“If the Republicans will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”

— Adlai Stevenson

“During the 1948 war,” says letter-writer Bob Holden of Los Angeles, “the Israelis expelled more than half the Palestinian population (some 700,000) and seized their land and businesses without compensation.”

The Israelis expelled them? News to me and many others, including historians. The question of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948, when five Arab armies swooped in to drive the Jews into the sea, has become muddled in recent years. Accusing Israel of forcing out most or all of the Palestinians is among numerous lies peddled by advocates for the Palestinians in recent years.

It is confounding that Jews fail to challenge these kinds of lies in any substantial way. It is one reason why so many people believe that Israel is a monster and the Palestinians are perpetual victims. It should be a simple task to determine if Holden can prove whether the majority of Palestinians were pushed out or left of their own volition despite his claim in his New York Daily News letter.

If supporters of Israel are serious about taking on Arab propaganda, they can start by “telling the truth” about the Palestinians, as 1952 and 1956 presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson would put it. Whatever mistakes Israel has made, the transgressions of the Palestinians are far worse. It is past due the time to try this approach.

They could begin by telling the truth about what brought on this war that has been raging for 73 years. Both sides claimed the land as theirs before the United Nations called for partitioning the land between Jews and Arabs. This compromise was accepted by Jews, and Arabs responded by attacking Israel.

The outcome: Israel was sovereign of 78 percent of the land while 750,000 Palestinians departed for Gaza, the West Bank and the nations of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

People like Holden usually neglect to mention that the Arabs started the war. If he did, he would probably resort to the justification in his letter: “You can’t come back after 1,700 years and destroy the peace of the current occupants merely because you want their stuff.”

As the saying goes, so many distortions, so little time. A few more misrepresentations, and what is real:

To Holden’s accusation of expulsion: This much is clear: that it is unclear how many Palestinians left on their own or were expelled. Susan Abulhawa, in a guest column for The Philadelphia Inquirer, declared that Israel expelled 80 percent of the departing Palestinians without explaining how she learned it. By contrast, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) offered no estimates of who did what to whom when it composed a brief report on Palestinian refugees:

“The Palestinian refugee issue originated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when five Arab armies invaded the State of Israel just hours after it was established. During the ensuing war, as many as 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes in the newly created state as a result of many factors.

“Some of the Palestinian Arabs who fled did so to avoid the ongoing war or at the urging of Arab leaders, and expected to return after a quick and certain Arab victory over the new Jewish state.

“Other Palestinians were forced to flee by individuals or groups fighting for Israel.”

Note that the ADL is willing to accept that Israel is partly to blame, and that Abulhawa ignores any prospect of Arab culpability. Besides, even the more hard-edged Israelis had the opportunity to drive out Palestinians only because the Arabs invaded Israel.

Palestinians have spent 73 years languishing in refugee camps: It was not necessary. There were more than enough homes available in Arab countries. During Israel’s early years, these countries kicked out 800,000 Jews who were then taken in by Israel. This meant that these 800,000 Jews left behind dwellings that the Palestinians could have moved into, and the oil-rich Arab countries could have paid all expenses.

More concerns are raised by guest columnist Phyllis Bennis as part of a point-counterpoint in The Intelligencer of Doylestown, Pa., as she poses a series of questions: “What’s the deal with Israeli settlements? If Palestinians are citizens of Israel, why don’t they have same rights as Jewish citizens? Why can’t Palestinian refugees go home?”

Granted, even the harsher critics of Israel make credible points, but they rarely stop there.

A mixed view of settlements: Writers like Bennis and Holden view the settlements as violations of international law, and some pro-Israel advocates regard both sovereign Israel and its territories as Jewish land. My view is that Israelis fought and sacrificed for the West Bank and East Jerusalem – after being attacked in 1967 – and therefore have a right to its claim.

Is it wise to develop these areas, specifically with settlements? Right-leaning Jews believe we must, but they do not take the price into account. The Arabs have been fighting Israel’s presence in the territories for a long time. Periodically, news breaks that civilians are murdered in drive-by shootings and soldiers are attacked at checkpoints. If Israel hopes to rule the territories, it will continue to face a violent reaction from the Palestinians.

What Bennis and Holden neglect to mention is that the settlement-building could have ended long ago – especially when Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed an independent state for the Palestinians during a summit in 2000 with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Arafat refused, and the killing on both sides continued. Barak’s successors took advantage of their interim control to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Refugees should be allowed to return to Israel: The Israeli government will not allow this because it will upset the demographic balance. If they left voluntarily or for other reasons that resulted from the Arab invasion, why should Israel allow them to return? Perhaps their resettlement should be administered by those who created the problem – like the Arab leadership.

Israelis can seek protection in bomb shelters, and those in Gaza have none: Whose fault is that? Hamas will fire rockets into Israel when it feels like it and its citizens cannot locate bomb shelters when Israel returns fire. Israel only fires rockets in retaliation and cares enough about its people to provide bomb shelters.

Can Palestinian concerns get any sillier?

Republished from San Diego Jewish World