Monday, February 27, 2006

Wise words on Zionism and the Arabs -- from the 1950's

What’s wrong with Israel and Zionism? In a nutshell, it’s because they’ve disregarded the voice of people like Ephraim Avneri.

Ephraim who? He was one of the founding members of Kibbutz Hulda, and his words are here quoted (or at least recollected) by Amoz Oz in Oz’s memoir, A Tale of Love and Darknes:

One winter evening [apparently in the mid-1950s], I happened to be on night duty with Ephraim Avneri….I asked Ephraim if he had ever, in the War of Independence, or during the troubles of the 1930s, shot or killed one of those murderers.

I could not see Ephraim’s face in the dark, but there was a certain subversive irony, a strange sarcastic sadness in his voice, as he replaied after a short pensive silence:

“Murderers? What d’you expect from them? From their point of view, we are aliens from outer space who have landed and trespassed on their land, gradually taken over parts of it, and while we promise them that we’ve come here to lavish all sorts of goodies on them – cure them of ringworm and trachoma, free them from backwardness, ingnorance and feudal oppression – we’ve craftily grabbed more and more of their land. Well, what did you think? That they should thank us? That they should come out and greet us with drums and cymbals? That they should respectfully hand over the keys to the whole land because our ancestors lived here once? is it any wonder that they’ve taken up arms against us? And now that we’ve inflicted a crushing defeat on them and hundreds of thousands of them are living in refugee camps – what, d’you expect them to celebrate with us and wish us luck?”

I was shocked. Even though I had come a long way from the rhetoric of Herut and the Klausner family, is was still a conformist product of a Zionist upbringing. Ephraim’s nocturnal words startled and even enraged me. In those days, this kind of thinking was seen as treachery. I was so stunned that I asked him sarcastically:

“In that care, what are you doing with your gun? Why don’t you emigrate? Or take your gun and go fight on their side?”

I could see his sad smile in the dark:

“Their side? But their side doesn’t want me. Nobody in the world wants me. That’s the whole point. It seems that there are too many of my kind in every country. That’s the only reason I’m here. That’s the only reason I’m carrying a gun, so they won’t kick me out of here the way they kicked me out of everywhere else. But you won’t find me using the word ‘murderers’ about Arabs who’ve lost their villages. At least, not easily. About Nazis, yes. About Stalin, also. And about whoever steals other peoples land.”

"Doesn’t it follow from what you’re saying that we’ve also stolen other people’s land? But didn’t we live hear two thousand years ago? Weren’t we driven out by force?"

“It’s like this,” said Ephraim. “It’s really very simple. Where is the Jewish people’s land, if not here? Under the sea? On the Moon? Or is the Jewish people the only people in the world who don’t deserve to have a little homeland of its own?”

“And what about what we’ve taken from them?”

“Well, maybe you happen to have forgotten that in ’48 they had a go at killing all of us? Then, in ’48, there was a terrible war, and they themselves made it a simple question of either them or us, and we won and took it from them. It’s nothing to boast about! But if they’d beaten us in ’48, there would have been even less to boast about: they wouldn’t have left a single Jew alive. And it’s true that there isn’t a single Jew living in the whole of their sector today. But that’s the whole point: It’s because we took what we did from them in ’48 that we have what we have now. And because we have something now, we mustn’t take anything else from them. [my emphais, not Oz's] That’s it. And that’s the whole difference between me and your Mr. Begin: If we take even more from them someday, now that we already have something, that will be a very big sin.”

“And what if the fedayeen turn up here now?”

If they do,” Ephraim sighed, “well, we’ll just have to lie down in the mud and shoot. But we won’t shoot at them because they’re a nation of murderers, but for the simple reason that we also have the right to live and for the simple reason that we also have a right to a land of our own. Not just them. And now, thanks to you, I’m going on like Ben Gurion. Now, if you’ll just excuse me, I’m going into the cowshed to have a quiet smoke, and you keep a good lookout here while I’m gone. Keep a lookout for both of us.”

It wasn’t enough for some Israelis to simply have a homeland, or a place where Jews could live. They had to commit the “very big sin,” and keep grabbing more and more. They do it because they think that a smashing military victory makes them a “great power,” they do it it because they think that they will bring on the messiah. But whatever their reasons, what they’ve done with Israel has turned me off of Zionism. I can only hope that one day, the Israelis will come to their senses, and the rest of the Jewish world will stop being enablers to very big sin.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or is the Jewish people the only people in the world who don’t deserve to have a little homeland of its own?”

I don't know about "deserves," but there are lots of other poeples in the world who no longer have a homeland (or have sovereignty over their homeland):

The Roma ("Gypsies")
Sami (Lapps)

Other indigenous peoples too numerous to count, including the American Indian Nations and the Australian aborigines.

So the fact that the Jews didn't have a homeland was nothing special.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous uncle moishy said...

There is a passage in Benny Morris' "Righteous Victims" (p. 287-288 in my hard-cover edition; too long for me to type) in which he quotes Moshe Dayan (!) delivering a eulogy for an Israeli killed in an Egyptian ambush in April 1956. In the eulogy, Dayan articulates an acknowledgement of the Arab POV that's every bit as honest and empathetic as Avneri's.

The cruel irony for Israel is that despite its vastly superior military strength, the Israeli mindset remains focused on a perceived existential threat of an enemy that doesn't accept Israel's existence as legitimate. And the double-irony is that the Palestinians continue to offer virtually nothing to assuage that mindset. In fact, with Hamas in charge, they now offer even less than ever.

12:56 AM  
Anonymous Antiquated Tory said...

That's a wonderful quote. I want to add that I found you from a link in a comment on Jewschool, the Birthright/Birthright Unplugged thread, because you have arrived at almost exactly the same conclusions about Zionism that I have. I, too, was raised a Conservative Jew (though not in a household that was particularly observant) and by parents that held that Israel could do no wrong. My first-hand knowledge of Israel, unlike yours, is non-existant; I reached the same conclusions more through a study of the unhappy history of small countries.

9:39 AM  
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