IRA RAPAPORT, ONCE OF BROOKLYN, PULLED HIS SMALL Peugeot to the shoulder of a narrow, steep road twenty miles north of Jerusalem. “We’re in the heart of Samaria,” he said, adjusting the knitted yarmulke on his head. “The world calls this the West Bank. The Arabs call it part ol Palestine. The stone terraces covering every hill for miles around were built by my grandfathers in the days of our kings and our prophets. This is where David ran from Saul. On that hill Judah Maccabee sprang a trap on an occupying Syrian army many times the size of his and won Jewish independence. North of here, in Shechem, which the Arabs call Nablus, Abraham made his first stop in Canaan, and Joshua his farewell address. On the other side of those hills is Shiloh, where we’ve just built a Jewish settlement, where I live with my wife and children, and where, three thousand years ago, we made our first capital and became a people. This is a place from which we were repeatedly expelled and to which we repeatedly returned. And now we’ve returned once again. We’re back to stay. This is Israel. This is my home.”
Rapaport, thirty-eight years old, is one of more than 30,000 Jews who have settled in the West Bank so far—in the part north of Jerusalem, which they call by its biblical name, Samaria, and in the part south of the city, which they call Judea. They have established more than 120 settlements, the great majority of them in the past five years. Official Israeli goals call for a population of 100,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank by 1986.
Some of the Jewish settlements are communal and selfsustaining in nature. Made up of fifty to a hundred families each, they are populated by Jews, perhaps a quarter of them immigrants from the United States and other Western countries, who, like Rapaport, feel powerful religious and historical ties to the land. Other settlements are, for the time being, more like small towns. Though planned as cities that will have populations of 50,000 or more and that will also have their own industries, they now serve as bedroom communities for Israelis working in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In fact, because of the West Bank’s small size (about that of greater Los Angeles) and location (at the very center of Israel, nearly all of it within a few miles of the country’s main population centers), the territory is a natural and logical place for Israeli urban growth.
Or it would be were it not for the complicating factor of politics. The vast majority of the West Bank’s population—about 725,000 people—is not Israeli but Arab. And as far as that majority is concerned, Israelis have no business being there.
What brought them there was the Six-Day War, in 1967. On the first day of that war, Israel notified King Hussein, of Jordan, that if he held back his forces and refrained from joining Egypt and Syria in the fighting, Israel would hold its fire against him. He did not; Israel responded, and within three days found itself in possession of the eastern part of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, both of which territories Jordan had seized and occupied in the 19481949 Arab-Israeli war.
Earlier in the century what is now known as the West Bank was a very small part of the territory, located on both sides of the Jordan River, known as Palestine. That territory had been taken from Turkey by the victorious First World War Allies and had been assigned to British administration by the League of Nations as the British Mandate for Palestine. In 1921 Britain’s colonial secretary, Winston Churchill, authorized that the part of Palestine lying to the east of the Jordan River, amounting to more than three quarters of the territory, be administered by Abdullah, the non-Palestinian son of the sharif of Mecca, who had marched into the area with a private army. This part of Palestine, known as eastern Palestine, or Transjordan, became in 1921 the Emirate of Transjordan, and then, in 1946, the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan, with Abdullah, the grandfather of the current king, Hussein, first its emir and then its king; in 1949 the country was renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The remaining one quarter of Palestine, to the west of the river, was by 1922 the part to which the term “Palestine,” or “the British Mandate for Palestine,” was restricted.
Some years before, in 1917, Great Britain had issued its famous Balfour Declaration, in which it had promised that the Jewish people would have a homeland in Palestine. According to one plan, that homeland was to be made up of western Palestine as well as a part of eastern Palestine, up to the Hejaz railway, which ran in a north-south line from Turkey through Damascus and Amman down to Mecca. Churchill’s decision to give all of eastern Palestine to Abdullah—which he made, as he would wryly remember, “one Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem”—rendered that plan impossible. All that was left of Palestine as a potential Jewish homeland was the western part, a fraction of the original whole. The Arabs were relieved by Churchill’s fateful decision, and Abdullah himself observed, with satisfaction, that “He [God] granted me success in creating the Government of Transjordan by having it separated from the Balfour Declaration.”
In 1947, when the time finally came to establish the Jewish homeland, the United Nations decided to do so bydividing the remaining part of Palestine in two. One section was assigned to the Jews, one to the Arabs. Though some Jewish leaders, such as Menachem Begin, felt bitter about this “second partition” of Palestine, which left them with only a small segment, about 17 percent, of the original territory, the vast majority of Jews accepted it.
The Arabs, however, both the local ones and the ones in the surrounding states, did not. As soon as the State of Israel was announced, in 1948, five Arab armies attacked it. The Israeli forces fought back and, as a result of the fighting, managed not only to hold on to the territory the Jews had been assigned but also to capture some they had not. The parts of western Palestine controlled by Arab armies at the time of the 1949 armistice included the areas that came to be called the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jordan occupied the former and Egypt the latter.
In 1948 all Jews in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem, including all Jews in the Old City’s Jewish quarter, fled, as did all Jews in the West Bank; thereafter none lived in those regions or, indeed, in Jordan itself; nor could they, by Jordanian law, be citizens. At the same time, several hundred thousand Arabs fled Israel into Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and other areas. Some of these Arabs were granted citizenship by their host countries, especially Jordan, and they settled in permanent homes. Others, however, were not granted permanent citizenship and were instead kept as refugees; their assimilation, it was feared, would lead in the long run to the acceptance of the new, unwanted state, on what was considered to be immutably Arab soil. Ironically, some of those who fled the area that became Israel in 1948 were Arabs, or the descendants of Arabs, who had emigrated into that area from those very same regions, including present-day Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, during the previous century.
In 1950 Jordan annexed the West Bank. There were, to be sure, occasional calls in the ensuing years for the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state in that territory, but they received scant support in most Arab countries and they were greeted with outright hostility by King Hussein, who considered the land to be his own.
Since 1967 East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been Israel’s in much the same way they were Abdullah’s and Hussein’s—by occupation. East Jerusalem, which now contains 110,000 Arabs, has been annexed to Israel. The rest has been under Israeli administration.
Soon after the 1967 war many Israelis began arguing that the capture of the West Bank had brought under Israeli control the very heart of what they called Eretz. Yisrael, or the Land of Israel. Much of the State of Israel that had been created in 1948 was located, they pointed out, in the segment of the Land of Israel that was least associated with Jewish history—the coastal plain, which was the home throughout much of the biblical era not of the Jews but of the Philistines. For the Jews the area that is now the West Bank was the center of their past and their identity. It was where the patriarchs spoke with their God and dug their wells. It was where the Jewish judges judged, the Jewish prophets prophesied, and the Jewish kings ruled. It was where the word of the Lord scorched Isaiah’s tongue. Besides, Jews had maintained a persistent presence in what is now the West Bank, as well as in the rest of what was once their country, during the eighteen centuries since the Romans had renamed it Palestine, in memory of the Philistines, so as to banish forever the memory of Judea and its stubborn Jews. Despite the deaths of perhaps a million Jews in their rebellions against Rome and the dispersion of many more around the world, others remained in the land; still others returned to it. They were subjected to the repeated depredations of the many waves of conquerors, who in the best of times merely taxed and humiliated them and in the worst slaughtered them and drove them out. And among the places in which they hung on were such ancient towns as Hebron, holy to them whether ruled by Jews, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Egyptians, or Turks.
Despite this long and nearly unbroken Jewish presence in the part of Palestine that is now the West Bank, many Israelis were prepared after that territory came under Israeli control in 1967 to give it up, together with the Sinai and Gaza, in return for peace. But opposition to giving up the territory was powerful, stemming in the main from security concerns. Those concerns were felt with regard to the Sinai and Gaza, and with particular force with regard to the West Bank. That territory bulges into Israel in such a way that it leaves much of the Jewish state exquisitely vulnerable to military attack, particularly its populous and narrow coastal strip, which in some spots is only nine miles wide and could easily be overrun in a war. These concerns about military vulnerability, along with the Arab response to the war—which consisted not of a willingness to trade peace for territory but of a firm refusal even to consider negotiations—were reflected in a policy, during the early and middle seventies, of governmental inaction. Israel would wait to find a negotiating partner in the Arab world, and meanwhile nothing would be done in the West Bank that would unalterably change its character.
But things happened in the West Bank that did change its character, and the Israelis who made them happen did so in the hope that those changes would be permanent. Though Jewish settlements were established in the West Bank during the first decade after the 1967 war, primarily in the areas of greatest military vulnerability, such as the Jordan Valley rift, the rate of settlement increased markedly after 1977, when the Likud coalition was voted into power and Menachem Begin became prime minister.
Followers of the teachings of Vladimir Jabotinsky—a Russian Zionist who believed that Jews had the right to a state in their ancestral homeland, a state that should include the West Bank—Begin and his colleagues set out to make the Jabotinsky vision a reality. Surveys were done, and all land that had been considered state property by the Jordanians prior to 1967 and that had not been cultivated was declared suitable for Jewish settlement. In addition Jews bought parcels of land from those Arabs willing to sell them despite the death sentence that Jordan had promised to mete out to any Arab who did sell. On occasion land that Arabs considered to be not state property but their own was taken over by settlers. Sometimes Israeli courts upheld the Arabs’ objections; sometimes they did not.
By 1980 the character of the settlements had begun to change. Though most of the early ones had been of the communal sort, many of them focusing on agriculture or light industry, it was the urban developments that began to predominate, at least in terms of population. No longer was arable land— nearly all of it already spoken for by the Arabs—considered necessary. Bulldozers cleared hilltops that since the beginning of time had been shunned as sites of habitation, because the land could not be farmed, because water could not be found, and because they were hard to reach. Housing was installed at a remarkable pace. Private contractors were permitted to develop lots, and highly favorable mortgage terms were offered by the Israeli government. It became possible for a Jewish family to build a four-bedroom house in the West Bank, with a plot of land of its own, good schools, and stunning views, for the price of a small apartment in a crowded neighborhood in Tel Aviv—and within a twenty-minute commute from that city, and even closer to Jerusalem. According to Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a prominent Israeli opponent of the settlements policy, between 50,000 and 60,000 Jews from Tel Aviv alone may in the next few vears move into the bedroom communities now being built on the neighboring West Bank hills.
But as effective as the Israeli government policies were in rapidly developing the West Bank settlements, it was the actions of the Gush Emunim that probably had the most effect in spurring the process. The members of this “Bloc of the Faithful”—made up mostly of native-born Israelis but also of immigrants from the United States and other countries—felt an obligation to resettle the Land of Israel.
That obligation was, for them, a holy one. As they saw it, the Six-Dav War had been a kind of miracle. Surrounded by Arab countries that had sworn to erase Israel from the face of the earth—and to throw those Jews who survived the Arab onslaught into the sea—Israel nevertheless prevailed and even won the very territory that had been the birthplace of the Jewish people. Surely if God could do that much for his people, his people had the responsibility not to let the miracle pass away.
They wasted no time in fulfilling that responsibility, from the beginning they moved into places from which Jews had been expelled and in which they had been massacred. Some of those expulsions and massacres were the ancient ones of two millennia before; some were the more recent ones at the hands of the Arabs in the 1920s and 1930s. The Israeli government opposed such moves, particularly to highly populated Arab areas such as those in and around Hebron. But it was precisely such areas, with old Jewish roots, that most attracted the Gush Emunim. Sometimes the Israeli army was called out to extract these settlers. But eventually the settlements took hold and became the nuclei for permanent communities. And the people who had established the settlements, having fulfilled what they saw as a mitzva, a holy commandment, moved on to establish still more settlements, always worried, more acutely so in the past few years, that a new Israeli government might come in that would be less partial to the goal of settling the West Bank than the Begin government was.
Begin proved himself very partial to that goal. His ultimate wish was the annexation of Judea and Samaria, the southern and northern parts of the West Bank, and he did what he could to guarantee that whatever political arrangements were finally made, Jews would always have the possibility of living in those areas.
In May of 1981, addressing 35,000 supporters rallying in the West Bank urban settlement of Ariel, Begin issued the kind of biblical declaration that had made him famous both in his native Poland and in Israel: “I, Menachem, the son of Ze’ev and Hana Begin, do solemnly swear that as long as I serve the nation as prime minister, we will not leave any part of Judea, Samaria, the Gaza strip, and the Golan Heights.” In May of 1982 he insisted in the Knesset that in future negotiations on a peace treaty Israel would reject any proposal to dismantle any Jewish settlements. And four months later he rejected President Reagan’s proposals for autonomy for the West Bank, proposals that included a freeze on the settlements. The American plan, he said, amounted to “the repartition of Eretz Yisrael.” Harking back to Britain’s assignment of the eastern part of Palestine to Abdullah, Begin declared, “If anyone wants to take Judea and Samaria from us, we will say, ‘Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people to the end of time.’” And responding in the Knesset to President Reagan’s pledge to stick by his own proposals “with total dedication,” even if Israel rejected them, Begin said, “The Israeli government rejected your proposals and will stand by that with total dedication. But it’s total dedication with a difference. For you it’s a matter of policy—to get closer to Saudi Arabia or Hussein. For us it is our life, our homeland, the land of our fathers and of our children.”
Not that Begin, in saying that, was expressing the sentiments of all Israelis. Many, perhaps half, disagreed with the goal of West Bank annexation, and a large percentage were uncomfortable with the existence of the settlements. According to recent polls even more are uncomfortable now.
To many Israelis the settlements policy has been too costly: more than $1.5 billion, including $700 million for housing and $75 million for roads, has been spent on the West Bank settlements in nonmilitary outlays by the government and the Jewish Agency. At a time when Israel’s foreign debt, now exceeding$22 billion, is the highest per capita in the world and when its inflation rate, once thought high at 200 percent, is threatening to reach a figure twice and even three times as high, many Israelis find the continued investment of national funds in the settlements an economically extravagant policy, no matter howconvincing the political, historical, religious, or security justifications may be.
But by far the greatest opposition to the government’s settlements policy comes from Israelis who fear its ultimate effects on their country’s social fabric, on its democratic principles, and on its very purpose. Annexation would mean the incorporation of a very large number of Arabs into a country that was founded as a Jewish state, an incorporation that is bound, they feel, to change the nation’s character. And if the Arabs were not given full rights after such an incorporation, or if the current occupation merely continued without formal annexation, then Israel would be in the position of suppressing a large minority and denying them free expression.
These reservations about retaining the West Bank have begun to grow since Menachem Begin resigned as prime minister and will probably continue to grow. Without his powerfully focused vision of a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, and without his voice to express that vision and transmit its energy, it may be hard for the leaders who follow him, even if they share his vision, to pursue it with the same success, devotion, and popular support that he did.
But the very existence of the settlements gives them a life that propels them on. The process of settlement and de facto annexation has gone on for so long, and has resulted in such substantial changes, that it may be too late to reverse it. Though deeply disturbed by the prospects that now face their country and their society as a result of the settlements, the Israelis who oppose them are startled by the changes that have already taken place, that seem indelible, and that have frozen many of them into resigned acquiescence.
It is unclear what effect the settlements have had on the Palestinian Arabs—not only those in the West Bank but also those who have been watching from afar, particularly members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. To a great extent the Israelis remained in the West Bank after the 1967 war because no Arab country would negotiate with them. Now that parts of the West Bank are moving under what seems to be permanent Israeli control, one would imagine that at least some Palestinians, particularly those living in the West Bank, would be ready to negotiate for their future while there is still a chance, and would be ready, finally, to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
It is the Arabs’ refusal to grant this acknowledgment that, the Jewish settlers have said, provides the political as opposed to the religious and the historical—justification, indeed necessity, for the Jewish presence in the West Bank. It isn’t just the West Bank, they say, that the Palestinians want; they also want the rest of western Palestine, including Jaffa and Haifa. So why give them the means to finish the job? Why commit national suicide?
It was to understand these feelings and positions, and particularly their hold on the principal actors in the drama of the West Bank, that I recently visited the area. I wanted especially to understand the degree to which the settlers were committed to their vision, the ways in which the Arabs were responding to that vision, and the degree to which solutions of a political sort might still be possible. I visited and interviewed Jewish settlers as well as West Bank Palestinians, including leaders of both camps; and I interviewed Israelis who have sought ways other than West Bank settlement to fulfill the ideal of Jewish national expression.
The interviews were all carried out in English; some of the exchanges from them that are quoted here have been edited or condensed to increase clarity or eliminate repetitions or digressions. In the intensity of the clash between Arab and Jew I found sparks of searing light. Whether it was the light of God or of Lucifer, or of some other realm, I cannot say; but it illuminated my quest, sometimes ignited it, and I present the images it left, as well as the embers, as faithfully as I know how.
THE ARAB IS A STRANGER IN MY HOUSE
MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE, RABBI MOSHE LEVINGER has led and energized the Jewish settlement movement since it began. In 1968, less than a year after Israel won the Six-Day War, Levinger and a few other Jews moved into the Park Hotel in the West Bank city of Hebron and then refused to leave. That city, he insisted, was an ancient and holy Jewish town, a town in which Jews had lived almost continuously from biblical times, and one in which they had a right to live once again. After all, it contained the burial places of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it was the place in which David was anointed King of Judah and then of Israel; and for the past 2,000 years it had been a seat of Jewish learning, despite repeated persecutions and expulsions of Jews by Arab Moslems, Christian Crusaders, Mamluks, and Ottomans. In 1929 local Arabs killed sixty-seven Jews and wounded another sixty, synagogues were burned, Jewish property was taken over, and the community was destroyed. The few Jews who returned were evacuated by the British in 1936 during another wave of anti-Jewish Arab rioting.
Levinger’s sit-in at the Park Hotel was thus an attempt to re-establish, after a three-decade hiatus, the Hebron Jewish community. Despite complaints by Hebron Arabs and opposition from the Israeli government Levinger, then thirty-three years old, stayed put. After six months in the hotel, he and his followers were given government protection at a nearby Israeli army camp. Finally, in 1970, the government gave in to Levinger’s demand that he be permitted to build a Jewish settlement near Hebron. This was called Kiryat Arba—the name given in the book of Genesis as the original name of Hebron.
Not until 1974 was Gush Emunim—the movement dedicated to the Jewish settlement of the West Bank— founded, with Levinger its most visible and active leader. Its first official settlement, at Camp Horon, in Samaria, was established the day after Yitzhak Rabin became the Israeli prime minister, and many other settlements followed.
I visited Levinger in his home, next to the sixteenthcentury Avraham Avinu Synagogue, which was plundered in the 1929 Arab rioting and rebuilt during the past few years. The synagogue and the house are located in a courtyard that was the center of Jewish life in Hebron for hundreds of years, in part because it was surrounded by tall buildings, which gave the Jewish community a measure of security during the Arab attacks to which it was subjected over the centuries. The buildings have crumbled, and now security is provided by Israeli soldiers.
Levinger, who is tall and bearded, led me into the dining room of his three-bedroom apartment, where he lives with his American-born wife, Miriam, and seven of their eleven children, ages three to fourteen. He offered me a seat at the table where he and his family eat and where he studies. The room, like the rest of the apartment, was austere, reflecting with fidelity the person of Levinger himself. Gaunt, careless of his appearance, wearing the coat of one suit and the trousers of another, he seemed unconcerned about anything but his mission to settle the Land of Israel—unconcerned about the small details of life, the accumulation of personal comforts, the distracting needs of self and family. In some ways otherworldly, in some ways the kind of revolutionary ascetic who moves peoples and nations, he seemed out of place, almost out of century, holding the cordless telephone that repeatedly interrupted our interview with its urgent messages.
The first Zionist, Levinger informed me, was not David Ben-Gurion and not even Theodor Herzl but God. It was the Land of Israel that God chose as his seat, as the place from which his moral teachings were to be issued, and it was the responsibility of the Jewish people to live in the land that God had given to them in order to live by his teachings and, in so doing, to enlighten the world. The honor of the world, he repeatedly insisted, was served by the Jews’ return to their land—even the honor of the Arabs.
This religious mission has always been at the heart of Zionism, even the late-nineteenth-century political Zionism of Herzl, Levinger stressed. Herzl’s Zionism, he argued, had attracted Europe’s Jewish masses only because it touched something already deep in their hearts. Wasn’t it, after all, for a return to Zion that they had been praying three times a day for 2,000 years? Wasn’t that hope contained in every one of their songs and rituals? Hadn’t they always referred to themselves, in all the books written since they were expelled, as being mihutz la’ aretz—“outside of the Land”?
But, I pointed out, in returning to Judea and Samaria the Jews have come to a populated place—a place populated by Arabs who argue that the Jews have no right to settle among them. If not for the Israeli army guarding his home, I observed, he couldn’t even be there.
Levinger was unperturbed. The Arabs, he argued, aren’t just against the settlements in the West Bank. They’re against Israel itself. They’re against the very idea of Zionism, against the return of the Jews to their land of origin. To say that the Arabs are merely against the settlements is unrealistic, absurd: “Before the 1967 war we had no settlements in Judea and Samaria, and they also wanted to destroy Israel. If we were to give up the settlements in the West Bank, then they would be against the settlements in Tel Aviv and Haifa and Netanya.” The Arabs wouldn’t be satisfied, Levinger insisted, until all Jews were out. And any suggestion the Arabs make that they might be willing to accept the borders of 1947, or of 1949, is a lie.
“But,” I objected, “surely some compromise could be reached—”
Levinger grew irate. “You can compromise about unimportant things,” he shot back, “but you can’t divide your wife, you can’t divide your children, you can’t divide your Bible, and you can’t divide your holy earth. And if a man is ready to divide his son, it means he doesn’t believe that it is his son. To compromise on our own home, a home that belongs not only to us but also to God, is abnormal! You can’t do it! It’s the same as if you had a home and another man came in and said that a part belonged to him. You wouldn’t compromise. You would fight until you possessed your beloved home. And all the more your beloved country!”
Repeatedly Levinger asked me, with incredulity, how I could expect him to leave his house, his home, just because someone else claimed it for his own. Repeatedly he placed me within the analogy to make it real: “If a man came into your apartment and sat down in it and said, I’m sitting here, so it belongs to me,’ would that mean it’s his? We were expelled from this land against our will, but we always knew that it was ours. We always knew, wherever we were, that we were in the galut— in the diaspora.”
At the first of two meetings, which was held in Hebron, Levinger accepted my questions in the main with equanimity, even sufferance; he was used to interviewers and seemed to feel an obligation to educate them about history. At our second meeting, however, held at the Gush Emunim headquarters, in Jerusalem, I realized that Levinger had decided not only to educate but also to convince me. It was there that I raised most of my objections to his ideas, and there that he grew irritated, even agitated, when I failed to accept his views and instead persisted in questioning him about the rights of Arabs or about the possibility of territorial compromise. More than once he became angry and scolded me for asking him to explain something so simple as the idea that his land was his own, and that it represented, for him, something more than just property—that it represented a holy place, a holy idea, a zone in which the Jews were obligated to live a holy life that would serve to bring honor to the world. And nothing, he repeatedly insisted to me, could deter the Jews from fulfilling that obligation: “It’s the honor of the whole world that there is a Jewish state. And that state can’t be the state of both Israel and Ishmael, but of Israel alone.”
THIS PLACE IS IN MY GENETIC CODE
MOSHE LEVINGER’S OTHERWORLDLY, RELIGIOUS ideology contrasted sharply with the very practical, very secular vision of Elyakim Haetzni, another Jewish settler I interviewed.
Born in Germany in 1926, Haetzni emigrated to Israel twelve years later, not long before it became impossible for Jews to leave. He is in almost every way different from Levinger. He’s a lawyer rather than a rabbi. He isn’t religious. He speaks Arabic and counts many Arabs as his friends. He’s lively, with a sharp and sarcastic sense of humor, and obviously enjoys sparring with people who disagree with him. But like Levinger, he’s committed to the Jewish settlement of the West Bank.
However, he refuses to call it—and refused to allow me to call it—the West Bank. He insisted that I call the area Judea and Samaria: “ ‘The West Bank’ is the term of my enemy. We are at war with Jordan; and ‘the West Bank is the linguistic embodiment of the Jordanian political claim to Judea and Samaria—it really means ‘the West Bank of the Hashemite Kingdom.’ So if you come to me and use the term ‘the West Bank,’ you really insult me. And I’m not ready to answer you if you use that term. So, I’m sorry; you have no choice in the matter.”
That’s how Haetzni, in between spoonfuls of soup, began our interview, in the Savyon Restaurant, in West Jerusalem’s genteel, quiet Jewish neighborhood of Rehavia, a few blocks from the homes of both Menachem Begin and his successor, Yitzhak Shamir. Haetzni was a member ot the Council of Jewish Settlements and of the town council of Kiryat Arba. in 1972 he gave up a thriving legal practice in Tel Aviv and moved with his wife, three sons, and daughter to the hilltop outside Hebron that has since been their home.
Whereas Levinger’s English was halting, approximate, and indistinct, Haetzni’s, though German-accented, was flowing and precise. And he needed almost no prodding from me to express his ideas.
“I started running in 1967,” he told me, “and I’ve been running ever since.”
“What started you running?”
“The Allon Plan.”
The Allon Plan, named after the late Israeli Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon, a member of the Labor Party, outlined several arrangements whereby Israel would retain parts of the West Bank for security purposes but would give up other parts, heavily populated by Arabs, which would be federated with Jordan. The main features of the plan involved the retention by Israel of the Jordan Valley rift and the Judean desert, as well as the easternmost ridge of the Samarian and Judean mountains, where military settlements and fortifications would be located. By this means, Allon and others believed, Israel would have some strategic depth in the West Bank, as well as a command of the heights overlooking the approaches that Arab armies would have to use to invade Israel from the east, while the Palestinians would be able to become part of a Jordanian-Palestinian state.
“It was a stunning surprise to me,” Haetzni said, “when I learned that anyone could even dream of abandoning any part of the Land of Israel after waiting for it for eighteen hundred years. It’s as if you’re serenading your beloved beneath her balcony, and when she opens the window you go away! So I immediately began running to make sure that we wouldn’t give up this land, and I haven’t stopped running yet. You know, what makes me do all this running isn’t my mind; it’s my kishkes.”
But Haetzni didn’t seem satisfied that “kishkes” had conveyed how deep his attachment to the Land of Israel was. It was deeper, more primeval, than his guts. He told the story of a Palestinian Arab, “a hater of Zionism,” who, after the establishment of Israel, in 1948, said that the Jews would never leave because the land was part of their heredity, part of their genes. “You know,” Haetzni observed, “that Arab was a modern Bilam, the person in the Bible who blessed when he wanted to curse. He was absolutely right. This place is in my genetic code. It was my genetic code that cried out to live in this place.
“I came to this country from Nazi Germany in 1938, when I was twelve. I lived in Jerusalem, in Holon, in Ramat Gan. But I never felt as much at home as I did when I moved to Hebron. When I arrived there I felt that I had returned. That,” Haetzni said emphatically, thumping the table between us, “is the land of the Bible.”
Though Haetzni had admitted to me that he was not religious—certainly not religious in the way that Rabbi Levinger was—his attachment to the land clearly had roots in his Judaism. I asked him about those roots.
He answered with a question: “How’ can land be holy? After all, it’s just earth—a chemical! I’ll tell you how land can be holy. Eretz Yisrael is one of the central religious tenets in Judaism. Every Jewish prayer asks God to bring us back to Zion. Judaism and Zionism are simply inseparable. This is unique—only in Judaism is there such a phenomenon. We taught the whole world the notion that a land can be holy. Of course, whether we have the right to live here depends on how we live here. We are told that if we sin here, if we spill blood, we shall be kicked out. The land wasn’t just given to us as an heirloom. Being here imposes more duties on us than rights.”
I asked him whose blood he couldn’t spill.
“Our blood, foreign blood, any blood. What’s the difference between blood and blood? Is there a difference? People who see a difference are Nazis. Of course, I’m not talking about war. I’m talking about innocent blood.”
I reminded Haetzni that just as there are Arabs who view Jews as being not quite as human as they, so there are Jews who view Arabs in much the same manner.
“Jews who view Arabs in that way are beasts.”
“Do you know any?”
“What do you say to them?”
I say to them that if they adopt those views, that would give the Arabs the real victory over us.”
Much more than Levinger, Haetzni was ready to talk about practical solutions. In fact, he had a very clear sense of how the central problem—the claims by two nationalities for the same land—could be resolved.
“It can be resolved by partition. The Arabs already have seventy-eight percent of Palestine. But they prefer to call it Jordan in order to be able to demand the rest in the name of Palestine. Look, I’ll tell you a story. In the beginning of the Lebanon War, in 1982, I went down to a garage in Hebron—an Arab garage. The owner is a friend of mine. His name is Abdul Jabbar; he calls himself Ovadiah, a Hebrew name. When he was an infant, he was given to a Jewish woman to be suckled, at a time when Jews were still living in Hebron. I said to Jabbar, ‘What are the borders of Palestine?’ And he answered, ‘Palestine is the State of Israel, the West Bank’—I’m using his term because I’m quoting him—‘the Gaza Strip, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, south Lebanon, Syria up to Damascus, and northern Sinai. This is Palestine.’ And I knew that he would answer that way; I hear that answer from every Arab. So I said, ‘Okay, you’re right. But this is also the Land of Israel. And so the translation of the Land of Israel into Arabic is Palestine. So at least we’re speaking about the same land.’ Then I asked him, ‘Tell me, how many Israelis are there?’ ‘Three and a half million.’ ‘And how many Palestinians?’ ‘Three and a half million.’ ‘So do you want to partition it? How do you want to partition it? Lengthwise? Crosswise?’ I can tell you that if we had been given the eastern part of Palestine in 1918 or 1920, it would have been the Garden of Eden by now, and in the western part there would have been just rocks and deserts and swamps; and you would have then said, ‘The Jews, as always, took the better part!’ That’s what I once heard from a British journalist who came for his first visit to Israel from Jordan. He said, ‘Small wonder the Arabs are angry with you! You took everything that is green!’
“As you know, Winston Churchill arranged the first partition of Palestine when he gave seventy-eight percent of the area to the Arabs. In fact, one of the Emir Abdullah’s British advisers openly said that this was done because ultimately the Jews would set up a Jewish state and the British had to reserve a place for the Palestinian Arabs who would want a state of their own. Mind you, Jews owned land in the eastern part of Palestine, and wanted to settle there; all of that was canceled in 1922. And you should know Abdullah wanted to call Jordan by the name Palestine, but the British told him not to do it; and had he done so, America wouldn’t have been able to say, ‘The Palestinian Arabs have no homeland.’
“This is the tragedy: that at the very time the Jewish people were being killed in Europe, including one and a half million Jewish children, their own homeland was closed to them. Who closed it? The Arabs—not without the help of the British, of course, but mainly the Arabs. And the leader of the Arabs was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was in the entourage of Hitler. He even went to Auschwitz to see it. And toward the end of the war, when a few SS leaders wanted to save a few hundred Jewish children in order to establish an alibi for themselves, the Mufti went to Hitler and prevented it, because he wanted to burn the Jews there in Europe so that they wouldn’t come here.
“So this was the first demographic change that affected the question of Palestine: the destruction of Europe’s Jews, including those who, had they lived, would have come here. The second demographic change occurred because of the Arab refusal to accept the UN resolution in 1947 creating a second Palestinian state. Because of this there was a war, a refugee problem, and now the Palestinians from western Palestine make up the majority of the population of Jordan—between sixty and seventy percent.
“I had a British woman reporter visit me who was very nasty—polite, but nasty. So I wanted to be nasty also. So I said to her: ‘You remember the man who jumped the fence to your queen and found her awake because she couldn’t sleep? Do you know what they talked about? I’II tell you. The man said, “My gracious Queen, why are you so sleepless?” And the queen answered, “Because of the Palestinian problem.” Over what do people lose sleep these days? Over the Palestinian problem! Well, the man didn’t know what to answer her. He should have answered, “Over which Palestinian problem? The Palestinian problem in western Palestine or the Palestinian problem in eastern Palestine?” The Palestinian problem in western Palestine is the problem of a third of the population—the Palestinian Arabs of what you call the West Bank, of Gaza, and of pre-1967 Israel make up a third of the population of that area—while the Palestinian problem in eastern Palestine is the problem of the majority, of two thirds of the population in Jordan. So where should you seek their self-determination? Where they are a minority or where they are a majority? So,’ I said to that British reporter, ‘the next time you talk to your queen, tell her over what she should be losing her sleep. And ask her why she doesn’t lose sleep over the Kurds. Or over the Arabs in Khuzistan, which is called Arabistan. Or over the Germans in the places where they are dominated by other countries. Or over the Corsicans, the Basques, the Copts—the whole world! But it’s only over the Palestinians that she loses sleep. So if she loses sleep over them, then at least she should lose sleep over the Palestinians in eastern Palestine, in Jordan, where they form a majority and still have no state!’
Haetzni was once described to me as “a crazy” by an American journalist who had interviewed him, and this story shows why. Haetzni was describing to me, with great satisfaction, how he had disarmed and confused a hostile British journalist with an invented story about her own queen, and how he had used the invention, apparently accepted as real by that stunned journalist, at least momentarily, in order to get her to listen to what he had to say- and in order to tweak her unsympathetic British nose. My friend the American journalist was, I knew, no less hostile to Haetzni’s beliefs; and I suspect that in his talks with the American Haetzni had used whatever stratagem he could devise to tweak his nose—which was, no doubt, all the more worthy of tweaking, since it was the nose of a Jew, who, Haetzni must have felt, should have known better.
Perhaps deciding that I might begin to think that my own nose was being tweaked and that all of his stories were inventions and all of his statements merely sarcastic asides, Haetzni quickly grew serious. “I sincerely do feel, he went on, “that the Palestinian Arabs have developed the traits of a nation. Of course, we shouldn’t overdo it the way Mr. McGovern did when he came here and spoke of the thousands-of-years-old culture of the Palestinians. Because the Palestinian Arabs first developed a feeling that they were a nation in the 1920s—imitating Zionism. This is not something for us to be ashamed of; our movement, Zionism, gave birth to two nationalisms—Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism. So it’s our responsibility that there’s a Palestinian nationalism. And what we should do now is foster a Palestinian nation, a Palestinian state in Jordan.”
To Haetzni, the creation of such a state is crucial. “There should be a strong, free Palestine on the East Bank of the Jordan—in alliance with us, maybe in a federation. We should annex Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. There should be complete autonomy in those places for the Arabs. Jordanian law, or some other Arab law, should prevail, and this should be legislated by the Knesset. This would be genuine autonomy—in the health system, in local government, and in anything else that doesn’t have to do with the superstructure of the state, security, and foreign relations. And the Arabs can have a Palestinian state on the other side of the Jordan. Instead of having Jordanian passports, the Arabs in the annexed territories on this side of the Jordan would have Palestinian passports issued by the Palestinian state on the East Bank. Today they are eligible to vote in Amman, to the extent that any Jordanians are allowed to vote; and under my plan, that eligibility would continue, except that they would be voting in the Palestinian state. And, I should add, just as Arabs would be permitted to live in Judea and Samaria, in the Jewish state, so Jews should be permitted to live in the Palestinian state, on the eastern side of the Jordan River; and those Jews would, of course, vote in Israeli elections, not Palestinian ones. And there should be open bridges between the two states. There should be a Law of Return for the Arabs. If an Arab wants to buy a house and live in Jaffa, why not?”
“But,” I objected, “what if that Arab says, ‘It was my house, and I want it back?’ ”
“No, no, no. That house has changed hands twenty times. If a German were to come to Kaliningrad and say,
‘This city was once Koenigsberg, and this is my house,’ the Russians would answer him, on the train ride to Siberia, ‘Don’t you remember that there was a war? That we paid with twenty million dead?’ Where in the world did you ever see the clock turned back in a case in which one side was vanquished? But a war in which Jews win seems to be considered differently.”
Haetzni was now on a topic—the world’s hypocrisy— that clearly had exercised him in the past and that continued to do so in that restaurant.
“Look, UN Resolution 242—which says that acquisition of land by war is forbidden—is the biggest lie since Cain and Abel. And all the nations who signed it are liars. Take America. America should give back New Mexico and California. They can keep Alaska and Louisiana, because they purchased them. All the rest should be given back. And take the other signers—all of them took land and kept it. But we can’t. So this Resolution 242 is like a Jew ish yellow star in international law. It’s a shame! It’s a lie! And the question you asked me about Arabs moving back into the houses they abandoned in 1948 is a 242 question—it’s based on a lie. The question isn’t why we don’t give back the Arabs their old houses. The question is, why haven’t we paid them reparations for the property we took? If we had done so, we would have retrieved the honor of the Arabs. That would go a long way toward peace.”
Under Haetzni’s plan the Arabs of the annexed West Bank, in being denied the right to vote in Israeli elections, would be treated differently from the Arabs within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, though the status of Judea and Samaria would otherwise be the same as that of the rest of Israel. I asked him why. His answer was based simply on numbers: the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, together with those of the Galilee, the part of pre-1967 Israel that is about 50 percent Arab, would make up 33 percent of the population of Israel; and a 33 percent Arab vote in the Knesset would result in a binational state. Eventually the Arabs, because of their higher birthrate, might be able to muster enough votes to change the laws so that Israel would no longer serve as the Jewish homeland—the place where Jews being hounded elsewhere can come and receive refuge and automatic citizenship.
To Haetzni, this strange plan—the creation of an area that would belong to one state but most of whose citizens would vote in another—was not strange at all. “Take the hundred thousand or so Arabs in East Jerusalem,” he explained. “East Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel, and those Arabs now have the choice of taking Israeli citizenship. But very few have done so. [According to recent Israeli government statistics, of the approximately 110,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem only 300 have so far accepted Israeli citizenship.] And you can’t blame them. They would be choosing citizenship in a state whose national anthem speaks about the Jewish soul! Look, you Americans are trying to impose European notions on the Middle East, and you’ll succeed as much as you succeeded when you tried to impose democracy on the Diem regime in South Vietnam. It’s so foolish to impose such notions here. Are there any democratic countries among the Arab states? Was anybody elected in those countries? Sadat? Mubarak? Assad? Democratic notions are simply irrelevant in this part of the world. The best we can do is turn to our Arab neighbors and say, ‘We recognize that this is your country and your homeland; you’re attached to it with the same feelings that we are. You can stay here for as long as you like—for the next five thousand years. You can have all the civil rights that are possible—habeas corpus, freedom of speech; the only free Arab press in the Middle East is right here in Jerusalem. W hat we can’t give you are political rights. Those rights you should seek in the seventyeight percent of Palestine that is under Jordanian sovereignty. If you want to change that sovereignty and make it Palestinian sovereignty, we shall help you.’
“I think that ultimately this will be the solution. For me there is no difference where a Palestinian lives. If a Palestinian living in Brazil wants to return, and buys a home in Jaffa, maybe with reparations that I pay him, and he doesn t vote for the Knesset—what would be the problem? We don’t have racial feelings toward them. The problem is political—it’s not on a human level. This problem of voting is, practically speaking, irrelevant in the Middle East. In which Arab country do people vote? So here, if people voted in the elections of a country in which they don’t live, it would be a precedent. What’s wrong with a precedent? On the contrary: it would give professors of international law something to talk about!”
I asked Haetzni if an arrangement of this sort existed anywhere. He wasn’t sure. “But,” he said, “even if there were absolutely no precedent, even if it would be absolutely unique, that would be even better. What’s wrong if the problem here is a unique one and has a unique solution? In fact, the problem here really is unique. Israeli nationality has something to do with Jewishness, and we don’t have the urge to force people to accept Jewishness. And the Arabs for their part have their own rich cultural heritage and are in the midst of a period in which they’re fervently nationalistic. Besides, they have a language that is ten times richer than Hebrew. So there’s no urge by masses of Arabs to become like Jews. So neither side has an urge to incorporate the other.
But there’s another way in which the problem is unique here, and therefore requires a unique solution. Let me tell you a story. Once when my wife was buying grapes in Hebron—we have beautiful grapes in Hebron—an Arab woman asked her, ‘Why did you come here? We were here before you.’ And my wife had the presence of mind to answer, ‘And we were here before you.' In other words”— Haetzni beamed—“if having been somewhere before is an argument, then we have a superargument, because we were here before the before.
“Now, such an argument is available only to the Jewish people. If the Etruscans were to be discovered living somewhere in Africa and they were to return to Florence, then they would have such an argument too. But they’re safely tucked away in the museums.
“Sometimes I try to explain to Palestinians what happened to them. I tell them a story: An Iraqi Arab, a Syrian Arab, and a Palestinian Arab were walking on the street, and a brick fell from a roof. On whose head did it fall? On your head—on the head of the Palestinian. The name of the brick is the Jewish fate. If the descendants of Nebuchadnezzar were alive today, then the Iraqis would have a problem. But it’s the Palestinians who have that problem.
“Now, there is only one such brick. There is no other people alive today with the conscious sense that they are the direct descendants of people from the ancient world. The Colosseum stands intact in Rome, but the people in that city don’t have the feeling that they are the descendants of the ancient Romans. But if you go to Masada, you read the inscription ‘Masada Will Not fall Again!’ —as if it fell just yesterday. And for us the Wailing Wall is contemporary, not classical, history. This is unique. When we have a question about contemporary Jewish ritual, we check the archaeological digs and get the answers. If we don’t know something about the correct size of a ritual bath, for example, we measure the remains of the ritual bath on Masada. So we have bridged time, as it the gap in time between our period of sovereignty here before the expulsion and our current period of sovereignty didn’t exist. It’s as if we had a time machine. Nu, there is no other nation of this kind! And this is the unique problem that befell the Palestinian Arabs.
“But you have to add to this the fact that the Palestinian Arabs weren’t here for such a long time. Most of them came here during the past hundred to a hundred and fifty years. Before that the country was completely depopulated. And you can immediately tell from where they are. Yesterday I got four new clients from Yatta. The Israeli authorities found arms in their houses. They’re not from Fatah [a PLO organization]—Fatah clients I don’t take, Yatta is wild country, like the Shouf Mountains in Lebanon, full of feuds; it’s just south of Hebron.”
I had assumed that all of Haetzni’s clients were Jews; I was surprised to learn that Arabs turned to him for his services, but he insisted that many of his clients were indeed local Arabs. “Why don’t they go to Arab lawyers?" I asked. “Because,” he said, laughing, “they don’t trust them!”
Haetzni returned to the subject of his new clients. One had said his name was Masaruwa. The name Masaruwa, Haetzni explained to me triumphantly, was the name of someone whose family had come from Egypt. “When did his family come from Egypt? Who knows: A hundred and fifty years ago. At the most two hundred years ago. Look, there’s a very big town in Judea called Dura. Two hundred years ago two tribes from Saudi Arabia came there and killed off all the people of Dura, then killed off each other—from the second tribe only a fifth remained—and this is Dura! And they have taken the whole range of the Hebron Mountains from Dura to the south. And they know it!
“Sometimes they’re so conscious of it. There is a town called Dhahariya. Three Arabs were sitting there talking, and one says, ‘Our great-grandfathers came from Saudi Arabia.’ And then one of them kicks him. Why? Because they don’t want to upset the myth that they are the ancient inhabitants of Palestine, from time immemorial, and we, the Jews, are the newcomers.”
Haetzni said that he doubted that the Palestinian Arabs would ever give up on their wish to take back Jaffa or Haifa. But he insisted that neither that lingering wish nor the disinclination of Arab states to make peace with Israel would stand in the way of the political solution he had outlined to me. This solution, he asserted, is advantageous to both Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians, he said, know that only the Israelis could see to it that they would have their own state—a state in what is now Jordan. King Hussein, they know, wouldn’t give them a state and didn t do so when he controlled Judea and Samaria. So the Palestinians secretlv know that their only chance for political independence is some kind of accommodation with Israel. And as for the Israelis, it’s more important for them to do what they can to achieve some kind of accommodation, even federation, with a Palestinian state on the East Bank of the Jordan than it is to achieve peace with other Arab states. On the matter of returning any part of Judea and Samaria Haetzni was adamant. “If we ever give them Hebron, they’ll still want Jaffa and Haifa. They won’t give up on that no matter what we do. So it won’t help.”
Haetzni seemed absolutely certain of the path he had chosen when he moved to the West Bank. “Do I have any alternative? What would I say to my Maker if I had this opportunity and didn’t use it? What would I say if I had this opportunity to return to my homeland and didn’t take it? It would be a sacrilege. It would be an outrage. It would be a shame. And it would be a tragedy.”
So LET THE ARABS VOTE—I’M NOT AFRAID
FOR YISRAEL MEDAD, THE MAIN FEAR OF BOTH Levinger and Haetzni—the fear that if the Arabs in an Israeli-annexed West Bank were allowed full political rights in Israel, including the right to vote, they could vote out the Jewish state—did not exist.
Medad is a thirty-six-year-old Bronx-born Israeli who lives in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh with his wife and five children. For ten years he has been working for Geula Cohen, a member of the Knesset representing the right-of-center Tehiya, or Renaissance, Party; he has worked as a teacher in Cohen’s educational institute and as her parliamentary aide. As a former American, he understands, much better than Levinger does, Western, particularly American, sensibilities about the issue of Arab rights; and it’s to him that visitors are often referred when they come to complain about that issue.
In Medad’s view Arabs should be offered full political rights in an annexed West Bank, including the right to vote in national elections for the Knesset. And Medad is unafraid that that right would, because of the Arabs’ high birthrate, eventually give them the votes to dismantle the Jewish state.
He doesn’t fear that because, he explained, he supports a plan that would allow the Arabs to become voting citizens of the Jewish state only if they first accepted the principle that the state was, by its definition, unalterably Jewish— that it wasn’t just another state, like all the other states of the world, but, rather, in perpetuity the Jewish homeland, the place to which any Jew can return. The Arabs would also have to be willing to participate fully in Israeli society, a participation that would involve the responsibility to defend the state. Medad acknowledged that Arabs could not be expected to fight in the Israeli military against other Arabs; consequently they would be expected to do alternative national service, but for a length of time equal to that put in by Jewish Israelis.
If they accepted these conditions for Israeli citizenship, Medad said, Arabs would no longer be a threat to Israel, even if their population increased to such an extent as to enable them to elect sixty-one members in the 120-member Knesset; after all, under his plan it would be illegal for even a majority to change the Jewish purpose of the state. Moreover, Medad doubted that all Arabs would accept his conditions; some would, but probably most would not, preferring to keep their Jordanian—or perhaps Palestinian— citizenship and vote in the state, whether it was called Jordan or Palestine, that was located on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The likelihood that most Arabs would exercise the latter preference makes Medad confident that the offer of full political rights in Israel would not endanger the state or its purpose.
This plan—the plan of the Tehiya Party—would be acceptable to 80 percent of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, in Medad’s estimation; the settlers do not want an apartheid-like state. The accusation that they do, Medad insisted, is wrong: “I want Arabs to be integrated into Israeli society and do things that Jews do, such as national service. Besides, I resent this comparison of the position of the Jews in Israel with the position of the whites in South Africa. The white settlement in South Africa was started by a bunch of Dutch people who came into the region a couple of hundred years ago, people who had never been there before and whose ancestors had nothing to do with that land. Here, the Jews returned to their land.”
Medad acknowledged that under this plan one part of the West Bank population—Arabs—would not be able to exercise all of the rights that a person accustomed to Western democratic practices ordinarily assumes belong to all peoples. That is, even those who chose Israeli citizenship would be unable, no matter how numerous they were, to change Israel from a Jewish state into an Arab one; and those who chose not to accept Israeli citizenship would have no say in matters affecting the country as a whole.
But such limitations on political rights would not really be so odd, even from a Western democratic perspective, Medad argued. All that the Arabs would lack would be the right to sovereignty. “But who says that every people has the right to sovereignty—the right to dominate others— wherever they live? Let’s take the Jews of Brooklyn. If they constituted forty percent of the population and had lived there for three hundred and fifty years, that wouldn’t give them the right to secede from the United States. There are certain limitations on the freedoms of national groups.”
Medad echoed a point made by Elyakim Haetzni: the situation in the West Bank is simply different from any other and requires a different solution. “I agree with you that it sounds silly for a bunch of Jews whose parents came from Russia, Poland, and Germany, and who themselves came from America, France, and England, to come into an area that was populated by other people and claim that it’s their home. But it is their home.”
Medad went on to justify the definition of the West Bank as Jewish on yet other grounds. The Jews, he said, had proved that the land was theirs by the way they lived on it. They loved it. They were tender toward it. They caressed it. They cultivated it. They planted in it. And the land, in turn, gave them its fruits. What had the Arabs done for the land? What kind of lovers were they? They neglected it. Their allegiance was to the village rather than to the land. And if they had finally developed a Palestinian nationalism, they had done so only after having been confronted by the nationalism of the Jews. Before that they had been just Arabs living in villages, often migrants from nearby areas such as Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Iraq, or Turkey; and if they felt themselves to be part of anything larger than the village they happened to live in, it was, perhaps, the Arab nation, not the Palestinian people. For them the land was incidental; it was where their village happened to be. Besides, Medad added, during the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli war the Arabs ran away too easily, much as the Jews used to run away from towns in Poland and the Ukraine when hostilities would start in those regions; the Arabs ran because they weren’t committed to the land, whereas the Jews in the Land of Israel, even during war, would never leave it.
I quickly objected to these arguments. Different peoples lived differently in their lands and possessed those lands in different ways, I said; making the desert bloom, or draining swamps, did not by itself establish ownership. Nor did readiness to flee prove the transience of ownership: in wars people flee. But Medad’s arguments were, by the time I heard them, fixed stars in the Gush Emunim ideological firmament—not central, but still important. And my objections failed to dislodge them in the least.
Against Mcdad’s central arguments too I was able to muster few of my own that convinced him. My American inclination to challenge him on the grounds of Arab rights was met by his repeated reminders that, while the issue for the Arabs was one of rights, the issue for the Jews, and for Israel, was one of existence. “You have to understand,” he lectured me patiently, “that you’re looking at the problem from an American perspective. What are Americans acquainted with? They’re acquainted, for example, with the problem of American blacks insisting on civil rights. But the problem of the blacks in America is different from the problem of the Arabs in Israel. Blacks in America never wanted to deny nationhood to the whites, while Arabs here do want to deny nationhood to the Jews. There’s a fundamental difference. I have very strong reasons to believe that no matter what we do the Arabs will never be satisfied. If we say to the Palestinians that they’re welcome to have the West Bank, that wouldn’t satisfy them either; they would want the rest of our land, they would want pre-’67 Israel. And all we would accomplish by giving back these territories would be to increase our level of danger. And I genuinely believe that if we lived under Arab rule the situation for us would be much, much worse than the situation is tor Arabs under Israeli rule. It would be a question of our very survival. We would be killed. It would be Hebron, 1929; it would be Kfar Etzion, 1948.”
JUST WAIT TILL WE HAVE THE POWER
WHEN THE ARAB TAXI DISPATCHER AT JERUSALEM’S Damascus Gate learned that I would be writing something about the West Bank, he insisted that I include his story. He had been imprisoned by the Israelis, he said, for fifteen years.
“Fifteen years! Fifteen years of my life!” I asked him why.
“Because the Israelis said I was PLO. They said I was a terrorist.”
The dispatcher was taken aback. I continued: “What did they say you did?”
“They said I planted a bomb.”
“In a movie theater.”
“Somebody found it and took it outside. It exploded outside.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I was protesting the immigration of Jews.”
The dispatcher finally found a taxi driver willing to take us—a young Arab journalist and me—to Hebron. We set off to the south, and I asked the journalist, who had himself spent time in an Israeli jail, what he thought of the story.
“Fifteen years is a large part of one’s life,” he observed.
“But what about the bomb?”
“Well, it didn’t kill anyone.”
“But wasn’t he a terrorist?”
“He was fighting for what he believed in.”
“But what if the bomb had gone off inside the theater? What if that theater had been filled not with Israelis but with Arabs—with your brother, or your father?”
We drove on to Hebron in silence.
Mustafa Natshe was waiting for me in the foyer of his spacious, even lavish, house. Some days before, while driving me around the West Bank, a Gush Emunim settler had told me that very few Jews in Israel lived as opulently as did many of the Arabs in the West Bank. “It’s money from the Gulf,” he explained. Without doubt, many of the houses lining the main roads north and south of Jerusalem were opulent indeed. “They look like apartment houses, don’t they?” the settler asked. I agreed. “Well, they’re not. They’re houses built by wealthy Palestinians for their families. Some of them have maybe thirty rooms, and four or five floors, each floor for a different part of the family. Maybe a son and his family on one floor, a daughter and her family on another. I’ve been in some of those houses, I’ve been invited into them, and what’s amazing is that they’re empty. Really, they’re empty. You’d be surprised. There’s some furniture, but not much else. You’d expect oriental carpets, elaborate things. But mostly they’re empty. I really don’t understand it. And I really don’t understand their taste, either. Look at those Eiffel Powers on the roofs.” Nearly every roof did in fact have a not-so-miniature Eiffel Tower serving as a television antenna. The settler’s offended aesthetic sensibilities, expressed as much with puzzlement as with dismay, reminded me of the offended sensibilities of West Bank Arabs who had told me more than once that they could not understand how the Jews could violate their pristine hilltops, barren for centuries, with the instant and crude habitations that belonged more in the vulgar suburbs of America than in the ancient landscapes of the Middle East.
Mustafa Natshe’s house, in Hebron, was not so opulent on the outside as some of the million-dollar houses along the Jerusalem-Ramallah road, but inside it was more lavishly appointed than the ones the settler had described. Natshe, a heavyset man of fifty-three, dressed on that warm night in a pinstripe suit, invited me into his living room. The evening prayers from the mosque, in this, the most religious and conservative of the West Bank towns, a community of 70,000 with no cinemas or places of entertainment, floated through the open window. A series of red velvet sofas was arranged around the room, with gold velvet drapes along the walls. Lace doilies adorned the sofas, a blue rug the floor. I felt too informal in my shirtsleeves.
Natshe, formerly the acting mayor of Hebron, had recently been dismissed by Israeli authorities; so had his city council. The dismissals had occurred shortly after Aharon Gross, a nineteen-year-old Jewish seminary student, had been stabbed to death in the town’s vegetable market. Gross was the eighth Jew killed in Hebron in three years, and his murder followed a number of other anti-jewish incidents there, most of them involving stones or grenades thrown at Israeli cars.
After the killing, Jews from nearby Kiryat Arba descended on the vegetable market and set fire to most of its stalls. Israeli authorities, perhaps to assuage the settlers’ anger, then dismissed Natshe, whom the settlers regarded as a fomenter of anti-jewish violence. Miriam Levinger, the American-born wife of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, remarked to a reporter a few days after the burning of the vegetable market: “The Arabs take a life for a life. I say the Jews deserve credit for not killing any Arabs.” Within days Hebron’s Islamic University was attacked, presumably by Jews. Three Arabs were killed and thirty-three wounded.
Natshe had been acting mayor of Hebron since May of 1980, when Fahd Kawasmeh, the mayor, was deported together with other Arabs, including Mohammed Milhem, the mayor of Halhul. Natshe explained that he had refused to assume the title of mayor because to do so would have been to recognize the dismissal of Kawasmeh as a legal act.
Natshe said that he had never had any contact with the Jews of Kiryat Arba, despite the proximity of that Jewish settlement. “No, never. Because I didn’t want it. Because we believe that the Jewish settlements in the occupied areas are illegal. Settlements would be legal only if there were a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem. When the Arabs have their rights, when all the problems are solved, why not? An Arab will have the right to return to Jaffa and Lod and Ramla, and the Jew who wishes to return to settle in this city, why not?” Apparently, Natshe felt that the Jews who might be permitted to settle in the West Bank Palestinian state once it was established would be those who were literally returning—that is, Jews who had lived in the area of the West Bank prior to the establishment of Israel, in 1948, and perhaps the descendants of Jews who were killed in various massacres there. “But who,” Natshe asked, “has come to settle here? They are not the Jews who lived here until 1929. They are fanatics coming from the States. They say that we must be expelled to the other part of the Land of Israel, which is Jordan. But we say no. We say there are two nations here, the Arab and the Israeli. We must have an independent state as Israel has a state. We must not be governed by the Israelis.”
Which borders, I asked Natshe, would his envisioned Palestinian state have?
“The borders according to the UN partition plan of 1947.”
“Oh,” I responded, “you want to go back to the partition before the 1948 war.”
“Yes. Before the war. The UN partition plan of 1947 gives the Arabs and the Israelis the right to have their own states. This is the basis on which negotiations must begin.”
“In 1947,” I began, “there was a partition plan in which a small area was to be given to Israel—”
“Smaller than the area Israel had after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.”
“Yes, of course. Smaller, but not much smaller. And this is the base from which we must start negotiations for Israel to be created in the area and also for the Palestinian state to be created.”
“But Israel already exists. And the 1967 borders appear to be the minimal reality—”
“I didn’t say this or that. I just say that this is the base from which negotiations must begin!”
“So you recognize the Israeli state.”
“Unlike the PLO, which does not recognize it.”
“Except that you say that the Israel you recognize is the state within the 1947 partition boundaries, not the state within the armistice lines after the 1948-1949 Arab—Israeli war.”
“Now, Israel is currently in the position, as a result of the 1967 war, of being internally torn between those Israelis who are willing to give up the West Bank for the sake of peace and those Israelis who proclaim it to be the central part of the Land of Israel and wish to hold on to it, as exemplified by the settlers and to some extent by the government. When those Israelis who are willing to give up the West Bank explain their position to those who are not‚ the answer they get is, ‘Don’t be silly. We’ll give up the West Bank and then they’ll want the rest of Palestine. After all, the PLO still hasn’t accepted the existence of Israel.’ If you, Mayor Natshe, as a responsible representative of the West Bank Palestinian people, say that even you don’t accept Israel’s pre-1967 borders, aren’t you encouraging that response?”
Natshe seemed irritated by my question. “Look, the most important question is whether the Israeli government recognizes our right to self-determination. Why do we argue about borders if we still haven’t gotten recognition of our rights?”
But I continued to argue, and in my arguing I felt as I had two days earlier, when I had argued with Natshe’s neighbor Rabbi Moshe Levinger: I felt that the person I was facing couldn’t understand how his interviewer could be so foolish. “But by the same token,” I said, “it could be argued that if borders aren’t so important, why don’t you accept Israel within its 1967 borders?”
Natshe’s irritation grew. “Look, who doesn’t accept? If I said that the 1967 borders are okay, would the Israeli government accept the Palestinian state?”
In fact, Natshe seemed more moderate in his outlook than I had been led to believe by his enemies in the Gush Emunim: he was willing to state publicly that he could accept Israel—a rump Israel but an Israel nevertheless. That was further than I would have thought he would be willing to go, and further than PLO leaders had ever gone—save a few, such as lssam Sartawi, who had been assassinated in April of 1983 for being too moderate.
A young boy served us tea. I began to talk to Natshe as if what we said would make a difference, as if reasoning could change things. “The subject we’re dealing with is very complicated,” I said unnecessarily. “The Arabs feel that this is their land, that it has been taken from them. Some jews feel that there is a place here for Jews as well— that they have a historic claim here. And so there is a clash of two nationalities. Can this clash, Mayor Natshe, be resolved?”
“It can be,” Natshe answered, “if the Israelis really want peace. Let’s start with 1947. After the Israelis got the land, they took another step. They got more land. Then, in 1967, they took yet another step. They got still more land. So you find that the Israelis kept on getting more and more land, because they had power. They rely on power. In Lebanon, I’m sure, if they didn’t have problems, they wouid have never withdrawn, even from Beirut. They want to keep southern Lebanon. They want to keep the Golan Heights. The next step will be to enter Jordan and take the heights of Irbid. We see that the extremists are planning these things, and that all the people are involved in this planning. They say they want peace with us. But I’ll tell you how they want peace with us. They want us as laboieis—without rights. They don’t want to be on an equal basis with us, to live with us as two independent states. They think that by the power they have they can rule all of the Arab countries. The extremists think that way. They talk about the other part of Israel, which is Jordan. And what will come after Jordan? We don’t know. The Israeli government must recognize our right to selfdetermination, But so long as it says ‘We won’t recognize the PLO even if the PLO recognizes Israel,’ what can we do?”
“The Israeli government argues,” I returned, “that it’s impossible to expect that Israel should recognize an organization that’s bent on its destruction.”
“But we say, how can we recognize someone who takes our land?”
“Let’s look at reality for a moment,” I responded. “Israel has power here now, Israel has everything and the Palestinians have nothing ”
“Yes! You are right!”
“And the Palestinians sometimes have friends and sometimes don’t. Arab countries use them for their own needs.”
“Yes! You are right!”
“And this is even the case with the Soviet Union. If it didn’t serve their interests, they would drop the Palestinian cause.”
“In this situation, if I were a Palestinian, I would say to myself, ‘I have nothing, the Israelis have everything. I want to do whatever I can to have something.’”
“So tell me what I can do.”
“I think,” I answered, “that there are a large number of people within Israel who would be willing, for the sake of security and peace, to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. But they’re frightened. They fear that given the feelings of the Palestinians, if they were given a Palestinian state they would move into it and then start talking about the liberation of the rest of Palestine. If you were an Israeli, you might also want to be reassured. You might ask, ‘Why should I commit suicide?’ ”
“How can such an Israeli be reassured?”
“Maybe he can be reassured if people like you say, ‘I agree there should be two countries here. And you should have the right to a country, and we should have the right to a country. I have no aspirations to take over Israel. And I define Israel as a country that exists within the borders before 1967, with some modifications in those borders that could be worked out. And also, because of the realities of geography, you would need a long period of time during which you would not be threatened militarily by armaments in the West Bank. And I’m willing to accept this, and to say right now that I’m willing to accept the right of Israel to exist within those borders; and all I ask is that we begin arranging for the establishment of a Palestinian state.’ ”
“Look,” Natshe responded incredulously. “The Israelis have the power. So how can the Israelis be afraid? What we want is a comprehensive solution. We have to solve not only our problem here but also the problem of the Palestinians in other countries—in Syria, in Saudi Arabia. A Palestinian who has rights in Jaffa should either get compensation or be allowed to return. Take the Palestinian living in Damascus. You give him a choice. You say to him, ‘Do you wish to live in Jaffa, in the Israeli state? Or do you wish to live in Hebron, in the Palestinian state?’ He will choose. If he chooses to return to Jaffa, he will return, and accept the fact that he is going to Israel. If he wants to go to Hebron, or to any other place in the West Bank, then he will find a job, a home, and get compensation.”
I asked Natshe why the Palestinians who live in Syria and other Arab countries didn’t move to the West Bank when they could have—before 1967, when it was under Jordanian control.
“There were many problems,” Natshe replied. “There were not enough jobs. This is a problem—that they didn’t return,” he admitted.
“Yes, it is a problem,” I repeated. “Tell me something else. What about the problem in Haifa or in any of the places in Israel in which Palestinians lived before 1948? These cities now have almost totally Jewish populations. Realistically, it wouldn’t work for Arabs to come back and claim a house or land in such a city.”
“Look,” Natshe said. “Let’s say an Arab has ten dunams in Israel. [One dunam equals a quarter of an acre. ] And Israelis are now living on those ten dunams. Okay. For those ten dunams he should get compensation. And he should be able to live in Israel, like any other immigrant from Russia or America. And if he doesn’t want to live in Israel, then he can take his money and live in the Palestinian state.”
“You think there’s room for a million Palestinian immigrants in the West Bank?”
“Yes, there’s room.”
“The official PLO position is that there should be a democratic state in Palestine that has Jews and Palestinians. Do you believe that such a thing would work?”
“Realistically, no. Because many Israelis want their own state.”
“And the Palestinians?”
“Yes, many Palestinians want their own state too. But I think that if there are two states in the area and there is peace, then after some time—say, ten years or twenty years—the borders will not be a problem between them. They will be able to cross borders to work in each other’s countries.”
“For many years,” I said, “there has been a great deal of difficult and painful feeling on the part of Palestinians, especially those growing up outside Israel. Those who grew up in the camps grew up with powerful feelings of animosity against Israel.”
“Yes, you are right.”
“Only a dreamer would imagine that these feelings would disappear overnight.”
“Let’s say,” I went on, “that you were the president of the new Palestinian state, or someone else were—Yasser Arafat, say, or Abu Musa—”
“—and here are these people who are now saying, five years after the establishment of the Palestinian state, or ten years after, ‘Now we have to liberate the rest of Palestine. We shed all this blood—’ ”
“‘—and now we have to liberate the rest of our homeland.’ ”
Natshe sighed. I went on. “Palestinians have been saying this for many years—for thirty years and more. This feeling can’t just disappear overnight. Moreover, it’s a popular feeling. It wouldn’t be two percent of the Palestinians who would feel it; it would probably be more. Who knows how many? Maybe twenty percent, thirty percent. I don’t know how many, but it would be, I think, many.”
Natshe nodded agreement.
“Would you, as president of the Palestinian state, suppress these people?” I asked him. “Would you throw them into jail if they tried to cross the border into Israel?”
Natshe rejected my dark scenario, which was in fact a rendition of a common Israeli nightmare. “You are assuming something that doesn’t exist. We have to think of what would happen in an actual state of peace. If you consider the Palestinian in a refugee camp, you have to understand that he is against the Israeli state and wants to kill any Israeli he meets because since 1948 he has been living in a miserable state as if in jail; he sees that his homeland has been taken away from him and hears everyone around him in the country in which he is living calling him a foreigner. But look at what has happened to the Arabs who have lived in the West Bank and in Gaza. Until 1967 they assumed that any Israeli who would meet them would kill them, and many of them also felt that if they met an Israeli they would kill him. But after 1967 things changed. Israelis and Arabs have begun to see and speak to each other. And now these Arabs know that there are some Israelis who are aware of our concerns and aspirations, and who agree that we should have our rights. So things have changed, and I don’t necessarily view an Israeli as an enemy. I can distinguish between Israelis. I can say, this is a friend; this is Gush Emunim; this is Tehiya [the Renaissance Party, which favors annexation of the West Bank]; this is Peace Now. So let’s say a Palestinian from, say, the El Yarmuk camp, in Damascus, who has been living in bad conditions as a foreigner in Syria, comes to the Palestinian state. He gets compensation for his lost property in Israel and has enough to live on here. He will have contact with Israelis—by working in Israel or by commerce with them— and he will change his point of view. Why do you assume that he will be an enemy of the Israelis?”
Because Natshe had returned several times to the theme of compensation for the property lost by Arabs who had left the part of Palestine that became Israel, I asked him about the argument, often made by Israelis, that at about the same time that Arabs were fleeing their homes and losing their property in Israel, Jews were fleeing their homes and losing their property in Arab countries—probably in equal or greater numbers, and probably with greater material losses. What about the argument that the losses balance each other out, and that compensation has therefore, in that sense, already taken place?
Natshe wouldn’t accept this. Compensation is still very important, he said. Let Iraq and Egypt compensate the Jews who lost their property in those countries, and let Israel compensate the Palestinians who lost their property in Israel. He went on to tell me of the compensation that he and his family were expecting. “My uncle had an orchard near Tel Aviv, in a place which they call now Ramat Hasharon. It was 170 dunams. And we ourselves have three houses and land which we also lost in 1948. So it’s obvious that compensation is necessary.”
Finally, I pointed out Natshe’s window, in the direction in which I thought Kiryat Arba must lie. The settlements were growing up around him every day, I said. He could spend his days and years talking about the details of compensation, but meanwhile the settlements would continue to be built. Jews would continue to move into places that they considered to be their patrimony. And soon, I said, the subject would be closed. It would be too late. The Jews would be back in the Land of Israel, and there would be no Palestinian state in the West Bank to talk about.
Paradoxically, Natshe relaxed. He smiled. All that talk about compensation, about recognition, about a democratic binational state, about boundaries and partition plans, suddenly appeared absurd and irrelevant. Natshe’s eyes seemed to grow as old as the hills toward which my finger was pointing. He said there was time, plenty of time. “Now,” he told me, “the Israelis have the power. And the Arabs don’t have the power. But in ten years, in twenty years, in thirty years, who knows? At some time the Arabs will have the power, the forces will be on the side against Israel, we will have the power. And then we will see what will be.”
THE JEW IS A STRANGER IN MY HOUSE
ON JUNE 7, 1979, A GROUP OF GUSH EMUNIM SETTLERS took over a piece of land near the West Bank town of Nablus, known in Hebrew as Shechem, and announced the establishment of Elon Moreh, named after the place in Shechem where Abraham had built his altar. A week later, seventeen Arab landowners, represented by an Arab lawyer and a Jewish one, sued for the return of the land, which had been theirs. The Israeli Supreme Court, in an unprecedented decision, ordered that the land be returned. Private land in an occupied territory, the court held, could be temporarily seized for military purposes under Section 52 of the Hague Convention, but this seizure had been made for a political, not a military purpose, that of establishing a permanent, not a temporary, settlement. As a result of this judgment, it became clear that it would be possible to build Jewish settlements only on land that had been held by the Jordanian government prior to the 1967 war, that was without private title, or that had been purchased from individual Arabs.
Ordered to leave Elon Moreh, the settlers resisted. They argued that the Hague Convention didn’t apply, since the West Bank was not “occupied territory but, rather, “re-occupied”—re-occupied by Jews after years of exile. The Israeli government, however, acceded to the demand of the court, and in February, 1980, removed the settlers to a new site on government land five miles away.
Following the court-ordered removal of Elon Moreh, Menachem Begin’s government announced plans to build more settlements, and Begin himself later vowed that Israel would never leave the West Bank. Elon Moreh and Yamit, the city evacuated when Israel gave the Sinai back to Egypt in fulfillment of the Camp David accords, became for the Gush Emunim and their supporters geographical tragedies to be remembered and never repeated. For Israelis opposed to the settlements, however, they became harbingers of even more painful things to come.
It was against this background of strife between settlers and Arabs and between settlers and the Israeli government that I visited Nablus to talk with Bassam Shaka’a, recently dismissed as mayor of the town by the Israeli authorities.
On June 2, 1980, Shaka’a, while starting his car, set off a bomb that blew off the lower part of his legs. On the same day, in the same way, another West Bank mayor, Karim Khalaf, of Ramallah, lost a foot. And in El Bireh, also on the same day. Mayor Ibrahim Tawil was saved from a classic military “side-charge” that had been buried in a flower bed alongside his garage; the Israeli bomb-disposal expert who was sent to the scene, a Druse, accidentally touched the trip wire and was blinded.
As it happened, these attacks on the West Bank mayors were made on precisely the last day of the thirty-day mourning period for six Jewish settlers who had been shot outside Beit Hadassah, in Hebron. The attacks clearly were coordinated, and almost surely were carried out by militant settlers, but the Israeli General Security Service, better known as the Shin Bet, has so far failed to make any arrests. According to Israeli government statistics released in 1981 the Shin Bet has been successful in solving 80 percent of the cases involving Arab terrorist attacks against Jews, but in cases of terrorist attacks against Arabs it has in the main failed. Israeli leaders repeatedly stress that such cases are assiduously investigated. By most accounts, they are. But the extremist groups among the settlers are very small and close-knit, and the Shin Bet has been unable to penetrate them or to get alleged members to admit to terrorist acts. One resident of the Jewish West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion, appalled by the emergence of terrorism among Jewish settlers, told a Jerusalem Post reporter, “I have suddenly begun to realize that there are people out there who make Rabbi Moshe Levinger look moderate.”
The West Bank mayors who were the targets of the June, 1980, attacks were among the most radical in the West Bank, at least from the Israeli perspective: they actively supported the PLO, and according to some Israelis they organized their townspeople in every way they could to resist and obstruct the Israeli occupation, even to the point of terrorism and other forms of violence. Of this group of mayors, probably the most active and popular, and certainly the best known, was Bassam Shaka’a, of Nablus.
The same Arab journalist who had accompanied me to the home of Mustafa Natshe accompanied me to the home of Bassam Shaka’a. The entrance to Shaka”’s house was guarded by Israeli soldiers, who checked my passport and then lingered over my friend’s identity papers. Finally, after they had registered our names on a visitors’ form, we were let through. Shaka’a, in a white cotton gown, was waiting for us on his porch. Though the gown was long, the stump of his right leg, amputated at the knee, was visible from time to time as he sat.
The mutilation of his legs, Shaka’a said, had had a powerful effect on his daughter, who had been four years old at the time. “She saw everything,” Shaka’a explained. “She wasn’t able to live in the house after that. She always wanted to live somewhere else. And when I came back from treatment after the bombing, she didn’t accept me. She was always looking at my legs. It took many months before she was comfortable, before she was able to forget. She’s all right now,”
Shaka’a scoffed at my characterization of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as benign. As far as he was concerned, it was deeply malignant. It was malignant, he said, to establish a Jewish school in the middle of his town, next to a grave traditionally considered to be Joseph’s. It was malignant to increase taxes and the price of electricity. It was malignant to dismiss him from his position as mayor and deport those Arabs who resisted the Israeli occupation. And it was malignant to harass not only him and his Arab supporters but also those Israelis who visited him out of sympathy and solidarity.
Israelis, Shaka’a insisted, had nothing to fear—from the Palestinians, from the Arabs in general, or even from the Soviet Union. “They’re very strong,” he explained, “but they always make themselves appear to be victims. They always say they’re victims, but they’re criminals.”
Shaka’a saw little hope for an accommodation with Israel. For Shaka’a, as for Natshe, every Israeli action was part of a plan to take over more and more Arab land. “What the Israelis want to do,” he stressed, “is to annex the land. They want the land but they don’t want us. So they want to negotiate with the Jordanians so that the Jordanians will help them work against the Palestinian nation. And this is the entire philosophy behind the tactic of creating a civilian administration or working for ‘autonomy.’ And I can prove this. I said this to the Israeli military governor, Yossi Cohen. I said, ‘Look, you want to annex the land. So annex us with the land!’ And he said, ‘We don’t accept you as citizens.’ ”
As for the Jews, Shaka’a said, they had no right at all to be in the West Bank. “It’s against international law! It’s against the principle of human rights. They have no right to live here. If they want peace, they have to withdraw from here. I’m surprised when anybody thinks that they have such rights. You’re an American. Could anybody build a state in your country?” Besides, Shaka’a asked me, “how can I accept those criminals? They cannot settle here.” After suggesting that it was the Israeli authorities themselves, or people they knew, who had planted the bomb in his car, he added, “I cannot accept them on my land! I wouldn’t respect anyone who would accept them!”
About the right of the Jews to stay in the part of Palestine that had become Israel, Shaka’a was willing to say only that that was a matter for negotiation once there was a Palestinian state and arrangements had been made to resettle or compensate the Arab refugees. When I suggested that Israel would be unlikely ever to accept a Palestinian state unless Arabs had already accepted Israel’s right to exist, Shaka’a insisted that I was wrong. Eventually, he predicted, Israel would bow to pressure, both internal and external. Eventually Israel would be forced in one way or another to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank. And toward that end there could be no compromise. The only position a West Bank Arab could take was the position of the PLO. He himself could never accept the occupation. “What would they say if I accepted this occupation? They would say I was a quisling! Or a Pétain. What would happen to the quisling Bassam Shaka’a?”
Shaka’a repeatedly volunteered that he didn’t hate the Israelis, despite what they had done to him. Yet the outrage that he expressed toward Israel was so powerful and so deep that I had difficulty distinguishing it from hatred. He saw himself and his people reduced to vassals, or worse, and hurled back eons to a brutal and lawless time. “In what stage of civilization are we living?” he asked, growing red with indignation. “Do we live in a forest? Are we beasts? Am I meat to be eaten by the beasts? For the Israelis I am not a human! I am not a he and not a she!
An Israel that could reduce him to such a state, Shaka’a made clear, was not an Israel that he could ever accept— and certainly not one that he could ever consider a triend of his people. “Can I consider you a friend,” he asked, “if you want my house?”
The question startled me. Shaka’a had chosen precisely the same metaphor that Moshe Levinger, some days before, had chosen in trying to explain to me, with wild eyes, how impossible it seemed to him to compromise on the question of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. The Arab, Levinger had said, was a stranger in his house, had taken it over, and now wanted it, or part of it, for himself. If a stranger had taken over my house, would I give him part of it? So how could I expect the Jews to give up part of their house to the Arabs?
And now the Moshe Levinger of the West Bank Arabs, Bassam Shaka’a, was using the same metaphor, and drawing me into it. Yet in Shaka’a’s version it was the Jew who was the stranger and the Arab whose home had been invaded. “How can I consider you a friend,” he asked again, as the sun dropped behind the Samarian Hills overlooking his town, “when I know that you want my house?” And though he was speaking rhetorically, and the “you” in question was not the I sitting before him, I nevertheless turned, as if to avoid his gaze.
ISRAEL IS A STRANGE BODY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
MORE THAN ONCE PALESTINIAN ARABS WHO HAVE strayed from the PLO line, or who have in some other way undercut the PLO’s agenda or embarrassed its program, have been punished for their deviations. Some have been chastised. Others have been assassinated. For this reason I will not identify the Palestinian with whom I spent the most time while visiting the West Bank. He ultimately talked to me in ways in which other politicized Palestinians did not allow themselves to talk. For that I was grateful; and for that I’ll call him only Karim.
I met Karim in the offices of a pro-PLO Palestinian organization. I had come there to interview its director and had found Karim instead. He was the only one working that Sunday, and we began to talk.
At first Karim educated me about the development of Palestinian nationalism since the 1967 war. He analyzed the relationships between the Palestinians and the various Arab countries, mostly to demonstrate how perfidious those countries have been with regard to Palestinian aspirations. The only people the Palestinians can trust, he concluded, are themselves, and it’s for that reason that they have taken a united stand behind the PLO.
The PLO’s positions, Karim pointed out, have changed over the years. “After 1967 the PLO raised the slogan of a secular democratic state in all of Palestine in which all Jews and Moslems and Christians would have the right to stay. Whether the Jews who came after 1948 would stay was a debatable issue. There would be no State of Israel. After 1974 this slogan was changed. They decided that there should be a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The rejectionists refused this slogan, wanting to liberate all of Palestine. Eventually, all of the PLO factions agreed on this slogan without recognizing Israel. So the rejectionists want to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and not recognize Israel, so as to keep open the option of liberating the rest of Palestine. The others want to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and then solve the refugee problem, by having them either return to their original homes in Israel or get compensation.” It was a mistake, Karim went on, for the Arabs not to accept the UN partition plan of 1947. “It would have been better for us. Now we are much better in diplomacy.”
I tried at every opportunity to pry Karim loose from his undeviating allegiance to the official PLO positions. Surely, I suggested, he had his own views. Surely there was no single truth, as the split in the PLO itself demonstrated. Surely even the PLO might not be infallible; it was at least possible that another approach, another position, might work better. Surely he understood that an organization like the PLO tends to regard any attempt at compromise as betrayal, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to take advantage of opportunities for accommodation that may arise. I complained that with his unquestioning acceptance of PLO slogans he sounded a little like a Soviet official. Except that, I added, even Soviet officials sometimes speak frankly when they’re speaking in private. Couldn’t he?
At first he said he couldn’t. The PLO was the only good thing that had ever happened to his people; if it had weaknesses and disadvantages, and even splits, they were less important than its strengths.
But the more we talked, the more times we visited, the more we traveled through his homeland, the more questions I asked him about his life and views and the more he asked me about mine, the more he admitted to doubts.
He had doubts, first of all, about the wisdom of refusing to offer Israel recognition in exchange for a Palestinian state—recognition now, while there was still something in the West Bank to make into a state. He too saw the hills slipping away, saw the bulldozers and the settlements; and he too had begun to wonder whether some way other than the PLO’s might better enable the Palestinians to save what was left to be saved.
But he had other doubts, too. He wondered whether he, or the PLO, or the Palestinians as a whole, really could in their hearts ever compromise—ever accept Israel in any form. “This area,” he explained, almost pleadingly, “is Arab. We have been here for centuries. Israel’s presence is strange here. It’s a strange body in the Arab homeland.” And again: “The Palestinian people don’t recognize Israel. It’s a strange body in the Middle East. The Palestinian people who were expelled from their land want to return to their country.”
Karim was talking not about the West Bank but about all of western Palestine—including Israel. In his heart he was saying Israel didn’t belong there and shouldn’t stay there; and that, he added, was what was in the hearts of his fellow Palestinians, as well. Didn’t 1 agree? Did I really think that Israel had a place in the Middle East?
Karim estimated that if it came to some kind of vote, 70 percent of the West Bank Palestinians would be willing to say that they would recognize Israel once a Palestinian state was established in the West Bank; he would, too. But what they would say after the Palestinian state was established was, he suspected, another story. The recognition of Israel by the Palestinians, he said, could never be anything other than a tactic—because Israel was something that the Palestinians could never really accept. “ There is no other way for someone to talk who has no power,” Karim insisted. “We promise we will recognize Israel, but who knows what will happen in five years or ten years? What does it cost us to make such promises? If we gain through them a Palestinian state, then such promises are a good tactic. And if the balance of power changes in ten years—if Israel weakens internally, if America stops defending it, if the Arabs back us with their power—then things will change. The Palestinians will then be in a position to regain their rights in all of Palestine—to regain the rest of their homeland. I see no other way. We have to take what we can get now and see about the rest later. I see no peace coming—no real trust. Each side wants all of what the other side has. If there were only two people, one Arab and one Jew, it would be the same. There would be war. And it will always be that way. Always.”
In saying that, Karim knew that he had admitted something dangerous—even something that his fellow Palestinians could call treacherous. After all, what he predicted the Palestinians would say after the creation of a Palestinian state was precisely what many Israelis, including many in the government, were predicting the Palestinians would say; and it was on the basis of that prediction that those Israelis had vowed never to give up the West Bank. So for a Palestinian to agree that those Israelis were right was indeed dangerous.
And it was because it was dangerous that I told Karim I would not identify him. Curiously, he said he didn’t care. The whole matter saddened him, drained him. It was as if the tragedy had already happened; there was no hope, and therefore could be no fear.
I WON’T BE THE COSSACK OF RABBI LEVINGER!
INTERRUPTED MY INTERVIEWS IN THE WEST BANK TO spend a weekend in Modi’in. Modi’in is halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, within the borders of pre-1967 Israel. Two thousand years ago it was the place where the Maccabees began their revolt against the Syrian Greeks. Now it’s the site of Moshav Modi’in‚ the village established by Shlomo Carlebach.
Born in Germany to a family of distinguished scholars and religious leaders, Shlomo Carlebach had come to be known as “the singing rabbi.” A man of true musical gifts, he composed melodies derived from the Hasidic tradition and sang them in concerts for large and admiring audiences in the United States, Europe, and Israel. Young Jews who knew nothing of their religious heritage were drawn to him and impressed by him, especially during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he opened his House of Love and Prayer, in San Francisco. Hippies who had escaped their middle-class, secular, assimilated Jewish origins somehow found their way there and discovered a figure who spoke their language and sang their songs, but who turned that language and song in religious, spiritual, mystical, Hasidic directions. Some retained elements of their hippie styles but combined them, in an original and curious amalgam, with traditional orthodox features: hippie beards with Hasidic earlocks; large yarmulkes embroidered in bright colors; long-sleeved, modest dresses made of Madras cotton rather than Brooklyn polyester.
Some of these former hippies and others, many ot them ba’alei teshuvah (a term meaning, literally, “masters of the return,” used for irreligious Jews who become religious), followed Carlebach when he established his communal village in Modi’in. Still speaking English, but living in the landscape of the Maccabees, they began to work the rocky soil and to establish a health-food factory. The community is still struggling, and its inhabitants have not fully adjusted to the landscape or the tasks; but they persist in their quest, started in other places, for spirituality, which they get whenever they can from one another and their rabbi. Carlebach is at Modi’in during the summer months and spends the Sabbaths, as he did the Sabbath I was there, with his wounded and uplifted flock, eating with them, praying with them, learning with them, singing with them.
Also there as visitors that Sabbath were a friend who had suggested I come to experience the place—an American sociologist who had visited before—and a friend of that friend, an Israeli-born political scientist. The Israeli, Yaron Ezrahi, forty-three, had studied at Harvard and was a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; he was also a member of Peace Now, the Israeli organization that has been most active in the search for an Arab—Israeli accommodation and one that favors the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
The Sabbath meals at Modi’in are served communally in a large dining room. The food, vegetarian, was simple but offered with generosity. Every course was followed by melodies composed and led by Rabbi Carlebach; the residents swayed to their repetitive strains, some seemingly transported to other, more celestial, spheres.
The other guests and I, seated together at one of the dining room’s long tables, quietly talked about our respective lives and interests. Asked by Yaron Ezrahi what I had been doing on my trip, I explained that I had been visiting the West Bank. Why? he asked. To interview the Arabs and the Jewish settlers, I said.
“The settlers! They’re destroying Israel! They’re destroying my dream!”
That and more at a high pitch during a soft moment of a tender song. The others in the dining room looked at us and at each other and sang on. Ezrahi continued, more restrained but still in a rage: “The Gush Emunim want me and those I love to spill our blood so that they can realize their fanatic visions of a Land of Israel! You say you saw Rabbi Levinger? He’s the biggest fanatic of them all! He wants us to be his cossacks. We should always be on guard, always at war with our Arab neighbors, always suppressing them and making them hate us, so that he can live in his beloved Hebron. I won’t be the cossack of Rabbi Levinger!”
Rabbi Carlebach stopped the singing and, not looking directly at us, complained that the vibes weren’t good. Here was a holy congregation trying to reach the most awesome heights of heaven, and there were some in its midst pulling it down. It was mamish, really, a shame.
Ezrahi knew enough to contain his rage, and I knew enough to arrange another time, on another day, to tap it again.
The next week, in his office at the Hebrew University, Ezrahi and I met again, together with Yoram Ben-Porath, an economist. Like Ezrahi, Ben-Porath, forty-six, was born in Israel. Like Ezrahi he was married and had three children. And like Ezrahi he had been educated in the United States, was a professor at the Hebrew University, and was a member of Peace Now.
He spoke calmly, but it was clear that the topic was of no less urgency for him than it was for Ezrahi. For years BenPorath had devoted much of his time to the task of persuading his fellow Israelis to risk giving up the occupied territories—the West Bank and Gaza—for peace. And it was about that effort, and how important both he and Ezrahi felt it was, that we talked.
A large percentage of the Israeli population, perhaps 50 percent, according to Ben-Porath, would be willing to trade the territories for peace. “I cannot say that we are the spokesmen for these fifty percent, but it gives you an idea of the support that exists for our position. At the time of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres Peace Now’s general line attracted greater support. On the other hand, if we demonstrate in Hebron against the settlements, such people might criticize us, despite their sympathies for us, for going into an Arab city and demonstrating against Israeli policies in such a way. That is, they might criticize our tactics in one instance or another. I think we speak for approximately twenty-five to thirty percent of the Israeli people, and another twenty-five percent of the people might be sympathetic but partly critical—with the criticism that we divide the nation, that we help our enemy. There was always a risk that we could be seen as a leftist fringe group.”
Yaron Ezrahi laughed. “My diagnosis in the last few years has been that we don’t have a lunatic fringe but a lunatic center!”
What had turned Ben-Porath into a dove, he explained, was the 1967 war. “I realized then that for the first time we had options for peace. Until then it seemed that we were doomed to have peace or war depending on what the other side wanted—though, to be sure, now we know that there were a few openings during those years. But after the 1967 war there was a new reality, real choices. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it all depends on us. But at least we hold many of the cards. At least now we can think of the Palestinians as a separate issue—separate from the seven Arab countries that, we were always being told, wanted to wipe us out.
“Also, I began to think after the 1967 war of what 1 wanted to see in a Jewish state. And also I began to put myself in the Arabs’ shoes. This doesn’t mean that I agree with them, or see us the way they see us. But it does mean that I don’t want to deny them the kinds of rights and aspirations that I also consider to be my own.”
Ben-Porath was the first person I had encountered during my visit, either Israeli or Arab, who spoke about putting himself in the shoes of his opponent. “There are a few Israelis,” I said, “who, like you, can put themselves in the Arabs’shoes. But if you ask an Arab to do the opposite, the request seems to strike him as preposterous. Why do you think that capacity hasn’t developed among the Palestinians? For example, they insist that they can’t understand the Israelis’ fear of the Arabs’ intentions to wipe out Israel, because Israel is so strong, and therefore can’t understand why they should offer Israel recognition for the purpose of eradicating that fear.”
Ben-Porath smiled a historical smile. “The ability of nations in conflict to step into each other’s shoes is something new. Even in the French—German conflict I don’t think you could have found that—maybe you could have in an isolated case, in the case of an intellectual here or a writer there, but not in the general population. So this is really too big a step to ask from the Palestinians.
“I think that the culture of the Palestinian experience of 1948 makes them feel themselves to be our victims. And this makes them unable to feel our fears. Of course, we Jews come to this point in our history with as deep a feeling of victimization as they—probably deeper. And I think that what we see here, then, are two groups with long histories of victimization; and the result is that each side is unable to see the other’s experience of victimization, each side is unable to exaggerate the power or cruelty of the other side, and each side is too easily able to justify what it does to the other side on the grounds that it is a victim, it faces great danger, it has to do what is necessary, and anyone who complains about that is simply naive.
“I would say that eighty to ninety percent of the hawkish sentiments among Israelis are based not on aggressive designs, and not on biblical beliefs, but, rather, on the fear of what the Arabs might do. The typical question that goes through the mind of the Israeli is, What would the Arabs have done to us if they had been in our position—if they had won?’ And the typical, unanimous answer is, ‘They would have destroyed us.’ And this is the source of the fear. The Arab inability to understand this is the result of their own sense of victimization; I can’t see any other explanation for it. I don’t think that the Arabs understand the degree to which their image in the eyes of the Israelis has been colored by their acts of terrorism; but it’s precisely on those acts, on the murders of the kids in Maalot and of the people in Nahariya, that Israeli fears—and therefore Israeli hawkishness and Israeli inability to sympathize with Palestinian national aspirations—are based. I don’t think the Palestinians understand that. They see them only as excuses.”
Ezrahi took up the theme. “It’s precisely because there is no Arab counterpart to Peace Now that we were forced to take on their role. My main concern is, how am I going to shape the reality over which I have control? Take the issue of ‘Jewish exceptionalism’—the doctrine that Israel should subscribe to a higher morality than the one to which other countries subscribe. We can’t become just like any other country—like, say, the French.”
It isn’t just the Palestinians’ inability to put themselves in the shoes of Israelis that makes it difficult for them to engage Israel in negotiation, Ben-Porath observed; they’re also caught in their own web of constraints. What does the Palestinian charter say, they ask themselves, about this position or that? What does the latest resolution of the Palestine National Council say? Is it kosher to talk in this way or that about the Jews or Israel? What would the Palestinians outside the West Bank say? Their explanations, BenPorath added, seem so “Talmudic.”
But he said he understood to an extent why the West Bank Palestinians were so constrained by the PLO line. “The Palestinians feel that their only achievement is that they have gained a spokesman in the PLO, a representative, a government-in-exile. So there’s a high premium on being consistent with the outside. Besides, the PLO itself is a coalition of various opinions. So it’s not just a question of whether the PLO said something. It’s also a question of who in the PLO said it. People don’t want to take risks. Why say something that might be denounced?”
Peace Now advocates Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishment in those areas of a Palestinian state. I asked Ben-Porath and Ezrahi what they thought about the nightmare expressed to me by many Israelis, of the rise of an irredentist Palestinian state whose aim it would be to liberate the rest of Palestine, which is to say Israel itself.
“I assume,” Ben-Porath responded, “that the creation of a Palestinian state would occur under a tremendous asymmetry of power. Israel would be much stronger than it. Also, Palestinians themselves aren’t sure what form such a state would take, especially in this first stage. Who would run it? Jordan? The PLO? The extremists? The traditional West Bank forces? My assumption is that Israel would beso strong that either the knowledge of that strength would serve to dampen the possibilities of Arab violence or Israel would have to actually respond to the violence it it arose. I cannot see that the Palestinian state would be a real threat.”
For the first time in the conversation I felt that Ben-Porath was making the kind of self-assured assumption that no one could be sure of. After all, what if the nightmare of the Israelis really came to pass? What if, after a Palestinian state had been established, even one federated with Jordan, PLO fighters came in from their bases in the Arab world—fighters who, together with their families, had grown up in the venomous conditions of the refugeecamps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and had emerged from those camps with Kalashnikovs in their hands and the dream in their hearts of liberating all of pre-1948 Palestine? What if, after a few years of shaky statehood, after the infrastructure of the Palestinian state had been established, those fighters, who had grown up waiting to liberate Jaffa and Haifa because that was where their parents had been born, began to exert pressure on the government of their state to help them do the job? What if that government agreed? Or what if it didn’t, fearing Israeli retaliation, and the fighters decided to take matters into their own hands? What if such fedayeen began to cross the long border into Israel and to blow up schools and buses? What it Israeli retaliatory strikes did no good because the Palestinian state’s government simply couldn’t control the fedayeen—who were, after all, pursuing a goal that for two generations had been declared the most holy goal of all? What it the attacks continued and escalated? What if a hundred Israelis were killed every month? Three hundred? Five hundred?
What would Israel do at such a point? What could it do? Certainly it couldn’t do what it did in 1967; it couldn’t do what Ben-Porath somehow assumed it would be able to do. It couldn’t just say to the United States and the world: “Sorry. This is what we told you would happen it we gave up the West Bank. And now it’s happened; now you see the terrible consequences of your ill-considered advice. Now even you have to admit that the experiment has failed and that we have to act to protect ourselves. And now even you have to agree that all that’s left for us to do is to retake the West Bank and keep it forever.”It wouldn’t be able to say that, and wouldn’t be able to do that, because no one would let it. By that time, after all, the West Bank would no longer be a disputed territory, as it was in 1967. It would be a full-fledged state, a member of the UN. And these days a state, especially if it’s not a superpower, can’t just take over another state, certainly not in a permanent way. No country, not even the United States, would allow that. The option would simply be unavailable. And the Israeli nightmare would never end. Better, then, if you are an Israeli who believes that that nightmare can become reality, not to give it a chance to do so. Better to hold on to the West Bank.
What would you say, I asked Ben-Porath, if Israel gave up the West Bank, the nightmare turned into reality, and fellow Israelis came to you, a decade or two from now, and asked how you could have dared lead Israel to such a tragedy by advocating the very circumstances that made that tragedy happen? Would you just say that it was a noble experiment that had failed?
Ben-Porath smiled. “I would say then what I’m saving now. I’m saying now that the risks of staying on the course we are following are greater than the risks of allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state. I don’t want twenty years from now to see here a South Africa—a dual society in which different sets of norms exist for Jews and Arabs, and all for the great fun of visiting Shiloh and Hebron, and of speaking about the values that our forefathers bequeathed to us. And that’s the best scenario I can envision for the situation twenty years from now—a docile Arab population unequal in rights. But I can envision a worse scenario. I can envision a scenario in which there is terror, even under occupation. Riots. Killings every day. And then Israelis will say to each other, ‘Jews have to do this or that. It’s not pleasant, but the situation requires it. There have to be mass jailings. There have to be collective punishments. We don’t like it, but we have to do it.’ So here I am again, a grandfather, seeing my children and grandchildren becoming the keepers of the population of the West Bank. So within the set of possible scenarios, and the probabilities that you can attach to them. I’m saying that you have to make a choice; and returning the West Bank is my choice.
“Let me add something else. If Israel continues to hold on to the West Bank, it will be affected internally—it will become less democratic. And it will be less accepted, both by its own people and by others.”
As for the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, BenPorath told me that no more should be built and that the status of the ones that now exist should be negotiated in the process of establishing the Palestinian state. His own view was that whereas Jews should have the right to live anywhere in the world, particularly in the classical Land of Israel, he didn’t think it was good for them to live among Arabs. “I don’t think it’s useful, at least now. Maybe, after we live side by side for a while with the Arabs, it will become useful; but it isn’t now.”
Ezrahi broke in: “No one can say that Israelis have the right to settle in the West Bank and in the same breath say that the Palestinians don’t have the right to settle near Tel Aviv. And if anyone says that the Palestinians do have that right, then he’s saying that he is not averse to the notion of a binational state.”
What about the platform of the Tehiva Party—the platform described to me by Yisrael Medad—which would give Arabs in an annexed West Bank full political rights, including the right to vote, if they accepted Israel as a Jewish state and did national service?
“It seems to me,” Ben-Porath answered, “that such plans and offers are not really sincere. From talking to them—from having genuine discussions with them—my conclusion has been that what drives the Gush Emunim is religion, and that they produce these plans regarding the equality that the Arabs would have if they did national service and so on because they don’t believe that such a situation will come to pass and because it’s useful to say that for export—to answer those foreigners who come to complain about the problem of Arab rights. I don’t take those positions seriously. I don’t mean to say, by any means, that they are bad people. On the contrary, there are good guys among them, and I see the agony in them when they’re faced with the conflict between what they want to do with regard to the Arabs and the human values that they hold in general.”
Ezrahi returned to the theme that he had introduced during our dinner conversation in Modi’in the week before, but this time without the rage. “Some of those settlers, those religious mystics, sound so reasonable. But when you listen to them you realize that what they want to fight for is really an inconceivable religious utopia. When they realize that that’s the program they’re fighting for, they shift the ground of the discussion to another field— the field of survival. But that’s not really what they’re arguing for. They’re arguing for a program that’s inherently religious, a religious utopia. But the cost of that utopia is just unacceptable. The military costs alone to achieve that utopia for them would be just incredible.”
And, Ben-Porath added, that utopia probably could never even be realized. “The most likely outcome of this process will be something incomplete: there will be too many settlements to dismantle, but not enough, and not well enough developed, to constitute the religious utopia that the settlers are yearning for. It will be a permanent mess in which no one will be happy.”
But isn’t it possible that the mess has already been created? That the point of no return has already been reached?
“It’s possible,” Ben-Porath conceded, “or if not, then we’re probably not very far from it. I don’t feel that we’re already past the point of irreversibility, but I think we could be in several years. But even at that point the annexationists won’t have what they want—a Jewish West Bank. And yet it will be too late to reverse the process and give up the West Bank in exchange for peace.”
We had been talking about the settlers as if they were all members of the Gush Emunim, and I described the many I had met who were not religious at all. I described, for example, the taxi driver who had taken me one day to Shiloh. His parents had been killed during Arab riots in Hebron. He had moved, however, not to Hebron but to Ma’aleh Adumim, a bedroom suburb between Jerusalem and Jericho. He had moved there not because he felt it was a holy act to settle in the Land of Israel but because it was cheaper to live in Ma’aleh Adumim than in Jerusalem; he was able to sell his home in Jerusalem, buy a much larger one in Ma’aleh Adumim for much less money, and invest the difference. While I was examining the archaeological digs of the first capital of Israel, he was searching the area to find old-looking rocks that he could set in the garden of his new West Bank town house.
I also described Ya’akov Fitelson, the mayor of Ariel, an energetic Jewish emigre from the Soviet Union who had outlined, to me and other reporters from the United States, his optimistic plans for the town. He said that Ariel would first be a suburb of Tel Aviv, since it was just a few minutes’ driving time from that city. Then it would grow to become a Tel Aviv itselt, rivaling it in size and attracting to itself new high-technology industries. And then it would start to develop its own suburbs, stretching much of the way to Nablus.
Ben-Porath listened and nodded in sad agreement. “This is the Meron Benvenisti argument. If the West Bank settler population becomes large enough, because it attracts large numbers of such nonideological settlers—if it becomes an important part of Israeli life because, say, the only way you can get an apartment for your newly married children that you can afford is by getting one for them in Ariel—then the process of Jewish settlement in the West Bank will be truly irreversible.”
Ezrahi returned to the aspirations of the Gush Emunim and to the price that Israelis would have to pay in order to realize them. “I want to tell you about a relative of my wife’s from Kibbutz Ein Shemer. She lost her husband in the 1967 war, in the battle for Ammunition Hill. She raised her three children by herself. Two children are in the army. One of them served in Lebanon. Now, the 1967 war was a war of survival. We saw it as such; it was a war in which we could have been destroyed. I want one of those guys from Gush Emunim to sit in front of this woman and tell her that that war was a ness, a miracle (designed by God to deliver the West Bank into the hands of the Jews]—that war in which her husband was killed! And I want him to tell her that we’ll have another ness, another miracle, in which she’ll lose a child! And from ness to ness”—Ezrahi laughed bitterly—“we’ll get into a mess!”
“You know something?” he added angrily. “I don’t mind if these people live by their faith in their miracles so long as my blood isn’t the instrument by which they realize those miracles! That’s all! And it’s as raw and down-toearth as that. I have no tolerance for people whose miracles involve direct threats to the lives of people I know.” And here Ezrahi, slashing the air between us with his open hand, repeated what he had said to me at Modi’in the previous week: “I don’t want the people I love to become the cossacks of Rabbi Levinger! He will sit there on his hill with all of his fantasies, and thousands of our youth will die to realize them! This is some kind of pathology!”
Ben-Porath, seeing our conversation come to its end, turned once again to the question of the irreversibility of the Jewish settlement process in the West Bank. “I don’t think it’s too late,” he said, smiling. “I’m generally pessimistic, but there’s great intellectual arrogance in pessimism. My ability, and our collective ability, to predict the future is poor. And all the people who are saying with absolute assurance that the process of settlement in the West Bank is irreversible are committing the same act of intellectual arrogance. There are so many ways in which things can reverse themselves. History is erratic and unpredictable— it was in the past and continues to be. In fact, there’s reason here for optimism. After sixteen years of occupation half of the Israeli population is still against annexation! This is a tribute to the Jewish people and to their moderation. Where else in the world would a people behave in the same way? Where else in the world would a people with claims to a land, and with the belief that relinquishing that land would pose a mortal threat to their survival, nevertheless still consider relinquishing it?”
Ben-Porath was pleased with his rhetorical question. A Jew who found the policies of the Likud government and the Gush Emunim in violation of his concepts of traditional Jewish decency and justice, he was still able to find in the attitudes of most Israelis a vibrant representation of that Jewishness. He asked me to be sure to quote the question, and to note his pride in the conclusion about Israel that it implied.
AS l ENDED MY VISIT TO THE WEST BANK, 1 FOUND MYself on the edge of despair. So much ot what I had heard from Arabs seemed an echo of what I had heard from Jews. So much of the passion on both sides was the same, so much of the claim, so much of the appeal to justice and history, and so much of the distrust, that the entire matter seemed impossible to resolve.
And maybe it is impossible to resolve. After all. the settlers really do feel their claim deeply; and they really do believe that the Palestinians will never be satisfied until they have all of Israel, and many other Israelis agree with them.
And that belief, unfortunately, is not without foundation. The PLO fosters it by continuing to insist that it will “liquidate the Zionist entity politically, economically, militarily, culturally, and ideologically.” Moreover, its leaders and representatives have repeatedly made it plain that, should they ever have the opportunity to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, they would use it as a base from which to destroy Israel, For example, Farouk Kadoumi, the head of the PLO’s political department, told Newsweek: “There are two phases to our return. The first phase to the 1967 lines and the second to the 1948 lines.” Another PLO official, Rafik Natasha, observed: “We were not established in 1965 in order to liberate Hebron, Nablus, and Gaza, for these were already liberated, but, rather, we were established to liberate Jaffa, Haifa, Ramla, and the Negev.” George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told an Athens newspaper: “Yes, we will accept part of Palestine in the beginning, but under no circumstances will we agree to stop there. We will fight until we take every last corner of it.” Abu lyad, the founder of Black September, told an interviewer: “An independent state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is the beginning of the final solution. That solution is to establish a democratic state in the whole of Palestine.” And Al-Talak, a PLO organ in Syria, defined what U.S. recognition of the PLO would mean: “recognition of its rights to self-determination, beginning with an independent national state which, in the future, will demand . . . the return of Palestinian lands beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—in Galilee, the coastal area, and the Negev. It [would mean] a speedy effort to regain all our rights, not just some of them.”
For their part, the Palestinians feel their claim no less deeply and distrust Israeli intentions no less powerfully, their distrust fed by the repeated references they hear to the Land of Israel—a land whose classical borders, they know, extend beyond the Jordan—as well as by the fact that each Arab-Israeli war has brought more territory under Israeli control. Though some Arabs recognize that there are Israelis who would be willing to trade territory for peace, even they insist that that willingness has never been translated into government policy, and they see in the position of the current Israeli government a clear plan not only to annex the West Bank but even to expand the Jewish state further.
Yet as consuming and conflicting as these passions and suspicions are, and as far from resolution as they seem to be, changes have arisen during the past two years, both in Israel and among the Palestinian Arabs, that could well reduce the suspicions, and perhaps even render the conflict susceptible to some form of resolution.
Changes that have taken place within Israel could diminish support for the settlement process. The 1982 invasion of Lebanon spawned unrest of a sort that Israel had never before experienced. Soldiers refused to serve, and some were sent to prison. In addition, economic deterioration has shocked the population. And, too, strife among Jews has attained painful proportions—strife between the Sephardic Jews, mostly from Arab countries, now a majority of the Israeli population, and the Ashkenazic, or European, Jews, whom the Sephardim see as more privileged than they; and strife between the ultra-orthodox Jews, who wish to impose religious rules on national life, and their less religious countrymen, who resent such impositions by Jews who hardly recognize the existence of the state, or do not recognize it at all, and in any case refuse to contribute to the state through military service.
These developments, as well as others, have served to fray the Israeli national consensus, and have rendered the position of Israel less sure—no less powerful, but less sure. As the internal uncertainty has increased, so has disunity, and so has the pressure to focus resources, financial but especially moral, on the problems within.
The billions of dollars required to develop the infrastructure of West Bank Jewish settlements are seen by a growing number of Israelis as money unwisely spent— money that could be better spent on capital investments in Israeli industry, or on the needs of Sephardic communities that are still without adequate housing or education or roads. And perhaps most distressing of all to Israelis has been the growth of settler vigilante groups committed to carrying out violent reprisals against Arabs. The emergence of such elements among West Bank Jews, as atypical as they are, has disturbed many Israelis more than the Arab violence, and they have seen it as a sign of deterioration in the quality of Israeli society and morality.
But all these stirrings of doubt have not convinced the Israeli government, or the majority of the Israeli population, that the country’s position has weakened so much that it must reach a compromise on the West Bank at any price, including the price of unending terrorism and unending war. Still, recent public-opinion polls reveal that some Israelis have grown more wary than they once were of their country’s involvement in the West Bank, and more fearful of the cost to its national well-being of that involvement.
In my own conversations with Israelis, ranging from academics to businessmen to blue-collar workers, I found a remarkable reluctance even to discuss the problem—indeed, a remarkable and sometimes willful blindness to it. A professor at Pel Aviv University, for example, who travels frequently to Europe and the United States, and regularly among the cities of his own country, has never even visited the West Bank, except when driving along the new highway linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which cuts through a small portion of the territory. He understands the Jewish claim to the area, even endorses it as historically just, but wonders whether the risk of pursuing it might be too great—greater, perhaps, than the risk of not pursuing it. He is not a member of Peace Now; he simply finds the problem painful and prefers not to think about it.
Whether he and substantial numbers of other Israelis who feel as he does will soon decide that they have to think about it, and have to take a position on it, is still unclear. But the possibility that they will appears to be growing, And the awareness of that growing possibility may yet influence the Israeli government, despite the sentiments of the settlers, to consider with greater interest than it once would have any Palestinian overtures that may be made for an accommodation on the West Bank, especially overtures from the West Bank Palestinians themselves.
These changes within Israel, and the effects they may have on Israeli attitudes regarding the future of the West Bank, will not, of course, alter the views of the settlers themselves, particularly the Gush Emunim. But most Israelis might well come to feel that their government ought to reach an accommodation on the West Bank that would include the continued existence there of Jewish settlements but under altered circumstances—not the current circumstance, of Israeli military occupation, or the one desired by the settlers themselves, annexation.
For the Palestinian Arabs the tasks and prospects are different; but changes have occurred in their communities as well, and these may also increase the possibilities for an accommodation on the West Bank.
The Palestinian population can be considered to have been made up, since 1967, of two communities seeking a solution to their unresolved national condition. One of these communities consists of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza, which is to say in Palestine itself, or, to be precise, in the part of the Palestine Mandate that came to be called Palestine after Transjordan was severed from it; they are now under the control of Israel and number some 1.3 million. The other community consists of Palestinians who live outside of Palestine, in the surrounding Arab states; they number some 2 million.
Until now the Palestinian community outside of Palestine has been the one that has been active politically and militarily. That community has produced the PLO, established itself as an international force, and mobilized an array of allies for the purpose of battling Israel and liberating its homeland. By contrast, the Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza, dominated by Israel, has been politically subdued; but it has consistently and overwhelmingly given the other community its moral support and blessing, as well as its proxy for action, by recognizing the PLO as its representative.
The trouble has been that in doing so—in unquestioningly backing an organization and a community whose goals are probably not attainable—the Palestinians living in the West Bank have made it impossible for themselves to pursue their own goals, which are more restricted and more attainable. For the goals of the two Palestinian communities, though they overlap, are in important ways quite different; and the difference has to do with the different geographic histories that those two communities have experienced.
The Palestinians living outside of Palestine are, in the main, the Palestinians or the descendants of the Palestinians who lost their homes and properly when Israel was first created. It is they who became, and in large measure remained and were encouraged to remain, refugees in the surrounding Arab states. And it is they, therefore, who for nearly four decades have been nurtured on the dream of returning to their homes and property in what is now Israel, and who created the PLO to engineer that return, retake their original homes and property, and achieve a state in all of Palestine, including the part in which they or their parents once lived. For that Palestinian community the goal remains essentially the same; it has never been changed, at least not formally. To change it would be to abandon the dream that has fired the hopes and imaginations of the community and that has served as the basis for all of its political, social, and cultural organizations; to abandon it would be to abandon the cohesion and life ot the community itself.
The great bulk of the Palestinians in the West Bank, however, were born there and are the children ot Palestinians who were born there; neither they nor their parents ever lived in what is now Israel. Though some—such as the former acting mayor of Hebron, Mustafa Natshe— owned property in the area of Palestine that became Israel, most did not. For these Palestinians, an accommodation with Israel that resulted in an independent territory—either a full-fledged West Bank Palestinian state that includes Gaza, or a West Bank—Gaza entity federated with another state, perhaps Jordan—would provide, finally, political control over their own land, something they had not been allowed by Arabs from 1948 to 1967 and have not been allowed by Israel since then. But such an accommodation would inevitably require the abandonment of all claims to political rights in the part of Palestine that is now Israel—that is, Israel within its pre-1967 borders; and such an abandonment would represent a betrayal of the interests of the other Palestinian community, the one outside Palestine. To be sure, not a complete betrayal: property rights could be recognized through the arrangement of compensation for property lost, and even through permission given to refugees to live in Israel, as part of an overall settlement. But political rights would be abandoned—an abandonment that would betray the dream of the return.
But that dream in its fullness is, under the present and foreseeable political and military circumstances, simply unattainable, whereas the modified dream, the establishment of an independent or federated Palestinian West Bank, is still attainable, though, given the rapid growth of the Jewish settlements, not for long. It is therefore in the interests of the West Bank Palestinians to attempt to realize that modified dream as soon as possible; and insofar as that realization would yield at least some benefits to the refugees in the Palestinian community outside Palestine— perhaps compensation for lost property as well as the right to live at least in the West Bank and possibly near their original homes in Israel—it would be in the interests of that community as well.
Is it likely that the West Bank Palestinians would be willing, after all these years of resistance, to make that attempt—to seize the moment of opportunity that is now available to them, to depart from the PLO line, and to declare themselves ready to recognize and negotiate with Israel? It may not be likely, but it is, finally, possible. And the birth of that possibility can be traced to one development that, more than any other during the past decade, has shaken the foundations and the confidence of the Palestinian cause—the split in the PLO.
That split first came into the open in May of 1983, as a result of the willingness of Yasser Arafat to consider allowing King Hussein to negotiate with Israel on the Reagan plan, which called for a West Bank-Jordan federation but not for an independent Palestinian state. The split subsequently deepened, with the Syrian-backed hard-liners, who rejected what they saw as Arafat’s moderation, driving Arafat and his followers out of Lebanon. Because of that split, the requirement that West Bank Palestinians maintain unity behind the PLO position lost much of its logic, given the lack of unity within the PLO itself; as the split grew, so did the possibilities for expressing independent West Bank Palestinian views.
An early expression of such views took place in December of 1983, when a bomb planted in a Jerusalem bus killed six Israelis and wounded forty-five. Immediately after the blast, both factions of the PLO—Arafat’s, which was still besieged in Tripoli, and Abu Musa’s, which was doing the besieging—claimed responsibility for it. Within a few days five prominent West Bank Palestinian leaders issued a statement deploring the act. One of those leaders was Mustafa Natshe, the dismissed acting mayor of Hebron, whom I had interviewed; until then Natshe would never have questioned a PLO-endorsed act, at least not publicly. Another signer of the statement was Paul Ajlounv, the publisher of Al-Fajr, an East Jerusalem Palestinian newspaper that has been adamant about the need for Palestinian unity.
If such West Bank Palestinians would be willing not only to disagree with the PLO publicly but also to offer to negotiate with Israel in the name of the Palestinians as a whole as well as in their own names, then very significant progress could well be made toward an Arab-Israeli accommodation. The first step in that process would have to be a declaration on the part of those Palestinians that they were willing to accept Israel within its pre-1967 borders, and that they recognized that some of those borders would have to be revised to satisfy Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
If West Bank Palestinian leaders were to take that step, this could well provoke a very substantial upheaval within Israeli society. Those Israelis who have favored the retention of the West Bank on the grounds of security would suddenly have reason to feel a little less insecure. Not that their insecurity would disappear altogether. Many would continue to worry that the West Bank Palestinians recognition of Israel was just, as Karim had told me, a negotiating tactic to achieve a West Bank state as a springboard tor the liberation of the rest of Palestine. But such recognition would, after all, constitute the most significant change in the Palestinian position in decades, and would be seen by large numbers of Israelis as significant enough to make the risks posed by an accommodation on the West Bank worthwhile.
The precise details of the settlement that might be forged in negotiations between West Bank Palestinians willing to speak for themselves and an Israeli government willing to risk its future security are hard to predict. But it might well be possible to construct an arrangement in which the West Bank Palestinians, in association with the Palestinians living in Gaza, would have not only civil but also political independence; in which the rights of those Jews who still wished to live in most of the West Bank could be preserved; in which the right of Palestinian refugees from the surrounding states to live in the West Bank and Gaza could be guaranteed; and in which compensation to Palestinians who lost property in Israel in 1948 could be made, along with compensation to Jews who lost property in Arab countries when they fled or were expelled at around the same time.
But if West Bank Palestinians do not rise to the occasion of possible compromise provided by the nexus of changes now taking place in Israel and in the Palestinian communities, then the status quo is likely to continue. Even if the relatively moderate wing of the PLO gains diplomatic strength, it will probably be unable to find a negotiating partner in Israel—even through the mediation of Jordan’s King Hussein, who was in any case despised and distrusted by nearly every Palestinian I interviewed—unless it formally abandons the only position that has given even the moderates any degree of unity, namely the refusal to give up its claim on the part of Palestine that has become Israel. The growth and proliferation of the Jewish settlements will proceed, and within a few years the West Bank will have a population of at least a hundred thousand Jews. By that time it will be impossible to disentangle the two peoples or their fates. The West Bank will be fully a part of Israel, not only demographically but also economically and socially, and the only possible arrangement that would allow any measure of autonomy for the West Bank Palestinians would be one in which they would have the right to control their own civil affairs and to exercise their political rights by voting in the state across the Jordan River.
Whether that state would remain the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is unclear. About 65 percent of its population is from western Palestine, with only a minority having been born to families who have lived in eastern Palestine for generations. One notable constituent of the population that is from neither western Palestine nor eastern Palestine is made up of descendants of Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia—a group that includes Abdullah’s grandson, King Hussein— as well as descendants of the soldiers that Abdullah brought with him to take over the land. Altogether they make up a very small percentage of the Jordanian population. Given these demographic realities as well as the continued frustration of Palestinian national aspirations, it seems not unlikely that some attempt might be made by Jordan’s western-Palestinian majority to gain control of that country.
If they do make that attempt, they will probably be aided by their fellow Palestinians in the surrounding Arab states and, more important, by Syria, which has long wished to rid the area of King Hussein, who has been the main rival to its president, Hafez al-Assad, for the role of chief Arab spokesman ever since Anwar Sadat gave up that role by making peace with Israel. This is, as it happens, a role Assad has long sought, partly for the purpose of heightening national prestige and partly for the purpose of focusing the international spotlight on Syria’s own goals, which include having a controlling voice in the affairs of Lebanon and the restoration of the Golan Heights—captured in 1967 and later annexed by Israel—to Syrian sovereignty. It therefore seems likely that Syria would welcome the installation of a Palestinian government on the East Bank, and might well facilitate that end militarily.
For the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, the failure to reach an early accommodation with Israel would be serious; it would foreclose, probably forever, the creation of a full-fledged state in which they would have complete political sovereignty. Still, even after such a failure it might be possible for those Palestinians to achieve, as a result of a second-stage accommodation with Israel, a modified form of political independence that would provide many, though not all, of the advantages of full sovereignty.
But such a second-stage accommodation could be achieved only if a Palestinian state did come to be established on the East Bank in place of, or through the transformation of, Jordan—a state that could prove itself able to control the forces within it that would be aimed at liberating the part of Palestine to the west of the river, but that would provide Palestinians with a homeland in which they could experience full political rights and sovereignty. Such a state would be one with which Israel could enter into negotiations, one of the results of which could well be a condominium of the West Bank, with Jews and Arabs sharing the territory, by now no longer divisible, and with its two populations turning toward their respective mother states for the exercise of their political rights. Certainly this would be a unique arrangement, but it seems logical, and even attainable.
No solution for the West Bank, or indeed for the ArabIsraeli problem as a whole, can come without pain and compromise—compromise not only on territory, historical claims, and political rights but also on long-held dreams. Perhaps, given how intensely held those dreams are, those compromises will simply not be made. If they are not, the area will continue to be one of the many places in the world in which the dreams of one group are enveloped by the fears of another, and in which injustice is mingled with justice in ways that are impossible to disentangle. We rarely pay attention to other such areas, because it’s easy not to: the 20 million Kurds, the world has decided, are forgettable, and so, unfortunately for them, is their struggle for an independent Kurdish state. But the Israelis and the Palestinians are not forgettable, the alliances that rotate about them are powerful, and their competing claims stare us in the face with the threat of ultimate horror.
In the short run, the chance for accommodation rests primarily in the hands of the Palestinians in the West Bank. Their choice will affect not only them and their children but also the dreams and the future of all Arabs, all Jews, and perhaps all mankind.