My Turn: More than one book on Mideast history

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2001

As human beings trying to cope with the terrible tragedies of Sept. 11, we are in need of explanations. Yet in our search to understand, we must be cautious not to reach simplistic conclusions - easy answers that mislead, cause divisiveness, and even hatred.

In reading Lisle Hebert's "My Turn" column in the Sept. 26 Empire, I was saddened and disturbed to see how easily Mr. Hebert lays blame for the terrorist attacks on our country's support of Israel and how easily he concludes that the Palestinians are operating in "fairness" in the Middle East against the oppression of the Israelis I am especially disturbed at Mr. Hebert's depiction of "the facts." My fear, as a Jew, is that many will read this history lesson and believe it to be so. It is not.

Anything Mr. Hebert or I write in a 700-word column cannot begin to offer a full explanation of the Middle East conflict. There are, however, several statements in Mr. Hebert's column that I am compelled to refute.

Asserting the reason for the Jewish return to Israel stems from the American refusal to allow Jewish immigration after World War II is ridiculous. That implies the Jewish desire to return home, to our ancient homeland, began in 1945. In fact, this desire, this Zionism, began decades earlier. The horrors of the Holocaust proved this desire was nothing less than an urgent survival need.

Stating that "President Truman decided to give the displaced Jews someone else's country, i.e., Palestine" is extraordinary. Palestine was not Truman's to give. The partition plan was established by the United Nations based on a recommendation from an 11-member commission, which did not even include the United States. The Jews of Palestine were not completely happy with the plan, but accepted it. The Arabs rejected it. They went to war. Had Arab governments not gone to war in 1948 to block the UN partition plan, a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Galilee and the Negev could be celebrating 54 years of independence. Instead, Egypt occupied Gaza; Jordan occupied the West Bank.

Mr. Hebert claims Israel will not accept the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. In the most recent peace efforts, Israel agreed to establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians rejected the offer and insisted on the "right of return." That has the faade of a justifiable request. But by the sheer numbers, it would mean destruction of the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Based on the years of exile, discrimination and murder suffered by Jews, can Mr. Hebert understand why the destruction of Israel is not an option? Would any nation willingly allow self-destruction?

Mr. Hebert's reference to the land in question as clearly Palestinian by right is amazing. I challenge him to offer clear proof that it is Palestinian land and not the ancient land of the Jews. It depends on which book we want to believe.

You see, we can all read one history book and believe we now understand the situation. Mr. Hebert cites one book that is known to be controversial and biased toward the Palestinian cause. What if he had chosen off the library shelf a book slanted in support of Israel? Better yet, a book that offers an accurate, complete history of the Middle East? Perhaps the writings of Dr. Mitchell G. Bard?

As members of non-dominant cultures, religions and races can attest, one history book does not offer all the facts. Ask an African-American, a Native American or a woman how accurately and thoroughly they've been portrayed in our history books.

Perhaps most alarming of all Mr. Hebert's assertions is that Palestinians, out of despair brought on by an uncaring world, became terrorists. It seems Mr. Hebert is supplying an excuse, an explanation for terrorism. Is such a thing possible? Have other horribly persecuted peoples resorted to terrorism? And if they had, if they do in the future, would we offer the excuse that an uncaring world drove them to it? Is there ever a justification for terrorism?

I am among the millions who pray for peace in the Middle East and recognize it will require compromise and concessions by Israelis and Palestinians. While this quest continues, terrorism is not and will never be a legitimate path.

Please, in this difficult time, let's not draw easy conclusions in our search for answers. Let's not suggest theories that some may misunderstand, misinterpret, and use to create fear and hatred.

Shari Kochman serves on the board of the Juneau Jewish Community.

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