Last week Miko Peled, the Israeli author of The General’s Son, appeared with his publisher Helena Cobban in Manhattan and spoke for 40 minutes. You can watch his speech in a Manhattan apartment above. (He was hosted by Donna Nevel and Dorothy Zellner of Jews Say No and Constancia Romilly of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theater). The speech is eloquent. The bit of laughter a minute or two in is when Peled discovers that a leaky pen has ruined his shirt. Other than that the talk is very serious.
As the speech is long, I want to paraphrase the salient points (I apologize that these are not direct quotes, but readers who require them can easily produce them from my video):
This is not an evenhanded presentation. Anyone who tells you they’re evenhanded is not being truthful. The situation is not even. When people say things should be worked out like between kids in a schoolyard, they are not telling you that one of the kids is a bully and he is armed.
Coming from a legendary Israeli family, notable for his father Matti Peled, a leading general of the ’67 war who had served as an officer in the ’48 war, Miko Peled never spoke on equal terms with Palestinians till 2000 in San Diego. Then he began learning their stories and it was painful to him. He heard about the Nakba from people who had experienced it and he trusted. He recognized that the Law of Return for Jews claiming a 2000 year old connection was a hypocritical double standard when people living in Palestine 60 years ago can’t come back to their homes.
People say, The Palestinians should get over it. But Jews are taught to nurse the grievances of thousands of years ago in Egypt at the Passover service, and to teach their children not to forget. Who are we to tell Palestinians to forget their expulsion inside their own lifetimes?
Learning about the Nakba was excruciating. So much of what he had learned as a child was lies. Though his mother said that she had been offered an Arab house, as the family of an officer, in 1948, and turned it down, staying in a small apartment. And she had seen Jews looting Arab homes in the wake of the Nakba and felt great shame. Jews don’t do these things. There are many things we were taught that Jews don’t do. And we were wrong.
Peled’s niece Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997. She was 13. Because the family was famous for seeking peace with Palestinians, journalists crowded Miko’s sister Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s house to hear her response. She said, No mother should experience what I am experiencing. No mother, Palestinian or Jewish. And what have we done to Palestinians to so blight the hopes of their children that two young men would be willing to kill themselves and in so doing kill my daughter? The brutal occupation has done this. The enemy is not the Palestinians. It is the extremists in our own political life. Since then Nurit Peled-Elhanan has done a study of the racism taught to Israelis in schools, to enable the occupation.
People speak of Jewish military achievements but these are greatly exaggerated. How was it possible for a small Jewish community to rout 800,000 Palestinians and then five armies in 1947-1948, erasing 500 villages? Well the Jews had been preparing for years and forming well-trained and indoctrinated militias. Right after Partition they began ethnic cleansing.
In 1967 the Arab armies were not prepared for war. Peled learned this in army archives: His own father said as much in counsels of the Israeli army. The Egyptians were a year and a half away from being ready for a war. And so the generals urged a strike in June 1967. The generals also extended the war, in defiance of the political leaders, for two days. Only because this coup was a success, and seized the Golan, were they not reprimanded. The political leaders were more conservative. They were born in Europe and had memories of Jewish helplessness. The generals were all born in Palestine. It was not a miracle that 15,000 Arabs were killed in six days and Israeli trebled its territory. It was military preparedness.
The occupation of Palestine post 67 is merely a continuation of the occupation of Palestine in 48. The Nakba has never ended. The same designs that Ben Gurion had Avigdor Lieberman has: to Judaize the land of Israel. Not the state of Israel, but the land. The treatment of Palestinians inside Israel is often worse than the treatment of Palestinians inside Palestine. They are denied electricity and water, because they are supposedly too remote; while neighboring Jewish communities get the services.
Israeli leaders began to talk the two state solution only when they knew it was impossible to effect. The conversation was a charade. The two state solution is an absurd proposition now, Partition is impossible. There is one regime between river and sea and the challenge is its “transformation” from racism and apartheid to democracy. This is a transformation that Americans can help to produce, the 50 people in Peled’s audience.
Both sides are oppressed by fanatical wings. The only way to overcome the fanaticism is political: for there to be a democracy in which the reasonable middles of both sides find one another and marginalize the fanatics.
As it is, fanatics rule in Israel. And the army is the largest most well-equipped terrorist organization in the world. Its only purpose is to penalize Palestinians, from arresting them in the middle of the night to shooting them. The Palestinians fire rockets. Of course. Any people would resort to violent resistance if they were under siege unending, as Gazans are, and denied water and freedom of movement.