Peace in the Middle East?

By Hentoff, Nat | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Peace in the Middle East?


Hentoff, Nat, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


When the dream of a Jewish homeland actually became real in 1948, my family rejoiced. Years before, as a child, I had been sent up the street carrying a blue-and-white tin box, to collect coins to plant trees in Palestine for the state to come. When the Six Day War broke out, bed sheets were placed on the streets in New York City, into which passersby - including me and my wife - threw money to support the Israeli armed forces.

But as a reporter, I came to know Palestinians in America, and I also met them during a trip to Israel. Some ruefully told me, "We are now the wandering Jews." Others, speaking of their zeal for education and their literature, said with bitterness, "We used to be called the Jews of the Middle East."

Researching the embattled history of the still-new Jewish state, I came across a question by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was born in Russia and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee before moving to the homeland. She asked: "Who are the Palestinians? There is no such nation."

But David Ben-Gurion knew who the Palestinians were. A founder of the Jewish state and its prime minister before Golda Meir, he came out of his retirement in the desert after the 1967 Six Day War and told a Labor Party convention - as Howard Kaplan reported in the Baltimore Jewish Times - that Israel, even without peace, must immediately return the conquered territories. Otherwise, Ben-Gurion predicted, that land, with its huge Arab population, "would eat Israel alive from the inside."

Unheeded, Ben-Gurion returned to the desert. The violence, inside and outside Israel, continued. Amnesty International and other human rights groups charged Israel with torturing and otherwise abusing its Palestinian prisoners and razing the homes of their families. Simultaneously, Palestinian terrorists murdered Israelis.

In Israel, I spoke to a member of a historic Israeli terrorist group, the Stern Gang. In 1948, she assassinated Count Bernadotte, who, with the Swedish Red Cross, had saved thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps. When he became United Nations mediator in Palestine, the Stern Gang targeted him because he wanted to internationalize Jerusalem.

His assassin had no regrets. "It was a war," she told me. "They killed us and we gave them an answer." But Count Bernadotte had killed no one. Meanwhile, as Palestinians developed their own human rights organizations to document Israeli oppression, there were also Israeli human rights groups that painstakingly reported abuses by their own government - and still do. …

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