Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Cognitive Dissonance: part II

Lod/Lydda, 1948. Credit: Palmach archive Yiftach 3rd Battalion Volume 2 album, Wikimedia Commons

My friend R comes from a Christian Arab family in Lod. One day she said to me: “I am fine with Jews. But really, how can some religious (Israeli) Jews call themselves righteous, and not take responsibility for what they did to us?” I had no answer for her. Because I actually don’t know.

I then asked a man – a Jewish one – how he justifies taking reparations from Germany, but refusing to repay Palestinian families whose homes were taken from them in 1948 and 1969. He told me, in a voice reserved for explaining the obvious to the female “new” olah: “It’s not the same thing at all. Any Arab-held deeds to land came from the Turkish. Once the Jewish state was declared, all those Turkish certificates were null and void. Because the Jewish state is a state for Jews, that land was ours.”

To be clear on what “they” did to the people of Lod: In July, 1948, the Palmach was fighting to gain the city of Lydda, as it was known then. On July 11-12, hundreds of citizens were killed, including 250 men women and children by an anti-tank missile shot into the city’s mosque. According to Ari Shavit, the next day Ben-Gurion gave the order and Yitzhak Rabin passed it on: Evacuate the city. The few remaining residents were confined to a ghetto after the war. Shavit calls Lydda the “black box” of Zionism. “Zionism could not bear the Arab city of Lydda. From the very beginning, there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to exist, Lydda could not exist.” (New Yorker, 2013)

I have been on tours around Lod/Lydda with Jewish Israelis, and watched their mouths drop open when the massacre in the mosque is described to them. They had never been taught this chapter in Israeli history, never heard of it or read about it. Another friend on a similar tour found the idea that the new state of Israel had created a ghetto too much to bear, and he spoke about it for days. Maybe instead of asking why they don’t take responsibility; R should be asking: “Why don’t they know?”

Hagana soldiers in Lod, July, 1948. Credit: Boris Carmi National Library of Israel, Wikimedia Commons

The feeling is, indeed, one of dissonance. These stories do not gibe with the pride we take in our country, the tales of bravery we learned in school – history written by the victors. “But wait!” we think, “Aren’t we always the victims, the plucky David winning out against Goliath armies who want to wipe us from the face of the Earth? How could we also be oppressors? Weren’t we taught we have always had the most ethical army in the world, that the Arabs left of their own volition?”

What “they” are still doing to Lod: The city is, today, around 30% Arab. But the efforts to “Judiaize” the city have not stopped. The walled religious Jewish compound inside a predominantly lower-class Arab neighborhood is a particular sore point for many Arab residents; it sticks in their faces every time they walk their children to the school next door. Not only are they struck, each day, by the difference in wealth, but by the difference in municipal funding that goes, for instance, to children’s playgrounds and landscaping. And when they go to vote in municipal elections, they find the candidates associated with this religious-right political stream gain more real power over their city and its future. It is no mistake this corner of Lod was the focal point of unrest in May of 2021.

Much of Lydda was torn down to make way for new Jewish immigrants. Photo, Jan. 1950. Credit: Benno Rothenberg, Wikimedia Commons

Our dissonance comes from the sense, fanned by reports in the media, that the rest of the world is against us, that if we are not vigilant, the next Holocaust will be right around the corner. Why should this enable us to justify our mistreatment of a minority within the country? It turns out all we have to do is reassign them to an enemy group outside our borders. We only need proclaim loudly: “This is a country just for Jews!” It takes real emotional energy to keep the contradictions buried, to continue to insist on our version of truth, to ignore inconvenient facts.

I don’t mean to imply that there are no enemies, that Palestinian citizens of Israel do not grapple with their own cognitive dissonance, that vigilance is totally unnecessary. I do mean to imply that hiding the truth, promoting inflated versions of ourselves, creating a narrative in which we are somehow better or more deserving than others – that way leads to blatant racism, dehumanizing the other and rising violence.

Recently, I brought another group of friends to Lod, an American family who wanted to know more about the history leading up to the unrest. Telling the story of the massacre, standing by the wrought-iron, guarded gate to the compound, I must have let some of my anguish show. It’s the point where I tend to paraphrase Einstein who, when talking about Jews in 1948, wrote: “As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power.”

“Now we have power,” I added, unnecessarily.

“You’re right,” said my friend. “You are just like everyone else.”

It’s not a comforting thought, but adopting the idea that we are not special might be the start of addressing our collective cognitive dissonance. If we could admit we are as capable of oppression as the next person, we could own our mistakes, and look for ways to repair them and prevent them in the future. We could enforce our laws against racism, rather than looking the other way when a party that overtly espouses racism takes over the internal security and education of our country (and attempts to repeal those laws). We could ensure that all citizens of our country enjoy equal rights, not just in the law books but in real life. We might even take a good look at the power we have enjoyed for the past 75 years and take steps to root out abuses of that power.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.