I was going to fisk this prime example of the Politically-correct paradigm, with its Oslo Logic of inverted cause and effect, and I still welcome commetators to do so. That it comes from Kristof, whose work in Darfur is so courageous and relevant, is sad but not surprising. In the meantime, Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor has published an excellent rebuttal which I reproduce below.
(UPDATE from Shrinkwrapped below.)
The Two Israels
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: June 22, 2008
HEBRON, West Bank
Nicholas D. Kristof: Inside the West Bank
To travel through the West Bank and Gaza these days feels like traveling through Israeli colonies.
You whiz around the West Bank on new highways that in some cases are reserved for Israeli vehicles, catching glimpses of Palestinian vehicles lined up at checkpoints.
The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.
More than 1,800 Palestinian shops have closed, in some cases the doors welded shut, and several thousand people have been driven from their homes. The once flourishing gold market is now blocked with barbed wire and choked with weeds and garbage.
“For years, Israel has severely oppressed Palestinians living in the center of the city,” notes B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, in a recent report. The authorities, it adds, “have expropriated the city center from its Palestinian residents and destroyed it economically.”
Rima Abu Aisha, a housewife in Hebron, has the misfortune of living in an area near the settlers. When she went into labor, an ambulance could not get the appropriate permissions in time and the baby died, she said.
Even if the Hebron settlement were not illegal in the eyes of much of the world, it is utterly impractical. The financial cost is mind-boggling, and the diplomatic cost is greater.
Perhaps greatest of all is the cost for any hope of a peaceful settlement: the barriers and checkpoints have undermined Palestinian moderates like President Mahmoud Abbas and have empowered Hamas. Polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians now approve of terror attacks against civilians in Israel, up from 40 percent in 2005.
The Palestinians are committing national suicide as well. By turning toward the zealots of Hamas, and toward the short-term thrill of sending rockets into Israel, they are building a tombstone for their state before it is even born.
Americans who haven’t toured the West Bank or Gaza recently may not appreciate how the new security regime of the last few years is suffocating, impoverishing and antagonizing Palestinians.
In the village of Ein Bani Salim, a farmer named Khalifa Danna pointed to his field, separated from his house by a barbed-wire fence that Israel built in 2004. Since then, he has been unable to get to the fields. Mr. Danna shows photos he has taken of Israeli settlers on his land — even using it to throw stones at him.
B’Tselem is giving video cameras to Palestinians to document the attacks and abuses they suffer. Just this month, a Palestinian woman near Hebron used a camera to record a group of four settlers clubbing her family in a field; two settlers were later arrested.
The settlers see the issue very differently, emphasizing the continuing Palestinian attacks on them and noting that the security steps were put in place only in reaction to Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada a half-dozen years ago.
“If people are trying to actively wipe you out and kill your people, then you have to take security measures,” says David Wilder, a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron. “If that antagonizes them, they should stop trying to kill us.”
So the chasm grows wider and peace more distant.
It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel: Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians (almost one-third of settlement land is actually privately owned by Palestinians); Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won’t let them through (four documented cases last year); the diversion of water from Palestinians. (Israelis get almost five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.)
Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel. Israeli human rights groups relentlessly stand up for Palestinians. Israeli women volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through. Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Israeli scholars have published research that undermines their own nation’s mythologies. Many Israeli journalists have been fair-minded toward Palestinians in a way that Arab journalists have rarely reciprocated.
All told, the most persuasive indictments of Israeli actions come from Israelis themselves. This scrupulous honesty and fairness toward Israel’s historic enemies is a triumph of humanity.
In short, there are many Israels. When American presidential candidates compete this year to be “pro-Israeli,” let’s hope that they clarify that the one they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness — and peace.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, and join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof.
One of the more interesting aspects of this piece is that the “good” Israel is the human rights movements that criticize Israeli policy as opposed to the militants who fight for their perceived rights. The resounding silence of this piece is the unfortunate asymmetry of this particular phenomenon. If we apply the same standards to the Palestinians, there is scarcely a trace of a “good” Palestine, of groups that even care about the human rights of Palestinians, much less of Israelis. It’s actually quite cruel of Kristoff to praise Israel for its most severe critics and not even mention the grotesque absence of a self-critical culture among the Palestinians. Once again, Palestinian victims, Israeli aggressors, and the one bright light from Israel, those Israelis who fight Israeli aggression.
Here is Steinberg’s response:
Response to Nicolas Kristof´s op-ed “The Two Israels”
Letter to the Editor
New York Times
In his oped, Nicolas Kristof (June 22, “The Two Israels”) illustrates the danger of the “halo effect” that surrounds many powerful non-governmental organizations, which use distorted human rights claims to promote ideological agendas. While otherwise very professional journalists question and independently verify the claims of governments, corporations, and others, the statements of groups that assert moral objectives tend to be taken at face value. In this article, Kristof extols B’tselem and Machsom Watch (the women who “volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through”). As documented by NGO Monitor, both are political organizations based in Israel that have appropriated human rights rhetoric for partisan goals, mix fact with fiction, and grossly distort history in order to promote their private agendas.
For example, Kristof repeats the simplistic statements of these NGOs regarding Hebron – a city of immense religious and historical importance to the Jewish people – without mentioning the impact of the 1929 massacre and expulsion of the entire Jewish community. A limited return to this historic city was only possible after 1967. Since this context is inconvenient for promoting B’tselem’s political objectives, which would mean again removing the Jewish population from Hebron, these political activists focus instead on one-sided human rights allegations in which Palestinians are always victims, and Israel is always the oppressor.
Seduced by the “halo effect”, Kristof uses B’tselem’s very narrow window to strip the wider context and sell his own interpretation of the conflict and strip it of the wider context. Following B’tselem’s lead, Kristof also ignores the human rights violations of Jewish Israelis in Hebron, including the murder of a 10 month old baby – Shalhevet Pas by a Palestinian sniper. And claims regarding the impact of Israel’s separation barrier and checkpoints completely erases the fact that hundreds or perhaps thousands of Israeli lives that have been spared by preventing the entry of suicide bombers. This is also a primary human rights issue, which the activists in B’tselem and Machsom Watch find inconvenient, and which no human rights group has documented using video cameras.
Expropriating human rights rhetoric for partisan claims, erasing the context and complexity of conflict situations, and applying human rights exclusively to one side of a conflict is morally unacceptable. Such biased approaches from NGOs have severely undermined the ethical foundations and credibility of human rights, which are by definition universal and must be applied equally.
UPDATE: Superb analysis at Shrinkwrapped:
The combination of journalistic self-perceptions as courageous defenders and advocates for the weak and helpless, along with their intolerance of seeing themselves as fearful dupes and useful idiots, suggests that attempting to introduce historic data, attempting reasoned arguments, or even confronting them with overt Pallywood artifice, is most akin to slowly chipping away at a dam with the hope that someday soon the walls will be breached and something more akin to the truth will come rushing out. Perhaps the blogosphere, with its real-time fact checking and its army of amateur journalists and commentators, will eventually prevail, but for now, it is the Nicolas Kristofs and the New York Times editors who determine the daily story line and narrative and they will not give up their power to shape perceptions easily.