Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yehoshua vs Levy

The past few days have seen an exchange of open letters between Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.

I would characterize Yehoshua as a "liberal" (ala the Phil Ochs song) who imagines himself at the enlightened edge of the Israeli consensus. He initially supported both the Lebanon 2 war and the current war in Gaza. Then, in both cases, came out with a call for the government to end the operations as soon as possible. In the case of Lebanon it took him two weeks. In the case of Gaza three days.

I would characterize Levy as a "radical" who understands himself to be outside the consensus, and is perhaps even proud of that. His columns continuously and mercilessly expose the short sightedness and crimes of Israel's occupation.

Levy had been writing some scathing criticism of Israel's actions in the current Gaza war. Yehoshua, despite his one call to end the war over two weeks ago, suddenly took offense to Levy's "tone" and published an open letter to Levy in Haaretz. Today, Levy responded, also in Haaretz.

I reproduce both letters below. They are instructive into the different perspectives of Israeli "liberals" who think Israel's errors are merely tactical, and that in any case there is no one who talk to so what does it really matter, and Israeli "radicals" who think Israel's errors are moral and/or statgic and its "sins" matter very much.

(I myself stand in between: but closer to Levy than Yehoshua.)

An open letter to Gideon Levy
By A.B. Yehoshua

Dear Gideon,

You remember that in recent years I called you occasionally to praise you for your articles and your writing about the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the administered territories, whether by the army or by the settlers. Physical wrongs, land expropriations, acts of abuse, perversions of justice and so on. I told you that it is very difficult to read what you write, because it weighs on our conscience, but that the work you are doing and the voice you are sounding are extremely important. I was also concerned about your physical safety, knowing that you risked your life by visiting such hostile places.

I did not ask you why you did not visit Israeli hospitals in order to tell the painful stories of Israeli citizens who were hurt in terrorist attacks. I accepted your position that there are plenty of other journalists doing this and that you had taken on the crucial mission of telling the story of the afflictions of the other side, our enemies today and our neighbors tomorrow. Accordingly, it is from this position of respect that I find it necessary to respond to your recent articles on the war in which we are engaged today, so that you will be able to preserve the moral validity of your distinctive voice for the future. A few years ago, when the Hatuel family - a mother and her four children, of blessed memory - were killed on the way to one of the settlements in Gush Katif, I believed that this terrible death pained you as it did all of us but that like many of us you said in your heart: Why should these Israelis endanger their children by living provocatively, hopelessly, dangerously and immorally in Gush Katif? By what right do 8,000 Jews expropriate a sizable area in the densely overcrowded Gaza Strip in order to build blossoming villages before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in such abysmal conditions? You were angry, as I was, at the parents and at those who sent them. And even though I believe that like all of us you felt the pain of the children who were killed, you did not brand the leaders of Hamas "war criminals" as you did the Israeli leaders, and you did not demand the establishment of an international tribunal to try them.

When I asked you after the disengagement from Gaza, Gideon, explain to me why they are firing missiles at us, you replied that they want us to open the crossings. I asked you whether you truly believe that if they fire missiles the crossings will be opened, or the opposite. And whether you truly believe that it is right and just to open crossings into Israel for those who declare openly and sincerely that they want to destroy our country. I did not get an answer from you. And even though the crossings were in fact opened many times, and were closed in the wake of the missile attacks, regrettably I still did not see you standing firmly behind a moral position which says: Now, people of Gaza, after you expelled the Israeli occupation from your land, and justly so, you must hold your fire.

The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war - not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.

There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.

In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.

Please, preserve the moral authority and concern that you possessed, and your distinctive voice. We will need them again in the future, which promises further ordeals on the road to peace. In the meantime, it would be best for us all - we and the Palestinians and the rest of the world - to follow the simple moral imperative of Kantian philosophy: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

In friendship always,
Here is Gideon Levy's response.
Gideon Levy / An open response to A.B. Yehoshua

Dear Bulli,

Thank you for your frank letter and kind words. You wrote it was written from a "position of respect," and I, too, deeply respect your wonderful literary works. But, unfortunately, I have a lot less respect for your current political position. It is as if the mighty, including you, have succumbed to a great and terrible conflagration that has consumed any remnant of a moral backbone.

You, too, esteemed author, have fallen prey to the wretched wave that has inundated, stupefied, blinded and brainwashed us. You're actually justifying the most brutal war Israel has ever fought and in so doing are complacent in the fraud that the "occupation of Gaza is over" and justifying mass killings by evoking the alibi that Hamas "deliberately mingles between its fighters and the civilian population." You are judging a helpless people denied a government and army - which includes a fundamentalist movement using improper means to fight for a just cause, namely the end of the occupation - in the same way you judge a regional power, which considers itself humanitarian and democratic but which has shown itself to be a brutal and cruel conqueror. As an Israeli, I cannot admonish their leaders while our hands are covered in blood, nor do I want to judge Israel and the Palestinians the same way you have.

The residents of Gaza have never had ownership of "their own piece of land," as you have claimed. We left Gaza because of our own interests and needs, and then we imprisoned them. We cut the territory off from the rest of the world and the occupied West Bank, and did not permit them to construct an air or sea port. We control their population registrar and their currency - and having their own military is out of the question - and then you argue that the occupation is over? We have crushed their livelihood, besieged them for two years, and you claim they "have expelled the Israeli occupation"? The occupation of Gaza has simply taken on a new form: a fence instead of settlements. The jailers stand guard on the outside instead of the inside.

And no, I do not know "very well," as you wrote, that we don't mean to kill children. When one employs tanks, artillery and planes in such a densely populated place one cannot avoid killing children. I understand that Israeli propaganda has cleared your conscience, but it has not cleared mine or that of most of the world. Outcomes, not intentions, are what count - and those have been horrendous. "If you were truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs," you wrote, "you would understand the present war." Even in the worst of your literary passages, and there have been few of those, you could not conjure up a more crooked moral argument: that the criminal killing of children is done out of concern for their fates. "There he goes again, writing about children," you must have told yourself this weekend when I again wrote about the killing of children. Yes, it must be written. It must be shouted out. It is done for both our sakes.

This war is in your opinion "the only way to induce Hamas to understand." Even if we ignore the condescending tone of your remark, I would have expected more of a writer. I would have expected a renowned writer to be familiar with the history of national uprisings: They cannot be put down forcibly. Despite all the destructive force we used in this war, I still can't see how the Palestinians have been influenced; Qassams are still being launched into Israel. They and the world have clearly taken away something else from the last few weeks - that Israel is a dangerous and violent country that lacks scruples. Do you wish to live in a country with such a reputation? A country that proudly announces it has gone "crazy," as some Israeli ministers have said in regard to the army's operation in Gaza? I don't.

You wrote you have always been worried for me because I travel to "such hostile places." These places are less hostile than you think if one goes there armed with nothing but the will to listen. I did not go there to "tell the story of the afflictions of the other side," but to report on our own doings. This has always been the very Israeli basis for my work.

Finally, you ask me to preserve my "moral validity." It isn't my image I wish to protect but that of the country, which is equally dear to us both.

In friendship, despite everything,


Anonymous Shmuel said...

Another voice of reason and humanity:,7340,L-3657007,00.html

12:17 pm  

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