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In Defense of Helen Thomas

By James Donahue

Veteran American journalist Helen Thomas found herself under international attack and this week went into retirement after speaking her mind on the very issue that has been at the heart of the stress throughout the Middle East.

While attending a White House Jewish heritage event at the White House on May 27, a rabbi asked Thomas if she had any comments about Israel.

Her answer: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” Thomas said the Palestinian people “are occupied and it’s their land.” She said she thought the Israelis should just “go home” to all of the parts of the world where they came from.

After her comments were publicized, Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda cancelled Thomas’s appearance as a commencement speaker and former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer led a call for her resignation as a Washington press writer for the Hearst Newspapers.

President Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs this week called her remarks “offensive and reprehensible.” He admitted that this was his personal opinion and he had not spoken directly to the president on the matter.

Thomas has since apologized for her remarks, saying they were made in response to having learned of the killing of pro-Palestinian activists by Israeli forces.

In her written apology, Thomas said her comments “do not reflect” her “heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

The 89-year-old Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, has long been an outspoken warhorse among the press corps on Capital Hill. She has dared to ask the questions that other reporters refused to ask. President George W. Bush was apparently so offended by Thomas that he refused to ever call on her during the few press conferences he held.

President Obama gave Thomas a special seat in the front row since he came to power and does not seem to fear her questions.

It is said that Thomas has never hidden her politics concerning the Middle East conflict, and questions how Washington can stand by the blockade of Gaza and the mistreatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

It might be interesting to note that Thomas was correct when she said that the Israelis are occupiers of the Palestinian land. This is true. The Jews began moving into Palestine after World War I, when Britain declared the area as Palestine and issued the Balfour Declaration. The declaration was a letter addressed to Lord Rothschild, because of a request of the Zionists in Great Britain, which supported the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

The conflicts between the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine have raged ever since. When Israel declared its independence in 1948, the neighboring Arab states attacked.

The Israelis maintain that the area was declared theirs by God, as written in the Old Testament, and that they have returned to claim what God gave them. But what happened is that Jewish people, once scattered all over the world, have returned to land occupied by the Palestinians. After creating a State of Israel, they seized all access to the Jordan River and other fresh water sources. It has been a struggle over water almost from the beginning.

Even some of the Jewish archaeologists, researching the ruins throughout Israel, questioning many of the stories of the Old Testament. Some doubt if such personalities as King Solomon and King David ever existed, or if they did exist, whether they were any more than tribal warlords in their day.

Israel Finkelstein, head of the Archaeology Department, Tel Aviv University, and writer Neil Asher Silberman, in their book The Bible Unearthed, conclude that the Bible is a work of propaganda written under the reign of King Josiah in about the Seventh or Eighth Centuries BC.

The book suggests that the writers of those Old Testament books used historical fragments to develop a myth of various Canaanite tribes as a justification for Josiah’s rule. The books were a political document designed to glorify the Hebrew nation under Josiah and connect him falsely with a time when the state of Israel was once a powerful and advanced civilization. It was all a fabrication.

All that is going on in Israel/Palestine today is a continuation of an ancient feud between the descendants of ancient Canaanite tribes. And Thomas is right when she says the Jews have become occupants of Palestinian land.

Where she was wrong was in saying the Israelites should go home. Now that they are where they are, and officially recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign state, Israelis are home. What is needed is exactly what Thomas said in her apology statement. The Israelis and Palestinians need to learn tolerance for one another. There is a need to tear down fences and find ways to live in harmony, sharing the water, the land and the resources so both sides, and the rest of the world, can live in peace.

That Christians in the United States have been so brainwashed by the Old Testament myth that the Jews are God’s “chosen people” has had a major effect on the politics of this nation. Leaders, who have accepted this story, are literally afraid to deal fairly with the Arab states surrounding Israel, and are allowing Israel to be the neighborhood bully.

The fear is that if they don’t do this, God’s wrath will come down on the United States. And this dark secret is the reason Helen Thomas’ statement raised so many eyebrows.

She has apologized gracefully. Everyone should have accepted that and just let the issue go. Helen is too fine a journalist to have allowed this to destroy the final years of a most distinguished career.