Harper’s Magazine and the Palestinian Question

In response to Harper’s “The Palestinian Question”:

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To the Editor of Harper’s:

The article “The Palestinian Question” by Alex and Stephen Shalom is riddled with distortions, lack of context, selective omission, and outright factual inaccuracy.



The article presents the Palestinian refugees as a problem created by Israel: “The occupying Israelis, moreover, were not content to simply block the emergence of a Palestinian state; they wanted also to expel as many Palestinians as possible.”

In fact, there is great evidence that Arabs who fled did so of their own accord. On October 2, 1948, the London Economist reported this eyewitness account:

“There is little doubt that the most potent of the factors [in the flight] were the announcements made over the air by the Arab Higher Executive urging all Arabs in Haifa to quit… And it was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”

Even the Jordanian daily Falastin wrote on February 19, 1949: “The Arab states… encouraged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.”

I ask: Why would you allow such factual inaccuracies to appear in your publication?

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Shalom’s article echoes the Palestinian call for the “right of return,” emphasizing that “the U.N. General Assembly has regularly reaffirmed its 1948 resolution endorsing the right of refugees to return to their homes.”

However, the article fails to convey that the influx of 3.7 million people Palestinians represents a call for the demographic overrunning of Israel. This violates Resolution 194 which conditions the refugees’ return on willingness to “live at peace with their neighbors.”

Moreover, the article omits the fact that General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, nor part of the corpus of international law. The only binding resolutions are UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Resolution 242 affirms the need for a “settlement of the refugee problem,” but never mentions any “right of return.”

Further, in a blatant distortion of facts, the article speak of “Israeli settlements — whose presence even the United States government has always considered a violation of international law…”

Not true! The Clinton administration pointedly avoided calling the settlements “a violation of international law,” referring to them instead as “an obstacle to peace.”

Further, Ronald Reagan said: “As far as I read 242, the United Nations Resolution, the West Bank was to remain open to all — the Palestinians, the Jews, the Christians…” (Christian Science Monitor, 04 April 80)

Though the Harper’s article is an “opinion piece,” this article was approved by your editors, and I question why you chose to print such blatant propaganda in your publication.