Saturday, July 28, 2012

The End of Israel?

It's Tisha b'Av, the fast day of mourning for the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Three years ago, in 2009, when this blog was still active, I wrote an essay wondering if Israel could be ended. I just went back and re-read it, and it's still as relevant and essentially up to date as it was three years ago. So I'm re-posting.


The End of Israel?

Tisha'a be'Av, the Ninth day of Av, 2009. Today we mark 1,939 years since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by mourning and fasting, but also, from noon onwards, with acts of construction such as fixing something around the house. It's hot, we haven't had a sip of water since yesterday, but we're puttering about with a hammer looking for something to fix. Mourning, in Jewish tradition, is as much about looking forward as backward.

There's a growing constituency for the idea that Israel's time is limited. Between 1949 and the early 1970s, Israel's right to exist was openly denied by most of the Arab world, but largely unquestioned elsewhere. Then the narrative changed, and for the next quarter century the growing consensus in the West and in Israel itself was that the existential threat had passed, and if only Israel would accept the Palestinians alongside it, peace would flourish. The Green Line of 1967: if only Israel would retreat to it!

Since summer 2000 this narrative has been steadily losing ground. Most Israelis and their elected leaders have accepted the fundamental thesis if not all its details, but the Palestinians have made clear their claims begin with 1948, not 1967.

So Israel's enemies and harsh critics are dropping the pretence of seeking partition; they are ever more openly striving for an abolition of Zionism. The Jews should have no separate state of their own, say the enemies; the Jews may end up with no state of their own, say the unconfident friends, and all call for Israeli actions which may bring this about.

Here are three random examples, all from the past 24 hours. First, the rabid antisemites at the Guardian's Comment is Free, ranting about the urgent need for a world without Israel. Second, Andrew Sullivan, muddled thinker but very popular blogger, telling A.Jay Adler he can't see Israel reaching its 60th anniversary (which happened back in 2008, but no matter). Finally, Jeffrey Goldberg, journalist and blogger at The Atlantic and a staunch supporter of Israel, fearing that wrong Israeli policies might cause it not to survive. The antisemites hope for Israel's end, Sullivan is beginning to wonder, and Goldberg is beginning to fear; they all agree it's possible.

Is it? How?
There are some seven and a half million people in Israel. 20% are Arabs or Arabic-speaking Druze, with a slowing birthrate. A few percent are Christian non-Arabs, most but not all from the former Soviet Union; culturally they are part of the Hebrew-speaking Jewish society. The rest are Jews; their birthrate is slowly rising, even the non-religious among them. The Jewish community in Israel is the world's largest; at some point soon they will become the majority of the world's Jews, though this will not immediately be obvious because the rest of the Jews are not easy to define nor count. The number of Jews in Israel is roughly the same as the number of Jews murdered during the Shoah. That would be one way to end Israel: by violence.

In December 2001 Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, often touted in the media as a moderate among the Iranian leaders, said in a public speech that Muslims should not fear from a nuclear confrontation with Israel: Israel is small and can be destroyed, the Muslim world is large, and can't. (Translated by MEMRI, but also posted on the website of the Iran Press Service). Of course, such a nuclear conflagration would also kill millions of others – Palestinians, Iranians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Syrians, but some people are willing to pay a steep price to rid the world of Jews. History proves that, just as it proves that when people repeatedly announce their intention to rid the world of Jews, they may actually mean it.

I cannot say how near the Iranians are to being able to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons, nor how many of their leaders agree with Rafsanjani, but a nuclear war could indeed end Israel; moreover, it could be launched by a very small number of people. Should a group of Israel's haters have the nuclear ability, they would not need to hold a national referendum. A few hundred willing technicians and a handful of committed mass murderers would suffice. So it must be prevented.

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps Israel shouldn't warn, that if the day ever comes when the last of her people in some nuclear submarine realize that all is lost, their orders will be to shoot off their remaining missiles at Berlin, London, Paris and Moscow. Simply to focus minds on the cost of having a world without Israel to the nations whose forefathers often gleefully persecuted Jews.

Nuclear Armageddon is logically possible; personally I have decided to live as if it's not going to happen. Elected leaders and a small number of specialists must spend their lives bearing the burden of preparing for the worst; the rest of us can't be expected to do so while living normal lives.

Interestingly, the haters of Israel yearning for its destruction don't believe in the nuclear danger. Should Israel ever take pre-emptive military action the Guardian and its ilk will shrilly denounce Israel for its paranoia; I expect the Andrew Sullivans to join them. There's a tension at the heart of the anti-Israeli discourse, which postulates that Israel should or may go down for its crimes against the Palestinians, while denying the existence of any real danger to it from anyone else. This is the Western corollary of the tension common among many Muslims of denying the Holocaust while regretting that Hitler didn't complete the job.

Short of nuclear war, is there any danger to Israel's existence?

But of course, say those who fear it or yearn for it. Their favorite scenario is that someday America will turn its back on Israel, and Israel will cave in. There are other scenarios, in which British academics and politically enthusiastic activists manage to set in movement a boycott that devastates Israel's economy and brings it to its knees, but without the active encouragement of America it's hard to see how this might work.

For such a scenario a number of things must happen.

First, a significant proportion of American society must greatly sour on Israel. Disliking a particular Israeli leader or policy won't be enough to make them enact anti-Israeli legislation. For that masses of Americans must decide Israel is uniquely evil, to the extent they'd be willing to take highly unusual measures. Since Israel isn't uniquely evil, and actually is far better than many players on the international stage, this means someone will have to inculcate in masses of Americans a dislike of Israel that is irrational – in effect, they'll need to inculcate antisemitism in a society which is largely free of it. If you assume there's a reason America is the first large Western society to cure itself of the malaise of Jew Hatred, this means that reason must be turned back.

For all my affinity to America, I don’t live there and can't say such a thing could never happen. I doubt it, but perhaps I'm na├»ve. It's certainly a likely scenario in Europe, indeed, it's already happening – though of course, no large European society was ever really free of Jew Hatred.

For the sake of the argument, let's assume America participates in placing sanctions against Israel, demanding Israeli measures Israel otherwise refuses to take – i.e not dismantle settlements, for which an Israeli majority could easily be found, but accept half a million descendants of Palestinian refugees, say, or dismantle the homes of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem. That sort of thing. Would international sanctions against Israel succeed, on an issue a majority of Israelis regard as existential?

Sanctions, as a general rule, don't work. The world economy is too porous. People, companies and states will always be found to circumvent them for profit. Lots of European companies are past masters at the deception, but the Chinese don't even pretend. Furthermore, while it's just conceivable that America might roll back its history and re-acquire the taste for Jew Hatred, the Chinese and Indians never had the taste to begin with. The sole example of successful sanctions I'm aware of, against South Africa, never made a dent until the world was suddenly unipolar, in the early 1990s. It's less unipolar now than then, which is why the various sanction schemes now running aren't making much difference.

What if, improbable as it seems, there were to be universal sanctions against Israel, on a matter Israel felt it couldn't compromise on. What then?

I know I wouldn't cave in. I've gone to war, three weeks after my wedding, hoping to be back but knowing I might not. I went anyway, and some of my friends indeed didn't return. I've lived through a period where busses and supermarkets were life threatening environments. I've sent my children off to war – that was probably the hardest. Why would anyone expect me to give in on something essential faced merely with, what, economic hardship? So far as I can tell, I'm no different than most people around me. We would love to have peace with our neighbors, we have absolutely no joy from our war with them, but we're not going to relinquish the essentials we've acquired at tremendous cost these past few generations.

It's Tisha beAv. The fast will be over in a few hours, and we'll go back to our normal routines. For today, however, we're mourning the time, two millennia ago, when our forefathers were crushed by the mightiest military power in the world. Bad things can happen to Jews, and do, with consistent regularity. Sanguinity, as in "we've got a vibrant society here, nothing can ever beat us" is not warranted by history. We actually often do get beaten, and perhaps will again. Yet it's late afternoon of Tisha Be'Av, and I suppose I should take out my tools and find something around the house that needs fixing. After all, the generation of Jews who were pulverized by the Romans were also the greatest generation of Jews ever, along with their children and grandchildren. They were the ones who got up from the rubble and re-defined their world so as to get along without the Temple; they created the Mishna; they lay the foundations for the ability to survive millennia of homelessness and disenfranchisement. Why, they even managed to launch a second, even more furious revolt against the Romans. And then they got out from under Hadrian's genocide and kept on going, until the Roman Empire was long since gone, and its successor, and its…

I'm sorry – no, I'm not sorry at all – but whoever is planning our near demise doesn't get it. We're not here because the Colonialists sent us and forgot to take us back.  We're not here as revenge for the Shoah the Europeans enabled the Germans to commit on us. We're not here on the sufferance of the Americans. We're here because we've decided to be here. Short of divine plans, which I don't pretend to be able to explain, our decisions are the most important part of the story, as they always have been.

Yaacov Lozowick
Jerusalem, July 30, 2009

Friday, July 20, 2012

The maps of disappearing Palestine

Anyone who deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict will probably have come across the nasty four-map series purporting to show how Israel is eliminating Palestine step by step. Recently some fellow in the NY area hired space on local billboards to expose them to commuters. I contacted him and asked if he'd be willing to listen to a critique; when he said he would I sent him the following analysis. You can see his brief response - and mine - at the end.

According to what I've read on Mondoweiss, you seem to be of the opinion that the series of four maps showing the disappearing Palestinian presence in what was once Mandatory Palestine are factually accurate. I suggest we take a closer look.
There are various problems with the series, the most obvious being that it compares apples with oranges and also with screwdrivers, meaning that the different maps present different data-sets. Some of the data-sets themselves are inaccurate.
Judging by the picture above, your version of the maps is even more problematic than some of the other versions which are out there. I'll relate to your version as presented on Mondoweiss.
First, the map from 1946. Even standing alone without the series, it's misleading in that it contains two distinct types of information. The outline is of the territory controlled by the British, commonly known as Palestine. Being a map of a political entity, however, the whole thing should be the same color, green in this case, since the entire territory was ruled by the British, the white parts and the green. If one wished to show privately owned land under the sovereignty of the British according to ethnic identity, the green would have been replaced by a hodgepodge of colors. Some of the land was owned by Jews, some by Arabs (today we would call them Palestinians), some by Arab absentee landlords of other nationalities (Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and so on), some by European churches – Catholic Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and others, and finally, the largest section by far would have been land registered by no-one and thus belonging to the government, i.e the British.
As far as I can see, your version has omitted the Jewish ownership of property in Jerusalem (where there was a majority of Jews), and in various pockets such as the Etzion Block, Neve Yaacov, settlements on the Dead Sea, Hebron, Safed, Naharia and its hinterland, Kfar Darom in Gaza, and so on. But the main problem with this map isn't its omissions of Jewish property, but rather the implication that any land not owned by Jews was "Palestine". Not true. If it's land ownership you're trying to depict then most of the territory was owned by the British government; if it's political sovereignty then the entire area was British.
The second map drops the issue of land ownership, and the series never returns to it. This map is a reasonably accurate depiction of the partition plan adopted by the United Nations on November 29th 1947, with one glaring omission: the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area, which was very clearly not allocated to either side, but designated as a Corpus Separandum. I emphasize: Jerusalem and Bethlehem. So the cartographer has allocated to a notional Palestine a very important piece of territory which it never had.
Of course, this map never depicted a reality. At the time it was rejected by all the Arab states which had a vote, and also by the local Arabs themselves who did not generally call themselves Palestinians at the time, but we can agree to call them that now. I'm not going to get into the question of who foiled the UN partition plan, but I think we can agree that all sides played their roles; the Jewish Yishuv, Husseini's Palestinian forces, Kaukji's forces, and the Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese forces which participated in fighting in territory which had previously been under British rule.
The third map (1949-1967) is misleading in its own way. It depicts Israel in white, and two other un-named territories in uniform green, the same green the first two maps implied had been Palestinian territory. Of course, this does not conform to the historical reality. The Gaza section was controlled by Egypt, not the Palestinians, and rightfully should be defined as Egyptian-occupied Gaza. The larger green section was controlled by Jordan. Jordan annexed it and gave its population Jordanian citizenship, so I don't know if it was legally occupied or not: if so, it's status was probably similar to its status under Israeli rule after 1967: occupied, with settlers from the occupying country. If it wasn't occupied, then it was part of Jordan. (That's the source of the name "West Bank: the western half of Jordan). Either way, it can't be depicted as Palestine.
You'll also note that this map shies away from dealing with private ownership, which was the theme of the first map. Had it shown private ownership it would have had to note that some of the territory inside Israel was owned by Palestinians, of course, but that no land inside Jordan was accepted as being owned by Jews, even though in some places their ownership had never been rescinded in anything that might resemble due process.
Finally, the fourth map. For the first time in the series, there is now a type of Palestinian rule – in all of Gaza, and on the West Bank. Let's set aside the distinction between Hamas rule in Gaza and PA rule on the West Bank. Less explicable is the cartographer's decision to pretend that the Palestinian writ runs only in Area A, with nary any mention of the larger Area B sections. As far as I understand the history, this map doesn't show a rump area of Palestinian rule, but on the contrary, it shows the emergence, for the first time ever, of a new entity, of and for Palestinians. Not a disappearing Palestine, but an emerging one!
I suppose you may say I'm quibbling, and that in a territory which had a minority of Jews 150 years ago, there has emerged a state of foreigners which has thwarted the emergence of a state of the original population. This, of course, is true. The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that both sides are right, and both have legitimate claims on the same tiny piece of land. Most of us think that the only way to resolve the conflict is for each side to reconcile itself to the loss of important parts of the territory so that the other side will have room for their national state. As to why this hasn't yet happened, you and I probably disagree. We may also not agree on the details of how the partition ought to be done. Yet those are legitimate issues which need to be resolved in negotiations.
The maps you've published, on the other hand, tell a different story: that Israel is purposefully pushing out the Palestinians so as to have the entire land for itself. This is not true, which explains why in order to make the claim the maps need to be so sloppy with the facts.
Finally, a note on projection. I never cease to be surprised by Americans, Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders who feel they have a moral right to condemn the Jews for migrating to another land and pushing aside the natives. Surely the Jewish case for moving to the land of their history is vastly better than the case of Europeans moving to continents they had no history in. Over time, however, I've begun to notice that such critics of the Jews assume, perhaps subconsciously, that the behavior of the Jews must by necessity follow the pattern of their own forebears: total dismissal of their common humanity with the natives they're pushing aside, followed by near-total dispossession. This, however, is a complex of the critics, and has very little to do with the Jews.

HC's response:
In any format the bottom line is irrefutable - the Palestinian people have lost most of their homeland.

My response (and the end of our conversation)

And equally irrefutable: the Jews finally have it back.

Now, either they find a way to partition it, or one side will be without. Partition seems to me vastly better, but the possibility that the Jews need to do without is unacceptable

Monday, July 16, 2012

Over at the other place

If you're visiting this blog, you're at the wrong place. This one is mostly dormant, while over here is the one which is sort of active. There's also one here, but I admit that for the moment it's hardly more than a place-holder, sadly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

David Brummer, RIP

David Brummer, author of the Seattle-based Brumspeak blog, has passed away. His most recent post was about Ari Shavit's recent interesting interview with Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon, just two weeks ago.

I never met David in the flesh, but we knew each other thru the blogosphere. If memory serves he first made contact to assure me one could live in the Jewish community in Seattle and have no knowledge of the existence of that town's most famous anti-Zionist blogger. His profile contains this explanation for his blogging:
The genesis for this project stems from my own efforts to reconcile a social worker’s worldview with a post 9/11 world. While dialogue,conciliation,and compromise continue to be necessary ingredients to any long-term resolution,it has become clear that a new paradigm is needed in the battle for decency,pluralism,and basic human rights for all. As a social worker and psychotherapist,I know that the only way to effect real change is to start with an unsparing assessment of where we find ourselves at the starting gate and why. In recent years, there has been an assault on truth which has diminished our ability to understand and define what we are struggling to achieve. These new battles must be fought in the realm of ideas as much as on any battlefield. It is my hope that this Blog can be a vehicle to explore and more fully articulate some of those ideas and worldviews that so preoccupy us today.
His photo fits the image: one of these kind folks who expected the world could be fixed if everyone had enough goodwill, who then came to understand over time that either they wouldn't (all have the goodwill) or couldn't, perhaps because of conflicting agendas. Indeed, that's essentially what his final post says. In politics, at least, he lived long enough to reach maturity; in all other respects, he obviously didn't live long enough.

As the traditional sephardi condolence greeting goes: may his family find solace in the rebuilding of Zion.

As for everybody else, I suggest paying respect by reading his final post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The blogs of the Israel State Archives

M colleagues and I at the Israel State Archives (ISA) have launched two new blogs, one in English and the other in Hebrew. Once we get into stride we may also start an Arab-language one. The purpose of the blogs is to present interesting documents, many of which will be declassified as we post them.

Any requests for specific documents, or for documents on particular topics? Drop us a note.