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Of Hierarchies in America

My father Leon was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, but when still a child, his family moved to Southeast Washington, DC, to a small neighborhood where they were the only Jews around. Washington was at that time, “a sleepy southern town,” and to prove his point he told me about the time he was traveling on the trolley (for Washington had trolleys then) and his brother Bill jumped off to get a drink of water from a fountain and then jumped back on—the driver may very well have slowed the car for the young man.

When he was old enough, Leon joined the Boy Scouts. It was an all-Jewish troop. When I asked him why, in typical fashion he suggested two possibilities: Jews may not have been allowed to join Gentile troops or the Jews preferred to be with each other. In his liberal way, he chose the latter possibility, which was also in tune with his own feelings. Living as isolated Jews with immigrant parents who spoke with an accent and unable to eat bacon or partake in the pleasure of Christmas and always aware that he was a minority and around him seemingly in glorious nonchalance were Americans (not that he wasn’t American but there was a qualitative difference—they seemed so assured), it was a positive joy to be among his own kind. And he was an ardent Boy Scout. Of course, the first option, that Jews were not allowed to join the other troops, was most likely true.

When he was nearly seven, the Ku Klux Klan marched in Washington DC. A Klansman in full dress sat on a bench beside him, and the unfortunate boy was frightened that the man would discover that the young boy sitting next to him was a Jew. That day, several Klansmen entered his parent’s store and amid the hustle and bustle, there was also a tremulous fear of which the men in white were probably unaware, but which the children helping in the shop were quite knowledgeable as they saw the panic in their parents’ eyes.

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I have been thinking of hierarchies in American society. From the time Leon was a boy until he was past 50, the hierarchies were clear—at least from the perspective of a Jew, who belonged not to the German immigration of the mid-1800’s but whose parents had arrived on America’s shores in 1904. I have been thinking about this, as well, after reading, Where the Birds Never Sing, a true story of an army unit in the Second World War, told from the perspective of the son of Italian immigrants raised on a farm in Alabama.

During those 50 years, it was clear that America was ruled by a white, Protestant, mainly Episcopalian, hegemony. In that society, blacks—African Americans—were at the bottom and Jews were just above, but they had one advantage blacks did not have, although it was initially limited: Upward Mobility. When my uncle, 10 years my father’s senior, graduated with a degree in engineering from George Washington University, he discovered that the profession was closed to Jews, so he returned to the university and obtained a law degree. Gradually, more and more professions opened, although even when a student in college in 1965, I was told that upper management in banking, that oh so Jewish profession, was still closed.

In retrospect, the 50’s were the golden years of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant domination. Never had America been so wealthy or been able to promise a car, a private home and a good life with two happy children, a dog and a pretty wife to so many—on the assumption they were white. The United States was ruled by a great general whose proper wife wore white gloves. It was, as the 60s would adamantly set out to prove, a great lie. The proper first Lady was an alcoholic. Her husband, Ike, played golf in a restricted country club. Can you imagine the president of the United States playing golf today in a country club that does not allow Jews or blacks, imagine the furor? The vice-president lived in a restricted neighborhood. In the name of freedom, but, really, for the benefit of the United Fruit Company, the Secretary of Interior, John Foster Dulles with the CIA (run by his brother, on the UFC payroll) overthrew the democratically elected government in Guatemala and also set in motion the coup d’état in Iran that led to the Shah’s rule. The great automobile industry, instead of working toward perfecting their machines, concentrated on selling a set of enticing images for different ‘types’ of drivers to garner more wealth. In television, there were no gays and blacks were Amos & Andy; women were expected to be model housewives; children were to be seen not heard. Sex, as a late friend of mine commented, did not exist, having been banished by Hollywood censors.

I always remember my father calling to my mother to ask her if his tie was on right—perhaps because he was raised in DC, he was always trying to emulate an imaginary WASP standing next to him but slightly above, secure in status and authority. I may have belonged to the last generation when that was true. When my friend Irma went downtown with her mother and wore white gloves, they were consciously imitating what they took to be a superior standard—didn’t Mamy Eisenhower don them, as well? Even in 1967, when I flew to San Francisco, I wore a suit or at least a formal jacket.

I don’t know when that standard broke down. Neighborhoods, schools, country clubs, and professions opened up, and today, even in Muslim states (perhaps the most hierarchical of all) one can find most anything on YouTube. A definite change, however, began with the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Afterward, I could live on the streets neighboring the one on which I had been raised, since the clause in every contract forbidding sales to African-Americans (called Negroes then) and Jews was illegal. In the early 70s, Ivy League schools dropped their quotas. When I studied in college, we knew what great literature was—we hadn’t been informed that it was male-imperialist-white-European biased. I’m not mocking that, although I could. I’m wondering about all those white men and women who voted for Trump, and they have my sympathy. The surety in which they were born of their own status, not dependent on wealth, has fallen apart, and it has left them prey to false news, which feeds on that loss and informs them that everywhere they have been betrayed. We live in the post-modern era, which is especially unkind to hierarchies.

Trump, or rather his image—for his reality is less important—represents a righting of that white Protestant rule gone awry. Of course, those who know the real thing also know that he is but a crude and vulgar representative. Much like Ronald Reagan, of whom he is but a bad imitation, he is the front man for changes in America that will benefit the rich and decimate the poor—most especially, African-Americans. The hierarchy must have its momentary revenge. It is both curious and revealing that the images most beloved are avuncular—Ike, Reagan, and Trump (again not the real Trump but how he is imagined), as if a great WASP grandfather, a godly father, were watching over America, even, as now, in its destruction.

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Open Letter to my Son

My son has often accused me of trusting the Palestinians and therefore being naive. But he is wrong. I have no doubt but that the Palestinian leadership wishes that all of Israel were part of Palestine and all the refugees on all their generations were returned to their (no longer existing) villages. That’s not where the difference between us lies. It’s not a matter of naiveté.

Many years ago, A. B. Yehoshua wrote that the difference between the liberal and the conservative viewpoint is that liberals believe people can change. This is but one of the differences, although a good dash of skepticism should probably be mixed in our cocktail of hope when describing a people who has been fed hatred for Israelis and Jews and the promise of return for nearly 70 years. Those in the refugee camps have been kept miserable so that their misery was not only proof of the cruelty of the lsraelis/Jews, but an example of a squalor to be redeemed by returning to the land and the iconic olive tree.

There are two other main differences between us, one pragmatic and one ideological. The first, the pragmatic, is that the Palestinians are in a win-win situation. The Palestinians can sit where they are with as corrupt a government as they wish, and, in the end, if Israel will continue to absorb more of their lands, there will be so many Arabs within Israel that Israel will no longer be a Jewish state, that is, a state where the majority are Jews. It is important to emphasize here that my definition of Israel is that a majority of Jews makes it a Jewish state. There is no religious imperative in my definition. Others have different definitions. There are arguments, as well, with these statistics, but to my mind, they are not important and certainly not essential. The longer Israel occupies the West Bank, more and more Arabs without any voting rights will fall under its jurisdiction. This will inevitably lead to apartheid – although to be honest, there is apartheid rule in the West Bank already even if most of the more obviously discriminatory aspects of apartheid are absent. If one wishes to be precise and to avoid the loaded word apartheid, it is probably more accurate to describe the situation as an Israeli colonization in which the Arabs have no voting rights.

But at this point, I’ve entered the fractious realm of ideology. My son, and others, would claim that the occupation is not an occupation. The Palestinians are not and never were a people. You cannot occupy a land that did not belong to anyone. The last occupiers were the Jordanians, and the Jews have greater claim than any other people, especially the so-called Palestinians, who are a recent creation.

The Palestinians, indeed, are a recent creation, despite attempts to claim otherwise. It’s probably true that a sense of national identity among the general populace, and not merely among the intellectual and political elite, began with the Nakba, the catastrophe, the defeat that is celebrated in Israel as the War of Independence.

The novelty of a Palestinian identity, however, does not make it illegitimate without claims for land. At the end of WWI, when the West divided up the Middle East, there were at least six times as many Arabs in Palestine, which included Jordan then. The Arabs were the natives. The Jews, despite their legitimate nationalist claims, were intruders. That status (even considering the numbers of Arabs who emigrated into Palestine) could never change.

The paradigm here is the creation of nations in Africa and the break-up of western imperialism. Africans learned nationalism from the West. Leaders (intellectuals, the wealthy, and, in Arab states, often Christians) led rebellions. Usually, a general feeling of nationalism began during the rebellion (with the colonial power strengthening that feeling through oppressive responses) and increased on victory – often only to dissipate into tribal disunity afterward.

The difference between Palestine and Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Algeria – is that the national feeling rose out of defeat and, to a great extent, under manipulation by the Arab powers, who deliberately kept Palestinians stateless. My son would say it’s an artificial nationalism created deliberately against Israel. And to some extent it is. And like its Colonialist forebears, Israel’s activities in the occupied territories only further the Palestinian nationalist cause.

However, Palestinian nationalism is a fact. Dismissing it because it is unjustified reminds me of those Arabs who would claim that Jews are members of a religion not a people and therefore have no right to a homeland. Besides, as I have written, Palestinians had every right to expect some sort of national state after WWI.

There are of course three other considerations. The Palestinian “problem” is as one says in Hebrew “kotz b’tachat,” a pain in the ass – not necessarily for Israel, which has created a situation in which it can often ignore the distress of occupation but for Arab nations around Israel that are interested in openly doing business with the state. The Palestinians have become the cause célèbre in the Arab world. Everywhere in the Arab – and Muslim world – Israel is known as the cruel oppressor, the horrible monster created by the West.

The second relates to how Israel is viewed in the Western world. The longer Israel holds onto the West Bank and isolates Gaza, the more conclusively it appears as a colonialist oppressor and loses the legitimacy it had as the realization of Jewish national hopes.

The third is antisemitism. The open issue of Palestine encourages antisemitism. The Jews are part of a conspiracy controlling the United States and certainly its newspapers. It’s only because of their devious successes that they were able to rob the Palestinians of their homeland.

There is, however, one addendum I would like to add. To a great extent, the Palestinian national identity was not created by Palestinians in Palestine but both by those who were in exile and other nations. I visited Bethlehem – as the guest of someone high up in the Fatah – don’t ask how – and there I learned that the country is run (as my son knows) by clans and gangs, and connections. The Palestinian authority for example, hasn’t been able to collect taxes from the Daheisha refugee camp. The camp simply refuses and the authorities are too afraid to enter. If you park your car illegally, whether you get a ticket depends on who you know. This holds true if you park your car legally as well. There is a great deal of pretense in the claim of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, their suffering under the occupation is real, and it is the occupation that is making Palestinian nationalism more legitimate every day.

More can be written. The Israeli right will ask – what about military considerations? An independent state can build an army and attack whenever it wishes. That’s the subject for an expert in foreign affairs – not for me. The current situation is intolerable.

Identidad

Para JP

I have a good friend who recommended that I read a book entitled Identity by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Coincidentally, this year, while reading an essay by James Baldwin in the book Collected Essays, I had realized how much Baldwin, who I had read intensively in high school, had influenced my decision to come to Israel. His discussions of the battled identity of blacks in America had made me question my own uneasy identity as a Jew.

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I often say that every year I discover a new reason I came to Israel. This was the year of Jewish identity. I very well remember reading S. Y. Agnon’s wonderful story “The Kerchief,” and being astonished by the marvelous sense of wholeness, I had never experienced, that was conveyed even in translation by the story. My Judaism was fragmented, occasionally oppressive (would my world always be divided pointlessly into milchadiche – milk products – and fleyschediche – meat?). In Amherst, being Jewish was accompanied by shame. It was not really what one wanted to be.

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Moreover, I wanted to be a writer – but I knew I could not encompass the enormity of America, the very chaos of it, its multiple voices. I wanted to write about New York City, a cacophony of voices, and not with the elitist diction I was taught but something else, something much cruder – and yet, in imitation of Whitman, singing. But I had no stable, unmoving point from which to view the chaos, that capitalist beautiful monstrosity, both beautiful and monstrous, where everyone became a commodity and moved about from place to place, and where that safe haven of s. Y. Agnon had no possibility. The best piece I wrote at that time was probably a description of Bloody Mary’s birthday party in the subway caverns underneath New York. Bloody Mary was one of the homeless, and since the ulcers on her swollen legs bled, I called her Bloody Mary. There was also a rabbi who colored himself black and pretended he was an African American. And a white young man who in the best Russian tradition represented innocence. I could never succeed in putting the novel together.

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So that was one of the reasons I came to Israel – to get away from the melange of identities and find one I could like. I studied Jewish Studies and learned about the religion I really knew little about. I had my first cholent, I visited synagogues. In New York, I had visited Chabad; here, I tried Yemenite, Moroccan, and eventually settled on Ashkenazi. And I learned Hebrew – the language of the Jews. In the end, I became what in Israel is called a secular Jew but more than that, I became part of the workers movement. That was the ethos that placed its imprint on me and my family.

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The question of identity (in its original meaning) ceased to be relevant. There is a certain comfort that comes with knowing Hebrew. It is the language not only of liturgy but of a tribe so that speaking Hebrew gives one immediately the illusion of a closed community, in which all its speakers are somehow related. In addition, the civic holidays in Israel are the Jewish ones, so that there is a feeling of wholeness one can never achieve outside of Israel unless one is religious. On Yom Kippur, nothing runs. The silence is uplifting. On Pesach and Rosh Hashanah, the roads are jammed with traffic, as everyone celebrates with family. Knowing Hebrew puts you closer to the sources – you are implicitly part of a community over 3000 years old.

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But of course, politically, this sense of wholeness is an illusion and, moreover, a dangerous one. Israel is not only the home of Jews but of Arabs. The total identification of the nation with Judaism implicitly denies their existence. If you’re on the side of the majority, the feeling can be great; but if you are in the minority, you are constantly reminded of your status.  Arabs know Hebrew; Jews don’t know Arabic. In many respects (without considering the Occupied Territories), Israel retains the characteristics of a nineteenth century nation, which is one of its difficulties when confronting 21st century nations in the West. The only diversity Israel celebrates is diversity among its Jews.

Segregation in the Holy Land

Today, as I was leaving, I wished the pharmacist Shabbat shalom. She looked at me funnily. I wasn’t sure why, but she might have meant, “I’m Arab, that’s not my holiday.” I am indiscriminate in my Shabbat Shalom wishes. I knew perfectly well that she was Arab, but I also knew she would not be working tomorrow like everyone else. It was only after I had left the building that I remembered that today is Ramadan, and it would have been nicer and more appropriate to wish her a Ramadan Kareem.

One of the aspects I’ve often liked in Israel is the ubiquity of well-wishes on holidays. It’s good and pleasant to hear hag sameach, happy holiday, out of the mouths of store keepers and customers as holidays approach, or a simple Shabbat shalom on leaving work on Thursdays. It’s damn comfy – as if everyone around you belongs to an extended family.

I teach soldiers now and, because we are all Jewish, there is easy banter about keeping kosher or discussions of aliyah – there is a common assumption that despite our political or ethnic differences, we are all citizens in the same place – our feet are, as it were, rooted in the same soil. We belong together.

I also teach English to three Hasidim who live in the Wischnitz (pronounded Vishnitz) neighborhood in Bnei Brak. They are a father and his two sons, and they own a hotel in that crowded, religious city. One day after talking with the older son, I realized from the tone in his voice how reassuring it was to live in a closed community that ran its affairs exactly as you did. It was as if there was a happy concordance between his pulse and the pulses of those around him. Moreover, he could regard the hotel as a form of service to the community.

It was only on leaving my local clinic today that I fully realized that I, too, live in a similarly segregated society or, to be more exact, that I, too, live in a sequestered community.

It’s important to make clear that Israel is not segregated in the manner of the American South. There are no separate drinking places, public bathrooms, or bus seats. In public places, Jews and Arabs mingle; and, as an article in Haaretz this week pointed out, Israeli Arabs are one of the significant successes of the country. They are educated: they are doctors, lawyers, judges, parliamentarians, and even ministers. But still, a specific type of segregation characterizes Israeli daily life. Jews and Arabs live in separate communities, go to separate schools (until university), read separate newspapers, and ever since cable TV, watch different stations. There are several Arabic Jewish schools under the same auspices but these are private, and the Israeli government has refused to subsidize them.

The proof of the pudding, as it were, can be found in one of Sayed Kashua’s recent columns in Haaretz, for it is only the minority that feels the oppression of segregation. He writes:

Being a Palestinian Arab in Jerusalem was an inseparable part of my consciousness. I had to be aware that I was an Arab when I drove my children to school, when I drove to work, when I chose my words in writing, and every time I walked in the street. The politics in Israel determined the degree of caution to take in certain circumstances, the place of residence, the children’s educational system, the safe places for going out, the use of the language, and the careful way in which you greeted your neighbors. (“Musaf Haaretz,” 10 March 2017)

What I especially felt that morning was not the segregation in Israeli society or my lack of consideration toward the Arab pharmacist, whose holiday I had ignored, but my similarity with Southerners who had been raised in the balmy haven of segregation. I felt I could understand their fright at Obama’s vision of America. It was not just Obama’s color that was so outrageous but his constant emphasis on the marvelous diversity of the new America. What he thought as a golden promise, which he physically represented, was also a threat to the feeling of security of many. That their sense of invulnerability had rested on the false premises of bigotry, prejudice, and an unacknowledged violence was what I had, in my liberal mind, always understood – what I realized now was how comforting, how damned “nice” it was to live in a sheltered cove – how it gave someone a feeling of belonging to a greater whole, even if that sense of security was based on a falsehood and, often, on an out-and-out lie.

Thoughts about Donald Trump

 

Like many other liberals, I’ve had difficulty understanding the loyalty of Trump supporters, no matter how outrageous his behavior or statements. Luckily for me, a Facebook friend is a supporter, and following her posts has given me insight into what his followers believe.

The clue came from an unexpected source: a video of an African-American minister enumerating numerous wrongs with America and speaking in praise of Donald Trump. He made one blooper when he said that Americans don’t care about Donald Trump’s sex life. This, of course, is not true. It might be true in France but not in the United States. The attempt by the Republican Party to impeach President Clinton is proof of the Puritan pudding; yet, it was important for the reverend to place Donald Trump above such moral stains.

His list of national wrongs that Mr. Trump would correct included poor infrastructure, outsourcing of jobs, law and order, the housing crisis, lack of security in central cities, and the recent Wells Fargo scandal, which he turned into a criticism of institutions that betray our trust. He repeated Trump’s claim that neighbors knew of the San Bernardino bombing plot but did not warn authorities.

The obvious answer is that Hillary Clinton is the only one of the two candidates who has made concrete proposals to solve many of these problems. Or that Donald Trump notoriously outsources his products. Another response is that the housing crisis was brought about by George W. Bush Jr., and the economic problems today in America are directly due to neoliberal economic policies advanced by Republicans and encouraged by Donald Trump, who would lower taxes on the rich even more. One might argue, as well, that violence has steadily decreased under President Obama. But these responses are clearly irrelevant.

As was clear as well from the listeners’ responses, all these troubles are the Democrats’ fault. It does not matter that the Republicans form the majority in both houses of government and therefore have not been powerless for over four years. Although they have blocked much of Obama’s proposals and have not willingly allocated funds for improving America’s infrastructure, the Democrats are guilty. Nor is it what Donald Trump says that is truly important, but rather his image and how his followers perceive him that matter. Despite all evidence to the contrary (both from his past and his confused declarations of policy), they believe that he will rescue them and America. Furthermore, the threat of Muslim refugees stokes their fears. My friend recently posted an article that suggested that the behavior of a Muslim father In Norway, who raped his daughter because she was too “westernized,” was typical of Muslim culture.

Hillary is the devil incarnate, so there is no point in explicating the fine points of economics or talking about how much better qualified she is than he. It is Trump’s lack of qualification that looms large; his deliberate posture of going against the grain. He is, therefore, they seem to be saying, “One of us”—misunderstood, individualistic, anti-government, anti-institutions, someone who will lead them to deliverance.

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict VI

Part VI

The current situation

The current situation is unhealthy for both sides. Israel under Netanyahu is interested in extending the settlements in the Occupied Territories, that is, the West Bank, while the military and the Israeli police seem to be aiding the destructive activities of Jewish activists in the West Bank. The cadre of Jewish terrorists, which had been handled with kid gloves by the government, lately has become even more violent.

Internally, Israel has undergone a drastic shift due largely to demographics, as the number of religious Jews and the Jews from African nations (called mizrachim) has steadily risen. This population is joined by the Jews from Russia (who ironically include a large number of Christians). None of these groups are influenced by the democratic socialist secular ideas of the founders of the Jewish state, and in fact, the Russians, in general, have no appreciation for democracy. In short, they, like the new king in the Bible, “knew not Joseph.” The Zionism of the mizrachim always differed as it had a religious base.

In addition, an Israeli Jew today is unlikely to know an Israeli Arab. Jews live in Jewish communities (and many think it’s perfectly all right to refuse permission to Arabs to live there), and Arabs live in Arab communities. Nearly the only exceptions are Haifa and Jaffa, but even there, the familiarity is limited. I would imagine that at least nine out of ten Jews have never been inside an Arab house. Often when watching television commentators interviewing Arabs, I’m utterly embarrassed by their ignorance and implicit bigotry. They will bluntly ask, “Do you feel like an Israeli?” as if being an Israeli is a prerogative of Jews (like the commentator or interviewer). In short, for most Israeli Jews, Arabs are the other, the stranger, the one they can easily identify with terrorists.

Moreover, the Jews are beset by tribal divisions. The ultra-orthodox hate everyone who is not ultra-orthodox—including the Hasidim, and the State (especially Bibi’s party) has inflamed the discontent of the Jews from Northern Africa (mainly Moroccan Jews, called “mizrachi”) against the Ashkenazi establishment. The Jews in Israel are a people with little consensus and an underprivileged populace of “mizrachi” Jews who hate Arabs—and, as all underprivileged people everywhere, find solace in their hatred.

On the Palestinian side, it is also not in any way clear that the Palestinian leaders have given up the goal of reclaiming all of Palestine, so that today, Israel is led by someone who believes in a Greater Israel (including the West Bank) and the Palestinian Authority by leaders who believe in the return of all the Palestinian refugees to the area of Israel, which would end the existence of a Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority, which is quite corrupt, is also short of cash, so that there are constant rumors of its collapse.

Young Palestinians have opened a third Intifada, characterized by individuals knifing passersby. The Israeli government has ruled that in such cases the police can open fire with intent to kill. As a result, the number of killed Palestinians far exceeds the number of killed Israelis. In general, it seems that the general goal of the Israeli government is to make life as difficult for Palestinians as possible and in this way encourage emigration. Benyamin Netanyahu regards them as vicious, and the Israeli government frankly doesn’t give a damn about them. In an article in Haaretz, the noted sociologist, Eva Ilouz, compared life for Palestinians in the West Bank to that of slavery.

On 2 January 2016, Nidal Zahran wrote the following in “Quora,” when describing the difficulties of life in the West Bank.

Not only that the economy is unstable, but the level of Israeli control over the economy is just ridiculous. Israel, for example, does not allow telecom operators to provide 3G services. To this day we only have 2G!
A friend of mine tried to establish a farm. for 17 months he was running back and forth trying to get approvals from the military.

Freedoms
The Palestinian Authority is not the most democratic government. It is a slow moving oligarchy that is corrupt and often oppressive of freedoms. This however, is very little to what we face from Israel.

The entire Palestinian economy is captive to the Israeli military. We are subject to Israeli military law. Israel controls what and who is allowed in or out of the country. It controls who you can marry. Everything! so, being jailed for criticizing the government, is little compared to having every aspect of your life controlled by a foreign military.

To give a couple of examples. We have a house in our village which is classifies as “Area C”, When we requested a waterline to be connected to the house, they could only install the line until the end of “Area B”, the remaining 5 meters require an approval of the military commander of the area, which is almost impossible to receive on any “construction” project!

For me to visit my wife’s family in Jerusalem, I need a permit from the Israeli Military.

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict V

Part V

Up to 1967 and afterward

Israel

In general, when discussing Israel, we tend to focus on the events after The Six Days’ War when Israel defeated the combined forces of the Arab armies again and acquired Sinai, Gaza, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the area that had been part of the nation of Jordan and was west of the Jordan river, the West Bank. But to understand Israel well, one has to return to the years after the emergence of the state and the ingathering of the refugees from the Holocaust in Europe.

The War of Independence had been traumatic. Over 6,000 Israelis were killed and 15,000 wounded in the War of Independence. The number sounds rather small, but in a population of 806,000, it was not. A friend of mine once told me that her mother had informed her that half of her high school class was gone. My former wife’s uncle was killed, as well. In short, especially among certain groups, it was likely that either a relative or an acquaintance was no longer alive.

After the war, the nation was in a precarious state. It was surrounded by enemies. It had little money, and, although the foundations of a government had been established well beforehand, buildings and bureaucracies and chains of command had to be established. Furthermore, the survivors of the Holocaust had to be absorbed. They had to be taught Hebrew and given a decent standard of living (more or less). By 1949, Israel had added close to 300,000 civilians and had a population approaching 1,200,000. Europe was busy recovering from the war, and the U.S. State Department, which regarded the Jewish state as a temporary nuisance that would eventually disappear in the Arab landscape, offered little if no aid. Food was rationed, and with the rationing came a black market, as well.

Israel was born in trauma, to which the horror of the Holocaust was added. The country never forgot its origins, never forgot that it succeeded out of self-sufficiency with the aid of Jews in the United States—and the willingness of Czechoslovakia to sell it arms. Never forgot that when it finally had earned its right to be one among the nations, no one came to its aid, and it was often regarded as a momentary pain in the neck. Throughout the 50’s, when John Foster Dulles, who courted Arab heads of state, led the State Department, Israel was persona non grata there and had to look elsewhere for allies.

This is useful to remember when considering Israel’s current political positions, which often seem to be based on distrust of outside interference.

After the Six Days’ War, Israel utterly changed. There were three causes for this: the nation became less socialist and more capitalist, which ushered in an influx of money and a change in the American State Department’s attitude. The poor, struggling country became rather wealthy. With Jerusalem and, at the time, Bethlehem, and “space to breathe,” the country became a popular tourist spot, which it hadn’t been beforehand. And, of course, the fact that Jews had returned to Jerusalem and won (another miracle) awoke messianic hopes.

There were, more or less, two camps in Israel after the conquest, although to some degree both encouraged Jewish settlement in the West Bank. As is known, Israel relinquished Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty but kept Gaza, probably because Egypt did not want Gaza either and did not regard it has historically part of Egypt. Gaza was afterward abandoned. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan and agreed to the establishment of two states: Israel and Palestine, and the Palestinian Authority was established.

The two camps:

The Israeli left

What became known as the Peace Camp and afterward as “irresponsible leftists” by those on the right.

  1. This camp was made up primarily of Ashkenazim and the inheritors of the socialist, more universal traditions of the Israeli founders. Its position was that the secular Zionist aspiration has been realized with the formation of a State, and any additions had to be minor and generally connected to military considerations. It accepted the legitimacy of a Palestinian state. Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres were its most prominent representatives – Rabin was killed and Peres would join a government where Netanyahu was prime minister, where he would serve as a convenient poster-boy of Israel to the West.

The Israeli right

  1. Curiously, although Arabs will often talk about the good relations between Arabs and Jews, the Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu has always had a large proportion of Israelis from Arab countries who on no uncertain terms despise Arabs. The right has grown stronger over the years. It combines two basic views, a secular view that regards all of Greater Israel as part of the State of Israel and a religious view that regards Jews as having a natural, God-given right to the lands on the West Bank. The right today—and especially the religious right—no longer refers to the State of Israel but to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. The religious right, among the settlers in the West Bank has become increasingly more violent—and racist.

Palestine

It’s difficult to describe Palestinian positions, especially as I am not a Palestinian. In some respects, the Palestinian position has undergone the greatest change.

The religious position

  1. I will begin with the religious position, primarily because it has essentially not changed—nor can it. If anything, it has adopted the al-Husseini conviction that the Jews are the scourge of the world. Today’s representatives are Hamas and Hezbollah, and, at a distance, Iran—and ISIS. The religious embodiments of the Palestine are all intolerant, military dictatorships.

The secular position

  1. The history of the secular Palestinian movement is quite complicated in this period. To a great extent, the Palestinian national identity was created in exile, and, as a result, it has never has had a state to which it might refer to. Its national identity is—to its own disadvantage—amorphous and inevitably nostalgic for a condition that no longer exists. In addition, the Palestinians never established the foundations of a state while in exile. Their national movement was always a military one.
  2. The Palestinian Charter was created in 1964, during the Arab League summit in Cairo, three years before the Six Days’ War. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the charter established numerous obstacles to any peace process. At the time, Jordan ruled the West Bank of the Jordan, and the charter explicitly states that no harm will come to Jordan’s rule. Much of the rhetoric of this charter, however, remains among the most fiercely anti-Israeli.
    1. The Jews are a religion and not a nationality and therefore can have no historic claim on Palestine. “Furthermore the Jews are not one people with an independent personality because they are citizens of the countries to which they belong.” “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goals, racist and segregationist in its configurations and fascist in its means and aims.” In Article 17, the charter claims that the partitioning of Palestine and the establishment of Israel “are illegal and false, and in another article, “the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate system were frauds.” As I’ve written above, the Palestinian position often returns to the absolute certainty of post-WWI, as if not nearly 100 years have passed. [1] Someone else must analyze the irrefutable force of illusion in the Palestinian vision of a nation, since it is, objectively speaking, a belief without much connection with a reality other than nearly 70 years of oppression.
    2. In addition, the charter calls upon all Arabs to participate in the liberation of Palestine as a “national duty.”
  • The charter would subsequently be altered after the Oslo Accords.
  1. From 1968-1974, the PLO and its various arms performed a number of terrorist acts against innocent civilians. A partial list follows:

22 November 1968 Bomb at Jerusalem market kills 14, including two Arabs.
6 March 1969  Bomb at Hebrew University injures 28 students.
13 February 1970  47 killed when Swissair plane blown up.
22 May 1970 Eight children killed when school bus shelled.
10 May 1972 Japanese “Red army” kill 27 Christian pilgrims at Lod airport.
5 September 1972 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Olympic Games in  Munich.
29 October 1972 Lufthansa plane hijacked. Munich killers released by  Germany.
11 April 1974 PFLP machine-guns 18 men, women and children in an  apartment house near Lebanese border.
15 May 1974 PFLP invades a school at Ma’alot in Northern Israel, killing 20  children.

  1. From September 1970-July 1971, Jordan experienced a civil war brought about by Yasser Arafat’s attempts to undermine King Hussein’s government. In the end, about 3,000 Palestinians were killed and the armed forces of the PLO, including Arafat, were exiled to Lebanon.
  2. From December 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991, though some date its conclusion to 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords, there was an armed uprising in the occupied territories marked by civil disobedience—this was the First Intifada.
  3. On 13 September 2016, the Oslo Accords were signed. The Israeli government recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while the PLO recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist and renounced terrorism as well as other violence, and its desire for the destruction of the Israeli state. A Palestinian Authority was designated for the Palestinian enclave. Future negotiations were to set a permanent agreement between two states, while deciding on the future of Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. These negotiations were never successful.
  4. The Second Intifada started in September 2000, when Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which was regarded by Palestinians as highly provocative, was greeted by Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones at the police.
    1. “Both parties caused high numbers of casualties among civilians as well as combatants: the Palestinians by numerous suicide bombing and gunfire; the Israelis by tank and gunfire and air attacks, by numerous targeted killings, and by harsh reactions to demonstrations. The death toll, including both military and civilian, is estimated to be about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, as well as 64 foreigners.” Wikipedia, “Second Intifada.”

For many Israelis, the Second Intifada was the major blow to any belief in the desire of Palestinians for peace.

[1] A friend told me about a meeting between Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and Jews, where the Palestinians spoke ardently about returning to their lands, and the Israeli Arabs told them there was nothing to go back to—the land has changed beyond recognition.