Since late 1988, MAPAM (The United Workers’ Party) has been among the Israeli political forces favoring Israeli-PLO negotiations which might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. Yossi Amitay’s Ahvat amim bamivhan: MAPAM 1948-1954: emdot besugiyot araviyei eretz yisra’el [Brotherhood of Nations on Trial: MAPAM, 1948-1954: Positions on Palestinian-Arab Issues] (Tel Aviv: Tcherikover, 1988) provides a timely opportunity to place MAPAM’s current views in historical perspective. Amitay examines MAPAM’s stand on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the first six years of Israel’s statehood, when the party represented a kibbutz-based alliance of all the socialist-Zionist tendencies to the left of Ben Gurion’s MAPAI. His detailed exposition of its equivocation, inconsistency, compromises and retreats demonstrates MAPAM’s failure to combine Zionist loyalism with a Marxist-internationalist commitment to equal rights for Palestinian Arabs. MAPAM’s own publishing house refused to handle Amitay’s book, ostensibly for commercial reasons.
Amitay drew his personal conclusions about MAPAM in 1969 when, after serving in its Arab Affairs Department for many years, he left the party in protest against formation of the Alignment with the Labor Party (disbanded in 1984). He continues to make his home in MAPAM-affiliated Kibbutz Gvulot, where he has served as secretary several times, and is now a leading member of the Progressive List for Peace.
This book was originally an M.A. thesis at Tel Aviv University, though it would easily have merited a Ph.D. in any American university. In accord with prevailing Israeli positivist historical style, Amitay offers a wealth of description and little analysis. Despite his own rich experiences, he draws no explicit political conclusions, adopts a dispassionate stance and avoids inserting any personal dimension into the narrative. His strongest statement in the book is nonetheless unequivocal — that the contradiction between MAPAM’s stated commitment to Palestinian rights and the settlement of MAPAM kibbutzim on land confiscated from refugees and Palestinian Arabs who remained as citizens of Israel after 1948 was the biggest obstacle to its credibility on Arab-Israeli issues. As little of any value has been published on MAPAM in English, it would be worthwhile to translate this book.
Lest we imagine that MAPAM’s acrobatics on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are a thing of the distant past, the Political-Ideological Department of Kibbutz Artzi (the kibbutz federation affiliated with MAPAM) has issued Siah Lohamim 1989 (Fighters’ Talk 1989; an English version, Listen General! is available from the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, 107 Hahashmonaim St., Tel Aviv). The Hebrew title of this 34-page booklet evokes a book-length collection of interviews with kibbutz soldiers after the 1967 war published in English as The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War. The 1989 version records a discussion at Kibbutz Artzi headquarters in February 1989 in which kibbutz member-reserve officers discussed their experiences combating the Palestinian uprising with Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, then military commander of the West Bank. Kibbutz Artzi and MAPAM have criticized both government policy and army actions during the intifada. Several kibbutz members have embraced the tactic initiated by the Yesh Gvul (There is a Limit) war resisters’ group of refusing to perform reserve service in the Occupied Territories, although officially Kibbutz Artzi adamantly opposes refusal to serve. Still, some officers wanted Mitzna to know how hard it was for them to carry out their orders. Eli Ben-Gal of Kibbutz Bar’am spoke of the moral problems: “They are forcing us to kill them, and the Jewish people will not withstand this.” Others suggested ways the army could improve its operations. Uri Pinkerfeld from Kibbutz Revadim proposed that “perhaps we should use live ammunition instead of plastic bullets on the young ones, because they don’t understand us. With their mentality they can’t understand a meeting like this.”
In an article in Ha’aretz, Tom Segev ridiculed the hypocrisy of the Kibbutz Artzi officers. (“Soldiers of Sour Cream,” April 26, 1989; the title refers to children fed sour cream when parents could not afford it for themselves.) Somehow MAPAM’s moral hesitations regularly fail to restrain the capacity of its supporters to commit brutalities — “shooting and crying,” as it is called in Hebrew. Perhaps for that reason these and similar comments do not appear in the English version. The desire to suppress statements that may hinder the cause of peace is understandable, but the effect is to misrepresent the world outlook of an important component of the Israeli peace movement. The blame of the victim and underlying racism in these expressions are deeply embedded in the dominant Israeli political discourse and are accepted, perhaps unconsciously, by a majority of the peace movement.
The Kibbutz Artzi officers’ demand for sympathy for the oppressor might easily be dismissed as disingenuous, as Tom Segev has done. But these fellows are deeply sincere and believe that they are motivated by a higher morality and sense of duty than most Jewish Israelis. It may ultimately be more difficult for Palestinians to come to terms with this sensibility than to reach an accommodation with non-ideological pragmatists.
With the Camp David “peace process” in a state of advanced decomposure, it is useful to have a sober and realistic account of Egyptian-Israeli relations over the past decade. Ann Mosely Lesch and Mark Tessler represented Universities Field Staff International in Egypt and Israel respectively. Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989) consists of slightly revised versions of reports they wrote from 1980 to 1986. This is both the strength and the weakness of the book, which consists mostly of detailed, accurate, insightful description and political narrative. Despite endless American government and media references to “the peace process,” as though calling it that could make it so, knowledgeable and astute contemporary observers on the scene saw little chance that the Camp David accords would lead to a comprehensive peace and resolution of the Palestinian question. As this comes to be widely understood, it is also important to provide a more analytically focused explanation of this outcome. The authors are well qualified to undertake this task, and hopefully they will do so in the future.