Monday, September 25, 2006

The genocide myth - ours and theirs

By Bradley Burston

Note: This article will be followed by an
experiment. In an effort to foster rational dialogue, Talkback responses to this piece will be subject to stringent new guidelines, as specified below.

It is the nature of myth both to contain a kernel of truth, and to obscure the extent of the truth it contains.

So it is, that it is difficult for Israelis free themselves from the sense that the Arabs want to see them all dead. Certainly there is some truth to the extermination myth, but no one knows how much.

Moreover, given the possibility that it may be true, and the inherent danger involved in really putting it to the test, no one really wants to find out.

In either event, the myth feeds into what may be called the First Law of Intractability, or the Law of Conservation of Anguish, which may be summarized as follows: The reaction of one side to its own specific pain, tends to directly accentuate the specific pain of the other.

Stated differently, our Holocaust pain and their Naqba (1948 war) pain potentiate one another.

Our chosen means of self-defense - incursions, body searches, discriminatory laws and regulations, refusal to recognize, refusal to negotiate, raids and bombings, house demolitions, imprisonments without trial, building walls through villages and over farmers' fields, kidnappings and assassinations of leaders - directly act upon the Palestinians' every humiliation nerve.

Their chosen means of redeeming their lost honor - suicide bombings, rocket attacks, masked paramilitary posturing, anti-Semitic incitement, refusal to recognize, refusal to negotiate, kidnappings of soldiers - directly act upon our every annihilation nerve.

So completely has this system taken us over, that it has manages to slough over the cultural borders between us, such that we have begun to react militarily out of humiliation - witness government actions at the end of the recent war in the north - and the Palestinians have taken it as a matter of course that the object of Israeli policy is genocide against the peoples of the West Bank and Gaza.

Both sides can marshal persuasive arguments in favor of the idea that genocide is the object of the other. For Israelis who lived through the 1948 war and the run-up to the 1967 war, there are no end of quotations from Arabs testifying to the idea that the motto Slaughter the Jews was meant to taken literally.

Hamas' resistance to recognizing the existence of Israel, currently backed by a large majority of Palestinians in a recent poll, only adds to the sense that all Israelis are potentially in their gunsights.

Palestinians - and Israeli Arabs as well - need only to look to the Teddy soccer stadium in Jerusalem to find Israelis willing to chant in delirious unison, "Death to the Arabs."

So it is that the myth of genocide has become an article of faith among both Jews and Arabs.

But what if it's not true? What if the original myth doesn't hold anymore? What if the Arabs don't want us all dead?

Forget, for the moment, the extremists.

There will be a pause, at this point, for the extremists in our own midst, who have convinced themselves that they are the only sane Jews, to state chapter and verse that the Arabs - all of them, or enough of them so that the others don't count - want nothing more than they want our extinction.

There will be a further pause for moderates to suggest that even if the vast majority of the Palestinians would be willing to live in peace with the Jews, the extremists are now in power, and might carry out genocide, if they saw a chance.

What is clear is that after years and years and years of bloodletting, Jews need to hear from Palestinians that they are willing to work for a solution that includes the Jews.

It is no less clear that the Palestinians, and their supporters abroad, need to hear a similar message.

Otherwise, the myth will remain a token of faith, a perverse badge of patriotic honor, deepening a rift that already defies healing.

Consider the following response, from a reader in Ireland:

"We simply can't see a genocide in Palestine and pretend it doesn't exist. Today, the Jews are starving, persecuting and killing the helpless Palestinians without any mercy, taking advantage of their domination over American policies and politics.

"But we in Ireland can't behave like political whores as many countries are behaving. We must stand up against the mad dogs of zionism. Will the Jews be angry? Well, who cares?"

There are good reasons to care. One of them is that the resort to the use of terms like genocide to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict acts to cheapen the term, to divert attention from real cases of genocide, and to further confound a solution here.

There is something about the use of the term genocide that makes us feel better - Jew and Arab both. It gives us the ultimate moral edge. It gives us the justification for our every excess.

But it is time we saw it for what it is. A myth.

Would the Arabs like to see the Jews disappear from the Holy Land? Of course. Would the Jews like to see the Arabs gone? In a heartbeat.

Is it going to happen? Not on your life. Because that's not what the vast majority of the Israelis and Palestinians want. They want to find an accommodation. They want to find some way to separate and live, independently and in peace.

We cannot let anger speak for us, for either of our peoples, any longer. Too many have died on both sides.


At 9:35 PM, Blogger Greg said...

excellent article! My apologies, but I was sincerely surprised to see such an even-sided argument on your blog, Gert. Just goes to prove some of the things you've been telling me. Once again, great post!!!

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Gert said...



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