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BitterLemons.org "is a website that presents Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. It focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace process. It is produced, edited and partially written by Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian, and Yossi Alpher, an Israeli and former senior Mossad (intelligence) officer. Its goal is to contribute to mutual understanding through the open exchange of ideas. Bitterlemons.org aspires to impact the way Palestinians, Israelis and others worldwide think about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," its website states.
BitterLemons purports to promote dialog between Israelis and Palestinians, and does this by running concurrent articles by Palestinians and Israelis on roughly the same topic. Because it is sold under the rubric of dialog, many of the articles are subsequently published in the Arab press throughout the Middle East. However, most Israeli articles are usually a statement of Israeli position with no attempt to enter into a dialog with Palestinians. There is no evidence of a to-and-fro on any issue; on the contrary, most of the time the concurrent disparate views on the website are jarring, and there is no indication that a synthesis or reconciliation of views has been achieved. However, because the BitterLemons is supposed to be about dialog they manage thereby to publish their views to a Middle Eastern audience, something that they would be unable to do without the Palestinian figleaf. Currently (2007), BitterLemons is mostly run by Israelis because Kattib is mostly working on his PhD.
An issue of language
Yossi Alpher, the Israeli editor and former senior Mossad official, always refers to Palestinian violence as terrorism and refers to significant portions of the Palestinian body politic as terrorists. This is not the type of language that is conducive to dialog or understanding, this is how an discussion between Paul de Rooij and Alpher resulted:
- I just read your "Release prisoners with 'blood on their hands'" article.
Could you explain why you use the ideologically tainted word "terrorism" when referring to Palestinian violence? It seems to me that you prejudge the people by using this word. I suspect you would further your argument by using "resistance" - which is precisely what it is. Israelis may not like violence due to resistance, but its nature should not be confused or hidden. By using the charged word "terrorism", one doesn't address its cause. In my opinion, the Israeli discourse would be elevated by taking the cause of the violence into account. As such, your use of words is sloppy or confusing, and it is detrimental to a constructive dialog.(20 March 2005)
Yossi Alpher replied:
- Terrorism is not an ideologically tainted word. It is, however, often abused and misused. I use it to mean the deliberate targeting of civilians for a political purpose. There can be no doubt that that is what Palestinian "resistance fighters" do. Nothing "sloppy" about that. (20 March 2005)
Since this answer was not satisfactory the following query was sent to him:
- Do you refer to Israeli (army or settler) actions entailing killings or mass demolition of property as "terrorism"? Your answer to this question will prove my point about the political uses of this terminology.(Question by Paul de Rooij: 21 March 2005)
Elicited this reply:
- any israeli action that deliberately targets civilians is also terrorism; in the case of the IDF, state terrorism. but i argue that the IDF, as a matter of policy, does not deliberately seek to kill civilians. if soldiers nevertheless do so, they should be prosecuted. settlers, on the other hand, do at times deliberately target civilians, and this is terrorism and should be prosecuted.
i fully agree that cases of individual israelis, soldiers and settlers, targeting palestinian civilians have not been dealt with harshly enough. on the other hand, the difference between the IDF's inadvertent killing of civilians (which happens in the most "moral" wars) and deliberate palestinian terrorist attacks on civilians is, in my view, significant in terms of societal morals: it puts us on the cutting edge of a clash of civilizations. (21 March 2005)
And the discussion continued:
- So, in your view, it is the intention that is the key to differentiate between terrorism or other forms of violence. You intimate that most Palestinian killings are intentional and thus classed as "terrorism", and Israeli (state terror) or settler violence is for the most part non-intentional or inadvertent. How about the "targeted assassinations", the one ton bomb thrown in a refugee camp, the flattening of Jenin, ... it seems to me that many people are killed "inadvertently" but that this hardly exculpates/or lessens the crime or the Israeli culpability in a _bona fide_ war crimes tribunal. Intention isn't a necessary condition to be liable to serious war crimes.
In my view, there is legitimate and illegitimate violence -- that used to oppress others is illegitimate and that inflicted for liberation is legitimate. The latter is called resistance, and it may incorporate terrorism (as a tactic).
Be that as it may. You seem to apply some sophistry to suggest that it is the Palestinians who are mostly responsible for "terrorism" while Israeli army/settler violence is somehow "inadvertent"/non-intentional, and thus not to be classified as "terrorism" (state or otherwise). In my opinion, you are using this word in its propagandistic form. If you write for BitterLemons with the intent of furthering discourse/dialog, then certainly this type of language has to be cast aside. Furthermore, it is essential that we examine the cause of the violence to make any difference, and once again, the usage of the "terrorism" adjective is less than useful. The cause of "terrorism" is never examined, but when it is "resistance" then it is implicit. Again, examining the cause of the violence is essential to be able to do something about it; one cannot attenuate the violence without addressing its causes. I know Israelis don't like to talk about causes, but this is a large part of the problem.(Reply from Paul de Rooij, 21 March 2005)
And Yossi Alpher's reply:
- i resent anyone, yourself included, telling me that i have to change the tone of my writing to suit his/her ideological preferences, or that my writing is detrimental to constructive dialogue, when bitterlemons is widely seen as being precisely about that: constructive dialogue. unless you believe that dialogue is constructive only when everyone involved accepts the palestinian position.
we are all entitled to our opinions. the idea of bitterlemons is to engage in a civilized exchange of views rather than killing one another.
i have no problem at all talking about causes, including the arabs' decision in 1947-48 to invade the jewish state rather than recognizing 181, thereby launching the conflict and causing the refugee problem, ongoing palestinian rejection of the right of the jewish people to a sovereign state in their historic homeland, and the effect on israeli attitudes of the palestinian suicide bombing campaign.
- They received $100,000 from the Ford Foundation in 2004.
- The European Union has also funded the project: EU logo shows on the website indicating this.
- URL: www.BitterLemons.org
Resources and articles
- About, BitterLemons.org.
- Yossi Alpher, Palestine: Information with Provenance (PIWP database), accessed June 2007.
- Ford Foundation documents.
- Mark Glaser, "Internet Gives All Sides in Israel-Palestine Debate," MediaShift/PBS, March 15, 2006.
- Galia Golan, "Bitterlemons.org: 'AN ISRAELI VIEW: Now what?'," Peace Now, June 17, 2007.