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In Praise of the Facts

by YITZHAK LAOR

Israel/Palestine: How to End the 1948 War”
by Tanya Reinhart
Seven Stories Press, 280 pages, $10.36

D uring the time of the Lebanon War, late at night at the Red Bar after editing the news, one desk head told about a young major general who was circulating in the salons of Tel Aviv society and introducing himself as a future prime minister. I remember asking: “But on behalf of which party?” “Ah, that isn’t clear yet,” replied my boss. That person, who at the time seemed like a joke to night-desk editors–who “know everything,” even what cannot be published, or cannot be given prominence of place, or can be given prominence of place, with a wink–was the destroyer of the Israeli left, Ehud Barak.

It is from this man that Tanya Reinhart’s book begins, and the fact that the government is now headed by his military mentor, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon–who also did not know which party to join after the Israel Defense Forces–is only a minor element in the structure of parallels and similarities between the two. The main thing is that the elder of the two established the “project” of Jewish settlement in the territories, and the younger gave it the official seal of approval of the Zionist left, even before he became prime minister. Reinhart examines the closeness between the two with great precision.

The book has come out in Hebrew at a time when it is relatively easy to refute the official version, which four-and-a-half years ago enlisted many supporters for itself, first in Israel and later abroad as well: “We offered the Palestinians a lot; they rejected the offer; then they launched an attack on us.” This version has faded not because of the lies, but rather because no one, apart from politicians and the army, believes this narrative anymore. But the refrain has been playing in the background ever since the autumn of 2000, and in it the difference between the Zionist left and the right drowned long ago, and the peace festival at the gates, just as in the days of Oslo, again prohibits the asking of questions “from the left side.” What will happen when Israel once again insists on its favorite pieces of real estate? Tanya Reinhart is a person who can be relied upon not to tire of reminding us of what has been forgotten or is fading.

Reinhart insists that it is possible to build the counter-narrative only from reports that have been published in the press, but do not belong to the description of the reality among the Israelis. The contradictions can be refuted by means of reading the open source materials, she believes. She talks about facts.

 

Shaking off the mythology

If it were a matter of investment in foreign capital markets, for example, Israeli investors would try to shake off the mythology, stripping the fictional world of everything that belongs to the imagination, and end up confronting the rules themselves, equipped with the facts. This is the secret of the charm of capital markets: Their disciples do not buy nonsensical things, even if they have been written about by babes-in-the-woods, best-selling Zionist authors and generals.

But in Israeli politics there are those who have an interest in keeping the flame of war burning eternally, and perhaps reason has little place in Israel’s belligerent politics (see Lebanon, for example). And the facts? Where are they? It is doubtful that it would have been possible to do it–that is, to publish everything and nevertheless neither know nor believe, if that that has no connection to the facts did not play such a significant role in our world.

Is there any importance to the fact that the IDF and Israeli politicians made every effort to get the “them” (the Palestinians) out into the streets in order to turn their struggle into a bloody conflict? In remarks that former head of Military Intelligence Amos Malka made to Akiva Eldar in Haaretz on June 11, 2004, this is exactly what it is possible to see. In the autumn of 2000 a great effort was made, following Sharon’s provocation of visiting the Temple Mount, with Barak’s permission, to turn the disquiet into a war.

Since Reinhart wrote her first, English version of the book, a year after the start of the intifada, the atmosphere has changed. It is now permitted to say what in the beginning only Haaretz’s Amira Hass reported. Hass wrote more than four-and-a-half years ago what Malka said to Eldar only eight months ago, yet nothing gets anyone excited anymore. Not a bird has chirped, not a writer among Barak’s supporters has asked for forgiveness. What have the facts got to do with our mythical life? Moreover, what Eldar published in 2004 from Malka’s mouth, Ben Caspit published more than two-and-a-half years ago in the mass-circulation daily Maariv, apparently also with Malka as his source.

Thus, the truth about the start of the intifada had already been revealed, and no propagandist has yet been pilloried. However, as is the wont of lies, the “they started it” story became a truth that no longer needed ideologues. The consensual lie became a prevailing truth. No fact will any longer undermine “they started it,” apart from a real trauma, and of course we cannot hope for a real trauma, along the lines of the Yom Kippur War, because what kind of hope is it to wait for a disaster?

 

Fragile convictions

For whom, then, is Reinhart’s excellent book intended? Cynics will say “for those who are in any case convinced.” However, there is nothing like an intifada for delineating the weakness of the “convinced in any case.” After all the posturing of Oslo (“Our way has prevailed”) came the miserable, impotent folding of the Zionist left by the first weeks of the disturbances. Take the article “Left in Distress” (Haaretz Magazine, October 20, 2000) and see how fragile the “conviction of the convinced” was. And those who were perplexed at that time also remained silent when the Lebanon War began. Thus, what was it that the “convinced” couldn’t face? Incorrect facts? Or perhaps the need to express reservations about a prime minister who was “one of us”–that is, Barak? Or perhaps they could not face the need to stand up against “our” army? Tribalism, which is the primary characteristic of the Zionist left, was working overtime.

Excessive faith in the power of facts is an inherent flaw in very many people of the radical left. Most of them assume that if only they succeed in “showing the truth” to everyone, politics will change. Alas, most Israelis do know about the hell that Palestinians go through in the territories, yet at the same time most Israelis are in a different, mythical history–“the rebirth of the Jewish people.” The facts do not succeed in becoming part of the chain of cause and effect. Reinhart, however, does believe in facts. She truly believes that taking a position should be done in a manner similar to examining a scientific theorem, through the refinement of awareness, the clearing away of all sentiment–apart from moral sentiment–and using a basis of knowledge, devoid of interests.

We are lacking many facts, even after reading this book. Reinhart knows this. She says that she does not deal with investigations. This is the role of the press, but the press is in no hurry to investigate. When, for example, was the plan prepared to suppress the “uprising” that would become an uprising, if we know how to breathe fire into it? Is it necessary to be a demagogic propagandist, or alternatively a paranoid tabloid reader, to think that in the autumn of 2000, and even two years later, at the height of the big terror attacks, there was any danger to Israel’s very existence? But “the second half of the 1948 war” was echoing in the renewed transfer plan. This transfer is being carried out. Everything that is happening around the fence, everything that is being put into operation in the matter of the Palestinians’ property and lands–with the help of regulations and special laws passed and used right during the establishment of the state to confiscate massive amounts of Palestinian property within Israel–happened once and is happening again, but “they started it.” There is quite a lot that looks like a continuation of 1948, and everything is quietly passing by with a yawn.

“They started it” affords a kind of assuaging of the guilt. And what about the solution? There is no solution. Or there is a solution. Bang-bang, we’re done. Just so there’s quiet.

When David Zonsheine was called up for reserve duty to “take a line”–that is, to prepare his company for reserve duty in the Gaza Strip–the commander of his division, a brigadier general, said to him arrogantly: “In this intifada there is no judge advocate general [JAG].” Zonsheine decided to refuse to serve, and together with other officers he established the Courage to Refuse organization. That brigadier general’s remark came up since in all too many contexts: “In this intifada there is no JAG.” And wonder of wonders: It was none other than the JAG during this intifada, Menachem Finkelstein, who–to put it mildly–tried not to send soldiers and officers to trial for war crimes. Indeed this Finkelstein was the first, and for the time being the only, JAG to be demobilized with the rank of major general.

This is an event that cries out for interpretation. The facts exist. The connection has not yet been made. This is a place where the press is too lazy to think, perhaps because the press itself has looked the other way and has not wanted to see the deeds for which Finkelstein covered Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s posterior–and not just Maariv.

The facts convince or help to convince, but the history of the human race needs Reinhart’s faith (and the faith of other believers in facts and also of those who do not believe in facts, but are dedicated to collecting them), because how is it possible to live in a world where there is no difference between a lie and a truth? And how can the difference between a truth and a lie be established without the facts?

YITZHAK LAOR is an Israeli novelist who lives in Tel Aviv.

 

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