May 22, 2013
State of Denial: Searching for Peace in Israel
Posted on Feb 12, 2010
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Independent.
There are no armed guards on the gate of Number 17 Ben-Gurion Boulevard in Tel Aviv, just a tired, two-storey villa set back from the street and an open door that leads to a dark kitchen and a little room with a cot on the floor.
There are bricks over the window above the neat little bed – to protect its owner and his wife Paula from Egyptian bombs during the 1956 Israeli invasion of Sinai, and the 1967 war – but upstairs is the bejewelled centre of this little home, David Ben-Gurion’s library of 20,000 books. I pad through this den, scribbling in my notebook any clues to the mind of this most persuasive of Israeli leaders. Most of the books are in Hebrew – on religion, histories of the Zionist movement, research on Eretz Israel – but the creator of Israel and its first prime minister was also a linguist. There are Demosthenes and Homer in Greek, a three-volume history of the Hellenistic world, Julius Caesar in French, Duff Cooper’s life of Tallyrand, George Bernard Shaw’s complete works, a history of Vichy France, Henry Picker’s Hitler’s Table Talk (in English), Freud on psychology (in German), Guy Chapman’s The Dreyfus Case, histories of Israel (including his own), a series on Jewish Influences on Christian Reform Movements. Ben-Gurion learned Spanish so that he could read a new biography of Cervantes. He loved Spinoza.
Then there are the photographs. Ben-Gurion with de Gaulle, with Kennedy and with a sad and debilitated Churchill, in 1961. Ben-Gurion wanted to read Churchill’s almost forgotten essay on Moses; Churchill’s letter to him, enclosing a copy of Thoughts and Adventures, is a little classic. “I have re-read it,” Churchill wrote, “...and I would not particularly wish it to be remembered as one of my literary works.”
But it was the set of Ben-Gurion’s quotations that caught my eye: statements on the eternal morality of the State of Israel, messages from the great man – who physically was a very little man (I opened his bedroom cupboard and there were jackets and trousers of almost midget size) – in time of war. Here is Ben-Gurion, for example, during Israel’s War of Independence – the Palestinian Arab ‘Nakba’ – when he feared that Jewish forces would destroy Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, cabling on 15 July 1948. “Further to my previous order relating to the Old City – you should see to it that the special force to be appointed for guarding the Old City uses mercilessly machine-guns against any Jew, and especially any Jewish soldier, who will try to pillage or to desecrate any Christian or Moslim holy place.” In 1967, he was boasting of how, during the establishment of the state of Israel, “we did not damage any single mosque.” Yet he was already creating myths. The undamaged mosques, he wrote in the same statement, were found in villages “without a single Moslem, as all of them had already fled during the [British] Mandatory rule and before the declaration of the State…” Amid the detritus of Ben-Gurion’s life, his thick-framed spectacles, his Quink fountain pen ink (“permanent black”), the willow-pattern plates, the original 1951 Marc Chagall sketch of a rabbi with a harp, the old transistor radio in the shelter – we shall forget the elephant tusk from the president of Gabon – there are musings on the morality and nobility and purity of arms of Israel’s army. “The fate of Israel depends on two factors: her strength and her rectitude.” And again. “The State of Israel will not be tried by its riches, army or techniques, but by its moral image and human values.”
The truth is that Israel has destroyed many mosques, that the original Palestinian Arab victims of the 1947-8 war did not all flee, as Ben-Gurion suggested; many, like the doomed men and women of the Deir Yassin massacre, were murdered in their villages. The Israeli army, to some of us who have watched it in action, is a rabble, little different from the Arab armies of the Middle East. The numbers of civilian dead in the Gaza war were as much an outrage as the Sabra and Chatila massacre of 1982 when Israeli soldiers watched – quite literally – as the Lebanese militia they had sent into the refugee camps eviscerated the Palestinian civilians inside. Foreign journalists continue to prattle on about the supposed purity of Israel’s soldiers.
“Israel has already proved itself the most restrained nation in history. It has set an all-time record for restraint,” one Robert Fulford waffled in the Canadian National Post in January last year, at the height of the Gaza slaughter, when even Tzipi Livni admitted Israel’s soldiers had been allowed to “go wild”. Israel’s own rightist correspondents still portray the outside world as a dark, malevolent planet in which every criticism of Israel emerges from endemic anti-semitism, in which Nazism did not die in the embers of Berlin in 1945. The Jerusalem Post bashes the drum of racism almost daily. “Berlin Holocaust studies professor slammed for defending Nazi mentor.” “Weisenthal slams Ukraine award to nationalist linked to Nazis.” “Dershowitz: Goldstone is a traitor to the Jewish people.”
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