Transcript

Controversial Gaza Pullout Begins

Dr. Amiel Ungar
Department of Political Studies, Judea and Samaria College Ariel
Monday, August 15, 2005; 12:00 PM

Israel began its planned pullout from the Gaza Strip today, despite opposition from some religious groups and the Likud party, who oppose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 's plan to evacuate 8,500 settlers in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. Why is there strong internal opposition to the plan? What is the significance of losing these settlements?

Dr. Amiel Ungar , a lecturer at Judea and Samaria College Ariel and a contributing editor of the Jerusalem Report, was online Monday, Aug. 15, at Noon ET to discuss religious opposition to the Israel's withdrawal from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The transcript follows.

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Morro Bay, Calif.: The Palestinians have been living under military occupation for almost 40 years now. Is it a viable option for Israel to continue to deny them their rights while reserving more land for Jewish only settlements in the West Bank? Do you see expulsion of Palestinians as a viable option?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Having lived here before the wars launched by the Palestinians the onus of the occupation was a byproduct of the terror. Before the terror one rarely encountered a roadblock and Palestinians could freely enter Tel-Aviv. Israel entered Judea and Samaria as a result of a war which if she had lost would have led to her extermination. People who launch wars of aggression should not be expected to go back to the starting lines. In return for peace they could have received Gaza minus the contiguous settlements.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: The best way to encourage the Palestinians to make peace is to have them understand that the longer they tarry the less they will get. Given this week's precedent why should they make peace and end the state of occupation if they can expect to receive everything and even get the State Department to thank them for their munificence in accepting Gaza on a platter.

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Fairfax, Va.: I have never taken much interest in the fighting and politics of Israel and the Palestinians. I am not Muslim or Jewish or a religious Christian. But the images and stories that I see and read disturb me. I feel so bad for these poor families leaving Gaza. It seems like these people have sacrificed so much for their beliefs and are now being forced leave everything they worked for behind. When I watch the news and the evacuation it reminds me of images from the Holocaust. Then I read articles and quotes from members of terrorist groups like Hamas who say that they plan to continue the fighting. What is the point of evacuating these families, if it only fuels the terrorists?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I could have hardly put it better. Having agreed with others like yourself as well as the former Chief of Staff who predicted that this will provide a tail wind for terror I would like to dwell on the other aspect of your question. This sends a horrendous message. In Kfar Darom the Cohen family will be expelled. Three of their children lost their legs in a bus bomb planned by Muhammed Dahlan who is supposed to provide security in the area after Israel's flight. Despite the trauma they came back to Kfar Darom this is the thanks they get. How do you educate a people to sacrifice when you make suckers out of people who withstood thousands of mortar and rocket shells and stayed put?

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Quebec, Canada: Since Israelis have to leave their ancient lands in the Gaza Strip, why not (in the name of peace) make the Arabs within pre-67 Israel leave? Why does "peace" always mean Jews have to leave and Arabs can live anywhere?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: You have stated a point I was going to make quite eloquently. There is something morally unbalanced in the assumption that areas under Arab sovereignty must be judenrein in the name of ethnic homogeneity but Israel must host a sizable Arab population. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party will fight the next election on a platform that will swap areas such as Uhm el Fahm with a sizable Arab population for Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria. If there is to be a two state solution let it at least be one where Israel has a homogeneously Jewish population.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: You eloquently anticipate a point I wanted to make. There is something very warped with the assumption that areas under Arab sovereignty must be judenrein and areas of a Jewish state must host a sizable Arab population. Reciprocity is the key. Not only are live Jews expected to leave Gaza but we must take our dead as well. This buttresses the Arab fallacy that they truly belong and we are Crusader like transients.

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Anonymous: From a Biblical perspective was Gaza ever a part of Judah?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Yes, see the book of Judges

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Glenmont, Md.: As an American and a Republican, I'm confused as to how our great President will go to every part of the planet to destroy terrorists, yet encourage Israel to appease them. Military deterrence is the only solution to terrorism. The Gaza pullout is a tragedy for the whole planet.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I also stuck my neck out in the Jerusalem Report for Bush. In his defense one cannot ask an American president to be more solicitous of Israel's interests than Sharon. My chief disappointment is with the American neo-conservatives who could attack Oslo and not realize that the disaster being perpetrated is son of Oslo. They could justifiably criticize Clinton and Peres but are still star struck by Sharon.

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Arlington, Va.: Dr. Ungar -- What are the specific passages of the Torah that would support a claim that Gaza is included in the Promised Land? Thank you.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: The book of Numbers mentions the boundary via Atzmona one of the communities to be liquidated. It was assigned to the tribe of Judah in Joshua Chapter XV.

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Milan, Italy: Why weren't the so-called "Palestinians" of Gaza fighting for independence against Egypt prior to 1967? Is it because Palestinian nationalism had not yet been fabricated by the Egyptian, Yasser Arafat?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Grazie mille,

I can be semi retired when the questioners do half the work. Palestinian nationalism (nationalism didn't extend to Kuwait when Arafat supported Saddam's invasion of that country) was an attempt to reverse the David and Goliath of Israel versus the Arab world now it was the Israeli Goliath against the helpless Palestinians. Give them credit it worked.

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Lisbon, Portugal: Once the pullout is completed and the terrorists continue to attack Israel, how will Sharon respond? By giving them Tel Aviv?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I am one of the last people qualified to answer for Sharon. Like yourself I believe this folly will encourage further terror. Israel frequently exhibits a trial by ordeal mentality. They used to bind suspected witches to a heavy rock and if the "witch" drowned she was presumed innocent. Some Israelis want to put themselves in a situation where no one in his right mind can blame Israel. I prefer Golda Meir's statement that she would prefer condemnations to the most eloquent funeral eulogies for Israel.

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Wheaton, Md.: Why do you suppose the leaders of your great nation refuse to learn from history and continue land-for-peace appeasement policies with terrorists? All educated people know this will lead to escalation and not peace.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I obviously sympathize with the thrust of your question and we have just completed a fast that amongst other things laments our tendency to ignore previous mistakes. Some Israelis have tired of the struggle and fear that if we do not make peace we will eventually be annihilated. Secular Zionism hoped Zionism would bring normalcy and faced with international hostility deludes itself that appeasement will bring peace and acceptance.

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Greenville, N.C.: Since Arabs and Jews are both descendants of Abraham, how can either group claim sole ownership of Palestine and Jerusalem, from either a religious or historical viewpoint? Why not then a single democratic state, where Judaism, Islam and all religions can coexist, without special privilege to any? Hasn't Israel already demonstrated that Jews and Arabs can live peacefully within one country?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I have no problems with Muslim and Christian minorities living among us the problem is the other way and therefore when Arabs have sovereignty it means that the Jews must leave and even vacate their graveyards as is occurring in this present disaster. There are more than twenty Muslim Arab states where Islam is the official religion. We are entitled to a state where Jews are sovereign while respecting the rights of minorities.

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London, U.K.: Will the Gaza pullout be temporary or permanent?

That is, in the future can a a claim for those lands be made again for religious reasons (yes/no)?

"We are going for now but these lands are our and in the future (when our population increases enough) we may come back?" -is there such an idea among you?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: This is the one consolation that Sharon pulled this off by manipulation rather than referendum. The mistake of one government can hopefully be rectified by another. If the Palestinians use Gaza as a place d'armes and they are already planning to bring in their fighters from Lebanon to Gaza and use it as a terror base I hope that we will return to what is rightfully ours.

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Chicago, Ill.: Has the presence of settlers and occupation legally or politically restricted and limited Israel's military response to Arab attacks coming out of Gaza in the past, and now without the settlers can a stronger response to rocket, mortar, suicide bomber attacks etc. coming from Gaza be expected such as counter-attack by rockets, air force etc. including less concern for inevitable collateral civilian damage?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: This is a deja vu of the argument that was advanced prior to the retreat from Lebanon. Now we would no longer be restrained. However our absence has enabled hizbollah which the withdrawal advocates assured us would morph into a plain vanilla political party to establish a balance of terror with katyusha missiles. Despite the promises we did not hit back when they killed Israeli civilians and soldiers. During the first intifada we heard that when the Palestinians would escalate from stones to bullets that would be the end. Well they escalated to bullets mortars and kassam rockets and the "restraint" continued. Israel has found excuses for deferring action it took the atrocity of the Park Hotel and 800 dead to bring about defensive shield. So don't hold your breath for a massive retaliation particularly when the other side will have the capability of hitting strategic targets such as the Ashkelon power station.

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Fairfax, Va.: Seeing you teach in an illegal settlement on occupied land, it is no wonder that do support the withdrawal. Can you please tell me if you believe that Palestinians have the right to return to their land as stated in U.N. resolutions? Also, since the U.S. was not able to bring the sides together for an agreement, maybe they should step aside and let someone not so pro-Israel try.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: First I am not going to let you get away with the illegal settlement canard. Eminent international lawyers such as professor Julius Stone Eli Lauterpacht and Eugene Rostow the former US undersecretary of State thought otherwise. The UN General Assembly dominated by the Arabs shares your opinion but then I would also have to believe that Zionism is racism. The land was taken in a defensive war the 6 Day War, and attempts by the Arabs and their soviet allies to declare it aggressive failed. Compared to the Europeans who want a pass from Arab terror and need Arab oil the US is comparatively favorable to Israel but we are not about to participate in our own suicide.

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Washington, D.C. - Israelis moving out: So where will they all move to? I assume they have invested in the homes they no longer are allowed to live in. Where are they going to move to now and who will pay them for the land/homes they are giving up?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: They are to be compensated by the government but since this bulldozed program went at break neck speed most will go to temporary dwellings hotel rooms. The compensation in many cases does not defray the houses that the residents are being expelled from. Communities are being dissolved and many people who built up thriving agricultural businesses on desert sands are faced with starting afresh at the age of 59. There is no adequate compensation.

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Albany, N.Y.: In your view are any of the Palestinians' complaints about Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza legitimate?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I sympathize with the suffering even when I believe it is self inflicted. Before the first intifada I would automatically give lifts to Arabs and my wife who was the community nurse would provide care in our infirmary in case of accidents. Under present circumstances that is no longer possible. When roadblocks are removed we frequently get a drive bye shooting as thanks the son of my boy's math teacher was murdered six weeks ago. The way to end the occupation and any military occupation is a peace settlement. International history does not know may instances where cease fires didn't become peace the Arabs want all the advantages of waging war while claiming the bounty of peace you can not have things both ways.

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Arlington, Va.: This chat seems like a bit of an echo-chamber for pullout opponents. May I ask a more challenging question? If Isreal were to keep Gaza, shouldn't it let the Palestinians there vote in Israeli elections?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: As I stated in answer to another question there would have been no geographic contiguity problem in annexing the two major groups of settlements which are set for self-immolation. In a peace settlement Israel could have relinquished Gaza sans settlements. The major outlet for Gaza is the neighboring and non populated Sinai. Otherwise even with a corridor bisecting Israel to Judea and Samaria Gaza's population pressures will be targeted as before 1967 and the occupation against Israel.

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Winthrop, Mass.: It's sad when the most religious Jews resort to demeaning the suffering of those that were tortured and killed in the Holocaust by attempting to equate the lost of government supported housing at the bequest of most of the world, and Israel. Couldn't at least Israeli Jews rise above this level?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I also believe that comparisons with the holocaust should be used sparingly and I condemn their use in the debate. I would also expect that Israeli doves refrain from invoking the holocaust.

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Anonymous: Since the settlements are being evacuated in Gaza, isn't it about time to tear down the wall on Palestinian land and move the land to Israeli land?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Those who advocated the expulsion argue that a wall could serve as a substitute. I don't buy it and I think that the rockets and mortars will make a mockery of the wall but I do not see a need to move the wall from its present location on at best disputed land to Israel's pre 1967 borders.

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Albany, N.Y.: Don't the Israelis also want things both ways? To have the Gaza and West Bank and deprive the Palestinians of democratic participation in the government

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I would argue for a peace settlement where the existing Palestinian State i.e. Jordan would be the repository of Palestinian political rights and Israel would be the focus of Jewish political expression. Palestinians are the majority in Jordan and they have held every post in the government including the current queen. The only posts they haven't held is King and director of intelligence.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Ungar: I have not criticized actions of the democratically elected government in the past, nor will I do so now. It seems to me that if all the young Israeli men learning in yeshivot instead went and did their military service, they would have more right to complain. Why should the entire state have to sacrifice to protect a few thousand families who are largely outside mainstream Israeli thinking?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: You are mixing yeshivas and yeshivas. All the Religious Zionist yeshivas in Gaza do military service the overwhelming percentage in the elite units. They have borne a disproportionate amount of casualties.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dr. Ungar,

Why do you think a majority of Israelis support this withdrawal (assuming you give some credence to polls)? The religious/secular split within Israel has created a lot of resentments, which seem to be driving some of this support. Do you think perhaps that the Israeli populace is more willing to support military incursions into Gaza from a secure border rather than by oppressing the Palestinian population of Gaza from within that area? There doesn't seem to be much nostalgia for occupying Southern Lebanon and I can't imagine that most Israelis are going to miss the burden that has become Gaza either.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: The last poll on Friday showed 52% supporting withdrawal. If one takes into account that these figures factor in a 20 percent Arab population who overwhelmingly support withdrawal then the split is closer among Jews. In the 18-21 age bracket the majority is opposed to withdrawal. The only way to establish the truth was to submit the issue to a referendum. Sharon reversed his position from the elections so outrageously (the equivalent of Bush officiating at a gay marriage) that this was the proper course. Unfortunately we wont know.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think it was wrong for Israel to withdraw from the Sinai in 1982?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I think it was mistaken for Israel to withdraw from ALL of Sinai it should have kept the Yamit Bloc. Again if somebody goes to war and loses he pays a price. Sinai set an unfortunate precedent which Sharon a villain in the previous piece has now compounded.

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Arlington, Va.: It is sad to see that people are being forced to leave their homes. However, in the great scheme of things, its is better to leave and give peace a chance. The settlers will be compensated (at least most of them) and will be free to start all over again. Jews people have succeeded for their hard work wherever they go.

The Palestinians are humans just like you and me (other Jews and Christians), and deserve the right to have land without the Israeli military over their heads every day. The land does not belong to the Jews or the Arabs, it belongs to all.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I don't see the principle of terra omnibus applied anywhere else in this world. I don't see it applied in the Arab world. Jews are not allowed in Saudi Arabia and when British troops were stationed there they had to cut out the label from their Marks and Spencer underwear.

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Olney, Md.: I think it is interesting to note that most of the individuals involved in the settlements where the pullouts are taking place are (or it would appear from reading the coverage here in the U.S.) conservative, Orthodox Jews. The support for the pullouts, which are reported to be substantial in Israel appears to be among secular Jews. Does the tension have a lot to do with the tensions between those two groups in Israel that already exist?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Good question the overlap is not exact there are Orthodox who support the expulsion and secular Israelis who oppose it but the correlation is there. Some of the support for the withdrawal is motivated by a desire to stick it to the Orthodox but this is a minority.

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McLean, Va.: Were there any roads, infrastructure, buildings built by Palestinians before 1967? Or do the Palestinians get to benefit by all of the hard work done there by the Israelis over the last 30 years?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Egypt treated Gaza as a prison. The Palestinians will inherit the infrastructure they wanted the houses destroyed and ludicrously Israel will pay them $30 million for completing the destruction.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I have no questions, just a comment: this mock Q&A is a shameful one-sided act of pro-Israeli propaganda, with all the ingredients of the "God promised us this land" rhetoric and the usual stereotypes against Arabs. If anything, my question is to the Post: how can you allow yourselves to become the vehicle for such a distorted and skewed coverage? An academic at the Judea and Samaria College Ariel discussing objectively the situation and its historical context? Were this not a sad low point of journalism at The Post, it would almost be a funny joke.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: I appreciate your commitment to academic freedom somebody the likes of the late Edward Said or Noam Chomsky would be the only legitimate interlocutor for a discussion. You probably would support the academic boycotts of anybody too outspokenly Zionist. Since the other two panelists are doves be charitable even to a benighted person like myself.

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Winthrop, Mass.: You think a reasonable deal would be to only give back the area in the occupied territories that weren't settlements? That leads to two problems: First it's not going to be accepted even by moderate Palestinians, second how is Israel going to access or protect those settlements without guarded roads that would make a Palestinian State ungovernable and a economic wasteland?

I think that reason solution is all the pre-'67 land, except most of Israel's capital, while establishing Muslim control and access to the Dome of the Rock site. Add in several billion in aid, and you have a real Palestinian State, and a Jewish one. Keep the territories and you only have one Islamic state in time.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: The Palestinians would not even accept Barak's strip tease at Camp David. I am sorry we are parties as well and the validity of a settlement should not be predicated on its acceptability to the Palestinians. Again if there is peace there is no need to guard the roads this is the old story of a person who murders his parents and claims leniency as an orphan. Palestine is not viable without Jordan or the Sinai that is the major direction for establishing viability.

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Washington, D.C.: None of this would be an issue if LBJ had responded correctly to the USS Liberty incident and declared war on the country that knowingly attacked an American ship.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Israel in its right mind would never have knowingly attacked an American ship the same way that Americans would not have knowingly downed an Iranian passenger plane or bombed friendly Afghan villages.

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In response to San Francisco: To quote directly from The Post Web site:

David Makovsky , director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was online Monday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the Gaza pullout and what it means for Arab-Israeli relations.

It appears to me both sides have had a chance to have their say.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Thanks for the assist.

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Washington, D.C.: You justify the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank as being land taken in the 6 Day War (aside from your religious justification). I disagree.

Once you took the land, you should have either made it part of Israel proper and granted citizenship to the indigenous population (i.e., the Palestinians), or at some point over the last 40 years you should have returned the land to the U.N., the Palestinians, or someone else, who would at least be able to grant some sort of citizenship to those people.

To rely on the 6 Day War, which occurred decades ago, as justification for keeping people under occupation with no passports and no ability to travel and no way to attract industry is preposterous. It is precisely because the lengthy occupation continued decade after decade that a sense of hopelessness was instilled among the Palestinians, hopelessness that led to the first intifada. This hopelessness has only grown stronger over time, providing fuel to freedom fighters to resist the occupation.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: What happened decades ago created the legal and political situation. We relied on the Un and got the withdrawal of the UNEF forces allowing Egypt to place its forces in the Sinai. Israel was ready for a settlement it is a classic argument in international law that ex iniuria jus non oritur you can not claim a right from a wrong.

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Arlington, Va.: Am I missing something here?

First you say: "There is something morally unbalanced in the assumption that areas under Arab sovereignty must be judenrein in the name of ethnic homogeneity but Israel must host a sizable Arab population."

But then you say:

"In a peace settlement Israel could have relinquished Gaza sans settlements. The major outlet for Gaza is the neighboring and non populated Sinai."

So when Israelis settle in Gaza, those places stop being Palestinian, and start being Israel, but when Arabs settle in Israel, they don't get to claim it for Palestine? There seems to be a disconnect here. Am I misunderstanding you?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: The Arabs are claiming it for Palestine. The PLO refers to the Arabs in Israel as the Palestinians of 1948. there however was a state of Israel there never was a State of Palestine. Again if the argument is that Palestine must be ethnically homogenous then you have to accept the converse that Israel as well should be ethnically homogenous.

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Virginia: You said "the land was taken," and that's the point. The land was taken from the people of Palestine, and there's the rub. Using an ancient religious document to justify a political action just doesn't make any sense to me. Nor does it make sense to offer sympathy to Jewish settlers without seeing the corresponding suffering of the Palestinians who were driven out of the settlements. I applaud those who are looking to broker peace with the closure of the settlements. Those who can't see the advantage of that are living in a world that isn't rooted in reality.

Dr. Amiel Ungar: No Palestinians were driven out to make way for settlements.

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Washington, D.C.: Earlier in this chat, you stated: "People who launch wars of aggression should not be expected to go back to the starting lines." However, this idea runs counter to the approach that has been taken (and apparently worked) in a number of circumstances: (Japan after WWII, America's plan for Germany's reunification after WWII (thwarted by the Soviets), Iraq after the Kuwait war, etc). Shouldn't the moral be: Don't let aggressors gain an advantage from a conflict, but show that you are better than they are by showing restraint after the conflict?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: We did it in a few wars i.e. Sinai in 1956 the Yom Kippur War. When Wroclaw goes back to being Breslau and Kaliningrad becomes Koenigsberg and Sakhalin reverts to Japan let me know. By the way all Japanese territory aside from the home islands was stripped from her. Additionally these territories were promised a Jewish state in the Balfour Declaration (the Arabs were given the rest of the middle east) we abided by the partitions until compelled to war.

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No Palestinians were driven out to make way for settlements. : They were driven out to make way for Israel

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Again to quote Ben-Gurion Tel Aviv did not attack Jaffa Jaffa attacked Tel Aviv war is war. 6000000 Jews did not make it to their land because the Arabs locked the door and the Palestinian leader Haj Amin el Husseini was in Berlin urging the Fuhrer to implement the final solution in Palestine

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you think Israel would still exist if it weren't for the nukes they have (thanks to the French) and the U.S. financial and military support they have received?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: We appreciate the support but we give as good as we get. Re the nukes (if we have them) we are not going to be good sports and agree to our liquidation more than anybody we have a right to deterrence.

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Washington, D.C.: Is anyone in the Sharon administration even remotely aware of the irony of evacuating Jews from their homes in the promised land mere hours after Tisha B'Av?

Dr. Amiel Ungar: Unfortunately this was not uppermost in his mind.

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washingtonpost.com: Thank you all for joining us today.

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