Tread warily in the graveyard called Palestine/Israel

Last Sunday afternoon the Al Jazeera documentary Al Nakba (2008) was screened at South Sydney Uniting Church. It is in fact a four part TV series so it s rather long. I wasn’t there for the screening, but I did download the entire thing so I have now seen it.

Yes, we need to know about what really happened and we need to go beyond Zionist propaganda on these matters. Unfortunately, there are some disturbing features about the Al Nakba documentary. For a start, its history of Zionism had uncomfortable resonance with the conspiracy theories the Nazis made infamous but which circulated much more widely than that and still do in the Muslim world, and of course in the KKK and Stormfront. No-one mentioned the evil and fallacious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but I couldn’t help thinking they weren’t far away. The reference to Napoleon was both gratuitous and irrelevant. There was no Zionist movement in the age of Napoleon.

Again the account of Jewish immigration into Palestine in the 1930s didn’t actually mention what was happening in Europe at the same time. That is more than an unfortunate omission.

The account of Harry Truman and the foundation of the State of Israel forgot the same Harry Truman wrote things like this:

6:00 P. M. Monday July 21, 1947

Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine [sic]. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it.

He’d no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs.

Henry brought a thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed. When the country went backward-and Republican in the election of 1946, this incident loomed large on the D[isplaced] P[ersons] program.

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on D[isplaced] P[ersons]-and they all come from D[isplaced] P[erson]s.

And this:

I received about 35,000 pieces of mail and propaganda from the Jews in this country while this matter was pending. I put it all in a pile and struck a match to it — I never looked at a single one of the letters because I felt the United Nations Committee was acting in a judicial capacity and should not be interfered with.

In my view the BBC documentary The Birth of Israel is much better.

I think that is extremely judicious, but unfortunately this is a minefield and a graveyard of a topic, as I noted in many posts in the past: Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible? for example, almost exactly two years ago,

You can play documentary tag as well. Greg Lauren does in his Levantine Times. Greg was “born in the Ukraine. Grew up in the US. Now living in Israel. International relations junkie, amateur Torah scholar, and wannabe DJ/Producer. Started this blog for the purpose of following the shenanigans of : Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and any other Ennemi du Jour. “  And fair enough too.

Ever wonder why Western media never talks about the mass expulsion and persecution of Jews from Arab lands? Mind you, these people never staged any kind of intifadas, flotillas, BDS campaigns or burned the flags of their former countries.

The Forgotten Refugees is a 2005 documentary film that explores the history, culture, and forced exodus of Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities in the second half of the 20th century. Using extensive testimony of refugees from Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Morocco, the film weaves personal stories with dramatic archival footage of rescue missions, historic images of exodus and resettlement, and analyses by contemporary scholars to tell the story of how and why the Jewish population in the Middle East and North Africa declined from one million in 1945 to several thousand today….

At the same time I bless Jewish Voice for Peace:

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we cannot participate in celebrations that erase both the history and modern-day injustices experienced by Palestinians. It is precisely this rendering invisible of Palestinian experience and claims for justice that makes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians impossible. We choose instead to remember, to know, and to work towards justice and self-determination for both peoples. As Jews and Palestinians, our pasts are intertwined, and so too are our futures.

Today, because much of the world has forgotten, we remember that:

  • In April, 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin, Plan Dalet was put into operation. It authorized the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state.
  • On May 22, 1948, Jewish soldiers from the Alexandroni Brigade entered the house of Tantura residents killing between 110-230 Palestinian men.         
  • On October 28, 1948, in the village of Dawayameh, near Hebron, Battalion 89 of the 8th Brigade occupied the village. Israeli soldiers said of the massacre thatbabies… skulls were cracked open, women raped or burned alive in houses, men stabbed to death. 145 men, women and children were killed. Over 450 went missing, of which 170 were women.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person "has the right to   leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."  Israel has never accepted the legitimacy of this basic human right as a basis for peace negotiations, whether by return, compensation, or resettlement.  Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-Semitism and Hitler’s genocide.  As the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said emphasized, "Like it or not, this is the historical reality. We must better understand them, and they must better understand us. We must make clear the link between the Shoah (the European Jewish Holocaust) and the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948). Neither experience is equal to the other, and neither should be minimized."

Many of us will not celebrate as long as Israel continues to violate international law, inflicts a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza, and continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

See also Two Views on Mideast Peace by Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh.

… The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragic struggle between two victims of Europe—the Arabs were the victims of imperialism, colonialism, repression, and humiliation. The Jews were the victims of discrimination, persecution, and finally of a genocide without parallel in history. On the face of it, two victims, especially two victims of the same oppressor, should become brothers. But the truth, both when it comes to individuals and when it comes to countries, is that some of the worst fights break out between two victims of the same oppressor. The two sons of an abusive father will each see in his brother the face of his cruel father. And this is the case with the Jews and the Arabs—each of us sees the other in the image of the former oppressor. The Arabs look at Jewish Israel and do not see it as it really is—a half-hysterical refugee camp. Instead, they see it as the long, arrogant, oppressive, and exploitative arm of European colonialism. We Jews look at the Arabs and instead of seeing them as our fellow sufferers, we see the persecutors of our past—the Cossacks, the antisemites. Nazis who grew moustaches and got suntanned, but who are still eager to slaughter us.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash between right and right, and often it is a clash between wrong and wrong…

— Amos Oz

And immerse yourself in the bracing questioning of Shlomo Sand, as I did recently.

See more in Gilad Atzmon’s blog.

I do believe that Sand’s book is a ‘must read’. It is probably one of the most important exposures of the Jewish nationalist lethal fantasy…

Tel Aviv University historian, Professor Shlomo Sand, opens his remarkable study of Jewish nationalism quoting Karl W. Deutsch:

“A nation is a group of people united by a common mistake regarding its origin and a collective hostility towards its neighbours.”(1)

As simple or even simplistic as it may sound, the quote above eloquently summarises   the figment of reality entangled with modern Jewish nationalism and especially within the concept of Jewish identity.  It obviously points the finger at the collective mistake Jews tend to make whenever referring to their ‘illusionary collective past’ and ‘collective origin’. Yet, in the same breath, Deutsch’s reading of nationalism throws light upon the hostility that is unfortunately coupled with almost every Jewish group towards its surrounding reality, whether it is human or takes the shape of land…

“The Invention of the Jewish People" is a very serious study written by Professor Shlomo Sand, an Israeli historian. It is the most serious study of Jewish nationalism and by far, the most courageous elaboration on the Jewish historical narrative.

In his book, Sand manages to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a ‘nation-race’, they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion.

In case you follow Sand’s line of thinking and happen to ask yourself, ‘when was the Jewish People invented?’ Sand’s answer is rather simple. “At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people ‘retrospectively,’ out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people.”…

Bracing, as I said, but not unconvincing. For a thorough introduction go to The Invention of the Jewish People.

And what we honestly think about the Bible really is relevant too. I commend Beyond Labels: What Comes Next? by  Emeritus Professor Philip Davies of the University of Sheffield.

… “historicity” really is a non-issue. It has been accepted for decades that the Bible is not in principle either historically reliable or unreliable, but both: it contains both memories of real events and also fictions….

the majority of biblical historians now accept that the story of Israel’s origins in Genesis–Joshua is not history (and that includes even the twelve-tribe “nation” called “Israel,” as distinct from the kingdom of that name).

This situation—if partially anticipated by earlier critical studies on the patriarchal and conquest “traditions”—arose directly from the work of Israeli archaeologists from 1968 onwards which identified the prehistory of Judah and Israel in Iron age hill-farming populations, contradicting the biblical stories. The so-called “minimalists” did not invent the data or the conclusions, but rather took the obvious step of asking what the implied fictionality of these stories meant for understanding how, why, and when they were created. But the invention of the label “minimalism” (and some other nastier labels) and the most vitriolic reactions to it came mostly not from conservative evangelicals but from archaeologists. For it seems that rather than a “minimalist-maximalist” debate we now had a confrontation between two “archaeologies,” one following the theory and practice of the discipline as generally acknowledged elsewhere, the other continuing the established agenda practice of biblical archaeology—defending the Bible. Some practitioners were apparently confused enough to do both—decry “minimalism,” accept a high degree of biblical non-historicity and yet still “defend the Bible.” Both Dever and Cline, for example, still entertain their audiences by “illuminating” the Bible with a (decreasing) bill of “correspondences” with “history.” But this theme is pointless and irrelevant: there is nothing in principle to be proved or disproved, and there never was, once fundamentalism lost control of biblical history (fifty years later in America than in Europe). Only a few archaeologists have realized that the contribution of archaeology to understanding biblical narrative is to illuminate the time in which they were written, whenever that was (notably Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman). And while Finkelstein denies being a “minimalist,” he follows exactly their agenda of looking for the historically realistic contexts of what are accepted as fictions. The context itself, whether Josianic or Persian, makes no difference to the principle. Apart from the well-funded (and fundamentalist) “biblical archaeologists,” we are in fact nearly all “minimalists” now. There remain vigorous debates about the historicity of David and Solomon, but opinions range over a spectrum and there is little or no disagreement about how to go about answering the question. The real distinction is between those who are willing to accept the label and those who aren’t. So why not abolish both the label and the distinction—and the ridiculous posturing that goes with it—and get on with the common task of making sense of the archaeological and biblical data?…

But something else needs to be clear. To acknowledge as imaginary the “Land of Israel” and many of the stories set in it does not mean that the Bible is “jettisoned … as so much excess baggage.” Nor is it (an absurd slander) “anti-Semitic.” Not even anti-American! In the concluding section of a recent volume on archaeology and history, Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar agree on precisely this: the biblical stories and their identity-forming power are more important to modern Israel’s identity than any reconstructed history.

The power of such stories can be both good and bad. Stories are essential to our own identity-formation, personal, corporate, social. They define us, distinguish us and motivate us: they can shape the contours of our future. What is Judaism without its stories of the past—or Christianity? But these stories, however essential to our own cultural identity (“our Western cultural tradition”) should not be mistaken for fact. Biblical historians are not the “professional custodians” of the Bible, but professional custodians of the past—and it is our responsibility to reconstruct the past in ways that conform to our knowledge…

Only in that way will multi-cultural, multi-identity and so multi-storied societies live harmoniously with each other. It’s actually not such a difficult accomplishment: it’s what many non-religious believers (and indeed many religious believers as well) already do when they recollect the stories of Pesah and Christmas. William Dever also wrote, “There can be none of what I have called ‘nostalgia for a biblical past that never existed’”4—a statement that goes well beyond what I personally feel. I have an enormous amount of nostalgia for the biblical stories. I can happily enter their world and yet I would like some of them to have been true, I do not believe they are history and I would not insist that anyone else should…

2 thoughts on “Tread warily in the graveyard called Palestine/Israel

  1. The Independent: Best History Books of 2009:

    There’s nothing retiring about Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, £18.99). The outrage surrounding Sand’s book in Israel has positioned him as an enemy within, an arch-revisionist working out of the university of Tel Aviv. Sand’s contentions – that much Zionist history derives from deeply unreliable sources and that Jewish identity is essentially defined by religion rather than race or nationalism – are thorough and reasonable, but this has not prevented his attackers from claiming he wants to write Israel out of history. Sand’s arguments are considerably more subtle; he does not question the right of Israel to exist; rather, he calls for a more rigorous examination of the premises on which that existence is based and suggests that they require redefinition. Sand takes on a formidable tradition in claiming that moral validity in the Middle East needs good history, and no discussion of the region any longer seems complete without acknowledgement of his book.

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