Alexandra Friedman | Teaching a lesser-known history


Friedom of Speech | To truly understand the Palestinian plight, we must look beyond Israel’s borders




A s an outspoken Zionist, my initial reaction to the Penn for Palestine piece last week was unadulterated anger. My instinct was to respond, as usual, by coming to Israel’s defense, highlighting the historical inconsistencies, factual inaccuracies and half-truths reported in the column.

I decided, however, to take a different approach. Rather than debate Israel’s role in the plight of the Palestinians, it may be more insightful to understand the historical roles that other groups have played — namely, the United Nations, other Arab nations, Hamas (the governing party in Gaza), Palestinian Authority leadership (the governing body in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank) and “pro-Palestinian” groups like Penn for Palestine.

The United Nations: The Palestinian refugee problem is largely a consequence of a war waged by the Arabs against the newly established state of Israel in 1948. Whether refugees were forced out, moved to avoid the violence or were instructed to relocate by Arab leaders is a matter of historical debate. Rather than using the existing organization, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to address refugee populations, the United Nations created the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The problem with UNRWA, however, is that it classifies all Palestinians as “refugees,” who will continue to be considered as such until the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of Israel. UNRWA also makes refugee status inheritable, growing the population of Palestinian refugees to five million today. By making it impossible for Palestinian refugees to integrate into their host country, UNRWA prolongs the refugee problem.

Other Arab Nations: Critics of Israel are often quick to condemn the lack of full citizenship rights for Palestinians living in the West Bank. What these critics fail to recognize is that many  Palestinians don’t have citizenship rights elsewhere, either. At least 300,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon without full citizenship rights in what the UN Human Rights Council has deemed “appalling social and economic conditions.” Why haven’t Israel’s neighboring Arab nations absorbed the refugees as citizens?

These nations don’t exactly support Palestinian statehood, either. From 1948 to 1967, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were controlled by Egypt and Jordan, respectively. In that period, neither country worked to establish a Palestinian state, but rather maintained control of the land for their own use.

Hamas: Contrary to PFP’s claim that Gaza is “occupied,” Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, removing all Jewish settlers from the region. Soon after this disengagement, however, the people of Gaza elected Hamas, an active terrorist organization whose explicitly stated goal is to destroy the state of Israel, to establish a government.

Since 2005, Hamas and its allies have fired over 8,000 rockets into Israel. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Israel, as a matter of self-defense, has isolated itself from Gaza and made it increasingly difficult for Gazans to maintain their campaign of violence.

Palestinian Leadership: In 2000, at Camp David, President Bill Clinton almost negotiated a peace treaty between the opposing sides of the conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to withdraw from 97 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, dismantle Israeli settlements and establish a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Despite these concessions, however, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat rejected the deal. Shortly thereafter, Arafat inspired the Second Intifada, specifically designed to kill innocent Israeli citizens.

“Pro-Palestinian” Groups: Another substantial problem facing the Palestinian people are “pro-Palestinian” organizations, or more accurately stated, the lack thereof. Despite their claim of being pro-Palestinian, these organizations do nothing more than direct hatred toward Israel. They offer no voice of reason, nor do they propose realistic, achievable solutions.

Groups like PFP should be more aptly named “Penn Against Israel.” Until such organizations are willing to actually take a productive stance for the Palestinian people, rather than simply against Israel, their plight will only be protracted.

Israel has certainly played a role in prolonging the Palestinian condition. To say that Israel and its policies are the root cause of the problem, however, is historically inaccurate. The Palestinian people have been betrayed by their leaders, by their Arab neighbors, by the United Nations and by their well-intentioned but misguided supporters around the world. They have been set up to fail.

Alexandra Friedman  is a College junior from Atlanta, Ga., studying history. Email her at alfrie@sas.upenn. edu or follow her @callme_alfrie.

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