Dear Mr. Romney: Palestinians are Poor Because You Stole from them and Kept them Stateless

Mitt Romney, a privileged white man worth a quarter of a billion dollars who has sheltered his money from taxes in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, and who never misses a square meal, stooped to a new obscene low in blaming the victim on Monday by slamming the Palestinians for not being richer. Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat characterized Romney’s remarks as “racist,” but even that was charitable. Evil, is more like it.

Reuters reports that Romney told his audience at a $50,000 a plate dinner,

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.

(Figures on the United Nations’ website actually indicate a much greater disparity between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel had a per capita GDP of $27,060 in 2009, while the 2009 per capita GDP of the occupied Palestinian territory was listed as $1,367.)

Romney didn’t mention a little thing like US direct aid to Israel of over $100 billion and indirect aid to the tune of tens or hundreds of billions more.

It is telling that Romney has no idea the economic straits to which the Palestinians have been reduced by vampire-like right wing Israeli policies toward them. (A majority of Israelis favors withdrawal from most of the West Bank if a peace settlement were reached with the Palestinians; Over a third would even evacuate large settlement blocs like Ariel. But the right wing wants all of the West Bank as Israeli territory, though they can’t figure out what to do with the 2.5 million Palestinians to whom it belongs; or rather, they can’t say openly what their ultimate resolution would be).

Although the West Bank has seen economic growth since about 2007, for most of the past 20 years Palestinians actually were being driven deeper into poverty, and Gaza is still below early 1990s levels because of the illegal and evil Israeli blockade. It was the Oslo Peace Accords that caused the to lose ground, since the Israelis used it as a cover to mount a massive colonization drive, and when the Palestinians unsurprisingly protested, they were sanctioned.

Reuters continues:

Citing the book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney detailed his interpretation of author David Landes’ thesis.

“He says if you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said.

Palestinian poverty has nothing whatsoever to do with Palestinian “culture” or “character.” It has everything to do with their being stateless and the theft from the Palestinians of their land, water and resources by the international Zionist movement, with the support of Britain, the United States, France and Russia and in direct contravention of British and League of Nations commitments to the Palestinians of moving to statehood and not being disadvantaged by the Balfour project of establishing a small ‘national home’ for those few European Jews who then wanted to live in British Mandate Palestine.

Stateless people have no firm property or human rights because there is no state to guarantee them. Their property rights are routinely revoked or not recognized, and the courts to which they could go for redress mostly view them as illegal aliens who don’t deserve justice.

Romney should expand his reading to Hernando de Soto on why so many people in the global South find it difficult to secure their property rights, and why this uncertainty as to whether they really own what they think they do keeps them poor.

Here is what the territorial history of the Palestinians has looked like since the Europeans rode roughshod over them during WW I:

As late as 1939, the British scheduled Palestine for independent statehood. The ethnic cleansing drive of the violent organizations of the Yishuv or Jewish settlement community, some 500,000 strong after WW II, in 1948 drove 700,000 of the over 1 million Palestinians out of their homes into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where they were ever afterwards stuck in Palestinian Jail. The Yishuv declared its violently seized territory to be “Israel,” usurped what would now be trillions of dollars worth of Palestinian property with no recompense, and locked the Palestinians permanently out of their own land.

Nascent Israel did not actually face an attack in 1948 from 100 million Arabs. They did face desultory resistance from a couple of weak neighbors. They had a deal with Jordan, which just wanted the West Bank, which anyway hadn’t been awarded to Israel in the UN General Assembly plan (itself lacking in legal force). They did face an invasion of Negev from Egypt, but most of the Palestinians ethnically cleansed were not combatants or working with the Egyptians. It wasn’t legal or necessary to permanently exile all the Palestinian non-combatants who were chased out or fled.

Most of Palestinians have ever since remained stateless, many having no right to work, own property or operate legal businesses, and few guaranteed such rights by a state. Only in Jordan were they given citizenship, but even there it has been taken back away from thousands, and they are clearly marked as second class citizens. The onus is on Israel, the original perpetrator, to offer redress to the Palestinians of some sort and see to it that they don’t remain in an odd form of 21st century legal limbo that resembles slavery in its lack of basic human rights.

Having chased them out of their country in 1948, the Israelis then came after the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and have ever since made their lives miserable, denying them the rights of citizens in a state, blockading them from time to time, keeping those in camps in camps, revoking their property rights, and stealing their water by digging deep wells that lowered aquifer levels and made Palestinian wells go dry. They have encircled Palestinians with Apartheid roads on which Palestinians cannot drive, created cantons, and hemmed them in with checkpoints that have turned 15 minute journeys into all day affairs.

In Gaza, Israel has violated the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by imposing on the civilian non-combatants of the place a tight economic blockade.

All this rather interferes with economic growth.

In Lebanon, they can’t get travel documents, can’t own property, and mostly can’t work legally, because the Christians don’t want an extra 400,000 Sunni citizens upsetting the country’s delicate religious balance. Palestinian camps are lawless because the host country mostly doesn’t police them. People are preyed on by gangs from time to time.

I visited the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Bared near Tripoli, Lebanon, a couple of years ago. I urge Mr. Romney to go talk to people there. I met one old man who told me the story of how Zionists came to his mother’s apartment in Haifa in 1948 and kicked them out, occupying it. He and his mother fled north and got caught on the Lebanese side of the border. They lingered there in a tent for a year. Then the UN transported them by train to near Tripoli and dumped them in a camp, where he has been ever since. His wife was ill and had no money for health care. They were turned into essentially illegal aliens by the Israeli ethnic cleansing. In 2007 a small gang of 50 people in the camp started committing bank robberies in nearby Tripoli, and declared themselves radical fundamentalists. Dick Cheney pressured the Lebanese government to do something about this “al-Qaeda” cell, and the Lebanese army assaulted the whole camp, destroying it and making that man and 70,000 other Palestinians homeless refugees all over again. They were living in UN temporary quarters when I visited in 2010.

The 70,000 Palestinians in Nahr el-Bared hadn’t done anything. They just were in the way of an attack on 50 gangsters amongst them. The US, which insisted on this action, has done nothing significant for the continually displaced population.

Nahr al-Bared
Nahr el-Bared, August, 2010

Nahr el-Bared
Nahr el-Bared, August, 2010 where the children don’t play anymore, Mr. Romney

Because Romney is taking the side of the billionaires in the far right wing Likud Party, he is an accomplice after the fact to the ethnic cleansing and continued expropriation of the Palestinians, whom he is helping keep stateless and without firm rights, i.e. in poverty. And yes, Barack Obama and the whole apparatus of the US government are complicit in continued victimization of the Palestinians; but I haven’t heard Obama say that the Palestinians’ problems are the fault of their “culture.”

I doubt Mr. Romney is capable of reflection or shame, but this performance in Jerusalem is an occasion for them.

42 Responses

  1. I listened to David Sanger of the NYT on NPR discuss this subject, i.e., Romney, yesterday and he never went near the Palestinian situation but did talk about the safer issue of moving the capital to Jerusalem.

  2. Juan, with all due respect and not to pick nits here, it seems to me that using a term like ‘evil’ here is clearly suboptimal in a number of directions. Having no objective definition, it can be applied by anyone to anything they don’t like. Also, it is clear that in some ways Romney is not that bad a person, given that he appears to be a competent parent and to support various charitable causes and so forth. So it is also easily if only partially refuted.

    I think it is more accurate and effective to characterize him as ignorant, which he clearly is, and you prove by giving the historical background of the situation. He could also easily be proven corrupt, given that millions of dollars, even tens of millions, are available to him as a result of taking this misguided view. Lastly, he could also arguably be termed as mentally ill, since his opinions are clearly delusional and have no basis in reality.

    In sum, then, I submit that applying pejoratives such as mentally ill, corrupt, and ignorant are at least as, and indeed more, damaging and accurate than saying things like ‘evil.’ With all due respect;-).


    • Romney is NOT ignorant. It is a political position he chooses to help him get funding from a select category of rich financiers. The same applies to his domestic policies. He is not a bad person?! The guy wants to cut taxes on the rich, driving 90% of Americans deeper into poverty, but he doesn’t care about those people because they don’t support his campaign – financially, that is. We can argue about the semantics, but facts are facts. His declared policy is “corporations are people”. You can call that evil, or whatever you want, but it’s not changing the fact that he is callous, cares less about the average person, etc. But “ignorant” is giving him too much credit.

    • I feel as if we are too kind to our politicians. Yes, Mitt Romney is a clearly Evil, with a capital E, man. I find it difficult to come to a conclusion that would alleviate him of this label. He is, quite simply, an intelligent, malicious, callous, elitist, sociopath. A drain on this world and those around him.

  3. a privileged white man worth a quarter of a billion dollars

    That phrase, “person worth x dollars” has always bugged me.

    A person may have x dollars, but are they worth what they have? It seems to be a phrase designed to reassure everyone that peoples station in life is deserved – you are what you have and it’a all that you’re worth, obviously validating the wealthy.

  4. I say thank you Mitt Romney! Perhaps his ignorant
    comments have sparked an honest discussion in America
    about the true situation of the Palestinians under Israeli

    Mitt Romney’s ignorance is hardly unique, it probably
    rpresents the view of most Americans. This long overdue
    discussion should dispel some of that ignorance.
    Or maybe not!

    • Ignorant is too innocuous a word. What is the proper word for someone who has chosen to not know?.. This is true most Americans by the way.

  5. Romney: Jewish People a Superior Race

    His opinion does not come by accident, it’s part of his bedrock belief on his 4th visit to the Holy Land.

    Romney, Bain & Co, and Experience In the Israeli War Room

    Orit Gadiesh was part of Romney’s gubernatorial transition team. She joined Bain & Company (the precursor company to Bain Capital) in 1977, at the tender age of 26. Before that, she was the assistant to Ezer Weizman, the Israeli Minister of Defense and later President. During fighting in the early 1970’s, Ms. Gadiesh worked in the war room, a bunker where Gen. Moshe Dayan was in charge. She is the daughter of Israeli Brigadier General Falk Gadiesh.

    The Mormon Wealth Attribution

    Covered in an earlier article – Romney Can’t Help It – His Faith and Social Darwinism

  6. It is striking, yet not surprising given the cast of characters on his foreign-policy team, that Romney’s statements regarding culture and economic development are so in tune with the relict Cold War modernization theory of the late 1950s through 1970s, as though he was advised to read Lerner’s The Passing of Society: Modernizing the Middle East as a primer.

    • The cultural argument regarding development does not apply in the case of the Palestinians for two reasons: First, the Palestinians are probably the most entrepreneurial of all Arab societies, and second, the Israeli occupation restricts Palestinian economic activity so severely that that, in itself, would overwhelm any cultural reasons that might apply.

      Nevertheless, generally speaking, there is a strong case to be made for the proposition that cultural attributes are a strong determinant of a society’s level of development. This idea is not just a “Cold War relic.” The political-economist David Landes, in his book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”; the development specialist Lawrence Harrison, in several books and monographs; and the political scientist Samuel Huntington, among others, have all made a strong case that to a significant degree, culture has a huge effect on a society’s level of development. (Note: You don’t have to agree with Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis to see the merit in his cultural argument regarding development.)

      There is a reason that development specialists and others note that in 1960 South Korea and Ghana were at an equal stage of (low) development, and 30 years later South Korea had become an Asian “Tiger,” while Ghana languished. And it wasn’t because of the U.S. military in South Korea. It had to do with what one might call a “Confucion” set of values regarding education, scholarship, putting off instant gratification today in order to have more tomorrow, etc. There are plenty of other examples one could point to regarding those who forged ahead (Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, etc.) and those who stagnated. Cultural attributes, while not the sole determinant, have a significant role to play.

  7. There is nothing that makes me madder than this kind of “folk anthropology”. Culture, my you-know-what. While Palestinians are a diverse population (several religions, many economic levels) they include a surprisingly high number of highly-talented professionals and are famous for their entrepreneurialism. I taught students of Palestinian heritage at Wayne State University in the 70s and 80s and they were among the smartest, most alert, critical, sophisticated, go-getting kids I’ve known. Here’s to ya, Rima, Samir, Nabeel, and all the rest. However, as long as there are hundreds of billions of dollars in campaign contributions tipping the scales toward being a lackey of the Likud, I suspect Mitt is uneducable.

    • One of the reactionary hits on Palestinians in years gone by is that they were, as a bunch, TOO smart for their britches.

      The squawk was that the freakin’ UN through one of its we-don’t-pay-for-such-fripperies agencies had the gall, the GALL, to take education into the “camps,” so that the supposedly otherwise ignorant “Arabs” became aware of Hanna Arendt and Saul Alinsky and even Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. And of course Adam Smith and Marx and maybe even Che and Mao.

      Cited repeatedly in the ’60s as yet another reason for the Robert Welch brigade not to fund our share of the UN.

      I wonder: Is the US up-to-date on its share, now that our leaders are so adroitly using “UN” as a cover for their imperial tomfoolery, like “two UN soldiers, one from Alabama and the other from Texas, were killed by explosion in Helmand province, the UN command reported Sunday”? You would think Ban Ki Moon would at least demand the same kind of deal that our local Major League Baseball stadium has — several million bucks for “naming rights” from the Tropicana brand.

  8. I feel anger in this article.

    What is angering me is that everything that is said in this article has been said by hundreds of times by hundreds of people and confirmed by tens of humanitarian organizations, yet Romney can go so low to insult Palestinian culture to look pretty to his Jewish donors.

  9. Romney quoted from “The Wealth of Nations.” Telling. Now we know what he would do with ethnic/racial groups in the US that don’t meet spec.

  10. The original AP story mentioned that Romney spoke with Sheldon Adelson before and after this speech, then in a later version and on yahoo all the mention of Adelson was removed. Strange since he owns news media in Israel and has pledged to spend limitless money to beat Obama.

  11. JHill…yes you cannot talk about the economic disparity without bringing in the diverse demographic makeup of the two groups. Israel has had an important influx of highly educated people from most of the developed nations worldwide. They bring technological and financial savvy that those who grew up in Palestine don’t have access to.

    Also…one thing that is bothering me about the DNC and the pundits…when Hillary was running, her lack of international experience was a consistent main topic of discussion for why she was not qualified to be President. I have never heard that mentioned about Romney, even on the far left of MSNBC. Hopefully now we will hear that dialog…consistently! This man has the capacity to be WWIII in waiting!

    • Hillary’s “lack of international experience” was codespeak for “we can’t trust a woman to slaughter entire nations when useful.” Look at how hard Palin and Bachmann work to prove their bloodthirstiness.

  12. Displaced peoples as Earth heats up will become systemic. The Romney bunch moving Capital, Capitol assets to assist 1% elite.
    But the movement afoot, the exposure given by and because of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring for raising the bar on us having justice in the world won’t be stopped.. Literally refugees will be the lot of us all on this planet as the Earth’s ecosystem collapses. That is unless the melt of the North Polar region can be stopped and ocean acidity checked.. CH$4, methane as greenhouse gas or seen as approx 85% constituent in fuel gas.
    How things are seen makes all the difference if mankind is to stop a runaway greenhouse extinction event of real consequence. The Romney of the world,, there time is over..

  13. Regarding the term”evil”, it simply refers to an absence of “good” ( see Plato for a discussion of this term, or St. Thomas Aquinas). Romney’s remarks about the condition of the Palestinians were certainly not “good”.

  14. The way Cole presents the facts here is dishonest.

    For example he implies that Israel’s prosperity is due to having received US aid of $100 billion. That, according to the link he gives covers the period from 1949 to the present day.

    Given that Israel’s ANNUAL GDP is $293 billion, America’s aid amounts to a few months worth of national earnings, spread out over a 65 year period. This is clearly a drop in the ocean, and Cole probably knows it.

    • That’s only the direct aid and if put to present value would be probably a quarter trillion. Add to that the indirect aid, which probably amounts to a similar amount and you’re talking some big shekels. Israel does have the entrepreneurial drive that many immigrant societies have but it wouldn’t be anywhere near without American support. In fact, it wouldn’t even exist without American support.

      But the more important thing is that Romney subscribes to racial and cultural supremacy theories – theories that have been used to eradicate and exterminate quite a number of people in the past – that’s where the real evil of those statements lays.

  15. I am completely and utterly outraged. This article and others by Juan Cole are required reading for the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown, and every one else in this congress or the future one. Warren’s website on the I/P issue and Iran’s nuclear weapons is entirely provided by AIPAC. Both candidates have received funds from AIPAC. Nothing compared to what Adelson is giving Romney but everything is relative.

  16. can anyone yet see that the american presidential “race” is just a fake cosmetic election with previously vetted candidates both of whom are acceptable to business as usual ?

  17. I salute you Juan. This is the absolute truth and real history of Palestine – the story of an indigenous population struggle against colonial dispossession. The Zionist colonial project does not aim to live as good neighbors or even exploit their work force – the Zionist state aims to displace them all and clear the land for a Jewish Lebensraum. The more Americans know this, the less support will be for Israel.

    Romney’s comments are evil and echo the Israeli hasbara which sometimes blames the people of Gaza of not making Gaza a “paradise”. That of course would be equivalent of Hitler chastizing and mocking Jews for not making Warsaw Ghetto a thriving economy… it’s not only unadulterated evil but one that mocks and berates the victim on top of that.

  18. If Mittens is elected, the US middle class will soon be in the same shape as the Palestinians, less the Israeli bombs and rockets.

    He will cut taxes for the 1% and do nothing for the rest of us.

    Wake up America, while there still is and America.

  19. There is no reason to think that he does not believe in the same sort of explanation for wealth gaps in the United States.

    Contentions like this are often used to shield suppressive economic policies and worse.

  20. Given the cruelty and selfishness of “good” Americans, it is useless to use Romney’s endless stream of cruel and selfish remarks to get people to vote against him. Besides, they don’t give a damn about the outside world.

    But what if we got the word out to all our Republican friends that Romney praised Israel’s socialized medical system for saving money? Or even pointed out that Israel HAS a socialized medical system?

    link to

    Let’s get this, the least crazy and mean thing the man has said since he’s needed to attract Tea Party votes, the public airing it deserves, in time for the GOP convention.

  21. It’s strange that thieves often praise free enterprise. The cornerstone of free enterprise and capitalism is respect for private property. Theft is stabbing at the heart of free enterprise. But, right-wing thieves pass themselves off as businessmen. It’s like listening to rapists praising celibacy.

  22. Palestinians historically were among the best-educated Arabs. Does Romney mean to insinuate that the whole Arab world is ‘uncultured’? (Excepting Doha and Dubai, according to his estimation of wealth equating culture).

  23. A bit hard to do culture-building when you’re cooped up in a Warsaw ghetto-like zone in a rabidly apartheid state, with occasional storms of bombs raining down from the sky.

  24. If this Romney creep wins the elections, be prepared: He’ll dehumanize poor US citizens like he does the Palestinians…

  25. Maybe not directly on point, I think another accusation hurled at the Palestinians is that they had a “desert,” which the Israelis turned into a “garden.” That may have been on the mind of Mittens or his minions when they decided to make the “cultural difference” argument.

    In response, the fact is that the Palestinians are a people steeped in the history of their climate and their culture accepts that reality. While Israelis may have, indeed, created a “garden,” it is a temporary garden. They did this by pumping aquifers dry unsustainably and turning the Jordan River into a rivulet. At some point there will be a reckoning with the desert and guess which culture will be better adapted to that reality?

  26. Palestinian-American and Jewish-American cultures have many common values.

    Both place a heavy premium on education of their youth, with a high percentage of each earning professional degrees. Both have a strong identification to their heritage and tend to retain their cultural and religious identity, including respective fluency in Hebrew and Arabic languages, despite their presence in America.

    The emphasis on education also exist in Israeli Jewish and Palestinian natives in the Middle East. This is in stark contrast to some other Middle Eastern cultures where a large percentage of the population may be illiterate due to lack of educatonal opportunities.

    • Amazing that Romney doesn’t know this when so many of the Arab-Americans you mention are in his own original home state of Michigan.

      Guess he didn’t get out of the limo much growing up.

  27. It’s amusing to note that the Rombot’s “cultural” remarks are anti-Semitic to the extent that they suggest that Jews excel at making money – a stereotype that Jews deem unacceptable.

  28. Romney is merely the product of the system. Look at the difficulty the GOP had selecting him as the presidential candidate.

    The real problem is the large segment of the population that believe the myth of ‘trickle down economics’ and continue to vote republican.

    If ‘trickle down economics’ had any basis in fact we would all have been wealthy centuries ago. The historical facts point to the opposite effect, that of concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. Call them the 1%.

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