Mid East Web: The War of the Zionist Right Against Sari Nusseibeh
ZOA in the news
January 6, 2008

As noted by Engage, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has called for a boycott of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem in response to alleged comments made recently by Sari Nusseibeh, the university’s President and translated by MEMRI.

In a television panel with Ahmed Tibi, Nusseibeh said:

The Israelis now living in the territories of the future Palestinian state should return to living within the borders of the state of Israel. No Jew in the world, now or in the future, as a result of this document, will have the right to return, to live, or to demand to live in Hebron, in East Jerusalem, or anywhere in the Palestinian state.”

A number of right-wing bloggers have characterized these words as antisemitic. According to the heavily cut interview clip Nusseibeh also insisted that Jaffa, Acco and other Israeli cities could or should be annexed to annexed to a Palestinian state. Campus Watch, like ZOA, seems to support a boycott of Al-Quds University and Sari Nusseibeh.

This is not the first time that ZOA and similar organizations have painted Sari Nusseibeh as an enemy of the Jewish State. ZOA reminds us that, according to them, “Nusseibeh was arrested when discovered collecting security information for Iraqi intelligence to assist the accuracy of its Scud missile attacks upon Israel at the time of the first Gulf War.”

What they don’t tell us is that he was released, because the remarks made on the telephone were apparently harmless, and the arrest was due to over-enthusiasm of the police.

Nor is it the first time that MEMRI has quoted Nusseibeh saying awful things. In 2002, MEMRI interpreted his remarks, and quoted him as saying:

Professor Nusseibah said that the [signatories’] objections to military operations referred only to operations against civilians within Israel: “There is a general consensus that we naturally support resistance in general and resistance to the occupation in particular. [There is a consensus] that there is no life under occupation, and that most of the Palestinian people is very much prepared to martyr itself to achieve liberty and independence and to restore its honor. I [too] agree to this. There are different kinds of resistance. There is armed resistance and there is unarmed resistance, which is legitimate resistance. Then this resistance can be public and be popular [such as the kind] in which the Palestinian people engaged throughout the many years of occupation. Similarly, within the framework of armed resistance there is resistance for attack and resistance for defense. [Now] martyrdom operations are [another] kind of resistance. There is on the one hand martyrdom for defense, like the heroes who martyred themselves to defend their land and their homeland in the Jenin camp, or the martyr hero Fares Odeh who fell victim to the soldiers of the occupation, and on the other hand there is martyrdom in an attack. Even in martyrdom in an attack, a distinction can be made between martyrdom in an attack directed against military targets and one directed against civilian targets.”

Note that it was actually MEMRI, and not Nusseibeh, who wrote ” Professor Nusseibah said that the [signatories’] objections to military operations referred only to operations against civilians within Israel.” Nusseibeh simply talked about different sorts of resistance. He also took note of the death of Fares Odeh. According to Palestinian accounts, Odeh was a boy of 15 in Gaza who would stone tanks to annoy soldiers. At the time of the interview, Odeh had been killed, allegedly while pursuing his hobby and nothing more. (See here).

Nusseibeh is in fact much more controversial in Palestinian politics than in Israeli-Palestinian relations, because of his outspoken stands for peace. He has co-initiated and popularized the Ayalon-Nusseibeh agreement calling on Arab Palestinian refugees to give up the ‘right’ of return to Israel in return for an equitable two state solution. During the hysteria in Britain about academic boycotts of Israel, Nusseibeh led the way in condemning boycotters and calling for dialog and academic freedom. At the height of the suicide bombing attacks, when they were supported by nearly 80% of the Palestinian Arab public, he organized a petition by Palestinian intellectuals calling for an end to suicide bombing. The remark regarding Odeh was made write after this petition was published.

Sari Nusseibeh is a Palestinian Arab, not a Zionist or a Jew. He will not always say things that are pleasing to Israel or Zionists. But his constructive stands on right of return, boycotts and suicide bombings require personal courage. In the Palestinian polity, the positions he has taken are hazardous to one’s health. Ingrid Jaradat of the European financed BADIL organization, a refugee group that lobbies for right of return and encourages violence, reminded me at one time that her group considers Nusseibeh to be a traitor. We know what Palestinian Arab society does to traitors. Other groups have made similar remarks about Nusseibeh.

As the latest group of clips appeared to be taken out of context in a heavily edited interview, I asked Sari Nusseibeh for his response. I also asked MEMRI to explain the cut up clips, reminiscent of “Pallywood” practices. Of course, if someone is playing a double game, he or she should be exposed. But the MEMRI quotes, taken out of context, did not provide conclusive evidence of that.

Bloggers who were copied on this letter asked why I was interceding for Sari Nusseibeh. I did it because I think the truth matters. There can be different points of view. But the truth is not infinitely elastic, and all “narratives” are not equal. Establishing the truth is not “pedantry” or “positivist facticity” as post-structuralists argue. It is the basis of correct action and of personal integrity.

MEMRI has not yet responded. Sari Nusseibeh responded to my letter.

Below is the full text of Sari Nusseibeh’s letter:

Dear Ami,

First, thank you for your intervention. I wondered a lot about “explaining”, and had decided, like so often in the past, to let things be, until I saw that you also were coming under criticism. So here:

1. This is not Memri’s first “disinformation” publicity against me. Taking quotations out of context, or failing to present a full context to the reader/viewer, also marked their coverage of my anti-suicide stand as reported by al-jazeera three years ago. Briefly, Memri in that report presented me as someone consorting in the same room with Hamas’s mash’al, expressing sympathy to the mother of a suicide-r in Gaza. What Memri failed to tell the viewers/audience at the time was that

(a) I had just managed to get more than 50 well-known Palestinian activists to sign an unprecedented petition against suicides in the local Arabic newspapers;

(b) this was the first anti-suicide public stand taken anywhere in the Arab/Moslem world;

(c) this happened at the height of the suicide-rage of the time and was therefore totally at odds with the prevalent “political fashion” or mood;

(d) this was therefore the reason why I had been asked (for the first time in my life) by al-Jazeera for an interview; and

(e) that instead of being the sole participant I found myself (without prior notification) included (though I was alone in a West Jerusalem studio) in an emotive, Mash’al-led pro-suicide program having to defend views that were being portrayed as “treasonous”. Nonetheless I did my best in that program to present our public anti-suicide petition as strongly and clearly as possible. Memri chose to ignore all of that, and instead focused on a statement I made effectively expressing respect to mothers of soldiers dying in battles, (which I made partly to fend off the scenes of a wailing mother whose son had just been killed by Israeli soldiers, and which the program producer decided to use just before I was to be exposed to al-Jazeera’s viewers after Mash’al).

2. In the second case, i.e., that of the recent al-Jazeera interview, Memri once again chose to pursue a disinformation strategy. Let me explain:

i. The interviewer this time brought Tibi and me on the Palestinian side to comment on whether it made sense for Israel to ask Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Tibi’s view was that being Jewish is inconsistent with being democratic, and that this request should therefore be turned down. My view, which goes along with the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document, and which I explained in the interview, is that (1) we already recognized Israel as a Jewish State by recognizing Un resolution 181; and, (2) that whether Israel is Jewish (or Martian) is not/should not be an issue for us: what is and should be an issue (for us) is whether Arab minority rights (culturally and individually) would be safeguarded in the State which we are being asked formally to recognize.

ii. Tibi’s bewailing of the disenfranchisement of Arabs in Israel -a condition which could only be exacerbated, he argued, if Israel were recognized as a Jewish State, prompted the question by the interviewer whether he wouldn’t therefore find it preferable to become (and have Taybeh become) part of a Palestinian State (as part of a long-term settlement). Here of course Tibi objected vehemently, insisting that he is and must remain an Israeli citizen. My own intervention here was again unconventional (in terms of contemporary Palestinian parlance): I suggested this matter could/should be discussed. What is wrong, from a nationalistic point of view, I asked, in attaching parts of what is now Israel (like Taybeh) to a future Palestinian State? Jokingly, the interviewer asked me, Why not Acco? And I said, in the same vein, that too, meaning that it should not be out of the question for the two sides to discuss any mutually acceptable arrangement for a two-State solution, including one which would cater for attaching Arab population areas which are now part of Israel in a future Palestinian State. (By the way, I could have further added that part of the “return” issue, especially as this affects refugees in Lebanon, could well be served by such a geographic redrawing of the map, given the original homes of those refugees).

iii. The whole debate of course was a cover for another underlying debate on the right of return. My position (again the interviewer reminded his viewers) was already expressed in the Ayalon-Nusseibeh document. He asked me to elaborate on it. I explained that, as part of a package deal, return on my view should be confined to the Palestinian State (in addition to compensation, etc.). I added however that the other side of the coin of my position (confining the return of Palestinians to within the borders of a future Palestinian State) was that Jews also will have no right to claim to “return” to within the borders of a Palestinian State, and will be confined in the exercise of this “right” to the State of Israel (meaning their claim as Jews to return and settle anywhere in “Judea, Samaria, etc.” will not be substantiated). I certainly did not mean by this statement to exclude Jews from being able to live in an Arab State, or vice versa. At this point the issue of whether Palestinians can accept confining their return to within Palestine came up, and I said this had to be accepted if Palestinians truly wished to have a two-state solution. But in any case, I said, Palestinian leaders should express themselves honestly on this matter: demanding a two-state solution entails, from a practical point of view, confining the exercise of the right of return. Insisting on the pursuit of a full implementation of the right of return implies a pursuit of a one-state solution. I am personally indifferent to what we (Palestinians) should put up as a vision. Indeed, I said, I was the first to call for such a solution. However, I added, PLO strategy has been going in the other direction, and it is a direction whose implications we should own up to.

By the way, in conclusion, it is not hard for anyone interested in my views to to find out what they are from reading fully what I have written and said over the years. Indeed, I will not argue that Israel does not have many enemies in the Arab world. What I do say is that Israel has so many of them it certainly does not therefore need to create fictitious ones, unless of course a Palestinian who is truly committed to compromise is by virtue of this an enemy of the State of Israel??

Sari Nusseibeh’s question deserves an answer. Of course, without the tape of the full interview, we cannot reach a definitive conclusion, and even then, there will be different “interpretations.” Inevitably, there are already some who are insisting, “but he said it,” “but he said it,” and continue to argue that Nusseibeh’s remarks are “anti-Semitic.”

Indeed Sari Nusseibeh did say there could be an agreement in which no Jews were allowed to live in a Palestinian state, apparently in a hypothetical context.. And indeed, Yitzhak Rabin said of the Palestinians, “We will break their bones.” One can’t argue that Rabin didn’t say it. Those who continue to say of Nusseibeh, “but he said it,” should remember that. There are many other such quotes taken out of context that make people out to be monsters when they are not.

Every leader must speak the language of his people if they want to be persuasive. For a leader like Dr. Nusseibeh, who is trying to popularize the very unpopular ideas of peace based on compromise in Palestinian Arab society, this is especially important. Words and phrases have different meanings and connotations in different societies. Words have a special role in the history and unfolding of the Arab-Israeli conflict (see What’s in a word?). “IDF killed a Palestinian terrorist” has a different connotation from, “Israeli Occupation forces martyred a member of the Islamic Jihad resistance group.” But they both may refer to the same event. “Jews returned to settle in the Land of Israel,” and “European Jews came to colonize Palestine” both refer to the same event.

At MidEastWeb, we found that we cannot even label a map without someone using the label to “prove” that we are pro-Palestinian because we wrote “Occupied territories” over the West Bank, or pro-Zionist if we show the border of the state of Israel at the Jordan river. If we write “West Bank,” then Zionist partisans may remind us that this phrase was only invented after World War II by the Transjordanian government. If we call the same areas “Judea and Samaria,” then most people will insist that we favor settler Zionism. For Israelis, Fares Odeh was a child who was incited to violence and hate from an early age. For Palestinians, he was a martyr of resistance to the occupation. The same extremists who insist that the hypothetical proposition that there can be no Jews in a Palestinian state, or that Jaffa may be part of that state is racist, are equally vehement in asserting that Ariel should be part of a Jewish state of Israel, and that it is right that no Arabs can live there.

Of course, if MEMRI wish to insist that Sari Nusseibeh really advocates a Judenrien Palestine, they need only to produce the uncut interview with the translation. Thus far, MEMRI has been very strangely silent. They have not responded in any way to numerous requests for clarification. If MEMRI wants to be respected as a source of information and reliable translations of Middle East Media, they owe that much to themselves.

Ami Isseroff

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