Israel: 60 Years of Birth Pains
New York City
The year Israel was founded, I was in eighth grade and trying to understand the world. I was helped after my days in St. Mary’s Catholic school by the bound volumes of The Nation on the rear wall of the public library in my native Rockford, Illinois. St. Mary’s taught me about sin. The Nation taught me about Israel. Sixty years on, distinguished Oxford scholar Avi Shlaim uses the May 26 Nation to say, “Israel still has not arrived at a reckoning of its sins against the Palestinians, a recognition that it owes the Palestinians a debt that must at some point be repaid.” Then Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi, descended from a long line of distinguished Jerusalem Palestinians, uses The Nation to suggest some methods of repayment. I am happy to say that St. Mary’s and The Nation taught me steadfastness, not despair, toward goals of liberation, peace and justice and enabled me to keep hearing the Shlaims and Khalidis, even above the all-networks praise of Israel by my President before the Knesset, saying what I have learned to think is injustice.
As a member of A Jewish Voice for Peace and a longtime student of the Middle East, I must point out that Avi Shlaim, in his otherwise excellent article, refers to “a clash between two movements for national liberation.” But the Palestinians had no need for liberation. They had lived (under various regimes but basically undisturbed) in Palestine, as Arabs, since 700 ad. And their racial background was largely Canaanite, a people who had lived in the area thousands of years before the Jewish people existed. They were the great majority of the indigenous people when the Zionists showed up in the late nineteenth century and decided to “liberate” the Palestinians’ land in order to create a Jewish homeland. This was colonialism, plain and simple, and in that light the moral case for the Palestinians’ claim to the land is much more compelling than the Jewish one.
Nonetheless, Israel now exists. Officially since 1988 and unofficially for years before that, the majority of Palestinians have been willing to coexist with Israel, as long as it returns to its 1967 borders, following UN Resolution 242’s Land for Peace format. But Israel, with crucial US backing since the early 1970s, has refused to abide by several direct UN Security Council resolutions, dozens of General Assembly resolutions, the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. The Charter specifically states that land conquered by force of arms cannot be occupied indefinitely, and the Geneva Conventions state that an occupying power cannot import its own people into occupied territory. So every square inch of the West Bank and Gaza is being held illegally, and every Jewish-only settlement on occupied land is a direct violation of international law. As Shlaim accurately states, “Land-grabbing and peacemaking do not go well together.”
By any moral or legal standard Israel’s refusal to return the Palestinians’ land to them, in exchange for internationally guaranteed security arrangements (offered repeatedly since the early 1970s), is the root cause of the conflict. Until Israel abides by its obligations under international law, innocent blood (mostly Palestinian) will continue to be shed, and the 3,000-year Jewish ethical tradition of taking the moral high ground will continue to be trampled into the dust.
Did Someone Say ‘Equal Rights’?
Re: Katha Pollitt’s May 26 “Backlash Spectacular.” This feminist is “calling home”! Washington University made a terrible mistake in awarding Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctorate. No woman has worked harder to defeat women’s gains in education, politics and the workplace. My thanks to Pollitt for making us aware that all is not well in the equal rights department. Washington University should be ashamed of itself.
JANET E. WHITE
Phyllis Schlafly gave the Radcliffe Institute’s Dean’s Lecture last fall (a huge honor). Some of us organized a silent walkout. It was in a smallish lecture hall, which was by no means full. About a dozen of us wore white blouses, scattered ourselves throughout the space and left without a word or gesture the first time Schlafly said something objectionable. It turned out to be about how horrible it is when homosexuality is mentioned in sex education classes. No one has managed to elicit an explanation for Schlafly’s invitation.
PAULA J. CAPLAN
I am as rattled by the honorary doctorate for Phyllis Schlafly as Katha Pollitt. However, Pollitt’s criticism of the media “urging women to focus on their babies” and the suggestion that this signifies a lack of drive and brains seems inconsistent with feminism. Our ingrained contempt for women who focus on children first has its roots in the gender disparity of past generations. I am especially concerned that rigid conservatives long ago incited a rebellion that still calls for motherhood to be viewed as part of the “submission to male dominance” package, to be rejected along with high heels, pointed bras and dishpan hands.
Motherhood is not a male-inspired role established to keep the harem in order. Certainly no woman should feel compelled by societal expectations to enter motherhood. But if she chooses it, she should not feel oppressed by the experience. Her social network should provide her with the tangible and moral support to carry out her pursuit and to re-enter a vocation at a later time, or not, without a loss of dignity. As it is, an American woman must usually choose between her full investment in a profession or in motherhood; either choice will inevitably leave her wallowing in self-doubt for having sacrificed the other.
More on That Cartoon
I didn’t think Rick Meyerowitz’s cartoon was just about Alzheimer’s [“Letters,” May 26]. Unfortunately for Reagan and Heston, and for society at large, these guys seemed to have lost their marbles well before they showed any sign of Alzheimer’s.
In Christopher Hayes’s “Mr. Lessig Goes to Washington” last week, “million” was rendered as “billion” in the sentence, “…industry has contributed $14 million to Congressional candidates in this session.”