Questions from “The Department”

Posted: February 23, 2015 in Discussion
I asked members of the History department to give me some excellent questions for the blog. Here is what they came up with…they ask that you please forgive them 🙂

“What the difference between a Jordanian and Palestinian anyway?”

“If you were born in Jordan, no matter where your family came from, doesn’t it make you Jordanian by default?”

“Isn’t it the duty of Jordanians, as fellow Arabs, to foster a feeling of brotherhood with the Palestinian cause?”

“Aren’t Palestinian and Jordanian nationalism just 20th century constructions anyway?”

“Does being a Jordanian mean one must forget their Palestinian identity?”

“What will it take for Palestinians to identify as Jordanian?”

“If the country is mostly Palestinian, why do we care about what Jordanians think?”

“Isn’t it better for the Palestinian cause if the passports DID identify a Jordanian citizen as a Jordan or a Palestinian?”

“Can Jordan truly exist without Palestinians?”

“Don’t Palestinians make Jordan politically more unstable?”

“Have we offended any of you yet?” 🙂


1967: A Modern History

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

War of Survival?

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

‘NYT’ perpetuates myth Israel was ‘fighting for its very survival’ during 1967 war


on January 29, 2015

Based largely on interviews with Israeli soldiers—conducted in 1967, and heavily censored at the time—Censored Voices documents Israeli soldiers “summarily executing prisoners and evacuating Arab villages in a manner that one fighter likened to the Nazis’ treatment of European Jews.” Israeli atrocities in that war have been known for quite a while, but film is certainly a more powerful medium than newsprint.

The film (which I haven’t yet seen) seems important, and especially useful at a time when the Israeli military is under investigation for atrocities committed in its recent Gaza assaults. It is increasingly hard for anyone to believe that Israeli soldiers are “blessed with special moral values,” in the words of a 1995 statement from the office of then-Prime Minister (and 1967 Chief of Staff) Yitzhak Rabin. Rudoren’s article also provides the significant information that even Censored Voices was censored and hence doesn’t tell the full story of the war crimes that occurred: “Israel forbids the filmmakers to reveal how much they were forced to change, and the military censor’s office refused to discuss it.”

But Rudoren and apparently Loushy give an extremely inaccurate context for the atrocities committed in 1967. Rudoren describes that war as one in which Israel “started out fighting … for its very survival.” The film, says Rudoren, could lead to fodder for Israel’s critics if “viewed without consideration for the existential threat Israel faced at the time.” The movie, she writes, “does make clear the imminent threat to Israel —and then the stunning turnabout that military historians have long considered a marvel.” And Loushy is quoted as saying that “This is the story of men who went out to war feeling like they had to defend their life, and they were right, of course….”

But they were not right, and nor are Rudoren or Loushy.

Yes, Israeli soldiers, like much of the world, believed at the time that Israel faced an existential threat, as Arab armies poised on Israel’s borders while Radio Cairo broadcast bloodcurdling threats. But military and intelligence leaders in both Tel Aviv and Washington knew better.

Consider the testimony of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a member of the cabinet in June 1967:

“In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Or that of General Matti Peled, one of the twelve members of the Israeli Army’s general staff in 1967:

“I am convinced that our General Staff never told the government [of Levi Eshkol] that there was any substance to the Egyptian military threat to Israel, or that we were not capable of crushing Nasser’s army which had exposed itself, with unprecedented foolishness, to the devastating strikes of our forces…. While we proceeded towards the full mobilization of our forces, no person in his right mind could believe that all this force was necessary for our ‘defense’ against the Egyptian threat….To pretend that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel’s existence not only insults the intelligence of any person capable of analyzing this kind of situation, but is primarily an insult to Zahal [the Israeli Army].”

Or that of General Ezer Weizman, chief of operations in 1967 and later a prominent rightwing politician, who declared that “There never was a danger of extermination,” and that this hypothesis “had never been considered in any serious meeting.”

Or that of Haim Bar-Lev, Deputy Chief of Staff in 1967, and later a cabinet member: “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the Six-Day War and we had never thought of such a possibility.”

Or that of 1967 cabinet member Mordecai Bentov, a member of the leftist Mapam Party, who voted against launching the war in 1967 because he was convinced that political and diplomatic means of avoiding war had not been exhausted: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived, and then elaborated upon, a posteriori, to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”

The same view was held in Washington. On May 26, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara“said that the U.S. agreed with the Israeli view that Israel would prevail in a conflict, even if hostilities were initiated by Egypt.” The chair of the Joints Chiefs of Staff “General Wheelerrestated the American view of Israel’s military superiority and said that, although we recognize that casualties would be greater than in 1948 and 1956, Israel would prevail.” President Lyndon Johnson “said … if Israel is attacked, our judgment is that the Israelis would lick them,” and told the Israeli foreign minister “if the UAR attacks ‘you will whip hell out of them.’” The CIA predicted not only that Israel would win, but the day on which they would do so.

The evidence is thus overwhelming that Israeli policymakers did not go to war in response to an existential threat. Why does all this matter today? If Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as the Golan Heights) were all inadvertent consequences of a war against an existential threat, then Israeli responsibility for the occupation is somewhat mitigated.

Of course, even if Israel had been forced to go to war by an existential threat, it still would have had choices. It could have offered Palestinians the option of an independent state of their own or a binational state. Justice was always possible. Indeed, every year since 1967 Israel has had the choice of whether to seek to reverse the occupation and seek security through building ties to Palestinians rather than by extending their oppressive occupation, and it has consistently chosen the latter. In the same way, every year since 1947 Israel had a choice of whether to welcome back the refugees or to accelerate their dispossession. Again, Israel has consistently chosen the latter. Nevertheless, knowing what happened in 1967 is important because the absence of an existential threat undermines the chief Israeli talking point for its ongoing occupation.

On June 5, when Israel launched its offensive, Prime Minister Eshkol publicly declared that Israel had no territorial ambitions and Defense Minister Dayan told his troops, “Soldiers of the IDF, we have no objectives of conquest.” When later that summer U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk reminded Foreign Minister Abba Eban of Eshkol’s statement, Eban “simply shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘We’ve changed our minds.’” [1] But in fact, we know that several key Israeli policymakers wanted to acquire more land before the first shot was fired. The Minister of Labor, Yigal Allon, wrote an article before the outbreak of fighting in which he stated we “must not cease fighting until we achieve total victory, the territorial fulfillment of the Land of Israel.” [2] Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told his wife the evening before the war, “We have to take back Jerusalem.” [3] And more generally David Ben Gurion had been saying since 1949 that Israel’s failure to conquer East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the War of Independence was “a lamentation for generations,” a phrase used by many Israeli politicians over the subsequent 18 years. [4]

Did Israel occupy these lands simply as bargaining chips for peace? Hardly: almost immediately it annexed East Jerusalem; expelled several hundred thousand Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, and began moving settlers into the occupied territories [5]—a policy their legal advisor told them was in contravention of international law. This is what you do when you are interested in creating “facts on the ground” for permanent border changes, not bargaining chips for peace.

All this history is occluded by Rudoren’s gloss of the 1967 war as representing an existential threat to Israel. To be sure, Rudoren didn’t have to present in her news story a full historical analysis of the 1967 war, with a careful assessment of all the evidence. But to offer up the pro-Israel myth as if it were undisputed fact is simply propaganda.


1. Dean Rusk, As I Saw It (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), p. 388.

2. Michael Brecher with Benjamin Geist, Decisions in Crisis: Israel, 1967 and 1973 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p, p. 100. The article was published after the war but written before.

3. Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: the Six Days That Changed the Middle East (New York: Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, 1984), p, p. 195.

4. Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: Vintage, 2001), p. 321.

5. Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 327-29. See also Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005, translated 2007), pp. 523-42.

– See more at:

Don’t Talk About 67….

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Discussion
 TIME Magazine:

Egypt: Don’t Talk About the (1967) War
By Amany Radwan/Cairo

Egypt’s leaders find themselves uncomfortably wedged between international and local politics whenever discussion turns to the country’s humiliating military defeat by Israel in 1967. It’s typically an opportunity for students, leftist intellectuals and Islamists to rage against the Camp David peace accords with Israel, which they say ties their hands in the face of the ongoing suffering inflicted on the Palestinians. So it was no surprise that a firestorm has been sparked by new claims that a unit commanded by Israel’s current infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, massacred 250 unarmed Egyptian prisoners.

The furor began when the semi-official daily Al Ahram reported that Israel’s Channel One TV network had aired a documentary on incident showing that Ben Eliezer’s Shaked Unit had ordered the execution of the prisoners after the fighting had ended. Since then, local media have been filled with calls for legal action, economic boycotts or even vengeance, and in a stormy session of parliament, legislators demanded that the Israeli ambassador be sent home, Egyptian diplomats in Tel Aviv be recalled and for Ben Eliezer to be charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The outcry prompted Ben Eliezer to cancel a scheduled visit to Egypt, while Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s powerful Intelligence Chief who is the principal mediator between Israel and the Palestinian factions, called off a scheduled meeting with a high-ranking Israeli official. Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit demanded an investigation when he met his Israeli counterpart in Brussels, and also asked for a complete copy and accurate translation of the documentary.

Israeli officials are hoping that such a translation will actually help calm the furor. “It is all based on non-fact,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, insisting that the issue is being stirred up by groups bearing an anti-Israel agenda. The producer of the documentary, Ran Ederlist, said in a radio interview that the Egyptian reports on the film’s content were inaccurate. “What happened was that there were [Israeli] fighters waging battle against a retreating [Palestinian] commando battalion… During this battle, you could say there was excessive use of force, [but] it was all in the context of war: Not prisoners, not prisoner-of-war camps, not people who put their hands up.” And Ben Eliezer’s office released a statement denying that his unit had killed Egyptian prisoners, saying the reports were based on confusing two separate incidents.

In 1995, a similar crisis broke out when some Israeli veterans said that they had executed Egyptian soldiers in the 1956 and 1967 wars. These disclosures led to the discovery of mass graves near the city of Al-Arish in the Sinai containing the remains of Egyptian civilians and POWs. Thousands of soldiers are still listed as missing from the quick and crushing defeat of 1967, and many families are still wondering about the fate of their fathers and brothers.

In the poisonous atmosphere of today’s Middle East, Egyptian analysts say Israeli disclosures of abuses committed against Egyptians in 1956 and 1967 embarrasses the current leadership, which prefers to focus collective memory on the war of 1973 — claimed by the Egyptian side as a victory because it led to the diplomatic process in which Egypt recovered the Sinai peninsula lost in 1967. And the discomfort is exacerbated by the fact that the latest revelations involve Ben Eliezer, an Israeli leader who visits Egypt and has strong ties to such powerful figures as Suleiman and President Hosni Mubarak.

Cairo will be reluctant to press the issue because its political and diplomatic consequences could jeopardize Egypt’s role as a peace mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and also antagonize Washington. “Egypt and the U.S. have struck a back [channel] deal by which Egypt plays a regional role designed by the U.S. in return for casting a blind eye to the regime’s domestic politics and practices,” says Emad Gad, analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and editor of the monthly Israeli Digest. So, Gad says, the challenge for the regime is to find a formula that will save face in the public eye. “The regime has given the green light to the government-controlled media to unleash all its wrath on Israel in sympathy with the angry sentiments of public opinion,” says Gad. But it has no intention of pressing the matter. “Egypt is not in a position to have the diplomatic mediation role it is playing in the Israeli Palestinian negotiations minimized,” says Gad. “At the same time, it cannot offend the angry public by receiving Israeli officials at the moment.” For now, then, Egypt is telling Israel that it should momentarily bear the consequences of dragging them both into a mess that both sides hope will soon pass.

—With reporting by Phil Zabriskie/Jerusalem

Research Paper Due Monday!!!!!

Posted: February 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Here is how Jordan escaped the Arab Spring


The kingdom has exploited the chaos in the region to guarantee the perpetuation of the status quo.

Last updated: 09 Feb 2014 09:09
Nermeen Murad
Nermeen Murad is a Jordanian writer based in London.

The price for Jordan’s stability is the perpetuation of the status quo [Getty Images]
The story is that Jordan has survived. Full stop. As for how and why the country emerged unscathed from the Arab Spring, there are myriad theories, variously citing the “maturity” of the Jordanian public, Western financial support, the UN’s management of the influx of Syrian refugees and last but certainly not least, the kingdom’s official “web masters”.

The truth is that all of the above helped the small nation to evade the promise – or threat – of change that everyone expected would eventually come, despite resistance from within, and finally usher in the political freedoms necessary to lay down the foundations for a modern, democratic state.

Instead, what we got was stability. The price for that stability is the perpetuation of what can only be described as the status quo and with it, the security apparatus’ firm grip on government and the preeminence of the old guard.

Consider this story: A young Jordanian musician, while introducing his group’s next act, made a light-hearted joke about the government’s mishandling of the recent snow storm in the kingdom. A security guard at the state-owned theatre took offence. An exchange of words led to a scuffle, after which the security guard called for reinforcements. The incident has now spurred a petition[Ar] calling for the resignation of the director of the theatre. For now, it seems the director of the theatre, Abdul Hadi Raji al-Majali[Ar], a well-known columnist, is going to remain in his post – basically, he’ll get away with it.

Although the musicians and their supporters pledge to continue their campaign calling for Majali’s resignation, there is no doubt that many Jordanians feel the incident was used as an example to warn the youth at large not to cross those invisible, but ever-present lines, even by jest.

Lip service to reform

Above all, the story highlights a general malaise where officials, with close ties to the system or at least  have shared interests, enjoy a degree of  impunity. The government, which has consistently paid lip service to reform, has essentially reaffirmed the old system of governance with its policies unchallenged and its agents above the law.

Case after case came up, where officials failed to deliever on their promises but got away unpunished. One example was when the government failed to take any action against perpetrators oftribal-inspired violence in Jordanian universities.

That is not to say that there are no repercussions for such bad governance in Jordan. While they- the officials-might be able -in some cases- to escape punitive measures in a court of law, however, in the court of public opinion, ordinary citizens, backed up by social media, professional associations and political activists, will continue to document such violations.

While they – the officials- might be able – in some cases – to escape punitive measures in a court of law,however, in the court of public opinion, ordinary citizens, backed up by social media tools, professional associations and political activists, will continue to document such violations.


Legal instruments – or what analysts have come to call “scarecrow tools” – are aplenty to ensure that anyone who oversteps the boundaries is very quickly brought back to “reality”.

Among the most important of such tools is the the Press and Publications Law, which continues to restrict freedom of speech rather than liberate it. In June 2013, the Jordanian government ordered three local Internet service providers to shut down nearly 200 news websites that have not been licensed by the state-run Press and Publications Department.

It claimed that they were not registered properly. Activists realised the move was meant as a gentle reminder that the taps can be closed at any time and that regardless of the freedom they feel in the “space” they inhabit, it was still a space the government can control. Despite their initial cries of protest, most bloggers and social media journalists eventually fell into line.

The government has also used state security courts to try civilians for participating in peaceful protests. Arrests included a young man who burned a poster of the king in 2012 for “undermining royal dignity” and 13 activists accused of “insulting the king”. Another 100 peaceful activists were dragged into the state security courts – where they have no right of appeal – to face a range of charges including disturbing the peace, damaging public property and insulting security officials. The court cases were seen as part of an overall plan aimed at addressing the public and warning them against acts of dissent. The activists facing charges were basically collateral damage.

Skillfully managed

In Jordan, the scene has been very skillfully managed through a number of tactics: A security apparatus that holds the keys to many of the state’s functions, a government with the power to guide the population, mainstream media in a single direction as well as the “scarecrow” tactics that serve as reminders of the perils of getting out of line. In sum, the population is suitably conditioned to protect the status quo for fear of the instability that may ensue.

Of course, the big story from Jordan is not only that it manoeuvered itself so skillfully while neighbouring countries fell to their knees around it, but that it managed to maintain the country’s socio-economic and political constancy in the midst of a bloody triangle. And, perhaps more interestingly, the real tale is how Jordan, somehow, exploited the regional chaos to guarantee its own stability.

As refugees continue to pour in from Syria – and now, again from Iraq – Jordanians are fully aware that there is no time for their domestic concerns. Despite their full knowledge that they have been outmanoeuvered by the system into submission, for the moment, they are willing to let it slide.

As one human rights worker in Jordan told me recently: “A ruler is best served by the status quo. The regime is comfortable today and is sitting on its podium surveying the scene. It doesn’t need to make any serious effort to fix or improve [things] because the status quo is stable.”