One of the challenges facing American Jewry is to understand the Palestinian version of Israel’s war of independence in 1948. What was, for Zionists, a great triumph was for Palestinians a Naqba, or catastrophe. 700,000 of them were soon gone. They fled in fear of massacre or were expelled. I know that some argue with that version of history; what’s inarguable (as Shlomo Ben Ami points out) is that when the hostilities ended, the Arabs weren’t invited back to their homes in the new Jewish state. People don’t like to talk about this because it gives legitimacy to the “right of return” of these refugees. I think it’s important to talk about for intellectual reasons, because it’s true; and morally, an acknowledgment of the injustice would go some way toward healing the wounds.
All this to say that the latest Commentary, alas not yet online, contains a surprisingly-fair treatment of two Israel critics who have raised the issue of what Zionists did to the Arabs of Jaffa, which neighbors Tel Aviv. Writes Israeli Hillel Halkin:
“LeVine and Rotbard are openly hostile to Israel and Zionism. And yet, on a strictly factual level, one cannot fault most of their account… [T]here is no denying that Zionism did paint a deliberately unflattering picture of Palestinian Arab life, did claim to be settling Jews on land more desolate than it actually was… Nor is it debatable that Arab life in Jaffa was devastated by the military defeat of 1948, that the remaining Arab inhabitants were treated poorly, that deserted Arab villages were bulldozed as part of Tel Aviv’s expansion, and that Jaffa’s gentrifiers [who monopolize the waterfront] have mostly been Jews. These things, though viewable in different perspectives, are a matter of record.”
Commentary should be applauded for such fair statements. I hope that this marks the entry into American Jewish discourse of a frank and open discussion of the Palestinian dispossession.
(The two books Halkin discusses are Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine (1880-1948), by burgeoning lefty star Mark LeVine, and White City, Black City (2005), by Israeli architect Sharon Rotbard.