Yossi Klein Halevi’s recent talk at Marist College was a masterful performance. The author of a new book, he began by being disarmingly blunt about the suffering of the Palestinian people. He had seen it himself during his service in the Israel Defense Forces and the experience convinced him that the “left argument” was essentially correct. Palestinians deserve their own state, just like the Jews.
He warned against outside pressure to settle the conflict. In his words, the more pressure from the rest of the world, the less progress has been achieved. No, Halevi understands that the solution must involve a respectful and honest “dialogue” between two very distinct “narratives” about who deserves the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Palestinians got a late start in developing their narrative, of course. In 1948, according to Halevi, the Palestinians had no national aspirations at all. Contrast this to the 2,000 years that the Jews have considered this land to be their religious and spiritual essence. Yes, these are the “intangible issues” that a lasting peace must be built upon, starting with the realization that there is “no Jewish religion without Israel.” Halevi makes no mention of the many Jewish intellectuals from Martin Buber to Judith Butler who have pointed out that this unification of religion and state is as recent as the last century, and represents an aberration in traditional Jewish teaching.
So why are Palestinians suffering? According to Halevi, it’s because Yasser Arafat blew his chance at Camp David when Israel offered almost everything the Palestinians wanted. This version of history has been so discredited that Halevi wisely moves right on. The Palestinians are suffering in Gaza “because of Hamas,” and because of the “disproportionate response” that the Palestinian people have always had to Jewish attempts to build their own state.
Halevi declares that the international community hasn’t been much better, at times acting like “an intellectual lynch mob.” He refers to the many UN resolutions against the state of Israel. Doesn’t this prove his point that the rest of the world has in fact “ghettoized Israel” in its relentless one-sidedness? There is no mention of the numerous Israeli violations of the UN charter in the settlement of occupied lands.
Halevi ended his talk with a poignant recounting of his own suffering. He will be giving up “who I am” to grant the Palestinians even a part of the land he has in his “historical memory.” His memory goes back at least 2,000 years, so that is saying quite a lot.