Fisk is Wrong on the West Bank

January 18, 2006.

Robert Fisk (“Telling it like it isn’t,” Los Angeles Times, 12/27/05) must be living in “cloud cuckoo-land.” He objects to alleged pro-Jewish and what he seems to imply as “pro-Israel” or “pro-Zionist” bias in U. S. newspapers. He wants the West Bank to be referred to as “Occupied Palestine” and objects to “Jewish” enclaves there being called “settlements,” “neighborhoods,” or “outposts” in the same manner that he does those who attack American forces in Iraq being called “terrorists,” “rebels,” or “remnants of the former regime.” Presumably he wants them to be called “patriots,” “nationalists,” or some other such honorable designation—again, in the same manner that he wants the Israeli presence on the West Bank ( there is no longer a presence in the Gaza Strip so we do not have to worry about that ) to be referred to as “colonies’!

When did “the Palestinians,” as he calls them, ever receive legal charter to the West Bank and when was it recognized by international law? Like it or not the “Jewish” claim was recognized (forget the Biblical one — presumably in his view the right of conquest gave the Muslim world a more recent one) by the Balfour Declaration in 1917 on the eve of the British conquest of the same and appended to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1921, itself confirmed in the British Palestine Order-in-Council of 1922.

Though it is true that there was a later “Partition of Palestine,” adopted by the successor United Nations, in 1947, this was immediately rejected by all surrounding Arab States in 1948 (including it would appear by “the Palestinians” themselves) and, in fact, became a “dead letter” when the Jordanians (then the “Trans-Jordanians”) occupied the area and absorbed it in 1949 — a unilateral annexation objected to virtually by no one (at the time, hardly even “the Palestinians” themselves). Was this “Colonialism” by his definition? Did the West Bank and all that was constructed there by the “Trans-Jordanian Government” (now calling itself, therefore, “the Jordanian Government”) then become a Jordanian “Colony”?

Has he seen the pictures of “Palestine” in the Nineteenth Century? I refer him to such British travel writers as David Roberts in the 1820s and ’30s and Charles Wilson’s Ordinance Survey of Jerusalem in 1869 which show that the land was virtually deserted having been devastated by various wars and given over to what D. H. Lawerence would have called “the trump of the mosquito” (malaria). In fact, the census for Palestine which was reprinted in the classic 1905-6 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica shows Jews to have been a majority in Jerusalem to Muslims by about 60% to 25%, the rest being Christian, even at that time.

In other words, between the years 1917-18 and 1948, there was as much “Arab” immigration into Palestine as “Jewish,” presumably attracted by this increased prosperity as immigration always is — the only difference being that whereas the latter was well-documented and carefully watched, the former was not monitored at all since it occurred over what was on the whole a completely porous “inland” border. This is an incontrovertible fact because there was a period of economic prosperity caused as much by economically viable Jewish immigration into Palestine as a regular British administration.

I lived on “the West Bank” from 1968 to 1973 while I was writing my doctorate on Islamic Law in Palestine and Israel. There was no violence whatsoever. In fact, almost everyone I spoke with (except perhaps the upper classes who were losing their preferred status because of the widespread economic opportunities that had opened up for those who were willing to actually “work” for a living and join the competitive job market — a dirty word in quasi-feudal societies such as the one that previously operated and still operates on “the West Bank”) welcomed the Israeli presence. There was almost total “peacefulness” and you could walk almost anywhere without a weapon and even the thought of any danger. In fact, I was repeatedly admonished that the Israelis were too soft, much more so than the Jordanians had been when they were in control of the same areas who apparently really had acted like “Occupying Powers.”

The violence actually began after the Yom Kippur War with the Kissinger- and Carter-inspired “Sinai Accords” and withdrawals when everyone on the West Bank suddenly began to realize that the Israeli presence, which they had previously assumed in the normal manner was going to continue in perpetuity, was not going to be permanent and everyone knew what happened (and ultimately did happen) to people perceived as “collaborators” or being unduly too friendly with “the Occupying Powers.” It accelerated during the several “Intifadas” — themselves largely inspired by persons living outside the borders of “Palestine” who had not experienced the sudden upturn in the economy caused by a more normative “free enterprise” system and a greater degree of class equality. It reached a crescendo with the coming of “the Peace Process” when the “bully boys” and “thugs” (again largely from the outside) were armed to the teeth — and this by international fiat — and the present state of affairs we are all now a witness to began to develop in earnest.

So what is Robert Fisk talking about? The “living areas,” which he does not wish to even call “settlements,” were in almost all cases built upon unoccupied lands (actually, if the truth were out, these are more what should be called “suburbs,” “bedroom communities,” “small towns” — in the case of Maale Adumim, a big “town” — not “settlements”), what in strict Islamic Land Law is referred to as “Mewat” or “Dead Lands.” Just as in the American West, these carry a three-year right of revival, after which they can be owned having previously been “owned” by no one.

Do not “Jews” have a right to compete with “Arabs” or “Palestinians” in economic development or “Land revivification,” particularly in those areas which no one can deny were once their ancestral home in this area which for the last fifty (in fact, eighty) years has been in a kind of legal limbo? You mean there are to be “no go” areas or “ghettoes” where Jews are to be forbidden to own land in these areas? Is this what is being envisioned by the international community in all well-meaningness? Where has the legal status of any of these areas ever been ultimately regulated? Was not this what all the negotiations were supposed to be about? You mean, just as in Hitler’s Europe in the last century, there are now to be areas that are “Juden-rein” in the former areas of what we used to call by its Roman name, “Palestine”?

Who brought in the so-called “total failure of the human spirit” as Robert Fisk ends up referring to it as? Was it not the “bully boys” and “thugs” and, yes, those he refuses for the sake of preserving the purity of his own pristine conscience to refer to as “terrorists’? Why cannot everyone just co-exist and compete with each other peacefully in a spirit of free enterprise in these uncharted and uninhabited areas, as in suburban areas outside of settled areas anywhere in the world and let the best man, as it were, “win.”

Do you mean there is not enough financial power in the whole of the Arab world, to say nothing of the Islamic one, not to undertake this challenge to peaceful entrepreneurial competition in a spirit of true free enterprise? And if not, why not? Sadly, we all know the answer to that question. But what is Robert Fisk talking about? Isn’t he the one “Telling it like it isn’t”?