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Israel’s foundation in a ‘terroristic campaign of expulsion, ethnic cleansing and murder’ is the ‘deep wound in that part of the world’ — Sullivan

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Andrew Sullivan, credit StuckinCustoms, Flickr

Andrew Sullivan, credit StuckinCustoms, Flickr

One of the positive things about the Gaza onslaught is that it has revealed to reasonable Americans that Israel has no answer to its foundational problem– the question of Palestinian disenfranchisement– except killing and ethnically-cleansing Palestinians. And that the nihilism of that Israeli policy is longstanding: Gaza is filled with refugees from 1948 and their descendants.

Thus the current onslaught has broached a root-causes conversation: the wisdom or justice of establishing a Jewish state there in the first place.

Yesterday Andrew Sullivan posted a dialogue with Sam Harris in which Sullivan demolished Harris by repeatedly citing the injustice entailed in Israel’s creation: the terroristic expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Nakba is “the deep wound in that part of the world,” “the most recent big event in the history of that part of the world – and the Palestinians had almost no say in any of it.”

Now Sullivan is a conservative who doesn’t want to upset a long-established order, which is to say, he’s for a two-state solution. But Sullivan’s comments on Zionist history are bracing and wonderful: 

[W]hen you say the Israelis only want to live in peace with their neighbors, is that why 1948 is regarded by any non-Israeli in the region as a “catastrophe”? Was that living in peace with their neighbors? That was a terroristic campaign of expulsion, of ethnic cleansing, and of mass murder. That’s how Israel was founded. And many of the people living in Gaza and on the West Bank are the descendants of refugees from that original act of ethnic cleansing. One problem of the debate in the U.S. is that this vital piece of context is so often removed, and so we have an utterly ahistorical understanding in which the motives of one side become unintelligible…

[T]he problem is that other people happened to live there already in the land assigned to newcomers – and they regarded their lives as ruined. They were the majority, and they were not Jewish. This is the most recent big event in the history of that part of the world – and the Palestinians had almost no say in any of it. So to claim that we just have to accept this as a given and that any complaints about the deep wound in that part of the world are somehow illegitimate or to be bracketed off from the core discussion seems to me to miss the whole point of the conflict….

It’s not simply a nice, peaceful country fighting forces of jihadist Islam. In fact, you can say that one of the major sources of jihadist Islam and anti-Western terrorism has been not just the founding of Israel, but its expansion and its constant presence in the lives of so many Arabs in the Middle East….

If I suddenly found that the south of England, where I grew up, had been occupied by the French through a war of conquest, and they were then populating England with French people dedicated to creating France in Britain, then I don’t think I would be some bigoted anti-Semite to be furious about the land that was taken from me. You don’t need anti-Semitism to explain why people would feel enraged about a hostile takeover of their own land. It’s such a canard to say that there’s something outrageous about being offended that you’ve been thrown out of your land, town, or home. And it’s made worse when even in the place left to you, you are then policed, monitored, harassed, and constantly controlled by an occupying force. This is an absolute recipe for disaster.

Yes, as John Judis informed us in Genesis, FDR and Harry Truman both said that establishing a Jewish state on Palestinian land would lead to World War 3.

I would contrast Sullivan’s straightforward insight about Zionism to the refrain we’ve heard in recent weeks about other root causes: radical Islam, French and English colonialism.

Fareed Zakaria has told Brooke Baldwin on CNN that ISIS in Iraq represents “the end of the multicultural Middle East:”

The Middle East actually used to be a place where Christians, Muslims, Jews for many, many centuries, Jews were very much part of our Arab countries. Baghdad was a third Jewish in the early 1940s. That’s over.

What you’re watching in Iraq is, first of all, remember, something like 600,000 Christians have already fled Iraq because of the Shiite sectarian government in place in Baghdad. 

Now what you’re witnessing is a kind of dramatic ramping up and horrific escalation of it. What you’re seeing in Syria is the Christians leaving, the Armenians, Druze, these ancient communities that are really in some cases Christians from the time of the Bible. They are all leaving. And they are going to have to find some safe havens. Iraqi Kurdistan is proving to be one of the great safe havens. Probably Lebanon will be the other. But all of these other countries you’re just seeing massive ethnic cleansing. 

Obviously ISIS is a scary player. But Zakaria could have mentioned Zionism’s role in that mess, couldn’t he? The emptying of Baghdad’s Jewish population, for instance, followed the establishment of a Jewish state, and was surely accelerated by Zionists.

Then there’s that other historical theme of a few weeks back: that the problems began with the secret Sykes Picot treaty of 1916. Dexter Filkins, Richard Engel and Brooke Gladstone all treated that colonial agreement to draw arbitrary national lines in the Middle East as a root cause of ethnic conflict in Iraq today. And of course it has a role; but they could also have mentioned England’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine, which no Arab leaders wanted.

Finally, there’s Tom Friedman. “This isn’t Scandinavia,” he intoned solemnly in explaining that Israel was justified in going crazy on Hamas in Gaza because Hamas is connected to jihadists across the Middle East.

Exactly: it’s not Scandinavia, Scott Roth said to me lately. It’s been carved up by colonial schemes for the last 100 years, and Zionism created a state in defiance of Arabs’ wishes.

When will Friedman turn his harsh light on Zionism? He grew up in the Zionist community. He was giving chalktalks on the Six Day War to his classmates in high school. Andrew Sullivan knows that this too is part of the problem, the Zionist inoculation in American Jewish identity:

I’m not that invested by my identity in any of this. I have been to Israel once and I have nothing but amazed admiration for what they’ve achieved and who they are and have incredible respect for their achievements. I really do…

But the thing that happens to me in this debate in America is that many of my Jewish friends cannot debate this, it seems to me, without extreme emotional investment in it, and that’s a very hard thing to deal with. It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough. Do you not think that your being a Jew affects the way you talk about this thing?

Sam Harris says No. But I don’t believe him. It’s affected me and countless other Jews seeking awareness. It’s our gift and our struggle.

 

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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28 Responses

  1. Boomer
    Boomer
    August 15, 2014, 1:25 pm

    So obvious . . . the truth that must not be spoken. Likewise, one must not speak of the Power that has silenced the truth in America. It is good that you and people like you have broken the spell. The internet has helped. And Israel’s excess. I’m not sure that it will matter much in the real world, but at least the truth is there for those who have ears to hear, those who have eyes to see.

  2. American
    American
    August 15, 2014, 2:20 pm

    Good for Sullivan for going to the ‘original sin’ in Israel’s creation.
    Too bad our media is so corrupt it cant be explained to the public as exactly what it was and is….if it could be, Isr would have about .01% support in the Us.

  3. lyn117
    lyn117
    August 15, 2014, 3:06 pm

    I don’t really want to defend Saddam Hussein or Assad, but another huge wound was our invasion of Iraq that toppled Hussein. Both Hussein and Assad ruled to keep their power, in a non-sectarian way, don’t forget Hussein’s foreign minister or something was a Christian. We killed 300,000 and attacked people in Falluja apparently because they were Muslims. The civil war that followed probably brings the death toll up to a million. We support the Isis people when they attack Assad, either indirectly or directly. The destruction of Christian and Yazeedee communities is the fallout from the destruction of Iraq. I put a large part of the blame on the pro-Israel crowd in government, they have been urging us to destroy any possible rivals and are quite happy with the massive chaos. It’s not as if the U.S. has historically had any objection to brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein, or present fanatic Islamic rule like the current regime in Saudi Arabia.

    Well, Sullivan sort of allowed Harris to rant on. Interesting how Harris dismisses historical facts such as the Nakba as irrelevant to why people hate Israel while using historical facts such as the Holocaust as complete justification for it. Yeah, right. Israel mass murders people, demolishes their lives and homes and terrorizes them into exile but for some reason those people hate them because they’re Jews. Maybe I’ll go back and read it further.

    Anyway, this is from article 31 of the Hamas charter that I accessed through Harris’s article: “Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that. ” I don’t personally want to live under a religious state as described (I like the U.S.’s freedom of religion so I could become a pagan if I wanted), but on the other hand claims that Hamas is genocidal are off too. And frankly, when it comes to tolerating other religions, historically Islam has done a better job than either Christianity or Judaism.

  4. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    August 15, 2014, 3:22 pm

    If strong resentment of the imagined French conquest and colonisation of southern England – reasserting the rights established by William the Conqueror and betrayed by his successors, I presume – would not, per Sullivan, be bigoted anti-Frankism what would it be? An entirely justified foundation for violent resistance? Or only for a campaign of propaganda calling for equal rights for the English in England? Or for violent resistance when (but only when) that sort of campaign meets with a lethal response?

  5. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    August 15, 2014, 3:44 pm

    “It’s our gift and our struggle.”

    Phil, you have often talked about the struggle involved in bucking the trends of Judaism from the pressure to marry Jewish to the pressure to not put a Christmas wreath on your front door to the pressure to support Israel. But in what way do you view it as a gift? I suppose that you view it as a gift in terms of the rich intellectual/social justice history. And I suppose once you have struggled with the tribal urge towards solidarity which is clearly not a gift (to you) then you can use the social justice history to attack Zionism. Maybe that’s what you mean.

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      August 15, 2014, 5:28 pm

      Yonah it’s a gift in that it was given to me, and that Jews like myself are privileged to play a part in a very important historic struggle. This beats writing celebrity profiles for glossy women’s magazines.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        August 15, 2014, 9:26 pm

        This beats writing celebrity profiles for glossy women’s magazines.
        What about Joan Rivers’? (joke)

        More seriously, sure you are right that there is a gift in terms of one’s abilities to interact in this topic. Blumenthal said that he had much more access than others would have to to interact with Israeli society. Blumenthal was able to even go on a Birthright trip and film all kinds of things.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 16, 2014, 12:24 pm

        Phil somebody asked me the other day (at which point you closed comments just to frustrate me) something like “if you are so Anti-Zionist, why do you still identify as Jewish?” If you hadn’t closed the comment box on my fingers, I would have answered “I’ll be damned if I’ll let them chase me out of my own religion and leave it to them”

        “and that Jews like myself are privileged to play a part in a very important historic struggle.”

        I’m sure that thought will be of great comfort to the Palestinians.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      August 16, 2014, 12:29 pm

      “I suppose that you view it as a gift in terms of the rich intellectual/social justice history.”

      I agree, Yonah, when you compare that to actually getting stolen land and a house, and the protection of the IDF while “price-tagging” Palestinians farms, it isn’t much, is it? I guess only by being a Zionist do you get the good stuff.

  6. Pixel
    Pixel
    August 15, 2014, 4:40 pm

    (Sorry for the long comment. I feel like I’m channeling Dickerson – love you, man – but without the CAPS.)

    The following exchange is in the original Sullivan / Harris article, linked to in this post.

    Harris: But then don’t you find it strange, and rather telling, that the focus is on Israel and Gaza?
    Sullivan: Well, I think partly it’s because we’re paying for it.
    Harris: That’s surely not the reason on the Muslim side. And that can’t be what is driving European opinion.

    What’s driving European opinion is a critical question and they just let it drop. They missed a valuable opportunity because they don’t understand its importance. These guys are really smart, in organic and formally educated kind of ways, but sometimes that can be an impediment rather than an advantage. The “answer” to the statement they made is no mystery to many/most R.A.M.s (raggedy ass masses), of which I am a proud card carrying member. Many happen to live in Europe, thus, mystery is solved …and it’s not anti-semitism, latent or otherwise.

    Anyone who wants to know can start by asking a bunch of young “regular” people in Europe (and elsewhere), and the more identified as kooks, the better. Then, all you have to do is believe them (even if you have to pretend to). Head down the rabbit hole and keep going, no matter what you find.

    Speaking of rabbit holes, I was astounded that in the original article Sullivan mentioned and linked to some info. on the USS Liberty. He immediately qualified it with “If true,…” but he did say it, which is amazing. The USS Liberty info. has been out there for a very long time and has been thoroughly researched by those with impeccable opinions, experience, and credentials. I will categorically state that it is true. You’ll know these people because they will have been those immediately and intentionally labelled as nuts, crackpots, and tin-foil hat wearing anti-Semites and self-hating Jews.

    Sources, pixel? Sources?! Honestly, there are too many. Just google USS Liberty and you’ll get “About 1,330,000 results (0.21 seconds)”. I have faith that people on this site who want to can find the truth, even through the massive jungle of “white noise” (and “black noise”).

    I know and respect that we’re not allowed to “go there / go here” on this site and, by and large, I don’t. Ok, sometimes, I do but it’s not often and there’s always a lead in. Phil, you linked to the original article, Harris made the initial statement, and Sullivan mentioned the USS Liberty, so off I went.

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      August 15, 2014, 5:15 pm

      USS Liberty is an important story. I missed that in their dialogue. I’m glad that it’s being aired; it should be.

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      August 15, 2014, 6:19 pm

      Hi Pixel. What IS driving EuroRAM opinion on Israel? Sorry if I missed it.

    • Peter in SF
      Peter in SF
      August 15, 2014, 9:54 pm

      Speaking of rabbit holes, I was astounded that in the original article Sullivan mentioned and linked to some info. on the USS Liberty. He immediately qualified it with “If true,…” but he did say it, which is amazing.

      It was Harris, not Sullivan, who first brought up the Liberty in the conversation, which makes it even more surprising.

      Harris says that “If true, this was an outrageous crime.” So this was no way to treat Americans. What about when Israel built nuclear weapons, breaking Ben-Gurion’s promise to JFK? All he says about that is:

      Do you lose any sleep over the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons?

      JFK did.

  7. JeffB
    JeffB
    August 15, 2014, 5:51 pm

    Two interesting comments by him side by side:

    But the thing that happens to me in this debate in America is that many of my Jewish friends cannot debate this, it seems to me, without extreme emotional investment in it, and that’s a very hard thing to deal with. It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough. Do you not think that your being a Jew affects the way you talk about this thing?

    and he is absolutely right they do take it personally. For most Jews attacks on Israel are attacks on them. I lived in LA during 9/11 yet I still took the World Trade center bombing personally. But note this one:

    If I suddenly found that the south of England, where I grew up, had been occupied by the French through a war of conquest, and they were then populating England with French people dedicated to creating France in Britain, then I don’t think I would be some bigoted anti-Semite to be furious about the land that was taken from me.

    Funny how he doesn’t see the connection where he too takes it personally.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      August 16, 2014, 12:26 pm

      ” For most Jews attacks on Israel are attacks on them.”

      And it gives them an imaginary pretext to enjoy vicarious brutality against the Palestinians! What could speak better of us?

  8. Jeff Klein
    Jeff Klein
    August 15, 2014, 8:27 pm

    Yes, it’s Sykes-Picot AND the Balfour Declaration, which was shamefully adopted by the League of Nations. The former was not enough to satisfy the British and was cordially re-negotiated after the war ended:

    During a post-armistice stroll though the gardens of his embassy in London, French wartime prime minister Georges Clemenceau turned to his British counterpart and asked:
    “What do you want?”
    “Mosul,” replied Lloyd George.
    “You shall have it,” Clemenceau declared. “and what else?”
    “Palestine.”
    “You shall have that too.”

    December 1, 1918

  9. Donald
    Donald
    August 15, 2014, 9:10 pm

    “Sullivan: Well, I think we’re probably starting to go in circles now. But I think it is good that we can have a civil conversation about these things.
    Harris: I agree. And I’m very grateful you took the time to do this, Andrew. It makes me very happy that we can have exchanges like this.

    Sullivan: Any time, Sam. Any time.
    ————————————————–
    Still members of the same club, aren’t they? Would Sullivan have this conversation with David Duke? Duke could no doubt point to horrible black men like Idi Amin, or cite example after example of atrocities in post-colonial Africa. Would anyone think Duke had something interesting to say about any of this?

    Would Sullivan have this sort of “civil conversation” with a proud anti-Semite? More to the point, would he have a civil conversation with someone who wholeheartedly supports Hamas? Would he even have a civil conversation with someone who supports some of Hamas’s actions with reservations? It’s nice that he sees that Israel is responsible for making Palestinians hate them, but he’s still playing the same old game where people like Harris are still fundamentally civilized people with whom one can have a discussion, but Hamas is beyond the pale. But Harris is just the liberal genteel sort of person who would support almost any level of war crime, so long as he thinks an Islamist is at the other end. He’s a secular equivalent of the person who wrote the Hamas charter. Sullivan is fine with people like this, because he was one of them a few years ago and he still feels a kinship.

    • Peter in SF
      Peter in SF
      August 15, 2014, 9:41 pm

      Not even the Israel defenders here in the MW comments section would say this:

      Harris: The Israelis have successfully minimized the consequences of Palestinian terrorism – building the Wall, for instance, and creating the Bantustans you object to – and now you are holding this very success against them as an unconscionable act of provocation.

      Oh, and then this part, from Harris:

      The people with whom the Israelis must negotiate, even the best of them – even Yasser Arafat after he won his Nobel Peace Prize – often talk a double game and maintain their anti-Semitism and religious triumphalism behind closed doors. They’ll say one thing in English, and then they’ll say another in Arabic to their constituencies. And the things they say in Arabic are often terrifying. In fact, there is a doctrine of deception within Islam called taqiyya, wherein lying to infidels has been decreed a perfectly ethical way of achieving one’s goals. This poses real problems for any negotiation. How can Israel trust anyone’s stated intentions?

      Well, who broke the cease-fire last month? How can one anyone trust Israel‘s stated intentions? Ah, but there’s the difference: when Israelis say one thing in English and another in Hebrew, and when they lie to gentiles, they’re doing it for rational reasons, not religious ones, so in Sam Harris’s book, that’s OK.

      • Walid
        Walid
        August 16, 2014, 12:18 am

        ” In fact, there is a doctrine of deception within Islam called taqiyya, wherein lying to infidels has been decreed a perfectly ethical way of achieving one’s goals.” (Harris)

        Peter in SF, there is no such doctrine in Islam as Harris describes it; the “taqiyya” cautionary dissimulation or “free-pass” mentioned in the Quran is permitted only in those situations to save the faithful from persecution and death, such as the eating of porc and drinking of wine. Harris took this disinformation from Islamophobic sites such as MEMRI that mangled not what was written in the Quran but what was said by one interpreter, Bukhari, in a hadith, that narrated Um Kulthum bint Uqba, a companion of the Prophet: “That she heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar.”

        You are compounding Harris’ error by using it yourself in your closing example and inadvertently tarnishing Islam in the process.

      • aiman
        aiman
        August 16, 2014, 2:58 am

        The only deception here is how Zionist peddlers like Sam Harris frame Islam.

      • Peter in SF
        Peter in SF
        August 16, 2014, 6:11 am

        You are compounding Harris’ error by using it yourself in your closing example and inadvertently tarnishing Islam in the process.

        Sorry about that, I was only trying to describe Sam Harris’s way of thinking, and not assuming that his thinking is based on real understanding of facts.

    • aiman
      aiman
      August 16, 2014, 3:05 am

      Donald: “But Harris is just the liberal genteel sort of person who would support almost any level of war crime, so long as he thinks an Islamist is at the other end.”

      Yes many Zionists are liberal but Harris is not just “the liberal genteel sort of person”. That is trying to spare Zionism. Harris is on record sharing his wet dream about a nuclear first strike. Harris’s views are tribal, they are Zionist if you look at his sources, not classic liberal. ISS is a better counterpart to tribal Zionists like Harris. Hamas has nothing within its infamous charter that rivals the screed of Harris and it is certainly more moral than the IDF “the most moral army”. Sullivan’s definitely establishment liberal. If he wasn’t gay he’d probably be conservative.

      • Donald
        Donald
        August 17, 2014, 12:27 pm

        “Yes many Zionists are liberal but Harris is not just “the liberal genteel sort of person”. That is trying to spare Zionism. Harris is on record sharing his wet dream about a nuclear first strike. Harris’s views are tribal, they are Zionist if you look at his sources, not classic liberal.”

        I’m not trying to spare Zionism and agree it is tribal in nature. I also think Harris is a tribalist, but there are “liberals” who invoked their liberalism as an excuse for massive violence, as in Vietnam.

        My impression (I haven’t read enough) is that there has always been this tension in mainstream liberalism, going back to the 19th century, where you have liberals who mix their liberal ideals with some form of racist or tribalist thinking and you end up with people like Harris. There were liberal colonialists back in the bad old days, people who supported violence against the supposedly uncivilized barbarians in the name of liberal ideals. Harris is part of a long perverse tradition.

  10. Peter in SF
    Peter in SF
    August 15, 2014, 9:59 pm

    Also note that when Sullivan talks about the “Likud charter” calling for a Jewish state from the river to the sea, he links to an article in Mondoweiss. :)

  11. lyn117
    lyn117
    August 15, 2014, 10:37 pm

    The claim that Israel is more moral because it does not kill every Palestinian, whereas Hamas would kill every Jew if it had the oppurtunity bothers me.

    I think a fairer question is whether Israel would kill every Palestinian if it thought it could get away with it, absolutely no repercussions. I think it would, certainly it would kill all those who don’t give up the right of return, or even claim that Palestine ever existed and they are it’s indigenous people.

    It would like for Israel to have been “a land without a people for a people without a land”. It would like to erase their existance in Israel. It would rather kill them than allow them that existance.

    Israel is kind of happy to leave a small minority that it can trot out now and then and say, look how enlightened we are.

    And on the other side, a fairer question is would Hamas want to kill every Jew if Israel allowed all Palestinians back under conditions of equal rights regardless of creed and forgiveness for past crimes (but maybe some restoration of land). I think institutionally they would leap at this kind of offer, even though they would like to see Islamic rule.

    None of these questions can be answered with facts. The issue of Israeli “restraint” vs. Hamas “extremism” is just an Israeli talking point – one that can’t be countered, because they’re untested.

  12. eljay
    eljay
    August 15, 2014, 10:55 pm

    >> lyn117: I think a fairer question is whether Israel would kill every Palestinian if it thought it could get away with it, absolutely no repercussions. I think it would …

    I have no doubt that if Zio-supremacists could get away with it, they would create as large a supremacist “Jewish State” as possible, and then try to remove all non-Jews from it. Those they could not evict they would kill.

    This (goal + methods) is what they refer to as “morality”.

  13. dereksmear
    dereksmear
    August 16, 2014, 12:02 pm

    This part is interesting

    “Sullivan: I’m talking about the evolution of Israeli society in a very, very nationalistic, almost fascistic direction.
    Harris: I totally agree that there is a problem here. As I said in my article, I think Israel is being “brutalized”—by which I mean being made brutal—by this conflict. Sullivan: They have no choice in the matter?
    Harris: Not much. I think this is just what happens to people who are living in a
    continuous state of siege and fear. ”

    What a hypocritical idiot Harris is. Previously, he dismissed the idea that Palestinian attacks on the Israelis had anything to do with the Israeli occupation and the brutal attacks by the IDF. He even declared that to suggest such a thing was anti-semitic:

    “Berman observes, for instance, that much of the world now blames Israel for the suicidal derangement of the Palestinians. Rather than being an expression of mere anti-Semitism (though it is surely this as well), this view is the product of a quaint moral logic: people are just people, so the thinking goes, and they do not behave that badly unless they have some very good reasons. The excesses of Palestinian suicide bombers, therefore, must attest to the excesses of the Israeli occupation. Berman points out that this sort of thinking has led the Israelis to be frequently likened to the Nazis in the European press. Needless to say, the comparison is grotesque.”
    (The End of Faith, p. 135)

    Double standards and bias much?

  14. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    August 17, 2014, 12:54 am

    RE: “[W]hen you say the Israelis only want to live in peace with their neighbors, is that why 1948 is regarded by any non-Israeli in the region as a ‘catastrophe’? Was that living in peace with their neighbors? That was a terroristic campaign of expulsion, of ethnic cleansing, and of mass murder. That’s how Israel was founded.” ~ Andrew Sullivan

    A RELEVANT BOOK REVIEW – “Rereading: Khirbet Khizeh by S Yizhar”, Jacqueline Rose, The Guardian, Friday 11 March 2011
    In his novella of the 1948 war, the Israeli writer S Yizhar sought to preserve the memory of the Palestinian nakba. Jacqueline Rose on a haunting tale that still stirs intense controversy

    [EXCERPTS] Near the beginning of Khirbet Khizeh, the extraordinary 1949 novella by S Yizhar, the narrator describes the dangers, to a soldier, of thinking: “we knew that when the thoughts came, troubles began; better not to start thinking.” Khirbet Khizeh is a tribute to the power of critical thought to register the injustices of history. It is published by Granta this month in its first full English translation, first issued by Adina Hoffman for Ibis editions in Jerusalem in 2008. Khirbet Khizeh tells the story of the expulsion of Palestinian villagers from their home and land during the 1948 war that immediately followed the founding of the Israeli state: the war of independence or liberation, as it is referred to in Israel; for the Palestinians, the nakba or catastrophe. By the end of it, 750,000 Palestinians had become refugees. This story, this moment, is, to say the least, still controversial. In July 2009, Israel’s education ministry announced that the term nakba, introduced two years previously into Palestinian-Israeli textbooks, was to be removed on the grounds that its use was tantamount to spreading propaganda against Israel. In May last year, a law was passed – widely termed the “Nakba Law” – that withdraws government funding from any group judged to be “acting against the principles of the country”, which includes the commemoration of the nakba. The law effectively criminalises the right of the Palestinian people to remember.

    Renowned for many years as the only tale in Israeli literature to tell the story of the 1948 expulsion, Khirbet Khizeh also owes its power and status to the way that it recounts the resistance to memory which this dark episode of Israeli history will provoke in the nation’s consciousness: “True, it all happened a long time ago,” the story opens, “but it has haunted me ever since. I sought to drown it out with the din of passing time, to diminish its value, to blunt its edge with the rush of daily life.” In fact Yizhar wrote Khirbet Khizeh in 1948, long before the question of memory could even have arisen. But it is as if, in the charged moment of writing, he already saw that his task was to rescue this history from oblivion. Unlike the other soldiers in his unit, the narrator knows that this story is not going to go away. As he walks through the desolate Palestinian landscape, his soldier companion exults in the emptiness which he sees as proof of the superiority of the Zionist pioneers: “Wow! Our old-timers used to break their backs for any strip of land, and today we just walk in and take it!” For the narrator, by contrast, the Jews who reap the profits of this war, the future inhabitants in whose cause the war is being fought, will be haunted: “The people who would live in this village, wouldn’t the walls cry out in their ears?” . . .

    . . . Khirbet Khizeh is the story which, with the least ambivalence, offers to official Zionist history its strongest, unanswerable, counterpoint. The translation is long overdue. In lyrical, haunting prose – evocatively rendered into English by Nicholas de Lange and Yaacob Dweck – the narrator describes what was done to the Palestinians in 1948. As the story builds to its climax, the writing at times is paced and slow, such as when the soldiers languish and wait; then it suddenly erupts, like the exploded stone house of a woman who “leapt up, burst into wild howling and started to run in that direction, holding a baby in her arms, while another wretched child, who could already stand, clutched the hem of her dress, and she screamed, pointed, talked, and choked”. All at once she understands “that it wasn’t just about waiting under the sycamore trees to hear what the Jews wanted and then to go home, but that her home and her world had come to a full stop, and everything had turned dark and was collapsing; suddenly she had grasped something inconceivable, terrible, incredible, standing directly before her, real and cruel, body to body, and there was no going back”. By recounting this crisis from inside her mind, Yizhar dismantles at a stroke the poisoned rhetoric of enmity, the image of the Palestinians as unknowable, distant, threatening. You cannot read Khirbet Khizeh without experiencing 1948 – “body to body” – as a tragedy for the Palestinians. . .

    ENTIRE BOOK REVIEW – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/mar/12/rereading-jacqueline-rose-khirbet-khizeh

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