If those people of Israel who stand on the right alongside prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu want to go back to their memories of their war against the Arab nations after they had been attacked following the handover by the British in 1948; if they want to go back to the Holocaust; if they want to go back to the anti-Jewish violence, the first so-called “pogrom” in 1819 when the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt was ransacked; or to twelfth century England when began the libel that the Jews ritually murdered Christian children to mix their blood in the unleavened bread baked at Passover, then they should recall some equally important other events.
What about the welcoming of the large numbers of Jews by the Moslem Turks when they were expelled from Spain in 1492? What about the long period up to the 12th century when Jews lived without being persecuted for the most part in Europe? What about the centuries up to the twentieth when the good periods of toleration far outnumber the bad years of discrimination and repression? (And remember this and for many centuries afterwards was a time of religious and princely competition and petty nationalism that produced hundreds of wars among the European countries.)
Or, going back even further, what about Moses’s act of genocide when God told Moses he must use his army, leaving Egypt and on its way to the land now called Palestine, to attack its resident tribes: the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Midianites, the Amorites, the Jebusites and the Hivites. And then on one occasion Moses told his victorious generals to return to the Midianites and kill all the women and their young sons. (It is all recorded at length in the Old Testament’s Book of Numbers.)
Let’s interrupt this history a while and recall Shakespeare’s great work of dramatic art, the Merchant of Venice, where Shylock was treated as an unpleasant Jew (with a lovely, self-effacing daughter) who dealt mainly in shady usury.
His speech to the court is one of Shakespeare’s most remembered: “Hath not a Jew eyes? / Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? /If you prick us, do we not bleed? /If you tickle us do we not laugh? /If you poison us, do we not die? /And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
But what if we turn this around and allow a Palestinian to ask these questions? Do the inhabitants of Israel regard Arab life as less human than their own? The severely skewed rate of casualties in the Gaza conflict including the killing of many, many children seems to suggest it.
Four decades have passed since Israel in 1967 crushed a new Arab attack. It was following that that Israelis started to settle beyond the border of their state in contravention of international law which prohibits an occupying state from transferring population into seized territory.
For around two-thirds of its history Israel has been an occupying state, one that by fear has extended its settlements. The vast majority of the 7 million Jewish Israelis do not know any other reality. The vast majority of the 5 million Palestinians who live under occupation similarly do not know any other reality.
How many Israelis are aware of the details of their people’s long history, or do they only know about blood libel, the Russian pogroms and the Holocaust? Probably so, for an overwhelming majority of rabbis of this and the last century have shunted the depths of history to one side. I recently went to the university library and looked carefully at its collection of over 60 volumes of Hebrew history and theology. Not one mentioned the ethnic cleansing stories of the Old Testament Books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers.
Similarly, Israelis know little or nothing about the history of the Arabs and that it was their Middle East that was the cradle of Western (as opposed to Indian and Chinese) civilization, hundreds of years before the Israelites came on the scene. Nor do they know much, if anything, about the long history of Muslim friendship towards the Hebrew people, one which the ancestors of present-day Americans and Europeans did not often offer.
If the Israelis could face up to their history and to the events from 1949 on, the world would no longer be threatened by the Israel/Palestine dispute and the madness of this conflict.
The Israelis should pull back from the West Bank, offer a two-state solution on the most generous of terms, turning back the clock to 1947 (which if the Palestinians had been smart they should have accepted then). Why should it be only to the so-called pre-1967 boundaries? The lion then would lie down with the lamb and swords would be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.