TWO SIDES OF THE STORY

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Thursday, 23 May 2013

THE TWO SIDES OF THE STORY:

An important thing I have noticed in my personal interest in the Arab – Israeli conflict, and it has taken about two years to get to it, is that the two sides of the story are kept very separate. It is almost as if neither side is interested in the other side’s tale of woe, or victory. [One very obvious example is the way that the British are portrayed as picking on one side, and favouring the other; whereas I have come to the conclusion that the Europeans as a whole were equally fickle, and basically out of their depth, all the way through their involvement in the Middle East. But that has been dealt with elsewhere.]
In My Middle East, the two side sides of the story, which I think can be represented to a considerable extent by the two books pictured above, are needed to get a complete story.
If you confine yourself to one side or the other, then it seems that you will fill yourself with a story of bravery, defiance, and above all, justified violence and killing, no matter which side you choose.
Reading the stories of Leon Uris [Exodus, and The Haj] I have been inspired by the tenacity, resolve, and brilliance of the Jewish men, women, and children often escaping from deadly situations in Europe and Asia, and trying to set up what seems a rightful place to dwell in a land to which, over the centuries, they contributed many of the people who make it today The Holy Land; with all the connotations of great human concerns the term conjures up.
And all the while, in these stories, these Jewish refugees, are returning to the land in which they belong; but they are rejected, harassed, murdered, and defiled by a technologically vulnerable people who claim eternal rights to the same plot of land, and their own ancient way of life.
But reading Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, I get the picture of a cold-hearted Jewish invader, dominant in military strength, financial aid, with an instinct for almost gratuitous cruelty. In short, a sadistic and heartless bully who is picking on, and taking gross advantage of, a gentle, welcoming people.
Surely if one were exposed only to one or other of these views, you could not help but, at the very least, feel a certain distaste for one side of the other. And so the virus would perpetuate, from generation to generation.
Reading from both sides however, I am left with what you always get when both sides of a war are exposed – a story of horror, and above all the depths of behaviour to which people on both sides can be driven when they lack the motivation, the opportunity, or the ability to work out the truth of a situation. [There are also individual tales of great bravery, empathy, kindness which emerge from this and most other wars].
At the top of this page are pictures of two books which, when taken together, I think, provide a picture which renders all bias misleading and irrelevant in terms of history; yet they provide huge insight into the Middle East conflict.
Here is an example of what happens when we get one side or the other, and then what happens when we look at both sides together:
In The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe mentions the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, seven times in the index. Besides being the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini was also the leader of the Arab Higher Committee, and head of the Supreme Muslim Council. He was also the proposed leader of the planned Palestinian government. He was probably the most powerful man in Palestine, and he had followers in most villages. In none of these seven times however, does Ilan mention the idea that Haj Amin Al Husseini studied with Hitler and other Nazis, and, having been exiled from Palestine by the British, helped out with the Nazi cause against the Jews in Europe. Below is a picture from Wikipedia, which also contains a history of Haj Amin al Husseini, showing a meeting between Hitler and Husseini.

There are other sites which tell of Husseini, and there are books, and other photos, plus some film on You Tube which also seem to confirm quite strongly that Husseini was friendly with the Nazis. There was a saying at the time – popular but dubious logic:  The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Among these other books is O Jerusalem! pictured above. An impressive thing about O Jerusalem! for me is the very detailed listing of sources used in researching for the book. In more than one chapter, including Chapter 3 on the life of Haj Amin al Husseini, one source is ‘the Mufti himself’. The writers interviewed Haj Amin al Husseini on several subjects, and he was pleased to talk with them.
There are many other sources listed throughout O Jerusalem!, including the man who hosted Husseini’s last lunch in Berlin. There are many people interviewed who played major roles in the events around and leading up to and beyond 1948, plus references to many books and some government papers, several concerning the actions, philosophy and whereabouts of Haj Amin al Husseini from 1937 onwards. Ilan Pappe mentions that Husseini had been exiled from Palestine by the British, in 1937, and had lived in Cairo since then.
Does this mean that Ilan Pappe’s well supported history about Ben Gurion’s soldiers evicting Arabs from their villages, and sometimes killing civilians is worthless? No. Although in my own personal understanding of the situation, as I have mentioned previously, I do not see Ben Gurion’s perceived need to get all Arabs out of Israel as – the yet (in 1948) to be coined – Ethnic Cleansing; I do see it as an understandable response to the perception of clear and present danger that he was fighting a people, led by a man, who fully backed what had only recently happened in Germany. That is, the Holocaust. The Holocaust, which was about Genocide, is generally regarded as the most inhumane act of one people against another in the history of the world.  And of course this was a catastrophe from which the survivors were still reeling about in a world at large, which seemed bent on rejecting them.
Leading up to the 1948 war, Husseini’s cousin Abdul Khader Husseini had proclaimed that he would “strangle Jerusalem”, while others promised to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. Both of these ideas carry the threat of what is today called Ethnic Cleansing, and/or Genocide very clearly. Haj Amin is quoted as calling for people to ‘kill Jews wherever you find them’ in a radio broadcast in Berlin.
Surely, coming so quickly on the heels of the Holocaust, the presence of another man comparable to Hitler, if only in his desire to get rid of Jewish men, women and children, it is understandable that Ben Gurion would be terribly concerned at what the Arab people, led by the Husseini family, might be persuaded to do to Jewish people in Palestine.
If Ilan Pappe had given us a bit more about Husseini in his book, I feel that the claim about Ethnic Cleansing upon which his book rests would seem hollow. Basically, I think the book is just the one side of the story. It seems to me like saying that Muhammad Ali was a vicious bully the way he punched and taunted Sonny Liston, without mentioning that Liston was at the same time trying to annihilate Ali.
The very term Ethnic Cleansing suggests the complete domination of one race over another. If The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine was to represent the sum total of a person’s reading and research into the subject of the Arab – Israeli conflict, then, just as reading Exodus or The Haj, I think a person would end up with an incomplete and perhaps dangerous view of the situation. Often, when I read, or hear contemporary views on the subject of  the Arab – Israeli conflict the lack of, and even the desire for, a balanced view is very clear.
Fortunately, alongside The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the book O Jerusalem! exists.
O Jerusalem! when read on its own, the reader will still find out about Jewish people blowing up Arab men, women and children in the middle of Jerusalem; alongside Arabs doing exactly the same thing to Jews. You will hear about Deir Yassin and Kfar Ezion. Heroes and villains on either side. There is also mention about the deal made with Jordan. From this I feel sure that had all the government papers been available to the authors, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, they would have included all that Ilan Pappe has in his book. But the reality is that Ilan Pappe’s book is essential in order to debunk lingering myths about Israel fighting a war while being blameless and free of atrocious acts. Paradoxically, Ilan Pappe’s book could, if read in isolation, create exactly the same myth about the Arab side of the story. Certainly currently, it seems fashionable to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, depending on the gullibility of the audience and their succesptibility to, or even eagerness for extreme language. I heard this taking place in a youth hostel in Jerusalem last year.
The lesson is not who was the nicer, the more blameless: The horror of war is not only what it can ‘make’ people do, but also how people might use, or even create war to satisfy a need for violence and cruelty, or gain, in thought or in deed, quite separate from the actual realities of a situation. When both sides of a war are out in the open in all their horror, the need for a determined effort to get at the real truth of a situation, and to achieve fairness, no matter how difficult it might seem to be at the outset becomes the only sane path to follow.
Perhaps because humans seem to be prone to choosing one side or the other in any conflict, the important findings by what are termed “the new historians” such as Ilan Pappe, are widely considered to be a re-writing of history. But to my mind, these new findings are more the completion of the history.
Next time: We must face the only real question that I can see at the bottom of all of all of this: Do the Jewish people actually have a right to live in the area of the earth presently called Israel?
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”  Aeschylus. (525 – 456 BC) This is an old saying which gets quoted all the time. But there must be a second half to this saying implied by the first, which would go something like this: Only by finding, acknowledging, and publicising the whole truth can there be Peace. Or as a great citizen of the area once put it, more succinctly : “The Truth will make you free.”

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