HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 9, 2005
Deir Yassin Denial  •  The Far Left and the Present
The Continuing and Urgent Need for a Negotiated Solution

James Adler


I

Deir Yassin Denial

Yehuda Avner, a right-wing Israeli activist and diplomat whose activities extend back to 1948, writes this week in the Jerusalem Post that Gershon Levy, an advisor to Ben-Gurion, had already denied that there was any massacre at Deir Yassin at a famous debate at the Oxford Union in 1952.  But Avner also says that the main account of the massacre emerged as "part of a smear campaign spread by the Ben-Gurion camp."  First, it is not immediately clear, at least without any further explanation, how it could have been both spread by the Ben-Gurionites and denied by the Ben-Gurionites. But mainly, if the Ben-Gurion camp did help spread this account, it is hard to understand how the account could be what Avner instead claims it is, "like Scheherazade narrating one of her never-ending tales of the Arabian Nights, Arab storytellers continuing to weave their gory fiction."

And Avner ends his piece on the Scheherazade note.  He says: "Surf the internet and see." That is, see the Arab myth-making.

Okay I surf.  But what I see is David Shaltiel, Jerusalem Commander of the Hagana, say in official communiqué, that "for a full day, Etzel and Lehi soldiers stood and slaughtered men, women and children."  The Jewish Agency apologizing to Trans-Jordan King Abdullah for "a brutal and barbarous deed."  Haganah's Col. Meir Pa'el give his eyewitness account to Yediot Ahronot (April 4, 1972), that "the Irgun and LEHI men ... shot whoever they saw, women and children included."  And Dov Joseph, military governor of Jerusalem and future Israeli Justice Minister call it a "deliberate and unprovoked attack." I see the official testimony of many eyewitnesses of the atrocities, including to the Red Cross that came in immediately.  You don't need Scheherazade here.  Who are we supposed to believe?

I also see Shim'on Moneta's not implausible notion that "everyone exaggerated. Most of them had never seen so many dead before, and the high figure was convenient for all involved. The dissidents [--i.e., the ultra-right-wing "Revisionists"--] wanted to brag and scare the Arabs. The Hagana and Jewish Agency wanted to smear the dissidents and scare the Arabs. The Arabs wanted to smear the Jews. The British wanted to smear Jewish terrorists."

It does concern me in all this both that the massacre-deniers won't admit that something out-of-the-ordinary and terrible may have happened, and it would still seem to me on the balance of the evidence probably did happen; and also that that massacre-affirmers don't notice that in most wars atrocities happen on both sides, and that by and large the Jews were by and large more humane and that they did not have to be spotlessly immaculate for it to have been at least possible that they were more in the right in the 1948 war.

Since this is classic fog of war, I wonder if no one knows except surviving sincere eyewitnesses who in such a fog contradict each other-- and so instead of knowing, everyone sees Deir Yassin in the way best supporting their view of the conflict as a whole. This is of course not the way to the truth.


II

The Far Left and the Present

The problem with the far left for me is that it used to make sense-- but doesn't seem to me to quite as much now.

There was a time in which:

The occupation seemed endless, especially in 99% Palestinian Gaza where the  1% of settlers got 30% of the land; the politically then-dominant Likud's Party's platform claimed Greater Israel from the "sea to the river"; Netanyahu was quashing Oslo as much as Arafat was; there seemed to be apartheid with no security reason for it; and the Palestinians were soon to become a majority in an apartheidist Greater Israel which this "Likudist Israel" claimed and occupied eternally.

Finally in an ongoing rebuke to the two-state solution, even during the heyday of Oslo and Barak Israel doubled its number of settlers.

In short, Israel seemed to be increasingly maximalistic and ideological, while for their part the Palestinians seemed
to be increasingly moderate and pragmatic, recognizing Israel and wanting just a state on their occupied land.

Critics of the left who don't see what the situation was seem to me to be in deep denial.

But-- since then has occurred a turn. Barak's and Clinton's offer was rejected -- without commitment to continue negotiations with a counteroffer.  The 2nd Intifada came with orchestrated suicide bombings. Al Qaeda appeared on the scene.  Islamism grew.

Still, Sharon came to reject the occupation and "Greater Israel." And he had Israel leave Gaza.  The imminence of a Palestinian majority and a consequent full-fledged apartheid state in the so-called "Greater Israel" of historical Palestine between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan River disappeared from view, and Sharon (and next current Israeli Prime Minister Olmert) planned to leave most of the West Bank-- and they brought along with them most of Israel's public.

But this ended with Ahamedinejad's threats and Hamas in power and last summer's missiles from Hamas in the south and Hizbollah in the north-- a poor reward for leaving Gaza.

The other side now seems to be the more maximalist and ideological -- which is just what the far left used to note -- accurately -- that the Israeli side appeared to be. 

For elementary justice for the Palestinians and for security for itself, Israel needs as much as ever to withdraw.  But the far left's special critique of Israel -- which I shared at the time -- just doesn't seem to make as much sense to me.   I feel somewhat long-term betrayed by the Palestinian leadership.  I am running out of excuses for it.


III

The Continuing and Urgent Need for a Negotiated Solution

Not only negotiate with the Palestinian coalition government, but Israel should also have agreed long ago to negotiate on the basis of the Saudi-Arab League offer.  It would be naive for anyone to think offers are any more than opening negotiating positions.  Israel is not naive and knew this too, but still rejected it. And pretended the Arab offer wasn't a perfect final   position as an excuse not to negotiate.

We all know what an agreement will be like-- a symbolic and insubstantial right of return involving the few token remaining elderly refugees from 1948 who may still want to go, and Israel's keeping the large adjacent settlement blocs in exchange for equal amounts of Israeli land--and some recognitions of partial responsibility and a lot of international aid and security guarantees.

In the past Israel may not have wanted peace enough for it to have to remove a lot of settlers.

The Lebanese and Palestinians are rightly seen as weak in their failures to rein in Hizbollah and Hamas, but Israel has seemed just as weak in its own failure to reign in the ultra-right orange settler movement.

Olmert had to tell the settler movement he would abandon "convergence" in order for the settlers to fight the Lebanon war.  More basically, if the settlers caused the Israeli government to fear civil war over Gazan disengagement and withdrawal of only a small fraction of the settlers, how much more would the government fear a civil war over a much more substantial withdrawal?

This may also be why Israel took off the table the Barak-Clinton offer after Arafat's rejection, even though the Arab League has kept its own offer still standing on the table long after Israel's initial rejections.

It may be that only that Iran nuclear program finally made Israel realize that a "managed conflict," i.e., Dov Weinglas's notorious boast that the "peace process was frozen in formaldehyde" is not good enough for Israel's security, and obvious fact the Arab offer would isolate and serve as a regional counterweight to Iran is why Israel has -- long overdue -- showed a little bit of open-mindedness about regional negotiations for peace.

I sympathize with Israel's smallness, sense of beleaguerment, terrorism, last summer's attacks and kidnappings, -- again, a poor reward for the withdrawal from Gaza -- and the government's solemn duty to protect its people in view of past Holocaust and present conflict, as reasons for caution.

But this same solemn duty suggests now is the time to proceed--before it becomes too late for Israel ever to have security-- if it is not tragically already too late.


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