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April 11, 2007

Washington Post Ombudsman Gives Up on Facts

Everything should be made as simple as possible — but no more so.” — Albert Einstein.

When it comes to distinguishing between simple and simplistic, Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell hasn’t a clue, and doesn’t want one.

Reader Denise Taylor requested a correction to a fuzzy feature article on Palestinian Arab “refugees.” The April 2 front-page piece was headlined “Driven by War to a No Man’s Land in Jordan.” Post Middle East correspondent Anthony Shadid led with the claim that the plight of “Samir Abdel-Rahim, stranded for the past four years in a no man’s land with other Palestinians fleeing carnage in Iraq .... began in 1948, before he was born, when Israel was created [emphasis added].”

Taylor pointed out that “the ‘creation of Israel’ was not the genesis of the Palestinian refugee problem; it was the war that the Palestinians and five Arab countries started after its [Israel’s] establishment. To prove this, just ask yourself how many Palestinians would have been displaced had the Arab war of aggression against the nascent Jewish state not occurred? Answer: ZERO.”

Taylor e-mailed the ombudsman and copied Shadid, Foreign Editor Keith Richburg, and Assistant Managing Editor for Foreign News David Hoffman. Here is Howell’s complete reply:

“There was a war at the creation of the state — the Israelis call it the War of Independence — and the Palestinian refugee problem was created. Different people look on it different ways. I don’t think it needs a correction.”

Taylor wasn’t satisfied with the ombudsman’s “he said, she said, we don’t care” dismissal. She responded thus:

“No doubt Japanese and Americans looked at World War II in different ways, but it nevertheless began for these two countries when Japan attack Pearl Harbor, not when the U.S. bombed Tokyo.

“Opinions are what they are, but the facts remain as follows:

“1. The Arabs ... rejected the 1947 U.N. partition plan for British Mandatory Palestine. The Jews accepted partition.

“2. The Arabs — five armies from Arab League countries and forces of Palestinian Arabs — attacked the new Jewish state.

“3. During the fighting, which the Arabs eventually lost, many Arabs fled from what became Israel — estimates at the time ranged from 472,000 (U.N.) to 650,000 (difference between last British and first Israeli census), of whom 50,000 returned under ‘family reunification’ provisions.”

And so on, seven relevant historical facts in all, including that “most Arab states refused to naturalize Palestinian Arab refugees, largely Sunni Muslims of similar ethnic backgrounds.”

“So,” Taylor summarized for Howell, “‘the creation of Israel’ did not CAUSE the Arab refugee problem. Arab REJECTION of the ‘47 partition plan’s ‘two-state solution’ and insistence on going to war, CAUSED the problem. Arab rejection of either compensation or resettlement perpetuated the problem.”

That being the case, a correction remains in order. But, given the ombudsman’s simplistic evasion — and The Post’s decades’ old, rigid insistence on reading the conflict through “the Palestinian narrative” — most unlikely.

Posted by ER at April 11, 2007 05:27 PM

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