Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back To Basics: The Heartbreak Of 1948

I have been backing off this blog lately, finishing up longer projects, but also trying get some distance from events that are forcing us to face up to things in a radical frame of mind. The U.N. vote on Palestine is going ahead, and I'll have more to say about it. In the meantime, I can't add much to Brad Burston's reasons for Israeli liberals to support statehood.

Yet a move to statehood, even if this were to precipitate more productive negotiations, or just make Israeli hardliners increasingly besieged--even if it led to a Palestinian state founded in a border deal with Israel--will only open the door to even more more basic and long repressed challenges, namely, the relations between Israel and a Palestinian state and the kinds of states these will be: the cultural distinction of each and the rights of individuals in each, including rights accorded citizens of the other state.

As I argued in The Hebrew Republic, and subsequently with my friend Sam Bahour in Haaretz, independence will in any case need to be shaped by interdependence if, for example, the Palestinian right of return is ever going to be resolved or, indeed, if the economic integration both sides need is going to be managed. What we think of as states will have to be expanded; much of what has been built will gradually have to be redesigned. Dafna Leef, the remarkable young woman who helped rally 450,000 Israelis a couple of Saturdays ago, told the assembled throngs in Tel Aviv: "Every heart is a revolutionary cell." I suspect that hearts will be tested and changed a good deal in the months ahead.

So perhaps this is the time to open them some, by looking back, in sadness and new found empathy, at the formative events of 1948. What happened then still matters now--the pain still matters now. Most readers of this blog have, I suspect, a pretty vivid image of Israeli military heroism in the 1948 war, and the justifications for making a stand. Just this morning, I was sent a bulk email exhorting me to watch this moving film, "The Volunteers," about Jews from around the world who came to Palestine in 1948 because they believed they might be needed. (I did the same in 1967, though I was clearly not needed by the time my plane took off.)

But I wonder how many readers have ever seen this stunning film, "Sands of Sorrow," about the Palestinian refugees of 1948. There has been much dispute about whether (or how many of) these shocked people left out of fear or by expulsion. This has been a silly dispute. The governing fact is that they were not allowed back, and that Israel formed around that decision.

Before the war--so the historian Hillel Cohen shows--Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, had planned a democracy with a large Arab minority living, Ben Gurion wrote, in “complete equality, ” and “ethic autonomy.” Even during the war, debate about the nature of the state was tortured.

“An Arab also has the right to be elected President of the state, if he is chosen for this role,” Ben Gurion told the government in June 1948; “If in the United States, it is not possible for a Jew or a Negro to be elected president of the country, I have no faith in the quality of its civil rights…Were we to enforce such a regime—well then we will have missed the raison d’ĂȘtre of a Hebrew state… denying the most treasured elements of our Jewish tradition.” Nevertheless, Ben Gurion’s mounting fear of a fifth column eventually proved decisive. He wrote in his diary: “We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return... The old will die and the young will forget.”

Anyway, the young did not forget--and will not. Nor should we forget "the most treasured" Jewish values underlying a "Hebrew state." Is it really too late, even after 60 years, to design political institutions in a way that reconciles the Israelis' stand to the Palestinians' justice? Do we care?

11 comments:

Larry Rosenwald said...

That's beautifully said, Bernie; thank you, a hartsikn dank.

Y. Ben-David said...

Ben-Gurion said all sorts of contradictory things, particularly before the creation of the state in 1948. The Jewish Left always had one eye open towards the international "progressive" Left and felt for some reason that it was vital to have their support (I don't know why, ultimately, as we see today, they are not well disposed to Zionism at all). So he mumbled things about his willingness to give up his dream of a Jewish state "if it harmed an Arab child" and this nonsense about an Arab President. In the end, BG was a hard-line Jewish nationalist (and I mean that as a positive thing) and he NEVER trusted the Arabs, keeping them under military rule througout his time as national leader. He learned to speak several languages but he never attempted Arabic. He understood the nature of Israel's enemy better than a lot of people. We could use more leaders like him today, in the sense of his certitude about Jewish national rights and pride, even if he was perhaps too obtuse about Israel's Arab citizens.

Potter said...

Perhaps Ben-Gurion's self-contradiction was a result of a battle between his moral idealism with regard to embracing and including Arabs versus the fears about survival and the resulting need to fight and the choice to be ruthless. This groove has worn deep.

I believe HIllel Cohen is trying to show that history need not have taken this turn to the latter leading to wars death and destruction - that there was from the beginning the ability to co-exist. But this is my feeling from the reviews. I have not yet read Cohen's book but I was so taken by this thought- that things did not have to go this way- that I bought the book.

Dr. Avishai keeps on insisting, correctly, that Israel must bring about a real change toward coexistence and cooperation to survive. Hopefully the Palestinian movement using more non-violence to achieve either statehood and/or equality within a greater Israel will help bring that about.

Bradley Burston's 10 points were terrific- thanks for the link.

Y. Ben-David said...

Interesting that you posted that particular picture. IIRC that is Fawzi al-Kaukji, who before fighting in Israel and being defeated as head of the so-called "Arab Liberation Army" in 1948 was an officer in the Nazi Waffen-SS. Now, you want us to "reconcile" with those who fought with him, right?

Potter said...

At all costs, all costs you must fight on Ben-David. Fight on even as you destroy yourselves in the process. You must continue that 1948 war.

Our Israeli friend just passed away. He was a veteran of the '48 war plus the 4 other wars that came after. In '48 he fought in the Palmach ( a bonafide hero on the road to Jerusalem). He left this world a very depressed and disappointed man about the direction his country has taken. A kibbutznik through and through, he lived and worked with Arabs on the land for years until relations got worse and segregation set in.

Al-Qawuqji, a professional soldier born in Lebanon, was his enemy at the time of course.

Still our friend knew when to stop fighting. He was an idealist and wanted coexistence and peace. He left disappointed and depressed.

Y. Ben-David said...

No wonder he was depressed-you can't end a war unilaterally. As a kibbutnik, he was inculcated with all the falsehoods the Marxist-oriented leaders of socialist Zionism (both MAPAI and MAPAM) have been propagating for almost 90years, that the conflict can be ended if we just understand that it is merely a "nationalist conflict" which is exacerbated by "economic tensions" (the Arabs being jealous of Israeli economic success) and so once Israel gives them some territory to set up a statelet and pour money into the bottomless hole this statelet would represent their "pride" will be assuaged by having a flag and a seat at the UN, and with money in their pocket (as Dr Avishai is always telling us) they will be too busy shopping to want to fight us any more.

These are all FALSEHOODS. The conflict is EXISTENTIAL, RELIGIOUS and IDEOLOGICAL. For the Arabs, the Arab-Israeli conflict can end ONLY with the eradication of Israel (G-d forbid). The existence of a Jewish state is abhorrent to a good Muslim and a proud Arab. This is what the Tahrir Square crowds are telling us every day. This is what the mob that attacked the Embassy in Cairo was saying. They don't care about the settlements and they don't care about Sam Bahour and the supposedly "entrepeneurial elites" who have pulled the wool over a lot of people's eyes saying all they care about is money. No doubt there are Arabs, and particularly Palestinians who want a compromise peace BUT THEY ARE NOT IN POWER and they won't be because the extremists always call the tune, as we see now in Egypt and also in formerly "moderate" Tunisia, which is being pressed by the Muslim forces to include a clause in their constitution prohibiting dealing with Israel.
This does NOT mean the situation is hopeless, but it is difficult. Israel has prospered for over 60 years without peace and will continue to do so. Israel is pulling farther and farther ahead of the Arabs. Ultimately, after considerable time, the Arabs will see that Islamism is leading them into a dead-end and then more pragmatic forces will come into power, but this will take many years. Israel will simply have to hold on and show it means business by not making foolish concessions like destroying Gush Katif. It will also means Jewish Israeli are going to have to examine their Judaic roots more seriously and realize you can't build a country merely as a place to have fun (as Olmert promised before he ended up embroiling us in TWO wars) and spend as much money as possible. It is time for reflection for all of us.

Potter said...

No Ben-David I will tell you about him, you won't tell me. He knew of course there were murderers in the hills that came down every now and then, but the Arabs that he worked with in the field, that he showered and ate with were human beings, were friends, co-workers for sure and had aspirations too to be considered. Your screed is irrelevant, false and I hope a view that shrivels and dies, though I am sure you would love to have it carved in stone.

Y. Ben-David said...

I don't doubt he had Arab friends. I know settlers you would consider to be extremists that have Arab friends. Most people in the world don't want wars. I am sure most Germans could have gotten along with most Englishment and most Russians and most Americans during World War II. But most average people defer decisions of national importance to their leaders who will whip up war-like feelings if they want to (Hitler) or if they feel they have to (Churchill). There is no contradiction of an Arab having Jewish friends or business partners and his agreeing that Israel is an aberration that has to be eradicated. People will often say "I don't like your ethnic group or nationality but you happen to be okay". People are complex.
The ultimate tragedy of your friend was that he tried to be a "progressive" and a Zionist at the same time, and that is impossible, as Dr Avishai is discovering. Add to that the complete collapse of the kibbutz-socialist ideology into which so much mental energy was invested by his generation and ultimately wasted and it is no wonder your friend was dissatisfied at the end.
I feel sorry him. I am grateful for the efforts he made in building up the state. Now, it will have to go off in a different direction than he imagined if it is going to survive.

Potter said...

I agree it will have to go off in a different direction, but a different direction than the current path, entirely different. What you dom't seem to see is that the war-like feelings that are being whipped up are from your own side as well. Look at your language "whipped up"; this alone tells you something. Netanyahu stepped into office and from the first started "whipping up" where those liked minded beside and before him left off. And it's all about power and maintaining it at all costs becuase no one with half intelligence can believe that this stance is about security and survival. At all costs you follow this path. It's pathetic the way Netanyahu now goes to the UN to plead his case to deaf ears, ears that are tired of the false claims. He is blaming, a priori, the reception on the GA being anti-Israel. What a way to win them!!! Pathetic. He has no case. How can he ask people to postpone this vote and believe in any negotiating coming from his administration? Pathetic.

YMedad said...

Actually, that picture begs the question: why were the Arab commanders smiling? The reason: they were going to kill Jews, rape Jewesses, burn and otherwise destroy all that the Jews had constructed for over70 years of modern Zionist activity. And you think a fake state of "Palestine" will remove that smile of theirs?

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