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Attack on Hanan Ashrawi unfair

Daoud Kuttab responds to Shlomi Eldar’s criticism of the PLO Executive Committee member, urging the Israeli columnist to address the occupation instead of attacking a Palestinian figure defending the rights of her people.
Prominent Palestinian human rights advocate hanan Ashrawi is protected by a Palestinians who tries to keep Israeli riot police from pushing her during scuffles which broke out May 27 at the Ras Al-Amud settlement complex under construction in Arab East Jerusalem. Israeli police say they had to use force to prevent the Palestinian demonstrators from pushing their way into the construction site during a demonstration against the continuing building restarted after months of suspension.


A man was once labeled a terrorist and held in a South African prison. He and his people appealed to the world for an end to the apartheid regime ruling his country, but the world’s governments failed to respond. They appealed to the world's citizenry and to private companies, asking them to divest from South Africa, and to people of concence, asking that they boycott the racist regime.

The life of this extraordinary man, Nelson Mandela, was honored during a weeklong celebration leading up to his funeral. Among those praising him were Israeli leaders, including President Shimon Peres, who were intimate supporters of Mandela's jailers and his people's oppressors. South Africans became free when people took action against the racist regime and put enough pressure on it to force it to change course. 

I was thinking about this as I read the paternalistic Al-Monitor column by Shlomi Eldar from Dec. 16, in which he criticizes Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi for sending a letter to NBC protesting a television series to be filmed in occupied East Jerusalem, focusing primarily on Jewish sites at the so-called City of David excavations.

In line with all paternalistic attacks on people fighting for their people’s rights, Eldar's begins with a paragraph praising Ashrawi for being articulate, speaking good English and at times embarrassing Israelis who appear against her on news programs. The “some of my best friends are …” attitude is so typical of such superiority. Look at every speech, article and essay in similar circumstances and you will find the same opening.

Eldar, who clearly has never genuinely followed what Ashrawi says or writes, makes the false claim that she only started using such terms as “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” after the PLO applied for statehood at the United Nations in 2012. It only takes a simple Google search of “Hanan Ashrawi” and “ethnic cleansing” to find more than 61,000 items, including a speech Ashrawi gave in South Africa in 2001 during the UN World Conference Against Racism, in which she used both “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.” The latter term also has a large number of entries, including a 2004 television interview with PBS.

On NPR’s "Morning Edition" July 14, 2000, Ashrawi was quoted  as saying, “The more you maintain settlements in the West Bank, the more areas of friction you have. … You are creating not only a situation of volatility, you are creating an apartheid system: two sets of people on the same land subject to two sets of law, with Israeli extraterritoriality in the West Bank.” 

In 2001 on CNN, Ashrawi and disgraced former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer specifically debated Israel's discriminatory policies in the occupied territories. A desperate Spitzer asserted that Israel has a right to the West Bank, but that Prime Minister Bennjamin Netanyahu wants nothing more than to relinquish these lands.

“Apartheid” is certainly a loaded term, but the fact is that discrimination in Palestine does resemble what the white minority did to indigenous black Africans in South Africa. Former US President Jimmy Carter recorded in minute detail how the Israelis are practicing unabashed bias in favoring the illegal settler minority over the majority Palestinian owners of the land.

Eldar’s use of the term “crusade” is reminiscent of radical Islamists who use the same word to attack the West, labeling them "Christian crusaders." In his concluding remarks, the Israeli columnist says Ashrawi’s language might “upset the Israeli public,” and then he finishes with another paternalistic statement: “In other words, she herself is sabotaging the diplomatic process.” 

The point is not whether Ashrawi has changed colors since she became a member of the PLO Executive Committee or since Palestine won UN recognition as a nonmember state, but she simply has not.

If there has been any change in Palestine/Israel, it has been among the Israeli people and peace activists who have failed to prevail over the radical settler movement. As repeatedly asked by Ashrawi herself, what happened to the Israeli peace camp that once stood strong and powerfully against settlements (Peace Now) and massacres (Sabra and Shatila) and for peace (Rabin Square)? Instead of joining the worn out Israeli hasbara (spin) against Ashrawi, Eldar should spend more time looking in the mirror and addressing the decadeslong Israeli occupation and colonization to find who is responsible for the current situation.

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