Bushwhacking History

White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly was attacked last week for his comments that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and that the Civil War might have been avoided by compromise.

But no one attacked the comments of Palestinian caudillo Mahmood Abbas who wrote an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper attempting to shame Britain on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The left’s hyperventilation over Kelly’s remarks, which were entirely correct, and the comprehensive lack of outrage in response to Abbas’s article, were both predictable and consistent.

If people learn history, and are willing to expend any intellectual energy to learn its lessons, they will inevitably conclude that what the left wants to convince them of is nonsense and that any action based on such nonsense is dangerous.

The Democrats have decided that they wish to carry the Civil War’s history beyond politically-correct condemnation of the South to the literal destruction of its history. Thus, Charlottesville. And the calls for tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders. Al Sharpton wants to tear down the Jefferson Memorial, and the church where both Washington and Lee worshipped is removing plaques honoring their memories.

And the Washington, D.C. government has voted to erect a statue to the late D.C. mayor Marion Barry, memorable only for his cocaine conviction.

Let’s start with Kelly’s remarks. We’ll never know whether the Civil War might have been prevented by compromise. But Kelly was right: calmer heads might have cobbled together the means for slavery to be phased out. Mr. Whitney’s cotton gin created such enormous economic power in the South that some means other than slavery could have been found to feed it.

As to Lee, there is so much historical evidence that he was an honorable man one vignette suffices to demonstrate that fact.

On the eve of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, while he and Grant were exchanging notes before their ultimate meeting, Confederate General Porter Alexander, Lee’s chief of artillery, came to his tent to propose that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against what were to be the Northern occupying forces.

According to Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of Lee, quoting from Alexander’s own memoirs, Lee rejected that idea forcefully. He told Alexander that they had no right to consider only how such action would affect them personally. He said,

“We must consider its effect on the country as a whole. Already it is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live. They would become mere bands of marauders, and enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many sections that they may never have had occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from. And, as for myself, you young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Only an honorable man could have spoken those words. Lee knew that a guerrilla war would prevent reconciliation between North and South for years, perhaps decades, and would certainly fail. Though he had fought for the South, Lee realized that a reunited nation was his nation as much as it was U.S. Grant’s.

Those who called Kelly’s remarks false and label him dishonorable cannot admit the truth of his remarks because they disprove the left’s narrative. The fact that none of those people objected to what Abbas wrote proves their dedication to burying history’s truths.

On November 2, 1917, in a letter to Lord Rothschild, then British foreign secretary Sir Arthur Balfour wrote,

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

On November 1, Abbas wrote an article that is nothing more than a series of distortions of historical facts. All of these arguments are false as explained and thoroughly documented as such in my book The BDS War Against Israel.

Abbas begins with an assertion that British support of Jewish immigration to Palestine negated the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, arguing that the Declaration set up a conflict between Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinian population.

In fact, in 1917 more than half of the land in Palestine was held by absentee landowners. Palestinians had no rights of self-determination, land ownership or otherwise. Balfour’s Declaration created a system, later institutionalized by two UN resolutions, that ensured the Arab population’s rights, such as the right to vote, in the territory set aside by the UN as a Jewish state.

Abbas asserts that in 1948, “…Zionist militias forcibly expelled more than 800,000 men, women and children from their homeland, perpetrating horrific massacres and destroying hundreds of villages in the process.

The facts of history are vastly different. In October 1948, the Economist reported that the most important factor in Arab flight were the orders of Arab leaders for them to, for example, vacate the city of Haifa.

After the Israeli war of independence Arab leaders demanded that the refugees be permitted to return home. But Khaled Al-Azm — Syria’s foreign minister — said:

“Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees while it is we who made them leave.… We brought disaster upon… Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave.… We have rendered them dispossessed.… We have accustomed them to begging.… Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon… men, women and children — all this in the service of political purposes.”

There was no Palestinian nation in 1917, 1948, or at any other time in history. As historian Benny Morris writes in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, by 1947, much of the Arab population in Palestine had only an indistinct, if any, idea of national purpose and statehood. Arab leaders drove them out, manipulated them, and then declared war on Israel seeking its eradication. Only after the Arab armies failed to destroy Israel did those leaders — from Al-Azm to Abbas — seek to reclaim all of Israel for those Arabs.

Abbas wrote that 2.9 million Palestinians live in the West Bank “… under draconian military occupation turned colonization with 300,000 of that number being inhabitants of Jerusalem.…Two million live in the Gaza Strip, an open prison subjected to regular destruction though the full force of Israel’s military apparatus.”

Israeli towns and settlements in the West Bank employ many of the Arabs there, and are condemned for it by men such as Abbas. Violent attacks against Israeli citizens in the West Bank erupt irregularly, with bombings and stabbings. The Gaza Strip is ruled by the terrorist network Hamas, which regularly launches rockets at Israeli towns and tunnels out of Gaza to make pathways for terrorist attacks. Israeli strikes on Gaza target the rocket launchers and sometimes erupt into mini-wars which cost many lives on both sides.

Today, the principal Palestinian populations don’t live in the West Bank or Gaza. About half a million of them are imprisoned in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria while more than double that number live in those nations outside the camps. The UN has a special agency dedicated to their welfare, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA). In 1958, UNWRA’s chief in Jordan, Sir Arthur Galloway said,

“The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore; as an affront to the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders do not give a damn whether the Arab refugees live or die.”

Nothing has changed since then. Abbas postures and pressures the Western nations for a two-state solution. But he, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, constantly reject proposals that would create a Palestinian state.

Three times since 2000, Israeli prime ministers have tried to implement the “land for peace” formula proposed in UN Resolution 242. In 2000, Ehud Barak agreed to a plan proposed by Bill Clinton to create a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. But Arafat walked out of the negotiations, never returned, and launched his “Second Intifada” terrorist campaign.

In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and pulled Israel back to its pre-1967 War borders. Palestinians rained missiles on Israeli towns from Gaza and elected Hamas to govern Gaza. Hamas’ charter calls for the violent destruction of Israel.

In 2008 Ehud Olmert presented Abbas with a map proposing a Palestinian state in about one hundred percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a formally divided Jerusalem. Abbas left with the map and never returned.

In 2013 John Kerry and Barack Obama began another peace “process” that lasted about eighteen months. They tried to force Israel into a “peace” deal that promised only more violence. The Israelis refused to agree.

Abbas’s condemnation of the Balfour Declaration is so riddled with lies and historical distortions that it should be condemned even by the left. It won’t be because it fits their narrative that depends on those lies and historical distortions.

Historical distortions, dishonor, and mendacity are the hallmarks of the left. Ignorance of history is one of their most powerful weapons. It can be defended against only by our knowledge of history and the lessons it teaches.

Think about that tomorrow when you listen to their paeans to the hundredth anniversary of the Soviet Revolution in Russia.

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