June 19, 2013
Susie Linfield on How to Think About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Posted on Jun 5, 2009
How, then, to merge moral imperative with political, economic and social reality? Morris’ proposal—which lies outside the confines of acceptable (though increasingly sterile) debate—is, essentially, the reconstitution of Transjordan: that is, a West Bank-Jordanian Palestinian state. Jordan is a relatively large country whose population is, of course, already overwhelmingly Palestinian, and it is the only Arab country that has offered citizenship to the Palestinian refugees living within its borders. In Morris’ view, it is the only candidate that could realistically absorb the Palestinian populations of the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora and build a sturdy, reasonably prosperous state with them. I cannot tell whether this proposal has even the slimmest chance of being seriously considered by the Palestinian leadership, the Israelis, the surrounding Arab states or the Jordanian monarchy. (Jordan’s Hashemite leadership probably has zero interest in sharing power with the Palestinians; it was the Jordanians who went to war against, and expelled, PLO guerrillas in 1970-71 and who slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the process.) And such a state, even if established, would “face the opposition of the fundamentalists bent on Israel’s overthrow and conquest and the imposition of sharia over all of Palestine and, indeed, the Middle East,” Morris admits. But any opening up of the political possibilities in what has become a desperately intractable, ever-deteriorating situation is to be welcomed—though it probably won’t be.
In 1948, I.F. Stone, then the leading left-wing journalist in America, wrote a book called “This Is Israel,” illustrated with photos by, among others, Robert Capa. The book was a celebration of the founding of the new state and the reconstitution of the Jewish people in it, and an unalloyed attack on what Stone viewed as the imperialist, anti-Zionist policies of the U.S. and, especially, Britain. (One chapter was called “The Wicked Midwives: in which the State Department and the Foreign Office try to bring about a stillbirth.”) There was nothing unusual about Stone’s perspective: At the time, Zionism was viewed by many on the left as an expression of anti-fascism and national self-determination that had been betrayed, time and again, by imperialism.
It is impossible to imagine any leftist writing such a book today. And yet the left’s increasing antipathy to Israel—not just to its policies, but to the existence of a Jewish state itself—is, to me, both fatally misguided and puzzling. Take, for instant, the incessant criticisms of Israel, and the almost unanimous support for the one-state “solution,” in publications like Le Monde Diplomatique, The Nation, The New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. These are the very same publications that (rightly) castigated President George W. Bush and the neocons for the arrogant assumption that they could impose a modern democracy—secular, multicultural, tolerant—on Iraq. Now, however, these journals confidently urge the creation—that is, the imposition—of a “binational Palestine,” despite the fact that neither Israelis nor Palestinians want to live in such a place; and they assure us, with equal confidence, that this entity would be modern, democratic, secular, multicultural and tolerant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The echoes here are very loud, and they lead me to wonder why the grand, deluded schemes of the left are any less imperialistic or hubristic—any less tragic—than those of our antagonists on the right.
The left’s embrace of Israel’s enemies, and its rejection of historical accuracy or even historical sense, is even more rebarbative. At demonstrations in London against the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, protesters’ signs equated Israelis and Nazis, Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto, the Star of David and the swastika. (Note on semantics: The Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were not “expelled” or “ethnically cleansed”; they were murdered. The Palestinians are victims of gross political repression, occupation and statelessness, not of “genocide” or a “holocaust”; in fact, their birthrate is among the highest in the world.) Even worse were the speeches and repulsive chants, including “Israel is the cancer, Jihad is the answer,” “We are all Hamas,” and “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas.” But “we” are not, in fact, all Hamas. It is a fanatically anti-modern, anti-secular group; it adheres to loony conspiracy theories about Jews and to the most backward fundamentalist ideas; its program is frankly expulsionist and eliminationist; and it teaches children that murder and suicide are the apex of human endeavor. Read its literature and listen to its leaders; they mean what they say, and they act on it.
Anti-Zionism has become the anti-imperialism of fools, and talk of a one-state solution is a party to this folly. I urge you, in the strongest terms, to read “One State, Two States,” though the book is far from perfect: Morris is, truth to tell, a better historian than polemicist, and he avoids engaging the irredentists on the Israeli side and the all-too-weak response of saner, more moderate Israelis to them. I do not think this book will “resolve” the Mideast crisis, as its subtitle promises. But I very much hope that it will ignite a freer, more honest, radically different conversation on the left, one informed by historical knowledge and current realities rather than the fantasies—alternately sentimental, infantile and grandiose—for which such a high price has been paid by all sides.
It is the brittle, paralyzed nature of the debate around Israel-Palestine that must be somehow broken, loosened, freed up. Reading Morris’ book reminded me of a passage in Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman’s “The Longest War,” his cri de coeur against Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. (At the time, Timerman lived in Israel and considered himself Israeli.) He wrote:
How do we answer this?
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