My Promised Land VI Lydda 1948

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

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

Eichmann versus Dosler: Arendt versus Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 8: Eichmann versus Dosler: Arendt versus Hirschman

Chapter 7. The Last Battle: Freedom and Interpretation                        

                                               

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

Why did Albert Hirschman immediately enlist in the US army after PearlHarbour? Two months after PearlHarbour one might say is not immediate. However, as Jeremy explained, AH was suffering from a serious bout of pneumonia at the time and then had to have a tonsillectomy. Jeremy has argued thus far that Albert was determined to prove Hamlet wrong, that action could be integrated with thought, that he was bent on praxis. Moreover, there was a self-interest motive. Serving in the American armed forces would secure his American citizenship even if that tactic proved useless for getting French citizenship when he joined the French army. The latter failed because France failed. This was highly unlikely to happen in the case of America.

 

Isn’t the self-interest motive sufficient as an explanation? Why add on the anti-Hamlet thesis? Is that not overdetermination? I think by this point it is. Hirschman had proven over and over again that reflection did not have to produce immobility. That is just who he was. He believed in acting when the situation demanded it, when he could act and when he could do so in a useful way. He had enormous expertise in languages, economics and detailed knowledge that would be of enormous use to the allied cause. The delays in enlistment were clearly not attributable to him but to a fire, to a reclassification of married recruits and for inexplicable “occupational reasons”. When he was still frustrated after he contacted the OSS and the Board of Economic Warfare directly, he enrolled in the infantry. So much for putting thought together with action as a private, especially when he kept being denied leave in basic training because he could not tie his boots properly!

 

Cass Susstein in his NYRB’s review of Jeremy’s book, “An Original Thinker in Our Time” (23 May 2013) endorses Jeremy’s Hamlet thesis.

 

As Jeremy Adelman shows in his astonishing and moving biography, Hirschman sought, in his early twenties and long before becoming a writer, to “prove Hamlet wrong.” In Shakespeare’s account, Hamlet is immobilized and defeated by doubt. Hirschman was a great believer in doubt—he never doubted it—and he certainly doubted his own convictions. At a conference designed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his first book, who else would take the opportunity to show that one of his own central arguments was wrong? Who else would publish an essay in The American Economic Review exploring the “overproduction of opinionated opinion,” questioning the value of having strong opinions, and emphasizing the importance of doubting one’s opinions and even one’s tastes? Hirschman thought that strong opinions, as such, “might be dangerous to the health of our democracy,” because they are an obstacle to mutual understanding and constructive problem-solving. Writing in 1989, he was not speaking of the current political culture, but he might as well have been. In seeking to prove Hamlet wrong, Hirschman was suggesting that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal. One of his last books, published when he was about eighty, is called A Propensity to Self-Subversion. In the title essay, Hirschman celebrates skepticism about his own theories and ideas, and he captures not only the insight but also the pleasure, even the joy, that can come from learning that one had it wrong.

 

I think the Hamlet thesis is overstretched here by Jeremy. In fact, in this situation I think that AH acted very Hamlet-like. What do the rest of you think?

 

From Jeremy’s own detailed account the overwhelming anxieties seemed to be about AH’s citizenship. Luckily, the army spotted his lack of fitness for combat and his excellent skills that got him reassigned to the Army’s Specialized Training Program. Ironically, when he was not being proactive, he was shoved in the direction that could better use his skills. He was then appropriately assigned to the OSS. Would he be assigned to help plan actions behind enemy line given his language skills and enormous range of contacts with dissidents? Would he be assigned to the Research and Analysis Branch along with other ex-European intellectuals? While Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Katia, Albert was assigned to being in limbo, much to his great frustration, and detailed to translation services in Algeria. Why did he not catch on then that something was amiss so that he could confront the situation and deal with it directly? Instead, Hamlet-like, he pondered and stalled, filled his time with chess and repressed his frustrations, complained and requested meaningful work, but to no avail. He managed to make contact with a couple of economists, Albert Camus and primarily Italian ex-pats who were working on a post-bellum federated Europe united by trade and commerce.

 

Then the devastating news came that Eugenio had been shot and killed just before the Americans liberated Rome. This was the deepest loss of his life, deeper than the death of his own father. His shell grew thicker. He seemed to have developed a form of depression that immobilized him further, though interesting Italian contacts – Carlo Levi, the Rosselli brothers – and the stimulation of Italy with all its rich culture served as an important antidote. It didn’t help that he was living the life of Joseph K and reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle at the time and later, reading Kierkegaard, or that he shared his grief over Rugenio’s death with Saba, the bookseller and poet from Trieste, who was even more depressed.

 

Then he received a reprieve. He was called to the Italian front to translate for Italians who had crossed over to the allied side who could provide intelligence about the situation of the retreating Germans. He obviously knew something was wrong concerning the limited use of him by the U.S. armed forces. As he wrote to Sarah, “The obstacle presented in Africa has perhaps not been entirely lifted, but it has at least been turned.” As Jeremy himself wrote, “By this point, Hirschman already had a sense that some invisible impediment stood in the way of his being entrusted with the more serious intelligence work he craved.” But, AH was fooling himself when he expressed the belief that the situation had turned. This is where “hope” becomes the enemy to facing the truth. This is where hope, rather than despair, can turn one into a different kind of Hamlet.

 

My personal surprise was to learn that it was only in Italy that he was really influenced by Hayek and not at LSE when he was a student there. The account of Cancogni’s short story eulogy to the black market had to lift his spirit. It must have reminded him of his work with the refugees in Marseilles. The birth of Katia, however, broke through his gloom and he shifted his focus back to the future. He was ready to give up on America and contemplated settling back in Italy to focus on participating in creating the new Europe.

 

The chapter ends with AH’s very disquieting reunion with his mother after thirteen very long and eventful years of separation, with a very different type of reunion with Ursula and her daughters in Rome, but not before Jeremy provided an account of Albert’s service as a translator for General Anton Dostler, the German General who had followed Hitler’s dictate to shoot enemy soldiers caught committing sabotage behind the lines. Dostler had committed an unequivocal war crime. Two officers and thirteen enlisted men had been captured in a mission that went awry. All fifteen were shot. Jeremy sent me a youtube from the trial:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMQCpUlqCiE&feature=youtu.be. Like the Eichmann trial in 1961 where Hannah Arendt served as a very different kind of interpreter, this was also “a showcase trial”. AH had to be a literal translator; Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial became sensations in themselves given her interpretation of Eichmann in terms of her concept of the “banality of evil” when he committed his genocidal crimes and her accusations against Jews for failing to offer resistance and against the Jewish Councils for cooperating in the genocidal mechanistic process.

 

General Dostler had been captured through the normal surrender of German soldiers and officers. Adolf Eichmann had been living in Argentina under the assumed name of Ricardo Klement and in May 1960 was captured by Israeli Security agents and spirited back to Israel without any effort at legal extradition. Dostler’s five day trial was about war crimes, crimes that were already well established in international law; the Eichmann months long ordeal was about a crime of genocide that only was defined as a particular crime after WWII, though the crime still fell under international humanitarian law. Both trials began with challenges to the right of the party in question – the USA on behalf of the allies and Israel that did not even exist at the time the crime was committed – to hold a trial, the later on behalf of the Jewish people rather than just a state.

 

The proper authority for Dostler’s trial under international law was not the U.S. Military Commission in Rome but a proper military court martial. In both trials, a major defence rested on the plaintiff pleading that he was required to follow orders, in this case, from the highest authority in the land, Hitler himself. However, in the Dostler case, the prosecutors had evidence that junior German military officers resisted carrying out such orders. In both trials, the 15 victims of Dostler and the millions gassed in Auschwitz, the victims never enjoyed the privileges of a trial, translators and defence attorneys. The defense argued the American soldiers could be confused with partisans given that they were Italian-Americans fluent in Italian, but the prosecution exhumed the uniforms and offered witnesses to confirm that there could be no mistake that the captives were identified as American soldiers. Both trials were exposed to the full glare of international media and were at least as much about educating the postwar public about the criminality of the Nazi regime as about a legal trial of a particular individual for the crimes each committed. Both trials were about the historical record for posterity even more than about actions in the past.

 

One very important difference is that AH lacked any individual voice as an interpreter whereas the voice of Hannah Arendt and her explication of Eichmann’s actions as “banal” and her condemnations of the Jüdenrats and of Jewish behaviour more generally threatened to become the central subject matter rather than the genocide itself. Hirschman, in fact, spoke more than any other formal official at the trial and, in his asides with Dostler, almost appeared as his collaborator based on visual perceptions. Hannah Arendt, though just a spectator and reporter at the trial, used her own words to interpret the “meaning” of the trial and not just the words used. Her language and employment of “les mots justes” became an integral legacy of Eichmann’s trial for her judgment of the trial itself threatened to sidetrack the subject of the trial itself. Albert Hirschman “trembled through James’ order that General Dostler was to be shot to death by musketry.” (p. 247) Hannah Arendt, in contrast, fulminated and barely concealed her contempt for the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, and his deliberate effort to make the trial an historical event in itself and not just a criminal trial of a particular individual.

 

“A U.S. firing squad executed Dostler in the Aversa Stockade in the morning of December 1. He was the first German general charged, tried, sentenced, and executed by the Allies for a war crime.” (p. 147) Adolf Eichmann was found guilty by a civilian court, sentenced to death by hanging on 1 June 1962, the first and only use of the death penalty by Israel. Dostler’s body was interned in the war cemetery of Pomezia, Italy. Adolf Eichmann’s body was cremated and his ashes spread at sea outside of Israeli territorial waters lest the soil of Israel itself be forever contaminated.

 

The two trials succeeded in their intended effect, not only in bringing two criminals to justice, but, in the case of Dostler, educating the world that the German army had been co-opted in its criminal actions by the Nazi regime. In the Eichmann trial, the atrocities against the Jews now became part of public consciousness. Testimony by ghetto fighters such as Zivia Lubetkin – in contrast to Hannah Arendt’s emphasis – brought out the stories of Jewish efforts at resistance. (Hannah Arendt missed many days of the trial and may not have heard that testimony.) Most importantly, and so different from the Dostler trial, the Eichmann trial brought a degree of closure for many of the survivors of the genocide and began the process of freeing up the squelched and self repressed voices of Holocaust victims. The Eichmann trial brought together a psychological exit with the freeing of the voices, something Hannah Arendt showed herself to be entirely insensitive to at the time.

 

In reflection after many years, particularly after my work and publications on the Rwanda genocide, I am surprised that I was so taken by Hannah Arendt’s thesis at the time. My enchantment with Hannah Arendt had much more to do with my subjective exit from Judaism and rejection of Zionism at the time than any detached analysis of the trial in comparison to Hannah Arendt’s account of it. Just think of her claims. Hannah Arendt questioned whether Eichmann incorporated the “intention” to exterminate the Jewish people in carrying out his actions and, therefore, raised the question of whether he could be held “criminally” responsible. In her contention that Eichmann acted as a bureaucratic automaton, she questioned whether he gave any real thought or reflection about what he did. Of course, her sense of “reflection” and “self-consciousness” fell so far outside legal discourse as to be ludicrous had it not had such a powerful effect in branding Eichmann’s actions as banal. If his actions were banal, then so were Dostler’s and probably 99% of the Nazis who committed atrocities. In the name of her own egocentric and misguided notion of thinking and reflection she would probably have found Eichmann not guilty of the crime of genocide though certainly guilty of another crime. Further, in her analysis of a totalitarian state, no one in fact could really have intentions, including Dostler, though I wonder what she would have said about the soldiers who resisted the orders to kill the captured U.S. soldiers, especially Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten who refused to sign the execution order and was subsequently dishonourably discharged from the Wehrmacht for insubordination. For Arendt, actions without thought were banal but agreeing to obey an immoral order does not take place without thought in the normal meaning of the word as one reflects on one’s career, one’s ambitions and one’s ethical universe.

 

The actions were without thought only in the most esoteric sense of thought. Further, contrary to AH’s notion of the integration of thought and action through praxis, Arendt still remained enamoured with Heidegger’s notion that reflection and acute self-consciousness to form one’s self-identity was, or, at least, should be, the objective of all action as part of an individual’s self-interpretation of him or herself. The notion of who he or she is or ought to become was, for Heidegger, and his disciple in this case, Hannah Arendt, a notion that gives “meaning” to why you are living and what it means to be alive. “Practical” did not have such an abstract, utopian and egocentric narcissistic meaning for Hirschman. 

 

Secondly, for Hannah Arendt the point of a trial should not have been the emphasis on the uniqueness of the Holocaust, but on its universal process of dehumanizing the Other. But Dostler dehumanized the U.S. military soldiers. The essential characteristic of a genocide is not simply dehumanizing the Other, but claiming that the Other was an Object and not an agent, but an Object that was a threat to oneself, an Object characterized as a threat in such a way that the Other was portrayed as non-human and beastly. Further, the non-human qualities were so significant and so dangerous that anyone who allegedly carried those seeds had to be exterminated. The fact that genocide becomes routinized and acceptable, and that it was implemented without moral revulsion or political indignation as described in Judith Butler’s defence of the notion of the banality of evil characterization, may characterize genocide, but also serves as an apt description of Mafia murders, the killing of Mexicans by drug cartels and the elimination of suspected informers or “snitches” by penitentiary inmates.

 

Further, Arendt believed in universal jurisdiction and opposed national courts for dealing with such crimes, and would, presumably, have opposed using the U.S. Military Commission in Rome. However, the International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda has managed by the end of 2012 to complete only 38 cases, in which 10 ended in acquittals and, literally, at the cost of billions of dollars. Justice was indeed served, but only for the very few and not without its own record of corrupt practices. In contrast, the national courts in Rwanda managed the trials of over a hundred thousand and created the unique Gacaca court system that wove together justice and reconciliation. In Arusha, the international trial of the central mastermind of the Rwanda genocide, Jean Paul Bagosara, served only justice. Further, it started in 2007 and was only completed in 2012 largely ignored by the international media thereby missing the role of public education that Arendt deplored but that were so integral to both the Dostler and the Eichmann trials.

 

I will not go on to comment on the injustice of the charges of complicity against the organized Jewish community that Hannah Arendt made that were so lacking in empathy and understanding, or the false charges of lack of resistance, all notions that I personally embraced when reading Hannah Arendt in the early sixties. Suffice it to say, Albert Hirschman stands as a humane and thoughtful counterpoint to Hannah Arendt whom Albert helped to rescue when he was in Marseilles.