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22 September 2007

Meron Benvenisti: "Son of the Cypresses"

I have just finished reading Meron Benvenisti’s new book, “Son of the Cypresses” which I would like to recommend to interested readers. However, at this time I really don’t have the time to write a comprehensive review or critique of the book (I’ve already hopped into the Mearsheimer & Walt book), so instead I thought I’d share a few quotes.

I am an inveterate abuser of books, one who underlines things of interest, scribbles notes and thoughts in the margins, and so on and so forth. Once finished, it is patently obvious that I’ve read the book and thought about it. So this posting is just providing many – though not all - those quotes from the work that I ended up underlining on the assumption that others may find these quotes interesting as well. In our market driven economy, to buy a book is vote in support of producing more books on the topic and I hope the following quotes convinces you to go out and vote for this book as well. Also, apparently this book received relatively wide distribution as I purchased my copy off the shelf at a local Barnes & Noble. – Shalom/Salaam, John Sigler, http://www.onestate.org & http://one-israel-palestine.blogspot.com

“This [the economic decline of the city of Suwalk in Poland after WWI] precipitated an acceleration in the rate of emigration from the city, partly to Eretz Israel to join the Zionist pioneering effort and partly to the United States. This emigration did not include the more comfortably established of the city’s Jews, despite the fact that many of them were active Zionists. Even to leaders of the Zionist parties made no effort to immigrate to Eretz Israel. They were supportive of their children who did so, but they themselves continued to believe that no evil would ever befall them in their home.” – p.12

“Nathan Shalem [a pioneer of the Zionist doctrine of ‘Knowing the Land’ in Palestine and a co-founder of the ‘Rambler’s Society’ that led walking groups across the Palestinian landscape to indoctrinate Zionist youth with love of the land] had studied at an Italian university and had been influenced in his thinking by the Italian nationalist movement and its hero, Gabriele D’Anunzzio.” – p.20

“In early 2000, I [Meron Benvenisti] published a book entitled Sacred Landscape, in which I describe the fate of the Arab-Palestinian landscape that was destroyed in 1948, its remnants having been covered over by the present-day Israeli landscape.” – p.31

“The torching of forests by Arab Israelis following the killing of a number of Arab citizens by the police during demonstrations in the Galilee and central Israel around the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada (October 2000) provides a convenient proof of Arab insensitivity to nature. … Indeed, many of the forests that were set ablaze had been purposely planted to conceal any evidence of Arab habitation – villages, cultivated fields, orchards, and cemeteries – their planting intended to bury that stratum of the country’s history, without trace and without memorial.” - Pp. 33, 34

“With the permission and financial backing of the government, they [Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories] expanded the built-up areas of the settlements, planting house trailers on every hilltop and issuing permits for cemeteries for the burial of jews whose bodies are flown in from abroad.” – p.36

“But this line, [The “Green Line” dividing Israel Proper and the Occupied Palestinian Territories] which just may have geopolitical significance, is a fiction when it comes to environmental considerations. Anyone involved with land use or environmental planning knows that the territories on either side of the Green Line comprise a single bioregion.” – p.39

“In the fall of 1993, prior to Israel’s withdrawal from the Jericho region, the Israeli Antiquities Authority embarked upon a wide-ranging archaeological excavations with the purpose of ensuring that no relics of the Jewish past would fall into the hands of the PA, especially not ancient scrolls like those that had been found hidden in caves near the Dead Sea decades before. The initiators of 'Operation Scroll' did not disguise their intention to conduct salvage excavations prior to the handover of the area to PA control, and their action was interpreted as an act of illegal seizure in contravention to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.” – p.41

“Israelis were not convicts transported to a distant colony, as were the first white Tasmanian settlers, and the Palestinians are not hunter-gatherers without previous contact with the West, but the syndrome is familiar. Jewish settlers who moved into the territory of the indigenous Arabs encountered violent opposition from the latter and reacted as if they (the settlers) were the aggrieved party and the ‘natives’ were the aggressors; and thus there evolved a cycle of mutual violence that has yet to end.” – p.49


“One way or another, I [Meron Benvenisti] found myself inclined toward defining my my [sic] worldview as ‘native,’ or ‘neo-Canaanite.’ It is an attempt to transcend nationalism and construct an identity based on a ‘native’ affinity for the land. Admittedly, it is a romantic and artificial concept, but it is posed against the current national extremism.” – p.51

“The supreme expression of the Jewish-Israeli claim to proprietorship over these areas was the wholesale renaming of all of the geographical locations and topographical features throughout the Negev and Arava. A National Naming Committee was appointed by Ben-Gurion, who set out its objectives: ‘We are obliged to remove the Arabic names for reasons of state. Just as we do not recognize the Arabs’ political proprietorship over the country, so also do we not recognize their spiritual proprietorship and their place-names’” – p.72

“How symbolic it is that a few weeks before the Jerusalem Day celebrations on 2005, it was revealed that the famous song ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ by Naomi Shemer, which had become the city’s unofficial anthem, is derived from a Basque folk tune.” – p.92

“The distinction between Israeli and Palestinian violence has no analytical significance, but it bespeaks a value judgment: war, and particularly defensive war, is a legitimate form of violence, whereas terrorism is a criminal act with illegitimate objectives. By defining the violence that they initiate as ‘war,’ the Israelis are striving to retain their monopoly on legitimate violence, since to their way of thinking, only their national objectives are just; they are the only ones that should be using force and the only ones to which the imperative of ‘self-defense’ applies. Palestinian violence, on the other hand, is a ‘terrorist crime,’ since its aim is the achievement of criminal objectives such as the destruction of the Zionist enterprise or murder for its own sake.” – p.110

“The initiators of ‘preventative measures,’ ‘fitting responses,’ and ‘maintenance of deterrence’ know they are violating the laws of war, but choose to apply them to suit their own convenience. This is the real reason for Israel’s opposition to the stationing of international observers in Palestinian areas. The last thing Israel wants to see happen is the establishment of a foreign body charged with examining its ‘military actions’ according to accepted standards.” – p.111

“’There is no partner for peace,’ proclaimed those who had hoped for a low-cost ‘end to the conflict,’ only to discover that that sort of peace was perceived by the other side as perpetuation of the injustice.” – p.124

“However, having become a unifying myth, the narrative suggesting that Barak offered Arafat the moon at Camp David, and that Arafat turned it down and then ‘pushed the button’ and ‘chose the path of violence,’ is immune to all contrary facts and evidence; and like all myths, from the moment it was embraced by society, it became ‘truer’ than reality. This myth plays a vital function in Israeli society, uniting all its factions and justifying all its deeds, cleansing its conscience, and, by defining the enemy as bloodthirsty, making it possible to deal with a difficult situation perceived as leaving ‘no alternative’ to violence.” – p.125

“A decade ago, I [Meron Benvenisti] dealt elsewhere at length with the different forms of separation – spatial, functional, economic, legal, conceptual, horizontal, and vertical – a veritable galaxy of measures, generally radical and involving the employment of force, which are supposedly meant to bring an end to intercommunal strife once and for all. It is the weaker, ‘separated’ side that always bears the whole cost, while the stronger placates its conscience by fooling itself into thinking it is creating ‘separate but equal’ conditions – something that has never really existed.” – p.157

“’Knowledgeable people’ were optimistically noting that an estimated 150,000 had abandoned their besieged and starving towns and villages during the Intifada and had, as in 1948 and 1967, pulled up stakes and crossed the Jordan River. The intensification of Israeli punitive measures did not lead to a decisive military victory for Israel but encouraged some Israelis to believe that ‘voluntary transfer’ of Palestinians was indeed taking place. The Jordanians had gone and spoiled this illusion; they would no longer tolerate the export of the Israel-Palestinian conflict to their country and the resulting amplification of its prevailing instability.” – p.158

“Those who abhor the idea of such a brutal ‘solution,’ on the other hand, point out that there is not – and never was – such as thing as voluntary transfer, and that population relocation has always been accomplished by force and accompanied by extreme violence. Even the 1923 exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece by mutual agreement (trotted out by the transferists as the ultimate pro-transfer argument) was nothing more than a fig leaf concealing a great humanitarian tragedy – one that fueled hatreds that endured for generations. … Some suspect that the Israeli army’s brutal behavior and the human suffering caused thereby are purposely aimed at making life in the occupied territories unbearable and creating conditions that promote ‘voluntary’ transfer.” – pp. 159-160

“In fact, the option of expelling a large portion of the Palestinian population from Israel/Palestine does not exist: the Palestinians will not leave their homes, no matter how unbearable the living conditions; more to the point, the neighboring states will not permit large-scale population movement into their jurisdictions.” – p. 160

“The Palestinian Israelis’ journey back to their roots symbolized by Nakba Day is actually a typical expression of their Israeliness and not of their Palestinian nationalism. It is no coincidence that it was the Israeli Arabs who taught the residents of the territories to commemorate Nakba Day. Palestinian heritage (even in the form of negative Jewish reaction and hostility) will remain a permanent feature of the mosaic of traditions and ethnicities that is Israeli society, and there must be a way to live with it in peace.” – pp.164-165

[I underlined much of page 170 and wrote extensive notes in the margins as it deals with one of my favorite topics, namely the making of comparisons between the current situation in Israel/Palestine with Apartheid South Africa. For the most part, Benvenisti argues against such comparisons, a perspective with which I take strong exception.]

“The ‘state’ that he [Sharon] envisaged will be of a totally new sort: its ‘sovereignty’ will be scattered, lacking any physical infrastructure, without direct connection to the outside world, and restricted in the height of its residential buildings and the depth of its graves: the airspace and the water resources will remain under Israeli control. Helicopter patrols, the airwaves, the hands on the water pumps and the electrical switches, the registration of residents and issuing of identity cards, as well as passes to enter and leave, will all be controlled (directly or indirectly) by the Israelis, with American approval.” – p.177

“The first partition of Palestine, in 1948, created the community of the ‘1948 Arabs,’ citizens of Israel, who during the course of more than fifty years have developed an identity, a political, economic, and social agenda, and even a unique dialect and culture different from those of the territories and the Palestinian diaspora. … The first [Palestinian division] will consist of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship (‘Israeli Arabs’), who define their political objective in terms of ‘Israel as a state of all its citizens, not a Jewish state,’ and who do not wish to be part of a Palestinian state.” – pp. 178, 179

“To top it off, to underscore the symbolism of the Jewish home, the houses [of the Gaza settlements] were demolished, because, although Jews may boast of living in an Arab house, an Arab must not inhabit a house infused with a Jewish soul.” – p.181

“Sharon was now seeking to turn the clock back a generation and to determine the Palestinians’ future for them without taking into consideration their desires and aspirations. ‘My plan is hard for the Palestinians,’ he declared, ‘a mortal blow. With unilateral disengagement there is no Palestinian state.’ Weisglass had revealed the prime minister’s true intentions when he stated: ‘The significance of our [unilateral] disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process…. When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.’” – p.187

“Unilateralism has, of course, been a sham, because it could be presented as such only with the cooperation of third parties. It was impossible to enforce it without the vital involvement of additional parties – the United States, in particular, but also the Egyptians, who would accept some responsibility for security. The UN, aid organizations, and institutions of the European Community [sic] would have to pay to maintain an impoverished populace lacking means of livelihood.” – p.187

“This is the role that Israel envisages for the Palestinian Authority, and the reason why the PA is being portrayed as a sovereign state electing a parliament and a government. It is common knowledge that the PA is a community council devoid of governmental powers, managing an area devoid of sovereignty; but it is useful to hint that this is only a preliminary stage before Israel, out of the goodness of its heart, unilaterally disengages from areas in which it has no interest.” – p.191

“Were Israel required to live up to its obligations as an occupying power, it would have to cough up approximately U.S.$1 billion a year just to maintain services to the West Bank population.” – p.191

“The problem has been that there was no Palestinian ready to pick the leftovers that Israel was ready to discard, and there could therefore be no further unilateral disengagement. The de facto binational state is, by default, approaching its penultimate stage, despite misleading signs that provide a false sense that its creation has been successfully prevented.
"The factors laying the foundations for a binational reality and destroying the option of ‘two states for two peoples’ are in fact precisely the measures aimed at furthering unilateral disengagement, partitioning Israel/Palestine, and warding off the Israeli nightmare of a binational state: withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the barrier wall, and the separate road system, as well as the aftermath of the second Lebanon war of 2006. The acceptance by countries and organizations throughout the world (with the United States in the lead) of the legitimacy of unilateral moves being made by Israel without regard to Palestinian interests, U.S. positions supportive of the fragmentation strategy being pursued by Israel, the deterioration in the functioning of the Palestine Authority, and the victory of Hamas – all of these combined have intensified the perception, shared by many Palestinians, that there is no longer any chance of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state, and that it is therefore necessary to return to a ‘one state’ stratagem and to rely on their growing demographic advantage to achieve this.” – pp. 197-198

“And, indeed, voices calling for abandonment of the ‘two states for two peoples’ option and its replacement by efforts to achieve a unitary state in Israel/Palestine are increasingly being heard in Palestinian circles. Of course, all of those who make their living within the institutional framework of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention those employed in its ramified apparatus, reject such talk, since the establishment of a Palestinian state is, after all, their raison d’etre. It is also true that the PA, even in its wretched condition, symbolizes the demand of self-determination, and its activity in civil matters, no matter how limited, is important to the process of building the Palestinian nation.” – p. 206

“At the same time, the ‘one state’ slogan makes a handy threat for Palestinians to hold over the Israelis; and that is how most Israelis, in fact, relate to it. Spokespersons from both the Right and Left and, notably, even Jewish intellectuals abroad, view the binational state as a real danger, ‘which inherently threatens to bring an end to the Jewish state.’ Palestinians take this so seriously that some threaten to trade their struggle for national independence for a struggle for civil rights in a binational state, provoking Israeli diplomats to respond angrily that this is further proof of the Palestinians’ unwillingness to reach a peace agreement, since a binational state means the destruction of the state of Israel.” – p. 206

“My [Meron Benvenisti] position has always been that binationalism is an unintended and lamentable consequence. My preference, as a Zionist, is for a Jewish nation-state, but I fear that the historical process that began in the aftermath of the 1967 war has brought about a gradual abrogation of this option. Hence, binationalism is not a political or ideological program so much as a de facto reality masquerading as a temporary state of affairs. It is a description of the current condition, not a prescription.” – p.209

“And thus, a fluid, violent status quo persists – itself, as previously mentioned, a kind of undeclared de facto binationalism – where an Israeli government effectively controls the whole of what used to be Mandatory Palestine, either by sovereign rule within the boundaries of the state of Israel, through its military regime in the occupied territories, or indirectly through military and economic control of the boundaries. The Palestinian Authority, the establishment of which was mandated by the Oslo Accords, theoretically continues to function, but lacks the means to enforce its rule; and without massive monetary aid from the ‘donor nations,’ it would not be capable of carrying out even the limited civil functions (provision of education, health, municipal services) that it does. This de facto binational condition has endured in its present form for over twenty years. It became quasi-permanent in the wake of the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan (in 1994), which completed the final demarcation of the external perimeter of Eretz Israel / Palestine, following the international boundaries (excepting that of Syria) of Mandatory Palestine. This put the kibosh on the ‘Jordanian option,’ ending attempts to turn the occupied territories into a border area that could be annexed to a foreign country and thereby be prevented from becoming a national entity able to stand on its own feet.” – pp. 211-212

“Israelis have therefore simply continued the practice of not collecting official data on the total number of non-Jewish inhabitants in the occupied territories, even while the numbers of Jews in Israel and the settlements of the occupied territories are minutely monitored and presented together as belonging to ‘the population of the state of Israel.’ As in Lebanon, manipulation of population statistics can conveniently be used to show whatever demographic ‘balance’ suits the ethnic group in power. It is precisely to ‘prove’ that the demographic threat is indeed a bogey that frightens only the gullible that the [sic] some right-wing Israelis claim the statistics showing an Arab majority are fabricated by the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, which purportedly publishes tendentious data.” – p.212

“During the Mandate, the leaders of the Yishuv were not bothered by the fact that they represented a minority – some one-third of the population – in their demand for independence and self-determination. Nor did they see it as a slap in the face of democratic values when they rejected the demand of the majority – the Arab majority – for the establishment of a state that would accurately reflect demographic-ethnic ratios.” – p.213

“…it should be pointed out that nearly all the intercommunal peace processes launched between 1989 and 2004 were based upon binational or multinational models. This fact flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that the binational model has failed everywhere in the world with the exception of Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada.” – p.214

“The Oslo Accords, too, can be thought of as de facto binational arrangements, since the Palestinian Authority’s areas of jurisdiction – both geographical and legal – were deliberately left unclear, and the outer perimeter (the borders of Mandatory Palestine) remained in Israel’s hands, as did control of the economy. Moreover, the whole series of convoluted agreements that came out of Oslo required tight coordination with the Israeli government; and considering the vast imbalance in Israel’s favor, it was clear that the Palestinian Authority would be granted inferior powers – essentially giving it the status of a glorified provincial, or even municipal, ruling body.” - p. 221

“Paradoxically, the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan only exacerbated the situation, because they determined the outer limit of the borders of western Palestine. They sealed us into the binational reality of a territory that cannot be divided. The result is that now Zionism has become the victim of its victories, the victim of a terrible history of missed opportunities.” – p.232


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