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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 1999 , pages 59-62

Other People's Mail

Some letters by or to other people are as informative for our readers as anything we might write ourselves.

Naive Optimistic on Peace

To The Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 1999 (as published).

Both your editorial cartoon of July 14 and your opinion piece of July 16 (“Mideast Peace Prospects High”) are much too optimistic about the commitment to peace of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak opposes the right of return to their homeland for Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948, opposes the return by Israel to the borders of 1967, and opposes dismantling the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. His insistence on Israeli control over all of Jerusalem precludes rights for Palestinian Christians and Muslims, especially those who reside in Jerusalem.

As leader of the opposition Labor Party, Barak did not oppose the systematic violation of human rights by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu. Violations included torture, confiscation of land, demolition of homes, collective punishment, diversion of scarce water resources, and confiscation of residency permits of Palestinian Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem.

Indeed, B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, concludes that regarding Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Israeli governments have been violating most of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rather than naive optimism regarding Barak’s intentions, journalists (and politicians) ought to ask Barak if he intends for Israel to finally adhere to international law and human rights conventions. Only then will a just Palestinian-Israeli peace be possible and optimism warranted.

Edmund R. Hanauer, Executive Director, Search for Justice and Equality in Palestine/Israel, Framingham, MA

The Middle East Journal

To Roscoe S. Suddarth, President, The Middle East Institute, Washington, DC, Aug. 10, 1999.

It was with sorrow that I read the Summer issue of The Middle East Journal. The devoting of a special issue to Israel written mainly by Israelis and Israel’s supporters made me wonder which Jewish, Zionist, or pro-Israeli organization has ever devoted a whole issue to the Palestinians, the Arabs or Muslims except to denigrate them? I also wondered why the Middle East Institute did it.

It was particularly disturbing to see that the lead article was by Ambassador Samuel Lewis. If there was ever a highly effective, special pleader for Israel—inside or outside the government—it is Sam Lewis. I still remember the mini-chiefs of mission meeting you and I attended in Amman in the spring of 1978. Sam Lewis’ advocacy dominated despite the fact that he was the least knowledgeable person in the room. I also recall he obtained several positions in Israel, a directorship of a bank and at a university or think tank after he retired from the Foreign Service. But it is the substance of his article, not his persona, that bothered me. It is, as expected, cleverly written. He refers briefly to the “impact of Jewish political activism and campaign contributions” and the “extraordinarily effective efforts of the so-called Jewish Lobby” but quickly moves onto the “much more complex” story of the bilateral relationship. To cite just a few examples of the article’s one-sided nature:

  • There is no mention of the less pleasant aspects of the “special relationship” such as the Lavon Affair, the attack on the USS Liberty, Begin’s reneging on his promise to Carter at Camp David to freeze settlements, the Jonathan Pollard spy case, or various documented actions of Mossad harmful to the U.S.

  • The Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which cost the U.S. dearly in lives, prestige, and honor, is referred to as “the Lebanon War of 1982.”

  • On the crucial question of how the American position on settlements changed under Clinton: “A de facto freeze on Israeli government encouragement of new settlement expansion...removed temporarily one of the endemic causes of friction...”! What is a freeze on encouragement anyway? The facts are that the expansion of settlements continued under Rabin.

  • “The Arab protagonists have seen themselves as the weaker parties; therefore despite the U.S. special relationship with Israel, they have usually preferred to utilize Americans as third party intermediaries rather than the United Nations or another major power.” We all know most Arab leaders begged to have the U.N. or Europe play a role, but the Israelis always insisted they would deal only through the U.S. It was certainly not the Arab “preference.”

I could go on, particularly on the origins of the “strategic relationship.” For example, while Sam admits that it was a “product of political decisions by national leaders, not of their two military establishments,” he fails to mention the major campaign carried out by the pro-Israeli establishment, particularly the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), in the late 1970s and 1980s to make Israel a strategic partner.

What such an article cried out for was some recognition that the establishment and expansion of the State of Israel, backed by the U.S., was justice for Jews, but brought terrible injustice to the Palestinians. Our one-sided policy has damaged American prestige and interests throughout the region. Because of our power we have yet to suffer the full consequences of that policy, but that day will come.

Arthur L. Lowrie, Lutz, FL

cc: Selected Members MEI Board of Governors

Thanks for the Alert

To Douglas and Maria Field, Kihei, HI, Aug. 23, 1999.

Thank you for your postcard urging me to support H.R. 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999. Enclosed is a copy of H.R. 2121, as well as its summary and status.

The Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999 ensures that no alien is removed, denied a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act, or otherwise deprived of liberty, based on evidence that is kept secret from the alien.

Thank you for bringing H.R. 2121 to my attention. I will add my name in support of it.

Patsy T. Mink, Member of Congress, Washington, DC

Corruption of Ideals

To the Austin-American Statesman, July 10, 1999 (as published).

President Clinton discussed Egypt’s human rights violations with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during their most recent meeting in Washington. That would be all right were the United States not so selective as to which countries it lectures about human rights. This administration, as well as others before it, easily ignores human rights violations in those countries where reprimands would endanger campaign funding, trade or U.S. domination. Examples are in our relations with China and some Central and South American nations (El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile). But, ignoring Israel’s very longstanding human rights violations against the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians in illegally occupied territories, while the United States provides that state with the largest foreign aid package, is disgraceful and, in my opinion, criminal. Peace with justice is not the U.S. goal; peace with Arab subjugation is preferred. What are our children to learn from this corruption of American ideals?

William V. Kelly, Austin, TX

Middle Eastern Vocabulary

To the Associated Press, Aug. 13, 1999.

In an Aug. 8 report your staff writer Dana Budeiri referred to the land where a Palestinian home was built and demolished as “State Land,” without defining what she meant by that. This might be due to an innocent repetition on her part of one of the many vague terms in the Middle Eastern vocabulary that subtly distort the facts. So I thought I would, modestly, shed some light on it for her.

Administered by the Jewish National Fund, “State Land” refers to land designated under Israeli law as “for the Jewish people only.” Of the total land area in Israel, 92 percent is designated as such and none of the 20 percent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens is allowed to own, or even rent it. (Non-Jewish land ownership in Israel is 4 percent only.) So, a Russian who just converted to Judaism, has immediately more right to that land than the indigenous Palestinians. These facts reveal quite a different picture from the stand-alone term “State Land.”

The term “State Land” (instead of “Jews-Only” Land) is part of the vast public-relations-oriented terminology invented and maintained by Israel and its sympathizers in media outlets. This also includes the term “disputed” used by Ms. Budeiri in an Aug. 9 report instead of “occupied by Israel,” in reference to land which the United Nations has deemed illegally occupied by Israel. Such subtle twists serve only to lessen the crime of the oppressor Israel, at the expense of the oppressed, the Palestinians.

Another term used by Ms. Budeiri that begs clarification is the “building” by Palestinians. The illegality of building in this case is defined according to Israel’s—the occupier’s—law only, not International Law. Without due clarification, the descriptions of Ms. Budeiri portray the Palestinians as just fond of illegal building.

In fact it is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, where almost all of the home demolitions are taking place, that is illegal under International Law. Not to mention that for over a decade, building permits have been excessively expensive and virtually impossible for Palestinians (or actually any non-Jews) to obtain. Had Ms. Budeiri investigated it, she would have found out that this is not just the opinion of the Palestinians, as she presents it, but the facts. Israel has used—and still does—the permit-denial and house-demolition methods as ways of limiting the non-Jewish population in Israeli-occupied land, especially in East Jerusalem. At the same time it encourages Jews to buy homes in the illegal settlements by offering them mortgage grants and tax credits (Ha’aretz, Nov. 3 and 24, 1999).

It is disheartening to see another AP reporter follow Israel’s guidelines, instead of the world’s, for reporting the situation in the Middle East. I am hoping that Ms. Budeiri’s omission of definitions of the terms “State Land” and “illegal building” above, as well as her use of Israel’s cosmetically altered term “disputed” instead of “occupied,” were unintentional. Either way, I kindly ask you to bring this matter to her attention for future reporting.

Sami Deeb, via e-mail

A “Messenger to Mankind” Or Symbol of Hypocrisy?

To Paulette McLeod, Editor of Biography, New York, NY, Aug. 1, 1999.

Re: Curt Schleier’s article “Why Elie Wiesel Can Never Forget,” Biography, September 1999, p. 68-.

Elie Wiesel, the American icon of Holocaust survivors, is paid a special tribute as “a messenger to mankind” and a tzaddik or righteous person in your feature by Curt Schleier. This is the same Elie Wiesel who is continually referred to by Noam Chomsky and others as “a terrible fraud.” What can explain such disparity of opinion?

Perhaps it is because Wiesel, who has written literally volumes Against Silence, remains silent when it comes to issues involving Palestinians—issues such as land expropriation, torture, and abrogation of human rights. He gets great press coverage when he piously declares that the Kosovars must be allowed to return home, even though he has never given support to the right of 750,000 Palestinians driven out in 1948 to return to their homes in Israel. Nor does he show any concern about the ethnic cleansing continued by Israel after the 1967 war and, indeed, continued to this very day in Jerusalem and in Hebron.

Perhaps it is because Elie Wiesel proclaims with great piety that “the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference” while he remains totally indifferent to the inequality and suffering of the Palestinians. Perhaps it is because he enjoys recognition as “one of the first opponents of apartheid” in South Africa, while he remains totally silent and indifferent to the apartheid being practiced today in Israel. Forty-five percent of the people living within the borders controlled by Israel are not Jews; even if they have Israeli citizenship, they have fewer rights than “the chosen people,” if they do not have Israeli citizenship, they have virtually no rights at all.

Perhaps it is because he decries terrorism, yet never apologizes for the bloody terrorism perpetrated by his employer, the Irgun, for whom he worked from November 1947 to January 1949 in Paris as a journalist for Zion in Kanf.

Although Wiesel had intimate knowledge of the terrorism perpetrated by the Irgun at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948, he refuses even to comment on it. He dismisses this act of terrorism in eight short words in his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea. He remembers the Jewish victims at Kielce, Poland (July 1946) with great anguish and angst, but ignores twice as many Palestinian victims of his own employer. The irony is breathtaking.

It is even more shocking that the world’s best known Holocaust survivor can repeatedly visit Yad Vashem (the most famous Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) and yet keep silent about the victims of Deir Yassin who lie within his sight 1,400 meters to the north. He bitterly protests when Jewish graves are defaced, but has nothing to say when the cemetery of Deir Yassin is bulldozed. He refuses even to acknowledge repeated requests that he join a group of Jews and non-Jews who wish to build a memorial at Deir Yassin.

Elie Wiesel may profess modesty and claim he is “not a symbol of anything” but, unfortunately, he has become a symbol of hypocrisy.

Daniel A. McGowan, Director, Deir Yassin Remembered, Geneva, NY

Folly of Arming Israel

To The New York Times, July 25, 1999 (as published).

In another misguided move, the United States will be purchasing $2.5 billion worth of jet fighters for Israel using taxpayers’ money (“Israel Will Buy 50 F-16’s in Its Biggest Arms Deal Ever, front page, July 19).

This move not only calls into question the United States’ fairness in trying to broker peace in the Middle East, but also seems impossible to justify when on the same day you report the release of a Palestinian man who was imprisoned by Israel for six years without trial.

The American taxpayer money being spent on arms for Israel would be better spent on hospitals, schools and housing for those in the region who have suffered for more than 50 years.

Carmine Cipolla, Queens, NY

Dispossession Is Wrong

To the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 9, 1999 (as published).

In his Monday column, Allan Saxe dismissed Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians by comparing it to the way “the United States settled much of North America.”

I don’t know where Saxe has been for the last two months, but from what I have seen of events in Kosovo, ethnic cleansing now merits the just condemnation of the world community.

Whether Serbs expel Kosovars or Israelis expel Palestinians, it is wrong. Would Saxe write an Op-Ed piece justifying what Slobodan Milosevic is doing in Kosovo by comparing it to the way that European settlers treated Native Americans?

John Taylor, Fort Worth, TX

Settlers Built on Sacrifice

To The New York Times, July 26, 1999 (as published).

It may be true that Israelis living in the West Bank settlement Ma’ale Adumim have shed the hard-line, right-wing image of their predecessors (front page, July 21).

Unfortunately, however, Ma’ale Adumim’s history is similar to that of many other Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip: In order to build and expand Ma’ale Adumim, the homes of many Bedouins were destroyed and land from Palestinian villages was expropriated.

It is unlikely that displaced Bedouins or dispossessed Palestinians will take solace in the moderated ideology of Ma’ale Adumim’s settlers.

Alex Shalom, Montclair, NJ

The Fourth Geneva Convention and the Palestinians

To The Globe and Mail, July 22, 1999 (as submitted).

Philip Siller (“Israeli withdrawal,” letter, July 21) appears to be under the misapprehension that there is some question as to whether the Fourth Geneva Convention does or does not apply to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. In fact, annual reports issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross (guardian of the 1949 Geneva Convention) and resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council leave no doubt whatsoever that it does.

Mr. Siller contends that despite a “direct, personal appeal” by Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to not get involved, King Hussein decided to attack Israel during the 1967 war. In fact, as Eshkol knew, the Jordanian monarch had no choice, as he was committed under a formal mutual-defense pact to come to Egypt’s aid after it was attacked by Israel on June 5. Also, Eshkol’s “appeal” to Hussein was no such thing. This was revealed by Lieutenant General Odd Bull (head of the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization), who reluctantly relayed Eshkol’s message to the king. He later described it as “a threat, pure and simple.” In short, Israel wanted Jordan’s poorly armed forces to enter the conflict so it would have an excuse to seize the West Bank.

Finally, I would point out to Mr. Siller that as affirmed by the U.S. State Department, it is intransigence on the part of Israel, not the PLO, that has delayed the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian land.

Gary D. Keenan, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Christians Need Help, Too

To The Tuscaloosa News, Aug. 6, 1999 (as published).

Most Americans are unaware of the plight of Palestinian Christians living in Jerusalem.

Since 1967 Israel has severely limited the construction of housing for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. As a result of Israel’s policies, fewer than 4,000 Christians now live in the Old City. Another 6,000 Christians live in neighboring East Jerusalem.

Christians made up about 18 percent of the population of Jerusalem before 1948. They have since shrunk to only about two percent of the city’s inhabitants.

Peter Kenney, Birmingham, AL

U.S. Leverage in Middle East

To the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Aug. 3, 1999 (as published).

While we’re celebrating new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s new approach to Middle Eastern peace, Robert White, in his July 25 column, brings realism to the table: “...some of his [Barak’s] core beliefs on security represent no change in Israeli positions—positions sharply at odds with Arab policies.”

This echoes a point made by long-time Middle East reporter Milton Viorst in an Op-ed essay in The New York Times several weeks ago. But Viorst, who has written books critical of Israel, the Arabs, and even Islam, also pointed out the overwhelming bargaining power of Israel vs. the Palestinians, and predicted that direct negotiations would result in another Palestinian surrender ultimately unacceptable to the Palestinian people—unless our government joins the negotiations using our leverage on Israel.

This, the American position in the negotiations, was Prime Minister Barak’s major public concern in his Washington talks. He wants our support but no suggestions, no mediation, and no arbitration.

President Clinton has little time left before the presidential pandering campaign will be in full swing. He has an opportunity to use American leverage to bring a just peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Syria. We must hope that he will support peace but not surrender to the new Israeli prime minister’s arguments.

C. Patrick Quinlan, Edina, MN

Time to Get Tough on Israel

To The Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 16, 1999 (as published).

In response to “Ex-nominee has dismal record on terrorism” (Letters, Aug. 2): When Ehud Barak was sworn in as Israel’s new prime minister, he brought a gleam of hope to the stalled peace process. He vowed to immediately implement the troop withdrawals specified in the Wye River accords. There would be no more home demolitions, a practice that has left thousands of Palestinian families homeless.

Barak’s commitments for peace brought immediate action from the White House: President Clinton awarded Israel with an additional $500 million in annual military aid, 50 F-16 fighter jets and $1.2 billion for highway construction.

A month has passed since Barak took office, and the troop withdrawals have been delayed until October. Now, we read in the newspaper that “Israeli soldiers clashed with about 200 Palestinians protesting the demolition of three Palestinian homes in the West Bank” (“Violence shadows Mideast talks,” Aug. 12). Instead of the United States condemning Israel for its brutality, which instigates terrorism, it rewards Israel with additional aid. The U.S. Middle East policy is so unbalanced that it actually encourages more unrest. Until our government overcomes its political correctness and gets tough with Israel, there never will be peace in the Middle East.

James J. David, Retired brigadier general, Marietta, GA


to Some, Giving to Others

To the Hoboken Reporter , Aug. 22, 1999 (as published).

Good old Uncle Sam has generously held out his hand to New Jersey’s drought-stricken farmers, offering them loans at “low interest.” Okay, let’s see. Uncle Sam lends money to local farmers, who grow our food and are at risk of losing the family farm to big corporations waiting in the wings; while at the same time, a Lobby-bribed Congress gives to Israel, a country as prosperous as many in Europe, the enormous sum of 6 billion dollars annually, year after year after blessed year, enough to help out all of America’s small farmers forever and a lot of other deserving people besides. So what’s the lesson here for small farmers and deserving people? Or for Democracy in Boobusland at the millennium? Guess.

T. Weed, Hoboken, NJ

A Hero, Norman Birnbaum

To the Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1999 (as submitted).

Thank goodness for heroes like Norman Birnbaum (July 11, 1999, “Why Do Zionists Fear Muslims on the Anti-terrorism Commission?”). It takes tremendous courage for anyone to stand up to the Zionists’ bullying—even more so for Jews. Gephardt is only one of many spineless legislators who respond to the Zionists’, “Jump!” with “How high?”

But change is occurring, however slowly. AIPAC, the ADL and other Jewish organizations are enjoying fewer and shallower victories as the American people reject the constant intimidation to which our nation has been subjected in the areas of foreign and domestic policy, foreign aid and legislation. Because brave souls like Birnbaum risk their careers and lives to speak out against injustice, Arab Americans will one day enjoy the full spectrum of human rights accorded to Jews and all other Americans.

Vicki Tamoush, Tujunga, CA

Monitoring Extremist Groups

To The New York Times , Aug. 16, 1999 (as published).

Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department have been “hamstrung” and “can’t act aggressively” in monitoring extremist groups but fails to note the ADL’s role in the imposition of these guidelines (Op-ed, Aug. 12).

In 1993 the ADL was accused of illegally obtaining California police and government records on a wide array of political groups. The league escaped criminal prosecution in return for paying $75,000 to groups that fight hate crimes in San Francisco.

Mr. Foxman says “if law enforcement agencies should overstep the line, we should very swiftly take the authority away.” Law enforcement, with the ADL’s help, indeed crossed the line, resulting in the restrictions that Mr. Foxman now laments.

Mitja C. Baumhackl, Brooklyn, NY

Arabs in America

To the Chicago Tribune , Aug. 6, 1999 (as published).

Your July 18 editorial, “A Loss in the Battle Against Terror,” was excellent. Arab Americans, let alone Muslim Americans, being appointed to congressional panels or State Department positions would have been unheard of a few years ago. It seems that our government is slowly realizing that if the U.S. is going to play a critical role in the volatile Middle East, the views of Arab Americans must be heard and included in those decisions.

Recently, I had the honor to be part of a 13-member delegation, sponsored by the Arab American Institute, that traveled to Washington and met with House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt to discuss his decision to withdraw Salam Al-Marayati’s appointment to a congressional panel assigned to review U.S. policy on terrorism.

Gephardt’s response was very understanding and sympathetic, and his reasoning for withdrawing Mr. Al-Marayati’s appointment was similar to the one given in your editorial, concerning security clearances and how long it would take to have him cleared. Gephardt also assured us that whomever he selects for the position will definitely have a sensitive side to our concerns. But he is mistaken if he thinks an Arab substitute will do the trick.

The enemies of peace and progress, in the Middle East and here at home, seemed to have scored another victory by keeping the doors of influential government jobs closed to Arab Americans, but we will not give up trying to open them. Our experiences and potential contributions are too vital to be ignored, especially at this critical time.

Shehad Mohammed, Arab-American Action Network, Palos Hills, IL

Muslims in America

To the Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 1999 (as published).

I was impressed by Richard Curtiss’ article “Muslim and Arab Americans Take a Big Step” (Arab News, July 9). It is pleasant to see Muslims finally having some success in American politics. While the Clinton administration and American politics in general are still controlled by Jewish interests, Muslims are finally fighting back and using the system for their own gain. A strong presence by Muslims in American government may one day change the prevailing situation.

What must be examined, however, is why a world superpower is so influenced by the Jewish lobby. It must be pointed out that the Jews have long been advanced in the areas of science and technology. They also control giant financial and industrial organizations. Their prominence in such areas has enabled them to control American politicians.

If Muslims in America will simply work together they will soon achieve significant victories. They should educate their children in the fields of science and technology and strengthen their position in American society. In this way they will reach their goals.

Koresh Ahmed Uzzal, Unaizah, Saudi Arabia

Israeli Air Raids

To The Dallas Morning News, July 13, 1999 (as published).

The barbaric Israeli air raids last month on Lebanon, which killed and injured more than 100 civilians, were not in retaliation to the firing of Katyusha rockets on northern Israel by Hezbollah. Just one week before the airstrikes, and for four consecutive days, Israel, with the Israeli-allied South Lebanese Army (SLA), bombarded innocent Lebanese civilians in the towns and villages surrounding the “security zone” in south Lebanon. The main reasons for Israel’s attack are:

  1. Israel’s revenge for the killing of one of their highest ranking generals in south Lebanon two months ago by Hezbollah.

  2. Israel’s unwillingness to achieve a just peace.

  3. Binyamin Netanyahu’s effort to throw a spanner in the wheels of the new Israeli government committed to withdraw from Lebanon.

For peace to prevail in the Middle East, Israel should comply with the Madrid peace conference and the Wye Plantation agreement. Our government should pressure the Israeli government to revive the long-stalled peace efforts. After all, we as taxpayers are giving Israel $2 billion for signing the Wye River agreement besides $6 billion a year (about $84 billion since 1948). Israel’s new Prime Minister Ehud Barak should seize this opportunity to make history by agreeing to bring the derailed peace process on track.

Kassem Elkhalil, Arlington, TX

Wait Until They All Die!

To the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 12, 1999 (as submitted).

The annual remembrance ceremony to mark the 32nd anniversary of Israel’s attack on our USS Liberty was held at Arlington Cemetery on June 8. The ceremony was attended by, among others, some of the men on board that infamous day. Now that Captain William McGonagle has died, buried at the top of the hill overlooking a mass grave of six men who were killed, it appears that our intimidated Congress, which has so far evaded a proper investigation with lip service, guile and form letters, might wait until all those who were aboard have died—so, of course, “no need to investigate” because there are no living witnesses, you see—notwithstanding Congress’ well-known penchant for investigation.

I burn with anger, scorn and contempt at the timidity and duplicity of members of Congress who “look the other way” when it comes to aggression against our country by Israel, yet who find billions of dollars to shovel into it.

H.L. Overdiek, Hopkins, MN