December 31, 2007
Harvard Square Observer

Contentious Readers

Ernest Cassara

Anyone who writes commentaries for a living - or, in the present instance, in retirement - has learned that he/she is bound, from time to time, to rub a reader the wrong way.  I have had that experience a number of times, stirring a gentleman by the name of Sim Prystowsky, whoever he may be, to respond to the website in writing.

[Editor's Note: Link to Mr. Prystowsky's comments - in the December 24th and April 9th editions.]

Now, generally, it is my practice to take the slings and arrows of impatient readers in my stride, but, in this case, I am rather inclined to respond.  I don't know how often Sim has visited the occupied territories.  Well, I have, and have seen the Palestinians under the heel of the Israeli regime.  I say “regime,” for many Israelis do not approve of its actions.  For instance, to take one example, the peace group Gush Shalom, and Uri Avnery.  If you are unfamiliar with them, suggest you Google them online.

As far as my own experience is concerned, when I visited Israel and Palestine a few years ago, I and the group I was with, had to stop at many checkpoints on the West Bank.  Checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers.  If this is not harassment, I do not know what else to call it. 

Then, we discovered roadblocks on the main roads leading into Palestinian towns.  Roadblocks consisting of huge mounds of dirt and boulders, impassable by motor vehicle.  So, our group had to leave our van, climb over the mounds, and walk into town.  Now, what possible reason can there be for such harassment, except to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the Israelis are in control of their lives.

And, then, there are Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, usually located at the tops of hills.  These settlements are linked by roads on which only Israelis may travel, no Palestinians allowed.

Now, since our group was there, the Israelis are building a wall - much of it, on Palestinian land, thus stealing more of it - for “security” reasons. 

In addition, Israeli settlements are being built in East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Palestinian.  Another demonstration by the Israeli government that it is boss.

It is, also, apparently, the Israeli policy to divide the West Bank into “Bantustans,” after the earlier South African policy, to isolate the Palestinians in “pockets.”

My own theory is that Israel is dooming itself.  The idea that it can remain a “Jewish State,” I believe is highly unlikely.  Sooner or later, even if Israel does not allow Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes from which they were driven by terrorist groups, such as Irgun and the Stern Gang, Palestinian birth rates are much higher than Israeli rates.  In addition, young, talented Israelis are migrating to other parts of the world.  A voluntary, Diaspora, one might call it.

Whenever I think on these things, my mind goes back to the late Rabbi Beryl Cohon, of blessed memory.  Much of what I know about Jewish groups, not to mention wonderful Jewish jokes, I owe to him.  When I was on the faculty of Tufts University, and he was adjunct professor of Judaic Studies, he and I sat together at registration for three days at the beginning of each semester, in the huge Cousens Gymnasium.  This was before computers outmoded this practice of signing up students in person.  Actually, he was against the establishment of Israel, believing that the Jews had settled well in many parts of the world, especially in the United States.  I did not contradict his argument, but, well, I thought that Israeli is there, plunked down by the Brits by the Balfour Declaration, in the middle of millions of Palestinians.

Which leads me to return to the letter of Sim, in last week’s Harvard Square Commentary.  He raised the question as to why the Arab nations surrounding Israel allow thousands of Palestinians to live in refugee camps.  Of course, he did not point out that these refugees were driven out of their ancestral homes by the aforementioned Israeli terrorist gangs.


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