Is Arab propaganda shaping the predominant view of the Holy Land conflict? That is the claim of a planned documentary film based on Joan Peters' groundbreaking best seller "From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict."
Peters is a former White House foreign policy adviser for the Middle East and a self-described liberal who set out to investigate the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
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When she went to Israel in the mid-1970s "the deprivation of Arab refugees' human rights and the political manipulation of their unfortunate situation were unconscionable to me," she wrote in her book, "particularly because it seemed their plight had been prolonged by a mechanism funded predominantly by contributions from the United States."
Seven years of intensive, original research, however, led Peters to an unexpected conclusion: Arab political and territorial claims to Israel are based on a myth.
Current international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict largely are based on those false premises, she believes.
"The problem is truth has taken a back seat, and all of the bogus claims of the Arabs have destroyed the context," Peters told WorldNetDaily. "It would be like the Germans saying the Jews had killed 6 million Germans during World War II."
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The 18 years of Middle East history that have passed since her book was published have only confirmed her account, she believes.
From her well-sourced study – 189 of the book's more than 500 pages are devoted to footnotes and appendices – Peters concluded that the Palestinian refugees are being sacrificed at the expense of the agenda of Arab states.
The "refugee problem," she maintains, was created as a public relations weapon to help the Arab world justify its goal of annihilating the Jewish state of Israel.
The Palestinian Jews are the only continuous residents of the Holy Land, she concluded from her research.
"Contrary to Arab propaganda," Peters wrote, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries "Arabs or Arabic-speaking migrants were wandering in search of subsistence all over the Middle East. The land of 'Palestine' proper had been laid waste, causing peasants to flee. Jews and 'Zionism' never left the Holy Land, even after the Roman conquest in A.D. 70."
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When it was published in 1984, her book drew critical acclaim from historians such as the late Theodore H. White and publications such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly and Los Angeles Times.
While most of the initial reviews were favorable, Peters' book drew strong criticism from left-leaning scholars such as DePaul University political science professor Norman G. Finkelstein, and later from media in the United Kingdom.
Finkelstein, a Jew whose parents survived the Warsaw Ghetto, took Peters to task in 1984 in the progressive month In These Times and expanded his argument in his 1995 book “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”
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Finkelstein wrote, "That a scholarly work meets with critical acclaim would hardly be news, were it not for the fact that 'From Time Immemorial' is among the most spectacular frauds ever published on the Arab-Israeli conflict."
He contended that Peters' documentation of massive illegal Arab immigration into Palestine is "almost entirely falsified" and asserts that conclusions "Peters draws from her demographic study of Palestine's indigenous Arab population are not borne out by the data she presents."
White, on the other hand, called Peters' work a "superlative book" that traces Middle East history with "unmatched skill."
A Los Angeles Times review said of "From Time Immemorial": "The reader comes away not only rethinking the Middle East refugee problem, but also the extent to which propaganda can be swallowed whole for lack of information.
Some pro-Israel scholars, such as Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, supported Peters' main premise but also offered words of caution.
In his 1984 review, Pipes wrote: "The author is not a historian or someone practiced in writing on politics, and she tends to let her passions carry her away. As a result, the book suffers from chaotic presentation and an excess of partisanship, faults which seriously mar its impact."
However, Pipes said, the faults "do not diminish the importance of the facts presented."
"Despite its drawbacks, 'From Time Immemorial' contains a wealth of information, which is well worth the effort to uncover."
Two years later, in a letter to the editor of the New York Review of Books, Pipes noted that the book had been generally "received in two ways at two times.
"Early reviews treated her book as a serious contribution to the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict and late ones dismissed it as propaganda."
Pipes said the difference between the two rounds is not hard to explain.
"Most early reviewers, including myself, focused on the substance of Miss Peters's central thesis; the later reviewers, in contrast, emphasized the faults –technical, historical, and literary – in Miss Peters's book."
Pipes said that despite its shortcomings, critics had failed to refute the central thesis, that "a substantial immigration of Arabs to Palestine took place during the first half of the twentieth century."
"She supports this argument with an array of demographic statistics and contemporary accounts, the bulk of which have not been questioned by any reviewer," Pipes wrote.
The film's maker, veteran television producer Isidore Rosmarin, said Peters' book changed his view of the Middle East.
"I used to consider myself pretty well-versed in current events and the broad strokes of what goes on in various parts of the world," said Rosmarin, an Emmy Award nominee who has produced features for programs such as "60 Minutes" and "Dateline."
"I didn't have a clue about the truth of the situation until this book," he told WorldNetDaily. "Somebody handed it to me, and I read it, and it knocked my socks off."
Rosmarin said the documentary, titled "The Myth," is in the research stage, in need of funding to go ahead with a six-month production schedule.
Rosmarin wants to see the final product distributed not only on broadcast and cable television but through showings at schools, college campuses, libraries and local groups.
It will not be a propaganda film, maintains consultant William Helmreich, professor of sociology and Judaic studies at City University of New York and City College and co-director of The Conflict Resolution Center.
"The purpose is to present facts," Helmreich said in a WorldNetDaily interview. "That facts happen to swing one way or another does not make it a propaganda film. If we did a factual film about the Nazis, they wouldn't end up being portrayed in a positive way. There is right and there is wrong. Not everything is relative. And the curse of relativism is one that has spread from the campuses of America to the government as well."
Policy of relativism
Helmreich believes that relativism has hampered U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"I think that for too long the Bush administration – as had been the case with previous administrations – has pursued a policy of 'You're right and you're right, you're wrong and you're wrong, you give a little, and you give a little,'" he said. "… I think the purpose of the documentary is to demonstrate that if any wrong has been perpetrated it has been upon the Israelis and not upon the Palestinians."
Peters believes the U.S. must "get rid of the entire mindset about Arab countries being beneficent and necessary" to its well being.
"They are a small part of the Muslim world," she said of the Arabs, "and by kowtowing to their impossibly monstrous demands we are leaving out all the millions of Indonesian and Malaysian Muslims and others who are not Arab. We need not be dictated to by monsters who keep their own people as human bombs instead of rehabilitating them, as they have had so many chances to do."
Helmreich concedes "there are times when you have to have an even-handed policy, when you have to talk about balance, but there is also something called right and wrong."
He noted that "the United States doesn't feel it's necessary to have an even-handed presentation of its own position on global terrorism and Osama bin Laden. It sees itself as being in the right in the fight against terrorism."
Peters' book was published in Hebrew in 1987 and became a best seller in Israel.
"Many (Israelis) were very shocked at this book," she said. "There were a lot of things they said they didn't know and some things they were sure of, and the documented evidence gave them proof."
But she contends that in a desperate effort to achieve peace, the Israelis put aside that history during the failed Oslo process that began in 1993.
"From Oslo's advent until the unbelievably stupid offer by Israel to get rid of everything, they tried to drown the history and pretend it didn't exist," she said.
Helmreich, who taught for three years at Hebrew University in Israel, believes Peters' most important point, particularly from a diplomatic standpoint, is that Arabs were not occupying the Holy Land as a "Palestinian" people or as an entity for the thousands of years that they claim.
"It is clear that a lot of the Palestinians migrated to the area in the early to mid part of the 20th century, that many of the people who lived in these villages came from other countries, such as Egypt, as far away as even Libya, and that they are not the indigenous people to the land that they claim," he said.
When the British controlled the area during the post-World War I mandate period it was not in their interest to challenge Arab claims to the territory, Helmreich said. Squatters who came to the land at that time were later deemed to be Palestinians.
Peters' historical record indicates that by disguising the Arab immigrants as "indigenous native Palestinian Arabs" the British justified restrictions on Jewish immigration and settlement, which prevented masses of European Jews from escaping destruction by the Nazis.
She challenges the assertion that Arabs and Jews coexisted harmoniously for centuries in the Arab world, documenting that Jews and other non-Muslims were second-class citizens under Islamic law and suffered oppression in the Muslim world for more than a millennium. She maintains that this prejudicial tradition of hostility underlies every Arab action toward Israel.
"I think that if the book is properly represented in this film, the issue of who really was on this land, and in what proportion, will be greatly clarified," Helmreich said. "Right now it's as if the Israelis came to a land where millions of Palestinians were sitting, they were the interlopers, and they threw them off the land."
He acknowledges that when Arab nations attacked Israel upon its formation in 1948 some Arabs were forced to leave, as happens in any war. But most were told by the five attacking Arab nations to leave and then come back after Israel had been wiped out.
"Well, history turned out otherwise," Helmreich said. "The Israelis made the unfortunate mistake of winning, so there wasn't any land for them to come back to."
Peters says her research shows that for every Arab refugee who left Israel in 1948, there was a Jewish refugee who fled or was expelled from his Arab birthplace at the same time.
She points out that a Palestinian state already exists, Jordan, which "became the Arab independent state within Palestine, despite the fact that all 'Palestine' had been designated as a 'Jewish National Home.'"
Peters wrote: "Since the land of Israel – mainly the Jewish-inhabited land in 1948 – accounted for less than a fourth of the land originally designated 'Palestine,' and if the rest of 'Palestine' is inhabited by Jordanian/Palestinians in an Arab state carved out of the Palestinian "Jewish National Home" – where Jews are forbidden by law from settling – how, then, can Arabs be said to have been 'excluded' from a 'Palestinian homeland?'"
Peters has been in high demand for speaking engagements since Sept. 11 and says she is getting an "amazingly wonderful, overwhelmingly positive" response from audiences.
Her main reason for speaking is to get people to read the book because it provides the documentation for the points she makes. Without that, "people are only as good as the last voice they've heard," she said.
She hopes the film will be "a clone of me and my book."
"There are a lot of colleges and other places that won't have me," she said, "but will have a film."
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