Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jewish Media Mistranslates Hamas Statement on Anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution

There are many reasons to dislike Hamas. But it annoys me when people who should know better distort their position by mistranslating Arabic.

Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam blog reprinted an item from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which claimed that Hamas had issued the following statement last Thursday, on the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition vote

"Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews."

Richard was skeptical of the accuracy of the translation, and, as we shall see, he had good reason to be. The source may have been an article in Maariv by Itamar Inbar. (Here is the NRG website.) He translated the passage from the Arabic as follows (my English translation):

"Palestine is Arabic Islamic land, from the River to the Sea, including Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Churches, the Mosques, the Mountains, and the Beaches." In Hamas they said, "The Jews have no place in it (Palestine- I.I), and it is a single unity that is indivisbile."
So, there you have it -- doesn't it seem that Hamas is calling for the elimination of the Jews from Palestine?

Except that this is not what the Arabic plainly says.

What Hamas said is as follows: and this is about as literal as I can make it:

Palestine is an Arabic Islamic country from time immemorial, from its River to its Sea, with its Jerusalem, its Al-Aksa, its churches and its mosques, the Jews not having a presence in it. It is a single unity and is indivisible."

In other words, historically, Palestine was an Arab country with no Jewish presence; hence, the Jews have no national claims to it. The phrase laysa li-l-yahud fiha wujud, literally means "the Jews having no presence/existence in it" -- but as Juan Cole pointed out to me in a private communication, the phrase "mundhu al-azal" (lit.: since eternity), apparently puts the phrase in the past tense.

There is a difference between saying, "There is no room for the Jews in Palestine" and "The Jews have never been a presence in Palestine." By mistranslating wujud and by leaving out the mundhu al-azal, and by breaking up the quotation, Inbar (deliberately?) distorted the translation.

A more accurate portrayal of the sense of the Arabic in English (thought not a direct translation) comes from Hamas' website:

“Hamas affirmed that Palestine is an Arab, Islamic country since time immemorial and Jews have no right whatsoever in the land of Palestine,”

I.e., no national rights -- since they had no presence.

Look, I am a Zionist, and I think that it is false to say that the Jews had no presence in Eretz Yisrael. But it is not false to say that for much of the middle ages and early modern period their physical presence was minimal. It certainly is not the same as saying that there will be no room for the Jews in an Islamic state. That statement goes against the Hamas Charter, antisemitic as it is, that allows for Jews and Christians to live under in an Islamic state (not something I look forward to....)

Ribono shel olam, doesn't truth count anymore? Or is distortion ok when fighting the wars of the Lord?

Whose name, by the way, is Truth.

The Arabic text is reported here, by the way. (Thanks to Amir for providing the links.)


Richard said...

Good work, Jerry. It's still a disturbing quotation as it ignores history. But its not a genocidal or exterminationist passage as JTA was attempting to make it out.

Diana said...

"Palestine is an Arabic Islamic country from time immemorial, from its River to its Sea, with its Jerusalem, its Al-Aksa, its churches and its mosques, the Jews not having a presence in it. It is a single unity and is indivisible."

1. IMO, making a distinction between "not having a presence in it" and "no place" is ludicrously pedantic.

2. But, have it your way. The tiny passage was slightly mistranslated. The "correct" one - in your opinion - was the worse of the two. It's simply false. What does it matter that for a few centuries the Jewish presence in Palestine was minimal?


What can I say other than poppycock? I'd rather use another word, but I have to observe proprieties. The passage doesn't "ignore" history - it distorts it.

Do you honestly think that if Hamas had its way, there would be any Jews in Palestine?

Jerry Haber said...

Diana, I think you miss the point.

If, as a Zionist, I argue that the Palestinians did not exist as a people until after 1948, and hence have no rights to a state, that may be wrong and irrelevant, and even immoral. But still, it is a bit different than calling for the expulsion or extermination of the Palestinians.

To say that the Jews were not part of the Palestinian landscape from time immemorial is false, but it is not the same as saying that a future Hamas state should be Judenrein. The passage was a historical claim based on the past; the translation made it into an operative claim about the future.

Finally, I applaud your concern with truth. But to me, uttering something false, though a cardinal sin, is not worse than calling for mass expulsions and murder. The Hamas statement is the former; the Jewish media spin of the statement is the latter.

I thinkyou agree.

Jerry Haber said...


You asked whether if Hamas had its way, there would be any Jews left in Palestine. May I ask you -- why do you think that they would wish to expel all the Jews? Their charter implies the opposite; there is a section that talks about the humaneness of Islam in treating its Christian and Jewish minorities. Nor does their type of Islam preach elimination of minorities. Of course, in a fundamentalist Islamic state, the Jews and Christians would be considered dhimmis. The same is true for the fundamentalist Jewish state -- read Maimonides's Code of Jewish Law about how gentiles can stay in a Jewish commonwealth provided that they are aware of their debased condition, they don't stand upright, and they accept the Noahides laws (if they don't, they are to be killed.)

Of course, even today's fundamentalis states are a hodge-podge of modern political theory and religion. But it is part of a fundamamentalist's self image that such a state knows how to treat minorities better than in secular states.

Maybe it is because I am an orthodox Jew that I take offense when I hear people unjustly bash religious fundamentalists for what they DON'T claim . And in the case of Hamas, they are not just a fundamentalist group; they are a nationalist group, which means they are willing to build coalitions with secular groups for the common cause of the liberation of their homeland and to make pragmatic decisions like other secular liberation groups. They say that Oslo sold the Palestinians down the river, yet they jumped into that river when they ran for the Palestinian Authority's parliament. We should have applauded them; instead, we took our revenge on the Palestinian people.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jerry,

I would not have thought an Orthodox Jew could have the views that you have.

I differ from you in that:
I am not a Zionist,
I am not convinced that a Jewish state can be a democratic state.
I am a Jewish supporter of justice for Palestinians. I am not sure justice for Palestinians can be compatible with a Jewish state.

I have so much respect for you, because you do your own thinking, and do not go along with the mainstream Jewish pronouncing.

I think you are also for justice for the Palestinians, but perhaps you see that goal differently than I do.

I will continue to read your blog carefully and try to see where you are coming from, because - honestly speaking - you are a bit of a puzzle to me!


Jerry Haber said...


Thanks. Just to make my position clear.

I am a Zionist. I began to explain my position in a post ("Zionism Without a Jewish State") that, for some strange reason, I left off of the top post list. It is here:

My Zionism is a variant of cultural Zionism. It is a Jewish nationalism that does not require a Jewish ethnic state. It is not my own invention: Ahad ha-Am and Judah Magnes were cultural zionists; as you know, the latter vehemently opposed a Jewish state in part of Palestine but was a Jewish nationalist.

Aside from that we agree on the other things you mention.


Anonymous said...

bravo, Jerry.