As part of its crusade against Professor Jake Lynch, Murdoch's Australia has lately gone out of its way to sell its readers on the virtues of Jerusalem's Hebrew University. (Lynch, you'll remember, had the nerve to decline an academic overture from a certain Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University because of his principled opposition to institutional ties between that university and his own, Sydney University.
Needless to say, like 20th century Palestine, the university has an 'interesting' history. Opened in 1925, its main campus, on Mount Scopus, a ridge which dominates Arab East Jerusalem from the north-east, was out of action academically from 1948 to 1967, isolated behind armistice lines in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, and garrisoned by Israeli troops masquerading as a police force.
But Israel being Israel, as we shall see, it was not out of action militarily at the time.
Israeli propagandists, speaking through their Murdoch mouthpieces, have been at pains lately to pronounce the university kosher:
"Another spokesman, Amir Barkol, denied the campus had expanded on to occupied land. 'I can tell you 100% the campus is all on Israeli territory,' he said. Asked about the claim the university had extensive connections with Israeli weapons manufacturing companies, Mr Barkol said: 'I don't know anything about that. Which companies?'" (Anti-Israeli BDS campaign facing court test, Ean Higgins, The Australian, 31/10/13)
"Late last year, Professor Avnon was seeking Professor Lynch's nomination for a Zelman Cowan fellowship to study curriculums in Australia. Professor Lynch turned him down, citing his centre's pro-BDS policy and claims Hebrew University had links to the occupation of the West Bank." (Inside Jerusalem's university of freedom, John Lyons, The Australian, 1/11/13)
However, when one moves from the Israeli spin to an examination of the historical record, it becomes abundantly clear that, where Israeli officials is concerned, it's always what is done, rather than what is said, that counts.
Here, for example, is the testimony of the British commander of Jordan's Arab Legion, Glubb Pasha. (The Arab Legion was the most effective of the Arab forces which intervened in May, 1948, to prevent Zionist forces from overrunning East Jerusalem and the West Bank.) It comes from Glubb's memoir, A Soldier with the Arabs (1957):
"One agreement was, however, concluded which was to result in a considerable problem for Jordan. The massive Jewish building on Mount Scopus. They consisted of the Hadassa Hospital and the Hebrew University, both great mountains of stone, situated on high ground dominating the Arab side of the city and cut off from the Jewish city by the suburb of Shaikh Jarrah. As soon as the Arab Legion had intervened in Jerusalem, Mount Scopus had been isolated. The Jews, however, had left a military garrison in the Hadassa and the University, which continued to fire into the backs of the Arab Legion who were defending Jerusalem. When we retaliated with mortars or, on one occasion, with the 25-pounders, there was an outcry about Arabs shelling hospitals. The Jordan government was informed that both the Hospital and the University had been built with funds voluntarily subscribed in the United States. Any attempt by us to destroy or capture these buildings would, we were told, produce intense indignation in America.
"When, therefore, [UN mediator] Count Bernadotte suggested that the buildings be demilitarised and handed over to the United Nations, the solution seemed to be a reasonable one. The Israeli government agreed to the proposal, but requested permission to leave some Jewish civil service in the buildings to prevent pilfering of the valuable medical equipment and the literary treasures of the University. Count Bernadotte was very explicit in his statement that Mount Scopus would henceforward be solely under the control of the United Nations. He said that it was his intention little by little to replace the Jewish by United Nations police. How this agreement was ultimately carried out after the death of the Count will appear later on in this narrative." (pp 145-146)
(If you know your Palestinian history, you'll know that Bernadotte, for his pains, was gunned down in September of the same year by the Zionist terrorist Stern Gang.)
Glubb returns to the issue of Mount Scopus, later in the book:
"A constant source of irritation throughout the years from 1948-1956 was the Israeli position in in the Hadassa Hospital and the Hebrew University. It will be recollected that the massive buildings which housed these institutions were built on Mount Scopus, a low ridge overlooking the Arab city of Jerusalem from the north-east...
"We soon discovered, from intelligence sources, that the men in Hadassa were not police at all, but a company of infantry. An Israeli prisoner of war, captured in a frontier incident, gave a detailed statement. He told how the infantry company to which he belonged had been brought to police headquarters in Jerusalem, where they had been dressed in police uniforms. They had then been sent as 'civil police' to relieve the garrison of Hadassa. (Reliefs took place once a fortnight on a convoy which passed through our lines.) The 'police' in Hadassah, the prisoner admitted, were always a company of regular infantry. Then one night a platoon of Israeli infantry endeavoured to infiltrate through our lines to the Hadassa. Ten men of this platoon were acting as armed escort, while the remaining 20 were carrying 3-inch and 2-inch mortar ammunition in packs on their backs. The party ran into an Arab Legion patrol, an engagement took place in the dark, and the Israelis retired hurriedly back to their front line, having dropped most of the mortar ammunition. Next day, the United Nations observers were taken to see it.
"The Hadassa was supposed to have been demilitarized - that is, stripped of weapons, except those of the 'police'. If there were no mortars in the buildings, why did the Israeli army want to smuggle in the ammunition? The garrison were alleged to be constructing defences, although they were supposed to be civilian police, whose sole duty was to prevent pilfering. We asked the United Nations Chief of Staff to make a personal inspection of the area, but when he arrived to do so, he was refused admittance. 'This is Israeli territory,' said the commander of the police, 'I cannot admit you without an order from the Israeli government.'
"We and the United Nations held copies of the agreement, signed by the Israeli commander in 1948, admitting that the Hadassa area would be under the sole jurisdiction of the United Nations. This result produced considerable bitterness in Jordan and in the Arab Legion. It would have been comparatively easy to capture the place in 1948. We were tricked into not doing so by the plan to demilitarize the area and hand it over to the sole jurisdiction of UNO. As a result of the weakness of the latter, the position remained a military fortress behind our lines, garrisoned by Israeli infantry, who made little or no attempt at concealment. They frequently fired rifle shots, or bursts of Bren gun, into the Arab city, and were still doing so at intervals when I left Jordan in 1956." (pp 342-343)
Things did not, however, improve following Glubb's departure. Here, for example, is the testimony of the head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) from 1958-1963, General Carl von Horn.* It comes from his memoir, Soldiering for Peace (1966):
"It blew up around Mount Scopus this time, where the activities of the Jewish 'Police' garrison operating from behind a wire fence around the grounds of buildings of the Old Haddassah Hospital and the Hebrew University were arousing grave concern. Although the whole of the disputed area on these pine-covered slopes was officially under the supervision of the United Nations, the Israelis had always prevented us from carrying out our task. Now the garrison had taken to sending out armed patrols to harry their Arab neighbours in the dusty little village of Issawiya, insulting them and virtually sealing them off behind road blocks as soon as darkness fell. They were penetrating, too, into another area known as Solomon's Gardens, which they claimed was Israeli territory.
"At the root of the problem was the old problem of conflicting maps. But it could only be a matter of time before the Jordanian troops who were forced to watch their brother villagers being harried, would take vigorous counter-action. When I pointed this out to the Israelis they showed not the slightest interest. Some time before [UN Secretary-General] Dag [Hammarskjold]'s special representative, Dr Urrutia, had come out especially to try and settle the Scopus issue, but had been turned back by Israeli troops whilst visiting the area in full view of hundreds of watching Arabs. It struck me as unlikely I was going to be able to do much better.
"However, the daily reports of worsening tension from Colonel Flint (the Chairman of our Jordan-Israel M.A.C.) made it imperative I should try." (pp 83-84)
And he did - only to be blocked by those Israeli 'police'.
"Clearly the discomfiture which Dr Urrutia had suffered had been re-enacted for my especial benefit. I have no doubt it was staged deliberately, since the sight of the UN Chief of Staff being turned back in an area where he had every right to be was hardly likely to raise the prestige of the UN with the Arabs. But when I protested officially to Mrs Meir [Israeli PM], her only explanation was the rather inappropriate rejoinder: 'We Jews do not like to be pushed around'."
"Consequently, I had to leave investigations to Colonel Flint and his team of observers... He reported increasingly strong patrol activity, and I had every reason to rely on his considered opinion that unless steps were taken to check the Israeli patrols immediately, there was bound to be fighting." (pp 84-85)
General Horn paid another visit to Mrs Meir who "pooh-poohed the whole issue. Three days later, an Israeli patrol in Solomon's Gardens was heavily fired on. Two of its soldiers were killed immediately, and the subsequent exchange of fire was both fierce and prolonged. Colonel Flint rushed up in an effort to intervene and rescue the survivors who had gone to ground. In the confused shooting which ensued, two more Israelis were killed, and Colonel Flint was shot dead. It was a senseless, stupid, unnecessary skirmish which could so easily have been prevented.
"The investigation which followed was little more than a farce. Our observers (at long last allowed inside the wire fence) soon discovered, whilst cross-examining the Israeli 'Police' Commandant, that every inconvenient question was followed by his withdrawal to another room to receive guidance and instruction over his radio. Feelings in Israel ran high. There was great bitterness about their dead and, as we might have anticipated, it was now the United Nations who were painted in the blackest colours. Our warnings, all our efforts, were conveniently forgotten, and we were now accused of having precipitated the incident. Mourning poor Flint... we were amazed at the ingenuity of the falsehoods which distorted the true picture. The highly skilled Israeli Information Service and the entire press combined to manufacture a warped, distorted version which was disseminated with professional expertise through every available channel to their own people and their sympathizers and supporters in America and the rest of the world. Never in all my life had I believed the truth could be so cynically, expertly bent." (p 85)
So the next time you come across the claims of Israeli PR people with regard to the Hebrew University, take them with more than a few grains of salt, and remember that whatever is said about the university not expanding onto occupied Palestinian land, every single access road to the place runs through occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
And maybe spare a thought for those martyred soldiers for peace, Count Bernadotte and Colonel Flint back in the days when the UN still stood for something.
[*See my 30/6/12 post Unlovable Rogues.]