May 16, 2003

Lecture lies about Israel

One would hope that all participants at academic panel events would present accurate facts, especially when the topic is an important issue such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet at a recent lecture on campus, "The Road Map to Peace? The War and its Impact on Israelis and Palestinians," some inaccurate claims were made.

During the question and answer session, a student stated that Israelis murdered 2,000 Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila. This is false. No one knows exactly how many people were killed at Sabra and Shatila, but the number certainly was not 2,000. According to the Lebanese police, 460 were killed; according to Israeli intelligence the number was 700 to 800. Most importantly, it is completely inaccurate to call Israelis the murderers at Sabra and Shatila. It was actually the Christian Phalangist militia who did the shooting, not Israelis. Israel had fought with Christians in Lebanon during the civil war, and IDF had allowed the Phalangists to enter the camp to fight terrorists there. Israel had enlisted the help of the Phalangist militia in much the same way as the United States enlisted the help of the Northern Alliance to help overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Being the flourishing democracy that it is, Israel dishonorably discharged several top military commanders over this incident. The Israeli commission said that the commanders were indirectly responsible because they should have known that the Christian Phalangists would behave vengefully. But the fact remains that it is completely dishonest to discuss Sabra and Shatila without mentioning the real killers, the Christian Phalangist militia. Israel certainly had not intended for this event to happen. To blame Israel alone for these acts is as absurd as it would be to blame America alone for the deaths of unarmed Taliban members who died at the hands of the Northern Alliance.

Surprisingly, neither of the featured speakers, Professor Yosef Gorny or Professor Rashid Khalidi, corrected these falsehoods about Israel's role at Sabra and Shatila.

It is important to remember in the midst of frequent exaggeration and dissimulation that Israel has a much better human rights record than most other countries, including Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, and others. In the 1970s, Jordanians killed 2,500 Palestinian rioters in 10 days. In February of 1982 Hafez al-Assad responded quite severely when he believed the Syrian government was threatened by Islamic extremists seeking regime change. Thomas Friedman describes quite vividly how al-Assad literally razed the entire city of Hama, which was thought to be hosting the extremists, killing an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 Syrians, mostly civilians. In the Palestinian Authority, those who dissent from the government line have been shot for "collaborating with Israel." Palestinian Authority TV incites violence explicitly against Jews, spreading messages such as the following: "Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them." In the Sudan, slavery is still practiced. Yet on campus, we hear barely a word about these horrifying abuses.

One should question why democracies such as Israel and the United States so often come under attack on campus, while nations and entities with far worse human rights records are criticized much less frequently, if ever. Perhaps this is a question for one of this lecture's sponsors, the Human Rights Program, to address.