I recently attended a protest rally against Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Chicago hotel where he was speaking. There were almost 200 activists present, many of them Palestinian, but also a sizeable contingent of Jews, organized by the group Not In My Name. I am Jewish American and was carrying a double sided poster stating “Stop the Land Grab” and “Oslo = Apartheid, No Justice, No Peace” I have been trying to come to terms with the march ever since.
There was a man holding a placard for a free Jerusalem represented by a crescent and a cross. As I proceeded with the other protesters, slowly moving along in oval formation, my eyes kept drawing back to this sign. Here I was chanting No Justice, No Peace, Stop Killing Palestinian Women and Children, and eventually considering his warcrimes at Qibya and Chatila, I even sloganeered Sharon to Hitler, albeit uneasily. At the same time, I kept looking at the sign expressing the peaceful desire for a Jerusalem of Christians and Muslims. Perhaps that meant a Jerusalem for Palestinians only? Eventually, I asked the two young men who had received the sign from the older man originally holding it, “Is there a place for the Jewish star on your sign?” I explained I understood their grievances against displacement and occupation by Israelis (I had made another sign, Israel, Acknowledge the 1948 Massacres), but insisted there had ALWAYS been Jews in the holy city. He wholeheartedly agreed that there was room in Jerusalem for Jews and Palestinians to live in peace together, and I let it go.
I entered back into the oval procession. Soon I was speaking with an older Christian-American man from Naperville (suburban Chicago) who had been to Israel more than once. He opined that much of the American support for Israel was due to guilt over the Holocaust, but stated flatly that there remains plenty of Anti-Semitism in America. In my life, I have been called Jew either in anger or envy by purported friends in a such a tone that replacing the ethonym with Christian or Catholic and the same inflection can’t convey the ignorance and malice behind the intent.
As I left the demonstration there were two young Arab men speaking with a middle-eastern looking woman in Arabic. One man was speaking loudly and I strained to understand any of the words. He mistook my interest for comprehension and told the woman, “See, he understands!” He then asked me to repeat what he said, and I asked what the words meant. “The Jews are dogs”, he barked. Stunned, and accompanied by my sign, I let him know he was talking to one. I and asked him if there was a place for Jews, who want to leave peacefully among their Arab neighbors, in his Palestine. He heartily replied, “yes, of course” and as we looked each other in the eyes, he shook my hand up and down many times with the vigor one shakes an infant or a large egg. I think he will remember our encounter.
It isn’t hard to understand this young man’s rage. There are Israeli’s who are sympathetic to the Palestinian, cause, but at the same time accept no responsibility for turning their fellow countrymen into refugees. It audaciously always boils down to security, and we Jews certainly have a pathological need to feel secure, not the least reasons among which is the Holocaust. I was speaking with a Sabra friend, and asked him, “why did Jews have to declare a state in 1948 when we only owned six percent of the land?”. He answered me, his voice almost breaking, “Why do you think?” As a long standing American Jew, I obviously had unknown relatives who “turned to wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky” during WWII. I remember always, and my heart beat with envy towards Yarom who lost family members he could name
He told me that all the Right’s fears in Israel are coming true. They were against giving Palestinians guns in the Oslo treaty, because they would use them against Israelis. (Who fired first last September?) He looked at me incredulously when I explained that this was to maintain the Palestinian police force against its own population. “But they were doing all of Israel’s dirty work for them, its like getting the Black Baptists to arrest the Black Nationalists.” “They let them all out of jail,” he replied. “And if we didn’t build private access roads for Jews only in the West Bank they would shoot us” Considering the skyrocketing number of settlements and settlers during the Oslo period, it would take the will of Gandhi not to be tempted. It also requires the temerity of Icarus to be surprised.
Jewish education and Israeli myth building contribute to our ignorance about Palestine. Most Jews and some Israelis I know agree on these “facts.” Israel agreed to the UN 1947 partition of Palestine into two states while the Arabs balked at it. Palestinian Arabs then united with surrounding Arab states under the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to strangle the incipient Jewish state and they encouraged Palestinians to flee their homes to make way for the invading armies; however, Israel prevailed against the vastly superior force arrayed against it. After the war, Arab countries and the Palestinians refused to acknowledge Israel’s existence.
It’s a tough neighborhood as every Israeli leader before Begin and to Barak has stated. I always wondered where this rabid fount of Arab Anti-Jewish Semitism sprung from when the two cultures has always coexisted. Maimonides was the doctor for an Egyptian Caliph. The Golden Age in Spain was a Jewish-Arab renaissance. Indeed many Jews in the 17th century thought Shabetai Zevi was the Messiah until he converted to Islam. There had always been Jews and Arabs living peacefully together in the Hold Land until Zionist times. Why was there a massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929? Why did the Grand Mufti supposedly tour Auschwitz with Himmler? Certainly this is more than sufficient reason to establish a Jewish homeland as a refuge from pogroms and persecution. I remember.
But I know now, that Israeli peacefulness and Arab intransigence are mirror image distortions of each other. Respected Israeli historian Simha Flapan debunked the founding myths of the Jewish state in his landmark book The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York, 1987). Some of the refutations include David Ben-Gurion himself who rejected the partition in 1937 when the issue was raised stating “it is only the beginning of full redemption and the most powerful lever for the gradual conquest of all Palestine.”
As for the Palestinians uniting under the Mufti, Ezra Danin, a Zionist Arab-affairs expert observed in January 1948 “the majority of the Palestinian masses accept the partition as a fait accompli and do not believe it possible to overcome or reject it.” Indeed Ben-Gurion spurned pragmatic efforts by Palestinians to reach a modus vivendi because “Zionist expansionism would be better served by leaving the leadership of the Palestinians in the hands of the extremist Mufti than the hands of a ‘moderate’ opposition.”
Needless to say the Arab states were united only in their individual land grabs and Israel opted to cut a secret deal with TransJordan’s King Abdallah to divide Palestine between them. (The agreement was never formalized because Ben Gurion intended to expand the Jewish State’s borders beyond the Partition Resolution boundaries tacitly agreed on with Abdallah) The Palestinian leader, Husseini (the Mufti), was Abdallah’s main obstacle to annexing territory allotted by the UN for a Palestinian state. Abdallah regarded the Mufti, not the Jews, as his main enemy and encouraged the Zionists to “deliver heavy blows” against him”.
When the Arab armies did finally attack, Abdallah “honored his commitment not to disturb the creation of the Jewish state” thus making a critical contribution to the Israeli victory. The invading armies of the other Arab states sought, not to abort the creation of a Jewish state, but rather to check the grandiose territorial ambitions of Abdallah and his imperialist British mentors.
As for the Arab states refusal to recognize Israel, they signed the protocols to the UN-sponsored peace negotiations in Switzerland and “accepted the legitimacy of the UN Partition Resolutioné, abandoned the idea of Palestine as a unitary Arab state, accepted the reality of Israel and agreed to solve the dispute by political means.” The real obstacle to an Israeli-Arab peace accord was the Zionist leaderships refusal, first to accept even token responsibility for the refugees’ plight, and second to return any of the conquered territories not included in the partition plan.
Ben Gurion “was determined to impose armistice treaties by military force rather than agreement,” so much that he peremptorily dismissed the extraordinary offer by Syria to absorb and resettle 300,000 (one half) of the refugees. “Flapin cites another Israeli historian, “Syria gave Israel every opportunity to bury the hatchet and lay the foundations for peaceful coexistence. If the overtures were spurned, the fault must be sought not with Syria, but with Israel.”
The conundrums multiply. I was taught in Sunday School that Arabs refused to settle the Palestinians in their borders and wanted maintain their status as refugees to nurture their hatred towards Israel so they would be in a state of perpetual war. Perhaps Ben-Gurion feared the Palestinians less if they were in refugee camps and with no military that might want revenge. Is that a tacit admittance of responsibility or fear of the stateless and damned? After all, didn’t Hitler want to kill all the Jews so no descendants could seek vengeance?
So the tawdry tale continues. If the PLO, which didn’t exist until years after the 1948 war, denied the right of Israel to exist, can Israeli’s now commit to understand this was the case of “an eye for an eye” and is no sense a disproportional response considering the Israeli refusal to acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian people and their efforts to thwart resettling them?
I work with a Russian Jewish woman who lived in Israel for ten years. She told me, confidentially of course, that “Arabs are animals,” although she didn’t know any, and not like the many Arabs we work with here in the office. My Sabra friend doesn’t know any Arabs either. According to Ha Aretz newspaper, only three percent of Israelis learn Arabic in school. One would think that after expropriating falafel and hummus from the Arabs as their own native cuisine, not to mention their ill-acquired houses and olive groves, Israelis would have some sense of appreciation for the culture of the native population they displaced. This is like invading Mexico, populating it with Taco Bells and not learning Spanish. Ariel Sharon admitted in a recent Ha Aretz interview that he was jealous of Palestinians, because they know how to share their food and have a sense of generosity whereas it seems Israelis do not. So it seems, we must vanquish those we seek to emulate.
The idea of Jewish superiority has always been troublesome to me. I always thought we had such regard for other cultures and peoples since we were always a minority in “other peoples countries.” Weren’t we instrumental in the civil rights movement and the founding of the NAACP? I went to a meeting of the American Jewish Committee (influential and wealthy Jews) meeting on the subject of Black/Jewish relations about ten years ago. I was dumbfounded there were no African-Americans there, and asked the keynote speaker, “why?” He responded, “we’re here to talk about them not to them,” and then launched back into his soliloquy “first they were ‘coloured’ then ‘negro’ now they’re African-American.” I was pained to remind this eminent Jewish-American that every group has the right to self-definition, and it is Paternalism of the worst sort to deny them this Freedom of Speech enshrined in the Declaration of Independence
The powers that be are never happy then the mouth it feeds bites the hand that feeds it. White plantation owners justified slavery because the “sons of Ham” were destined to be slaves when they were merely making excuses to enrich themselves by the blood, sweat and tears of people they had the historical circumstance to control. We Americans demanded obedience to the “great white father” from the hoards of “child-like native savages” when we ordered them to move and move and move in order to appropriate their lands. To ease the facile consciences among us and promote fanaticism, we concocted the pseudo-religious self-serving ideology Manifest Destiny to bring to fruition a country from “sea to shining sea”.
Palestinian concepts of land ownership were not all together different from that Native Americans. Prior to the Ottoman Land Code of 1858, both were undeeded, communal, and multigenerational. In fact, most land in Palestine was unregistered. The Land Code Act mandated registration in the name of individual owners of agricultural land. “The new law meant for the first time a peasant could be deprived not of title to his land, which he rarely held before, but rather the right to live on it, cultivate it and pass it on to his heirs which had formerly been inalienable. Under provisions of the 1858 law, communal rights of tenure were often ignoredéInstead, members of the upper classes registered the land as theirs and the fellahin (peasants) often discovered they had ceased to be land owners when the land was sold to Jewish settlers by an absentee landlord. The lands’ Arab cultivators were being dispossessed and replaced by foreigners who had overt political objectives in Palestine.”
Unfortunately, this land dispossession didn’t end with the nineteenth century. One Palestinian-American I spoke with at the anti-Netanyahu rally, (he thought I was Arab and I thought he was Jewish) was born in America in 1948. His parents had the optimistic naivete to purchase two apartment buildings and a small orchard in Jaffa in 1946. He is a well-educated suburban American with Jewish friends (I wonder if they ever talk politics?) who wants to right what he believes is a historical injustice.
When the head of the religious Shas party calls Arabs “snakes and crocodiles”, and the Israeli government acquiesces to the settlers , there is something rotten in the state of Zion. It is not only Rabbis in Israel that seem to have the deplorable smug confidence of purported divine infusion. The local Lubavich Rabbi tells me with certainty that the anthropomorphic image of God is a Jewish man with a beard, just like him, he assures me while tugging it.
He also made sure there was a twenty foot menorah in the middle of a Christmas display in downtown Chicago. This seemed more aggressive than ecumenical. After all Tanya (mystical doctrine of Chabad Lubavich interpreted from Kaballah and the Bible) teaches that the souls of Jews originate in Malchut of Azilut, the dimension of the ruling kingdom of the highest emanation of God. Non-Jewish souls, it states, originate in the sitra-ahra, which means the “other side” and also the evil inclination. Does anyone care to hear its views on women? This fanaticism isn’t confined to our most learned.
An American Mulatta woman I met during the first Intifada in Hebrew class and who later discovered she was half-Jewish, was having an affair with her Orthodox Rabbi. I arrived in class one day extremely angry over some brutal murders of Palestinians in Jerusalem. She told me that killing an Arab, in that situation, would hasten the arrival of the Messiah. She intended to move to Israel and wanted me to grow payess (Hasidic sideburns) and move there with her. This lunatic may now be a settler.
Why are we paying heed to these nut case Jewish Pat Robertsons? “The Talmud comments harshly that the people of Jerusalem were punished because they judged only in accordance with the laws of the Torah and did not advocate leniency.” For this the Second Temple was destroyed. Some people never learn. Let’s remind these land hungry spiritual miscreants of the biblical injunction “Justice, justice shall thou pursue.” The sages say the reason the word justice is repeated twice in this biblical dictum is to admonish Jews from becoming too universal in their deeds for justice to the exclusion of Jews or too particular in quest for justice to the exclusion of non-Jews. Golda Meir said that the war will end when “the Palestinians love their children more than they hate us.” Besides being a racist comment, it is inaccurate. The war will end when Jews love the Palestinians more than they love their land.
Some Israeli press is calling for a second expulsion of Palestinians. The first Nakba (catastrophe), was 1948 when the Palestinians were driven from their homes. Many fled for their lives and with good reason. Not far from Jerusalem, there used to be a village named Deir Yassin. “For the entire day of April 9, 1948, Irgun and LEHI soldiers lined men, women and children up against the walls and shot them. [This] shocked Jewish and world opinion alike, drove fear and panic into the Arab population and led to the flight of unarmed civilians from their homes all over the country.”
Not long ago at a Not in My Name conference, I met a Palestinian-American man who is designs the integrated circuits used in computers. He was mild mannered and soft spoken as he said to the audience “my mother is a survivor of Deir Yassin.” I couldn’t have been more astounded if he told me she survived Auschwitz. He drove over an hour to show solidarity for this Jewish group who was reaching out to him, and even offered to go on the lecture circuit again, after ten years, to help get out the message of peace.
We spoke later at length, and he informed me that although he grew up in Kalamazoo Mi. (as did I), he spent ten months in an Israeli jail for agitating for Palestinian rights. Did he use harsh words? Did he have guns or explosives? His case was taken up by a prominent civil liberties lawyer in Israel who is an Auschwitz survivor. His daughter shares her name. I recently received an e-mail from him saying that we all need to work together for peace. Many people would be happy to see a Cross, a Crecent and a Star on a sign saying Welcome to Jerusalem .