Peace and Pessimism in the Promised Land

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Jo-Ann Mort in Dissent:

The most excruciating and important chapter in the book, recently excerpted in the New Yorker, is on Lydda. With new research and reporting, Shavit brings light to the “black box” of Israel’s creation, examining the 1948 campaign to expel Arabs from Lydda (now Lod). The story is almost never told, exemplifying the myth that many Jews grew up with—that Israel was “a land without people for a people without a land.” Today, Lod is a profoundly dysfunctional city ridden with crime and drugs, especially in its poor Arab neighborhoods.

Confronting both the past and the present of the Arab population inside Israel (the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian, Bedouin, Circassian, or Druze origin and live within the “Green Line,” acknowledged internationally as Israel’s border) is one of the major issues facing the contemporary state. And today, a sea change regarding their treatment is underway. Instead of approaching Arab Israelis as a security risk, the government spends billions of shekels on education and employment in order to raise living standards and better integrate the Arab minority into the workforce. But ultimately, the only way to address underlying historical grievances is to find a solution to the occupation on the other side of the 1949 armistice line.

Shavit humanizes the major historical campaigns for peace with well-crafted reporting on key players, along with a short history of the dispute between the Zionist movement and Palestinians. He rightly says that “the real, mainstream Zionist peace movement was born only after the wars of 1967 and 1973”—as was the ideological and fervid movement to further colonize the West Bank and, until 2005, Gaza. Shavit interviews and profiles leaders of the peace camp like former Meretz leader and education minister Yossi Sarid and former justice minister Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo Accords. In all of these interviews, Shavit searches for explanations for why the peace camp failed. He tells Sarid that the doves were “always against. . . . There was not enough love, not enough compassion. And there was too much judgment.” He castigates Sarid at length for not considering the deep animosity that Palestinians felt (and still feel, according to Shavit) toward Israel as a result of the state’s creation:

You were blind to the chilling consequences of Zionism and the partial dispossession of another people that is at the core of the Zionist enterprise. You also failed to realize the gravity of the religious conflict and identity clash between the Western Jewish democratic Israel and the Arab world. You didn’t take into consideration the fact that given our history and our geography, peace is hardly likely.

Yet when he argues with Sarid, he is arguing with himself. “The peace story is also my story.” When Shavit was active in Peace Now in high school and as a student at Hebrew University, the peace for which he yearned was “bogged down by a systematic denial of the brutal reality we live in.” He later came to the conclusion that the Zionist left made a mistake to promise peace, rather than just to end the occupation.

More here.

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