Micah Goodman Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War Part II Israeli History

I have suggested that the issue is not psychological, not humiliation. The issue concerns the general conviction among most Palestinians about the intentions of the Zionists. The Palestinians believe (and I concur are justified in believing), that the Zionist movement, from the beginning, wanted a Jewish state in all of Palestine. Initially, up until 1935, Zionists may have wanted a state in which a majority of Jews in Palestine (as a result of continuing immigration and land purchases) could live alongside and in co-existence with a minority of just over a million Palestinians. A minority of Palestinians accepted that this was indeed the goal of the Zionists which their leaders were determined to oppose. Most believed, and continue to believe, that Jews have no right to live in any part of Palestine – except perhaps pre-Zionist Jews and their descendants.

After 1935, the Jews first gave up on co-existence because the Palestinians, they realized, were unwilling to live as a minority in a majoritarian Jewish-dominated unified state. It may be correct that the Palestinian belief that Jews looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population in 1948 was incorrect, but the Jews were very willing to accept the dispossession of 700,000 Palestinians even if they were not responsible for all or even most of that dispossession. Jews may not have wanted a wholly Jewish state before 1935, but certainly after 1935, they did want to live in a majoritarian Jewish state even if, reluctantly, that meant partition when the numbers no longer seemed to be there to immigrate to Israel following the extermination of European Jewry.

Further, the influx of the Jews from Arab lands and of over a million Russians seemed to revive and reinforce the belief among many Israelis that Jews could indeed live as a majority in a unified Jewish state, especially if Gaza was excluded from it. This was not a belief based on humiliation and simply nostalgia for the past, but on a realistic appraisal of Israeli intent and practices. Settlements were needed for physical security and became the wedge for Israelis to revive the belief in a majoritarian Jewish state in Israel, Judea and Samaria. Under such circumstances, given the understandable Palestinian response, the Left in Israel began to wither on the vine. It is that shrinking Left that nostalgically clings to the Green Line as the reference point and experiences humiliation when dealing with the larger international community. However, that humiliation as a psychological state rather than a result of events is not the reality of the Palestinian identity, but a projection of guilt-ridden Leftists onto the Palestinian psyche.

Why the correlation between Jewish Israeli (and diaspora) religious beliefs and the resistance to surrender the settlements and even cease their expansion? Goodman’s observation of this correlation is accurate. Further, it is true that Jewish Zionism has shifted over the history of the creation and development of the Israeli state, but so have the beliefs of secularists. The latter are no longer overwhelmingly socialists. Among many of the latter, the old belief in a majority of Jews governing the old polity of Palestine has been revived.

It did so, I contend, more forcefully among the religious only because the religious were traditionally less disposed to rely on force and on the modern priority of interests to determine their future. While gradually accepting interests as a determining factor, hence an increasing emphasis on security, they are, because of their beliefs, more prone to give greater emphasis to passions than interests. And the passion for a Jewish dominated state in all of the Mandate of Palestine is, in their minds, an old and honourable Jewish dream.

What about the shift on the Left? Did the Left evolve from a social movement to a diplomatic one? There were always Zionists who relied on international diplomacy and the infusion of interests from the international community to help find peace. Those numbers, I declare, have always been a minority. They never shrivelled. Rather the belief in partition as the answer shrivelled, especially among those who believed in partition between a physically secure Jewish state and a Palestinian one. With the retreat of that conviction, the Left turned itself into a marginal political force.

What about Goodman’s historical portrait of the development of Zionism? I would argue that he makes as many mistakes as Halevi. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was no different than the Zionist leadership on the Left in believing that a Jewish majoritarian state depended upon cooperation with Britain – at least, until 1935. Goodman does not provide a single endnote to back up his conviction that Jabotinsky was always sceptical of the British and always believed that they would betray the Jews. Endnote 1 to Chapter One cites Jabotinsky’s concerns about the stability and reliability of the British in 1918. But concern about instability and reliability cannot be equated with complete distrust. Jabotinsky simply believed that if the Jews did not prove themselves capable of creating facts on the ground through the use of force, Britain would be prone to desert the Zionist cause.

Britain did desert the Zionist cause of a majority Jewish polity in all of Palestine because the British leaders came to believe, mostly correctly, that Britain had been led to support the Balfour Declaration by naïve Christian Zionists, and that it was far more realistic to protect the route to India by winning the favour of the Arabs. Most colonial British officers on the ground opposed the Jewish vision. Jabotinsky, as an ex-British officer, knew this. He also knew that the British respected power. Thus, his reliance on arms even as he initially counted on British diplomacy to forward the cause of the Zionists even when he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison by the British for organizing the arming of a Jewish militia. It was over differences on the use of force and his ambition to create a majoritarian state over the whole of the original Palestine Mandate and not just the Mandate west of the Jordan after King Hussein had been awarded Transjordan as a prize, that he split from Chaim Weizmann in 1923, but not over the need of British diplomacy to advance the Zionist cause. By 1935, he was among a group of Zionists prophesying disaster for European Jewry and was not even the most apocalyptic one. Nahum Goldmann provided that.

Goodman was correct that Jabotinsky was the strongest and loudest voice predicting Arab resistance to the Zionist dream of a majority Jewish state in even the post-Transjordan Palestine Mandate. But the belief in British betrayal and in the extent that Germans would engage in extermination came much later than Goodman suggests. Why is this important? Because it is critical that we not simply align prophecy with political opinions.

Goldmann was a moderate, but had the greatest apocalyptic vision. Jabotinsky’s was more run-of-the-mill, but, among the Zionist leadership, he was the greatest nineteenth century foreign policy realist and old fashioned nineteenth century liberal who believed in the supremacy of the individual. He would have been just as appealing, if not more so, to Jorge García Granados and Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat, the Jewish Zionists’ strangest supporters on the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). It is now Jabotinsky’s vision that prevails in Israel today.

What about Goodman’s contention that the basic dominant belief on the Israeli Right today is Jewish religious maximalism versus the moderates? Currently, the population of the West Bank consists of about 3.3 million (some estimates go as high as 4.5 million, though, as Goodman shows, Yoram Ettinger in the advancement of the position of the Right insisted there are only 1.75 million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.) I myself accept the position that, in fact, the population of the West Bank is made up of 2,400,000 Palestinians alongside 900,000 Israelis, with half of them living in Greater Jerusalem. I believe Goodman concurs in this even though he refuses to arbitrate among demographers. It would take at least another long treatise to sort out this dispute.

However, accepting the position of Ettinger for the sake of argument does not help. For the issue is not really Palestinian displacement or even the risks of Palestinian domination, but uprooting of the settlements. Shifting the emphasis to the issue of Palestinian displacement, in reality, a non-issue, serves only as a distraction from the problem at hand.

In Jeffrey Goldberg’s long piece in The New Yorker referred to in the last blog, in his estimate when he wrote the piece in 2004, 800 Jewish settlers lived among Hebron’s 150,000 Palestinian residents. Currently, the World Population Review claims that there are just over 700,000 in the whole of Hebron with just over 160,000 in the city alone. The city has the largest population concentration in the West Bank. Wikipedia claims its population in 2019 was just over 215,000 with 500-850 Jewish settlers living in and around the old quarter in Kiryat Arba, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, Tel Rumeida and Avraham Avinu. 

Four of these five settlements trace their roots to pre-Israel times and some to periods even before modern Zionism, though some, like Avraham Avinu, expanded into nearby vacated Palestinian stores. In 1929, an Arab pogrom erased any Jewish presence in Hebron when sixty-seven Jews were murdered. A valid argument can be made that none of these settlements are about religious extremism, or, at least, not just about and perhaps not even mainly about messianic Judaism, but about re-establishing the rights of Jews to practice their religion in places of worship that have been part of their religious heritage.  

Tel Rumeida can be traced back to 1807, though the outpost of Ramat Yesha established in 1984 was originally considered a provocation before it was legalized in 2001. Beit Romano goes back to 1901. Beit Hadassah dated originally to 1893. Only Kiryat Arba can be traced to the post-Israel period in 1968 immediately after the victory in the Six Day War, but it too began as an effort in the outpost of Givat Ha’avot near the Cave. Nevertheless, it contradicts the Goodman thesis that extremist West Bank settlement began almost a decade after the Six Day War, for, Goodman contends, up until then settlements were established only for security purposes.

Though I believe that all received financing from the Movement for a Greater Israel and the last was spearheaded by the Zealot, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, most of these settlements can be defended on two other principles: prior domain and an insistence that the areas of ancient Israel cannot and should not be made Judenrein. There is very little evidence that these settlements by Zealots are intended to displace Palestinians.

However, it was in Hebron in 1994 that the Jewish terrorist, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Muslims at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Jeffrey Goldberg described racist comments, like “Arabs are sand niggers.” Goldberg described religious Yeshiva boys harassing and insulting Arab girls, though there was even more antisemitic graffiti. Further, although Levinger favoured civil but not national political rights for Palestinians, he also believed in incentive transfers as a mode of ethnic cleansing, though he insisted Jews would protect Palestinians as long “as they behaved.”

The reality, however, is, as Goldberg found out, the settlers are zealots driven to act in God’s name. “Cohen and other settlers say that they are obliged to fulfill God’s command that Jews settle the land of Israel. But there are safer places to live than King David Street in Hebron. I asked Cohen how she reconciled her decision to settle here with an even greater imperative of Judaism, the saving of lives—in this case, those of her children. She glared at me. ‘Hellenizers’—secular Jews—’will never understand,’ she said with contempt.” Cohen had hung a picture of Baruch Goldstein as a martyr for God. There is also a rendering of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem in which the Dome of the Rock has been replaced by an imagined Third Temple.

But the demographic reality is that up to three-quarters of the settlers in The West Bank have settled there for economic reasons, not because of religious beliefs. Even the religious settlers can be divided into two different groups, the Biblical literalists who believe they are following God’s plan and direction in settling Judea and Samaria and the Zealots, like Levinger, who would also physically resist any effort of Israeli authorities to uproot them. Levinger’s followers are Zealots and they live in the midst of Palestinian-populated areas along the ridge of the Judean Hills. It is these Zealots who are accused of destroying the olive trees of nearby Palestinian farmers.

To be continued

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