FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Rosh Hashonah Remembrance

by DAVID HIMMELSTEIN

With the Jewish High Holy Days upon us, a calendrical coincidence gives a particular twist to the spirit of self-examination which prevails from Rosh Hashonah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This year, the second day of Rosh Hashonah (which is determined by the Hebrew lunar calendar) marks the fifty-sixth anniversary of the assassination of Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish diplomat who served as United Nations Mediator in the Middle East in the turbulent period following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Count Bernadotte, nephew of the Swedish king and a political insider, had already earned a prominent place in the ranks of “righteous gentiles” for his relief efforts during the Holocaust. As vice chairman and prime mover of Sweden’s Red Cross during World War II, he provided protective cover for thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Denmark into neutral Sweden. Working with the Stockholm representative of the World Jewish Congress, he arranged the sending of 70,000 food parcels to Jews in concentration camps. And in the final months of the war, with the German military collapsing, Bernadotte negotiated, organized and joined a convoy that crossed into Germany to rescue concentration camp prisoners of various nationalities and religions, including 6,500 Jews. Skirting battlefield conditions, the fabled “white buses” shepherded a total of 20,000 back to Sweden by V-E Day, plus another 10,000 during the next month.

During those final months, Bernadotte’s diplomatic clout was also instrumental in squelching a Nazi plan to bury a mass of incriminating evidence by blowing up the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. By the end of the war, his stature was such that a British correspondent in Stockholm nominated him, along with Winston Churchill, as a potential candidate for the leadership of a United States of Europe.

Three years later, Bernadotte was again confronting a situation of massive human displacement. This time, the DPs were the nearly three quarters of a million Palestinians who had fled their homes in the face of violence, and threats of violence, in the months leading up to the proclamation of the State of Israel and in the period immediately thereafter.

Arriving as the first mediator ever deployed by the United Nations, Bernadotte succeeded in arranging a four-week Arab-Israeli cease-fire, but his initial peace plan was rejected by both sides. His second plan was also wildly unpopular with Israel as it would have ceded the Negev to the Arab State and placed Jerusalem under U.N. control. Even more significantly, it would also have allowed Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – homes often only hundreds of yards away from where they were now stranded as “present absents”, the chillingly Orwellian label applied to them by the newborn state. Not surprisingly, triumphant Zionists wanted to consolidate their victory by preserving the fait accompli that had rid the land of a troublesome population.

On September 17, 1948, members of the infamous Stern Gang, still operational outside the official Israeli military, carried out a roadside attack in the Israeli-controlled sector of Jerusalem, killing Bernadotte and his French military assistant. Official Israeli pursuit of the perpetrators was slow and halfhearted. The man generally acknowledged to have signed off on the hit, Yitzhak Shamir, went on to become a prime minister of Israel decades later.

It’s not hard to figure out why a mensch like Bernadotte languishes in relative obscurity within the pantheon of Holocaust heroes. His later endeavors are deeply embarrassing to unconditional supporters of Israel. To evoke the circumstances of his assassination is to open a Pandora’s Box of unsung death and destruction–a swirling chaos that challenges cherished beliefs and assumptions. But until that box is opened, and the outpouring faced squarely, it will continue to haunt the Holy Land, and no one will sleep in peace.

The extent to which Palestinian flight was deliberately provoked by Zionist militias has become more widely recognized thanks to the work of Israel’s so-called new historians (although some, like Benny Morris, now seem ready to rationalize “transfer”, another Orwellian term). The April 1948 massacre of over 100 Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin is merely the tip of an iceberg which sunders claims about pristine military restraint.

More than half a century later, most North American Jews have no more than a hazy notion of who Folke Bernadotte was–assuming they’ve heard of him at all. And, as with so many other issues, assessment among the Jewish cognoscenti varies widely. Hawkish Zionists write him off as prejudiced. Softer supporters of Israel reproach him for being naïve. Independent humanistic Jews will consider him deeply insightful.

Given the “facts on the ground” and behind-the-scenes international maneuvering, Bernadotte’s plan was probably doomed from the beginning. Looking back, it’s hard to assess how it would have worked out in practice. But, certainly, the grim history of the region since then–especially the Occupation phase which began in 1967–has severely shrunk Jewish confidence that the State of Israel is qualified and equipped to serve as an ultimate guarantor of Jewish safety and well-being. And a close, unflinching examination of the half-century military and political track record of Israel’s present leader leads to questions of complicity by silence in allowing an arsonist to pose as firefighter.

Meanwhile, in this period of spiritual penitence and cleansing, I will grieve the loss of Folke Bernadotte, equal-opportunity rescuer, and will continue to believe that his kind of generic conscience represents the only hope for civilization (though maybe quotation marks should be placed around that word nowadays).

I will imagine the world Jewish community being seized by the same kind of self-critical group introspection being touted so widely for the world Muslim community–beginning with acknowledgment of the nature and history of the current Israeli prime minister, and reflection on what his legacy bodes for the future.

And I will pray for a ripple of Jewish awakening to the fact that Palestinians will remember the Nakba as long as Jews remember the Shoah.

DAVID HIMMELSTEIN is a teacher and writer in Montreal. He can be reached at: lexiprime@videotron.ca

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 03, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail