Thursday, May 13, 2021

War and the Nakba

The headlines are offensive to rational and ethical intelligence.

Death toll climbs, protests intensify as Israel and Gaza slip toward war (Washington Post)
Israel-Gaza: Fears of war as violence escalates (BBC)

What we are seeing in Israel/Palestine is not "war," but a modern military power, amply equipped by the United States, crushing a rebellious people crying out against ongoing injustice. Yes, both sides are led by some combination of bumbling fools and moral monsters; monsters thrive in conditions of injustice. And most people under the batons and tear gas and bombs and rockets just want to keep their heads down. This isn't "war" in any meaningful sense of the word.

Peter Beinart first entered my consciousness as one of a group of bright young intellectual twerps writing in The New Republic in the early '00s who tweaked other progressives by applauding George. W. Bush's Iraq invasion. They were riding high for a minute. And then they watched their precious pseudo-realism collapse amid lies, futility, and torture. And some became different sorts of people whose wisdom is deeper for having once crashed.

Beinart has since allowed himself to evolve into a highly ethical explorer of justice, rooted in his Jewish tradition. He is a journalism professor, the author of The Beinart Notebook -- and also the editor at large of Jewish Currents. And as we approach May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba -- their forced expulsion from their homes to enable creation of the Israeli state -- he has offered a detailed, thoroughly sourced exploration Palestinian refugee experience and what he thinks is the only remedy.

Palestinian displays keys to his former family home.

What follow are short excerpts from a longish article. To do Beinart justice, go read it all by clicking on the title. (Beinart has placed a short version of this in the New York Times -- but do go read the whole thing.)

In Jewish discourse, [the] refusal to forget the past—or accept its verdict—evokes deep pride. The late philosopher Isaiah Berlin once boasted that Jews “have longer memories” than other peoples. And in the late 19th century, Zionists harnessed this long collective memory to create a movement for return to a territory most Jews had never seen. “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion,” proclaims Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The State of Israel constitutes “the realization” of this “age-old dream.” 
Why is dreaming of return laudable for Jews but pathological for Palestinians?  ...
• • •
The Israeli leaders who justify expelling Palestinians today in order to make Jerusalem a Jewish city are merely paraphrasing the Jewish organizations that have spent the last several decades justifying the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 in order to create a Jewish state. What Ta-Nehisi Coates has observed about the United States, and Desmond Tutu has observed about South Africa—that historical crimes that go unaddressed generally reappear, in different guise—is true for Israel-Palestine as well. 
Refugee return therefore constitutes more than mere repentance for the past. It is a prerequisite for building a future in which both Jews and Palestinians enjoy safety and freedom in the land each people calls home.
• • •
Since it took the expulsion of Palestinians to create a viable Jewish state, many Jews fear—with good reason—that acknowledging and rectifying that expulsion would challenge Jewish statehood itself. This fear is often stated in numerical terms: If too many Palestinian refugees return, Jews might no longer constitute a majority. But the anxiety goes deeper. 
Why do so few Jewish institutions teach about the Nakba? Because it is hard to look the Nakba in the eye and not wonder, at least furtively, about the ethics of creating a Jewish state when doing so required forcing vast numbers of Palestinians from their homes. Why do so few Jewish institutions try to envision return? Because doing so butts up against pillars of Jewish statehood: for instance, the fact that the Israel Land Council, which controls 93% of the land inside Israel’s original boundaries, reserves almost half of its seats for representatives of the Jewish National Fund, which defines itself as “a trustee on behalf of the Jewish People.” Envisioning return requires uprooting deeply entrenched structures of Jewish supremacy and Palestinian subordination. It requires envisioning a different kind of country. ...  
To ensure that this reckoning never comes, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies have offered a range of legal, historical, and logistical arguments against refugee return. These all share one thing in common: Were they applied to any group other than Palestinians, American Jewish leaders would likely dismiss them as immoral and absurd.
• • •
Efforts to face and redress historic wrongs are rarely simple, rapid, uncontested, or complete. Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, the South African government in March unveiled a special court to fast-track the redistribution of land stolen from Black South Africans; some white farmers worry it could threaten their livelihood. In Canada, where the acknowledgement of native lands has become standard practice at public events, including hockey games, some conservative politicians are pushing back. So are some Indigenous leaders, who claim the practice has become meaningless. Thousands of US schools now use The New York Times’s 1619 curriculum, which aims to make slavery and white supremacy central to the way American history is taught. Meanwhile, some Republican legislators are trying to ban it.  
But as fraught and imperfect as efforts at historical justice can be, it is worth considering what happens when they do not occur. There is a reason that the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates ends his famous essay on reparations for slavery with the subprime mortgage crisis that bankrupted many Black Americans in the first decade of the 21st century, and that the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama—best known for memorializing lynchings—ends its main exhibit with the current crisis of mass incarceration. The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past.

• • •

“We are what we remember,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “As with an individual suffering from dementia, so with a culture as a whole: the loss of memory is experienced as a loss of identity.” For a stateless people, collective memory is key to national survival. That’s why for centuries diaspora Jews asked to be buried with soil from the land of Israel. And it’s why Palestinians gather soil from the villages from which their parents or grandparents were expelled. For Jews to tell Palestinians that peace requires them to forget the Nakba is grotesque. In our bones, Jews know that when you tell a people to forget its past you are not proposing peace. You are proposing extinction.

"The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past." There's plenty in that for citizens of our own white settler state -- the U.S. of A. -- to ponder. We, any of us, can't congratulate ourselves that the injustice of the powerful is over there somewhere else.

1 comment:

R.Gilboa said...

Spoken truth is appreciated by those who have not been heard or believed.