The guns of the Six Day War of June 1967, in which the Israelis occupied all the Palestinian territories, have not yet cooled, and Isaac Deutscher was asked if they had the opportunity to establish relations that were normal or less tolerable. with the Arabs.
Do you have that option? The reporters asked him New Left Review. The answer of the Polish communist journalist, historian, and political activist, of Jewish descent, became relevant, again, with the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this time in Gaza. Deutscher, on the other hand, would die less than two months after these words saw the light of day.
“Despite everything, he said, I believe that the Israelis have another option. Let me tell you a parable that I once tried to illustrate this problem to an Israeli audience:
“A man jumped from the top floor window of a burning building where many members of his family died. He saved his life, but fell on someone below and broke his arms and legs. The man who jumped out of the window had no other choice, but he was the cause of the misfortune of his broken arms. If both of them had acted rationally, they would not have become enemies. The one who escaped the fire, once recovered, tries to help and comfort the one with broken arms, and the latter may realize that he is the victim of circumstances beyond the control of both.
“But let’s see what happens when people behave irrationally. The injured man blames another for his accident and promises to pay him back. The other, fearing the revenge of the less worthy, insulted and struck him every time they met. The recipient of the blows swears revenge and is struck again. This bitter feud that started of pure whim escalated and came to embitter both men and condition their entire lives.
“Then,” Deutscher continued, “I said to my Israeli listeners: I am sure that you, the survivors of the European Jewish community, recognize yourselves in the man who jumped out of the window of the burning house. Another character represents the Arab-Palestinians who lost their lands and their homes (…).
“They are angry. They can only see their homeland from the other side of the border. They attack you suddenly. They swear revenge, you beat them mercilessly, you show that you know how to do it well, but what’s the point of all that? And what can it do?
“The tragedy of the European Jews and the massacres in the ghettos is the responsibility of our Western bourgeois civilization, of which Nazism is the legitimate, albeit degenerated, child. But the Arabs must pay the price for the crimes committed by the West against the Jews, and they continue to pay because, out of guilt, the West supported Israel and turned against the Arabs. In turn, Israel allowed itself to be bribed and easily deceived by the money that the West wanted to wash its conscience.
“The Israelis and the Arabs could have entered into a reasonable relationship if Israel had tried if the man who jumped from the burning house had tried to befriend the innocent victim of his fall. But things did not turn out that way. Israel does not even acknowledge that the Arabs have any grievances. Zionism proposed from its beginning to create a state exclusively for the Jews and had no doubts about expelling the Arab inhabitants from the country.
“No Israeli government has made a serious attempt to alleviate or fix the Arab problem. They even refuse to analyze the situation of many refugees if the Arab States do not first recognize the State of Israel, that is, if the Arabs do not stop in the political arena before the negotiations begin. (…) At first sight, the Arab-Israeli conflict is nothing but a confrontation between two opposing nationalisms, both trapped in the vicious circle of their exaggerated and hypocritical ambitions.
“From the perspective of abstract internationalism, it is very easy to condemn both as reactionary and despicable, but that perspective ignores social and political realities. The nationalism of the people living in colonial or semi-colonial countries and fighting for freedom cannot be compared morally or politically to the nationalism of the conquerors and oppressors. The first has historical justification and a progressive aspect, the second does not. Arab nationalism belongs to the first category and Israeli nationalism does not.
What has happened since then, far from undermining it, reinforces these reflections, especially when one reads about the supposed “right to defend” the Zionist regime; a position defended by more than one of us as well.
In the decades that followed Deutscher’s words, the Arab states repeatedly stopped and recognized the existence of Israel: but even then, successive administrations in Tel Aviv did not change their position. With the honorable exception of Prime Minister Isaac Rabin, who after being a hero of Zionism paid with his life for his cause of peace in the mid-1990s.
Eventually, we also see the failure of Arab nationalism, but what followed, Islamic fundamentalism, only made things worse. An extremism that, on the other hand, benefits from the less tacit support of the Zionist intelligence services, because it allows them to blow up the foundations of Arab secularism.
What we cannot do, and this Deutscher is still right, is to fail to consider that everything started when a man jumped from the window of the upper floor of a burning building… Without forgetting that the Jews were pushed to Palestine to wash away the sins of the Europeans for centuries of anti-Semitism which ended up being paid for by other Semitic peoples like the Arabs. But until this vicious circle of barbarism is broken, there will be no just and lasting peace in the Middle East, or anywhere else.