Jacob Amir & Gilles d'Aymery
With Input from:
Miriam Adams, Philip Greenspan, and Michael Neumann
(Swans - April 24, 2006) Contextual introduction to this conversation (by Gilles d'Aymery): Following my review of Michael Neumann's book, The Case Against Israel, Dr. Jacob Amir, a retired Israeli medical doctor, a veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars, and an ardent Zionist, sent a Letter to the Editor that criticized the book through his reading of my review (the book had not yet been published at the time of my review). His letter prompted Michael Neumann to respond, which in turn had Dr. Amir back to his keyboard. From one e-mail to another, this led to an extended exchange between Dr. Amir and me. I offered Michael Neumann to participate but he did not feel that it would be useful. Philip Greenspan, and a reader, Miriam Adams, got in and out of the exchange, and I include their input here for contextual purpose. Dr. Amir and I went at great length to avoid getting at each other's throats. (Of course, I consider that I did most of the bending-backward dance in order to not offend him; and of course, the good doctor would take exception, with, I am sure, good reason. The bottom line is that we tried to be honest with each other without resorting to personal attacks and ad hominem rhetoric, notwithstanding our differences.)
Dr. Amir, upon my request, wrote a critical review of Michael Neumann's book, which I published on April 10, and which prompted a reaction from Michael Neumann, as well as a rebuttal from Dimitri Oram and Michael Doliner, and an expression of disappointment from Paul de Rooij (see the April 24 Letters to the Editor). Hopefully, Dr. Amir will enjoy spring and stay away from his keyboard. Tit-for-tat can be exhausting at times...and please believe me when I say I am exhausted. However, I intend to have another discussion with Dr. Amir on the nature (or is it a notion?) of the "Jewish people." It will take some time before we can get to it. I need to recharge my batteries, let my emotions (and quite possibly his) abate, and take care of other issues like, as Robert Frost once quipped, "[life] goes on."
The entire exchange can be read in the Letters to the Editor, from January 2, 2006, to April 10, 2006. What follows is the exact reproduction of what was published in the Letters to the Editor. It is reconciled here at the request of readers.
To the Editor:
A few comments on Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel.
The Zionist movement was founded by totally secular Jews. The Bible had very little, if any, influence on their aspiration to reestablish an independent Jewish state in the land where the Jews became a nation, and which later became known as Palestine. To claim that the Jews are "foreign to the land" is indeed a falsity. Those who ignore the historical and indisputable connection between the Jewish people and Palestine will be unable to understand the raison d'être of the state of Israel. There has been a Jewish presence in Palestine centuries before the appearance of political Zionism. Jerusalem, for example, has a Jewish majority since 1840. Jewish neighborhoods more than 700 years old are found in Hebron, Safed, Tiberias, Pekiin, and more.
It is important to remember that the Palestinian Jews fought the British colonial power and were able to achieve their goal, establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. They did NOT impose their sovereignty through expropriation. They were in Palestine legally according to the laws of the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain. Had the Arabs in general, and the Palestinian Arabs in particular, accepted the UN partition plan, today the Palestinian state would be 57 years old and there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee. Neumann writes nothing about the war of 1947-48, when the regular armies of five Arab states plus irregular Palestinian fighters attacked the Jewish population. Israel won, but paid a very heavy price for that victory, 6,000 dead, a whole one percent of the total Jewish population in Palestine. It is like the USA had lost 2.5 million soldiers in Vietnam.
Neumann "forgot" the Hartoom conference, held several months after the 1967 war, with its three NOS: "No recognition, no negotiations, no peace." The Palestinian Arabs (the PLO) took an active part in that conference.
Yes, Israel made serious mistakes after 1967, but taking into account the Arab intransigence one can understand those mistakes. Today, the majority of Israelis supports the principle of the two states solution and even supports a compromise in Jerusalem.
Neumann is wrong when he writes that "Israel is the illegitimate child of ethnic nationalism." Nation-states are found all over the world. Opposing the right of the Jewish people to its own nation-state while supporting that right for everybody else is nothing short of racism. And no, I do not think that Michael Neumann or anybody else who criticises Israel is automatically an anti-Semite.
Jacob Amir, M.D.
Jerusalem, Israel - December 19, 2005
Response To Jacob Amir, by Michael Neumann
[ed. This is a response to Dr. Jacob Amir's Letter to the Editor related to the review of The Case Against Israel, the latest book by Professor Neumann.]
Dr. Amir makes several criticisms of my book without having so much as laid eyes on it. Unsurprisingly, he offers for the most part red herrings.
To say that "the Jews" were not "foreign to the land" of Palestine is to replace argument with pomposity. I never claimed the Jews were "foreign to the land." I claimed that the Zionist Jews, who came in their hundreds of thousands, did not live there, and that the Palestinians did. The few non-Zionist Jews who already inhabited Palestine were not, nor did they ever become, the problem. (Moreover, Jerusalem did not have a Jewish majority since 1840. The 1844 census gave Jews a plurality in Jerusalem, then a tiny city of 16,720 inhabitants. There were 7,120 Jews, 5,760 Muslims, and 3,390 Christians. See the Web site of the World Zionist Organization.)
Amir says: "They ['the Palestinian Jews'] did NOT impose their sovereignty through expropriation. They were in Palestine legally according to the laws of the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain." First, the phrase "the Palestinian Jews" is disingenuously misleading. The Jews indigenous to Palestine were not the ones seeking to impose sovereignty. Many of them were anti-Zionist or neutral. Second, there is obfuscation. Jews, Palestinian or otherwise, imposed sovereignty by establishing a sovereign state, Israel. They did this in the 1948 conflict. No one denies that this conflict involved expropriation of Palestinian lands. Amir hopes to muddy the waters sufficiently so that his ambiguities can pass for an assertion he could never, once clarified, defend. Third, to say that Zionists were legally in Palestine is further obfuscation. For one thing, there is no reason at all why the Palestinians should have felt themselves bound by British or Ottoman laws, which were imposed on them without their consent. For another, supposing the Zionists were "legally in Palestine," this only means that they were entitled to live there. It does not follow that they had legal grounds for imposing their sovereignty on the Palestinians, and they didn't. Fourth, and by far the most important, it really doesn't matter how Zionists imposed sovereignty; it matters that they imposed it. They had absolutely no right to do so, and the Palestinians had every right to resist that imposition. The sovereignty of an ethnic group over all other inhabitants within the territory it controls is an odious state of affairs that no amount of legalistic whitewashing can render any more legitimate.
Amir says that, had the Palestinians accepted partition, their state would be 57 years old, and there would be no Palestinian refugees. Had partition been accepted, there would have been an ethnic state in territory inhabited by the Palestinians. The Palestinians inhabiting this territory would then have had the choice so many did in fact have: to let another ethnic group hold the power of life and death over them, or to leave. Since not all Palestinians would have accepted subjugation, there would have been refugees even if partition had been accepted. Moreover, since many Zionists had no intention of settling for what was offered in partition, there can be no confidence that partition would have avoided more fighting, more refugees, and the denial of Palestinian statehood. Palestinians were of course aware of this at the time, and Ben Gurion was quite explicit about his intention in private. He wrote his son that:
I am an enthusiastic advocate of the Jewish State, even if it involves partitioning Palestine now, because I work on the assumption that a partial Jewish State will not be the end, but the beginning. When we acquire 1,000 or 10,000 dunams of land, we are happy. Because this acquisition of land is important not only for its own sake, but because through it we are increasing our strength, and every increase in our strength helps us to acquire the whole country. The formation of a State, even if it is only a partial State, will be the greatest increase of strength we could have today, and it will constitute a powerful lever in our historic effort to redeem the country in its entirety. (Source: David Ben-Gurion, Letters to Paula, Aubrey Hodes, tr., Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press) 1971 , 154f.)
So it is a myth, not even a plausible one, that partition was likely to give the Palestinians anything at all.
It is not surprising that I "'forgot' the Hartoom conference" because there was never any such beast. Amir refers to the Khartoum conference of August 1967. In the first place, by this time Israel had already decided not to support the Palestinian notables to whom I referred. In the second place, the Khartoum conference was not a conference of Palestinians, but one of the Arab leaders, including King Faisal. That the PLO took an active part in the conference had not the slightest tendency to remove a willingness to deal with Israel among the Palestinian leaders who were actually in Palestine in June and July. The future does not change the past. In the third place, had there been no willingness, it would not have changed the rights and wrongs of the situation at all. In 1967, Israel extended its sovereignty, its power of life and death, over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. This posed, for a second time, a mortal threat to the Palestinians, who had absolutely no say in how this power was to be wielded. Zionist sovereignty was imposed on all of them, men, women, and children, whether or not they had engaged in any hostilities towards Israel. Once again: any group of people subjected to such power, without their consent, has a right to resist its imposition by any means necessary. So the Palestinians had such a right whether or not they showed any willingness whatever to negotiate. Israel may conceivably have had some right to occupy its conquests until a secure withdrawal could be effected, but none whatever to settle on the land, which simply increased the Palestinians' prospects of unending occupation accompanied by creeping dispossession.
Finally, Amir tells us that "Nation-states are found all over the world. Opposing the right of the Jewish people to its own nation-state while supporting that right for everybody else is nothing short of racism." This is the worst obfuscation of all. Nation-states are, for the most part, not ethnic states. They are not states designed to perpetuate the power of a single ethnic group over everyone else within the territory over which that group holds sovereignty. All such states are illegitimate. No one ought to support that supposed right, and I certainly do not do so.
Canada - January 16, 2006
Answer to Michael Neumann's Response To Jacob Amir
To the Editor,
Michael Neumann continues to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in Palestine. By 1947 there were 600,000 Jews in Palestine. All of them, with the possible exception of the Naturei Karta Ultra-Orthodox sect, supported the establishment of the Jewish state. It did not matter if they came in 1630 or in 1930. They all belonged to the same national entity and as such were entitled to political self determination.
The Jews in Palestine had every right to strive, fight and achieve their independence. Contrary to Neumann's assertion, the 110,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens did not leave. To claim that the Arabs were right to reject the partition because those "terrible Zionists" would have attacked them later is the mother of all obfuscations! Menachem Begin and Itzhak Shamir, two very strong proponents of Greater Israel, believed that the Jewish state should include ALL of Mandatory Palestine, including the Kingdom of Jordan. When they became Prime Ministers they could have very easily conquered Jordan. But of course they did not. They did not even annex the whole of the West Bank and Gaza.
Neumann should take a look at the definition of ethnicity: "An ethnic group is a culture or subculture whose members are readily distinguishable by outsiders based on traits originating from a common racial, national, linguistic, regional or religious source. Members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or genetically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case." If one looks at the Jews from England and compares them with the Jews from Yemen one finds that they have nothing in common, except their religion and historic memory. The same goes when one compares the Jews from Bulgaria with those from Iraq. They all belong to the same people without being ethnically similar. And the encyclopedia continues: "On the political front, an ethnic group is distinguished from a nation-state by the former's lack of sovereignty." Israel is a nation-state and not an ethnic sovereignty. Israel does not perpetuate the power of a single ethnic group over everyone else within the territory over which that group holds sovereignty. It perpetuates the power of the Jewish people, just like Bulgaria perpetuates the power of the Bulgarian people.
I maintain my point that denying the right of the Jewish people to a sovereign nation-state, not ethnic sovereignty, but a nation-state, is in fact racist.
Jacob Amir, M.D.
Jerusalem, Israel - January 29, 2006
A short exchange of views with Dr. Jacob Amir prompted by Michael Neumann's Response To Jacob Amir
Dear Dr. Amir,
Thank you for your letter that I've just published. You may wish to look at my current "Blips" in which I answer questions that a friend asked regarding the predicament. I really think that lowering the decibel of the rhetoric would help. Accusing Prof. Neumann of racism is utterly unhelpful.
Boonville, California, USA - January 30, 2006
Thank you for your note and thank you for publishing my letters.
I read your comments to your friend in the current "Blips." I would suggest you read the Hamas Covenant (it can be found on this Website). And please do not compare the Hamas, who just won an absolute majority in the Palestinian elections, to a few extreme fanatics in Israel who have absolutely no influence on the Israeli government.
You may be surprised, but more and more people in Israel support the two-state solution, which means they support withdrawing to the green line with minor adjustments and land swaps. You can find those not only in what was once called "lunatic left" but also in the leadership of Kadima, the new party, enjoying massive public support.
As for lowering the decibel of the rhetoric, I wrote in my first letter than I do not consider Prof. Neumann an anti-Semite because he criticizes Israel. But, some people who are not racist at all may at times express racist opinions and there is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade.
Jerusalem, Israel, January 30, 2006
Dear Dr. Amir,
Thank you for your e-mail. I'm not Prof. Neumann's porte parole. I simply reviewed his book. I think that a) one may disagree with his political/philosophical/moral/ethical positions without resorting to the accusation of racism and b) that it would be helpful if you took the time to read his book in good faith. You may still conclude that the case he makes is incorrect or in opposition with your views but, at least you would base your criticism on what he wrote and not on what I wrote about what he wrote. Anyway, that's just my way of thinking.
I'm fully aware that there is a growing segment of Israeli society that favors a two-state solution (I said such in my "Blips"). There's also a large segment that does not. This division is increasingly threatening the unity of Israeli society according to Meyrav Wurmser in "Zionism in Crisis" (see http://www.meforum.org/article/875). So my question remains valid: What's next?
Was PM Sharon ready to disengage from the West Bank? We may never know. Personally, I do not think he was, and I am not the only non-lunatic to think likewise. See the latest Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 5, No. 16 - 1 February 2006, "The Palestinian Authority and the Challenge of Palestinian Elections," by Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland, at: http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief005-16.htm
The occupation of the West Bank remains in my opinion the Gordian Knot of the conflict. I suspect you will disagree with me and that is fine. I can't debate this forever. I'm just a small publisher and co-editor of an on-line magazine with little financial resources, forcing me to do most of the work on my own, thus allowing me little time to address readers at length. Again, I thank you for your letters to the editor.
Boonville - February 1, 2006
Knowing how busy you are, I do not want to take much of your time. I will be very brief. If somebody writes a book in which he claims that my people does not exist, and that I am just a part of an ethnic group, and then continues by asserting that my nation-state was illegitimately established, I, as an individual, take that to mean that he is expressing racist opinions. It is one thing to claim that Israel should withdraw from all of the West Bank and that a viable Palestinian state should be established, and it is another to deny the existence of my people.
Jerusalem - February 3, 2006
Dear Dr. Amir,
I hope I did not offend you. It was certainly not my intent. Private e-mail exchanges take me away from my work on Swans. As a small publication depending entirely upon volunteered contributions, I spend most of my time working on getting contributions, editing them, formatting them, etc. I wish I could have an e-mail exchange that could be published upon agreement by both interlocutors. This would then be material (work) for Swans (and allow me to dig further into our respective mind and heart). Unfortunately, people want to engage me privately, not publicly, and I usually have to cut the communication short after a couple of e-mails and get back to my tasks at hand. (I say "usually" for we've had more than two exchanges already.) I hope you understand my motivation. It's not personal at all.
This said: You are evidently entitled to reaching your own conclusions in regard to Prof. Neumann's views, though I would strongly suggest that the premises are incorrect. I respectfully suggest that you are misconstruing his views, not out of dishonesty or disingenuousness, but, if I may say, out of ignorance. That's why I recommended that you read his book (read it and review it: I'll publish the result...as well as Prof. Neumann's reaction, if any).
Name-calling (attacking the messenger), as I said, is not useful. Direct the criticisms to the ideas, not to the man. "Your" people are "his" people. Neumann does not deny the existence of your/his people, or the state of Israel. Here, you need to prove me wrong and to do so you must read the book. To help you, here is what he says:
Virtually no state has legitimate foundations and in that sense virtually no state has a right to exist. In theory, therefore, everyone has a right to interfere with the existence of those states. In practice, however, such "interference" is almost never justified. The mere fact that, say, the United States is founded on genocide, massacre and exploitation is not sufficient reason to destroy the United States. This is because the cure of destruction is in practice worse than the disease of illegitimate existence.
As I myself said -- see my "Blips" -- one can be theoretically against the notion of nations and practically acknowledge them.
I personally am against a Jewish nation, as much as I am against a Muslim nation (of which there are many) or a Christian nation, or a French nation (from which I came from) or a Bulgarian, etc. -- cite any of the 190 plus or minus nations existing, based on either ethnicity or religion -- and yet accept the actualities of the historical moment. To argue philosophically/theoretically/politically against nations is not being racist, anti-Semite, anti-Muslim (Semites too, by the way), anti-Christian, or anti-ethnic of any creed, it has to do with a view of the world in which we would like to live in. Again, attack the ideas, not the messengers.
In short, a Jewish nation does not bother me. Nations bother me.
Anyway, Prof. Neumann does not, repeat, does not say in any way, shape, or form that the existence of Israel is illegitimate. He does not say it, period.
Now, I have to go. I need to focus on Swans. If you want to help me with my endeavor, you can either write for the publication or send me some money... And/or, if you want to have the last word, be my guest. I won't answer it (but may use it one of these days -- I archive most of my e-mail correspondence).
[Note: I shall forward this latest exchange to Prof. Neumann.]
With best regards,
Boonville - February 3, 2006
No, you did not offend me. And, if you want, you may publish our exchange in Swans.
All the best,
Jerusalem - February 4, 2006
[ed. Upon reading copy of my last e-mail exchange with Jacob Amir, Michael Neumann made the following comments:]
Amir could mean to say several things. None of them make much sense to me.
It would be odd to suppose, for instance, that merely saying someone belongs to an ethnic group is racist. Is it degrading to belong to an ethnic group? This would itself seem a racist assumption.
What about denying the existence of a "people"? Is that racist? If "denying the existence of a people" means denying the existence of an ethnic group, then no one is being condemned for belonging to that (non-existent!) ethnic group. In that case the denial can't be racist. And if denying the existence of a people means denying the existence of something *less* racial than an ethnic group, it is even more incomprehensible that this should be taken to be a racial slur. How can it be racist to say that some non-racial group doesn't exist?
As for Israel, either Amir believes "his nation" to be an ethnic (or racial) sovereignty or he does not. If he does, then the main point is conceded: Israel is then itself an odiously ethnic or racial supremacy, and condemning it cannot itself be racist. But suppose he does *not* believe Israel is an ethnic sovereignty. Then the nation being condemned is just a nation, not a racially based institution. If so, how can the condemnation of Israel possibly involve the condemnation of a race?
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada - February 6, 2006
Dear Dr. Amir,
First, please note that I shall publish our exchange in our next Letters to the Editor.
Second, here is what I received from Michael Neumann in reference to our last exchange (that I forwarded to him as advised). I'd like you to have the opportunity to follow up, if you so wish.
[Text of Michael Neumann's comments.]
Third, I am pondering the idea of having you, Michael Neumann, and me, engage in an e-mail discussion that we would publish on Swans. I would (will, if you do not shoot down the idea) offer a framework. It should be (a) no holds barred, (b) absent of personal attacks, and (c) tentatively constructive toward a resolution of the predicament we all face.
Please let me know your sentiment on this, and, in the meantime, please feel free to follow-up on Prof. Neumann's latest comments (again, please, try to avoid personalizing issues.)
(Kindly note my first name.)
Boonville - February 7, 2006
Thank you for publishing our exchange. My reaction to Prof. Neumann follows.
If I consider myself part of the Jewish people and somebody claims that there is no Jewish people but only an ethnic group called Jews, I consider that a racist opinion.
As for Israel: The sovereignty is of the Jewish people, in the same manner that the sovereignty in Bulgaria is the sovereignty of the Bulgarian people.
As for criticizing (or condemning) Israel's policies: This happens daily in Israel itself. There is nothing racist in such criticism or condemnation as long as it does not deny the right of the Jewish people to political self-determination and independence.
I will be more than happy to participate in the discussion you propose and I accept your framework.
Jerusalem - February 8, 2006
Counter Historical Narrative: Philip Greenspan's Continuing Israeli-Palestinian Historical Trends
To the Editor,
Philip Greenspan tells us that Israel not only wants to keep the West Bank but, in fact it wants to extend the borders of Israel all the way to the Nile and the Euphrates...("Continuing Israeli-Palestinian Historical Trends," February 13). The withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai and from Gaza were just "tactics" in an ongoing struggle, but the aim is "to build an ever expanding state and to expel the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants." And, he got a confirmation of that assertion from none other than one of the leaders of Hamas, who recently said that Israel has to change its flag because the two blue lines on it depict the two rivers, the Nile and the Euphrates. It appears that animosity to Zionism and Israel can do miracles -- bringing together a left-wing progressive and a regressive fundamentalist Jihadist. Strange bedfellows indeed.
As to the substance of this more than bizarre idea, Ben Gurion never said what Greenspan claims he did. Even the leaders of the right-wing branch of the Zionist movement, like Zabotinski, Begin, Shamir or Nethanyahu, never mentioned the Nile and the Euphrates. They wanted to have a Jewish state on ALL of Mandatory Palestine, including the Kingdom of Jordan. Ben Gurion was one of their fiercest opponents, because he understood early on that a territorial compromise between the two peoples is a must. That is why he accepted the UN partition plan while Begin opposed it. Had the Arabs accepted it too, instead of starting the war of 1947-48, their independent state would have been 57 years old today and there would not have been a single Arab refugee. But, they wanted ALL of Palestine. They refused to accept a Jewish state, regardless of its size. And as they were sure that they could easily overcome the Jewish forces, they started the war of terror against the Palestinian Jewish population which culminated with the invasion of the regular armies of five neighboring Arab states. To Greenspan's great disappointment they lost the war and only brought disaster to their people, causing the refugee problem. Israel paid a very heavy price for the victory -- 6,000 dead -- a whole one percent of the total Jewish population in Palestine at that time. This is like the US lost 2.5 million soldiers in Vietnam.
The fact that the Jewish leadership in Palestine accepted the UN partition plan indicates that the Jews did not want to "ethnically cleanse" anybody. On the other hand, the refusal of the Arabs to accept the partition and their military attack on the Jewish population indicate that they wanted to ethnically cleanse the Jews from Palestine. And in fact, while 130,000 Arabs remained in Israel after the war of 1947-48, not a single Jew remained in the areas of Palestine, which fell to the Arab armies. They were all expelled or killed. Now, that was ethnic cleansing par excellence. Today there are 1.3 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens.
The Israeli-Palestinian historical trends clearly point out to the only solution to the 100 year-old conflict -- the two states solution. If Hamas decides to change its covenant, recognize Israel and start negotiations, I am sure Israel will come to the table. If not, Israel can continue to withdraw unilaterally, dismantle more West Bank settlements, finish the separation fence, and wait, until the Palestinians change their mind. I am also sure Israel will do the best it can to protect the lives of its citizens, whether Greenspan likes it or not.
Jerusalem, Israel - February 15, 2006
Philip Greenspan responds:
Hello Dr. Amir,
Thank you for your critique of my article.
Your comments do not diminish its essential premise that the public statements and agreements are diversions from the real motivations of the parties. Their actions over time if they form a logical pattern can be projected into the future to provide an ideal means of determining the parties' future intentions.
You misconstrue and distort my phrase ". . . an ever expanding state . . ." to mean ". . . from the Nile to Euphrates . . ." The latter term I attribute to Ben Gurion as an indication of his intent not to be limited by what he publicly accepted by the UN's partition. That statement, when judged by what many Jewish historians have written, does not appear unreasonable. Norman Finkelstein, a Jew whose parents were Holocaust survivors and a most meticulous historical analyst is but one of them. In the appendix on page 280 of his Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History this statement appears:
Indeed, right after issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish state proposed by Ben-Gurion, for example, included not just the whole of Palestine, but all of present day Jordan as well as wide swaths of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.
The footnote reference to that statement lists additional Jewish authors. "Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War (New York, 1985), pp. 34-35. For the official Zionist map circa 1919 staking out similar territorial claims, see Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism (New York, 1972), p. 85, and Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York, 1987), p. 17." An additional statement on the same page states ". . . both Weizmann and Ben-Gurion saw partition as a stepping stone to further expansion and the eventual takeover of the whole of Palestine. . . . [Ben-Gurion] wrote his son Amos: '[A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning. . . . Our possession is important not only for itself. . . through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state. . .will serve as a very potent lever in our historical efforts to redeem the whole country.'"
Most of the assertions in your letter are reiterations of Israeli statements and agreements. They are the diversions of intent for public consumption that I refer to that were contravened by their subsequent actions. Example: Israel's continued refusal to return areas of conquest in violation of international law is further evidence of their intent for expansion.
You err when you state that I was disappointed that the Arabs lost the 1947-48 war. I was most supportive of the state of Israel through that war, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. It was during their incursion into Lebanon that I had second thoughts. While I was satisfied with the ultimate result, I felt its cost to innocent civilians was not worth it and was criminal in its inception. The intifada together with my reading of numerous Israeli historians and correspondents, my conversations with many who visited the occupied territories, some of whom were Jews including Israelis but none of whom were Palestinians, Arabs, or Moslems, completed my conversion.
Quite a few Israelis visit the occupied territories. If you contact them in a friendly manner they might enlighten you on what they have observed. They might even invite you to come with them. You cannot know what another's life is like until you walk in their shoes. I would welcome your thoughts after such a visit.
Spring Valley, New York, USA
[ed. Since Dr. Amir asserted that, "Ben Gurion never said what Greenspan claims he did," I felt compelled to authenticate the two contended citations.
The first one -- "We must do everything to insure they never do return." -- appears to come from Ben Gurion's diary, July 18, 1948, and was quoted by Michael Bar Zohar in The Armed Prophet, p. 157. I was unable, however, to check Mr. Bar Zohar's book. I found this source in a series of "Instructive Quotations" we published on Swans, January 17, 2005. If a reader has access to the book, please check the reference and let me know.
The second one -- "The present map of Palestine was drawn by the British mandate. The Jewish people have another map which our youth and adults should strive to fulfill -- From the Nile to the Euphrates." -- can be found all over the Internet. Simply Google "Jewish people have another map." However, I did not feel satisfied with what I found. It looked like only pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli sites (two different birds) were using that citation. Furthermore it looked like many, if not all, originated from one particular site. I looked for (Ben Gurion's) "fabricated citations" without any success. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail on February 18, 2006, to Dr. Mitchell G. Bard, the executive director of the Jewish Virtual Library to ask for his help. I specifically asked whether he could direct me toward resources on the Internet that dealt with fabricated citations (in regard to Israel), and whether he knew for a fact that that particular citation was a fake. To date, Dr. Bard has not answered my query. So, I'm unable to authenticate this second citation. Perhaps Dr. Amir will oblige and document his assertion. When all is said and done, I'll be glad to correct the record, if the record needs be corrected. That's the very least of what Swans is all about -- integrity.
Finally, Dr. Amir, a partisan of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even through a unilateral Israeli withdrawal (the Shlomo Ben-Ami "dovish" approach), may wish to read what Amira Hass has to say about the Jordan Valley and the preparations taken by the Israeli government "for its official annexation to Israel." He may also want to familiarize himself with the recent military order signed by Major General Yair Naveh in regard to the "free circulation" of Palestinians within the Occupied Territories (OT) -- not "disputed territories." Here again, Amira Hass provides a vivid description of the situation. (By the way, this is the same Major General who recently claimed that, "Given that Jordan is 80 percent Palestinian, we might -- heaven forbid -- reach a situation in which Abdullah is the last Hashemite king" (see Haaretz, February 23, 2006). For a more wrenching account of what is actually going on in the OT, Dr. Amir would be well-served to read the article by Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre Jennifer Loewenstein, "Watching the Dissolution of Palestine" (CounterPunch, February 24, 2006). As to the Hamas, here is what M.J. Rosenberg, Director of the Israel Policy Forum's Washington office and former editor of AIPAC's Near East Report -- certainly not an enemy of Israel -- has to say:
[The Israelis] are the last people who should be surprised by the Hamas victory. In fact, in the 1980s Hamas -- and previous incarnations of Islamic resistance -- were quietly supported by the Israelis as alternatives to the PLO. Prior to Yitzhak Rabin's election in 1992 and the Oslo agreement, successive Likud governments preferred any alternative to Arafat and his organization, largely because they were not interested in negotiating with the Palestinians at all and the Islamicist -- unlike the PLO -- were not interested in negotiating with them either. But their biggest contribution to the Hamas victory was more recent. After boycotting Yasir Arafat since his election in 2001, it was assumed that the Sharon government would be more forthcoming with his moderate and democratically elected successor who, after all, ended the intifada. It wasn't. Sharon refused to negotiate with Abbas and simply ignored Israel's responsibilities under the roadmap (freezing settlement expansion, for one). Other than calling Abbas a "partner," Sharon treated him no differently than Arafat, and the Americans didn't press him. He ended violence and got almost nothing in return. To Palestinians, Abbas looked like a dupe. ("Who Elected Hamas? We did -- with help from the Israelis and Fatah", The American Conservative, February 27, 2006 Issue.)
All and all, these articles, written by Israeli and non-Israeli Jews, support Philip Greenspan's depiction of the predicament and contradict Dr. Amir's narrative.]
Sorry, I've not followed-up with your last two e-mails. Been busy and fighting a household flu...
Boonville, California, USA - 27 Feb. 2006
I read Greenspan's response and your 2 cents. I hope the flu is gone. (Good doctor...). Here is my response to both of you:
First the quotes. On page 157 of Michael Bar-Zoar's The Armed Prophet, one can find the Ben-Gurion quote from July 18, 1948. Here is that quote in its entirety:
Even if the front lines are in our favour at the moment of the truce being declared, it does not mean that we shall be allowed to retain the occupied territory, for now a diplomatic battle is about to begin. If, on the other hand, the front lines are favorable to the Arabs, it is almost certain that they will be allowed to keep the territory they hold. So, what happens during the truce is of great importance.
As you see, there is nothing even close to what Greenspan quoted: "We must do everything to insure they never do return." The book is available in the Hebrew University Library.
As to the second quotation, referring to the Nile and the Euphrates. I contacted Prof. Michael Bar-Zoar, who is probably the most knowledgeable historian on Ben-Gurion, and he told me, and I quote: "This is total rubbish."
One should ask why would Greenspan accept those quotes, which are obviously false, without checking their veracity? Especially the one about the Nile and the Euphrates. Anybody with even a minimal knowledge of the Zionist scene would have known that Ben-Gurion could have never said such nonsense. The eagerness to accept those malicious quotations and then build bizarre theories on them shows very clearly Greenspan's anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli bias. By the way, the Internet is full with false anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli quotes. One wonders why? One has to check carefully the veracity of those quotes before using them.
Amira Hass did not write that Israel has annexed the Jordan Valley. When, and if, the bilateral negotiations start, the Jordan Valley will be on the table like ALL other occupied (or "disputed") territories. Israel has very important security concerns about its Eastern border, but, I believe that these concerns can be answered without annexing the Valley.
I have visited the West Bank numerous times. And I agree, the life of the ordinary Palestinian is very hard. For you and Philip to understand why Israel is imposing its security measures, you should consider visiting several of the more than 3,000 Israeli families who have had a loved one killed or gravely wounded. Then it will become very clear.
Whatever happened in the 1980s does not diminish the danger that Hamas presents for Israel. It is not an existential danger but it requires continuous vigilance. Take a look at article 11 of the Hamas covenant (it speaks for itself):
The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered; it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgment Day.
By the way, Abbas did not end the violence. Israel did.
Norman Finkelstein is not an historian. He is a political scientist with a very strong anti-Zionist bias. When he writes that "Indeed, right after issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish state proposed by Ben-Gurion, for example, included not just the whole of Palestine, but all of present day Jordan as well as wide swaths of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.", he forgets that the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917. At that time, Palestine included what later became known as the Kingdom of Jordan. That is why the Zionist movement considered ALL of Mandatory Palestine the site of the future Jewish state. In fact, when Ben-Gurion accepted the UN partition plan, and Israel was proclaimed in 1948, it occupied just 12 percent of what the Balfour Declaration proposed as the Jewish National Home. Menachem Begin, who felt that ALL of Mandatory Palestine (including Jordan) should be included in the Jewish state, opposed Ben-Gurion and rejected the partition. But Ben-Gurion prevailed.
I have no doubt that if the Arab states and the Palestinian Arabs had recognized Israel between 1948 and 1967 and reached a peace agreement, the war of 1967 (and all subsequent wars) would not have occurred. If, for example, an agreement with Jordan would have left the old city of Jerusalem in Arab hands, I am sure that many Israelis would have objected but I am also sure, that in the end, the government would have prevailed. The fact is that Israel was stronger than Jordan in the mid sixties. It could have easily taken the whole West Bank or at least the whole of Jerusalem. But it did not, precisely because there was no expansion policy.
After the war of 1967, Israel made a grave mistake by not withdrawing from most of the territories. Ben-Gurion said very early on that Israel should withdraw from everywhere except Jerusalem. We did not listen, because many of us considered the West Bank, the birthplace of the Jewish people. Now, gradually, many Israelis understand that the territorial compromise is a must, just like it was in 1947-48.
There is no intent for expansion. If there was, we would be still in the Sinai, in Lebanon, in Gaza. We would have annexed the whole of the West Bank. Barak would not have proposed to give back almost all of the Golan Heights and 96 per cent of the West Bank.
Both of you underline that some critics of Israel are Jews or even Israeli Jews. As if being Jewish gives them some special gravity. It does not. I look only at the strength of the argument, without caring who makes it.
Jerusalem, Israel - February 28, 2006
Thank you for your e-mail. The flu's still kicking and no doctor around...the smoking of course does not help!
First, a quick clarification for the record: I did not write that Amira Hass "[wrote] that Israel has annexed the Jordan Valley." What I wrote was that you "may wish to read what Amira Hass has to say about the Jordan Valley and the preparations taken by the Israeli government 'for its official annexation to Israel,'" and I provided the link (URL) to her article, "Clearing the Jordan Valley of Palestinians: Down the Expulsion Highway," in which the last paragraph reads: "The army swears that these prohibitions bear no relation to the politicians' declarations that the valley will remain in Israel's hands forever. But in practice, they are helping to empty it of Palestinians, in preparation for its official annexation to Israel." I do not think I misconstrued Hass.
This said, you are absolutely correct that one should "check carefully the veracity of those quotes before using them." So, when you state that, "there is nothing even close to what Greenspan quoted: 'We must do everything to insure they never do return,'" I would respectfully suggest you go back to the Hebrew University Library and check The Armed Prophet again.
A couple of correspondents did it on my behalf. I asked whether they could check that the full citation -- "As for the Arab refugees, he (Ben Gurion) was quite emphatic: 'We must do everything to ensure they never do return'." -- was actually quoted in the book.
The first response came from a correspondent who works at the University of Pittsburg - Hillman Library. He checked:
The Armed Prophet A Biography of Ben Gurion
Author: Michael Bar-Zohar.
Translator (from French): Len Ortzen
Publisher of the English language edition: Arthur Barker Limited, 5 Winsley Street London W1
(First published in France by Librairie Artheme Fayard under the title BEN GOURION Le Prophète Armé, Copyright, 1966.)
He said that, the "citation is [the] very last sentence on page 157 and continues onto page 158."
This authentification was confirmed by a friend who works at Columbia University in New York, and who checked the same edition (Arthur Barker Limited, 1967): "It is on page 157 to page 158."
The other one, deemed "rubbish" by Prof. Bar-Zohar, remains unauthenticated on my side. But to deem it "rubbish" does not make it fabricated per se. Philip Greenspan provided you with an explanation in his response to your former letter. There is, additionally, plenty of historical evidence that the Zionist movement wanted to redeem the entire Eretz Israel, as you seem to admit in reference to the period around the Balfour Declaration (Mandatory Palestine). There is also a serious body of historical work that convincingly demonstrates that while Ben Gurion was indeed in favor of partition he, however, never set a limit to the territory of Israel. Actually, when you are back at Hebrew University Library to check The Armed Prophet again, please look at page 133. I trust you will see a citation of Ben Gurion's May 14, 1948 diary that reads: "Take the American Declaration of Independence for instance. It contains no mention of the territorial limits. We are not obliged to state the limits of our State." Later, Ben Gurion wrote that, "[T]o maintain the status quo will not do. We have to set up a dynamic state bent upon expansion." (David Ben Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, the Philosophical Press, New York, 1954, p. 419.) On the subject, and in addition to Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel that I e-mailed you in PDF format (see "Partition," pages 56-63), you may want to consult Benny Morris's work, as well as that of Norman Finkelstein (e.g., Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, 1995).
You consider Philip Greenspan to hold biased, malicious, (even "vicious" as you stated in another e-mail), anti-Zionist, and anti-Israeli views, and you've said or implied much of the same in regard to Michael Neumann and Norman Finkelstein. What about Shlomo Ben-Ami? Is he an anti-Israeli, Anti-Zionist, holding biased and malicious views, too? Allow me to direct your attention to the Finkelstein-Ben-Ami debate that took place on Democracy Now!, February 14, 2006. You can read the full transcript at: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=140
In addition, to further help you answer my question, and presupposing you have not read Ben-Ami's latest book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, please see a short comparative analysis between excerpts of his book and Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict on a few of the issues we are discussing, at: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=138
Then, please, kindly let me know, whether you consider Ben-Ami a malicious anti-Zionist/Israeli historian?
I don't know where we are going with this discussion. You keep repeating that no solution has been reached because of the inflexibility and violence of the Palestinians; that, had they, and the neighboring Arab countries, accepted Israel at any one time since 1948, everything would have long been solved. From your perspective, the continuation of the conflict is to be put squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians and the neighborhood. In your narrative, Israelis were always ready to compromise (Ben Gurion exemplifying that willingness), albeit, as you acknowledge, mistakes were made, but the Palestinians were and remain adamant about destroying Israel.
You appear to blur over the historical record that the Yishuv knew full well that they could defeat the Arab armies in 1948, which had already been defeated in 1936-1939 by and large (see Ben-Ami). You seem to ignore the 1956 Sinai campaign, or the 1971 Jarring initiative that would have spared the Yom Kippur War but for the intransigence of Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and the Israeli apparatus. You leave aside that the 1967 War was a preemptive war, presented as defensive, but designed not to repeat the 1956 error (when the Eisenhower administration pulled the plug on the adventure) and led, with the immediate collapse of the Arab armies, to the taking over of more land, which instead of relinquishing, Israel began to settle promptly (colonize?).
It seems again that Palestinian powerless wishful thinking of throwing the "Jews" to the sea is taken for granted (to this day) but the actual expulsions of Palestinians, the dispossession of their land and water, the destruction of olive orchards and vineyards, the demolitions of houses, and the appalling conditions imposed upon them in the OT -- past and present -- are dismissed in the name of self-defense.
Occupied Territories, it seems, are "disputed" in your line of thinking, according, I suppose, to Oslo (the latest "legal" argument), 242, 2000-year history, and, of course for many (possibly not you, but I don't know, you have not said...), god -- the master of all obfuscations. Adding more settlements is a fact of life that will be negotiated away, eventually, perhaps, possibly, when the Palestinians and the Arabs finally accept Israel in the neighborhood. It's all a matter of negotiations. But since there is no one on the Palestinian side deemed worthy of negotiating with (PLO, PA, Fatah, Hamas), the situation perpetrates itself in an infinite loop.
It's an old narrative, though I'm readily admitting still a majority opinion in the U.S., but there are more and more people who want to see this circle broken. People, Jewish and non Jewish alike, who in the words of Prof. Bruce Jackson "are desperate for the killing and dying on both sides to stop now. Not after every potentially suicidal Palestinian is wiped out. Not after the world is made perfect. Now."
Jacob, I've repeatedly tried -- to date unsuccessfully, I'm afraid -- to alert you to the unnecessariness of portraying someone whose opinions and analysis you disagree with as being somehow nefarious, up to no good, malicious, vicious, anti-Semite, anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli, and the like (self-hating Jews?). It's called name-calling in the trade of rhetoric, but it certainly does not help advance a constructive discussion or endeavor to bridge the gap between the opposing views. It would be useful to get beyond nasty epithets...
As I've said, I don't know where this discussion is going. Perhaps should we voluntary refrain from attempting to convince each other of the righteousness of our respective positions on the historical processes that have brought this dire situation. You maintain that the responsibility of this terrible predicament lay principally, but not entirely, with the Palestinians and the Arab states. I maintain the opposite: the responsibility lay principally, but not entirely, with Israel. As far as where we both stand in regard to the roots of the present destructive state of affairs it is clear that we do not agree and haven't convinced each other otherwise. Perhaps could we focus not on the past but on the future and see whether we can reach some understanding?
For instance, Philip Greenspan's "bizarre theories" could evidently be rendered moot by the Israeli withdrawal from the OT, whether this withdrawal is unilateral or negotiated. You are in favor of the two-state solution. How, when, and why did you come to this conclusion? How would you proceed? When do you think this Israeli withdrawal will take place?
Finally, could you try to explain to me the meaning of being a Zionist today? This is not a trick question. I am confused by this Zionist-anti-Zionist debate. I heard Ben-Ami at the end of the Democracy Now! debate say, "I define myself as an ardent Zionist that thinks that the best for the Jews in Israel is that we abandon the territories and we dismantle settlements and we try to reach a reasonable settlement with our Palestinian partners." What is the practical meaning of Zionism in such current circumstances and historical context? Israel exists. Jews who wish to emigrate to Israel can (Aliya). The moment one agrees to the two-sate solution, to abandoning the territories and dismantling the settlements (therefore finalizing the territory of the state of Israel), why the need to define oneself as a Zionist, ardent or not?
Jacob, Israel must leave the OT. Please! Violence and hatred will recede as they always do when peace replaces war.
Boonville - March 5, 2006
I read the Haaretz newspaper every day, and read every article written by Amira Hass. I read that article before I got your message. I did not think for a moment that you misconstrued Hass. I wanted to emphasize that in spite of her vivid description of the harsh Israeli measures, Israel has not annexed the Jordan Valley. All three major political parties consider the Valley an extremely important security asset, because it borders the Jordan River, which can become a port of entry of both arms and combatants against Israel. What is more, the number of Palestinians living there is very small. But, I think that in negotiations between the parties, one can reach a security arrangement without annexing the Valley.
I will re-check Bar-Zoar's book. I went by the date mentioned in Philip's quote (July 18, 1948.) on page 157. That appears in the middle of the page and I admit, I could have easily missed something that appears in the bottom of the page as I did not read the whole page but only the quote. I do not doubt the veracity of your correspondents but following the advice of a well known American, I will trust but verify... I will be in the Library in the next few days and I will e-mail you what I find.
I am not concerned so much with that quotation, which expresses the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Israelis, to this day, not to allow the refugees back into Israel proper. They should be appropriately compensated and resettled in the future Palestinian state or in third countries.
The second quotation however is much more disturbing. It implies that Ben-Gurion in particular (and of course, the Zionists in general) wanted (and still want) to expand over more and more territory between the Nile and the Euphrates. You yourself appear to think that that is true. During the centuries, when a Jew said Eretz Israel, he meant the land on both banks of the Jordan River. And when Great Britain was granted the mandate over Palestine it encompassed both banks of the Jordan. So, there is nothing unusual in the fact that the Zionist movement understood that the Jewish National Home would occupy ALL of Mandatory Palestine. And in fact, the Zionists bought several tracts of land in Transjordan and started settling there. Then came the 1921 decision of Great Britain to cut off the land east of the Jordan, forbidding any Jewish settlement there, and the establishment of the Emirate of Jordan, under the leadership of King Abdullah. That prompted the Zionist leader, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, to found the Revisionist Zionist movement, which believed that the future Jewish state should extend over both banks of the Jordan. One of the fiercest opponents of Jabotinsky was...Ben-Gurion.
While Jabotinky's followers opposed vehemently the UN partition plan, Ben-Gurion strongly supported it. I vividly remember Ben-Gurion, in the late fifties, stating that if the Arabs recognize Israel he is willing to guarantee the Green Line borders for the next 1000 years. And I remember how Begin attacked him for "giving up" parts of the motherland. After the Six-Day War, Ben-Gurion declared that all the land won in the war should be exchanged for peace, except for Jerusalem. That, in strong opposition to Begin and Co., who saw the great victory as the first step towards fulfilling Jabotinsky's dream of "There are two banks to the Jordan, this one is ours, that one too." Today, with the exception of the religious fanatics who want to keep all the occupied territories (because this is the "promised land from the Bible"), more and more of Begin's followers support the two states solution and a withdrawal from most of the territories. Even those who consider those territories not "occupied" but "disputed" accept the principle of the territorial compromise and the necessary withdrawal.
It is very important to stress that, in spite of what Finkelstein writes and says, Zangwil's idea that "Palestine is a land without a people for a people without a land" was NEVER the official policy of the Zionist movement. And Zangwil himself abandoned the idea of a state in Palestine and supported the idea of a state in Argentina. What is more, even Jabotinsky knew that this is not an empty land. He wrote in 1923 that in the future Jewish state, if the President is Jewish the Vice President will be Arab and vice versa. And Ben-Gurion himself wrote in 1937 that, "We do not wish and we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place. All our aspiration is built on the assumption -- proven by all our activity in the Land [of Israel] -- that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs."
I listened to the Democracy Now! discussion, live, when it happened. (Miracles of the Internet...) I have not read yet Ben-Ami's book. But, Ben-Ami is an ardent Zionist (his words), just like I am. And there can be many disagreements between people who share the same basic beliefs.
In Mandatory Palestine there was (and is) a struggle between two national entities. The Arab side did not want to accept a Jewish state in Palestine, regardless of its size. That is the basic reason for the 100-year old conflict. Now, we enter into "what if." I stand by my previous statement that IF the Arabs had accepted the UN plan, their state would have been 58 years old today, without a single Palestinian refugee in existence. Finkelstein, some of the "new historians," and others think otherwise. They are certain that even if the Arabs had accepted the UN plan, those terrible Zionists would have expelled them anyway according to the Zionist master plan. You write: "You appear to blur over the historical record that the Yishuv knew full well that they could defeat the Arab armies in 1948, which had already been defeated in 1936-1939 by and large (see Ben-Ami)." The historical record says nothing of the sort. In 1936-39, what was defeated was the local Palestinian armed resistance to the British, not the neighboring Arab armies. Are you implying that the Yishuv "invited" the Arabs to attack so that they could be defeated and expelled? I hope not. And do not forget that the Yishuv paid an enormous price for the 1948 victory. It lost a whole one percent of its total population -- 6,000 out of 600,000.
But this is only "what if." The facts are irrefutable. We accepted the UN plan, they did not. They started the war, which latter became known as the Israeli War of Independence, one day after the UN vote, on November 30, 1947, when several Arab terrorists (or freedom fighters to some) ambushed a civilian bus traveling from Petach Tikva to Lydda, murdering five Jews and wounding several others. The terror attacks on the Jewish population went and intensified. Attacks on the roads and on isolated villages became a frequent occurrence. The Jews responded and an atmosphere of continuous warfare enveloped the country. On both sides, Arab and Jewish, there was a composite of flight and expulsion. Jews fled in fear from mixed neighborhoods such as the border areas between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and even from Jaffa itself. There were some 10,000 Jewish refugees in the early stages of the war. Gush Etzion, on the road between Bethlehem and Hebron, was captured by the Arab Legion and local Palestinian forces: the inhabitants were killed or taken prisoner and carried across the Jordan River. Their settlements were completely demolished. The settlements Neveh Ya'akov and Atarot north of Jerusalem, also captured, were totally obliterated. All the residents of the Jewish quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem, conquered by local forces with the aid of the Arab Legion, were taken captive. No Jew was allowed to return to settle in the Old City -- not even the ultra-Orthodox who detested Zionism and were prepared to live under Arab rule.
That atmosphere of impending war was a major factor in the flight of many Arabs, even before the invasion by the Arab armies. As Benny Morris writes: "The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab. It was largely a by-product of Jewish and Arab fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterized the first Arab-Israeli war; in smaller part, it was the deliberate creation of Jewish and Arab military commanders and politicians."
The fact that Ben-Gurion withdrew from the Sinai in 1956, that Menachem Begin, of all people, withdrew from ALL of the Sinai in exchange for peace, that Rabin accepted the two states solution, that Barak withdrew from Southern Lebanon, that Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan, thus giving up any claims on Transjordan, that Barak was ready to give up almost all of the Golan Heights and 96 percent of the West Bank, that Nethanyahu withdrew from part of Hebron, and that Sharon withdrew from all of the Gaza strip should tell you that the fable of a continuous Zionist territorial expanse is just that, a fable. But, Philip and others will tell you that all those withdrawals are nothing but tactical steps, in preparation for future expansion... It is noteworthy that Ehud Olmert, the leader of the Kadima Party, said today that in the future Israel will not invest in any infrastructure development in the areas beyond the green line and that all efforts will be made to develop the Negev, the Galilee, and Jerusalem.
Zionism today, at least to me, means a recognition that the Jewish people are a people like all others and as such, are entitled to political self-determination and statehood. That is it. All the rest is just commentary.
I came to the conclusion of the two-states solution in the early seventies. Not because the Jewish people do not have historic rights on all of Mandatory Palestine, but because, if I want to live in a Jewish AND a democratic state, I have to give up my dream of the "whole Eretz Israel" and accept the territorial compromise, just as it was proposed by the UN and accepted by Israel in 1947. I will support in the next elections those who have the better chance to come to power and be able to execute the withdrawal, preferably through negotiations and if not, unilaterally. I have no illusions that it will be easy, but there is no other way. Unfortunately it may take time and more blood on both sides.
Jerusalem - March 7, 2006
P.S. you should stop smoking -- and that is an order...
Thank you for your e-mail. I'll respond once I've put the March 13 issue of Swans to bed.
Boonville - March 10, 2006
A worthy conversation? On Jacob Amir and Gilles d'Aymery's discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dear Mr. d'Aymery,
First, thank you for the time and effort given to this debate with Dr. Amir. As one raised in a Jewish/Zionist home the hardest work I've had to contend with is learning and studying the history through locating the out of print publications that discuss what Ben Gurion said/meant and what Jabotinsky was really about, etc. I felt as if the "veils" were ripped from my eyes at the beginning of this Intifada as I learned what Zionism really meant, in particular to the people who lived in Palestine long before the Yishuv started taking over Eretz Yisrael.
My only sister's suburban daughter married a guy who converted and took her from "oppressed" New Jersey to become a settler in the West Bank because of the housing and tax abatements, etc. It didn't take long for him to "adapt" and begin sending me e-mails about the Palestinian "animals" and "cockroaches" just as if he'd been there for decades. I have heard such racist remarks for years and know a racist when I hear one. No amount of debate will change many of the settlers who believe and accept many racist notions and that is why they chose to live there. There is no question how many parallels I've found when comparing the "Manifest destiny" of white settlers in the US West and their views of "heathen redskin savages" who slowed their westward movement. There is little time spent on discussing the WHYs of Arab/Palestinian resentment of Zionists (not Jews, per se) until the 1930s...because it was then that larger numbers of Ashkenazic/Eastern socialist Jews started arriving in Palestine...with cultural and gender differences that were certainly cultural affronts to the indigenous people there, who had been accepting and welcoming to newcomers for years, until the handwriting was clearly on the wall...just as Native American Indians began realizing that the enormous waves of European immigrants was endless -- that they began fighting in earnest...prior to that realization there were minor skirmishes but no outright resistance. I think that for years people like myself bought into the Zionist propaganda (hasbara campaigns) that Arabs always wanted to kill Jews...but that is not true...and why wouldn't anyone begin resisting the influx of thousands of newcomers who were taking over the land? I'd be in the front line of resistance fighters. After all, it was THEIR land and -- notwithstanding the "generosity" of the Brits to divide THEIR land and repatriate WW2 victims to the Middle East was a great solution to the European Jewish "problem," when, in reality, repatriation of that war should have allowed folks from Displaced Persons (DP) camps to go "home."
In a book called Taking Sides by Stephen Green, he talks about Zionist "strong-arming" within the DP camps to ensure that they got sufficient numbers of young healthy unmarried males to go to Palestine to "fight the Arabs" (before 1948). In fact they used to lock the camp gates to prevent them from leaving camps, trying to marry and emigrate to the U.S. etc., because they were hell bent on getting "fighters."
Zionists brought with them an internalized opinion of Third Worlders that was typical of the times and Imperial European culture. In fact many felt that Herzl was able to gain Imperial support in Europe for an exodus of Jews to Palestine because he would "get rid of their Jewish problem" while gaining a foothold in the Middle East. Having a Euro-foothold in the region solved a few problems...but that is another layer of discussion.
At any rate I wanted to say THANK YOU for your willingness to take on this debate with Amir. You have far more patience and skill than I have after having my head knocked one too many times by such Israel Firsters. The willingness of Americans and Zionists in particular to accept whole, whatever it is the Israeli government chooses to offer as an explanation for what is being done in our names, with our tax dollars to support an INSUPPORTABLE expansionist, racist, and cruel military occupation must be turned around. I've been on both sides of the Green Line several times. I've learned that Israel has no permanent borders and no respect for Palestinians as human beings and has treated them with racist cruelty for decades. I'd put my faith in whatever Norman Finkelstein has to say and has written and completely disregard the bologna that Dershowitz spouts.
If one is a Jew who refuses to drink the Kool Aid, like Finkelstein, Neumann, Reinhart, Pappe, et al., you are "self hating" at best, and if you are non-Jewish you are assuredly tagged as anti-Semitic...for questioning, challenging, or debating any Zionist precepts. I offer you my deepest appreciation for taking on this issue for your readers to read and reflect on. I wish you (and Greenspan) enormous success. If I can help you check some references or some literature cross checks please let me know. (I'm a retired librarian) and have a personal library about the struggle of hundreds of "disappeared" books...and e-mail contacts/friends hither and yon who are extremely knowledgeable and willing to lend a hand.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA - March 13, 2006
Gilles d'Aymery responds:
Thank you very much for your comments and appreciation of what I am doing, Mrs. Adams. I highly recommend that you read Michael Neumann's latest book, The Case Against Israel. It's a lucid and rational analysis of the situation put in historical context. It's worth noting that much too often discussions over the Israeli-Palestinian predicament are loaded with emotionalism. The recent exchange between Finkelstein and Dershowitz (that was produced for Democracy Now!, but has not been broadcast to my knowledge, and was on Finkelstein's Web site, before, apparently, being removed...I supposed as a matter of copyrights issues) was a clear testimony to the idiocy of emotionalism, and this great American exercise (though not limited just to Americans, I'm afraid) of wanting to score points by shouting louder and louder and attacking the perceived "enemy" of one's position. Finkelstein made a fool of himself, not through his argumentation, but by his disdaining arrogance. Dershowitz was...just plain Dershowitz, the whining self that he's been for so long... (Remember the debate with Chomsky?) In that sense, Neumann's work is a breath of fresh air. He understands the notion of irrelevancy.
My "patience" should be extended to Dr. Amir. He too has been quite patient with me. We present two differing narratives of this predicament. He accepted to have this open discussion, and we have managed to not get at each other's throat (a relative exception in the debate that has gone on for decades). I do hope readers will make their own opinion, though I am fully aware that people tend to search for a reaffirmation of their personal "beliefs," and that chances are this exchange will not sway many of them (and Swans is such a small entity, anyway...). Nevertheless, I find Amir's perspective quite instructive. Like everything, in this kind of correspondence, you need to read between the lines. Let's see:
I do not know whether Dr. Amir is a Sabra or an Olim. I don't know who he is and where he comes from -- I never ask people to send me their resumes, their frame of references in regard to politics, religions, belief systems, etc. I know, from our exchange, and from letters he has written to other publications, that he is an "ardent Zionist" who wanted very much Israel to exist from the sea to the Jordan River, but has been willing to compromise, were the Palestinians to reciprocate (in his own frame of references). From what he writes, he was in sync with Begin and thus, I presume, disagreed with Ben Gurion's views (as he states them). I further note that, according to his statements, he came to the conclusion that he had to abandon his dream and accept the two-state solution within the fought-over real estate; that his change of views occurred in the 1970s; that his desire for a democratic state and a Jewish state was deeper than a binational state extending all the way from the sea to the Jordan River.
Now, I may be naïve and the object of another "manipulation" by a Mossad agent (Jacob Amir and I have just gone through an instructive and sickening exchange with an individual who -- I won't characterize or name him in this space now -- advocated that Dr. Amir "departs with it" -- it being Israel) -- conspiracies worthy of an HBO sitcom -- but I find it instructive that this, I suppose elder man, beside being an MD and ordering me to stop smoking -- a man who, by training, wants to save lives -- has come to the realization that survival of his societal dream requires the ablation of a cancer that is destroying his own society. Amir does not acknowledge the repugnant Israeli policies in the OT -- he explains or defends them in the name of the "3,000" dead Israelis -- but he knows intimately (remember, he is an MD) that the policy does not square, is detrimental to Israeli society, and horrifying (dehumanizing, violent) toward the Palestinians. (Keep in mind that to this date most French have not acknowledged the brutality their military afflicted upon the Algerians during the Algerian War of Independence. Same could be said of Americans with Vietnam or Iraq, etc.)
I am gratified that both of us are patient people, for what purpose would it have served to haul insults or accusations at each other? I'm always bewildered by the attitude in which people strenuously object, for instance, to the demonization of Muslims or Arabs by say the neocons, but turn around and demonize their own "enemy" du jour relentlessly.
As to racism: I've had the opportunity, like you, to go back and forth over the Green Line. I worked in the OT. I traveled through the OT. I saw with my own eyes the dreadful racism that's taking place there time and again (and I strongly object, let it be known, that the situation is due to the "3,000" dead Israelis, whatever Dr. Amir wants readers to believe, or believes himself). I know all that. But racism is not an "Israeli specialty." Stating this evidence does not excuse the culprits, but is a recognition that war and occupation breed racism. The French did a good job at it in Algeria (and Vietnam, and Africa). Think of the Brits... Look at your own mirror: Americans are universally known for their genocide of the Indians that lived in what is now the USA, and have, ever since, demonized the "other" to promote and safeguard their own interests (cf. the latest adventure in Iraq). Israelis are no different, as illustrated by the results of a recent poll released by the Center for the Struggle Against Racism (see "Poll: 68% of Jews would refuse to live in same building as an Arab," Haaretz, March 22, 2006). Sad but true. There are Israelis who are fully aware of the dire situation, for instance Amira Hass or Gideon Levy (Levy just wrote a piece on that very issue: "One racist nation," Haaretz, March 26, 2006). However, I am convinced that once the occupation is reversed and the Palestinians are at long last granted sovereignty, this racism and hatred will abate.
I've always found the debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists intriguing but never felt the urge to participate in it; and I don't think that it makes much difference whether the IDF uses US helicopters and ordnances or French, Russian, British, etc. Accusations of anti-Semitism have no effect on me. I'm totally immune. (See The Politics Of Anti-Semitism, Part I: Smear, Slander, And Intimidation - 4/26/04.)
Thank you again for your comments. I will not hesitate to consult you the next time I need references checked.
I checked and "verified" the quotation from Bar-Zoar's book. The quote is authentic. It appears on the top of page 158 not 157, and is not connected with the citation from Ben-Gurion's diary from July 18, 1948, which appears in the middle of page 157. That is why I missed it.
Jerusalem, March 13, 2006
Thanks for confirming the authenticity of the citation. The page discrepancy may have to do with the various editions (Hebrew or French vs. English?). Anyway, it's not fundamental, but I'm glad you verified it with your own eyes. Trust and verify is a good adage. I'd hope trust would take over suspicion, eventually. So where did we leave the discussion, due to my persisting cold and more importantly the publication of the last Swans issue? I wish I could hear your good doctor's order. Smoking is a drug that's killing me and to which I've been addicted for some 40 years. I acknowledge my utter lack of self-control and will power. Our local veterinarian, a wonderful man who tries to alleviate our dog's ailments, is on my case every time he sees me (of course, I'd rather not see him too often, not because of his admonitions, but because it means that every time my dear Priam faces yet another physical problem -- and this close, beloved friend is only 6 and a half years old!).
Okay, let's get back to the discussion and your e-mail dated March 7, 2006, published in the Letters to the Editor on March 13. I'm not sure what's the best format to follow-up. Your e-mail is packed with explanation and statements about how you see the course of history in the past 100 years. Should I take each statement and respond accordingly, or should I remain more general? Should I cut each point you make and answer them individually or should I take a wider perspective? I'm going to elect the latter and avoid the tit-for-tat, "he said-I said," that I sense won't get us anywhere, if there is a place where we can meet.
First, let me clarify something about Philip Greenspan. I do not know whether he thinks or believes that Zionists want an Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. He's never said a word about this. So, let's avoid putting words in his mouth, or let's ask him what he believes. As a personal policy, I publish what regular contributors have to say, with extremely, and I do mean extremely, rare exceptions. It does not mean that I necessarily agree with, or espouse their opinions, the same way I expect them to let me present my own views even when they do not match theirs necessarily either -- this is one of the foundational tenants of Swans. We publish what is not found in the main media and we do have regular contributors who have quite different opinions, indeed. I do agree with Phil, however, that Israel has still not abandoned the dream of getting as much as possible of the land within the West Bank, and I'll get back to this point below; but, no, I do not think that Israelis as a whole want to see their country from the Nile to the Euphrates (though I'm sure there must be a few fanatics who advocate that historical chimera).
Second, I'm becoming wary of the use of citations used to support one's point of view when they are taken out of context. I just got reminded of this wariness through a letter I received from a Turkish gentleman who took exception with my latest piece on the passing of Slobodan Milosevic. He used a 25-word citation from a 1,900-word speech, out of literal and historical context, to make his point. You'll be able to read his letter and my response [see below]. It also clearly reminds me of a piece I wrote, "Context And Accuracy" (March 28, 2005) about the repeated use of George F. Kennan's famous "quotation." Don't take me wrong. I'm as guilty as everybody else. My point is that we can always find a citation that will serve the purpose of our argumentation. For instance, take what Benny Morris said regarding the 1948 transfer of Palestinians (what we now call "ethnic cleansing," an expression that came to vogue in the 1990s during the carving up of the former Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia) and that you quoted in your last e-mail: "The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab. It was largely a by-product of Jewish and Arab fears and of the protracted, bitter fighting that characterized the first Arab-Israeli war; in smaller part, it was the deliberate creation of Jewish and Arab military commanders and politicians." That is an accurate reflection of what he thought at the time he became a "new historian." But travel in time to the future. In 2004, he clearly stated that Ben-Gurion was a "transferist;" that there was, in 1948, a deliberate policy, albeit an unwritten one (with some exceptions -- Moshe Carmel on the Northern Front, Yitzhak Rabin in Lod), to get rid of as many Palestinians as may be. And in a very symptomatic mental evolution, Morris advanced that in his own view Ben-Gurion had suffered "cold feet" syndrome. He was a "transferist," says Morris, but he should have gone all the way, meaning expulsing all Palestinians in 1948, not just from the portioned land ("the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River") so that Israel would not be stuck with the current situation. Had Ben-Gurion gone all the way, things would be more stable now. He even goes so far as positing that under the right circumstances (existential menace) a full transfer of the Palestinians from the OT, or Israel proper, could happen. (See "For the record," The Guardian, January 14, 2004 -- and "Survival of the Fittest?" An Interview with Benny Morris with Ari Shavit -- http://www.logosjournal.com/morris.htm, Winter 2004 -- Please note that the interview seems to have appeared first in Haaretz, but I do not know the date.)
So, here we are, using citations that serve our demonstrations, leaving aside the context, historical or otherwise, and the fact that people's thinking does evolve over time (at least for those of us whose brain is not firmly anchored in concrete posts). Let us endeavor to eschew the practice if ever possible, or at least place our citations in context (and provide a link to the text when it is on the Web). By the way, Benny Morris's remarks in the last part of the interview are frightening -- his apocalyptic vision, his views on Islam, the Palestinians, the Arab world...all so close to the narrative of the hard-core Christian fundamentalists in the USA. Do you share his pessimism and dooms-day scenario (Armageddon)?
I find your "what if" scenario revealing of your position. You may be, of course, correct. Had the Palestinians accepted the UN partition they would have had their own state for 58 years. Indeed, you may well be correct, but it's totally irrelevant. We have a saying in French: Avec des scies on mettrait la Tour Eiffel en bouteilles. In French, a scie means a "saw," but it is pronounced like the conjunction si, or "if." So, in English it reads, "With ifs one could bottle the Eiffel Tower" (one could put the Eiffel Tower in bottles...by sawing it in tiny pieces). Sure, by all means, let us use the convenient ifs. If the Brits had not been adjudicated Mandatory Palestine on the Ottoman dead corpse, and Mr. Balfour had been still-born, Israel might not have been created. If Israel had not settled the West Bank and Gaza and had withdrawn from the OT in the 1970s, as you wished, the situation would be entirely different today. (I could go further and submit to you that if we could stay away from the Huntingtonian clash of civilizations that Benny Morris appears to espouse and stop adding fuel to the fire we all could deal with other actualities, like for instance, soil erosion, water scarcity, abject poverty, global warming, death of the oceans, and the long list of curses that are befalling humanity.)
Evidently, the Palestinians did not buy the "deal." One need not be a shrink to fathom the psychology of the historical process. Their land was being taken away from them; their destiny subjugated by an alien culture. There was no rational reason for them to accept the truncation of their real estate. There were plenty of rational reasons for the newcomers to accept the truncation. One side was losing real estate. The other was gaining. Aside from perceiving the newcomers as European crusaders, there was a profound emotional dimension to their rejection.
No, I am not "'implying' that the Yishuv 'invited' the Arabs to attack so that they could be defeated and expelled." I am saying that the Yishuv knew that the Arab armies would attack and the Palestinians revolt; that the Yishuv was well prepared and knew it could defeat the Arab armies and the Palestinians (cf. Ben-Ami), notwithstanding the heavy cost in human lives, with the consequence of the transfer of some 700,000 Palestinians through both expulsion and flight.
This is where I find Michael Neumann's analysis quite compelling (have you read his book yet?). The Palestinians were in a bind. They could not accept to be governed by a state whose clear and stated purpose was to be in majority Jewish -- a state of, by, and for the Jews, if you will, with minority rights preserved as well or as poorly as it is most often the case with minorities in democratic nations. They could not accept a minority status because they were the majority. They could see that the Zionist project was an expansionist one, as it certainly was, and therefore had good reasons to distrust the offered "deal" that was essentially imposed by the European powers (and the U.S.). They were being dispossessed... So, from their perspective -- and that was a reasonable perspective -- they considered partition and the creation of Israel as a "mortal threat," to use Michael's expression. You may disagree.
However, it seems to me that your narrative, or view of the historical events, contains an inherent contradiction. To have a state with a Jewish majority in a real estate populated by a non-Jewish majority you either have to bring enough Jews to overcome the demographic deficit or you need to have the non-Jewish majority become a minority in one fashion or another. Do you know of any other alternative?
So, in a bizarre historical twist, the war of 1948, that was launched because of the inability of the Palestinians and the Arab countries to accept the imposed "deal," allowed the new state of Israel to expand its territory, all the while getting a Jewish majority within this expanded territory. These facts on the ground led to further resentment and beliefs that the now Jewish state would indeed try to keep expanding. It led to further resistance, and it also led within Israel to the belief that the "Arabs" would never, ever, accept Israel's right to exist.
Interestingly enough, these events created both the refugee problem AND Palestinian nationalism.
Then there was the little "escapade" in 1956 with the Brits and the Frogs that was reversed real fast when the U.S., slowly becoming the leader of the "Free World," decided to rein in that little colonial adventure to avoid a confrontation with the Soviet Union (and to tell the French and the Brits to shove it). Ben-Gurion was "glad" to oblige... Palestinians were not a party to this minuet.
But in 1967, they sure were -- the second "mortal threat." Israel took control of a wide swath of real estate and kept on to it. You submit with accuracy that Begin gave back the Sinai, of no interest to the Palestinians...though it took Saddat, the dismissal of the 1971 Jarring initiative (you did not comment on this point), the 1973 War that was not as much of a cakewalk as the Six-Day War, and the Carter Administration to convince Begin.
Nothing of the sort happened with the West Bank and the Gaza strip. There, the Palestinians were directly concerned, and the beginning of the settlements confirmed their long-held belief that Israel was bent to take over the whole piece of real estate. There's this figure of speech in the so-called pro Israel camp that says the Arabs/Palestinians want to "throw the Jews to the sea." On their side of the ledger, there's also a figure of speech that says that the Israelis (or the "Jews" when animosities flare) are up to "taking all the land from the sea to the Jordan River" (a tiny few add, "and beyond").
I say so-called pro Israel camp because from where I stand I do not consider Christian fundamentalists or "Christian Zionists" pro Israel. Fundamentalist Jews would certainly disagree with my stand. But then again I do not believe in rapture, Armageddon, and all these silly -- but wholly destructive -- tales. The predicament here is that you (Israeli society) screwed up magisterially. Instead of getting out of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel decided to settle them in spite of the Geneva fourth convention (See "Israel's Tragedy Foretold," by Gershom Gorenberg, NYT Op-Ed, March 10, 2006 -- if you don't have it, I'll e-mail it to you.) and all international laws that have been ignored for so long. This trend has produced a series of consequences. In very short:
- Alternate violent and peaceful reactions from the Palestinians.
- Subsequent justification for Israel to pursue the settlement policy.
- Intifada #1.
- Harsh repression of that revolt by Israel.
- Beginning of Israeli isolation in the world's public opinion.
- Subsequent Israeli alliances with the most reactionary elements of Western societies.
- Further Israeli isolation, even within Jewish opinion (see, Lenni Brenner's "Catch-up on the sociology of American Zionism,").
- Continued occupation and settlements.
- "Negotiations" with the "enemy" all the while pursuing the settlement policy.
I could go on and on. You'll probably disagree anyway. One thing that's evident to me (perhaps not you) is that you cannot negotiate with someone when all the while continuing the very policies that created the predicament in the first place.
Carrying on in that direction will eventually bring what the crazies so much dream of.
It seems to me that the Ben-Gurion approach that Arabs only understand force needs to be at long last retired. Try, for a change, a little understanding. I'd welcome the Prime Minister of the coming new Israeli government to state publicly and unequivocally to the Palestinians, the various countries in the region (try the Arab League), and the entire world:
We, Israel, want to withdraw from the West Bank, as we recently did from Gaza. We will abide by the 2000 Clinton precepts. We are ready to sit with Hamas or any political entity that represents Palestinians. If this is not possible, we are ready to sit with the International community, say the Quartet supplemented by the Arab League, to organize the logistics of our withdrawal. In exchange, we want a signed treaty among all belligerents that recognizes the right of Israel to exist. If we cannot get such agreement, if we cannot have partners to sit at the table, we will still withdraw unilaterally according to the 2000 Clinton precepts. Israel has no intention to expand its territory -- none whatsoever. We will get back within the 1967 Green Line with minor adjustment for the major settlements and we will give the same amount of land back elsewhere. We agree to see East Jerusalem be the capital of our Palestinian brothers but need special arrangement for the Temple Mount. We agree to compensate, with hopefully the help of the international community, the dispossessed Palestinians and we hope that our dispossessed Jewish brethrens will also be compensated for the losses they occurred over this long and tragic period, but we won't let the latter be a precondition. We want to get out of this vicious circle of violence and blame. Israel exists. Palestine will exist within the next 12 months. Jewish settlers who wish to remain in the new Palestinian state, according to Palestinian laws, should be welcome to stay. If not, we will repatriate them within Israel proper. Finally, the state of Israel will continue to defend its territorial integrity and its citizens. If we have to keep the separating fence, known as an apartheid wall by many observers, we will. When Palestinians and Israelis live in their respective states as good neighbors do we will remove that separation fence.
I am not a politician and my wording certainly reflects that deficiency. However, were the Israeli government willing to craft such a statement and implement its content, it would a) tell the world including people like Philip and myself, that indeed Israel is not about grabbing more territory, b) give the Palestinians a light at the end of a very long and dark and unjust tunnel, c) help abate the hatred and extinguish the fires that are spewing up all over the Middle East
And if Israel could go back to its socialist roots, it would really make this tiny Don Quixote happy. Talking about socialism and what ifs, you should know that when I was in my teens, in the mid 1960s, I very much wanted to go and live in an Israeli Kibbutz. It did not happen. Instead, fleeing emotional violence, I ended in a land that does not fit much of who I am...but, then, I would never have met Jan...and that is proof that within this imperfect world one can find some solace.
There is a lesson here for those of us who do not hate and keep the human
spirit alive, whatever the mistakes we make along the journey.
Jacob, please, Israel needs to get out of the OT and accept final territorial borders. The older we get the more we understand the meaning of finality -- and the next generations take over... But at this stage of humanity's story, it's not the fate of one's people that's at stake. It's the well being of all.
Boonville, March 17, 2006
I will try to relate to the points you raise, but first I hope you are feeling better and that you have stopped smoking. (It is very easy...)
Very few Israelis agreed with Benny Morris when he became a "new historian" and very few do today, when he changed directions. Of course, the Jews in Palestine wanted to have a state which includes as much as possible of Mandatory Palestine. And, as I wrote before, the Revisionists wanted it also to include Transjordan. But, on the political scene of the Zionist movement, the Revisionists were a minority and remained a minority after the state was established. You can even say a miniscule minority. (14 members of parliament out of 120). That is why Ben-Gurion was able to convince the movement to accept the partition plan, which gave away 46 percent of Mandatory Palestine and even gave up Jerusalem. I have no doubt that if the Arabs had recognized Israel at some point after 1948, Ben-Gurion would have accepted the Green Line as the final border, in spite of the noise made by people like Begin (and myself...).
Ben-Gurion, when confronted by his opponents, telling him that the Jewish state would have a large Arab minority (40 percent) said very clearly: "We will bring millions of Jews and we will have a comfortable majority." That was based on his deep belief in the Zionist ideology.
From his point of view, there was no need to expel any Arabs because plenty of Jews would come.
Yes, I agree with Morris that the situation is serious but I disagree with his pessimism. Having known where the Palestinian Jews stood in 1947 and knowing where they stand today, I am more optimistic than he is. He is right that the radical Islamists are a formidable enemy, precisely because they do not value life as others do, and it is very difficult to fight people who look at death as an achievement. But, in spite of that I think we will prevail.
I liked the French saying about the si and the Eiffel tower. In Hebrew it goes like that: "Si ma grand-mère avait des roues, elle serait un autobus" (Excuse the mistakes) [ed. no mistake in Dr. Amir's French -- in English: "If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a bus."]
I believe that Israel would have been created even if Balfour had not been born, or if the British had not become the Mandatory Power in Palestine. I agree that in pre- and Mandatory Palestine we had the clash of two national movements. But there was a Jewish presence in Palestine for many centuries. In Jerusalem, there are families that go back more than 500 years. And the local Arabs did not consider themselves a separate national entity. They thought of themselves as part of the Arab nation and many of them claimed that they were a part of Greater Syria. An Arab historian who testified in front of the Peel commission (I forgot his name) even claimed that the term "Palestine" was a Zionist term. The clash between these two peoples continues to this day. I do not think that the Arabs objected to the Jewish state because they were afraid of its expansionist plans. They simply refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of its size. When they rejected the UN plan and tried to prevent it by force they were absolutely sure that they would have no problems whatsoever defeating the Jews. Even if they were sure that Israel did not want to expand further, they would not have accepted a Jewish sovereign state in what they considered a Muslim Waqf. Only after 1967, with the Oslo Accord, did some of the Palestinians accept the legitimacy of Israel. And then came Egypt and Jordan. Which explains why the "Iron Wall" concept of Jabotinski has been fully justified. Only when the Arabs are convinced that they cannot destroy Israel by military force, will they accept it and make peace. What is unfortunate is that we did not understand that we cannot rule another people and remain a democracy. Unfortunately it is very easy to be a Monday morning quarterback...
Israel responded to the Jarring initiative by agreeing to start peace talks with Egypt, before any withdrawal takes place. As far as I remember Egypt refused. It is very possible that Israel should have withdrawn at that time, even without a peace accord. This would have prevented the Yom Kippur War.
The overwhelming majority of Israelis feel that their state was not "born in sin" and they will not give it up for anything.
I agree with you that all those "ifs" are irrelevant. What is important is what we do NOW.
And, as I wrote before, we and our neighbors made a lot of mistakes for which we (and our neighbors) are paying dearly and will continue to pay. Today, the official platform of the Kadima party states that it will continue to withdraw, unilaterally if necessary, from parts of the West Bank. If you add the Labour, Meretz, and Arab parties, you end up with a parliamentary majority that supports withdrawing from large parts of the West Bank and supports the two states solution. This was not the case in the previous parliament. Still, it will be very difficult because we have a substantial number of people who truly believe that settling the land is a religious command and that it should not be given up. But, easy or not, it will be done.
I hope that not many people, on both sides, will have to lose their lives until an agreement is reached.
Jerusalem - March 20, 2006
Thank you for your latest thoughts. I like your Monday morning quarterback analogy, though I wish to submit to you that some of us have been quarterbacking for at least 25 years -- that's just about 1,300 weeks of quarterbacking. Others have been at it much longer, but, in a nutshell, those of us, Monday morning quarterbacks, and in the huge majority not Israel or Jewish haters, have been asking and begging from you, from the Israeli society, and the state of Israel, that you please, please, please, rein in the lunatic minority (9%), stop the settlements, and get out of the OT.
This occupation has created mayhem and a human tragedy.
I don't think it would be useful at this point to keep repeating our respective narratives, which must be quite clear to the readers who have been following our exchanges since you first commented on my review of Michael Neumann's book two months ago. And you are correct: "What is important is what we do NOW."
You know what needs to be done. You (Israel) hold all the cards. You have the power, militarily, economically. The entire Arab world, the entire world, wants a two-state solution. You can make it happen at a snap of the fingers. Painful realization, painful abandonment of a long-held dream... There is this old German adage, "Es könnte auch anders sein" (it could have been different) that comes to mind. There could have been, perhaps, some kind of binational state within the entire Mandatory Palestine (Israel/Palestine plus Transjordan) had it not been for the European powers oil interests and the adamant will to have a Jewish majority in that new state. It certainly could have been different.
But too much blood has drenched the land. You cannot expel the Palestinians -- I mean, you have the military power to do so but I am convinced you know that it's morally unfeasible and would lead to unending violence, total isolation, and pariah status. You cannot practically have a binational state -- too much blood again and the demographic dilemma. So, what's left? To perpetuate the occupation is to prolong immense suffering and to delay the inevitable.
Please, Jacob, Israel must leave the OT.
"Muss es sein?" Le faut-il? Must it be done?
"Es muss sein." Il le faut. It must be done.
(And that's the full extent of my knowledge of German!)
You say that "it will be done," and I hope it will. But my optimism is much tempered by the continued "facts on the ground" that Amira Hass keeps detailing (see "Israeli restrictions create isolated enclaves in West Bank," Haaretz, March 24, 2006), and yesterday's comments by Ehud Olmert -- "We want to set the permanent borders of Israel, and to do so, we must separate from the Palestinians." . . . . "In order to separate from the Palestinians, we must define for ourselves our red lines." He talks about "an internal negotiation, first of all, so that we within the state of Israel will know what we want." . . . . followed by negotiations over "borderlines such that all of the international community would support, including the United States of America." (See http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/698657.html.) and that means more time wasted, more delays, more facts on the ground, more violence, more bloodshed... As former US President Jimmy Carter recently wrote, "The preeminent obstacle to peace is Israel's colonization of Palestine" (he means the OT) -- see http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/695187.html. Somehow, I don't think that the Israeli polity, in its majority, has fully internalized that central fact.
Finally, reading your comments on how the Palestinians only understand force reminded me of my childhood on the one hand, and on the other, of my dog. Treat a dog with decency, reason, and love and it will be a wonderful companion; beat him repetitively and it will bite. What works with dogs works as well with humans, which is what Palestinians are...human beings.
Many thanks for this discussion. One of these days, I would be glad to discuss with you the concept and reality of Jewish people -- its meaning, its need. Personally (I think I have already mentioned this), I endeavor to avoid referring to Israel as the Jewish state or Israeli as Jews, the same way that I do not refer to France as a Christian state or French as Christians, etc. But this should be the object of another discussion if you are willing to entertain it.
Note: I'd like to apologize for having involved you in the exchange I've had with that unpalatable individual, but thinking of it, the best way to silence these people would be to get out of the OT, would it not? And regarding the latest brouhaha about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., there is an excellent article in Al-Ahram Weekly of 23-29 March 2006, "Blaming the lobby," by Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University -- worth reading.
To stop smoking is easy, eh? I am feeling better, thanks.
Boonville - March 26, 2006
I hope both you and your pickup are well and running...
I think we have clearly stated our respective positions and I doubt we can add much. I would only like to react to Mrs. Miriam Adams, who wrote that, "There is little time spent on discussing the WHYs of Arab/Palestinian resentment of Zionists (not Jews, per se) until the 1930s..."
She, being a librarian, can easily find information as to what happened to the Jewish community in Hebron in 1929. That community has been there for more than 600 years. On August 24, 1929 the Arabs started attacking the Jewish homes murdering 60 Jews, including women and children, some of them after torture. They were killed only because they were Jews, as they were anti-Zionists ultra-Orthodox Jews.
To answer the other points made by Mrs. Adams would make me repeat myself, and I doubt it would be of any benefit.
By the way, I am an OLE (singular of OLIM). I was born in Bulgaria and came here in 1949.
All the best,
Jerusalem, March 29, 2006
Many thanks for your response. The pickup truck is running again (it was the battery) and the dial tone of our phone line is back, though it took four days to get it fixed.
Mrs. Adams, being a librarian, is fully aware of the tragic massacre in Hebron. It reminds me of another tragic massacre, that of Deir Yassin. Isn't today its 58th anniversary? How many Palestinians were killed? 254? 100? What did Begin say about that event? ("Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of 'Irgun butchery', were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened, uncontrollable stampede." Source: The Revolt, p. 164). Then, there was Kibya, and then, and then, and then....all the way to deadly attacks on Jewish civilian population and Jenin in 2002....and it keeps going and going and going and going like the rabbit of fame.
Is this what humans are about -- finding who started first?
Is this what you are about?
With due respect and not one iota of ill-feeling, your tit-for-tat litany brings to mind the kid in the block who, being admonished by his dad that his aggressive behavior was uncalled for, retorts, "But dad, he started first."
I don't care which side started first. I am tired of the respective narratives.
Palestinians need their own country and sovereignty. You do have your own country and sovereignty. Make the darn thing happen.
You see, Jacob, your, and Israelis' deepest predicament, is not only that your society is slowly disintegrating over this issue, but that you have been losing the minds and hearts of people like me, people who were and remain in large numbers, not only emotionally attached to the existence of Israel, but genuinely embracing the Jewish culture of knowledge, culture, compassion, and truth-seekingness.
I am inconsequential and non-existent in the big picture, of course. States have no friends and will go as far their power allows. I know: I live in the USA. Still, I will keep advocating for your humanness, which should and must include that of the Palestinians.
Please, Jacob, once again, I am saying loud and clear: get out of the OT (the West Bank and Gaza). Do not delay. Do not play the tit-for-tat game. Do not try to hold to as much as you can. Get out. It is not "your" land. We belong to the land. We do not own the land.
Or, maybe, you want to join the US Christian fundamentalists or the Avigdor Lieberman cohorts... (sorry, this is a cheap shot, but I am desperate...)
I do not want Armageddon. I do not want to see the U.S. nuke Iran and you guys be blamed for it (the "Jewish Lobby," and, in turn, allow you to keep at it, treating Palestinians worse than you would treat your dog, mine, or me, and gobble more land.)
Finally, I wish you had not avoided most of the questions I asked from you. Perhaps that was necessary on your part to avoid jumping on me and questioning my, to put it mildly, sincerity.
But once again, I shall ask:
I have sent you the PDF file of Michael Neumann's book, The Case Against Israel. I have repeatedly asked you whether you had read it. I have offered you to write your own take on Neumann's elegant (intellectually speaking) offering. You have ignored my requests and proddings. Can you get on with it?
I have asked you to enter into a discussion about the nature of being a "Jew" in an ethnic, cultural, meaning. You have ignored my request.
Dismissal of one's serious questioning does not make a reality be.
The reality, again, is simple. Accept Palestinians and do not loose those of us who are striving for life. There are more dire challenges we all need to face. You are an M.D., after all. Do you treat a sick child differently depending on where (s)he is from?
Thank you again for addressing me as best as you can.
With very best regards.
Boonville - April 1, 2006
Hi again, Gilles:
I did not bring the Hebron massacre to Mrs. Adams's attention to show "who started first." You apparently missed the point. She wrote that Arabs in Palestine attacked Zionists and not Jews as such. I pointed out that those murdered in Hebron were anti-Zionists and lost their lives only because they were Jews.
You ask how many people died in Deir Yassin, 254? 100? I will refer you to a paper by a team of researchers from Bir Zeit University, a Palestinian University, concerning the history of Deir Yassin and the details of the battle. The researchers interviewed numerous former residents of the town and reached conclusions concerning the actual number of people killed in the battle. They write "we became absolutely convinced that the number of those killed does not exceed 120." (Sharif Kanani and Nihad Zitawi, Deir Yassin, Monograph No.4, Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project -- Bir Zeit: Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, 1987.)
I will also remind you that there was a fierce house to house battle in Deir Yassin. And not only Begin thought that exaggerating the casualties brought panic in the Arab community. Here is what Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news in 1948, admitted in a BBC television program that he was told by Hussein Khalidi, a prominent Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate claims of atrocities at Deir Yassin in order to encourage Arab regimes to invade the expected Jewish state. Nusseibeh described an encounter at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi... "I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story," recalled Nusseibeh. "He said, 'We must make the most of this.' So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped. All sorts of atrocities." Nusseibeh told the BBC that the fabricated atrocity stories about Deir Yassin were: "...our biggest mistake, because Palestinians fled in terror and left the country in huge numbers after hearing the atrocity claims."
In fact Khalidi was one of the originators of the "massacre" allegation in 1948. It was Khalidi's claims about Jewish atrocities in Deir Yassin that were the basis for an article in the New York Times by its correspondent, Dana Schmidt (on April 12, 1948), claiming a massacre took place. The Times article has been widely reprinted and cited as "proof" of the massacre throughout the past 58 years.
Just like there was no massacre in Jenin, there was no massacre in Deir Yassin.
As I wrote before, I acknowledge that we made mistakes. Plenty of them. One can easily understand those mistakes if one knows the history. Gradually, but surely, more and more of us accept that, and are trying to correct those mistakes. And I disagree with Avigdor Lieberman, just like I disagree with the US Christian fundamentalists. More and more of us understand that a viable Palestinian state is a must. This means that we must withdraw from most of the West Bank. You write that Israel has to get out of Gaza and the West Bank. We already got out of Gaza. It will be much more difficult from the West Bank, but if Kadima forms the next government, it has already stated that it will withdraw from large parts of the West Bank.
I am very sorry to lose the hearts and minds of people like you. But, we are not angels but human beings with all the deficiencies human beings have. It took almost 38 years to get out of Gaza. I hope it will take much less in the West Bank.
I apparently misunderstood. I thought that I would relate to Michael Neumann's book at the discussion you were arranging between us. I read the book some time ago. I will send you my reaction to it (I did not find it as "intellectually elegant" as you did) in a couple of days.
I will be more than willing to discuss with you the question of "who is a Jew." You wrote that this is a different story and requires a separate discussion. I am ready at any time.
You ask if I would treat a sick child differently depending on where (s)he is from? For your information, thousands of Palestinian patients have been, and are being, treated in Israeli hospitals. At the Wolfson Hospital in Hulon, hundreds of Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza, with congenital heart defects have undergone life-saving surgery (free of charge).
Jerusalem, April 2, 2006
Thank you for your e-mail. I must first apologize for the tone and some of the content of my last communication. I'm afraid I let my emotions take the bigger part of myself, thus personalizing the issue, which I should not have done. Please excuse me.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict for myriad reasons and perceptions -- the confluence of religion, nationalism, ideology, power and economic interests ("the Grand Chessboard"), etc. -- has always brought raw passions to the fore. So, not surprisingly, I've been embroiled in various side conversations in the past couple of months, some rather heated and to say the least quite unpleasant. Hard to keep a modicum of sanity in such circumstances...
Anyway, your understanding in regard to Michael Neumann's book is correct. I did try to have a discussion among the three of us. Michael felt that he would not bring anything new that he had not already said or written about, and I chose to carry on with you alone. Thanks for your perspective on his book, which you just sent me. As said, I will publish it on April 10, and let the chips fall where they may.
I see your point regarding the massacre of anti-Zionist Jews in Hebron (cf. Mrs. Adams), and I am not going to engage you on whether or not Deir Yassin was a massacre. Remember Humpty Dumpty?
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."
Who knows, perhaps without masters and servants there would be no massacres. But, no, I did not really ask how many people were killed in Deir Yassin. The point I was trying to make is that it serves no positive purpose to keep throwing the rights and wrongs of the respective parties to the conflict, which party started first, or the degree of suffering of each party (victimology?). Whatever the merits of such exercise, it does not solve the conflict, but keeps adding to the recriminations and grievances.
It's time to close down this exchange, at least for now. I'd like to summarize my stand:
- Israel exists and is a secure country. It is a sovereign nation. It is
recognized by the entire world (whether happily or not makes no
- Palestinians have yet to have a sovereign nation and they are utterly insecure due to an almost 40-year Israeli occupation and settlement of their land.
- Israel cannot exist from the sea to the Jordan River without either accepting a binational state or forcefully expelling the Palestinians from the West Bank.
- An overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis opposes a binational state (the demographic "problem," and, I easily concede, downright unpractical in light of the Zionist project and the bloody circumstances).
- Though Israel has the military power to expel the Palestinians, this is not a viable solution (morally, internationally -- and, here again, anyone should realize that had Israel wanted to do it, it could have done it a long time ago.)
So, we are left with only one positive solution: Israel must leave the Occupied Territories, let their neighbors have their own *viable* nation-state, hope that hatred will abate with peace (as it always does), and focus its attention and creativity on its internal development and on contributing to the much larger predicaments that the world confronts.
Finally, on the withdrawal of the OT, whether unilaterally of through negotiations (I'd rather see the latter happen but have no quandary with the former), you say, *most* of the West Bank. What's the extent of *most*? Is it 50 percent, 75 percent, 96 percent? Are you (Israel) going to keep the Jordan Valley, etc.?
But for the big settlement blocks around Jerusalem, which the Palestinians have long conceded that Israel can/should keep, in exchange for the same amount of land from Israel proper (within the Green line), keeping more land (and resources, like water) will be a recipe for further disaster. Peace has a price, however exorbitant it may look to you. Palestinians need a *viable* state with a safe corridor between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Nothing else will do -- at least, I am convinced of that.
You say Israel made "mistakes." Then, please, be responsible for them. Do not gobble more land. Give the Palestinians, whatever their own "mistakes," the chance to be whole -- that is, have a nation of their own, sovereign and independent.
Regarding the difficulty of removing the Jewish settlers from the Occupied Territories I am reminded of the Pieds Noirs in Algeria. In 1962, France was able to get the entire French population -- over one million of them -- repatriated in a matter of weeks. It was not a friendly situation either. The huge majority lost everything. Remember the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) and the civil war-like in France at the time? I was a kid, but clearly recall the mayhem... Jewish settlers in the West Bank have the choice to either stay and accept the laws of the Palestinian state, or reintegrate Israeli society within Israel proper. I can imagine violent uprisings on their part, nothing that cannot be handled by the Israeli state.
It is up to you and your fellow Israelis to close this sorry chapter of human history.
Jacob, thank you very much for having interacted with me and stayed away from the customary nasty accusations that are so prevalent in any debate related to this human predicament. I've tried my best too. A few readers have wondered why I would bother to engage in a discussion with someone who did not share my views. My answer is two-tiered, one rhetorical, the other more objective: Who should I engage with? Only the people who agree with me....or those who do not? There is no way to find out whether the differences can be bridged without engaging the people one disagrees with -- an exercise (and attitude) that both the Israeli government and the Hamas should heed.
I'd like to take a couple of months off before entering into a new discussion about the nature and raison d'être of the Jewish people (I need to "recharge my battery"). But this is a discussion I am looking forward to.
I would like to extend to you the courtesy of having the final word. Please try to come back ASAP, for I'd like to reconcile the entire exchange within one file that will become part of both Conversations at Swans Café and Israel-Palestine archives. And talking about Swans, allow me to be opportunistic here: Please consider supporting my work financially.
Boonville - April 5, 2006
I enjoyed our exchange and I did not mind an occasional "change of tone" due to inflamed passions...
I agree with your assessment as to what has to be done. However, this is a difficult task and may take time to complete.
Contrary to the Pieds Noirs in Algeria, many of the settlers feel that this country was promised to them by God and giving it up is a crime against the Jewish people and blasphemy. Some of them are outright zealots and will not hesitate to use extreme violence either to stop any evacuation or to punish those who they think are responsible for it. France, being a much bigger country, was able to solve the problem faster. The evacuation of Gaza gives me some hope that it could be repeated in the West Bank.
As we live in a democratic country all we can do is try to convince as many Israelis as possible that the two states solution is the only way out. This means that they will have to accept the Green Line, with some modifications and land swaps, as the permanent Israeli border. I hope very much that this is going to be the outcome and I hope it happens as soon as possible.
If it does not happen, my country will pay a heavy price, which is going to affect all of us. I remember Yehoshafat Harkabi, an army general and then an academic, who said: "I accept the democratic right of the Jews in Israel to commit national suicide and, if that happens, I will be with them. But it is my duty, and the duty of others with similar views, to warn them against such a course."
I hope the election results show that we are not going to commit national suicide.
Again, I enjoyed this discussion.
Jerusalem, April 6, 2006
[ed. And this concludes the conversation. Hopefully, readers will have gained some insights from it, at least those readers who are not entrenched in the demonization of one "side" or the other.]
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