Talking Israel to America, Part Three: Speaking Truth to Noise

Was going to file this installment last Thursday, but got waylaid, first by medical stuff, then by an unprecedented (for me) accession of nostalgia/homesickness for America. I made aliyah in 2010, haven’t been back (health reasons), and in truth there’s very little I miss that the Internet, and the telephone can’t provide. Except . . .

Winter. A real, genuine, Northern Hemisphere winter with enlivening cold and ample, usable snow. I’m sure a lot of Americans — and Russians and Ukrainians and others — find themselves missing real seasons. This American nostalgia usually prevails in December, when the snow’s just starting and the country’s winding down for a bit.

Which dredged up a strange, decades-old, foreboding memory.

I spent many happy Christmases (“The Reason for the Season,” as the Yids and atheists sometimes say) in Yardley, Pennsylvania, a lovely small town north of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. A few miles from Yardley, you’ll find Washington’s Crossing State Park, the actual site where General Washington and his starving, freezing troops crossed the Delaware Christmas night to attack the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey. I’d been to the park several times.

One of my favorite old films is a Jeff Daniels hagiography of that event, The Crossing. It looked “filmed on location,” but I didn’t recognize any of the buildings or scenery. So one snowy late December, I betook myself to the park’s visitor center/souvenir shop to ask.

The attendant, standing behind the counter near a stack of The Crossing DVDs and cassettes, smiled as though she’d heard the question many times before.

“The film,” she said, was made in Toronto because “it’s cleaner and cheaper there.” But not to worry, she went on. “The other souvenirs here are genuine. They’re made in China.”

To this day, I don’t know if she was being sarcastic, ironic or sincere. All I know is, I had this flash-by thought of My country’s going away.

Soon, perhaps, given political and cultural trends, it will be gone entirely. I certainly won’t miss what it’s likely to become, starting 20 January 2017.

But the subject under consideration is debating and arguing for Israel in America. It’s rarely a real exchange of views, just the two sides hurling pre-formatted messages past each other. But every so often, you can toss a bit of complexity into the game, which may prove useful, given the rising levels of vitriol on all sides.

This series is about six such useful tosses.

To recap the first three and introduce the fourth:

First, between 1922 and 1942, according to British statistics, the Arab population of Palestine doubled. They came for many reasons, no doubt among them the physical improvements and (possibly) jobs that the Zionists were providing. Britain put surprisingly little money into Palestine: No White Man’s Burden here, and the Arabists had other priorities for their delusions. It was the Jews who built the roads, schools, clinics and other services. The Arabs partook and the Zionists, when they thought of the Arabs at all, wondered if that might be enough to bring peaceful co-existence.

Second, it didn’t work. It never could have worked. There are many reasons why, and few on any side can truthfully proclaim their innocence. But one fact, not often mentioned, obtains. The Palestinian people were never asked what they wanted. They’ve never, as a people, to this day been given the chance via free and uncoerced plebiscite or referendum or even (to my knowledge) a comprehensive, scientific survey of the whole people. They had, they have, no shortage of “leaders” and “protectors,” from the Grand Mufti and the Arab League through the PLO, Hamas, their splinters and competitors, to the present complex Islamist situation. (Did the UN really inquire in 1946/7, or 2016, or were they simply disposing of other people’s lands and lives as Europeans had done for centuries?)

So . . . a point to which we shall return: Even today, it’s impossible to know what the Palestinian people, as a people, might want. Beyond the disappearance of Israel, of course. But would the Arab Israelis, the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, in Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere (including Harvard and Berkeley), really flock to a new state that was part vicious theocracy, part secular dictatorship, part irredentist mania, and all corruption?

And could it be anything else?

Third, the Israeli War of Independence/Palestinian Nakba ended with the Jews getting a country, the Jordanians getting a chunk of real estate, and the Palestinians getting nothing except . . .

On 27/28 May 1948, Israel declared those who hadn’t fled citizens. Not enemy aliens, subject to deportation or worse. Citizens. Never full citizens, de facto or de jure. They lived under martial law for 10 years and today discriminations and injustices abound. But Israel showed to those who stayed a consideration that — let’s put it this way. In 1865, how eager would the Federal Union have been to welcome back the defeated Confederacy if their Canadian and Mexican allies, plus their rich European supporters, kept declaring, “It ain’t over till we drive you damn Yankees into the sea”?

Which brings us to the fourth point. Any lasting settlement must address coming up on a century of grievances. But there is no such thing as an unlimited “Right of Return.” One of the primary responsibilities and rights of any sovereign state is to determine who may or may not be a citizen, or be admitted. Any state. Does some law or resolution somewhere say there is something higher?

Law without enforcement power isn’t law. Law without enforcement power is opinion. And resolutions without adequate power are . . . irresolute.

To invoke another American analogy: What obligation does the United States owe to the descendants of British Tories (Crown loyalists) who left, voluntarily or otherwise, the territory of the United States before the present United States was established in 1787/1789?

And if Arab Israeli citizens were expelled after 15 May 1948, for levying war against Israel or giving aid and comfort to those who did and do — treason against the State does not confer rights upon one’s descendants.

And how would you sort it all out?

But in point of fact, it may not matter. No solution of any kind, beyond uneasy continuation of the status quo, seems currently possible. No matter who says they want peace and justice. Today, about 800,000 Jewish Israelis — one in six — lives outside the old Green Line in Greater Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan. No state permits that kind of settlement, decade after decade and going on now, if it intends to leave. Ever. As for the question of whether the Palestinians want peace, with or without their own nation, it’s impossible to tell.

Their own leadership, such as it is, neither intends nor desires to deliver. Perhaps none ever really has.

So, to begin the fourth point. For a century, nothing the Palestinian people and their self-proclaimed leaders and protectors have tried, has worked. Not riot, not civil war, not dependence on Arab states or the UN, not intifada, not negotiation. Nothing. Nothing, Nothing at all.

Next: Why Peace Is Impossible . . . But Maybe Not Forever. Maybe Even Soon. Meanwhile, Happy New Year. Let’s all resolve to do better.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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