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America Is Smashing Statues and Falsehoods. Will Israel Someday Also Confront Its Past?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Itzhak Sadeh and Yigal Allon in 1948.
Itzhak Sadeh and Yigal Allon in 1948.Credit: Teqoah
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

America is now smashing its statues and its falsehoods; myth after myth is being debunked. The statue of Theodore Roosevelt, flanked by an African American and Native American, is going to be removed from the entrance to the Museum of Natural History in New York. They’ve already written “killer scum” on the pedestal of the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington. Jackson expelled tens of thousands of Native Americans from their lands, and now it’s time for an accounting. A movement that’s gaining strength is seeking to shatter the reputations of American heroes who were involved in slavery, racism, oppression and expulsions. When will this happen here?

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Israel is the land of memorials. There are more memorials in Israel in relation to the population than in any other country; a memorial for every eight fallen in battle, on average. In Europe there’s a memorial for every 10,000 fallen.

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Nevertheless, one can hope that someday Israel will confront its past and find those who will dare to take down both the signs and heroes. One could perhaps start with educational institutions. There are two, for example that bear the name of an eccentric officer with sadistic tendences, who would smear the faces of Arabs with oil and mud, after which his deputy would line them up against the wall and execute one out of 15. Orde Wingate, “The Friend,” is memorialized by an institute for physical education and a youth village that bear his name, as well as by a spring, a forest, and a dozen streets and squares. Why does a school have to be named for someone who whipped Arabs on the back? Wingate’s moment of truth has yet to come.

The moment of truth for Yigal Allon, the great ethnic cleanser of 1948, is even further away. Allon was and remained the childhood hero for whom many wax nostalgic; schools, streets and highways bear the name of the charismatic general and statesman, and his acts of mass expulsion have never been held against him. It’s the same for all the heroes of 1948, some of whom were involved in war crimes but whose reputations were never sullied.

Rehavam Ze’evi’s reputation, on the other hand, has been quite tarnished and deservedly so, yet no one has dared lift a finger to put a stop to all the commemorations of him – bridges, highways, promenades, streets, squares, settlements and even an annual race. His name should have been blotted out long ago, but there’s no protest movement to lead this effort.

Memorial plaques are seen at Canada Park, July 7, 2013.Credit: Yossi Zamir / KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Baram Forest, which masks the shameful expulsion of Bir’am’s residents; Canada Park, which covers up the depopulation of three villages in the 1967 war; and the Ambassadors’ Forest, which hides the expulsion at Al-Araqib, all obscure the truth, perpetuate the lie and no one is willing to rip down the veil. The land is strewn with destroyed villages that have been covered with national parks and communities. Will anyone ever get up the courage to even memorialize them, as they deserve? The Zochrot organization tried to do this, to no avail. Israel remains afraid and hostile to the idea.

Perhaps the time has also come to erase what’s written on the roaring lion statue at Tel Hai. Enough with “It’s good to die.” Are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan indeed deserving of commemoration and honor? Are the terrorists whose names grace the streets of Ramat Aviv Gimmel in Tel Aviv deserving of this? Shlomo Ben Yosef threw a grenade at a bus full of passengers; Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Beit-Zuri murdered Lord Moyne. Streets should be named after them?

Is occupation worthy of immortalization? There’s still a kibbutz and a street name that glorify it. Ramat Hakovesh may commemorate the conquest of the labor movement, but dispossessing Palestinians of their livelihood doesn’t deserve to be honored, either.

America seems to have found the way to a solution.

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