It is not possible to study history and see the dark image of all that has happened to the Jewish people without recognizing the horror that has followed Jewish life around the globe. It is a tale of woe that begins thousands of years ago, and that many would say is never-ending.
There have been votes in the United Nations by almost all the nations of the world to punish the State of Israel for its crimes against the Palestinian people. Were these votes against Jews, the Jewish state or only the specific actions of the government of Israel? Walking down this road is painful, because it has cost the lives of millions of Jews.
Anti-Semitism was alive and well in Russia in 1896 when Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat. It was alive and well in Germany in 1925 when Adolph Hitler published Mein Kampf. It was alive and well in Cuba, the United States of America and Canada in 1939 when the 937 German Jewish passengers on the MS St. Louis were denied entry and returned to Europe, leaving many to die in concentration camps. It was alive and well in 1961 when Gamal Abdel Nasser spoke these words to the United Nations: “The only solution to Palestine... is that matters should return to the condition prevailing before the error was committed – i.e. the annulment of Israel’s existence.”
And it is clear that it is alive and well today.
THE STORY of the Palestinians and their civil war with the State of Israel over their survival, their recognition and their resistance, (the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the creation of a Palestinian Authority), represents a parallel history that includes decisions that were made for the inhabitants of Palestine by other Muslim nations that had their own interests, including the negation of the 1947 UN Partition Plan which was accepted by the Jewish Agency.
How does one look back with an open Jewish, Muslim, Christian heart and mind and absorb the continuing conflict and all the controversy in such a way as to learn the painful lessons of war well enough to begin in earnest the search for peace? Everyone who lived through what the Israeli victor calls the War of Independence and the Palestinian loser calls “the catastrophe” is marked by the events and has a role in revealing the story of their people to their children, their friends, historians and all of us who come after.
It is not an easy story for anyone for on many levels that battle of 1948 rages on and the quest for peace lies beyond the reach of Israelis, Palestinians and an American mediator.
It is hard to accept the meaning of Independence even as one accepts the reality of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948, weeks before the formal establishment of the State of Israel, (on May 14, 1948), or the Israeli attack on Lydda (Lod) on July 13, 1948, and the expulsion of its 50,000 residents that are today receiving new prominence in the bestselling book by Ari Shavit; My Promised Land.
Is Shavit’s telling of the story of Lydda a path to understanding or only another bump in a road to peace that goes nowhere? Deir Yassin did not happen in a vacuum. The world read about the killings in Deir Yassin and many Palestinians heard too through Israeli, Arab and international sources. For some it was the spark that led to their escape. But it led as well to acts of vengeance. On April 13, 1948, just four days later, a convoy of doctors and nurses was ambushed on the way to Hadassah Hospital and 79 were killed, most burned to death as the vehicles were hit with Molotov cocktails. The medical director, Dr. Chaim Yassky, was killed along with the others and the following day some 700 doctors, nurses and patients were evacuated from the hospital.
It is hard to accept the meaning of “the castastrophe” even as one accepts the reality of an independent State of Israel that has won all its battles and left the thousands, (over 700,000 Palestinians and their children and grand-children) homeless as the inhabitants of refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. This reality has been arranged by the governments of those nations who took in the refugees and continues to be financed by the United Nations to eternalize and spread the poison of the original dispersion and utilize it as a tool to hammer the government of Israel in every peace negotiation. That doesn’t diminish the potency of the sequester for the over 5 million Palestinian refugees locked in lives going nowhere.
There is a modern State of Israel that has risen up out of the desert and become an economic and military behemoth that sends high-tech breakthroughs from its own “Silicon Wadi” around the world each day. The Palestinian Authority has remained a slave to its economic benefactors and Israel, with an economy limited by its restrictions, its corruption and its dependencies.
In addition, the 500,000-plus Israelis that inhabit the West Bank and east Jerusalem have promoted, (along with successive governments), an Israeli Civil Administration which continues to confine Palestinian movement and development in a system that insures Israeli security and enforces Palestinian acquiescence.
This very acquiescence is mixed with tacit resistance, non-violent resistance, an expanding international BDS, and terror that continue to besmirch the stability of the oppressive Israeli system of control that is required to put down the Palestinian violence that breaks out in the West Bank and Gaza. It is impossible to live in Gilo and not fear the violence that may reach out and strike your child. It is impossible to live in Jenin and not fear the violence that may reach out and strike your child. It is possible to recognize all the asymmetries, all the disparities and all the pain, anger and fear and yet begin to build understanding and better relations between two ancient peoples through a national dialogue while continuing the negotiations between the two governments to bring about a lasting peace with two inter-dependent secure and separate states.
The author is president of ICMEP; the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, a suburban Philadelphia NGO, and can be reached at ld.snider@ yahoo.com. The words of the author do not represent the policy of ICMEP.