On a BBC special in the 1980s about science and religion, Rabbi David Revson was invited to debate a well-known British astronomer. The scientist went first, and he began with this: “I don’t know much about religion, but I think it can be summed up by saying ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, and couldn’t we work that out for ourselves?” Revson countered: “I don’t know much about astronomy, but I think it can be summed up by saying ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’!”
His riposte underscores a rampant malady of recent times, the tendency for people to pontificate on matters whereof they know nary a thing. Having a pulpit handy, they proceed to pronounce about all and sundry. Clearly, this is a case of putting Descartes before the horse: “I talk, therefore I am.” Although this is to a degree widespread, one fellow seems to have lately become the poster boy for foot-in-mouth disease. He keeps loosing distemper.
So when I heard that some genius in British local government had accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and labeled Ariel Sharon a war criminal who should be in prison and not in office, I immediately said: “Mayor Livingstone, I presume.” This is the selfsame mayor of London who asseverated in November of 2003 that President Bush was “the greatest threat to life on the planet that we’ve most probably ever seen.” A bit of a hyper bully, eh?
Sad to say, such statements gain too much currency in Europe to be ignored. So we will pretend that this is a considered opinion from a temperate intellectual and engage it on substance. Rather than focus on its being a little insane and very inane, not to mention mean-spirited and fraught with base animus, we will confine ourselves to arguing that it is just downright… wrong.
The charge that Israel is doing ethnic cleansing can only be premised on whatever arrests or deportations or killings of individual Palestinians might be effected over time by military or civilian arms of government. As if to say that those things, when done, reflect a broader policy of eliminating a population. However, this is simply not true. No Palestinian town or settlement has ever experienced forced evacuation at Israeli hands. Any death or deportation is an isolated result of conflict, usually initiated by Palestinian terrorism.
In fact, the opposite is the case. If anyone is engaged in ethnic cleansing, it is the Palestinians. I recall back in 1988 that syndicated columnist and Boston Herald editorialist Don Feder was sent to Jerusalem to report on the various parties that comprise Israel’s political spectrum. He asked me to introduce him to Mr. Abraham Ravitz, who had just been elected to Knesset for his first term, and I sat in on the interview.
Ravitz, a former Lehi member (the Lehi worked alongside the Irgun pre-1948 but tended to be more violent) with scarred features that bespeak a thousand secret skirmishes, challenged Feder with a simple question: “Aren’t there Jews in America, in Canada? So if they want Palestine to be a normal state, why can’t they accommodate some Jewish citizens? If we have a million Arabs living peacefully in Israel, shouldn’t there be Jews living in Palestine too?” He went on to use a loaded phrase from the Nazi era, maintaining that the Palestinians want a judenrein territory.
When I was having an apartment refurbished outside Jerusalem in 1992, a number of Palestinian craftsmen were involved in the project. Ahmad was supervising the work crew, Mahmoud was fashioning magnificent cabinets from mahogany to my specifications, and Daoud was soldering the wrought-iron fences to encircle the balcony. One day, Daoud asked me to drive him back to his village after work. Steering my Mitsubishi down the narrow road, I was suddenly confronted by a Mitsubishi trying to pass me in the opposite direction. The bodies of the vehicles squeaked past each other, but the two rear-view mirrors crashed and fell off.
The young Palestinian driver got out and suddenly a large mob of his compatriots materialized around me with tempers beginning to flare. Over the years, some Jews have been killed in those situations. In my case, Daoud got out from the passenger’s side and began to pepper the other driver with staccato Arabic. After a minute or two, the young man grinned sheepishly and drove off; the crowd quickly dissipated. Later, I asked Daoud what magic words he had uttered. “I said that he better hurry and get it fixed before I tell his father that he borrowed the car without permission.”
Israel has consistently worked to be welcoming to Palestinians and allowed them to rise in the work force to their level of competence. Even General Sharon, a pugnacious brawler who has often picked fights with Palestinians, has never advocated any large-scale brutalization or deportation. (Other generals have, not he.) There is some question whether as Prime Minister he is in over his head. But one thing is clear: the Peter Principle is working overtime in London, where the Mayor’s potty cracks reveal his incompetence.
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