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In ’68, Italo Calvino said the only solution in Palestine is ‘the revolutionary road’

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Further evidence that the injustice of the situation was obvious to people of sensibility a long time ago, and many of us in the west are catching up: in 1968, Italo Calvino, the Italian journalist and novelist, wrote that the Israeli victims of Nazis have become oppressors and the only solution was “the revolutionary road” in Israel, Palestine and the Arab world.

This letter to a Jordanian correspondent (posted by the site, Past and Future Presents) was published in a new volume of letters by Calvino, (1923-1985). 

To Issa I. Naouri—Amman 

Turin 10 October 1968  

Dear Mr Naouri, 

I have read the poetry of the Palestinian resistance that you have kindly sent me. They seem to be poets of powerful expressive force, full of sincere poetic and human warmth.  The best thing would be to find a journal to publish these poems, I will try to contact a friend to bring them to journal’s attention. Of course, in us Europeans the trauma of the persecution of the Palestinians has a special resonance because their current persecutors suffered—in themselves and in their families—persecutions that were the most horrific and inhuman in centuries, both under Nazism and also a long time before that. That the victims of the past should turn into the oppressors of today is the most distressing fact, the one which I think it is necessary to emphasize. I am sorry that none of these poets deals with this motif. 

Personally I think that the only solution to the Palestinian problem lies down the revolutionary road both in the Arab world and amongst the Israeli masses. A revolution by the Israeli poor (to a large extent of Middle Eastern and North African origin) against their colonialist and expansionist rulers; but also a revolution by the popular masses in Arab countries against their reactionary and militarist oligarchies (even although these call themselves more or less socialist) who exploit the Palestinian problem for nationalist demagoguery. The real Resistance is not only a struggle against a foreign invader: it has to be a battle for a profound renewal within the society of one’s own country.  

I wanted to clarify my thoughts in order to confirm my solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians and their Resistance fighters in the context of a general political and human vision.    

Thank you so much and best wishes.

The correspondent was surely this Jordanian poet and author. Wikipedia says Calvino was married to Esther Judith Singer, an Argentinian. I wonder if she was Jewish.

P.S. It is very common to hear how galvanizing the Six Day War was to Europeans and Americans; but one of the best posts we’ve done on this site was publishing a portion of a 1967 letter from the American poet Robert Lowell to his friend Elizabeth Bishop about the Six Day War:

Did the late war scare you to death? It did me while it was simmering.  We had a great wave of New York Jewish nationalism, all the doves turning into hawks. Well, my heart is in Israel, but it was a little like a blitzkrieg against the Commanches—armed by Russia. 

Further evidence that the injustice of the situation was evident to people of sensibility a long time ago.

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6 Responses

  1. DICKERSON3870
    June 17, 2013, 5:30 pm

    RE: “It is very common to hear how galvanizing the Six Day War was to Europeans and Americans . . .” ~ Weiss

    “The Six-Day War; Triumph and Tragedy”, by Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 6/14/13

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It started low-key. A little piece of paper was thrust into the hand of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol as he was reviewing the Independence Day parade. It said that Egyptian troops were entering the Sinai peninsula. . .
    . . . A few weeks before, I had given a talk in a Kibbutz on the Syrian border. As is customary, I was invited to have coffee afterwards with a select group of members. There I was told that “Dado” (General David Elazar), the commander of the Northern sector, had lectured there the week before, and then had coffee. Like me.
    After swearing me to secrecy, they disclosed that Dado had told them – after swearing them to secrecy – that every evening, before going to bed, he prayed to God that Nasser would move his troops into the Sinai desert. “There we shall destroy them,” Dado had assured them.
    Nasser did not want the war. He knew that his army was quite unprepared. He was bluffing, in order to please the Arab masses. He was egged on by the Soviet Union, whose leaders believed that Israel was about to attack their main client in the region, Syria, as part of a worldwide American plot. . .
    . . . When the bow was strained to near breaking point, the Israeli army was unleashed. . .
    . . . I was attending the Knesset session on that first day of the war. In the middle of it, we were told to go to the bomb shelter, because the Jordanians in nearby East Jerusalem had begun to shell us. While we were there, a friend of mine, a high-ranking official, whispered in my ear: “It’s all over. We have destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force.”
    When I reached home that evening after driving through the blackout, my wife did not believe me. The radio had said nothing about the incredible achievement. . .
    . . . Why? The Israeli government was convinced – quite rightly – that if the Arab countries and the Soviet Union realized that their side was nearing disaster, they would get the UN to stop the war at once. This indeed happened – but by that time our army was well on its way to Cairo and Damascus.
    Against this background, when the victory was announced, it looked immense – so immense, indeed, that many believed in an act of God. Our army, which had been formed in the small State of Israel as it was at that time, conquered the entire Sinai peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. From the “Second Holocaust” to miraculous deliverance, in just six days.
    So, was it a “defensive war” or an “act of naked aggression”? In the national consciousness, it was and remains a purely defensive war, started by “the Arabs”. Objectively speaking, it was our side which attacked, though under utmost provocation. Years later, when I said so in passing, a leading Israeli journalist was so upset that he stopped talking with me.
    Be that as it may, the Israeli public reaction was stupendous. The entire country was in delirium. Masses of victory-albums, victory-songs, victory-this and victory-that amounted to national hysteria. Hubris knew no bounds. I cannot claim that I was entirely untouched by it.
    Ariel Sharon boasted that the Israel army could reach Tripoli (in Libya) in six days. A movement for a Greater Israel came into being, with many of Israel’s most renowned personalities clamoring for membership. Soon the settlement enterprise was under way.
    But, as in a Greek tragedy, hubris did not go unpunished. The gold turned to dust. The greatest victory in Israel’s history turned into its greatest curse. The occupied territories are like the shirt of Nessus, glued to our body to poison and torment us.
    Just before the attack, Dayan had declared that Israel had absolutely no intention of conquering new territory, but aimed solely to defend itself. After the war, Foreign Minister Abba Eban declared that the pre-1967 armistice line was “the border of Auschwitz”. . .


  2. Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 8:50 pm

    I. Rahm: Never lose an opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity. Suckers (freyers, frayers, fryers, friers) are born every day. Zionist mentality.

  3. yourstruly
    June 17, 2013, 10:06 pm

    “The real resistance is not only a struggle against a foreign invader, it has to be a struggle for a strong renewal within the society of one’s own country” – Italo Calvino

    Every country, that is.

  4. Mayhem
    June 17, 2013, 10:21 pm

    Reminiscences from a long dead ex-communist, who like so many like him, hung on to the remnants of their defunct political ideology. The Left, so enamoured by the socialism that was being exhibited by the kibbutz movement in the early days of Israel’s existence, fell quickly into their old mode of backing the struggles of supposedly revolutionary movements against colonial capitalism. An irrelevant ex-Leftie who was ultimately disillusion with politics in the post-modern world where political reality consumed communist idealism.
    “”He abandoned politics. He chose literature. And with it life,” Chessa wrote in Panorama.”

  5. thankgodimatheist
    June 18, 2013, 6:10 am

    “Esther Judith Singer, an Argentinian. I wonder if she was Jewish.”

    I wonder what more do you need to be sure she is.

  6. marc b.
    marc b.
    June 18, 2013, 12:08 pm

    this is one of those throw away pieces Weiss compiles and publishes indiscriminately. no offense to anyone, but if you don’t read a lot of fiction, who would even know who calvino is?

    and, yes, his wife was jewish. yehudit singer. family roots to Bessarabia/Russia. what this means, I have no idea, nor apparently does the author.

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