This morning, we note with sadness the first suicide bombing inside Israel in nearly ten months, murdering three people at a bakery in Eilat. The Palestinian governing party, Hamas, although not implicated in this attack, claimed by Islamic Jihad and a faction of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, praised it as legitimate resistance.
The following is a version of my response to an article by SUNY Professor Emeritus Jerome Slater, published in Tikkun as “The Need Not to Know: The American Jewish Community and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” and republished at AlterNet as “The Zionist Dream is Becoming a Nightmare,” posted on January 24. It is a review of Tanya Reinhart’s polemic, The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003, published by Verso in 2006. That Tikkun and Alternet would publish his tirade without an alternative view reflects badly upon both.
While I do not have a problem with much of Jerome Slater’s indictment of Israel’s shortcomings and failings, I am struck by the strident and one-sided nature of his presentation. Slater’s analysis provides barely a hint that there are two sides that have continually made mistakes and committed wrongdoing in this conflict.
He is sure that Ben-Gurion only accepted the UN partition plan for tactical reasons, with the intention of embarking upon ethnic cleansing when presented the opportunity. There are documented quotes that support this view, but he totally ignores the historical words and deeds of the Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini (an active ally of Hitler during World War II) and other Palestinian leaders of that era, which substantiate their intention to destroy the Palestinian Jewish community. And the initial months of battle were a near thing; 100,000 Jews of Jerusalem were under siege and 3.5 percent of the total Jewish population of Palestine (not just fighters) were killed or wounded.
If the Arab side had either accepted partition or credibly offered equal rights of citizenship in an independent Palestine, open to both Jewish and Arab immigration, there need not have been a conflict. There were substantial elements within the Zionist movement that advocated binationalism instead of an explicitly Jewish state.
Mind you, the Ben-Gurion that Slater “knows” would have subverted partition is the same man who was criticized by Benny Morris for refusing to take back the Old City of Jerusalem and to ethnically cleanse all of the West Bank when the Jews had a decisive military edge at the end of the independence war. He’s also the same man who advised from retirement after the great victory of 1967 that Israel should give up the conquered territories as quickly as possible. And Slater makes his contention about Ben-Gurion while ignoring Yasir Arafat’s similar tactical justifications for signing onto the Oslo Accords, made to a Muslim audience in South Africa, among other places.
The most noxious measures imposed upon the Palestinians, including the depredations of the wall/fence, are reactions to the Intifada-related attacks on Israelis that have taken hundreds of civilian lives. While both sides share blame for the breakdown of the peace talks of 2000-2001, the Palestinian turn toward violence in 2000 (although “enabled” by an overly lethal initial Israeli response) insured that the Israeli peace camp was routed from power. Compounded by the unfortunate election last year of Hamas and the ongoing mindless rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns, a return to an Israeli embrace of negotiations and reconciliation will be politically difficult.