Dear ROOM readers,
This communication is a response to the two articles published in ROOM 6.23 about the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and on the West Bank: Naftally Israeli’s essay “From Erasure to Exclusion” and Richard Grose’s book review of Lara and Stephen Sheehi’s book, Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine.
I will begin with writing about my own personal relationship to the subject.
My father came to Palestine, called at the time Mandatory Palestine, in 1920. He told me that he deserted the Red Army, crossing into Romania by boat, with a gun on his lap, and connected with a Zionist group recruiting young people to go to Palestine. He was not a Zionist. He was more of a Russophile, but this was his ticket to leave Romania. He traveled to Brindizi, then Alexandria, and finally a train to Haifa.
In Palestine, my father joined what is called a kvutza, a group that hired themselves out as day laborers and lived together, thirteen men and one woman. The woman, he said, did the cooking. He worked as a laborer before he moved to Nahalal, which was being established by Moshe Dayan‘s parents, who had moved there from Degania Alef/Bet.
He told me that many of the Palestinians he met were not indigenous to Palestine but had come there from Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon to work in Jewish businesses. He left Palestine in 1925. He said that he remembered Moshe Dayan as a six-year-old brat
I think because there were mostly married couples and single men and very few single women, he decided not to stay in Palestine. He got a passport to come to the United States, sent to him by a relative who had a daughter for whom he was looking for a husband. My father met the daughter, but he didn’t like her. He said she wasn’t good-looking enough. Eventually he met my mother, they got married, and I was born in 1934.
At the present time, I have a large family in Israel. Cousins, two women, moved there from Brazil. They both got married and had many children and grandchildren,so I think the total number of my family members in Israel is close to twenty. My cousins work at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. They are Orthodox but not Haredi, not extremists. They are accomplished scientists. I have never heard them say anything negative about Palestinians. In fact, they said many of their colleagues are Palestinian scientists, and they have very good relationships with them. They treat each other as equal colleagues.
Naftally Israeli’s essay begins with a misrepresentation of what happened when the State of Israel was founded in 1948. The United Nations established two states, an Arab state and a Jewish state, each sovereign in their section of the original British Mandate. Israel accepted the existence of the Palestinian state. The Arab countries, however, did not accept Israel as an independent state, and five Arab armies invaded Israel with the hope that they would defeat the new country and divide the land for themselves. This did not happen!
Israel won the war for independence and in that process acquired more land, as Palestinians left either of their own accord or, in certain circumstances, evicted by the Israelis. There could’ve been a two-state solution if the Arab states had agreed. Instead, the response was negative, leading to the establishment of terrorist organizations and terrorist attacks.
After Israel won the Six Day War, terrorist groups in Jordan fought each other! Following that, attacks against Israel, against Jews, intensified. We all remember the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich, bus bombings, hijackings, and kidnappings. The authors of the article contend that the violent attacks, the killings of Israelis and Jews, were caused by Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians.
The author indicates that Palestinian violence is justified, given Israeli settler violence, but there certainly wasn’t justification for Palestinian terrorist attacks that had nothing to do with Israeli settlers. Before the first settler arrived on the West Bank, Palestinian terrorism was real. Indeed, Israeli settler violence is real now, and it seems it is deplored by a majority of the Israeli population. Certainly it is deplored by all my relatives!
I think the main problem Israel has is its political structure. An alliance of the far right and the extreme Orthodox, the Haredim, have a majority and control the government. I don’t think the far right would be elected with a straight majority vote. The Israeli government does not condone settler violence, but as the author of the first article points out, it does not take firm enough steps to prevent the violence and punish the offenders. The actions of some Israeli IDF members toward Palestinians are also deplorable, but again, I do not think this reflects the attitude of a majority of Israelis.
Palestinians have achieved high positions in the Israeli government and in Israeli education, but there is also evidence of some discrimination. Jewish Israelis, with their own long history of discrimination, designated as second class, denied citizenship in countries where they were born, and victims of mass murder, should be sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians.
I am in touch with Israeli individuals and members of various Israeli organizations who have been advocates for Palestinian rights. A cousin of my wife organized a program on the West Bank of collaboration between Israeli academics and Palestinian academics, but it had to be interrupted when the missiles from Gaza began to fall on Israel.
My hope is that the best people will prevail. Israel will move on as a truly democratic government. This is my hope and also the hope of Naftally Israeli, whose views I respect, but I have no use for the views of the authors of the books that are reviewed at the conclusion of ROOM, as one of the authors is guilty of hate speech and considers me a delusional Zionist. She is being investigated because of her treatment of Israeli and Jewish students at George Washington University.
—Arnold Richards, MD
An addendum to my letter:
Clearly the letter I wrote two weeks ago is outdated given the current events, the attack on Israel from Gaza, the killing of both soldiers and civilians, and the taking of hostages. I believe the escalation was precipitated by the prospect of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which ignored the rights and concerns of the Palestinians. This, in addition to the Abraham Accords, was an intolerable situation for the Palestinians, and I think they needed to send a message to Arab countries that reconciliation with Israel was not acceptable. The problem is that peace does require reconciliation between both parties and some working relationship in which the needs of all parties are respected. This is not possible with Palestine from river to sea or a greater Israel. I think the situation will get worse before it gets better, and resolution will depend on new leadership that listens to the voices of the ordinary Israelis and the ordinary Palestinians.
- Arnold Richards, MD, is the publisher of internationalpsychoanalysis.net and the editor of International Journal of Controversial Discussions. He was a 2000 recipient of the Sigourney Award.
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