Right to Exist
"Right to Exist" is a different sort of book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yaacov Lozowick wrote "Right to Exist" in 2003, in response to the debacle of the Oslo peace process and the wave of anti-Israel
sentiment sweeping Europe at the time. It might well have been a response to Jimmy Carter's polemic against Israeli "apartheid" or the current wave of Israel boycotts and apologies for the genocidal Hamas appearing in the European press.
It began as an account of a personal odyssey, and it retains traces of its beginnings. That is one thing that makes it different. It is an account by a professional historian, whose specialty is history of the Holocaust, not Israeli-Palestinian history. For the purposes of this book, Lozowick is Berl Israeli, the main next door. It is very much an Israeli Zionist view, somewhat similar to my own, rather than a U.S. Zionist or Christian Zionist account, but with un-Israeli dramatic overtones and pathos.
Lozowick is not a proponent of Greater Israel, and understands the need for a state for the Arabs of Palestine. He does not fulfill the demonized stereotype of the Zionist Likudnik propagated by European supporters of the Socialist Workers Party and readers of the Independent. Yet he voted for Ariel Sharon out of frustration.
Lozowick documents the heartbreak of watching the peace process descend into religion and barbarism. He shows how the anti-Israel commentary of the Guardian and other journals looks to us Israelis, and why foreign commentary of that type is appalling and frustrating to those Israelis who are aware of it. A very mild example appeared in a Guardian editorial on August 10, 2001, following the bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria, and is quoted by Lozowick on page 285:
For Israelis, the shock of the bomb is no less appalling for its sickening familiarity. But they, too, must surely pause at this moment of greatest fear and loathing, if only for the sake of those who died. The dead do not cry out for vengeance; they cry out for peace. To do them honour, and do right by his country, Mr Sharon must gather his cohorts in turn and say: no more assassinations, no more live fire, no more air raids and bulldozing. It is time for Israel, too, to pull back from the abyss, and there is still time, just, to do it. Pull back from the frontlines of Gaza and the West Bank, curb the settlers, end the blockade. And start talking again, as Shimon Peres urges, without any more preconditions.
Compared to articles and cartoons that followed in the British press, this was very mild. It doesn't hold a candle to the cartoon of the baby-eating Sharon that appeared in the Independent, or to the more recent Guardian series about "apartheid" Israel that deliberately presented malicious falsehoods as fact. The Guardian article is mild. But suppose that after a German buzz-bomb had killed a large number of people, a U.S. newspaper had called upon the British to negotiate with Hitler, end the blockade of Germany, and stop the RAF attacks. What would the British have thought of such an article?
The point of Lozowick's book is, that whereas Europeans have made up their mind that Palestinian terrorists are "militants" or "freedom fighters" trying to end the occupation, Israelis see a different reality. To most Israeli Jews except the more doctrinaire leftists, it became evident after 2001, as it did to Lozowick, that the Palestinians blowing themselves up in our discotheques, cafes, hotels and pizza parlors were out to end the "occupation" of Tel Aviv and Haifa - to destroy Israel. This not-too-subtle nuance was plain to us because it is stated and repeated by the Hamas and others, and it was stated by Yasser Arafat.
It is plain to us, because it is not different from the sort of Arab incitement, hate and violence that preceded the Six Day War and even the creation of the state. The Itbah al yahood ("murder the Jews") of the tunnel riots that occurred during the Oslo process, was not different from the cry heard in the riots of 1920 and 1921, 1929 and 1936-9. The collapse of the peace process made it quite evident that nothing had changed in nearly a hundred years. Yet many Europeans and some Americans have re-constructed a mythical past, in which Arabs and Jews lived side by side in harmony until suddenly, for no reason, the evil Zionists occupied the lands of the Palestinian Arabs in 1967. Therefore, when Israel arrests or kills would-be suicide bombers, we see it as part of a fight for existence, while others see it as defending "settlements." Indeed, even today, Israel is defending "settlements" in its attacks on Gaza, since the Hamas are proud to announce that their Qassam rockets hit "settlements" such as Nir-Am, Sderot and Ashqelon, all within the 1948 borders of Israel. No Israeli has been exempt from Palestinian terror attacks. Not the settlers of Hebron, nor the "settlers" of Kibbutz Metzer in green line Israel, who work for Israeli-Arab coexistence. The "settlers" celebrating Passover in Nahariya were not exempt. Israeli Arabs were not exempt either. We are all "settlers" according to the Palestinian terrorists.
The rules of journalistic reporting that Lozowick presents are an important guide to interpreting journalistic analysis of the Middle East, and the book may be worth the price just for those few pages. Some key ones:
- The picture is supposed to show reality, but it often does not.
- The false supposition that life is like basketball - quick, action packed and with immediate results.
- Ignoring the language barrier - Journalists who do not understand Hebrew or Arabic try to make sense of events.
- The false confidence that a reporter can learn enough in a brief time to report accurately, without a grounding in the Middle East.
- The false confidence that journalists can see through deceit.
- The belief of foreign journalists that they know better than the natives.
The above can be applied with profit to much of the reporting of the Lebanon war, as well as to much reporting about the Palestinian Arabs.
For all its good points, Lozowick's book is far from a model of accuracy. Like Jimmy Carter's Apartheid book, Lozowick provides no footnotes or references, and occasionally generates invented "facts," though much less often than Carter. Unlike Carter, Lozowick is honest enough to admit he has a point of view. Do not rely on this book for facts without checking Lozowick's assertions carefully.
Some of his major distortions, most of which are not needed to support his point:
- He says no Palestinians were forced to flee in 1967, but Israeli historians such as Tom Segev have documented the eviction, albeit temporary, of Arabs from Qalqiliah and other towns, and the fact that the bridges over the Jordan were closed to return traffic, to prevent return of refugees, until international presssure forced Israel to reopen them.
- Lozowick mentions peace plans such as that of Rogers, but does not dwell on Sadat's peace offer prior to the Yom Kippur war. That is not a minor omission.
- Lozowick seems to confuse historian Benny Morris with anti-Israel post-Zionists, a fairly common error.
- Lozowick claims that all the settlers condemned Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Arabs in Hebron in 1994. We wish it were true, but of course it is not true at all. A shrine was erected to him in Kiriat Arba and the locals made it very difficult to remove it.
- He claims that all the settlements are built on government land, but does not mention that Shamir passed a law that anyone who could not prove landownership within a short period would have their land declared to be government land.
It is true that these are probably honest mistakes, of someone with a given point of view of history and events, made out of love and enthusiasm. Lozowick does have the courage to discuss some other unsavory aspects of Israel society, such as the murder of Emil Greezweig. He did not mean to do a whitewash. They are mistakes nonetheless.
The validity of his arguments does not depend on the above, because Lozowick is not claiming that settlements are morally pure or that Israel is morally pure. He is simply saying that Israel, like any other country, has a right to defend itself. On the other hand, it is accepted that there can be multiple legitimate narratives, as supporters of the Palestinians insist, and that, as Ilan Pappe and his friends claim, facts are for pedants and empiricists. Jimmy Carter's "Apartheid" book was clearly constructed on those principles. Don't the same rules apply to both sides? If so, we can say that Lozowick has a right to present the "Israeli narrative." In simpler English, "If they are allowed to lie, we are too." The question is, do we want to do that? I think not. Lozowick and others should be much more careful about their facts. One false assertion, however peripheral to the main point, can destroy the credibility of a sound argument and ruin our case.
In perspective however, this is a valuable book. "Right to Exist" has been neglected in favor of books by more famous authors such as Alan Dershowitz defending Israel, or Jimmy Carter advocating the Palestinian side, but Lozowick is better than both. His truth quotient is certainly higher than that of Jimmy Carter, and he represents an authentic and relatively moderate Israeli point of view.
"Right to Exist" is an important book for those who want to defend Israel against its critics, not so much for the information it gives, but for the general moral stance that it provides. It is an important book for everyone else who really wants to get some insight into why Israelis make the political choices that we do, and how we perceive the world, as opposed to how Zionists abroad might see it. Had it been an anti-Zionist book, it would no doubt have been hailed as a "brilliant analysis." Since it is pro-Israel, the best the New York Times could do for it was "...intelligent polemic...largely persuasive," a grudging way to deprecate a work that is too good to dismiss entirely.
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