Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dershowitz strikes back -- with lies (yawn)

So there was this BDS conference held at Pennsylvania University -- one of the Ivy League institutions. Myself, I'm a fence-sitter with regard to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- I don't boycott Israeli products as such (although if I knew that they were made in the occupied territories, I would), while I think that divesting from Israeli companies makes sense only in certain specific cases. I'm more comfortable with the idea of sanctions.

In any case, this BDS event was organized at UPenn and, as might be expected, lots of Israel firsterssupporters rallied to organize counterevents that brought much larger attendances. This is not surprising since BDS is taking its first infant steps in the realm of mainstream discourse.

One of the anti-BDS events was a speech by the ineffable Alan Dershowitz. Under the headline Dershowitz strikes back, the StandWithUs site provides a raving review of the Dersh's presentation which, as can be predicted, consists basically of a regurgitation of tired Hasbara points. Of a somewhat higher interest is the Q&A, and in particular this exchange with a student:

During the question-and-answer session after the Annenberg presentation, one female student asked, "If an Arab student comes up to me and says, 'You took my land,' and I respond, 'Yeah, but we support gay rights,' how does that add up?"

Dershowitz said the answer is that the Jews didn't steal the land.

"The land on which Israel was established had a Jewish majority," he said. "In Israel's case, they bought the land, in this case from distant land owners, who lived in Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli policy of the yishuv was never to throw indigenous Arabs off the land.

"Israel's birth certificate is cleaner than the birth certificate of almost any other modern country in the world," he added. "Israel was established by law."

Notice Dershowitz's goal-shifting. In his last paragraph he seems to suggest that because Israel is cleaner than "almost any other modern country in the world," an Arab has no right to complain that his land was stolen. It's, of course, the case of the tax evader who claims he can't be jailed because other, worse criminals are free.

But to his credit, he does provide an answer to the student's question: the land was not stolen; the Jews bought it from "distant landowners" in Syria and Lebanon.

There's no denying that the Jews bought land in Mandate Palestine. But the land? Israel consists of some 22,000 sq km of land. By 1946, a year before the UN partition resolution, land ownership was distributed as follows:

This map was first published in the excellent Palestinian advocacy site, which in turn obtained the information from this United Nations document from the time.

As can be seen, the Jews didn't enjoy majoritarian ownership in any district. Quite on the contrary, in most districts of present-day Israel the land was overwhelmingly owned by private Arab citizens, with the Jews coming close (but still lagging behind) only in Haifa and Jaffa. This can be more startingly underlined by seeing a map of the land that the Jews did own:

Thus, the land was not bought from distant landowners. In fact, only about 1,500 sq km (some 6% of present-day Israel) was bought by the Jews. See here for the scanned relevant page of the British report "Survey of Palestine" published prior to the partition plan.

What happened, then, with the Arab-owned land? After some 700,000 Arabs were expelled or fled the 1948 war, their property was confiscated by the 1950 Absentee Property Law, whereby the real estate of those "absent" owners was transfered to a State Custodian, who in turn leased it to the Jews. Here are a few relevant paragraphs from this law:

2. (a) The Minister of Finance shall appoint, by order published in Reshumot, a Custodianship Council for Absentees' Property, and shall designate one of its members to be the chairman of the Council. The chairman of the Council shall be called the Custodian.

3. (b) The Custodian may appoint agents for the management of held property on his behalf and may fix and pay their remuneration.

4. (a) Subject to the provisions of this Law -
(1) all absentees' property is hereby vested in the Custodian as from the day of publication of his appointment or the day on which it became absentees' property, whichever is the later date;
(2), every right an absentee had in any property shall pass automatically to the Custodian at the time of the vesting of the property; and the status of the Custodian shall be the same as was that of the owner of the property.

The emphasized (by me) sentences can't be described in any other way than the Custodian stealing the Arab owners' land.

So that no, Mr. Dershowitz, the Jews didn't buy the land but some land which constituted a very small proportion of present-day Israel; and yes, what the Jews did with Arab-owned property is tantamount to barefaced thievery. And by the way, you've just been exposed once again as a straight-faced liar.


Julia Riber Pitt said...

I feel the same way you do about BDS. It's not even pushing for sanctions, it's just asking people to pull Israeli products off the shelves of their local grocery stores and whatnot. I get the feeling that Israel wants international activists to focus on petty boycotts as opposed to other forms of activism which are far more affective in helping the Palestinians.

Dershowitz is a douchebag. He's the essential nationalistic jerk: extremely arrogant, makes up facts as he goes along, thinks he state he's loyal to can do no wrong, etc.

Tom Stedham said...

Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

1.Considering the amount of people living in Palestine at the time there's no way that much land was owned by anyone Jew or Arab.
2.You completely ignore the fact that in Israel many Arabs still own land.
3.You also completely ignore that hundreds of thousands of Jews were displaced and had their land "stolen" in Arab countries when Israel became a state.

Tom Stedham said...

But... the article is about Israel, not "other Arab countries"...

Anonymous said...

Good to see the hasbara buster is back in action. I thought you had retired

thankgodimatheist said...

Welcome back Buster! You've been dearly missed.

ds said...

Yes, and that map is the reason the UN partition plan included roughly those land areas in the UN-designated Jewish state (the exception being the Negev, which the UN determined was largely unowned).

In other words, if the Arabs had not rejected the partition plan, the map of Israel and whatever Arab entity was established (and it certainly wasn't going to be 'Palestine,' since the Arabs did not consider themselves as such) would have looked like this.

But the Arabs DID reject the partition plan and attacked the Jewish state. They lost that war. They can't come crying now that they gambled and lost. Ditto for the 1967 war... if they weren't sure they could push the Jews into the sea (as they proclaimed umpteen times they were going to do) they shouldn't have started something they couldn't finish. Them's the rules in war...

Tom Stedham said...

I guess those 400,000 Arabs who were expelled/ethnically-cleansed before the start of any "Arab aggression" don't matter, right?

Why was it ok for Israel to expel them, based solely on their ethnicity?

It wasn't. Period.

Anonymous said...

What is the correct pronunciation of the word "hasbara"?

DavidKNZ said...

Good Post. Dershowitz graphically demonstrates the extremes liberties that "Israeli Firsters" take with the truth

Anonymous said...

It's true. People don't like to be lied to. If Israel wants support, they should earn it with legal and proper behavior. Once people find out they are lied to, that's when they become the "anti-Israel" activists instead of the "pro-Palestinian" supporter. Losing creditably as a state is something we should all take seriously. The world didn't let the US's bs stand during the Iraq War unexamined. Public policies should be up for public debate.

Elaine said...

I have just found your blog. What a fantastic resource- well researched arguments backed up with references. I will be a regular visitor. Keep it up!