Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Back to 1948

Most Jews of my generation (and younger) were raised with certain myths about the founding of the State of Israel that we now know bear no resemblance to the historical events. Even reciting these myths are embarrassing for the moderately informed. And we now also know that, even granting counterfactually that some of the myths were true, it wouldn't help the Israel apologist, since the conclusions drawn from the myths are patently invalid.

For example, no educated person seriously accepts the proposition today that the Palestinian refugee problem was created when Arab states declared war on the State of Israel in 1948. That is because it is common and uncontroversial knowledge that half of the Palestinians left in months before the war was declared, when both sides were engaged in riots and skirmishes against each other. No historian, not even Ephraim Karsh, to my knowledge, denies that. But still you will read folks like, say, the Prime Minister of Israel, or, Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who repeat this narrishkeit about the Arab invasion of Israel being the cause of the refugee problem. I am not talking about who is responsible for the exodus. I am simply talking about the fact of the exodus.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote today a particularly scurrilous piece in response to Acting President Mahmoud Abbas's op-ed in the New York Times. Abbas had written

Sixty-three years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria.

Goldberg called that a "falsification" because one could understand Abbas to be claiming that he was forced to leave by Israeli soldiers pointing a gun at him, or that Israeli soldiers had it in for 13-year old Palestinian boys. But Mahmoud Abbas himself had said that his family left with many others because they feared reprisals from the Zionists. Goldberg calls this "self-exile", rather than being forced to leave home. To drive the point home, his piece asks the question, "Was Mahmoud Abbas' Family Expelled from Palestine?" (Since Abbas never claimed that it was, that is the quintessential straw man.)

So my question for Goldberg is simple: When Jews emigrated from Germany after Kristallnacht, was that "self-exile"? When Jews fled Poland during the Holocaust weeks in advance of the German arriving, was that "self-exile"? When Jews left Palestine in 1947 because they were afraid of Arab reprisals, was that "self-exile"? Or would he say they were forced to leave because of the circumstances.

What is a myth? A myth is a construction of beliefs that allows one to make sense of reality, even though those beliefs themselves are not true, or only part of the picture. For the uninformed Israel supporter, the myth of Israel's founding is brief and simple. With the adoption of the UN's Partition Proposal in 1947, the world recognized the historic rights of the Jews to a state in Palestine. The Zionists were willing to agree to a historic compromise that they would clearly honor; the Arabs were not. Instead, the Arabs initiated a war, called upon the Palestinian refugees to leave, so that the Jews could be thrown into the sea. They lost the war. So much the worse for them. Let's move on.

Now, some of the above is arguably true; all of it is arguably false – but in any event, it is only a partial version of the events. It deliberately leaves out inconvenient truths, and fails to imply the conclusions that that apologists wish to draw from it.

The 1947 UN Partition Proposal did not recognize the historical rights of the Jews to a state; rather, it recognized the historical mess that Palestine had become, and so the UN called for its partition into two states, with an economic union of the two, and which excluded Jerusalem from either people's sovereignty. The Zionists – to be precise, Ben-Gurion and Co. -- accepted partition on paper, and either planned, or acquiesced to the partition of Palestine between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, not the Palestinian Arabs. Even if the acceptance of partition was more than tactical, it was abandoned at the first possible moment by the Zionists, and not because of Arab resistance – but because the Zionists had the upper hand, and they believed (as many do now) that all of Eretz Yisrael belonged to them. In any event, as soon as Arab rioting broke out following the UN acceptance of partition – rioting that quieted down, and then flared up again, with both sides engaging in illegal terrorist activity against the other and against the British, -- implementation of the partition plan was put on ice, and UN Trusteeship, and the deferral of the establishment of the states, was put on the table. The Arabs accepted trusteeship (for a limited time); the Zionists rejected it. (This is never mentioned by the mythologizers.)

During this period, the exodus of Palestinians (and Jews, for that matter, but there were fewer of them) continued apace. By the time Israel declared independence partition had become a dead letter, and both the Zionists and the Arab states were ready to continue the land grab. During the interim period between November 1947 and May 1948, Arab states made clear their intention to go to war to protect Palestine (some had their own territorial ambitions) should Israel declare independence. When they did, they were not singled-out and condemned for doing so. Each side blamed the other for the ensuing war; the world blamed both sides equally.

When Israel advocates say, "The Arabs wrongly initiated the war, and hence they should suffer the consequence of defeat," they are arguably wrong on the premise, and demonstrably wrong on the conclusion. For the declaration of the State of Israel could itself be seen as the casus belli; the fact remains that no international organization or state blamed the Arab states for wrongly initiating the war. But even if we grant that this was an act of aggression, and even granting, against the Fourth Geneva Convention, that territory acquired in a defensive war need not be returned to the aggressor, that would be the case if the territory belonged to the aggressor. But the Arab residents of Palestine were viewed only by the Zionists as the aggressors. Only on the racist premise that all Arabs are responsible for the acts of some, will that work.

And reflect – even if the Arabs were considered the aggressors, like, say, the Japanese, and even if the Zionists were allowed to keep the territory acquired in war -- would this justify the large-scale displacement of their non-combatants – or even combattants, after the hostilities cease? Would it have been justified for the US to seize Japan and not let Japanese refugees return? Under what international norm?

It is at this point in the argument that the educated, informed, liberal Zionist, turns and says, "Look. Let's not go back to 1948. If we do that, we will never get anywhere. That's old history."

That move is fundamental to the identity of the liberal or progressive Zionist. They can't and don't want to go back to 1948. They want to change the subject. And why not? Because they are educated enough not to buy the lukshen of the hasbaritas, progressive enough not to seem themselves as immoral dispossessors, and Zionist enough not to want to open the can of worms of 1948.

Thanks to Ehud Barak, Bibi Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman, we have now gone back to 1948.

And, you know what? That may very well be a good thing.

Note to readers: if you are not a liberal Zionist, i.e., a two-stater who is willing to give up claims to the West Bank and Gaza, then don't bother to leave a comment. This piece is addressed to liberal Zionists.

14 comments:

ADDeRabbi said...

I haven't yet read Goldberg, but the impression that I got from the Abba Op-ed is that he wants to have his cake and eat it, too, i.e., to establish a State of Palestine in the 1967 borders (the two-state solution) and still turn the clock back to pre-1948.
The two-state vision is implicit and explicit throughout the op-ed (examples: "We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own." And "The choice is... is between a two-state solution or settlement-colonies.")
And yet elsewhere he seems to advocate a one-state or binational solution:
"Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights."
And:
"A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948."
Meaning, after the establishment of the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders - an implementation of the two-state solution - Abbas would wish to begin negotiations about the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants into the State of Israel (their right of return to the State of Palestine need not be negotiated with Israel, after all).
The problem is that Abbas is advocating two states without a solution (though he calls it a two-state solution). The solution is predicated on the partition of Palestine/ Eretz Yisrael into one Jewish and one Arab state. Abbas does not accept this solution (he accepts the number of states, but not the Jewish character of the other one), yet writes of it as though this is precisely what he's asking the UN to implement.

pabelmont said...

I am not a Zionist, but a Palestinian (tho an American and a Jew), and I DO want to bring about a 2SS.

For me, this means going back to 1966, but with Egypt out of Gaza and Jordan out of West Bank. I'm not sure what going back to 1948 means. No-one wants to re-run the 1948 war. Of this I am certain.

What about refugees? Well, had Israel allowed all (peacefully inclined) refugees to return in 1950, as international feeling (or law) demands, then Israel might have given back (to Jordan?) the land that it conquered in 1948 in excess of that suggested by UNGA-181. That would have greatly reduced the number of Palestinian Arabs returning to Israeli territory.

A bit late for that now, so I suppose Israel has to hold on to all the land of 1966 and accept the return of all the refugee population (augmented by a considerable progeny).

Would there have been so great a refugee population (augmented) had return been allowed in 1950? Hard to say. But if the refugees were entitled to return in 1950, they are entitled to return now.

I suppose clever Israel might strike a deal -- no Israelis whatever to remain in OPTs and no return of Palestinians. that is a "return" to the status quo ante 1966. With extinguishment of Palestinian claims of "return". Well, by now, the PLO might accept that, horrible double-cross as it is to the refugees. (Can liberal Zionists imagine the feelings of double-cross among Jews if Israel closed the door to Jewish "return"?)

My sense is that this enormous double-cross of the refugees by the PLO will not work unless Israel removes at least every settler, the wall, and perhaps also the settlement (buildings) from the OPTs.

Happily for all concerned, I am not a negotiator or even a citizen of a (proper) negotiator in this matter.

Menachem Mendel said...

First of all, one can argue that the Fourth Geneva Convention is irrelevant b/c it was only approved months after the final truce of the 1948 War.

As someone whom you would describe as a liberal zionist, I have no fear about returning to 1948. Once the majority of the zionist leadership decided that they were going to declare and fight for a Jewish state, then war was inevitable. I don't really care who the world thought was or wasn't the aggressor. The Palestinians and Arab countries were not willing to support any independent Jewish entity in Palestine, no matter how small. The Jews fought for one and won.

There is no doubt that it was tragic for the Palestinians, but I firmly believe that Israel should not recognize the Right of Return in any way, shape, or form. I support recognizing Palestinian suffering through monuments and other ways within Israel, but just as thousands of Israelis will have to pick up their bags and leave their homes in a peace agreement, so too thousands of Palestinians will not be able to return to their homes. I think that Haim Gans had a good idea when he suggested that as part of a peace agreement Israel withdraw from some areas that were suppose to be part of a Palestinian state in 1947, but within Israel proper there should be no compromise.

Regarding the legal issues involving repatriation of refugees, I think that this article by Eyal Benvenisti gives a fair analysis, although you may not agree with him. Just as I don't think people are clamoring for any of the millions of ethnic refugees from the 1940's in Europe, the Balkans, or the Indian continent to return to their homes, I am not sure why Israel should be treated any differently.

Michael W. said...

Imagine if 5 million Palestinian Arab refugees were to implement their Right of Return. Israel would have to increase the number of houses by at least 50% over a very short amount of time.

Jerry Haber said...

ADDeRabbi,

Statehood was never the only goal of the Palestinian national movement; the return of Palestinians to their homes was, and is, at the heart of Palestinian nationalism since the Nakba. In my view, Israel's legitimacy as a state is conditioned on its ability to absorb large number of returning Palestinian Arabs as citizens. Or to be more precise, they have to given the choice where to live, and those who choose to return should be accepted as equals within Israel.

For the Palestinians, it has always been about return to Palestine.

Now this doesn't mean that anybody contemplates absorbing millions of refugees overnight. Think of the traffic jams! And the real estate prices!

What it means is that serious analysis and planning should begin about restitution, compensation, repatriation, etc. What are the social implications? What will be the problems, etc.

First, Israel has to accept responsibility for dealing with the issue in the manner called upon by 194.

Jerry Haber said...

Menachem Mendel,

I didn't go into details and this was not a post on the question of how to solve the Palestinian refugee problem.

Some notes, however. The Fourth Geneva Convention is relevant because the 1952 Nationality Law codifies in law Israel's refusal to allow Palestinians to become citizen. That is a retroactive looking law -- so it should have looked at the Geneva Conventions. And, of course, may Palestinians were forced to leave the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and subsequently.

But even if I grant you the point, I disagree with you over some others. Those who purchased homes over the green line purchased those homes in full knowledge that they were not in the State of Israel -- and they benefited from it, both in lower prices, and in government subsidies. Israel has a responsibility to compensate them; but they are in now way comparable to the Palestinian refugees. The Fourth Geneva Convention doesnt say anything about them, and rightfully so.

I don't agree with my good friend Chaim Gans on the refugee issue. i think the default principle should be the acceptance of 194, and the acceptance that the time has come to implement it. This is, by the way, not different from long-standing Israel policy that interpreted 194 (wrongly) as referring to that time when Israel is at peace with her neighbors.

The modalities of who, what, how many, and how, should be worked out. But the principle acceptance of the relevance of 194 is a good beginning. (And I mean an acceptance according to a reasonable interpretation).

But statues are also important.

Jerry Haber said...

Menachem Mendel,

I didn't go into details and this was not a post on the question of how to solve the Palestinian refugee problem.

Some notes, however. The Fourth Geneva Convention is relevant because the 1952 Nationality Law codifies in law Israel's refusal to allow Palestinians to become citizen. That is a retroactive looking law -- so it should have looked at the Geneva Conventions. And, of course, may Palestinians were forced to leave the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and subsequently.

But even if I grant you the point, I disagree with you over some others. Those who purchased homes over the green line purchased those homes in full knowledge that they were not in the State of Israel -- and they benefited from it, both in lower prices, and in government subsidies. Israel has a responsibility to compensate them; but they are in now way comparable to the Palestinian refugees. The Fourth Geneva Convention doesnt say anything about them, and rightfully so.

I don't agree with my good friend Chaim Gans on the refugee issue. i think the default principle should be the acceptance of 194, and the acceptance that the time has come to implement it. This is, by the way, not different from long-standing Israel policy that interpreted 194 (wrongly) as referring to that time when Israel is at peace with her neighbors.

The modalities of who, what, how many, and how, should be worked out. But the principle acceptance of the relevance of 194 is a good beginning. (And I mean an acceptance according to a reasonable interpretation).

But statues are also important.

pabelmont said...

Jerry,
Thank you for your reply to Menachem Mandel. The Israelis returning to Israel from the West Bank are not entitled to any sympathy, having been coddled for those years to say nothing of being present illegally (and knowingly, if they cared to know). By contrast the Palestinian refugees were far from coddled and were excluded illegally. Indeed, in order to build the settlements, Israel chose to inconvenience even more Palestinians (to use far to benign a word). The settlers were instruments of torture, or torturers, of a whole society.

Michael W. said...

I disagree with Menachem, I think Israel would eventually have to pay some compensation for private property that belonged to the Palestinians. I think Israeli negotiators were willing to give $40B. This would be great if the Arab/Persian states could compensate Mizrachim of the private property that they lost.

As for Jerry's view that Israel's acceptance as a legitimate state is based on its ability to accept the right of 5 million Palestinians from the surrounding Arab countries to emigrate to Israel and receive citizenship, I disagree. First of all, I think this is impossible logistically and politically. Imagine 200 million Latinos coming to the United States over a period of 5-20 years. And lets not forget that this an attempt to put two enemies together in one state.

Second, Israel has been accepted by the West and the Far East. It can survive and thrive economically and politically by relying on trade and diplomatic contact with them.

I don't think anything will be imposed on Israel. Israel just has to figure out how to disengage from the West Bank (which Netanyahu doesn't want to do) while maintaining its security which might lead to more blood spilled, especially for the Palestinians because they'll provoke another Cast Lead.

liberalzionism said...

I also didn't read the Goldberg piece. Goldberg is too often used as a straw man for dissent, for liberal Zionists.

By my definition a liberal Zionist is one willing/seeking to live and let live, literally.

There is a panorama of attitudes to governance among Israeli parties (or at least there used to be).

Israel Beitanhu and part of likud seem to be simply gross opportunists, eager to just take the land by any rationalization.

Part of likud and kadima are primarily risk averse. They will not risk any danger to Israelis.

The left Zionists are willing to and seek a healthy neighbor to a healthy neighbor relationship. None are naive that that is a no-brainer.

The far left a-Zionist parties seek the assimilation/dissolution of Israel as Israel.

The liberal Zionist perspective optimizes self-governance in the world.

It should be simple as it makes such sense.

There are really only two considerations in the negotiations that deserve merit:

1. The status of sovereighty. (What is the jurisdiction of the states?)

2. The status of title


Both of those concerns are means to transform a status of "contested" relationships to "consented".

Democracy is in the present. Even if there are residual wrongs hanging (even many), the present -> future, reconciliation of past claims is literally only relevant for how it will affect the future.

In ALL cases, to blackmail the present with objections about the past is equivalent in my mind to hating one's children.

Back to 1948? Why?

Why not, forward to 2028 as focus?

ADDeRabbi said...

Jerry - I know what you think. We all do. My point was about the Abbas op-ed. He talks about a two-state solution that he admits is not a solution, not an endgame. For him, it's a good start - 22% is a lot more than 0%. He has no interest in a partition of historical Palestine/ Eretz Yisrael into a Jewish and Arab state, and he says as much in this op-ed. I take it from your comment that your response would be "in hachi nami." You must know, though,that this means that there is no possible way to make peace, that the Palestinian and Israeli demands are too fundamental and irreconcilable.

Incidentally, once we're opening the door to restitution and compensation, and once we accept your somewhat fuzzy definition of expulsion, let's open it up to Jews from Arab lands as well. All that restitution from Iraq & co. will certainly go a long way toward compensating Palestinian refugees. After all, Iraq had its equivalent of Kristallnacht, too.

dmnorman said...

AddeRabbi - That may be a fair dissection of the Op Ed piece, but if one looks at the piece in the context of the actions and agreements undertaken by Abbas then I think it is clear that for him the Palestinian State is the end game, not right of return. When writing in the NY Times one is playing to several audiences, however when it comes to actual regional discussion Abbas has been very clear that he is more concerned with equitable compensation for refugees than for their actual return to Israel proper.

4e5dae92-8637-11e0-b9c6-000bcdcb2996 said...

Israel was legally created by the UN as was Palestine. The author assigns equal incitement to both groups as far as causes for self-exile. What is missing from this Author is the notation that the Palestinians defied the UN ruling and did not create Palestine, opting instead for a war, in which they hoped to sieze the whole country. This ill advised political and military move is the reason the Palestinians are in the situation of accepting something far less than 1948 and ultimately will receive less than even the 1967 West Bank and Gaza territories after any eventual partition. The Palestinians were in the wrong back in 1948, egged on by surrounding hostile Arab States seeking to reverse the UN partition plan by force (when democracy and politics failed). It is likely that Palestine will yet be created out of the remaining Arab dominated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, with some adjustments from Israel proper. But make no mistake, the historical arguments are not equally balanced. Israel abided by the international rules and created a nation in 1948. The Arabs (today's Palestinians) created a legacy of terror and war to achieve what they failed to have handed to them in 1948.

Jerry Haber said...

1) Israel was not "created" by the UN.

2) The Palestinians did not "defy" the UN ruling.

3) The Palestinians will not receive a state on any part of Palestine. Inshallah, they will remain under hafradah rule until they help transform the 1948 regime into a liberal democracy of all its citizens. Bimeherah biyamenu.

4) Your comment will be deleted in 24 hours. Next time use an identifiable identiy.