Frankly, I don’t know whether newspapers have a legal obligation to check the facts in op-ed articles they publish – but one might perhaps expect them to feel at least some moral or professional responsibility to do so. Several weeks ago, a few days after the death of Ariel Sharon, The International New York Times carried an article captioned, “The man who made peace impossible,” by one Ali Jarbawi, described by a note at the bottom of the page as a political scientist at Birzeit University and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority.
What the paper omitted to mention was that Jarbawi is also one of its regular opinion writers. Jarbawi’s opinion of the late Sharon obviously wasn’t very positive, and that is his privilege, but his article also included several purported “facts” which a person of Professor Jarbawi’s academic experience must have known to be false.
One such falsehood was that Sharon’s “pet project was the concept of transfer” – equating “transfer” with the “Jordan is Palestine” concept which Sharon had in fact championed at one time, though later renouncing it – but which had nothing to do with expelling Palestinian Arabs (i.e. “transferring” them) from their homes. Also, Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza may not have been as successful as he had envisaged, and this was so mainly because the PA of which Prof. Jarbawi is, or at least was, a member did not respond by taking any active, positive steps on its part to advance peace ‒ but to declare that “Ariel Sharon was a major obstacle to peace between Palestinians and Israelis” is Orwellian at best (or worst).
The most blatant falsehood in Jarbawi’s diatribe against Sharon, however, was the sentence: “in 2000 he entered al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a holy Muslim site, which triggered the second intifada.”
One may assume that someone as involved as Jarbawi would have known full well that Sharon never entered the Aqsa mosque, nor did anyone else in the group which accompanied him (I can personally vouch for that as I was there with him), and that the second intifada had in fact been pre-planned by Yasser Arafat not only before the Sharon visit to the Temple Mount, but even before the Camp David meeting with prime minister Ehud Barack and president Bill Clinton.
Thus his above statements must be judged a deliberate attempt to falsify history in order to retroactively (and perhaps with a view to the future) justify violence and terror.
Expecting the New York Times International Edition to be eager to put things right, I sent its editor the following letter: “Mr. Ali Jarbawi’s article (Jan. 22, “The Man Who Made Peace Impossible”) about the late Ariel Sharon does not really merit a measured response. However, one outright falsehood in the article should not remain uncorrected. Contrary to what was written, neither Sharon nor any of the people accompanying him on his visit to the Temple Mount ever entered the... Aqsa Mosque (or The Dome of the Rock). Also, Mr. Jarbawi’s very intimation, untrue as it was, that Ariel Sharon’s entering a holy Muslim site would have been sacrilegious, reeks of racism and intolerance. Non-Christians are welcome to visit Christian churches, as are non-Jews entering synagogues – why should the visit of a Jewish person to a Muslim mosque be considered sacrilege?” The paper never printed the letter, apparently preferring to let the falsehood stand. Adding insult to injury, on the 7th of this month it did, however, publish another vitriolic article by the same Jarbawi, focusing on Israel’s request to be recognized as the Jewish nation state, conveniently forgetting to mention that Israel was prepared to recognize a future Palestinian state as the Palestinian nation state. After having falsely claimed in his first article that Sharon advocated the “transfer” of Israeli Arabs, his new opus now insinuates that Netanyahu also intends to “purge [Israel] of non-Jews and transfer its Palestinian citizens to a forthcoming Palestinian state.” According to the Goebbels formula, if you repeat a lie time and time again, the world may accept it as truth. Jarbawi seems to be intimately acquainted with this concept.
The author is a former ambassador to the US.