70 years vs 2000 years: Testimonies and Memories

Myfirstboss in Geneva and excellent friend Jean Freymond, probably wondering about my lack of reaction to the latest events around Israel’s 70th, sent me the text below written by a very knowledgeable and fascinating author, Barnett Rubin whose life and involvement are a living proof of dedication to conflict resolution.

This unpublished chapter is so full of details and meaningful anecdotes that I felt compelled to write a short note on what it prompted me…below Barnett’s text and followed by Jean’s comments.

Let me simply add that the Gazaouis knew the outcome of their demonstrations and Israel fell in their trap, once again….

First glimpses of Israel/Palestine, including Jerusalem, August 1967

Barnett Rubin

Monday, May 14, 2018

This is a draft chapter from an unpublished manuscript. It recounts my visit to Israel (and Palestine, I would now say) in August 1967, using the proceeds of my first professional job, translating historian Jacob Katz’s text book, Israel among the Nations, from Hebrew to English. This was before the Birthright program, and I was not part of any program. Hard as I now find it to believe, at the age of 17, having never traveled anywhere, I went on my own, and perhaps a sign of now thoroughly I had intimidated them, my parents let me do so.I would now say I did not understand a lot of what I saw, but I wrote it down in a tiny notebook. Here it is as it looked at the time, with comments from what was then a distant future.

Chapter Four. In the Land of Israel

I left Josh White and Arlo Guthrie behind on Monday, August 7, 1967, when my El Al flight took off from John F. Kennedy airport, renamed for the president assassinated three months after the March on Washington. We stopped en route in Orly, then Paris’s only international airport, where I bought myself an espresso. Back on board, my fellow passengers included a group of Hasidim, one of whom prevailed on me to pray in the aisle as we crossed the Alps, thereby, in his view, helping to hasten the coming of the messiah by enabling a Jew to fulfill one of the commandments, much to the annoyance of the flight crew, who butted against us as they tried to go about their duties.

A few hours later we landed at Lod (today Ben Gurion) International Airport, and the passengers burst into applause. The British founded the airport in 1936, just outside the Palestinian city of Lydda, which had a population of 50,000 Arabs until their expulsion by the Israeli Army in July 1948. On July 11 a regiment led by Moshe Dayan sped “into the city of Lydda, firing at all in its way. In forty-seven minutes of blitz, more than a hundred Arab civilians are shot dead—women, children, old people.”[1]   The next day the troops came under light fire, though there are no Arab military units nearby: “The soldiers shoot in every direction. Some throw hand grenades into homes. One fires an antitank PIAT shell into the small mosque. In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than two hundred civilians are killed. [2]Then:

When news of the bloodshed reaches the headquarters of Operation Larlar in the conquered Palestinian village of Yazzur, Yigal Allon asks Ben Gurion what to do with the Arabs. Ben Gurion waves his hand: Deport them. Hours after the fall of Lydda, operations officer Yitzhak Rabin issues a written order to the Yiftach Brigade: “The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.” [3]

On July 13, the Arab population of Lydda was left with no choice but to leave the city with whatever they could carry. An Israeli brigade commander told Shavit what he saw:

Standing by his command car, he watches the people of Lydda walking, carrying on their backs heavy sacks made of blankets and sheets. Gradually, they cast aside the sacks they cannot carry any farther. In the heavy heat, suffering from terrible thirst, old men and women collapse. Like the ancient Jews, the people of Lydda go into exile.[4]

The Israeli soldiers looted the entire town as well as the fleeing people. This was the largest single expulsion of population in the 1948 war.[5]A former brigade commander at Lydda explained to Shavit why it had to happen: “Ben Gurion and [Yigal] Allon knew it was impossible to allow an Arab Lydda to remain by the international airport, not far from Tel Aviv. If we did so there would be no victory and there would be no state. “ [6]

I came down the ramp into the August heat of that international airport attired in the madras sports jacket my parents had insisted I wear on the first transcontinental flight anyone in our family had ever taken, not counting the Army Air Corps transport that took my father to Guam in 1944. I at least had resisted their demand that I wear a tie.

I called my former classmate from Akiba, Michael Ashkenazi, to tell him I had arrived. I had the impression that the Ashkenazis had agreed to host me in Israel, but, in retrospect, I am not sure that they fully shared that impression. Michael seemed a bit surprised to hear from me but told me to get in a bus to Beersheba, the capital of the southern (Negev) desert, where his family would pick me up. They lived in that city’s suburb, Omer, where Michael’s father was stationed as a judge for the Bedouin tribes of the Negev. I found a bus to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and boarded another for Beersheba.

Northeast of Beersheba, Omer today is invariably described as an “upscale” suburb, but that is not how it looked to a teenager from suburban Philadelphia in 1967. It consisted of modest bungalows laid out on small streets branching off a main street connecting to Highway 60, the “Route of the Patriarchs,” a road that had only recently been reopened, connecting Beersheba to Hebron, Jerusalem, Jenin, and Nazareth.

The Ashkenazis had a maid who came daily to help with the housekeeping and cooking in their three-bedroom bungalow. She was a Libyan who had moved to Omer from the nearby “ma’abarot” or transfer camps that housed immigrants from the Arab world and were closed in 1962. Over 30,000 of Libya’s estimated 40,000 Jews had moved to Israel after a series of pogroms and anti-Jewish riots in 1948-1951. The Libyan Jewish community was legally dissolved in 1958, and the State deprived almost all Jews of citizenship in 1961. Similar persecutions occurred in much of the Arab world in response to the founding of Israel and the wars of 1956 and 1967, just as Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi had warned Herzl they would.

Despite the maid, the Ashkenazis’ life style in their government-assigned bungalow was modest by American middle-class standards. That evening, on a cot next to Michael’s bed, I learned for the first time that it was possible to sleep without a special outfit called pajamas and to wash one’s face without a special item called a washcloth. The next morning, I learned that the Israel was not flowing with milk  — I quickly exhausted the family’s supply.

In Beersheba the next day I saw my first mosque (I don’t know if there were any in Philadelphia in those days) – and then went to a movie with some of Michael’s friends. Michael’s friends played backgammon (sheshbesh) in the street. One of them, a chronic loser, responded to every defeat by declaring, “nitzahon musari” (a moral victory) — a joke that reminded us of the realvictory Israel had just won, as compared to the Jews’ long history of winning only moral victories.

On Thursday I made a foray with Michael into the Negev. I was surprised to see black-skinned, African looking Bedouin in the market (suq) in Beersheba. We visited the kibbutz of Sdeh Boker, where former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was living. Just before the war, on May 22, Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin had paid a secret visit to Ben Gurion, who told him the government was committing a serious mistake by going to war.[7]We went on to Dimona, site of the reactor where Israel was about to start full-scale production of nuclear weapons.

Back in Omer that evening, we went to the community center to watch “Shisha Yamim la-Netzach” (Six Days to Victory), a film that ended with images of Israel’s soldiers arriving at the Wailing Wall, listening to IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blow the shofar, and then singing Naomi Shemmer’s “Jerusalem of Gold.” The song, which had won the Israel song contest the day Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, included a verse reminiscent of the Book of Lamentations, as if nothing had happened in Jerusalem since the destruction of the Second Temple:

How the cisterns have dried, the marketplace is empty,

And no one frequents the Temple Mount in the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain winds are howling

And no one descends to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho.

Now it was constantly on the radio with a new final verse:

We have returned to the cisterns, to the market and to the marketplace —

A ram’s horn (shofar) calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City.

And in the caves in the mountain thousands of suns shine —

We will once again descend to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho!

As the novelist Amos Oz pointed out at the time, before June 1967 East Jerusalem’s marketplaces, Harm al-Sharif, and the road to Jericho had been full of people for centuries – Palestinians, travelers, and Christian, Muslim, and (until 1948) Jewish pilgrims. The only gold I saw in Jerusalem was the gilt on the Dome of the Rock (Kipat ha-Sela’ in Hebrew) over the Mosque of Omar on Harm al-Sharif.[8]

The next night, Sabbath Eve, I hung out with friends of Michael and his younger sister Tamar. Between songs by Los Paraguayos, a Latin American group popular in Israel, I flirted with one of Tamar’s friends over a game of Ping-Pong. We amused ourselves listening to recordings of broadcasts from the opening days of the war by the Egypt-based Hebrew radio station, “Kol ha-Ra’am mi-Kahir” (the Voice of Thunder from Cairo), warning Israelis in heavily accented Hebrew, “Our valiant fedayin are circulating in the streets of Tel Aviv.” I found it so hilarious that I brought a copy home.

On the Sabbath Michael’s parents took us on an archeological hike. In a thorny desert grove, we explored cisterns hewn from stone in Ottoman times to capture the overflow of periodic rains from the nearby wadi. Michael and I got on a bus to Tel Aviv, where we stayed at his parents’ permanent home in the genuinely upscale residential neighborhood of Tzahala.

I spent the next day in Tel Aviv with Michael and a friend of his named Ilan Carmel. They spoke constantly of the Army they were about to join. I was six months away from registering for the draft in the U.S., where the war in Vietnam was escalating, but I knew that attending Yale would entitle me to a 2-S student deferment. We met another friend, Yoram Sharett. Michael told me his family members were like the “Kennedys of Israel” – his grandfather had been prime minister and Ben Gurion’s deputy. We walked down Dizengoff Street, where we saw some of those things that marked Tel Aviv apart from the rest of Israel – Philippine workers, multi-lingual pornography, street prostitutes, and the California Café of peace activist Abie Nathan, an Iranian-born Israeli pilot who in 1966 had flown to Egypt in his plane, Shalom 1, to present a petition for peace to Nasser. He was sent back to Israel from Port Said, where his plane landed, without delivering the petition, and arrested on his return. We stopped in front of the Ministry of Defense, where I was admonished to take no photos.

We spent that evening, Monday, August 14, at the Carmels’ house, where I was bombarded with questions like whether all of America was like Texas. Texas, Shmexas, it was the eve of Tisha be-Av, and the radio broadcast services live from the Wailing Wall. This was the first Tisha Be’Av after Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif to Muslims), including the Wailing (Western) Wall. That wall includes remnants of the second temple as rebuilt by Herod the Great in 19 B.C.E., though most of it was rebuilt by Muslim rulers since the seventh century. Tisha Be’av commemorates the day that the First and Second Temples fell to the Babylonians and Romans respectively, as well as the day of the Roman massacre of the city of Betar, which wiped out the Bar Kochba uprising in 135 C.E. This was the first Tisha Be-Av that the Wall and the Temple Mount were under Jewish control since 70 C.E., when the Roman General Titus completed the work of his father, the Emperor Vespasian, by crushing the Great Revolt of the Jews and destroying the Second Temple. The Book of Lamentations, by tradition the lament of the Prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE was chanted in several different traditional cantellations, or nushaot. The announcer provided a history lesson: the wall we see today was built by Herod the Great. Now we are back again.

The next morning, Michael, Ilan and I took the train to Jerusalem. The first stop outside Tel Aviv was Lod. Then came Ramla, which the UN partition plan had awarded to the Arab state of Palestine, but which Ben Gurion had ordered the army to capture. It was during the battles in that area, on April 9, 1948, that the right-wing Irgun Zevai Leumi (Etzel or National Military Organization) led by Menahem Begin carried out the massacre of over a hundred villagers in Deir Yassin, an Arab village between Ramla and Jerusalem that had signed a truce with the Haganah. This was the only 1948 act of massacre and ethnic cleansing acknowledged and apologized for by the Haganah, though Etzel always claimed that nothing happened in Deir Yassin that did not happen in many other places, such as Lod/Lydda. Deir Yassin eventually became the Har Nof neighborhood of an expanding Jerusalem, where on November 18, 2014, two Arab men from East Jerusalem killed four worshippers and a Druze policeman trying to protect them at Kehilath Bnei Torah synagogue.

We passed groves of oranges and olives – “the most protected trees in Israel,” Ilan told me – at least some of which must once have belonged to the Palestinians driven out nearly twenty years before. It was against the law to cut down olive trees, Ilan said, though in later years Israeli settlers on the West Bank often cut down the olive trees of their Palestinian neighbors.

In 1988 I had another experience with Israeli olive trees. After attending a conference in Herzliya, another upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, I traveled north to Kibbutz Kabri, east of Nahariya on the Lebanese border. There I stayed with Anna Farkas, the sister of a friend from the University of Chicago and Yale, and her husband, Yosi. The Farkases were Hungarian-speaking Jews from Romanian Transylvania who left Romania when emigration opened up after 1968. One evening they served me olives from the kibbutz with some wine. The olives came from very old trees, Yosi told me. It seemed, in fact, that the trees were older than the kibbutz, founded in 1949. They had belonged to the Arabs who had lived in the village of al-Kabri since the time of the Crusaders. And where are they? I asked. Over there, Yosi said, nodding toward the Lebanese border. And what happened to them? I asked. Yosi started to explain but stopped himself. “Pashut nitgarshu,” he said. They were simply expelled. On March 27, 1948, armed Palestinian villagers attacked a Jewish convoy, killing 49 people. In reprisal, the Haganah ordered al-Kabri destroyed. Most of the villagers fled. Those men who remained were lined up and executed into a ditch.[9]

Michael, Ilan, and I passed long trains making their way to Tel Aviv laden with Soviet-made military equipment — tanks, artillery, and trucks – captured from Egypt in the Sinai or Syria on the Golan Heights. Ilan explained how Israel kept “Persia” in line with agricultural, chemical, and industrial assistance. As for the holiday, he said – on Tisha be-Av we say “she-hecheyanu.” [The prayer thanking God for keeping us alive till this day.] “That’s enough until we reach Jerusalem.”[10]

After Ramla the train climbed, winding around the hillsides, approaching Jerusalem through the northern edge of what was later designated as the Judean Hills wine region, an appellation I learned of in Oslo in June 2011. Together with the Norwegian government, we at the Center on International Cooperation of NYU had organized a track 1.5 meeting (official participants in an unofficial setting) for representatives of Afghanistan and its major neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, and Turkey (China declined to participate in these meetings after the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident), as well as the U.S. and the UN. A special feature of this meeting was a briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney, whom we had invited to speak about U.S. construction of airfields and other military infrastructure in Afghanistan. In previous meetings Iran and, most vocally, Russia (in the person of its outspoken special envoy Zamir Kabulov) had said that such construction contradicted claims that the U.S. had no intention to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. At the first meeting in this series, Kabulov had responded to my presentation of the U.S. position by saying, “The trouble is, we don’t believe you.” Sedney explained how willing the U.S. Department of Defense was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on first-rate infrastructure that it would abandon or destroy in a few years. Kabulov shared a late-night bottle of whiskey with Sedney, but I don’t think he was convinced.

Tehran’s ambassador to Norway and his deputy represented Iran. Over the dinner where Sedney spoke, the Norwegian hosts tried to show their cultural sensitivity by offering the Iranians “non-alcoholic” wine, which upon closer inspection turned out to be low-alcohol wine (about two percent) produced in the Judean Hills region of Israel. The Iranians, no longer kept in line by Israeli assistance, declined, as did the Turkish representative, Burak Akçapar, who insisted on drinking Rioja like the rest of us.

After dropping off our bags at the apartment where we were staying, Michael and I headed for the Old City, which Michael, like me, had never visited. As the first site I noted in my diary was Gehennom, I imagine we entered the city by David’s Tomb and Mount Zion through the Zion Gate. Gehennom (Gei Ben-Hinnom in Hebrew), a valley where in ancient time the Canaanites to whom Elie Wiesel compared Hamas were said to sacrifice their children to the God Moloch, lies just south of Mount Zion.

Walking north, we soon found ourselves in the covered market close to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, between the Jaffa Gate and Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. We were not the only first-time visitors: an Israeli girl marveled: “There’s everything! We thought they had nothing!”[11]

In this market I had my first conversation with a Palestinian. A shopkeeper whose goods I examined unburdened himself, becoming bitterer the longer he spoke. While we were talking, Radio Amman played in the background. Since the crisis and war, Christian tourists had stopped coming, he said. The merchants had to buy new stamps. Packages sent to fill orders with the old (Jordanian) stamps were returned. He joked that he was now a stamp collector, as I had been a few years earlier. “It is not good on heart,” he said. He hoped for no more wars. The Israeli government should have asked the merchants about their problems.

His family had property on Yafo (Jaffa) Street in West Jerusalem, not more than a half-hour’s stroll from where we were talking, but it had been confiscated, and he could not visit it since 1948. What he wanted from Israel, he said, was to be considered a native of the land. His brother, who he claimed knew eighteen languages, had moved to, of all places, Zion, Illinois, after studying in Chicago. The shopkeeper summed up his views on human rights: “I think that is shit. A grave 180 by 140 centimeters is the end of everyone.”

Michael and I made the short walk to the “Kotel,” the Wailing or Western Wall. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t there. Whatever we had heard on the radio the night before was the sole commemoration. Today it was business as usual. The area did not even seem particularly busy. We had to leave quickly to be on time to see Professor Jacob Katz.

Since Michael and I were not observing the fast, we had a quick shashlik on the street and took a bus to the Kiryat Noar neighborhood on the southeastern edge of the city, where Katz lived with his wife. The neighborhood was full of green and gardens. Katz, a kippah-wearing scholar who had completed his PhD in Nazi Germany in 1936, reminded me of Dr. Gundesheimer, the German refugee Talmud and ancient history teacher at Akiba. Although Katz and his wife were observing the Tisha be-Av fast, they offered us water, tea, cookies, and, eventually a light supper. Katz thanked me for translating his book, and we talked of hitchhiking in Israel, the Holocaust, and the meaning of prayer.

As evening fell, Michael and I got back on a bus back to the center of town, where my classmate Avi Katz and Pnina Rosenberg, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg’s daughter, who had been a year behind Michael and me at Akiba, was enrolled in some summer program. We surprised Avi and Pnina at the hostel where she and the others in the program were staying. We went out on some excursion, and I left my camera under a bunk. That was the last I saw of my camera or the pictures I had taken during my first week in Israel.

We spent the next couple of days with some relatives of Michael’s in Jerusalem, some of whom mocked the euphoria over the Kotel/Wall by calling it a “Diskotel” or “Discotheque Shechinah,” Shechinah being the Kabbalistic term for the immanent, feminine presence of God that had been exiled from this world, as the people of Israel were exiled from their land, when the Temple was destroyed. At their home I met a soldier who had received a battlefield commission as lieutenant for his service in the Golani Brigade during the war. He spoke of a brother-in-law who was lauded as a war hero in the battle for Jerusalem but now awoke suddenly at night shouting, “Eysh! Eysh!” – fire, or “incoming” in U.S. military slang.

The next day, August 17, we took the train back to Tel Aviv. I ended up seated next to a Yemenite yeshiva student concerned about my secular life style. I would have liked to talk to him, but, alas, I could not understand his Hebrew well enough. The Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew is considered the closest to Biblical Hebrew. Jews lived in Yemen for at least two thousand years, possibly since Biblical times, as the Bible speaks of close ties, including marriage, between King Solomon and the Yemenite kingdom of Sheba (Sab’a). In the century before Islam Yemeni tribes that had converted to Judaism established a Jewish kingdom in southern Arabia (Yemen means “south”) and massacred thousands of Christians. During over 1,300 years of Muslim rule, the position of the Jews oscillated between being tolerated second-class subjects under Sunni rulers, and being harshly persecuted when power fell into the hands of the Shi’a Zaidi sect, today represented by the Houthis.  Jewish responses to persecution included several Yemenite pseudo-messiahs, one of whom inspired an epistle from Maimonides, the Igeret Taiman(Epistle to Yemen). A tenth of the Yemenite Jewish population emigrated to Palestine in the early twentieth century, when Yemen was briefly under Ottoman rule. As Ottoman subjects, Yemenite Jews could move anywhere in the empire, and, following their religious inclination, many moved to Palestine. As elsewhere in the Arab world, the founding of Israel set off anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in Yemen in 1948. Eighty-two Jews were killed. Most of the community was airlifted to Israel in 1949-1950 in Operation Magic Carpet.

Michael and I intended to visit the Jezreel Valley and northern Israel. Since we had no magic carpet, after arriving in Tel Aviv we started to hitchhike north along the Haifa Highway. It was tough competing for rides with all the hitchhiking soldiers, especially girls, but one guy finally picked us up. We drove with the sparkling Mediterranean on our left and got out on the western outskirts of Hadera. Hadera, gateway to Jezreel and the site of the largest Zionist land purchase in Palestine, in 1891, was the scene of one of early Zionism’s greatest successes: the draining of the malarial swamps and the founding of a self-sustaining agricultural settlement. But the purchase of the land from a Christian Arab absentee landlord living in Beirut led to conflict with the local bedouin whose customary grazing rights the Jewish settlers did not recognize.

Walking through town on the way to the home of yet another Ashkenazi relative, Michael and I bought “dumbbell” hats – kova’ tembel — for our upcoming hike. Our host kept an enormous collection of birds. After a lunch of fried eggs and tomato-cucumber salad, we rested on a veranda overlooking the thirty-five dunams our host farmed in Hadera. After lunch, he drove us to Moshav ha-Yogev (Cooperative Settlement “The Farmer”), 40 kilometers up the Valley, half of the way to Mount Tabor, where I discovered an agrarian paradise.  There he had forty dunams with grazing milk cows, pear orchards, vineyards, and olive groves, all watered from a nearby reservoir. Through the clear dry summer air we gazed at Mount Tabor and the hill of Nazareth in the distance. Ahead of us the Valley stretched to Afula and beyond, where the Ottoman cavalry had been camped on April 16, 1799. The night before, Napoleon’s general Kléber marched his men south from Nazareth around the eastern slopes of Mt. Tabor to surprise the Ottoman force at daybreak and join up with Napoleon himself. The emancipator of the Jews had just arrived at Mt. Tabor from the siege of Acre, while a captive Rebbe Nahman had managed to escape before the battles started and sailed on toward Rhodes and his personal emancipation.[12]

Our host showed us Ha-Yogev’s public services: a public hall, a tractor shed, cold storage for produce, a mill to produce fodder and silage, a cooperative store (tzorchaniya) – and an arsenal. The village was on guard for attacks by al-Fatah, coming from the West Bank – Jenin was only 21 kilometers away. There must have been a synagogue, but we didn’t see it. Here the milk was flowing — we drank that morning’s directly from the dairy truck. As we walked, our host asked me about events in the U.S. It was the “long hot summer” of 1967. The struggle for racial justice in the U.S. had been transmuted from the peaceful March on Washington into a series of violent uprisings. That summer, there were 159 “riots” in American cities, including major clashes in July in Newark (26 dead) and Detroit (43 dead). In both cases the National Guard was called up, and President Johnson deployed the U.S. Army to Detroit. Our host said of the black rioters, “I don’t blame them.” We watched the sun set behind Mount Tabor through the high hedge that bordered his house.

Michael and I rose at 6:30 the next morning and started to hike. We passed the Hill of Megiddo, Har Megiddo in Hebrew, transliterated into Greek as “Armageddon,” where, according to the Book of Revelation, Satan would muster the armies of Gog and Magog in the final battle against the messiah and his followers, and where so many historical battles had taken place. Here an ancient town bestrode the pass linking the Egypt of the Pharaohs to Mesopotamia.  In the fifteenth century BC, Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite army at Megiddo, extending the Egyptian empire into Syria. Alexander the Great marched this way from Egypt to Babylon and on to Persia and India. Had Napoleon been able to consolidate his position in the Galilee after defeating the Ottoman cavalry, he too could have proceeded east in the footsteps of Alexander, toward Damascus, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India, but the British Navy cut off his supply lines.

At Megiddo the British General Edmund Allenby had defeated the Ottoman army, allied with the Central Powers, in August 1918, commanding imperial troops newly reinforced from India, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. This battle opened the same road to Damascus Napoleon had tried to control, assuring that Palestine would come under the authority of a British Empire committed as ever to securing transit routes to India. Britain also sought control of Palestine to guard pipelines carrying petroleum, the new black gold of the internal combustion engine, from fields in Syria and northern Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean via the port of Haifa, and to enhance control of the Suez Canal. Britain’s ally, Russia, beset by internal conflict, was doing poorly on the eastern front, where the Jews of Galicia and Ukraine lived. This population, the reserve manpower of Zionism, inhabited strategic territory between the Central Powers (Germany and Austria), where Jews were treated better than in Britain’s virulently anti-Semitic ally, Russia. A struggle was underway to gain their loyalty. I saw that struggle chronicled in a special exhibit on the role of Jews in Marshal Pilsudski’s Polish Legion in Warsaw’s Museum of Jewish life in Poland, Polin, in September 2014, the day after I returned from my visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. These considerations provided a strategic rationale for whatever religious beliefs and humanitarian concerns may have led some in “His Majesty’s Government” to “view with favour the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine,” in the words of the Balfour Declaration.

Allenby’s victory effectively ended German efforts to undermine the Allied rear. For several years before, a German mission had tarried in Kabul, seeking the support of Amir Habibullah Khan to pressure the British to divert forces to India by launching a campaign for the full independence of Afghanistan and the freedom of India. Since the 1879 Treaty of Gandamak, the British had permitted Afghanistan to host no foreign legation other than one from British India; the British controlled Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. The German mission, whose presence arguably violated that treaty, won the support of Habibullah’s brother, Prince Nasrullah and his son, Prince (later Amir and King) Amanullah, but the Amir ultimately maintained Afghanistan’s neutrality. His refusal to move against the British was the main reason for his assassination in 1919, after which his son and successor, Amanullah Khan, launched the Third Anglo-Afghan War, resulting in Afghanistan’s full independence, just as Palestine fell under the British mandate.

Michael and I left the small road we had been taking and followed a wadi south between some fields. An elderly Palestinian man with a grey moustache dressed in a robe and kafiya walked towards us in the middle distance. While in 1948 most of the Palestinian population had been expelled from or fled the villages and towns in the plains, we were entering the hills of Galilee, where a substantial Arab population had remained. Since 1949, when Ha-Yogev was established, the government of Israel had pursued a policy of “Judaization of the Galilee” (Yehud ha-Galil). Israel established an exclusively Jewish “Upper Nazareth” over the Arab town in 1954 and in 1964 founded a new Jewish regional development town, Karmiel, on land confiscated from the Arab villages of Deir al-Asad, Bi’ina and Nahf.

As we and the Arab approached each other, I walked to the side of the path to give him a wide berth. Michael looked at me as if I were insane and exchanged Arabic greetings with the man (al-salaam ‘aleikum). After the man had passed, Michael asked me, “Why did you do that?” I don’t know what answer I came up with, but the reason was fear of the other, to be generous.

We continued on till we reached the main road and got a lift to the Afula crossroads (Tzomet Afula), where Highway 65, the road up the Jezreel Valley, meets Highway 60, the same road that ran from Nazareth to Beersheba, passing Omer along the way. Michael suggested we hitchhike through the West Bank, via Jenin and Shechem (Nablus) to Jerusalem, but we did not have the special permits required, and none of the drivers was willing to extend his permit to us. Michael attributed this to our lack of “protektsia,” the Russian word used in Israel to denote connections that get you favors, like “guanxi” in China or “wasita” in Afghanistan.

We took a bus back to Tel Aviv and then to the suburb of Ramat ha-Sharon, where family friends of the Ashkenazis named Green lived. On the bus from Tel Aviv to Ramat ha-Sharon we met a South African Jewish volunteer, who said that Ramat ha-Sharon was “crawling” with South Africans. He was reading The October Country, a collection of eerie stories by Ray Bradbury, He said that his grandmother in South Africa had said, “Give the blacks what they want.” He also advised us Americans to end the war in Vietnam, which was so far from the U.S.

At the Greens’ in Ramat ha-Sharon I was happy to find Michael’s sister, Tamar. We compared notes on shopping. We dropped in to visit some of the Ashkenazis’ South African relatives whose “gorgeous” ultra-modern house impressed me. I even learned how much it cost to build it: IL 250,000. I was shocked when our host disparaged the religio-nationalist euphoria over the capture of East Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall, he said, was “just stones.” Michael, meanwhile, was mocking the Chinese Red Guards who were still rampaging through the Cultural Revolution. He performed his best imitation of American gang slang to show how the Red guards used the  “exchange of revolutionary experiences” to tell their rivals, “Hey, man, you’re on my turf.”

We ran into Yoram Sharett again. He described a recent trip to Europe. There were no showers in Paris, he said, and the Germans still claimed their lands across the Oder-Neisse line (the Polish border), up to Königsberg, now a Soviet enclave known as Kaliningrad. Yoram shocked me by showing me his German knife and praising the engineering of German products, which many Jews were still reluctant to buy.

It was Friday night. People were singing and dancing in the streets, doing the Horah to “Der Rebbe Elimelech,” a Yiddish dancing tune modeled on “Old King Cole” written by a Jewish communist in New York in 1927. (“Und der Rebbe Elimelech iz gevorden seyer frailich, iz gevorden seyer frailich, Elimelech!”)[13]Then they switched to army songs, including a jazzy version of the “Song of the Palmach”:

Though the storm is ever mounting

Still our heads remain unbowed.

We are ready for our orders,

We, we, The Palmach.

From Metulla to the Negev,

From the sea to the desert,

All our youth are under arms,

All the youth are on the guard.

On the eagle’s path in the sky,

On the wild ass’s trail in the mountains,

Through stony heights and caverns,

We are tracking down the enemy.

We are always in the vanguard,

By light of day and in the dark,

Always ready for our orders,

We, we, the Palmach.[14]

We went back to the Ashkenazis’ house, where Michael, Tamar, and I sat outside, talking on the curb late in the night. Without pressure from outside, we concluded, there would never have been a Jewish state.

We slept in the next day, despite being temporarily awakened at 6 A.M. by the congregation of a Sephardic synagogue marching through the streets of Tzahala chanting the Sabbath morning service. That evening I caught the bus to Jerusalem by myself. Avi and Pnina’s group was having some kind of party with Yemenite drummers. Avi and I took over the drums to try to prove that the African diaspora culture we had absorbed growing up in Philadelphia gave us a special sense of swing.

Now that I was on my own, I became a full-fledged tourist. I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Palace of the Book (Heichal ha-Sefer). At the Knesset I saw the Chagall murals. At the President’s official residence (Beit ha-Nasi) I saw his official gifts including elephant tusks, miniature golden temples from Nepal, and some books from Lyndon Johnson. I climbed Mount Herzl to see the military cemetery with those who had fallen in 1948, 1956, and now 1967. There I found the graves of Herzl and the right-wing Zionist leader Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. I don’t think I had any idea who Jabotinsky was or what he stood for, but as a hard-line nationalist he understood the Palestinians’ challenge to Zionism better than most liberal or leftist Zionists. In 1923 he compared the Palestinian people to other vanquished nations that had lost their homeland:

They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence.[15]

Below the slope of Har Herzl was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, where I had an incongruous encounter with the Harvard-Radcliffe glee club. Only six years had passed since the trial of Adolf Eichmann, before which the Holocaust had not played the huge role in public discourse about Israel that it did later. As a sixth and seventh-grade student I had followed Eichmann’s trial in 1961-62. I particularly remember one incident from the testimony against him – when the trains arrived in one of the extermination camps, and the prisoners had been gathered on the quay for selection, an SS guard quieted a wailing baby by smashing his? her? head against a wall. I read Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” when it was published in two installments in The New Yorkerin February 1963, one month after my bar mitzvah. At Akiba one afternoon we assembled in the library to watch a movie – the Germans’ internal raw footage of the starvation, humiliation, and, finally, extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto. One night I had sat on the lawn of a classmate’s parents’ ranch house in Wynnefield – both of his parents had tattooed numbers from Auschwitz on their forearms – as my friend asked his father a question he never tired of — what was it like to be whipped? As his father, a jeweler, demonstrated to his son’s clumsy friend the right way to string pearls on a wire, watching intently the delicate and deliberate motions of the fingers of his two hands, he recited words he seemed to have repeated often – being whipped was like having your back sliced by a knife, over and over again. Yet he was one of the lucky ones – he had been selected for labor rather than immediate extermination. He had been sent to the barracks at Auschwitz rather than the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau, and he had survived to raise a family in Philadelphia.

I went back to the apartment of Ruth Rigby, a friend of the Ashkenazis where I was staying. Ruth had lived in London during the Blitz. I read some essays by George Orwell and went to sleep.

I spent three more days by myself in Jerusalem before returning to Omer on the evening of August 23. I visited the shrines of the three monotheistic religions. I left God a note (petek) at the Wailing Wall and visited the Hurva Synagogue. The main Ashkenazi synagogue in the Old City, it was first built in the early eighteenth century, destroyed soon after, rebuilt in 1864 by the followers of the Vilna Gaon, the leading opponent of Hasidism, and destroyed again by the Arab Legion in 1948. It was still in ruins when I saw it, but a commemorative arch was dedicated in 1977 and a new synagogue in the old style consecrated in 2010.

I visited the Dome of the Rock, where I saw the stone on which Abraham had started to sacrifice Isaac, or from which Muhammad’s steed had ascended to heaven, depending on which unverifiable story one favors. For the first time in my life I heard the call to prayer of the muezzin, simultaneously from Haram al-Sharif and another mosque from a nearby valley. I walked down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, encompassing the site of the crucifixion, burial, and, reportedly, resurrection of perhaps the most successful Jewish messianic claimant to date.  Katz described Jesus’s career as part of the political turmoil leading up the Great Revolt and destruction of the Temple:

The expectation of redemption kept growing among the people. . . . It is no wonder that men arose from among the nation calling themselves messiahs. . . . Most of the false messiahs were isolated among the people and have disappeared from memory. Only one of them managed to attract many believers and establish a name for himself for generations to come. That man was Jesus of Nazareth.[16]

I marveled at the complex arrangements among the various Christian sects. As Mark Twain noted, remarking on the need for Turkish guards at the site, “All sects of Christians (except Protestants) have chapels under the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and each must keep to itself and not venture upon another’s ground. It has been proven conclusively that they cannot worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the world in peace.”[17]In a monastery on Mount Olive I saw a pavement lined with Jewish tombstones uprooted from the ancient cemetery there. I visited the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. On the way I saw the plaque commemorating the killing of seventy-eight Jewish medical personnel and Haganah fighters and one British soldier in an ambush by Arab forces on April 13, 1948. The convoy was transporting medical supplies to Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, which the Arabs claimed was being used as a base to attack them. They were also taking revenge for the massacre of Deir Yassin four days before.

I toured Gethsemane and the tomb of Mary, many other tombs (of kings, Absalom, David, and the Ben Hazir priestly family). I visited the tunnel supposedly dug by King Hezekiah to bring the water of the spring of Siloam inside the city walls in preparation for the siege by the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, a Jordanian bunker, and the underground ruins of the pre-Israelite Jebusite settlement.

The dirt and disorder bothered me almost as much as it had Mark Twain and Herzl. I found the Jewish quarter a “mess.” The Via Dolorosa, I noted, was “narrow and dirty.” The Muslim quarter was the “dirtiest,” a jarring contrast to the magnificent dome of the Mosque of Omar.

One afternoon I took a tour to the nearby parts of the West Bank. Our bus stopped at Rachel’s Tomb, Bethlehem (where I tasted tamar hindi, tamarind juice), and Hebron, where I bought fresh almond milk from a street vender. We visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Cave of Machpelah, supposedly the burial plot that Abraham bought when his wife Sarah died. Since the Mamelukes constructed a mosque on the site in the thirteenth century, Jews were permitted only up to the seventh step of the entrance and completely barred after 1948. Our tour group entered the mosque less than two months after IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first Jew to enter the premises in seven centuries, who came to Hebron after blowing the shofar at the Wall. Skirmishes leading to injuries and the destruction of Torah scrolls continued in Hebron for a decade after that as Israel used its occupation to establish the right of Jews to pray there.  In February 1994, Purim, Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler, massacred twenty-nine worshippers in the mosque, leading to a rare joint demonstration of solidarity by the Muslim and Jewish student associations at Columbia University, where I was teaching at the time.

This shrine exemplifies the intimacy of the conflict. In June 2011 at the Oslo Forum, I spoke to the former foreign minister of the Taliban, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil in the lobby of the Bristol Hotel. I had first met Mutawakkil when he led a delegation to New York in January 1997, asking the U.N. to grant the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” the country’s seat in the General Assembly. I chaired a gathering where he spoke at Columbia University. He promised that the Taliban would cooperate with the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism, which led a religious leader of the Muslim community of Columbia University (a Pakistani, I believe) to criticize him harshly for accepting America’s definition of “terrorism.” I met him again in Kandahar in June 1998, when UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi asked me to go to Afghanistan to give my impressions of how the UN was carrying out its various missions. Mutawakkil’s interpreter was a young man named Tayyib Agha, later the lead negotiator for the Taliban in their unofficial office in Qatar.

After the post-9/11 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, Mutawakkil surrendered and was placed under house arrest in Kandahar. He expressed willingness to bring a group of Taliban into the new system, but Vice President Dick Cheney reversed CIA attempts to integrate the Taliban into the new order and ordered him detained –he was kept in Bagram for five years. I met him again in Kabul shortly after his release in 2006: he lived there as a “reconciled” Talib, supporting efforts for a negotiated solution.

Somewhere during all this I told Mutawakkil that I was Jewish, which apparently piqued his curiosity. During a lull in our conversation in Oslo, he asked me if I knew why Jews and Arabs were fighting. I said I had my own ideas, but I would like to hear his. “Tarburwali,” he said. “Tarburwali” is Pashto for rivalry between cousins or other agnates (patrilineal relatives). In Pashto lore, tarburwali can develop into the most intense and violent hatred, as cousins fight over the legacy of their common male ancestor – in this case, Abraham. It is a myth that Jews and Arabs can trace their lineage to a common ancestor who lived about four thousand years ago, a myth to which Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi referred in his letter, but regardless of the distribution of genetic material, the two groups are cultural and religious cousins. Otherwise they would not be fighting over the same land and holy places. As Mutawakkil recognized, the hostility is political, not religious – tarburwali derives from the secular tribal code of Pashtunwali, not the Islamic shari’a.

Because of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the religious, pre-Zionist Jewish community considered Hebron one of the land’s four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. In August 1929 Arab rioters killed sixty-seven Jews from the traditional community. Tensions had been building since the British established their mandate. They not only destroyed the Ottoman Empire (with the help of Turkish and Arab nationalists), but reneged on their commitments to the Arabs. The British, through T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) had supported the Arab uprising against the Turks, and many Arabs expected Palestine to be incorporated into a Hashemite kingdom based in Damascus. Instead the Arabs got colonial rule: the British mandate for Palestine and the Sykes-Picot Agreement for the rest of the Levant.

The British rulers, carrying out their mandate to support the establishment of a Jewish National Home, relaxed the constraints on Jewish immigration and land purchase imposed, if ineffectively, by the Ottomans. Jews fleeing rising anti-Semitism in Europe arrived in increasing numbers. The Palestinians no longer had any access to sovereignty with which to regulate immigration, unlike the U.S., which. under the influence of racist and anti-Semitic ideologies, had enacted restrictive legislation intended to preserve the predominance of Northern European “races” in the population.  The lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915 demonstrated the intensity of U.S. anti-Semitism at the time. In 1929, the same year as the riots in Palestine, the U.S. Congress made the exclusionary immigration quotas enacted in 1921 and 1924 permanent. Jews were largely barred from immigrating to the U.S., but they could come to Palestine, where they no longer faced the obstacle of indigenous sovereignty that had confronted Rebbe Nahman and Theodore Herzl in the port of Jaffa.

Simmering resentment boiled over in August 1929, when right-wing Zionists demonstrated at the Wailing Wall, claiming the Temple Mount for the Jewish people. Rumors spread that Jews were attacking Arabs and the Muslim holy places – in Jerusalem one Jew was stabbed to death and three Arabs shot and killed. Rioters killed sixty-seven Jews in Hebron, and Jewish residence in Hebron came to an end till it was re-established by conquest in 1967.  The 1929 wave of violence also claimed the lives of 18-20 Jews from the traditional community in Safed.

While I was in Jerusalem, something started that has not stopped yet: people asked me for directions wherever I go: Kabul, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, Istanbul….  One day late in the morning just outside the Old City an Arab boy, who was about the same size as my ten-year old cousin Michael Buckman but said he was thirteen, asked me in English how to get to Rachel’s Tomb. He must have missed it on the way to Jerusalem, because he had fled from Bethlehem when his father beat him that morning. Rachel’s Tomb is between the two towns, just east of Highway 60. I took him to the YMCA across from the King David Hotel, where in July 1946 the Irgun Zeva’i Le’umi led by Menahem Begin had bombed the headquarters of the British mandatory and military authorities, killing ninety-one people. The hotel staff had shrugged off the telephoned warning of this terrorist attack amid a proliferation of fake bomb scares. In 1967 the hotel staff likewise shrugged off my inquiry and directed me to the police. I kept asking directions to the station – it look so long that I offered the boy some kabab for lunch, but he said he only wanted a roll. Eventually the police took him in.

After a three-day break in Omer with Michael and Tamar’s friends, there were only ten days left until Labor Day, September 4, when I would fly back to the U.S. in time to drive up to New Haven the next day and start Yale.  On August 27 I took a bus to Haifa, which I made the center of my tour of northern Israel and the occupied territories, both the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Haifa was the closest thing I saw to Herzl’s Altneuland. It surprised me with its unexpected combination of German/Austrian and Palestinian Arab café cultures. I bought wurst from a cart while Arabs smoked in a cafe with Lebanese TV playing in the background. From one street vendor I ordered “Eine Ganze (German for ‘a whole’) Mana (Hebrew for ‘portion’) von Falafel.”

On a tour of the Galilee as we drove up the Valley of Jezreel, I heard the Israeli account – how the Baron de Rothschild brought eucalyptus from Australian to drain the swamps, how Jews from around the world had financed the development of the valley, the breadbasket of Israel, which the Arabs had called the Dead Valley.  Wherever we traveled in northern Israel the guide told the tourists on the bus which Israelite tribe – Asher, Naftali, Efraim — had been allocated which territory by Joshua according to the Bible, but he remained largely mute about what changes in settlement or property rights might have occurred in the subsequent three thousand years, except to mention that before Zionist colonization the plots of land were too small to introduce modern farming methods. In 1910 Afula, or al-Fula, as the town was known in Arabic, was the site of a major land purchase by the Jewish National Fund, which bought 233,000 dunams from the Sursuq family in Damascus. They encountered resistance from both the peasants and the local Ottoman administration when they took possession of the land and expelled the peasants.[18]In graduate school a few years later I learned how empires commercialized rural areas and raised cash in the nineteenth century by turning traditional rights to tribute into full private property in land. In return for cash purchase from the state, the landlords could then sell all rights to the land in a single bundle called “property.” Peasants lost their land as a result in India as well as Palestine. I also learned how the claim that landholdings were too small for modern commercial farming was used to justify expropriation of peasant land in many colonial countries.

The guide took us through the familiar historical narrative from ancient times to the present, calling the roll of all those leaders and empires that had passed through, with emphasis on the Hebrew, Israelite, and Jewish ones: Abraham, Joshua, Deborah, Saul, David, Solomon, Josiah, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander, Antiochos, the Romans, the Byzantines, Caliph Umar, the Crusaders, Salahuddin, Richard the Lion-Hearted, the Turks, the English, and then, again, the Jews. Unless my note taking was faulty, he omitted Napoleon.

We stopped in Nazareth. It looked to seventeen-year-old me that that Arabs in Nazareth, citizens of Israel, were “very loyal” with “sweet Arab faces,” not like the wary ones I had seen in Hebron. We went on to Tiberias, overlooking the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), where Rabbi Nahman jumped over the wall to escape the plague quarantine. Along the lake I saw holes left by shells fired by Syria from the Golan Heights before the war. In Tiberias and Merun we visited the graves of some rabbis, including the tomb of Simeon bar Yohai. Elijah had left the premises. We went on to the restored fourth or fifth-century synagogue of Capernaum, perhaps the site where Jesus had taught, according to the Gospels. We saw the River Jordan where it flowed into the Sea of Galilee – it looked to me about a third of the size of the Schuylkill river that bisected Philadelphia, not much like the one Joan Baez sang about at the March on Washington: “The River Jordan is chilly and cold, it chills the body but warms the soul – all your trials, Lord, soon be over.”

On a tour of the Upper Galillee the guide told us that a year and a half earlier, the Knesset had decided to “fortify the north for seven years,” part of the plan to Judaize the Galilee. We visited the new all-Jewish town of Karmiel, founded in 1964 as the regional capital. When local Palestinians whose land had been expropriated to build the town applied for permission to live there, the Minister of Housing turned them down, saying “Karmiel was not built to solve the problems for the people in the surrounding area.”[19]Unlike the neighboring Arab villages, Karmiel had a new Town Council building, walled residential areas, and many supermarkets and cinemas. Many immigrants from the former Soviet Union have settled there.

We drove north to visit the reconstructed remains of the third-century Synagogue of Bar’am, on the Lebanese border. Tradition long held that this was the synagogue of Simeon bar Yohai, though he lived a century before the synagogue was built. The residents of the nearby Arab Christian village were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and replaced by a Kibbutz composed of demobilized Palmach soldiers. After lunch at Kibbtz Ayelet ha-Shahar, we drove through Meron, where Agnon’s goat emerged from Simeon bar Yohai’s cave, and took a brief look at the “entirely Jewish” town of Safed, where I noted the many art galleries.

Another day we crossed the Upper Galilee to the Golan Heights. We traversed the three lines of Israeli defenses below it. The guide led us into a stone bunker, where we tried to imagine the terror of being shut up underground shielding oneself from Syrian rockets. We crossed the bridge of Jacob’s Daughters and climbed the Golan. Druze villagers were threshing wheat in the fields beneath snow-covered Mt. Hermon. I swam in the chilly water of Baniyas at the source of the Jordan – here its water was indeed “chilly and cold” — with an assortment of other foreigners – a girl from New Jersey, a Jewish boy named Raphael Rubben from Egypt with a French passport and an Italian mother, who had been in Kinshasa (Leopoldville until the previous year) during the fighting a few years earlier, an Iranian Israeli from Ramat Gan, and Rivka Beilin, a biologist from New York.

I toured Haifa, visiting the world center of the Bahai faith with its luxuriant gardens on Mount Carmel. One day I went north to Acre. Here the succession of populations was inescapable, with Roman ruins recycled into Crusader monuments, reused as Ottoman and British prisons. My notes do not mention the Napoleonic siege or Haim Farhi. I went south to Caesarea, where I saw the hippodrome and a Roman temple of Aswan stone from Egypt. This was the town established by the Emperor Augustus as the seat of the Roman provincial administration of Judea. The Great Revolt broke out there in 66 C.E., when the Roman emperor Nero ruled in favor of the Greco-Syrian inhabitants, who demanded that the Jews of Caesarea be denied rights of citizenship, as befits those whose country has been occupied by others.

One long day – a Saturday – I took a tour of the West Bank.  The bus drove again from Haifa up the Jezreel Valley to Afula to the crossroads and turned south on Highway 60, where Michael and I had failed to hitch a ride. In Jenin I bought lemonade and flattered myself that I was getting along all right with my pidgin Arabic.  As we drove from Jenin to Nablus (Shechem) the guide explained that “Samaria,” the ancient name for this region, was derived from Shemer, from whom Omri, the ninth century B.C. founder of the Omrid dynasty of the northern kingdom of Israel, the father of King Ahab, purchased the site for his capital. I did not visit the Samaritan holy sites on Mt. Gerizim on that visit, but I saw them when I returned in 1999 for a meeting with the Palestinian analyst and pollster Khalil Shikaki.

In 1967 the tension in the market was palpable as our busload of mostly Israeli tourists dismounted. The guide explained that less than three months earlier the Israeli army had entered Nablus from the east. The Army drove south from Bait She’an to secure the Jordan Valley and cut off the West Bank from Jordan, where the government had stationed two brigades of the Arab Legion and an Iraqi brigade across the Damia Bridge, with three more brigades on the way from Baghdad. The soldiers had removed their insignia, and the population, which mistook them for the Arab Legion, lined the streets shouting “Ya’ish,” tossing flowers on the soldiers, and asking for arms to fight Israel. “Ma pitom, anahnu Yisrael” – “Hold on, we are Israel,” the troops answered.

I bought a Pepsi from a vender in the marketplace, who, to my surprise, spoke Hebrew. I asked him where he was from. He answered, “From near Nahal Yarkon,” the river that empties into the port of Tel Aviv after running through a park two blocks south of Shmuel Yosef Agnon Street. When I didn’t know where the Yarkon was, he laughed with a kind of ironic resentment, thinking that I was an immigrant who didn’t even know the country’s basic geography, while he, a native-born Palestinian, could no longer visit his childhood home. I tried to mollify him by explaining I was an American tourist. I wandered off and lost my way in the market. I felt people staring at me. A group of boys pointed at me and shouted, “Yahud!” – a Jew!

I found my way back to the bus, which took off toward Jericho. We stopped at Gilgal, overlooking the site where, the guide said, Joshua, the Israelites, and the Ark of the Covenant had crossed over Jordan to the Promised Land. The wind buffeted us, sweeping down the Great Rift Valley extending from Eastern Anatolia to Kenya. (Geographic studies since then have determined that the Great Rift Valley is in fact several separate though contiguous rifts, but that did not shield us from the wind.) Over the River Jordan near the ancient crossing point were the remains of Damia Bridge to Jordan, which the Israeli Army had blown up in June to block the advance of Jordanian and Iraqi troops into the West Bank.

The Haganah had blown up the old bridge on night of June 16-17, 1946, in an operation (“Night of the Bridges”) targeting eight bridges used by the British Army. The Yishuv turned against the British toward the end of World War II, as Britain’s half-hearted attempts to mollify Arab protests against Jewish immigration clashed with the revelations about the Holocaust and the rising tide of refugees, who fled toward Palestine some out of sincere Zionism and many for lack of an alternative in a world where most sovereign states, including the U.S., enforced tight restrictions on immigration.

The guide, however, offered a different explanation for blowing up the bridge: the Haganah, he said, dynamited the bridge to prevent the Palestinian leader al-Hajji Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem, from returning to Palestine after spending much of the war in Berlin under Hitler’s protection. Husayni, for many years the best known Palestinian leader, gave Zionism one of its major propaganda victories. Like some Arab nationalists and other anti-colonial activists at the time, he saw Germany as a potential ally against Britain – and, in Husayni’s case, the Jews. A few weeks before writing this, in January 2015, I saw a picture of Husayni having tea with Hitler over the entrance to the downtown 1 subway at Lincoln Center. It was an ad by some organization dedicated to depicting opposition to Israel as anti-Semitism. According to Rashid Khalidi, the mufti believed that he could “play on great power rivalries with little cost to himself or to the cause of Palestine. The falsity of this notion,” Khalidi went on, “was to be proved when he fled to Germany during World War II, becoming a pariah, and gravely harming the Palestinian cause with which he had become identified.”[20]

I recognized Husayni’s name when the guide mentioned it – his collaboration with the Nazis was part of the narrative I had learned. Later in my life I even got into an argument about it. I spent the summer of 1974 in Jaipur, India, doing research for my M.A. thesis at the University of Chicago. At the University Guest House where I was staying, I met four Palestinian refugees from Lebanon who were enrolled in a medical residency program. At first we chatted about anodyne subjects such as the similarities of the Arabic and Hebrew languages – unlike the Pepsi vender in Nablus, they were unfamiliar with Hebrew. I got to know one of them better, and we both became slightly obsessed with trying to argue with and understand each other. One evening the conversation stumbled down a rathole:  he said that Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust, and I brought up al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni’s collaboration with the Nazis.

Husayni fled from a British warrant to arrest him for his leadership of the 1936-39 uprising. After staying some time in Damascus and Tehran, Mussolini’s intelligence service smuggled him to Rome, and he soon established himself in Berlin. He acted out the choice that faced many leaders of anti-colonial movements in the British Empire during World War II. Like others, he hoped that Britain’s war with Germany and Japan would weaken the colonial rulers, though few took their action to as high a level of open collaboration with the Nazis as Husayni.

One leader of the Indian National Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose, made the same choice as Husayni, though with more success. Husayni asked Hitler to enable him to lead an Arab Legion to free the Arab world from colonialism. Wary of his allies in Italy and Vichy France, both of whom had colonial possessions in the Arab world, Hitler never made such a commitment.[21]  Bose fled from an Indian prison to Berlin, where he gained Hitler’s support. The Germans eventually transferred him by submarine to the Japanese in Sumatra. With Japanese support he organized the Indian National Army, which fought the British with some initial success alongside the Japanese in Southeast Asia and Burma. After the war, the Congress praised Bose’s patriotism but distanced itself from his collaboration with fascism. Bose died in a plane crash in 1945 while trying to flee to the USSR. The Congress and the Muslim League joined forces to oppose the court martial of British Indian Army officers who had joined the INA, whom the Indian public perceived as patriots.

The mainstream leadership of the Indian National Congress took a different path. In the letter I received from Indira Gandhi’s aide in June 1967, he mentioned that Mrs. Gandhi’s father, Jawarharlal Nehru, “was in the forefront of the world’s protest against Nazis.” From the prison cell where the British held him during World War II, he wrote:

It was not merely the physical acts of aggression which fascism and nazism indulged in, not only the vulgarity and brutality that accompanied them, terrible as they were, that affected us. But the principles on which they stood and which they proclaimed to loudly and blatantly, the theories of life on which they tried to fashion themselves. For these went counter to what we believed in the present and what we had held from ages past.[22]

In the 1930s Nehru refused invitations from both Hitler and Mussolini, preferring instead to show his solidarity with Czechoslovakia by visiting Prague before Munich. He “wanted India to take her full share in the war against fascism and Nazism, but “only as a free country and an equal.”[23]When Germany attacked Poland in 1939, the British Viceroy declared that India was a party to the war as part of the British Empire. The leadership of the Indian National Congress passed a resolution expressing principled opposition to German aggression but offering India’s support to the war only as a sovereign country. Gandhi called the British insistence that independence could be negotiated only after the war was won “a post dated cheque on a crashing bank” and launched the Quit India movement. Most of the leaders of the Congress spent the war in prison in Agra, where Nehru wrote The Discovery of India.[24]

Palestinians paid the price both for having no anti-colonial leader with the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru and for wanting to save their land and homes from the Nazis’ worst victims.

Our bus passed the white mesas on the road to Jericho and kept going down Highway 90 until we reached Ein al-Feshkha for a dip in the Dead Sea – the warm, viscous water was the antithesis of the spring water of Baniyas. We stopped in Qumran, where Bedouin found the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we had lunch in the oasis of Ein Dik, where again I remarked on the presence of what I called “Negro Arabs.” Returning toward Jericho, we took route 1 west toward Jerusalem. In Ramallah, which I found clean and prosperous, I bought falafel, softer and larger than what I was accustomed to, and washed it down with some tamar hindi. We drove back via Nablus, where a muezzin was calling acoustically from the mosque – according to some boys I met, the electricity was out, so he couldn’t use the loudspeaker. We returned to Haifa via Hadera.

On Shabbat September 2, I hitchhiked to Ramla, where I caught a bus to Jerusalem. After dinner at the Rigbys I returned to Omer. I had only one more full day to visit Israel. On Monday September 4, Labor Day in the U.S., I had to take the bus to Lod and get on the plane. I decided to leave Omer that evening to pay a visit to Masada.

[1]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1780-1781). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1788-1790). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1790-1793). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 2054-2056). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5]Ari Shavit, My Israel.

[6]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 2068-2070). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[7]Rabin, Memoirs, pp. 75-76.

[8]I have since learned that the term “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) refers to a promise Rabbi Akiba gave to his wife, when her father cast her out of the house for marrying such a good-for-nothing against the family’s wishes, but to me and many other listeners the phrase evoked the view of the Old City from the surrounding hills, centered on the shining Dome of the Rock.

[9]Morris, Origin of the Palestine Refugee Problem.

[10]Be- tisha be-av mevarchim she-hecheyanu. Ze maspik ad Yerushalayim.

[11]“Yesh ha-kol! Hashavnu she-ain lahem kelum!”

[12]http://www.napoleon-series.org/ins/scholarship98/c_palestine.html.

[13]A recording can be found at http://www.folkways.si.edu/mark-olf/der-rebbe-elimelech-the-rabbi-elimelech/judaica/music/track/smithsonian.

[14]http://www.hebrewsongs.com/?song=shirhapalmach

[15]Mordechai Bar-On, In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement(Washington, DC: USIP, 1996), 12, cited by Morris, Righteous Victims, Kindle version, location 948.

[16]JK, YA 1:113.

[17]Twain, Innocents Abroad, p. 405.

[18]Khalidi, Identity, 106-110.

[19]Knesset debate, 2 Dec. 1964, page 486, cited in Jiryis, Ṣabrĭ (1976). The Arabs in Israel. New York : Monthly Review Press.

[20]Khalidi, The Iron Cage, pp. 113-114.

[21]Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem.

[22]Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 3.

[23]Ibid., p. 5.

[24]Ibid., pp. 339-381.

My modest comments as a reply to Jean:

J’ai été élevée dans un amour inconditionnel d’Israël par mon père pour qui il s’agit d’un miracle redonnant aux juifs leur dignité et leur patrie d’origine…

La première fois que des amis ont évoqué devant moi les exactions israéliennes envers les « Arabes » je l’ai ressenti comme une attaque personnelle et antisémite… J’avais 16 ans.

Puis un jour, longtemps après, mon mari de l’époque m’a raconté sa bouleversante visite dans un asile d’aliénés palestiniens. Il y allait rendre visite à la sœur d’un ami palestinien habitant en Arabie Saoudite et évidemment ne pouvant se rendre en Israël. Les conditions de vie et de traitement de ces personnes l’ont profondément choqué et ce fut pour la première fois la révélation que ce pays pouvait effectivement maltraiter des populations innocentes. Tu peux t’imaginer que cela m’a pris pas mal de temps pour m’en remettre…

Mais j’avais ma famille et mes amis dans ce pays, connaissais les exactions des terroristes palestiniens et par conséquent ai un peu enfoui ce sentiment de malaise.

Je ne sais plus exactement en quelle année un palestinien Israéliens s’est vu refuser avec sa famille l’accès à une maison en Israël dans un bon quartier au seul prétexte qu’ils étaient palestiniens. C’était je crois un médecin ou en tout cas quelqu’un d’éminemment respectable et d’un niveau social tout à fait équivalent à ses voisins potentiels. Ce fut pour moi la goutte de trop. De ce jour là j’ai cessé de défendre à tout prix Israël, me murant dans le silence chaque fois que la question était évoquée….Comme tant d’autres juifs comme moi, nous cachant un peu lâchement derrière l’excuse que, ne vivant pas en Israël, n’ayant pas d’enfants enrôlés dans Tsahal, nous ne pouvions pas nous prononcer sur ses affaires intérieures.

Certes, j’ai eu assez vite des amis Palestiniens, comme Jamil Dakwar, avec lesquels j’entretenais de très cordiales et amicales relation, mais nous nous en tenions, en matière israélienne à des considérations ne pouvons pas entraîner de véritables débats… Tous m’ont toujours dit que, ma famille paternelle étant palestinienne de manière non équivoque, ils m’accorderaient le droit du retour, à quoi je répondais et réponds toujours que je suis et resterai une juive de la diaspora quoi qu’il advienne!

Ce qui est arrivé ensuite, je le relate sur mon blog : https://cosmopolitique.org/2013/04/30/thank-you-jcall/

Lire les lignes de ton ami m’a permis de me remémorer de nombreuses expériences similaires depuis ma toute première visite l’été de mes 14 ans chez mon oncle qui a 18 ans avait fait son « Allyah » et qui est à présent boulanger à Paris depuis une quinzaine d’années !

Bref, en ce 70e anniversaire qui signifie tant de choses pour mon papa de 84 ans et pour bon nombre de mes amis, je me suis tue à nouveau sur ce qui se passe à Gaza où je compte quelques amis tels que Prof. Khader Tawfik Khader, tout de même !

Cela dit, je ne me fais aucune illusion : si un jour la Palestine voit le jour, sa première action sera de mettre jusqu’au dernier juif à la mer. Je ne crois pas une seconde à leurs déclarations de bonnes intentions. Certes, une minorité d’entre eux est de bonne volonté mais politiquement, ne fut-ce que par fierté envers les autres nations arabes, il ne pourra pas en être autrement.

Je milite donc pour une solution dont je connais à terme la conclusion et pourtant il n’y a pas d’autre solution possible, pour sauver notre âme au nom de nos 2000 ans d’exil.

Je me promène souvent à Belfast où je constate les futilités et le caractère instable des accords entre deux populations de même langue, toutes deux chrétiennes, et de culture commune… Comment dès lors être pragmatiquement optimiste ? Et comment l’être en entendant une mère affirmer tranquillement que la mort de son fils la rend fière ….? Je ne me suis pas rendue à l’enterrement de mon oncle adoré car je blâmais le gouvernement israélien avant même celui qui appuya sur la gâchette….même si je reste consciente qu’il y a des gens à Gaza qui aspirent simplement à vivre dans ce qui, sans le Hamas et aux mains de citoyens honnêtes et de bonne foi pourrait être une ravissante station balnéaire où je pourrais siroter un café turque sucré ‏الريحة

Mon seul  et infime espoir est dans l’extrême intelligence des Israéliens eux-mêmes. Ils sont absolument capables de tout et ce sont eux qui détiennent la clé de ce conflit. Et quand je dis les Israéliens, je pense à une frange hélas noyée dans une majorité séfarade et russe inculte et/ou bornée (je suis séfarade…).

Je pense aussi à la chanteuse Netta Barzilai qui incarne précise cet Israël ébouriffé et éblouissant….

À cela Jean (qui a eu du courage pour lire un texte dicté trop vite) a ajouté, et je suis tout à fait d’accord puisque c’est en recevant son texte que j’ai réagi et même si je peux lui citer mille organisations juives qui n’ont pas attendu son injonction tant il est vrai que “nous nous les servons nous-mêmes avec assez de verve”:

“Il va falloir qu’un jour on ait le courage de donner une baffe au peuple juif, pour le réveiller, comme à un enfant que l’on chérit, ou en montagne à celui qui est pris de vertiges, ceci parce que nous l’aimons profondément et l’admirons ;  et pour que ceux qui en son sein peuvent se sentir bien seuls dans  leur combat pour la justice et la dignité, et pour ces valeurs dont toute l’histoire de ce peuple est porteuse – ils sont très très nombreux – sentent qu’ils ne le sont pas et que c’est ensemble qu’il nous faut nous battre pour ne pas, ne l’ayant pas fait, devoir un jour désespérer de notre humanité, foulée au pied, car la face intolérable de l’être humain aura pris le dessus. Le peuple juif n’est pas à part, seul. Il est par son histoire à l’avant-garde de ce vers quoi et à quoi l’Humanité tend et qui sera atteint qui si tous tirent à la même corde.”

70 years might be a good time to be mature!!!יום הולדת שמח ישראל!!!!!

références :

ISRAEL and the JEWISH DIASPORA (JSTREET, JCALL AND THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION)

Can there be any light in this darkness? Account of a mistimed Haaretz Peace Conference

The Israeli Peace Initiative in Geneva

JCall Switzerland et l’accord cadre sur le nucléaire avec l’Iran

Retour à l’essentiel?

Eau en Israël-Jordanie-Palestine: la guerre des trois pour l’eau n’aura pas lieu

   La Rédactrice en chef de Marianne à Genève pour JCall SwitzerlandThank you JCall (trip 2013)Et si Motti avait raison?

Freudian considerations on the Israelo-Palestinian conflict (JCall trip 2013)

Naïve or Traitor? The last but not least contribution on JCall Trip to Israel and Palestinian Territories in 2013

Netanyahu never misses an opportunity…to miss an opportunity

November 29th, 2012, in Chiang Mai and in the rest of the cosmopolitan World

Thanksgiving 2012

Chemla, D., Ed. (2011) Morceaux Choisis

JCall (suite talmudique)

Vincent Peillon et autres bonnes feuilles

Henry Laurens et la Genèse du Conflit Israélo-Palestinien

+972 and other area codes

Compte-rendu de la conférence JCall 11 avril 2011

JCall reminder and cosmo perspectives

Diaspora Jews and the JCall

JCall in Switzerland

Jacques Attali and multilingual JCall

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