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Israel critics can’t handle “Brutal Honesty” about Lydda and refugees

Israel critics can’t handle “Brutal Honesty” about Lydda and refugees

Mideast Media Sampler 11/18/2013 – Thomas Friedman: The Incredible Shrinking Columnist

The featured image of Thomas Friedman above comes from a talk he gave about many of the marvels of modern technology. At the beginning he says that you have “every bit of knowledge available to you” from Google. It’s a bit of an overstatement, but his point is essentially correct.

One particular effective use of Google is fact checking writers like Friedman, who make unsubstantiated claims. In Friedman’s case, it happens quite a bit. He has a habit of taking great sounding ideas and turning them into columns. But that doesn’t mean that he’s right. Often he leaves out critical information.

This week Friedman did this once again. In Something for Barack and Bibi to Talk About, he prefaces his main point with:

Given this situation, I can think of no better time for a good book about Israel — the real Israel, not the fantasy, do-no-wrong Israel peddled by its most besotted supporters or the do-no-right colonial monster portrayed by its most savage critics.

As one of Israel’s “besotted supporters,” it’s clear that Friedman is pretty close to the Israel is the “do-no-right colonial monster” crowd. The omission in his column here makes that clear.

The book about the “real Israel” that he cites, is Ari Shavit’s latest. Shavit is columnist for Ha’aretz. For Ha’aretz, he is a model of probity and self awareness. But that is setting the bar pretty low for those qualities.

So what is so essential for Barack and Bibi to talk about?

But this miracle also produced a nightmare. There was another people there when the Jews returned, who had their own aspirations: the Palestinian Arabs. In a brutally honest chapter entitled “Lydda, 1948,” Shavit reconstructs the story of how the population of this Palestinian Arab town, in the center of what was to become Israel, was expelled on July 13th in the 1948 war.

“By noon, a mass evacuation is under way,” writes Shavit. “By evening, tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs leave Lydda in a long column, marching south past the Ben Shemen youth village and disappearing into the East. Zionism obliterates the city of Lydda. Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. … If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be.”

Shavit wrestles with this contradiction, arguing that it is vital for every Israeli and Zionist to acknowledge Lydda, to empathize with the Palestinians’ fate. “But Lydda does not make Zionism criminal,” he insisted in an interview. History has produced many flights of refugees — the Jewish refugees of Europe were one such wave. Israel absorbed those refugees. European countries absorbed theirs. For too long, the Arab world kept the Palestinians frozen in victimhood. “It is my moral duty as an Israeli to recognize Lydda and help the Palestinians to overcome it,” said Shavit, by helping them establish a Palestinian state that is ready to live in peace with Israel. But, ultimately, “it is the Palestinians’ responsibility to overcome the painful past, lean forward and not become addicted to victimhood.”

In other words, Israel is a “do no right colonial monster.” Clearly, what Friedman means about the importance of Shavit’s book is that Netanyahu should be more forthcoming and give the Palestinians everything that they demand to make peace, because, in truth, Israel is truly responsible for the Palestinians’ suffering.

However, the story of Lydda (now called Lod) is not so simple. The residents of Lydda were not summarily expelled. The expulsion was a response to a massacre of Israeli soldiers, after the town had agreed to terms of surrender.

Maurice Ostroff interviewed a soldier who fought in that battle:

Mike Isaacson, who now lives in Pretoria, South Africa, served as a Mahal volunteer in Dayan’s battalion. This is how he described his experience to me:

“On July 10 when the battalion attacked Lydda, the Arab leadership surrendered. Lydda’s leaders were told they could continue to live in peace, provided they surrendered their arms and accepted Israeli sovereignty. They agreed. “Leaving only a few soldiers as guards, the battalion left Lydda to return to Ben Shemen. However, when two Arab Legion armored cars appeared on the horizon the next day, giving the impression that Legion reinforcements were arriving, the Lydda Arabs reneged on their agreement. They didn’t give the Israeli soldiers in the town the choice of being expelled. They slaughtered them. “In the meantime, the battalion was surprised to find itself in Ramle sooner than intended. Instead of taking the road to Ben Shemen, the leading vehicle, driven by Jimmy Kantey, had in error turned towards Ramle at the crossroad…. “As a consequence of the massacre of the Israeli soldiers, the troops on returning to Lydda could not accept a fifth column in their midst and forced thousands of families out of the towns during the next three days.

Note too, why Lydda was so important strategically:

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It is located in what is now Israel’s narrow “waistline.” Losing Lydda would likely have cut the nascent country in two.

Alex Safian of CAMERA adds some more details.

Despite the surrender agreement, and the promise to turn over arms, the Israelis, now numbering only 500 men, had to once again take the town in another desperate battle.

Fighting house-to-house to root out snipers, and this time giving no quarter, within an hour much of the town was once again under control, and an estimated 200 Arabs were dead.

But the Dahmash Mosque, was still fighting, held by an estimated 70 fighters, and with an unknown number of others inside. Rather than launch a costly frontal assault, Lt. Col. Kelman decided to breach the mosque’s walls with an anti-tank weapon, known as a PIAT, and then have a platoon rush the building.

After the PIAT was fired, the men that stormed the building found that the defenders were dead, killed by the effects of the armor piercing projectile in the confined space of the mosque. (Kurzman, p. 515-516)

Dan Kurzman, I would add, was no “besotted” supporter of Israel. His Genesis, 1948, however is one of the classic accounts of Israel’s War of Independence. Is it possible that Shavit was unaware of this? Is it possible that “Middle East expert,” Thomas Friedman was unaware?

As is his wont, Friedman seized upon something that made his case – that Israel is largely at fault for the plight of the Palestinians and must do everything in its power to correct that – accuracy be damned.

It’s as if nothing’s happened in the past twenty years. It’s as if Israel hasn’t given the Palestinians legitimacy, money, territory and even arms in order to make peace and yet finds itself just as ostracized as it was twenty years ago.

Even though Friedman recites “For too long, the Arab world kept the Palestinians frozen in victimhood,” he doesn’t relate it to anything. Why haven’t Palestinians made an agreement with Israel? If they don’t want to be victims, let them agree to end the war even if it means taking less than 100% of what they say they’re entitled to. But with cheerleaders like Friedman insisting that the only way for Israel to make peace is to give the Palestinians everything they want, they have no reason to. But Friedman does more than simply insist that Israel give the Palestinians everything they want, without it Israel cannot “enjoy the support of the world,” as he paraphrases Shavit. To Friedman, it isn’t simply good sense for Israel to make peace, it is essential for its legitimacy.

Friedman cited a much discussed book (it was excerpted in the New Yorker) to prove that he was looking at Israel with “brutal honesty.” Unfortunately, in this case he left out an essential fact that undercut the honesty of his position.

[Photo: AspenInstitute / YouTube ]


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Good strategy for dealing with Samaria.

There has never been a country called “Palestine”. How can there be “Palestinian Arabs”?

Who ever said Friedman was an expert on the Middle East?

He’s been writing columns with misinformation and poor reasoning about the Middle East (and many other subjects) for decades, but why would anyone consider him an expert on anything?

Like John Kerry, he married a very wealthy woman and I’m sure that carries a lot of weight with the Sulzberger-Ochs Empire, but “Middle East expert” is over the top.

I have not read Shavit’s book. What kind of account does he give of the events involving Lydda in 1948? Perhaps it is not as one-sided as David Gerstman implies it is.

Regardless, I would not have chosen Lydda as a historical point of departure for understanding why it is in fact the case that the establishment of the state of Israel was purchased at a great cost to the Arab population whose home the land has been ledor vador – for generations.

It might have been more instructive to retell the story of the expulsion of Arabs from Ramle (see Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree) or Bi’ram (see Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers).

I am a Christian, a proud ohev Israel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get the narrative from the Arab side.

I just spent two weeks in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jenin, Zababdeh, and I’billin. We were guests, literally, of Arab Christians and Arab Muslims I would entrust my own 10 year old daughter to.

It is insulting, if you ask me, to suggest that my Arab friends in Bethlehem and Nazareth and East Jerusalem do not have their own truth to tell. They do, and that truth relates to the present, not just to the past.