Political · World Affairs

One Of My Favourite Writers

October has been a dry month, at least, in terms of writing this blog. It’s like that sometimes I suppose. I need an outside stimulus to get the creative juices flowing, and it just hasn’t happened for the last few weeks.

The outside stimulus for today comes indirectly from the current news about the Labour Party and Antisemitism, together with a novel I’m reading by one of my favourite writers, Chaim Potok, and the Psalm that I read in my morning prayers today.

First, Chaim Potok. In the last year or so, I’ve been reading his novels and one work of non fiction. Every thing I have read is informative, powerful, moving, often heartbreakingly sad, and deeply human.

What I have read so far:

Novels:
The Chosen (1967)
The Promise (1969)
My Name is Asher Lev (1972)
In the Beginning (1975)
The Gift of Asher Lev (1990)
I am the Clay (1992)

Non Fiction
The Gates of November (1996)

I have yet to read several others, including
Wanderings (1978) – Chaim Potok’s history of the Jews.

Chaim Potok was a Rabbi and novelist, who wrote a number of very powerful novels, many of them set in Jewish communities of New York in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m in the middle of ‘In the Beginning’ which tells the story of a Jewish family in New York, recently arrived from Poland. It’s set in the late 1920’s and is told from the perspective of a young boy, David. I have just got to a part where the Jewish community in New York are beginning to hear news reports of a massacre of Jews in Hebron. Potok weaves the factual account into his fictional story. That made me go and find out more about what happened. On 24th August 1929, 67 or 69 Jews were killed by Arabs incited to violence by rumours that Jews were planning to seize control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Alongside that I read this in Psalm 123:

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
    for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

The history of oppression against the Jews goes back a very long way – to the enslavement of God’s chosen people in Egypt around 1400 B.C. Since then, there have been numerous other examples – the captivity and exile of the Jews to Babylon in around 600 B.C. The conquering of Palestine by Alexander the Great, and the Roman occupation around the time of Christ. Add to that the persecution of the Jews through history, the pogroms in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century, and the indescribably horrific and inhuman events of the holocaust.

History is important. We cannot take the events of today and try to interpret them without some understanding of how we got here. So the debate on anti-semitism must be understood in the light of the thousands of years of Jewish suffering.

So far, I’m totally with those voices that decry any forms of antisemitism.

However, let’s look at the definition of anti-semitism on the gov.uk website. It includes this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Hhmm, I’m nt sure about that one. According to the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), Palestinian refugees expelled after November 29, 1947, are “absentees” and are denied any rights. Their land, houses/apartments, and bank accounts (movable and immovable property) were confiscated by the state.

Simultaneously, the Law of Return (1950) gave Jews from anywhere in the world the right to automatically become Israeli citizens. 

So discrimination against Palestinians goes back to the founding of the state of Israel. Isn’t discrimination against someone because of their racial identity racism in action ? It’s also clear that the current actions of the state of Israel are based in treating a group of people differently because of their Palestinian identity.

The grave injustices that are being done to the Palestinian people by the state of Israel in the name of security continue. The United Nations has ruled that the Jewish settlements in Palestinian land are illegal. Bit by bit, and over many years, the Palestinian people have themselves been oppressed and denied their human rights.

Sadly, as history again tells us, the European colonial powers must bear much of the responsibility for the situation we have today. Colonial powers carved up, and decided on borders for large parts of Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as being responsible for the oppression of the indigenous peoples of Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Perhaps there should be a national day each year when we (‘Great Britain’) acknowledge the wrongs that we have perpetrated in the name of power and wealth.

So what can I say about a situation that has proved to be insoluble to some of the the greatest politicians and diplomats of our time ? I’m trying to listen to the voices of the ordinary people whose lives are impacted, especially those affected by the occupation.

I have listened to some of those voices, and one of the most important foundations for a peaceful settlement in Israel/Palestine is the issue of equality. Somehow, we have to get to a point of recognising and respecting the equality of all people, regardless of colour, ethnicity, national identity, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation. That would be a start. Until the Palestinian people are treated as equals under the law by Israel, there can never be a solution, two state, or one state.

This article by Jewish journalist Peter Beinhart might be helpful.