Letters to the Editors
Historical perspective on the Mideast
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 16, 2001
Re: Children of Abraham: The battle for Palestine, Dec. 9.
The Times and its staff are to be commended for this attempt to present a comprehensive history of the conflict in the Middle East, and for the historical balance of the presentation. As your editors pointed out, any attempt to summarize more than 2,000 years of history will inevitably result in omissions or simplifications that will call forth comment. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the article succeeded in giving readers a historical perspective that is virtually unobtainable in any other single news source.
Taking you at your word that some may want to supplement certain points, I would add two comments. The first relates to the Arab flight during the 1948-49 war, when Arab armies attempted to destroy the nascent Jewish state. While recent Israeli scholarship has concluded that some of this flight was precipitated by expulsion orders from the Jewish fighting forces, most of it was the result of calls to clear the way for the Arab military onslaught issued by local Arab leaders and invading Arab armies -- as the British military and diplomatic archives indicate.
What your article does not mention is that at the same time, the Arab nations expelled more than 800,000 Jews from their lands, even though these residents were not in any way involved in the military conflict going on in the U.N. mandate territory. Many of these Jews were descendants of families that had lived there since the destruction of the Second Temple. Most of the Jewish refugees were almost immediately absorbed into Israel, which at the time had neither the economic resources nor social networks sufficient to sustain its own population, let alone 800,000 immigrants. The Arab families left homeless by their leaders were refused entry into any of the Arab countries.
Secondly, I believe your article could have given greater emphasis to the implacable hatred of the Arab world after its failed attempts to destroy Israel, which was memorialized at the 1967 Arab summit in the three No's of Khartoum: "no peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel." This mind-set was translated into maps that (to this day) refuse to show Israel, and school textbooks dedicated to hatred of Israel.
Thank you again for your important contribution to the understanding of this terrible conflict; the first hope in finding a way out of the present situation is an honest understanding of how we got there.
An informative article
Re: Children of Abraham: The battle for Palestine.
I just wanted to commend your paper for this well-written and very informative article on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine) conflict. The article obviously required significant research and compressed a tremendous amount of history and background in a concise report. In doing so, the article was able to help me understand what is a very complex problem. Thanks for providing the space necessary to present this information.
Honesty was missing
Re: Children of Abraham: The battle for Palestine.
Your paper's disclaimer for this article is definitely needed. It also needed the protection of the First Amendment: freedom of the press.
Your sources of information and the alleged experts used for this biased article indicate such a lack of honest reporting that anyone even slightly familiar with the Mideast situation will wonder if the Palestinian Authority was its author. I am sure you will get a reaction from the public and you will print those with an opposing view, but the damage will have been done.
Realizing there is a space limitation, I would point out a few of the omissions, selective phrasings and facts taken out of context.
You objectively stated that the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel killing 91 people but omitted the fact that it was quarters for military personnel. This could have been made much clearer. You pointed out that President Harry Truman's call for a viable Jewish state made the British feel that this prejudiced negotiations between the Jews and Arabs. The statement forgets to mention that the British were supplying guns, ammo and other weapons to the Arabs.
The article goes on and on with these types of important balancing facts not noted in your attempt to put the record straight. You are quite right in your assertion the article devotes more space to history than newspapers usually do. The reason being that most newspapers probably would not be part of this attempt to give an incomplete picture of what transpired.
The aid factor
Re: Children of Abraham.
I enjoyed the massive article regarding the Middle East and its history. It is too bad that you could not include just how much money as been given to Israel by the American taxpayers since 1949.
It has been reported that it is in the vicinity of $134-billion and that would have given your article real meaning to the everyday American.
A great starting point
Re: Children Of Abraham.
Thank you for the lengthy history of the Palestine/Israel conflict. That type of time line is just what I've been looking for, and I really appreciated the amount of space you devoted to the topic. It seems so unusual now for news media to provide the depth and breadth of coverage that are needed to understand current events.
I also appreciated the fact that you mention there are differing interpretations of the historical events. For those of us who are not scholars, but who do want to know more, the article provides a great starting point.
A superficial survey
Re: Children of Abraham: The Battle for Palestine.
It is incomprehensible to me why the Times would publish such a slipshod and superficial survey of the history of Mideast hostilities. You yourselves have acknowledged that the article "only scratches the surface," and that there are bound to be objections to the accuracy of the details, errors of omission as well as commission. Furthermore, you admit that even your so-called expert sources conflict with one another in interpreting the "facts."
Let me cite but a few of your more egregious inaccuracies:
Your account of the attack by Menachem Begin and the Stern Gang on the King David Hotel omits the fact that the British authorities were warned in advance of the attack by Begin; although the hotel was a legitimate military target, the attempt was to destroy property but to spare lives. The British chose to ignore the warning at their own peril.
The article reports that in May of 1948 Israel "proclaimed itself an independent state," but that statement does not make clear that Israel's "declaration of independence" was based solidly on international law and that the Jewish state was a creation of the international community and the United Nations.
Israel's "surprise attack" launching the Six Day War in 1967 came not only when Israel's access to shipping via open waters was blocked, an act of war under recognized international law, but after Egypt's forces were amassed in huge numbers on Israel's borders.
Worst of all, perhaps, is your connection between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and our current war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Although in some Islamic countries there are those who would see such a nexus, the struggle against Osama bin Laden and his network goes well beyond this ancient struggle. You take an already complex topic and muddy the issues by seeking a nexus between the Afghan and Palestinian conflicts.
I recommend that you add to your list of sources the definitive work on the history of the Arab-Jewish conflict, Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial, which itself has an impressive bibliography of reliable sources -- Arab, Jewish and independent.
A well-balanced report
With regard to the Children of Abraham story in the Dec. 9 Times, congratulations to Natalie Watson (assisted by Caryn Baird, Kitty Bennett, Mary Mellstrom, Barbara Oliver and Cathy Wos) for researching the story, to Richard Bockman for his writing and compiling, Tom Drury and Neil Brown for their editing, and to Amy Hollyfield for her design.
I considered the story to be very informative and unusually well-balanced (so often the Palestinians seem to get the short end of the stick). The graphics were excellent. I e-mailed the story to several family and friends and printed out a number of copies for others. Thanks again.
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