National Post Condemns Sans Everything Writer

If you read tomorrows National Post, you’ll find an editorial condemning me. Oddly enough, the basis of the condemnation is an article that was commissioned by the Post itself (which will also run tomorrow). 

Context is everything. The Post had asked me to write about Israel’s 60th anniversary, as part of series of articles by many different writers that were set to run this week.  Knowing that every other writer for the series would be strongly pro Israel, I decided to write an article expressing my doubts about Israeli nationalism and the standard accounts of Israel’s creation (accounts which have been effectively challenged by a new generation of historians). If I hadn’t been writing for the Post, I wouldn’t have expressed myself as strongly as I did in the article I wrote, but I felt that Post readers needed to hear another side of the story articulated as forcefully as possible. So, ironically, the very fact that I was writing for the Post has made me a target for the Post.

In any case, my article can be found here. An excerpt:

Sixty years ago, a 12-year-old boy witnessed the slaughter of his family. His name was Fahim Zaydan, and he lived in the Arab village of Deir Yassin in Mandate Palestine, which was attacked on April 9, 1948, by Irgun and Stern Gang troops, paramilitary forces allied with the right-wing of the  Zionist movement. These troops swooped into the village and started machine gunning civilians. Those that survived this initial attack were then forced by the troops to gather outside.

“They took us out one after the other,” Zaydan recalled. “Shot an old man and when one of his daughters cried, she was shot too. Then they called my brother Muhammad, and shot him in front of us, and when my mother yelled, bending over him — carrying my little sister Hudra in her hands, still breastfeeding her — they shot her too.”

Irgun commander Ben Zion-Cohen offered a more succinct account of what happened: “We eliminated every Arab that came our way.” This statement glosses over the fact that some of the Arab women were raped by Irgun and Stern Gang troops before they were killed. At least 93 civilians in the village were murdered that day, not just women and children but also babies.

The massacre at Deir Yassin is one of the most famous atrocities of 1948, but it was not the only one nor the largest. In fact, if one were cynical one could argue that Deir Yassin gets publicized only because its perpetrators were Irgun and Stern Gang troops, easy scapegoats who can be blamed for the violence in order to make the mainstream Labor Zionism of David Ben-Gurion look more respectable.

Deir Yassin was in fact a microcosm of what happened in Palestine as a whole in 1948: Zionist troops, including those under Ben-Gurion’s command, used terror tactics to force the indigenous population to flee. Israel was founded through an act of ethnic cleansing, of a type all too familiar in recent history.

7 thoughts on “National Post Condemns Sans Everything Writer

  1. Jeet: I must say that the National Post‘s “refutation” of your article is the oddest one I’ve seen in a while. Essentially, the Post is arguing not that the ethnic cleansing at Israel’s creation didn’t happen, but that it was less bad than other ethnic cleansings have been — and that, by the way, the other states in the region did it too. That’s not much of a counter-argument — but it is, ironically, a big step forward in the discussion of modern Middle Eastern history at the Post.

  2. Interesting how the article has the following disclaimer posted both above and below it:

    “Editor’s Note: The article that follows will appear in the May 7 print edition of the National Post, alongside an editorial refuting Mr. Heer’s conclusions.”

    Not “disputing” Heer’s conclusions, but “refuting them”. But then, as noted in the previous comment, the editorial doesn’t actually try to refute them at all. But it gets curiouser. Garrick Morrison says:

    “Essentially, the Post is arguing not that the ethnic cleansing at Israel’s creation didn’t happen”

    Well, its true that they’re not ARGUING that. But they do place the words “cleansing” and “cleansed” in scare quotes – thus implying that they do not accept the description, but without challenging it substatively.

    The rebutal (or “refutation”) attempts to contextualize claims about ethnic cleansing; but neither Heer’s article nor the rebutal (“refutation”) provide very clear definitions in the first place, which must proceed the attempt at providing context.

  3. Yes, the Post editorial made a significant concession. For that reason alone I’m glad I wrote what I did.

    As for a definition of “ethnic cleansing” — I think Wikipedia provides a useful definition but see also Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, where the matter is discussed.

  4. The way they handled your piece is objectionable. Either your article was worth publishing or it was not. If not, they should have raised their concerns during the editing process, or rejected the article prior to publication. If it was within the realm of fair comment it should have been presented like any other article. Running the piece with the note at the top and bottom and a link to a “refutation” published the same day is a shabby attempt to have it both ways. It’s also counter-productive–as if they have something to fear from your analysis–but that does not make it any less graceless.

    As for the editorial, it is so weakly argued that your argument only looks stronger by comparison. Much like David Frum in your recent podcast debate, they seem to think that a defence of Israel amounts to pointing out wrongdoings by its Arab neighbours. But this confuses the issue.

    Consider a parallel to World War II, when the allies engaged in controversial practices such as fire-bombing Dreseden, or dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. To defend these practices, it won’t do to say, “the people on the other side were worse.” That would be tantamount to saying democratic states should be held to standards of behaviour set by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan–surely a mistake. Although many criticisms should be directed at Israel’s neighbours–for their lack of democracy, anti-Semitism etc.–it would equally be a mistake to judge Israel according to standards determined by its undemocratic opponents. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    As for the equivalence they draw between Jewish and Palestinian refugees, the problem with this parallel was pointed out in an Globe and Mail editorial several years ago (14 July, 2003). The editorial made the plausible claim that Jewish and Palestinian refugees of 1948 both deserve compensation, and to that degree, the two situations are comparable. But there are also important difference. From the editorial:

    “There are critical differences between the Palestinian experience in 1948 and that of these Jewish refugees. Many Jews did want to emigrate to Israel, and those who were forced to leave were welcomed by the fledgling Jewish state. None remain in refugee camps today. In contrast, millions of Palestinians remain unwanted guests in neighbouring Arab countries, with few rights and little control over their future.

    “Some Israeli politicians and Jewish leaders abroad have suggested a kind of equivalence between the two refugee experiences: in effect, an exchange of populations. This is specious. The Jewish refugee problem was solved. The Palestinian refugee problem remains a gaping wound separating Israel and the Arab world, and still needs solving.”

    The Palestinian refugee crisis continues to exist 60 years after it began and now involves millions of people. If it is not worth singling out for sustained examination then nothing is.

  5. Hi Jeet
    Your contention that atrocities were committed by Jews is difficult to argue- but by using this as part of your argument against the Israeli state you do invite the counter claim that the “other side” did worse. I agree that many supporters of Israel stick their heads in the sand and pretend that Zionists did no wrong in the early years of state building. But at the same time, the mainstream of that movement was often antagonistic with the extremists, even having many of them arrested by the British. It is true that when full-out war came in 48 the extremists fought side by side with the Hagana, but really, what else could happen in such a situation?
    The refugee situation, while undeniably tragic, is also largely the fault of Arab leaders who have perpetuated the problem either as an attempt to perpetuate a causus belli against Israel (and something which undeniably makes Israel weaker) OR by the Palestinian leaders themselves because they don’t want to lose their case for getting all of Palestine back. What happens when any leader anywhere in the world attempts to rehabilitate some of the refugees? The Palestinian leaders flip out! This is Israel’s fault?

    As a Jew and a democrat I want Israel held to higher standards than other nations. But to then label Israel as being demonic while failing to level that criticism at other states whose crimes are far worse is absurd. And yes, usually anti-Semitic. (No, I don’t at all mean that you are, and I know that you are talking specifically about Israel as you were invited to- I’m just trying to illustrate what the dynamics of this argument often add up to)

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