Hanan Ashrawi – from pragmatism to extremism?

27 September, 2010 at 06:50 | Posted in Inter-faith relations, Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict, Politics | Leave a comment
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Dr. Hanan Ashrawi - leaving the pragmatic approach in favor of the extremists? (Image via Wikipedia)

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi - leaving the pragmatic approach in favor of the extremists? (Image via Wikipedia)

 

A friend of mine recommended I read a recent interview with the senior Palestinian activist, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Dr. Ashrawi gave this interview to the Israeli Maariv-affiliated local newspaper “Zman Yerushalayim”, issued in Jerusalem in Hebrew. Commenting in English on an interview published in Hebrew might seem a bit unfair, and yet Ashrawi’s statements have been heard in various languages from many Palestinian mouthpieces, and it is important to reveal the acute problems embedded in them.

Dr. Ashrawi is considered one of the most intelligent, eloquent and pragmatic among Palestinian activists. She seems like the ideal person with whom to reach a peaceful settlement and end years of misery. And yet, in this interview, and despite the resumption of direct peace negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, Dr. Ashrawi joins the extremists among Palestinian Arabs. Her eloquent diplomatic language might fool certain people, but for the common Israeli, her words are frustrating and echoes some of the harsh statements of the 1964 Palestinian National Convenant.

“Everything can be worked out”

The interview starts from its end, the interviewer Eli Oshrov says he told Dr. Ashrawi at the end of the interview that the provisions she stipulated throughout the interview would be unacceptable to most Israelis. “Everything can be worked out”, she replies, but to be honest, I don’t see how, unless she was trying to present high Palestinian demands as a kind of tactic. If it is indeed a tactic, it is a dangerous one, and Ashrawi should do without it.

UN GA resolution 194

Dr. Ashrawi starts with the Palestinian demand to let the Palestinian refugees resettle in the Israeli territory, and cites the UN General Assembly resolution 194 from December 1948. Dr. Ashrawi reiterates an old Palestinian claim as if there were an international resolution ordering Israel to accept “the right of return” of Palestinian refugees. There is little truth in this claim. First of all, the resolution is merely a recommendation, not a compelling decision. The resolution does not talk about “right” of return, but merely calls for the repatriation of refugees who wish to live in peace with their neighbors. Needless to say, the Palestinian leadership did not accept the latter condition at the time, and the Jordanian Government ignored many other paragraphs in the resolution, like the call to allow free access to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and make them cities under international rule.  Furthermore, in December 1948, the State of Israel was about seven months old. The UN did not recognize it yet, and the resolution still uses the old British Mandate terminology. In 1949 the UN recognized Israel as a sovereign state and UN member, a recognition that makes GA resolution 194 obsolete, at least within the “Green Line” boundaries.

The war between Israel and its neighboring countries was still ongoing in December 1948 (even though it reached its last stages). It seems quite reasonable to call for the repatriation of refugees when a war is still ongoing or has just reached its end. It seems totally unreasonable to do so more than 60 years later, during 40 of which the Palestinian party called for “armed struggle” for the “liberation of Palestine”, contrary to the stipulations of GA resolution 194 that calls for restoring peace and establishing reconciliatory committee.

Ashrawi: Jewish state means racist state

When asked about the demand that the Palestinian leadership recognize the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, Hanan Ashrawi tells the Israelis, “if you insist on being racist and discriminatory, good for you”. She says she struggles for a secular Palestinian state, so she cannot accept a Jewish state. There are two problems here. First of all, Israel is a Jewish secular state. “Jewish” is a polysemy which refers to a nation, an ethnic group and a religion. The name “Israel” was chosen for the Jewish state in order to avoid confusion between the national and religious senses of the term “Jewish” (there were other reason for this choice too). Israel is defined in its basic laws as a Jewish and democratic state, which is exactly the formula which Ashrawi wishes to adopt for the future Palestinian state, while replacing “Jewish” with “Palestinian”. And there is another problem – in the basic laws of the Palestinian National Authority, Palestine is defined as Arab and Muslim. The Palestinian law, according to this document, is inspired by the shari’a, namely the Islamic religious law. So, like it or not, the Palestinian National Authority, of which Dr. Ashrawi is part, is not secular nor egalitarian with regard to Palestinian Christians. The Israeli law, by the way, is based upon secular doctrines, except for matrimonial law, in which religious law applies, but all religions have equal status for this matter.

“Sovereignty is not based upon religion”

When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, Dr. Ashrawi says “sovereignty is not based upon religion” but rather it is a political issue. Very well, but who says Palestinians have precedence over Israelis when it comes to sovereignty on Jerusalem? Dr. Ashrawi says the Western Wall (a.k.a. Wailing Wall) should be under Palestinian sovereignty. Why not Israeli? Dr. Ashrawi does not explain. She accuses Israel of behaving like an “occupying force” in Jerusalem, while ignoring the fact that all Palestinian Jerusalemites received permanent resident status in Israel, which means they are entitled to more-or-less the same rights as Israeli citizens (almost all of them refused accepting full citizenship and preferred to keep their Jordanian passports, until Jordan stripped them of their citizenship leaving them stateless). She says “why do you need a guard” at the entrance to the Western Wall site, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of attacks on civilians, particularly suicide bombing, were carried out by Palestinians, even in holy sites and during holidays. She also ignores the fact that Israel respect the status of the Palestinian Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount, allowing it to administer the place independently. The Israeli police is stationed outside the religious complex and confiscate prayer books from Jews who wish to visit the place. Jewish prayers are considered to be dangerous provocation, hence are strictly forbidden on the Temple Mount by the Israeli authorities. I wonder if the Palestinians showed similar respect to other religious and national groups should they gain control over Jerusalem.

So, Dr. Ashrawi, can we really work things out? Or perhaps someone on the Palestinian side should come up with more reasonable line of thought before making demands from the Israeli side?

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Exploring basic bias on Wikipedia

13 September, 2010 at 07:02 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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An interesting way to examine the basic bias of editors in different Wikipedias toward a certain subject is to look at the initial edits of articles dealing with disputed issues. The first sentences of a new article resemble, in a way, a game of association. The initiator of the article tends to write the first things coming to he/his mind when he thinks about the subject. It is also interesting to see how long it takes before balancing information, or balancing changes to the phrasing, are introduced and how they are welcomed. In many cases

kineret

Sea of Galilee. Image by mprivoro via Flickr

such balancing information or edits are never introduced, and in some cases a fairly balanced text turns into biased one.

The followings are examples of initial edits of articles about certain subjects related to the Middle-East conflict from the Arabic Hebrew and English Wikipedia (all translated into English). Note – These are all obsolete versions currently found only in the “history” of the articles.

Jerusalem
Arabic Al-Quds is one of the biggest cities in Palestine, named Urshalim in the ancient scripts of the New Testament and the Torah. Its oldest remains go back to 3,000 before the Birth. Al-Quds is the most common name for Jerusalem among Arabic speakers. The use of Palestine could indicate non-recognition in Israel, but not necessarily.
Hebrew Yerushalayim is the capital of the State of Israel. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. The holiest city for Jews and Christians and third in sacredness to Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Yerushalayim is the Hebrew name for Jerusalem. The article seems to open with a political statement, though Jerusalem is indeed the Israeli seat of government. The remark about the status of Jerusalem in Islam might be an allusion to the Israeli-Arab conflict, but not necessarily.
English Jerusalem is a city straddling the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the 1967 War, Jerusalem was divided, with the Western half in Israel and the Eastern half in the West Bank. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, and then in 1981 Israel declared the whole of Jerusalem to be its “eternal capital” and annexed East Jerusalem to Israel. This act however has not been recognized by the international community; therefore most countries have their diplomatic missions to Israel in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. The English text seems to be the most neutral; however it deals almost entirely with the political aspects of Jerusalem, rather than its geography or population, i.e. Jerusalem is perceived more as a “political problem” than an actual city.
Golan Heights
Arabic A Syrian land on the southwest part of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Israeli military managed to capture it and control it since the War of 1967. Israelis see great importance in controlling Hadbat al-Jawlan for its advantage in overlooking the State of Israel. It does not require more than standing on the edge of the plateau to cover the Israeli city of Tel Aviv with a naked eye, due to its height advantage. Hadbat al-Jawlan is the normal name for this region among Arabic speakers. The text includes an error – Tel Aviv is too distant from the Golan Heights to be seen from there in any way. Only political and military aspects are mentioned.
Hebrew Ramat Ha-Golan is a flat plateau located on the border between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli part of the plateau was captured from the Syrians in the Six Day War, then recaptured in the Yom Kippur War. Geographically speaking, the plateau is delineated in the west by a 1700m fall to the edge of the Kinneret and River Yarden. All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.
Shabaa Farms
Arabic Shabaa Farms is a region at the southmost edge of Lebanon, within the official borders of Lebanon. The Zionist army refrained from handing it over to the government and state of Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal from the south. The issue of the Shabaa Farms still triggers problems, opinions and discussions regarding the legitimacy of its occupation, while the Lebanese Arabs reject its remaining occupied and Hizbullah keeps public confrontation to liberate it. The official Lebanese-Syrian position is presented. There is no reference to the backstage conflict between Syria and Lebanon or to the UN position. The terms used when referring to Israel indicate non-recognition. The area itself and its population are not mentioned or described.
Hebrew The Shabaa Farms are at the border junction of Syria, Israel and Lebanon, between the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and the Lebanese village of Shabaa. The region stretches on 25 sq km, 14 km long and 2.5 wide in average. The region’s height is 150-1880m. The land in this region is fertile and well-watered, and it used to include 14 farms growing barley, vegetables and fruits. The region is today under Israeli control, as it captured it from the Syrians in the Six Day War. The region was annexed to Israel in 1981 as part of the application of the Israeli law on the Golan Heights. The dispute over the region started in 2000 with the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the UN declaration that Israel had withdrawn completely from Lebanon. Hizbullah claimed that the Farms are Lebanese soil and saw them as a pretext to continue its attacks on Israel, despite the complete withdrawal.  Many international bodies asked Syria and Lebanon to All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.

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