Blogs > HNN > Round 2 of What Historians are Up Against

Mar 4, 2005 5:18 am

Round 2 of What Historians are Up Against

thanks to the readers who commented on this (and excuse the informal lack of caps in this posting). i see that one of the commenters, mr. lopescu, is saying that khalidi has "called" for the killing of israeli soldiers. that is not what the sun said, if i remember the article correctly, and much more important, that's not what khalidi said. as far as i can tell, the accusation stems from a speech he made in 2002 in dc where he said, according to a transcript of the audio that i cannot verify, but which the sun (a paper i am familiar with) quoted, the following statement:

'Killing civilians is a war crime. It's a violation of international law. They are not soldiers. They're civilians, they're unarmed. The ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that's different. That's resistance.'"

now, if this is the offending text, then the sun has a big problem here of serious misrepresentation. to begin with, can someone please document for me prof. khalidi 'calling' for or 'supporting' the killing of israelis soldiers? that would mean he said "i call on palestinians to..." or "i urge palestinians to..." or "i hope that palestinians will... kill israeli soldiers."

if not, then what we have here is a situation where khalidi is neither calling for nor condoning killing soldiers. what he is doing is explaining that there is a major moral and legal difference bt resistance fighters killing soldiers and killing civilians. this is absolutely true. i'm happy to be proven wrong, but my understanding of international law is that it is an accepted part of the laws of war that occupied people have the right to use violence against the occupying army to resist occupation. in fact, the US has supported this policy innumerable times when it suits its interest (remember afghanistan? kuwait?).

now i am a pacifist. i morally reject the killing of israeli soldiers by palestinians or american soldiers by iraqis even if they have a legal /customary or whatever right they want to claim to do so. not to mention i think it's a strategic and political disaster to have used violence against a vastly superior force without having exhausted all political and social means of resistance first. but this does not change the fact that there is a moral and legal difference between killing civilians and 'lawful combatants'. unless someone can tell me differently, however distasteful we might find the action, a palestinian or iraqi who kills an israeli or american soldier in uniform and in the theatre of war is not violating the laws of war, whereas a suicide bombing of a civilian bus, for example, clearly does that. killing occupying soldiers is clearly an act of 'resistance'. we might not want a particular occupied people to resist their occupation, or at least use violence to do so, but that doesn't mean their doing so isn't 'resistance'.

as to the wineburg article, it would appear that adam moshe and i did read very different articles, as his piece clearly makes a generalization that liberal teachers who have no training are a major percentage of the teaching pool. if they weren't, then why write the article? the piece only has news value to the extent it represents a real problem, which it only does if a lot of teachers fit this category, which they don't.

here is the paragraph that seals my argument, as wineburg argues:

"Lack of knowledge encourages another bad habit among history teachers: a tendency to disparage "facts," an eagerness to unshackle students from the "dominant discourse" — and to teach them, instead, what the teacher views as "the Truth." What's scary is the certainty with which this "Truth" is often held. Rather than debating why the United States entered Vietnam or signed the North American Free Trade Agreement or brokered a Camp David accord, all roads lead to the same point: our government's desire to oppress the less powerful. It is a version of history that conjures up a North Korean reeducation camp rather than a democratic classroom."

now the insinuation here is clearly that it is left wing teachers who want to indoctrinate students into anti-americanism based on a tenuous version of the truth. otherwise why is his example vietnam and nafta and "our government's desire to oppress the less powerful"? and of course, north korea is communist--the far left, which is opposed to some mythical "democratic classroom" where reason -- or at least bill bennett's or lynne cheney's version of it -- prevails over liberal looseness with the truth. it is here winebug is attacking a straw man and he should know better.

finally, as for the idea that using the term 'racist' is inflammatory and therefore khalidi is being irresponsible in using it, the reality is that whether you define the treatment of palestinians as racist or discriminatory or exclusivist, the absolute reality is that the treatment of palestinians by the israeli state has been horrendous for 35 years. to say that this is not true, as some commenters do, is to speak an untruth, plain and simple. i have seen too much of the daily horrors of the occupation with my own eyes, and so have too many israelis, americans, europeans, not to mention palestinians, who have reported and documented it over and over and over to still be contestable. indeed, it is a sad fact that today, on a history website, we have to even debate how bad israel has treated palestinians throughout its history and continues to do so today.

but denial is not going to change the reality, and until more americans and israelis (but certainly more of the former than the latter, since the israeli press is generally pretty good about letting israelis know what is going on in the territories) understand how bad this reality has been and continues to be, then the conflict and the violence will continue. this doesn't mean that palestinians don't do horrible things to israelis and shouldn't be condemned for doing so, but one doesn't cancel the other; rather both reinforce each other.

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