Elucidatory Espionage: Matti Friedman’s Spies of No Country

Written by Avery Weinman

Illustrated by Cameron Edwards

What makes a great work about espionage? Is it the pulse-pounding narrative beats? The harrowing accounts of close-call brushes with detection by the enemy? The dizzying revolving door of false identities and fake names? The wildly improbable missions? The tragic accounts of doomed love? The inevitable intruding sharpness of death? Or is it the way in which stories about spies and the world of spying feed our deeply human desire to know about more than just what meets the eye? Is it because they assure us that while most of us go about our banal, routine days there are parallel lives filled with intrigue and consequential grand designs? Is it because they prove to us that our world is full of hidden truths, obscured truths, or partial truths that we may not otherwise see? In his third full-length non-fiction book, Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, Israeli author Matti Friedman confirms that a great work about espionage is all of these things.

Friedman’s Spies of No Country recounts the stories of four Mizrahi Israelis – Jews whose pre-Israeli heritage comes from the Arab and Islamic world – who spied for the Arab Section of the Haganah in a rag-tag espionage unit that ultimately became one of the foundations for the famed Israeli intelligence agency: the Mossad. These four spies – Gamliel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen, and Yakuba Cohen (no relation between the three Cohens, just a thoroughly Jewish coincidence) – used their intimate knowledge of the Arab world that all of them were born into to collect vital information and execute covert espionage missions to benefit the Zionist project and the state of Israel in the mid-20th century.

Friedman focuses in on two major periods of these spies’ operations. The first, their missions in the industrial coastal city of Haifa in 1947, during the civil war phase of retaliatory violence between various Zionist and Arab nationalist militias in what became Israel’s War of Independence. The second, their deep-cover and operations out of “enemy territory” in Beirut, Lebanon in 1948, during the period of all-out war between the newly formed Israel Defense Forces and the armies of the Arab world. Over these two years, we come to know these four spies intimately. Which ones are mild, and which ones are hot-tempered. Which ones saw espionage as a solemn responsibility, and which ones saw it as a kinetic adventure. Which ones killed, and which ones never fired a gun. Which ones lived and grew to become old men, and which ones died and did not.

Friedman’s background as a reporter for the likes of The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Associated Press, as well as his previous experience as a long form non-fiction writer and pop-historian are both on display as considerable advantages in Spies of No Country. His journalistic senses are to the great benefit of the book’s readability and pacing. Friedman’s style of writing provides the text with vividly drawn characters, locations, and events that both draw the reader in and create real stakes in the spies’ fates. It also propels the story with the kind of snappy urgency that is appropriately fitting for a spy thriller, but may have otherwise been lost in a text more explicitly geared towards academia. To Friedman’s credit, this accessibility does not come at the expense of an intelligent academic framework. Like his two previous books – The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible (2012) and Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016) – Friedman is able to situate interesting stories in greater historical contexts and questions. In Spies of No Country, Friedman uses the stories of these four young Israeli spies to touch upon the Mizrahi experience in Israel and the tensions of Israel’s many precarious identities.

Mizrahi Jews have constituted the Jewish demographic majority of the state of Israel from the mid-1950s through to today, but their stories are generally relegated – often intentionally – to an ancillary footnote in favor of telling the story of Israel through a European-Ashkenazi lens. Mizrahi Israeli lives, stories, experiences, and histories – and the way in which these not only influence Israel’s character, but, as the pasts of the majority of Jewish Israelis, largely define it – are too frequently obscured from the layman’s knowledge about the state of Israel. Spies of No Country provides a glimpse into what feels like a hidden, parallel past in a meta-exercise on the revelatory nature of espionage; this, in itself, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. By complicating the traditionally presented Ashkenazi-centric Israeli history with the presence of four spies whose dark skin, native Arabic, and inherent “Arabness” was precisely what made them such valuable assets, Spies of No Country leaves behind hints for the interested reader to uncover the story of an Israel that they previously may not have known existed at all.

As a first clue – a kind of “your mission, if you choose to accept it” – Spies of No Country provides a gateway to a far larger and more nuanced history of the state of Israel in the guise of a thoroughly entertaining spy thriller. With the narrative and scholarly threads that Friedman introduces in Spies of No Country as square one, the interested reader can continue following the legacy of these Mizrahi Israeli spies by learning about the crucible of Mizrahi immigration to Israel, how and why Mizrahim became (and remain today) the core base of the Likud party, and why taking a five minute walk down the corridors of the Jerusalem shuk feels a lot more like a journey into One Thousand and One Nights than Fiddler on the Roof.

At a succinct and quickly paced 224 pages, Friedman’s Spies of No Country is a simultaneously accessible and rigorous study of Mizrahi Jews who played an indispensable role in the nascence of Israeli espionage and the creation of the state of Israel. With enough spy intrigue and genre-true suspense to entertain the casual reader, enough new insight to engage the dilettante of Israeli history, and enough primary evidence and academic framework to sustain the scholar – Spies of No Nation succeeds as a work of far-reaching value. Friedman’s closing remarks for his opening paragraph ultimately ring true about the book itself: “time spent with old spies is never time wasted.”

Facing the Near Future of Holocaust Denial

Written and Illustrated by Avery Weinman

Today, someone born on the day that Auschwitz was liberated — January 27, 1945 — would be 73 years old.  Someone who was ten years old on the day Auschwitz was liberated would today be 83 years old. Someone who was 20 years old on the day Auschwitz was liberated — the same as age I am as I sit down to write this — would today be 93 years old.  American Jews, Israeli Jews, and all Jews all over the world need to reconcile that soon, through no other process other than the cruelty of time, there will be no more survivors. And when there are no more survivors, no more living testaments of the Shoah, the task will fall to us — the generations to whom the Holocaust is history and not experience — to stand guard against Holocaust denial and all it entails: revision, misrepresentation, appropriation, and the best efforts of anti-Semites on both the Left and the Right to willfully forget, bury, and distort the lessons the Holocaust taught us about what the modern world is capable of doing to the Jewish people.  It falls to us to steadfastly affirm that “Never Again!” means never again.

   I think that in coming decades Jews all over the world will be shocked at how quickly and eagerly the non-Jewish world will seize the opportunity to recontextualize and reimagine the Holocaust to fit whatever political framework best benefits them as soon as there is no more living proof.  In Jewish communities, where the memories and lessons of the Holocaust are so strong and so foundational to what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, the idea that the Holocaust could be erased, or delegitimized, or turned into a conspiracy theory, or made into something that only happened “then and with those people” and separated from the contemporary world entirely seems unfathomable.  But I would suggest that given what we’re seeing in our time on both the Right and the Left, it’s not unfathomable at all.

    On the Right, Holocaust denial has been revitalized by the global trend of populist nationalism’s re-ascendence to the political mainstream.  In Eastern Europe — where right-wing nationalist parties have not only re-emerged on the political scene, but have become popular enough amongst the people to become the dominant political parties as is the case in states like Austria, Hungary, and Poland — the return to a nationalist desire to reframe Eastern European histories within grand, romantic notions of heroic pasts has put the objective truth of the Holocaust in these states in jeopardy.  Austrian, Hungarian, and Polish complicity in the Holocaust — of which there is no doubt — complicates the romantic nationalist narratives that the contemporary right-wing parties in these states are attempting to craft. So, these right-wing nationalist governments actively engage in Holocaust denial for the sake of the maintenance of their national myth and desire to separate their histories with Nazism, anti-Semitism, and complicity in genocide from the pure national narratives they espouse.

    Take, for example, a most recent and most notable example of this trend: the Polish “Holocaust Bill,” which Polish President Andrzej Duda of the nationalist Law and Justice Party signed into effect in early February.  The law, which passed fifty-seven to twenty-three with two abstensions in the Polish Parliament, criminalizes speech that suggests Polish complicity or Polish support “in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich” with the potential punishment of a fine and up to three years in prison.  The Polish nationalist argument in favor of this legislation is that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis on Polish soil, and, since the Nazis were distinctly German, Poland and the Polish people should not be held equally accountable for the Holocaust which the Polish nationalists also maintain was an immoral tragedy.  Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki articulated this argument in a tweet from January 27, 2018, “Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”  Morawiecki’s tweet exemplifies the desire to explicitly place the entirety of the blame for the Holocaust on the Nazis and to absolve the Poles for what they want to recontextualize as solely Nazi crimes.

      This sort of semantic dance around history and the Holocaust diminishes the scholarly accepted truth that Poles — not all, but certainly a significant amount — were anti-Semitic, supported Nazism, and aided in the facilitation of the genocide of the European Jews both before and after the formal conclusion of the Second World War.  While the Poles have a proud history of actually being the people who did the most to resist Nazism out of the areas the Nazis occupied during the Second World War, well documented pre-war anti-Semitism among Polish nationalists, endemic Polish indifference to the plight of their Jewish neighbors, and cases like the Jedwabne pogrom where local Poles actively assisted the Nazis in burning roughly three hundred and fifty Jews alive in a barn cannot and should not be diminished for the sake of an exalted Polish identity. The Law and Justice Party’s best efforts to deny the Polish role is indicative of their larger desire to trivialize Poland’s anti-Semitic past altogether by continuously denying any anti-Semitism that ever happened in Poland perpetrated by Poles. Instead, they choose to revise history, remove all traces of Polish involvement, and designate the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that precipitated it as Nazi crimes only.

       On the Left, contemporary anti-Semitism is not nearly as obviously recognizable as the classic Charlottesville brand of angry young white racists chanting “Jews will not replace us” with their torches and retreaded Nazi slogans, but it poses an equally virulent threat to the preservation of the lessons and history of the Holocaust.  Today, left-wing anti-Semitism confronts the Holocaust through the avenue of conspiracy theory. This last year alone has been rife with incidents that demonstrate the left-wing propensity to accept and promulgate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Some examples include: Washington DC Councilmember Trayon White blaming the frigid winter weather on the classic anti-Semitic conspiracy that the Rothschild family somehow controls the weather, the revelation of British Labour Party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s past support for a wildly anti-Semitic mural that depicts multiple big-nosed, nefarious looking coded-Jews sitting around a table held up by black slaves with an Illuminati-style eye-in-the-pyramid backdrop, and co-founder of the Women’s March Tamika Mallory’s support and refusal to denounce Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who, at the rally Mallory attended, proclaimed Jews are, “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

       Reactively, these might seem like just a few extreme examples from a few bad actors, but these bad actors are also a federal councilman, the potential future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and one of the founders of the most powerful feminist organization in America; such anti-Semitism from such influential echelons holds weight for the trickle down of this kind of causal anti-Semitic rhetoric to make its way into our media, our everyday opinions, and our governments.  But where left-wing acceptance of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories threaten the memories and lessons of the Holocaust is when the conspiracies blend into the thinly veiled and perennially unaddressed line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

    Conspiracy theories that do not target Jews-writ-large, but choose to focus on Zionism or the state of Israel as the object of the conspiracy are also rife in our world.  For every blatantly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, there is an equal Zionist conspiracy that proclaims that the Zionists did 9/11 to turn international opinion against Arabs and Muslims as the previously mentioned Farrakhan has argued; that the Mossad assassinated Princess Diana; that the Israel Defense Forces harvests the organs of dead Palestinians in a modern interpretation of the blood libel, as was the unsubstantiated assertion in a 2009 article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet which they later retracted after the author admitted “… whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue;” or that the Zionists either fabricated or facilitated the Holocaust in order to gain international sympathy for the birth of a Jewish state as was the topic of current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral dissertation: The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism. My co-editor Zach brought up an excellent point to me that contemporary anti-Zionists who feel frustrated that the Israeli government utilizes the Holocaust so strongly in the argument for its existence are poised to be in a position where the discrediting and denial of the Holocaust from an anti-Zionist perspective instead of a more traditionally anti-Semitic perspective becomes popularized on the Left. If this happens, the end result will still be Holocaust denial regardless of whether it stems from an anti-Semitic or an anti-Zionist orientation.

    The meteoric rise of all of these trends — right-wing Holocaust denial, right-wing ethno-nationalism, right-wing anti-Semitism, left-wing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, left-wing anti-Zionist conspiracy theories, left-wing failure to differentiate between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and left-wing anti-Semitism — are all coinciding in the era that we are poised to lose the last generation of survivors.  I didn’t set out to write this piece with the intention of sounding like an alarmist, but the confluence of all of these factors in our time should give us pause. The erosion of the Holocaust from both the Right and the Left sets us to be like a fuse burning on both ends — the explosion can happen much faster than we realize.

    The question is — what can we do?  How can we combat these trends and ensure that the memories and lessons of the Holocaust remain valuable and intact even as we lose the living proof?  I believe that it is essential for Jews everywhere to maintain that while the lessons of the Holocaust — tolerance, justice, compassion, empathy, courage — are universal, the Holocaust remains a Jewish particular event.  The Holocaust could have only happened the way it did, with the totality of the way it did, to the Jewish people as the culmination of centuries long processes of the racialization of the Jewish people, the maturation of anti-Jewish religious prejudice in Europe, German nationalism, and modernity.  While the Nazis did target other groups like the disabled, Communists, Poles, and LGBT+ peoples during the Holocaust, none were targeted with as much veracity as the Jews, through such open legal means as the Jews, or with the full intention of total annihilation as the Jews. I also believe that the Holocaust needs to remain memorialized as an unparalleled atrocity and not made equivalent to other genocides; all are tragedies, but the methods, ideological rationalization, and totality of the Holocaust make it unique.  Other genocides rival the Holocaust in the number and proportion of people killed, but none represent the same kind of realization of the darkest potentials for technology, science, law, assimilation, diplomacy, and the relationship between non-Jews and Jews as the Holocaust does. Balancing the universal lessons, while simultaneously asserting the particularism, will be essential for Jews to be able to defend the validity of our history and to affirm our own humanity.

    But on an immediate and personal note, something we all need to do — both Jew and non-Jew alike — is to keep the memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive now, in our time, while we still have survivors with us.  Look at more pictures. Watch more documentary footage. Listen to survivor’s accounts. Learn how the Holocaust intersected with class and race. Learn about the Holocaust outside of Europe. Learn about the Holocaust in the Middle East and North Africa.  Learn about how the Allies knew what was happening in the camps months before the camps were liberated, but did nothing to stop it. Learn how nearly every country in the world, including the United States, shut its doors to Jewish refugees, causing untold thousands of deaths. Read more memoirs and poems. Read Anne Frank. Read Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. Read If This is a Man. Read Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue.”  If you are fortunate enough to have a survivor in your life, learn about their story.  Write it down. Record it. Transcribe it. Share it. Ask them for lessons — inscribe them in your heart, teach them to your children, teach them at home and away, when lying down at night and when rising up each day.  

The Political Future of Jews: A Conversation with Tony Michels

Written by Avery Weinman

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Tony Michels was a part of Leviathan from 1987 to 1988.  He currently works in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a specialization in American Jewish history.  In this interview, Professor Michels and I explored the rising trend of anti-Semitism coming from left-wing political spaces, the implications left-wing anti-Semitism could have on the future of Jewish politics, and how Jews and non-Jewish allies can address the potential dangers of left-wing anti-Semitism.

 

Avery Weinman: For this issue, we’re asking all the alumni that we’re in contact with to respond to a singular prompt: what is the biggest obstacle facing Jews today?

Tony Michels: I think the biggest challenge is how to continue to develop a liberal left-wing politics that takes into account Jewish interests and vulnerabilities such as anti-Semitism.  This goal is made difficult by fact that anti-Semitism emanates from both the political Left and the political Right.

AW: So what I’m hearing in what you’ve said here is a kind of struggle for American Jews to be able to retain what we think of as these kinds of American-Jewish universalist values in the face of also wanting to maintain Jewish particularism.  Which, I think, is a real struggle for American Jews in particular.

TM: I think it is a struggle, and it’s an old one.  For more than a century, Jews have struggled to maintain some sort of balance between particularity and universalism.  It’s an effort made all the more difficult by the problem of anti-Semitism and the fact that it comes from the Left as well as the Right, as I mentioned a moment ago.

AW: So I’ll ask you about that, because I’ll admit that, like you, that has kind have been a personal crisis for me at UC Santa Cruz.  I grew up in Davis so near UC Davis but also near Sacramento —  and it never even really crossed my mind growing up that there would be anti-Semitism on the Left until I came to college and saw it for myself.  I know that you work at the University of Wisconsin: Madison, so in terms of alumni that we’re talking to you are still much more rooted in this kind of college experience.  So maybe you could elaborate more on how you first came in contact with anti-Semitism on the Left?

TM: It sounds to me like [my experience] is similar to yours.  I grew up in San Jose, and it never occurred to me that there was anti-Semitism on the Left.  Not that I was a very politically aware high school kid. But I came to Santa Cruz with the presumption that the Left was the natural political home for the Jews.  It was in Santa Cruz that I discovered that I wasn’t entirely correct in my presumptions. I experienced anti-Semitism on the Left, first, as part of hostility toward Israel.  I don’t mean mere criticism of Israel; I mean an obsessive hostility that morphs into anti-Semitism. This sort of left-wing anti-Semitism wasn’t widespread at UCSC back in the 1980s, but it was evident.  Apart from Israel, there were milder forms of anti-Semitism, such as a refusal to criticize the likes of [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan. There was also an attitude that held Jews ought to assimilate, or submerge, or minimize their Jewish identity, but members of other ethnic groups should celebrate theirs.  Of course this double standard was evident among Jews as well as gentiles.

AW: I don’t particularly think that it’s a secret and I don’t really understand people who think it’s not an issue that there’s a serious problem with the Israel discourse on college campuses.  I think it’s pretty objectively clear that there is a serious discourse issue, but there’s a lot of pushback from certain activist groups saying that it’s not anything to do with anti-Semitism, it’s only to do with Israel.  At Wisconsin do you have similar type issues to what we have at UCSC where it’s getting more and more difficult to bring Israeli speakers on campus because the fear is just that those events are going to get shut down and that time is going to be wasted and resources are going to be wasted?

TM: There’s some of that, but I don’t think it’s nearly as strong as it is in the UC system.  I think the kind of anti-Israelism that you’re talking about is regional, more evident on the west coast and in the northeast, less so in other parts of the country.  

AW: I’m curious, at Wisconsin would you say that there’s an actual discourse on Israel, because I feel that at Santa Cruz we’re actually moving away from what I would term as discourse and we’re more moving towards just one side, one perspective, where student run activist groups just run the conversation and literally shut down alternate viewpoints, and I don’t feel that that’s productive in any way.  Would you say that Wisconsin actually has an active discourse?

TM: Yes, I would say that.  Various perspectives are heard.  I don’t think anybody is silenced.  

AW: A little bit ago you mentioned Farrakhan, who is now in the news again.

TM: Surprisingly to me, I have to admit.  I thought his sort of anti-Semitism had mostly disappeared since the 1980s.

AW: I would have hoped to agree, but clearly it has not.  But he brings up an interesting thing to me; I do want to talk about intersectionality, and how some intersectional movements are perhaps a little bit in crisis and that Farrakhan exposed that, at least pertaining to the Jews and how the Jews are involved in progressive activism.  What he said in his speech and this is a recent speech, this is not like his 1980s speeches, this is a 2018 speech he blamed the Jews for all of the sexual abuse scandals in Hollywood and he retreaded some old Satanic-Jewish tropes.  But what made this story interesting is that [Tamika Mallory] one of the co-founders of the Women’s March, which I would pin as the most visible feminist movement in America today, was in attendance.  So I think this exposed a really prominent fracture right now in American progressive politics where it does not seem like this whole idea of intersectionality includes the Jewish people, at least in the same kind of willingness to say “okay, we make mistakes and it’s complicated.”  Essentially [Mallory’s] rebuttal for having been at the Farrakhan event was “it’s difficult to build an intersectional movement because people are complex,” and the response on the Jewish side was “we’ve been saying that the whole time, but we’ve also been kicked out of rallies for being Zionists and we’ve been told we can’t wear our symbols anymore.”  Would you agree that this is also a potential fracture in left-wing politics today that needs to be addressed, and how do you think we can fix it?

TM: Look at it this way, Farrakhan is, among other things, an anti-Semite. Plain and simple.  He espouses classical anti-Semitism that originates in the European racist and nationalist right-wing.  He’s a conduit for it, in fact, he’s one of the main conduits for it in the United States. The Nation of Islam and white supremacists share a common hatred of Jews and employ a similar vocabulary.  So this is a problem. The complicating factor is that the Nation of Islam is seen as doing important work in African-American communities. The Nation of Islam is a symbol of black militancy and pride, in the eyes of many, including those who are not members of the Nation of Islam. There is some truth to this perception.  The Nation of Islam has made a positive difference in the lives of some people. Nonetheless, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism has to be completely rejected. There are people on the Left who are confused; they think somehow that Farrakhan is a fighter for freedom and equality. But I don’t see how the Nation of Islam has actually challenged structures of racism and inequality in the U. S.  The organization seems to stand on the sidelines most of the time and sees capitalism as the route to Black empowerment. And then there’s the fact that Farrakhan has espoused homophobia and sexism. How he can be regarded as a leftist or a friend of the Left is beyond me.

AW: Going off of that, we’ve covered that Farrakhan is really almost an essential European-intellectual anti-Semite, where the things that he says are really just regurgitations of things we’ve heard for more than a hundred years now.  And I would say that also applies to [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas’ recent speech where he retreated back into Holocaust denial. He said something along the lines of: the Holocaust was caused by Jewish social behavior and money lending and not by anti-Semitism.  And Abbas had previously written his doctoral dissertation on the so-called secret link between Zionism and Nazism arguing that the Holocaust was all a Zionist conspiracy to get international sympathy. But my question is, since these are both really recognizable, clear anti-Semitic tropes that both Farrakhan and Abbas are using, why is it so hard for the Left to reject them, when if the same statement had come from, I don’t know, [former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan] David Duke, instantly there would be outcry and instantly there would be rejection?

TM: Why is there reluctance?  Here I’m speculating, but I think there are several reasons.  First, it’s inconvenient to speak out against Farrakhan. It distracts from the main target and purpose of anti-racist activism.  Second, there are some people, I don’t know how many, who actually agree with him on some level. These are people who do not view him as an anti-Semite, but rather as someone who courageously exposes the nefarious doings of the Jews, their plotting and scheming and exploiting.   Finally, there are people who don’t agree with Farrakhan, but neither do they believe his words have consequences for Jews, so to their minds, there is no need to respond to him. Farrakhan is a sideshow, according to this perspective. One can turn a blind eye to his anti-Semitism because it doesn’t cause actual harm.  Those are the three factors that come to mind. One, he’s an inconvenience best avoided. Two, he’s seen as a truth-teller, not an anti-Semite. Three, what he says about Jews is believed to be inconsequential.

AW: Do you think it is consequential?  That it is something that needs to be more addressed so it doesn’t turn into a serious problem?

TM: Yes, I believe it’s consequential. One consequence, in the political realm, is that it has the effect of driving Jews from the Left.  If Jews think there’s no place for them on the Left because anti-Semitism is tolerated there, then at least some of them will move in a different political direction.  Also, there’s a possibility that anti-Semitism will spread and gain traction, and where that leads I don’t know.

AW: You mentioned one of the potential outcomes as that Jews will leave progressive or left-wing politics.

TM: And I’d say that’s already happened.

AW:  Even this year we’re seeing that now in the United Kingdom amidst all of [head of the UK Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism scandals.  We’re seeing really for the first time in modern Jewish-British history, Jews are not voting Labour Party anymore. The consequences of that are not yet known.  We don’t exactly know where the Jewish-British demographic is going to end up putting their political currency, but we are seeing that that is a totally possible manifestation of tolerance of anti-Semitism in left-wing politics.  But to bring it back to your original answer to what the biggest challenge facing the Jewish community today is, how do Jews remain in left-wing liberal spaces while also asserting a kind of Jewish particularism in that anti-Semitism needs to be addressed and routed, that there are particular Jewish vulnerabilities that people should be aware of what do you think can be done to balance these two things?

TM: Well, I think Jews on the Left should stick up for themselves.  Which is to say, one should speak out in defense of Jews as one would for any group that faces racism and bigotry.  I still feel confident that if Jews do this, they will gain allies who will stand with them.

Activism, the Peace Process, and the Contemporary Middle East: A Discussion with US Ambassador Dennis Ross

Written by Avery Weinman and Zachary Brenner

Photo courtesy of Nrbelex

Ambassador Dennis Ross served as Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush, was the Special Middle East Coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and was a Special Adviser to the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also advised President Barack Obama. We interviewed Ambassador Ross before the talk he gave at Stevenson College on April 19th so we could hear the perspective of an individual who has engaged, firsthand, in the arduous Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In our interview, we aimed to leave our own politics and opinions behind us in favor of attempting to discern a better understanding of how activism and Israel-Palestine rhetoric is viewed by someone who has actually been in the negotiating rooms and directly participated in the discussions, decisions, successes and failures of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  We hope that our interview with Ambassador Ross encourages all of our readers to engage with some of the most difficult questions surrounding Israel and Palestine and to pursue a more productive discourse on campus.

 

Zachary Brenner: Our first question is about activism. As college students a lot of our direct contact with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes through interactions with various activist groups who endorse a wide range of varying goals and positions.  In your opinion, does activism actually influence Israeli and Palestinian leadership in a meaningful way, a productive way? Or does it pressure the leadership to pursue potentially extreme and unviable options?

Dennis Ross: It depends on what the nature of the activism is.  Activism that is designed to demonize one side is almost always going to be very counterproductive.   It produces a negative defensive reaction from those who are being demonized and it tends to polarize in a way that makes any serious effort at problem solving harder to do.  Activism that’s designed to try and overcome differences between people, activism that’s designed to promote tolerance and acceptance of the other, activism that is geared towards coexistence, activism that legitimizes the very idea of conflict resolution that helps.  It creates a context.  It tends to create a sense of the possible.  It creates a sense of hope. The biggest problem in this conflict, and in others that are really intractable, is that there tends to be a sense of no hope, no possibility.  So activism that is geared towards demonization basically deepens the sense that this impossible because you’re rejecting one side. You’re not peacemaking when you’re rejecting one side.

Avery Weinman: A follow up for that in your own experiences, in your time during negotiations, do you have an example of a time when activism that was happening in either Israel/Palestine itself, or in America, or anywhere else in the world actually did influence how negotiations went down in the room itself?

DR:  I can say this, when we were negotiating the Interim Agreement in 1995, the right-wing in Israel was active all over the country there were demonstrations, blocking traffic it created a climate within the negotiating room that was more tense than it might have been otherwise.  On the Israeli side, there was a tendency to try to prove that they weren’t naive and somehow giving things away that they shouldn’t.  On the Palestinian side, there was a kind of concern that these right-wing demonstrations will get the Israelis to be less responsive, less forthcoming.  So then I felt [pressure from activism] pretty strongly. You could feel the impact of what was going on.

    To be fair, the things that were much more damaging were not the demonstrations, it was the bombings.  The bombings actually brought the negotiations to a halt. And every time we were making progress in the 1990s, we would face that.  I’ll tell you a story. Six months before his assassination I used to see [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin] all the time.  When I was our negotiator I saw him all the time for obvious reasons.  On Shabbats, on Saturday afternoons, he liked me just to come over to his house just to have a more relaxed discussion that was more strategic in nature and less on the moment.  Six months before he was assassinated, he asked me, “Who do you think will determine the next election in Israel?” So I tried to prove how smart I was about Israeli politics proving the opposite and so I said “Aryeh Deri of Shas (a Mizrahi-religious Israeli political party).” And he said, “No, guess again.” And I said, “No, no. Tell me.” And he said, “Two Hamas bombs.  Two Hamas bombs and [Benjamin] Netanyahu will be prime minister and I won’t be.” So what really made it more difficult than anything else was the violence. And that cuts both ways.  When Palestinians got killed, you had a reaction on their side. So to be fair, that’s what really was much more disruptive and strengthens the hand of those who are rejectors on each side.

AW: Another question.  One of the things that makes the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict unique is that it has a near mythic ability to reinvent itself in terms of whatever the global political trend of the day is.  For instance, we’ve seen it go through a really Marxist, anti-colonial orientation in the 60s and 70s, we saw it was influenced by the rise of Islamism and political Islam in the 80s and 90s, and I would argue that today we’re also seeing it go through another very romantic-nationalist orientation where the national narrative really takes precedence over anything that is rational.  

DR: Yeah.

AW: So since the conflict changes so quickly, the possibilities of the conflict can also change really quickly as well.  For example in 1960 it was pretty much universal in both the Israeli Right and the Left to oppose the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, but now it’s pretty much the base position amongst a wide majority of the Israeli political spectrum.  So in terms of strategies that have previously been considered too radical or too unviable to try for instance, a one state binational solution should we consider perhaps trying [radical solutions] or at least not being surprised if they were to come to fruition in the future?

DR: Look, I think the point is that there can be an evolution, but where there hasn’t been an evolution, however, is in the reality of two separate national movements with two separate national identities.  In the Middle East, if you look at any state in the Middle East that has more than one identity whether it’s tribal, whether its sectarian, whether it’s ethnic, or whether it’s national what you’ll find in that state is that it’s at war.  So if you want to take two separate national identities and say one state, what you’re going to guarantee is an endless conflict. You can talk about how the conflict may look different at different periods, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is two separate national identities.  And it’s not going to change. In the end, the Israelis are not going to go any place, and the Palestinians are not going to go any place. Those who say one state and there are Israelis on the right who say one state, and what they have in mind is one state where Israelis have rights and Palestinians have limited rights.  The Palestinians who want one state, they don’t invision equal rights in truth. If you talk to the Palestinians, if you say, “Ok look, let’s say tomorrow you have one state, so what does the state look like?” The Palestinians will say, “Oh, a Palestinian will be Prime Minister.  And there’ll be no Right of Return for Jews.” And you say to them, “Well actually, for at least another twenty to twenty five years Palestinians would actually be a minority in that state, so how could it be that that would be the outcome?”  Because that’s not their image of one state. So the two have completely different images of one state, which is ultimately why the only thing that will ever work is two states for two peoples.  The problem is how do you get there from where we are now.

ZB: Given the United States’ changing position on both the global stage and in its perception as a fair arbiter in the peace process, how do you see the American role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process changing, if you see it changing at all?  Do you think any of the proposed alternatives to changing the structure of the peace process like the implementation of an international, multinational mediating body are viable?

DR: I’m not a fan of multinational mediating efforts because, by definition it’s very difficult to ensure that those different mediators actually view things the same way.  And then the parties will play upon the differences that they see in the mediators. You know if you look at the 5+1 model (the model used in the United Nations to negotiate the recent Iran Deal), there was an umbrella of 5+1, but it was really a bilateral negotiation between the US and Iran which the other members then accepted. Whether the Trump administration can prove that it can be a mediator remains to be seen, but there is a simple reality there is nobody else who can play the role because nobody else has the relationship with Israel.  Israel is the one that has to give up the tangibles, the Palestinians give up intangibles. Nobody else is going to persuade the Israelis, nobody else can give the Israelis the set of assurances or commitments that make it easier to make decisions that are very hard.  In the end, no matter who the mediator is, if the parties aren’t prepared to make certain decisions, you’re not going to succeed anyway.

     One of the things that Rabin used to say to me was, “I know that we have to give up more than they do, but I need to see that they’re prepared to do something that’s hard for them too.  It can’t be only that Israel takes the hard decisions.” The success of a mediator depends on understanding that you have to meet the needs of both sides, not of one side, and that both sides will have to do things that are hard for them.  And it can’t be just, “Oh yeah, I’ll do things that are hard for me.” I used to say to John Kerry when he said, “They say they’re serious.” I’d say, “That means nothing. Outline the specific steps that they need to take to prove that they’re serious about doing something.  If they’re ready to take on the constituencies that they know are going to be opposed to peacemaking, then you know you’re actually in a place where you can settle the whole conflict. If they’re not, you should scale back your objective.”

ZB: Do you feel that it’s necessary to have a mediator?

DR: Yeah, I do.  I don’t believe that the Israelis and Palestinians on their own can reach an agreement.  They need to have their own negotiations, the US shouldn’t be in every negotiation and there are no negotiations at all right now.  But I can tell you that the Clinton Parameters emerged from our bringing the two sides together after I’d had a conversation with [Palestinian Authority President Yasser] Arafat where, after a conversation on December 11th of 2000, we then brought both parties together on December 17th.  The conversation with Arafat was there were five weeks left in the Clinton administration and I said, “I’m not going to fool you, you’re not going to fool me is there a deal here?  I sort of talked around and I’ll tell you what I believe the Israelis can do on each of the core issues.  You tell me whether you can accept it.” So I went through it in a way that was not that far from what we then presented later on because obviously I knew where the Israelis were coming from.  And [Arafat] said yeah he could do it. This was done in Morocco, so I called Clinton and he said, “How come you’re not more excited?” And I said, “Because I don’t believe him. I think it’s easy for him to say when he’s sitting alone with me that he can do it, the proof will be can he do it when he knows this will have to be exposed publicly.” Then I said, “However, the fact that he said this we oughta test it.”  So we brought both delegations to Washington, they were on Boeing Air Force Base, I actually shrunk the differences between them to start these negotiations, and I said, “Ok, come up with a solution.”  Three and a half days of effort on their part and they say, “We can’t do it we need a bridging proposal.” That’s what the Clinton Parameters were, they were a bridging proposal. I tell you this story because I believe the same if they ever get back into a serious negotiation, let’s say the administration comes out with a serious peace plan that the two sides may not love but they’ll accept as a basis for negotiation at the end of the day they may get here, but to get that final part they’ll need a proposal they both react to.  We shouldn’t be presenting it prematurely unless we know where they’re really coming from. Unless we know how we can tailor it so that it’ll be hard for them not to say yes.  Unless we prepare the grounds so the the Arabs embrace it, the Europeans embrace it, so there’s a context and a climate that makes it hard for them to do anything except say yes.

AW:  You mention that the Europeans need to accept it and that the Arab states need to accept it too.  When I think of how most people think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think they think of it in terms of just two parties: just Israelis and just Palestinians dealing with each other.  But, I wanted to know more about the other parties involved like, for instance, a Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran-Russia connection, an Israeli-American-Saudi sphere, how Egypt and Jordan, and how bodies like the European Union and the United Nations factor into the conflict.  So the question is, how important in the negotiating room actually are the goals and aims of those other factors?

DR: They’re not prominent, and they won’t be.  In the 1990s when I was our negotiator the Europeans always wanted to be part of the negotiations.  And the foreign minister [of Spain] Javier Solana used to say to me, “You keep us out.” And I’d say, “I don’t keep you out.  If I wanted you out, but the parties want you in, you’re in. If I want you in, and they want you out, you’re out. I’m not the one who keeps you out, they’re the ones who keep you out.” Anyone who is seen by the two sides as being central to reaching an agreement can play a role.  The truth is the reason I bring in the Europeans and the Arabs on the Palestinian side, the only thing the Palestinians believe that they have achieved is international acceptance of their cause.  If it looks like they’re putting that in jeopardy, then they will move.

AW: As a final question, an overarching question but one that’s good to end on, what reason should we have to be optimistic about how the peace process will go, or what reason should we have to be pessimistic about how the peace process will go?

DR: Well it’s a lot easier to focus on the latter than the former right now.  The reason to be optimistic is because, ultimately, there is no alternative.  I said it before, the Israelis are not going any place and the Palestinians are not going any place.  They can choose to continue to live in a way that imposes a price on both, or at some point they can find a way to accept what is the reality that they have to live next to each other in a way that both of them will ultimately benefit.  Now how we recreate a climate that makes that possible is the challenge, and we’re far from that right now.

AW: Great. Thank you.

ZB: Thank you so much.

DR: My pleasure.

Letter from the Editors – Spring 2018

Having been editors together for the entirety of this school year, we have had many discussions about why we are attracted to and compelled to write for Leviathan. We are both interested in history as well as the importance of engaging our voices with the world when we have content that we are passionate about. As a historical archive, we both agree that Leviathan is unique — few other campuses across the United States have such a legacy with founders and members who have gone on to important journalistic, academic, or otherwise Jewish work. Additionally, this journal has been an incredible way for us to engage with our greater Jewish community. We’ve been able to openly, authentically and accurately express our voices, especially as we have experienced an increase in inaccuracy and divisiveness in the world these past few years. We have a tremendous obligation to report and write responsibly, and we hope that we did so. We hope we’ve expanded conversations and helped to reach the Jewish community around us.

Earlier this year, we decided that because of Leviathan’s tremendous legacy and importance as a historical archive, it would be neat to have a special issue commemorating the 45 years we have gone strong. Now, we could have waited for our 50th anniversary, but we wouldn’t be here for that. We just really wanted to participate and speak to the past editors — so that’s what we did. Our staff loved the idea and we got to work, looking back at all of the issues and contacting graduated Leviathan alumni. We’re excited to finally share all of this will you — the words, stories, and lessons that Leviathan has taught us all throughout the years. To the future leadership and staff – we wish you love and good luck, and we can’t wait to see how you carry on the Leviathan legacy.

 

L’Chaim,

Avery and Zach

Letter from the Editors – Winter 2018

In this second issue of the 2017-2018 school year, we are proud to continue our commitment to providing honest, versatile, and meaningful content from a diverse array of topics.  In this issue, we have published everything from a meditation on Judaism and cannabis, to an Indian-Jewish recipe, to a commentary on Biblical Isaac, to an interview with one of the most influential rabbis working in the United States.  Leviathan continues to be a space where all of our staff is free to explore topics that interest them, and we hope that what continues to interest us also continues to interest our readers.

We would like to continue to extend our deepest thanks to all of the organizations, departments, and readers who have supported the work we do here at Leviathan.  With the publication of this issue, we officially became a journal that has been running for forty-five years.  Our lasting success over these four decades is due in no small part to the support we receive.

Moving forward, we are committed to expanding the conversation within the Jewish community and providing an open space for all students to be able to explore their thoughts in relation to Judaism. We extend an invitation to anyone who might be interested in engaging with our journal – we’d love to hear from you!

L’Chaim,

Avery and Zach

 

Fifty Years Since Six Days of War: An Interview with Gildas Hamel

Written by Avery Weinman

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Six_Day_War._Army_chief_chaplain_rabbi_Shlomo_Goren,_who_is_surrounded_by_IDF_soldiers,_blows_the_shofar_in_front_of_the_western_wall_in_Jerusalem._June_1967._D327-043.jpg)

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War: a war whose events transformed Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, and the Jewish world forever.  In just six short days – June 5th, 1967 through June 10, 1967 – Israel defeated the full military force of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, tripled its landmass, and brought the entire city of Jerusalem – including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall – under Jewish sovereignty for first time in nearly two thousand years.  Israel’s victory also triggered the Palestinian Naksa, as an estimated three hundred thousand Palestinians fled the West Bank, and marked the beginning of a military occupation with no seeming end in sight.  Israel’s swift and definitive military victory solidified the country as a new geographical titan, and all but diminished some Arab’s hopes that Israel could simply be wiped off the map and out of existence.  The Six Day War is undoubtedly one of the most seismic events in the Middle East in the last century, and when the opportunity came for us to interview someone who was in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 in what was then the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan we seized it.

Gildas Hamel is a Senior lecturer, emeritus in the UCSC History department who teaches the histories of ancient Israel, Hellenistic and Roman Judea, and Early Christianity. He was born in France and French is his first language.  Hamel lived in the Old City of Jerusalem from 1966 to 1968 while working at the Collège des Frères while studying to become a Catholic Priest.  He witnessed the Six Day War, including the fighting in the Old City, firsthand from what was then the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  He wishes to communicate that because these events took place fifty years ago, his memories have almost certainly been distorted by the passage of time and may not be objectively accurate.

AW:  Let’s just start by laying the groundwork… what brought you to East Jerusalem?

GH:  I came to was called at the time the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan [with] Jerusalem being part of it [at the time] because I was in a grand seminary to be a Catholic Priest in France – in Brittany. In the curriculum that you followed [there were] six years of studies.  The first two years had been done by [the time] I was 20, and you were supposed then to do your military service in France… but instead of doing that you could do what they called coopératcion… [which] from the point of view of the Ministry of the Army and the Ministry of Education was a – what’s the word – Peace Corps.  It’s essentially something like that.  So you could go anywhere in the world.  A friend of mine, he had connections, he wrote to people in Lebanon – a Catholic order, so this is a Catholic story at the time [laughs] – and they answered and said no, we have no room for you as assistant teachers for kids in Lebanon which was very peaceful at the time, this was way before the events [in Lebanon], but they said we have two places in Jerusalem, in the Old City of Jerusalem.  At a place called Frère’s College, which educates people all over the world… it [Collège des Frères] was in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, and it’s by the New Gate.  When you come from the Israeli side, to what is now all Israeli, you get through either David’s Gate on the Western Side or the New Gate…  And I lived there, I had a room there… And there I taught… It happened to be right near the No Man’s Land (the stretch of land that divided Israeli controlled West Jerusalem and Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem).  You could hear the Arabic Jewish families speaking in Arabic from the other side of the No Man’s Land daily.

AW: So… you weren’t actually living in Israel then at the time before the war?

GH: No. That’s an interesting question too.  It had different names.  So we called it the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan because it was part of this unit created by the British mandate in the twenties… To your left [of the Frere’s College] there was a wall, a cement wall about – I would say – 50 meters, 20 to 30 feet high.  Badly made cement, but it was cement nonetheless, and you knew Israel was the other side.  The No Man’s Land kind of serpented all around the Old City.

AW:  Did you arrive in Hashemite Jordan in 1967? Or had you already been there?

GH: ‘66 I was there.

AW: So you had already been there for a year…

GH:  …So I was there, I would have to check the exact date, but it was the end of August… I still remember arriving at night in this very old city, all made of stones, and it was eerie.  And you knew that Israel was there, but it was never discussed.  We did not, for two years, I never mentioned the name Israel in a conversation.  I myself accepted that.  At the time I did not know Jews [from Israel] at all.  In my own educational make-up I was not anti-semitic of course, well I don’t think so, but I came from a Catholic-Christian background, very interested in changing the world, but still completely ignorant of either Israel or the Jordanian side, and certainly the Palestinians.  But we never pronounced the name Israel.  We actually had code in our conversations because we were warned never to draw attention to that.

AW: So you would say you had almost no contact with Israelis when you were living in the Old City even though they were right over this wall?

GH:  They are fifty meters away on the other side.

AW: You could literally hear them talking, but you didn’t know them.

GH:  The Jordanian soldiers… the squad of soldiers was right near, not far from my room and you could sometimes see them, but we never talked to them.  They spoke, not perhaps daily, but they actually communicated with Arabic speaking Jews on the other side [of No Man’s Land].  It was the strangest thing.

AW: I had a lot of questions prepared about Israeli society, but now I’m gathering you weren’t actually there…

GH:  No, but I got to know it later.  I can answer questions like that too.

AW:  […] What I gathered from all of my reading is that the general feeling in Israel right before the Six Day War was that Israelis really thought this was the end of the road.  

GH: […] I think, many Israelis – and not all, but many, and certainly many Jews…  they felt that it was as if the whole Arab world was turned against them and there was an apocalyptic dimension that could be stitched to it.  Of course, on the other side, 50 meters from there [Israel], I myself had a completely different reading of this thing.  We actually expected Israel to come any time, any hour, any day.  We were absolutely sure – this is Europeans – we were absolutely sure Israel was coming and was the most powerful military in the area.  And there was no doubt that it was happening, we just wondered what day, what hour.

AW: […] My understanding is that [Israelis] essentially viewed Nasser’s (then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser) extreme mass mobilization machinations as an almost sure guarantee that there would be a war in the future.

GH: Right.

AW:  And that the decision to strike the Egyptian air fields first, and to essentially win the war before it had even started by destroying the Egyptian Air Force was their safeguard against the potential for total annihilation.

GH:  Right, so then you can see that immediately and think well how much of that was a calculation?  You can take advantage of the tensions and actually resolve things that you did not resolve in 1948 (the First Arab-Israeli War) […] but my view at the time is that Israel had an interest in pursuing the war.  But I don’t know how to put it precisely.  I don’t know, I don’t say – because Israel also had good cause to feel threatened, and threatened in its being.  Yet at the same time, when you realize that their army, their organization, their capacity of projections for what could be measured at the time – and they certainly measured it and compared – the decisions they made, it’s really more about logistics than you think.  The political decisions really following the logistics, and then their political calculations that are not just about surviving. That’s a key question because it leads to the question about Palestine.  Were Palestinians in some way victims of calculations made that were much bigger in terms of USSR-US? And in terms of Israel locally mapping things and defending itself, and then having victims who really, that the King of Jordan could not protect? And that’s still my view, and it’s a catastrophe in my view.

On the start of the Six Day War:

GH: […] I was studying at the Biblical school (École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem), but the weekend before we were waiting because our kids were not in school anymore.  I’m not sure why.  I think perhaps the end of the year already, very early because the heat comes in June and it gets hard to teach kids… and then for the first time according to the people I was with, they saw the incursion of these small airplanes – from Israel – flying over the Old City… Just a couple airplanes, but it was unheard of, we had never seen anything like that.   We were very surprised.  And then for the first time from the college where I was, over the wall, the old Ottoman wall, over No Man’s Land… we could see soldiers for the first time, probably even officers, on the top clearly looking at maps.  And we thought oh my G-d.  We assumed there were soldiers in that building before but we never saw them.  We thought, that’s part of intelligence gathering, you don’t show yourself and things like that, and we had no idea.  Our interpretation at the time was that this was another provocation, we read it as just another provocation.

AW: So you had no idea that this was the start of the war?

GH: No idea… The way it happened, that Monday morning (June 5, 1967 – the first day of the Six Day War) I went, because I didn’t have to teach anymore, I decided to go and study… And so I went to study, and the director of the school, a Dominican Father – a very well known, very famous intellectual, an amazing figure – came to the library where I may have been alone or with two or three people.  He said you better go back to your college where you reside if you have a bedroom there because the attack has been done in Egypt and it’s presumably going to start here at any time.  So we rushed back to the Old City.  It’s not very far, it’s like 400 meters or 500 meters to a half a kilometer away, and the gates were already closed.  We had to take a taxi, go super fast, to the southern side, around towards where you go now to see the Temple and the Mosque.  We took a taxi through there and the gate was still open there, but the doors were closing already.  We would have been outside.  We would have had to stay at the Biblical school I guess.  Anyway, we made it.  And then we waited.  I decided to go and type my notes from a course I had taken over the year with this intellectual exegete and I began typing… And I had no idea [that the war had started]. I began typing and writing, and after a couple hours a little around ten I thought wow nobody’s around, even on Saturday.  I was alone.  And then I looked, and I thought, there had been sporadic fire like small arms, and I had heard that before and I didn’t pay much attention.  I was completely unconscious of the danger, completely. But then I got scared.  It was like a psychological state, right?  And I remember thinking, one minute you are absolutely unconscious of things, the next minute you’re in overdrive.  They could see me, they could shoot at me from the other side there, I’m a perfect target!  They could think I’m a soldier.  I began to imagine all these things.  So I just walked, and I knew how to go, and discovered that everybody was downstairs in a large underground vault-like thing with huge stones just like you have everywhere in all of Jerusalem, everything has an under-basement.  So that’s how it started, and the fire started to get very heavy, very loud [… ] I still remember I saw just two bodies [of Jordanian soldiers], but I didn’t go near them.  I could not do anything anyway.

We were under military government immediately and under complete curfew from Monday ten AM.  By noon, Israeli troops must have entered the outside, the perimeter, very quickly.  There were victims on both sides, but the people who resisted like this squad I mentioned may have had some effect.  The ground outside the college, when we were authorized to leave for three hours on Thursday afternoon, was littered with bullets like that [held up hands to indicate roughly three inch bullet casings]. I mean, littered. I was struck by that.  I still remember that image.  I didn’t look to see how far it went or anything.  And there you realize that wars are actually fought with maximum power, and it’s actually technical, it’s like a machine.  And that just spills out metal, that’s how it looked to me.  If you’re on the passage of this thing, you’ll get killed.  And if you’re not, you’re lucky.  Inside our college we were not directly attacked, but we went upstairs on Thursday, or perhaps Wednesday even, and we could see weapons that were completely military stuff like grenades that are shot by, I’ve forgotten what they are called, but they have a parabolic curve and they fly and they drill themselves through walls and then they explode.  And you don’t want to be in the hall when that happens.  And all this weaponry, and then we saw Napalm.  That’s not said, but the Israeli Army, like any army, used phosphor or a version of it because you could see the yellow color.  I didn’t see it, but then you could imagine how they could use a flamethrower so you could not enter a building like a hotel you could essentially fire the building.

On the Aftermath of the Six Day War:

GH: […] On Thursday, we were entitled to go out for three hours as residents.  Under military governorship you certainly had to be very careful where you went, so I decided to walk as quick as I could around the Old City because I wanted to see what had happened.  Nothing seemed destroyed.  There were little corners here and there where you can see there had been use of flamethrowers, but the Christian side had obviously been protected and the Islamic side too.  There was no heavy bombing.  It was small.  There were some machine guns, but very limited […] Anyway, I went out, and I went to St. Stephen’s Gate, which is on the eastern side over the Kidron Valley in a kind of cemetery like quarter… and here you have a street wide enough for tanks and vehicles going into what is really north of the Temple esplanade and then going into the Muslim Quarter.  And there are Israeli tanks, that are huge.  Old tanks are big and their engines are like 600 horsepower or 1000 horsepower and they are rumbling, monstrous things to see in operation.  And they’re going there – a few of them, I don’t remember how many – fully armed, into the Old City.  Thursday afternoon, there’s no need of course (because the fighting in the Old City had largely ended).  And, on the side, are all television channels from all over the world, dozens of them, and I remember thinking, that’s what people are going to see of the Six Day War.  They’re going to picture reconstruct, cut footage because the day it happened on Monday there were no journalists there except those authorized by the army.  Which is true of Vietnam, which is true of the French in Algeria.  It was a realization, that actually an enormous number of things like Okinawa, the flag being raised, is made up.  I mean not made up, it also reflects something historical, but it is also ideological.  The image is actually composed, and the army doesn’t leave that to chance.  So that was interesting to see […] It was very different then to go have initial contact with Israelis.  But then I went to films in Israel!  It was a very short walk.  I would walk directly to the cinema, and I would see films because they had a much better choice of films than in the Arab area [laughs].  And I love film.  Ans I would walk back. No contact [with Israelis].  The reason for that was that – we didn’t talk about it but there was some message coming from [these] brothers and from superiors and others – telling that oh you went to the New City.  They never mentioned Israel again – still.  It took a while.  That’s an interesting, very negative aspect of things.

AW: That it took a while – even after – for the people above you at your school…

GH: History is not over.  That was a lesson to learn too.  I learned it very slowly, it did not penetrate very quickly.  So I realized, oh, I have to be careful now because all the kids, anybody can see me, and I represent the Christian Institution.  No matter what I wanted or what I thought.  I had to think – no contact with Israelis because it’s fraught.

AW: So even after the war, even after the land has technically changed hands…

GH:  At the beginning we did it [talked to Israelis].  I still remember one of the people who worked for the college – I mean the high school, it was Collège des Frères but we all just called it the college. One of the people who worked for them, I remember him coming back one day and saying oh I went to the other side.  And he loved it.  It was exciting.  Of course its full of lights, full of life, cafes, very different from the Old City which was still very highly religious…

For the first few weeks there was a distinct feeling of excitement because Israelis from pre ‘48 – what I took to be older men at the time, in their fifties – came.  And you could see them seeing – in the Christian Quarter more likely – embracing or sitting in the cafe… Anyway, I was at that cafe and I still remember Israelis talking, in Arabic, with Palestinian guys, sometimes Armenians, at the beginning.  It did not last very long.  That’s an interesting topic.  I would like to know more actually, about exactly what happened, the memories of people were there, who did that…

AW: So these are families who before the Independence War, the First Arab-Israeli War, had been living in the Old City.  And then after the war there’s a whole big exodus…

GH: Twenty years.  Twenty year hiatus [for Jews being able to go to the Old City].  They went to the same schools sometimes!

AW: People who had been neighbors.

GH: And they liked each other!  That was very moving to see…

On Reverberations of the Six Day War:

AW:  Obviously [the Six Day War] leads to the Palestinian Naksa – not the Nakba but the second one.

GH:  Right.  And that took time.  We did not call – at the time I didn’t hear that.

AW:  That word didn’t exist back immediately after.

GH: And it’s an imitation of the Shoah.  Well imitation is not the right word, I shouldn’t say that.  But it’s a response.  It’s saying we’re victims too.  The victimization aspect – terrible things that were done by most European countries in the 40s to Jews – essentially the whole eradication of the whole Jewish people if they could have.  If the Third Reich had really conquered the world, it was really clear that it would have meant eradication.  There’s not doubt about that.  But the Palestinians felt, and I heard many, many stories afterwards particularly in the ‘90s when I was [in Israel] again, by [Palestinians] who would show me [by pointing] with their arms – that’s where my village was, and now my whole family [lives] in Germany.  And you could tell, you got the same impression talking to Israeli Jews who told you yeah I was in Hungary at the end of the war and I lost everything – family, language, culture, children, brothers, sisters – and now I’m here.  So it’s a story of survival, but of losing everything.  And I thought wow – same destiny, same outcome.  How come we cannot start from there?

AW: […] Did people have any idea – either in Israel or in Jordan – just how many things the Six Day War would cause?  Did they have any idea that this would be the start of a fifty year occupation?  Or was it just a moment of thinking, wow this was a huge war, but really at that moment just another war, just the Third Arab-Israeli War?  As opposed to what we know now about this war having insane reverberations throughout the years?

GH:  I can answer for myself, I think that it was another war… but it was not the same war as in ‘56 (The Suez Crisis or the War of Tripartite Aggression). The other aspect of it is that it was not simply the war…  but as a student of archaeology and of the history of ancient Israel and Judah and so forth, and the gospels and the New Testament, I was very aware of the occupied territories… the West Bank as we call it, and Cisjordan and so forth – was actually full of sights in their Arabic names that went back to the Biblical sites.  And so to me it was immediately a very complicated psychological, religious situation.  I was very aware of that.  So it was not the same war as any other war… And so you had the sense that the war, in some ways, completed a cycle, but at the same time did not complete anything because it opened up history… And yet at the same time I shouldn’t say that because my view is that fulfilling is of course going on the Israeli side.  On the Palestinian side, it was destroying who they were and any chance of their being a people.  And that’s a difficult question that I still struggle with.  And so when I make an interview like [this]… I am very aware at the same time that I am not representing the Palestinian side.  But it’s there, massively.  For me, a life is a life.  Meaning, a life is actually an extraordinary mystery – and the Palestinian lives are indistinguishable from the Israeli lives or the Jewish lives or the non-Jewish lives whether one believes in G-d or not.  I don’t believe in gods, but I believe in things that may look like it.

 

Fifty Years Since Six Days of War: An Interview with Gildas Hamel – FULL VERSION

Written by Avery Weinman

Chief Rabbi of the IDF Sholmo Goren holds the Torah and blows the shofar at the Western Wall (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Six_Day_War._Army_chief_chaplain_rabbi_Shlomo_Goren,_who_is_surrounded_by_IDF_soldiers,_blows_the_shofar_in_front_of_the_western_wall_in_Jerusalem._June_1967._D327-043.jpg)

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War: a war whose events transformed Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, and the Jewish world forever.  In just six short days – June 5th, 1967 through June 10, 1967 – Israel defeated the full military force of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, tripled its landmass, and brought the entire city of Jerusalem – including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall – under Jewish sovereignty for first time in nearly two thousand years.  Israel’s victory also triggered the Palestinian Naksa, as an estimated three hundred thousand Palestinians fled the West Bank, and marked the beginning of a military occupation with no seeming end in sight.  Israel’s swift and definitive military victory solidified the country as a new geographical titan, and all but diminished some Arab’s hopes that Israel could simply be wiped off the map and out of existence.  The Six Day War is undoubtedly one of the most seismic events in the Middle East in the last century, and when the opportunity came for us to interview someone who was in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 in what was then the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan we seized it.

Gildas Hamel is a Senior lecturer, emeritus in the UCSC History department who teaches the histories of ancient Israel, Hellenistic and Roman Judea, and Early Christianity. He was born in France and French is his first language.  Hamel lived in the Old City of Jerusalem from 1966 to 1968 while working at the Collège des Frères while studying to become a Catholic Priest.  He witnessed the Six Day War, including the fighting in the Old City, firsthand from what was then the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  He wishes to communicate that because these events took place fifty years ago, his memories have almost certainly been distorted by the passage of time and may not be objectively accurate.

AW: Let’s just start by laying the groundwork.  Before the interview I’ll do a little write up on the Six Day War – what it is and why it’s so important – but Bruce [Bruce Thompson, Leviathan’s faculty advisor] told us that you were living in East Jerusalem at the time, and I just want to know what brought you to East Jerusalem?

GH: I came to was called at the time the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Jerusalem being part of it because I was in a grand seminary to be a Catholic Priest in France – in Brittany. In the curriculum that you followed of six years of studies, the first two years had been done by [the time] I was 20, and you were supposed then to do your military service in France – [I was] an old man by that time but I had to do fourteen months, but instead of doing that you could do what they called coopératcion – which is cooperation, same word – from the point of view of the Ministry of the Army and the Ministry of Education was a – what’s the word – Peace Corps.  It’s essentially something like that.  So you could go anywhere in the world.  A friend of mine he had connections, he wrote to people in Lebanon – a Catholic order, so this is a Catholic story at the time [laughs] – and they answered and said “No, we have no room for you as assistant teachers for kids in Lebanon,” which was very peaceful at the time, this was way before the events [in Lebanon], but they said we have two places in Jerusalem, in the Old City of Jerusalem.  At a place called Frère’s College, which educates people all over the world.  They’re not missionaries, but they teach kids.  They often teach poor kids, but sometimes they also happen to teach the elites: kids in different situations.  So there they were right in the Old City.  Do you have a sense of the Old City of Jerusalem?

AW: I have some sense of the Old City, yeah.

GH: Ok so it [Frere’s College] was in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, and its by the New Gate.  When you come from the Israeli side, to what is now all Israeli, you get through either David’s Gate on the Western Side or the New Gate.  The New Gate is not used as often, but it was the New Gate by the College – I can actually show you pictures of it.  And I lived there, I had a room there.  And so what brought me was a seminary program where we got to choose where to go, that was entirely our own.  And there I taught,  I was meant to teach kids for two years; that was really the contract.  And that’s where I was.  It happened to be right near the No Man’s Land.  You could hear the Arabic Jewish families speaking in Arabic from the other side of the No Man’s Land daily.

AW: So if you’re living in East Jerusalem, you weren’t actually living in Israel then at the time before the war?

GH: No. That’s an interesting question too.  It had different names.  So we called it the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan because it was part of this unit created by the British mandate in the twenties.  And then after the war in 1948, they had taken this very strange map, shape, which meant there was kind of like a hall going up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that gave access, for some Israelis, access to the Mendelbaum Gate north of the Old City, but no direct access to the Old City.  In fact, I came out of the Old City through the various paths to go to the Biblical school where I also studied at the same time – a very famous Biblical school on Nablus Road [Ecole Biblique].  And as I came out of the Damascus Gate, which is a super busy gate now, right there you came out.  To your left was a wall, a cement wall about – I would say – 50 meters, 20 to 30 feet high.  Badly made cement, but it was cement nonetheless, and you knew Israel was the other side.  The No Man’s Land kind of serpented all around the Old City.

AW:  Did you arrive in Hashemite Jordan in 1967? Or had you already been there?

GH: ‘66 i was there

AW: So you had already been there for a year before the war

GH:  So I was there, I would have to check the exact date, but it was the end of August.  I took a very pleasant cruise through the Mediterranean on a boat, and I went through Egypt and I went through Lebanon, through Syria.  No pictures could be taken.  It was really dictatorship (in Jordan at that time), [led by] the father of the present dictator.  You had the sense immediately, in the first hours you were there, that you were in a new political situation that was very different.  And then we went through the Kingdom of Jordan – Irbid, which is a northern city between Syria and Jordan.  And then from there you took the road across the Jordan [river], through Jericho, and you went up to Jerusalem.  The famous road that still exists today, a better road now.  I still remember arriving at night in this very old city, all made of stones, and it was eerie.  And you knew that Israel was there, but it was never discussed.  We did not, for two years I never mentioned the name Israel in a conversation.  I myself accepted that.  At the time I did not know Jews [from Israel] at all.  In my own educational make-up I was not anti-Semitic of course, well I don’t think so, but I came from a Catholic-Christian background, very interested in changing the world, but still completely ignorant of either Israel or the Jordanian side, and certainly the Palestinians.  But we never pronounced the name Israel.  We actually had code in our conversations because we were warned never to draw attention to that.

AW: So you would say you had almost no contact with Israelis when you were living in the Old City even though they were right over this wall.

GH:  They are fifty meters away on the other side

AW: You could literally hear them talking, but you didn’t know them

GH:  The Jordanian soldiers – there was a squad of Bedouin, perhaps Christian actually, strangely enough, from south of Al-Karak of the Jordanian Plateau.  Because that’s all the people who were used by King Hussein as kind of his defense guard and as his army.  He trusted only Bedouin type people, he was of Bedouin origin himself.  And he did not trust Palestinians.  His own grandfather was killed in the Old City of Jerusalem in front of his own eyes when he was five.  So it’s an extremely complicated type situation right from the get-go.  So the squad of soldiers was right near, not far from my room and you could sometimes see them, but we never talked to them.  They spoke, not perhaps daily, but they actually communicated with Arabic speaking Jews on the other side [of No Man’s Land].  It was the strangest thing.  This is the most expensive part of real estate in all of Jerusalem now because it’s right at the center.  You have the King David Hotel a bit south.  The whole place, that’s where I was.

AW: I had a lot of questions prepared about Israeli society, but now I’m guessing you weren’t actually there

GH: No, but I got to know it later.  I can answer questions like that too.

AW: Ok I’ll go ahead and try and ask my same questions, but we’ll amend them to fit more of your situation.  Preparing for this interview I did a lot more research about the Six Day War.  And I’m a History Major and I study Jewish History so I should know it…

GH: Oh good I feel more comfortable [laughs]

AW: But I did some refreshing to get back up to speed. And what I gathered from all of my reading is that the general feeling in Israel right before the Six Day War is that Israelis really thought that this was the end of the road.  

GH: Right

AW: They really thought that the Third Arab-Israeli War was going to mean total annihilation of all the Jews living in Israel.  I pulled a quote from a book that I read – Daniel Gordis wrote a really good book called Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn which is really a brief introduction to understanding the modern history of Israel – he wrote, “Rabbis across the country cordoned off areas to be used as mass graves.  The Ramat Gan stadium [in Tel Aviv] was consecrated as a burial ground for up to forty thousand people.  Hotels were cleared of guests so the facilities could be used as massive emergency first aid stations… Israeli intelligence reported to [then Prime Minister of Israel Levi Eshkol] that poison gas equipment had been detected in the Sinai but that Israel had no stockpiles of gas masks.  Eshkol muttered in Yiddish, the language of his youth from Europe, ‘Blood is going to spill like water.’”  Would you say that these statements – I guess in your contact with Israelis after the war – mirrored the kind of fear that they had felt leading up to the Six Day War?

GH: A little bit overdone, I think.  But the general feeling I got from talking to Israelis, and from also studying myself and then from reading, particularly, analysis fifty years later the basis of modern history and for events like that, at the time you have no access to real information.  That was the basic rule I learned very quickly.  That you could not trust anything you heard.  It took me a while, but I learned that it was actually manufactured.  Well, manufactured is to say too much…

AW: Over exaggerated?

GH: Over exaggerated, imagination takes over, emotion and things like that.  But, the general take of what you just quoted is that, I think, many Israelis – and not all, but many, and certainly many Jews, perhaps the American Jewry, I’m not sure about the European were very sympathetic to Israel of course, but back then it was kind of an either or – they felt that it was as if the whole Arab world was turned against them and there was an apocalyptic dimension that could be stitched to it.  Of course, on the other side, 50 meters from there [Israel], I myself had a completely different reading of this thing.  We actually expected Israel to come any time, any hour, any day.  We were absolutely sure – this is Europeans – we were absolutely sure Israel was coming and was the most powerful military in the area.  And there was no doubt that it was happening, we just wondered what day, what hour.  So it was a disconnect; any European I knew on our side, on the Palestinian side thought it’s going to happen very quickly and it’s going to happen.  This is due to the events in a few days or weeks before.  Mainly the closure of the Strait of Tiran by Egypt.  Another one was King Hussein of Jordan, strangely to us back then, now it has an explanation, but strangely to us, came to visit Shukeiri who was the head at the time of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  It was not Arafat yet, Arafat replaced him after the war.  Anyway, King Hussein came to essentially embrace – there’s the famous kissing on the cheek, Bedouin kissing on the cheek – a mortal enemy.  And we thought, that’s the end.  We thought that Hussein had absolutely no interest in going to war, he was forced into it.

AW: My understanding was that King Hussein himself was not so eager to go to war with Israel, but that it was really Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser – who was by far the most magnetic political figure in the Arab world at the time – who really wanted to make a showing of Arab force against Israel.  I pulled a quote from an address he gave through Cairo Radio on May 26, 1967 – after Egypt had solidified that it had a mutual defense treaty with Syria, so that Egypt and Syria would go in together, and after he had talked to King Hussein of Jordan to get him on the same page – Nasser spoke through Cairo Radio and said, “Our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.”

GH: Right, yeah exactly.  So, Israelis felt, rightly so in the general population, that it actually was a tenor of the thinking.  That it was an Israel war. This I’ve read since.  In every war they had had after ‘48, in ‘56 it was a very peculiar thing it was only eleven years before where a kind of very strange colonial enterprise mixed with an Israeli thing, with the British mandate, and also with the French troops participated in kind of keeping the old world together and the US was completely distant and eventually ordered everybody back to their quarters…

AW:  Well you’re talking about the ‘56 War which is to me a very bizarre war because it’s almost like a fixed outcome war

GH:  But it’s very much in the background for people like Nasser

AW: Yeah that’s his defining moment – nationalizing the Suez Canal.

GH: So in ‘66 and ‘67, what you mentioned exactly about it, the UAR – the United Arab Republic meaning Egypt and so on – that’s part of response to that, and it’s part of the pressure of the Cold War.  The USSR are heavily… and that’s a strange thing and I haven’t checked that… the Soviet Union clearly defended, in public, the UAR and their position about Israel even though it had been one of the only powers to recognize Israel very early, so it’s a complicated thing.  But the USSR clearly did not want them to go to war – they could see the risks.  That’s my feeling.

AW: I wrote down also that Israel had, I guess you could say issues but issues isn’t really the right word, but when it becomes clear that the Six Day War is going to happen, that Nasser is mobilizing all these forces on the Sinai.  I guess you could say that Israel had really fomented diplomatic ties through the Suez War in that a reason that they entered it was to strengthen diplomatic relationships with England and France who they had not really had good relationships to before, which was a major reason to go to the Sinai Campaign as they called it in Israel.

GH: There is a very difficult issue because then once you enter operations, major military operations particularly when it comes to air force, the power that you have in your air force.  It just happened that that Monday morning the 5th of June by eight o’clock AM, most of the Egyptian Air Force was destroyed on the ground.  They didn’t even take off.  And so it was a preemptive act, and it made sense because of course Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran.  That had been made clear by everybody that this was a case of war.  As soon as that happened, we knew, us Europeans in the little corner there, we knew the game was up.  But we differed from the Israeli population’s feeling in that we thought that there was not a chance that the Arab armies could do anything about Israel – not a chance.  The Europeans I talked to had lived in the Middle East since the twenties usually or all of their lives some times were very used to everything.  They remembered ‘48 and things like that, and they knew what the strengths of the armies were.  The political parties [in the Arab world], they were dictatorships.  They had no power but to protect their own interests, they could not protect, even Egypt could not, or at least not like that.  So it was dangerous, it was a dangerous moment in that sense.  I don’t know how you can present that, or if it can be presented actually, one position regarding Israel’s decision to respond is that Israel was really responding to a situation that was really unbearable for them.

AW:  My understanding is that they essentially viewed Nasser’s extreme mass mobilization machinations as an almost sure guarantee that there would be a war in the future,

GH: Right

AW:  And that the decision to strike the Egyptian air fields first, and to essentially win the war before it had even started by destroying the Egyptian Air Force was their safeguard against the potential for total annihilation.

GH:  Right, so then you can see that immediately and think well how much of that was a calculation?  You can take advantage of the tensions and actually resolve things that you did not resolve in 1948.  Indeed for some people, other people were in disagreement I am sure.  I would love to see the memo notes of the ministry meetings.  They must have been very different.  I know there were hesitations on the part of people like Rabin – the Chief of Staff at the time.

AW: Rabin, at the time, they’ve said Rabin actually had self induced nicotine poisoning.  Rabin was a general at the time and was so stressed out…

GH: Yeah he was a heavy smoker.

AW: He was a heavy smoker and he was so stressed out about the possibilities of the war that he gave himself nicotine poisoning

GH: The generals have to do the right thing.  So this is very difficult.  And so I feel that, my view at the time, and this changes over time, but my view at the time is that Israel had an interest in pursuing the war.  But I don’t know how to put it precisely.  I don’t know, I don’t say… because Israel also had good cause to feel threatened, and threatened in its being.  Yet at the same time, when you realize that their army, their organization, their capacity of projections for what could be measured at the time – and they certainly measured it and compared – the decisions they made, it’s really more about logistics than you think.  The political decisions really following the logistics, and then their political calculations that are not just about surviving.  That’s a key question because it leads to the question about Palestine.  Were Palestinians in some way victims of calculations made that were much bigger in terms of USSR-US? And in terms of Israel locally mapping things and defending itself, and then having victims who really, that the King of Jordan could not protect? And that’s still my view, and it’s a catastrophe in my view.  On the other hand, and I have to be careful in that.  This is a thing that we must discuss and you can find it in Google now actually, in November 1966 (the Samu Incident), so a few months before the war, I saw the first demonstration inside the Old City, on a Friday.  It must have been after the prayers.

AW: And this is a Palestinian demonstration?

GH:  Yes, this is a Palestinian demonstration.  Young men, mostly men, going through the shuk – there are three parallel shuks in the Old City – and they’re coming through the main shuk, and I am entering the Old City from the Biblical school through the Damascus Gate and I saw them there.  And I still remember, most vivid in my memory is white, absolutely blanched faces.  I mean, so angry.  And you thought, no capacity for destruction, for doing any evil or anything, but you felt an enormous wave of anger. And I thought oh.

AW: Kind of a precursor of things to come?

GH: And you’ve made me think about King Hussein of Jordan.  You think, oh my God, when he took the sides of the Palestinians then – he was forced into it.  He had no choice.  And so I remember those moments and this must have happened on a Friday I’m sure: a Friday in ‘66.  And this was two weeks after an attack, an infiltration by Palestinian soldiers or guerrillas who came from perhaps, I’m not sure where they came from, perhaps from Syria.  Because Syria was already its own complicated situation then.  Instead of infiltrating the normal way which was from the Golan – going south, shooting at kibbutzim on the eastern coast on the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee  – they infiltrated south near Hebron.  A village called Samu, and they killed three IDF soldiers I think.  And the response of the Israeli Army was out of this world.  They sent not only a squad, but they sent an armored brigade, I forgot which number, but it was a large, heavily militarized operation that destroyed most of the city and killed [sixteen people] or something like that, and that’s what brought on the anger.  I was told, I don’t know if this is true, but I was told there were very few infiltrations on the Palestinian border because King Hussein had no interest in having any infiltration.  So he made sure that the mayors, the mukhtars, the heads of the towns – everything was clamped down in terms of relations with Israel.  But that’s what triggered the demonstration clearly, and it was clearly one of the opening things on the Palestinian side.  It led to the belief, and that’s completely different than the European belief, the belief among Palestinians that they could win.  They believed all the rubbish coming from Egypt, of course Egypt has a lot of media presence.  I don’t know that side, because I didn’t speak Arabic, and even if I had it would have probably been very difficult to get truth, but I had a sense that very early on Palestinians were very angry at Israel and had those dreams about conquering the whole thing.  People ended up paying for constructed history and ideological views that they could not manage, that they did not dare to be critical about.  On the Israeli side, yes they could.  You always had critics even through the ‘67 war, but among Palestinians there was no criticism.

AW: So you would say a more firm control then on the flow of ideas

GH: An ideological view partly, partly Islam, but this view that is propagated by the dictators who were trying to step away from Islam but could not really.  That’s a very long part of this thing, and that led to then, for the first time, the weekend before the war, because the war started on Monday the 5th.  On our front it started at like 10 am if I remember correctly.  In Egypt it was a couple of hours before.  I was studying at the Biblical school, but the weekend before we were waiting because our kids were not in school anymore.  I’m not sure why.  I think perhaps the end of the year already, very early because the heat comes in June and it gets hard to teach kids, but the college had 900 kids.  300 kids were actually from poorer backgrounds, others were from all kinds of backgrounds: there were nine religions, who knew how many nations.  Arab nations, Armenian kids, the Christian-Arab municipality was much larger then – about ten percent of the population in the Palestinian territory.  Now it’s like two percent, another catastrophe that happened.  But anyway, we were waiting, and then for the first time according to the people I was with, they saw the incursion of these small airplanes – from Israel – flying over the Old City.  Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem there’s something that used to be the headquarters of the British Mandate called the Governor’s Villa or the Governor’s Palace or something like that.  Just a couple airplanes, but it was unheard of, we had never seen anything like that.  I didn’t take any pictures.  Anyway, it was taken to be surveillance.  Never seen before, but also a provocation, it could be read that way too.  We were very surprised, and then for the first time from the college where I was, over the wall, the old Ottoman wall, over No Man’s Land, we could see the Notre Dame, which is a very large building, Christian.  To this day it actually exists because all these properties were protected by Israel when they came in.  They made sure not to bomb anything.  They didn’t touch anything.  They made sure of that.  But there, we could see soldiers for the first time, probably even officers, on the top clearly looking at maps.  And we thought oh my god.  We assumed there were soldiers in that building before but we never saw them.  We thought, that’s part of intelligence gathering, you don’t show yourself and things like that, and we had no idea.  Our interpretation at the time was that this was another provocation, we read it as just another provocation.

AW: So you had no idea that this was the start of the war?

GH: No idea.  When we saw little things like that, and the fact that Hussein had kissed Shukairi, that Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran very shortly before, we assumed that it’s coming any minute now.  The way it happened, that Monday morning I went, because I didn’t have to teach anymore, I decided to go and study.  We had planned to travel to Iraq and Iran to see ancient history to see ancient history, and to go to the Persian Gulf, but all those things were shelved for the moment.  Better to wait and see what happens.  And so I went to study, and the director of the school, a Dominican Father – a very well known, very famous intellectual, an amazing figure – came to the library where I may have been alone or with two or three people.  He said you better go back to your college where you reside if you have a bedroom there because the attack has been done in Egypt and it’s presumably going to start here at any time.  So we rushed back to the Old City.  It’s not very far, it’s like 400 meters or 500 meters to a half a kilometer away, and the gates were already closed.  We had to take a taxi, go super fast, to the southern side, around towards where you go now to see the Temple and the Mosque.  We took a taxi through there and the gate was still open there, but the doors were closing already.  We would have been outside.  We would have had to stay at the Biblical school I guess.  Anyway, we made it.  And then we waited.  I decided to go and type  my notes from a course I had taken over the year with this intellectual exegete and I began typing.  I was in a hall with a glass separation and on the other side was St. Anne, across the No Man’s Land.  And I had no idea. I began typing and writing, and after a couple hours a little around ten I thought wow nobody’s around, even on Saturday.  I was alone.  And then I looked, and I thought, there had been sporadic fire like small arms, and I had heard that before and I didn’t pay much attention.  I was completely unconscious of the danger, completely. But then I got scared.  It was like a psychological state, right?  And I remember thinking, one minute you are absolutely unconscious of things, the next minute you’re in overdrive.  They could see me, they could shoot at me from the other side there, I’m a perfect target!  They could think I’m a soldier.  I began to imagine all these things.  So I just walked, and I knew how to go, and discovered that everybody was downstairs in a large underground vault-like thing with huge stones just like you have everywhere in all of Jerusalem, everything has an under-basement.  So that’s how it started, and the fire started to get very heavy, very loud.

AW: So when it starts, the fighting in the Old City itself is probably some of the most direct in the war.  That the IDF forces, the paratroopers, and the Jordanian forces who are there in the Old City, fight longest and hardest compared to a lot of other regions in the Six Day War.

GH: Two things, well many things to say.  Two things I remember.  They may not be historical.  Some of them are historical because I can vouch for the truth of it, but others I think they are true, but I have no proof.  I heard by noon, in the early afternoon on Monday, from Arabic speaking brothers who were connected to Jordan and listened to the radio in all kinds of languages – I was listening to the BBC – and that’s another thing you learn.  You cannot rely on almost any newspaper, any TV, and radio, any media: it’s all propaganda.  I learned that, not the hard way, but fairly quickly.  Anyway, I heard from friends of mine who were brothers that all the officers of the Jordanian Army were requested by the King to fall back, at noon.  And apparently some took civilian cars or taxis and they went back to Jordan.  The problem is, is that historical?  I heard that was done very early.  We wondered if that was historical because it was in the interest of the King not to lose his officers because of the way his society was built on Bedouin trust, and on not wasting your forces on fights you cannot win.  So we thought, wow, King Hussein was doing it for show.  On the other hand, I knew five or six soldiers – according to people I knew, again my friends who spoke Arabic so I can’t vouch for it – they were told by the people, by a police team in the Old City told the soldiers on the wall y’know forget it, take civilian clothes, don’t bother, it’s over.  This was hours after it began.  In this particular case I was told that this sergeant was humanist, and said no: we are fighting for the King, for Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  And my interpretation of it was that they were actually Christian Bedouin from south of Karak, and as minorities in a society that is massively Muslim, they have to show, it’s a bit like Jews in Germany wearing Iron Crosses in the First World War.  They showed more courage, more dedication, but also got killed.  They were killed by Napalm in the little hotel right south of the college.  I still remember I saw just two bodies, but I didn’t go near them.  I could not do anything anyway.  We were under military government immediately and under complete curfew from Monday ten AM.  By noon, Israeli troops must have entered the outside, the perimeter, very quickly.  There were victims on both sides, but the people who resisted like this squad I mentioned may have had some effect.  The ground outside the college, when we were authorized to leave for three hours on Thursday afternoon, was littered with bullets like that [held up hands to indicate roughly three inch bullet casings]. I mean, littered. I was struck by that.  I still remember that image.  I didn’t look to see how far it went or anything.  And there you realize that wars are actually fought with maximum power, and it’s actually technical, it’s like a machine.  And that just spills out metal, that’s how it looked to me.  If you’re on the passage of this thing, you’ll get killed.  And if you’re not, you’re lucky.  Inside our college we were not directly attacked, but we went upstairs on Thursday, or perhaps Wednesday even, and we could see weapons that were completely military stuff like grenades that are shot by, I’ve forgotten what they are called, but they have a parabolic curve and they fly and they drill themselves through walls and then they explode.  And you don’t want to be in the hall when that happens.  And all this weaponry, and then we saw Napalm.  That’s not said, but the Israeli Army, like any army, used phosphor or a version of it because you could see the yellow color.  I didn’t see it, but then you could imagine how they could use a flamethrower so you could not enter a building like a hotel you could essentially fire the building.  But again, I can vouch for me seeing the bullets, I can vouch for seeing the two bodies – I don’t know what happened to the others but there used to be six of them, I have no idea what happened to them.  I know they were Bedouins, I’m not sure they were Christians even, but I could make a very elaborate, emotional story about their faith, and yet as a historian I am very reluctant to do that.  So that’s a message I want to give.  How you reconstruct an event like that, that had such powerful importance for Israelis, as I realized immediately afterwards because immediately after the war it was interesting to see the relationship between even Palestinians and Israelis who had lived together before ‘48, for a few weeks and months, they were like old friends.  It was like, why this war? Why any war?  And then it just disappeared, dissipated very quickly.  And that’s part of what I lived and what I reflected upon afterwards.

AW: So we can move this into a little bit of the aftermath of the war.  We’ll say that probably the most iconic image from the Six Day War is David Rubinger’s really famous photograph of the three young Israeli paratroopers looking up at the Western Wall.  And for me, being Jewish, this moment transcends the entire war.  This was a bigger moment than that.  When I think that the Chief Rabbi of the IDF Shlomo Goren approaching the Western Wall, which had not been held in Jewish sovereignty for nearly two thousand years and where Jews hadn’t been able to visit since the drawing of the Armistice Lines in 1948, with the Torah and a shofar in his hands, surrounded by young Jewish men, many of whom are among the first generation of Israeli Jews to have been born in the state, it makes me believe that miracles are possible.  The story goes that Goren himself was too overcome to sound the shofar, and so he handed it to a soldier beside him who sounded it for the first time that the Jews had been back to the Temple in full force since the Romans.

GH: To me, as a historian again, I didn’t see that of course, my immediate question is when did this event happen really?  So, it could not have happened on Monday.

AW:  The way that it’s recorded this happens on the 7th, so that would have been two days after the start of the war.  It would have been on Wednesday.

GH: Possible.  Pretty certain.  I will not dispute that, that makes sense to me.  I say this for a mundane reason, and then I’ll go back to importance of that moment even though it’s in some way framed ideologically.

AW: Oh, definitely.  In the Israeli history, in the metanarrative, and in the Jewish metanarrative as well it’s this huge moment.

GH: It’s a huge moment, and it’s also connected to something very important.  So it’s both – it’s a historical moment in all kinds of dimensions, and it has reverberations.  But, on Thursday, we were entitled to go out for three hours as residents.  Under military governorship you certainly had to be very careful where you went, so I decided to walk as quick as I could around the Old City because I wanted to see what had happened.  Nothing seemed destroyed.  There were little corners here and there where you can see there had been use of flamethrowers, but the Christian side had obviously been protected and the Islamic side too.  There was no heavy bombing.  It was small.  There were some machine guns, but very limited.  But we know that 163 soldiers of the IDF got killed in the whole area.  I don’t remember exactly which region, but there were fights.  And we didn’t know that then, but we learned that fairly quickly.  Statistics were compiled fairly quickly.  On the Jordanian side we didn’t know how many people had died.  Very few civilians, almost none I think.  And I’m not sure even what the real number for the soldiers are.  Anyway, I went out, and I went to St. Stevens Gate, which is on the eastern side over the Kidron Valley in a kind of cemetery like quarter, where now there is a very big hotel, and you have the Zion hill further down which was always Israeli and an enclave.  So I am at St. Stephen’s Gate, and here you have a street wide enough for tanks and vehicles going into what is really north of the Temple esplanade and then going into the Muslim quarter.  And there are Israeli tanks, that are huge.  Old tanks are big and their engines are like 600 horsepower or 1000 horsepower and they are rumbling, monstrous things to see in operation.  And they’re going there – a few of them, I don’t remember how many – fully armed, into the Old City.  Thursday afternoon, there’s no need of course.  And, on the side, are all television channels from all over the world, dozens of them, and I remember thinking, that’s what people are going to see of the Six Day War.  They’re going to picture reconstruct, cut footage because the day it happened on Monday there were no journalists there except those authorized by the army.  Which is true of Vietnam, which is true of the French in Algeria.  It was a realization, that actually an enormous number of things like Okinawa, the flag being raised, is made up.  I mean not made up, it also reflects something historical, but it is also ideological.  The image is actually composed, and the army doesn’t leave that to chance.  So that was interesting to see.  But back then to the seriousness of that [the Western Wall reunification], that to me too was important.  I remember going to the Wailing Wall before, and it was this very claustrophobic place where you could still see the wall, and I visited Jerusalem every Thursday for three or four hours with an archeologist.  One of the courses I took was actually the level strata of history in ancient Jerusalem, so I was very interested and it was an amazing thing to see that.  Of course for Israelis it meant, it was not simply fixing something from their point of view that in 1948 had not gone very well on the Jerusalem side because they had pushed there.

AW: Menachem Begin and the Irgun forces had fought really, really hard to stay in Jerusalem in 1948 but had to retreat.

GH: Right, they had to pull back.  And so it was kind of a, in the sense of memory… I do feel that the government of Israel in June ‘67 preparations… they were suddenly in a situation that was totally against them, but that they could also use actually.  How much the political, tactical views featured into the macrohistory – they had to respond anyway – I don’t know.  Eventually historians gave a better answer to that, but as I said of course that led to the Palestinian thing because, in fact, they [Israel] rolled out to Jordan.  It was not only Jerusalem.  There was no resistance whatsoever once you’ve taken Jerusalem.  And the northern side of the city was always very troublesome for King Hussein – near Nablus.  Nablus is still troublesome today for Israel too because that’s where you are going to have actions of people who get educated as Islamic fighters.

AW:  So then, you said before the war you didn’t have that much contact, or really any contact at all with Israelis

GH: No, none whatsoever that I know of

AW:  And so then after the war ends, and the Old City is now technically in Israeli hands, did you have more contact with Israelis then?

GH: Very few at the time, and very immediately afterwards.  During the summer that followed, I’m not sure how it happened but probably through the French Consulate, we could not leave our position [in Cooperation] because we were all under the French military and the Ministry of Defense.  I remember going to the consulate and saying y’know I cannot go to Iraq and Iran, we’re under military governorship [in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan], I am not teaching, can I go back to France? And I remember being lectured by the guy at the consulate saying no you can’t; you are like a soldier, you are obeying commands, who do you think you are? You could not decide anything at that time.  And so I thought ok, fine.  But eventually they let us go back to France, I went back to France for a short trip.  My parents did not know if I was alive or not.  There was no communication whatsoever because under a military governorship it means that everything has to be cleared.  And so I was very low on the chain of things that can be cleared, but it happened eventually and I was able to go back.  But before that, we were approached – my friend and I – we were approached by people who were connected to the French Consulate.  He was an Israeli and she was an Israeli too, but of French background and she was not Jewish but she had converted perhaps – I’m not sure.  But they spoke French, and we didn’t speak Hebrew, and they invited us to the Golan.  I was probably one of the first civilians to see the Golan.  We saw the Druze villages.  Right along the border we saw Syria, and we saw all of the old positions that the Syrian Army had.  It looked to me, when I think about it, as some people who were working with the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Tourism.  And the Tourism Ministry is partly intelligence and partly PR.  That’s what I took it to be, but I didn’t realize at the time.  But they were very fine people.  So I began to think of Israel through their eyes, but then I realized very quickly that she was in a picture taken on top of a tank going into the Sinai.  And of course I knew by that time that this could be made up in post.  I became very critical in accepting what really happened and how exactly it happened.  Before that I had been UNRRA officers.  I had traveled in Jordan and in occupied territories as they would eventually be called.  We called it Cisjordan at the time.  The whole of what would be called Palestine sometimes, or what would be called occupied territories now.  There’s no right way to describe it really.  Cisjordan – I visited that with officers of the UN, top officers.  And that was a very different experience.  They never… they offer you a political view on things.  It was very interesting, because they were on both sides.  It was very different then to go have initial contact with Israelis.  But then I went to films in Israel!  It was a very short walk.  I would walk directly to the cinema, and I would see films because they had a much better choice of films than in the Arab area [laughs].  And I love film.  Ans I would walk back. No contact [with Israelis].  The reason for that was that – we didn’t talk about it but there was some message coming from the brothers [the two Arab brothers Hamel mentioned earlier] and from superiors and others – telling that oh you went to the New City.  They never mentioned Israel again – still.  It took a while.  That’s an interesting, very negative aspect of things.

AW: That it took a while – even after – for the people above you at your school…

GH: History is not over.  That was a lesson to learn too.  I learned it very slowly, it did not penetrate very quickly.  So I realized, oh, I have to be careful now because all the kids, anybody can see me, and I represent the Christian Institution.  No matter what I wanted or what I thought.  I had to think – no contact with Israelis because it’s fraught.

AW: So even after the war, even after the land has technically changed hands…

GH:  At the beginning we did it [talked to Israelis].  I still remember one of the people who worked for the college – I mean the high school, it was Frere’s College but we all just called it the college. One of the people who worked for them, I remember him coming back one day and saying oh I went to the other side.  And he loved it.  It was exciting.  Of course its full of lights, full of life, cafes, very different from the Old City which was still very highly religious.  You had to behave in a certain way quarter by quarter.   The Christians were divided into groups, by dress.  There was a mental map of the Old City of Jerusalem by dress, by mayor – a complicated map.  It took you months, and months, and years to learn and to realize.  And you went certain ways, you couldn’t talk to certain people, you didn’t look at certain things.  You were very careful about not expressing any desire of any kind.  Of not being invited by the wrong person.  And yet we did not even know the language.  So in Israel it was like that too.  Even though I told you that for the first few weeks there was a distinct feeling of excitement because Israelis from pre ‘48 – what I took to be older men at the time, in their fifties – came.  And you could see them seeing – in the Christian Quarter more likely – embracing or sitting in the cafe.  There was a cafe right near us called Abu Attas where I could never manage to pay for a coffee because I was a guest.  And guests, for Arab traditional people, cannot pay for anything.  And I could not reciprocate.  You’re supposed to reciprocate in another value about the same.  But I did not know how to do it.  Anyway, I was at that cafe and I still remember Israelis talking, in Arabic, with Palestinian guys, sometimes Armenians, at the beginning.  It did not last very long.  That’s an interesting topic.  I would like to know more actually, about exactly what happened, the memories of people were there, who did that…

AW: So these are families who before the Independence War, the First Arab-Israeli War, had been living in the Old City.  And then after the war there’s a whole big exodus…

GH: Twenty years.  Twenty year hiatus [for Jews being able to go to the Old City].  They went to the same schools sometimes!

AW: People who had been neighbors.

GH: And they liked each other!  That was very moving to see.  And that leads to a much larger issue that was disputed within Jewish circles abroad, and even in Israel, the position of, for instance the World Jewish Congress.  Regarding being outside of Israel in the Diaspora, the logic that Israel always proposes – you must be here.  There’s no place for you outside in the Diaspora.  What was his name, not Weizmann… one of the founders of the World Jewish Congress…

AW: Not Herzl? After Herzl?

GH: No not Herzl, after Herzl.  And then there was Johannes Prince – a German Jew who came in the 40s.  In ‘46 they created the World Jewish Congress initially.  And then in the sixties there was this Austrian Jew… his name escapes me.  It’ll come back. [It was later clarified that Nahum Goldman was the man we were talking about].  He argued very early on – the war was in ‘67 – by September ‘67 he was arguing in the world press in a very long article – his name is on my mind – that now was a moment when Israel had to propose a full deal.  Return the whole occupied territories in return for peace.

AW: One of my next questions will be about the many, many shifts that the Six Day War causes, but there is, which is I’m guessing what you’re talking about, the United Nations switch to a kind of “land for peace” doctrine.

GH:  Right.  Resolution 248.

AW: The idea was that Israel had gained so much land – they actually tripled their landmass I think – that they had so much land that they could use it to try and create diplomatic peace with these countries whose land they technically now held.  In some cases this was successful.  With Egypt it was successful.  They return the Sinai to them which lays the groundwork for Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to do the Camp David Accords.  In other cases, it leads to the occupation.

GH:  Yeah it took many turns. It took many turns and the voices, like the person who’s name I’m fighting to recover, his voice, a very powerful voice, was not accepted.  It was immediately read as interesting – not by Ben Gurion, but by his successors, Golda Meir and so forth – but eventually it became clear that it was not going to go that way.  It became very clear to us – people from France – that Israel actually had partly responded to the real danger as we said before, but partly also taken advantage of the danger with their political views over the territory.

AW: I think you can definitely say – it was clear on the first day, when the Egyptian Air Force was no more, that the control of the skies essentially meant that Israel controlled the war.

GH: Absolutely.  Of course.

AW: So I know Moshe Dayan, who I think was Defense Minister at the time…

GH:  When he was called in as Minister of Defense…

AW: I think he maintained to his death that the only reason they entered the Old City was because there were security threats.

GH: No. This is absolutely not true.  Absolutely not true.  It’s impossible. It’s impossible.  Well Dayan is another piece of cake.  One can admire some aspects of his life, but I knew a lot of things about Dayan and his archaeology corps and expeditions.  He was essentially stealing things in my view, and in the Israeli view.  Israeli critics eventually got really mad at him, but that’s ok.  But Rabin was a very different thing.  Rabin was not an adventurer.  Not a kind of romantic type like Dayan was and cultivated.  And Dayan in some way understood Arabs and Bedouins.  He spoke Arabic and had a long history – we knew he met the King Hussein and his ministers.  But Rabin was a different type of person.  More analytic.  Engineer type.

AW:  We should also mention that yesterday (November 4th) is the 22nd anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Which is an entirely different topic, but his assassination has left very deep scars on Israel.

GH: I can tell you in one sentence.  A highly successful political murder.  The Two-State Solution is over after him.  I knew that in ‘95.  I was there actually in ‘95-’96.  We spent one year with my family there on a kibbutz in the northern area.  And I still remember that night when he was killed.  My feeling was everything was working towards negotiating peace.  You could tell in the weeks before.  You could hear on the radio that the insistence to have the PLO charter translated into Arabic and not only left in English happened.  And tit-for-tat, on the official radio – you know like the official radio like radio 7 channel from the army.  You could see there was a tit-for-tat day by day.  It was moving.  And was clear that Rabin had decided that the policy of repression, of breaking arms and so forth…

AW: Yitzhak Rabin famously said “break their arms and legs” [during the First Intifada].

GH: Right.  He moved back, and he said that is not going to work.  He was a man of practicality.  I am not going to defend him politically – I feel for both sides – but at the same time I highly respected him.  He had a moral credit of course because he was a Chief of Staff.  And that’s how things work in Israel.  If you are in a position either in intelligence or in the army in having things done, you have credit.  It’s an unspoken rule that you have the most credit. And he was murdered, and it worked.  And then it continued [the Two State Solution] because the US kept the thing up, but…

AW: It was never the same.

GH: It was never the same and even the Single-State Solution doesn’t know… we do not know where it leads in terms of do you maintain the Palestinians in an open-air prison like Gaza?  Or do you give them voting rights?  If you give them voting rights are you prepared for the demographic influx?

AW: I’ve heard it described – and I’m not exactly sure which intellectual first said this – but essentially the One-State Solution is going to have to be a choice between, Israel is going to have to choose between being a Jewish state or being a democratic state.

GH: Exactly.

AW:  And at this point it’s really unclear which way the One State Solution will go, and also it doesn’t look to me like there’s really even any plans in the immediate future to do that.

GH: And I would say – and this is a bit daring to say – that our work as intellectuals, or people who reflect upon these questions, is to turn democratic as the revolutionary story that it has been or is still believed to be in the Western world and is expanding all over the world, as really revolutionary and actually fundamentally something that you can already find in Exodus.  The notion of not having kings and believing that the law can come – well you can believe in God or not, and I personally don’t – but I believe that the notion of making laws as kind of a transcendental voice.  That then you can live and adapt without kings, and without people profiting from their proximity to the sacredness and holiness, to make a better life – a more expansive life for everybody – that’s my hope.

AW:  I took a class with Professor Selden on sacred texts, and what we really concluded was that the radical of Judaism is that states definitively that men are not gods.  That everyone is equal before the Law.  So in theory the democratic dream is the same dream that Judaism gives which is that all people are equal.

GH:  Exactly.

AW:  Whether or not that will happen in terms of states…

GH:  It’s going to be a struggle.  And it doesn’t look good, but at the same time that is exactly what I’m thinking about the position we are in as historians where we have to be practical at the same time.  We are not going to be going towards the Two-State Solution.  Kelly and Obama were the last ones to try and it was very clear that the right wing government were laughing at them.

AW: The last real possible Two-State Solution is what Ehud Olmert proposed in 2008, and even that couldn’t become a reality.  I have very low expectations that a Two-State Solution could ever be possible.

GH:  Correct.  But that’s another story.

AW:  So we’ll go in this direction to wrap up even though this has been great and I’ve learned a lot.

GH:  You have been patient.

AW:  It’s pretty much impossible to overstate just how many seismic shifts the Six Day War does set off.  So I thought off of the top of my head and I tallied down a laundry list of just some of the changes that the Six Day War caused around the world and in Israel and Palestine.  Anti-Jewish expulsions in neighboring Arab countries and violence, increased anti-Semitism in Communist states and in the USSR – having to do kind of with the relationship between Nasser…

GH:  Right, a turn.

AW:  A turn to them embracing a more anti-Israel stance…

GH:  And then more Russian Jews… in the sixties it accelerated the movement in reaction to the dictatorship.

AW:  The Six Day War, definitely among Soviet Jews, spreads a renaissance of Zionism and leads the way for the whole refusenik movement in the 1980s.

GH:  That is an important aspect.

AW:  Obviously [the Six Day War] leads to the Palestinian Naksa – not the Nakba but the second one.

GH:  Right.  And that took time.  We did not call – at the time I didn’t hear that.

AW:  That word didn’t exist back immediately after the war.

GH: And it’s an imitation of the Shoah.  Well imitation is not the right word, I shouldn’t say that.  But it’s a response.  It’s saying we’re victims too.  The victimization aspect – terrible things that were done by most European countries in the 40s to Jews – essentially the whole eradication of the whole Jewish people if they could have.  If the Third Reich had really conquered the world, it was really clear that it would have meant eradication.  There’s not doubt about that.  But the Palestinians felt, and I heard many, many stories afterwards particularly in the ‘90s when I was there again, by people who would show me with their arms – that’s where my village was, and now my whole family is in Germany.  And you could tell, you got the same impression talking to Israeli Jews who told you yeah I was in Hungary at the end of the war and I lost everything – family, language, culture, children, brothers, sisters – and now I’m here.  So it’s a story of survival, but of losing everything.  And I thought wow – same destiny, same outcome.  How come we cannot start from there?  But that’s not how we do.  Most politicians take advantage – not take advantage – but they thing they can make things better by responding to the larger number.  But the larger number is never the way real history works with leaders or thinkers or people who invest their whole lives and choose to live according to their beliefs and don’t weigh the costs.  Because politics is about costs and benefits; it’s always a calculation.  

AW:  I also wrote, and we just mentioned a little bit about the Naksa, there’s also the Syrian displacement from the Golan Heights.  Even though that’s a little bit more of a military, strategic region…

GH:  And with a lot of components to it too.  Declared Israel though it may go back to Syria some day.  It’s always possible.

AW:  Also the Six Day War led to the Arab-Israeli Conflict shifting from a military to a more diplomatic process.  Even though the Yom Kippur War comes in the next coming years.  There’s an extreme swell of support for Israel throughout the Diaspora [after the Six Day War].  The beginning of the modern settler movement that we have now.  Not the original settler movement, but what comes after the war.

GH:  Right.  The switch from a purely national, Zionist, often non-religious…

AW: More socialist leaning…

GH: More socialist leaning… to a Zionism led by religious beliefs.  But I don’t want to be negative about them (laughs).

AW: Yeah, these are people who want to go back to Jericho, people who want to go back to Hebron.  People who want to go back to… people who see this as the land promised to Abraham as their right.  

GH:  And are willing to spend enormous energy on it, and are willing to sacrifice for it.

AW:  And who are enormously powerful and popular in Israel today as a political group.

GH:  Probably a wave, but a long wave.

AW:  And probably most notably [in terms of effects of the Six Day War] is the occupation.  So my last question is, did people have any idea – either in Israel or in Jordan – just how many things the Six Day War would cause?  Did they have any idea that this would be the start of a fifty year occupation?  Or was it just a moment of thinking, wow this was a huge war, but really at that moment just another war, just the Third Arab-Israeli War?  As opposed to what we know now about this war having insane reverberations throughout the years?

GH:  I can answer for myself, I think that it was another war – though I could see the significance of getting to be in control of the mosques in Jerusalem.  I immediately thought about the dynamite that it meant because Islam is not going to retreat.  That I knew instantly.  It was another war, but it was not the same war as in ‘56.  The other aspect of it is that it was not simply the war…  but as a student of archaeology and of the history of ancient Israel and Judah and so forth, and the gospels and the New Testament, I was very aware of the occupied territories, the so-called occupied territories – the West Bank as we call it, and Cisjordan and so forth – was actually full of sights in their Arabic names that went back to the Biblical sights.  And so to me it was immediately a very complicated psychological, religious situation.  I was very aware of that.  So it was not the same war as any other war.  It was an event also where immediately I thought we cannot go back to a kingship, there’s no Davidic-Messianic kingship that’s doable.  On the other hand, the only great argument for maintaining the presence of Israel in the hills of Israel and Judah, the only argument is really textual.  It’s a continuation.  So I was aware of all of that.  It was a return.  You know I was thinking of Bar Kokhba.  At the time I did not yet study that a lot, but I was thinking of Flavius Josephus and others.  Christian writing, the Gospels particularly.  And so you had the sense that the war, in some ways, completed a cycle, but at the same time did not complete anything because it opened up history.  That we were going to march towards decisions made on the nature of history and the nature of human progress.  Were we going to stick with the Biblical text, and read it narrowly? Or were we going to read it more humanly?  At the time I was very religious still – Catholic of course. So everything was running, all those fires were running at the same time.  So to me, it was not a regular, usual war because it was fulfilling text.  And yet at the same time I shouldn’t say that because my view is that fulfilling is of course going on the Israeli side.  On the Palestinian side, it was destroying who they were and any chance of their being a people.  And that’s a difficult question that I still struggle with.  And so when I make an interview like that… I am very aware at the same time that I am not representing the Palestinian side.  But it’s there, massively.  For me, a life is a life.  Meaning a life is actually an extraordinary mystery – and the Palestinian lives are indistinguishable from the Israeli lives or the Jewish lives or the non-Jewish lives whether one believes in God or not.  I don’t believe in gods, but I believe in things that may look like it.  

AW:  Well thank you so much.

GH:  You’re welcome.  Sorry if that was a little bit of a non-answer in some ways.

Remembering Primo Levi in the 30th Anniversarry of his Death

Written by Avery Weinman

Illustrated by Rose Teplitz


April 11, 2017 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of writer, activist, and Holocaust Survivor Primo Levi at his home in Turin, Italy. Leviathan remembers him in this issue to celebrate the fascinating life of a man who was truly a great author, and to honor him for his contributions to justice and empowering Holocaust survivors to come to be able to speak about their experiences.

This piece is too short a space to provide a biography that would do Primo Levi justice.  Detailed accounts of his own life, in his own voice, are available in his numerous works and autobiographies including Survival in Auschwitz, The Periodic Table, Moments of Reprieve, and The Drowned and the Saved; these works provide more meaningful insight than anything I could hope to accomplish in this piece. I will say simply this: a chemist by trade, Primo Levi was an Italian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz after revealing he was Jewish when Italian fascists captured him as a Partisan fighter.  His life both at Auschwitz and after is a portrait of both the best and the worst that humanity has to offer.   He dedicated his life to speaking and writing about the events and the lessons of the Holocaust.

 

Since there was an Auschwitz, can there also be a God?

 

In this piece I will choose to focus on the legacy of Levi’s works, and what sets his work apart from other memoirs about the Holocaust.  To do this, it is imperative to have a sense of what Holocaust literature looked like in the years immediately following the end of the Second

World War.  In 1947, when Primo Levi originally published his first autobiography Survival in Auschwitz – in its original Italian language and title Se Questo è un Uomo (If This is a Man) – Holocaust literature was in its infancy.   The most popular Holocaust autobiography which existed at the time was The Diary of a Young Girl, known more popularly as The Diary of Anne Frank.  And, while The Diary of a Young Girl recounts in great autobiographical detail the trauma of life under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, it did not provide an autobiographical account of Anne Frank’s time at Auschwitz and her eventual murder at Bergen-Belsen.  Viktor E. Frankl’s 1946 work, Man’s Search for Meaning – part Holocaust memoir, part explication of Frankl’s psychological method of logotherapy – predates Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz by one year, but is more of a study in the psychology of how and why people survive trauma than it is dedicated to telling the history of the Holocaust. Władysław Szpilman’s memoir from 1946, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw 1939-1945 – the book which would inspire the acclaimed 2002 film of the same name – is similar to Frank’s memoir in that it describes in great detail the horror of Nazi rule in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, but does not venture into the realm of the Nazi concentration camps.  

What makes Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz unique is that he recounted, for the first time in full and excruciatingly remembered detail, the reality of life at a concentration camp.  Levi’s unflinching portrait of the pinnacle of human degradation in the modern era, coupled with prose that asked the audience to question the implications of the fact that the Holocaust was even able to happen at all, set Levi apart from the mainstream of the narrative of Holocaust memoirs at the time.

In the immediate years following World War Two, talking about the Holocaust was not yet an acceptable part of our global culture.  The pervading sense was that Holocaust survivors, and more generally anyone who had any contact with the camps at all, were eager to forget and attempt to move on.  Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz made this complacency impossible; the titular poem which opens the book – “If This is A Man”  – made it clear that Levi intended to force the world whose indifference enabled the genocide of six million Jews to reflect fully on the fact that this has happened.  Levi expanded upon the descriptions of the Holocaust provided by Frank, Frankl, and Szpilman and exposed the full depravity of the concentration camps.  Levi’s prose is meticulous and comprehensive to the point that it causes the audience genuine discomfort, and the questions Levi asks of the audience are among the most acute ever asked about the Holocaust. Were civilian Germans, complicit in Nazi rule, responsible for the Holocaust?  Who are we to judge the men and women in the Judenrat or who worked as Sonderkommandos? Since there was an Auschwitz, can there also be a God?  And, most importantly, since the Holocaust did happen, will it happen again?

In the Parshat Shoftim, the 48th weekly portion in the Jewish tradition of reciting the entirety of the Torah over a one year period, Moses speaks these words unto the Israelites, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” He did not say pursue justice only when it is uncomplicated, pursue justice only when it is easy to find, pursue justice only when it is painless; he said pursue justice, in all its complications, in all of its difficulty, in all the pain that it causes you to pursue it.  Leviathan remembers Primo Levi in this issue, thirty years after his death, for his importance as a writer, as a survivor, as an activist, but most importantly for the lesson he offers us about the tenacity with which we must all pursue justice.  

Primo Levi was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 when he was twenty-four years old, and he published his last book on the Holocaust, The Drowned and the Saved, in 1986, the year before his death at age sixty-seven.  For forty-two years, Primo Levi spent his life reliving and recounting the horrors of the Holocaust at Auschwitz.  And why? Why did he bear the burden of living in a state of excruciating trauma for so long?  In Survival in Auschwitz, Levi wrote, “Even in this place [Auschwitz] one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent.”

Levi’s dedication to writing about the Holocaust led him to experience deep bouts of debilitating depression, but he continued to write because he knew that he had a deeply important and necessary job to do. In his utter commitment to reminding humanity of the Holocaust through revisiting his own trauma, Primo Levi pursued justice for the six million Jews who could not speak.  They did not live to tell us their stories, but Levi could tell us his.  This is how he could pursue justice. Through his service to us, in spite of the insurmountable tragedy he survived, he is a testament to us all about the voracity with which we must pursue justice.  We must bear witness when others cannot.  Unspeakable tragedies occur, but we must speak on them.  We must speak on them to remind us all what we are capable of, and to pursue justice for those in the past, present, and future so that no one may have to relive what we suffer.

 

Remember

By Avery Weinman

In a beginning there were endless golden days in a land flowing with milk and honey

We basked in the presence of prophets and kings

Worshiped at great Temples built by the majesty of God

Walked hand in hand with myth

But our glory was cut down, cast out to Babylon

With Ezra we returned, a hopeful pursuit towards the end of the Exodus

What was meant to be the closing chapter of our book was crushed by the Empire of Rome

The walls of Jerusalem were torn from us, reduced to rubble

Land of fruit and wonder now shriveled with salt

The dust of our nation blown across the world

We were made like Cain, doomed to wander in eternal exile

We traveled everywhere with only our books to remind us of who we were

Century after century drifting in and out of consciousness

As castle walls rose we sat outcast in the forests

We the God killers, unable to scrub Christ’s blood out from under our fingernails

How conveniently they forgot that Peter called him Rabbi

We the wearers of blood libel

Tell me – does matzah taste better when made with the blood of Christian children?

Or did it just make our blood easier to bear

Culmination of ancient vendetta

Justification for our alienation

Our victimhood in their Crusade

For a time we sought solace in Spain

In the presence of the Moors we tasted long lost dignity

Cordoba was a new home, not the home, but perhaps one that could last

In Al-Andalus we were human

We made art, we wrote poems, painted, sang

We remembered what it was like to live, not just to survive

Though we may have dreamed we were, we were never Spanish

They did not hesitate to remind us of that

A Spanish Jew is a Jew first, still worthy of dying in the streets, still a victim of the Inquisition

Love for Spain cannot undo what has been made by Jewish blood

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella legitimized the full extent of our unwelcome, exiles again

We were tolerated in other places throughout Europe

So long as we gripped the bars of the ghettos that walled us in

In Venice, in Amsterdam, Prague or Rome we could eke out lives for ourselves

We could worship in our synagogues if we would just smile when they spit on us

They let us lend money, not as a favor but as a slight

Traders and financiers – money changers in the Temple

Sardonic jobs reserved for those not deserving of stability

Our fortunes were the result of luck

Steeped in the blood of others like us who were not so lucky

How were we to know our survival would become a libelous accusation against us

Remember Shylock is not the hero of The Merchant of Venice

Some of us made a humble life in the shtetls across Eastern Europe

We were poor, but we were together

Memorizing one hundred pages of Talmud

Waiting to hear from Yente the Matchmaker

Listening to papa kvetch about selling the horse for five rubles instead of seven

To know the life of the shtetl is to know a grandparent’s consoling hug

We may have barely been making it, but there was still so much to be joyful for

But life here was dissolving both inside and out

As we lost our own culture, others made sure they reminded us we were not welcome to theirs

Pogroms across the countryside, killings without mercy and without need for explanation

Even isolated our presence was intolerable to them

At first we entered Berlin through the Rosenthaler Gate – reserved only for Jews and livestock

But it was the Enlightenment, a time of unparalleled intellectual exploration

For the first time we were seen first as individuals, recipients of unalienable rights

As thinkers we could be could be unmatched, second to none

Revered for our minds not criticized for our culture

We made Germany what is was, we gave it the very best of us, every ounce of our essence

Mendelssohn, Heine, Marx, Arendt, Schoenberg, Auerbach, Börne, Einstein

We proclaimed Ich bin ein Berliner

We were met with the reassurance Arbeit Macht Frei

Trains waiting at the gates

The acrid stench of six million in the air

Our legacy in this country is still ink drying on the page

Some of us came here as refugees

Beaten down after millennia of degradation, murder, exile, and genocide

This was America – a new place, a new hope

We looked up at the woman whose flame is the imprisoned lightning

And her name Mother of Exiles

Cradling all the promise of a country who has sworn to love all who wander

It is in this country that my family has made its life, one that has provided me every opportunity

And now the shining promise is dying – the gates are closing, the clock is winding backwards

Fear and intolerance, our most insidious enemies, creep out of the shadows where they lurk

Emboldened, impassioned, risen again

 

My intention with this piece is not to say contemporary America is comparable to any of the societies I mentioned here.  Beneath the cynicism that tends to crust over my heart, I believe in the resilience of this nation.  I believe in the future of the American Jewry.  I mean only to say that we should not assume that it can’t happen here.  Reading the narrative of Jewish history is an arduous and transcendentally painful task.  For thousands of years our very existence and survival has remained precarious.  Our trust in the mercy of those around us has so often resulted in catastrophe.

In the last few weeks I found myself thinking not of those who perished in the Babylonian or Roman conquests, Spanish Inquisition, Eastern European pogroms or the Holocaust, but of the Jews who lived in these areas generations before these events and thought themselves safe.  Thought themselves accepted.  Thought themselves Spanish, Russian, or German.  How could they have known what would happen to their children? To their grandchildren? Did they feel it? Did they know what was coming, or did they really believe that these places, which had so seemingly welcomed them, would be their homes forever? Did they feel the overwhelming, all encapsulating sense of dread that I found myself feeling these last few weeks?  Is my optimism making a wrong choice?  Will I be dooming by children? My grandchildren?

Unfortunately, my history tells me my optimism is misplaced.  But I will cling to it.  I will cling to it as is my sacred duty bound by blood.  As it is commanded in Exodus 22:21, “And you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I mean not to frighten anyone, nor to accuse or blame.  I mean only to say that we must remember. The American Jewry must remember the lives and deaths of those who came before us.  Those people whose sacrifices, both of their dignity and their lives, have brought us here to this moment.  To this chance to be brave with our eyes open. We owe the dead that much.  And to those who forget:

May your children turn their faces from you.