Merle Thorpe, Jr., Prescription for Conflict: Israel’s West Bank Settlement Policy (Washington DC: Foundation for Middle East Peace, 1984).
In debates about Israel and Palestine, it is always useful to fuel one’s arguments with criticisms by commentators whose love for Israel and loyalty to it are beyond reproach. This small book, an indictment of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, provides plenty of impeccable ammunition. The critics selected by Mr. Thorpe range from Arthur James Balfour in 1917 through Israelis like author Amos Elon, historian J.L. Talmon, journalist Dani Rubinstein, and Americans usually known for their pro-Israel apologetics, like Irving Howe and Michael Walzer. The title really might have been American and Israeli Jews Speak Out Against the Occupation: almost all of the opposition voices here — apart from Halhoul’s exiled mayor, Muhammad Milhem, and the Palestinian lawyer Jonathan Kuttab — are Jewish ones. Simha Flapan’s introduction sets the book’s tone, announcing “the deep-seated anguish and moral outrage felt by many Israeli and Diaspora Jews” about Israel’s current policies.
Half the book is composed of photographs that make obvious but never-too-often-repeated points: the farmer in his vineyard with the settlement towering over it; the soldiers with their Uzis silhouetted against the Palestinian town beneath. The rest comprises brief articles with historical background and statements about UN Resolution 242 and other international documents about Israeli military policies and practices in the West Bank, and about American and Israeli Jewish opposition.
Mr. Thorpe provides a nice addition to the pamphleteering needed to fuel opposition to Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. But readers should be aware of historical distortions. Take, for instance, Simha Flapan’s statement that in 1947 “the Arab state never materialized [because of] the extremism of the Palestinian leadership at the time,” or his surprising assertion that the “recognition of Palestinian rights” was what “led the [Jewish] Agency and the World Zionist Organization…to accept the idea of partition …” (p. 24). These are statements made in passing, but they are not trivial. Their premise — that “general” Zionism was decent, humane, and the majority tradition among the founding fathers, while “Revisionist” Zionism was an evil diversion — reflects that of this book. Thus condemnations of Israeli policy by Michael Walzer and Irving Howe are based on the supposition that Menachem Begin, the Likud, and their evil works have grievously led Israel off an otherwise wholesome path hewed by Labor.
Among critics in the United States, this timid and waffling critique has become the dominant one. And it is tempting to let one’s case against Israel rest here — especially when one risks charges of anti-Semitism if one ventures farther. Yet it is possible, even necessary, in the interests of objectivity and historical accuracy, to locate Jewish voices who have opposed the mainstream.
Hannah Arendt’s brilliant essays from 1944 on eloquently present the view of Jewish critics who saw little difference between the “general” Zionists and the Revisionists.* A tender regard for Palestinian Arabs was a minority sentiment among the European Jews who settled Palestine from the late 19th century on. The impasse in 1947-48, as today, has to do not with some bizarre reactionary divergence from the liberal norm, but with the inextricable intertwining of “liberal” and “extremist” interests.
In Mr. Thorpe’s book, critical quotes from Presidents Carter and Reagan and from international resolutions and conventions condemning Israeli policy contribute to an impression that the whole world stands against the occupation. If this were so, then only demons — some world-historical force personified in Menachem Begin, for instance — could account for Israel’s continued occupation and war in Lebanon. Such an explanation lets other, equally powerful culprits off the hook and puzzles the beginner — the audience at whom this is aimed. The United States and the Labor Party are at least as responsible as the Likud for the current tragedies in the West Bank and elsewhere. Thus this very readable booklet should be used in tandem with other materials, in order to take best advantage of its attractive format and generous intentions.
* This and other essays of Arendt were gathered in a collection, The Jew as Pariah (New York: Grove Press, 1978).