7/28/2014—In a perceptive review in the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland notes the reference by Ari Shavit in Shavit’s book, My Promised Land, to the fate of the Palestinian city of Lydda in 1948—the new Israeli army killed 300 civilians and forced all of Lydda's inhabitants to flee. Freedland puts the point bluntly—“[Shavit] implicitly accepts what anti-Zionists have long argued: that the eventual dispossession of Palestinians was logically entailed in the Zionist project from the outset… .”
Shavitt, however, cannot just condemn the massacre from a comfortable distance. He recognizes that the very fact of Israel’s existence was dependent upon this act, and acts like it or threatened acts like it—and he and his family benefit from the existence of Israel as a Jewish State and are unwilling to give it up.
Forget for a moment whether the premise is true, that such savagery was necessary—Martin Buber disagreed at the time, for example, and there was a bi-national-state Zionism. Freedland’s description reminded me of another country whose settlers uprooted and killed its inhabitants—the United States of America—and I am unwilling to give that country up. I am in the exact same position that Shavit is. The only reason that America does not face the continuing conflict that Israel does is that the settlers did a much, much more thorough job of reducing the original inhabitants of the land to dependency.
I don’t know of any policy consequences that flow from this insight—payments for broken and coerced treaties? I’m not giving my house back to anybody. And where would I go? Like today’s Israelis, I am here because of a crime I did not commit that I am unwilling to undo.
This context of moral ambiguity—not over the original act, but over what to do now—gives new power to the Christian concepts of the fall and original sin. I have thought about those doctrines in terms of human beings doing bad things only because something happened to us. That kind of idea does nothing for me.
But, what if a deeper, more troubling truth is shown in the fall—that we all live in morally fraught circumstances. There is literally nothing we can do that is morally clear. We find ourselves already both the victim and perpetrator of crimes both recent and ancient. And there is never a way out. That is our starting point. The question is, what follows from that kind of seeing?