A Palestinian woman who mocked this quote when I shared it during the lecture told me afterwards that yes, it was true that the Arabs did reject the two-state solution in 1947, attacking Israel in 1948 and 1956 and several times thereafter. But, she said, all that had no bearing on the current plight of the Palestinians.
I discovered that none of the students I spoke with had ever heard of Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the man responsible for much of the anti-Jewish sentiment in Palestine in the decades leading up to 1948 and a coworker of Hitler during World War II. And if they hadn’t heard of him, surely he could not have been important.
I was told that the thousands of Kassam rockets fired by Hamas into Gaza were nothing but “firecrackers.” (This will surely be of no comfort to the family of four-year-old Afik Zahavi-Ohayon who was killed by one of those “firecrackers” when it landed in front of his nursery school in Sederot on June 8th, 2004, nor will it comfort the other victims of those “firecrackers”).
I was also informed that the “security wall” was actually an Israeli “land grab.” The fact that it is almost entirely a fence (not a wall), that it was erected with the sole purpose of keeping out murderers, and that it only infringes on Palestinian territory for strategic safety purposes was dismissed out of hand.
And my statement that Israeli Arabs have equal rights as citizens was openly scorned during and after the debate. This, of course, is a very important issue, since 1.5 million Arabs live in Israel today, making up 20% of the population. If Israel was an evil apartheid state (perhaps even guilty of ethnic cleansing), how does one account for these Arabs? I was told that, in fact, they are an oppressed minority, much like blacks in America in the days of segregation, with no freedom to differ with the government.
What of the fact that they have been represented in the Knesset since 1948 and that they can make speeches in the Knesset railing against government policies? That an Israeli Arab is a permanent member of the Supreme Court? That the vast majority of Israeli Arabs surveyed have indicated that they would rather be under Israeli rule than Palestinian rule?
This was completely irrelevant to one particular Palestinian interlocutor who told me that, in contrast with Israel’s oppression of its Arab population, I could find real freedom of speech at Birzeit University located near Ramallah. Perhaps they would welcome my lecture there?
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.