid/vulgar/crude use of Tweets that caused his demise. I had occasion to tell him this personally. He stated that Tweets are personal but much the converse, they are sent into the public sphere and we are trying to convey that to students and the general public.

    Lastly, we could also cite variations of tactics used by trolls that would designate obvious intent and thereby confer on them classified degrees of derision/contempt/disregard. First degree would be an unjustified denigration of either the spokesperson or the group itself. Some of us are activists/discussion leaders/ethicists etc who need and value a blog such as this and don’t want it filled with slander or unrelated self serving topic meanderings that tends to drive away rational input.

    • Richard Falk May 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

      Thanks, Laurie, for your consistently informed and illuminating comments. Although we are not
      always in agreement, I learn from what you have to say and welcome your participation on the blog.
      And do agree that we should to the extent possible avoid argumentative comments and personalized


  10. Rabbi Ira Youdovin May 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    Prof. Falk,

    In you last comment of the previous thread, you accuse me of trying to prove you wrong or stupid. I certainly do not think you’re stupid. But I do believe you’re wrong in proposing a bi-national state as a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Let’s discuss that question, honoring your suggestion that we proceed by concentrating on substantive issues.

    We could debate forever the question of democracy vs. ethnocracy. Fred Skolnik’s comment on this thread presents a view quite different from yours. However, the question is irrelevant to the issue I raise, which is whether a bi-national state is achievable and sustainable? I think not.

    The concept has been around since the beginning of the British Mandate but has never garnered much traction on either the Israeli or Palestinian side. In short: why would two peoples who have struggled and died for their national liberation agree to a power-sharing arrangement?

    Besides, what is the likelihood of weaving two vastly different cultures, legal system, languages, histories, etc. into a stable and viable society?

    These are substantive issues. I assume that in making the proposal, you have a well-developed idea of how it could be achieved. Please share these thoughts so that all of us can consider them.

    I say “all of us” because almost everybody dealing seriously with the conflict believes that a two-state solution is the preferable, if not the only option. I don’t mean only the Israel Lobby and UN Watch, but a substantial majority of the UN General Assembly which is on its way to recognizing a Palestinian State outside the Green Line, the Arab League and most of the students and others who’ve endorsed BDS resolutions, believing that they were demanding that Israel withdraw from territory occupied in 1967 to make way for a Palestinian State. The Presbyterian resolution which you harshly criticized is typical of what’s “out there”.

    Indeed, it’s puzzling that now, when the Palestinians are winning their struggle for world support in ending the occupation, you are advocating that they reject the idea. Zak’s comment is the previous thread is a cogent warning.

    Insofar as your allegation that Israel has shown no interest in partition, there is a huge volume of evidence that proves this wrong. But that issue has been done to death of this blog. For now, I’m truly interested in hearing your thoughts on bringing about a sustainable bi-national state.


    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Richard Falk May 11, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

      Rabbi Youdovin:

      I am only able to clarify my position at present due to pressure of other commitments.

      My basic stance has been that the form of self-determination is up to the peoples whose right it is, with due
      respect for the rights of others. I have also said in the past, along with some prominent other commentators on the conflict,
      that it is difficult to reconcile most varieties of Zionism, especially if coupled with the insistence on being a Jewish state, with my understanding of human rights.

      I have no objection to the two-state solution if that is what the two peoples and their legitimate representatives agreed upon in
      a process that also takes account of rights under international law. What I have objected to is the use of a so-called peace process
      to enable Israel to encroach on the 22% remnant of historic Palestine (not counting Jordan) via settlements, road network, and wall
      while the evidence suggests that the Israeli government has consistently acted to create a set of circumstances that make the stated
      goal of an independent sovereign state based on the equality of the two peoples a practical impossibility.

      I would have expected that with the kind of rhetoric Netanyahu used during the recent electoral campaign in which he openly pledged
      to block the establishment of a Palestinian state and has formed a pro-settler coalition government that it would seem to be worse than
      useless for Palestinians to pin their hopes are such a diplomacy. Neither side is currently in a position to negotiate a sustainable
      solution, and a framework in which the U.S. presides is so overtly biased in Israel’s favor as to be flawed, and incapable of generating
      an acceptable outcome.

      I am not sure what could work, if anything, at the present time, but if there is a path to a better future, then it must at least clear
      away dangerous illusions about what doesn’t work, and by not working helps Israel and hurts the Palestinians.

      For better or worse, this is my fundamental position.

      Richard Falk

      • Fred Skolnik May 12, 2015 at 3:31 am #

        Dear Prof. Falk

        There is no historic Palestine, as I’m sure you know. There is an historic Land of Israel that the Arabs conquered in the seventh century in a rampage of rape, massacre and forced conversion. If you believe that conquests of this kind create sovereign rights, then it is hard for me understand why you object to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. I don’t think the Arabs concerned themselves very much with the self-determination or rights of other peoples when they were busy decimating the populations of the Middle East. Your habit of waving around this 22% of yours to “prove” that the Arabs have been shortchanged conveniently overlooks the fact that of the 55% of Mandate territory originally allotted to the Jewish state, half was uninhabitable desert (the Negev). The Arabs, however, rejected the partition plan, making it a dead letter and creating a new reality by invading the Jewish state with the declared aim of destroying it, as they vowed to do before there was a single refugee. That is the historic reality and that is the root cause of the suffering of today’s Palestinian people.

        Your reading of Israel’s intentions is erroneous. When it comes to understanding what Israel wants you are pretty much in the position of a Chinese journalist or “scholar” without a word of English who comes over to the United States to report on and “analyze” American thinking. The vast majority of Israelis want a negotiated two-state solution based on an exchange of territory that leaves the big settlement blocs inside Israel. A small minority of left-wing Israelis want all the settlements to be dismantled. A small minority of right-wing Israelis want to annex the West Bank. Netanyahu is not in this last group. The obstacle for him is the danger that Hamas will take over the new Palestinian state (a Hamas whose intentions you are totally unequipped to evaluate). If you really have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart, you should be counseling Hamas to disavow terrorism, or “resistance” as you like to call it (though there would be nothing to resist if they disavowed terrorism). Marginally, I will add that what Ayelet Shaked said about Arabs is being said about Jews a hundred times a day by Arab leaders, educators and journalists, and that doesn’t seem to trouble you in the least.

  11. ray032 May 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    I just came across a very interesting 4 hour documentary on the Palestinian Nakba. The Nakba started long before the recreation of Israel in 1948. This documentary has historical documents and pictures from the late 1800s and video from the early 1900s, leading to the seemingly intractable, present Day divide between Arabs and Jews.

    If there is any criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians Today, they learned it from the British, who were brutal in suppressing the majority Palestinians in violation of the letter and spirit of it’s own Balfour Declaration. It is educational and worthwhile watching. Episode 1 leads into 2, 3 & 4:

  12. Beau Oolayforos May 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,
    We should all thank you again for your ‘modest flashlight’ – it often seemed to me that the cold, hard facts in your UN reports were more persuasive than any amount of polemic.
    In law, I think, ‘homicide’ refers to an accomplished fact. If that usage were extended to the g-words, then the Holocaust and the Armenian massacres, for example, would be characterized as massive, horrific, but ultimately unsuccessful genocidal projects. The current Likud, with their Minister of Justice, would seem to have similar intentions, which are also,certainly, bound to fail. True genocide, the complete extermination of a people, their language, customs, and all, beyond any hope of resuscitation – this has been, I gather, the fate of numerous indigenous nations of the Western hemisphere, Africa, and elsewhere.
    Time was, all the bete noirs were ‘communists’. Now we have the t-word. The more things change……

    • Richard Falk May 13, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

      also the i-word..thanks for comment, intelligent and to the point as always..

  13. rehmat1 May 13, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Dr. Falk – you missed Bibi’s another appointee to make sure, he wouldn’t be blamed for killing any US proposal for the so-called “two state” solution, which was in fact killed by Divid Gurion’s unilateral declaration of state of Israel over 56% of the historic Palestine.

    Netanyahu has appointed the fanatic Rabbi Eli Dahan as his deputy defense minister. Dayan is of course well qualified to wage war against the Palestinians. After all the enemy isn’t even human, merely a beast. And just in case you thought he had a special animus for Palestinians, he makes it clear that he subscribes to the Orthodox Jewish view that any non-Jew, Gentile, is by definition inferior to a Jew. Even a homosexual Jew is superior to a Gentile!

    Israeli-born American actress and producer, Natalie Portman, 34, in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter said: “I’m very much against Netanyahu. Against. I am very, very upset and disappointed that he was re-elected. I find his racist comments horrific. However, I don’t – what I want to make sure is, I don’t want to use my platform. I feel like there’s some people who become prominent, and then it’s out in the foreign press. You know, shit on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that.”

  14. Rbbbi Ira Youdovin May 17, 2015 at 11:10 pm #

    Israel’s newly-installed right-wing government is an irresistible target for those hoping that the Palestinians will emerge as the sole victor in what they regard as a zero-sum winner-take-all conflict with Israel. But a close analysis—one that seeks to draw conclusions from facts rather than vice versa—suggests a far different picture.

    I have little good to say about the new government. And I’m by no means a fan of Bibi Netanyahu. But to his credit, it must be said that this is not the coalition he wanted.

    Israel’s is a parliamentary system. The party winning an electoral plurality short of a majority must persuade other parties to join a coalition commanding more than half the Knesset seats. The currency in these negotiations is concessions on issues in the new government’s platform, as well as ministerial positions. A smaller party’s strength in negotiations is determined not only by how many seats it brings to the table, but by how much they are needed.

    Right up to the deadline for submitting a government for Knesset approval, Bibi tried unsuccessfully to bring centrist parties into the coalition, beginning with the Zionist Union Party, Likud’s primary opponent which calls for an immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians leading toward a Palestinian State in the context of “two states for two peoples.” Bibi offered the powerful position of Foreign Minister to ZU’s leader, Isaac Herzog, and is keeping the position open should Herzog change his mind.

    Similar offers were made to other centrist parties. All but one turned them down believing, as Herzog did, that being in the opposition would better position them to oppose Likud extremes than being junior partners in a Likud government. This left Bibi no alternative to approaching two ultra-Orthodox parties and the secular extremist Jewish Home party of Neftali Bennett. However, Bibi refused Bennett’s demand to be appointed Foreign Minister (albeit at the price of having to make Ayelet Shaked as Minister of Justice.)

    The government sworn in last week holds a shaky one-vote Knesset majority. And while centrist and left-centrist Israelis and Diaspora Jews join the chorus voicing outrage, in fact it will likely be unstable, short lived and, at day’s end, nothing more than a footnote in the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

    The real story is how this government came to be. As of three days prior to the elections, virtually all public opinion polls were predicting a victory for Zionist Union. Bibi turned the tide with an eleventh-hour campaign blitz aimed at voters’ fears that the dovish Herzog would be willing to make concessions on the West Bank without first obtaining credible commitments that the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, would not use it for launching attacks on Israel, as Hamas did in Gaza after Israel removed every soldier and settler a decade ago. Bibi’s often (mis)quoted election day pledge was not that there would never be a Palestinian State, but that he would not allow one to be created on his watch (which he quickly clarified as meaning until Hamas agreed to recognize Israel, and accept an agreement achieved through negotiation as satisfying all existing claims.)

    Prof. Falk complains about the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian power, as well as their relative responsibility for resisting a fair and just resolution. Well…as the old saying goes, it takes two to make an agreement. PA president Abbas has already voiced his willingness to recognize and live in peaceful existence with Israel. But Hamas has not. No matter what Prof, Falk claims he was told by unnamed Hamas people, the simple fact is that a sacred commitment to eliminate Israel is enshrined (and repeated manyl times) in the Hamas Charter. As Hamas has the power to overthrow Abbas, perhaps via a civil war similar to the one waged after the Gaza withdrawal, no Israeli government—indeed, no sane government—would agree to create conditions which allow Hamas to position artillery and rockets in close proximity to the state’s industrial, commercial and residential center, as well as to its international airport.

    Hamas has the power to change that situation in the Palestinians’ favor. I’m not saying that negotiations will be easy. The settlers remain a powerful, and potentially violent force. But the settlements are not popular among a majority of Israelis who are appalled by the racism of many settlers and deeply concerned that Israel could find itself imposing a permanent and increasingly apartheid regime on the West Bank.

    Apropos, I must voice my puzzlement and alarm over Prof. Falk’s increasingly strident opposition to a two-state solution, which comes at a time when the Palestinians are at last winning their long struggle for international support and recognition. With the UN poised to vote recognition of a Palestinian state living alongside the Jewish state of Israel, where is the wisdom in campaigning against it? The two-state concept isn’t a scheme hatched by Israel and the United States, as Prof. Falk alleges. 135 nations endorsed a prior UN resolution affirming it. The Arab League issued a plan for achieving it. Most of those signing pro-BDS resolutions are in agreement with the Presbyterian resolution which explicitly affirms its commitment to Israel.

    The Palestinians are no longer a helpless population of victims. They have power. And they have support, including from Israelis and Diaspora Jews. My prayer is that they will use that power to win their long struggle for national liberation in the first independent Palestinian state in history while eschewing the ill-advised guidance of rejectionists whose counsel will bring them only more years of suffering and continued vulnerability to forces within the Arab/Moslem world currently inflicting death and destruction on their siblings.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Richard Falk May 18, 2015 at 1:14 am #

      Although I have much to disagree with in this long comment of Rabbi Youdovin, I do acknowledge that it has helped me
      overcome a confusion. I realized that I am not opposed to “the two state solution” per se, but to the undermining
      of its possible realization through the way the Oslo Framework has operated for the past 20+ years. Indeed,
      if Oslo is considered the exclusive vehicle (as Israel and the U.S. claim) for the two state solution it is crucial to understand that its impact has been the exact reverse, and would likely to continue to be so. In the end, I should make clear that the fulfillment of rights of self-determination are matters for legitimate representatives of the two peoples to agree upon under genuinely neutral auspices and with due regard for respective rights under international law, and should not be shaped by non-Palestinians and non-Israelis, except possibly as a last resort, and then by some procedure that is credible to both peoples.

    • ray032 May 18, 2015 at 5:22 am #

      Shalom Rabbi,

      According to all external monitors, Hamas won the 2006 election in a free and fair Democratic election so that Israel could no longer claim to be the only Democracy in the Middle East. A Democracy that is predicated in maintaining a 48 year Military Dictatorship in the occupied territories is a fraud.

      Reading your comment, Peter Beinart could have been addressing the following article to you.

      ‘Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you
      Myth: Gaza is free. Fact: it has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 to this very day.’
      By Peter Beinart | Jul. 30, 2014 |

      If you’ve been anywhere near the American Jewish community over the past few weeks, you’ve heard the following morality tale: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping the newly independent country would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel.

      American Jewish leaders use this narrative to justify their skepticism of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But in crucial ways, it’s wrong. And without understanding why it’s wrong, you can’t understand why this war is wrong too.

      Let’s take the claims in turn.

      Israel Left Gaza

      It’s true that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza. (At America’s urging, he also dismantled four small settlements in the West Bank). But at no point did Gaza become its own country. Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. As the Israeli human rights group Gisha has detailed, even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip (In conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland).

      “Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.

      To grasp the perversity of using Gaza as an explanation for why Israel can’t risk a Palestinian state, it helps to realize that Sharon withdrew Gaza’s settlers in large measure because he didn’t want a Palestinian state. By 2004, when Sharon announced the Gaza withdrawal, the Road Map for Peace that he had signed with Mahmoud Abbas was going nowhere. Into the void came two international proposals for a two state solution. The first was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every member of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. The second was the 2003 Geneva Initiative, in which former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators publicly agreed upon the details of a two state plan. As the political scientists Jonathan Rynhold and Dov Waxman have detailed, Sharon feared the United States would get behind one or both plans, and pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. “Only an Israeli initiative,” Sharon argued, “will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.”

      Sharon saw several advantages to withdrawing settlers from Gaza. First, it would save money, since in Gaza Israel was deploying a disproportionately high number of soldiers to protect a relatively small number of settlers. Second, by (supposedly) ridding Israel of its responsibility for millions of Palestinians, the withdrawal would leave Israel and the West Bank with a larger Jewish majority. Third, the withdrawal would prevent the administration of George W. Bush from embracing the Saudi or Geneva plans, and pushing hard—as Bill Clinton had done—for a Palestinian state. Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, put it bluntly: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

      It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Gaza withdrawal did not meet minimal Palestinian demands. Not even the most moderate Palestinian leader would have accepted a long-term arrangement in which Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza while maintaining control of the Strip’s borders and deepening Israeli control of the West Bank. (Even in the 2005, the year Sharon withdrew from Gaza, the overall settler population rose, in part because some Gazan settlers relocated to the West Bank).

      In fact, Sharon’s advisors did not expect withdrawing Gaza’s settlers to satisfy the Palestinians. Nor did not they expect it to end Palestinian terrorism. Ehud Olmert, a key figure in the disengagement plan (and someone who himself later embraced Palestinian statehood), acknowledged that “terror will continue” after the removal of Gaza’s settlers. The key word is “continue.” Contrary to the American Jewish narrative, militants in Gaza didn’t start launching rockets at Israel after the settlers left. They began a half-decade earlier, at the start of the second intifada. The Gaza disengagement did not stop this rocket fire. But it did not cause it either.

      Hamas Seized Power

      I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.

      But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election. In January 2006, four months after the last settlers left, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem chose representatives to the Palestinian Authority’s parliament. (The previous year, they had separately elected Abbas to be the Palestinian Authority’s President). Hamas won a plurality of the vote – forty-five percent – but because of the PA’s voting system, and Fatah’s idiotic decision to run more than one candidate in several districts, Hamas garnered 58 percent of the seats in parliament.

      To the extent American Jewish leaders acknowledge that Hamas won an election (as opposed to taking power by force), they usually chalk its victory up to Palestinian enthusiasm for the organization’s 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction (The president of the New York board of rabbis said recently that anyone who voted for Hamas should be considered a combatant, not a civilian). But that’s almost certainly not the reason Hamas won. For starters, Hamas didn’t make Israel’s destruction a major theme of its election campaign. In its 2006 campaign manifesto, the group actually fudged the question by saying only that it wanted an “independent state whose capital is Jerusalem” plus fulfillment of the right of return.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that by 2006 Hamas had embraced the two state solution. Only that Hamas recognized that running against the two state solution was not the best way to win Palestinian votes. The polling bears this out. According to exit polls conducted by the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, 75 percent of Palestinian voters—and a remarkable 60 percent of Hamas voters—said they supported a Palestinian unity government dedicated to achieving a two state solution.

      So why did Hamas win? Because, according to Shikaki, only fifteen percent of voters called the peace process their most important issue. A full two-thirds cited either corruption or law and order. It’s vital to remember that 2006 was the first Palestinian election in more than ten years. During the previous decade, Palestinians had grown increasingly frustrated by Fatah’s unaccountable, lawless and incompetent rule. According to exit polls, 85 percent of voters called Fatah corrupt. Hamas, by contrast, because it had never wielded power and because its charitable arm effectively delivered social services, enjoyed a reputation for competence and honesty.

      Hamas won, in other words, for the same reason voters all across the world boot out parties that have grown unresponsive and self-interested after years in power. That’s not just Shikaki’s judgment. It’s also Bill Clinton’s. As Clinton explained in 2009, “a lot of Palestinians were upset that they [Fatah] were not delivering the services. They didn’t think it [Fatah] was an entirely honest operation and a lot of people were going to vote for Hamas not because they wanted terrorist tactics…but because they thought they might get better service, better government…They [also] won because Fatah carelessly and foolishly ran both its slates in too many parliamentary seats.”

      This doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’ election confronted Israel and the United States with a serious problem. After its victory, Hamas called for a national unity government with Fatah “for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.” But those final words—“this phase”—made Israelis understandably skeptical that Hamas had changed its long-term goals. The organization still refused to recognize Israel, and given that Israel had refused to talk to the PLO until it formally accepted Israel’s right to exist in 1993, it’s not surprising that Israel demanded Hamas meet the same standard.

      Still, Israel and the U.S. would have been wiser to follow the counsel of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who called for Sharon to try to forge a long-term truce with Hamas. Israel could also have pushed Hamas to pledge that if Abbas—who remained PA president—negotiated a deal with Israel, Hamas would accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum, something the group’s leaders have subsequently promised to do.

      Instead, the Bush administration—suddenly less enamored of Middle Eastern democracy–pressured Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and rule by emergency decree. Israel, which also wanted Abbas to defy the election results, withheld the tax and customs revenue it had collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Knowing Hamas would resist Abbas’ efforts to annul the election, especially in Gaza, where it was strong on the ground, the Bushies also began urging Abbas’ former national security advisor, a Gazan named Mohammed Dahlan, to seize power in the Strip by force. As David Rose later detailed in an extraordinary article in Vanity Fair, Condoleezza Rice pushed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy weapons for Dahlan, and for Israel to allow them to enter Gaza. As General Mark Dayton, US security coordinator for the Palestinians, told Dahlan in November 2006, “We also need you to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

      Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Dahlan’s forces were weaker than they looked. And when the battle for Gaza began, Hamas won it easily, and brutally. In response, Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank.

      So yes, members of Hamas did throw their Fatah opponents off rooftops. Some of that may have been payback because Dahlan was widely believed to have overseen the torture of Hamas members in the 1990s. Regardless, in winning the battle for Gaza, Hamas—which had already shed much Israeli blood – shed Palestinian blood too.

      But to suggest that Hamas “seized power” – as American Jewish leaders often do – ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted Fatah coup backed by the United States and Israel. In the words of David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor a month after Hamas’ takeover, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

      The Greenhouses

      Israel responded to Hamas’ election victory by further restricting access in and out of Gaza. As it happens, these restrictions played a key role in explaining why Gaza’s greenhouses did not help it become Singapore. American Jewish leaders usually tell the story this way: When the settlers left, Israel handed over their greenhouses to the Palestinians, hoping they would use them to create jobs. Instead, Palestinians tore them down in an anti-Jewish rage.

      But one person who does not endorse that narrative is the prime mover behind the greenhouse deal, Australian-Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, who served as the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. In his memoir, Wolfensohn notes that “some damage was done to the greenhouses [as the result of post-disengagement looting] but they came through essentially intact” and were subsequently guarded by Palestinian Authority police. What really doomed the greenhouse initiative, Wolfensohn argues, were Israeli restrictions on Gazan exports. “In early December [2005], he writes, “the much-awaited first harvest of quality cash crops—strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers—began. These crops were intended for export via Israel for Europe. But their success relied upon the Karni crossing [between Gaza and Israel], which, beginning in mid-January 2006, was closed more than not. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation, which was managing the greenhouses taken over from the settlers, said that it was experiencing losses in excess of $120,000 per day…It was excruciating. This lost harvest was the most recognizable sign of Gaza’s declining fortunes and the biggest personal disappointment during my mandate.”

      The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.

      The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.

      In the ten years since Jewish settlers left, Israeli policy toward Gaza has been as militarily resourceful as it has been politically blind. Tragically, that remains the case during this war. Yet tragically, the American Jewish establishment keeps cheering Israel on.

  15. ray032 May 19, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    Richard, this Opinion By ISI LEIBLER was in Today’s Jerusalem Post. – ‘Curbing the self-loathing Jewish defamers of Israel’ No names are mentioned.

    In reading it, I was moved to make this comment;

    CanaDa is the only other place in God’s great big earth, where the National struggle and identity is rooted on the Plains of Abraham – two peoples with two different languages in the same land. Like the Jews and Palestinians war over that very small bit of the Plains of Abraham in the Old World, but without the violence.

    Living in a Democratic Country, I found it curious the occupation and the murderous bombardment of Gaza was not even an issue in the Election campaign as if the whole Nation was burying it’s head in the sand. As If the Status Quo is the Promised Land.

    The people could not escape to the sea. Israel maintained the blockade. They could not escape to Egypt. Israel’s ally, the brutal Egyptian military Dictatorship had that sealed shut. Israel would not let War Refugees into Israel. How moral is that? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Reading the comments here serve to convince each other of their own self righteousness. Israel suffered the unpredictably of small rockets that had to be a direct hit to kill someone with little material damage. Most landed in empty fields according the Israeli news reports, and the Iron Dome effectively gave Israel the Protective Edge.

    Israeli 1 ton bombs, designed to kill and demolish everything in the immediate area, did the nasty work and now Gaza is devestated. The impression I get is Israelis are not even shown the results on their televisions, content to leave the people in Gaza in conditions as bad, if not worse, than the the worst of the European Jewish Ghettos before the Destruction of WWII.

    The writer asserts the IDF gives a 4 hour warning before bombing the homes of Arabs. Israelis have to believe that whether it is True or not,, but Israelis have no experience with the destructive power of 1 ton bombs, or Israeli tanks firing in the general direction without guided artillery shells. That’s the same terrorism, but more destructive, Israeli claims Hamas does with their unguided home made rockets.

    This is the view from a woman in Gaza below the Israeli bombs.

    Running Orders
    Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

    They call us now.
    Before they drop the bombs.
    The phone rings
    and someone who knows my first name
    calls and says in perfect Arabic
    “This is David.”
    And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
    still smashing around in my head
    I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
    They call us now to say
    You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
    Your house is next.
    They think of it as some kind of
    war time courtesy.
    It doesn’t matter that
    there is nowhere to run to.
    It means nothing that the borders are closed
    and your papers are worthless
    and mark you only for a life sentence
    in this prison by the sea
    and the alleyways are narrow
    and there are more human lives
    packed one against the other
    more than any other place on earth
    Just run.
    We aren’t trying to kill you.
    It doesn’t matter that
    you can’t call us back to tell us
    the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
    that there’s no one here
    except you and your children
    who were cheering for Argentina
    sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
    counting candles left in case the power goes out.
    It doesn’t matter that you have children.
    You live in the wrong place
    and now is your chance to run
    to nowhere.
    It doesn’t matter
    that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
    to find your wedding album
    or your son’s favorite blanket
    or your daughter’s almost completed college application
    or your shoes
    or to gather everyone in the house.
    It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
    It doesn’t matter who you are
    Prove you’re human.
    Prove you stand on two legs.

  16. ray032 May 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    Just found this article on the semantics of struggle written by T.E. Laurence and published in London’s Sunday Times August 22, 1920.

    It firmly establishes the more things change, the more they remain the same. The following is the 1st paragraph in Laurence of Arabia’s article:

    The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.

  17. truthaholics June 2, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    While reporting to the UN on Israel’s violation of basic Palestinian rights I became keenly aware of how official language is used to hide inconvenient truths. Language is a tool used by the powerful to keep unpleasant realities confined to shadow lands of incomprehension.


  1. Oily Euphemisms and Weasel Words | New Antarctica - May 10, 2015

    […] courageous ex U.N Special  Rapporteur for Palestine, Richard Falk once again notes  the slick cynicism of those in positions of power in the West  and East who  clothe   […]

  2. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » The Semantics of Struggle - May 11, 2015

    […] Go to Original – […]

Leave a Reply to Fred Skolnik Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: