Middle East studies in the News
Revising History at Berkeley: Israeli 'Occupation 101'
by Abraham H. Miller
As newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hammered out a cease-fire under the sponsorship of Egypt at the resort town of Sharm el Sheik, for the first time in four years, Egypt was returning its ambassador to Israel.
In contrast to other negotiations in Sharm el Sheik, this time the Israeli flag flew alongside the flags of the Arab nations. With Israel withdrawing from Gaza, Egypt did not want a nest of terrorists sitting on its border. King Abdullah II, whose father, King Hussein, had ceded control of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, did not want a terrorist-run West Bank sitting on his border.
Four years of the second Intafada have rained death, destruction, and misery on the Palestinians far more than on the Israelis, whose society has continued to flourish despite Palestinian homicide bombings and shootings. Only Canada has listed more foreign companies on the tech-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange than Israel. Per capita income in Israel has now surpassed that of both Italy and the UK, despite the Intafada.
In the meantime, groups have called for gestures of protest against Israel. The Presbyterians, for instance, called for a boycott. But would congregants really throw out their Teva prescriptions, their cell phones, most of their Windows NT and XP operating systems, and their wireless computer notebooks? After all, these are products of Israeli technological development.
Indeed, would members of Israeli-bashing student groups adhere to such ideological consistency?
But at Sharm el Sheik, two states, living side by side, in peace, is the enthusiastic refrain being sung in the diplomatic halls. Whether that refrain will still be excitedly sung six months from now is another story. Watching the events unfold, one must ask: will the Palestinians bungle this opportunity for peace as they did at Oslo and Camp David?
Or will they see this as simply another opportunity to gain a strategic foothold, while giving nothing in return, still maintaining the quest for a unitary Palestinian state as Arafat had really advocated?
A clue to the answer came on February 8, 2005. On that day, "Students for Justice in Palestine" at the University of California Berkeley campus presented "Occupation 101," illustrating their obliviousness of the events of the day—making one wonder if they had been locked a closet for the last three months, if not the last four years.
Or maybe not. During the height of the Cold War one veteran observer of the American intelligence community noted that there were chills and thaws in the Cold War. But for those who operated in the subterranean world of intelligence and counterintelligence nothing changed until the Soviet Union imploded from its own inefficiency and corruption. The surface drama, for him, had little to do with either side's real goals and policies.
Judging from the SJP's program that evening, there was here a systematic articulation of the unwavering goals of the Palestinian people—in stark contrast to the rhetoric of the new peace at Sharm el-Sheik. One might disagree with them, comment on their striking dissonance with events on the world's stage, but, nonetheless, admire the stark candor with which their views were enunciated. Theirs was the repetitive voice of Arafat as heard in Gaza City, Ramallah, and on Palestinian Authority television, not the equivocating voice of Arafat pandering to the Western Media.
The program featured Sara Norman, Jewish Voice for Peace, Dr. Hatem Bazian, a lecturer at Berkeley in Islamic studies, and Nancy Hormachea, representing the National Lawyer's Guild.
A Jewish activist who looked at the program commented that it would be a wonderful exchange of opinions between two Israeli-bashing Arabs representing on one side and an Israeli-bashing Jew on the other.
But he missed the point. The program was not intended as an academic analysis of the Middle East. Indeed, the only thing remotely academic about it was that it was held in a college classroom. It was ninety minutes of unrestrained historical revisionism and America and Israel bashing all moving toward one goal: to create a divestiture campaign at Berkeley.
It is in many ways indistinguishable from any Palestinian-oriented college program I had heard of over the last twenty years. Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and every liberal I have ever met should have been there, for there was more honesty in that room about what Palestinians truly believe then there will be coming from the media-hype surrounding Sharm el-Sheik over the next several months.
Palestinians do not want a two state solution. Arafat never stood before a Palestinian or Muslim audience and talked of a two state solution. Abbas inherited a Palestinian population inculcated with hatred for Israel, repeatedly propagandized, growing ever more militant, and truly believing they will march on Jerusalem. Arafat is dead; but his legacy survives.
Dr. Bazian speaks of Israel as if it were South Africa, how it must come under Palestinian rule and go through a cleansing process similar to the truth, justice and reconciliation process in South Africa.
Israelis must look not to the West for their political and cultural direction but to the Arab world, he notes pointedly. Israel might have airplanes, tanks and atomic bombs on its side but Palestinians have a larger weapon, a ticking demographic time bomb more explosive than any piece of military hardware. This is not true of just the West Bank but of Israel's own Arab population, he continues.
Dr. Bazian denies the very legitimacy of Israel, tearing it from both its historical and its biblical roots. Palestinians, he claims, are the Philistines of old. Palestinians are not a nation that developed an identity in direct response to Zionism, but a contiguous nation rooted to the people of the land before Abraham.
The Promised Land is, thus, for Bazian, a myth. It is immaterial to this "scholar" that Abraham's journey to the Promised Land took place a century before the Philistines, an Aegean people, landed on its shores; or that the Philistines have absolutely no cultural, religious or even genetic relationship to the modern day Palestinians; that the Muslims who conquered the land in the Seventh Century did more than stop there to water their horses as they rode on to Spain; that the urban transformation of the British Mandate of Palestine under Zionist migration also brought with it Arab migrants from Yemen, Syria and Egypt.
So, while the Palestinian relationship to the land is continuous, Bazian's argument severs the Jewish relationship, recasting it as being the artificial product of the resettlement of Russian converts. One young man, with audience approval, reflected on how many Jews are blond and blue-eyed to underscore this point. It was an evening with Der Strummer turned upside down.
Of course, this is the product of universities, not just Berkeley, creating interest group programs masquerading as departments and conferring doctorates in the promulgation of myths. So rooted is the Philistine myth that one recent children's book (Donald J. Zeigler, Israel) shows David holding aloft Goliath's severed head with a caption noting that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has its roots in biblical times. It would be worthy of a laugh were it not so tragic.
Each and every war in the Middle East is characterized by Ms. Norman as the result of Israeli expansionism. She honed her point by quoting a paragraph from a speech former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave to what she calls the National Defense University. Actually it was the National Defense College, in August of 1982, when Begin spoke there.
Much is made of Begin's calling the 1967 Middle East war a "war of choice," which Ms. Norman misconstrues to mean a war of aggression. Had she taken the trouble to read the entire speech, she would have learned that Begin refers to "wars of choice" as necessary, moral, and defensive wars. The most important of these was at the start of World War II, which for Begin began on March 7, 1936, when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, and Britain and France failed to act.
Begin notes how the whole of human history would have been different if France had acted; how Nazi Germany would have collapsed; and how the rest of that war with its deaths in the tens of millions would never have occurred.
From Begin's perspective the events of June 1967 were no different for Israel than the events of March 7, 1936 were for the world. Both were "wars of choice;" both were moral and necessary.
Bazian and Norman interspersed their presentations with numerous quips and asides about America as a racist and imperialistic state repeatedly alluding to the enslavement of blacks and the conquest of Native Americans. The Berkeley students in the audience, mostly Middle Easterners, just couldn't get enough of it. But both speakers seemed oblivious to their ability to stand and denigrate America at taxpayers' expense without in the least worrying about the state preventing them from doing so. Where in the Arab culture Dr. Bazian so venerates could he castigate an Arab regime without facing the secret police?
Ms. Norman delighted in denigrating human rights in Israel and America, but not a word left her lips about human rights in the Arab or Islamic world. There were no quips about Dafur, contemporary enslavement of Blacks in the Sudan, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, human rights for women in Saudi Arabia, or honor killings on the West Bank. Ms. Norman's outrage was reserved exclusively for America and Israel.
Nancy Hormachea brought the evening of revisionist history and America and Israel bashing into focus. The National Lawyers Guild, she told the audience, will help students arrested in demonstrating against Israel and teach them how to run a divestment campaign.
A student immediately announced that the next SJP meeting would focus on the divestment campaign.
I in turn wonder who in the room will be the first, along with the Presbyterians, to divest themselves of cell phones and computers running windows operating systems. Will the activists who own notebooks with Centrino chips toss them into the waste bin? Will everyone run home and clean their medicine cabinets of Teva prescription drugs? Will the women in the room decline the new non-invasive computer scan for breast cancer or the new "blue light" treatment for acne?
And then as I looked at the Palestinian coeds dressed in the current Berkeley coed uniform of tight jeans and tighter pullovers, I wondered if they would feel comfortable living in the Sharia-dominated state advocated by Hamas. Would they be able to walk down the streets of Ramallah the way they do the streets of Berkeley? Would they be free to buy Lolita in Jericho and read it without first closing the blinds and locking the doors?
Or do they really even entertain such questions as they pursue the destruction of Israel and the creation of a unitary state dominated by a Palestinian political culture embracing all he principles of liberal democracy and human rights enshrined in the in the current Palestinian Authority?
About the Writer: Professor Miller is emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. He receives e-mail at email@example.com.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org