CiF’s Khaled Diab decries Palestinian fixation on ‘right of return’, but still seeks one state solution

A guest post by Anne, an Anglo-Israeli writer who blogs at Anne’s Opinions

It’s Naqba Day, and the Guardian is certainly not one to miss an opportunity to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Yesterday’s contribution to this commemoration was an article by Khaled Diab.  (Diab is a regular contributor to ‘Comment is Free’, and is a staunch supporter of the one-state solution.)

The general premise of Diab’s ‘Comment is Free’ essay sounds fair enough, titled “Palestinians must prioritise people over lost land”, with the sub-title “Nakba day reminds Palestinians that dreaming of the right of return stands in the way of securing more vital rights”.

However, as we read through the essay the position suggested by the title (and some of the opening text) is undermined quite egregiously. He begins with an appeal to the emotions of the reader with an evocative story of a Palestinian grandmother who experienced the events of 1948:

“Perhaps few recall it better than my Palestinian neighbour, a sprightly great-grandmother who turned 90 this year. Born at the start of the British mandate to a prominent Jerusalem family, she gave birth to her second child just months before Israel’s declaration of independence. At first, she and her family were determined to stay put during the civil war that broke out following the UN vote to partition Palestine.

Then the Deir Yassin massacre occurred, leading to general panic among the Palestinian population. Fearing for the safety of their family, my neighbour and her husband packed a couple of suitcases and sought temporary refuge in Amman, then a tiny backwater of just 33,000 inhabitants.”

Deir Yassin is one of those “clashes of narratives” that are at the root of Palestinian hostility towards Israel, and which will never be agreed upon by both sides. The article points the reader to the Wikipedia entry for Deir Yassin but one can gain a much more balanced understanding of the event from the Jewish Virtual Library.

Regardless of the facts and numbers of casualties at Deir Yassin, the JVL explains that the Arab propaganda about the alleged Jewish violence against Deir Yassin’s residence backfired, thus confirming Diab’s neighbour’s story:

“Contrary to claims from Arab propagandists at the time and some since, no evidence has ever been produced that any women were raped. On the contrary, every villager ever interviewed has denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate the atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi “there was no rape,” but Khalidi replied, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, “This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror.”14

Returning to Khaled Diab’s article, we read:

“The family has never managed to regain or be compensated for their house in West Jerusalem but, unlike many others, they managed to return to East Jerusalem and settle just a few miles from their former home. Today, millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, while significant Palestinian diasporas are found in Chile, the US, Honduras, Germany and other countries.”

This above paragraph really encapsulates the whole Palestinian “right of return” issue. The family fled due to their own leaders’ propaganda, but managed to return to “just a few miles from their former home”. In this case, why are they still considered refugees?

In this vein, Diab continues:

“Closely related to the Nakba is another political yin-yang: the Palestinian dream, and Israeli nightmare, of return. Palestinians, particularly the disenfranchised inhabitants of refugee camps, have clung on to their dream for the past 64 years. This is most poignantly symbolised by the keys to their former homes which many families have held on to. Politically, this longing has been expressed by Palestinians in their claimed “right of return”, which has been upheld by a number of UN resolutions, including Resolution 194 of 1948.”

However, Resolution 194 does not say what Diab thinks it says. Paragraph 11 states:

“11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;”

It does not mention descendants inheriting the refugee status ad infinitum. And as proof of Israel’s compliance with this article, Diab’s grandmotherly neighbour herself, back in East Jerusalem, is but one confirmation of this fact.

Diab further relates how the Palestinian demand for “right of return” has taken over their political process but comes to the correct conclusion that this is a loser’s game.

“But at a time when the dream of Palestinian return is perhaps more distant than ever, and more and more Palestinians are being pushed off their lands by Israel, why are so many focusing on what to much of the rest of the world seems like a futile quest?

The reasons are complex and include disappointment and frustration at the crushing of the Palestinian dream of self-determination, on the one hand, and the cynical exploitation of identity politics as a substitute for real policies, on the other. Then there is the aggressive expansion of Israeli settlements, ongoing Israeli Nakba denial, as well as Israel’s insistence on a law of return for Jews but no right of return for Palestinians.”

Diab’s recitation of Israel’s “crimes” is repeating the failed propaganda exercise of the Palestinians’ early leaders in 1948. There is no “aggressive expansion of Israeli settlements” since no new settlements have been set up since the mid-1990s. Any new settlement building is done within settlements’ boundaries, and therefore does not encroach on any further land.

Further, Diab’s reference to what he characterizes as Israeli “Nakba denial” necessarily evokes “Holocaust denial”, a hyperbolic and completely unserious historical comparison.

As for Israel’s “insistence” on the Law of Return, that is a direct outcome of (and reaction to) 2,000 years of persecution throughout the world, both in the Western Christian world and the Eastern Moslem world, culminating in the Holocaust. If Israel were to be overrun tomorrow, 6 million Jews would be easy prey with nowhere to go, and politically persecuted Jews in the diaspora would, once again, have no place to take refuge. 

Diab is now building up to the main thrust of his article, their treatment at the hands of their fellow Arabs, although he cannot resist a malicious dig at Israel once again:

“However, the trouble is that this fixation on return focuses aspirations on a remote, distant and perhaps unattainable goal, while drawing attention and energy away from the very real issues facing Palestinians across the region. Not only does Israel disenfranchise and discriminate against the Palestinian populations under its control, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians in many Arab countries are denied their rights too. [emphasis added]

Perhaps the starkest example is Lebanon where, on the back of fears of upsetting the small country’s fragile sectarian balance, some 400,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom were born in Lebanon, are deprived of numerous basic rights – including citizenship, public healthcare and access to numerous professions – and forced to live in what are effectively ghettos, otherwise known as refugee camps. Jordan has done more than others to integrate dispossessed Palestinians by granting most of them citizenship but, even there, Palestinians still face a certain amount of discrimination and some of them have been made stateless again.

Though the status of Palestinians in many Arab countries is partly a product of classic xenophobia and a reluctance, as they see it, to pay for Israel’s crimes, much of this marginalisation stems from Palestinian and Arab fears that integrating refugees would hurt their political quest for nationhood and the ever-elusive return. But what this traditional equation overlooks is that a nation is not the land – which has been declared so “sacred” by both Israelis and Palestinians alike that any number of generations is worth sacrificing at its divine altar – but the sum of its people. [emphasis added]

So this Nakba day, 15 May, it is time for Palestinians to prioritise the people over their lost land, and to campaign, wherever they now live, for their full civil, social and economic rights and their cultural right to be recognised as a distinct community.”

I would say that it’s about time an Arab commentator stated this clearly. 

Diab continues:

“That is not to say that Palestinians should forget the Nakba. Just like Jews mourned their “exile” for centuries, Palestinians have a right to keep the memory of their dispossession alive, though this is likely to become more spiritual and symbolic with the passing of each generation. And perhaps, counterintuitively for us today, as Palestinians cement their identity as a people without a land, they may, in a more tolerant and inclusive future, also start performing a kind of Palestinian version of Aliyah to a land with two peoples.” [emphasis added]

This co-opting of Jewish methods for mourning, commemorating the Destruction and Diaspora, and the 2,000 year-old Jewish wish to make “Aliyah” suggests a determined effort to construct a historical understanding necessary to one day supplant the Jewish nation itself.

Furthermore, with the innocuous little phrase “a land with two peoples”, Diab has managed to slyly insert a “one-state solution” proposal by the back door. This does not bode well for a future of peace and co-existence.

Diab is correct that the Palestinians must let go of their insistence on “right of return” because it is recognized as a non-starter. He is also very right in drawing attention to the miserable treatment the Palestinians receive at the hands of their brethren. However, aiming for a one-state solution will not bring the Palestinians any closer to a state of their own.

Following our post & complaint, Guardian amends Khaled Diab’s CiF essay: Removes Atzmon passage

Yesterday, we posted about a CiF essay by Khaled Diab (“Hacking away at Arab and Israeli stereotypes“, Jan. 19), which contained a positive reference to, and quote from, extreme antisemite, Gilad Atzmon.

Here’s the original quote by Diab, which was employed in his broad critique of Israeli surprise to the alleged cyber attacks on  El Al airline and the Tel Aviv stock exchange by Arab hackers – which Diab framed as evidence that Israelis see Arabs as backwards and unable to display such tech prowess.

Some commentators went even further“The Jewish state is pretty devastated by the idea that a bunch of ‘indigenous Arabs’ are far more technologically advanced than its own chosen cyber pirates,” Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon observed wryly on his blog.

In addition to yet another pejorative depiction of Jews as ‘chosen’ in the Guardian (as with Deborah Orr’s piece), the “Israeli jazz musician”, as we explained, tends to trade in the most vile antisemitic narratives, including the explicit argument that Judaism is a supremacist ideology, Jews are trying to control the world, and suggestions that history may one day vindicate Hitlers hatred of the Jews.

Following our post, and official complaint, the essay was amended, and the entire passage (cited above) was removed.  

While we would have preferred if they had acknowledged that citing Atzmon in a CiF or Guardian piece is, in any context, necessarily at odds with their community standards, we’re pleased that pejorative references to Jews as the ‘chosen’ are understood by Guardian editors as, by definition, antisemitic.   

The Guardian, Khaled Diab and the Gilad Atzmon antisemitism test

Khaled Diab’s essay at CiF, “Hacking away at Arab and Israeli stereotypes“, is quite misleading. His objective isn’t to tear down stereotypes about Israelis, but to highlight and promote them. 

Diab, commenting on recent reports of Saudi hackers who “scaled up their cyber offensive against Israel by paralysing the websites of El Al airline and the Tel Aviv stock exchange”, quoted an Israeli journalist observing that such Arab tech prowess shattered the “feeling that Israel is a technological ‘superpower’ and a hi-tech nation”.  And, later, Diab saw Israeli surprise at the adeptness of the hackers as evidence that Israelis “apparently do regard their nearest [Arab] neighbours as being backward.”

While Diab, later in the essay, acknowledges (albeit in a perfunctory manner) Arab stereotypes of Israelis (which he suggests have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism), it’s in the following passage where his polemical veneer of  ‘peace and reconciliation’ vanishes.

Commenting further on the Israeli reaction to the apparent Saudi hacking, Diab writes.

Some commentators went even further. “The Jewish state is pretty devastated by the idea that a bunch of ‘indigenous Arabs’ are far more technologically advanced than its own chosen cyber pirates,” Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon observed wryly on his blog.

The “Israeli jazz musician”, Gilad Atzmon, whose blog Diab evidently reads, is the author of a book, The Wandering Who?, which the Community Security Trust characterized as “probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years.”

But, as I noted in a previous post, merely characterizing Atzmon as antisemitic doesn’t do him justice.  Atzmon advances crude, hateful, and demonizing rhetoric about Jews which is on par with the most vile Judeophobic charges ever leveled.

In that one video I linked to earlier, Atzmon leveled charges against Jews which are identical to the charges he routinely advances on his blog – the site which Diab refers to.

They include:

  • The explicit charge that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world, and an endorsement of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Gilad Atzmon’s antisemitism, quite simply, is as odious as anything you can find on a white supremacist or neo-Nazi website.

So, here’s a friendly suggestion to Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott, on how (per his mea culpa in Nov.) he can “avert accusations of antisemitism“, at his paper:

Don’t publish essays which approvingly cite the wisdom of one of the most notorious antisemites of our day!

The Guardian’s notoriety

Robin Shepherd’s essay in The Commentator in response to Khaled Diab’s CiF piece on Thursday (Reinventing the Palestinian Struggle) should be read in its entirety but I wanted to note Shepherd’s opening passages where he put’s Diab’s essay in context:

It takes a lot these days to raise hackles among decent and reasonable people at anything written in the Guardian about the State of Israel.

This is a paper, after all, that back in January slated the Palestinian leadership for being “weak” and “craven” after it was revealed they had accepted – as any sane and normal person would – that practically all the so-called “settlements” in east Jerusalem would become part of Israel under any real-world peace agreement.

So after you’ve effectively described even the most obvious concessions in meaningful negotiations as the actions of surrender monkeys, the sheer fanaticism of your antipathy to the Jewish state is established once and for all.

Yes, the Guardian’s antipathy towards Israel is nothing short of fanatical and its at least comforting to know that a writer as erudite and prolific as Robin Shepherd is willing, without qualifications, to say so. 

Setting the Stage

In my real life away from the web I sometimes take on projects to do with the making of stage scenery and costumes for amateur productions or fancy dress parties. It’s not difficult to persuade an audience that they are in a medieval castle or aboard a pirate ship; one simply has to identify the specific elements which most people associate with the subject at hand and incorporate them into one’s design scheme. Details are not important and in fact often detract; the essential thing is to create an instant atmosphere, a defining overall first impression. After that, the audience’s imagination can be relied upon to do the rest of the work.

Reading Khaled Diab’s CiF article of July 2nd it crossed my mind that he might be rather good at making stage scenery. Rather deftly he creates an atmosphere of ‘Zionism equals colonialism’ without allowing any details and facts deemed unnecessary from his point of view to detract from the overall impression he is trying to make. Let’s examine how he does it from the beginning.

“The Zionist vision of a “return” to the promised land has been both a dream come true and a nightmare.”

The use of parenthesis around the word return is obviously designed to cast doubts in the reader’s mind as to whether the Jews actually have an historic basis for their claim to Israel, but in addition Diab does something else here too. He discards 2,000 years of Jewish connection with and yearning to return to Israel; the daily prayers, the words of the Pesach Seder ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ said annually by every Jew in the world for thousands of years, the fact that all the Jewish holidays are intertwined with the seasonal changes in Israel and events in its history, the references to Jerusalem and the Temple at every Jewish wedding ceremony for millennia. Instead, Diab tries to connect Jews returning to Israel with Zionism alone because whilst Western Leftist conventional wisdoms may balk at the criticism of religion or ethnic traditions, they have no such niceties when it comes to Zionism; after all, they’re “not anti-Jewish, just anti-Zionist”. But the fact that for 2,000 years Diaspora Jews, whether they happened to be situated in Alaska or the Sahara, still celebrated the flowering of the almond trees in Israel on a specific day in the month of Shvat cannot be dismissed as a product of Zionism.

“However, unlike in Palestine where Jews represented a tiny minority of the population, “

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Middle East: The No-Jew Solution?

The Guardian’s assault on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state continues unabated, this time from the one-state solution advocate, Khaled Diab, in an article entitled Middle East: A Belgian Solution?

Drawing upon the similarities between Belgium and Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (which Diab deceptively lumps together as “Israel-Palestine”), Diab states:

But Belgium has been gripped by a nonviolent conflict which has its roots, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the late 19th century. And the similarities don’t end there: both Belgium and Israel-Palestine are about the same size geographically, have a similar population density, and are made up of two main communities.

Diab goes on to argue that with a dose of so-called “Belgium compromise” the two sides could resolve their differences despite their “historical baggage”.

However, Diab falls short of taking the next logical step of explaining what the implications of the “Belgium compromise” are. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much to realize that this is just another disengenuous push for the one-state solution given that the Walloons and the Flemings live in one-state and that Diab has in the past written

Personally, I am in favour of a federalised bi-national state eventually emerging, since a single state already exists, it only needs to be made fairer – but I don’t hold out much hope of it coming about any time soon.

Of course the Belgium analogy collapses as in the case of the Northern Ireland analogy when one examines the substantive differences rather than a handful of superficial similarities. Geary drives the point home with the following:


11 Oct 09, 4:41pm

Weird analogy this.

I think the Walloons at least recognise the Flemings exist.

I don’t remember the last time the Flemings were invaded by umpteen French speaking armies.

Do the Flemings have bunkers under their homes as refuge against “home-made” Walloon rockets?

And the Palestinians don’t make chocolate.

Underlying all of this is the rather revealing insight into Diab’s moral relativist world as he gives an example of one of the lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland.

These include the need to involve all the parties in a conflict, even if they are viewed as “terrorists” by the other side,…

In other words, not only is Diab repeating the Guardian World View’s call for negotiations with Hamas but in true Guardianista fashion subscribes to the morally blind school of thinking that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”.

And it gets worse. In an attempt to compare Brussels to Jerusalem, Diab makes the following astoundingly ignorant claim.

Brussels has undergone gradual Frenchification and Jerusalem rapid Hebrewisation.

Diab clearly means “Judaification” craftily employing the term “Hebrewisation” in a failed attempt at distortion. Is Diab not aware that the Jewish connection to Jerusalem dates back over 3,000 years – approximately 1,500 years before the birth of Islam? Is Diab not aware that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel under King David? Is he not aware of the central role that Jerusalem plays in Jewish existence and that Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism? Or perhaps he is which is why he chose the term “Hebrewisation”.

Should it then come as any surprise that Diab would advocate the one-state solution? As Sol Stern and Fred Siegel wrote:

The “one state” solution is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state – a trope of the most extreme rejectionist elements within the Palestinian movement and their allies in Syria and Iran. Terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah want to create an Islamic Republic in place of Israel.

And more to the point, should it be any surprise that the Guardian is yet again giving a platform to such deceptively poisonous views?

CiF’s ‘Jewish naqba denial’

This is a guest post from Bataween of Point of No Return

It’s easier to condemn Comment is Free for what it does than for its sins of omission. And for a site that focuses disproportionately on Middle Eastern issues, CiF is remarkably coy about the forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

There were more Jewish refugees fleeing from Arab countries after 1948 than Palestinian Arabs from Israel. There were more of them, they lost more and suffered more.

But only rarely have Jewish refugees been the subject of attention at Comment is Free. Coinciding with a conference in London in June 2008, Matt Seaton allowed Lyn Julius to put the case for Jewish refugees. But he also got David Cesarani, an academic not known for his expertise in this field, bizarrely to argue that Jews who fled Arab countries should not have their suffering compared to ‘the misery of the Palestinians’. Rachel Shabi, the Guardian’s pet Mizrahi, was then wheeled out to deny that Jewish refugees were refugees at all – in fact most were Zionists who left of their own free will – an argument which she contradicts in some of her other writings.  It’s a classic CiF strategy: obscure, confuse, and de-construct historical fact.

The denial of what is being increasingly becoming known as the ‘Jewish naqba’ is central to the Guardian’s agenda.

On no account must  the ‘de facto’ exchange between roughly equal numbers of Arab and Jewish refugees be permitted to challenge the Palestinians’ exclusive claim to victimhood.

On no account must the successful integration of the majority of Jewish refugees in Israel and elsewhere be mentioned. This would undermine the ‘sacred’ right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. It would be disastrous if the reader twigged that Palestinian refugees could just as easily be resettled – if not more easily – in Arab host countries.

On no account must the idea that the Jews in Israel are anything other than ‘white’ interlopers from Europe, engaged in a colonial  adventure in Palestine, be challenged. The whole edifice of Guardian groupthink crumbles once you introduce the notion that around half the population of Israeli Jews  come from ‘indigenous’ communities in the ‘Arab’ world predating Islam by 1,000 years.

Commenters on CiF fervently believe that Jews only came to Israel from Arab countries as immigrants, or were forced to flee by ’Zionist bombs’. This ‘Zionist conspiracy’ conveniently lets Arab governments off the hook for the state-sanctioned persecution of their Jews.

Some commenters admit that violence and Arab antisemitism did force the Jews out, but that it was an ’excusable backlash’ provoked by Israel’s creation. Before 1948, Jews and Muslims ‘lived in perfect harmony’. The word ‘dhimmi’ – the condition of institutionalised humiliation of 14 centuries of Jewish and Christian life under Islam – is virtually unknown on CiF.

On the rare occasions that Jews from Arab countries feature on Comment is Free, they do so as ‘Arab Jews or Jewish Arabs’ –  fellow victims of the ruling Ashkenazim, united in discrimination with the Palestinians. It is Zionism which has driven an artificial wedge between ‘Arab Jews’ and ‘Muslim Arabs’. (See the writings of Khaled Diab here and discussed here and Rachel Shabi here) Yet another reason for CiF to endorse the one-state solution, where the Jews can revert to the idyll of their minority existence in Arab lands.

Jewish refugees are at the heart of the Middle East conflict. Stuck in its one-sided cheerleading for Palestinian refugees, by its ‘Jewish naqba denial’,  the Guardian is skewing the ‘narrative’. Surely its readers deserve better?