"History Isn't on Palestinians' Side"
The Wall Street Journal - April 2, 2002
For all the efforts of our contemporary theorists to harness and sometimes refashion
history, the facts of the past belong to no one -- and won't go away. Those who
conjure it up often discover to their dismay that they themselves are subject to its
brutal laws of truth. The Palestinians are fast learning of history's ironies and
unintended reminders, as they seek to invoke the past to convince Americans of the
righteousness of their present plight.
Take the idea of the occupation of Arab lands
since 1967, which the Palestinians now cite as a singular historical grievance that
needs immediate rectification through intervention of the U.S. But sadly occupation
and partition are the bastard children of war; and history, rightly or wrongly, is not
kind to states that repeatedly attack their neighbors -- and lose.
History's Harsh Calculus
Ask the millions of poor Germans who had their ancestral lands confiscated
by Poland and France -- and their country subsequently partitioned for a half century.
Why do the Russians still occupy portions of the old Japanese homeland decades
after the surrender? How is it that the British won't give up Gibraltar long after their
successful battles against the Spanish fleet? And why must the world give far more
attention to Palestine than it does to Tibetans, Irish and Chechens?
The situation on the West Bank is not only commonplace in history's harsh calculus, but prevalent
even throughout the Arab world today. Right next door in Lebanon, Syria controls far
more Arab land than does Israel. And if Palestinians suffer second-class citizenship
under Israeli occupation, they are worse off in occupied Lebanon where, as helots,
they are denied basic rights to employment, health care and government services.
Kuwait ethnically cleansed all Palestinians -- perhaps a third of a million -- just a
decade ago. Well after the 1967 Six Day War, the Jordanians themselves slaughtered
thousands. Before the intifada more Palestinians sought work in a hated Israel than in
a beloved Egypt. History suggests that there is more going on in Palestine than the
morality of occupation.
The Palestinians have turned to suicide bombers -- terrorists
boasting of a new and frightening tactic that cannot be stopped. But they should recall
the kamikazes off Okinawa that brought death, terror and damage to the American
fleet -- before prompting horrific responses that put an end to them for good and a lot
more besides. In general, the record of terrorist bombers -- whether Irish, Basque or
Palestinian -- who seek to reclaim "occupied" lands is not impressive in winning
either material concessions or the hearts and minds of the world.
Palestinian spokesmen decry asymmetrical casualty figures, as if history has ever accorded
moral capital to any belligerents that suffered the greater losses in war. Again, ask
imperial Japan or Nazi Germany whether the ghosts of millions of their dead today
carry moral weight when their governments once sought war against their neighbors.

Deliberately trying to blow apart civilians will never be seen as the moral equivalent
of noncombatants dying as a result of the street fighting in the West Bank. Afghans
accidentally killed by errant bombing in Kandahar are different from those deliberately
incinerated on Sept. 11. Somalis killed in Mogadishu by American peacekeepers --
far more civilians dying there in two days than in two years on the West Bank -- are
not the same as those murdered by thugs in jeeps trying to steal food from the
Americans learned in Vietnam and Mogadishu that it is hard to distinguish
civilians from soldiers when gunmen do not always wear uniforms and take potshots
from the windows of homes: They are real killers when alive, but somehow count as
"civilians" when dead. The problem is not that the Palestinians are losing more than
the Israelis due to their greater victimhood or morality, but rather that they find
themselves losing very badly to a military far more adept at fighting.
Nor do the Palestinians' cries for justice exist in an historical vacuum. True, the current
Arab-Israeli war -- at least the fourth since 1948 -- is fought over the West Bank;
but that is only because the theater of operations has changed somewhat since the
Arab world lost the first three wars to destroy Israel proper. Less than two years ago,
Yasser Arafat was offered almost all of the West Bank and would now be the
unquestioned strongman of his own tribal fiefdom had he taken such a generous
Israeli offer. His own scheming and the intifada -- not Israeli extremism -- brought
back to him his old nemesis, Ariel Sharon.
Again, the problem for the Palestinians is not that Americans are ignorant of the historical
complexities of the Middle East, but that we know them only too well.
Palestinian spokesmen give us moralistic lectures
about remaining disinterested as "honest brokers" -- even as they appeal to Arab
anti-Semitism and racial solidarity on grounds of national, religious and ethnic
empathy. That double standard puzzles America, because by any such measure we
also find affinity in shared values, and so have almost none with the Palestinians,
who, like the entire Arab world, do not embrace real democracy, free speech, open
media and religious diversity.
Nor is it good public relations for illegitimate
dictatorships of the Arab League to shake fingers at democracies in America and
Israel on issues of equality and fairness. The problem is not that the Palestinians
object to the idea of displaying preferences per se, but that their own biases and
prejudices have so little appeal to Americans.
We are told that the Palestinians have a long memory of, and reverence for, the past -
- especially the injustice of 50 years of lost homelands. But Americans are not ahistorical.
We remember Sept. 11, and the Palestinians who cheered our dead before being admonished by a terrified Arafat.
For the last three decades Palestinian terrorists and their sponsoring brotherhoods have
murdered Americans abroad. Palestinians embraced Saddam Hussein's cause and
clapped as Scuds plunged into Tel Aviv and blew apart American soldiers in Saudi
Arabia. An entrapped Arafat now calls for American succor, but a few months ago
scoffed that the U.S. was irrelevant as far as he was concerned. The problem, again,
is not that Americans have forgotten Palestinian acts, but that we remember them all
too well.
The Arab world warns of its martial prowess and deadly anger -- as American
flags burn, threats to kill us are issued, and "the street" shakes its collective fist. But
we Americans remember 1967, when we gave almost no weapons to the Israelis --
but the Russians supplied lots of sophisticated arms to the Arabs. In the Six Day
War, the state radio networks of Syria, Egypt and Jordan boasted to the world that
their triumphant militaries were nearing Tel Aviv even as their frightened elites
pondered abandoning Damascus, Cairo and Amman. And we recall the vaunted
Egyptian air force in 1967, the invincible Syrian jets over Lebanon, the Mother of All
Battles -- and the Republican Guard that proved about as fearsome as Xerxes'
Immortals at Thermopylae.
Peace After Defeat
A beleaguered Arafat now wildly works
his Rolodex for support for his autocracy. But history answers cruelly that strongmen
in their bunkers are as impotent as they are loquacious -- and as likely to receive
disdain as pity. Moammar Gadhafi was a different man after the American air strike
proved his military worthless and his person no longer sacrosanct. The rhetoric of the
Taliban in September promised death; in October they and their minions went silent.
In wars against bombers and terrorists, the past teaches us that peace comes first
through their defeat -- not out of negotiations among supposedly well-meaning
We all would prefer, and should strive for, peaceful relations with the
Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Syrians -- and all the other 20-something
dictatorships, theocracies, and monarchies of the Middle East -- as well as a state for
the Palestinians. But the day is growing late; our patience is now exhausted; and
sadly an hour of reckoning is nearing for all us all. The problem is, you see, that we
know their history far better than they do.
Mr. Hanson, a military historian, is author
most recently of "Carnage and Culture" (Doubleday, 2002).

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