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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Benny Morris takes on Hitchens

A nice piece in Ha'aretz by Benny Morris. Morris describes how Christopher Hitchens notices the Muslim world is "riddled by corruption, violence and brutal autocracy, gradually falling into the grip of a nihilistic or medieval Islamism that is challenging the core values of the West - liberalism, democracy, tolerance and equal rights for women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities." - but he doesn't see the same problems with Palestinian Arabs.

In "Hitch-22" Hitchens approvingly cites (and expands) a metaphor coined (I think) by Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic: A man (the Zionist Jew), to save himself, leaps from a burning building (anti-Semitic and Holocaust Europe) and lands on an innocent bystander (a Palestinian), crushing him. To which Hitchens adds - and the falling man lands on the Palestinian again and again (the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza, the suppression of the intifadas, the construction of settlements in the territories, etc.).

But the metaphor is disingenuous, and it requires amplification to conform to the facts of history. In fact, as the leaping man nears the ground he offers the bystander a compromise - let's share the pavement, some for you, some for me. The bystander responds with a firm "no," and tries, again and again (1920, 1921, 1929, the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 and the 1947-48 War of Independence), to stab the falling man as he descends to the pavement. So the leaping man lands on the bystander, crushing him. Later, again and again, the leaping man, now firmly ensconced on the pavement, offers the crushed bystander a compromise ("autonomy" in 1978, a "two-state solution" in 2000 and in 2008), and again and again the bystander says "no."

The falling man may have somewhat wronged the bystander, but the bystander was never an innocent one; he was an active agent in and a party to his own demise.

In "Hitch-22" this is somehow omitted. ...

Moreover, throughout Hitchens seems to accept the Palestinians' definition of themselves as "natives" struggling against an "imperialist" foreign enemy.

But what of Jewish residence in the Land of Israel between the 12th century B.C.E. and the late Byzantine period (5th and 6th centuries C.E.)?

And what of Jewish residence and "nativeness" in Palestine since 1882, nearly 130 years ago? If residence grants rights, surely Jewish residence counterbalances Arab residence in Palestine since 636 C.E.

And if it is conquest that affords a claim to territory, then how is the Arab conquest in the 7th century, by blood and fire, any more morally cogent than the Jewish conquests of 1200 B.C.E. or 1948/1967?

Hitchens needs to take a long, hard look at Palestinian history and at the nature, behavior and aims of the Palestinian national movement.
Read the whole thing.