Israelis and Arabs’ contested history

Roundup
tags: Israel, Palestine



... Call me naive, but I was shocked to read, in books published in the past couple of years by two liberal Jewish newspaper columnists—Richard Cohen of the Washington Post (Israel: Is It Good For The Jews?) and Ari Shavit of Israel’s Haaretz (My Promised Land)—about what happened in a village called Lydda, now the site of Ben Gurion International Airport.* None of this is exactly a secret. Morris has written several books that discuss it in detail. But like the rape allegations against Bill Cosby, which were in public documents for years before they became common knowledge, it’s possible for something to be known and unknown at the same time.

As Shavit, especially, describes it, with a lot of new research, the attack on Lydda was part of a purposeful strategy of Arab removal, approved at the highest levels. It had everything we have come to associate with a human rights atrocity: people who had been neighbors for generations turning on and slaughtering one another, Rwanda-style. Crowding people into a church (or, in this case, a mosque) and then blowing it up or setting it on fire. Torturing people, allegedly to extract information, and then killing them when they’ve been squeezed dry. Going house to house and killing everyone discovered inside. And so on.

In Lydda and elsewhere, residents were told they had an hour and a half to get out, so they “voluntarily” fled places their families had lived for centuries. Yes, the Arabs might have done worse to the Jews—did do worse when the opportunity arose. And the Germans of course could have taught both sides a lesson or two. So what?

Shavit and Cohen both decline to condemn Israeli behavior in places like Deir Yassin and Lydda. Shavit sees the whole business as a human tragedy, with invisible fate directing the players. Cohen emphasizes practical necessity: It was this or be pushed into the sea. And, to be clear, I don’t condemn the Israel of 1948 either. As a diaspora Jew living in the comfort of America in 2015, I lack standing to criticize.

But no thinking person can control the direction his own thoughts take him. And I can’t help thinking that even history’s victims don’t have the right to rewrite history. Some of the Israelis of 1948 had gone from German concentration camps to United Nations displaced-persons camps with barely an opportunity for a free breath, losing everything they owned and everyone they loved along the way. If Israelis and their supporters believe that the tragic history of the Jews—especially the recent history of the Jews in Europe—entitles them to a few atrocities in the bank, let them say so, and defend this proposition, instead of pretending it never happened.

What would such a defense be? Here’s my best effort; it’s not an impossible case to make. Of the millions of innocent people driven from their homes during and after World War II, virtually all have been comfortably relocated for decades by now, usually in the lands of their ethnic origins. Only the Palestinian Arabs still fester in refugee camps, because the Arab leaders prefer not to give up a useful grievance.

Is it fair that Arabs should have to share their land with the Jews just because an Austrian madman took over Germany and invaded Poland? No, it’s not fair. But as the unfairnesses of World War II go, this one is not the largest. ...




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