Letter Published September 25, 1978 in The Memphis Commercial Appeal after the author threatened a law suit. Still worth reading and pondering some thirty years later (sadly things have only become worse and since then over 40,000 Palestinian civilians and tens of thousands of Lebanese were murdered by Israel not to mention the accelerated ethnic cleansing of the 1980s and 1990s)
Rabbi Grossman's letter, printed in the Aug. 27th edition of The Commercial Appeal, rather exceeds the bounds of fair criti cism of the points I had made in my earlier letter, printed on Aug. 14th. Perhaps, in view of the extreme language which has been used about me ("customary innuendos ... scurrilous anti-Semitism parallels the words of Hitler's propaganda chief ... insults Judaism as well as Christianity . . . This slipâ€‘shod theory ... used ... by the Nazi hordes") and printed under the words in bold print, "It Was An Insult To Judaism", you will grant me the courtesy of your columns for this rather long reply.
Before implying that I write from motives of racism and accusing me of ignorance of the Bible and history, Rabbi Grossman would do well to consider the following.
The full text of Leviticus 19:18, which Rabbi Grossman quotes partially without citation in his letter, is: "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (RSV) The verse appears not as benevolence towards humanity but as a safeguard of tribal solidarity against the world. Does this learned gentleman really insist that the perception of God as expounded in 1 Samuel 15:1-3 "This is the very word of the Lord of Hosts: I am resolved to punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel, how they attacked them on their way from Egypt.. Go now and fall upon the Amalekites and destroy them, and put their property under ban. Spare no one; put them all to death, men and women, children and babes in arms, herds and flocks" and II Kings 19:35 "That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty- five thousand men in the Assyrian camp” is a perception of a universal God of Love?
Whatever the utopian hopes of some early Zionists regarding the economic benefits that Jewish capital would bestow on "backward" Arabs, in the event, the Zionist movement has resulted in the expulsion of the greater part of the native population of Palestine (Arabic falastin) from four-fifths of the land (pre-1967) and (since 1967), as regards the remaining fifth of the country, in the subjugation of more than a million Palestinians to all the humiliation and horrors of an alien military garrisonâ€”house searches, summary arrests, arbitrary imprisonments, demolition of houses and even entire villages, beatings and torture and collective punish ments. Anyone disposed to believe that the Israeli garrisoning of the West Bank has been a benevolent occupation should read the reports of Amnesty International, Torture of Arabs under Israeli Rule, March 1970, and Report on the Treatment of Prisoners under Interrogation in Israel, April 1970; the report of breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilian populations published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Review of the Red Cross, Nos. 113 and 114; the report and recommendations con tained in Search for Peace in the Middle East, published by the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), 1970; the report of the demolition of homes of some seventy Palestinian families in the village of Halhul published by The Times (London) on 26 October 1969, and the more general report by the foreign editor of that paper two days later; The Unholy Land, published in 1971 and written by the editor of the United Church Observer in Toronto, Dr Al Forrest; the report of the demolition of the upper part of the village of Beni Samwil published in June 1971 by La Civilta ; and two reports by Time Magazine of "rough treatment" apparently intended to discourage "unrest".
"... troops rolled up in trucks and surrounded a school ... The troops ordered the pupils, all in their early teens, to close their windows, then hurled beercan-size canisters of US-made CS anti-riot gas into the packed classroom. One student . . . was studying . . . in a second-floor classroom when a soldier appeared, ordered the windows shut and added "Don't be afraid." Two CS canisters then went off. The students in second-floor classes were so frightened that they leaped 18 ft to the rocky ground below. Ten . . . were hospitalized with fractures; several, according to the head of the local hospital, will have lifelong limps . . . at nearby Beit Sahur, where . . . a similar assault occurred, the schoolchildren were luckier; their school had no second floor, so no students were injured as they tried to escape the gas fumes. (Time, Europe edition, Apr. 3. 1978, at p. 18.)
. . . Earlier this year, Ramallah Journalist, Raymonde Taweel, 36, wife of a banker and mother of five, was taken from her home after midnight and held for six weeks in "administrative detention". No charges were ever lodged against her, but during lengthy interrogations she was repeatedly asked why foreign journalists came to talk to her. "Who are you?" screamed one Israeli guard at her. "You are an animal" Then, Mrs Taweel claims, he spat in her face and struck her in the nose. â€˜You feel so humiliated,â€™ she recalls. "I felt that if only I would not cry, I would show them. But I couldn't help it. It was so horrible." (Time, Europe edition, June 19, 1978, at p. 19.)
Perhaps Rabbi Grossman would like to state why opposing such outrages is an "insult to Judaism". An important point made in my previous letter and ignored by him is that Zionism is a political, and not a religious, movement. Did Jeremiah "insult Judaism" when he wrote, "Jerusalem . . . the city whose name is licence, oppression is rampant in her. As a well keeps its water fresh, so she keeps her evil fresh. Violence and outrage echo in her streets; sickness and wounds stare me in the face. Learn your lesson, Jerusalem"? (Jer. 6:6-8; NEB) Is opposing a "Christian" government for defoliating large areas of Vietnam an insult to Christianity? The books of the Old Testament reveal a wonderful development of thought away from a narrow conception of God as a wrathful deity protective of a chosen family of tribes, and arguments which would justify the invasion of modern Palestine by Russians, Poles, etc., on the basis of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15 and Moses in Numbers 34 seem to me to be pure political propaganda. In any case, it is Jews themselves who have been the most insis tent critics of Zionism. They are numerous and prominent and their pleas for decency to their follow mortals will sing in the memory of their people long after Messrs Begin, Dayan and Sharon are so many grim shadows of the past. Let me quote from the writings of three of them.
Asher Ginsberg who wrote under the name of Ahad Ha'am (Hebrew "One of the people") went to Palestine from his home in Russia in 1891. On his return to Russia he published a report entitled, "The Truth from Palestine", pointing out that the simple inhabitants of that land should be treated with courtesy and respect by Jews who wanted to settle there.
"Yet what do our brethren do in Palestine?" he asked. "Just the very opposite! Serfs they were in the lands of the diaspora and suddenly they find themselves in freedom, and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause and even boast of their deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination."
In 1953 the Knesset passed a Land Requisition Law to legalize the expropriation of Arab lands. An old man named Moshe Smilansky, one of the early Zionist "pioneers", wrote an article about it which was published shortly before his death.
"Where are you, Jews?" he asked. "Why do we not at least, with a generous hand, pay compensation to these miserable people? Where to take the money from? But we build palaces . . . instead of paying a debt that cries unto us from earth and heaven . . . And do we sin only against the refugees? Do we not treat the Arabs who remain with us as secondâ€‘class citizens? . . . Did a single Jewish farmer raise his hand in the parliament in opposition to a law that deprived Arab peasants of their land? . . . How solitary, in the city of Jerusalem, sits the Jewish conscience!"
It was a Palestinian Jew who wrote in 1959, in answer to an apologist for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians:
"If Rabbi Kaplan really wanted to know what happened, we old Jewish settlers in Palestine who witnessed the fight could tell him how and in what manner we Jews forced the Arabs to leave cities and villages . , . some of them were driven out by force of arms; others were made to leave by deceit, lying and false promises . . . We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed . . . we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them."
Rabbi Grossman states: "The truth is that land in Israel was never expropriated." The best brief account of such expropriations is perhaps that contained in chapter 15 of How Israel lost its Soul, written by Maxim Ghilan, an Israeli journalist, and published by Penguin Books, 1974.
In 1948 and 1949, 250 Palestinian villages were demolished, after the expulsion of some of their inhabitants and the exodus of the others - often no farther than to an adjoining village . . . I myself, as a member of the Haganah . . . participated in the . . . conquest of Jaffa . . . The people of Jaffa took to boats . . . or streamed along the roads to neighbouring villages or the Arab-governed countries till the storm blew over. We marched into a ghostâ€‘town in which less than a tenth of its former Palestinian population remained. They were concentrated by the Israeli military authorities into a series of blocks in the Ajami district, code-named by the Haganah and Irgun "the Arab Ghetto". At first barbed wire was put round this part of the town and no Palestinians were allowed to leave. Later the barricades came down. Nonetheless, many a citizen of Jaffa wbo had not left was unable to return to his former home, sometimes only a few hundred metres from his new appointed living quarters in the "Ghetto". The Custodian took control of all the houses and their contents and at once started allotting them to new Jewish immigrants, families of military personnel and so on. Jaffa rapidly became a Jewish town, It happened that at that particular time there was a wave of Jewish immigration from Bulgaria. To this day Jaffa is the capital of Bulgarian Jews throughout the world . . ." (At pp. 231-2.)
If Rabbi Grossman believes that modern Israelis are racially descended from the bedouin tribes who invaded Canaan via Jericho 3,100 years ago, perhaps he can explain why Russian Jews resemble Russians, Moroccan Jews resemble Moroccans, Indian Jews Indians, Ethiopian Jews Ethiopians, and none of these resemble the other. Sammy Davis Jr is a convert to Judaism, and thereby he becomes entitled to immigrate to Israel. Is he descended from the invaders of Canaan?
Rabbi Grossman lays great emphasis in his letter on the sufferings of Jews in Eastern Europe in the 19th Century and under the Third Reich, as though I were coldly in different to the past unhappiness of these people. But may I ask Rabbi Grossman precisely what the sufferings of Jews at the hands of Europeans have to do with the unoffending Palestinians? He had rather ask himself why it is right to hijack a country but wrong to hijack an airliner.
Rabbi Grossman does not dispute the accuracy of the quotation in my letter of the entry in Theodor Herzl's diary by which that Founding Father of Zionism described his schemes for dispossessing the inhabitants of the land to be seized for the Zionist state, nor does he deny that the ancient Hebrews "occupied a small portion of" modern Palestine "for a brief moment in ancient history". He merely states that "there was never a period in history when Jews did not live in what is today called Israel" which, of coarse, is true, in the way that Jews have always lived in Egypt and Iraq. Jews comprised approximately seven percent of Palestine's population in 1917 at the time of the notorious Balfour Declaration by which poli ticians in London decided to create a "home" for Jews there, just as thirty-two years before other politicians in Berlin had divided up Africa. Perhaps Rabbi Grossman would like to say when, in the long history of Palestine, Jews ever constituted a majority of the inhabitants of the coastal plain where seventy percent of the population of Israel lives today?
Rabbi Grossman states: "The existence of Israel is a fact of necessity." A necessity to whom? To three million Israelis who face a very real prospect of annihilation? To Jews who prefer to live elsewhere? To Palestinians whose land has been taken from them, or the populations of neighboring countries now swollen by nearly two million refugees? To Americans who risk good relations with the entire Arab world and the economic devastation of a renewed oil embargo? A moral necessity which depends on lobbying politicians and force of arms?
Rabbi Grossman states that it is an "abuse" of "our precious freedom of speech and press" to allow me to express my views, "be it all the way from England". Does he want some specialist censorship over interpretations of Scriptures common to Jews and Christians? Should our newspapers, in deference to past atrocities having nothing to do with the point at issue, print only opinions partisan to one side in a political debate? Do we ignore "Protestant" rule in Northern Ireland because of past violence to Protestants, such as the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day (Aug. 24, 1572), when fifty thousand Huguenots were killed in Paris? I was born in Ripley, Tennessee, and raised in Memphis, hold U.S., not British citizenship" and, incidentally, once delivered papers for The Memphis Commercial Appeal. I believe sir, that it is my duty to speak out against horrors which my Government sponsors by supplying Phantoms, cluster bombs, napalm, CS canisters, tanks, etc., to the Zionist forces garrisoning Palestine. This has nothing to do with "anti-Semitism", "Jew-baiting", "Joseph Goebbel's propaganda", or "Hitler". Rabbi Grossman is equally entitled under the First Amendment to express his views. However, he is not entitled to imply that I am a Nazi.
Shelby Tucker, Jr.
N.B. For the quotations from Ahab Ha'am and Moshe Smilanski at page 3, see the essay by Hans Kohn, "Zion and the Jewish National Idea", printed in the Menorah Journal, Vol. XVI, 1958, and reprinted in Zionism Reconsidered (New York: Macmillan, 1970). For the quotation from an unnamed Palestinian Jew at page 4, see Nathan Chefski, Jewish Newsletter, New York, 9 February 1959.
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