Thursday, July 23, 2009

Knowing History is not a Bad Idea

sent 23.July. 2009

A (Jewish) friend af mine (I'll call her A) has been actively engaged in the struggle for Palestinian rights in the occupied territories. In a group discussion by e-mails, she commented on Uri Avneri and his reports of injustices done by Israel to palestinians during the War of Independance in 1948. Two friends within our group (I'll call them B and C), wrote back quite angrily about A's support of those "facts".

B wrote:
"In 1948 when independence was declared, there were 600,000 Jews in the fledgling State of Israel, attacked by no less than seven Arab states. Israel was not prepared for the war imposed upon us and after having the Jewish people decimated by the Shoah, it was felt that we had to fight tooth and nail for the continued existence of the new state and its citizens. The tactics you described were employed against very very few Arab villages whose inhabitants attacked Jews. This has been a stain upon Israel's history. Those which did not were left alone. However, it was never and by no means a matter of systematic ethnic cleansing or violence. Am stating the obvious, war is ugly as its morality, or immorality as the case may be. Horrible deeds are committed in war. On the other hand, witness the number of Arab villages standing today in the Galil, some of them flourishing, and indeed Abu Ghosh, close to Jerusalem is an excellent example. These were isolated incidents rather than normal practice and that is what must be stressed here.
A, in your emails you have demonstrated that you no longer bear any affection, empathy or love for the State of Israel. Rather than attempting to effect change from within (Shalom Achshav, for example?), you chose to place your sympathies with the Palestinians. I no longer wish to receive your emails as I regard their content as a personal attack upon me and all those dear to me.... "
C wrote:
"Is there another country or another army that is so engrossed is self-flagellation as the Jewish country and the Jewish army? And don’t forget how other countries hold us to standards they cannot live up to. Why is it so important for you to know the nitty gritties of what went on 60 years ago? Isn’t it enough that the nascent state had to do whatever it had to do to make a homeland for the remnants of European Jewry? I must say that I agree with B regarding A’s attitude toward the Palestinians and Israel. I would like to be removed from those mailings as well."

I was saddened by B’s and C’s reactions to A’s comments. Ostracizing, blacklisting, boycotting an extremely opposite opinion within a group exchange regarding issues that matter to us, limits greatly our understanding of all sides to those issues. But perhaps I am most concerned with our respect for each other’s nuances, for each other’s deviations from our own world of beliefs, and maybe I am also concerned that I too will be placed beyond the pale at some juncture. Nevertheless, I’ll overcome my hesitations and append my comments to your's. (I wish I knew how to put it all in one short paragraph, but I don’t have the knack or talent for that. Sorry.)

We Israelis have something important in common with our Palestinian neighbors: Part of our majority Israeli approach to the “Palestinian Problem” is that “everything we do is necessary and therefore right, while everything they do is wrong and bad”. This is also the majority Palestinian approach to the “Israel Problem”. This formula is one of the elements which help both us and the Palestinians to purposefully avoid a mutual solution and a minimal understanding of each other.

Our appreciation of history is also sometimes problematic. We may see what really happened 60 years ago as unimportant (I think C expressed that), while our own historical claims dating back two thousand years remain totally legitimate. I think both periods are important, legitimate and relevant…..and as in real life, the harm we do today can greatly injure our reputation, status and legality born of yesterday.

Though I have read so many articles by Uri Avneri, I confess to not having read his books. I began reading him only after he gave up his magazine “Haolam Hazeh” which I found to be yellow journalism at its yellowest in a time before our regular newspapers learned to copy and incorporate a tinge of yellow. Avneri came from a Jabotinskyite Revisionist family, and started part of his active political life in Etzel (the Jewish “terrorist” organization). Nevertheless, in the aftermath of 1948 Avneri saw it important to tell us Israelis more than just about our heroic and necessary fight for our State. He thought it important to tell of the “unnecessary” things that were done. Part of the Israeli public respect Uri Avneri, but most turn a blind eye to what he writes, and many believe that the “unnecessary” actions were also part of the “necessary”. Perhaps this needs an explanation.

War is Cruel. Ugly things are done, some by generals with a mission, some by frightened individuals and some by bad human beings. One result of the war was a Palestinian refugee problem that haunts us till now. Our Israeli viewpoint has always been: The refugees are not our problem. We did not cause them to flee. We even ran around asking them to stay. Those who fled did so because the Arab armies attacking us gave them the word to flee in order not to be in the way of destroying the new State. Eyewitness accounts and historical records confirm this to be so very true. But there were other reasons as well for the flight of most of the Arab population. Those reasons we tend to call “isolated incidents” occurring to “very very few Arab villages whose inhabitants attacked Jews” (B was confirming a long-time Israeli myth which has not stood the test of time and research). The “very few” were close to 500 Arab villages that were destroyed by the war, some of them by Uri Avneri and Samson’s Foxes in just the way he describes. Perhaps most of this was from the subjective necessity of seeing our Jewish Homeland start its new life with a clear and large Jewish majority. But we don’t especially like to know and be reminded that these facts are part of our burden. We prefer continuing our supposition that everything by us is objectively good, and everything by them is bad. The Palestinians do the same.

It is not unimportant “to know the nitty gritties of what went on 60 years ago” (as C writes), especially when there is a clear line of policy stretching from the past into the present. Our politics and policies are constantly involved with the problems of land and demography. Israeli Arab towns and villages have tremendous difficulties getting approval for expansion for natural growth or even building permits for existing properties. Jerusalem is a good example. Last week, in the verbal exchange between Netanyahu and the American administration over a new building project for Jews in annexed East Jerusalem, my Prime Minister asserted that we Jews have as much of a right to build and buy houses in East Jerusalem as Arabs from East Jerusalem have in West Jerusalem. Though this is a blatant lie (not being a politician and not confined to politically correct language, I can use the word “lie”), we shall continue using this excuse to justify actions we are doing in order to expand Jewish and Limit Arab land and demography. Our Lands Authority and many municipalities have done their best over the years to hamper Arab demography by limiting land and not issuing building permits to our Arab citizens. Perhaps an editorial quote from this week’s Haaretz will portray the magnitude of the issue:

“Since 1967 Israel has expropriated 35% of East Jerusalem to construct 50,000 housing units intended primarily for Jews. During the same period, fewer than 600 units for Palestinians were built with government support” (which is why hundreds more were built “illegally” and are threatened with demolition).

It is no wonder that a long range Plan for East Jerusalem which at long last was presented last week for municipal approval, was sent back to the drawing board. Its opponents claimed there were too many housing units planned for Arabs and too few for Jews. Watching the demolition of Arab homes in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem along with extreme limitation of legal Arab housing draws for us a straight line from Uri Avneri’s accounts of 1948 to consistent policies till today. In 1948 we could say that we used opportunities which evolved during a life and death struggle for our existence. Afterwards and today it is because we want to and "we can". Land and Demography are and have been the issues. Of course, they also portray one aspect in the reality of equality (?) before the law for Israeli Arab citizens.

It is strange that while the great overall majority support such policies, by belief or by silence, we still think there is no one “so engrossed in self-flagellation as the Jewish country and the Jewish army” (as C wrote). I suppose that “self-flagellation” is meant as a synonym for complaints about our policies towards the Palestinians in the occupied territories, our rejection of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, and our despair at our country’s conduct towards our Israeli Arab citizens. It would make me glad to know that our country and army are “so engrossed” with complaining about these policies. Unfortunately, this is not so. The great majority of our country support these policies by belief or by silence. A small minority voice their objections. I fear, though, that only a small minority are willing to listen. Others turn their heads or even ostracize, boycott or blacklist the complainers. This year many Israelis closed their subscriptions to the newspaper Haaretz because Gideon Levy has a column. Uri Avneri had a similar fate for most of his political career…… but he never stopped complaining.

Keep reading.
My best regards to all,