On February 26, 2015, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed in the New York Times called “The Human Stain” that was more than flawed- it was wrong; it was more than anti-Israel, it was anti-Semitic.
Among the many incorrect and racist statements were his claims that the “West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” were Arab. Here are some quick thoughts about his statement that “nibbling of Arab land is just plain wrong.”
Judean Desert down to the Jordan Valley
The west bank of the Jordan and eastern Jerusalem are not part of the Arabian Peninsula. That landmass is located east of Israel. The borders of the region are surrounded by water on three sides (the peninsula) and the northwestern edge of Saudi Arabia is the land border.
The countries that constitute the Arab land in addition to Saudi Arabia are: Oman; Kuwait; UAE; Bahrain; Qatar; and Yemen. The Arabian Plate on which the peninsula rests includes parts of southern Jordan and southern Iraq.
Neither the Arabian Peninsula nor the Arabian plate cross the Jordan River, hence there is no geographical basis for referring to any land west of the Jordan as “Arab Land.”
The “Arab Nation” spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th and 8th centuries when Muslim invasion of neighboring lands brought Islam and Arabs to those areas. Those Muslim conquests brought Arabs to southern Spain called Andalusia. No one refers to Spain as Arab land today.
The Arab countries formed a “League of Arab States” which includes 22 countries. That group is political in nature and does not speak to the actual people and culture of the countries. For example, Syria was suspended from the League in 2011 due to its civil war. Palestine was admitted as a member in 1945 (the entire British Mandate of Palestine which includes Israel today) even though it was not an independent country.
To refer to the west bank of the Jordan as “Arab” because Palestine is a member state would also mean that Israel is an Arab state. Is that part of Kristof’s real message? Does he feel that Israel is not a valid entity and is occupying “Arab land”?
A “Land” is distinguishable from lowercase “land” in that one conveys sovereignty and ownership. The land on the west bank of the Jordan River is disputed land without independent sovereignty. Israel administers the land after Jordan attacked Israel in 1967 and subsequently lost the territory. Jordan gave up all claims to the land in 1988, including “East Jerusalem”. “Arab East Jerusalem” in capital letters makes no sense in any interpretation as sovereignty and administration belongs to Israel (albeit not recognized in much of the world) but the eastern part of the city is also not recognized, nor under sovereignty of Arabs, nor part of the Arab peninsula, and is 40% Jewish.
While many Palestinian Arabs claim the west bank of the Jordan as part of a future state and “East Jerusalem” as such state’s capital, the rule of the land is still in negotiations. As of this date, the land is much more Israeli than it is Palestinian.
Liberals and progressives typically argue that no land should be the exclusive right of a single racial or religious group. No one refers to “White Selma” where only whites can live or “Black Harlem” where only blacks should be permitted to live.
While people refer to the Islamic State of Iran, Iran claims that it welcomes people of all faiths. Israel, the Jewish State, is 25% non-Jewish. Turkey, which is a secular Islamic state, is mostly non-Arab but has many Arabs living in the country.
Not only is the west bank of the Jordan not “Arab”, but the suggestion that it should be limited only to Arabs is racist and anti-Semitic. That policy was put into place under the Jordanian Arabs that attacked Israel in 1948 and expelled all of the Jews from the area including the eastern part of Jerusalem, counter the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Land ultimately falls into two categories: private land and public land. Private land changes hands with the owner and is not considered to belong forever to a particular religion or people. One day it may be owned by an Arab, the next day by a Jew and the next by a WASP.
Public lands are administered by the government. As discussed above, the west bank of the Jordan is administered by Israel. The eastern part of Jerusalem was annexed by Israel decades ago.
Therefore neither the west bank of the Jordan River nor “East Jerusalem” can be considered “Arab land.”
For 400 years the Ottomans ruled Palestine and allowed Jews to live everywhere without restriction. They lived in Jericho and Jerusalem and throughout the region. The Ottomans welcomed the Yemenite Jews who founded Silwan in the eastern part of Jerusalem just outside the city walls in 1881 – in what Kristof terms “Arab East Jerusalem.”
The international community gave the British the Mandate to govern Palestine in 1922, in which it specifically stated that the entire mandate – including Kristof’s “Arab West Bank” – “shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes” (Article 6). The mandate further stated in Article 15 “No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief”.
Silwan, in the eastern part of Jerusalem, founded by Yemenite Jews in 1881
Countering the Bible
As detailed above, there is no basis for naming places “Arab West Bank” or “Arab East Jerusalem”. To claim that any land inherently belongs to a single group is a direct lift from the Old Testament in which God gives the land of Canaan to the Jews. Jews have always considered the entire land holy for that reason. Modern claims that part of that land is inherently Arab (and not Jewish) is done to specifically counter the Bible and any Jewish claim to the land.
Of course, the Jewish faith that asserts that the land is holy has nothing to do with sovereignty or private ownership. Jews have always considered the land holy, even in 1400 when they had no sovereignty, and Jews today who do not own land in Israel. The land is holy to Jews, which motivates many Jews to move there.
Kristof’s claim that this specific land (the “West Bank” which didn’t even exist as an entity or term until recently) is Arab is meant to directly confront the Jewish belief that the land was given to Jews by God. Just as the Times never uses the Jewish terminology of “Judea and Samaria” to remove Jewish connection to this land, Kristof attempts to sever the Jewish connection by stating it is inherently “Arab”. It is wrong in fact and intention.
Jews have always and will always consider Judea and Samaria/ the west Bank of the Jordan as holy regardless of its sovereignty, or the religion and ethnicity of a person living in a house on the land. Such sentiments do not preclude any type of peace deal.
Kristof wrote that “The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank — not even counting those in Arab East Jerusalem — impede any Middle East peace and stain Israel’s image,” can only be viewed as an obstacle to peace for racists that want a Jew-free state.
Attacking the Jewish faith is not a path to peace. Antisemitic calls for banning Jews from anywhere – let alone places they consider holy and lived in for thousands of years – is disgraceful. The “Human Stain” is Kristof’s and those that share such sentiments.