Sixty Years Old, Through Arab Eyes

"The Zionist writers' admissions of crimes committed against the Palestinians always come too late, as though they were intended, at best, to atone for the sin. However, in fact these are nothing but masks to hide the generation's crimes."

This is how author Yusuf Damara, a Palestinian writer who lives in Jordan, settled his historical account with Israeli writers in a piece published last week in the literary section of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

A week earlier, Palestinian journalist Salah al-Na'imi analyzed the essence of Israel after 60 years. The work was published in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat and on important Web sites like Islam on Line, which has tens of thousands of hits a day. A similar campaign was also started this year by the important Syrian commentator Subhi Hadidi, who ran an article entitled "Israel in its 60th year - changing positions among the rabbis, the generals and the secular," in January.

These three writers are not only very familiar with the names of Israeli politicians, writers and journalists, whose views they quote in a way nearly unparalleled by Israeli commentators, they are also exceptional in that they make an effort to "read" Israel, and not just Israelis. They are not always successful, and they usually have the standard agendas, but they seek to do so in a manner that is different from the abundant, run-of-the-mill writing. This writing deals mainly with the 60 years since the Nakba (the Palestinian "catastrophe" of 1948 - the founding of the State of Israel), Israel's crimes against the Palestinians and even a report on the 60th anniversary celebrations.

Damara's settling of accounts with Israeli writers is aimed mainly at the leftists. He is very familiar with S. Yizhar's "Khirbet Khizeh," Amos Kenan's "The Road to Ein Harod" and Haim Gouri's new poetry, and he quotes from them.

"These writers who declare their affiliation with the left and announce they are joining the Israeli peace movements are at the same time calling for a solution to the refugee problem from a Zionist perspective that gives equal status to the victim and the hangman. They want to preserve the independence of the Hebrew state in its purity - meaning its racism. They turn their backs on the right of return, as this is expressed in the Geneva accords that were signed by, among others, Amos Oz," writes Damara.

Damara accuses S. Yizhar of having written the "statement of remorse" that is "Khirbet Khizeh" only after many years: "He did not sense the crime until many years had gone by." Haim Gouri, in his poems about the Palestinian refugees, "describes a scene that every Jew can read about the Auschwitz Concentration Camp - but his admissions do not change one whit the fact that Gouri and his like wreaked havoc among the Palestinians and expelled an entire people from its lands and birthplace," Damara says.

But if in his opinion the Israeli writers' guilt needs no proof, and their literary masks cannot cover the nakedness of their deeds and their "dream that has come true" of a state, an even graver crime is being committed by the Palestinians and the Arabs when they take these writers to heart at a time "when it will be impossible to wipe the blood from the hands that are now holding the pens, and that have spilled Palestinian blood."

If this is Damara's account with the past, Subhi Hadidi has an account to settle with Israel's present. To build his thesis about the status of the state, he uses the distinction made by Jewish philosopher George Steiner, who Hadidi says explained very well why Israel is refraining from inviting the world to celebrate along with it.

"Israel knows very well what the world did when the Jews were deported to the maw of death in the first decades of the 20th century, in the streets of Vienna and in the alleys of the Baltic countries and in Saloniki - the Jew, in Steiner's definition, will never be able (note the emphasis: never) to torture human beings, to bury the living and to prohibit the publication of books. Steiner says there is a profound moral heritage that will prevent the Jew from committing those three acts."

After citing Steiner and his own mistaken belief that Israel is not inviting the world to join in its celebrations, Hadidi states that Israel is behaving in exactly the opposite manner: "Israel has tortured and buried the Palestinians alive, and has prevented the publication of books ... Israel has changed from a wonder whose aim was to preserve the essence of Judaism into a state that lives by the sword alone."

Hadidi details one by one Israel's crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanon, while quoting at length an article written by Haaretz correspondent Nadav Shragai in 1997, on a conversation between Uzi Narkiss and Rabbi Shlomo Goren. In the conversation, Goren proposed to Narkiss that the mosques on the Temple Mount should be blown up. Hadidi, who has been following Israeli writing for years, also quotes Ilan Pappe, "one of the fairest, most courageous and best Israeli historians, who admits that today one can regret the past."

Observe, proposes Hadidi, the disciples of Avraham Yitzhak Kook as well, who are scornful not only of the Arabs "who are occupying the promised land ... They are equally scornful of those pork-eating secular Zionists, who replace the world of the Torah with a liberal socialist tune."

Hadidi continues: "By means of Zvi Yehuda Kook, the son of Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the abyss between the prophets of God and the prophets of the kibbutzim was bridged and everyone agreed on the principle of the establishment of a state for the Jews as a cornerstone of the kingdom of God on earth."

And if in Israel's fifth decade, it was only Rabbi Kook's disciples who opposed the Partition Plan and saw the greater land of Israel as the promised land, now in the sixth decade along comes a well-known leftist, "a person who was the minister of education in Ehud Barak's party and the hero who deposed of Shulamit Aloni (he is referring to Yossi Sarid - Z.B.), and this is what he says about the siege of Gaza. In an article in Haaretz, he writes, 'The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are natural experts at presenting the extent of their suffering; ever since the Palestinians staged the murder of Muhammad al-Dura in the arms of his father, Palestinian propaganda has not enjoyed such a huge success; Gaza is the most excellent place to implement punitive actions - they will neither add nor detract there, but they will show us as stronger and tougher.'"

But here Hadidi mades a serious mistake in his analysis: He simply did not understand the caustic sarcasm in Sarid's piece. Unlike Damara, who attacks the Israeli writers who claim their hands are clean, Hadidi does an incomplete job and fails at it utterly. His thesis' proofs are flimsy or mistaken, but his basic diagnosis is not far from the truth. At the same time, it can be asked which Israeli politicians or commentators can cite, like Hadidi, and even if mistakenly, Arab public figures, and conduct a dialogue with them from afar like the one Hadidi is conducting with Israeli intellectuals.

An then comes Salah al-Na'imi, the Palestinian from Gaza who presents his many readers with a thesis under the heading, "After 60 years, Ben-Gurion's vision of a melting pot has been lost."

"At the end of 60 years it emerges that the melting pot project has failed disgracefully. Israeli society has fallen prey to ethnic polarization, cultural struggle and splits that are exacerbated by the conflict over the relations between religion and state. Israeli society no longer reflects a single national identity, but rather a collection of competing ethnic identities and cultures."

Na'imi does not draw his conclusions only from the Israeli press, but also cites researchers like Muli Peleg and Yehouda Shenhav. He is deeply familiar with their areas of research, and states inter alia - on the basis of Esther Meir's research, for example - that Israel has become a tribal society, and is based more on personal interest than the collective.

"The only thing preserving the unity of Israeli society is fear, which the Israeli leaderships continue to sow successfully in the souls of the Jews," he writes.

Na'imi's analysis of Israel in its 60th year is interesting in and of itself, but equally interesting, and perhaps even more so, is the willingness of leading Arab publications to publish such a long article. The media clearly presumes that Israel's internal forces and social makeup interest the entire Arab public, beyond the question of who has killed whom.

In this context, the response of a reader who identifies himself as Sami is interesting. He writes in a response on the Web site: "My dear brother, instead of this research in which you have wasted time trying to find the flaws of the Jews and Israel, write something useful about the flaws of ours, the Muslims. After all, Allah has already said, 'We created you nations and tribes so that you will come to know one another,' and not so that you will eat one another's flesh."

But that is already a different story.