Monday, January 26, 2009

Myths and Facts - a Quickie

sent 26.Jan.2009
Dear friends,

In an ongoing e-mail chat about the war in Gaza and our Palestinian "problem" in general, a friend wrote me the following comments. My response follows these comments, and once more I thought you may be interested. (By the way, tell me if you're weary of all this and I'll leave you in peace.) So here it is:

Dear Aaron
I do not consider myself a warmonger- I wish for peace as much as anyone, especially considering my grandchildren in Israel. However no one threw the Arabs out of Israel in 1947- their leaders told them to flee. We did not hold them in refugee camps, their fellow Arabs did that. After three or four generations, how can they still be refugees? My grandparents came from Europe after WWI; does that make me a refugee in the United States?......................
My response:

Dear ………..,
I know we are on the same side and I thank you for your response. Nevertheless, I think some of your assertions need to be explored.

There are things our madrichim didn’t know to pass on to us during our years in the Youth Movement. The rebirth of our Nation in Israel is a monumental accomplishment and worth our being proud of. But as often happens with monumental things, it has dragged along with it a number of myths and half-myths. Your categorical belief that “no one threw the Arabs out of Israel in 1947- their leaders told them to flee” is evidently one of the half-myths we grew up with. The facts are evidently somewhat more complicated. For example, many villages fled after the word spread of the slaughter at Dir-Yassin. Of course, we have claimed in the past that either this never really happened or it was a totally isolated incident. So here is a short story:

A couple of months ago I tagged along with one of my sons who was looking for a home in Pardes Chana. He found an old house that had been built some 60 years ago. He invited a local building engineer to check the state of the house. The engineer was about 85 years old and knew how every single house in the area had been built and its condition today. By and by we were talking and he asked me where I live. I told him Gesher Haziv in the Western Galil. He became ecstatic and blurted away…”that’s where I fought throughout the War of Independence..” and continued telling me of his exploits, including “and we kicked out as many Arabs as we could from the area. It’s a shame we didn’t get to kick out more.” This, too, was a totally isolated incident, but evidently there were a few more totally isolated incidents. Israeli historians are learning more and more about totally isolated incidents. Today we tend not to claim absolute purity. Wars are evidently more complicated than that. Even justifiable or unavoidable ones.

We learned, as you wrote, that “their leaders told them to flee.”, and with that statement we thrust the entire blame for the Arab exit on everyone else but us. Aside from today’s knowledge that we also had some affect on the fleeing (some shared blame? See above), we overlook another aspect to the above statement: their leaders warned all noncombatants (men, women and children) to get out of the combat zone (until they finish driving out the Jews). How awful of them to clear the field of non-combatants !! Then again…while thinking of our latest “victory” in Gaza, I sorely wish we too had found some way to get the noncombatants out of the combat zone. Our conscience and our reputation would be less tarnished. (We had the ability to do so, but that would have taken some social planning and not only military planning.) Too late. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not absolving the Arab leadership. Most of all, ever since 1948 they’ve been using the Palestinian refugees, and the Palestinian “problem” as political tools, without allowing any real integration into the countries of their new residence. I’m only commenting that we may be fairly pure, but not altogether pure. Neither then nor now. Life is evidently not as simple as we’d like it to be.

And lastly (for now, anyways), I must comment on a most questionable assertion of yours: “We did not hold them in refugee camps, their fellow Arabs did that.” For the first 19 years after the war of Independence that assertion had some substance. But for the last 41 years the refugee camps in the occupied territories have been completely under our Israeli rule. After 41 years they are still wholly recognizable as refugee camps. You ask “After three or four generations, how can they still be refugees?”. Well, let’s put it this way: had we been left to remain in the various refugee camps we were herded into after the Second World War (e.g. Cyprus, Greece) with a bureaucracy of permits and a tight reign of Military control over our camps, we too would still today be refugees.

There is more, but I'm trying to be brief. It may seem that I’ve become a voice for the Palestinian “side”. Not at all so. I remain a full-fledged Zionist who is still hopeful for “Ki meTziyon Tetze Torah” and “Or Lagoyim”. But I have learned that in order to get there we need to be somewhat more aware of our own flaws and also a lot more understanding of what we see as our adversary’s flaws.

My warm wishes, knowing that we are still essentially on the same team,

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