To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Monday, April 7, 2014

What The I.F. Stone Of 1967 Might Think Of Israel-Palestine Today: 'Plus Ca Change' --- With A Vengeance

Except for Leon Uris, author of Exodus, no other writer did more to solidify the legitimacy of the nascent state of Israel than I.F. Stone. Stone’s 1946 book, Underground To Palestine was a vivid first person narrative about a voyage aboard a ship filled with desperate Jewish DPs trying to reach Palestine against post war immigration restrictions imposed by the British.  In the face of continuing anti Semitism, it was impossible for his shipmates to rebuild their lives in a devastated Europe. “They have nothing to lose,” Stone maintained.

Such people, in such a mood, are not easily defeated. They who knew the SS are not terrified by the British. They who saw the gas chambers are not frightened by a naval blockade….I say here what I said in private to Azzam Bey Pasha, head of the Arab League, over coffee in Cairo….‘ Nothing will stop the people I traveled with from rebuilding a great Jewish community in Palestine.’ 

The journey was “more than the narrative of a journalistic escapade," Stone declared.

I am an American and I am also and inescapably—the world being what it is—a Jew. I was born in the United States. My parents were born in Russia. Had they not emigrated at the turn of the century to America, I might have gone to the gas chambers in Eastern Europe. I might have been a DP, ragged and homeless like those with whom I traveled. I did not go to join them as a tourist in search of the picturesque, nor even as a newspaperman merely in search of a good story, but as a kinsman, fulfilling a moral obligation to my brothers. I wanted in my own way, as a journalist, to provide a picture of their trials and their aspirations in the hope that good people, Jewish and non-Jewish, might be moved to help them.

Stone himself said he was “like most American Jews, neither a Zionist nor an anti-Zionist.” But Israel’s “vitality and its pioneering spirit" made him “fall in love with the place.” He dedicated the book to the Haganah, the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces who organized the rescue he had reported on. In return the Haganah gave Stone a medal, which he was quite proud of, mentioning it over the years.  

Over time, Stone maintained his admiration for Israel but also grew concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. Returning to Israel on the eve of the Suez crisis in 1956, he wrote that “Israel is a transformed country. What was once a struggling country is now a thriving country. Economically, it’s booming. It will win—it’s prepared for war and will win, you know, the next war, or the next war after that, militarily. But there will be wars and wars and wars" until Israel came to terms with the legacy of 1948---the flight of Palestinian refugees and the intentional ethnic cleansing that took place during Israel's War of Independence. “The road to peace lies through the Palestinian refugee camp,” he wrote.

By 1967 though, the bloom was very much off the rose. The Jewish state’s narrow nationalism and ethnic chauvinism, combined with its increasing militarism in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, led to disenchantment. His August, 1967 essay in the New York Review of Books, “Holy War,” is a projection of that disenchantment.  

The essay was ostensibly a review of Le Conflit Israélo-Arabe” a rather large collection of essays from Israeli and Arab writers which was published by Les Temps Modernes, the journal of ideas founded after WWII by John Paul Sartre. In the invariable way that NYRB essays about books become platforms for the reviewer to lay out his or her own political point of view, however, the essay allowed Stone to share his disappointment in the direction that Israel, and Zionism, was taking. It was published within weeks of the Six Day War. 

In some ways, “Holy War” is a time capsule, capturing a pivotal moment when many liberal and left wing Jews like Stone started to have second thoughts about Israel and the triumphalist Zionism that was in ascendance then. But time capsules, whether they are the kind kids bury in the backyard or the ones journalists exhume to put whatever is topical into “historical perspective,” are usually considered markers of change. In fact, reading "Holy War" now, nearly 50 years after it was written---and nearly 50 years after Israel began its military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank---one is impressed by how little has changed. Despite decades of diplomatic initiatives, the issues that Stone identified in his essay as fundamental cultural and moral obstacles to peace, most of them emanating from what he considered Zionism’s fundamental moral myopia and ethnocentrism, endure to distressing degree today. With the collapse of the most recent round of peace negotiations, “Holy War” is worth revisiting. Plus ca change... 

“Holy War” is worth a look for another reason as well: it represents exactly the kind of moral and intellectual honesty Zionists then found threatening and which Zionists now find even more threatening, the use of the term “occupation” itself now a vocabulary no-no. Stone, lionized in 1946 was pilloried in 1967, his vilification only increasing as the years progressed. As he wrote in 1978, in another NYRB essay, “Confessions of a Jewish Dissident,”  

There are top figures in the profession, with long records of championing Israel and the Jewish people, who complain bitterly in private that if they dare express one word of sympathy for Palestinian Arab refugees, they are flooded with Jewish hate-mail, accusing them of anti-Semitism…

As for Jewish dissidents in America, we get the standard treatment. We are labeled “self-hating Jews.” American Jewish intellectuals are lectured on what is stigmatized as their weakness for “universalism.” One distinguished academic was summoned to an Israeli consulate for a scolding and put into deep freeze by colleagues for advocating a generous peace policy toward the Palestinian Arabs. We are asked why we cannot be narrow ethnics, suspicious of any breed but our own. Isaiah is out of fashion.


Excerpts from Holy War” (bold for emphasis, mine):

The Conflict's Core Simplicity:
Stripped of propaganda and sentiment, the Palestine problem is, simply, the struggle of two different peoples for the same strip of land. For the Jews, the establishment of Israel was a Return, with all the mystical significance the capital R implies. For the Arabs it was another invasion. This has led to three wars between them in twenty years. Each has been a victory for the Jews. With each victory the size of Israel has grown. So has the number of Arab homeless.

And Core Complexity:
Now to find a solution which will satisfy both peoples is like trying to square a circle. In the language of mathematics, the aspirations of the Jews and the Arabs are incommensurable. Their conflicting ambitions cannot be fitted into the confines of any ethical system which transcends the tribalistic. This is what frustrates the benevolent outsider, anxious to satisfy both peoples.

This long-awaited special issue on Le conflit israélo-arabe is the first confrontation in print of Arab and Israeli intellectuals. But it turns out to be 991 pages not so much of dialogue as of dual monologue. The two sets of contributors sit not just in separate rooms, like employers and strikers in a bitter labor dispute, but in separate universes where the simplest fact often turns out to have diametrically opposite meanings. Physics has begun to uncover a new conundrum in the worlds of matter and anti-matter, occupying the same space and time but locked off from each other by their obverse natures, forever twin yet forever sundered. The Israeli-Arab quarrel is the closest analogue in the realm of international politics.

Legacy of the Holocaust/ Legacy of Arab Anti Colonial Struggle:
The bulk of the Jews and the Israelis draw from the Hitler period the conviction that, in this world, when threatened one must be prepared to kill or be killed. The Arabs draw from the Algerian conflict the conviction that, even in dealing with so rational and civilized a people as the French, liberation was made possible only by resorting to the gun and the knife. Both Israeli and Arabs in other words feel that only force can assure justice. In this they agree, and this sets them on a collision course. For the Jews believe justice requires the recognition of Israel as a fact; for the Arabs, to recognize the fact is to acquiesce in the wrong done them by the conquest of Palestine. If God as some now say is dead, He no doubt died of trying to find an equitable solution to the Arab-Jewish problem.

The “ethnocentric fury” of the Bible:
The argument between them begins with the Bible. “I give this country to your posterity,” God said to Abraham (Gen. XV:18) “from the river of Egypt up to the great river, Euphrates.” Among the Jews, whether religious or secular mystics, this is the origin of their right to the Promised Land.

All this may seem anachronistic nonsense, but this is an anachronistic quarrel. The Bible is still the best guide to it. Nowhere else can one find a parallel for its ethnocentric fury. Nowhere that I know of is there a word of pity in the Bible for the Canaanites whom the Hebrews slaughtered in taking possession. Of all the nonsense which marks the Jewish-Arab quarrel none is more nonsensical than the talk from both sides about the Holy Land as a symbol of peace. No bit of territory on earth has been soaked in the blood of more battles. Nowhere has religion been so zestful an excuse for fratricidal strife. The Hebrew shalom and the Arabic salaam are equally shams, relics of a common past as Bedouins. To this day inter-tribal war is the favorite sport of the Bedouins; to announce “peace” in the very first word is a necessity if any chance encounter is not to precipitate bloodshed.  They came down from the Euphrates under Abraham; returned from Egypt under Moses and Joshua; came back again from the Babylonian captivity and were dispersed again after Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 A.D. This is the third return. The Arabs feel they have a superior claim because they stayed put.

Dispossession of the Arabs:
The overwhelming majority opinion on both sides, even as expressed in a symposium as skewed leftward as this one, shows little tendency to compromise. The Arabs argue that Israel is a colonialist implantation in the Middle East, supported from the beginning by imperialist powers; that it is an enemy of Arab union and progress; that the sufferings of the Jews in the West were the consequence of an anti-Semitism the Arabs have never shared; and that there is no reason why the Arabs of Palestine should be displaced from their homes in recompense for wrongs committed by Hitler Germany.

There is a good deal of simplistic sophistry in the Zionist case. The whole earth would have to be reshuffled if claims 2,000 years old to irredenta were suddenly to be allowed.

Right of Return:
The argument that the refugees ran away “voluntarily” or because their leaders urged them to do so until after the fighting was over not only rests on a myth but is irrelevant. Have refugees no right to return? Have German Jews no right to recover their properties because they too fled?

The Myth that the Arab refugees fled because the Arab radios urged them to do so was analyzed by Erskine B. Childers in the London Spectator May 12, 1961. An examination of British and US radio monitoring records turned up no such appeals; on the contrary there were appeals and “even orders to the civilians of Palestine, to stay put.” The most balanced and humane discussion of the question may be found in Christopher Sykes’s book Crossroads to Israel: 1917-48 (at pages 350-57). “It can be said with a high degree of certainty,” Mr. Sykes wrote, “that most of the time in the first half of 1948 the mass exodus was the natural, thoughtless, pitiful movement of ignorant people who had been badly led and who in the day of trial found themselves forsaken by their leaders.... But if the exodus was by and large an accident of war in the first stage, in the later stages it was consciously and mercilessly helped on by Jewish threats and aggression toward Arab populations...It is to be noted, however, that where the Arabs had leaders who refused to be stampeded into panic flight, the people came to no harm.” Jewish terrorism, not only by the Irgun, in such savage massacres as Deir Yassin, but in milder form by the Haganah, itself “encouraged” Arabs to leave areas the Jews wished to take over for strategic or demographic reasons. They tried to make as much of Israel as free of Arabs as possible.

Zionist Moral Myopia: A Land Without People For A People Without A Land.
A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them. The latter is the underlying pan-Arab attitude toward the Jews; the former is Zionism’s basic attitude toward the Arabs. M. Avnery notes that Herzl in his book The Jewish State, which launched the modern Zionist movement, dealt with working hours, housing for workers, and even the national flag but had not one word to say about the Arabs! For the Zionists the Arab was the Invisible Man. Psychologically he was not there.

Achad Ha-Am, the Russian Jew who became a great Hebrew philosopher, tried to draw attention as early as 1891 to the fact that Palestine was not an empty territory and that this posed problems. But as little attention was paid to him as was later accorded his successors in “spiritual Zionism,” men like Buber and Judah Magnes who tried to preach Ichud, “unity,” i.e. with the Arabs. Of all the formulas with which Zionism comforted itself none was more false and more enduring than Israel Zangwill’s phrase about “a land without people for a people without a land.”

This moral myopia makes it possible for Zionists to dwell on the 1900 years of Exile in which the Jews have longed for Palestine but dismiss as nugatory the nineteen years in which Arab refugees have also longed for it. “Homelessness” is the major theme of Zionism but this pathetic passion is denied to Arab refugees. Even Meir Yaari, the head of Mapam, the leader of the “Marxist” Zionists of Hashomer Hatzair, who long preached bi-nationalism, says Israel can only accept a minority of the Arab refugees because the essential reason for the creation of Israel was to “welcome the mass of immigrant Jews returning to their historic fatherland!” If there is not room enough for both, the Jews must have precedence.

An Exclusionary “Jewish State:”
When Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, was on Face the Nation June 11, after Israel’s latest victories, this colloquy occurred.
SYDNEY GRUSON: (New York Times): Is there any possible way that Israel could absorb the huge number of Arabs whose territory it has gained control of now?
GEN. DAYAN: Economically we can; but I think that is not in accord with our aims in the future. It would turn Israel into either a binational or poly-Arab-Jewish state instead of the Jewish state, and we want to have a Jewish state. We can absorb them, but then it won’t be the same country.
Mr. GRUSON: And it is necessary in your opinion to maintain this as a Jewish state and purely a Jewish state?
GEN. DAYAN: Absolutely—absolutely. We want a Jewish state like the French have a French state.

This must deeply disturb the thoughtful Jewish reader. Ferdinand and Isabella in expelling the Jews and Moors from Spain were in the same way saying they wanted a Spain as “Spanish,” (i.e. Christian) as France was French. It is not hard to recall more recent parallels.

Jewish Hypocrisy Feeds “A Narrow Nationalism” And Alienates the Diaspora:
It is a pity the editors of Les Temps Modernes didn’t widen their symposium to include a Jewish as distinct from an Israeli point of view. For Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racial and exclusionist. Jews must fight elsewhere for their very security and existence—against principles and practices they find themselves defending in Israel. Those from the outside world, even in their moments of greatest enthusiasm amid Israel’s accomplishments, feel twinges of claustrophobia, not just geographical but spiritual. Those caught up in Prophetic fervor soon begin to feel that the light they hoped to see out of Zion is only that of another narrow nationalism.

Universal values can only be the fruit of a universal vision; the greatness of the Prophets lay in their overcoming of ethnocentricity. A Lilliputian nationalism cannot distill truths for all mankind. Here lies the roots of a growing divergence between Jew and Israeli; the former with a sense of mission as a Witness in the human wilderness, the latter concerned only with his own tribe’s welfare.

Israel has deprived  anti-Semitism of its mystique. For the visitor to Israel, anti-Semitism no longer seems a mysterious anomaly but only another variant of minority-majority friction. Es is schwer zu sein eid Yid (“It’s hard to be a Jew”) was the title of Sholom Aleichem’s most famous story. Now we see that it’s hard to be a goy in Tel Aviv, especially an Arab goy.

Another Arab contributor from Israel, Ibrahim Shabath, a Christian who teaches Hebrew in Arabic schools and is editor-in-chief of Al Mirsad, the Mapam paper in Arabic, deplores the fact that nineteen years after the creation of Israel “the Arabs are still considered strangers by the Jews.” He relates a recent conversation with Ben Gurion. “You must know,” Ben Gurion told him, “that Israel is the country of the Jews and only of the Jews. Every Arab who lives here has the same rights as any minority citizen in any country of the world, but he must admit the fact that he lives in a Jewish country.” The implications must chill Jews in the outside world.

On The Potential For--And Dangers of --- 'Apartheid:'
While the UN proves impotent to settle the conflict and the Arab powers are unwilling to negotiate from a situation of weakness, Israel can to some degree determine its future by the way in which it treats its new Arab subjects or citizens. The wrangles of the powers will go on for months but these people must be fed, clothed, and housed. How they are treated will change the world’s picture of Israel and of Jewry, soften or intensify Arab anger, build a bridge to peace or make new war certain. To establish an Arab state on the West Bank and to link it with Israel, perhaps also with Jordan, in a Confederation would turn these Arab neighbors, if fraternally treated, from enemies into a buffer, and give Israel the protection of strategic frontiers. But it would be better to give the West Bank back to Jordan than to try to create a puppet state—a kind of Arab Bantustan—consigning the Arabs to second-class status under Israel’s control. This would only foster Arab resentment. To-avoid giving the Arabs first-class citizenship by putting them in the reservation of a second-class state is too transparently clever.

Stone’s Own Communal Identification--- And  His Transcendence Of It.
If in this account I have given more space to the Arab than the Israeli side it is because as a Jew, closely bound emotionally with the birth of Israel,3 I feel honor bound to report the Arab side, especially since the US press is so overwhelmingly pro-Zionist. For me, the Arab-Jewish struggle is a tragedy. The essence of tragedy is a struggle of right against right. Its catharsis is the cleansing pity of seeing how good men do evil despite themselves out of unavoidable circumstance and irresistible compulsion.

When evil men do evil, their deeds belong to the realm of pathology. But when good men do evil, we confront the essence of human tragedy. In a tragic struggle, the victors become the guilty and must make amends to the defeated. For me the Arab problem is also the No. 1 Jewish problem. How we act toward the Arabs will determine what kind of people we become: either oppressors and racists in our turn like those from whom we have suffered, or a nobler race able to transcend the tribal xenophobias that afflict mankind.

What is required in the treatment of the Arab refugees Israel has gathered in is the conquest both of Jewish exclusivism and the resentful hostility of the Arabs. Even the malarial marshes of the Emek and the sandy wastes of the Negev could not have looked more bleakly forbidding to earlier generations of Zionist pioneers than these steep and arid mountains of prejudice. But I for one have a glimmer of hope. Every year I have gone to Palestine and later Israel I have found situations which seemed impossible. Yet Zionist zeal and intelligence overcame them. Perhaps this extraordinarily dynamic, progressive, and devoted community can even if need be transcend its essential self.

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