Seventy Five Years of Fog
I have always had a tortured conflict between my allegiance to Israel, the land that was made home to Jews after six million of them, including my relatives, were slaughtered by the Nazis in World War II, and my compassion for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced in what the Arab world refers to as the “Nakba” or “Palestinian Catastrophe” involving the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the newly-formed Israel and who today are largely homeless and live under the most abject poverty, caused in large part by Israeli policies.
I can still hear my mother telling me to never deceive myself and that one day, it will again be the Jews on one side and everybody else on the other side because the world hates the Jews and would rather see the Jews and the Jewish nation perish. And I know that anti-Semitism is alive and strong ant that there was no question in my mother’s mind that Israel must be defended by any means possible and that in the end, all Jews must pay allegiance to Israel.
And then I can hear the Palestinian parents teaching their children that the Israelis violently forced them out of their homes and the land they had occupied for centuries and have treated them as nothing less than animals that should be exterminated.
It has been three quarters of a century since Israel declared its independence, and the violence and bloodshed, anger and hostility between Arabs and Jews remains. I would like to state facts but I can’t, I would like to label the heroes and the villains, but I can’t and my understanding of the situation remains elusive and my expectation in getting the truth from either side is very low, tinged as it is by so many players who all have hidden agendas. It would be so easy to say that the Israelis have no other concern than their security and that the Palestinians, backed by most of the Arab world, simply want to wipe out the Jews.
Unfortunately, it can never be so simple. The one indisputable fact is that in 1948, Israel was declared a sovereign nation. The Israelis have said it has been a constant battle to retain their homeland against the onslaughts by the Arabs to liquidate Israel and force it in to the sea. The Arabs call the time of Israel’s independence the “Nakba” and claim that between 750,000 and one million Palestinians “were expelled and made refugees by Zionist paramilitaries, and subsequently Israeli forces, during Israel’s creation in 1947–49.”
The wars, the terrorist attacks, the seizures of land, the opposite versions of reality, the villains and the heroes, the aggressors, the victims, all have been shaped and re-shaped until they have very little resemblance to reality. A reality that persists with no doubts is that there is no difference in the blood that has been shed, in the children who have been made orphans, in the homes that have been destroyed, in the soldiers who have died, on both sides.
The latest flare up continued on Monday, with hundreds of Palestinians injured after the Israeli police entered the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, following a week of rising tension in the city. The police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians who had stockpiled stones at the site in expectation of a standoff with Jewish far-right groups.
It is a scenario that has been repeated and repeated and repeated with no solutions in sight. There have always been moderates on both sides but the loudest voices have come from ultra-orthodox Israelis and the Palestinians who are consumed with hate. There often seems no middle ground and any real solutions have failed through the many years.
The situation has largely been framed in the context of the Holocaust survivors, the children, the men and women, young and old, and all of the heroic Israelis who created a thriving nation out of the desert, who created a thriving democracy and who continue to defend against the onslaught of anti-Semitism.
And then I see the images of Palestinian men and women and children who are forced from their ramshackle homes to make way for expanded growth of Israeli settlements, in violation of international laws and I see the tearful child watching and the grieving mother in hysteria as their home is bulldozed by Israeli tanks.
I recently watched a 2001 documentary, “In Search of Peace,” produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which chronicles Israel from 1948–1967. You cannot watch this intensely emotional film without feeling tremendous pride and respect for those who would not be denied a homeland and succeeded against all odds. And equally emotional are the scenes of innocent Palestinian children who lose parents to the fighting, whose homes are eliminated, who are relegated to living in poverty because vital supplies are blocked by Israel from entering the Palestinian territories.
It is disingenuous to claim clear cut answers or solutions to a conflict that is laden with racism pitting the educated, white, western Israelis against the dark-skinned, uneducated, poor Palestinians. The claims of an Israeli apartheid are difficult to deny while the hatred of Israel throughout most of the Arab world is steeped in years of the most vile propaganda that begins with the youngest children who are taught that Israel and the “Zionists” are their worst enemy. And the strategic importance of the region is undisputed, with Israel the only U.S. ally in an area that has much of the world’s oil, leaving the Palestinians as mere pawns in the power struggle. Israel has always been a critical geopolitical force that has received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the U.S.
Israel has long claimed that the Arabs left Palestine because they were ordered to, and were deliberately incited into panic, by their own leaders who wanted the field cleared for the 1948 war. The Palestinians, however, claim the opposite, that they wanted to remain in their homeland but were forced out at the end of Israeli bayonets.
Maram Humaid, a reporter for Al Jazeera, said the latest violence “is an open war against unarmed people. Israeli forces are showering Palestinian worshipers inside Al-Aqsa mosque with gas bombs and stun grenades.”
The Institute for Middle East Understanding notes that “The Nakba was not an unintended result of war. It was a deliberate and systematic act necessary for the creation of a Jewish majority state in historic Palestine, which was overwhelmingly Arab prior to 1948.”
As for facts, maybe there are none and there are just interpretations that are twisted for desired ends.