07 December 2007 - Two different perspectives on the same event
This week's Harvard Law School Record published an article by Justice For Palestine about the Chomsky event, on the same page as an article by yours truly. The contrast is quite striking. I submit both testimonies to the jury: which is more credible?
Justice for Palestine; Justice for All
by JFP Board
Events hosted by Justice for Palestine (JFP) at HLS tend to provoke strong reactions. While such reactions may be unavoidable, we believe that JFP stands above all for open discussion. What we truly seek to provoke is critical thought and re-examination of easy assumptions and mainstream stories. Thus, we value every opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation about the thorny legal, political, and moral questions presented by one of the longest military occupations of recent history.
One of JFP's recent events, which took place last Thursday, was a panel entitled "40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA" in recognition of the fact that these dates are defining moments in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and that Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans are the conflict's central agents.
The panel featured a nuanced discussion between several well-known American scholars on the history and future of the issue. Linguist and activist professor Noam Chomsky of MIT challenged the mainstream historical account of the development of peace proposals since the 1970s, presenting an alternative narrative of Israeli and American scuppering of peace deals proposed by the international community and the Arab states.
Historian and political economics professor Beshara Doumani of UC Berkeley focused on the question of Palestinian agency and provided an internal critique of the form of Palestinian political organization. Doumani argued that Palestinian political organization must develop to more inclusively take account of the different constitutive groups that together form the Palestinian people.
Social psychologist and conflict resolution professor Nadim Rouhana of George Mason University argued that certain political and social processes within Israeli society not only stand in the way of an end to the conflict, but in fact exacerbate it and intensify its danger. While criticizing the view that the conflict is one of legal and power symmetry between the parties, he urged all Palestinians to seriously engage the Israeli Jewish community to resolve the deadlock.
During the following question-and-answer session, moderated by HLS professor Janet Halley, the panelists discussed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Chomsky argued that the implementation of such a right was completely impractical, as the Taba negotiations of 2001 demonstrated; Doumani and Rouhana differed about whether Palestinians could, or ethically should, give up a fundamental human right, notwithstanding its ability to be realistically implemented.
In response to another question asking whether the panelists believed that the Palestinians had never had true agency to address their situation and, if so, how they viewed the first intifada, Chomsky agreed that the first intifada exemplified Palestinian political agency, but pointed out that it was suppressed by the Israelis.
Rouhana noted that the Palestinian political experience, though by no means lacking in agency, was fundamentally shaped by its experience as an indigenous population unable to successfully resist foreign settlers, and Doumani pointed out that his critique of the Palestinian political movement centered around the issue of focusing Palestinian agency.
By hosting this panel, JFP aimed both to spark a genuine dialogue within the Harvard community and to emphasize that justice for Palestinians is an objective which does not imply injustice to anyone else. (Indeed, if anything, the speakers on the panel reiterated that a solution predicated on justice for all involved in the conflict would be the only means of achieving its long-term resolution.)
JFP does not endorse particular answers. Rather, we are committed to asking questions, critiquing pre-packaged ideological solutions on all sides of the issue, and generating different ways of thinking about answers. We seek to do this through civilized and critical conversation, and we gauge each of our events by its effectiveness in attracting an audience of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. By these standards, last Thursday's panel - attended by a broad range of individuals from the Harvard and larger Cambridge communities - was a resounding success.
JFP is only one piece of the puzzle. Even at HLS there are other organizations active in relation to this issue. What JFP seeks to provide, however, is a unique and in-depth perspective that has often, regrettably, been absent from serious public debate in this country. True to the spirit of HLS and the study of the law, justice is central to our agenda. We hope that critical engagement with this debate and these issues will take us further down the road towards justice for all, without which, we believe, there cannot be justice at all.
This piece was written by the board members of Justice for Palestine at Harvard Law School.
JFP Panel Promotes Gridlock in Middle East
by Joel Pollak
It all began with a traffic accident. Twenty years ago this month, a fatal collision that killed four young Palestinians sparked widespread rioting in the West Bank and Gaza. Deadly confrontations with Israeli soldiers led to further protests. The intifada was born. Israelis woke up to the reality of two decades of occupation. Palestinians woke up to a long-suppressed national consciousness, and demanded a state alongside Israel.
That critical historical moment was all but forgotten at the panel discussion hosted by HLS Justice For Palestine last Thursday evening in Austin North, entitled "40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA." Ironically, it fell to me, in my capacity as president of HLS Alliance For Israel, to remind the 200-plus crowd that Palestinian history has been more than a series of helpless defeats.
The evening's refrain was an admonishment to Palestinians not to take seriously the agreements and promises of last week's Annapolis peace conference, and to reject the path to the two-state solution in favor of a more radical ideal. The speakers were Noam Chomsky (MIT), Beshara Doumani (Berkeley), and Nadim Rouhana (George Mason), who differed only in the precise details of the hopelessness they prescribed.
Chomsky threw up this gem: "If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world." Next, Doumani complained that "Palestinians in the occupied territories are being force-fed a state" and reiterated his published view that statehood would mean "preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination."
Not to be outdone, Rouhana offered his own counsel of despair: "Israel as society and state is becoming ready to commit crimes against humanity on a scale that exceeds what is happening now. They are ready, prepared, and willing to do that." Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he declared. "We have to de-colonize Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and after the 1967 borders."
Hearing all of this, I was tempted to wonder whether Chomsky, Doumani and Rouhana were Zionist agents in disguise. If Israel really were committed to destroying the Palestinians, it could hardly have picked a more unscrupulous bunch of propagandists to convince Palestinians to give up the struggle for statehood and accept that they are doomed to be the passive victims of history, never its agents.
Even Chomsky's exaggeration of Israeli nuclear capabilities and designs could well serve such purposes. Never mind that Israeli leaders have specifically rejected the idea of attacking civilian targets even if the existence of the state were at stake. It is useful for Israel's enemies to fear the massive retaliation Chomsky promises; it's the best way to establish an effective threat, short of actually nuking something.
But Chomsky's effectiveness as an Israeli provocateur is limited by his disregard for the facts. For example, he claimed on Thursday that Arab states offered Israel a two-state solution in a UN resolution in 1976. However, that year's UN resolution on the "Question of Palestine" failed to even mention the word "Israel," and Yasser Arafat continued to reject the two-state solution until December 1988.
Even small facts could not escape unharmed. Chomsky claimed, for example, that Ha'aretz is "Israel's leading daily," yet it barely has one-tenth the circulation of Yediot Aharonot. And neither Chomsky nor his fellow panelists mentioned Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians. They also repeatedly described the Second Lebanon War of 2006 as an Israeli "invasion," neglecting Hezbollah's initial raid as well as the thousands of rockets it fired at Israeli cities.
Doumani was more useful from a hard-line Israeli point of view, regurgitating radical slogans that would make even left-wing Israelis suspicious of Palestinian commitment to the peace process. "Palestinians have the right to use any means necessary including force," he claimed, adding weakly that Palestinians had to "discuss" non-violence. And this after years of suicide bombing and self-destructive civil war!
Rouhana played right along, vowing: "There is simply no way that Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state." He also argued that Israel's achievements as a society "could not have been done without force and violence." These are views one typically hears from the most intransigent Israelis, explaining why Israel should not negotiate at all, and why the Palestinian proto-state should be allowed to destroy itself.
The late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is often denounced for having said of Palestinians: "They did not exist." But they still do not exist for Chomsky, Doumani, and Rouhana. There is no event in recent Palestinian history, good or bad, for which they hold Palestinians responsible. Everything is determined, in Doumani's words, by the "iron law" of Israeli, British and American control.
George Orwell observed that nationalism "may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty." Such is the Palestinian nationalism of Chomsky, et al. These are not "pro-Palestinian" activists. They have little to say about the achievements and prospects of the Palestinian people. They are simply against Israel, not for Palestine.
If the Palestinian people are to succeed in fulfilling the aspirations they first began to articulate twenty years ago, they will have to ignore the Chomskys of the world and use Annapolis as the foundation of a new, positive nationalism that aims to establish a state alongside Israel in peace, security and harmony.
Joel Pollak is President of HLS Alliance for Israel.