Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Beyond Lydda, 1948

Dear Friend,
Lydda, 1948: A Revisiting

John Kleinheksel Sr. November 21, 2013

Every so often, we have an accurate snapshot of the basic reality of Israel/Palestine.
One such portrait comes from Ari Shavit’s Lydda, 1948, in The New Yorker, October 21, 2013, pp. 40-46), which is actually a central chapter in his book appearing this week entitled, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. This gentleman is now all the rage in America, given his status as a journalist with Ha’aretz from a distinguished 19th century immigrant family long associated with the Jewish State. (His great-grandfather, a prosperous lawyer, left England for Palestine in the 1890s to escape persecution).

There have always been at least two views of the meaning of Zionism: 1) The expansive view of Israel as a light to the nations, and; 2) the more exclusive view of Israel as a land/way for us, the Jewish people. The first, more outward-looking view was exemplified by the immigration to Palestine of Siegfried Lehmann, a German-born Jew who set up a youth village for homeless children just outside the ancient city of Lydda (Lod).

Beginning in 1927, his idea of Zionism was to live alongside of the inhabitants of the land instead of displacing them. In the words of Ari Shavit, he wanted Zionist Jews to fulfill an urgent national task in a manner that would benefit all of humanity . . . . a settlement movement not tainted by colonialism or chauvinism . . . . (O)n the contrary, it must somehow plant Jews in their homeland in an organic fashion, becoming a bridge between East and West (ibid, p. 40).

Those years between the Arab uprising in 1935-1938 and the declaration of the Jewish State in 1948 were formative years. By mid-1948, Siegfried Lehmann’s brand of Zionism was eclipsed by David Ben-Gurion’s view: It’s either they or we. There is no room for both of us in the same country. Although he has serious misgivings, Mr. Shavit clearly comes down on the side of Ben Gurion. Under fear of a possible Jordanian military attack, 250 Arabs were gunned down in the Great Mosque of Lydda by Israeli soldiers. Under the direct threat of death from the Israelis, a column of homeless Arab refugees marched South past Lehmann’s youth village and disappeared into the East.

Mr. Shavit wonders how Mr. Lehmann could have been so naive to think and act as though these two peoples could co-exist, side by side. “Contrary to every belief that Siegfried Lehmann held, [Arab Palestinians and Jews] cannot really see each other and recognize each other and make peace” (ibid, p. 46). Indeed. It is a matter of vision, imagination and attitude. Who says we cannot really see each other? Are you able to “see” me? Do we recognize one another? Will the chasm of “us-or-them” persist forever? It’s an attitude, a matter of mindset, Mr. Shavit. You appear to have the older, outdated Zionist mindset. Time has run out on that view!

Mr. Shavit, you “see” an unbridgeable chasm because you are trapped by the exclusive view of Zionism rather than the more expansive view. We had to take the Lydda valley [militarily] . . . . there was no other way. But the Arabs’ side, the Palestinian side, is equally clear: they cannot forget Lydda and they cannot forgive us for Lydda . . . . What is needed to make peace between the two peoples of the land may prove more than humans can summon . . . . So many years have passed and yet the column is still marching east. For columns like the column of Lydda never stop marching (ibid, p. 46).

Really? Never?

Of course the solution is more than humans can summon, Mr. Shavit. For this kind of peace we all need forgiveness, which is the language, not of humans, but of Divinity. There is no forgiveness if we are right in our own eyes, by what we “see”. When people and states see only their own way, and not the point of view of “The Other”, there is no guilt, no offense, and thus no forgiveness.

We will echo your gloomy pessimism if we continue to hold to the “us-or-them” mindset. How can you say the Ben Gurion version of Zionism succeeded when it destroyed over 500 Arab villages, conquering instead of sharing the land, where columns like the column of Lydda never stop marching (last sentence, ibid, p. 46).

Is there today, “no other way”? Will a column of refugees just keep marching away? Or do we need to draw upon something, some vision, some energy, some Source beyond us that will take us beyond the present impasse? In his Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: There is one vice of which no one in the world is free, which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else . . . The vice I am talking of is Pride . . . Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind . . . . As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you (BreakPoint, November 18, 2013).

Mr. Shavit, you show uncommon insight into the roots of the present reality (we acted in an unforgiveable manner in nation-building), but please take it farther! Don’t remain stuck in an arrested state of development! Don’t conclude that Palestinians cannot forget or forgive “us” for Lydda and all the other villages that were destroyed. Are you the measure of whether anyone is capable of forgiving?

For some, perhaps many, an unforgiving spirit may prevail. And true, what has transpired can’t be undone. But can’t we move on? Can’t we confess this to “the other”? Where is this dialogue taking place? How do we get beyond the Separation Barrier between us? Are real people having these conversations? Might the negotiators in Jerusalem and Jericho address each other this way in the US-sponsored “talks” going on right now?

Both sides are going head-to-head. I suggest they go heart-to-heart as well. What if each side showed more vulnerability towards the other?

1) What if Jews came along side of their Arab counterparts and admitted: How could things have gone so wrong between us? We’re sorry we acted so badly against you when we wanted to escape persecution/extinction in Europe. We were desperate to set up our own nation. We knew you objected to it. You made that clear. Will you forgive us? How can we make it up to each other?

2) What if Arabs came along side of their Jewish counterparts and admitted: We hated it when more and more of you came to our land and you made it plain it was now YOUR land. It was plain you wanted to get rid of us. Will you forgive us for vengeful actions on our part? Can we make a new start?
Mr. Shavit seemingly cannot appreciate Isaiah’s view of Zionism where buckets of water from the wells of salvation overflow not just for the Frozen Chosen but for the goyim. Let the whole earth know what God has done (Isaiah 12:4-6, The Message).

Each of these traumatized people wants to claim the Victim role and justify their grievances by taking a pound of flesh from the other side (to borrow the image from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice).

In his November 16 New York Times column, “Something for Barack and Bibi to Talk About”, Tom Friedman urges both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to read Ari Shavit’s book. Mr. Friedman thinks Mr. Shavit’s realism might change “the conversation about Israel [and build] a healthier relationship with it” (last paragraph). That may be Tom, but I have my doubts.

Those of us who are people of faith want to draw upon the will, justice and love of the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaiah and Micah, Jesus and Paul to end the conflict; not see it perpetuated generation after generation.
Unless a change of heart comes about in both peoples, unless the bad blood is cleansed through mutual forgiveness and good faith attempts at restitution, the cycle of violence and counter-violence will continue to build up, exploding in volcanic eruptions that dwarf Mt. Etna and may engulf the whole world.

As people of faith, we differ from Mr. Shavit’s view. The columns of homeless refugees may NOT keep marching. Not all may be reconciled but both Jews and Arabs remaining in the land (and beyond), want to be treated with dignity, equality and respect. It takes a new mindset Mr. Shavit! So help us, God!