Debate on Gaza Withdrawal: Palestinian Sociologist vs. the Zionist Organization of America

StoryAugust 17, 2005
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As Israeli troops began the forced evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, we host a debate between Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America and Rabab Abdulhadi, the head of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. [includes rush transcript]

The latest news out of Gaza is that Israeli troops have begun the forced evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip. This comes after a deadline for them to leave expired last night. This operation is the culmination of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan from the Gaza strip. Israeli security forces say that in the last 24 hours they arrested 498 people. More than 450 of them were released.

Government eviction notices went into effect on Monday but settlers were given 48 hours to leave or be removed from all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank. Many of Gaza’s 8,500 settlers packed up trucks ahead of the Wednesday deadline to quit Gaza. But the army estimated about half the settler population would remain, in defiance of the order.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our studio now by Rabab Abdulhadi, a Palestinian Professor who is Director of Middle East — of Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. We’re also joined in the studio by Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America. It’s based in New York. He lives in Philadelphia. Well, Morton Klein, let’s begin with you. Your reaction to the pullout today?

MORTON KLEIN: Well, besides this being a human rights disaster, I mean, suppose Ariel Sharon were to remove — there are 10,000 Arabs who live in Tel Aviv among the million Jews. If he had decided to remove those 10,000 Arabs, I think the world would be responding quite severely against this. But remarkably, of course, the 10,000 Arabs there don’t need protection. They don’t have to worry about their lives being harmed, as the Jews, of course, are always under threat by living near Arabs. But my biggest worry about this is that this clearly rewards terrorism. And as an American and who is a supporter of the international war against radical Islamic terrorism, I am afraid that if you are rewarding terrorism in Gaza in Israel, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists see that if terrorism works there, it will only encourage more terrorism against us, against the West, against Europe. So this is my biggest fear, why I’m against this policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdulhadi.

RABAB ABDULHADI: I actually — I’m stunned by some of the mainstream media coverage and the way in which many supporters of the Israeli government’s policies, including Mr. Klein here, the way it’s being portrayed, that if 10,000 Arabs or Palestinians were displaced, in 1948 close to 900,000, almost a million Palestinians were displaced. Ariel Sharon was the leader in Lebanon in 1982, and he had a hand complicitly and was found complicit by the Israeli government to have contributed to the massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese and other people in Sabra and Shatila. There have been a lot of displacements of Palestinians. I’m actually — I would like us to have some kind of a view of history to sort of have a historical perspective and remember what are the various steps that have happened in terms of displacing Palestinians, one. The second point I would like to make is this is the settlers, the Jewish settlers who are there are there illegally, in contradiction of all international laws and all — every single law, okay? And they are supposed to — they’re not supposed to be there in the first place. They should not have been there. The settlement should not have been planted. They should not have been able to live and thrive while the — They’re living on stolen Palestinian land, sucking out the water which is very much needed from Palestinians and making lives. And I think this is a serious issue. And I think this is the way we need to look at it is that less than 1%, maybe, of the wrong, historical wrong that has been done to Palestinians is being corrected, only 1%.

AMY GOODMAN: Morton Klein.

MORTON KLEIN: I’ll respond to that. First of all, in 1948 when Israel was reestablished on about 12% of original Palestine, that was to be split into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Six Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948. That is why several hundred thousand Arabs left their homes because of that invasion to the new sovereign state of Israel. If they hadn’t invaded that new state of Israel, to destroy and murder the Jews who live there, there would be no refugees, no Arabs would have left. And to say it’s against international law is absolute nonsense. Please, let’s try to stick to the truth here. Gaza was controlled by Egypt in 1948. Egypt captured this area, they controlled it from 1948 to 1967. This was Egyptian land that they held it illegally, not recognized by the United Nations. So this was disputed land, not anyone’s sovereign land. So when Israel went in and captured in 1967 in a defensive war, where Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked Israel, it was perfectly legal for them, under the United Nations’ rules, for them to build homes in that area.

AMY GOODMAN: Morton Klein, you have met with Ariel Sharon many times. Why do you think he’s doing this?

MORTON KLEIN: I asked him this question when I met with him at the Blair House, across the street from the White House, in early May. He told me what a tragedy this is, and he said he’s had enormous pressure from Europe and the United States to make some sort of major move or else there was all sorts of threats of various consequences. That is what he said to me with 30 others in the room as to why he’s doing this. Because this unilateral withdrawal, to get nothing in return, only sends a message that terrorism pays. This is a historic mistake. Giving it over to Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian authority, who has already invited al Qaeda to come into Gaza, Hamas to set up headquarters there, and other terror groups from Syria are all announced they’re going to set up terror groups there to establish a terror state.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdulhadi?

RABAB ABDULHADI: Yes, well, I just want to give some corrections in terms of the literature that’s available out there, including Israeli literature. I would point out at least two books written by Israeli Zionists who were founders of the Israeli state, Simha Flapan, who wrote a book about the myths of the creation of Israel, talking about the whole question about Arab armies invading Israel in 1948. This was one of them. There are five other myths, and I would just refer your listeners and your viewers to those books. There is Avi Shlaim. There is Benny Morris, who later on had a different change of heart ideologically, but never changed the facts that the Israeli archives which were declassified have pointed out.

And Mahmoud Abbas, by the way, did not invite al Qaeda into Gaza. Anyway, no one knows who al Qaeda is or where al Qaeda is, because if anyone knew this, the United States, which is claiming to be waging a war on al Qaeda and groups like it would have found them a long time ago. So this is, I think, it is — I think if we want to have a debate, let’s talk about the question of facts and truth and so on. I think it’s a serious problem to actually say that the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, which is actually exercising maximum reserve. I don’t even know how they are doing it. They’re asking the Palestinians not to go and celebrate too much now, so the Israeli military is able to remove the settlers. They are asking them not to resist the occupation. They’re asking them not to do anything at this point. I’m actually surprised by the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. If anything, the Israeli government and the Israeli people should be thankful to the Palestinian Authority, which is making the removal of the settlers with the huge compensation that they are getting, millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of dollars compensation for something that they never even paid for.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask Morton Klein a question —

MORTON KLEIN: Let me correct one thing, if I may.


MORTON KLEIN: Mahmoud Abbas went to Damascus, Syria, one month ago. He invited all the terror groups there, the Palestinian terror groups, to move into Gaza as soon as Israel leaves. Al Qaeda announced on Tuesday they were going to come into that area. And also, this occupation — this is not even accurate. Rabin gave away 85% of Gaza in 1994 with a million Arabs live in Gaza, and for their own autonomy and control, he gave away almost half of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, over between 1994 and 1996, where virtually 98% of the Palestinian Arabs live under their own autonomy and control.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ll let you respond to that in a minute, but I just want to ask Morton Klein a question about compensation. The Israeli settlers will get between $150,000 and $400,000 a piece, something like that. And reports in various papers, like the New York Times and others, that the Israeli government would like the U.S. Congress to pass, what, another $2 billion to bail out the Israeli government on this removal, is that right?

MORTON KLEIN: I’ve seen stories about it. Nothing has been formally introduced or requested at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re also on the Executive Committee of AIPAC, right?


AMY GOODMAN: Are you pushing for that, for the additional $2 billion?

MORTON KLEIN: I can only speak for my organization Z.O.A., and frankly, we have taken no position on it. We have many other things that we are dealing with, so we have not taken a position on that issue. What we’re doing on the Hill regularly is pleading with the United States to stop the doubling of money to Mahmoud Abbas until he fulfills even something of the road map. He hadn’t dismantled or disarmed Hamas. He hasn’t ended the promotion of hatred and murder of Jews in TV, radio, newspapers, speeches and sermons — and Americans too, I might add, promotion of hatred against Americans. He continues to smuggle weapons — Sharon told me this himself — from Sinai into Gaza to bring into the West Bank for a new terror war in the West Bank, and he doesn’t arrest terrorists. So until he does that, we are lobbying that there should be no money to be given to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdulhadi.

RABAB ABDULHADI: Yes, first of all, when Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, went to Damascus, he went to meet with the representative of the P.L.O. group, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which continues to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and he is meeting with them in order to produce national unity among the Palestinians and come up with a policy of how to lead this nation. I do not necessarily always agree with everything the Palestinian Authority says, but in that sense, actually, to be able to provide some kind of a peaceful way of negotiating Palestinian differences and have a government that is representative of the various political views among the population, I think it’s a great and laudable step. That’s number one. So it wasn’t representatives of terror groups, you can’t say that, and al Qaeda wasn’t part of that. There are negotiations, just to be factual, there are negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other hand, who have until now not joined the Palestinian Authority or the P.L.O. There are negotiations because they are part of the Palestinian people, and they do have popularity among Palestinians as the municipal elections in Gaza have proven.

May I just say one more thing about — unless you want to move to something else, about the whole question of U.S. aid to the Israeli government, is that okay? I think it’s really a problem to say that the United States government is giving huge amounts of money to the Palestinians. Among the money that the United States, actually Congress, authorized for the Palestinians, were money, I think about $50 million or so, set aside — I’m not good on figures, I’m a qualitative researcher, but they set aside to actually improve the checkpoints to build more fortification on the checkpoints that prevents Palestinians from going from one village to another, from one city to another in search of hospitals, jobs, education and so on, to allow the Israelis — this is the money is taken away from what is allocated for the Palestinians to give to the Israeli government to build fortifications on the checkpoints.

AMY GOODMAN: Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America.

MORTON KLEIN: Can I respond to this? I mean, the professor is saying how popular Hamas is. They have won 60% of the vote in many elections in Gaza. It really tells you something about that society. Hamas’ charter not only calls for the destruction of Israel, the destruction of all of Israel, not simply to the 1967 border, it calls for the murder of every Jew, including me and my family, including every Jew in New York. And it calls every Jew a Nazi. And this is an organization that is popular among the Palestinian Arabs? This is an organization that Abbas asked to come into his government? Can you make peace with a Jewish country when you’re inviting in a group that calls for the murder of every Jew and the destruction of the country? This is the nonsense of Mahmoud Abbas. But we should remember Mahmoud Abbas wrote a Ph.D. thesis in Moscow saying the Holocaust never occurred, wrote a book in 1984, said the Holocaust was a lie by the Jews in order to create a Jewish state. And by the way, in terms of aid, we have given over a billion dollars in aid to the Palestinian Arabs, since the Palestinian Authority was created, over a billion dollars, and the reason there are checkpoints is because Arabs keep killing Jews. If Arabs didn’t come into Israel and murder Jews, there wouldn’t be a single checkpoint. They don’t have checkpoints because they enjoy having them.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdulhadi.

RABAB ABDULHADI: Yes, I think it’s very unfortunate to have this inflammatory speech, because when you do things of this sort, it makes it impossible to have any kind of discussion, intellectual or otherwise, to reach any kind of peaceful solution. First of all, I think to say, “that society,” Palestinian society, to label a whole society is not only stereotypical, but it’s racist. Number two, to say that Palestinians are likening Israel to Nazis, I have been reading nothing in every single account of newspapers until now, young Jewish settlers who came from the West Bank to support the settlers in Gaza have been calling the Israeli army Nazis. And I think it’s very interesting, because in this sense, nobody is calling these young Jewish settlers anti-Semitic. But when Palestinians and others who are saying, what Israel is doing in the occupied territories, in some instances, looks like what Nazi Germany did. Nobody is saying it’s exactly the same. Israel has not exterminated six million Palestinians, as the Nazis exterminated six million Jews, along with twenty million other people from other nationalities, who seem to fade away. But I think this is — I think we need to sort of like look at a contrast and compare the whole picture and look at what’s going on here. I think it’s really (a) the Palestinians are sticking to the road map. If you want to talk about the road map, removing the settlers is part of the road map.

MORTON KLEIN: They haven’t fulfilled a single element of the road map. Have they dismantled or disarmed a single terrorist group?

RABAB ABDULHADI: I would appreciate not being interrupted.

MORTON KLEIN: Have they stopped the incitement or arrested terrorists? Please don’t say they’ve fulfilled the road map. Name one thing they have done to fulfill it.

RABAB ABDULHADI: Removing the settlers and actually freezing the settlements on the West Bank, which is the whole question of growth is continuing on the West Bank. Support of that is part of the road map. If you want to talk about — I’m not saying

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdulhadi, we have to wrap up, I’m sorry. We give you the last word because we gave Morton Klein the first. Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, Professor Abdulhadi, Palestinian Professor of Sociology, heads the Department of Arab American Studies at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Thank you very much for joining us.

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