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Herzliya Diary 2010

Netanyahu speaks on the conference’s final night, telling Israelis merely to ‘take a hike’

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Netanyahu speaking at the Herzliya Conference yesterday. (AP Photo/Rauvan Kastro, pool)

February 4, 2010, 7:35 a.m.: Israelis are a tough audience. They expected Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to make a major policy announcement last night, in keeping with what has become a kind of tradition on the final night of the annual four-day national security conference in Herzliya, where Israel’s establishment and foreign guests gather each year. It was here, for example, that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon disclosed that Israel would be leaving Gaza.

So when Bibi Netanyahu began his speech to the packed auditorium in prime television time by saying that he believed peace talks with the Palestinians, without preconditions, would begin in the next few weeks, participants perked up. But he did not elaborate. Instead, he delivered a rambling ode to the joys of rediscovering one’s Jewish roots and heritage. The government, he said, would soon begin building walking paths to link the hundreds of biblical sites throughout Israel. “Education begins first of all with the bible,” he said. “So get to know the land,” he counseled, urging Israelis to take to the roads with their children in tow to visit the country’s historic Jewish sites.

This being Israel, the jokes soon followed. Bibi’s oration quickly became known as the “mushroom speech,” as one of the student volunteers who had shepherded foreign guests through the conference called it.

“Sarah wrote it,” quipped another irate Israeli, referring to recent press reports about the prime minister’s wife, which accuse her of alleged undue influence over her husband’s policy and personnel choices and allege she demands free meals at some of the country’s best restaurants.

“Take a Hike, Israel!” screamed the first-edition headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest-circulation daily paper.

While foreigners at the conference were puzzled by the prime minister’s choice of topics, Israeli participants were furious. For four days, guests had held wide-ranging, brutally frank, often hair-raising discussions about the myriad challenges facing the Jewish state. Conferees were told, for instance, that Israel might soon have to confront not only a historically unprecedented threat from a nuclearized, unstable, and militant Iran, but also a historic decision about whether to return territory Israel has occupied since the 1967 war to the Palestinians. And Hezbollah is said to have replenished its conventional arsenal with some 40,000 rockets and missiles and has proven willing to use them to overcome Israel’s overwhelming air superiority.

At home, participants here were told, domestic violence is increasing and questions are being raised about whether Israel’s strong economic growth can be sustained. For the first time, this conference expanded the definition of national security to include Israel’s social welfare and educational systems and its treatment of the elderly and Arab Israelis, who constitute almost 20 percent of the population.

“Yet Bibi picked this moment to tell us that we should reconnect with our heritage and take our sons on hikes?” said one angry Israeli.

Netanyahu’s limp performance and sophomoric lecture on the need for Jewish patriotism was particularly resented in light of the fact that Israeli prime ministers have often used the Herzliya gathering to deliver major national-security news. The prime minister’s own office, moreover, had spent days raising expectations about the speech, telling Israeli reporters that Netanyahu would deliver a major policy statement here. “We were expecting Churchill,” said one veteran commentator. “And Bibi was no Churchill.”

A more charitable interpretation of the speech was that, however ineptly, Bibi was trying to reconnect Israelis with their Zionist roots at a time when he may soon ask fellow Israelis to relinquish what many of them consider the sacred biblical land of Israel.

But there was little charity in the lobby of the auditorium after the conference’s close. It had been an intense week, participants agreed. Discussions here included the most varied program and some of the highest quality debate that the Herzliya Conference, now celebrating its 10th year, had ever staged.

The prime minister never once mentioned the topic that had dominated so much of the informal discussion here—the threat posed by a militant, nuclearized Iran. Earlier in the day, however, Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Yaalon, argued that to persuade Iran to end or suspend its nuclear weapons program, Iranian leaders would have to conclude that their own survival was at stake. The Iranian regime had suspended its nuclear program at least once before, he said—in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq in response to allegation that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. The program had been suspended for at least three years, he told conferees. It resumed only in 2006 after the U.S. war effort in Iraq seemed on the verge of failure and Israel faced withering internal and foreign criticism for its incursion in Lebanon.

Yaalon, a retired chief of Israel’s armed forces, seemed eager to keep Iran guessing about what Israel, which is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, would or would not do if Teheran’s mullahs do not stop their own nuclear enrichment program and advanced to a nuclear-bomb threshold. “It is important to continue to make clear to the extremist Iranian regime that all options are still on the table,” he said, “and that ignoring the international demands can end in the worst way.”

Fayyad speaking at the Herzliya Conference.

Fayyad speaking at the Herzliya Conference.
CREDIT: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

February 2, 11:20 p.m. ET: Israel’s favorite Palestinian showed up at the Herzliya Conference today. In an appearance many called courageous, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, surrounded by a phalanx of Israeli and Palestinian bodyguards, accepted an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the annual gathering of Israel’s establishment, where he appealed for peace.

Ignoring threats and condemnations by his rivals in Hamas for his decision to appear here in the packed auditorium, Fayyad called upon Israel to stop expanding settlements on the land of the future Palestinian state.

His message was not particularly new. Nor was that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also appeared to restate Israel’s official position. But both men made gestures that went beyond what the stalled peace process would seem to allow. Fayyad did that simply by showing up on Tuesday night, rather than canceling, as he has done before. And Barak delivered a shot across the bow of his fractious coalition government by warning that unless progress on the peace front occurred now, Israel would either become a “bi-national” or an “apartheid state” headed inexorably into global isolation.

A few participants gasped to hear the defense minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government use the language of Israel’s most virulent critics. Apartheid state? One of the panels here at Herzliya had described the effort to paint Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank as analogous to South African apartheid as part of a “soft war” against the Jewish state.

One veteran European diplomat called the dueling appearances by Barak and Fayyad at the highly charged conference a “mood-changing moment.” “Both sides were signaling what they really wanted to do,” the diplomat said. Now they just have to figure out how to do it.

But some participants were decidedly less impressed. “An investment banker trying to calm a skittish board” is how Fayyad came across to Berel Rodal, the entrepreneur and former Canadian government official. But many here seemed willing to give Fayyad, the soft-spoken, articulate technician in a grey banker’s suit, the benefit of the doubt. “He was laying his cards on the table and in effect negotiating in public, saying what he would say if there were negotiations,” said Richard Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress. But there aren’t any negotiations, of course—for reasons that both sides seem eager to blame on everyone but themselves.

A veteran Israeli official noted that both Barak and Fayyad were uttering the right words about the need for peace and compromise and to battle extremism and establish security and prosperity for both peoples. But while Barak, given his subordinate status in Bibi’s government, was unable to do anything to implement his strongly-stated opinions, Fayyad was working hard on the West Bank.

Fayyad stressed his determination to prepare the Palestinian people for statehood by building the civic and physical infrastructure of a state. He spoke of the accomplishments of his “bottom-up” strategy—the West Bank’s 7 percent growth rate and the more than 1,000 development projects completed under his administration. He alluded to the American-sponsored training for the Palestinian police and security forces that have helped stem terror and establish Palestinian law and order in West Bank towns long overrun by gangs and corruption.

Isabel Maxwell, an activist and philanthropist who has devoted enormous time and energy to understanding the dual narratives that have shaped the Israel-Palestinian struggle, said that Ramallah and parts of the West Bank were being transformed under Fayyad’s administration. Recently, for instance, Bashar Masri, a Palestinian developer, broke ground on Rawabi, a new community just north of Bir Zeit that’s designed to accommodate 750,000 Palestinians. New business ventures were springing up throughout Ramallah, she said. For the first time, the West Bank has a Yellow Pages.

Fayyad predicted that Palestinians would be more than ready for statehood by 2011, within two years. But Palestinians also had to believe that the occupation was ending and that the political, or “top-down” peace talks would ultimately deliver the two-state solution that both the Palestine Authority and Israel have endorsed. Yet the political track has failed to keep pace with bottom-up nation-building, he said, despite U.S envoy George Mitchell’s repeated trips here, and the efforts by Britain, France, and others to revive the negotiations.

The most obvious problem with imagining a true two-state solution of the kind that Fayyad expects is Gaza, mired in its misery under militant Islamic rule. Hamas refuses to accept a two-state solution or any Jewish presence in what it refers to as historic Palestine. Fayyad paid the requisite lip-service to ending the “separation” between the Palestine Authority and Iranian-supported Hamas, which needed less than five hours to evict its Fatah rivals from Gaza in 2007. But Hamas and Fatah are unlikely to reconcile anytime soon. Nor is Bibi, who is scheduled to close the conference Wednesday night, likely to yield to the Obama administration’s demands that Israel stop expanding settlements.

The Obama adminstration’s anger over Netanyahu’s recalcitrant behavior has prompted Washington to stage something of a no-show at the conference. While a deputy assistant secretary of defense is participating in several panels, the White House did not send its usual suspects here. Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, and other senior officials involved in setting Middle East policy were all invited, along with others, but none accepted. Several leaders of American Jewish groups insisted on Tuesday that relations between Israel and the United States are perfectly fine, but the strains between the two allies seemed all too evident.

Dagan, at left, celebrating his appointment as Mossad chief with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and outgoing Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy on October 30, 2002

Iran’s Sejil-2 surface-to-surface missile, prior to its test-firing on May 20, 2009.
CREDIT: FARS/AFP/Getty Images

February 1, 10:55 p.m. ET: The Herzliya Conference is not for the faint-hearted or weak of tongue. From 8:30 in the morning to 11 at night, Israeli and foreign participants at this national-security marathon talk, question, opine, challenge, decry, quip, assert, and rant. And, of course, complain: about the failing peace process, the strains in the U.S.-Israeli partnership, and Israel’s frustrations with the Arabs, radical Islamists, and their “moderate” Arab alternatives—if, as opposition leader and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni observed, one can use that term to describe people who “chop off the hands of thieves.”

On buses, over sack lunches, and in corridors, Israelis and their guests at this prestigious gathering engage in non-stop gab. But near the end of the second day of this four-day conference, several participants began to notice as Berel Rodal, a former Canadian defense official and an entrepreneur, astutely noticed, much of the talk was about not talking.

The elephant in all of the rooms at Herzliya is Iran. Yes, there is endless talk about the challenge that a nuclearized, militant Iran will pose not only to Israel but also to the stability of the region and the world. There is talk about what the United States might, or should, or is likely to do, and there is worry about what Obama is unlikely to do.

But there is precious little discussion about Israel’s actual strategic thinking and plans. Uzi Arad, the prime minster’s national security adviser, explained in Sunday night’s opening speech the reasons for Israeli officials’ uncharacteristic opaqueness. “More is happening than meets the eye,” said Arad, a man with backgrounds in both scholarship and the Mossad, who not incidentally was the founder of the Herzliya Conference a decade ago.

Arad stressed the need for patience, a posture not always associated with a man who has never been known for a shy, retiring style. Talk is sometimes cheap, he suggested. Not talking about things should not be interpreted to mean that nothing was happening on the Iranian front. Not talking did not mean that there was nothing to talk about. When he was not talking, he continued, we could assume that there might be things happening that he could not and would not talk about. “And that’s all I want to say about that,” he concluded.

Known for his acute analyses and blunt talk, Arad stressed the need for “prudence” and to avoid “noise and threats.”

There has been no talk by officials at Herzliya about Israel’s “red lines”—the points that Iran will reach in its nuclear program at which Israel may feel compelled to take military action. What constitutes a strategic threat to Israel, participants wondered. Would Iran’s possession of enough low-enriched uranium (which can be enriched to bomb levels within six months) be considered a red line? If so, that line has probably been crossed. Must Iran actually test a device to be considered a strategic threat to Israel? What will Israel do if Iran adopts the “Japanese model”—acquires the capability and material to build a bomb at any point, but refrains from actually building a weapon or testing one? Would Israel act without U.S. assistance or approval? Does it have the ability to destroy enough of Iran’s nuclear facilities to justify military action—and the political will and military ability to withstand Iranian retaliation? How would action absent American blessing affect the fate of Israel’s sometimes-tense relationship with Washington, the country’s most important strategic partner?

Israel’s relationship with Washington can still be talked about. Indeed, the morning’s keynote panel was entitled “U.S.-Israeli Relations: Still Special?” The panelists agreed that the ties between the two states and U.S. support for Israel remain strong, despite Israel’s refusal to yield to President Barack Obama’s demand that it suspend expanding settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Tzipi Livni argued that the relationship remained crucial, despite diplomatic strains. Pursuing peace with the Palestinians and challenging militant Iran were not favors Israel did for Washington, she asserted, but in both countries’ strategic interests.

There is a discouraging consensus that the peace process with the Palestinians is going nowhere, the result, many participants argued, of the disarray within Palestinian ranks, the domination of Gaza, or “Hamastan,” as one Israeli participant called it, by militant Islamic Hamas, and a weak Palestinian leadership on the West Bank, which more conservative Israelis, and all Israeli officials, continue to call by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria. Only Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton, warned that it was unreasonable and self-defeating for Israel to insist that the Palestinians come to the negotiating table to discuss the fate of land that Israel continued to seize.

Tuesday’s schedule features very little talk about the irksome Palestinians and much more talk about Israel’s energy requirements and oil addition, its Jewish identity and heritage, the treatment of its elderly, and the quest for “effective governance.”

But the issue of what to do about Iran is likely to continue to dominate the corridor chatter, if not official speeches.

One Israeli official warned me not to expect too much enlightenment on the questions that are most likely to keep conference participants at Herzliya up at night. “Those who are talking don’t know,” he explained. “And those who know aren’t talking.”

Dagan, at left, celebrating his appointment as Mossad chief with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and outgoing Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy on October 30, 2002

Dagan, at left, celebrating his appointment as Mossad chief with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and outgoing Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy on October 30, 2002.
CREDIT: Yaakov Saar/GPO/Getty Images

Feburary 1, 1:00 p.m. ET: For the tenth year in a row, anyone who is anyone in Israel can be found in this Tel Aviv suburb by the sea for the annual Herzliya Conference, the theme of which this year is the “Balance of Israel’s National Security.” The three-day conference features Israel’s political and intellectual movers and shakers—from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the country’s irrepressibly energetic octogenarian president, Shimon Peres, from Defense Minister Ehud Barak to his fading political rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, from academic superstars like the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling to American billionaire real estate magnate and publisher Mort Zuckerman.

As heavy-duty keynote speakers from around the world address the roughly 800 invitees in the Herzliya Center’s vast auditorium and panelists debate the state of Israel’s soul and its political and economic fortunes at invitation-only breakout sessions in classrooms, participants conduct the conference’s real business—the informal schmoozing and exchanges of embossed business cards—over coffee and in the corridors.

But this year, all of Israel is focused on a man who isn’t here. The man who is so vital to Israel’s security never comes to this prestigious event, even though his predecessors, acolytes, associates, and protégés are everywhere at this gathering: Meir Dagan hates small talk, but his name this week is on all of Israel’s lips.

Meir Dagan is the head of the Mossad, Israel’s secret security service, which struck again in January in Dubai with devastating precision in a raid whose details are only now dribbling out past Israel’s press censors. Israel, as is its custom, has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas operative and founder of the group’s military wing, in a hotel room near Dubai’s international airport on January 20. But his family and Hamas are blaming Israel for Mabhouh’s demise.

Smadar Perry, the Arab-affairs correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, revealed more details of the astonishing operation in an article today as the participants gathered for Herzliya’s opening ceremony.

The strike was vintage Mossad—precise, without fingerprints, and deniable, the kind of operation in which Dagan has specialized since becoming chief of the spy agency seven years ago.

According to the newspaper, al-Mabhouh was in Dubai for Hamas to arrange a shipment of arms from Iran, having entered under a false name with a phony passport. There are varying accounts of precisely what happened in al-Mabhouh’s room at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, where his body was discovered by hotel staff. But somehow, four Mossad agents, having entered Dubai with false passports, gained entry to his room, although Al-Mahbouh, no stranger to assassination attempts, had supposedly taken the precaution of propping a huge arm chair against his hotel door to prevent unauthorized entry. The paper reported that he was electrocuted by an unknown device and then strangled. The agents left a “Do not Disturb” sign on his door to ensure that the body would not be discovered for several hours, to give themselves sufficient time for a clean getaway.

Al-Mahbouh had been on Israel’s hit list for years. On the run since 1989, when he helped kidnap and kill two Israeli soldiers on leave, he and eventually his family moved to Damascus, where Hamas’ more radical wing under Khaled Mishal is based. According to The Times of London, al-Mabhouh traveled to Dubai on January 18 on an Emirates flight from Damascus using a false passport. Upon his arrival in Dubai, he was followed by two men who were described by local police as “Europeans traveling on European passports.” Yedioth Ahronoth reported yesterday that one member of the team was a woman.

Dubai police chief Dhafi Khalfan told the Agence France-Presse on Sunday that the apparent operation to kill the Hamas kingpin was perpetrated by “seven or more people holding passports from different European countries” and that the police are currently in contact with the countries in question to figure out who the passport-holders are.

The killing of al-Mahbouh is the latest in a string of assassinations and operations that are commonly believed to be part of the campaign to stop the flow of arms and other contraband to Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Fatah-led government there in June 2007. While questions have been raised internationally about the extent of arms shipments from Iran to Gaza, weapons apparently destined for Gaza have been captured at sea. In a recent interview on Hamas’ English-language website, movement official Dr. Khalil al-Hayah praised Iranian support for Hamas and did not deny that this support included weapons. “Iran supports us financially, politically and morally,” he said, “and stands beside the Palestinian people and his [sic] resistance, without going into unimportant details.”

In December, two Hamas officials were killed in a mysterious blast in Beirut. And last year, Sudan, which is allied with Iran and openly hosts Hamas, accused Israel of attacking a convoy in a remote mountainous region in the northeastern part of the country. The Associated Press and other media reports said the strikes were aimed at convoys allegedly filled with weapons bound for Gaza.

Israel has also been linked to the disappearance of Iranian nuclear officials, though it is unclear whether they were killed or have defected to the West. And most famously, the Mossad has been accused of having assassinated Imad Mughnieh, the senior Hezbollah official responsible for the bombing of the U.S. Marine compound in Beirut in 1983, soon after he attended a gathering at the home of the Iranian cultural attaché in Damascus.

Dagan, a 65-year-old military officer who was born in Novosibirsk, Siberia, and emigrated to Israel as a young child, does not give interviews and is known to despise the media. It goes without saying that he would not be comfortable or happy at the Herzliya conference, where he is everyone’s favorite subject of conversation.

And somewhere nearby, away from the reporters and politicians, a small group of men and women who work for Israel’s top spy may be gathering to celebrate their latest accomplishment with a glass of champagne.

Judith Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute whose writings focus on the Middle East and counterterrorism. As an investigative reporter for The New York Times, she was part of a small team that earned a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on global terrorism. Her book God Has Ninety-Nine Names explored the spread of Islamic extremism in ten Middle Eastern countries, including Israel and Iran.

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Helen Dukke says:

oh please the entire planet knows ur going around assassinating people. ur policies do not run well with the rest of humanity. truth will eventually be realized and isrl is only making it worse for their end result.

Mind Bomber says:

Wow, back-to-back stories on what no one is talking about. Oh wait, it’s Judith Miller.

kathymm says:

I know what you can do…start taking care of your own people…if you have to have so many weapons…make them DEFENSIVE instead of OFFENSIVE…oh and it wouldn’t hurt to learn to take constructive criticism instead of calling everyone an anti-semite that doesn’t go along with everything you do blindly and without question…oh and tear down those walls that are inching out the Palestinians from their own land, and Hamas might be more receptive to negotiations if they weren’t being strangled into a slow death

Why is Tablet publishing Judith Miller? At the NY Times she ruined their and her record by fronting for Cheney at all in spreading rumors about the slam dunk information about the Iraqi WMD threat. Americas neocons, unchastened by the Iraq fiasco, are gunning for Iran. We are supposed to trust Judith Miller to tell us the truth about the risk from Iran. Come on!

Wow! All that negativity. We live in a dangerous world and some people and countries are more dangerous than others. Don’t like it when Israel can defend itself?
Tough.

Helen Dukke says:

it looks like some of my posts were removed. what was the matter with them? why was harolds posts removed, he only defended isrl and its right to destroy other nations I mean defend itself. we were having a healthy debate. i was being reasonable.

Helen Dukke says:

“As The Arabs See The Jews”
His Majesty King Abdullah The American Magazine November, 1947

I am especially delighted to address an American audience, for the tragic problem of Palestine will never be solved without American understanding, American sympathy, American support.

So many billions of words have been written about Palestine—perhaps more than on any other subject in history—that I hesitate to add to them. Yet I am compelled to do so, for I am reluctantly convinced that the world in general, and America in particular, knows almost nothing of the true case for the Arabs.

We Arabs follow, perhaps far more than you think, the press of America. We are frankly disturbed to find that for every word printed on the Arab side, a thousand are printed on the Zionist side.

There are many reasons for this. You have many millions of Jewish citizens interested in this question. They are highly vocal and wise in the ways of publicity. There are few Arab citizens in America, and we are as yet unskilled in the technique of modern propaganda.

The results have been alarming for us. In your press we see a horrible caricature and are told it is our true portrait. In all justice, we cannot let this pass by default.

Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

Palestine is a small and very poor country, about the size of your state of Vermont. Its Arab population is only about 1,200,000. Already we have had forced on us, against our will, some 600,000 Zionist Jews. We are threatened with many hundreds of thousands more.

Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

Think for a moment: In the last 25 years we have had one third of our entire population forced upon us. In America that would be the equivalent of 45,000,000 complete strangers admitted to your country, over your violent protest, since 1921. How would you have reacted to that?

Because of our perfectly natural dislike of being overwhelmed in our own homeland, we are called blind nationalists and heartless anti-Semites. This charge would be ludicrous were it not so dangerous.

No people on earth have been less “anti-Semitic” than the Arabs. The persecution of the Jews has been confined almost entirely to the Christian nations of the West. Jews, themselves, will admit that never since the Great Dispersion did Jews develop so freely and reach such importance as in Spain when it was an Arab possession. With very minor exceptions, Jews have lived for many centuries in the Middle East, in complete peace and friendliness with their Arab neighbours.

Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and other Arab centres have always contained large and prosperous Jewish colonies. Until the Zionist invasion of Palestine began, these Jews received the most generous treatment—far, far better than in Christian Europe. Now, unhappily, for the first time in history, these Jews are beginning to feel the effects of Arab resistance to the Zionist assault. Most of them are as anxious as Arabs to stop it. Most of these Jews who have found happy homes among us resent, as we do, the coming of these strangers.

I was puzzled for a long time about the odd belief which apparently persists in America that Palestine has somehow “always been a Jewish land.” Recently an American I talked to cleared up this mystery. He pointed out that the only things most Americans know about Palestine are what they read in the Bible. It was a Jewish land in those days, they reason, and they assume it has always remained so.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is absurd to reach so far back into the mists of history to argue about who should have Palestine today, and I apologise for it. Yet the Jews do this, and I must reply to their “historic claim.” I wonder if the world has ever seen a stranger sight than a group of people seriously pretending to claim a land because their ancestors lived there some 2,000 years ago!

If you suggest that I am biased, I invite you to read any sound history of the period and verify the facts.

Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most—but not all—of the inhabitants of Palestine.

It is significant that the Philistines—not the Jews—gave their name to the country: “Palestine” is merely the Greek form of “Philistia.”

Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!

Italians might claim England, which the Romans held so long. England might claim France, “homeland” of the conquering Normans. And the French Normans might claim Norway, where their ancestors originated. And incidentally, we Arabs might claim Spain, which we held for 700 years.

Many Mexicans might claim Spain, “homeland” of their forefathers. They might even claim Texas, which was Mexican until 100 years ago. And suppose the American Indians claimed the “homeland” of which they were the sole, native, and ancient occupants until only some 450 years ago!

I am not being facetious. All these claims are just as valid—or just as fantastic—as the Jewish “historic connection” with Palestine. Most are more valid.

In any event, the great Moslem expansion about 650 AD finally settled things. It dominated Palestine completely. From that day on, Palestine was solidly Arabic in population, language, and religion. When British armies entered the country during the last war, they found 500,000 Arabs and only 65,000 Jews.

If solid, uninterrupted Arab occupation for nearly 1,300 years does not make a country “Arab”, what does?

The Jews say, and rightly, that Palestine is the home of their religion. It is likewise the birthplace of Christianity, but would any Christian nation claim it on that account? In passing, let me say that the Christian Arabs—and there are many hundreds of thousands of them in the Arab World—are in absolute agreement with all other Arabs in opposing the Zionist invasion of Palestine.

May I also point out that Jerusalem is, after Mecca and Medina, the holiest place in Islam. In fact, in the early days of our religion, Moslems prayed toward Jerusalem instead of Mecca.

The Jewish “religious claim” to Palestine is as absurd as the “historic claim.” The Holy Places, sacred to three great religions, must be open to all, the monopoly of none. Let us not confuse religion and politics.

We are told that we are inhumane and heartless because do not accept with open arms the perhaps 200,000 Jews in Europe who suffered so frightfully under Nazi cruelty, and who even now—almost three years after war’s end—still languish in cold, depressing camps.

Let me underline several facts. The unimaginable persecution of the Jews was not done by the Arabs: it was done by a Christian nation in the West. The war which ruined Europe and made it almost impossible for these Jews to rehabilitate themselves was fought by the Christian nations of the West. The rich and empty portions of the earth belong, not to the Arabs, but to the Christian nations of the West.

And yet, to ease their consciences, these Christian nations of the West are asking Palestine—a poor and tiny Moslem country of the East—to accept the entire burden. “We have hurt these people terribly,” cries the West to the East. “Won’t you please take care of them for us?”

We find neither logic nor justice in this. Are we therefore “cruel and heartless nationalists”?

We are a generous people: we are proud that “Arab hospitality” is a phrase famous throughout the world. We are a humane people: no one was shocked more than we by the Hitlerite terror. No one pities the present plight of the desperate European Jews more than we.

But we say that Palestine has already sheltered 600,000 refugees. We believe that is enough to expect of us—even too much. We believe it is now the turn of the rest of the world to accept some of them.

I will be entirely frank with you. There is one thing the Arab world simply cannot understand. Of all the nations of the earth, America is most insistent that something be done for these suffering Jews of Europe. This feeling does credit to the humanity for which America is famous, and to that glorious inscription on your Statue of Liberty.

And yet this same America—the richest, greatest, most powerful nation the world has ever known—refuses to accept more than a token handful of these same Jews herself!

I hope you will not think I am being bitter about this. I have tried hard to understand that mysterious paradox, and I confess I cannot. Nor can any other Arab.

Perhaps you have been informed that “the Jews in Europe want to go to no other place except Palestine.”

This myth is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the organisation which promotes with fanatic zeal the emigration to Palestine. It is a subtle half-truth, thus doubly dangerous.

The astounding truth is that nobody on earth really knows where these unfortunate Jews really want to go!

You would think that in so grave a problem, the American, British, and other authorities responsible for the European Jews would have made a very careful survey, probably by vote, to find out where each Jew actually wants to go. Amazingly enough this has never been done! The Jewish Agency has prevented it.

Some time ago the American Military Governor in Germany was asked at a press conference how he was so certain that all Jews there wanted to go to Palestine. His answer was simple: “My Jewish advisors tell me so.” He admitted no poll had ever been made. Preparations were indeed begun for one, but the Jewish Agency stepped in to stop it.

The truth is that the Jews in German camps are now subjected to a Zionist pressure campaign which learned much from the Nazi terror. It is dangerous for a Jew to say that he would rather go to some other country, not Palestine. Such dissenters have been severely beaten, and worse.

Not long ago, in Palestine, nearly 1,000 Austrian Jews informed the international refugee organisation that they would like to go back to Austria, and plans were made to repatriate them.

The Jewish Agency heard of this, and exerted enough political pressure to stop it. It would be bad propaganda for Zionism if Jews began leaving Palestine. The nearly 1,000 Austrian are still there, against their will.

The fact is that most of the European Jews are Western in culture and outlook, entirely urban in experience and habits. They cannot really have their hearts set on becoming pioneers in the barren, arid, cramped land which is Palestine.

One thing, however, is undoubtedly true. As matters stand now, most refugee Jews in Europe would, indeed, vote for Palestine, simply because they know no other country will have them.

If you or I were given a choice between a near-prison camp for the rest of our lives—or Palestine—we would both choose Palestine, too.

But open up any other alternative to them—give them any other choice, and see what happens!

No poll, however, will be worth anything unless the nations of the earth are willing to open their doors—just a little—to the Jews. In other words, if in such a poll a Jew says he wants to go to Sweden, Sweden must be willing to accept him. If he votes for America, you must let him come in.

Any other kind of poll would be a farce. For the desperate Jew, this is no idle testing of opinion: this is a grave matter of life or death. Unless he is absolutely sure that his vote means something, he will always vote for Palestine, so as not to risk his bird in the hand for one in the bush.

In any event, Palestine can accept no more. The 65,000 Jews in Palestine in 1918 have jumped to 600,000 today. We Arabs have increased, too, but not by immigration. The Jews were then a mere 11 per cent of our population. Today they are one third of it.

The rate of increase has been terrifying. In a few more years—unless stopped now—it will overwhelm us, and we shall be an important minority in our own home.

Surely the rest of the wide world is rich enough and generous enough to find a place for 200,000 Jews—about one third the number that tiny, poor Palestine has already sheltered. For the rest of the world, it is hardly a drop in the bucket. For us it means national suicide.

We are sometimes told that since the Jews came to Palestine, the Arab standard of living has improved. This is a most complicated question. But let us even assume, for the argument, that it is true. We would rather be a bit poorer, and masters of our own home. Is this unnatural?

The sorry story of the so-called “Balfour Declaration,” which started Zionist immigration into Palestine, is too complicated to repeat here in detail. It is grounded in broken promises to the Arabs—promises made in cold print which admit no denying.

We utterly deny its validity. We utterly deny the right of Great Britain to give away Arab land for a “national home” for an entirely foreign people.

Even the League of Nations sanction does not alter this. At the time, not a single Arab state was a member of the League. We were not allowed to say a word in our own defense.

I must point out, again in friendly frankness, that America was nearly as responsible as Britain for this Balfour Declaration. President Wilson approved it before it was issued, and the American Congress adopted it word for word in a joint resolution on 30th June, 1922.

In the 1920s, Arabs were annoyed and insulted by Zionist immigration, but not alarmed by it. It was steady, but fairly small, as even the Zionist founders thought it would remain. Indeed for some years, more Jews left Palestine than entered it—in 1927 almost twice as many.

But two new factors, entirely unforeseen by Britain or the League or America or the most fervent Zionist, arose in the early thirties to raise the immigration to undreamed heights. One was the World Depression; the second the rise of Hitler.

In 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, only 9,500 Jews came to Palestine. We did not welcome them, but we were not afraid that, at that rate, our solid Arab majority would ever be in danger.

But the next year—the year of Hitler—it jumped to 30,000! In 1934 it was 42,000! In 1935 it reached 61,000!

It was no longer the orderly arrival of idealist Zionists. Rather, all Europe was pouring its frightened Jews upon us. Then, at last, we, too, became frightened. We knew that unless this enormous influx stopped, we were, as Arabs, doomed in our Palestine homeland. And we have not changed our minds.

I have the impression that many Americans believe the trouble in Palestine is very remote from them, that America had little to do with it, and that your only interest now is that of a humane bystander.

I believe that you do not realise how directly you are, as a nation, responsible in general for the whole Zionist move and specifically for the present terrorism. I call this to your attention because I am certain that if you realise your responsibility you will act fairly to admit it and assume it.

Quite aside from official American support for the “National Home” of the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist settlements in Palestine would have been almost impossible, on anything like the current scale, without American money. This was contributed by American Jewry in an idealistic effort to help their fellows.

The motive was worthy: the result were disastrous. The contributions were by private individuals, but they were almost entirely Americans, and, as a nation, only America can answer for it.

The present catastrophe may be laid almost entirely at your door. Your government, almost alone in the world, is insisting on the immediate admission of 100,000 more Jews into Palestine—to be followed by countless additional ones. This will have the most frightful consequences in bloody chaos beyond anything ever hinted at in Palestine before.

It is your press and political leadership, almost alone in the world, who press this demand. It is almost entirely American money which hires or buys the “refugee ships” that steam illegally toward Palestine: American money which pays their crews. The illegal immigration from Europe is arranged by the Jewish Agency, supported almost entirely by American funds. It is American dollars which support the terrorists, which buy the bullets and pistols that kill British soldiers—your allies—and Arab citizens—your friends.

We in the Arab world were stunned to hear that you permit open advertisements in newspapers asking for money to finance these terrorists, to arm them openly and deliberately for murder. We could not believe this could really happen in the modern world. Now we must believe it: we have seen the advertisements with our own eyes.

I point out these things because nothing less than complete frankness will be of use. The crisis is too stark for mere polite vagueness which means nothing.

I have the most complete confidence in the fair-mindedness and generosity of the American public. We Arabs ask no favours. We ask only that you know the full truth, not half of it. We ask only that when you judge the Palestine question, you put yourselves in our place.

What would your answer be if some outside agency told you that you must accept in America many millions of utter strangers in your midst—enough to dominate your country—merely because they insisted on going to America, and because their forefathers had once lived there some 2,000 years ago?

Our answer is the same.

And what would be your action if, in spite of your refusal, this outside agency began forcing them on you?

Ours will be the same.

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Helen Dukke, get a life. Egad..the entire world is against Israel.

Israel took Ethiopians to save them, who had never seen a toilet but were said they were Jewish.As soon as they got together with the Arabs that were allowed to become Isaeli citizens, they claimed racism.

Israel also took in the Sudanese who were being killed but still Jimmy Carter called Israel An Aparthied State.

Israel now has the same problem as the United States. The more the inequality goes to make up for slavery, the more we whites are called racists if we do not agree with affirmative action.

Good intentions and tolerance of others will unfortunately destroy us all. Take a look at London, France and now the U.S. plus Israel.

Hey, get a look at Jimmy Carter apologizing to the Jews due to his grandson running for office in a predominately Jewish neighborhood. Ha.
Don’t believe a word he or Pres. Obama says anymore.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and shame on me.

Helen Dukke says:

i take it that post hit a sore spot. does it not bother you what ur people have done to the arabs? of course not, u call them backwards for nto trying to be more western. but the fact is they have their customs and ways that makes them unique. whats wrong with that? but isnted u want the arab world to follow u, u want to be the ones to control what happens in their countries.

well sweetie, ur only digging ur own graves, u refuse to accept facts, because ur rabbies and gov’t tell u not too. they will give u every excuse they can coem up with and even make up new ones to fool u.

u r being used by a higher power and that power is not God. its to bad tho, u could be very useful in teh fight to free the world from the true criminals but isntead u fight for them. what a pity that the poeple who claim to be gods chosen r so ignorant towards the words and laws of God. maybe u r the chosen ones, the ones to bring the anti-christ to life. God forgive u for ur actions, and may God have mercy on ur souls.

Helen Dukke says:

poor little jew girl no one likes me. ask urself why and look for some truth, and not what ur gov’t tells u. i think what bothers u the most is that that article which was written so long ago has a lot of truth in it. and u can’t really support the lie ur people r spewing. think about it, don’t just set it aside. u could change how people think if u would stop crying all the time about how the world hates u. u just bring it on urselves. even Jesus refuse to walk among the isrlites, but yet u call him the king of jews, and what did u do? u had him crusified. u r blaming the arab world for what the christian world did to u. but in the end u chose to live on arab land. sorry girly but really if u want peace, u have to stop thinking of urself in such a pityful way. and maybe try and find some facts outside of zionist control. because u would be surprised at what really is out there and why u r in the position that u r in. good luck, because i know u will not even try. but thats ur choice i guess. u will continue to teach ur children a lie as long as it suits ur needs.

Alan Craig says:

The closing highlight if the conference is always the speech of the PM. In the past there have been headline grabbing events such as Sharon’s disengagement announcement.Last night Fayyad stole the show with a pledge of peace and security. Imagine the anticlimax tonight when Netanyahu announced the creation of two new hiking paths! Clearly he had nothing new to say!

This was a very informative piece and I find most all the comments to this article pathetic. People talking about things they dont understand, stating hyperbole as fact and allowing their true colors to show–often not flattering. Tablet is supposed to appeal to intellectuals. I find nothing intellectual in these comments. Please Helen Dukke–especially you–stop being a “useful idiot”.

Helen Dukke says:

nan..exactly what was it that bothered you about what i said? i have been sending articles like this all over the net, and have been telling others to pass them along. u see when it comes to tainting the media with false information, there will always be people like who will give them truths. no matter how much u hate it. u cannot call me anti-semitic, because u r not semites. but the pals and the iranians and the lebanese and the syrians r semites. and in those nations they practice all three religions. which u refuse to let the western world know. but more and more people r finding the truth, and yes u r going to lose. but the saddest thing of all is u actually think ur gov’t works for u and the truth. like any other gov’t they lie, the do not let u know they work for a higher power and u have been fooled to think just because u speak hebrew that u r a semite. thats like saying if i spoke arabic i am a semite.

What’s wrong with promoting your people’s history? That Netanyahu spoke about the Bible before an audience of bareheaded secular policy wonks, is a kiddush HaShem.

The hateful and arrogant remarks of some audience members and media elites, shows how upset they are. Basically, it is elections by the people, not closed-door policy conferences, that decide a nation’s direction.

If it wasn’t for the Bible, there would be no Jewish people, and no State of Israel.

Helen Dukke says:

nothign is wrong with promoting the bible. but there is soemthing wrong when u twist the wrds of God for ur own gain. u do not have exclusive rights to God and u do not exclusive rights to the holy land, u cannot expect the rest of humanity to believe u were given this land by God, when in ever instance he tried to save you u refused him. sorry but there is much to be said about Christianity when it allows u to change the words in teh bible to from isralites to isrl.

Tamar Boussi says:

Judith Miller obviously talks to people who are in an “elitist” position and out of touch with Israelis on the street. Understanding the Middle East is rare from the outside and Ms Miller is no exception–being Jewish doesn’t mean you understand the Jewish Israeli. Bibi’s speech was exactly what needed to be said and implemented for the Israeli future. Israel is not about what America wants but what Israel needs. By the way as one who lives here, Herzliya is NOT a suburb of Tel Aviv. It is a separate city with its own personality and nothing like Tel Aviv. As an American-Israeli patriot, and former teacher–nothing is more important than whaqt Bibi said and will implement for Israel’s future. I have not seen anything in Israel’s newspapers (Hebrew language) or from the Israelis I live and work with that indicates anything accept understanding of where he was coming from. Know your sources, because someone has an opinion it does not mean it is an informed opinion. We elected a Nationalist government for a reason, we know our military is great, we need a government that knows, understands and will fight for the love of our country even if he has to occasionally make deals with the devil (Obama administration) I suggest Ms. Miller not impose american ideas on Israel, we are not the 51st state or an American colony. If American wants to ally with us that is terrific, if not we will still be here. We survived the Canaanites, the Greeks, Romans, the Hittites, the Amalkites, the Spanish inquisitions, the Crusaders, the germans, the Arabs and we will continue because we know why and what our purpose is. Once you understand that, you MAY begin to understand the mentality of this determined and even stubborn people.

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