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The Promised Land Of Paradox

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Shavit writes rapturously about Ein Harod. “It is imprinted on every Israeli’s psyche. In a sense it is our Source, our point of departure.” The pioneers of Ein Harod became, in the words of a visiting Zionist luminary, “the heroes of the new generation…. You are taking us back to the source.” But there was a moral cost to be exacted: “The Arabs of the Harod Valley,” writes Shavit, “stand in the way of the Jewish liberation movement that needs to remove them from this valley.” Eventually the fire of Jewish independence “will blaze out of control. It will burn the valley’s Palestinians and it will consume itself, too.”

Shavit’s euphoria over kibbutzim becomes a cry of lamentation once the struggle for independence engages the armies of five Arab nations and marauding local Arabs attempting to annihilate the nascent Zionist state and its Jewish inhabitants. The miracle of Jewish statehood, he writes, is based on “denial”: “The nation I am born into has erased Palestine from the face of the earth.” As his chapter on the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from Lydda in 1948 (previously excerpted in The New Yorker) is intended to demonstrate, Israel’s “unhealed wound” of moral corrosion began at the very moment of its birth.

Villages were destroyed, land was confiscated, Arabs fled from their homes to become displaced refugees beyond the borders of the fledgling Jewish state. But, as Shavit writes, “There is no time and no place for guilt or compassion.” Israel, after all, would absorb more refugees from Arab states than the number of Palestinians it expelled, while “the vast Arab nation doesn’t lift a finger to help its Palestinian brothers and sisters.”

Once Shavit’s focus shifts to the new wave of Zionist settlers after 1967 his moral indignation boils over. “For upper-middle-class secular Ashkenazi Israelis like me, peace was not only a political idea…. Peace was our religion.” But Jewish settlements were “a calamity in the making.” The Left, his Left, “realized that occupation was a moral, demographic, and political disaster.” Precisely why the return of Jews to their biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria was a moral calamity, rather than an extension of the earlier kibbutz imperative to settle the land of Israel, he does not say.

Shavit’s demographic argument is equally fallacious: the ratio of Jewish settlers to West Bank Palestinians (now 1:4) is considerably higher than the ratio of Zionists to Palestinians during the golden era of Ein Harod in the 1920s. Politically, the Jewish state is lacerated internationally for its settlements. But one way or another, long before 1967, European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims had found ways to humiliate, persecute, and eventually exterminate Jews. The current international delegitimization of Israel for its settlements updates millennia of anti-Semitism.

As Ein Harod was Shavit’s model of Zionist morality, and Lydda became its shameful price for statehood, Ofra – the first religious Zionist community established in Samaria after the Yom Kippur War – epitomizes the “futile, anachronistic, colonialist” disaster of settlement. Shavit cannot contain his rage and rhetoric. Gush Emunim settlers “challenged secular Zionism and democratic Israel and demanded to establish in Samaria its own Ein Harod.” But “settling occupied territory was illegal and immoral and irrational,” he writes – at least when done by religious nationalists. So the return of Jews to Judea and Samaria became “the foundation of the last colonial project of the twentieth century.”

Ofra ”taints” Israel – and taunts Shavit – with its emulation of Ein Harod, the pride and joy of socialist Zionism. As in Ein Harod, Ofra founders understood, but disregarded, “the inherent contradiction” between their settlement and the surrounding Palestinian population. “We did what our forefathers did in…Ein Harod,” an Ofra founder reminds Shavit: “We followed Labor’s ethos and used Labor’s methods.” Ofra, Shavit concedes, “is Ein Harod’s grandchild” – but also “a grotesque reincarnation of it.”

About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.


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