The Past is a Blank (blank, blank ...)
by Ardeshir Mehta, Ottawa, Canada

24 November 2002 

Critique of the Article Entitled
The Past is Not a Foreign Country
by Anita Shapira, Tel Aviv, Israel


On November 29, 1999 The New Republic published an article by Anita Shapira, Ruben Merenfeld Professor of the Study of Zionism at Tel Aviv University, and the author of Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (Stanford University Press). Ms Shapira's article was entitled "The Failure Of Israel's 'New Historians' To Explain War And Peace - The Past Is Not a Foreign Country".

In her article Ms Shapira attempts to criticise, as best she can, Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, two of the "New Historians" of Israel, and in particular their books Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 by Benny Morris (Knopf, 751pp) and The Iron Wall: Israel and The Arab World since 1948 by Avi Shlaim (Norton, 704pp). For ready reference, Ms Shapira's article can be found here.

Her criticism might have been helpful if it didn't contain so many lacunae that one begins to wonder whether Ms Shapira has a capacity to think at all. One even wonders, in fact, whether this is the best the Israeli academic community can do to deny Israel's own past, by clothing their works in an aura of "scholarship".

Let's go through just some of Ms Shapira's own words, and let the reader judge for himself or herself.


Ms Shapira begins her article by saying:

In the fall of 1988, the journal Tikkun published an article called "The New Historiography: Israel Confronts Its Past." Its author was a relatively unknown historian named Benny Morris. A year before, Morris had brought out The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, a richly and rigorously detailed book that had not yet made much of a splash. His Tikkun article would fix that. In his article, Morris described himself and three of his confederates (Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe from academia, and Simha Flappan from political journalism) as "new historians," arguing that they had together undertaken to expose the skeletons in Zionism's closet, to declare war on the dogmas of Israeli history. The label stuck, and soon the Israeli media was abuzz about the "new historians," who were catapulted into notoriety. […] Suddenly an argument raged over the true nature of what Israelis call the War of Independence, or what Palestinians call al-naqba or the Catastrophe, or what historians call, more neutrally, the 1948 war.

And let us begin by asking ourselves, just why would any rational historian wish to refer to al-naqba, the enormous Disaster, Catastrophe, Calamity suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Jewish Yishuv, "more neutrally". Should historians also refer to the Jewish Holocaust "more neutrally" as "the Jewish question during the Second World War"?

In any case, does Ms Shapira wish to dispute the fact that before the "more neutrally" named 1948 war the Jews held legal title to less than half a million acres of land, while after that war they laid claim to more than five and a half million acres? Does she wish to argue that the Jewish people all of a sudden had a right not only to sovereignty over, but also legal title to, all the almost five and a half million acres of land they controlled after the war? Does she wish to claim that the Jews had a right to dispossess the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to inhabit that land before the war, fled during the war and were never allowed to return to their lands after the war, in blatant violation of international law as it stood at that time, and as it stands even today?


Ms Shapira continues by saying:

That war furnished the founding myth of the state of Israel; and it is but a short step from questioning its justice to doubting Israel's very right to exist.

There's no denying the Jewish State's right to exist: provided, of course, that it behaves like any other decent civilised state. But what gives the Jewish State a right to exist no matter what it does? Does any state have such a right? Repeat after me: "Of course not!"

More specifically with regard to al-naqba, what gives State of Israel a right to exist on stolen land? Why, as Meron Benvenisti expresses it, should we excuse Israel's total "failure to distinguish between the moral right to exist and the moral right to behave decently"?

Perhaps Ms Shapira is not aware of what's written in the Jewish Bible, but if she were, she'd know that the Good LORD Himself took away Israel's right to exist - and that too, not just once but twice - when the Children of Israel sinned grievously: which is just a more pompous way of saying, did very horrible things. Even the LORD God did not give Israel the right to exist unconditionally - that right is, was and always will be conditional upon Israel behaving like any other civilised state is expected to behave: for example, not steal, not murder, not covet. 

When Israel starts doing such things and worse, especially on a grand scale - as it has been doing during all of its existence - it must surely be considered as having forfeited its moral right to exist: just as Nazi Germany forfeited its moral right to exist when it did similar things.


Specifically referring to "New Historian" Avi Shlaim, Ms Shapira says:

Deep down, Shlaim really does believe that the Middle East is Arab turf, and that the Palestinians are innocent victims, and that the Israelis are outsiders and intruders. [...] Jews are repeatedly viewed [by Shlaim] through a moralistic prism: they are transgressors, and have come as invaders into the Arab East.

Here, Ms Shapira is correct: this is indeed what Shlaim believes. The only trouble is, Shlaim is right! The Israelis are outsiders and intruders, transgressors and invaders into the Arab East. Does Ms Shapira wish to claim they are not? Does Ms Shapira possess any "recently declassified documents" to prove that that the Jews are not outsiders, but are indigenous to the land which they claim as the Jewish State? Are we to believe that Ms Shapira can provide us evidence to support the claim that Jews acquired ownership title to all those five and a half million acres of land which form the territory of Israel by altogether legal means? Do we even need be historians to refute such nonsense?

Yes, in a broad way it may be said, with some - but by no means total - historic justification, that the Jewish people as they exist today have an ancestral right to establish their State in the Holy Land. And even if that were not so, all decent people must support the Jewish people's right to a state of their own somewhere: for if they are not entitled to a state of their own, then neither are the French, the German, the Polish, the Japanese, the Korean, or the Vietnamese people - to name just a few - entitled to a state of their own. What's right for one people has got to be right for all. That's just elementary decency and morality.

But not even the Father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl himself, advocated establishing the Jewish State by any and every means possible, including armed force! Perhaps Ms Shapira has not yet read Herzl's pamphlet The Jewish State, but if she had, she would have found in it no reference to robbing land at gunpoint from those who had inhabited it for centuries: which is what Israel actually did.

No state in the entire world has an unconditional right to exist. Every state's right to exist is conditional upon its behaving decently: that is to say, not trampling upon the rights of others, whether they be states or individuals, and whether they be inside or outside of that state. Once a state claims a right to exist no matter how much evil it does, it forfeits its right to exist, and should be dismantled: just as the White supremacist apartheid-era state of South Africa was dismantled. 


Again regarding Avi Shlaim, Ms Shapira says:

In his famous Guild Hall speech in 1955, the British prime minister Anthony Eden demanded that Israel relinquish territory in the Negev in order to facilitate a land bridge between Egypt and Jordan. John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's secretary of state, entertained notions of finessing a peace deal between Israel and its neighbors, in which Israel would give up territory and agree to absorb 100,000 Arab refugees as the price for peace. Shlaim views those demands, which were really designed to strip Israel of territory that was allotted it by the United Nations in the partition plan of 1947, as legitimate demands. He does not utter a word about the questionable morality of the attempt by the great powers to violate massively the territory of a small state.

"Violate massively"?!? Does Ms Shapira forget that it was Israel who massively violated the territory earmarked by the UN as that belonging to the Palestinian state, which was never allowed even to came into being, largely due to collusion between Israel and Jordan's King Abdullah? Would she like to see the map of the UN partition plan, which nowadays is available for all to see on the Internet, as for example here, and compare it with a map of Israel as it existed in 1949?

Yes, it is true that the UN partition plan did not call for a "land bridge" between Egypt and Jordan - as Anthony Eden did. But Israel had already annexed much more territory than that which was allotted it by the United Nations in the partition plan of 1947. Israel had also expelled, and was keeping out, far more than 100,000 Palestinians. Does Ms Shapira deny all that? 

Both Anthony Eden and John Foster Dulles had a great many faults, no doubt, among them being the fact that the plans proposed by them were indeed, as Ms Shapira says, of "questionable morality": but they were of questionable morality because they were unfair to the Palestinians - and not, as Ms Shapira makes it out to be, to Israel.


Ms Shapira, once again referring to Avi Shlaim, says:

It was not until 1964 that an Israeli prime minister was officially welcomed at the White House, when Lyndon Johnson received Levi Eshkol. In their joint statement at the conclusion of the visit, Johnson proclaimed the need to maintain the territorial integrity of all the states in the region. Shlaim remarks that this was the first time Washington abandoned the idea of changing the borders of the 1949 armistice line. Such a fact, you might think, casts a different light upon Israel's search during those years for allies and arms. If even a government as friendly to Israel as the government of the United States was not prepared during that perilous time to guarantee the 1949 borders (what today is called the "Green Line"), then Israel's situation was in truth fraught with great danger, and Ben-Gurion's obsession with Israel's fragility was not illusory.

And whose fault was that but Ben-Gurion's, and Israel's generally? The borders of the 1949 armistice line were far from being those granted to the Jewish state by the international community of nations - the UN. Was the international community now supposed to acquiesce to Israel's blatant acquisition of territory by force, and its continuing refusal to allow the Palestinians displaced during the "neutrally called" 1948 war (more accurately called "The Palestinian Calamity", which was never a part of the UN partition plan) to return and reclaim their properties - all of it in flagrant violation of the UN's own principles and resolutions?

Yes, if Israel had merely defended itself during its war of aggression of 1947-49, and occupied no more territory than was granted to it by international consensus, nor permanently changed the demographic makeup of that territory, nor expropriated the lands and property of the people who owned them before the conflict - if Israel had done all that, it could have legitimately entered the 1950s as a nation with whom the citizens, presidents and prime ministers of the world might have been happy to shake hands. But it did not. It essentially said to the international community of nations: "F*** you, we do as we please, we don't care what you think." Of course Israelis didn't often say so in so many words - though once in a while they did so too - but what else were the nations of the world supposed to think, judging from Israel's actions? 

And then Israel is surprised that the international community doesn't want to guarantee its 1949 borders?

Yes, the Arab states did reject the UN partition plan - but for the most part in words only, not in deeds. Their armies did not, by and large, even attempt to enter the territory earmarked for the Jewish state; while Israel extensively attacked and conquered the territory earmarked for the Palestinian state, and its leaders even stated their intention to do so and conquer as much territory as possible. (For example, in a 1948 entry in his diary, Ben-Gurion writes: "It is not impossible [...] that we will be able to conquer the way to the Negev, Eilat, and the Dead Sea, and to secure the Negev for ourselves; also to broaden the corridor to Jerusalem, from north to south; to liberate the rest of Jerusalem and to take the Old City; to seize all of central and western Galilee and to expand the borders of the state in all directions".)

In other words, no less did Israel reject the UN partition plan - and that too, in deeds, though it paid lip service to the partition plan in words. Had Israel stuck to the UN partition plan, it could easily have pressured the international community to put pressure on the Arabs to stick to it as well.

And if Israel wanted more territory later, it could have entered into negotiations for its purchase later too. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, when the Yishuv was buying up territory in Palestine to accommodate the Jews who, it was hoped, would come and settle it, the vast majority of Arab owners whom they approached were more than willing to sell their lands. Why didn't Israel just stick to that plan, which was exactly what Herzl had proposed, which the world Jewish community could easily have afforded, and which was above criticism - instead of grabbing vast tracts of land by force?


And then, regarding Shlaim's account of the Six Day War, Ms Shapira says:

Shlaim's tendency to assume an air of objectivity toward Arab actions and to point a scolding finger at Israel is also conspicuous in his account of the deterioration that led to the Six-Day War. Meeting in Cairo in 1964, the Arab League resolved to divert the waters of the Jordan River, which are vital for Israel's existence. At that same conference, there was a public declaration of the intention to destroy Israel, and the PLO was founded. Shlaim avoids any judgment of those bellicose moves against Israel's very existence: after all, one must not berate the virtuous Arab determination to extirpate the foreign body from their midst.

Regarding the waters of the Jordan river - or for that matter, any river - international law is, and always has been, very clear: when the river flows though a sovereign nation's own territory, it has a right to use the river's waters as it deems fit; but when the river forms a boundary between states, both the states must enter into negotiations to the use of its waters. Most of the Jordan river was, before the Six Day War, wholly within the Kingdom of Jordan: at that time the river did not even form a boundary between territory conquered by Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, as it does now. And some of the sources of the Jordan river lie within Syria. No matter how vital the waters of the Jordan river are or were to Israel, it had no right to do with them as it pleased: most of the river didn't even flow through Israel's territory! By international law, Israel ought to have entered into negotiations to obtain an agreement with these two states as to the amount of that water to it was entitled.

But of course it couldn't do that, because it had already created a Catastrophe of unprecedented proportions for the Palestinian people. Which Arab state would then be willing even to talk with Israel? By thumbing its nose at international consensus and law, Israel had embarked upon the proverbial slippery slope of not having a "partner for peace". Oh what a tangled web we weave!

And for the same reason, of course, it was to be expected that there would be a public declaration by Arabs of their intention to destroy Israel, and an Arab determination to extirpate it from their midst. What else should Israel have expected, when it had become a de facto robber state? Would not the same thing have happened had Belgium, for example, forcibly expelled the vast majority of French-speaking Walloons from its territory, and expropriated all their property? Would not the surrounding European states have called for the destruction of Belgium under such circumstances?

Let us repeat, ad nauseam if necessary - since most Israelis, and indeed most Jewish people, seem to be incapable of understanding it: Israel does not have, and never did have - not even in Biblical times - nor ever will have, an unconditional right to exist. Its moral right to exist is, and always was, and always will be, conditional upon it not infringing the rights of others: whether other states or other individuals. This is a consequence of the principles of elementary morality, which all of us - at least all of us who are decent - learned when we were in Kindergarten. 

But of course Ms Shapira, perhaps because of not having attended Kindergarten, forgets these elementary principles of morality - to her, Israel can do as Israel pleases, because Israel has "a right to exist", period! Yeah, right.


Regarding the Six Day War, Shapira says:

The Six-Day War is correctly portrayed by Shlaim as a defensive war; but he does not permit Israel to enjoy the laurels of a just victory for very long. From the outset, Shlaim is skeptical about Israel's readiness to relinquish land in return for peace. Thus, in his calendar of red-letter dates, he does not bother to note the Israeli government decision of June 19, 1967 declaring its willingness to pull back from conquered territory in return for peace.

Here one is at a loss to see even Avi Shlaim's point of view, let alone Ms Shapira's. If the Six Day War was a "defensive war", how do we account for the following statements made by some of the most prominent members of the Israeli establishment - and all the statements, be it noted, made publicly, not secretly?

Yitzhak Rabin, then Chief of General Staff (ramatca"l) of the Israeli army: 

"I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into the Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it, and we knew it." 

(From Le Monde, 28 February 1968) 

General Mattitiahu Peled of the IDF General Staff: 

"All those stories about the huge danger we were facing because of our small territorial size, an argument expounded once the war was over, had never been considered in our calculations prior to the unleashing of hostilities. To pretend that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel's existence does not only insult the intelligence of any person capable of analyzing this kind of situation, but is primarily an insult to the Israeli army." 

(From Le Monde, 3 June 1972) 

General Ezer Weizman, Chief of Operations (later President of Israel): 

"There was never a danger of extermination. This hypothesis had never been considered in any serious meeting." 

(From Ha'aretz, 29 March 1972) 

General Yeshayahu Gavish, Commanding General, Southern Command: 

"The danger of Israel's extermination was hardly present before the six-day war." 

(From Lilienthal, Alfred M., The Zionist Connection. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1978 - p. 558) 

General Haim Bar-Lev, Chief of General Staff Branch, Israel Defense Force: 

"We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the six-day war, and we had never thought of such a possibility." 

(From Ma'ariv, 4 April 1972) 

General Chaim Herzog, Commanding General and first Military Governor, Israeli Occupied West Bank:

"There was no danger of annihilation. Israeli headquarters never believed in this danger." 

(From Ma'ariv, 4 april 1972) 

Mordechai Bentov, Minister of Housing:

"The entire story of the danger of extermination was invented in every detail, and exaggerated a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territory." 

(From Al-Hamishmar, 14 april 1971) 

Yigal Allon, Minister of Labor and member of Eshkol's Military Advisory Committee on the origin of the Six-Day War:

"Begin and I want Jerusalem." 

(From Haber, Eitan: Menahem Begin: The Legend and the Man. New York: Delacorte Press, 1978 - p. 271) 

Menahem Begin, later Israeli Prime Minister: 

"In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him." 

(From Op-ed piece, The New York Times, 21 August 1982) 

General Mordichai Hod, Commanding General, Israeli Air-Force: 

"Sixteen years' planning had gone into those initial eighty minutes. We lived with the plan, we slept on the plan, we ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it." 

(op. cit. Lilienthal, pp. 558-9) 

General Meir Amit, head of Mossad in 1967

"There is going to be a war. Our army is now fully mobilized. but we cannot remain in that condition for long. Because we have a civilian army our economy is shuddering to a stop. We don't have the man power right now even to bring in the crops. Sugar beets are rotting in the earth. We have to make quick decisions . [...] If we can get the first blow in our casualties will be comparatively light." 

(From Eisenberg, Dennis, Uri Dan and Eli Landau: The Mossad: Israel's Secret Intelligence Service. New York: New American Library, 1978 - pp. 160-1) 

Gen. Aharon Yaariv, Israeli chief of military intelligence, gave a 'background' briefing to newsmen on 12 May 1967. He spoke first on Syria's support for guerrilla activity against Israel then hinted the Israelis were about to attack: 

"If the Syrians continue for a long time the Palestinians will become a factor in the relations between us and the Arabs. They have not become a factor ever since almost 1949 [...] So we must make it clear to the Syrians that they cannot continue in this way and I think the only way to make it clear to the Syrians is by using force [...] I could say we must use force in order to have the Egyptians convince the Syrians that it doesn't pay [...] I think that the only sure and safe answer to the problem is a military operation of great size and strength." 

(From Cooley, John K.: Green March, Black September. London: Frank Cass, 1973 - p. 160) 

Air Force Commander Gen. Ezer Weizmann stated there was "no threat of destruction" but attack was justified so Israel could "exist according to the scale, spirit and quality she now embodies." 

(op. cit. Cooley, p. 162)

According to Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, the Israeli settlers on the border between Israel and the Golan "didn't even try to hide their greed for their [i.e., Syrian] land, "wanting 'to grab a piece of land and keep it until the enemy will get tired of us'." Describing the idea that Syria was threatening Israel before the 1967 war as "bullshit", he said: "I know how at least 80% of all the incidents with Syria started. We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was [...] You do not attack the enemy because he is a bastard, but because he threatens you, and the Syrians in the fourth day of the war were not threatening us. "

(From New York Times, 11 May 1997)

If Ms Shapira would kindly explain all of these statements in light of her claim that "The Six-Day War is correctly portrayed by Shlaim as a defensive war", we shall all be most enlightened.

As for her statement that "[Shlaim] does not bother to note the Israeli government decision of June 19, 1967 declaring its willingness to pull back from conquered territory in return for peace", does she think we - and the Arabs - are so stupid as to not notice that such a proposal, especially when coming from Israel, could be nothing other than a sly way of trying to legitimise the 5-million-acre land grab of 1948? This bullshit has been repeated by Israel too many times to even warrant a detailed response.


Then, regarding the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreements, Ms Shapria says:

Starting in the 1970s, and increasingly so after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, President Sadat of Egypt demonstrated it was possible to recognize the state of Israel, and to enter into direct negotiations with Israel, and even to discuss a final peace agreement with Israel. [...] Shlaim does not ask how this extraordinary turn came about, because the answer is self-evident. The answer is that power did its sobering work, and realism came to be preferred to moralism.

Here, one has to agree with Ms Shapira: realism did come to be preferred, by Sadat, to moralism. 

Or in other words, Sadat sold out the Palestinians!

Of course one can see Sadat's point of view: what had the Palestinians ever done for him, or for Egypt? Nothing, indeed less than nothing: they had only gotten Egypt into horrid messes. Israel had no actual designs on the land of Egypt. What had Egypt to gain by continuing to come to the aid of the Palestinians? Nothing, even less than nothing: nothing but trouble. What had Egypt to gain by signing a peace treaty with Israel? The entire Sinai. And also the avoidance of future wars, all of them most likely disastrous. Easy choice. The small silent voice within Sadat no doubt said: "Do it as soon as you can, Anwar old chap, even if you have to fly to Jerusalem and Washington to do it."

But those facts, though entirely correct as far as they go, hardly do Sadat much credit, now do they? After all, the rightness of wrongness of coming to the aid of a victim has nothing to do with whether the victim turns out to be an ingrate, or even if the victim eventually bites the hand that saves him. Or even if the rescuer is out of pocket by coming to the victim's aid!

Sure, if one doesn't want to, one need not come to the aid of the Palestinians, or indeed any other victims of bullying. The US and Britain did not come to the aid of the Jewish victims of the Nazis, did they? Why, they even turned away shiploads of Jewish refugees. Nobody is blamed for not coming to the aid of victims: after all, neither Japan nor China - nor even India - had actually come to the aid of the Palestinians, no matter how much they sympathised with the Palestinians' plight; and neither has any nation in the world come to the aid of Tibet (except to a small extent India, by absorbing large numbers of Tibetan refugees). 

But from a strictly moral point of view one doesn't do something because it is in one's interest: one does it because it is right. Sadat selling out the Palestinians was hardly the right thing for him to do, even though from a neutral perspective one can't actually blame him for doing so. 


And regarding the Palestinians, Ms Shapira says:

The realism of the "iron wall" also applied to the Palestinians. After all the terror acts perpetrated by Palestinian organizations in the 1970s and '80s, which Shlaim skips over nonchalantly, the Intifada erupted in December 1987. It demonstrated to Israelis and Palestinians alike that force was not the answer. The uprising led to a moderating of the PLO's hard-line positions: the Palestinians were now prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist and even to accept the U.N. decision of 1947 on partition--to accept the principle of two states and thus to renounce terror. Once again, then, what Shlaim believed was non-negotiable for the Palestinians became negotiable. It took four decades, to be sure; but four decades is not an unreasonably long time in the context of ethnic and religious and national conflicts.

But of course she presupposes that the PLO was right in doing all this. That is to say, she presupposes that the PLO was right in recognising Israel's "right to exist" (where it remains unsaid, as always, that Israel has a right to exist, period - i.e., unconditionally, quite regardless of how much Israel tramples on the rights of others, especially Palestinians). 

So what the "Iron Wall" did was essentially convince the victims to forget the injustices inflicted upon them in the past, in return for accepting a cessation in the beatings they were suffering in the present. Or in simpler words, if only they would agree not to fight back or remind the aggressors of what had happened, the aggressors would stop beating up on them, or at any rate reduce the beatings.

My dear Ms Shapira. Is this your idea of right and wrong?

Do you for a moment think that the Palestinian people will accept a settlement based, not on true justice, but on a piece of paper signed by their corrupt "leaders", by which they will attempt to legitimise all the previous wrongs perpetuated upon their people?

The reality is, the Palestinian people do not give a damn about a peace imposed upon them by Israel - a Pax Israeliana: they want genuine justice. There is no way they are going to live in peace with Israel until and unless they get justice. Amazing, but true! 

As Shlaim himself says, "The moral case for the establishment of an independent Jewish state was strong, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust. But there is no denying that the establishment of the State of Israel involved a massive injustice to the Palestinians. Half a century on, Israel still had to arrive at the reckoning of its own sins against the Palestinians, a recognition that it owed the Palestinians a debt that must at some point be repaid." 


And in reply to the above words of Shlaim's, Ms Shapira says:

It is not clear what Shlaim exactly has in mind by "sins." If he means the establishment of the state itself, well, he himself states that there was a strong moral case for its creation. If he is referring to the war of 1948, well, he himself notes elsewhere that the Arabs forced it upon Israel. If he is alluding to the fact that the Arab Palestinians did not establish a state in 1948, because they were stymied by Israel, surely he should place the blame for that first and foremost on the Palestinians themselves, and on their Arab brethren. Or was Israel supposed to take the initiative in creating a Palestinian state?

"Not clear what Shlaim exactly has in mind by "sins"?? Does stealing land - almost five million acres of it - not count? Does Ms Shapira want more detailed descriptions? Some beatings, tortures, rapes and murders, perhaps? Well, here are a few - a very few - well documented ones.

Item [From Hotam, 4 August 1989]: Between 1947 and 1949, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled as Israel declared its independence, and in June 1967 some 300,000 more Palestinians fled or were driven into exile as Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. Hundreds of villages were systematically razed and erased from the map. In the course of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after June 1967, over 1,000 Palestinians - including women and children - were deported without charges or trial. Fully 50 percent of the land and 80 percent of the precious water reserves were confiscated by the Israeli government. And as deported Palestinians languished in exile, some 100,000 Jews settled in the West Bank and Gaza. All these measures - and many more routinely taken by Israel in the occupied territories - were, as one Israeli periodical euphemistically put it, "very far from the norms of international law". 

Item: [Eyewitness reports of just a few examples of the sorts of events that constituted Israel's "War of Independence"]: A soldier eyewitness described how the IDF, capturing the village Ad Dawayima "without a fight," first "killed about 80-100 Arab men, women and children. The children were killed by breaking their heads with sticks. There was not a house without dead." The remaining Arabs were then closed off in houses "without food and water," as the village was systematically razed.

One commander ordered a sapper to put two old women in a certain house and to blow up the house with them. The sapper refused. The commander then ordered his men to put in the old women and the evil deed was done. One soldier boasted that he had raped a woman and then shot her. One woman, with a newborn baby in her arms, was employed to clear the courtyard where the soldiers ate. She worked a day or two. In the end they shot her and her baby.

The soldier eyewitness concluded that "cultured officers [...] had turned into base murderers and this not in the heat of battle [...] but out of a system of expulsion and destruction. The less Arabs remained - the better."

In the village of Safsaf - "52 men tied with a rope and dropped into a well and shot. 10 were killed. Women pleaded for mercy. 3 cases of rape. A girl aged 14 was raped. Another 4 were killed."

Item: As to what's happening right now, a B'Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) study, Violence against Minors in Police Detention, found that "illegal violence against minors, [...] many [of whom] are innocent of any crime, [...] occurs on a large scale." Severe beatings, including "slapping, punching, kicking, hair pulling, beatings with clubs or with iron rods, pushing into walls and onto floors," were said to be "very common." The study also highlighted more novel methods for interrogating minors:

"Beating the detainee as he is suspended in a closed sack covering the head and tied around the knees; tying the detainee in a twisted position to an outdoor pipe with hands behind the back for hours and, sometimes, in the rain, at night, and during the hot daytime hours; confining the detainee, sometimes for a few days, in the "lock-up" - a dark, smelly and suffocating cell one and a half by one and a half meters [five by five feet]; placing the detainee, sometimes for many hours, in the "closet" - a narrow cell the height of a person in which one can stand but not move; and depositing the tied-up detainee for many hours in the "grave" - a kind of box, closed by a door from the top, with only enough room to crouch and no toilet."

Let's re-read Ms Shapira's statement: "It is not clear what Shlaim exactly has in mind by 'sins'." If she cannot see the difference between good and evil in the above few - very few - examples, well, God help her on the Day of Judgement.

And before she has time to retort - as many Israelis and Jewish people generally do - that the Arabs (and in fact many other people) have done deeds just as horrible if not even more so, let us forestall them by asking, how is that supposed to justify the Chosen People of God - or indeed anyone - doing such things?


And Ms Shapira concludes her critique - if indeed it can be called that - of Shlaim's work by saying:

What remains is the refugee issue, a truly festering wound. And in this awful matter, there is a lot of guilt to go around. As Benny Morris argues, the blame for the misery of the Palestinian refugees must be shared by several parties. But the morally laden concepts mustered by Shlaim lay the guilt in no uncertain terms at one door only--at Israel's door. This passage reads like a remnant of an earlier time, a more inflamed and more brutal time that we should be glad to see gone.

And at whose door should the blame be laid, if not at Israel's? How would Ms Shapira explain the following statements - just a few among many?

"It should be clear for us that there is not room for two peoples in this country. If the Arabs leave it, there will be enough for us [...] There is nothing else to do but to remove them all; we mustn’t leave a single village, a single tribe [...] We must explain to Roosevelt and all the heads of friendly states that the land of Israel isn’t too small if all the Arabs leave and if the borders are pushed back a little to the north, as far as the Litani, and to the east, on the Golan Heights." - Yossef Weitz, Journal, (Tel Aviv), 1965.

"[A]fter we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine [...] The state will only be a stage in the realisation of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion into the whole of Palestine." - David Ben-Gurion, cited in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, Pluto Press, London, 1999.

"In 1948, we deliberately, and not just in the heat of the war, expelled Arabs. Also in 67 after the Six-Day War, we expelled many Arabs." - Tzvi Shiloah, a senior veteran of the Mapai Party and a former deputy mayor of the town of Hertzeliyah, cited in Modelet, no.12, October 1989.

"In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes […] For many Israelis it was easier to find consolation in the lie, that the Arabs left the country under orders from their leaders. This is an absolute fabrication. The fundamental cause of their flight was their fear from Israeli retribution and this fear was not at all imaginary. From almost each report in the IDF archives concerning the conquest of Arab villages between May and July 1948 - when clashes with Arab villagers were the fiercest - a smell of massacre emanates." - Aryeh Yitzakhi, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Eretz Yisrael Studies at Bar Ilan University (Tel Aviv) and Senior Lecturer in Military History in Israeli Defence Force (IDF), cited in Erlich, Guy, 'Not Only Deir Yassin', Ha'ir, 6 May 1992.

And suppose - just suppose - that all these statements, and others like them, are lies, damned lies and even Arab propaganda (one doesn't put it past Ms Shapira to claim such a thing). Even so, how does Ms Shapira explain that after the end of the conflict the Palestinians who had fled were not allowed by Israel to return, in flagrant violation of the norms of international law?


Now coming to Benny Morris - who in recent years has apparently recanted and become a thorough-going proponent of forcible "transfer" or ethnic cleansing - Ms Shapira says:

Morris's account of Israeli rule in the occupied territories is detailed and critical, and he does not conceal from the reader distressing events that illustrate the invidious influence of the "corruptive occupation"; but here, too, his moral judgements do not overwhelm his historiographical duty. "Though harsh and often brutal," he adds, "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out."

One wonders whether Ms Shapira, or for that matter, Benny Morris himself - has ever read some of the accounts given in Israeli journals of what goes on under Israeli rule in the occupied territories (and please note, these are not censored documents, the ones that go into the classified archives and which we will only see thirty years after the event):

Item: The 1st April 1988 issue of Hotam reported the case of a ten-year-old beaten so black and blue during an army interrogation that he was left "looking like a steak." The soldiers "weren't bothered" even when they later learned that the boy was deaf, mute, and mentally retarded. "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: The 13th July 1988 issue of Koteret Rashit reported the "disappearance of 25 children" and jail threats to their parents for "annoying" the army about the children's whereabouts. The 19th August 1988 issue of Hadashot featured three photos of a blindfolded six-year-old in an army jeep. The caption reported that many children his age would be held in detention until "ransoms" of several hundred dollars were paid, and that, as they were carted away, the children often urinated in their pants "from fear." "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: Under the heading "Deliberate Murder," the August 1989 bulletin for the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights reported that the Israeli army (apparently sharpshooters from "special units") had targeted an "increasing" number of Palestinian children in leadership roles. "Carefully chosen," the victim was usually shot in the head or heart and died almost instantaneously. "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: Dr. Haim Gordon of the Israeli Association for Human Rights reported the case of an eight-year-old tortured by soldiers after refusing to reveal which of his friends had thrown stones. Stripped naked, hung by his legs and brutally beaten, the boy was then pushed to the edge of a rooftop before being released (cited in the January 1990 bulletin of the Israeli League). "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: The 15th January 1990 issue of Hadashot reported the case of a thirteen-year-old who was thrown into detention after his fingers were deliberately broken and who was then left without any medical treatment or food because his father was unable to pay the ransom of 750 dollars. "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"? 

Item: The 26 January 1990 issue of Davar reported the case of a sixteen-year-old girl who was beaten by a club-wielding policeman ("He even tried to push the club between my legs") and then thrashed in prison for refusing to sign a confession. "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: The 29 June 1990 issue of Hotam reported the case of a thirteen-year-old detainee who, refusing to supply incriminating evidence against his brother, was "smashed" in the face, had "bruise marks on his entire body," was not allowed to drink or eat "for hours," and was forced to "urinate and defecate in his pants." "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"?

Item: Reporting on the grisly fate of Palestinians as young as fourteen arrested on "suspicion of stone-throwing," the 24 February 1992 issue of Hadashot quoted an inside source at the Hebron detention center: "What happened there ... was plain horror: they would break their clubs on the prisoners' bodies, hit them in the genitals, tie a prisoner up on the cold floor and play soccer with him - literally kick and roll him around. Then they'd give him electric shocks, using the generator of a field telephone, and then push him out to stand for hours in the cold and rain. [...] They would crush the prisoners, [...] turning them into lumps of meat." "Israeli rule in general was never as restrictive or repressive as the Palestinians made out"? Just how "restrictive or repressive" do the Israelis have to get?

I suppose Ms Shapira's "moral judgements do not overwhelm her historiographical duty". One wonders whether she ever had any moral judgements at all for them to overcome her "historiographical duty"!


Now take a look at Ms Shapira's spin on the "transfer" issue:

According to Morris's new version, just as the idea of transfer attended Zionism from its inception, so did Arab fears of precisely such a scheme. The inference from this line of reasoning is that the Arabs resisted Jewish settlement not because they regarded themselves as Palestine's rightful owners and did not wish to share the land with a people whom they perceived as a foreign invader; nor because they were opposed to transforming Palestine from a land with a predominantly Muslim culture into a non-Muslim country steeped in Western culture. No, their motive was well-founded fear: they knew that the Jews intended in due time to expel them. As Morris writes, "the fear of territorial displacement and dispossession was to be the chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism down to 1948 (and indeed after 1967 as well)." In this way history is spun on its head, and the effect is made into the cause, and the result of war is promoted into the paradigm for the entire complex of relations between Arabs and Jews over several decades.

First of all: "the Arabs [...] regarded themselves as Palestine's rightful owners" - Ms Shapira, we have news for you: the Palestinians did not merely regard themselves as Palestine's rightful owners: they were Palestine's rightful owners. Many of them still have legal documents to prove it.

Secondly: "[the Palestinians] did not wish to share the land with a people whom they perceived as a foreign invader" - We have still more news for you: the Palestinians did not merely perceive the Jews as foreign invaders: the Jews were foreign invaders.

Thirdly, re. your words "share this land" - We have news for you yet once more: the Jews had no intention of "sharing" this land. As Ben-Gurion indicated to Yigal Allon and Rabin, according to Rabin's (now censored) memoirs, regarding the Palestinians during the 1948 war, "Garesh otam!" ("Drive them out!")

Fourthly, the Jews never made any secret of their plans: namely, to set up a Jewish state in all of Palestine. How was that ever going to be possible - given the small number of Jews who at that time were in, or even wanted to come to, Palestine, compared to the huge number of Palestinians already living there - except by expelling the Palestinians? 

The Palestinians - or at least their leaders - may have been conniving and corrupt, but they weren't stupid, now were they. They could easily see that there was no way the few hundred thousand Jews living in a Palestine which had over a million Arabs could set up a Jewish state in all - or even most - of Palestine without driving out the Palestinians. 

And indeed that is exactly what happened. A Jewish "democratic" state within the 1949 armistice lines would not have been possible at that date without the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians: there would have a Palestinian majority in the "Jewish" state, which would have not allowed any such state to come into existence. The Palestinians knew it, the Arabs outside Palestine knew it, the Yishuv knew it, and so did the extremists on both sides.

In other words there was, in the fifty-odd years preceding Israel's independence - and especially in 1947 - no "complex of relations between Arabs and Jews over several decades". There was just a simple equation: "Jewish state = transfer of Palestinians." This was one equation about which there had to have been absolute agreement on all sides. Everybody knew it had to happen - there was no way they could not have known, unless they were exceedingly stupid - and that's exactly why it happened.

And the worst thing is, it's not as if there was no choice but forcible transfer. There was a choice, which if those idiotic Zionists would have only thought about, they would not have landed themselves - and the Palestinians too - in the utter mess they are both in today. The choice, which would have saved Israel, and allowed it to legitimately enter the community of peaceful nations, was extremely obvious: viz., to stick to the UN partition plan, occupy only as much land as was allotted to the Jewish state (and which at that time did contain a Jewish majority), actively help and encourage - rather than actively hinder - the setting up of a Palestinian state (which was also called for by the UN plan, remember?), and then continue with the land purchase policy which had worked so well up till then. 

The Jews could have continued to buy up Arab-owned land within the Jewish state until most of the plots of land were in Jewish hands, offering their Palestinian owners very generous amounts of money for each plot: for most of the Arab owners were more than willing to sell, provided the price was right. After all, when someone really wants something you, and only you, can sell them, you can drive the price up sky high! If the Palestinians were really as greedy and crafty as they are made out to be, why would they pass up such a golden opportunity, which came their way only once in two millennia? 

Within a few years, with all that money jingling in their pockets, virtually all the Palestinians would have gone off, one by one, to their own state, just a few miles down the road in fact, and lived like millionaires happily ever after, thanking their lucky stars for the Jews having arrived on their shores; while the Jews would have accomplished the necessary "transfer" - legally, peacefully and with everybody happy, happy, happy. (And it would still have cost the Jews less than all the armaments they've had to procure these last fifty years, and to which expenditure no end is in sight. Not to mention that there would have been no wars, no intifadas, and no killings on either side.)

It's not as if Herzl hadn't spelled it out for the Zionists, either. If only they had stuck to Herzl's ideas as expressed in his pamphlet The Jewish State. "The movement [i.e., of the Jewish people to the Jewish state, and of the indigenous population to places outside the Jewish state] will [...] only be inaugurated with absolute conformity to law". Note the words "only" and "absolute".

But no! The Zionists had to have it all, and have it now. "For we are strong, and want to have our way!" Eh? The idiots. The bloody idiots.

And now it's too late: most Palestinians today do not trust any Jews at all and will not sell one square inch of their land to the Jewish state. Why would they? Oh what a slippery slope we slide.


And then Ms Shapira says:

Zionist leaders always believed that the hoped-for Jewish majority in Palestine would materialize by means of massive Jewish immigration. It should not be forgotten that in 1920 the Arab population of Palestine numbered only some 600,000. The Zionist premise--which history has proven right--was that there was land aplenty in western Palestine for millions of Jews and Arabs. All the Zionist plans at the end of the 1930s envisioned the influx of a million Jews to Palestine within a decade. That magical number was geared to guaranteeing a Jewish majority, which is why the Arabs were so hostile to immigration: not because they were afraid of expulsion, but because they wished to prevent a demographic transformation.

What a confusion.

Before the "White Paper" of 1939 which restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine there was no limit on the number of Jews allowed into the country. Even so only a few tens of thousands of Jews actually wanted to come to Palestine - and that that was when Hitler was in power. Palestine received only about 232,000 legal immigrants in the entire decade of the 1930s. In 1939 the total population of Palestine about 1,500,000 of which the Jewish population numbered about 445,000. Thus if, as Ms Shapira says, the Palestinian population was "only some 600,000" in the 1920s, and grew to over one million in 1939, the Palestinian population must have been growing by 67 per cent per decade. Compare that to the Jewish population: the second British census of Palestine shows a population of 1,035,154 - of which 16.9% (176,000) was Jewish. This represented an increase, to be sure, of 153 per cent, much larger than the Palestinian rate of population increase; but it was bound to level off after a while, because by 1947 there was no Hitler and no Holocaust any more - while the Palestinian rate was going to continue to be high for the foreseeable future. 

The crucial point to note, anyway, is that this (relatively) insignificant increase in Jewish population resulted with unrestricted Jewish immigration, and that too, at a time when European anti-Semitism was at its height! At this rate, just when was this "guaranteed Jewish majority" going to come about?

And history has borne out the fact that Jewish immigration alone, as it exists in actual fact, cannot bring about a guaranteed Jewish majority. The population of Israeli Jews today is still only about half that of the Palestinians. (The fact that about 40 per cent of the Palestinians have been kicked out of Palestine is hardly a mitigating factor in this calculation.)

Yes, if all, or almost all, the Jewish people world-wide were to come and made Israel/Palestine their home, the Jewish population of the Jewish state would be in the majority. But in over a century the overwhelming majority of Jewish people have voted with their feet not to come and live in Israel/Palestine. So just when is this "guaranteed Jewish majority" going to materialise?

Not, however, that the Jewish population could ever remain in the majority for long, even if all the Jews were to immigrate to Israel/Palestine, because the Palestinian birth rate is one of the highest in the world, while the Jewish birth rate is one of the lowest. The Palestinian fertility rate is 6 children per woman in the West Bank and Gaza and 4.2 in Israel, compared with 2.6 children per woman for the Jewish population. The Palestinian population almost sextupled in 50 years (from 1.36 million in 1948 to 8 million in 1998). In another quarter- to half-century the Palestinians will probably catch up to the world-wide Jewish population, and then there will be no more Jews anywhere to "guarantee" a Jewish majority.

And it's not like the Palestinians didn't know that their birth rate was vastly greater than that of the Jews. It wasn't the Palestinians who were afraid of a demographic disaster: it is, and was, the Israelis who were, and still are, desperately afraid of it.


And Ms Shapira makes, once again, such preposterous statements as these:

If we are speaking about the mandatory period, then the British, who did not permit Jewish immigration, most certainly would not have endorsed any plan of Arab transfer. If we are speaking about a future with Palestine under Jewish rule, then the Jewish authorities would have been able to bring in millions of Jews unhindered and thereby to resolve the question of the dominant majority without resorting to expulsion. What had fueled a massive wish to leave Europe was the calamitous situation of the Jews there [...]

Just when did the British "not permit Jewish immigration" before the "White Paper" was issued in 1939 - after which the discussion was moot anyway because the Second World War made it impossible for Jews to get away from Nazi controlled Europe anyway?

And just what happened after 1949, with more than three quarters of Palestine under Jewish rule, and the ability of the Jewish government to bring in "millions of Jews unhindered"? Twenty years later the Jewish population of Israel/Palestine was only 1.9 million, while the Palestinians numbered around 2.5 million. Still a Palestinian majority, despite unrestricted Jewish immigration!

Come on, Ms Shapira: do we need "recently declassified documents" to see that what is written by you is, well, full of it?


And this is Ms Shapira's read on why the Israel-Arab conflict was born:

The Israeli-Arab conflict was not born as a consequence of anxieties about expulsion. It was born as a consequence of Arab resistance to the settlement of a foreign element in their land. The feeling of power among the Palestinian Arabs, who believed they were the rightful proprietors of Palestine and were unwilling to enter into any sort of compromise agreement with the Jews, contradicts the argument based on their alleged fears about eviction. The Palestinians did not go to war in 1948 because they were afraid the Jews would oust them; they went to war because they were not prepared to make their peace with the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Talk about a double standard. Suppose it had been the Israelis who were indigenous to the Land, and the Palestinians coming back to it after a 2,000-year Diaspora. Would Ms Shapira have said, then, that "Israeli Jews [...] believed they were the rightful proprietors of Israel", and that they "were unwilling to enter into any sort of compromise agreement with the Palestinians returning to their ancestral homeland after 2,000 years of persecution"? Would she say that the Israelis "went to war because they were not prepared to make their peace with the idea of a Palestinian state in Israel"?

When Israel is willing to allow the Palestinian people to set up a Palestinian state armed to the teeth, all of it inside of Israel, and comprising 78 per cent of the territory of "Greater Israel", then we can talk. Okay?

Talk about a double standard.


And moreover, according to Ms Shapira,

The Palestinian Arabs also believed that they would emerge the victors. The question of what they intended to do with the Jews in Palestine after a Jewish defeat on the battlefield is, of course, hypothetical. After the defeat, the flight, and the expulsion of the Palestinians, moreover, the subject is unmentionable: such questions are raised only about the victors. When the peace process comes to a conclusion, documents may be disclosed that shed valuable light on this point; but in the meantime the issue can be examined only in terms of the historical facts that we possess. And those facts, alas, are unequivocal: in all areas where the Jews went down to defeat at the hands of the Arabs, not a single Jew was allowed to return.

"Palestinian Arabs believed that they would emerge the victors"? Since when do people who believe that they are going to be victors in a conflict flee en masse from their "victims" with just the clothes on their backs?

And even if we are to talk, not about the Palestinians, but about the surrounding Arab states, does Ms Shapira seriously think we don't know that in 1948 they hardly ever attacked the territory earmarked by the UN for the Jewish state, but for the most part restricted their military actions to the areas earmarked by the UN for the Palestinian state? Does she think we don't know that King Abdullah of Jordan secretly colluded in 1947-1948 with Ben-Gurion, via his emissary Golda Meir, to divide between Jordan and Israel the territory mandated by the United Nations to the Palestinian state when it partitioned Palestine between Arabs and Jews, and that as a result, Jordan became a covert ally of Israel in suppressing the Palestinians, and denying them a state?

As for Ms Shapira's conclusion, "[...] in all areas where the Jews went down to defeat at the hands of the Arabs, not a single Jew was allowed to return", there is no denying of the fact that some Arabs, including Palestinian Arabs, think exactly like some Zionists - but no decent person condones their actions, any more than they condone Israel's. However, just because Arabs - and note that at that time they were non-Palestinian Arab governments, not the Palestinian people - did not permit Jews to return to Arab-controlled areas after the 1949 armistice is hardly a justification for the Israelis not allowing Palestinians to return to their own homes and lands, is it? 

Again Ms Shapira points the finger at the Arabs, forgetting that when she does so three of her own fingers are pointing back at her. 

This is a standard retort of many Jewish people and Israelis when Israel is accused of doing horrible things: "The Arabs did worse". Like, this is supposed to be some kind of excuse for doing horrible things oneself, as long as one doesn't do them quite as horribly as the "other guy". One shakes one's head and wonders whether people who make such excuses are even capable of thinking rationally and morally.

It may also be noted that throughout most of their history, Arabs have not condoned massive ethnic cleansing of Jews, the way Israelis have done and are continuing to do to the Palestinian people. The Arabs have a long history and track record to prove exactly the opposite. In Palestine itself, Muslims, Christians and Druze had lived peacefully along with Jews for centuries. Even when the Muslims were conquerors, they did not by and large conduct any "ethnic cleansing" of Jews. Omar Ibn al-Khatab's and Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem are solid proofs of how Arabs and Muslims treated even their defeated subjects, the Byzantines and the Crusaders respectively: which is to say, quite fairly. Heck, Maimonides was one of Saladin's own personal physicians! (And it's not like the Arabs didn't have excellent and famous doctors of their own, like ibn Sina - renowned even in Europe, as Avicenna - and ibn Mutran, another of Saladin's personal physicians.) And many of today's Christian Palestinians trace their roots to the Crusades. Muslim Arabs have their long history to prove their general tolerance towards their non-Muslim - and especially Jewish - subjects; the Israelis have their track record to speak for them. 


And then Ms Shapira denies any existence of a plan to expel the Palestinians, saying:

The Arab panic led to exodus, and to the collapse of the institutions of Palestinian society. The more the magnitude of the exodus became clear, the more admissible and attractive the idea seemed to Israeli leaders and military commanders--not because the Zionist movement had been planning such an evacuation all along, but because a remote option (even if there were some who harbored such hankerings) gained acceptance in the context of the behavior of both sides during the war.

Perhaps Ms Shapira has not heard of the March 10, 1948 "Plan Dalet", written up in the Sefer Toldot Hahaganah ["History of the Haganah"], vol. 3, ed, by Yehuda Slutsky (TelAviv: Zionist Library, 1972, Appendix 48, pp 1955-60), which among other things called for:

"Mounting operations against enemy population centers located inside or near our defensive system in order to prevent them from being used as bases by an active armed force. These operations can be divided into the following categories: [...]

"Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously. [...] 

"Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state." (My emphasis).

The entire text of the plan is available in English translation on the Web here.

But even if we were to suppose that this plan had never existed, would Ms Shapira like to explain to us, exactly what prevented Israel from accepting back, as soon as the conflict was over, those displaced Palestinians who had fled the scene of the conflict - as Israel, just like every other warring party, was obliged to do under international law as it stood at that time, and as it stands to this day - and which was in fact a precondition for Israel's admission to the United Nations? 

Whether there was a plan of expulsion or not, Israel behaved after the conflict as if there had been one. What more needs to be said?


Basically, what Ms Shapira suggests is, Let's forget the past and move on: for realism, not morality, should be our guiding light. Or, as she says in her concluding paragraph,

And so the dialogue between history and historiography will continue. If it turns out that the hopes for an Israeli-Arab peace were premature, then the picture of the past will also be soured, and the currents critical of Israel will almost certainly be strengthened. If the peace process is carried forward to a successful conclusion, and Israel is welcomed as a fully recognized polity among the states of the Middle East, then a perspective on the past will be reinforced whose rudiments are already evident, though only intermittently in the writings of Avi Shlaim and Benny Morris: the perspective of realism. When reality comes more closely to approximate our moral ideals, moralism will become redundant. We will see this thick and twisted conflict more accurately and more humanely. And the power of discourse may succeed where the power of arms has failed.

In other words, Shapira appeals to all people to forget the all evil Israel did, so that the evil can be legitimised. A blanket amnesty. Not one word of apology from Israel to the Palestinians, not one word of acknowledgement for past Jewish sins: for to her, the past, as she sees it - and wants all of us to see it - might as well have never existed. At best it was a "thick and twisted conflict", with blame enough to go round on all sides. And this is supposed to bring about an end to the conflict?!?

There is only one way a Jewish state can permanently exist in Palestine: and that is for the Jews to come to some sort of mutually-acceptable agreement with those who were living there before the Jews arrived. In this day and age, no other way will deliver the goods! Herzl recognised that, Ahad Ha'Am recognised that, Martin Buber recognised that, even Einstein recognised that. Not that it needs an Einstein to recognise it - it's just plain common sense.

And because a lot of injustice has now been done by Israel to the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, the only way a mutually-acceptable agreement between them and the Jews can come about is if the Jews, both as individuals and as a whole people, apologise for the wrongs they did, and follow up with the apology's logical consequences. That is to say, give back every single bit of what was stolen, solemnly promise never to do it again, and offer generous compensation for the damage, pain and suffering caused in the interim.

For whatever harm the Palestinians have done to the Jews, the Jews have a right to demand an apology from them too, and compensation as well. But the harm has been far greater the other way. The ledger is not even close to balanced. Even if we forget the property issue, where the stealing and destruction has been almost one hundred per cent carried out by Israelis, there's also the blood issue: there have been over 20 Palestinians killed by Israelis for every Israeli killed by Palestinians - and that's not even counting the maimed and tortured, or Arabs killed by Israel in other countries. Even after the Palestinians pay every penny they owe the Jews, there'll still be an enormous debt left over which the Jews will have to pay to the Palestinians - just as Avi Shlaim said.

That is, of course, if the Jews want to be considered even decent human beings, let alone "God's chosen people" and "a light unto the nations". Otherwise, they're not decent human beings. Decent people don't just grab and hold on to other people's property: that's something even a six-year-old can tell you.

In short: if the Jewish people want a Jewish state on someone else's land, they should pay for it - just as if I want a Porsche, I should pay for it. If I can't afford one, no matter how much I want one, I should do without - just as I'm doing right now, in fact. I shouldn’t just go out and steal one! If I steal a Porsche it hardly makes it "mine", now does it. It still rightfully belongs to someone else, only in addition I'd now be guilty of stealing it. 

Same thing applies to the Land of Israel, over ninety percent of which used to be someone else's. It was simply grabbed by the Jews without the owners' permission - and much of it at gunpoint, at that. That's just grand theft: no different from carjacking, except on a much larger scale.

But it's not as if the Jewish people, taken as a whole, can't afford to pay for the land on which to set up a Jewish state. Even Herzl recognised this. The Jewish people are among the wealthiest in the world: forty-five percent of the top 40 of the Forbes 400 richest Americans are Jewish, and one-third of American multimillionaires are Jewish, even though Jews comprise less than 3 percent of the American population. Israelis and their supporters in the US have already spent megabucks on the Israeli army, and have resigned themselves to spend not just megabucks but gigabucks and even terabucks on it ... and that too, for all time to come. A one-time payment for the land to make up a Jewish state, even it were to make every Palestinian rich beyond his or her wildest dreams, would be peanuts in comparison. And as a    _H_U_G_E_   bonus, everybody would be happy!

And as regards the Palestinians' political aspirations, this problem too would easily be solved by allowing both the Jewish and Palestinians states to exercise sovereignty over the Holy Land in parallel. Parallel sovereignty over a single piece of territory is hardly impossible: it just requires a willingness to come to agreements with one's neighbours. All states have to come to mutually-acceptable agreements with their neighbours: parallel sovereignty only requires more of the same. So it's not like it's too much to ask.

I had initially thought that the idea of Parallel Sovereignty was the brainchild of Israeli creative thinker Deb Reich (see her article "Beyond the Onion of Blame: Parallel Sovereignty for Palestine/Israel" in CounterPunch, October 30, 2002 <>), but after conducting some searches on the Internet I find that it had been proposed before: for example by Noam Chomsky, by Martin Buber and even, if I'm not mistaken, by Confucius: so it's not like it's a new proposal. As Fred Foldvary says here:

"Martin Buber [...] favored (in a 1939 letter to Gandhi) the 'communal ownership of land' (citing Leviticus 25:23) as well as 'the independence of each individual'. With 'joint sovereignty', neither people need fear 'domination by the other through numerical superiority', hence, he said, immigration need not be restricted. In a 1947 radio lecture in the Netherlands, Buber said, 'The demands for an Arab state or a Jewish state in the entire Land of Israel fall into the category of political 'surplus', 'of the desire to achieve more than what is truly needed.' [...] (Martin Buber, A Land of Two Peoples, 1983). [...] and Noam Chomsky in his book Peace in the Middle East? (1974) [...] suggested, as an alternative to the usual proposals, 'parallel national institutions throughout the whole territory with a free option for each individual; and also the option of dissociation from national institutions with retention of full rights of citizenship for those who prefer'."

Anyway, it's not as if the problems in the Holy Land are insoluble: in fact they could be easily solved if the majority of the Jewish people would only think, rather than simply act without thinking, as they have been doing for over a century now. Unfortunately there seems to be little willingness among most of them, whether inside or outside Israel, to change their habits in this respect. If Ms Shapira's article represents - as it almost certainly does - the best thinking the Israeli and Jewish mainstream is capable of, then I am afraid there truly is no hope for Israel. The blind leading the blind - will they not all fall into the ditch? 

-Ardeshir Mehta