The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 55.0°F | Overcast

COLUMN

Middle Eastern Mythology

Guest Column
Robert F. Eaton, Jr.

Recent columns in The Tech display a dangerous ignorance of many issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They perpetuate the exaggerations and outright lies disseminated from the government-controlled media outlets of the Middle East, and sometimes even invent their own. Terms like “genocide,” “apartheid,” “massacre,” and “hatred” are tossed about casually, without a second thought being given to the strong connotations associated therewith. Let us not forget that virulent speech is the last resort of the desperate.

President Bush recently made the declaration that “we will not allow Israel to be crushed,” publicly asserting a solidarity with the Israeli people that the majority of Americans share, despite what pundits would have us believe. Recent polls show that -- of those expressing a preference -- Americans support the Israelis versus the Palestinians in the current conflict by a margin of three to one, and with good cause.

America and Israel are both liberal democracies, with elected governments, a free press, and a diverse population. Statistically, Israel is less a Jewish nation than America is a Christian one, and practicing Judaism is not a requirement for Israeli citizenship. Muslims practice their religion freely, are enfranchised, and are even represented in the Knesset. While relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are by no means perfect, they are far from being tantamount to an apartheid state, and are miles better than those of any other Middle Eastern country.

Much is made of America’s uneven-handed relationship with the Israelis, a contention often supported by citing America’s provision of financial support and military hardware to Israel. This is a weak argument, to be sure, but one so often mentioned that thoroughness dictates that it be addressed.

Our yearly contribution to Israel, a staunch American ally which shares with us the most basic tenets of our government, is around $3 billion a year. Yet America also supports, both through financial and military means, a variety of nations nominally opposed to Israel, including Egypt ($2 billion/year), Jordan ($290 million/year), and the Palestinian Authority ($100 million/year). Providing support to Israel makes us unpopular throughout the Arab world, but looking at who is popular -- Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein, for example -- perhaps we shouldn’t be so concerned.

Were one to believe the propaganda pouring forth from the Middle Eastern media and the American far left, one would quickly conclude that the suffering of the Palestinian people -- which, let there be no doubt, has been significant over the last half century -- is the sole responsibility of Israeli aggression and Zionist expansionist policies. The facts, as they often do, tell a far different story. Following the U.N. resolution creating from Palestine a Jewish and an Arab state, the Arab powers at the time attacked the fledgling Israeli nation, only to be embarrassingly repulsed, resulting in a loss of land, and of pride, which would set the precedent for every war to come.

At the conclusion of this war, the West Bank was no longer in the hands of the Palestinians -- it was annexed by Jordan. Israel only came to control it after surviving yet another Arab-initiated war bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. This situation is symbolic of an issue that few are willing to tackle -- that the suffering of the Palestinian people has been exacerbated and prolonged because of their self-professed allies in the Arab world.

After 50 years, no Arab nation has made a serious effort to integrate Palestinian refugees into their society, instead leaving them in the squalid refugee camps seen so often in anti-Israeli propaganda. If the Israelis wanted to actually live up to their false reputation for Palestinian oppression, they would be wise to take a cue from their accusers in the Middle East -- witness the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians from Kuwait following the Gulf War, or the murder of over 5,000 by the Jordanian army in 1970.

The oft-mentioned massacres of Palestinians at Sabra and Sahtila were carried out by Lebanese, not Israelis, and to draw an equivalency between the wanton extermination of a group based on its race (i.e., genocide), with the killing of homicide bombers and the unintended civilian casualties of a military operation, as seen in Jenin, is morally repugnant. This sort of absurd equivocation of two wholly uneven ideas is pervasive in the Middle Eastern situation.

For instance, we are expected to treat Yassir Arafat and Ariel Sharon as equally legitimate elected representatives of their people. The last Palestinian election, however, occurred nearly a decade ago, and Arafat ran with virtually no opposition. The campaign was rife with corruption and intimidation, and the state-controlled media was merely a propaganda tool for the P.L.O. The result: an Arafat victory with over 90 percent of the “vote.”

In Israel, as in America, a victory rarely tops 60 percent, and 55 percent constitutes a landslide, a situation endemic to countries with legitimate political debate, opposition groups, and free press. Ariel Sharon must bend to the will of the Israeli people or he will be replaced, while the Palestinians must bend to the will of Arafat, or they will be silenced, jailed, or worse.

The Oslo accords set forth in 1993 laid the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state and, nine years later, many would have us believe that the failure of such a state to exist is fully the responsibility of Israel. The agreement, however, stipulated a number of conditions to be met by the Palestinian Authority if further negotiations to finalize peace were to take place.

Foremost among these are the responsibilities to renounce violence and terror, to curb incitement, to apprehend and prosecute terrorists, to confiscate illegal weapons, and to ensure that the Palestinian Police is the only armed organization. Not one of these stipulations has been fulfilled. Had Arafat taken the agreement seriously, and gone about dismantling terrorist organizations and using foreign aid to construct a civilian infrastructure rather than to import Iranian weapons and to export terror, there would today be a Palestinian state. Instead, he has failed to deliver to his people what he promised and to divert attention away from his own ineptitude and corruption. He lays the blame at the feet of the Israelis, a fiction which the Arab world, Europe, and even elements of the United States, are all too willing to believe.

Robert F. Eaton, Jr. is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.