By Salomon Benzimra [April, 2004]
Note: References to book pages are listed as "(p. Nm)", where "N" is the page number and "m" a letter from "a" to "d", reflecting the relative position in the page, the suffix "a" being the top of the page and the suffix "d" the bottom of the page.
In the thirty-two chapters of his book, Alan Dershowitz has masterfully highlighted facts that most people either ignore, forget or purposefully dismiss. I applaud his effort in shedding light into recent historical facts and I hope this book will bring Israel's detractors a bit closer to the reality they have consistently distorted.
However, if after reading the book one reads again its introduction, as I have done, the reader will be faced with a couple of apparent contradictions, on which I comment below. To his credit, Mr. Dershowitz "welcomes vigorous discussion about 'The Case for Israel'". I trust the following observations will contribute to the debate.
From the very beginning, Mr. Dershowitz states that "a two-state solution is inevitable and desirable" (p. 2d). There is no doubt that by a "two-state solution" Mr. Dershowitz refers to a new Palestinian state comprising parts or all of the "West Bank" and the Gaza Strip. The author supports this option - which he uses as the "premise of the book" - by rejecting all of the four alternatives which he considers less palatable (p. 3a) and by claiming that the "two-state solution" represents "a rare point of consensus." (p. 3b). Mr. Dershowitz then expands on the validity of this option (p. 65a-b) by criticizing - among others - its Jewish opponents as "extremists", while the whole book stresses time and again the historic, cultural, political and military arguments mitigating against the very raison d'être of such a "Palestinian state", most notably by quoting Arab sources who clearly state their ultimate goal: the destruction of Israel (p. 73a)
Since 1917, the Arabs have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state: they did so in their violence against Jews in the 1920s; in their rejection of the recommendations of the Peel Commission in 1937; in their opposition to the UN partition of 1947; in the wars they launched in 1948, 1967 and 1973; in their rejection of the Camp David negotiations in 2000; and in the ongoing Palestinian terrorism for the past three and a half years. Mr. Dershowitz elaborates extensively on those historical facts throughout the book. The experience of "Palestinian" Arab rejectionism needs no further proof. The author rightly criticizes Noam Chomsky for whom "theory is more important than experience" (p. 3c) and yet he seems to ignore the "experience" of the past three quarters of a century, which he explains in exquisite detail, and still supports the "theory" of a two-state solution. Why not recognizing that the diplomatic consensus of a two-state
solution is a bankrupt theoretical idea, in light of the overwhelming past and present experience that the author so amply demonstrates?
To illustrate this dichotomy between theory and experience, we could imagine the following (implausible) scenario: NASA chooses to ignore everything we have learned from Einstein's, Newton's and even Copernicus' findings on the physical universe and decides instead to adopt the long cherished vision of the Flat Earth Society for the launching of a Mars landing vehicle. Of course, the project fails miserably on the launching pad, with many casualties on the ground. But, undeterred, the NASA scientists nevertheless persevere with a second, third and fourth attempt, in spite of mounting casualties, and still wonder why success eludes them. How long does anyone think the American taxpayer would be prepared to foot the bill of these ill thought experiments without having a serious look at the underlying theory? And yet, diplomats around the world are still persevering on their Middle-East track, carrying their cherished theory of the "two-state solution" from Madrid to Oslo and from
Geneva to Aqaba, totally oblivious of the hecatomb in human lives they are leaving behind. The only successful launching these diplomats have to show for their effort is that of the Kassam rockets from the would be "Palestinian state"! Isn't it time to review the premise?
Mr. Dershowitz talks about the existence of a broad "consensus" as a supporting argument for the two-state solution. There is also a broad consensus on the present occupation of Tibet by China. Consensus can also be found in denying the Kurds a state of their own. Up until the end of World War II, consensus on the merits of colonialism was seldom questioned. Why should consensus trump historical truth and justice?
At the core of this consensus fallacy is, I believe, the pernicious idea that joining the mainstream is a pre-requisite for progress and righteousness. Not too long ago, Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN, expressed his usual opposition to Israel by lambasting its counter-terrorism responses (which he deemed disproportionate) and asking, indignantly, "can the whole world be wrong?" Unfortunately, nobody replied "Yes Sir, history has demonstrated time and again that the whole world can be wrong. The massive worldwide demonstrations for peace in the late 1930s and, more recently, those against the toppling of the 'butcher of Baghdad' are a case in point."
Not only the idea of a two-state solution flies in the face of the historical facts that Mr. Dershowitz so painstakingly reported, but it also would create insurmountable difficulties should it be implemented. The main urban areas of Israel would be at rocket range of the new "Palestinian state" unless, of course, we make this state totally demilitarized. A "viable Palestinian state" implies full sovereignty, which could not be awarded for obvious military and security reasons crucial to Israel. If the new borders must be "secure and recognized", as called for by UN Resolution 242, a considerable redrawing would be necessary, thus making the new state even less viable. Also, the creation of a new "Palestinian state" would vindicate the hoax of the existence of a separate, identifiable "Palestinian people": shortly thereafter, we will see the Israeli Arabs living in northern Israel claiming a new, ancestral identity as "Galileans", entitled to a state of their own, for the sole
purpose of eventually destroying Israel. Who will deny them this new claim to nationhood, once a precedent is established for the "Palestinians"? Last but not least, when Israel relinquishes Hebron, Bethlehem, Shehem (Nablus) and even part of Jerusalem, how can it justify its title to Haifa and Tel Aviv on any historical and cultural grounds? Mr. Dershowitz does not specifically address these looming problems, other than enjoining Israeli leaders to "abandon Jewish biblical claims [to Judea and Samaria] in the name of pragmatic compromise, just as Islamic Koranic claims must be surrendered." (p. 243a). This astonishing statement is wrong on two fronts:
If biblical claims are to be abandoned (and with them, the Jewish historical and cultural links to the land), what justification could Israel still have in having created a Jewish state where it presently is, rather than in Uganda or Madagascar? This "compromise" can only strengthen the negationists of all shades against whom Mr. Dershowitz stands so vehemently.
Establishing a parallel between biblical and koranic claims with respect to the land is preposterous. Not only the Koran hardly makes any reference to the land of Israel, but the only time it does, it clearly says that this land was bestowed by God to "Moses' people" (Sura 'Al-Maidah, 5:22). Surely, the Prophet Mohammed cannot be wrong!
There is no parallel in history where military aggression has been rewarded with the full restitution of territories lost, let alone with the creation of a new state conferred to the very people who launched the hostilities. Mr. Dershowitz acknowledges this fact and points to the anomaly of the peace accords with Egypt in 1979 and the full withdrawal of Israel from Sinai in spite of the several wars of aggression launched by Egypt since 1948. Should the same anomaly be perpetuated in the "Palestinian" case? Or should we rather look, as an example, to the history of Konigsberg? Here was a region populated by Germans since the Middle Ages, the capital of Eastern Prussia, harboring many monuments and with a long history of illustrious German thinkers going back centuries. And yet, at the Potsdam conference in 1945 - unlike Camp David in 1979 - the Nazi aggression against the USSR was not forgotten, let alone rewarded: Germans living in Konigsberg fled or were deported; the name of the
city was changed to Kaliningrad; the city and the surrounding region was permanently annexed by Russia, even to this day when it became an exclave, disconnected geographically from Russia proper after the dislocation of the USSR. The net result of this decision was a lasting peace between the old belligerents who entertain today normal diplomatic relations. Wasn't the German claim to the old Konigsberg far more solid than the "Palestinian" claim to Jerusalem, Hebron or Bethlehem? Did the Russians sue for peace after they defeated the Germans? Was there any concept of "land for peace" in favor of Nazi Germany at Potsdam?
In the 32 chapters of the book, Mr. Dershowitz makes a brilliant case for Israel, based on facts, truth and justice. But it is as though, after resting his case, the author concludes by saying: "Israel has indeed a strong case. Nevertheless, it will be sentenced to the "two-state solution."
The second point which leaves the reader perplexed starts with the author's statement on page 4c: "It is, of course, necessary to have some description of the history . to begin to understand how diametrically opposed conclusions can be drawn from the same basic facts on the ground. The reality, of course, is that only some of the facts are agreed upon. Much is disputed and believed to be absolute truth by some, while others believe that its opposite is equally true." The factual truths we are talking about here are not those of hoary antiquity which are endlessly debated by archeologists and anthropologists. We are dealing with events starting in the 1920s, the vast majority of which being fully documented by records of official declarations, detailed maps, news reports, pictures and films, eyewitness accounts, etc. If these factual truths are as relative as Mr. Dershowitz describes them on page 4c, then the whole humanity has no other choice than to sink in the deepest skepticism.
For Mr. Dershowitz, "an agreed upon event is a matter of interpretation" (p. 4d). This raises the question of opinion versus knowledge. Opinion is allowed as long as knowledge is incomplete. It seems rather unlikely that, given the vast amount of facts related to the recent history of the Middle East, much of the acquired knowledge would remain objectively uncertain. If not "beyond a reasonable doubt", at the very least the facts presented in The Case for Israel show a resounding "preponderance of evidence" in favor of the Jewish state. How much credit should then be given to opposite "interpretations of the facts"?
But Mr. Dershowitz insists that "each side is entitled to its self-serving narrative as long as it recognizes that others may interpret the facts somewhat differently." (p. 5b). If the same latitude for interpretation of the facts was permitted in a court of law, would there ever be a verdict? Mr. Dershowitz maintains there is a "statute of limitation [whereby] as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to reconstruct the past with any degree of precision: . there are facts and there are true facts." (p. 5c). This notion may be valid when dealing with ancient history but the opposite is rather the norm with recent history. Many lingering doubts on World War II have been lifted in the past few years. For instance, recently released aerial photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau prove that the Allies' bomber squadrons had indeed the capability of destroying the concentration camp in 1944 and hampering the Nazi genocidal machine. There is no longer any room for interpretation in this
matter of facts, once knowledge has been expanded.
And yet, Mr. Dershowitz rightly insists on the necessity to counter "willful distortions of the historical record . in university campuses and the media" (p. 6d). Absolutely! But if the historical record remains subject to interpretation, is there any point to even undertake this effort? Jonathan Swift warned that factual truths "should not be mingled, obscured or discolored by passion and interest." Whether we have "willful distortions" or "different interpretations" of the facts, it is very much the same: an assault on the truth.
There is an apparent contradiction in Mr. Dershowitz' line of thought when he allows for "the interpretation of historical facts" and then criticizes "the various tactics [that] have been employed toward this end [i.e. driving the Jews out], including the mendacious rewriting of history [Jewish immigration and demographics]" (p. 7b-c). By characterizing the rewriting of history as "mendacious" (that is, against the truth), it implies, rightly, that there is only one factual truth, hence not subject to interpretation.
Mr. Dershowitz is quite conscious of the importance of historical facts "because distortion or omission of the painful history is a staple of the case made against the Jewish state." (p. 8c). I wholeheartedly concur: factual truths should be the basis of a lasting peace, rather than any expedient "pragmatism", even though "[the Arabs'] hope is that pragmatism will prevail over fundamentalism." (p. 8a). How long can a pragmatic solution stand if it flies in the face of factual truths? Would any court trial be seen as fair if the evidence is compromised for the sake of some seemingly peaceful pragmatic consideration?
The author wonders "How could so many intelligent people have forgotten so quickly who was to blame for the termination of the peace process?" (p. 9c). One of those "intelligent people" was Robert Malley, a member of President Clinton's team at the Camp David negotiations in 2000. He was present at a number of meetings and he later "interpreted the facts" to suit his own leftist bias. He was then courted by several French television programs to expound his views (in excellent French), based on his "interpretation." Again, as long as fully documented facts are left to interpretation, there is no limit to the level of distortion of the truth.
Mr. Dershowitz favors a "future of mutual compromise [rather than dwelling on] the finger-pointing past." (p.12c). Finger-pointing only occurs when two opposite, irreconcilable interpretations exist. In that case, the need for compromise is the only approach capable of settling the dispute. But was there a need for compromise with defeated Nazi Germany to let her keep, say, a third of the territories she conquered in WWII? Certainly not: because the facts were indisputable as to who the aggressor was, who was the initiator of city bombings and who was the perpetrator of atrocities. There was no room for "interpretation of the facts", hence no finger-pointing and no compromise. What is it that makes compromise so necessary in the case of Israel? In fact, Mr. Dershowitz stresses that "[following WWI, the Arabs] got 80% of Palestine set aside as an exclusively Arab state, with no Jewish settlement permitted." (p.37a). So, where is the need for further "compromise"? One could argue for
compromise if the rights and wrongs of both parties were roughly evenly distributed, or when the facts did not clearly favor any party. In The Case for Israel, Mr. Dershowitz explains at length why this is far from being the case.
Throughout the 32 chapters of the book and in his concluding remarks, Mr. Dershowitz points out several aspects which squarely collide with the premise of the "two-state solution" adopted in his Introduction:
"There must be a price paid for starting and losing wars" (p. 108b). Surely, compromise on the part of Israel should not be part of that price.
Why should there be ".yet another Palestinian state, in addition to Jordan " (p. 110c)?
"I know of no situation in history where a state has twice rejected generous offers of statehood, responded with the massacring of civilians, then been rewarded for its rejectionism and crimes against humanity with still another offer of statehood." (p. 159b-c). Neither do I. Why should we, then, keep the same disastrous tack?
"Palestinian terrorism [would not] end if Israel gave back every inch of land it occupied in defending itself against Jordanian and Egyptian aggression in 1967." (p.161c). Wouldn't terrorism be even worse if a new sovereign Palestinian state is established at Israel's borders, without any Israeli military or civilian presence within? This question is immediately answered by the author a few paragraphs below:
"If terrorism succeeds in securing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, why should it not continue to be used to secure what the vast majority of Palestinians say they want?" (p. 162a). And yet, inexplicably, a couple of pages later, there is a blunt contradiction to this statement:
"Israel .stands ready today to offer the Palestinians statehood, in exchange for the Palestinian Authority's making genuine best efforts to stop terrorism by those Palestinian groups committed to continuing their crimes against humanity until Israel is destroyed." (p. 165d). In other words, Palestinian terrorism should not be rewarded, but once it starts, any vague proposal by a Palestinian leader to exercise "his best efforts" to put an end to it should be warmly welcomed by Israel. This is surely an invitation to violence for the resolution of this and other conflicts. Besides, one may wonder how this wishful thinking squares with the acknowledgement that follows in the next three excerpts:
".terrorism .is widely supported by the vast majority of Palestinians and their leadership." (p. 167a).
".the history of Palestinian terrorism clearly shows that terrorism increases whenever Israel offers peace ." (p. 178d).
"If a Palestinian state is achieved by terrorism - or if that perception exists among most Palestinians -- then many will urge an escalation of terrorism to achieve the ultimate goal ." (p. 234d).
Mr. Dershowitz must be commended for his extensive and broadly referenced work in The Case for Israel. The historical facts are presented with clarity and they leave little if any doubt about the validity of the Israeli claims. However, in allowing these historical facts to be "interpreted" at the whim of every detractor, the author reduces his whole effort to a matter of opinion.
Clearly, Mr. Dershowitz is entitled to his own liberal views. But what is more problematic is the blatant contradictions between the clear, detailed, exhaustive presentation of the facts and the conclusions he draws from his own observations.
Salomon Benzimra Toronto, Canada