My Promised Land XVI Summation

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel


Ari Shavit – My Conclusion

Ari’s book has been more raved about than any book that has come out of Israel in the last quarter of a century. M. J. Rosenberg in The Huffington Post wrote: “It is an absolutely brilliant book which left me grateful for the existence of Israel, awed by its accomplishments, yet stunned by the horrors that surrounded its creation (the Nakba) and the post ’67 occupation. .It is the best book I’ve read about Israel since Amos Elon’s The Israelis: Founders and Sons in 1971.” Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic in his New York Times review called it “important and powerful” and praised Ari Shavit for bringing erudition and eloquence with an undoctrinaire mind to the promises and challenges facing Israel. Thomas Friedman, the author famous not only for his incisive New York Times columns, but for his own marvellous book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, effused over the book and recommended that both Obama and Netanyahu read it.

So even though I stood and cried and saluted and felt renewed when I finished reading the book – I actually read it twice and the feeling was even stronger the second time – why did the book leave such a bad taste in my mouth? After all, those who praised the book were correct. The book is a great read. Sometimes a lament and at other times the book acquires a soaring lyricism, it moves at a rapid pace while we meet dozens and dozens of individuals and traverse a myriad of places at a dizzying speed.

And its political message can appeal to both the right – bomb Iran – and the left – get out of occupied West Bank, and, more importantly acknowledge what the Jews did to the Palestinians. But do not apologize. They made it necessary. And don’t retreat. Stand up tall and proud for what Jews created in Palestine. Ari Shavit is praised as a man with the courage to speak truth to power, to tell it as it is. Further, he sets his analysis within a dialectical account of two contradictions vying with one another, the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland and developing there a prosperous and creative nation and doing so at the cost and excision of another nation, the Palestinian people.

Since I co-wrote a volume called No Refuge, No Return that documented in detail across many refugee movements the reality that populations displaced in ethnic and religious conflicts do not return except if they win through the use of arms, then that is the choice the Palestinians face. Either accept the reality of no return or continue the fight. There is no third alternative. Ari too has stated that, “It is my moral duty as an Israeli to recognize Lydda and help the Palestinians to overcome it 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.” So we agree. So why don’t I cheer on this book from the highest towers and with the loudest voice?

Because Ari does not really face Lydda. He describes it well in a more moving way than Benny Morris. But other than calling for Israelis to recognize what happened, does he call for trials for those who were criminally responsible? When he calls for accountability, how is the accountability to be addressed? Should it be through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? These are the really difficult questions that Ari avoids. Instead, he opts for posturing, for calling for responsibility but not offering an institutional way to exemplify that responsibility. Would either trials or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission be relevant? Would they work? I myself have serious doubts. But the questions must be asked. The questions must be explored. To avoid them and yet call for responsibility and accountability is to be irresponsible in what you say and to continue the trope of avoiding true accountability.

Ari Shavit is not a propagandist. He gives the impression of presenting Israel in all its complexity. However, he repeatedly simplifies the interpretation and boils it down to dichotomies, often false ones while, at the same time, denouncing the traditional dichotomies. As he makes the story complex, he oversimplifies at the same time. Most of all, he is an old style Zionist parading in a new dress at war with itself, in love with gays and respecting the drug culture but denouncing with the thunderous moralism of one hand clapping their turned-off disavowal of their collective responsibilities.

In his chapter on the rabid ideologues of the settler movement, where is the discussion of the Allon Plan that gave those settlers the moral authority and institutional backing of the state? It is not as if it is not there. But it only lurks in the shadows.

What you do not get is the rich artistic life of Israel, the depth of its science, the profundity of its scholarship the brilliance of its new-found culinary skills. Overwhelmingly, this is a political book. And many Israelis have given up on politics. But in calling everyone back to man the barricades, women are marginalized. Sephardim are given the most moving chapter, but are otherwise ignored. The Israeli-Palestinians are represented by a rabid Palestinian nationalist dressed up as an outwardly liberal human rights lawyer. The Nakba story is told through the events at Lydda and for those unfamiliar with the atrocities committed, it may be very upsetting. But most of all we get tendentious generalizations that seem to rise phoenix-like out of smoke and ashes rather than careful sifting of evidence and argument.

Look at how central Israel is to American policy as it withdraws from Afghanistan but is engaged with negotiations with Iran, Israel’s most notable existential threat, and with Syria, now Israel’s self-destroyed neighbour, and with the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s most intractable problem. The book is written as much for Americans as for Israelis at the same time as Shavit relegates diaspora Jews to the wastebasket of history. I applaud Ari when he screams, “It is not the occupation, stupid! It is the conquest!’ but then berate him for his repeated false prophecies over Iran and his drum-beat insistence that bombing Iran is the only answer otherwise judgement day is at hand – in 2006, in 2007, in 2008, in 2009, in 2010, in 2011, in 2012, in 2013. Ari Shavit is no different than a Christian preacher who repeats every year that the end of the world is now and finally immanent and then proposes a way to deal with it that would bring the immanence of terrible worldwide destruction nearer.

I find Ari’s placing the blame for the demise of Oslo on the Israelis because they failed to recognize that the central issue was the nakba and the refugees and not the occupation misplaced, thugh they did do that. I have written for years that the refugees (and Jerusalem) were the central issues and not the settlements, but I did not fault the Israelis for their failure but Arafat for his flakiness and Abbas for his stubborn grip on the refugee issue. Ari’s historical analysis was just inadequate and incorrect for me.

I applaud Ari’s insistence on a two-state solution. All other visions are chimeras or nightmares. But I do not deride Kerry and Obama for once again trying even if the odds are against them — as they both well know. Most of all I deride Shavit for his necessitarianism, his repeated claims about inevitability when my take on history, whether looking to the past or the future, is to emphasize possibilism. Contingencies have a force all their own. Of the sixteen Track II efforts in the attempt to get the Israelis and Palestinians together at the peace table, I was a participant in one track. Neither it nor any of the other tracks knew about the initiative that came out of a Prime Minister of Norway’s kitchen and from two Haifa academics previously not intimately connected with the peace process. Yet they succeeded against all odds where we were unsuccessful.

History and politics are serendipitous.

So it is not because I am put off by his style. I find it enchanting and wonderful. And I am not put off by most of his messages. I applaud them. The dogmatism of his premises drive me up a wall in a man that is otherwise a voice of tolerance and understanding. What bothers me in the end is that he is an inspiring, engaging and brilliant Israeli who is a great listener in his professional life but would probably display the arrogance and know-it-all qualities of the stereotypical Askenazi Israeli elitist male who loves an argumentative debates – though, I insist, none of my very personal friends are like that. He purports to lay the groundwork for a new renewed Zionism but it is the old Ashkenazi elitist Zionism in a new dress that does not recognize that women now wear the pants in the family, that does not come to terms with the strength and creativity of religious Zionism, that does not really come to terms with the creativity and industriousness of Palestinians who want to give up on the politics of nostalgia.

The book is very uneven, with some brilliant chapters – Lydda, the Deri chapter and the final chapter with its call to arms, but the tale of the youth sit-in in Tel Avi , Occupy Rothchild, is both confusing and unrevealing. The chapter on sex and drugs and the club culture is an exercise in self-indulgence and contradicts his final message. And that is part of the problem of the book. It has been drawn from many of his columns and, other than the case of Iran, reveals views which he clearly no longer seems to hold.

In the end, there is a problem of voice, not only the problems with Ari’s voice, the inadequacies of which I dealt with many times over my many blogs on the book, but the absence of other voices that would undermine Ari’s caricature of even Palestinians, of Mizrachi Jews, of the religious, and of the women’s movement that is so strong in Israel. For a book of so many voices, it is interesting how many groups do not seem to have a spokesperson. Most of all, the dispora Jews relegated to the ashcan of history also have and will continue to have an important contribution to make.

My Promised Land VI Lydda 1948

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel


Ari Shavit

VI:       Lydda 1948

Lod airport is located in the Lydda valley and near what was the Arab city of Lydda. Why choose Lydda as the central symbol of the 1948 war? There are a number of possible reasons. Historically, after the second return from Babylonia, Lydda was the most westerly of the settlements of return. In the third return from exile in the twentieth century, Lydda is located between the ancient city of Jerusalem and the new city of Tel Aviv; Lydda is used because it is a geographical marker. Secondly, unlike Jerusalem, which is a city associated with religiosity, or Tel Aviv, which is a city associated with business, in the Gehaharashim, Lydda is identified as the valley of craftsmen, of practical men who can work with their hands and not as material or spiritual calculators. Third,  Lydda was a pagan town in the ancient world and an Arab city before most Palestinians fled in 1948. It was not only a geographical marker but represented both a cultural divide and a cultural link and both were severed by the 1948 war. There is a fourth and the most important reason. Lydda is the symbol of the paradox of Zionism built on a humanist ideology and forced to get its hands dirty and commit atrocities, forced not simply by outside circumstances but by the inner logic of the ideology. This essay is mainly an unpacking of that fourth reason.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the Sixth Zionist Congress purchased 2,330 dunams of land in the Valley of Lydda. Most of that land was fertile, not barren. The new story or myth will not be based on making the desert bloom. The new mythos will not be based on a people without a land for a land without people. Rather, this long fertile valley that stretched from the olive orchards of the Arab city of Lydda to the foothills of Jerusalem lies at the heart of the new Israel.

At first, as is usual in Ari’s structure of a chapter, there are a series of failures – the Arid factory to press oil and make fine soaps in 1905 was the first. Kiryat Sefer, the agricultural school founded in 1907 for the orphans who survived the Kishinev pogrom, was the second. The planting of a thousand olive trees in 1908 to honour Theodor Herzl after his death between Kiryat Sefer and the Atid facory, first with hired Arab labour and then replaced by saplings planted solely by Jewish labour, was also of no avail. The trees die, or are uprooted or damaged in the Great War; Herzl’s olive forest in the Valley of Lydda disappears.

These are symbolic as well as concrete failures. The soap factory to cleanse the past is an abject failure. The bet on future youth as a remnant of European persecution and rooting them in the land is a failure. The effort to commemorate the greatest ideologue of Zionism is also a failure. The new Israel will not be created based on cleansing the past of dirty secrets, of survivors of Europe simply transplanted as agricultural workers or from new ideological trees from which a new belief system will be created.  In fact, the fourth effort, the attempt to found a colony of craftsmen in 1910 by transplanting Yemenite artisans to replicate the ancient world is also defeated by the harsh conditions, the shortage of water and the high infant mortality rate. Even the fifth, Vilkansky’s experimental farm based on new science, though a success for sixteen years unlike the others, was transplanted to Rehovot in 1926, a story which Ari already told.

The sixth success forms the core of the story – the youth village established by Dr. Siegfried Lehmann in the abandoned Kiryat Sefer school for the Kishinev orphans twenty years earlier. Why did this succeed whereas the other efforts failed to take root? First, and unlike the kibbutzim founded on an abstract socialist ideology, the youth village was premised on the centrality of family warmth. Second, it was founded on both a humanitarian rather than a narrowly-focused ethnic Zionist mission and a broad historical context, again in juxtaposition to a ghetto centred past. Zionism was there not just to save Jews but to provide a light unto the nations, to save humanity from its physical, mental and spiritual alienation. Lehmann “wanted it to fulfil an urgent national task in a manner that would benefit all humanity. He wanted Zionism to be a settlement movement that was not tainted by colonialism, a national movement not scarred by chauvinism, a progressive movement that was not distorted by urban alienation…Zionism must plant the Jews in their ancient homeland in an organic fashion. It must respect the Orient and become a bridge between east and West.” (103) Zionism was a project of renewal to give roots to the uprooted, homes to the homeless, to restore meaning to life. Bet Shemen would offer harmony to the children and to the era that had lost all harmony.  

This vision of a Zionism integrated into the Orient, not through an alliance of business à la Bernie Avishai centred on Tel Aviv, but on an ideology and mythology of home and hearth and harmony. Founded on friendship, the surrounding Arabs were welcomed. Medical assistance was offered to the Arabs. The humanist utopia was the other side of the Janus-faced Zionism willing to resort to atrocities against Arabs to ensure Jewish survival, but the utopian side of that Janus face was crucial to preserving the soul of Zionism as military training was to preserving the body politic of Zionism. Zionism for an orphaned people based on humanitarian outreach, paradoxically, had to be twinned with military ruthlessness.

Ari in his mythological reconstruction of history, without any evidence, suggests that the visit to Ben Shemen in 1947 became the turning point in the deliberations of the UNSCOP committee. While it is clear from the accounts of the members of UNSCOP that they were distressed at visiting Arab factories that employed and exploited Arab children and were enthused by the visit to the youth villages of Zionism, there is no indication that this was a turning point but only one impression among many that reinforced the recommendation of partition to the United Nations.

But Ben Shemen is a turning point in the war that starts before May of 1948. In December 1947, a seven car convoy en route to Ben Shemen is attacked; 13 Jews are murdered. In February of 1948, the 400 students are evacuated. Humanitarianism, though necessary to a revived Zionism, is insufficient. The lessons of Gutman need to balance that humanitarian outreach. David Ben Gurion as the first Prime Minister of the reborn Israel orders the implementation of Operation Larlar in July 1948 to capture the Arab villages of the LyddaValley and the city of Lydda itself and expel all the Arab inhabitants.  

There will be no more effort to wash away Jewish atrocities. Instead they will be presented as necessary reprisal measures to counter Arab terror. Further, they will be twinned not only with the effort for humanitarian outreach but with the necessity for the renewal of that humanitarian outreach, but not without ensuring Jewish survival. The children of Gutman, now as warriors rather than as instruments of humanitarian outreach clear the valley of Arabs and claim the heartland of Israel for the Jewish people.. The atrocities in the City of Lydda are first explained as an accident of the fog of war as two Jordanian tanks mistakenly enter Lydda and the new Jewish defenders launch an all out attack that costs the lives of scores of Arab civilians.  200 are killed and the massacre of Lydda goes down in history. The massacre is compounded by Ben Gurion’s explicit order to expel the civilians of Lydda. Zioniasm no longer needs Benny Morris’ uncovering of the deep dark secrets of Jewish inhumanity. Rather, that inhumanity is set both in a survival context, the fog of war and deliberate strategic imperatives, but without abandoning the humanitarian core at the base of Ben Shemesh.

“Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be.” (108) Ethnic cleansing was not an accidental by-product betraying the humanitarianism of Zionism, but the necessary twin to that humanitarianism.

In 1988, Benny Morris published, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 through Cambridge University Press. I met Benny Morris in the archives at KewGardens in London, UK. Benny wrote part of that book at the Centre for Refugee Studies that I directed. Ari Shavit discovers this black box of Zionist history in 1994. Without reference to Benny, Ari undertakes his own research and effectively confirms what Benny revealed, but not as historical revelation but as the murder weapon that destroyed the old mythology of Zionism and as the clue to the construction of a new mythology based on twin but opposing principles of universal humanitarianism and ruthless self-protection which ends up breaching humanitarian laws when necessary.

For Ari, it is insufficient to explain ethnic cleansing as simply demanded by the need for self-defence and immanent threat or the need to make decisions in the fog of war. Ben Gurion was under no such imperatives. Yet he ordered the expulsion. That expulsion was not an accidental betrayal of Zionism but at its central core. So the central core of Lydda is then broadened to other atrocities, to the evacuation of other cities, towns and villages of their Arab populations. Ari quotes a mentor and a friend from those atrocities:

When I think of the thefts, the looting, the robberies and recklessness, I realize that these are not merely separate incidents. Together they add up to a period of corruption. The question is earnest and deep, really of historic dimensions. We will all be held accountable for this era. We shall face judgment. And I fear that justice will not be on our side. (117)

Shamaryahu Gutman as de facto Israel’s intelligence chief and Israel Galili as chief of staff of the Haganah together recognize that “the first task in war would be to guarantee an Arab-free zone – a Jewish territorial continuum.” (119) This was an era of total war between the two communities that did not respect past friendships and past treaties. Gutman was named military governor of the Lydda Valley.

Atrocities are committed. A young Jewish sniper deliberately targets civilians, including women and even children. Another Jew, Bulldozer, shoots his Portable Infantry Anti-Tank weapon (PIAT ) at a mosque from close range where civilians have taken shelter. Seventy civilians are killed and scores of others are injured. Afterwards, since he is knocked unconscious by the recoil of the PIAT and the nearby explosion, his fellow soldiers commandeer eight other civilians to dig a mass grave. After they finish and the dead are thrown in the pit, the soldiers kill the eight so there will be no witnesses. “The damned war turned humans into beasts.” These atrocities are accompanied by thefts and looting. Though one soldier writes that, “We will all be held accountable for this era. We will face judgment,” they never are held accountable and they never face judgment. 

The Jews have captured the town. Shooting breaks out as the Military Governor, Gutman, is negotiating with the Arab notables. He not only orders his men to return fire but to shoot anyone suspected of being part of the “mutiny”. Afterwards, “The military governor orders his men to bury the dead, get rid of the incriminating evidence.” (121) Then he returns to his discussions with the dignitaries and he suggests to them that anything can happen in war and a great war is coming. The dignitaries deliver to him what he wanted all along without his having to order their expulsion. They ask to be allowed to leave as long as they can take the survivors of the mosque with them. Gutman agrees.

“Gutman feels he has achieved his goal. Occupation, massacre and mental pressure have had the desired effect. At then end of the day, after forty-eight hours of hell, he does not quite order the people of Lydda to go. Under the indirect threat of slaughter, Lydda’s leaders ask to go.” (122) Like the ancient Jews, the people of Kydda go into exile. No orders had to be given. But the general understanding of the Palmach leadership that the Arabs had to go is accomplished. So, finally, why Lydda? “Only in the city of Lydda was there a mess, because the city was large and the troops closed in on it from the east, so the Arabs could not flee during the battle itself.” (123) So Lydda was by far the worst massacre with an estimated 250 civilians killed in total compared to Deir Yassin with 100 civilian deaths, Salina and Abu Shusha with about 65 deaths each.

Gutman asks himself, “if he was right to encourage the regiment to shoot into Lydda’s houses, if there was a way to avoid all that has happened. Then he silences himself by answering that if it weren’t for what happened in Lydda, Zionism would be done for. As he watches the men and women marching, he is shocked to see the imperviousness on their faces, the loss of sovereignty, the loss of dignity.” (127) He watches a person fall into a well and other suck on the dead man’s clothes after they pull him up to get water to wet their dried throats, as he watches another trampled and a third mother giving birth to her baby in the dirt, as he sees his soldiers stealing watches and money from the columns of fleeing refugees, and stops their thieving, But he does not stop the exodus. However, distressed by the columns of suffering civilians, he is reconciled to the fact that there exodus was necessary to ensure the success of Zionism.

Ari then offers a Palestinian perspective, that of Ottman Abu Hammed of Lydda, the prosperity before, the collegiality between Jews and Arabs before the outbreak of the war, prosperity enhanced by Arabs fleeing other centres, the atrocities against Jewish civilians committed by Arabs, including the mutilated corpses of two young men and a young Jewish woman who had been raped. But all this was nothing compared to being strafed from the air, of shots fired at civilian houses, of the massacre at the mosque, of the groping of the Arab women as they searched them. Since he was friends with the Jewish commander, why did he not elect to stay behind when he was offered the opportunity as his family was in the column marching out of the city? Because if he stays he will be considered a traitor and would be executed.

There is a final reason offered on the choice of Lydda. Because Lydda remains mired in the past and the past remains present in Lydda. Palestine is still felt in Lydda. But the central point is that Lydda was an “inevitable phase of Zionism”. The choice is stark: “either reject Zionism because of Lydda, or accept Zionism along with Lydda.” (131) Bulldozer and the sniper could be rejected for breaking the laws of war. But not the quasi-forced exodus. “I condemn Bulldozer. I reject the sniper. But I will not damn the brigade commander and the military governor and the training group boys. On the contrary. If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been born. They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter, and my sons to live.” (131)

This is the central thesis of the book. This is the core of the new mythology to counter the bleeding heart Israeli liberals who weep for the Palestinian refugees and condemn those who oversaw the exodus of Palestinian civilians. The myth requires acknowledging, recognizing, accepting the atrocities and the ethnic cleansing, but also accepting they were necessary for without them the Zionist enterprise would not have succeeded. Ari okays the ethnic cleansing but not the atrocities that encouraged the Arabs to “voluntarily” leave.

So the principle Ben Gurion enunciated of the purity of arms, that Jews must fight in accordance with the laws of war but fighting must be based on moral grounds, is abandoned. Ethnic cleansing of civilians is not a moral act. So if ethnic cleansing can take place with the immoral use of force by targeting civilians, then it is ok.  In the example of Deir Yassin, the fear of further atrocities was the main impetus for the “volunteer” Arab exodus elsewhere; in Lydda, the atrocities are directly and causally connected with the exodus itself.

Shavit’s argument is clear but not his logic, further reinforcing the view that he is into mythmaking. For the logic says that if the massacres were necessary to encourage the ethnic cleansing on a “volunteer” level, and the ethnic cleansing was necessary to the success of Zionism, then the massacres and the breach in the laws of war were as necessary as the ethnic cleansing. (See Saleh Abd al-Jawad (2007) Zionist Massacres: the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in the 1948 War)

Ari not only avoids sorting through the various different accounts of what happened at Lydda and settling on one that clearly points to deliberate killing of Arab men, women and children by Jewish soldiers. He does so that the historical variations and clearing through the underbrush of just war theory and the obligations to discriminate between civilian and military targets is accepted as abridged. The only question remaining, for him, is whether the dirty work was necessary to encourage the exodus or not since he justifies the exodus itself.

If Ari’s mythology takes hold, the doctrine of purity of arms has to be abandoned. If Ari’s mythology takes hold, breaches of humanitarian law become justified. If Ari’s mythology becomes the core of the new Zionism in the cause of open truth=telling, then atrocities that serve as a catalyst to ethnic cleansing become acceptable in spite of Ari’s insistence that he will not stand my the war crimes of the Bulldozer and the sniper.


Tomorrow: The Resettlement of Jewish Refugees 1957

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Zionism: The Core of a Tragic Vision


Ari Shavit

III: The 1920s – The Valley of Harod


Upon reading the second chapter, a reader understands the organizing device of the historical first half of the book – one specific area of Israel, one critical Zionist figure, one key event and all brought together as an illustration of turning points in the history of Israel. In this chapter, the specific spot is Ein Harod in the Valley of Harod on the western foot of the rocky ridge known as MountGilboa located in the larger expanse of the JezreelValley where Ari, using the archives of the kibbutz, locates the genesis of what he calls the Zionist adventure.

Mt.Gilboa itself is a place of historical tragedy for the Jewish people where King Saul and his sons died when the Philistines defeated the army of Israel.  “And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mountGilboa.” (Samuel I 38:8) To that valley came the kibbutz pioneers to drain the swamps after the National Jewish Fund had purchased 30,000 dunams of Anophole mosquito infested land from the Sarsouk family of Alexandria.

Ari links that purchase with the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 when the purchase of the Sarsouk holdings was first considered with 1920 when the purchase was concluded following a number of other pogroms and The Great War. “In the summer of 1920, it was clear to all concerned what was required: decisive, rapid action. Action to be carried out by a new breed of Jew.” “The choice was clear: the masses who wanted a life went to America. The few who wanted utopia made aliyah to the land of Israel.” Note a particularly novel trope of Israeli historical writing! For Ari, all the immigrants to Israel were humane socialist utopians. This is but one of a long list of false dichotomies that riddle the book.

These false bifurcations are then combined with some puzzling history. Ari begins the real history of Israel with the kibbutz in the Valley of Harod just over a decade later. In the standard textual histories of Israel, pride of place goes to Degania on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee on land bought from Bedouin Arabs. This what Ari writes: “In 1909 they [the utopians] established Degania, the first, small, intimate commune, with the aim of respecting individual needs and freedom. Degania survived, but the utopians failed. Many felt lonely in the harsh, barren land. Some sank into depression. A few committed suicide. Most gave up and left for America.” One would not know that he was describing an initial effort by ten young men and two women.

In contrast, a more standard history reads: “On October 29th, 1910 ten men and two women who arrived originally from Romany in White Russia established the mother of the collectives and the kibbutzim (אֵם הַקְּבוּצוֹת, em hakvutzot) – Degania A (דְּגַנְיָה אָלֶף). This inspiring group established the first Zionist farm on lands bought by the ‘Jewish National Fund’ (קק”ל – קֶרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, kaka”l – Keren Kayemet Leyisra’el). They crossed the Jordan River to its east bank on an assignment for the Land of Israel Office, under the direction of Dr. Arthur Ruppin. They camped at Umm Juni, south of the Sea of Galilee. We came to establish an independent settlement of Hebrew laborers, on national land, a collective settlement with neither exploiters nor exploited – a commune” – they wrote. They revived the people in the Land of Israel as a working people, returning to nature and to the tilling of the land, living from the fruits of its own labor.

The settlers named the place “Degania” after the five varieties of grains growing there (wheat, barley, oats, corn and sorghum). On 1912, during the harvest days between Pesach and the Shavuot holidays, the group moved from the woods of Umm Juni to the area where the Jordan emerges from the Sea of Galilee. The group of settlers not only established Degania, they established the principles of independent work and collective life – they established the basic principles of the kibbutz. They also trained many members of the kibbutzim that followed them. Degania, however, was different from the rest of kibbutzim as their children never slept in special quarters, (called children homes – בָּתֵּי יְלָדִים), but slept in their family units. This romantic history of Degania from idealism to disillusion is portrayed in Yitzhak Rubin’s 2008 documentary, Degania: The First Kibbutz Fights Its Last Battle (Hebrew: הקרב האחרון על דגניה)

The impression one has is that the settlement in Ein Harod is chosen because Ari had family there. But that is not the only reason. For Ari, it is “Our Source, our point of departure”. Somehow, Israeli tragic history will be marked not simply by the founding of the kibbutz rather than moshavs or Petah Tickva or the wide variety of settlements. It will not be marked by Degania. The Israeli political and cultural DNA will be marked and impressed by a particular Bolshevik, centralized very small “c” communist kibbutz.  Further, it will be accompanied by the founding of the Shomrim, the guardian movement that began in parallel to the founding of Degania. For the Shomrim were founded “to replace the armed protectors of settlements with Jews. It does not take a great deal of sensitivity to recognize the connection between the Shomrim designed to replace the Arab armed protectors of settlements to the shift to replacing the Arabs per se and not just their role.

The evidence is found in the kibbutz archives. A Mapai circular named Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’Emek is the first to demand destruction of Arab villages. Are we provided with a military or economic or social context? No. Instead, this find is immediately conjoined with the despairing observation in 1948 by Aharon Cohen, Hashomer Director, who was ashamed and afraid as he reflected on the flight of the Arabs from Haifa that, to win the peace, the new state will have to live by the sword because the new state requires ethnic cleansing. Security requires turning resident Arabs into refugees. Tragedies are built on Greek tropes of inevitably.

The displacement of Arabs is built into the DNA of Israel. The option of war is built into the DNA of Israel. Whether Arabs played a role in forcing such a choice on the new Jewish inhabitants of the land is of little consequence. For that is simply a contingent circumstance. What matters in the Lysenko-like inherited historical genetic material that forged the Israeli personality. One, therefore, need not attend to all the Arabs who stayed except insofar as they remained as future victims of this original genetic heritage. The pogroms in the Ukraine were just part of the contingent circumstances that led to this fundamental mark of Cain on the Israeli psyche and personality. In Europe, Hermann Cohen’s model of a Jewish diaspora driven by the ethical and social heritage of Judaism could be ignored for that was a route and an option that was destined to lead to a dead end. In America, the path that Carl Laemmie took in founding Universal Studios in Hollywood and set a model in which Jews played such an important role in establishing the imaginative structure and framework of their adopted land that would become the leader of the Western world could also be ignored. The genetic history of Jews was forged in Israel via a singular route and not via a continuing dialectic between the varied strands within Israel and the various strands of development in the diaspora.

In Israel, why is the Moshav tradition, either in its more collectivist version or in its cooperative variations, but always rooted in the concept of private property as fundamental, not viewed as part of this so-called genetic history. After all, the first moshavim are virtually coterminous with the kibbutzim. But that is not how Ari Shavit writes. He is an orthodox Darwinian, and not one based on weighing evidence. The DNA of Israel that survives out of necessity is forged in one kind of kibbutz and not in moshavim and not in liberal business farming pioneered by bourgeois investors like Baron de Rothschild (or the owners of the orange orchards – see next chapter) and certainly not by the urbanites who planted their feet in cities.

“Kibbutz socialism is now essential for several reasons. Without group effort, Zionist colonizers will not be able to endure the hardships involved in the colonizing process. Without the idealism of kibbutz socialism, Zionism will not have the sense of moral superiority that is essential for the colonization process to succeed. Without the communal aspect of the kibbutz, socialist Zionism will lack legitimacy and be perceived as an unjust colonialist movement. Only kibbutz socialism can give Zionism the social cohesion, the mental determination, and the moral imperative needed at this revolutionary stage. And only the Labor Brigade ethos of kibbutz socialism will enable Zionism to take the valley and to take the land.” (31)

More importantly for our purposes, by stressing all these “onlys”, the tragedy and the triumph will become predetermined. One path is essential; all other factors are contingent and accidental. Ari Shavit may not be a Marxist, but he has a clear and unequivocal Marxist mode of writing history. “Godless, parentless, and homeless, they had to survive.” Survival of the fittest gave Israel its DNA, but a DNA serviceable for a warrior state but a destructive force in forging a peace and irrelevant for a new post-Zionist prosperous Israel for a communication age. What will later prove to be counter-productive are at the pioneering stage indispensable – – no fathers, no boundaries, no restraints. “There is no compassion in this just-born kibbutz. There is no indulgence, no tolerance, no self-pity. There is no place for individual rights and individual needs and individual wants.”

It does not matter whether these generalizations contain only a smidgen of truth or a great deal of insight. In Sharit’s version they become absolute imperatives. This is how Jews returned to history and regained their masculinity and transformed themselves from object to subject, from passive to active, from victims to sovereigns. The correlate of this primitive Zionism is that Jews in the diaspora remained objects, passive and lacked any sovereignty. They presumably were never practical, imaginative and innovative. It took the ruthlessness of a kibbutz like Ein Harod to make them so. The fallout is that the weak die – commit suicide.

Then Yitzhak Tabenkin is introduced, an ideologue rather than a pragmatist, a believer in Greater Israel but from the left rather than the right, a believer in socialism more than the state, an opponent of the Peel Commission, of partition, an ideological purist – in my mind, one of the many false prophets in the history of the Jewish people, a man possessing neither brilliance, analytic skills nor eloquence, but who talked the talk and loved to talk but could not plow, a man who became the secular rabbi of Ein Harod at the core of the kibbutz movement. He stood as the voice that gave socialism rather than nationalism the foundation for Zionism and that, in turn, provided Zionism with its legitimacy and image of justice.. He would have fit right into the leaders of the Cultural Revolution in China for he had no sense of human rights only of human sacrifice. Though Ari has no sympathy for his Soviet style, for his propensity to preach while incapable of practice, and while acknowledging that he lacked the political genius of Ben Gurion, or any intellectual depth, and lacking an impressive work ethic and moral rectitude, Ari claims that what redeems him is his understanding of the diaspora and the fire in his belly.

Inspired by a prophetic voice linked to their practical approach to the land without sentimentality, smugness or self-aggrandizement, these pioneers are still haunted by the shadows, not just of the serfs of Ein Harod who are now gone, but by the serfs of Shatta and the villagers of Nuris and Zarin, Tel Fir and Komasy who remain. What is more, they love music and are deeply stirred when a genius of Jascha Heifetz’s stature comes to play at their kibbutz and the two great icons of Jewry, one from the diaspora and one from Israel bow down to one another ten years before the Arabs burn the fields of Ein Harod. and twenty-two years before the Jewish centurions bred in this hard landscape will attack the Arab villages of Nuris, Zarim and Komay and drive their inhabitants out. As Ari re-imagines Haifetz playing, he thinks “of that great fire in the belly, a fire without which the valley could not have been cultivated, the land could not have been conquered, the State of the Jews could not have been founded.” But Ari knows “that the fire will blaze out of control. It will burn the valley’s Palestinians and it will consume itself.” (47)

When Ari leaves the archives of Ein Harod and has supper with his elderly relatives, he looks at the deteriorating kibbutz, a kibbutz that has lost its way because the economic base of Ein Harod collapsed and its social fabric unravelled, when the young have left leaving despairing elders behind with an empty communal dining hall, closed children’s homes as the collective spirit of the ideology escaped and collapsed the idealistic balloon.

Thus, the future of Israel has been foretold.

I think. Does any Canadian historian write of the pioneers who settled the west in Canada in 1890 and endured harsh lives of self-sacrifice in such Haifetzian tones of high drama and the weeping of violins for the world as it was? 

My Promised Land II: The End of the Nineteenth Century

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Zionism: The Core of a Tragic Vision


Ari Shavit


Part II The End of the Nineteenth Century


Ari Shavit is a sabra and heir to the Israeli aristocracy on both sides of his family. His great-grandfather was a prominent Jewish aristocrat whose father in turn had been a poor immigrant to Britain from Russia. The Rt. Honourable Herbert Bentwith first visited Israel in 1897 before the first Zionist congress in BaselSwitzerland. Drawn from his great-grandfather’s journals, Ari’s description of that visit makes up the first chapter of the book.


During that visit, Sir Herbert Bentwith was greeted by Dr. Hillel Yoffe, Ari’s other great-grandfather who pioneered in the eradication of malaria from Palestine, distinguished between blackwater fever (favism) and malaria and provided the groundbreaking study that allowed other researchers to identify the inherited characteristic of favism in Jewish males of Iraqi and Kurdish origins. (See Harry Ostrer Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People, OUP.) Dr. Yoffe escorted the visiting diaspoa Jews from the West to the French agricultural school at Mikveh Israel and showed them its pioneering efforts to bring modern science and technology to agricultural production in Palestine.


Why Bentwith and not Yoffe? Dr. Yoffe does not appear in the book again. Was it only because Bentwith wrote a journal? Why the romantic rather than practical Zionist? The answer is not simply because Ari is an anglophile. Perhaps because Bentwith was linked to the Balfour declaration.


Although an anglophile, Ari is an old style Zionist through and through. He believes that the Jewish diaspora is doomed to whither away in the face of the enlightenment, assimilation and the disappearance of the ghetto which protected Jews from this menace of progress. Ari is also  through and through an Ashkenazi Jew. He says Jew lives in ghettos. Ethiopian Jews did not live in ghettos. Indian Jews did not live in ghettos. Iraqi Jews did not live in ghettos. For Ari Shavit, if the Jewish people were to survive they had to be transformed from a people of the Diaspora to a sovereign self-governing people. Herzl Zionists foresaw this law of history. He realized that Jews were “faced with a radical problem: the coming extinction of the Jews.” Enlightenment = assimilation = extinction. The alternative? Enlightenment = rise of antisemitism = Nazism = extinction. Either path yields the same result. The only alternative is political Zionism: “if they are to survive, the Jewish people need the Holy Land.”


Since a reader is unable to distinguish between the author’s and Bentwich’s views, we can only assume that  they both share a propensity to being rigid and pedantic accompanied by arrogance, determination, self-assurance and non-conformity (in Ari Shavit’s own words), but the two agree on the future of the diaspora (none) and the absolute need of Israel if the Jews are to survive. The prosperous American-Jewish community is faced with a malaise. The ratio of Jews to non-Jews is shrinking rapidly. That this may mostly be the result of new immigrants who overwhelmingly are not Jewish is not considered. Extinction faces diaspora Jewry.  After all, the Jewish population of Great Britain has dropped from 400,000 to 300,000. But how much of that drop was a result of Jewish emigration after the war to North America and Australia? When Ari describes the evisceration of a thriving Jewish community in Brighton, my friend, Verne Shaw in Toronto from Brighton could attest to that. But my friends from St. Johns, New Brunswick could testify to the same phenomenon. The Jewish population has been consolidating from small towns and moving to larger cities.


But Ari is correct that Jews as a people are faced with the problem of assimilation. That problem has many answers, most having to do with changes required in the diaspora. Only one of them entails emigration to Israel. Further, unless there is a rise in antisemitism, the mass immigration to Israel is unlikely to take place and even from France it is little more than a trickle.


However, Ari does not have to get the diaspora issue right since his book is about Israel. But even  with Israel he arrives at some very questionable interpretations. He acknowledges that Palestine was viewed as an empty land, not because there were no Arabs, but because there was plenty of room for Jews and Arabs. But most of his message is that these future Israelis failed to pay attention to these Palestinians. Further, there was then “no cogent national (Palestinian) identity” wanting to express itself at the time.


Then why does Ari accuse his grandfather of not wanting to see, of mindblindness? Perhaps he was. But Ari seems just to be making this blindness up simply because his great-grandfather did not make notes on the Palestinians in the Arab towns through which he traveled. Between the vision of Zionist settlement and the vision of enlightenment progress and the advance or technology and urbanization, the vision may not include a continuation of “Palestinian peasants who stand by their olive and fig trees”. But that dilemma of the survival of the peasant village is a worldwide problem, one not specific to Zionists. Ari writes: “They will replace one people with another” just after he wrote that at the time there was no people in Palestine with a national identity and when he is writing that only Israel Zangwill perceived this “truth” of the need to cleanse the land of the Arabs, as if the expulsion of 720,000 Palestinians as refugees was foreordained. For Ari Shavit, of the 21 travellers who accompanied Bentwich, only Israel Zangwill was not naive.


But what about the numbers of Arabs that remained? And why insist that Bentwich never saw the Palestinian Arabs living in a myriad of towns and cities – there were a million when Bentwich arrived and Palestine included the much larger territory of Jordan? He surely did not mean “literally” did not see. He meant that his great-grandfather did not see the Palestinians as a political obstacle to a Zionist settler enterprise. Perhaps his great-grandfather did not but the Zionist tracts he read surely would have informed him. They would have discussed the various debates among Zionists about how the problem of the Arab and Bedouin inhabitants would be dealt with. 


This is but another literary conceit which distorts history. The Zionist forbears who saw a land without a people as ripe for resettlement are accused of ignoring the resident Arab population when they did not. The land was described as empty, not because there was no population on it, but because the land was so sparsely populated, especially in comparison to the period two thousand years earlier when Jews were a sovereign people.


The tragedy, for Ari, begins before the Zionists even arrive in Palestine in his construction. “The British Isles are not really ours.” Jews are an alien presence in other lands. Secondly, the land of Palestine is also not ours for it belongs first and foremost to the Arabs who already live there when the Zionists arrive. Neither conjointly nor separately is either proposition a given truth. There are four choices:

1. Jews have no rights to be anywhere;

2. Jews have rights to live in ancient Israel.

3. Jews have been granted rights to live in many countries.

4. Jews have rights to live anywhere, including Palestine.


Why does Ari adopt the first option except that it dooms Jews to having a tragic history and makes his case?


My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Zionism: Introduction

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Zionism: Introduction


Ari Shavit

Almost thirty years ago, Bernie Avishai published The Tragedy of Zionism: How Its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy. Every generation Jews seem to need to read a cosmological lament about the state of Israel. Avi Shavit is the author for our times. He has written a widely praised book about the history and contemporary socio-political position of the Israeli state. To have the impact it has, the book had to be written for a current audience. What is the book’s appeal? How does the author have such an impact?

Avi’s introduction begins with: “For as long as I can remember, I remember fear. Existential fear.” His fear is not for himself but for his beloved Israel. He dreaded that a dark ocean “would rise and drown us all. A mythological tsunami would strike our shores and sweep my Israel away.”  Did he mean “metaphorical” rather than “mythological”? Or was “mythological” itself a word used metaphorically to connote “gargantuan”?  For Avi is clearly not referring to a divinely-inspired disaster like Noah’s flood or an immanent natural disaster arising from the degradation of the environment and rising seas.

I, too, have had a recurring nightmare. I am fleeing from the Nazis. I am in a cobbled square with streets going off in different directions. I am not slowed down by my ambivalence over choosing which route to escape but by my dreamy wayward youngest daughter who is on her tricycle pedalling around in circles. And the Nazi trucks and storm troopers are just about to reach that square when I wake up in a panic and sweat. The fear is not a product of current circumstances. Nor even from historical experience since neither I nor my family were ever threatened by the Nazis. The question arises whether the fear was instilled in me or whether I have projected it onto the world, or, a third option, it was instilled in me and I then project back onto the world.

Or perhaps the fear is primordial. It arises because, whether Jew or gentile, we are all deeply afraid. Thomas Hobbes wrote, that this is the core of all humankind. “There is no such thing as perpetual tranquillity of mind while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense.” I, myself, think it is a combination of external stimuli and internal psychology and the job of critical observation and reflection is to sort out when that fear is a projection with internal sources and when there is a justified external provocation. I am not and was not an Israeli. In fact, even though at the time I was an intellectual anti-Zionist, in the weeks and days leading up to the Six Day War in 1967, I, as Ari did, also feared the Arabs were going to defeat Israel and throw its Jews into the sea.

In 1973, for Ari, “For ten terrifying days it seemed that my primordial fears were justified. Israel was in peril” The walls of the third Jewish temple were shaking.”  Thus do instilled memory through historical and mythological instillation reinforce and adumbrate the experiences of the rocket attacks from Saddam Hussein and the 2002 terror campaign of the Palestinian intifada. The source of the fear was real; terrorists had blown up his neighbourhood pub and three young Israeli men were killed at the bar and a young woman lay lifeless in the corner. When I was teaching at HebrewUniversity in 1977-78, I heard a huge boom but continued teaching thinking it only the result of dynamite from construction or the sound boom from a fighter jet breaking the sound barrier. When we emerged from that Hegel class, I understood why the students had been so fidgety. A suicide bomber had accidentally set off the bomb strapped to his chest and killed himself; he had been just twenty feet from the outside of our classroom.

Ari then shifts the scene to the West Bank after the Six Day War and his observation that the “Palestinian children my age and younger had fear in their eyes.” Was this real fear or was Ari projecting his own fears onto the Palestinian children? When I was in Israel with my family and older four children in 1973, I did not detect any fear among Arabs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank but only merchants eager to sell me things. Perhaps it was because I was insensitive. Perhaps it was because I was not an Israeli but just a foreigner.  But I also did not detect, as Ari writes, that the Jewish state was then “drunk with a heady sense of power” even though when I went to see the historian, Jacob Talmon, in 1973 before the war broke out and we sat talking for 2-3 hours, he expressed precisely the same concerns as Ari.

When Ari joined the paratroopers and he was assigned to do the “dirty work” of manning checkpoints, imposing house arrests and dispersing demonstrations using violence, it was the same year I had gone with my family as a Lady Davis Visiting Professor to teach at the HebrewUniversity. Not only had a terrorist bomb gone off outside my classroom window, but my twelve year old son came home from school one day to tell me that the back of the bus in front of the one he was riding returning from school had been blow off. Amidst those bombs and terror attacks, amidst the joys of exploring Israel and the West Bank and especially the various oases along the Gulf of Eilat in what is now Egypt, I experienced the thrill of Anwar Sadat coming to Israel with an olive branch and Prime Minister Begin, in spite of his fears and his preoccupation with the Holocaust, accepting that  olive branch.

Many years later, the son of my daughter who in my dreams continually road her tricycle in circles in a Prague square as the Nazis pursued us, received his red beret from the IDF paratroopers and I was thrilled. His mother had made aliyah and he was born an Israeli. I also listened to him literally for hours as he talked about the war games or the videos like Game of Thrones where men fought with bravery and honour, but also the much shorter time when he described how, when he was on patrol with his best friend on the border of the Gaza Strip form which the Israelis had withdrawn, his friend had been killed. A week ago my grandson and my daughter attended the third anniversary yahrzeit service of his best friend’s death.

I too had also come from Egypt with my oldest son years earlier when Israel still occupied Gaza; we re-entered Israel though Gaza. I had been appalled in self-righteous fury at the indignities to which I saw the Palestinians subjected to when they were being interrogated at the border crossing. Thus, I too have ambivalences about Israel, proud of what the country has accomplished and its ability to defend itself and ashamed and angry when Israel treats non-Jews, especially Palestinians, with disrespect.

So our fears and our targets for indignant condemnation are informed by different experiences. Unlike Ari, I did not have the experiences of being in the IDF to turn me into a peace activist; I had been one since I had been an undergraduate well before I switched from being an anti-Zionist to falling in love with Israel in 1973. I remember being in Tul Karem as an invited guest at a town hall meeting in which I was to comment after the Arab mayor and a doctor from the town, who was a member of the Arab communist party, addressed the group that had gathered. When my turn came to talk after the other two, I was totally tongue-tied for the first time in my life. In embarrassment I had to explain that I had not been able to listen to the other speakers to be able to comment. I had been  preoccupied, not with an analysis of the political events of the moment, but with the fact that the mayor of Tul Karem was the image of my late father – the same nose, mouth, receding hair land the same facial structure. Only he had different eyes. My father’s glittered with joy. They were carefree, normally a good sign, but not in a father who totally abandoned his responsibilities. The mayor’s eyes were more contemplative and serious like my own.

My friend and colleague when I taught at HebrewUniversity, Avishai Margolit, had proposed an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon, who finally died after eight years in a coma, surprisingly took up the idea. It worked out badly in many respects as everyone knows, both for the settlers who were removed and for the security of Israel. So though we remained peaceniks, all of us, including Ari Shavit, we “gradually became aware  of the flaws and biases of the peace movement.”

For Ari, “As the second decade of the twenty-first century has begun to unfold, five different apprehensions cast a shadow on Israel’s voracious appetite for life: the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might not end in the foreseeable future; the concern that Israel’s regional hegemony is being challenged; the fear that the very legitimacy of the Jewish state is eroding; the concern that a deeply transformed Israeli society is now divided and polarized, its liberal-democratic foundation crumbling; and the realization that the dysfunctional governments of Israel cannot deal seriously with such crucial challenges as occupation and social integration.”

Whoah! How did Ari get from his deep inner fears connected to his quick summary of his life experiences and these grand general conclusions? I shared the first recognition that peace is still unlikely between the Israelis and the Palestinians in spite of the strenuous efforts of John Kerry and his team to advance the peace process. However, though Turkey and Iran might be challenging Israel’s regional hegemony, neither is even close. The ability of Egypt to engage militarily had been in sharp decline and Syria’s capacity to wage war was now non-existent. Iran had become truly a paper tiger. In my observation, not only was Israel stronger than ever as a regional power, but there was no real challenger even on the horizon.

Though there were distractions by organizations such as the American Studies Association which had recently passed a resolution boycotting Israeli academic institutions, though not Israeli academics per se, these peccadilloes were more than offset by strengthened Israeli relations with India and China, with entry into more international organizations, and with the increasing practice of more and more Arab states dealing with Israel through practices rather than formal recognition.

How often over the years have I heard how deeply Israeli society is “now divided and polarized”, how its liberal-democratic structure is crumbling and what a dysfunctional government it has. Will the book be informed by these conclusions so that these generalizations shape the selection, organization and historical developments in his tale or will they be products of his historical analysis? From the very way he has constructed his introduction and jumped to these definitive conclusions about the current state of Israel, and by making them so definitive and apocalyptical, I suspected the worst, that they would shape history rather than be primarily informed by that history. However, even as a personal odyssey, the book promised to be interesting.

TOMORROW: The foundation for a Tragic Vision

How often over the years have I heard how deeply Israeli society is “now divided and polarized”, how its liberal-democratic structure is crumbling and what a dysfunctional government it has. Will the book be informed by these conclusions so that these generalizations shape the selection, organization and historical developments in his tale or will they be products of his historical analysis? From the very way he has constructed his introduction and jumped to these definitive conclusions about the current state of Israel, and by making them so definitive and apocalyptic, I suspected the worst, that they would shape history rather than be primarily informed by that history. However, even as a personal odyssey, the book promised to be interesting.

TOMORROW: The foundation for a Tragic Vision