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Maariv Mistranslates Hamas, Stoking Fires of Anti-Arab Enmity

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.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Amir December 2, 2007, 7:51 AM

    I see my name has been linked to this story at both your websites. I’ll just point out that I totally disagree with your interpertations though I did find the websites using google. I may comment on this later. Anyway, why don’t you or Jerry contact Ma’ariv and see if they stand by their interpertation.
    The jist of the quotation is that Jews have no business in Palestine. What the Hamas plans to do about it if they ever, god forbid, should rule Palestine, is anybodies guess. I wouldn’t put to much faith on them sticking to their covenent, and even if they were to, that’s bad enough.

  • Amir December 2, 2007, 11:50 AM

    The posts about this story are really pathetic and they say more about you and “Jerry Haber” than about Maariv or anyone else. Here you are trying to figure out – what exactly does Hamas mean when they say “there is no place in Palestine for the Jews” or that “Jews have no right whatsoever in Palestine.” These statements are very clear to me. The interpertations you added are merely your interpertations. Do I think Hamas is going to set up extermination camps like the Nazis? No. But they would, if they could, bring about a Jewish emmigration from Israel. When Hamas took over Gaza, why didn’t they invite the previous Jewish residents to return and rebuild their houses and live among them in their Islamic paradise. Well, for the Hamas (and the PLO by the way) the Jews who came to Israel after 1880 (the year you used) are as illegitimate as the settlers in the West Bank. So yes, after they force out all of the post 1880 Jews, those that are left will be able to live as dhimmis in their Islamic paradise.
    Hamas’s goals are clear from their statements and their actions and shame on both of you who define yourselves as zionists (and I do not doubt your sincererity) for dedicating so much time and effort into trying to deceive your readers about Hamas’ true nature rather than helping to expose them for what they truly are.

  • David December 2, 2007, 1:09 PM

    BTW, the Jerusalem Post’s version is only slightly different: “”Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem… there is no room in it for the Jews.”

  • Ramsey December 2, 2007, 2:46 PM

    I have to say that I agree with Richard and Jerry about the need for accuracy in what Hamas actually said. I take them very seriously and I want to know exactly what they stand for and what their real intentions are. That being said, I sympathize with Amir’s position regarding Hamas’s desire for an Islamic paradise with all non-muslims living as second class citizens and find it somewhat comical, in a scary sort of way, the hair splitting that is going on about Hamas’s actual intentions here. Richard has included sufficient qualifiers to spare him any serious criticism here, but there is a brilliant analogy waiting to be brought forth here by someone smarter and wittier than myself. Perhaps soomething along the lines of blacks being allowed to live amongst whites, but only being counted as 3/5 of a person for voting issues. Right-wing zionists should take note of the intense similarity between their positions and that of Hamas.

  • David December 2, 2007, 3:20 PM

    Ramsey, I don’t mean to sound snarkey, but I’m surprised that someone with a mind given to analogy missed the rather more obvious one when you worry about “an Islamic paradise with all non-Muslims living as second-class citizens”.

  • Ramsey December 2, 2007, 3:26 PM

    David – Did you miss my last comment or are you just looking to for an argument?

  • Richard Silverstein December 2, 2007, 5:55 PM

    I’m going to mirror Amir’s comment back to him & hope that he & other readers understand the irony inherent in doing so:

    Amir’s comment says more about himself and his prejudicial views of Hamas than about anyone else. Hamas’ statements are very clear to me. The interpertations Amir added are merely his interpertation.

    [Hamas] would, if they could, bring about a Jewish emmigration from Israel.

    Hmmm, Israel would if it could (and has) brought about Palestinian emigration from the territories. I don’t know whether Hamas would bring about emigration and Amir cannot prove a theoretical. But I certainly know what Israel has done, and transparently. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have emigrated from the Territories because of the miserable conditions that Israel deliberately creates, encouraging mass misery. This is no more justified than it would be if Hamas theoretically in some future time were to do the same.

    Hamas’s goals are clear from their statements

    No, their goals are clear to you from yr own interpretation of them and their future intentions. But yr interpretation or prediction of Hamas’ actions is different than their stated principles. You can’t substitute your own propaganda for Hamas’ actual words though you sure can try.

    …Shame on both of you…for dedicating so much time and effort into trying to deceive your readers about Hamas’ true nature rather than helping to expose them for what they truly are.

    I’m always entertained by Amir’s finger-wagging & his assumption that I should be cheerleading for his anti-Palestinian propganda. As if my goal in life should be to advance his agenda. As for deceiving my readers…I guess my OTHER readers will just have to be a judge of that. Fortunately, I don’t rest my reputation on what Amir thinks of me.

    Anyone ELSE reading this blog would understand clearly my disagreements with Hamas. But my goal is not to expose the perfidy of Hamas or campaign against the group as a legitimate interlocutor for the Palestinians. That’s Amir’s goal in life. My goal is to observe the conflict & try to keep people honest on both sides of the argument.

  • delad December 2, 2007, 7:42 PM

    and thank you very much Mr. Silverstein for going to the bother of keeping it honest.

  • Richard Silverstein December 2, 2007, 9:03 PM

    I see my name has been linked to this story at both your websites. I’ll just point out that I totally disagree with your interpertations though I did find the websites using google.

    Oh heaven forfend that anyone interpret my thanks to you as implying that you agree with our interpretation of these translations. I didn’t mean that. I only meant to thank you for helping with the research which I do appreciate.

  • Amir December 3, 2007, 1:02 PM

    The most annoying thing about the false accusations against Israel that they are committing genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced migrations, is that they make us look so damn incompetent. I mean, seriously, the Arab population in all of Eretz Israel has spiralled in the last sixty years. Genocide indeed. And even if what RS says is true, and tens of thousands of West Bank Arabs have left because of the conditions this number is still small compared to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have emigrated from Israel directly or indirectly because of the war of terror the Arabs have and are waging against Israel. And this is not theoretical at all, as RS wants you to believe, just ask all those who have left Sderot in the past few years. And finally, RS’s argument is irrelevant because even if he is correct and I am wrong about Israel’s intentions and actions, that still doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’s goal is to run the Jews, or most of them, out of Israel and leave a small servile Jewish committee like has happened in that other great Islamic Republic called Iran.

  • David December 3, 2007, 1:49 PM

    (Oops, Ramsey. I did overlook your last sentence. Sorry.)

  • Richard Silverstein December 3, 2007, 3:07 PM

    The most annoying thing about the false accusations against Israel that they are committing genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced migrations

    Whoa! Hold on a second mister. No one here has said anything about genocide, ethnic cleansing or even forced migration. Where do you think you are? If you want to accuse me of saying those things I’ll ban you in a NY minute. I said Israel created conditions so intolerable that tens of thousands, if not more Palestinians have abandoned the Territories. That’s it. Now, if you want to twist what I said into what you claimed above you’re gonna do that somehwere else & not here. So clarify what you meant very clearly or you’re toast.

    this number is still small compared to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who have emigrated from Israel directly or indirectly because of the war of terror the Arabs have and are waging against Israel.

    Your pro-Israel propaganda skills are faltering. Do you really mean to say that Qassams falling on Sderot have causd hundreds of Israelis to emigrate? And even if we include acts of terror like suicide bombings which have been basically nil for quite some time do you really expect a reasonable person to conclude that these acts of terror have had an equivalent impact on Israeli society as the hundreds of thousands of daily insults big & small perpetrated by the IDF against Palestinians in the Territories.

    Were the shoe on the other foot and it was Palestinians imprisoning Israeli Jews in Jerusalem, setting up 500 roadblocks to prevent travel bet. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv & other cities, turning off Israeli electric power, committing assassinations with impunity that cause tremendous collateral civilian damage, invading Israeli territory at will to flush out Israeli “militants,” preventing Israeli women from reaching hospitals to give birth or preventing terminally ill Israeli patients from getting medical care, etc. etc. I assure you the effect on Israeli emigration would be many, many times as great as the current level.

    Israelis emigrate because they are looking for a better life elsewhere. Palestinians emigrate because they have NO life. There is a difference though to propagandists like you there is no distinction.

  • Amir December 3, 2007, 10:11 PM

    I was referring to others on the far left that accuse Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Your comment reminded me of them. Sorry.

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