Yesterday Ha’aretz reporter Ari Shavit was interviewed on NPR about his new book. Let me start by saying that Shavit is not a foaming anti-Zionist like his colleagues Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and (formerly) Akiva Eldar. And I have to admit that I haven’t read his book. But the interview reveals a certain mindset that is disturbingly common among the supposedly sane Left in Israel.
For example, Shavit said,
It was part of the Ottoman [Empire] – and the entire region was, like, chaotic and tribal. So one has to remember, they did not conquer a well-established state, but those other people were there. And my great grandfather did not see them. Now, that’s the source of the tragedy, because on the one hand, you have this amazing triumph that is a result of the brilliant insight [of Zionism]. On the other hand, you have this ongoing tragedy of a 100-year war – more than that – that is the result of that basic flaw, that we did not see the Palestinians and the Palestinians would not see us, and…
This isn’t true, at least for those Zionists with decent eyesight. It was clear to Vladimir Jabotinsky as early as 1923, that as much as some of the more tender-minded Zionists believed that it would be possible to share sovereignty over the land with the Arabs, the Arabs would never willingly agree to it. Zionism does not require expulsion or expropriation of the Arabs, he believed, but it does require Jewish sovereignty, a Jewish state, and he was certain that this couldn’t come about through a voluntary agreement.
The collision of Jews and Arabs in the land of Israel was bound to have a winner and a loser, and Jabotinsky was convinced that a Jewish victory was not immoral, any more than an Arab victory — which history has shown us would have been far bloodier — would have been. Zionism was moral because there was no alternative for the Jews, while there were many for Arabs. But that doesn’t mean the Arabs have to be happy about it.
This is where Shavit’s own vision is distorted. For him, the only moral solution is one in which both Jews and Arabs are satisfied. Unfortunately there is no such solution. The choice is between a Jewish state and the survival of the Jewish people, or the opposite of that.
Shavit is full of guilt, as if there were another option which we could have chosen! As a paradigm for Zionist crimes, he discusses the expulsion of the Arabs from Lydda, a very controversial incident. Shavit concludes that Israel “owes” the Palestinians something — a state. He sees this obligation as absolute, just as he believes that they have an obligation to tolerate our state.
He is wrong. What we, as Zionists, are obligated to do is to create and maintain our Jewish state while doing as little harm to the Arabs as possible. Especially compared to other nationalisms — particularly Arab nationalism — we have done so. The Zionist leadership did what was necessary to create the state, and despite what anti-Zionist revisionist historians say, did not engage in mass murder (as Arabs did whenever possible). Certainly some Arabs were expelled from their homes, mostly — as in the case of Lydda — because of the conflict they were engaged in. Shavit’s feelings of guilt are inappropriate.
And we do not “owe them” a state. In fact, because a Palestinian Arab state in Judea and Samaria is simply incompatible with the continued existence of the Jewish state — a result of military realities and Arab and Muslim intentions — we are obligated to oppose such a state.