Since the latest round of violence in Gaza began, I have been studying the Israeli/Palestinian conflict more than I ever have before. By recommendation of a Facebook friend, I am reading My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. As I read, I often stop and turn to Google and Wikipedia to get different perspectives on some of the people and events that Shavit mentions.
I am trying to keep an open mind, and if Zionism is wrong I should be willing to say so. But as I read Shavit’s book, I find reinforcement for much of what I’ve written before: The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is an escalating conflict. There is no clear right and wrong and instead there is a spiral of wrong met by greater wrong.
When the Zionists movement grew at the turn of the 20th century, many Arabs benefited greatly and many lost. In the beginning of the book, Shavit describes a Kibbutz forming at the spring of Harod, and its effect on a nearby Arab village.
First it is located by the spring, so that it will have absolute control over the valley’s water source. Weeks later, when the serfs of the Ein Jaloud hamlet give up and leave, the encampment is transplanted to the mountain slope, right next to the deserted stone houses.
Despite the ruin of Ein Jaloud, the overall effect of the new Kibbutzim was positive because the Kibbutzim drained the deadly, mosquito infested swamps and built irrigation ditches.
The villagers of Zarin are actually doing quite well as the valley booms. The friendly neighbors of Tel Fir and and those of Komay are multiplying now, as the anopheles mosquitoes are no longer here to take the lives of their young. The Bedouins, too, find the valley more attractive now.
The story of the Kibbutz in the valley of Harod is representative of the effects of Zionism on the Arab population. It was a mix of mutual benefit in some cases and Arab displacement in others.
Some Arabs responded to encroaching Zionism with murder. The riots of 1920 and again in the late 1930’s were horrible. Arabs not only burned and destroyed property, they raped, dismembered, and murdered innocent Jewish villagers. The Zionist response was more murder. Shavit:
Most Jewish murderers were members of fringe terrorist groups who defied the policy and instructions of the elected leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine. On the other hand, some of the Jewish actions were far more lethal than the Arab ones. The summer of 1938 was different from the summer of 1936 in that the number of murdered Arab victims exceeded by far the number of murdered Jews.
In the beginning, Zionists came in peace, mostly disregarding the needs of the Arab inhabitants but in many cases forging a mutually beneficial partnership. But there were also those who felt that Arabs had no place in a Jewish homeland. Arabs were also varied in their attitudes toward Zionism. But as violence escalated, more and more Jews felt they could not be safe with Arabs living among them. Arab violence helped foster support for the ethnic cleansing that they legitimately feared.
Zionism grew into a racist and nationalistic movement to expel Arabs from their lands, while extermination of Jews became the centerpiece of religious dogma throughout Arabia. Israel stands defiant against those who wish to murder all of its inhabitants, and Palestinians continue to rebel against the theft, oppression, and murder that they endure for the sake of Israel’s safety.
Meanwhile, observers on each side refuse to explore the other’s side of the story, hardening their belief that extermination of the other is the only solution to the conflict.