Raja Shehadeh was not that impressed with Yossi Klein Halevi’s attempt to create an area of mutual recognition, discussion and coexistence by publishing his “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbors” in The New York Times.
If you haven’t heard of Yossi’s newest book (caveat: I have known Yossi since his early teenage years and inducted him into the Betar youth movement, see Page 45 here), the blurb gives you some idea. It is:
one Israeli’s powerful attempt to reach beyond the wall that separates Israelis and Palestinians and into the hearts of “the enemy.” … This is the first attempt by an Israeli author to directly address his Palestinian neighbors and describe how the conflict appears through Israeli eyes. … Halevi’s letters speak not only to his Palestinian neighbor, but to all concerned global citizens …
Shehadeh, a Times’s favorite, writes his own letter to Klein, a real “Dear Yossi” letter. At the outset, he illustrates a point that ideological and political opponents of Zionism refuse to accept: that Arabs promote, consistently, a denial and a rejection of Jewish national identity. Shehadeh informs Klein that Israel is but Klein’s “adopted country.” Not a homeland. Not his national home. Not even his religious patrimony. No, Klein is a national geographical bastard.
To make sure that Klein or anyone else who would attack him on that elegantly phrased put-down, he adds
It is our ignorance of your history and religion and attachment to the land that you seek to correct here.
Again, a version of the poor “Palestinian Arab” who is the victim of some Jewish superiority. Of course, Shehadeh knows our history. So well, in fact, that he can easily subvert it. Jeremy Corbyn does that as well when he spoke of Jews “imposing” the Balfour Declaration on the British government (or was the declaration but “opposed”?). Facts are “interpreted.” They are awarded a new “narrative.” And Shehadeh does not appreciate Klein’s version of history. No matter how correct it is.
Continuing to assume a pose of being insulted (even after insulting Klein), he writes
reading your letters I couldn’t help feeling condescended to—an unfortunate reaction since I am, I believe, your intended interlocutor …
He feels that Yossi is being condescending to him. Injured, he now pretends that we Israelis cannot feel being condescended to when he suggests that the solution to the Conflict-Arabs-Have-With-Israel is really quite simple, as all that is needed is for all to forget a century of Arab violence, including exactly how that 1967 war broke out, especially when Israel was not in Judea and Samaria (or Gaza, the Sinai and the Golan Heights) before its outbreak, nor were there any “settlement” construction going on:
all most of us wish is for Israel to withdraw from the territories it has occupied and leave us to go on with our lives.
Go away, leave us be, he asks—or demands. But Mr. Shehadeh, we weren’t in your midst then (Jordan was). But you—that is, Arabs—first as fedayeen and then as the PLO, infiltrated Israel to commit terror. You were trying to occupy us. You wanted all our territory. You wanted to end our lives with bullets and bombs and knives. Actually, Mr. Shehadeh, that was what you were doing all throughout three decades of the British Mandate period.
However, rereading that, perhaps you mean to say we Jews have no national rights, no Eretz Yisrael history (longer than yours, even before the name “Palestine” appeared), and all this post-Balfour Declaration history has no relevance or validity?
And you claim that Yossi and I,
rehearse old and discredited narratives, like the suggestion that the land of Palestine was empty before Zionists arrived (I would never say that as I know well that Arabs conquered and occupied Eretz-Yisrael in 638 C.E. and populated it with other Arabs from all over the Middle East and did Yossi really write that?) or the notion that it was Israel that has constantly offered peace, which the Palestinians have persisted in rejecting (as if you didn’t).
Shehadeh then tries throwing a curve ball, bringing up the 1948 “Nakba,” in Arabic the “catastrophe,” asking that all the Zionists do is
Suffice it for you to recognize your responsibility and to put a recognition of that culpability on the agenda for negotiations when the time comes for arriving at a settlement between us.
Now I am perplexed. First, Shehadeh misrepresents the immediate pre-1967 period. Now he insists on the false narrative of 1947-49, when the Arabs started attacking Jews already in August 1947, rejected a fair partition plan with the establishment of an Arab state and went to war, aggressively and against U.N. decisions to eradicate and obliterate a Jewish state and its residents.
He ups the ante, ignores even Benny Morris’ findings of jihad as the thrust of the Islamic opposition to Zionism and ignores, too, the mufti’s religious-based campaigns of terror and violence, especially in 1929, and dares to assert:
ours is not a religious war.
Despite the 1937 and 1947 partitions, land compromises of Yigal Allon, Yitzchak Rabin and Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, the disengagement from Gaza and more, he sweetly writes for The New York Times’ readers that he agrees
that peace can come only if we succeed in sharing this land and living on it with justice and fairness for both nations.
“Dear Raja, although I am not writing a letter to you, allow me to inform you that until Arabs recognize their responsibility for their own plight, you’ll never, at least from me, receive any stamp of approval.”
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and author.