A March 14 advertisement in The Herald, "Palestinian Wall of Lies," sparked a surge of letters to the editor decrying its deplorable language and lambasting The Herald for choosing to publish it. The advertisement's content was inflammatory and rightfully condemned by many members of the Brown community.
Let me be unequivocal — I do not agree with all the content of that advertisement and certainly not with the choice to present shadowy images of men with guns and Qurans, nor shall I comment on The Herald's wisdom in choosing to run the advertisement other than to assert that selling advertising space does not amount to an endorsement of a product.
But it is unfortunate that during the knee-jerk rush to condemn, the chance to analyze the advertisement's key points with the nuance that they deserve was missed. Brown students deserve a wall of truths to help them understand the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To that end, it is important to study the history of the conflict itself. Israel was founded in 1948 following a resolution by the United Nations partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. It was only after the Six-Day War in 1967 that Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, though it has since withdrawn from the Gaza Strip.
The first lie that the advertisement brought up was the claim that pro-Palestinian groups assert that Israel occupies all of Palestine. While it is true that Hamas has maintained that position, the Palestinian Authority currently accepts Israel's pre-1967 borders.
It is important to make a distinction between the claim that Israel is a legitimate state that is currently occupying the West Bank and the claim that Israel has been an illegitimate state since its founding.
This distinction is crucial because it means the difference between student groups who advocate divesting from companies that do business in the settlements and divesting from companies that do business in Israel proper. By advocating divestment from companies that support the occupation, students can show their disapproval of Israel's settlement policy. By advocating divestment from all Israeli companies, students are promoting the destruction of a nation-state and showing their willingness to strip the Jewish people of their right to self-determination.
At Brown, we can disagree on Israeli policy without being disagreeable. Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and Brown Students for Israel can push their relative agendas, yet at the same time recognize the Jewish and Palestinian peoples' rights to national self-determination within part of their historic homeland.
Distinctions matter — something the ad glosses over when it states, "The Arabs rejected peace and a state on the West Bank first in 1948 when it was offered to them by the U.N. and then in 2000 when it was offered by Presidents Clinton and Barak."
It is true that the Palestinian leaders in 1948 and 2000 rejected partition plans that would have granted them some form of a state, although to be fair, Prime Minister Barak's partition plan in 2000 would still have annexed up to 10 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel.
Yet, to say that "the Arabs" rejected such a plan is to equate all Palestinians with all Arabs, an unfair generalization and one that backfires if one considers the Arab peace initiative, a proposal adopted by the Arab League that offers Israel peace and completely normalized diplomatic relations if Israel withdraws from all territory occupied since June 1967. It is Israel — or more precisely, Israel's political leaders — that have rejected this peace initiative.
While the "Wall of Lies" ad made these clearly false generalizations, there is some salvageable material. A fair student of history should consider that while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Arab countries. Why and when these people fled is a matter of debate. What is fact is that Israel has absorbed and granted full rights to every Jew who arrived fleeing Arab countries, while the status of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries has remained unresolved.
Another important point made by the ad is that Israel attempts to minimize civilian casualties. This is a complicated topic, mostly because it is very difficult to distinguish between terrorists and civilians when combating non-state actors. These fighters do not wear uniforms and both sides calculate different civilian-to-combatant casualty ratios. Complicating the calculation is the fact that Israel routinely warns civilians of an impending attack, even dialing homes to alert residences. Though the death of any civilian is tragic, the claim that Israel has a policy of committing war crimes or genocide is ridiculous and ought to be refuted.
The "Wall of Lies" advertisement contained problematic content and presented its information in a polarizing and inflammatory way while it should have afforded this complex topic the nuance and distinctions that it deserves. Though it was rightly condemned by many members of the Brown community, it is important to recognize that there are important truths that can yet be learned.
Ethan Tobias '12 has succeeded in generalizing about the contents of the Wall of Lies advertisement. He can be reached at Ethan_Tobias@brown.edu.