Independent Arabia profiles a ‘good Jew’: an anti-Zionist and convert to Islam

Out of all Uri Davis’s diverse activities against Zionism and the Jewish state, carefully listed in the profile by his sycophantic interlocutor Khalil Mousa, why did Independent Arabia editors choose to put his conversion to Islam in the sub-headline, as the first detail about Davis their readers are exposed to? 

The subject of Independent Arabia’s new fawning profile piece, published last week by the website’s proFatah West Bank correspondent Khalil Mousa, is anti-Zionist professor and activist Uri Davis:

(All translations, emphases and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified)

“A MEMBER OF FATAH’S LEADERSHIP, OF JEWISH ORIGIN, CALLS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PALESTINIAN STATE

“Uri Davis has converted to Islam and got arrested several times because of his opposition to Zionism

“An anti-Zionist fighter of Jewish origin, Uri Davis was born in 1943 Jerusalem to Jewish immigrant parents. He was raised in the Kefar Shemaryahu colony [Arabic: Musta’mara مستعمرة], “built on the lands of a Palestinian village which was forcibly displaced in the Nakba of 1948, roughly 40 years prior to his admission to the Fatah movement as a professor and researcher in UK universities. He converted to Islam following his marriage to Palestinian Maysara Abu-‘Ali.

[…]

“Uri agreed to compulsory military service as a nurse in the Israeli army, on the condition he would be exempted from military training. Due to frictions he had with the army authorities, he later transferred to do civil service in one of the settlements [Arabic: Mustawtanat مستوطنات] adjacent to the Gaza Strip [Kibbutz Erez, between 1961-1963]. After having completed his civil service episode, in the 1960s [1964-1965] he led a confronting campaign against the governmental ‘Judaization of Galilee’ settler-colonialist [Arabic: Istitani إستيطاني] project. He then organized solidarity demonstrations with Upper Galilee villages Deir al-Asad, Bi’neh and Nahf, protesting against the expropriation of their private lands to establish the new settler-colonialist [Arabic: Istitani إستيطاني] city of Karmi’el. For about a year, Uri resided in Deir al-Asad and continued his campaign alongside several [people] of Jewish origin whose conscious remained alive in Israel, against the expropriation of these villages’ lands and with villagers’ participation.”

[…]

“In 1974 he began working as a university professor in a British university, all while [facing] a difficulty to find a position in Israel ‘because of his [i.e. my] anti-Zionist history’, according to what he tells ‘Independent Arabia’.

“In 1984 he participated in the meetings of the [Palestinian] National Council as a member-observer. [This was] in order to espouse his point of view, that ‘Israel is a state of racial segregation – it is imperative that its regime will be dismantled, and that one democratic state with equal rights to all, modelled after South Africa, will be established.’ He subsequently joined the Fatah movement and established the ‘Jerusalem Peace Services’ company in the UK to secretly fund Fatah, employing anti-Zionist Jews there […]. The company worked to organize tours to the displaced Palestinian villages for Britons in order to expose and shame [Arabic: Fadh فضح] the Zionist project, demonstrating how the Israeli cities and villages were built on the ruins of Palestinian villages and towns.

“Uri says he has reached the conclusion that ‘armed struggle is legitimate, alongside the civilian struggle, both inside Israel and outside it.’

“Currently holding the position of Deputy Commissioner General for Foreign Relations in the Fatah movement, Uri demands ‘the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes, from which they were displaced’, adding that they are ‘victims of the Zionist project whose redress must be [obtained] via international courts, not Israeli ones’. He indicates that ‘most Israelis live illegally on land that is not theirs’, adding that ‘Palestine will not be liberated in a decisive strike but in a cumulative, phased manner’. This anti-Zionist man considers the Oslo Accords one of these phases, within [the framework of] PLO’s 1974 ‘ten points’ program, which began with the recognition of the PLO as a sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and got as far as Palestine receiving a non-member state [status] in the United Nations. Regarding the implications of Israel annexing the [Jordan] Valley, Uri says it will make up ‘the final nail in the coffin of the peace process that is based on UNSC Resolution 242, which calls for Israel’s withdrawal to what’s behind the June 4th, 1967 lines.’”

As an alternative, this member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council suggests the establishment of a federal Palestinian state under Palestinian sovereignty from the river to the sea with two components [Arabic: Wilaya ولاية], one Jewish and one Arab, and Jerusalem as a special territory under UN administration, based on the 181 partition decision issued by the UN General Assembly. He adds that international law has considered the State of Palestine ‘a sovereign state’ from the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne until now.

Uri explained that this solution is achievable only if pursued gradually, [starting] by defining Israel as a state based on racial segregation in the United Nations, insisting that ‘there is no future to regimes of racial segregation, and that Israel has [so far] hampered its labeling as a state of racial segregation using lies and deceipt.’”

As we’re about to show, Independent Arabia’s Uri Davis item is rather a 700-words hagiography of a rabid anti-Zionist “Fathawi” (a Fatah member), rather than a professional journalistic profile about a political figure of interest:

Biased terminology and tone

The first indication of bias is found in the radical and unusual terminology Mousa, the writer, and his editors use throughout his “news report”, starting from its very headline.

Thus, the “Palestinian state” that Davis calls to be established in the headline is rather different from the internationally familiar concept of such a future state: “A federal Palestinian state under Palestinian sovereignty from the river to the sea with two components [Arabic: Wilaya ولاية], one Jewish and one Arab, and Jerusalem as a special territory under UN administration”.

This is, in fact, a more honest version of the well-known bi-national/one state solution. What makes it honest are two additional pre-conditions, seldom uttered by other advocates of the solution: that even the Jewish component of the one state would be subjugated to “Palestinian sovereignty”, and that the state itself would be entirely “Palestinian”.  Should these two conditions be met, the only conceivable outcome from the local Jews’ perspective is barring them from exerting their collective right of self-determination wihtin any part of their homeland, effectively (“Palestinian sovereignty”) as well as formally (“Palestinian state”). Superficially calling this a proposal in favor of “a Palestinian state” is misleading, even to those among Independent Arabia readers who are more inclined to support the idea of Greater Palestine.

Similarly, Mousa’s remarks about “Uri”’s biography and views, alongside the indirect quotes he attributes to Davis, all categorically adopt a terminology that denies Israel’s right to existin any boundaries, in the exact same spirit of what Davis repeatedly preaches for – in his indirect and direct quotes as they are brought throughout the item, and elsewhere as well.

Namely, Kefar Shemaryahu, Karmi’el, Kibbutz Erez and the rest of the communities near the Gaza Strip are all located inside the 1949 armistice lines; nevertheless, Mousa’s use of Arabic labels “Mustawtana”,”Istitani” and “Musta’mara” to describe their pre-1967 existence proves that none of them are any less “colonialist” in his view than in Davis’s – with the latter even explicitly stating that “most Israelis [i.e. most Jewish Israelis] live illegally on land that is not theirs”.

Additionally, it is Mousa who refers to Davis’s 1964-1965 campaign partners as “several [people] of Jewish origin whose conscience didn’t die in Israel”. By using this phrasing, Mousa suggests that the conscience of most Jews living in early 1960s Israel did die (hence their indifference to Arabs allegedly being oppressed); he even goes as far as implying that those with a functioning conscience cannot be Jews themselves but merely “of Jewish origin”, contrary to the way several of the participants described  themselves back then.

Mousa also articulates the purpose of Davis’s tours, which he organized from London beginning in the 1980s, as follows: “to expose and shame [Arabic: Fadh فضح] the Zionist project, demonstrating how the Israeli cities and villages were built on the ruins of Palestinian villages and towns.”, once more unable to distinguish between Davis’s opinions to his own.

On this background, it is also easier to decipher a call made last March by Mousa himself on his professional twitter account, linked from his Independent Arabia author webpage: to abolish “the Zionist project”, as he calls it, through a long-term nonviolent struggle – aiming to establish one state from the river to the sea and to follow the Palestinian demand to “return”.

Factual errors made by Mousa

Apart of the problematic conflation of the points of view of the interviewer/writer on one hand and his interviewee/subject of writing on the other, the item also contains several falsehoods, untrue even according to its own inner anti-Zionist “logic”:

Mousa posits that Davis “was raised in the Kefar Shemaryahu colony, built on the lands of a Palestinian village which was forcibly displaced in the Nakba of 1948”; However, the truth is that the community of Kefar Shemaryahu was established in 1937. Even according to Davis’s own autobiography (pp.24-25), the Davis family could not have built their house on top of a 1948-displaced Palestinian village, since his father bought the land in 1939 and began living there in 1943, with the rest of the family joining him not long after. Kefar Shemaryahu only expanded onto the deserted lands of the nearby displaced Arab village after the 1948 war.

Interestingly, Davis claims that his childhood house was, at least up to the publication date of his autobiography in 1990, the “only one place I can genuinely call home”. One can only wonder what Mousa, perhaps unable to fathom a single Jewish-immigrant community anywhere in “historic Palestine” as anything but a “colony” that is “built on” Palestinian lands, would say about the legitimacy of such a claimed “home” – even if it was built before 1948.

Contrary to what Mousa’s report indicates by calling the city “settler-colonialist”, Davis didn’t oppose building Karmi’el in the 1960s. According to researcher Shiela H. Katz, quoting activist Maxime Kaufmann-Nunn, he only campaigned against the appropriation of specific olive groves for the city’s construction, offering nearby lands (whose ownership Katz didn’t specify) as an alternative.

Mousa mistakenly quotes Davis as if he proposed, in 1984, a “one democratic” state “modeled after South Africa”, when the South African apartheid system was still in practice and the political structure that ultimately succeeded it was yet to be created.

Admittedly, by the mid-1980s the false and malevolent analogy between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa was already an integral part of the post-colonial and pro-Soviet radical discourse. It is likely, therefore, that rather than suggesting a “South African”-style solution, Davis’s 1984 speech was in favor of aligning the PLO’s strategy with that of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, i.e. campaigning to completely dismantle their rivals’ regime in the name of racial justice while preparing to take over the disputed territory in its entirety.

Also noteworthy is the fact that at the time, both PLO and ANC officially reserved the right to engage in an armed struggle against anyone whom they considered to be a part of the mechanism of oppression they were aiming to destroy, meanwhile making the distinction between civilian and non-civilian targets quite blurry.

Unasked questions and uncontextualised quotes

As it turns out, the objective of the Uri Davis profile piece is not journalistic in the Western sense of the word, challenging neither the positions of Davis nor those of its perceived readers (except, perhaps, their anti-Semitic sentiment, by exposing them to an anti-Zionist Muslim who was originally a Jew). Once this insight is taken into account, it is hardly surprising that Mousa averted contextualising or criticising Davis’s quotes the way that a knowledgeable, or at least responsible, journalist would have. After all, this is something that even English speaking media outlets haven’t always done when covering Davis.

Nevertheless, a few of the direct and indirect quotes that Mousa attributes to Davis do justify a critical review:

“Armed struggle is legitimate, alongside the civilian struggle, both inside Israel and outside it” – Mousa did not specify whether Davis, a registered Fatah member, thinks it’s permissible for the armed struggle, fought “both inside Israel and outside it”, to target civilians.

“’Palestine will not be liberated in a decisive strike but in a cumulative, phased manner’ […Davis] considers the Oslo Accords one of these phases, within [the framework of] PLO’s 1974 ‘ten points’ program, which began with the recognition of the PLO as a sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and got [as far as] Palestine receiving a non-member state [status] in the United Nations. Regarding the implications of Israel annexing the [Jordan] Valley, Uri says it will make up ‘the final nail in the coffin of the peace process that is based on UNSC Resolution 242 […]’” – Whether speaking here as a Fatah foreign relations official or as an observer under the pretense of “neutrality”, it takes a special kind of hypocrisy on Davis’s behalf to make these two statements at the same time:

1. That the Oslo Accords, together with the international recognition gradually granted to the PLO for several decades as the representative of Palestinians, are to be seen as phases in Palestine’s liberation process – having been in accordance with PLO’s 1974 “ten points” program all along.

It should be emphasized that the program: opposes UNSC Resolution 242 (which the Oslo Accords themselves refer to as a basis for a two-sided “permanent settlement”); maintains that PLO’s final aim is the “liberation of all Palestinian territory” (i.e. entire Israel); and views every concession granted to the PLO by Israel and/or the international community as an instrument to reach an improved position in order to raise further demands in future negotiations – with the objective of Israel’s elimination always in sight.

The program also includes the PLO employing “all means, first and foremost armed struggle, to liberate Palestinian territory and to establish the independent combatant national authority for the people over every part of Palestinian territory that is liberated”. It therefore reserves the PLO’s right to exert violent and non-violent measures interchangeably – based on whatever promotes the “liberation” of more “Palestinian territory” at any given circumstances.

2. That it is Israel who’s to blame for finalizing the failure of the 242-based peace process, due to its prime minister’s intention to annex the Jordan Valley should he be re-elected. Again, Davis says this while observing that the PLO has operated for decades within the framework of a program that has been opposing UNSC Resolution 242 from the very beginning!

Of course, Mousa did not draw the readers’ attention to this obvious contradiction in Davis’s analysis.

“UNSC Resolution 242, which calls for Israel’s withdrawal to what’s behind the June 4th, 1967 lines” – UNSC Resolution 242 does not, in fact, calls for Israel’s withdrawal from all that’s beyond the June 4th, 1967 lines.  As a CAMERA-prompted 2017 NPR clarification correctly put it:

“[…] while it [the Resolution] calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from “territories occupied” during the 1967 war, the resolution does not list the territories or specifically say forces must be withdrawn from all of them.”

Furthermore, the Resolution does call for “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” – a demand of equal validity and magnitude on behalf of the international community that Mousa overlooked completely when editing Davis’s quote, whether he mentioned it or not.

Lastly, after having learned quite a bit about the life and views of “a Palestinian Hebrew national of Jewish origin, anti-Zionist, registered as Muslim and a citizen of an apartheid state – the State of Israel”, as Davis refers to himself, there is still one remaining issue we wonder about:  Out of all Uri Davis’s diverse activities against Zionism and the Jewish state, carefully listed in the profile by his sycophantic interlocutor Khalil Mousa, why did Independent Arabia editors choose to put his conversion to Islam in the sub-headline, as the first detail about Davis their readers are exposed to? 

Is that what earns him the most pro-Palestinian credentials in their view? If so, what does it say about Arab public opinion? Or about the way it views Jews (and, more broadly, Westerners) aspiring to become a genuine part of the Greater Palestine project, allegedly “with equal rights to all”, and yet do not wish to become Muslims?

A mystery indeed.

Research and writing by CAMERA Arabic.  Edited by UK Media Watch.

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