In mid-March, “Palestinian Awareness Week” was held at the University of Manitoba, and in commemoration of that effort, The Manitoban, the university’s official student newspaper, published a news article and an opinion commentary that saw both writers seriously misrepresent Israel and the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Included in the coverage was a news article by Colton McKillop entitled: “Palestinian Awareness Week comes to U of M,” as well as an opinion column by Dina Hamid entitled: “Support for Palestine is crucial.”
While only the latter was meant to be an opinion-based editorial, both pieces were heavy on anti-Israel slant, and much lighter on facts.
For his part, McKillop wrote that “Palestinian Awareness Week” was held by a pro-Palestinian club on campus in an attempt to bring light to the Palestinian cause, but when introducing the issue, he uncritically regurgitated a common anti-Israel position, namely that construction of Israeli settlements stands as the primary obstacle to peace.
Despite calls from the United Nations (UN) for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, McKillop wrote: “Israel has continued to build settlements on occupied Palestinian territory that the UN and much of the international community consider to be illegal under international law, forcing more Palestinians from their homes.”
While this view is indeed the position of anti-Israel groups around the world, it is a gross oversimplification of the reality on the ground.
Not only are Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria (called the “west bank” by the news media) far from illegal under international law, primarily because illegal occupation occurs, according to international law expert Professor Eugene Kontorovich, when one state “takes over the sovereign territory of another country,” but with Judea & Samaria, the land was seized by Israel in a defensive war from Jordan, which never owned legal title, and Israel had pre-existing claims to the areas in question.
More to the point, Israel could very well remove every Israeli citizen from the contested areas of Judea & Samaria, and there is no reason to believe it would create any peace agreement when all of Israeli territory is considered to be illegal by anti-Israel extremists, including student activists who believe Israel’s independence in 1948 was a catastrophe, or a “Nakba” in Arabic.
In 2005, Israel withdrew all its citizens and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, some of whom had families who had lived there for generations, but this unilateral act of disengagement created no goodwill, and Israel was treated with a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza in response. It should be clear that simply removing Israelis from a certain territory will not achieve peace when the very existence of a Jewish State is considered a horrific tragedy by the Palestinians and their supporters.
Hamid’s opinion column, for its part, regrettably took a number of serious liberties with the truth.
“Despite all these glaring violations against international law and human rights, the Israeli government barely faces any pushback from other states for its unjust attempts at colonization,” Hamid wrote in her column.
In fact, Hamid used the terms “colonization,” “colonialism,” and “colonialist” four times in her commentary, without explaining what she meant by the term, or how she believes it applies to Israel.
Israel is not, nor has it ever been anything resembling a colonial power. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People who, after nearly two thousand years of forced occupation by a litany of foreign empires such as the Greeks, Romans and others, rebuilt their state in their ancient homeland.
While Israel declared its independence in 1948, the Zionist enterprise did not arise out of thin air in the 19th century; it was the rebirth of the ancient Jewish state.
To suggest, then, that Israel building homes for its citizens in its ancient homeland, and in land where it possesses significant legal rights, constitutes foreign colonization, is both to utterly misuse the term, and to insult the memory of those peoples around the world who suffered under the brutal colonization of foreign powers.
Hamid also alleged that this “Israeli occupation…has deprived Palestinians of the opportunity to have their own sovereign state,” and that Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland.”
Both of these claims are ludicrous.
Israel has made many painful concessions for peace, including the 2005 Gaza disengagement, and the famous 2000 Camp David offer made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which offered the Palestinians eastern Jerusalem, all of Gaza, and virtually all of the west bank (with mutually agreed-upon land swaps). The offer was rejected, and the Palestinian leadership launched an intifada (armed terrorist uprising) soon after, which killed one thousand plus Israelis, largely civilians.
If the Palestinian leadership wanted a Palestinian state, either in 2000 or today, the route is a simple one: renounce violence and repudiate terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and negotiate in good faith.
As for Hamid’s claim of ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) states that the population of Arabs living in Israel and in the Palestinian territories has grown more than five-fold from 1948 to 2020, belying any such claims.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a contentious one, and tensions frequently run high, especially on university campuses, but high tensions is not an excuse for falsifying facts or misleading readers. In fact, given how tense contemporary campuses are, the truth has perhaps never been more important and never more elusive.