Juan Cole and “Stateless Palestinians”

It seems University of Michigan professor Juan Cole embarrasses himself every time he sits before his keyboard and puts out nonsense on his blog, the curiously named “Informed Comment”. Cole is an apologist for all things Islamic and Palestinian and a fierce critic of Israel. In his latest piece, Cole writes about the efforts of the Palestinians to gain recognition in the UN as a state.

First of all, let me say that I do not claim to be an expert on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do know some basic facts that are backed up by history.

If you want to identify with a country that has never existed (Palestine), don’t complain if you are stateless. Today’s present-day “Palestinians” (as they use the term) are the descendants of those who left what is present-day Israel when the Arab nations invaded Israel after its declaration of Independence in 1948. Yes, there had been decades of tension and fighting between Jews and Arabs, especially in the year preceding the War of Independence, and some Arabs were driven out while others chose to heed the call from the Arab world to leave the area of fighting until Israel was wiped out and they could return. Except that Israel was not wiped out. I don’t know the percentage of Arabs who were driven out or left on their own accord. But then again, I am not an “expert” like Cole.

We hear a lot about all the “Palestinians” who were left “stateless” after 1948. What we don’t hear a lot about is the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were driven out of Arab lands at that same time, many without their possessions. I have heard estimates of these numbers between 500,000 and 850,000. I don’t know which is accurate, but then again, I am not an “expert” like Cole.

Unlike the Arabs who left Israel, the Jews who left Arab lands re-settled elsewhere, principally Israel, re-built their lives, and became productive citizens of their new nations. The Arabs ended up in refugee camps in neighboring lands-where they remained. Curiously, they never became citizens and integrated into these Arab societies. Jordan was an exception. Palestinians were granted Jordanian citizenship though many remained in refugee camps. Their status is quite complicated, however, and not without violence, as exhibited in the notorious “Black September” nightmare of 1970 when the Jordanian army killed many thousands of these people to put down an uprising. In 1988, when Jordan withdrew from the West Bank, thousands of these people lost their Jordanian citizenship.

The very term “Palestine” is a bit of a misnomer. The term was used by the Romans after they drove out the Jews some two thousand years ago. It means “Philistines”. Over the centuries, some Jews always remained in the region. In more modern times “Palestine” was a backwater in the Ottoman Empire for 400 years until the Turks were on the losing side in World War One. But it was never a nation. In fact, if you referred to a “Palestinian” around 1900, you could just as easily have been referring to a Jewish resident of the area. In terms of nationhood, however, Palestine is no more a nation than New England nor ever has been.

I am not denying for a minute that many “Palestinians” have legitimate grievances. Where they have lost me is when they turned to acts of terror to gain their ends. I vividly recall the skyjackings in the late 1960s, the Munich Olympics massacre of 1972, the terror attacks in Europe, the Achille Lauro attack, and others too numerous to list here. Today, it still continues in the form of suicide bombings, kidnappings, knife attacks, vehicle attacks, murders of innocent Israeli civilians, and rockets launched into Israel from Gaza, all of which Cole ignores. In addition to disputes over land, so much of this is rooted in outright Jew hatred, which the Palestinians have artfully exported to the West in pushing their agenda. Rather than justice and human rights, it all centers around the goal of destroying Israel and expelling the Jews. That, of course, is lost on the “expert” Cole.

“The stateless have no standing in international institutions and fall through the cracks of international law. Israelis understand this, since the Fascists in the 1930s took citizenship away from European Jews. The Zionist or Jewish-Nationalist response was to create Israel to ensure that Jews did not remain stateless. It was their temporary statelessness under Hitler that facilitated the Holocaust, since stateless people have no tribunal in which to adjudicate their rights.”

Prior to World War Two, thousands of German Jews fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution until the Nazis stopped their ability to emigrate. There was the Kindertransport, where thousands of Jewish children were sent to England by their families. Many, like the family of Anne Frank, found refuge in the Netherlands until Germany occupied that country and rounded up the Jews. The same happened in France and other occupied countries. There were some shameful episodes, like that of the ship, St Louis, when Jews were turned away from America. But does Cole. who is supposed to be an “expert” or “informed”, really believe that had European Jews had some sort of tribunal to “adjudicate their rights” that would have stopped Hitler? The only thing that could have stopped Hitler and did stop Hitler was the combined military might of the Allies, including the US and Soviet Union, not some tribunal-unless you want to count the military tribunals at Nuremberg, which came after the fact.

“The Israeli hardliners are in essence adopting precisely the same policy toward the Palestinians as the Fascists did toward the Jews and Gypsies and gays in the 1930s, though of course they have not taken the horrific genocidal steps taken by Hitler in the 1940s. But the 1930s were no picnic for German minorities, and the danger to stateless Palestinians is that something horrible could yet be done to them with relative impunity for the Israeli leadership, for whom the United States will run interference no matter what.”

This is pure hysteria. Who really believes that the Israelis would consider rounding up Palestinians and exterminating them? Well, I guess Cole and his friends do because they are always throwing around the word “genocide” ignoring the fact that since 1948, the number of “Palestinians” has multiplied. One cannot say the same about European Jewry, most of whom died in the Holocaust. Contrary to the Palestinian/Cole narrative, Israel has acted with great restraint in its military responses to attacks. They go to great lengths to try and spare innocent civilians while the Palestinians use civilians to shield themselves and maximize civilian deaths for PR benefit. To compare Israelis to the fascists of the 1930s is absurd on its face. In fact, the US State Department, in its definition of anti-semitism, includes comparing Israelis to Nazis as an element of anti-semitism.

“Palestine cannot become a full UN member without the agreement of the UN Security Council, on which the United States will wield its veto and ensure that the Palestinians remain stateless.”

And why should the US vote to declare “Palestine” a state? Not only would that undermine any possible negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians, you might as well vote to return the American Southwest to Mexico or declare New England a sovereign nation. Such a vote would only serve to create more chaos in the region. And just what does the US owe to Palestinians anyway? They have murdered and maimed American citizens and danced in the streets on 9-11. I fully support Trump’s move to remove US support from them until they renounce terror and demonstrate they really want a negotiated peace with Israel.

Cole is symptomatic of what infects universities today in that he presents a one-sided narrative representing his own personal viewpoints. He has his right to express them, but it doesn’t speak well for the state of American universities today. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a long, complicated issue with two peoples laying claim to the same land. While I am a supporter of Israel, I am sure there are shades of grey between the two sides. It’s unfortunate that Cole chooses to put it in such black and white terms. After all, he is supposed to be an “informed expert.” He should know better.

About the Author
Gary Fouse worked from 1998-2016 as adjunct teacher at University of California at Irvine Ext. teaching English as a second language. Served three years in US Army Military Police at Erlangen, Germany 1966-68. 1970-1973- Criminal Investigator with US Customs 1973-1995 Criminal investigator with Drug Enforcement Administration. Stationed in Los Angeles, Bangkok, Milan, Italy, Pittsburgh and Office of Training, FBI Academy, Quantico, Va. until retirement. Author of Erlangen-An American's History of a German Town-University Press of America 2005. The Story of Papiamentu- A Study in Slavery and Language, University Press of America, 2002. The Languages of the Former Soviet Republics-Their History and Development, University Press of America, 2000.