Archive for June, 2005

No, Mr. Gibbs, Helen’s comments are defensible

What did Helen Thomas have to say to Israel?

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”

“Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land, not German and not Poland.”


“They can go home, Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else.”

These were the stinging words that caused the White House correspondent, Helen Thomas, to resign. She has been the only sane voice at press conferences since the days of Eisenhower.

How would we look back on historical texts if we found that writers in the mid-1500’s were saying the Europeans should “get the hell out of America” and to stress that these people are having their land stolen and that it didn’t belong to Spain and England and other colonial powers?

Would we call them anti-Europeans?

Would we say the remarks were “indefensible” as the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs did in response to Helen’s comments?

What is so disturbing about sticking up for the victims who have seen their land taken from them? Look at this map and let the reality sink in:
For many and in the space of their life time they have seen their land taken away from them. They call it Al Nakba: the catastrophe. Historians like Ilan Pappe and Walid Khalidi have pointed out the plans (i.e. Plan Dalet) for conquering the land precedes Israel’s declaration of Independence. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine has always been the goals of Israeli leaders.

Even today, the “demographic problem” is the “Israeli Arabs who will remain citizens,” as then Finance Minister and now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2003.

Unlike us in America, the great theft in Palestine is not separated by five centuries. Al Nakba is still fresh in people’s minds. Less than 65 years have passed. If we wanted to compare what Helen said to someone saying we should get out of the America’s we would have to judge it by comments made in the mid-1550s and I got to be honest with you: anyone who took the position that we had no right to be there doing what we were doing to the indigenous inhabitants would be absolutely right in saying we should get the hell out.

The struggle to survive under a brutal occupation and blockade, not to mention the struggle to regain their land, their identity and their dignity in Palestine is still on going.

I agree with some folks who say the comments are a political non-starter, but Helen is not a diplomat. When the truth is no longer helpful to justice – when doing the right thing is a political non-starter – then we have to ask what kind of justice we are trying to serve. It’s true her frustration flared. She apologized and resigned but I suspect she was pressured out.

She is being accused of anti-Semitism. As if.

Saying Jewish people from foreign countries have no right to ethnically cleanse someone from their land is not racist. There is no sign of hatred towards Jewish people in saying that. What the accusation illustrates is the long standing tactic where any time Israel is criticized the charge of anti-semitism is used by apologists to knock the criticism off the radar. The fact is defenders of Israeli terror and expansionism don’t want the topic to be their stealing land and occupying the Palestinians. They want it to be about their “right to exist” and how critics are just racists.

And we should ask why such a simple moral truth is a political non-starter. Defenders of Israel like to point to the Holocaust but that horrific crime is no reason to punish the Palestinians. It just doesn’t make any sense. Because Europeans committed genocide in trying to carry out ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people the people of Palestine should have their land stolen and be occupied and tortured and murdered and brutalized and imprisoned and dispossessed in their own land? This is straight out of the Twilight Zone: a talking head tells the nation speaking out against a crime is indefensible and no one bats an eyelash.

To say that saying Israel shouldn’t carry out ethnic cleansing is “indefensible” would be like saying the stance of abolitionists were “indefensible.” No, Helen’s words were defensible and they are defended by the reality of what has been done to the Palestinians. Like the natives of the Americas, justice may never be served but that is what is indefensible.

I Palestine

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