BANALITY IN THE PROMISED LAND: Admitting and Rationalizing Zionism’s Evil Deeds

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a personal account
of the history of the Jews in Palestine (later Israel) by Ari Shavit, a liberal and
influential Israeli journalist and writer who was at one time a leader in the Israeli
peace movement. While Shavit’s recounting of that history is Israel-centric, it is
also brutally honest. Shavit describes Israel’s ethnic cleansing and forced expulsion
of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes in Israel-conquered territory in
1948 in graphic detail including the massacres of civilians and massive, systematic
looting by Israeli troops. Shavit not only admits it all happened, but he provides
details through the mouths of both perpetrators and victims that allow the reader to
see how horrific it all was and how much Palestinians have suffered as a direct
result of the Israeli terror of 1948 and after.

My Promised Land is history recounted by individuals experiencing each
critical point in the history of Palestine and Israel. The reader learns first-hand
about the original Jewish settlers in the 1890s, the Kibbutzim, the clashes with the
Palestinians, the war of 1948, and the experiences of holocaust victims both in the
death camps and in Israel after they immigrated as shaken but determined refugee-survivors.  Shavit shows the development of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, the
experiences of over one million Russian immigrants, and the revival and rise to
power of Israel’s Arab Jews, all through the eyes of the participants he interviewed.

He describes his own experiences as a young soldier in the Israeli army
having to guard thousands of imprisoned Palestinian demonstrators who were kept
without due process and subjected to torture, and whose screams still haunt him.
He describes the post-1967 war settlers and settlements, and the peace movement
that developed in response to the settlers and Israel’s continuing occupation and
oppression of the Palestinians. Shavit weaves in his own and his family’s history as
he travels from one end of Israel and Palestine to the other doing interviews of the
many major and minor figures that make up this complicated history.

Shavit is most effective in his framing of the conflict. While admitting to all
the horrors of 1948 and the continuing horrors of occupation, he says the conflict
cannot only be seen as the story of what the Jews did and are doing to the
Palestinians; it must also be seen in the context of what happened to the Jews, to
the existential threat and fear that Israeli Jews face and experience. His
realization of the duality of the conflict drove him away from the peace movement
which, in his mind, failed to balance its valid condemnation of Israel’s occupation
and oppression of the Palestinians with the existential threat faced by Israeli Jews.

The essence of Shavit’s argument is that this existential threat justified the
expulsion and oppression of the Palestinians. Shavit believes that if Israel’s
founders had not ethnically cleansed Israel of its Palestinian population neither
Zionism nor its Jewish State would have survived. The end, saving Zionism and its
Jewish state, justified the brutal means of removing and oppressing the Palestinian
people. In essence, Shavit says the brutality, “…the dirty, filthy work…” of
massacre, forced expulsion, terror, looting, was necessary if Jews were to have a
state of their own.

This conclusion leads Shavit to what he sees as the crux or conundrum of the
conflict: that the Palestinians, so grievously harmed by the Israelis, so justified in
their claims for a right to return to their stolen homes and lands, can never give up
those claims. Thus, Shavit says, the conflict is not about the occupation and the
settlements, it’s about Israel’s very existence. Ending the occupation and removing
the settlers will not solve the conflict because the Palestinians cannot give up their
claim to return to homes and lands stolen from them that are now a part of the
Jewish state. In essence, Shavit is saying peace with the Palestinians is impossible
because it would threaten the Jewish state, and that the existential threat and
fears of Jews have a higher moral standing than the rights of Palestinians to return
and reclaim their stolen land and homes.

Despite his honesty, Shavit’s conclusion is chilling because his rationalization
of Israel’s horrific actions of 1948 could easily be applied to a complete cleansing of
Palestinians from the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean and the River
Jordan, the promised land of Greater Israel. While this would require more brutal,
dirty, and filthy conduct by the Israeli army, if Shavit can justify Israel’s 1948
conduct, it is difficult to see how he could reject a modern version of the same
conduct since it is aimed at the same end, the building of a powerful, invulnerable
Jewish state.

Ultimately, Shavit’s rationalization fails. Israel’s massive war crime of 1948
wasn’t necessary. Israel could have created a Jewish state that included a high
percentage of Palestinian citizens as envisioned by the UN Partition Plan of 1947.
Or, it could have accepted the Arab League offer of a binational state in which the
Israelis would have had almost complete autonomy in their portion. Either would
have been a moral choice that wouldn’t have required the sacrifice of the
Palestinian people to gain a homeland exclusively for the Jews.

As Israel’s new historians have shown, Israel was never the weaker party in
the 1948 conflict and never under any significant military threat. It had manpower
advantages of at least two to one and its forces were far better organized, better led,
and better motivated from 1947 through the end of the conflict in early 1949. By
April of 1948, Israel had decisively defeated all Palestinian military opposition and
was invading the portion of Palestine set aside by the UN for an Arab state.
Ultimately, it would conquer, cleanse, and keep for itself half of the Arab state’s

By mid-May of 1948, on the eve of its declaration of independence, Israel’s
army had already expelled over 300,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands,
forcing them across borders into Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank. By August it
had stopped and defeated the combined but outnumbered Arab League forces that
had come to the aid of the Palestinians in May of 1948. Israel would have been able
to easily conquer all of Palestine and Egypt’s Sinai in 1948, and had plans and
forces in place to do so. However, it decided that such an aggressive action coupled
with the ethnic cleansing of another million or so Palestinians would have created a
great deal of international condemnation so it postponed its planned invasion until
1967 when it captured all of the Sinai and all of the land west of the Jordan, the
fabled land of Greater Israel.

Israel’s easy capture of Egypt’s Sinai in the 1956 Suez conflict, and its
overwhelming six day vanquishing of the combined armed forces of Egypt, Syria,
and Jordan in 1967 demonstrated how hapless the Arab forces remained. Even
after the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria in 1973, Israel quickly recovered,
handily defeated both countries’ armies, and was threatening the capture of both
Damascus and Cairo when a ceasefire was imposed only 20 days after the start of
the conflict. Today, Israel’s military superiority is unmatched and its neighbors are
in disarray, riven with internal strife. Israel’s only remaining threat is from the
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and those in the West Bank
and Gaza who continue to live under the boot and oppression of the Israeli army
and the 600,000 violent Jewish settlers it protects in the Palestinian territories it
has occupied since 1967.

Despite his immense pride in Israel’s many accomplishments, Shavit remains
fearful of the future. While he admits to all the horrors of 1948 and the continued
oppression of the Palestinians, he cannot offer a solution and sees the prospects for
peace as distant at best. Despite having identified the moral failings of Zionism,
Shavit cannot bring himself to offer a moral solution for Palestinian suffering which
he knows is unsustainable. All he can see is more of the same with the wonders of
his modern, sexy, start-up nation living blissfully and oblivious to the nearby
horrors of Israel’s continuing oppression of an entire people.

Shavit’s fear is justifiable. The Jewish State, with all its wondrous
accomplishments, was founded on a war crime of immense proportions which
continues to this day. Israel and Zionism’s one great failure was moral, and its
failure to stop and atone for the continuing immorality of its conduct may
ultimately lead to the failure of the Jewish State that Shavit so loves and fears for.

My Promised Land is a good read and essential read for understanding the
mindset of a prominent Israeli liberal Zionist. It is also a well-written, easily read
history of Palestine and Israel as seen through the eyes of its participants. Most
important, Shavit’s brutal honesty in describing the horrific conduct of the Israeli
army in 1948 and its continuing oppression of the Palestinians since then puts an
end to the false narrative created by Israel’s hasbara masters that convinced many
in the West that the Palestinians left their homes and lands voluntarily, and that
the Israeli army scrupulously obeyed the laws of war.

Shavit’s brutal honesty may have opened a Pandora’s box. His admission
that Israel committed a massive and continuing war crime against another people
cannot stand on its own, nor can his rationalization that is was all really necessary
if Zionism and the Jewish State were to survive. His admission has left his beloved
Israel swinging in the wind, naked for all to see. Once the reality of his admission
becomes well-known, the former widespread sympathy for a weak Israel David
beset by a savage Arab Goliath will dissipate as its now disillusioned supporters
angrily react to Israeli duplicity, intransigence, and continuing atrocities and

In the meantime most Israelis, and most American Jews remain largely oblivious to Israel’s past and continuing war crime against the Palestinian people.  This almost banal acceptance of a massive ongoing war crime by decent, thoughtful, and influential Israeli and American Jews, their unwillingness to make critical moral judgments, their refusal to recognize the awful, continuing plight and suffering of millions of Palestinians, harkens back to Hannah Arendt’s famous statement about the banality of evil, and how ordinary and normal the perpetrators and apologists for evil often are:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were
like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that
they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the
viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of
judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the
atrocities put together.”

Most banal and terrifying of all is Shavit himself, a thoughtful, decent, liberal Zionist who concludes that no peace is yet possible and that the decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people must continue indefinitely while Israel seeks a more perfect solution to its amorphous but ever-expanding existential threat.

This entry was posted in Israel, Israeli, Israeli settlements, Palestine, Palestinian, Settlements, Uncategorized, West Bank, Zionism, Zionists and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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