I’ve never been a fan of Thomas Friedman’s. His breathless writings on globalization are way out of balance in their undercounting of the costs of unfettered capitalism. His support for George W. Bush’s war with Iraq rested on the incredibly naïve belief that US military might could spawn a new era of democracy in the Middle East. His repeated calls for a potentially disastrous “centrist alternative” for the 2012 presidential election drove me up a wall. Most of the time, his writing is more clever than insightful.
Still, Freidman is more than occasionally worth reading. After all, he’s been around the world a few times, and he knows a lot of stuff, especially about the Middle East. He’s at his best in his column today, which is basically a laudatory review of a book by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit called My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Shavit’s book looks like an important resource for anyone interested in forming a balanced perspective on the historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. If you are so interested and can’t get to Shavit, you should give Friedman’s column a read. It’s a good follow-up to my recent post (11/4) on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks.
Freidman summarizes Shavit’s well-justified paeans to the tremendous achievements of Israel at its best, “one of the most amazing political experiments in modern history, so much better than its critics will ever acknowledge.” But at the same time, “…Israel at its worst is devouring Palestinian farms and homes in the West Bank in ways that are ugly, brutal, selfish and deceitful, so much worse than its admirers will ever admit.”
Shavit is also willing to acknowledge at least some of the dark sides of Israeli history that most Israelis prefer to ignore. The Israeli miracle
also produced a nightmare. There was another people [in Palestine] 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 Juy 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….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.’
Of course, Lydda was one of many black boxes in 1948.
Comparative public opinion polls have repeatedly confirmed that the United States is the most pro-Israel country in the world. (In some ways, more pro-Israel than Israel itself. Principled criticism of Israel’s occupation and colonization of the West Bank are far easier to find in the Israeli media than in the American.) Americans are far more familiar with the best of Israel than the worst. That is especially unfortunate because the right-wing nationalist Likud coalition that now governs Israel represents the worst. There is every reason to believe that Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to devour as much of the West Bank as it can get away with.
Shavit warns that this expansion is not only unjust objectively and in the eyes of the rest of the world, but that it “will be the virus that kills the original Israel.” Israel’s right-wingers are ideologically blinkered to that prospect. It is disheartening that in the United States the same blinkers are worn not only by Likud’s soulmates on the right, but by most liberal Democrats, who joined whole-heartedly in the rapturous reception given Netanyahu when he addressed the US Congress last year. But that’s another story for another post.
Note: The link I’ve provided to Friedman’s column doesn’t seem to be working, for reasons I don’t understand, maybe because of a firewall. Perhaps it will work for readers who subscribe to the Times.