Perfection demanded only from little IsraelMuch of the world has disparaged Israel's celebration of its 60th year of independence (renewed independence, actually) by claiming, as one Connecticut newspaper columnist did the other day, that the country "was built over the debris of 400 destroyed villages and the sorrows of 750,000 people, both Christians and Muslims, expelled from their land."
Yes, Israel's re-establishment in 1948 had its dislocations, Jews going here, Muslims going there, and Christians caught in the middle. But not all these dislocations were expulsions. And if the whole Middle East is counted, there have been far more expulsions of Jews than of anyone else. In any case complaints about the dislocations in Israel's re-establishment presume that the planet was delivered to humanity straight from the factory with its national borders already marked on it and that the return of Israel was a smudge on the natural order of things. In fact, of course, most of today's national borders were established either by war or colonialism. Some make sense now; many still don't.
Even though its re-establishment in 1948 involved war, Israel can claim far more legitimacy than most countries. For unlike most countries today Israel was re-established by resolution of the international organization, the United Nations. Israel's neighbors refused to accept the U.N. resolution and immediately went to war against the new country, and then twice more, in 1967 and 1973, always to deny Israel's legitimacy. But unlike most nations victorious in war, Israel has either given back or has been looking for safe ways of giving away most of the territory it conquered.
As much as the dislocations arising from Israel's re-establishment obsess certain people today, they are tiny compared to dislocations that are hardly noticed anymore. For example, just a year before Israel's re-establishment, British-ruled India was partitioned, by act of Parliament and consensus among the colony's political classes, into Hindu and Muslim sectors, the former becoming independent India and the latter becoming Pakistan. This partition uprooted about 15 million people and cost about a half million lives, through ethnic violence, expropriation, and exhaustion. The resentments arising from the partition of India endure today and continue to cost as many lives every year as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does, but no one outside India and Pakistan seems to care.
Of course Europe, where criticism of Israel's anniversary may be strongest, has partitioned itself too many times to count, with peoples and nations pushed north, south, east, and west over the centuries. From Finland down to Yugoslavia -- whoops, Serbia now -- it is impossible to walk more than a few miles without crossing what, within the last 200 years, used to be a national border or without finding a town whose name wasn't different not long ago.
Anyone aggrieved that the areas that are supposed to become the Palestinian homeland -- the West Bank and Gaza -- are separated by 20 miles of Israel might check the map of the Indian subcontinent, where 1,500 miles separate what used to be the two Pakistans (now Pakistan and Bangladesh), or the map of Europe, where Russia's Kaliningrad province is 300 miles from Russia proper, cut off by Lithuania and Latvia.
While Israel, the size of Connecticut, is supposed to return to Syria the Golan Heights, smaller than Rhode Island, China is keeping the vastness of Tibet, which it seized in 1959. And, having made five states out of the territory it seized by war in 1848, the United States won't be returning Alta California to Mexico any time soon.
Traces of vanished, persecuted, dispersed, and murdered aboriginal peoples can be found in practically every country -- that's what Connecticut's Indian casinos are supposed to be about -- but everyone is forgiven except for the Jews, who instead are constantly ducking rocket fire and curses for clinging to their tiny strip along the eastern Mediterranean. Call it tribalism if you want, but that is to be blind to the tribalism that surrounds Israel, a tribalism that, unlike any Israeli tribalism, preaches extinction.
That Connecticut newspaper columnist approvingly quoted a letter written by a hundred anti-Israel British Jews denouncing the country's anniversary: "We will celebrate when Arabs and Jews live as equals in a peaceful Middle East." Of course such equality is to be attempted first not by democratizing Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, or Iran but by erasing the border that protects the smallest tribe so that it falls under the sovereignty of the very nations that drove it out and then three times waged war against it. Any such peace will be only the peace of the grave -- which has been the idea all along.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer.
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JFACT, The Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, is a statewide
advocacy organization, representing the 9 Jewish Federations, 4 Jewish
Community Centers, 8 Jewish Family Services, and 3 Jewish nursing homes in
Connecticut. JFACT is the government and community relations arm of the
Jewish community and lobbies for legislation that is of interest to
Connecticut's Jewish community.
Friday, May 24, 2013.
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