Photo: CD Bank
'Maybe both sides should count to 10 together' (Illustration)
Photo: CD Bank

Math related problems

When you really sit down and examine Palestinian-Israeli conflict, much of it has to do with math

When my wife and I were married, I remember how she wanted to make sure that our marriage avoided any of the natural hurdles that a union like ours might be guaranteed.


After all, she is Jewish and I am Palestinian.


Alison said she wanted to be “fair” and make sure that if anything happened, we each would get “half” of the house.


I thought that was great and gladly signed the prenuptial agreement, (also called a ketubah, by some).


It wasn’t until I translated the Hebrew, and had someone tutor me in calculus, that I realized she was getting 78 percent of the house and I was getting 22 percent.


“Hey, that’s your half,” my wife said with an innocent shrug.


Those Israelis.


Arabs invented mathematics


When you really sit down and examine the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, much of it has to do with math.


What is more surprising is that the word Algebra is actually an English Word that comes from Arabic origins.


We invented mathematics! So why are we Arabs so bad at it?


Well, it might be our word but we sure don’t know how to use it. Of course, maybe that’s because we really didn’t invent it, I guess.


According to Arabs, the word "algebra" comes from the Arabic word "al-jabr," which comes from the title of the book “al-Kitab al-Muhtasar fi hisab al-gabr wa-l-mugabala,” which seems like a lot of wasted syllables to say “algebra.” (It actually translates to “The book of Summary Concerning Calculating by Transposition and Reduction.” It was, written by a Persian Muslim Muhammad ibn Musa al-khwarizmi.)


But, I digress.


Palestinian-Israeli math troubles began long before 1947 but that’s as good a point to star as any. For example, the United Nation’s Partition gave the Jews 55 percent of the British Mandated territory of Palestine while Arabs were “given” 45 percent. Not quite an even split. But close.


Ironically, at the time, the Palestinian Arabs out-numbered Jews 2 to 1. But Israel countered that the Arabs had 22 countries and they only had one. Using Israeli mathematics, that means “equal.”


By the time Israel was declared, Israel not only controlled the land set aside for a Jewish State in the Partition, but they also captured 10 major cities in the Arab portions of the plan, before their state was even declared.


My cousin Henry Cattan wrote in his book "Palestine, The Arabs and Israel" that before the end of the mandate and before any intervention by the Arab states, the Jewish militias occupied most of the Arab cities in Palestine before May 15, 1948.


“Tiberias was occupied on April 19, 1948, Haifa on April 22, Jaffa on April 28, the Arab quarters in the New City of Jerusalem on April 30, Beisan on May 8, Safed on May 10 and Acre on May 14, 1948. In contrast, the Palestine Arabs did not seize any of the territories reserved for the Jewish State under the partition resolution.”


Not very good terrorists


When the armistice was called, Israel controlled 78 percent of Palestine and the Palestinians were left with only 22 percent.


I see all kinds of math-related problems in this conflict.


For example, take the Palestinians (I can hear the Israelis screaming “puhleeeease!”). Palestinians are not that good at what they do. For example, they don’t make very good terrorists. Look at the numbers. The Israelis might be a little better. For every one Israeli the Palestinians kill, Israelis kill five Palestinians.


At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to annex only about 40 percent of the settlers. What a great offer. Of course, that all depends on how you look at it, I guess.


Israel already annexed 60 percent of the settlers who live in places like Gilo and around east Jerusalem. The “40 percent” that Barak proposed basically covers most of those who remained outside of that area and live in what was left of the West Bank. In the end, he settled for 80 percent of the remaining settlers in the West Bank.


Gee. Thanks.


The Palestinians negotiated backwards, offering their best deal up front, recognizing Israel in the “78 percent” of original Mandated Palestine – keep in mind the other British mandate was not a part of Palestine and was called Trans-Jordan.


Barak, changing the 40 percent to “80 percent” of the settlers in the West Bank/Gaza excluding East Jerusalem, infuriated right-wing Israelis when they added it up and concluded Barak was surrendering 20 percent of the settlers.


Barak stuck with his initial proposal to return “91 to 94” percent of the 22 percent, (minus east Jerusalem and the land around it), which basically, according to Palestinian math, means that in the end, Palestinians would get exactly 18.297 percent, down 3.703 percent from the 22 percent they wanted.


Better than nothing


Now, I am no math genius. But if the Palestinians wouldn’t accept that, what makes Israelis think they’ll accept Olmert’s plan which, according to Palestinian mathematician Saeb Erakat is about 60 percent of the West Bank.


Olmert says that’s just “temporary.”


Of course, he’s much closer to Einstein, than Saeb Erakat, who sometimes should try counting to 10 before he opens his mouth. As a matter of fact, maybe both sides should count to 10 together.


I know it works with me.


Still, the half of the half of the half they offered is better than nothing, if you are an optimist, although my brother and uncle, who are engineers, might dispute even that.


According to them, the pessimist sees a glass filled halfway with water as being half empty while the optimists sees it as being half full. But, as engineers, they see it from the perspective of the “third half.” A situation like that just means there is a lot of wasted glass.


Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at


פרסום ראשון: 06.17.06, 08:12
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