Friday, February 13, 2015

Crimes of 1948

The story of the foundation of Israel is a story of heroic immigrants triumphing over hordes of savages and establishing an oasis in the desert through hard work, ingenuity, and a fierce determination to regain their birthright. That's the official version, the version Michael Kinsley learned in Hebrew school, the version most Jews everywhere most Americans believe, and there is a lot of truth to it.

There is also a lot left out, and Kinsley writes about that in today's Slate. The part left out is the savage and murderous program of ethnic cleansing Israel's founders carried out to establish their state. None of the material Kinsley mentions is secret. It is the result of careful scholarship of Israeli historians working from military records. As Kinsley puts it:

None of this is exactly a secret. Morris has written several books that discuss it in detail. But like the rape allegations against Bill Cosby, which were in public documents for years before they became common knowledge, it’s possible for something to be known and unknown at the same time.

Some gruesome details:

As Shavit, especially, describes it, with a lot of new research, the attack on Lydda was part of a purposeful strategy of Arab removal, approved at the highest levels. It had everything we have come to associate with a human rights atrocity: people who had been neighbors for generations turning on and slaughtering one another, Rwanda-style. Crowding people into a church (or, in this case, a mosque) and then blowing it up or setting it on fire. Torturing people, allegedly to extract information, and then killing them when they’ve been squeezed dry. Going house to house and killing everyone discovered inside. And so on.

In Lydda and elsewhere, residents were told they had an hour and a half to get out, so they “voluntarily” fled places their families had lived for centuries. Yes, the Arabs might have done worse to the Jews—did do worse when the opportunity arose. And the Germans of course could have taught both sides a lesson or two. So what?

Kinsley follows up with a weasely cop-out:

Shavit and Cohen both decline to condemn Israeli behavior in places like Deir Yassin and Lydda. Shavit sees the whole business as a human tragedy, with invisible fate directing the players. Cohen emphasizes practical necessity: It was this or be pushed into the sea. And, to be clear, I don’t condemn the Israel of 1948 either. As a diaspora Jew living in the comfort of America in 2015, I lack standing to criticize.

Kinsley thinks facing up to these facts might help promote peace. I have my doubts. But it's useful to remember that for each of us, we are where we are today because some of our ancestors killed out, enslaved, or otherwise managed to seize land previously belonging to somebody else.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut memorably wrote. That's the way history has always been - but it's not the way it always has to be.