It’s deja vu all over again.
The following is an important historical tract written by one of Israel’s pre-eminent loving critics. I have changed a few words in italics to allow you to understand how clearly it deals with the current situation. See if you can figure out who wrote it:
It makes no sense to argue that the Palestinians fighting Israeli invaders in Gaza are terrorists. Yet it’s clear that even if we accept they are terrorists . . . the military suppression of 10,000 guerillas (or terrorists) who arose from the heart of a population of 1.5 million Palestinians will give us at most a tenuous five-year interlude, until the next generation of guerillas (or terrorists) is ready to resume the armed struggle. History tells us that the new wave of fighters will be more radical, better trained and more desperate.
Many of us, surely a majority of the Israelis, want the Palestinians to vanish physically from this region, want them banished from our presence. Nothing assuages our anguish better than to repeat [this] list to ourselves:
The crimes of humanity against the Jews.
The crimes of the Palestinians against Israelis.
When I have finished drawing up all these lists, I weigh and reweigh them . . . but once again the Palestinian emerges, each time a stronger and more defined outline.
We were told that Hamas would be destroyed, that terrorism would disappear, that the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza would submit passively to our authority…
…[Instead] we have returned to the ghetto . . . where survival meant knowing that the other hated us, meant defeating the other. Why has Israel, which was created to forget the ghetto, recreated it? And why is it that we have locked ourselves into a ghetto once again, waiting for the rich uncle from America to help us endure?
Yet if we add up all the triumphs of all the wars, including the present one, we’ll understand that in order to achieve that definitive security we so anxiously desire, we shall have to go halfway down the road that separates us from the Palestinians . . . we will be forced to employ our power to guarantee his security, without which we cannot guarantee our own.
…What keeps us fighting is not a war but a conflict over equal rights. A peace agreement won’t be enough. We’ll have to resolve the conflict over equal rights. And Israel has the strength to accomplish this.
…The plans of those whom we have attacked with such effectiveness and success during the entire week are never mentioned, nor what are the real threats (if any) to us. In this vast haze, they are the terrorists and we are left with the impression that each bomb hurled against Gaza lands on the head of some terrorist without ever affecting the daily routine of hundreds of thousands of the city’s inhabitants. Later, when we learn through the foreign press that almost 100 civilians were killed in the bombing raids, we are told that the terrorists sought refuge among them.
Who gave us the right to decide that those civilians must die because they did not know how or could not escape from the terrorists in time? Where did we get such omnipotence?
…[Regarding the Israeli criticism that Palestinian terrorists fight amidst the civilian population] In 1947, the terrorist Menachem Begin blew up the British officers’ club, killing 13 persons . . . Begin’s terrorists cached their weapons and grenades in schools, synagogues, under the beds of children. When a British patrol arrived unexpectedly at the home of a friend of mine who was a member of a terrorist group, he hid his pistol under the skirt of his aged grandmother.
From now on our tragedy will be inseparable from that of the Palestinian…Abba Eban writes:
“There is a new vocabulary with special verbs: to pound, to crush, to liquidate, to cleanse, to fumigate . . . It is hard to say what the effects of this lexicon will be as it resounds in an endless and squalid rhythm from one day to the next. Not one word of humility, compassion or restraint has come to the Israeli government in many weeks: nothing but the rhetoric of self-assertion, the hubris that the Greeks saw as the gravest danger to a man’s fate.
These weeks have been a dark age in the moral history of the Jewish people.”
The peace movement has lost a historic opportunity. A first step towards our own salvation would be assuming responsibility for what we have done in Gaza. I see no mechanism of conscience for the Israeli people other than the act of repairing what we have destroyed.
In Israel many people complain that this drama was exaggerated throughout the entire world. On the contrary, we should worry about its lack of impact . . . Amsterdam, New York, Rome, Paris and London peace militants should have tried to break the Israeli Navy’s blockade of Gaza, should have allowed their boats to be sunk by Israeli cannons. They should have proclaimed: “We’re all Palestinians.”
Thank you to Maher Mughrabi for once again pointing me to the wisdom of Jacobo Timerman, in this case written about the first Lebanon war in 1982 in The Longest War. How sad that they still ring as true as the moment they were written. How sad that nothing has changed, that Israelis–their generals and politicians–continue to suffer the same delusions. That the killing goes on unabated. Nothing is learned. Mistakes repeated.
As far as I’m concerned the Israeli-Arab conflict is Groundhog Day without the epiphany that finally allows Bill Murray to liberate himself from the slavery of repeating the mistakes of his life endlessly. In the film, Murray comes to understand that love, humility and appreciation for human frailty are the forces which free him from his shackles. Israel has not learned this lesson and I’m not sure it ever will. Which is why, like Sisyphus, it keeps rolling that boulder back uphill only to have it fall back down just before it reaches the top.