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Letters from alums about Anti-americanism, Palestine, Professor Doran

July 9, 2003

The “C” word, in the context of the ongoing crisis in Palestine/Israel, appears to have been accepted as an indicator of bias almost as extreme as the “N” word in race relations. Even so, Tom Friedman, prominent author/journalist, has had the honesty to use the term “colonial” several times in his published work commenting on the conflict under discussion here. He is Jewish and has been on the ground in the Mideast over a period of years.

But let us not use the word — and please go well beyond the survey of two or three generations suggested in PAW letters June 4, 2003.

Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638 A.D. and the area has been almost continuously in Muslim hands ever since. At one time Islam controlled almost half the civilized world. Read Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong? I have not asked him but would venture to guess that Tom Friedman — and likely Professor Lewis — are to be counted among the mature, educated folk who do not believe that the Almighty Creator was, is, or will be in the real estate business. While on the subject of history, let’s recall that the first caliph, Abu Bakr, in the seventh century A.D., “ordained that all Arab slaves should be freed on easy terms” — thus preceding Honest Abe by 1,000 years. So much for the outlandish claim by certain factions that Israel’s aggressiveness in Palestine is equivalent to U.S. and British early treatment of undeveloped native populations here and in Australia.

President Reagan’s 1982 statement that U.S. support of Israel’s security is “ironbound” is evident in our $4 billion annual aid — and in the past by the 33,000 tons of munitions air-lifted to Israel during the 1973 war. If Greece’s Venezilos had had this kind of support, he might have been able to restore much of the ancient Greek empire in what is now western Turkey — after World War I. The allies were lukewarm and the outstanding statesman/general Kemal Attaturk put a muscular end to these ambitions. The timing, content, and authorship (not Balfour) of the Balfour Declaration are most relevant today. Here is a number — “in 1971 the existing non-Jewish community (of Palestine) constituted 93 percent of the population.”*( Though in the late 19th century Jews did constitute a plurality in Jerusalem.)

Robert N. Carpenter ’43
Plandome, N.Y.

*Dr. A..M. Lilienthal, author and editor of Middle East Perspective. National Economic council dinner, December 3, 1970. Found in Vital Speeches, December 15, 2001.

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June 26, 2003

In his letter reacting to the interview with Professor Michael Doran (February 26), Martin Schell '74 suggests that many Palestinians may be recent immigrants to the country, whereas "some Jewish communities have existed in the area for hundreds of years." He proposes that "academics...send a team to survey Palestinians and Israelis, asking how many of their great-grandparents were born within the territory that each party now defends."

Such a poll would be a wonderful experiment, but it is, unfortunately, unlikely to be undertaken any time soon. However, it is not necessary to do such polling, for even without it we do have "some facts about whose roots are where" and some very judicious calculations that shed light on this question.

It is, after all, a very political question and one that many scholars have examined carefully. If Mr. Schell wished, he could check it out in the standard works on the Palestine-Israel conflict by Professors Charles D. Smith, Mark Tessler, or Deborah J. Gerner, from which I draw the following: The population of Palestine (west of the Jordan river) in 1880 was under 590,000, of whom 96 percent were Arabs (Muslim or Christian); roughly 4 percent of the population was Jewish.

By 1914, the population of Palestine was about 650,000. Of this, the Jewish population was about 80,000, or a little over 12 percent. Of the 88 percent remaining, 570,000 people, Israeli and non-Israeli scholars estimate that at least 550,000 were Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) who were descendants of families in Palestine already in the 1840s — or almost 85 percent of the total 1914 populaton of Palestine. The great majority of them, in other words, were not recent immigrants.

There was a lot of immigration to Palestine between 1880 and 1948, of course, but most of it was by European Jews, who came in several well-defined aliyot ("waves"), drawn to Palestine by the Zionist dream or fleeing economic hardship and persecution in Europe. The first aliya (up to 1903) brought 25,000 new Jewish immigrants, roughly doubling the Jewish population of Palestine.

The second aliya (1904-1913) brought another 35,000 Jews. The third aliya (1919-1939) saw the arrival of 350,664 Jewish immigrants, according to British Mandate statistics.

In 1945, the Jewish population of Palestine stood at about 554,000, or about 30.6 percent of the total population of Palestine at that time, which was 1.8 million. Mr. Schell is absolutely right: Some Jewish communities have existed in Palestine for hundreds of years. But, as the figures above make clear, most Jews in Israel today are, in relative terms, newcomers — descendants of people who arrived during the past three or four generations; to call them "colonists," as Professor Doran did, is not inappropriate.

On the other hand, Mr. Schell is absolutely wrong to hint that Palestinians are generally newcomers: As we see, most Palestinians of today can trace their ancestry to families who have been resident in Palestine for hundreds of years. The debate over immigration figures is, of course, merely part of the broader effort by Palestinians and Israelis to delegitimize each other by claiming the other side to be interlopers. Mr. Schell's evident desire to cast doubt on the historical roots of the Palestinians' claim to their land suggests that he has been taken in, like many other people, by such works as Joan Peters's tract "From Time Immemorial," which popularized for obvious political purposes the myth that many Palestinians were descendants of recent immigrants.Such a view is simply not supported by the evidence.

On the other hand, the fact that most Israeli Jews are descendants of people who came to Palestine only during the past century or so cannot be taken as a reason to dismiss the Jewish claim to Palestine, either. It seems to me that an equitable resolution of this long-standing problem must take into account that both peoples — Jews and Palestinians — can reasonably claim to have a right to be in Palestine, for reasons of religious affiliation and long residence. It is up to them to work out how to accomodate each other.

Fred M. Donner '68 *75
Professor of Near Eastern History
The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

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May 4, 2003

Your short interview with Michael Doran (Notebook, February 26) provides some good examples to back up his thesis that Palestine has become a symbol that transcends not only geography but also religion.

However, one statement stands out starkly amidst several carefully qualified sentences that describe pan-Arab resentment toward the West: "Palestine is the only Arab land successfully colonized in modern times, a fact that rankles deeply."

It looks like the professor is himself falling into the trap of Palestine-as-symbol, confusing belief with information. I have no doubt that the Palestine crisis "rankles" many people but I question whether "colonization" is a "fact" rather than an interpretation that suits one side of the debate.

Professor Doran's blunt assertion perpetuates the illusory dichotomy that all Israelis are newcomers and all Palestinians are original inhabitants. The modern notion of a Palestinian nation is more recent than the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, and in large part, the former is a response to the latter. Many "Palestinians" have ancestors who were displaced from (or refused entry by) neighboring countries around the middle of the last century. On the other hand, it is verifiable that some Jewish communities have existed in the area for hundreds of years.

If academicians seriously want to evaluate nationhood claims in an impartial way, they might consider sending a team to survey Palestinians and Israelis, asking how many of their great-grandparents were born within the territory that each party now defends so desperately as its own "heritage." We would then have some factual basis for making statements about whose roots are where.

Martin Schell '74
Klaten, Central Java

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April 28, 2003

I'm not big on hand-wringing, but I think Americans could do with more self-appraisal. Consider Mr. Taubeneck '48's letter in the April 23 issue.

His premise, in the opening sentences, is that some anti-Americanism is "'beyond policy,'" quoting Michael Doran *97. Without a hint of irony, he goes on to cite examples where American policies certainly had some involvement, such as the French in 1952 "objecting to our Korean War buildup in Western Europe." Sounds like policy to me. Perhaps our foreign policies seem invisible to us here at home, but they are not so invisible abroad.

Prof. Doran made the useful points that poverty and alienation breed anger, and that anger is susceptible to being channeled toward targets that are not always the most relevant. However, to imply of U.S. policies toward Israel and Palestinians — whether you approve or disapprove of them — that they have had no effect on the lives of Palestinians is denial at its most ludicrous. Could we have done things differently? — clearly the answer is yes.

If we want a world more happily disposed toward Americans, we must give foreigners more positive experiences of us. In Iraq, our policies are already setting us back to play catch-up. If we had had a policy of restoring safe water and power and rebuilding hospitals and schools first, before securing and repairing oil fields, that would have been a positive. If our policy had been to bring in enough personnel to keep a semblance of civil order in Baghdad (as international law requires of a deposing army), guarding hospitals and the national museum before the oil ministry, that would have put us ahead in Iraqi hearts and minds.

We cannot be to blame for all alienation and anger, but we need to act proactively to cultivate a friendly world. The Peace Corps is a decent start. My modest proposal, extremely cheap for the rewards to be reaped, would be an American program to develop drinking water treatment facilities and centers of higher education around the world.

David Wright '78
Sacramento, Calif.

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March 1, 2003

I was delighted to see Professor Doran's comment (Notebook, February 12) that, in the Middle East, "the deepest sources of anti-Americanism are beyond policy." In my own experience, in more than 50 countries during more than 50 years, this- is a very important truth that applies almost everywhere and any time — certainly at least since the penning of Madam Butterfly. When I first encountered it in 1952 I was in France, where there were signs in most cities and towns saying “Ami go home,” objecting to our Korean War buildup in Western Europe to protect it from the Russians, just seven years after the bluff above Normandy Beach had become the biggest cemetery in France because of our dead there.

It is not just the French: — people of my age remember the Caracas riots when Nixon visited, the hostility of Graham Greene, and of course the Iranian hostages, to name just a few of the more notorious non-French examples in recent decades.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that people in all 205 countries (There are that many in FIFA, about 10more than in the U.N.) hear a great deal about us and think they understand us, whereas few of us hear much about any of them or try to understand more than one or two other cultures. And as they hear about us (often in unflattering terms), they form judgments that necessarily run the gamut, and that no amount of calculation or public relations can affect. We can't even get all of the Canadians to love us, and they are right next door and remarkably like us (except of course in Quebec!) — and exposed to masses of “information” about us.

But don't be surprised if the talking heads (Charlie Gibson ’65, please help Diane Sawyer adjust to this) continue to be “totally astonished” that there are people in some other country “suddenly and for no apparent reason” manifesting their hostility toward Americans.

Ted Taubeneck ’48
Tucson, Ariz.

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