H. D. Uriel Smith: Disinformation hurts Mideast peace prospects

June 16, 2014 

H. D. Uriel Smith is a Lexington rabbi.

  • At issue: May 30 column by Robert Olson, Pope challenged by dwindling Christianity in the Holy Land; May 31 Washington Post article, "You say Hebrew, I say Aramaic; language of Jesus remains an issue"

A two-state solution in the Holy Land is possible. A deep analysis shows it is the only solution not leading to mass atrocities. But its path is rocky and needs much preparation including, first, proper education.

Without that education people tend to identify truth merely as "trustworthiness," and try to reformulate unpleasant truths to fit views they want to believe are trustworthy. Sophisticates with a university education know that true statements correspond to independent facts, and when words do not fit facts they are merely opinions, fiction or propaganda.

Mideast analyst Robert Olson claimed in a May 30 column that the Christian population in the Holy Land is dwindling. This disinformation was based on misleading statistics. Actually, the Christian population is dwindling in the Mideastern countries occupied by Muslim extremists, but in Israel it is increasing. The Christian population of Israel was 150,150 in 2007, 158,000 in 2012, 161,000 in 2013, and it continues to grow.

The Mideastern misuse of statistics goes back to the British mandate. In the 1947 World Almanac, the British claimed that the 80.3 percent increase of Muslims in Palestine between 1922 and 1944 was a natural increase, and did not include immigration.

However, the figures obtained from the British and French authorities published in earlier World Almanac publications show that the natural increase in Egypt, Iraq and Syria for that 22-year period was between 25 percent and 35 percent. The French recognized that the 84.5 percent increase in Lebanon included many immigrants. The Brits pretended otherwise in Palestine.

On May 31, this paper published a Washington Post article about the debate over what language Jesus spoke.

Pope Francis correctly stated that Jesus' mother tongue was Aramaic. In the New Testament several statements of Jesus are given in transliteration, all in Aramaic, because in Galilee the Jews spoke Aramaic. But, if Joseph, Jesus' father, came from Bethlehem, as noted in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph's mother tongue was Hebrew. The Judeans and Samaritans of the time spoke Hebrew. Jesus was bilingual.

The article falsely claimed that, "Hebrew was the preserve of clerics and religious scholars, a written language for holy Scriptures." Rather, in Jesus' day, Hebrew was a living language. The Hebrew speaking areas were destroyed a full century after the Crucifixion.

Nowadays, the situation surrounding the Holy Land is multi-culturally confusing. The Israelis are confronted with a Doppelgänger, the Palestinians. Neither can destroy the other without destroying themselves. Their proclaimed histories differ widely. Israel calls its foundation date Yom ha-Atzma'ut ("Day of Independence"), while the Palestinians call it Yom en-Nakba ("Day of Catastrophe").

But Israel and Palestine are not the only stakeholders there.

Every religious community in which Jews have participated in its foundation — including Christians, Muslims and Marxists — infuse their hopes and histories with love and hate.

The situation is so confusing that those who may want to help the Palestinians actually are helping the Iranians, who want to fight Israel to the last Palestinian. The Iranian goals and procedures are manifested in the devastation of Syria, in which Iranian and Hezbollah troops participate.

Propaganda hinders negotiators from finding a common ground for discussions. Disinformation has created such confusion that people hesitate to give aid for Syrian refugees. Therefore, the blood of civilians killed in the Syrian civil war and of refugees dying of hunger and cold is piling on the heads of the disinformation distributors.

Until a truthful field of mutual communication can develop, neither Israel nor Palestine can break through the self-contradictory web of disinformation and talk with each other, instead of past each other.

Those who blame only the Israelis or only the Palestinians just increase the tensions. For truth we need to follow the Biblical demand, "On the evidence of two or three [independent] witnesses shall a charge be sustained" (Deuteronomy 19:15).

One witness is not enough. Do not trust even just this column. Check your own independent sources.

H. D. Uriel Smith is a Lexington rabbi.

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