Israel: Land of the Silent Majority: Part 1
In any human endeavor, the standard is not perfection. The standard is the alternative. Not just, what should you do, but what else can you, might you do? And what else might others, similarly situated, do . . . or threaten to do?
The subject is Israel. Can we talk?
Probably not. At least, not calmly. Very well. Let’s just put it this way. Anti-Semites, especially those who claim to be “only anti-Zionist,” need not apply. The same pertains to those who regard the Palestinian tragedy as excuse to flaunt their personal moral superiority; the politics of feeling good about yourself has no place here. Nor are those who see only one side of the issue, Israeli or Palestinian, welcome. But I would speak to those who, for reasons ranging from genuine humanitarian concern to direct personal involvement—which are not mutually exclusive, regardless of perspective—want to understand and help find a way to untangle a tragedy that perhaps had to be, but need not last forever.
We begin with a few facts of life.
Israel is not the only country in human history created by one group of people displacing another, or in violence. Nearly all countries have been so created. America knows something of this, even if America chooses for the moment not to recognize that she’s being colonized herself nowadays. Nor is Israel the only country in world history to have such serious tensions along ethnic lines that some of its people are condemned to second-class citizenship. Nor is Israel the only country on earth that is still sorting itself out violently. Nations such as the United States, with their formative violence behind them—or is it?—need to keep that in mind. I once saw a lapel button that proclaimed, most eloquently: “U.S. out of North America.”
But to take that slogan to its logical conclusion would be to demand perfection of Americans—perfection resulting in tens of millions of human beings with nowhere else to go slaughtered.
A few other facts of life.
To be a loser is not the same as to be a victim. Unless you’re a Palestinian. If the Palestinians have lost to the Jews, over and over, they have also been victimized, over and over, by their Arab brothers. Long before Israeli statehood in 1948, Palestinians were losing economically to Jews. One of the major reasons was the callous disregard of their fellows. When my Jewish husband was a child suffering through Hebrew school, he had it drilled into him that the early Zionists did not seize land occupied by others: They bought it. Indeed they did—from wealthy absentee landlords who didn’t care that their tenant farmers were forced off the land, often into an urban proletariat that other Jews could exploit. (A proletariat that included other Jews, while yet more Jews made additional payments directly to tenant farmers forced off the land they worked—much of which was barely arable due to desertification or salinization.)
In 1947-49, loss coincided once again with victimization. Israel’s War of Independence had two phases: the civil struggle against the Palestinians prior to May 1948 and subsequent combat against the armies of five Arab nations. Israel won both phases. It is often noted that the Israelis were fighting for their own homes. But so were the Palestinians. It is often noted that the Israelis faced a simple choice: victory or annihilation. True, but simply having that choice doesn’t guarantee victory. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the Palestinians put up less resistance than they might have, and then fled, because they expected the armies of their brothers
to do the job for them?
If so, they were tragically mistaken.
The Kingdom of Transjordan, with joint Israeli and Arab acceptance, took over a large chunk of what the United Nations had decreed a Palestinian state. Egypt helped herself to Gaza. Is it worth noting that at any time between 1948 and 1967, a Palestinian state could have been created in a day by these governments? It didn’t happen. Instead, Palestinians were herded into refugee camps where they remain, tragically, to this day. Meanwhile, nearly a million Jews who were expelled from Arab countries without compensation were taken in by Israel and absorbed—without UN aid.
The Palestinian people did what any self-respecting, desperate people would do. After long and bitter years of stagnation and betrayal, they struck back with the means available to them. At Israel, yes. But they also posed such a threat to Jordan that King Hussein had to expel their fighters and others, murderously. When they went to Lebanon, they destroyed that once-peaceful nation. Palestinians, it would seem, are quite capable of some oppression of their own.
And it would be wrong to judge them by the standard of perfection. The standard is the alternative. Or maybe it’s just that the Palestinians, after all these bitter decades, could use some new alternatives.