Hagada Hasmalit

a critical review of israeli culture and society

Posted by רני On March - 11 - 2007 0 Comment

“How could I feel free and safe if the Palestinian refugees returned to Israel?” Jasmine posed this question in response to an article I wrote for Hagada Hasmalit in Hebrew. She also asked how I envisaged the continuation of Israel as an independent Jewish State after the implementation of the right of return. And she wanted an answer straight to the point. Here it is.

We cannot turn our backs on our history. In the war in 1948 we expelled two-thirds of the local Arab population, somewhere between 700,000-800,000 people. These figures (as all other figures presented here) are estimates from a variety of sources. Their numbers and those of their descendents have been increasing and have reached about four million or more. The United Nations, it will be remembered, recognized their right to return or to receive compensation (UN Resolution 194). The right of return of people uprooted (expelled) from their lands is both anchored in international law and consistent with the principles of universal ethics. The Palestinian themselves never agreed to concede their right of return and we Israelis have simply ignored the refugees and their demands. In the euphoria following the war and the establishment of the state, it was the general feeling that “what’s done is done” and that’s the end of it. The evacuation of the Arab population from the cities of Jaffa, Haifa, Zafed, Lud and Ramle was greeted with a sigh of relief by the Jewish Yishuv. Only later did it become clear that things were not as simple as they seemed and we had not “finished with the business.” We even suggested – in the face of heavy international pressure – to permit the return of 100,000 refugees (proposed by the then minister of foreign affairs Moshe Sharett in 1949). One should remember that that number was suggested when the entire Yishuv numbered less than a million Jews. If we translate that into today’s reality, it would be like suggesting the return of 600,000-700,000 Palestinian refugees. In 1949 there were yet 160,000 Arabs who had survived the Nakba and remained in Israel. In other words, had the 100,000 refugees been allowed to return then, the Palestinian Arabs in Israel would have constituted one-third of the population.
One should also keep in mind that in the historical 1947 UN Resolution calling for the creation of a Jewish State – or, to be more precise, the partition of the country into two states – a resolution which was enthusiastically received by the Yishuv, the Arabs would have comprised 40% of the Jewish State!
Today I believe we should recognize the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and agree to the return (within the terms of a comprehensive peace agreement) of between 50,000 to 100,000 refugees a year for the next ten years. The rest will receive fair compensation to which Israel will contribute. I have read in various sources that such a proposal might be acceptable to the Palestinians. A situation would be created in which the Palestinians would comprise 25% of the population of Israel. Today they comprise 19%.
One must emphasize that the right of return is not only a question of the physical return of refugees to the country. It is also, or perhaps even primarily, Israel’s (and Zionism’s) admission of guilt in uprooting another people.
As for the possibility of Israel continuing as an independent Jewish State in which its citizens would feel safe after the implementation of the right of return, my assumption is that the partial return of the refugees would constitute the basis for real peace and conciliation with the Palestinians. It would further enable Israel to establish normal and peaceful relations with its Arab neighbors.
A peace agreement under these terms is the most realistic way of ensuring the existence and independence of Israel. Otherwise we are doomed to live here in the midst of an unending war. It is a bitter truth that in the long run, in light of the balance of power in the Middle East, our continued existence is in no way assured. We live amongst hundred of millions of Arabs and Muslims with a deep national consciousness, tempered in their bitter struggle with Western colonialism – who see Israel as part and parcel of that same colonialism. In conditions of peace, our existence here would be a lot safer than it is now. I can still remember good neighborly relations which existed between Jews and Arabs even in the days of the British Mandate. Who says that life with a national minority is necessarily one of strife? Social and cultural cooperation between the two peoples sharing the land can lead to the enrichment of both.
National minorities of varying sizes exist in many countries and it would appear that their lives are not inferior to life in Israel. It seems to me that the Spanish people, for example, do not feel that their national life is in any way constrained because of the existence of the Catalonian or even the Basque minority. In any event, the Palestinians in Israel are a fact of life and Liebermaniac proposals, and their like, can only turn the country into an inferno.
I envisage a state in which the Arabs will be full partners while we will continue to develop our own Hebrew culture and chosen style of life. But we must be certain that, unlike the situation today, we will in no way infringe upon the rights of others, i.e., the Arab citizens of the country. I don’t see how recognizing the rights of the minority can in any way be detrimental to us. On the contrary, it will enable us to develop a more tolerant and humane society in our nationalistic “villa in the jungle” (a term coined by former prime minister Ehud Barak) which sits on a seething volcano that threatens to erupt every so often. In order to live in such a state we would have to make certain changes in our views of ourselves and our past. We would be able to do away with all of our persistent apologetics and our sanctimonious pose of superiority towards our neighbors. I believe that the idea of Jewish exclusiveness is not necessary to Jewish national life. Exclusiveness is necessary only to a narrow, xenophobic kind of nationalism. I believe in a nationalism that is open to cultural contact and exchange with others, as was the case with all the great cultures of the world. Shutting off the world around can only lead to provinciality. Hostility towards the “other” is a poor form of national enrichment.
It is my opinion that a within a so-called national state a minority can flourish provided it is given adequate national living space. In any case, such a situation is more promising that what we have today – living in a state in which the national minority is deprived of its rights. So, to sum up this point, let me say that living in a state with a larger Palestinian minority than we have today but one which is not hostile, living in a state with a larger Palestinian minority than we have today but one which is at peace with its neighbors – offers us all greater security and freedom.
True, what will result will be different from what the early Zionists envisaged. Having breathed the air of European colonialism, they thought it only natural to occupy a land and rule over the native population – as did the great imperial powers of the time. No one had yet heard of de-colonialization.
But we could point out that my “utopian” vision of relations between Jews and Arabs is not so terribly remote from what Herzl wrote in his famous Altneuland. There he described an open and pluralistic state which was particularly tolerant towards the Arabs. True, he wrote it in response to the assertion – made over a hundred years ago – that the Zionist aim was an insular national Jewish State. Among the early critics of the book was Ahad Ha-am who in an ominous prophecy wrote that such a state could come into existence only on the basis of the complete displacement of the Arabs. Herzl’s utopian icing on the Zionist idea apparently did not amuse Ahad Ha-am. But Herzl understood that one had to describe a Zionist Utopia, a state which met the standards of universal human values. The motto for his book was: “If you will it, it is no legend.” In the sad state of affairs in which Israel finds itself today perhaps the idea of conciliation with the Palestinians on the basis of the right of return sounds like a legend. Still, if we will it…

Categories: The Region

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  1. The Right of Return says:

    I believe the views of Shmuel Amir are very correct. If you look at our present state, I think the only humanitarian way is that both jews & palestinians should live together in Israel, and I also believe that we could enrich and develop ourselves by doing so. One of the commandments is: Thou shall not steal. Taking land from others is stealing.

  2. Right of Return says:

    I wonder where Amir arrived at the figure of 50,000-100,000 a year for 10 years? There is a gap in his argument: If it is right to allow those driven out and their heirs to return or be compensated, then it is NOT right for only 1,000,000 at the most to get this benefit. It must pertain to all. How does one know how many would want to return and how many accept compensation? I suppose one would have to start with a survey and ask the Palestinians themselves instead of again setting all the rules without consultation.

  3. Klil Ha-Horesh Neori says:

    I’d like to translate and adapt my response to this article from the Hebrew version of the website:

    One thing that is not widely discussed in this subject is the fact that there is, in fact, a certain right of return that is recognized, not only by the State of Israel, but by every single nation in the world – the right manifest in the Law of Return. The absurdity is, of course, even more manifest in English than it is in Hebrew, where “shvut” is used instead of “shiva”, though the meaning is quite the same.

    This law means, that the distant offspring of people who converted into the religion of a population, that fled or was deported from this region at the aftermath of a war, viz., a rebellion against the advanced Roman administration, about two thousand years ago; these individuals are given the privilege not only of arriving at Palestine unhindered, but of receiving property and housing benefits; while at the same time, people who were themselves deported from this country, some of whom still have keys to the houses out of which they were violently thrown, are not entitled to anything.

    I think that this glaring absurdity is a lot graver than any other consideration raised in these discussions. There isn’t even a basic standard of equality in accepting the Law of Return while rejecting the Right of Return – especially when beneficiaries of the Law of Return have and are appropriating land around those denied the Right of Return!

  4. Henry Lowi says:

    On the very specific question of
    “How could I feel free and safe if the Palestinian refugees returned to Israel?” Ilan Pappe has some very interesting insight, presented in a recent talk:

    “The educational system in Israel, the media in Israel, the political system in Israel, sends us Jews in Israel a very clear message from our very early days until we die. The message is very clear, and you can see that message in the platforms of all the political parties in Israel. Everybody agrees with it, whether they are on the left, or on the right. The message is the following. And to my mind ― I will say the message in a minute ― but I will say that, to my mind, this is a very dangerous message, a very racist message, against which I fight (unsuccessfully).

    The message is that personal life ― not collective life, not even political life ― personal life of the Jew in Israel would have been much better had there not been Arabs around.”

    — Link —

    The “numbers game” in the discussions about the Palestine refugees reminds me of the racist Canadian politician, when asked during World War II how many Jewish refugees from Europe should be allowed into Canada, responded: “None is too many”.

    This is the current Israeli response, from right to left, to the demand of the Palestine refugees to be permitted to return peacefully to their homes and communities.

    Needless to say, this racist attitude will have to change — to be reversed — if there is ever to be peace.

  5. Henry Lowi says:

    As if Olmert had read my comment above, and wanted to emulate the World War II era racist politician, today he stated in an interview with the Jerusalem Post: “Not one refugee can return”
    See: — Link —

  6. Double Mind says:

    The Masada Legacy

    Pronounced: msad. Masada has a legendary status in Israeli mentality. Here the fight for Israeli and Jewish independence was fought with such ferocity that the people who took Masada as their last stronghold chose to die rather than surrender.

    Masada is an ancient mountaintop fortress in present day Israel. Historically, it was the final outpost of the Zealots, an extremist Jewish sect, in their rebellion against Roman authority (AD 66-73).

    Masada was first fortified during the 1st or 2nd century BC. Between 37 and 31 BC the Judean king, Herod the Great, further strengthened Masada, building ornate palaces, bathhouses, aqueducts, surrounding siege walls and extensive administrative and military facilities.

    Masada had an exceptional geographical setting. Located in the Judean Desert, the fortress city sits atop a mesa-shaped rock that towers some 1,300 ft (400 m) above the western shore of the Dead Sea. The original purpose of the Masada fortress was to counter the potential military threat represented by Egypt and Cleopatra. In 4 BC, after Herod’s death, Masada became a Roman garrison.

    In 66 AD, with the outbreak of the Jewish war against Rome, the Zealots seized Masada in a surprise night attack and massacred all of the members of its Roman garrison. In 70 AD, when Jerusalem fell into Roman hands, about 1,000 Zealots took refuge in Masada. The Romans responded by attempting to recapture the fortress. By 73 AD the Roman Army had engineered a long earth assault ramp from a hill to the west, to the shoulder of the Masada mesa.

    The Zealots leader, Eleazar Ben Yair, realized that his defeat or surrender was near. He ordered that each of the Zealots was to be killed, rather than have them surrender to Roman occupation. He appointed 10 Jewish soldiers to kill the other nearly 1,000 men, women, and children in the fortress. Then 1 of the remaining Zealots killed those 10 Jewish soldiers, and he himself committed suicide. In effect, all of the Jewish occupants of Masada followed the orders of Eleazar Ben Yair and were murdered, or killed themselves, rather than surrender and be ruled by the Romans.

    Masada now is a major Israeli tourist revenue attraction, in addition to being an Israeli national symbol. Masada is where Israeli special forces give their oath of allegiance, and the word Masada is the name of a global Jewish youth training program.

    An impressive history, and one that continues to influence many lives today, but how do we interpret it?

    Were the Jews who massacred the Roman families garrisoned at Masada freedom fighters or brutal terrorists? Was the Zealots leader, Eleazar Ben Yair, a mass murderer and a terrorist or a religious hero? When Eleazar Ben Yair ordered all of the Jewish families murdered, were they willing martyrs for their faith or innocent, terrified victims of an extremist leader? When the Zealot soldiers killed each member of their own families, were they fanatical followers or faithful believers? Perhaps the interpretation depends on which Masada tour guide you get.

    Masada’s powerful legacy of Zionist values appears to strongly influence todays Palestinians, too. The Palestinian Arabs never really shared the Zionist values before, but todays Palestinians may someday have a Masada of their own, as their national symbol. The Likud Party is certainly doing all it can to help them produce one.

    Or maybe for todays and tomorrows Palestinians, ‘their Masada’ will be just a collection of nondescript street corners and village squares where they committed suicide, one by one, rather than submit themselves and their children to Zionist domination.

    Are the Palestinian Arabs freedom fighters or manipulated victims? Are they sacrificing themselves to assure a future for their children on their own land, or just copying the behavior of their own Zionist oppressors? Do they all have to die, just like the Zealots, or can they negotiate peace?

    Is todays Zionist Israeli military a noble defender against insane fanatics, or the recreation of the Roman Army that captured Masada? The Masada tour guides of the future will, no doubt, properly interpret all of this for us.

    The Masada legacy doesn’t have to repeat itself forever.

    Attend Carefully To These Admonitions:

    Israeli Jews: Your own genetic scientists have clearly proven that your genetic code is identical to the genetics of the Arab Muslims living inside Israel and in the occupied territories. Palestinians are Semites. They are identical to you. You have been one race since the time of Abrahim.

    Your own finest thinker, Albert Einstein, wrote, ‘Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ When you invade Palestinian neighborhoods and kill and maim Palestinians you are destroying your own families, in the same way that Eleazar Ben Yair murdered his own people. Do you wish to be known throughout the world, and forever, as insane?

    The Masada legacy of murder and suicide is a cultural pathogen. It has infected and corrupted your very identity. It is the death-rattle of the most noble aspects of the Jewish tradition. Recognize it. Close your eyes to it. Turn your backs on it. Walk away from it. Heal yourselves.

    You were taught in Hebrew school that Jews are to be “A Light unto the Nations.” The Masada legacy has metastasized into a cultural disease that delivers only darkness and death to Jews and to all others. When will you choose to believe, pray, think, and act outside this ancient psychopathic box?

    Muslims – Turn And Walk Away.

    To Arab Muslims: You have no equity in the Masada legacy. It is not a part of your history or your beliefs. The Masada legacy of murder and suicide is a cultural pathogen. It has infected you. In your agony, you have fallen into an unholy and co-dependant relationship with those who oppress you.

    Recognize this. Admit it. Turn your backs on it. Walk away from it. Return to your own values. Only then can you be healed – and your spirits – and your land – can become your own again.

    Your Prophet (May He Rest In Peace) taught you that the ‘People of the Book’ are all sons and daughters of Abrahim, and are brothers and sisters in peace. He specifically included Jews and Christians. And he implied inclusion of all decent people. And as you pray – five times each day – to the One Eternal Spirit, ask for light, forgiveness, guidance and wisdom. If, in your agony, you have forgotten how to pray, your own Sufi masters will gently teach you.

    To Each Of You

    Listen to yourselves, in your agony, and listen to each other. ‘Listening is the beginning of understanding. Wisdom is the reward for a lifetime of listening. Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.’ Proverbs 1:5

    Each of you seek and revere knowledge. You must now acknowledge that your cultural health profoundly shapes the nature of all that you do. And your cultural health influences far more than you control. Your ultimate responsibility is to deliver an uncommon depth of Light, knowledge, understanding and meaning to all those you influence and serve throughout the world.

    Look Inside

    “People suffer, not because they can’t solve their problems, but because they can’t see their problems.” Albert Einstein

    The Masada legacy of murder and suicide is a cultural pathogen that has spread throughout the world. If you recognize it and walk away from it, it will no longer infect you.

    The Masada legacy is only one – of many cultural pathogens – that you will find within yourselves – if you choose to see them. And each is lethal. Cleanse yourself – and your culture – and walk away. Otherwise, you are doomed. And you doom all those around you.

    After Illness, How Do You Regain Health?

    Health is far more than the absence of disease. In nature, when you create a vaccuum, something new must replace that which was removed.

    If Jews are to become “a Light unto the Nations,” then Jews – and all others who seek cultural health – and who heal themselves of a cultural pathogen – need a new moral compass to fill the cultural void within them. And they need a new light to guide them.

    Follow a Sustainable Moral Compass

    Abram Poljak wrote these thoughts as his ‘moral compass’ – and to light his way – during a time when he was in prison in Germany in the 1940s. I believe his reflections serve as a new light and a new ‘moral compass’ for Israeli Jews and for Arab Muslims as well. If you are able, read his thoughts for yourself, as he wrote them; if not, they are translated here for you.

    “Erkenntnis ohne Liebe is kaltes Licht, ein Irrlicht, das in den Abgrund f?hrt. Je mehr Licht der Erkenntnis wir bekommen, um so einsamer werden wir An dieser Einsamkeit k?nnen wir zugrunde gehen, wenn nicht zum Licht der Erkenntnis ein h?heres Licht, das vollkommene, kommt: das Licht der Liebe und der Demut. Erkenntnis mit Liebe is aber Wahrheit, Vollendung, das Wahre Licht.”Abram Poljak

    Knowledge without love is a cold light, a false light, which leads us into the abyss. The more light of knowledge we get, the more lonely we become. We can be destroyed in, or by, this solitude if to the light of knowledge we do not add a higher form of light, the perfect light: the light of love and humility. Knowledge with love, however, is Truth, Perfection and the True Light.

    “Alles Licht, das wir erhalten haben, str?mt aus Seiner Gnadenhand. Er gibt es uns nicht, damit wir hart werden und jene verachten, die weniger Licht haben als wir, sondern damit wir uns ihrer erbarmen und ihnen dienen.” – Abram Poljak

    All the Light we have received streams from His merciful hand. He does not give it to us so that we become hard and scorn those who have less light than we have, but so that we will have compassion for them and serve them.

    “Es ist die Aufgabe des Sehenden, den Blinden zu f?hren, mild und sanft, ohne ihr zu sto?en und zu erschrecken. Stilles Dienen wird von uns verlangt, heiliges Schweigen. R?ume den Blinden die Steine aus dem Wege und besch?tze ihn vor jenen, die aus seiner Blindheit Nutzen ziehen wollen!.” – Abram Poljak

    It is the task of the seeing to lead the blind, mildly and softly, without pushing them or frightening them. Quiet service is demanded of us, sacred silence. Take the stones out of the way of the blind person and protect him from those who would take advantage of his blindness.

    Only You Can Change Your Destiny

    Erase and replace the Masada legacy of murder and suicide. Start your new life with the admonitions of Abram Poljak – in all that you believe, honor, think and do. The admonitions of Abram Poljak will enable you to begin to regain your health. And they will light your way.

    The Future – For You and Your Children

    How do you want your sons and daughters to grow up? Twisted by an invisible disease you inherited? Or with clear minds and spirits? Filled with love for themselves and all mankind – or unthinkingly trapped in an ancient psychopathic box?

    The new desitny you choose for yourself will change their destiny as well. And you must decide – for your childern will become what you become.

    The future is not a place you – and they – are going, it is a place that – you – are creating. The new paths to it are not found, they are made, and making a new path changes both the path maker and the destination.

    Your Mission Is Their Mission

    Your new mission – in a culture together – is to produce and deliver an uncommon depth of Light, knowledge, understanding and meaning to the world of men and women whom you serve and influence.

    Your personal humility and your new ‘moral compass’ will influence your brothers and sisters, your children, and your future prosperity, far more than you may imagine. Only together can you be “a Light unto the Nations.”

    “There is a destiny that makes us all brothers. No one goes his way alone.
    All we send into the lives of others, comes back into our own.”

    From the time of Abrahim, you have had a mysterious bond with one another as you have walked the same land on your journey. You are indeed one State for Two Peoples. Two Peoples who are bound together by love.

    Your spiritual health – and your future – exists within this mysterious bond, because: ‘The most beautiful experience in the world is the experience of the mysterious.’ Albert Einstein.

    As-salaam alaykum …… Shalom…..

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