Monday, April 30, 2007
By FRANK MENETREZ
The feud between Alan Dershowitz, a senior professor at Harvard Law School, and Norman Finkelstein, a junior professor of political science at DePaul University, is back in the news. Finkelstein is up for tenure this year, and Dershowitz has been waging an aggressive campaign against him. Both Finkelstein's department and an outside committee voted in favor of tenure, but the dean then recommended against it. As of this writing, the university has not made a final decision.
To date, the coverage of the dispute has not included any serious attempt at evaluating the merits of Dershowitz and Finkelstein's charges and countercharges. It's clear enough that these guys don't like or respect each other, and that each claims the other's work is a travesty. But the question remains: Who's right, and who's wrong? Answering that question ought to be relatively straightforward, and it is high time that someone other than Finkelstein or Dershowitz tried to do it publicly.
The feud began when Finkelstein charged that Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel (2003) was partially plagiarized and wholly false. Finkelstein ultimately published his critique as part of a book of his own, entitled Beyond Chutzpah (2005). The book quotes Dershowitz as offering, in an interview, to "give $10,000 to the PLO" if anyone can "find a historical fact in [The Case for Israel] that you can prove to be false." (p. 91) Finkelstein maintains, to the contrary, that "[t]he genuine challenge is to unearth any meaningful historical fact in The Case for Israel." (p. 91) Finkelstein goes on to quote one assertion after another from The Case for Israel, examine Dershowitz's supporting evidence, and then adduce his own evidence that the assertions are false and Dershowitz's evidence is worthless.
Dershowitz has not taken these charges lightly. According to a document posted on Dershowitz's web site ( www.alandershowitz.com), in June 2006 the chairman of Finkelstein's department wrote to Dershowitz concerning his charges that Finkelstein "is guilty of various forms of intellectual dishonesty." The chairman asked Dershowitz to direct him "to the clearest and most egregious instances of dishonesty on Finkelstein's part[.]" Dershowitz's lengthy response, dated September 18, 2006, is contained in the same document on his web site. It begins by stating that "the ugly and false assertions that I will discuss below are not incidental to Finkelstein's purported scholarship; they are his purported scholarship. Finkelstein's entire literary catalogue is one preposterous and discredited ad hominem attack after another." Dershowitz goes on to list a number of alleged lies or fabrications by Finkelstein. He also provides a link to an online copy of chapter 16 of his book, The Case for Peace (2005). That chapter, entitled "A Case Study in Hate and Intimidation" (hereafter "Case Study") deals exclusively with Finkelstein's critique of The Case for Israel.
So there we have it: Finkelstein claims to have proven, in Beyond Chutzpah, that The Case for Israel is riddled with misrepresentations of fact. Dershowitz, in turn, claims that everything Finkelstein has ever written is "false," "preposterous," and "discredited." And Dershowitz has prepared a list of the "clearest and most egregious instances" of Finkelstein's dishonesty (hereafter the "List"), which builds on the evidence previously compiled in his Case Study. If we examine Dershowitz's List and Case Study, then, we might be able to figure out who, if anyone, is right.
In the interest of truth-telling: Before I began researching this article, I had already read all of Finkelstein's books and thought highly of them. Nonetheless, when I first looked into Dershowitz's charges, my aim was to conduct an objective investigation to uncover the truth. If Dershowitz was right that Finkelstein's work was disgraceful, I wanted to know about it.
Also, when I started I had read none of Dershowitz's books. In the course of my research I consulted his books but ultimately found it unnecessary to read any of them from cover to cover, for reasons that will become clear in what follows.
Prior to publication, I emailed drafts of this article to both Finkelstein and Dershowitz for comment. Finkelstein gave me several substantive comments, some of which I incorporated. Dershowitz's response, in its entirety, was "What a rediculous [sic] and biased screed filled with demonstable [sic] falsehoods and half truths[.]" I wrote back, asking him to specify the half-truths and demonstrable falsehoods so that I could correct them. I also asked him for information on three specific issues. His response, in its entirety, was, "Your bias is so obvious you can't seem to help it[.]"
BEYOND BEYOND CHUTZPAH
Beyond Chutzpah purports to refute virtually every aspect of The Case for Israel's account of Israel's human rights record and the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Consequently, the most striking feature of Dershowitz's List is that not a single item on the List is taken from Beyond Chutzpah.
In the Case Study, Dershowitz's examples of Finkelstein's alleged "pattern" of "mak[ing] up quotations and facts" (p. 185) are likewise not drawn from Beyond Chutzpah, but there is a straightforward explanation: Both The Case for Peace, which contains the Case Study, and Beyond Chutzpah were published in August 2005, so it was impossible for either book to contain a response to the other. But when Dershowitz prepared the List in the fall of 2006, he had ample time to identify any instances of dishonesty in Beyond Chutzpah. Still, the List mentions none.
Some of Dershowitz's examples do, however, relate to Beyond Chutzpah. Here's the background for the main example: In The Case for Israel, Dershowitz laments that Israel's methods of interrogating Palestinian prisoners were "universally characterized as torture" even though "they were nonlethal and did not involve the infliction of sustained pain." (pp. 137-138) The endnote to that sentence reads as follows: "One person died following shaking, but an independent investigation attributed his death to an unknown preexisting medical condition." (p. 252, n.9) As support for those claims, the endnote cites a single decision of Israel's Supreme Court. In Beyond Chutzpah (p. 160), Finkelstein quotes the endnote verbatim and then attempts to refute it.
Against Dershowitz's claim that there has been only one interrogation-related death, Finkelstein quotes the reports of two independent human rights organizations, both of which concluded that there have been multiple such deaths. (Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 160-161) And against Dershowitz's claim that the one prisoner who died "following shaking" actually died because of a preexisting medical condition, Finkelstein quotes Amnesty International's report on that prisoner, entitled Death by Shaking: The Case of Abd al-Samad Harizat. According to Finkelstein, Amnesty reports that Israeli officials originally attributed the death to a preexisting medical condition, but "it so happened that Abd al-Samad Harizat was in good health at the time of his sudden death." (Beyond Chutzpah, p. 161) The Amnesty report further states that the official autopsy, which was conducted by two Israeli doctors and observed by a Scottish doctor on behalf of the decedent's family, concluded that Harizat died because of violent shaking. According to Amnesty, the Department of Investigations of Police reached the same conclusion, as did both an "expert opinion" on the official autopsy report and a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Justice. Finkelstein then writes the following (Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 161-162):
The Supreme Court decision cited by Dershowitz (HCJ 5100/94) states that "[a]ll agree" that Harizat "expired after being shaken." The Court decision makes no mention of an "independent investigation" attributing Harizat's death to "an unknown preexisting medical condition." Indeed, no record of this independent investigation exists.
That's the background. What does Dershowitz have to say in response? In his List, Dershowitz writes:
Here is what [Finkelstein] said in Chicago on March 18, 2004: "There was a famous case in 1995 of a Palestinian who was shaken to death while in detention. And nobody disputed the facts the Israeli pathologist's office, the forensic pathologists who were brought into the case, eventually it went to the Israeli High Court of Justice they all agreed. And I'm quoting now from the High Court of Justice Judgment: 'All agree that Harizad [sic.: Harizat] died from the shaking.' If you go to Dershowitz's book, he discusses the case and says, quote, 'An independent inquiry found that he didn't die from the shaking, but from a previous illness.' That was just made up."
It was Finkelstein who made up the quotation. The Supreme Court actually said that "the suspect expired after being shaken." The difference between "died from the shaking" and "expired after being shaken" is considerable, especially since the sentence that follows in the decision attributes the death to an extremely rare complication, and the sentence before summarizes the literature as having no examples of anyone dying from shaking. This is not a translation error. It is an example of a made-up quotation. Remember, Finkelstein said he was "quoting," not paraphrasing, yet the words he purports to quote simply do not exist. Finkelstein has never, to my knowledge, responded to this serious charge of fabricating a quotation from the Israeli Supreme Court.
Finkelstein's pattern of making up quotations . . . should alone disqualify him from any tenured academic position.
Because Dershowitz cites no book or other publication, I will assume that he is quoting an interview or lecture that Finkelstein gave in Chicago on March 18, 2004. I will also assume that he is quoting Finkelstein accurately. Dershowitz makes essentially the same argument in his Case Study (p. 185), though there he quotes from a Finkelstein appearance on C-SPAN2. (p. 233, n. 118)
What should we make of this exchange? On the one hand, in Beyond Chutzpah Finkelstein
(1) accurately quotes both Dershowitz and the Supreme Court decision,
(2) adduces evidence refuting Dershowitz's claim that there has been only one Palestinian death from interrogation,
(3) asserts that the Supreme Court decision cited by Dershowitz makes no reference to any "independent investigation" that concluded Harizat's death was not caused by shaking,
(4) cites multiple independent investigations that did attribute the death to shaking, and
(5) asserts that there is no record of an independent investigation that reached a contrary conclusion.
On the other hand, in his List Dershowitz:
(1) ignores what Finkelstein wrote in Beyond Chutzpah,
(2) quotes some oral presentations in which Finkelstein misquoted two passages that he later quoted accurately in Beyond Chutzpah, and
(3) charges Finkelstein with having "made up the quotation[s]."
Dershowitz never responds to, let alone refutes, any of Finkelstein's substantive claims in Beyond Chutzpah concerning the number of interrogation deaths, the actual independent investigations of Harizat's death, or the fact that Dershowitz's cited source does not mention an independent investigation that attributed the death to a preexisting medical condition.
Thus, continuing to assume that Dershowitz is accurately quoting Finkelstein, we can draw the following conclusions. Finkelstein appears to have made two oral misquotations of material he quoted correctly in Beyond Chutzpah. Dershowitz's The Case for Israel appears to contain multiple serious falsehoods concerning Israel's violent interrogation of Palestinian prisoners.
Moreover, in the Case Study, Dershowitz attempts to conceal the inaccuracies in The Case for Israel by misrepresenting both his own endnote and the Supreme Court opinion that he cited in it. Dershowitz writes (p. 234, n. 120):
What the High Court said was that "medical literature has not, to date, reported a case in which a person died as the direct result of having been shaken." It did reference a case, different from the one I discussed in my book, in which "the suspect expired after being shaken," but explained that "according to the state, that case was a rare exception, [where] death was caused by an extremely rare complication which resulted in pulmonary edema" (emphasis added). . . . In addition, Finkelstein misquotes me as saying "he didn't die from the shaking." I actually said, "one person died following shaking," and he knows I was discussing a different case.
Dershowitz thus claims that the case in which, according to the Supreme Court, "the suspect expired after being shaken" is not the same case Dershowitz discussed in The Case for Israel. That cannot be true: The endnote in The Case for Israel refers to only "[o]ne person [who] died following shaking[;]" Dershowitz mentions that one person as the one potential exception to his claim that Israel's interrogation methods are "nonlethal." The only source Dershowitz has ever cited concerning that one person is this Supreme Court opinion. But the Supreme Court opinion mentions only one case of a person dying after shaking, so they must be the same case.
It should also be noted that in this endnote from the Case Study, Dershowitz largely admits that The Case for Israel's reference to an "independent investigation" was incorrect. Recall that, in The Case for Israel, Dershowitz cited this Supreme Court opinion as his only source concerning the "independent investigation" that found the death was caused by an unrelated medical condition. Now, in the Case Study endnote, Dershowitz acknowledges that the Supreme Court did not assert in its own voice that Harizat's death was caused by "an extremely rare complication." The court did mention that assertion, but the court neither endorsed it nor attributed it to an independent investigation. Rather, as quoted by Dershowitz, the court said that "according to the state," the death was caused by an "extremely rare complication." That is, the assertion that Harizat's death was caused by a rare complication was made by the Israeli government lawyers who were defending the security services' interrogation methods. The court's opinion states no basis for the lawyers' assertion--for all the court tells us, the lawyers might have just made it up.
Dershowitz's List contains no other items related to Beyond Chutzpah. (It mentions the plagiarism issue, which I address below, but the List unequivocally states that Dershowitz is "not answering that charge here.") But his Case Study does contain two others. (p. 185) Dershowitz writes that
Finkelstein claims that in The Case for Israel I "never once--I mean literally, not once--mention[ed] any mainstream human rights organization. Never a mention of Amnesty's findings, never a mention of Human Rights Watch's findings, never a mention of B'Tselem's findings . . . none." But a simple check of the index reveals that I repeatedly discuss--and criticize--the findings of these very organizations.
Dershowitz again cites the C-SPAN2 appearance as his source for the quotation. (p. 233, n. 117) Again, I will assume he is quoting it accurately.
Here is what Finkelstein writes in Beyond Chutzpah (pp. 92-93):
The most fundamental--and telling--fact about the chapters of The Case for Israel devoted to human rights issues is that never once does Dershowitz cite a single mainstream human rights organization to support any of his claims. . . .
Not only does Dershowitz systematically ignore their findings, but in order to justify having done so, he seeks to malign the human rights organizations themselves.
Finkelstein then goes on to discuss some of The Case for Israel's criticism of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and B'Tselem (an Israeli organization monitoring human rights violations in the occupied territories). (p. 93)
Again, what should we make of this exchange? On the one hand, in Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein points out that Dershowitz, in The Case for Israel, purports to defend Israel's human rights record but never once cites a mainstream human rights organization in order to support his claims; rather, Dershowitz cites such organizations only to discredit them. On the other hand, Dershowitz (1) quotes an incorrect oral statement by Finkelstein to the effect that The Case for Israel never cites mainstream human rights organizations at all, (2) points out that The Case for Israel does indeed cite mainstream human rights organizations (in order to discredit them), and (3) charges Finkelstein with "mak[ing] up . . . facts."
Again, Finkelstein appears to have made a fairly trivial oral misstatement. Dershowitz, however, appears to have implicitly admitted that he did precisely what Beyond Chutzpah charged him with doing: The Case for Israel, his bestselling defense of Israel's human rights record, cites mainstream human rights organizations only to discredit them, never for support.
The Case Study contains one other charge relating to Beyond Chutzpah. Background: Dershowitz writes in his book Chutzpah, concerning the plight of the Arab Palestinians who were expelled in 1948, that the expulsion "is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people." (Chutzpah, p. 215) In Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein accurately quotes part of that statement (he omits "or other projects that require large-scale movement of people"). (p. 47) Later, he cites several prominent Israeli scholars (Baruch Kimmerling, Ilan Pappe, and Benny Morris) as having described the 1948 expulsion as an "ethnic cleansing." (p. 53, n. 29)
In the Case Study, Dershowitz writes the following: "Another made-up quotation by Finkelstein is his claim that in my book Chutzpah I analogized 'ethnic cleansings' to 'urban renewal.' I say nothing of the kind in Chutzpah. I never even mention 'ethnic cleansing.'" (p. 185) As his source, Dershowitz cites a talk by Finkelstein at the Vancouver Public Library in 2004. (p. 234, n. 121)
It is true that the relevant passage in Chutzpah does not employ the phrase "ethnic cleansing." It is also true that in Chutzpah Dershowitz drew an analogy between urban renewal and the 1948 expulsion of the Arab Palestinians, which, according to Finkelstein, has been described by prominent Israeli scholars as "ethnic cleansing." In his List, Dershowitz does not challenge Finkelstein's claim about what the Israeli scholars say, so I have not independently verified it. I also have not checked the accuracy of Dershowitz's quotation from Finkelstein's appearance at the Vancouver Public Library. But it should be noted that it is not clear from Dershowitz's own rendering of the quotation that Finkelstein ever attributed the phrase "ethnic cleansing" to Dershowitz.
That's it. Apart from the plagiarism issue, nothing else in either the List or the Case Study (or elsewhere in The Case for Peace) relates to Beyond Chutzpah.
Skeptical readers may wonder whether Dershowitz's charges could really be this silly and inconsequential. Such readers should not take my word for it. The List is posted on Dershowitz's web site, and it contains a link to an online copy of the Case Study. The texts of The Case for Israel, The Case for Peace, Chutzpah, and Beyond Chutzpah, including endnotes, are also searchable online at Amazon.com. (Not all pages are viewable online, but many of the relevant ones are.)
Recall now that in Beyond Chutzpah Finkelstein quotes and purports to refute claim after claim after claim from The Case for Israel. Recall also that one year later, Dershowitz, when preparing his List of the "clearest and most egregious instances" of Finkelstein's dishonesty, does not even attempt to refute a single claim in Beyond Chutzpah, plagiarism aside. And note that the foregoing discussion seems to tell us something about just how "clear and egregious" some of the instances on the List are.
From these facts it appears reasonable to conclude that, with the possible exception of the plagiarism issue, Dershowitz has been unable to find a single false statement in Beyond Chutzpah. And it follows that, as far as Dershowitz himself can now determine, his own book The Case for Israel is full of falsehoods concerning Israel's human rights record and the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict, while Finkelstein's book contains none.
Although published at the same time as Beyond Chutzpah, the Case Study constitutes Dershowitz's most thorough discussion of Finkelstein's assault on The Case for Israel. The thesis of the Case Study is that Finkelstein's attack was the product of a "well-orchestrated campaign" devised by a left-wing anti-Israel conspiracy whose members are Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, and Finkelstein. The chapter opens with an introductory description of the conspiracy. (pp. 167-170) Next come subsections consisting of attacks on each of the alleged conspirators. (pp. 170-172 (Chomsky), pp. 172-175 (Finkelstein), p. 175 (Cockburn)) The next subsection describes the conspiracy's previous work, including its campaign to discredit Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial (1984), the book Finkelstein accuses Dershowitz of plagiarizing. (pp. 175-180)
Finally, in the last subsection of the chapter, Dershowitz turns to the conspiracy's attacks against him. (pp. 180-188) The bulk of his discussion, however, either deals exclusively with the plagiarism charge (pp. 180-184) or describes the power and extensive influence of the conspiracy. (pp. 186-188) (E.g., "Finkelstein can get anything he writes published, regardless of its demonstrable falsehoods, because Noam Chomsky has enormous influence on the hard-left press." Beyond Chutzpah was in fact published by the University of California Press after undergoing a rigorous peer-review process.) Apart from the plagiarism issue, just one page of the twenty-two page chapter is devoted to arguing that some of Finkelstein's claims about Dershowitz are false. (p. 185)
That one page contains, by my count, five separate charges against Finkelstein. I have already dealt with three of them (shaking, citation of human rights organizations, and ethnic cleansing) in the previous section. The remaining two do not require extensive discussion. One is based on a quote for which Dershowitz cites no source, so it can fairly be ignored. The other involves a quote from a talk Finkelstein gave in Calgary in 2004. According to Dershowitz, "Finkelstein has even alleged that the autobiographical account of my life in Chutzpah --growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s--does not 'have much to do [with] what has actually happened in [my] life.'" (p. 185, alterations by Dershowitz)
I have not checked the accuracy of the quote, because I cannot imagine why anyone would care enough to debate this one. I will only note that Dershowitz's own presentation of the quote leaves open the possibility that what Finkelstein actually said was that, although Chutzpah purports to be autobiographical, it spends relatively little time discussing Dershowitz's own life and spends an inordinately large amount of time discussing other matters, such as the 1948 expulsion of the Arab Palestinians. But I don't know whether that's what Finkelstein said, and, if it is, I don't know whether it's true.
Apart from that one page, plus the plagiarism issue, Dershowitz's arguments in his Case Study suffer from the well-known defect inherent in all ad hominem arguments: They attack the messenger but leave the message untouched. That is, it does not matter whether Dershowitz's conspiracy theory is true. Even if it were true, that would not show that any of Beyond Chutzpah's claims about The Case for Israel (and about Dershowitz's other writings) are false.
Because Dershowitz's conspiracy theory thus has no bearing on the merits of the dispute between Finkelstein and Dershowitz, I will not discuss it further.
When Finkelstein first attacked The Case for Israel in a debate with Dershowitz on the radio program Democracy Now! in 2003, one of his principal charges was that Dershowitz had plagiarized significant portions of his book from Peters' From Time Immemorial. Finkelstein has not dropped the plagiarism charge, but he has repeatedly stated that it is of secondary importance, the main issue being the truth about Israel's human rights record. In Beyond Chutzpah, he relegates the plagiarism discussion to one of the book's three appendices, introducing it with the observation that, next to Dershowitz's alleged whitewash of Israel's human rights record, "Dershowitz's academic derelictions seem small beer." (p. 229)
In the Democracy Now! debate, Finkelstein also charged that Dershowitz did not write The Case for Israel himself. Dershowitz claims he can prove he wrote it, because he is still in possession of his own handwritten manuscript for the book. (Case Study, p. 181) Finkelstein informs me that he requested a copy of that manuscript, but Dershowitz refused to provide it. In any event, Finkelstein did not include the charge in Beyond Chutzpah. I therefore will not discuss it further.
Some background on Peters' book is needed to ground an assessment of the plagiarism controversy. From Time Immemorial argues that at the time of Israel's founding in 1948, many of the Arab inhabitants of the areas that became the state of Israel were actually recent immigrants--they and their ancestors had not lived there "from time immemorial." When the book was originally published in the United States in 1984, it received glowing reviews in periodicals across the country and quickly became a bestseller. Later, when a number of scholars (of whom Finkelstein was the first) examined the book carefully, they concluded that it was of no scholarly value whatsoever. It ignores important parts of the documentary record, misuses the sources on which it does rely, and contains straightforward logical errors.
Consequently, Peters' book has been rejected as worthless by the scholarly community around the world, including in Israel. Skeptical readers should not take my word for it. Yehoshua Porath, one of Israel's leading scholars on the Arab population of Palestine during the pre-state period, described the book as a "sheer forgery," adding that "[i]n Israel, at least, the book was almost universally dismissed as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon." (New York Times, Nov. 28, 1985). Porath, who describes his own politics as "centrist," also tore the book to shreds in a review published in The New York Review of Books. (Jan. 16, 1986) The review is freely available online, together with a subsequent exchange of letters that is also quite illuminating. (March 27, 1986) Given the well-known scholarly repudiation of Peters' book, no scholar would rely on it, any more than a scholar would rely on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Now, back to the plagiarism issue: In Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein argues that in the first two chapters of The Case for Israel Dershowitz plagiarized Peters by lifting numerous quotations and citations directly from Peters' book without acknowledging that he found them there. (Beyond Chutzpah, p. 230)
Dershowitz counters that although he was led to some primary sources by seeing them cited in Peters' book, he always tried to check them before citing them. If he could not find the primary source himself, he cited Peters. If he was able to check the primary source, he cited it directly, without mentioning Peters. He claims that his failure to cite Peters in such circumstances is proper. (Case Study, p. 182)
Finkelstein's principal response is that Dershowitz's quotations and citations of primary sources contain obvious errors that Dershowitz could not have made if he had checked the primary sources himself, and that Dershowitz's errors are identical to Peters' errors concerning the same primary sources. (Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 230-231) Finkelstein infers that Dershowitz copied the quotations and citations from Peters rather than checking the primary sources himself.
Dershowitz has never, to my knowledge, responded to Finkelstein's argument concerning the identical errors in The Case for Israel and From Time Immemorial. He wrote the List, for example, one year after publication of Beyond Chutzpah, but in it he expressly declined to address the plagiarism issue. Dershowitz has not argued that the alleged errors do not exist, or that his errors are not identical to Peters', or that the identity of the errors is just a coincidence and the errors are easy to make even when one checks the primary sources.
Finkelstein's argument concerning the identical errors strikes me as persuasive, and Dershowitz's failure to respond to the argument strikes me as telling. But I expect that reasonable minds could differ.
The entire plagiarism issue, however, seems to me to be of relatively little importance. If Dershowitz had uncovered a little-known but true and important piece of scholarship on the Middle East and had plagiarized it, passing off the original author's work as his own, he would surely have been guilty of a serious breach of academic integrity and would have done an injustice to the original author, who would have been deprived of deserved credit. At the same time, however, Dershowitz would have been doing a substantial public service by bringing the original author's true and important insights to a much wider audience than they had previously received. If that were what he had done, on balance I would probably be glad he had done it.
But that is not what he did. Instead, he relied upon a bestselling book that has been condemned by the international scholarly community. Even if his citations to Peters were impeccable--even if he is right that they are in fact impeccable--it is still true that he repackaged material from Peters' discredited bestseller, From Time Immemorial, and added to it his own imprimatur, as a Harvard law professor, in his bestseller The Case for Israel.
On this issue, Dershowitz has only two potential lines of defense. He could argue that he does not really rely on Peters' book in The Case for Israel, or he could argue that, contrary to the international scholarly consensus, Peters' book really is a legitimate source on which a serious scholar can reasonably rely.
To some extent, Dershowitz pursues both defenses. In The Case for Israel, for example, Dershowitz writes that "Peters's conclusions and data have been challenged. . . . I do not in any way rely on them in this book." (p. 246, n.31) Likewise, in his Case Study, Dershowitz writes, "I disagreed with some of [Peters'] conclusions and said so in my book The Case for Israel." (pp. 175-176) As proof that he had "said" he "disagreed with some of her conclusions," Dershowitz notes that in The Case for Israel he wrote, "Palestine was certainly not a land empty of all people. It is impossible to reconstruct the demographics of the area with any precision, since census data for that time period are not reliable." (The Case for Peace p. 229, n. 60, quoting The Case for Israel, p. 24) The quote does not mention Peters, so it is not in fact an example of Dershowitz having said that he disagreed with Peters' conclusions. Moreover, to my knowledge not even Peters ever claimed that Palestine was "a land empty of all people" before Zionist immigration.
Despite Dershowitz's attempts to distance himself from certain aspects of Peters' book, the fact remains that by his own admission (Case Study, p. 182) he relied upon Peters at least for some primary sources that he was unable to locate himself. Given the scholarly consensus concerning Peters' book, no serious scholar would have done that.
As regards the legitimacy of relying on Peters, Dershowitz writes in his Case Study that, although the book has its flaws, it "was supported by evidence and contributed an important new element to the debate." (p. 176) To support that claim he cites reviews of Peters' book that appeared in the Washington Post in 1984 and the Financial Times in 1985. (p. 229, n. 61) Regardless of what those reviews do or don't prove about Peters' contribution to scholarly debate in the mid-1980s, they prove nothing about whether Peters' book was considered a reputable scholarly source in 2003, when Dershowitz published The Case for Israel.
Dershowitz further states that "[a]ll Finkelstein . . . managed to show was that in a relatively small number of instances, Peters may have misinterpreted some data, ignored counterdata, and exaggerated some findings -- common problems in demographic research that often appear in anti-Israel books as well, including those of Chomsky." (p. 177) He cites no authority for that assessment, and he never sets forth or engages with Finkelstein's arguments in detail. (Readers who are curious about Finkelstein's critique of Peters can find it in his Image and Reality of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (2d ed. 2003) and judge for themselves.)
I take it that Dershowitz has not succeeded in refuting the international scholarly consensus that From Time Immemorial is neither a serious piece of scholarship nor a source on which a serious scholar would reasonably rely. Moreover, Dershowitz's weak disclaimers--e.g., certain aspects of Peters' book have been "challenged," and the book suffers from "common problems in demographic research"--actually make matters worse. They create the misleading impression that the book's flaws are common in other reputable works in the field, and that the book is merely the subject of scholarly controversy. It is not. Serious scholars no longer debate Peters' book--they dismiss it.
There is consequently no way out for Dershowitz here. Either he knew that Peters' book was discredited or he didn't. If he did know it, then he intentionally used a thoroughly disreputable source. If he didn't know it, then he was too ignorant of mainstream scholarly work on Israel/Palestine to deserve to be taken seriously. Either way, by relying on Peters in The Case for Israel and expressly defending her in The Case for Peace, he took himself outside the realm of serious, informed discussion of the topic on which he was writing.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
When I started to research and write this article, I intended to evaluate every charge that Dershowitz's List levels against Finkelstein. I started with the charges related to Beyond Chutzpah, both because they seemed the most relevant to Finkelstein's tenure case and because I thought they would be the easiest to investigate, since the documentary record concerning those charges is extensive and readily accessible. After wrapping those up, I intended to move on to the other items on Dershowitz's List. But I have abandoned that project. Here's why:
The first item on the List is entitled "Burt Neuborne." The first sentence after the title reads: "Finkelstein actually tried to get Burt Neuborne, a professor of law at NYU and one of the country's top civil liberties and Supreme Court advocates, disbarred." Here's some background on Neuborne and Finkelstein: Neuborne was one of the lead attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the litigation against Swiss banks to recover funds in dormant accounts that had belonged to Holocaust victims. The banks ended up settling the suit for $1.25 billion. In his book The Holocaust Industry (2d ed. 2003), Finkelstein is harshly critical of the conduct of that litigation, arguing that the banks were "blackmailed" into settling for an amount far in excess of what was justified by the evidence (which is roughly $60 million, according to Finkelstein), and that much of the $1.25 billion recovery will not actually be paid to Holocaust survivors (hence Finkelstein's label of the affair as a "double shakedown": first the banks are "shaken down" for more than they owe, and then the Holocaust survivors are "shaken down" by being denied the recovered funds). Neuborne vigorously disputes virtually every aspect of Finkelstein's account.
There is an item posted on Finkelstein's web site (www.normanfinkelstein.com) entitled "Should Burt Neuborne be Disbarred?" The text of the item, however, says nothing about disbarment. Rather, it consists almost entirely of a letter from Neuborne that was published in The Nation magazine in December 2000. (The letter responded to another letter in The Nation from Finkelstein, which itself was a response to a previous letter from Neuborne.) Dershowitz reproduces Neuborne's December 2000 letter in its entirety in his List, but he gets the date wrong (2006 instead of 2000). On his web site, Finkelstein prefaces and follows Neuborne's December 2000 letter with some brief critical comments, in which he again calls Neuborne a "blackmailer," and an "outrageous liar" as well.
Those are strong words, to be sure. But Dershowitz claims that "Finkelstein actually tried to get Burt Neuborne . . . disbarred." The posting on Finkelstein's web site does not constitute an attempt to get anyone disbarred. Neuborne is a member of the New York bar. The only way to try to get a New York lawyer disbarred is to send a letter of complaint to a disciplinary committee appointed by the New York state courts.
So I wrote to Finkelstein and asked him whether he had ever tried to get Neuborne disbarred and, if not, whether he was aware of any basis for the charge, other than the posting on his web site. He replied, "Of course not."
I also wrote to Neuborne. I quoted Dershowitz's charge verbatim and asked Neuborne if it was true. I also asked specifically whether Finkelstein had sent a complaint letter to a court-appointed disciplinary committee. Neuborne's reply began, "Frankly, I pay almost no attention to Mr. Finkelstein, so I can't say for certain what he's done." Neuborne referred me to the posting on Finkelstein's web site but said he hadn't seen it himself, because he has never visited the web site. He also said he thought Finkelstein called for his disbarment in a letter to The Nation. I checked; he didn't. And even if he had, writing a letter to The Nation does not constitute an attempt to get anyone disbarred.
But, I thought, what if Finkelstein is lying? How could I find out whether he really did send a complaint letter to a disciplinary committee?
It turns out I can't. Disciplinary proceedings are strictly confidential. The information becomes public only if the committee determines that the complaint has sufficient merit to warrant disciplining the attorney. I didn't bother to check Neuborne's disciplinary record, because I have absolutely no reason to believe it is anything but spotless. Also, I learned that the disciplinary committees sometimes investigate and resolve meritless complaints without ever informing the subject attorney. So the fact that Neuborne does not know of any complaint letter filed by Finkelstein does not prove that no such letter exists.
But here's the problem: In this investigatory endeavor, Dershowitz is in no better position than I am. Neither of us can lawfully get at the relevant records, assuming they exist. If Dershowitz is in possession of disciplinary records of a complaint by Finkelstein against Neuborne, he apparently didn't get them from Finkelstein or Neuborne, because they know of no such records. So Dershowitz would have to be in unauthorized possession of highly confidential information about a fellow attorney's disciplinary history. That would be a serious transgression and, I assume, not one that Dershowitz would want to trumpet.
So, giving Dershowitz the benefit of every doubt, I have to conclude that he has no more evidence to support his charge than I do. That is, he has nothing more than the posting on Finkelstein's web site. But Dershowitz knows as well as I do that the posting on Finkelstein's web site does not constitute an attempt to get anyone disbarred.
Recall that Dershowitz did not say "Finkelstein called for Neuborne's disbarment," or "Finkelstein asked whether Neuborne should be disbarred." Rather, in his List he wrote "Finkelstein actually tried to get Burt Neuborne . . . disbarred." Thus, Dershowitz drafted his charge in a way that readers would interpret to mean Finkelstein took at least some of the procedurally necessary steps to get Neuborne disbarred. And, giving Dershowitz the benefit of every doubt, he has no evidence that that's true.
Thus, putting aside Finkelstein's unequivocal denial (which we have been given no reason to question), the best that can be said for the charge is that we cannot independently confirm whether it is true or false. But the only reasonable inference from the available evidence is that the charge, interpreted in the way that any ordinary reader of the List would interpret it, is fraudulent, because Dershowitz has no evidence to support it.
On that basis, I concluded that the first sentence of the first item on Dershowitz's List of the "clearest and most egregious instances" of Finkelstein's lies is itself a fraud. And on that basis I concluded that my original project--to sift through and evaluate every single claim on Dershowitz's List--should be abandoned.
My work on the project, however incomplete, does nonetheless raise the following interesting question: If this is the best that an adversary as clever and dedicated as Dershowitz can come up with, how could Finkelstein possibly not deserve tenure?
Frank J. Menetrez received his PhD in philosophy and JD from UCLA. His
article The Real Reason to Get Out of Iraq appeared on ZNet last fall. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Friday, April 27, 2007
This week on a special Crossing The Line, since 1997 the United States has sent hundreds of people away to places unknown, innocent, yet accused of having terrorist ties; they have been drugged, imprisoned and tortured. I’ll speak with award-winning investigative journalist Stephen Grey about his new book that exposed the CIA’s torture program.
Also this week, our special correspondent Dahr Jamail reports from Lebanon about not only the country’s current political crisis and stalled recovery after the war with Israel, but also the influx of refugees from the Iraq war.
Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia abu-Jamal and The War’s Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of The Stand Independent News Service, all this coming up. But first a look back at the week’s press in Palestine reported by Kristin Ess.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
about making and breaking a cease-fire spares the Palestinians from
having to admit the failure of their Qassam missile publicity stunts.
Proposals to widen the cease-fire to the West Bank sidestep any need
for an inter-Palestinian debate on the destructive uselessness of a
suicide-based `armed struggle.`
`Cease-fire` is yet another
hollow term, showing that the Palestinian representatives - elected or
not, Hamas or Fatah or Palestine Liberation Organization-Tunis, from
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to the last spokesman of
the Al-Aqsa Martyrs` `Brigades` - keep falling into the traps set for
them by the politics of Israeli occupation.
Talking for and
against the cease-fire fits in with the distorted picture of reality
that Israel has been constructing since September 2000, of two
symmetric, fighting sides - in which the Palestinians are the
aggressors and Israel, attacked, defends itself and retaliates.
the Saturday and Sunday before the Palestinians `broke the cease-fire,`
Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed nine Palestinians. Among them was
a 17-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a policeman who was on the
roof of his house and was not involved in any `battle.`
A.M. on April 21, an IDF force attacked Kufer Dan, near Jenin. The
force took over a few houses and turned them into shooting posts. Most
of the fire was aimed at a certain house in a western neighborhood.
Mohamed Abed, 23, was shot and killed on the roof of another house. The
soldiers said they had detected an armed man and shot him. Palestinian
sources say Abed was unarmed and merely wanted to check what was
Between 9 P.M. and 10 P.M. on Saturday, an
IDF force attacked the Jenin refugee camp - a routine activity.
Military vehicles surrounded the Bargheesh family`s house. One member
of the family, who is an Islamic Jihad activist, is wanted by Israel.
According to media reports, the IDF said its forces had called on the
family to come out of the house and `for un unclear reason the girl
This is not true, people in the refugee camp
say. The parents and their daughter, Bushra, were all at home when she
was shot in the head and killed. Camp residents believe the soldier who
shot the schoolgirl dead had fired from a distant shooting post. The
wanted brother was not found.
On Sunday at 10 A.M., an IDF
force raided the village of Deir Abu Masha`al, north of Ramallah,
blocked all the entrances and imposed a curfew. Youngsters, including
Khaled Zahran, 15, threw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers fired
back. Zahran was wounded in the abdomen and died later.
of those killed were Islamic Jihad and Fatah gunmen. They were killed
in Jenin and Nablus, in routine raids. Nobody bothers to check any more
when exactly these raids took place and whether they were intended to
effect an arrest or to carry out a death sentence without trial.
sixth person killed was a Gaza municipal employee, aged 43, who was in
his car in Beit Hanun when it was struck by an Israeli missile on
Saturday night. According to Palestinian sources, he was not a
`military` activist. Half an hour earlier, another missile missed three
Islamic Jihad activists.
But even if none of the nine had been
killed, there would have been no cease-fire on Saturday and Sunday,
just as there was no cease-fire last week and in the weeks before that.
Because the military occupation, even when it does not kill, is Israeli
fire, which has not ceased for 40 years - regardless of the
Palestinians` reactions or lack thereof.
Israeli fire includes
the Civil Administration`s every refusal of a permit to build a
Palestinian house, every person who is denied passage from Gaza to the
West Bank, every shekel of tax money that is not transferred to the
Palestinians, every roadblock in the West Bank, every dunam of land
stolen since June 1967, and every settlement - old or new, big or
small, within the Israeli consensus or not. Neither the Qassams nor any
negotiations process has managed to stop this Israeli fire.
Friday, April 20, 2007
This week on Crossing The Line, professor Sami al-Arian has been incarcerated for over four years in federal custody. Although he was acquitted of all charges to ties with a Palestinian terrorist organization, a Federal judge remanded him indefinitely. I’ll speak to Sami’s wife about his current situation, and the affect that a recent 60-day hunger strike had on him and his family.
Also this week, our special correspondent Dahr Jamail reporting from Damascus will update us on the Iraqi refugee crisis and the ongoing war in Iraq.
Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal and The War’s Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of The Stand Independent News Service.
Monday, April 16, 2007
The Israeli state and the Zionist movement have begun
their latest assault in their century-long struggle to rid
Palestine of its indigenous people and transform their
country into a Jewish supremacist enclave: the persecution
of Azmi Bishara, one of the most important Palestinian
national leaders and thinkers working today. This case has
enormous significance for the Palestinian solidarity
Bishara is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, one of more
than one million who live inside the Jewish state, who are
survivors or their descendants of the Zionist ethnic
cleansing that forced most Palestinians to leave in
1947-48. Elected to the Knesset in 1996, Bishara is a
founder of the National Democratic Assembly, a party which
calls for Israel to be transformed from a sectarian
ethnocracy into a democratic state of all its citizens.
On Sunday, Bishara appeared on Al-Jazeera, after weeks of
press speculation that he had gone into exile and would
resign from the Knesset. He revealed that in fact he is
the target of a very high level probe by Israeli state
security services who apparently plan to bring serious
"security" related charges against him. Censorship on this
matter is so tight in "democratic" Israel that until a few
days ago Israeli newspapers were prohibited from even
mentioning the existence of the probe. They are still
forbidden from reporting anything about the substance of
the investigation, and Ha'aretz admitted that due to
official censorship it could not even reprint much of what
Bishara said to millions of viewers on television.
Bishara himself was vague about the allegations. If he
even knows all the details, he could place himself in
greater jeopardy by talking about them. He said he is
still thinking about his options, including when to return
to Israel. While he questioned the value of spending years
proving his innocence of things he does not consider
illegal, such as maintaining broad contacts with the Arab
world of which he feels a part, he poignantly reflected
that ultimately he faced a choice between prison, exile or
martyrdom. These indeed are the only choices Israel has
ever placed before Palestinians who refuse to submit to
the racist rule of Zionism.
What he was clear about was that he is the target of a
campaign, coordinated at the highest levels of the Israeli
state to destroy him and his movement politically. He is
undoubtedly right about this and there is long precedent.
In 2001, Israel's attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein
charged Bishara with "endangering the state" because of
comments he made during a visit to Syria, and the Knesset
voted for the first time in its history to lift the
immunity of one of its members so Bishara could be
prosecuted. In 2003, the Israeli Central Elections
Committee attempted to disqualify Bishara and his party
from standing in national elections, on the grounds that
the party did not adhere to the dogma that Israel must
remain a "Jewish state." Under Israeli law all parties are
required to espouse the dogma that Israel must always
grant special and better rights to Jews, meaning truly
democratic parties are always flirting with illegality.
That decision was eventually overturned by the courts.
(Though it should be noted that the ban was supported by
former attorney general Rubinstein, who is now a Supreme
Court judge!). Such persecution against Palestinians in
Israel has been the norm since the state was founded.
Until 1966, they lived under "military government," a form
of internal military occupation similar to that
experienced by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza
today. Laws, practices and policies that continue to deny
their fundamental human rights are well described in
Jonathan Cook's recent book Blood and Religion: Unmasking
the Jewish and Democratic State. In recent years opinion
polls show that a majority of Israeli Jews consistently
support government efforts to force Palestinians citizens
out of the country. (In recent weeks, former Israeli prime
minister and current Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu
declared that it would be best if Bishara never returned).
Bishara sees Israel's latest gambit as signalling a change
in the "rules of the game." If he, an elected official, a
well-known public figure can face such tactics, what will
the rest of the community face? Indeed, the recent
publication by leading Palestinians in Israel of a report
calling for mild reforms to the Israeli state prompted
Israel's secret police, the Shin Bet (which operates
torture and death squads in the occupied territories) to
warn that it would "disrupt the activities of any groups
that seek to change the Jewish or democratic character of
Israel, even if they use democratic means" ("Arab leaders
air public relations campaign against Shin Bet," Ha'aretz,
6 April 2007). (There is precedent for such disruption not
only against Palestinians, but even against Israel's
Mizrahi Jews whose attempts to organize against Ashkenazi
discrimination were destroyed by the Shin Bet -- see
Joseph Massad's book The Persistence of the Palestinian
Palestinian solidarity activists must understand and act
on the signal Israel is sending by persecuting Bishara.
For years, the mainstream Palestinian movement and its
allies have buried their heads in the slogan "end the
occupation." If it ever was, this vision is no longer
broad enough. We must recognize that Israel's war against
Palestinians does not discriminate among Palestinians,
sparing some and condemning others. It does however take
different forms, depending on where Palestinians are.
Those in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip live
under an extreme form of military tyranny now often called
"apartheid," though it is increasingly apparent that it is
something even worse. Palestinians inside Israel's 1948
borders live under a system of laws, policies and
practices that exclude them politically and oppress them
economically and socially. Millions of Palestinians
outside the country are victimized by racist laws that
forbid their return for the sole reason that they are not
In practice this means that the Palestinian solidarity
movement needs to fashion a new message that breaks with
the failed fantasy of hermetic separation in nationalist
states. It means we have to focus on fighting Israeli
racism and colonialism in all its forms against those
under occupation, against those inside, and against those
in exile. We need to educate ourselves about what is
happening all over Palestine, not just in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip. We need to stand and act in solidarity
with Azmi Bishara and all Palestinians inside the 1948
lines who have for too long been marginalized and
abandoned by mainstream Palestinian politics. Support for
the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment
and sanctions is particularly urgent (see
http://www.pacbi.org/). In practice we need to start
building a vision of life after Israeli apartheid, an
inclusive life in which Israelis and Palestinians can live
in equality sharing the whole country. If Sinn Fein's
Gerry Adams and hardline Northern Ireland Unionist leader
Ian Paisley can sit down to form a government together, as
they are, and if Nelson Mandela and apartheid's National
Party could do the same, nothing is beyond the realm of
possibility in Palestine if we imagine it and work for it.
Azmi Bishara is the only Palestinian leader of
international stature expressing a vision and strategy
that is relevant to all Palestinians and can effectively
challenge Zionism. That is why he is in fear for his life,
safety and future while the quisling "president" Mahmoud
Abbas in Ramallah receives money and weapons from the
United States and tea and cakes from Ehud Olmert.
A call should be made to the Consumers Council: This is a case of wholesale fraud. In the sea of thieves, embezzlers and crooks around us, this is the largest deceit of all. The majority of Israeli citizens voted for a centrist government, perhaps even a bit left of center, and received one of the most extreme right-wing governments in the history of Israel.
We voted for Kadima, which promised convergence and an end to the occupation. We voted for Ehud Olmert, the left flank of Ariel Sharon, who was carried aloft (solely) on the wings of the disengagement's success. We voted for Shimon Peres, who always promises peace. We voted for the Pensioners, who did not speak like right-wingers. We voted for the Big Bang, which was supposed to be a harbinger of a pragmatic turnabout. And what did we receive? The world already knows and we should also recognize this: a benighted, right-wing government.
The 28,000 participants in a recent survey by the BBC World Service in 27 countries ranked Olmert's Israel, together with Ahmadinejad's Iran, as the countries having the most negative influence on the world. The current government is largely responsible for the fact that Israelis do not care that they are viewed this way. In a country where people are quick to sue a travel agency for a vacation package that did not meet their expectations, the masses of voters who fell victim to the great fraud remain silent.
The settlers establish another illegal outpost in Hebron, and most Israelis are not interested in the most criminal settlement of them all. And what does their government say? A front is already forming to oppose the evacuation. The Arab League extends its hand for peace and the 52 percent of Israelis who have heard of the Saudi initiative say it could constitute a basis for negotiation. And what does their government say? It makes a sour face and quashes the chance. There are signs of a chance to liberate Gilad Shalit and create a new atmosphere with the Palestinians; 45 percent of Israelis are in favor of releasing prisoners "with blood on their hands" and only 36 percent are opposed. And their government? It categorically rejects the Palestinian proposal. The majority of Israelis tell the pollsters that they are in favor of establishing a Palestinian state and evacuating settlements. And what is their government doing to realize the aspirations of its voters? Not a thing. It has been a long time since such a wide disparity has existed between the views of the public and the government, a disparity that makes democracy look like a bandage.
This gap reaches its peak in the case of the building in Hebron. In a government that raised the banner of evacuating settlements, there are quite a few ministers who are opposed to evacuating a building that was inhabited without a permit. Even a single building. Who are these opponents? Is it only Avigdor Lieberman? The prime minister himself has already promised not to evacuate the building, according to MK Effi Eitam. There is also Roni Bar-On from the "moderate" Kadima party, Eli Yishai from Shas and even Rafi Eitan from the Pensioners. "Israeli territory" is what Eitan calls the heart of the Palestinian city, where nearly 20,000 residents have already been forced to flee in fear of the settlers.
Never have the settlers been in a worse situation in terms of public opinion. Never has their situation been better in the government. After we thought the disengagement had rid us of their caprices and that they had been proved a paper tiger, the government is again intimidated by them, as in their heyday. The Marzels are provoking again, and they are winning again. How many Israelis have ever visited Hebron? How many of them have seen the dreadfulness with their own eyes? And look at how many of them are willing to continue to suffer the misdeeds of the settlers, to pay such a steep price for them, and to remain silent.
There is no protest in Israel and no center. Only radicalism speaks: The fragments of the far left still go out to protest, and the settlers continue with their extortion. If once their source of strength was broad public support, their source of strength now is an all-encompassing apathy. In a comatose society, the settlers can terrorize Olmert, Bar-On and Eitan. In a comatose government, inaction is turning into extreme right-wingedness.
But now we are also coming under suspicion. Perhaps when we are voting for the center and the left, we actually want the right? Maybe what we really want is a nationalistic, rightist government, and that all of the rest - the ostensibly enlightened talk about ending the occupation and evacuating settlements, human rights and a Palestinian state - is nothing more than a loathsome falsehood and self-deception?
Friday, April 13, 2007
This week on Crossing The Line, it describes itself as the most important organization affecting the US relationship with Israel. But who is AIPAC? I’ll speak with award-winning investigative journalist Dave Lindorff about the lobby group whose annual budget is more than 65 million dollars and claims a membership of over 100,000. Also this week, we’ll her from our special correspondent Nora Barrows-Friedman who is currently in occupied Palestine abut the violence that raged over the most holiest weekend in the Christian calendar.
Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal and The War’s Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of The Stand Independent news Service.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
DHEISHEH REFUGEE CAMP, Occupied
West Bank, Apr 10 (IPS) - Mohammed
Mahsiri, a resident of Dheisheh
refugee camp in the occupied West Bank,
sits in a crowded café, a red
kuffiyeh wrapped around his neck and an
iconic portrait of Che Guevara
emblazoned on his black t-shirt.
About a year and a half ago, he
tells IPS, he and his friend were walking
down the street when Israeli
military jeeps surrounded them, shouted at
them in Hebrew to stop,
and forced them inside a jeep.
"I was taken to a detention centre
and interrogated," Mohammed says. "The
interrogation would begin at 2 o'clock
in the afternoon and would finish
after eleven pm. I was beaten all
the time, especially if the soldiers did
not get the answers they wanted.
"I was sent to be beaten by other
soldiers and forced to stand in the rain
with only thin clothes on. They
would try to convince me that I did
something that I did not do in order
to get the confession they wanted.
After being tortured at the
detention centre for one month, I was in
prison for 13 months."
Shocking photographs of torture
at U.S. military bases and detention
centres in Iraq and Afghanistan
outraged people across the globe, but
Palestinians say they have endured
similar treatment inside Israeli
interrogation centres since the
1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
But Mohammed Mahsiri's story is
different. He endured considerable
physical and psychological torture
by Israeli interrogators and prison
guards when he was just short of 17 years old.
What is being witnessed and documented
within the detention centres and
prison camps is widespread, systematic
violation of international laws
experienced by Palestinian children
under 18 years old, including torture,
interrogation, physical beatings,
deplorable living conditions and no
access to fair trial, according to
reports by human rights groups and
Under Israeli military orders in
force inside the occupied West Bank and
Gaza, any Palestinian over the age
of 16 is considered an adult, while
inside Israel the age of an adult
is 18 -- even though Israel is a
signatory to the International
Convention of the Rights of the Child,
which defines all children as under 18 years old.
Moreover, Palestinian children
over 14 years old are tried as adults in an
Israeli military court, and are
often put into prisons with adults. These
are also direct violations of international law.
According to the latest figures
offered by an independent group, there are
398 Palestinian children currently
inside Israeli detention centres and
prisons. Ayed Abuqtaish, research
cocoordinator with Defence for Children
International's Ramallah offices,
told IPS that the youngest child being
held in prison is just 14 years old.
"Usually, the Israeli troops invade
the child's house in the middle of the
night, in order to frighten the child
and his family," Abuqtaish told IPS.
"Many Israeli soldiers and vehicles
surround the house, and other soldiers
invade or force their way into the house.
"They intimidate the child to prepare
him for interrogation. When the
child arrives at the interrogation
centre, they employ different methods
There are widespread reports of
physical beatings, Abuqtaish says, "but
currently, they concentrate mainly
on psychological torture like sleep
deprivation, or depriving him of
food or water, or putting him in solitary
confinement, or threatening him
with the demolition of his home or the
arrest of other family members.
Children have also reported that the
Israeli interrogators have
threatened to sexually abuse them."
Israel has consistently defended
its policies of interrogation inside
detention centres and prisons, saying
that it is a necessary tool against
the war on terror. In 1987,
according to Israel's Landau Commission of
Inquiry into interrogation policies,
the state determined that "a moderate
degree of pressure, including
physical pressure, in order to obtain
crucial information, is
unavoidable under certain circumstances."
"Israel is a state party to the
International Convention Against Torture,"
Abuqtaish said. "In its reports
to the committee, Israel always says that
their use of 'moderate physical
pressure' is consistent with the
obligation of the treaty, but,
needless to say, 'moderate physical
pressure' is obviously torture in itself."
Palestinian children in the Israeli
prison system are not given any legal
advocacy and are denied most of
their rights, involved lawyers say.
Arne Malmgren, a Swedish lawyer,
has worked as a legal observer inside
Israeli military courts during
trials of Palestinian children. "The
Israeli court system does not
look like any other court system in the
world," Malmgren told IPS.
"Israeli military staff, the judge, the
prosecutor, the interpreter -- they
are all in military uniform. There are
plenty of soldiers with weapons inside the courtroom.
"The small children come into the
courtroom in handcuffs and full chains;
there can be up to seven children
at the same time in the courtroom. One
lawyer described it as a cattle
market. The trial is more like a plea
bargain -- before the proceedings,
the prosecutor and the lawyer have
already agreed on the child's
sentence, and then they just ask the judge
if he agrees, and he almost always does.
"There are no witnesses, nothing.
And the worst thing is what happened
before the child arrives at the
courtroom -- when they interrogate these
young boys and girls to get them
to sign confessions to things they may or
may not have done."
As negotiations between Palestinian
and Israeli officials move forward
this week in a possible prisoner
exchange deal that may include the
release of all imprisoned Palestinian
women and children in a swap for an
Israeli occupation soldier captured
by Palestinian groups in Gaza last
June, many Palestinians, including
Mohammed Mahsiri, are hoping to see
relatives, friends and loved ones come home.
"When I was released from prison, it
was the best day of my life," Mahsiri
tells IPS. "We were beaten every day.
The food was very bad. It was the
hardest thing we had to face.
No child should ever have to experience
Sunday, April 08, 2007
A Jewish Plea
By SARA ROY
We have nothing to lose except everything.
During the summer my husband and I had a conversion ceremony for our adopted daughter, Jess. We took her to the mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath where she was totally submerged in a pool of living water -- living because it is fed in part by heavenly rain -- and momentarily suspended as we are in the womb, emerging the same yet transformed. This ritual of purification, transformation and rebirth is central to Judaism and it signifies renewal and possibility.
The day of Jess's conversion was also the day that Israel began its pitiless bombing of Lebanon and nearly three weeks into Israel's violent assault on Gaza, a place that has been my second home for the last two decades. This painful juxtaposition of rebirth and destruction remains with me, weighing heavily, without respite. Yet, the link deeply forged in our construction of self as Jews, between my daughter's acceptance into Judaism and Israel's actions-between Judaism and Zionism -- a link that I never accepted uncritically but understood as historically inevitable and understandable, is one that for me, at least, has now been broken.
For unlike past conflicts involving Israel and the Palestinian and Arab peoples this one feels qualitatively different -- a turning point -- not only with regard to the nature of Israel's horrific response -- its willingness to destroy and to do so utterly -- but also with regard to the virtually unqualified support of organized American Jewry for Israel's brutal actions, something that is not new but now no longer tolerable to me.
I grew up in a home where Judaism was defined and practiced not so much as a religion but as a system of ethics and culture. God was present but not central. Israel and the notion of a Jewish homeland were very important to my parents, who survived Auschwitz, Chelmno and Buchenwald. But unlike many of their friends, my parents were not uncritical of Israel. Obedience to a state was not a primary Jewish value, especially after the Holocaust. Judaism provided the context for Jewish life, for values and beliefs that were not dependent upon national or territorial boundaries, but transcended them to include the other, always the other. For my mother and father Judaism meant bearing witness, raging against injustice and refusing silence. It meant compassion, tolerance, and rescue. In the absence of these imperatives, they taught me, we cease to be Jews.
Many of the people, both Jewish and others, who write about Palestinians and Arabs fail to accept the fundamental humanity of the people they are writing about, a failing born of ignorance, fear and racism. Within the organized Jewish community especially, it has always been unacceptable to claim that Arabs, Palestinians especially, are like us, that they, too, possess an essential humanity and must be included within our moral boundaries, ceasing to be "a kind of solution," a useful, hostile "other" to borrow from Edward Said. That any attempt at separation is artificial, an abstraction.
By refusing to seek proximity over distance, we calmly, even gratefully refuse to see what is right before our eyes. We are no longer compelled, if we ever were, to understand our behavior from positions outside our own, to enter, as Jacqueline Rose has written, into each other's predicaments and make what is one of the hardest journeys of the mind. Hence, there is no need to maintain a living connection with the people we are oppressing, to humanize them, taking into account the experience of subordination itself, as Said would say. We are not preoccupied by our cruelty nor are we haunted by it. The task, ultimately, is to tribalize pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone. Such willful blindness leads to the destruction of principle and the destruction of people, eliminating all possibility of embrace, but it gives us solace.
Why is it so difficult, even impossible to incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history? Why is there so little perceived need to question our own narrative (for want of a better word) and the one we have given others, preferring instead to cherish beliefs and sentiments that remain impenetrable? Why is it virtually mandatory among Jewish intellectuals to oppose racism, repression and injustice almost anywhere in the world and unacceptable -- indeed, for some, an act of heresy -- to oppose it when Israel is the oppressor, choosing concealment over exposure? For many among us history and memory adhere to preclude reflection and tolerance, where, in the words of Northrop Frye, "the enemy become, not people to be defeated, but embodiments of an idea to be exterminated."
What happens to the other as we, a broken and weary people, continually abuse him, turning him into the enemy we now want and need, secure in a prophecy that is thankfully self-fulfilling?
What happens to a people when renewal and injustice are rapturously joined?
A new discourse of the unconscious
We speak without mercy, numb to the pain of others, incapable of being reached-unconscious. Our words are these:
* " . . . [W]e must not forget,' wrote Ze'ev Schiff, the senior political and military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, "the most important aspect of this war: Hezbollah and what this terrorist organization symbolizes must be destroyed at any price. . . .What matters is not the future of the Shiite town of Bint Jbail or the Hezbollah positions in Maroun Ras, but the future and safety of the State of Israel." "If Israel doesn't improve its military cards in the fighting, we will feel the results in the political solution."
* "We must reduce to dust the villages of the south . . ." stated Haim Ramon, long known as a political dove and Israel's Minister of Justice. "I don't understand why there is still electricity there." "Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah. . . What we should do in southern Lebanon is employ huge firepower before a ground force goes in." Israel's largest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth put it this way: "A village from which rockets are fired at Israel will simply be destroyed by fire. This decision should have been made and executed after the first Katyusha. But better late than never."
* "[F]or every katyusha barrage on Haifa, 10 Dahiya buildings will be bombed," said the IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz. Eli Yishai, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, proposed turning south Lebanon into a "sandbox", while Knesset member Moshe Sharoni called for the obliteration of Gaza, and Yoav Limor, a Channel 1 military correspondent, suggested an exhibition of Hezbollah corpses followed by a parade of prisoners in their underwear in order "to strengthen the home front's morale."
* "Remember: distorted philosophical sensitivity [sic] to human lives will make us pay the real price of the lives of many, and the blood of our sons," read an advertisement in Ha'aretz.
* "[A]ccording to Jewish law," announced the Yesha Rabbinical Council, "during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as 'innocents of the enemy'."
* "But speaking from our own Judaic faith and legal legacy," argued the Rabbinical Council of America, "we believe that Judaism would neither require nor permit a Jewish soldier to sacrifice himself in order to save deliberately endangered enemy civilians. This is especially true when confronting a barbaric enemy who would by such illicit, consistent, and systematic means seek to destroy not only the Jewish soldier, but defeat and destroy the Jewish homeland. New realities do indeed require new responses."
* The Israeli author, Naomi Ragan, after learning that many of the war dead in Lebanon were children, wrote "Save your sympathy for the mothers and sisters and girlfriends of our young soldiers who would rather be sitting in study halls learning Torah, but have no choice but to risk their precious lives full of hope, goodness and endless potential, to wipe out the cancerous terrorist cells that threaten their people and all mankind. Make your choice, and save your tears."
Many of us, perhaps most, have declared that all Palestinians and Lebanese are the enemy, threatening our -- Israel and the Jewish people's -- existence. Everyone we kill and every house we demolish is therefore a military target, legitimate and deserving. Terrorism is part of their culture and we must strengthen our ability to deter. Negotiation, to paraphrase the Israeli scholar, Yehoshua Porat, writing during the 1982 Lebanon war, is a "veritable catastrophe for Israel." The battlefield will preserve us.
The French critic and historian, Hippolyte Taine, observed:
"Imagine a man who sets out on a voyage equipped with a pair of spectacles that magnify things to an extraordinary degree. A hair on his hand, a spot on the tablecloth, the shifting fold of a coat, all will attract his attention; at this rate, he will not go far, he will spend his day taking six steps and will never get out of his room."
We are content in our room and seek no exit.
In our room, compassion and conscience are dismissed as weakness, where pinpoint surgical strikes constitute restraint and civility and momentary ceasefires, acts of humanity and kindness. "Leave your home, we are going to destroy it." Several minutes later another home in Gaza, another history, is taken, crushed. The warning, though, is not for them but for us-it makes us good and clean. What better illustration of our morality: when a call to leave one's home minutes before it is bombed is considered a humane gesture.
Our warnings have another purpose: they make our actions legitimate and our desire for legitimacy is unbounded, voracious. This is perhaps the only thing Palestinians (and now the Lebanese) have withheld from us, this object of our desire. If legitimacy will not be bestowed then it must be created. This explains Israel's obsession with laws and legalities to insure in our own eyes that we do not transgress, making evil allowable by widening the parameters of license and transgression. In this way we insure our goodness and morality, through a piece of paper, which is enough for us.
What are Jews now capable of resisting: tyranny? Oppression? Occupation? Injustice? We resist none of these things, no more. For too many among us they are no longer evil but necessary and good-we cannot live, survive without them. What does that make us? We look at ourselves and what do we see: a non-Jew, a child, whose pain we inflict effortlessly, whose death is demanded and unquestioned, bearing validity and purpose.
What do we see: a people who now take pleasure in hating others. Hatred is familiar to us if nothing else. We understand it and it is safe. It is what we know. We do not fear our own distortion -- do we even see it? -- but the loss of our power to deter, and we shake with a violent palsy at a solution that shuns the suffering of others. Our pathology is this: it lies in our struggle to embrace a morality we no longer possess and in our need for persecution of a kind we can no longer claim but can only inflict.
We are remote from the conscious world -- brilliantly ignorant, blindly visionary, unable to resist from within. We live in an unchanging place, absent of season and reflection, devoid of normality and growth, and most important of all, emptied-or so we aim -- of the other. A ghetto still but now, unlike before, a ghetto of our own making.
What is our narrative of victory and defeat? What does it mean to win? Bombed cars with white civilian flags still attached to their windows? More dead and dismembered bodies of old people and children littered throughout villages that have been ravaged? An entire country disabled and broken? Non-ending war? This is our victory, our achievement, something we seek and applaud. And how do we measure defeat? Losing the will to continue the devastation? Admitting to our persecution of others, something we have never done?
We can easily ignore their suffering, cut them from their food, water, electricity, and medicine, confiscate their land, demolish their crops and deny them egress -- suffocate them, our voices stilled. Racism does not allow us to see Arabs as we see ourselves; that is why we rage when they do not fail from weakness but instead we find ourselves failing from strength. Yet, in our view it is we who are the only victims, vulnerable and scarred. All we have is the unnaturalness of our condition.
As an unconscious people, we have perhaps reached our nadir with many among us now calling for a redefinition of our ethics-the core of who we are -- to incorporate the need to kill women and children if Jewish security required it. "New realities do indeed require new responses," says the Rabbinical Council of America. Now, for us, violence is creation and peace is destruction.
Ending the process of creation and rebirth after the Holocaust
Can we be ordinary, an essential part of our rebirth after the Holocaust? Is it possible to be normal when we seek refuge in the margin, and remedy in the dispossession and destruction of another people? How can we create when we acquiesce so willingly to the demolition of homes, construction of barriers, denial of sustenance, and ruin of innocents? How can we be merciful when, to use Rose's words, we seek "omnipotence as the answer to historical pain?" We refuse to hear their pleading, to see those chased from their homes, children incinerated in their mother's arms. Instead we tell our children to inscribe the bombs that will burn Arab babies.
We argue that we must eliminate terrorism. What do we really know of their terrorism, and of ours? What do we care? Rather, with language that is denuded and infested-give them more time to bomb so that Israel's borders can be natural-we engage repeatedly in a war of desire, a war not thrust upon us but of our own choosing, ingratiating ourselves with the power to destroy others and insensate to the death of our own children. What happens to a nation, asks the Israeli writer David Grossman, that cannot save its own child, words written before his own son was killed in Lebanon?
There are among Israelis real feelings of vulnerability and fear, never resolved but used, intensified. Seeing one's child injured or killed is the most horrible vision -- Israelis are vulnerable, far more than other Jews. Yet, we as a people have become a force of extremism, of chaos and disorder, trying to plow an unruly sea-addicted to death and cruelty, intoxicated, with one ambition: to mock the pauper.
Judaism has always prided itself on reflection, critical examination, and philosophical inquiry. The Talmudic mind examines a sentence, a word, in a multitude of ways, seeking all possible interpretations and searching constantly for the one left unsaid. Through such scrutiny it is believed comes the awareness needed to protect the innocent, prevent injury or harm, and be closer to God.
Now, these are abhorred, eviscerated from our ethical system. Rather the imperative is to see through eyes that are closed, unfettered by investigation. We conceal our guilt by remaining the abused, despite our power, creating situations where our victimization is assured and our innocence affirmed. We prefer this abyss to peace, which would hurl us unacceptably inward toward awareness and acknowledgement.
Jews do not feel shame over what they have created: an inventory of inhumanity. Rather we remain oddly appeased, even calmed by the desolation. Our detachment allows us to bear such excess (and commit it), to sit in Jewish cafes while Palestinian mothers are murdered in front of their children in Gaza. I can now better understand how horror occurs-how people, not evil themselves, can allow evil to happen. We salve our wounds with our incapacity for remorse, which will be our undoing.
Instead the Jewish community demands unity and conformity: "Stand with Israel" read the banners on synagogues throughout Boston last summer. Unity around what? There is enormous pressure -- indeed coercion -- within organized American Jewry to present an image of "wall to wall unity" as a local Jewish leader put it. But this unity is an illusion -- at its edges a smoldering flame rapidly engulfing its core -- for mainstream Jewry does not speak for me or for many other Jews. And where such unity exists, it is hollow built around fear not humanity, on the need to understand reality as it has long been constructed for us -- with the Jew as the righteous victim, the innocent incapable of harm. It is as if our unbending support for Israel's militarism "requires putting our minds as it were into Auschwitz where being a Jew puts your existence on the line. To be Jewish means to be threatened, nothing more. Hence, the only morality we can acknowledge is saving Israel and by extension, ourselves." Within this paradigm, it is dissent not conformity that will diminish and destroy us. We hoard our victimization as we hoard our identity -- they are one -- incapable of change, a failing that will one day result in our own eviction. Is this what Zionism has done to Judaism?
Israel's actions not only demonstrate the limits of Israeli power but our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers, to free ourselves from an ethnic loyalty that binds and contorts, to emerge, finally, from our spectral chamber.
Ending the (filial) link between Israel and the Holocaust
How can the children of the Holocaust do such things, they ask? But are we really their rightful offspring?
As the Holocaust survivor dies, the horror of that period and its attendant lessons withdraw further into abstraction and for some Jews, many of them in Israel, alienation. The Holocaust stands not as a lesson but as an internal act of purification where tribal attachment rather than ethical responsibility is demanded and used to define collective action. Perhaps this was an inevitable outcome of Jewish nationalism, of applying holiness to politics, but whatever its source, it has weakened us terribly and cost us greatly.
Silvia Tennenbaum, a survivor and activist writes: "No matter what great accomplishments were ours in the diaspora, no matter that we produced Maimonides and Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn and hundreds of others of mankind's benefactors -- not a warrior among them! -- we look at the world of our long exile always in the dark light of the Shoah. But this, in itself, is an obscene distortion: would the author . . . Primo Levi, or the poet Paul Celan demand that we slaughter the innocents in a land far from the snow-clad forests of Poland? Is it a heroic act to murder a child, even the child of an enemy? Are my brethren glad and proud? . . . And, it goes without saying, loyal Jews must talk about the Holocaust. Ignore the images of today's dead and dying and focus on the grainy black and white pictures showing the death of Jews in the villages of Poland, at Auschwitz and Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. We are the first, the only true victims, the champions of helplessness for all eternity."
What did my family perish for in the ghettos and concentration camps of Poland? Is their role to be exploited and in the momentary absence of violence, to be forgotten and abandoned?
Holocaust survivors stood between the past and the present, bearing witness, sometimes silently, and even in word, often unheard. Yet, they stood as a moral challenge among us and also as living embodiments of a history, way of life and culture that long predated the Holocaust and Zionism (and that Zionism has long denigrated), refusing, in their own way, to let us look past them. Yet, this generation is nearing its end and as they leave us, I wonder what is truly left to take their place, to fill the moral void created by their absence?
Is it, in the words of a friend, himself a Jew, a "memory manufactory, with statues, museums and platoons of 'scholars' designed to preserve, indeed ratchet up Jewish feelings of persecution and victimhood, a Hitler behind every Katyusha or border skirmish, which must be met with some of the same crude slaughterhouse tools the Nazis employed against the Jews six decades ago: ghettos, mass arrests and the denigration of their enemy's humanity?" Do we now measure success in human bodies and in carnage, arguing that our dead bodies are worth more than theirs, our children more vulnerable and holy, more in need of protection and love, their corpses more deserving of shrouds and burial? Is meaning for us to be derived from martyrdom or from children born with a knife in their hearts? Is this how my grandmother and grandfather are to be remembered?
Our tortured past and its images trespass upon our present not only in Israel but in Gaza and Lebanon as well. "They were temporarily buried in an empty lot with dozens of others," writes a New York Times reporter in Lebanon. "They were assigned numbers, his wife and daughter. Alia is No. 35 and Sally is No. 67. 'They are numbers now,' said the father. There are no names anymore."
"They were shrunken figures, dehydrated and hungry," observes the Washington Post. "Some had lived on candy bars, others on pieces of dry bread. Some were shell-shocked, their faces blank . . . One never made it. He was carried out on a stretcher, flies landing on lifeless eyes that were still open."
As the rightful claimants to our past we should ask, How much damage can be done to a soul? But we do not ask. We do not question the destruction but only our inability to complete it, to create more slaughter sites.
Can we ever emerge from our torpor, able to mourn the devastation?
Our ultimate eviction?
Where do Jews belong? Where is our place? Is it in the ghetto of a Jewish state whose shrinking boundaries threaten, one day, to evict us? We are powerful but not strong. Our power is our weakness, not our strength, because it is used to instill fear rather than trust, and because of that, it will one day destroy us if we do not change. More and more we find ourselves detached from our past, suspended and abandoned, alone, without anchor, aching-if not now, eventually-for connection and succor. Grossman has written that as a dream fades it does not become a weaker force but a more potent one, desperately clung to, even as it ravages and devours.
We consume the land and the water behind walls and steel gates forcing out all others. What kind of place are we creating? Are we fated to be an intruder in the dust to borrow from Faulkner, whose presence shall evaporate with the shifting sands? Are these the boundaries of our rebirth after the Holocaust?
I have come to accept that Jewish power and sovereignty and Jewish ethics and spiritual integrity are, in the absence of reform, incompatible, unable to coexist or be reconciled. For if speaking out against the wanton murder of children is considered an act of disloyalty and betrayal rather than a legitimate act of dissent, and where dissent is so ineffective and reviled, a choice is ultimately forced upon us between Zionism and Judaism.
Rabbi Hillel the Elder long ago emphasized ethics as the center of Jewish life. Ethical principles or their absence will contribute to the survival or destruction of our people. Yet, today what we face is something different and possibly more perverse: it is not the disappearance of our ethical system but its rewriting into something disfigured and execrable.
As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane, something that still eludes us? How do we move beyond fear and omnipotence, beyond innocence and militarism, to envision something different, even if uncertain? "How," asks Ahad Haam, the founding father of cultural Zionism, "do you make a nation pause for thought?"
For many Jews (and Christians), the answer lies in a strong and militarized Jewish state. For others, it is found in the very act of survival. For my parents-defeating Hitler meant living a moral life. They sought a world where "affirmation is possible and . . . dissent is mandatory," where our capacity to witness is restored and sanctioned, where we as a people refuse to be overcome by the darkness.
Can we ever turn away from our power to destroy?
It is here that I want to share a story from my family, to describe a moment that has inspired all of my work and writing.
My mother and her sister had just been liberated from concentration camp by the Russian army. After having captured all the Nazi officials and guards who ran the camp, the Russian soldiers told the Jewish survivors that they could do whatever they wanted to their German persecutors. Many survivors, themselves emaciated and barely alive, immediately fell on the Germans, ravaging them. My mother and my aunt, standing just yards from the terrible scene unfolding in front of them, fell into each other's arms weeping. My mother, who was the physically stronger of the two, embraced my aunt, holding her close and my aunt, who had difficulty standing, grabbed my mother as if she would never let go. She said to my mother, "We cannot do this. Our father and mother would say this is wrong. Even now, even after everything we have endured, we must seek justice, not revenge. There is no other way." My mother, still crying, kissed her sister and the two of them, still one, turned and walked away.
What then is the source of our redemption, our salvation? It lies ultimately in our willingness to acknowledge the other-the victims we have created-Palestinian, Lebanese and also Jewish-and the injustice we have perpetrated as a grieving people. Perhaps then we can pursue a more just solution in which we seek to be ordinary rather then absolute, where we finally come to understand that our only hope is not to die peacefully in our homes as one Zionist official put it long ago but to live peacefully in those homes.
When my daughter Jess was submerged under the waters of the mikvah for the third and final time, she told me she saw rainbows under the water. I shall take this beautiful image as a sign of her rebirth and plead desperately for ours.
Sara Roy is Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studie, Harvard University. "A Jewish Plea" will be published in The War on Lebanon: A Reader . Nubar Hovsepian (ed), Interlink Publishing, Spring 2007. Sara Roy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org