Supplementary memo from Maurice Ostroff
To members of the Methodist Church
October 28, 2013
Because of the intensive efforts that Methodist Church leaders have invested in studying the Israel Palestinian conflict and the enormous volume of detailed documentation that has been prepared and submitted, I ask for your indulgence in submitting this paper for your consideration in addition to my memorandum of October 23. I apologize for its length but there is no alternative in trying to deal with the several hundred pages to which the Methodist conference and the BDS movement have referred. I shall however confine this memo to addressing only one document, the 33 page “Time for Action” which I will refer to as TFA.
The TFA which has understandably influenced the Methodist Conference’s decisions to boycott Israel is an extremely persuasive, well researched and professionally presented document, as may be expected, considering the many people who contributed to it, the fact that it had been incubating for twelve months and been through several drafts before reaching its final stage. Nevertheless, much of it is misleading (albeit perhaps unintentionally) more because of the information that is omitted than the information presented. While this type of one sided presentation is understandable in an advocacy document, the lack of context prevents the understanding that is essential for constructive dialogue that can lead to a just solution.
For example TFA treats all actions by Israel and Israeli soldiers as unprovoked with no reference to context. How does one measure, for example, the comparative justice of preventing savage murder by terrorists of hundreds of uninvolved civilians, including infants, the elderly and infirm, Arabs and Jews alike, with the regrettably real and hopefully temporary inconvenience to Palestinians affected by construction of the anti-terror wall?
TFA is remiss in ignoring the barrier’s effectiveness. Between September 2000 and July 2003, West Bank terrorists carried out 73 atrocities within Israel, killing 293 people and badly wounding 1,950. Between erection of the first segment in August 2003, and June 2004, the number of successful attacks dropped to three.
One of the most serious obstacles to a settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict that is completely ignored by the TFA is the continuing Palestinian incitement to violence and hate. Very sadly, the PA leadership as well as Hamas are promoting hatred with haunting echoes of Nazi ideology and Jews being repeatedly dehumanized in words and cartoons as monkeys, pigs, donkeys, rats, worms, scorpions, spiders and octopuses.
A program on Palestinian Art on PA TV proclaims “Israel is a monster that stabs and eats children”
Unfortunately, even PA President Mahmoud Abbas contributes to this atmosphere of hate by glorifying terrorists. In recent months his PA named several schools and a scout group after terrorist mastermind Dalal Mughrabi who led a terror attack in 1978 in which 37 civilians were killed. The PA president added praise for tens of thousands of “martyrs’ including the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Muhammad Amin Al-Husseini, who is noted for having actively collaborated with Hitler during World War II.
Other programs on the PA-funded television channels indoctrinate children to hate as in this example
As the TFA opens with maps showing Palestinian loss of land; 1947 to present, please allow me to present another equally accurate view that deserves to be considered in context.
The map below shows the area of the British mandate over Palestine, created by the League of Nations, that unambiguously required Britain to be responsible for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine as then defined, implying the legal right of Jews to settle in that territory which included the West Bank and what today is Jordan.
However, on September 16, 1922, the British created Transjordan east of the Jordan effectively removing about 78% of the original territory in which a Jewish National home was to be established.
This action violated Article 5 of the Mandate which required the Mandatory to be responsible for ensuring that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign Power. Article 6 of the Mandate required the mandatory power to facilitate Jewish immigration and to encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes. Nevertheless in blatant violation of this article, in a 1939 White Paper Britain severely limited Jewish immigration from Europe despite increasing persecution of Jews in Europe.
In referring to the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, the TFA quotes Elizabeth Monroe as declaring that The Declaration was one of the greatest mistakes in British imperial history, claiming erroneously that it represented a betrayal of promises of independence made previously by Britain to the Arabs in the McMahon Correspondence with Sharif Hussein in Mecca.
Though it was published in the Times of London in July 1937, evidently Ms. Monroe’s research missed an important document refuting her above claim as revealed by Alfred Bonné in his book “State and economics in the Middle East: a society in transition” (Routledge, 2003) in which he published a copy of McMahon’s letter, reproduced below.
The San Remo Conference 1920
TFA errs fundamentally in treating the Balfour declaration as the principal document in the creation of Israel. Effectually it was a non-enforceable declaration of intent that only became legally enforceable when it was entrenched in international law by incorporation in a resolution passed by the San Remo Conference on April 25 1920. Significantly, the only change made to the wording of the Balfour Declaration was to strengthen Britain’s obligation to implement it.
This came about when, after ruling vast areas of Eastern Europe, South-western Asia, and North Africa for centuries, the Ottoman Empire lost all its Middle East territories during World War One. The Treaty of Sèvres of August 10, 1920 abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. It was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
The status of the Ottoman Empire’s former possessions was determined at the conference in San Remo attended by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and as an observer, the United States. Syria and Lebanon were mandated to France while Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the southern portion of the territory (Palestine) were mandated to Britain, with the charge to implement the Balfour Declaration.
The conference’s decisions were confirmed unanimously by all fifty-one member countries of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922 and they were further endorsed by a joint resolution of the United States Congress in the same year,
It is therefore obvious that the legitimacy of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and a Jewish state in Palestine as defined before the creation of Transjordan, all derive from the same binding international agreement at San Remo, that has never been abrogated.
As recently as April 2010 the binding San Remo resolution was confirmed when a ceremony attended by politicians and others from Europe, the U.S. and Canada was held in San Remo. Below is an extract from the statement issued at the conclusion of the commemoration:
“Reaffirming the importance of the San Remo Resolution of April 25, 1920 – which included the Balfour Declaration in its entirety – in shaping the map of the modern Middle East, as agreed upon by the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers (Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States acting as an observer), and later approved unanimously by the League of Nations; the Resolution remains irrevocable, legally binding and valid to this day..”
“Asserting that a just and lasting peace, leading to the acceptance of secure and recognized borders between all States in the region, can only be achieved by recognizing the long established rights of the Jewish people under international law.”.
There is a remarkable inconsistency in repeatedly referring to international law in castigating Israel, more often than not incorrectly as will be shown, while completely ignoring the legal implications of the San Remo resolution which was and continues to be legally binding between the several states who signed it.
The 1948 war
There is a blatant lack of context in the TFA’s bland statement about the 1948 war:
“dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948-49, leading to the 65-year old Palestinian refugee problem of today, was partly due to Britain’s abdication of its moral and legal responsibilities as the Mandate power“
creating the false impression that without any cause and quite unprovoked, Israel went to war with the Arabs and dispossessed 750,00 of them.
The true verifiable recorded history is very different. On November 29, 1947, the UN voted to partition western Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states (GA Resolution 181). Although the area allocated to the Jewish State was very much smaller than had been promised in terms of the Balfour Declaration and which comprised more than 75% desert, the Jewish leadership accepted partition, but all the Arab states rejected it. Had the Arabs accepted partition then, there would be no Palestinian refugee problem today. According to British statistics, more than 70 percent of the land in what would become Israel was not owned by Arabs. It belonged to the mandatory government.
The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, and the very next day the newborn state was attacked by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon as well as the Arab Liberation Army commanded by Fawzi al-Kaukji; seven armies in all.
The kibbutzim in the Etzion Bloc Bloc whose roots go back to 1927, had already been overrun on May 12 by an overwhelming force of the Jordanian Army, led by many British officers.
Arab League Secretary, General Azzam Pasha declared, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, who had met with Hitler in 1941 and had been involved in recruiting support for Germany among Muslims during WW2 proclaimed, “I declare a Holy War, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!”
Israel was left on its own to face the Arab onslaught. No one expected the Jewish State to survive. Even the CIA estimated that the Jews would not last more than a few weeks. But, against all reasonable expectations, Israel survived the onslaught even though at that time, its population comprised only 600,000 to 650,000 people, including women, the elderly and infants. The price in human lives and suffering was high. More than 6,300 (about 1% of the population) were killed and many more maimed.
From day one, Tel Aviv and other strategic targets were attacked and bombed with impunity by Egyptian Spitfires, DC-3 Dakotas and C-47 bombers. At that stage, Israel had no combat aircraft and no anti-aircraft artillery with which to defend itself. Tel Aviv was also bombarded by the Egyptian Navy.
No less an authority than US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, warned Foreign Minister-to-be Moshe Sharett against signing Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Marshall reportedly told Sharett,
“Believe me, I am talking about things about which I know. You are sitting there in the coastal plains of Palestine, while the Arabs hold the mountain ridges. I know you have some arms and your Haganah, but the Arabs have regular armies. They are well trained and they have heavy arms. How can you hope to hold out?”
When the war officially ended in January 1949, Israel held the 5,500 square miles allotted to it by the UN partition plan, plus an additional 2,500 square miles. Transjordan held the eastern sector of Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Egypt held the Gaza Strip. Armistice agreements were negotiated and eventually signed with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria between January and July 1949, based on the lines at the end of the fighting.
Contrary to the impression held by many, Israel is tiny. It is about the size of Wales in the UK and smaller than the state of New Jersey in the USA. It has a vulnerable, narrow waist-line only 9 miles (15 km) wide.
TFA’s reference to the dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians ignores completely the circumstances of the war that was forced on Israel and the benign manner in which Israel reacted to those Arabs who did not pose a threat, like for example the Arabs of Nazareth, Haifa and Abu Ghosh who remained neutral and continue to prosper to this day. Mohammed Abu Ghosh has been quoted as saying
“What we did, we did for Abu Ghosh, for nobody else..Others who lost their land, hated us then, but now all over the Arab world, many people see we were right.
“If everyone did what we did, there’d be no refugee problem.” “And if we were traitors? Look where we are, look where they are.”
TFA’s dependence on sources like Ilan Pappe is unfortunate. Although he is an idol of BDS, Professor. Pappe has been widely discredited. Theodore Katz, an MA student at HaifaUniversity submitted a thesis in which he claimed he had recorded testimony of former inhabitants claiming that in May 1948 IDF soldiers had murdered villagers after the occupation of the village of Tantura. The thesis initially earned him a grade of 97. IDF veterans who had participated in the capture of the village filed a libel suit and during the trial it became evident that the thesis did not reflect the recorded testimony and Katz retracted his allegations. Despite the proven discrepancies between the content of the recordings and what was written in the thesis professor Pappe supported Katz throughout the trial, he continues to do so and he has attempted to prove that indeed there had been a massacre at Tantura.
The 1967 Six day War
TFA refers to Israel’s presence in the West bank and East Jerusalem in the following simple terms
“Following the 1967 war, Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem and sixty four square kilometres of surrounding land, adding it to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, and imposed Israeli civil law. This land is still recognized as Palestinian territory under international law.
As in its treatment of the 1948 war TFA oversimplifies a complex situation and in doing so paints a very distorted picture which misleads anyone trying to understand the situation in order to reach the Methodist Church’s stated objective of
engaging in regular well-informed inter faith dialogue and .. and seeking out interfaith groups to open dialogue for a greater understandung of the region. [emphasis added]
I must emphasize that in presenting facts I am not arguing for nor against retention of settlements. Although they may be perfectly legal Israel may well decide to forego some or all of them if it believes this will lead to a true peace.
The actual events are readily verifiable. International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. In 1967, Egypt unlawfully expelled the UN peacekeepers from Sinai (stationed there since 1956 to act as a buffer when Israel withdrew from Sinai) and followed this by another act of aggression in closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships. The Israeli response was clearly a lawful act of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN charter and the definition of aggression in GA Resolution 3314. (Incidentally the world did nothing while Egypt illegally blocked Israeli use of the Suez Canal for 16 years).
Logically, it is impossible to understand how international law can describe the West Bank as Palestinian territory. When taken from the Turks it was held by the British mandate. In 1948 it was illegally occupied and annexed by Jordan in an annexation that was regarded as illegal and void by the Arab League and the rest of the world except Britain, Iraq and Pakistan. In1988, Jordan ceded its invalid claims to the West Bank to the PLO whose presumed title must be equally invalid.
In essence, when Israel entered the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967 it did not occupy territory to which any other party had title. While Jerusalem and the West Bank, (Judea and Samaria), were illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 they remained in effect part of the Jewish National Home that had been created at San Remo and in the 6-Day War Israel, in effect, recovered territory that legally belonged to it. To quote Professor Judge Schwebel, a former President of the International Court of Justice,
“As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem.
“The facts of the June 1967 Six Day War demonstrate that Israel reacted defensively against the threat and use of force against her by her Arab neighbors. This is indicated by the fact that Israel responded to Egypt’s prior closure of the Straits of Tiran, its proclamation of a blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat, and the manifest threat of the UAR’s use of force inherent in its massing of troops in Sinai, coupled with its ejection of United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF).
It is indicated by the fact that, upon Israeli responsive action against the UAR, Jordan initiated hostilities against Israel. It is suggested as well by the fact that, despite the most intense efforts by the Arab states and their supporters, led by the Premier of the Soviet Union, to gain condemnation of Israel as an aggressor by the hospitable organs of the United Nations, those efforts were decisively defeated. The conclusion to which these facts lead is that the Israeli conquest of Arab and Arab-held territory was defensive rather than aggressive conquest.”
In “What Weight to Conquest” Judge Schwebel, wrote
“(c) Where the prior holder of territory [Jordan] had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title. “… as between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt.”
Judge Sir Elihu Lauterpacht wrote in 1968:
“On 5th June, 1967, Jordan deliberately overthrew the Armistice Agreement by attacking the Israeli-held part of Jerusalem. There was no question of this Jordanian action being a reaction to any Israeli attack. It took place notwithstanding explicit Israeli assurances, conveyed to King Hussein through the U.N. Commander, that if Jordan did not attack Israel, Israel would not attack Jordan. Although the charge of aggression is freely made against Israel in relation to the Six-Days War the fact remains that the two attempts made in the General Assembly in June-July 1967 to secure the condemnation of Israel as an aggressor failed. A clear and striking majority of the members of the U.N. voted against the proposition that Israel was an aggressor.”
Refugees and displaced persons generally are a sad reflection on humanity. In terms of the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe and Russia and sent to Germany. In 1948 parallel with the Israel-Arab war about 8 million Muslims were transferred from India to Pakistan and about 7 million Hindus from Pakistan to India. In 1974, 250,000 Turks and Greeks were forcibly exchanged in Cyprus. Unlike the Palestinian situation these unfortunates were not left to rot in refugee camps. They have been relocated and made new lives for themselves.
In Palestine, between 500,00 to 700,00 Arabs are acknowledged to have fled during the 1948 war and it is nothing less than shameful that they have not been absorbed by rich neighboring countries and that so many of them and their descendants continue to live in wretched conditions in refugee camps. Compare this with the fact that some 900,000 Jews, many of whose families had lived in Arab lands for centuries, who were expelled from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and forced into exile were absorbed into Israel.
TFA states there are currently more than 5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. BDS founder and leader Omar Barghouti claims that of a total Palestinian population of 11.6 million 69% (approximately 8 million) are refugees and he demands that all 8 million be settled in Israel so as to convert Israel into a Palestinian state. You can hear his reasoning at 2.0 on the timeline in this video
All refugees worldwide are cared for by UNHCR except Palestinians who are cared for by UNRWA and, one must ask, how did the number of Palestinian refugees grow from 700,000 to 5 or 8 million with a continuing exponential growth in the future, whereas those under the care of UNHCR tend to decrease in number except for additions when new violence breaks out?
The answer lies in the special treatment accorded only to Palestinians. UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. Descendants are not included. UNRWA’s definition uniquely includes the original refugees and their descendants in perpetuity.
What a prominent Arab has to say
As far back as June 9, 2007 Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya television bravely wrote under the heading “40 Years: The Real Stigma” in Asharq Al-Awsat, the leading Arabic international paper, that Arab treatment of Palestinians is far worse a crime than what Israel did to them.
I quote extensively from what he wrote because he is one of the few brave intellectually honest commentators to state publicly what too many others refuse to admit, thereby stifling the full and free analysis of the situation that is essential to arriving at a rational and equitable solution. Mr. Al-Rashed wrote:
“Regarded by some as a temporary issue, the tragedy of the Palestinians is rarely presented to the Arab and international public opinion through the media or during political occasions..What is happening in Lebanon’s Nahr al Bared camp today is just one such example.. Tens of thousands of people crammed in undignified houses, where many of them were born and have lived for five decades.
Some Arab countries “hosting” refugees ban them from leaving [camps], from occupying a large number of positions and deny them any other legal rights.
Our insistence to lock the Palestinians in camps and treat them like animals in the name of preserving the issue is far worse a crime than Israel stealing land and causing the displacement of people.. Israel can claim that it treats the Palestinians better than their Arab brothers do.. No one is asking for citizenship or permanent settlement for them – only permission to live like any other foreigner. Blame lies with the Arab League and Arab governments that took part in or kept silent about this moral scandal.”.
There are many other matters in the TFA document that call for comment and clarification but at this point I will conclude with a sincere appeal to the forthcoming Methodist conference and to Methodists generally, please do consider that there is another side to the coin that deserves your attention. It is just not possible to pass rational equitable resolutions, uninfluenced by biased though persuasive propaganda, without considering all sides of the story.