David Hoffman is a non-Jewish progressive activist who participated with me and many others at the 2004 Oakland, California conference, “Facing A Challenge,” on anti-Semitism on the left. We’ve continued to dialogue since on an email listserv with other conference attendees. Yesterday, I informed them of my piece about the Tikun Olam blogger, Richard Silverstein. David has given me permission to repeat our exchange of views on this:
I value the Meretz, Tikkun and other columns and blogs you share with me and others. I don’t always agree with you. I usually agree with significant parts of what you write, and am grateful for your humane, peace-seeking motives. For what it’s worth, this is my reaction to your blog post about Silverstein:
1. Silverstein heaped antagonism and scorn on your good faith attempt to dialogue with him. This seems to be a constant pitfall in public discourse regarding the Holy Land conflict and crisis – no matter what the disputants’ political views are, and no matter what values and objectives the disputants claim to have. Rage and abuse erupts constantly from everywhere. I’m impressed by your willingness to hang in. You make an important contribution to the search for peace, by doing so. Which is more than I can say for 90% of the voices I hear screaming at one another.
2. I think your statement is very plausible, that “If the Palestinians had closely coordinated their attacks with the outside invasion by five Arab armies in May 1948, the Arabs might have won that war, and we’d be talking about the great massacre and expulsion of Palestinian Jews in 1948.”
It’s speculative, but I’ve had the same thought myself.
3. I agree with you that an absolute Palestinian right of return is not feasible or reasonable, and that demanding it merely derails otherwise viable peace negotiations. I believe some Palestinian militant leaders demand it to derail peace negotiations for various reasons, and to discredit more moderate rival Palestinian voices and leaders.
4. I agree with Silverstein’s statement that the 1 million or so [Palestinians] who were expelled did not personally reject Partition & the Arab states who did, do not speak or act as agents on behalf of the Nakba victims. The fact that Israel was at war defending itself against Arab armies in no way excuses a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing in violation of international law.
5. I don’t believe that the expulsion/flight of a million Palestinians, and Israel’s refusal to readmit them was a morally acceptable response to other Arabs going to war in the first place. I don’t find any valid moral defense for that treatment of the displaced Palestinians in the assertion that if “the Arabs” hadn’t gone to war against Israel, there would not have been a massive exodus of Palestinian refugees. There are many cruel decisions by both Arab and Israeli leaders that contributed to the displacement and decades-long immiseration of the Palestinian refugees of 1948. None of them provides justification of what happened. Regardless of the culpability of Arab and Palestinian leaders, Israel’s treatment of the 1948 Palestinian refugees was a cruel, draconian, blatant and deceitful violation of international humanitarian law, that deserves condemnation. There is a certain tragic and ugly justice for everyone who contributed to that disaster, that no one has gained what they imagined they would from their misdeeds, and that the outcome is, instead, a hideous, festering, deadly, intractible impasse. Actually, of course, it’s a hideous, diabolical caricature of true justice, where the real suffering falls on innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire — not on the leaders and ideologues who created the situation.
These are my thoughts. –David Hoffman
This is my response to David:
Thanks David. … Since we agree on #1-3, let me comment on #4 and 5, which I agree with only in part. About 750,000 (not one million) Palestinian Arabs did wind up in exile as a result of the war. Although they all hadn’t personally rejected the UN partition plan, they were victimized by the fighting that their side had initiated. A far smaller number of Jews were also driven from their homes by this war, mostly in the Old City of Jerusalem and in a handful of settlements east and south of Jerusalem known as the Etzion Bloc, all of which were overrun and cleared of Jews by the victorious Arab Legion of Transjordan and Palestinian irregulars.
Israel would have taken the moral high ground if it had allowed all or most Palestinian Arabs to return after the war was over. Generally speaking, it would have been an unprecedented act of generosity for a victorious side that had won a hard and costly victory to allow an enemy population to return. It also would have meant a potential fifth column returning to a very small country, with few resources, that was now in the process of accepting hundreds of thousands of displaced persons from the Holocaust in Europe (many or most of whom were still living in refugee camps themselves) and the beginnings of the exodus of Jews from Arab countries, most of whom were forced to flee. Politically speaking, could you imagine how difficult it would be for a government dependent upon the votes of its citizens to persuade them to take back their enemies, and to give them priority over stateless and homeless Jews?
Again, this would have been the most principled thing to do, and it might have gone a long way toward ending the Arabs’ enmity toward Israel. But, for the reasons I lay out, this would not have been a realistic scenario.