USA Today’s Historically Illiterate Timeline of the Israel-Islamist Conflict

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USA Today has published a map and a timeline to provide readers with a “history of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.” But the newspaper’s attempt at history falls short.

On Oct. 18, 2023, the nation and world section of USA Today published a two-part graphic that is replete with errors. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the newspaper incorrectly asserts, “is rooted in pre-biblical times” adding that “though borders have shifted over the years, Palestinian territories used to be in what is now Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.” This is false. No sovereign Palestinian Arab state has ever existed.

Indeed, the newspaper notes that the “Ottoman Empire controlled the region for about 400 years before its defeat” in World War I. Britain was then “given control of Palestine.” But this fails to note that “Palestine” was but a vague geographic region in the Ottoman Empire. And the Romans coined the word itself after expelling the native Jewish population. At the time, Arabs resided in Arabia, Phoenicians in what is present day Lebanon and Hittites in Turkey. Contra to USA Today’s assertion that the conflict dates back to “pre-biblical times,” the word “Palestine” or “Filastin” do not appear in the Koran. Jews are indigenous to the land and have maintained a presence that predates the Arab and Islamic conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries. Arabs did not reside there, en masse, in “pre-biblical times.” Jews did.

Unfortunately, the errors only continue from there.

Although USA Today notes that the “British government signaled its support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel with the Balfour Declaration,” the newspaper omits other important details relevant to the Jewish state’s founding. The 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1924 Anglo-American Convention further enshrined these claims into international law. Further, other mandates were made and Arab kingdoms were created out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, today’s Jordan, was carved out of some of the land originally set aside for Jewish settlement.

USA Today further errs in claiming that 1929 was the first instance of anti-Jewish violence. The newspaper asserts: “as the number of Jewish immigrants increased, many Palestinians were displaced.” Accordingly, “they began pushing back and violence resulted,” including in 1929 when “67 Jews were killed in the Hebron massacre, part of Palestinian riots against Jewish immigration to Palestine.” This is astoundingly inaccurate.

In fact, the first instance of organized anti-Jewish violence took place in 1920—more than nine years before Hebron. As CAMERA has highlighted, the 1920 Nebi Musa riots took place in Jerusalem. This was an attempt by Arab officials like Amin Al-Husseini to influence ruling British officials away from supporting a Jewish state. It occurred before mass Jewish immigration and Husseini and others initially wanted to encourage British officials to let the area become part of King Faisal’s short-lived Syrian kingdom. That is, it was done in the name of Syrian nationalism—not for a separate Palestinian Arab state. Or, more specifically, it was done to oppose Jewish social and political equality.

During the Nebi Musa massacre, rioters shouted, “the Jews are our dogs” and attacked Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Prior to the violence, Arabic-language notices began circulating in Jerusalem stating, “The Government is with us, [the British general Edmund] Allenby is with us, kill the Jews; there is no punishment for killing Jews.” Then, as the American foreign policy expert Bruce Hoffman documented in his 2015 book Anonymous Soldiers:

“By mid-morning, a large Arab crowd had gathered just outside Jaffa Gate. Egged on by tendentious speakers from the nearby Arab Club, the crowd began to chant the rhyming Arabic couplet ‘Palestine is our land, the Jews are our dogs!’”

Holding up a picture of Faisal, Haj Amin al-Husseini—whom the British would appoint grand mufti of Jerusalem the next year—shouted, “This is your king!” Others in the crowd proclaimed, “Faisal is our king!” A newspaper editor and enthusiastic Arab nationalist, Aref al-Aref, cried, “If we don’t use force against the Zionists and against the Jews, we will never be rid of them.” The frenzied crowd began shouting, “We will drink the blood of the Jews.”

Additional pogroms occurred in 1921 in Jaffa, which the Middle East analyst Oren Kessler has properly called it “Mandatory Palestine’s first ‘mass casualty’ attack.” More than 100 people died. USA Today doesn’t even mention it.

Indeed, the newspaper’s attempt to connect the 1929 massacre to increased Jewish immigration is inaccurate. 1921-1925 experienced a tremendous influx of Jewish immigrants returning to the land of their forebearers. More Arabs arrived as well, buoyed by the improved economic circumstances. Yet, after the 1921 Jaffa riots, the subsequent eight years were comparatively peaceful.

Rather, Husseini, who falsely claimed that Jews held designs on al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, incited the 1929 pogrom, and far more than 67 Jews were murdered. Indeed, as CAMERA noted in the National Review, 133 Jews were murdered and more than 300 were wounded as the organized violence engulfed other towns like Safed. The details of the massacres were highlighted by CAMERA in a Washington Times op-ed that appeared the same day as USA Today’s timeline. Women were raped; their breasts were cut off. Orphanages were targeted; children had their heads “bashed in.” One British policeman recounted seeing “an Arab cutting off a child’s head with a sword.” This wasn’t about “immigration.”

Indeed, as CAMERA detailed in a Times of Israel op-ed, in August 1921, an Arab delegation met with British officials, including Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, and demanded that Jewish immigration cease. The British offered to establish a legislative body and an advisory board, but the delegation rejected these proposals in a Sept. 1, 1921 letter. Another attempt by Churchill, in late November 1921, was also spurned.

In August 1922, a meeting of 75 Arab delegates voted to boycott legislative council elections. According to a June 1922 proposal by the British, the council would’ve had influence over Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine. But instead of some influence, they chose to have none, demanding that no land be sold to Jews—a demand which many of the delegates themselves would secretly break.

Had these proposals been accepted, it is possible that leading Arab officials could have limited Jewish immigration. But they were recalcitrant from the start, and disingenuous too; many Arab families, including the Husseinis, secretly sold land to the Jews. Zionists didn’t “steal” the land. As the historian Benny Morris has noted: “A giant question mark hangs over the “nationalist” ethos of the Palestinian Arab elite: Husseinis as well as Nashashibis, Khalidis, Dajanis, and Tamimis just before and during the Mandate sold land to the Zionist institutions.” These were the noble Arab families of the area and the leading opponents of Zionism.

Tellingly, USA Today completely ignores the 1930s, when Arabs were first offered the chance for a two-state solution and a separate Palestinian Arab state—and they declined it. Instead, they launched the first “intifada” or armed uprising, in which Husseini and others, such as Sheikh Izz Ad Din Al Qassam, launched terrorist attacks murdering Jews, Arabs open to compromise, and ruling British officials.

The relevance to today’s events is striking. For the Palestinians it was self-defeating; Husseini and his henchmen killed moderates who were open to compromise. Hamas names their rockets after Qassam, a fiery cleric and Islamist who was born in what is today Syria and who would be killed by British policemen. Hamas itself is derived from the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1920s Egypt and whose presence in the area dates to this time.

Husseini and others launched their revolt with aid from the fascist powers of Italy and later Germany. This history is all thoroughly documented, including in a recent book by Kessler, Palestine 1936. CAMERA has highlighted its lessons for policymakers in numerous op-eds and articles. USA Today flat out ignores it.

Similarly, USA Today entirely omits the fact that Arab states chose war over a Palestinian Arab state. The newspaper merely notes that “the UN votes to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states” but “Arabs reject the plan, which is later dropped.” This isn’t what happened. Rather, the U.N. offered a “two-state solution.” Arab states, along with Husseini’s militia, rejected it, choosing to go to war instead. A mere three years after the Holocaust, they openly called for a genocide of Jews. As Morris and others have documented, former Nazi SS officers even served as advisers, having been funneled in via Syria.

All of this history is ignored. Ditto for Egyptian leader Nasser’s attempts to build missiles to attack Israel, and his support for terrorist raids into Israel’s territory. The Soviet role in supporting Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is also ignored. The birth of Fatah, the movement that dominates the PLO, is omitted. The PLO and Fatah’s violations of the 1990s Oslo Peace Process are similarly left out of USA Today’s timeline.

In 2000, PLO and Fatah head Yasser Arafat planned the Second Intifada, a five-year-long terror campaign that murdered more than 1,000 Israelis. Arafat’s own wife and associates have acknowledged that he planned the Intifada in advance, even doing so while he was participating in U.S.-brokered peace talks with President Bill Clinton and then-Israeli premier Ehud Barak. Arafat rejected Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state, choosing war instead—just as his cousin Husseini had done in 1948 and 1936. Clinton’s memoir, and those of other participants, is clear: Arafat was given a chance for a Palestinian state in exchange for peace with Israel. He refused.

Astonishingly, USA Today completely omits both the Second Intifada and Arafat’s role. The Second Intifada, like the 1930s Intifada, further empowered Hamas and others who rejected any compromise. Its importance in understanding the situation today cannot be overstated. For five years, Israel was subjected to suicide bombings, bus bombings, hotels being blown up, families slaughtered—and it endured all of that after offering peace and a Palestinian state.

USA Today similarly ignores another offer made by Barak in 2001 at Taba. Palestinian leadership also rejected that proposal.

In frustration, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Gazans responded by voting for Hamas, which then took part in a brief but bloody civil war with its rival, Fatah. Hamas won and seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The terrorist group—whose charter quotes Hitler—immediately began launching rockets at the Jewish state. In response, both Israel and Egypt initiated a partial blockade.

Nonetheless, in 2008 Israel offered Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, another chance for a Palestinian state. Israel offered more than 93% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), a capital in eastern Jerusalem, and land swaps for the remaining percentage. Abbas didn’t even respond. Similar offers were made in 2014 and 2016. These too were met with rejection.

Remarkably, USA Today doesn’t mention these peace offers, as well as Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the subsequent rise of Hamas. And this is a timeline that purports to explain the latest Israel-Hamas War.

Indeed, the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hamas’s chief patron, is similarly ignored. The 2021 Israel-Hamas War is depicted as the result of an Israeli counterterrorist raid. CAMERA has rebutted this, noting that Iran and Hamas drove the conflict, with the latter seeking to capitalize off of Abbas’s decision to cancel elections in the West Bank. Iran even admitted its culpability.

USA Today’s “timeline” is, in fact, a master class in omissions and misleading journalism. Timelines are supposed to provide readers with a sense of events and offer important context. USA Today’s timeline does neither. That it was compiled by not one, but four, journalists doesn’t exactly provide confidence in the future of journalism.

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