Thanks to a joint effort of Jerry Haber, Juan Cole and my reader Amir, we’ve tracked down both the source of the faulty Hamas translation I wrote about yesterday and what the real translation of the statement should be.
To recap, JTA wrote yesterday that Hamas had called for the elimination of Jews from historic Palestine. If accurate, this statement would be both a violation of Hamas charter, which calls for Jews to live in Palestine under a unitary state controlled by Palestinians (which admittedly is a troubling, unacceptable premise for most Jews); and it would be real news since it would mark an even further radicalization of Hamas’ position.
If inaccurate, it would mean that whoever translated this statement either accidentally or purposely stoked the fire of anti-Palestinian enmity by creating a statement that twisted both the Arabic words of the original (which you’ll find here) and the political views of Hamas.
It turns out that the original source for the story was probably Maariv, the major Israeli daily. I’m guessing that JTA has a stringer in Israel who translated the Maariv story into English. The Maariv reporter mistranslated a key portion of Hamas’ Arabic statement as Jerry Haber and Juan Cole have confirmed by comparing the Hebrew translation to the original.
Here is what Maariv claimed Hamas wrote (this is Jerry’s translation from the Hebrew). Disputed passages are italicized:
“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 indivisible.”
And this is Jerry’s translation from the original Arabic:
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.”
To which he adds this rough translation of a similar statement in Arabic from the 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,”
So here’s the problem with the Maariv translation. First, it leaves out the phrase “from time immemorial.” Why is this important? Before we answer that, let’s note that the Hamas claim that Palestine has been an Islamic country from time immemorial is historically inaccurate.
Now, let’s continue. Juan Cole notes in an e mail to Jerry that the “time immemorial” phrase refers to the time before Jews came en masse back to Israel beginning in the 1880s. In other words, the point is to say that for centuries before 1880 Palestine was Arab. This is meant to bolster the current Hamas claim that all of Palestine (including what is now Israel) is legitimately Palestinian. Though it is true that there was only a negligible Jewish population in Israel for centuries after the Roman expulsion and the country was essentially Arab-dominated, it is surely not true, as I wrote above, that Palestine has been Arab from time immemorial.
That is why the phrase “not having a presence in it” is so important. This does not mean, as Maariv translates that Jews have no PLACE in a current or future Palestine. It means that Hamas is claiming that Jews had no physical existence in Palestine before the yishuv period. The purpose of this is to bolster the contention that Jews have no NATIONAL claim to Palestine.
Again, we can argue whether Hamas has a faulty grasp of history. But the main point as far as Jerry Haber and I are concerned is that we not allow Maariv, JTA and the thousands of right-wing commentators who have grasped this botched translation job to argue that Hamas has gone from being in favor a unitary state combining Palestinians and Jews; to an exterminationist position advocating the elimination of Jews from all of Palestine.
Why is this important? Sure, pro-Israel ideologues are going to argue what’s new and who cares. Hamas hates us. The statement whether accurately quoted or not merely confirms this. But I’ll tell you why it is important. What people in political conflicts say matters. When words are put into someone’s mouth that they did not say–this can matter even more. Demonizing Hamas by turning them into genocidaires serves the interests of the pro-Israel right. That’s what JTA and Maariv have done. They may have done so inadvertently or carelessly rather than maliciously. But they have done so nonetheless. And given the powder keg of hatred that is the current Middle East what we don’t need more of is provocation and distortion. Reality is bad enough without introducing incitement into the equation.
Will Maariv and JTA correct the record? Your guess is as good as mine. I hope so but I doubt it. A big hat tip to Sol Salbe, my trusty Australian source, who originally brought this story to my attention.