Return of the Repressed

The Japanese have a big problem with their history, and it occasionally breaks through to the surface. The Japanese Minister of Defence, Fumio Kyuma, was recently forced to resign after stating the obvious: that the American use of nuclear bombs against the atrocity his country has been inevitable at the time. What is perceived as an extreme to psychotic right-wing notion outside of Japan, but constitutes the mainstream inside it, made him pay the price for offending the national myth. The former Prime Minister, Koizumi Junichiro, mostly a benign character, insisted on odd visits to the Yasukuni Temple where senior Japanese war criminals are commemorated. It is entirely plausible that the American effort, right after the war, to prevent the prosecution of the Emperor Hirohito – a step the Americans feared might lead to a general uprising – badly distorted the Japanese conception of history.

The Turks have a big problem with their history, and it keeps generating headlines. During the first world war the military junta conducted a genocide against the Armenian minority. This genocide is a self evident truth world wide, except in Turkey and Israel; but what, to outsiders. is perceived as an extreme to psychotic right-wing notion, is the Turkish mainstream; and it insists on prosecuting even nationally-recognized writers, if they uncover the conventional fallacies. Sometimes it murders as well.

The Israelis have a big problem with their history, and it’s difficult even to walk down the street without bumping into it. Those who took Canaan by storm did it a little too late, in a time when the whole idea of ethnic cleansing started being rejected by international consensus. Ironically, it happened because of the efficiency with which the Nazis conducted their ethnic cleansing against the Jews (The Soviet ethnic cleansing in eastern Europe is beginning to draw attention only in recent years). Hundreds of villages and quite a few Palestinian cities where demolished when the Zionist phoenix rose from the Palestinian ashes; ;dozens of massacres were carried out, hundreds of deportations; the language, the traditions, the landscape – all changed beyond recognition. Often by means of bulldozers and demolition charges.

Today the Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, stated the obvious: the Palestinian citizens of Israel would no longer have to learn about the mighty pioneers who tamed the wilderness and fought the evil savages, but could learn history as it was experienced by their ancestors: the deportation, the massacres, the Naqba. What is perceived, outside Israel, as the extreme to psychotic right-wing – the Israeli mainstream – has already confronted the minister with raging fury. She hasn’t resigned yet, but it’s very possible that the decision will be used by Ehud “no High Court of Justice” Barak as means to her dismissal. MK Zvi Hendel, that exceptionally rabid dog, whose discontent over being unable to continue abusing the inhabitants of Gaza has become his icon, has already informed that he will propose a bill to automatically revoke the citizenship of those who commemorate the Naqba.

Tamir’s decision is idiotic, of course. If there was a Naqba, if there were deportation and massacre and ethnic cleansing and Ben Gurion’s famous hand gesture, it should appear in Jewish schoolbooks as well. If it didn’t happen, as the Zionist propaganda claims, then there is not reason for the Naqba to appear in the Arab schoolbooks. Two so different schoolbooks on the same subject are a recipe for increasing and radicalizing the tension.

But Tamir doesn’t have the required political capital to oppose the raging rabble which is the majority of the Israeli public, that same rabble that enthusiastically supports turning Israel into an apartheid state, that believes it is the Chosen People returning to its “long lost home”; her political capital barely sufficed for marking the Green Line, the 1967 borders, on schoolbooks’ maps. The Zionist myth – equality, national independence, progress for all the land’s inhabitants, the unabated righteousness – these turned S. Yizhar’s Hirbet Hiz`ah, that account of “how to create a diaspora”, unbearable even at the seventies. What the conquerors themselves knew, their descendants prefer to forget.

And since the Israelis simultaneously believe both that they are the takers of Canaan by storm, and that the storm was only a gentle spring breeze, they cannot look in the face at the ruins their existence is founded on. Anything that might remind of what must not be reminded is brutally pushed aside. And that brutality is often turned towards those witnesses of the horror that was the birth of Israel, the Palestinians who brazenly did not flee, who remained despite the massacres, despite the arbitrary land expropriation, despite the discriminatory laws and all the foul legal shticks the Jewish genius managed to devise.

No other place craves normalcy as much as Israel, an evidence of how badly it is missing here; but a nation that was founded on graveyard remnants and mosque ruins will never be normal, until it admits the debt it owes its past, look it straight in the eye and make its peace with it. We can see just how abnormal it is, how badly it terrifies those who inhabit it, in a recently published research; it shows that 46.1% of youths between 14 and 18 prefer living outside of Israel, and that 68% of them think its situation is “not good”. A country that so many of its young want to flee, will never be normal. The first generation conquered and kept silent, the second generation concealed, the third generation escapes.

And we can understand them: they are being raised from childhood on the conception that life in Israel is a mission, that in fact they are doing the country a favor by living in it. They are, after all, the vanguard of the Jewish People returning to its motherland. And it seems that for amazingly high number of them, this burden is too heavy to shoulder.

They were never taught that they are natives to this land. They were never taught that their country was founded on injustice, on crime, but that it was founded; that it is here; that it has nowhere to go; they were never taught that they do not bear their fathers’ sins, but do have to face the crimes themselves and deal with their consequences; they were taught they were born over a bottomless pit. They were taught that exposing the historical truth, what every thinking man knows, is lethal. They weren’t taught, but rather deliberately misled, as to the difference between the ’48 Arabs and the ’67 Arabs, and now they can’t tell the difference, or tell why only some of them have Israeli citizenship. The difference between Jewish and Israeli has been deliberately blurred. The entire past had been made to vanish, and any sliver of it that is suddenly exposed is as shocking as the revelation of a family tragedy.

Some consolation may be found in the idea that the Israeli public cannot face the facts because they are too horrid, because they say shocking things about the foundation of its existence, because it wants to avoid the deep feeling of shame that will justly confront it. But denying history – whether it’s denying the holocaust, or denying the atrocities of occupied China, or the stern denial of the genocide in Anatolia and Syria – is a symptom of a grave disease, of an irreparable rupture between reality as it is and reality as we would want it to be.

And to heal ourselves from this disease, we need a cold and ruthless history of our Independence War, one that will document all the crimes. We need a comittee of truth and reconciliation. We need to know exactly where we live, and who lived here before us. Only thus can we build this place anew, and not on foundations made of broken tombstones.

Perhaps. Because a place almost half of its children want to flee, has few reasons for hope.

(Orignally posted to Friends of George by Yossi Gurvitz. Translated by Yair Mahalalel on July 31st, 2007)


One response to “Return of the Repressed

  1. I have read this twice now and am taking it all in. I am a Catholic but my father was Jewish and I have close ties to both faiths.

    I also have friends and relatives in Israel and have been there twice.

    The complicated and challenging history is a topic of great interest to me.

    Thanks for a great post.

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