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Letter Box


Letters from alumni about recent Palestinian protests on campus, 2002

What follows is a copy of a letter written to Sharon Weiner, who was mentioned in a PAW article, April 10.

September 2, 2002

Dear Ms. Weiner,

Catching up on old Princeton Alumni Weeklys, I was surprised at how one-sided were the letters in the June 5 issue regarding the short note in the April 10 issue about the rallies your were attributed to have organized. (Maybe I missed the issue where the pro-letters were printed!) I agree with your simple points as paraphrased in PAW — about respect and self determination for both sides, and the lack of neutrality in the US position. Unfortunately, the situation over there seems only to have gotten worse in the last 6 months.

I also wanted to say I admire your initiative in getting your group organized and making a statement. You seem to be a minority — or maybe the voice of a larger, silent group. Somehow basic American ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of religion have been superceded by the dogma of "We support Israel, Right or Wrong". (At a national level, this only provides more recruits for Al Qaeda, delays peace in the Middle East, and alienates the formerly oppressed, emerging countries of the world who have admired the U.S. for what we fight for.) The letters (and can I infer reaction on campus?) suggest you and your rallyers deserve our thanks for the courage to expand the diversity of thought on campus and in the U.S.

Richard Larrabee ’73
Houston, Tex.

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June 30, 2002

Along with Bernard Lewis's masterwork, K.E. Scudder '63 suggests we read Richard Falk's short article in The Nation — I was up to that challenge. Falk plausibly faults PLO Chairman Arafat for not adequately communicating his reasons for rejecting the offer by then-Israeli-Prime-Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. Falk provides a reasonable contributing explanation for Arafat's diffidence: the fact that an insufficient proportion of post WW-II Palestine was included in the deal.

One might conclude, as I do, that Palestinian priority No. 1 has never been to "end the occupation" with a state, but to maximize the quantity of land reclaimed from Israel. (Inter alia, President Bush's recent offer of a state with borders to be negotiated later suggests the administration understands this issue with pinpoint accuracy.) Falk's true colors are showing. He is untroubled by the very real Arab threat to murder Israelis in large numbers and to evict Israel from the region and from the map in one fell swoop. His is not a scholarly essay (though of course "publish or perish" has led to a lowering of that standard) but a kneejerk, self-congratulatory, foggy substitute for the meaningful, novel, insightful analysis that once was expected from a high-status intellectual such as Mr. Falk.

While Messrs. Falk & Scudder are polarized along the anachronistic axis of colonialism and imperialism (guys, exactly when was it that South Asian terrorists sent suicide bombers to Coventry and murdered English schoolchildren as they rode by bus to class?), they misunderstand or disregard the contemporary kulturkampf directed against non-Arabs and most of all, Israel. Do they purport to be students of the region? If so, their grades will suffer from a failure to integrate into their essays the tribal nature of Arab society (a defect which Bernard Lewis's tome could correct). Tribalism emerges in the absence of widely accepted standards of governance. Those in Arafat's "tribe" follow the Palestinian Authority; those in the Hamas "tribe" do not, no Arab really trusts Arafat or Hamas, my enemy's enemy is my friend, I fight my brother — but unite to defeat our cousin — we cousins against the world, etc., etc., etc.

Gentlemen, class is in session. Please take your seats! Today's lesson is a theorem whose underlying propositions, sadly, are valid as they were 73 years ago (when deadly and widespread "Palestinian on Palestinian" violence prevailed — killing Palestinian Jews, that is). That theorem is: "The only attainable forms of Arab government being an Islamic state ruled by clerics or a feudalistic state ruled by strongmen, no Palestinian Arab sovereign entity can live peacefully alongside any non-Moslem political entity, sovereign or not." Jews had, in 1948, and still, in 2002, have no particular need of a state except for the intolerance by Arab tribalists for Jewish political groups — an intolerance without which there would be no state of Israel today, and no particular regrets by Jews for its absence. Yes, students (you must pay attention to the man behind the curtain), the state of Israel is the creation of Arab tribal intolerance. Until tribalism as a regional governing political force dissipates, Israel per se must survive. Since she can only survive under siege, how can one blame her for defending herself? Curious attempts to regard Israel as a 19th-century colonial power by impoverished "publish or perish" intellects notwithstanding, Israel has only one choice: to protect its citizenry from the deathwishes of crazed, and now — literally — infantile, "martyrs."

Joseph H. Abeles *82
Princeton, N.J.

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June 26, 2002

That does it! Once too often I have received my issue of PAW only to find more letters relentlessly bashing the Palestinians living under a 35-year-old Israeli military occupation along with any who dare support their demands for freedom and independence. It's time to set the record straight.

On June 5, 196,7 Israel started a war with its neighbors by launching a massive sneak attack on the Egyptian air force and destroyed it on the ground. It then proceeded to invade Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The war was most profitable for Israel, which ended up occupying huge swaths of its neighbors land. It wasted no time in confiscating large chunks of this occupied territory from its Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian owners to make way for heavily fortified, racially segregated (Jewish-only) settlement colonies.

After the war of 1973, Egypt got its land back. The Palestinians, without a massive Soviet supplied army, were not so lucky. Since the day in 1967 when Israel chose to launch its conquest, the Palestinians have not seen a single day of freedom. Since that day, Israel has ruled over the Palestinian people through brute military force.

Mass arrests, torture, home demolitions, land confiscation, systematic looting of water and agricultural resources and a relentless campaign of assassinations targeting Palestinian political and community leaders by Israeli occupation forces are what Palestinians have had to live with every day for the past 35 years. Just last week, Israeli tanks rained artillery down on a Palestinian market filled with unarmed civilians. Their crime? Curfew violation! Four innocent civilians, three of them children were cut down in a hail of shrapnel ordered by Israeli commanders for simply leaving their homes without Israeli permission. Terror? I challenge any supporter of Israel to go live for a week as a Palestinian in the Occupied West Bank or Gaza and then tell me who's the terrorist and who's the victim.

To those who have written to PAW to attack the Palestinians and the students who support their demand for freedom, I say to you. Stop blaming the victim. Stop shooting the messenger. It is a disgrace to Princeton and the ideals its stands for.

Isaac Boxx '99
Austin, Tex.

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June 10, 2002

When I was at Princeton some 40 years ago, it seemed that we, students and professors alike, shared an optimistic spirit that the old imperial and colonial systems of the day were breaking up, and good riddance. The former colonies were all winning their independence, and self-determination was the order of the day.

Now we are living through much less sunny times, and one of the most galling anomalies of our time is the continuance in power of the Israeli colonial state in Palestine. It's remarkably ironic that the U.S., which grew out the first anticolonial revolution, has given unlimited military and financial assistance to Israel, the world's last colony. The leading Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem, states in its May 2002 report that "Israel has created in the occupied territories a regime of separation...basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful (ones) from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa." B'Tselem might have added that the same "nationality" based laws (read "Jews only") govern immigration, land ownership, and myriad other rights and benefits in pre-1967 Israel.

Why the eruption of rancorous letters from alumni against the pro-Palestinian student leader Sharon Weiner? She seems to have touched a nerve. Perhaps we "guys" should follow Joseph H. Abeles '82 and read Bernard Lewis — and then Richard Falk. Professor Falk's seminal article "Ending the Death Dance" (The Nation, April 29, 2002) is the clearest, fairest analysis I've read of the current impasse in the Middle East. I hope PAW will republish it — not that it will change the steely minds of the "might makes right" types, but, for the rest of us who want to live in a world in which international law and human rights are more than piously invoked niceties — check it out!

Kenneth E. Scudder '63
San Francisco, Calif.

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May 13, 2002

Over the last year, PAW has reported several times on pro-Palestinian campus rallies. Are there no pro-Israel rallies to report as well? If there are, please report them. While the underdog's story is more enticing, the stronger side is sometimes on the moral high ground. In any case, a balanced presentation would be appreciated.

Dan Jacobson '94
Lawrence, NY

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May 5, 2002

The PAW of April 10 reported small rallies protesting US support of Israel in its attempt to stop Palestinian terror. The facts don’t justify such protests. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders rejected agreements by which they would rule independently over 95 percent of the territory that was occupied when Jordan attacked Israel in 1967. Instead of continuing to negotiate, they deliberately turned to lethal violence against civilians.

Since the terror attacks that began in September 2000, more than 430 Israeli men, women and children have been killed and more than two thousand wounded in the suicide bombing and gunning of restaurants, weddings, Bar Mitzva parties, public buses, and shopping malls. In the 40-times larger population of the U.S., this would equal 17,000 terrorist murder victims.

The Israeli people do not want to be sitting ducks. Their government, like NATO in Yugoslavia and the U.S. in Afghanistan, has believed that force could stop terror; but it cannot do so without diplomacy and dialogue. I belong to an organization of 1,200 former colonels and generals that is part of a movement to get a million signatures (in a population of six million) for withdrawal from nearly all of the occupied territory, with or without an agreement; but unless the Palestinian leaders stop the attacks, there is little chance that a threatened public will back such a move. The Palestinians should by all means have their own independent state and enjoy economic growth and democratic citizenship. They can only achieve these aims through peace, not war. The Israelis don’t want to fight them or to rule over them, but to live in peace without fear.

Daniel Shimshoni ’41
Herzlia, Israel

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April 30, 2002

All of us admire freedom of speech on campus, and I certainly have no problem with the free expression of opinions or with PAW or others reporting on those expressions.

That said, I am deeply troubled by journalistically inaccurate reports which treat opinions and allegations as though they were facts. The article captioned "More Palestinian Rallies" reported in Notebook in the April 10, 2002, issue of PAW is an example.

Allegations and opinions which evidently were the basis of the rallies have been reported there as facts. For example, without that clarification, such as by using the word "alleged" (or a similar expression) in each of the following quote phrases, it is misleading to state that these rallies "protest the inhumane treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis," which are intended to "bring campus attention to Israeli oppression of Palestinians,"" in order to "bring awareness to the lack of U.S. neutrality in this process." The article further attacks aid to Israel as enabling the Israelis to perpetrate violence against Palestinians."

Contentions, yes; facts, no.

Rather than reporting as fact such one-sided allegations, PAW might engage in more fair and balanced journalism by referring to opposite views.

Bruce Ramer ’55
Beverly Hills, Calif.

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April 29, 2002

Since when is the mission of PAW to promote ignorance and bigotry?

In the April 10, 2002, issue you run a "news story" about the current wave of anti-Jewish fascism afflicting Princeton, in which student protesters demonstrate in favor of Palestinian terrorism. But your news story states as a factual truism that Israel treats the Palestinians "inhumanely", I guess by allowing the Palestinians to mass murder its civilians, and that there exists "Israeli oppression of Palestinians", and that "the US enables the Israelis to perpetrate violence against the Palestinians."

Apparently Orwellism has taken over PAW. With typical reversal of cause and effect and of roles — the sort totalitarians always promote. Palestinians are mass murdering Israeli civilians, including several students in my university, and a tiny minority of Princeton student bigots are cheering them on, no doubt also cheering on bin Laden. Israelis are half-heartedly trying to defend themselves from the terrorists. with military force. I guess PAW is rooting for the Palestinian fascists and terrorists?

Why let facts and truth get in your way?

Steven Plaut *78
University of Haifa

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April 19, 2002

Sloppy writing or editing in PAW April 10. Paragraph two of "More Palestinian Rallies" by Melissa Renny: "to protest the inhumane treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis."

This phrase I quote is not in quotation marks and is not attributed to the organizer. It is written as "fact" although it is an opinion.

It should read "to protest the alleged inhumane treatment" or Ms. Weiner stated her reason was "to...."

Frankly, I disagree fully with Ms. Weiner. You can certainly report this poorly attended and stupid rally. But don't state as fact something that is false and is one lunatic's opinion.

Dave Schechter ’80
Los Angeles, Calif.

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April 14, 2002

I was just a tad bit jolted by Sharon Weiner's claim (April 10) that "by giving money to Israel, the U.S. enables the Israelis to perpetrate violence against the Palestinians.." Perhaps she made the statement on April Fools day. But, in deference to Ms. Weiner's employer, The Woodrow Wilson School, I'd like to think that she was still tabulating at press time the exact amount of direct and indirect aid the PLO receives from the U.S.

Rob Riley '85
St. Louis, Mo.

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April 10, 2002

Melissa Harvis Renny (April 10) is clearly just a mouthpiece for Sharon Weiner, an alleged "research assistant" at the Wilson school, who apparently is
in the business of organizing rallies to bring attention to the "Israeli oppression (sic) of palestinians."

The goal of the rallies is simple propaganda as it is common knowledge that the former Israeli government offered to retreat from the areas known as the West Bank and Gaza. This offer was rejected by Arafat. It is also common knowledge that 98% of Palestinians in these areas have been under Palestinian Authority (PA) administrative control since the Olso Accords in 1993.

Sharon Weiner is a pathetic charlatan --- the proof of which is that if she were truly interested in the well-being of individual Palestinians then she would be organizing ralles with the following goals:
1) express outrage at the PA's misuse of American and EU donor funds totalling billions of dollars that have not been used to better Palestinians lives but rather have been used to purchase suicide bombs and to enrich senior PA officials
2) express outrage at Islamic leaders not denouncing suicide bombers that exclusively target civilians
3) express outrage at PA and other Arab countries encouraging the use of suicide bombers

Steven Eli Posner *95
New York, N.Y.

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April 10, 2002

Small, noisy demonstrations supporting Yassir Arafat's "regime" have recently received wide media coverage because they took place on the Princeton campus. A quote in the 4/10/02 issue of PAW states that "the Palestinians (i.e., Palestinian Arabs) need to be treated with the same justice, respect, and self-determination that the citizens of Israel want for themselves." Supported, as this would be, by essentially all parties to the conflict, such a principle is merely rhetorical, and (to be charitable) intentionally provocative.

The supporters of such demonstrations are under-powered when it comes to a true understanding of the conflict. Democracy, or self-determination, depends on the ability and willingness of the populace to identify with those in power. Lacking that, the only route to stability for a nation-state is collusion between a powerful ruler and a clerical establishment in whom the populace can find identification and the "vision thing." In the lands in question, the clerics do not compromise with any rulers other than clerical rulers and therein lies the instability of their nation-states. Read Bernard Lewis, guys.

Joseph H. Abeles *82
Princeton, N.J.

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