Text size

Simon Rawidowicz was a Polish-born scholar who studied in Berlin, and lived in London during World War II. After the war he moved to the United States, and, during his final years, he taught as a professor of Jewish studies at Brandeis University. He died in 1957. Those who cherish his memory say he was one of the most important Hebrew writers of the 20th century, and they believe his name has been forgotten because he believed in the future of Jewish life all over the world, alongside the central place of the State of Israel. He developed this belief in his book "Babylon and Jerusalem," which he wrote in Hebrew in the mid-1950s. The book aroused the scorn of the Zionist establishment, mainly in Israel, which at the time still championed "the negation of the Diaspora."

Recently, an entire chapter that Rawidowicz had omitted from the book - "Between Jew and Arab" - was found. It calls on the State of Israel to permit the return of the Palestinian refugees. Alongside political and ethical reasons, this demand reflected Rawidowicz's belief in the rights of national minorities: Jews among the nations of the world, Arabs in the Jewish state.

The document itself is of little importance. The sudden interest in the book arose because of the fact that historian David N. Myers, of the University of California at Los Angeles, decided to rescue the shelved chapter, and the respected Brandeis University publishing house decided to devote an entire book to it: "Between Jew and Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz."

The academic initiative is ostensibly not divorced from the political debate about the future of relations between Israel and the Palestinians, including the "right of return" of the refugees and their descendants. An increasing number of American intellectuals have in recent years been taking an interest in the idea of "binational" existence, in other words, in the State of Israel as a state of "all its citizens," an alternative to the "Jewish and democratic" state.

Despite the esoteric nature of both Rawidowicz and his shelved proposal, they still manage to fire the imagination with the thought of how history would have changed, how the State of Israel would have looked and how the entire Middle East would have looked had Israel permitted the refugees' return. It is a thought that is relevant this week as well.

Several days before the Gaza operation began, in a limbo between war and peace, Nahar Books released the Hebrew translation of a smook booklet by Leo Tolstoy containing an article decrying patriotism. Tolstoy believed that it was an unjust and unethical sentiment. "It is dreadful to say so, but there is not, nor has there been, any conjoint violence of one people against another which was not accomplished in the name of patriotism." These words were written in 1894. Tolstoy also wrote that, "The government assures the people that they are in danger from the invasion of another nation, or from foes in their midst, and that the only way to escape this danger is by the slavish obedience of the people to their government. In this condition [the government] compels [the people] to attack some other nation. And thus the assurance of the government is corroborated in the eyes of the people, as to the danger of attack from other nations..."

Tolstoy claims that the old and familiar story will begin again, the terrible routine of activities will repeat themselves. Newspaper editors will be pleased with the increase in revenues and will begin to use venomous incitement in order to arouse hatred and murder lust among the masses, all in the name of patriotism. Against people whom they have never seen, who have caused them no harm and who were unable to cause them any harm.

And, he continues, when the number of ill, wounded and dead is so great that there are no longer enough hands to gather the corpses, and when the air is tainted with the stench of "cannon fodder" so the situation becomes unbearable - even for the movers and shakers - a cease-fire will be declared. And then those who profit will once again declare confidently that the war in itself affords proof of the need for wars, and they will once again prepare the future generations for it.

Tolstoy's conclusion: "Patriotism today is the cruel tradition of an outlived period, which exists not merely by its inertia, but because the governments and ruling classes, aware that not their power only, but their very existence, depends upon it, persistently excite and maintain it among the people, both by cunning and violence."

It is hard to know at this stage whether the editors of Israeli newspapers are pleased with their increased sales. But we can already say that there has never been a war conducted here under such a heavy cloud of secrecy, without almost any press coverage. The lack of information about the terrible conditions of Gazans is blatant. Amnesty International and several other human rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), are offering ongoing information about what is happening in Gaza on a special Web site: http://www.acri.org.il/camp/clips/index.html.