Maybe time for a truce, Jeremy

THE BIRTH OF IS­RAEL

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

BBC2, Sun­day May 4

THE JUX­TA­PO­SI­TION of the words Jeremy Bowen and Is­rael of­ten causes the para­noia cen­tre in the Zion­ist brain to go into over­drive. Bowen has, in the past, been seen as un­fairly crit­i­cal of Is­raeli poli­cies. So, his hour-long spe­cial on events lead­ing to the for­ma­tion of Is­rael was al­ways go­ing to be an­a­lysed foren­si­cally for signs of bias.

Since the pro­gramme was broad­cast, blog­gers have been rail­ing against him and the BBC over what they per­ceive as a ten­den­tious in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tory. I did not see it that way.

On the whole, the ac­count of the strug­gle lead­ing to the foun­da­tion of the state of Is­rael put both sides of this most con­tentious of sto­ries well and in a way di­gestible to those not ac­quainted with the many twists and turns of this most twisty and turny story.

Bowen stated up front that the his­tory of Is­rael was an ex­am­ple of “an ex­tra­or­di­nary feat of na­tion-build­ing”. He also men­tioned, quite prop­erly, that that process of build­ing that na­tion had re­sulted in 700,000 Arab refugees.

There were eye­wit­nesses from both sides — Holo­caust sur­vivors who went on to fight for Is­rael, lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres, and, yes, Pales­tinian refugees who lost their homes and land.

The view of Peres was that the Pales­tini­ans were of­fered their own, very size­able state in 1947, and they blew the chance. “They re­fused, not us. We can­not apol­o­gise for their mis­takes. They have some soul-search­ing to do.”

There were mis­takes made on all sides. The Bri­tish, who con­trolled Pales­tine be­tween the end of the First World War and 1948, failed mis­er­ably. In Bowen’s words, the Bri­tish be­queathed the coun­try “a le­gal sys­tem, red pil­lar boxes, chaos and war”.

In an­other way, how­ever, Bowen let the Bri­tish off the hook. They were, sug­gested Bowen, “stuck in the mid­dle”. How­ever, this is to ig­nore the fact that when the UN ruled on a two-state so­lu­tion, the Bri­tish de­cided to wash their hands of the con­flict rather than make any at­tempt to im­ple­ment par­ti­tion.

Bowen also disin­gen­u­ously sug- gested that the Jews had gained more land from the par­ti­tion plans than had the Pales­tini­ans. Tech­ni­cally true, but the Jewish al­lo­ca­tion in­cluded the Negev desert — not ex­actly prime arable land. Nei­ther was there any men­tion of Bri­tish For­eign Min­is­ter Ernest Bevin’s vir­u­lent an­tisemitism.

A large por­tion of the pro­gramme was given over to an as­sess­ment of whether the Is­raelis had pur­sued a pol­icy of “eth­nic cleans­ing” against the Pales­tini­ans. A Ha­ganah intelligence re­port about Deir Yassin, an Arab vil­lage where more than 100 Pales­tini­ans were killed, ac­knowl­edged there had been “bru­tal mur­ders”. And a Ha­ganah com­man­der said: “We let [the Arabs] know that it was bet­ter they leave be­cause the Jews are ter­ri­ble.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Arabs did leave, yet hun­dreds of thou­sands more stayed. They were not mas­sa­cred and they were given full cit­i­zen­ship of Is­rael af­ter in­de­pen­dence. Eth­nic cleans­ing?

Arab bru­tal­ity against the Jews was per­haps played down in the pro­gramme. The Arabs on many oc­ca­sions said they in­tended to chase the Jews into the sea — a claim be­lieved by those Is­raeli sol­diers who said they in­tended to kill them­selves rather than face cap­ture dur­ing the War of In­de­pen­dence. This, re­called Is­raeli fighter, “was a con­flict with­out pris­on­ers of war”.

Do Ha­mas lead­ers still be­lieve that this is where the Jews should ul­ti­mately end up? We don’t know. They were not asked this ques­tion. What we do know is that, as Bowen re­lated, Pales­tinian refugees re­main “a po­lit­i­cally toxic prob­lem”. He is also right in his as­ser­tion that the War of In­de­pen­dence is still be­ing fought to this day.

On the whole, this was a rea­son­able and fair-minded at­tempt to ex­am­ine a mas­sively con­tentious is­sue. Per­haps the time has come for an ar­mistice with Bowen.

PHOTO: AP

The War of In­de­pen­dence: an Is­raeli pa­trol

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