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The state of Israel’s lopsided history

As an Israeli citizen, I would like to chime into this ongoing — is it a conversation or a battle? — about Israel and the Palestinians. I recently relocated to the peaceful hills of western Massachusetts after having lived in Jerusalem for nearly 30 years.

The use of statements such as “Israel is the original terrorist” brings many people to their feet, angry fists raised and ears firmly shut. Perhaps that is why the editor chose that sentence as a title of the Nov. 29, 2012 “My Turn.”

And it is also a reflexive response of those who want to defend Israel against such charges to recite the official Israeli narrative about the Jewish state’s early history. Much of it is true: The Jews were coming from the Holocaust in Europe, bought land in Palestine, worked to develop agriculture and industry, academic excellence and artistic achievement. Believe me, I know the drill; I worked as a tourist guide for more than 25 years.

But, the official records of Israel’s early modern history were opened up recently. They show that from the very beginning of its modern history, Israel set as its official (if secret) policy to take as much of the land — by whatever means necessary — for the use of the Jewish people alone. Read the minutes of these government meetings yourself and see that Israel’s founders said very plainly that they would kill and displace Arabs wherever necessary. Massacres were deliberately perpetrated against entire populations of Arab villages by the Israeli military forces.

Every Israeli schoolchild is taught from birth that our army is the “most moral in the world” and that Arabs fled their villages in fear, etc. These and other standard myths soothe our consciences. We did not even have to wait for the official records to be revealed; this lopsided history was quite conspicuous to anyone who cared too look. Most Israelis refuse to look. It’s too painful, too shameful and too threatening to look.

When defenders of Israel repeat the claim that Arabs in Israel “have a higher standard of living than elsewhere in the Middle East,” I wonder if they have ever spent any time with a Palestinian family. Do they know that Palestinian citizens of Israel pay taxes and get no municipal services, for instance, in Jerusalem? Israeli leaders love to call Jerusalem the “united capital of Israel.” There has rarely been a less united city anywhere on earth. Several hundred yards from lovely Israeli apartment complexes of French Hill (built on Palestinian private land) are the slums of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. These hovels have been inhabited by Palestinian families who were pushed out of their original homes to make room for the Jewish city of Netanya. Two years ago, they were forced out of their crowded, cinder-block houses at gun point by Israeli police. I know; I was there. Together with their children, they sat on the road in front of their home as Jewish settlers moved in and, obscenely, put a gigantic menorah on the roof, just in case there was any doubt about who lived there.

All of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed in this way as are many other places in “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Muslims do not hate Jews as a matter of course. Or at least didn’t up until the early 20th century when the political movement called Zionism was born. Jews and Muslims and Christians lived together in Palestine. They shared houses, attended each other’s weddings, nursed each other’s children, ate and farmed together. It was a diverse society — and not an “empty land” — as the Israeli official narrative claims. What threatened the Arabs was the prospect of a new, political entity called the “State of Israel,” a Zionist government, which would have exclusive control over their lives and lands. They knew very well about the land grabs; they were living them. When more extremist Palestinians speak of “wiping Israel off the map,” it should be understood in this context rather than in the well-nurtured Israeli fear and hatred of Arabs.

We Jews feel very protective of Israel. Those who defend her policies of occupation and settlement in the West Bank, however, are killing her with good intentions.

It is the loss of our own values, given to us by the Prophets, which is destroying the modern State of Israel from within, not the Palestinians. There is no justice, no honesty, and no mercy for the “stranger” (the non-Jews who were actually in Israel/Palestine before 1948.) The “we will survive no matter what we have to do” school of thought rules now. The end will justify the means. The Prophets would never recognize this perversion of our ethical values as Judaism.

Yael Petretti lives in Southampton

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