Next year Finland will assume the EU’s rotating presidency, making Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja a player in the organization’s Middle Eastern policy. Tuomioja’s views are representative of a deeper undercurrent in contemporary European criticism of Israel, one that combines factual ignorance and misconceptions about the Arab-Israeli conflict with latent animosity borne out of the Continent’s millenarian legacy of anti-Semitism.
There is no “wall” between Israel and the West Bank, but rather a security fence not dissimilar to that existing along the Finnish-Russian border. The security fence actually enhances the Roadmap’s chances of success since it envisages the end of Palestinian terrorism as a prerequisite for progress toward peace.
The pan-Arab invasion of the newly proclaimed State of Israel in 1948 had far less to do with winning independence for the indigenous Palestinian population than with the desire of the Arab regimes for territorial aggrandizement. Transjordan’s King Abdullah wanted to incorporate substantial parts of mandatory Palestine; Egypt wanted to lay its hands on southern Palestine. Neither Egypt nor Jordan allowed Palestinian self-determination in the parts of Palestine they had occupied.
Islamists inveigh against the Jewish State of Israel not out of concern for a Palestinian right to national self-determination but as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the “House of Islam.”
Islam’s war for world mastery is a traditional, indeed venerable, quest, and is far from over. Within this grand scheme, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is but a single element, and one whose supposed centrality looms far greater in Western than in Islamic eyes.
The analogy between Zionism and Nazism has never stood the most basic historical test. How many Germans were murdered by Jewish suicide bombers in Berlin’s cafes during the 1940s? How many Palestinians were herded like cattle into trains and transported into death camps where they were systematically exterminated in gas chambers? None.
In an interview with the Finnish news magazine Suomen Kuvalehti on June 3, 2005, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja gave his prognosis of the Middle East peace process based on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last April.
The interview is noteworthy for two main reasons. Next year Finland will assume the EU’s rotating presidency, thus making Tuomioja a player in the organization’s Middle Eastern policy at an important juncture in the region’s history. In addition, Tuomioja’s views are representative of a deeper undercurrent in contemporary European criticism of Israel, one that combines factual ignorance and misconceptions about the Arab-Israeli conflict with latent animosity borne out of the Continent’s millenarian legacy of anti-Semitism.
In a previous interview with Suomen Kuvalehti in August 2001, Tuomioja denounced Israel’s attempts to protect its citizens from the terror war launched by Arafat’s Palestinian Authority in September 2000, comparing Israeli defensive measures to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry: “It is quite shocking that some implement the same kind of policy toward the Palestinians which they themselves were victims of in the 1930s.”
In his latest interview, Tuomioja ignores altogether the Palestinian terror war launched shortly after the PA was offered an independent state in most of the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem, painting a distorted and surrealistic picture of the conflict.
Offering Erroneous and Misleading Information and Ignoring Elementary Facts
Interview: “Months following Arafat’s death went by in a hopeful atmosphere: the Palestinians elected a new president, Mahmoud Abbas, in January. Yet now the situation is jammed in one place. According to Tuomioja…’There are approximately as many roadblocks as before and all political prisoners that were promised to be freed have not been freed….There is a widespread suspicion on whether Israel wishes to hold onto the peace plan at all.'”
Initial prisoner release: There are no political prisoners in Israeli jails. All Palestinian prisoners whose release is demanded by the PA are either convicted terrorists, or suspected terrorists awaiting trial, or planners and perpetrators of other acts of violence. Of these, 500 were released on February 21, 2005, while another 400 were released four months later, on June 2, 2005.
Transfer of cities to the PA’s responsibility: All military checkpoints, closures, and curfews were removed from Jericho on March 15, 2005, and Tulkarm on March 21, 2005, despite the PA’s failure to combat terrorism as required by the Roadmap.
Removing roadblocks to ease movement: In January 2004 there were 25 security crossings throughout the West Bank. The Israel Defense Forces have removed 13 of these crossings and an additional 87 roadblocks, leaving today 12 security crossings and 66 roadblocks – an over 50 percent decrease. In addition, Israel has introduced advanced technological means at the crossings which allow for quick and efficient security checks, and has also improved the conditions at the crossings, adding roofs, clinics, and drinking stations.
Israel’s Security Fence
Interview: “Israel is also continuing the building of the wall and is planning to expand settlements. Tuomioja points out that it is completely against the peace plan, the so-called Roadmap, and makes a viable Palestinian state impossible.”
There is no “wall” between Israel and the West Bank, but rather a security fence not dissimilar to that existing along the Finnish-Russian border. Less than three percent of the planned 720-kilometer-long anti-terrorist barrier (or a mere twenty kilometers) will be constructed of concrete, designed not only to block terrorists from infiltrating, but also to prevent them from shooting at Israeli vehicles traveling on main highways, alongside the pre-1967 “green line.” The misnomer “wall” was introduced into the international discourse by Palestinian propaganda, so as to delegitimize this anti-terrorist measure by falsely associating it with such negative symbols as the “Berlin Wall.”
The sole reason for the security fence is the reduction of terrorist attacks, whether in the form of explosive-rigged vehicles, or shootings at Israeli vehicles, or suicide bombers seeking to enter Israel with the intention of murdering innocent civilians.
The security fence actually enhances the Roadmap’s chances of success since it envisages the end of Palestinian terrorism as a prerequisite for progress toward peace. The fence has done more than any other single factor to reduce this terrorism, with Israeli fatalities dropping over a three-year period by 75 percent, largely as a result of the fence.
Interview: “Tuomioja believes that although, for instance, absolute poverty creates conflicts, it carries less significance in creating terrorism than humiliations, powerlessness, and rage. These are channeled into support and understanding to extremist movements and fanaticism.”
In the entire two decades of Israeli occupation preceding the Oslo accords, some 400 Israelis were murdered; since the conclusion of that “peace” agreement, nearly four times as many have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. If “humiliations, powerless, and rage” were the causes of terrorism, why was terrorism sparse during the years of actual occupation, why did it increase dramatically with the prospect of the end of the occupation, and why did it escalate into open war upon Israel’s most far-reaching concessions ever in the July 2000 Camp David summit?
The bleak answer is that for Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership, the Oslo process has always been a strategic means not to a two-state solution – Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – but to the substitution of a Palestinian state for the State of Israel.
From the moment of his arrival in Gaza in July 1994, Arafat set out to build an extensive terrorist infrastructure in flagrant violation of the Oslo accords. Arafat refused to disarm the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad as required by the Oslo accords and tacitly approved the murder of hundreds of Israelis by these groups. He created a far larger Palestinian army (the so-called police force) than was permitted by the accords. He reconstructed the PLO’s old terrorist apparatus, mainly under the auspices of the Tanzim, which is the military arm of Fatah (the PLO’s largest constituent organization). He frantically acquired prohibited weapons with large sums of money donated to the PA by the international community for the benefit of the civilian Palestinian population; and he eventually resorted to outright mass violence, first in September 1996 and then in September 2000 with the launch of his war of terror.
This was accompanied by systematic indoctrination of Palestinians, and especially the youth, against the State of Israel, Jews, and Judaism – all in flagrant violation of their obligations under Oslo.
Islam’s War for World Mastery
Interview: “Tuomioja does not wish to be quite as dramatic as the former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who called the Middle East conflict ‘the mother of all the conflicts in the world.’ On the other hand, in his view Villepin hit the nail on the head….’Of course it is reflected into the safety of the Finns as well. Terrorism is a global phenomenon. All countries can be pulled into it.’“
The perception of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main trigger of Arab and Islamic terrorism is conceptually and historically misconceived. Violence was an integral part of Middle Eastern political culture long before the advent of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and physical force remains today the main, if not the sole, instrument of regional political discourse. In addition, the Arab states have never had any real stake in the “liberation of Palestine.” Though anti-Zionism has been the core principle of pan-Arab solidarity since the mid-1930s – it is easier, after all, to unite people through a common hatred than through a shared loyalty – pan-Arabism has almost always served as an instrument for achieving the self-interested ends of those who proclaim it.
Consider, for example, the pan-Arab invasion of the newly proclaimed State of Israel in 1948. The invasion had far less to do with winning independence for the indigenous Palestinian population than with the desire of the Arab regimes for territorial aggrandizement. Transjordan’s King Abdullah wanted to incorporate substantial parts of mandatory Palestine; Egypt wanted to lay its hands on southern Palestine. Syria and Lebanon sought to annex the Galilee, while Iraq viewed the 1948 war as a stepping stone in its long-standing ambition to bring the entire Fertile Crescent under its rule. Had the Jewish state lost the war, its territory would not have fallen to the Palestinians but would have been divided among the invading Arab forces.
During the decades following the 1948 war, the Arab states manipulated the Palestinian national cause to their own ends. Neither Egypt nor Jordan allowed Palestinian self-determination in the parts of Palestine they had occupied during the 1948 war. Palestinian refugees were kept in squalid camps for decades as a means of whipping Israel and stirring pan-Arab sentiments. “The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are,” Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser told a Western reporter in 1956. “We will always see that they do not become too powerful.” As late as 1974, Syria’s Hafiz al-Assad referred to Palestine as being “not only a part of the Arab homeland but a basic part of southern Syria.”
The Islamic connection to the Palestinian problem is even more tenuous. Islamists inveigh against the Jewish State of Israel not out of concern for a Palestinian right to national self-determination but as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the “House of Islam.” In the words of the Hamas covenant: “The land of Palestine has been an Islamic trust (waqf) throughout the generations and until the day of resurrection….When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims.”
In this respect, there is no difference between Palestine and other parts of the world conquered by the forces of Islam throughout history. To this very day, Arabs and many Muslims unabashedly pine for the restoration of Islamic Spain, and look upon their expulsion from that country in 1492 as a grave historical injustice. As illustrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attacks throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, this vision is by no means confined to a disillusioned and obscurantist fringe of Islam. Islam’s war for world mastery is a traditional, indeed venerable, quest, and is far from over. Within this grand scheme, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is but a single element, and one whose supposed centrality looms far greater in Western than in Islamic eyes.
The Analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany
Interview: “Four years ago, Foreign Minister Tuomioja criticized Israel’s oppression policy with harsh words. He stated in an SK interview how ‘certain people promote a policy similar to what they themselves were victims of in the 1930s.’ The statement caused a great fuss. This time Tuomioja is clearly more careful with his words and does not wish to return to his old interview. ‘I could have avoided many unnecessary reactions with a different wording, but the matter itself has not changed in any way,’ he nevertheless states.”
Viewing the Holocaust as the most powerful modern-day justification for the existence of a Jewish state, Arabs and Palestinians have gone out of their way since the mid-1940s to minimize the genocide, if not deny it altogether. Mahmoud Abbas, the Oslo architect and symbol of supposed Palestinian reconciliation, argued in a 1984 book that less than a million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust and that the Zionist movement was a partner to their slaughter.
At the same time, the Palestinians are portrayed as the Holocaust’s real victims, having been made to pay for the West’s desire to atone for the Holocaust through the establishment of a Jewish state. In fact, the Holocaust triggered no worldwide wave of sympathy for the Jewish predicament, least of all in Europe, where anti-Semitic sentiments remained as pronounced as ever, especially in Eastern Europe, which witnessed a few vicious pogroms shortly after the end of World War II. Even in Germany Jews found themselves attacked and abused in public, with 60 percent of Germans condoning overt acts of violence against Jews. For their part, the British, who had ruled Palestine under a League of Nations mandate since the early 1920s, did their utmost to prevent the creation of a Jewish state and to resettle the Holocaust survivors anywhere in the world except for Palestine.
A far more insidious propaganda ploy used by the Palestinians and their international champions is to equate the Jews with their Nazi executioners. This perverted analogy was quickly adopted by Soviet propaganda, from where it spread rapidly to become a staple of Western intellectual discourse.
How many Germans were murdered by Jewish suicide bombers in Berlin’s cafes during the 1940s? How many Palestinians were herded like cattle into trains and transported into death camps where they were systematically exterminated in gas chambers? None.
But then, the analogy between Zionism and Nazism has never stood the most basic historical test. Far from seeking to systematically exterminate the Palestinians, the Zionist movement accepted the two-state solution – the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states – from the moment it was first proposed in 1937, and has consistently striven for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians and the Arab states on this basis. This is in stark contrast to the Arabs’ outspoken commitment to the destruction of the Jewish national cause and their sustained and repeated efforts to achieve that end since the early 1920s.
Nor has Israel’s control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip been remotely reminiscent of the Nazi occupation of Europe. From June 1967 until Israel passed control to the PA in the mid-1990s, life expectancy had risen from 48 to 72 years (compared to 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa). Mortality rates fell by more than two-thirds between 1970 and 1990, while Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000 (in Iraq the rate is 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23, in Syria 22).
Per-capita GNP in the West Bank and Gaza expanded tenfold between 1968 and 1991, from $165 to $1,715 (compared with Jordan’s $1,050, Egypt’s $600, Turkey’s $1,630, and Tunisia’s $1,440). By 1999, Palestinian per-capita income was nearly double Syria’s, more than four times Yemen’s, and 10 percent higher than Jordan’s.
The impressive social and economic progress made by the Palestinian Arabs under Israeli “oppression” until control was passed to the PA exposes the sheer mendacity of the “Israel equals Nazism” equation made by enemies of the Jewish state.
– Professor Efraim Karsh heads the Mediterranean Studies Program at King’s College, University of London.