Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Wednesday 22 June 2011

In the Shadow of '67: A Voice From Israel's Past

I've found two interesting items that appeared in the leftwing London weekly New Statesman on 31 July and 14 August 1970.  The earlier of the two was an open letter to the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban.  It was written by the prominent Labour MP Richard Crossman, a steady friend of Israel who features in an earlier post of mine:

In his well-meaning open letter, Crossman, who had just become editor of the New Statesman, a post he left in 1972, urged the Israelis to relinquish the territories as soon as possible:
"....Your military ascendancy is a wasting asset, just as the territories you have occupied become heavier liabilities the longer you hold them.  I know you did not want this military ascendancy.  I know that your occupation of the West Bank was not premeditated, that you recognise that the Suez Canal is not your natural frontier.  I also know that any peace initiative you now take involves a military risk.  But in a year's time the risk will be even greater.  The vision of Arab-Jewish accord which was so fervent in 1948 and which has grown today, will grow dimmer still.
....An Israel which aped the ethos of a Prussian state would be a contradiction in terms...."
Replied Abba Eban, with his customary courtesy yet with incisive firmness:
".... You are clearly anxious about the effects of victory on Israel's character and conduct: and you have a picture of an Israel dominated by formidable 'soldiers' who are hostile to cease-fire and recalcitrants to political initiatives.  Now it is better that the editor of the New Statesman should be agitated than that he should be complacent: but when you get worried about whether we 'ape the ethos of a Prussian state' your agitation carries you much too far.  One of the disadvantages of your status in the last six years is that you could not come to Israel very often.  the public 'media' on which you had to rely are more fascinated by violence than by peaceful action.  For these reasons you, like others, have not seen Israel in a full length mirror. All Israeli life is lived today in the memory of the peril we faced in 1967.  Every one of us had good reason to fear the very worst that can befall a man, his family, his home and his nation.  In our people's history many things are too strange to be believed: but nothing is too terrible to have happened.  We have vigorously survived the danger with consequent injury to our martyr's image.  And if you ask me as you seem to do, 'What have you gained by victory?' I answer simply: 'Everything that we would have lost without it.' [My emphasis]
....[T]his abnormailty [occupation] was not sought: it was created by war, and it can be cured by peace.  Peace would replace cease-fire lines by negotiated and agreed boundaries to which armed forces would be withdrawn: and in any solution which my present Cabinet colleagues would endorse, the majority of the two million Palestinian Arabs on both sides of the river would be the citizens of an Arab state (beginning on our newly negotiated eastern frontier), whose structure, name and regime they would be free to determine.
I do not know how long the attainment of peace will take: but you really need not worry lest we have become Prussian by the time it comes about.  When you come to see us, you will not find us paralysed or obsessed by war.  You will find that 40,000 Arabs from neighbouring lands vistied the West Bank this summer.  You will be astonished in Jerusalem by an unceasing contact of Jews, Arabs, and thousands of all faiths which puts the segregation and fanatical exclusiveness of the Jordanian occupation to shame.  [My emphasis.] You will find a vast flow of visitors from Israel from all over the world.  You will see hundreds of the future leaders of developing countries studying here.  Israel, of course, is a society which has its imperfections: but these are redeemed by the free and lucid criticism of them as well as by the constant quest for improvement.  In short: you will find that you are as far from Prussia as you can get in the modern world.
 The main achievement of Israel since 1967 is to have remained a fighting nation without becoming a warrior stae.  Nor do I think you will find us dominated by 'soldiers'. I put the word in quotation marks because it conjures up a special breed which does not belong to our experience.  We have nothing here but civilians, some of whom are temporarily under arms.  We may show you a pilot who shot down eight aircraft bringing in the fruit from a kibbutz orchard...."
This was a period when the Left had already entered upon that slippery slope into hypocritical tunnel-visioned Israel-bashing that has become such a pit of putridity today.  For Eban went on to observe (and his strictures regarding Nasser surely have a resonance today in view of the threat posed to peace nd stability in the wake of the downfall of Mubarak and the lurking presence in the wings of power of the Muslim Brotherhood):
"If you find that the diversity, turbulence, paradox and indiscipline of our democracy are from Prussia I may suggest that you write your next open letter to President Nasser.  An authoritative socialist voice calling Nasser to the peace table is overdue.  There has been too much indulgence of [George] Habash [founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and mastermind of the trick of hijacking airliners] and Arafat and their exclusivist fantasies about a purely Middle East without a sovereign Israel as part of its memory, reality and hope.  There has been too much docile acceptance by part of the Left of a rampant Israelophobia with its ugly Stuermer-like expression portraying Israel as lying outside the human context.  In your letter, if you feel like writing it, you could remind President Nasser that the idea of an israel-Egyptian treaty as the gateway to a new era of peace and development in the Middle East would evoke his better days.  For Israel respected the progressive ideals of the Egyptian revolution in its early phase.  All this has been corrupted by the senseless war against Israel...."


  1. Joe in Australia22 June 2011 at 22:06

    I think Crossman's first paragraph should have been "I know that your occupation of the West Bank was *not* premeditated".

  2. Many thank, Joe - have amended it!

    Still using a friend's computer - mine still in the local repair shop :~(

  3. Interesting! I am reading Crossman's diaries at the moment but have not reached this point. Thank you!

  4. I've never read those, Juniper - they're famous, of coure.

  5. "And if you ask me as you seem to do..."

    Eban at his best. Thank you for publishing this.

  6. The letter was twice that length, Eze, and certainly is a reminder of how great Eban was in many ways. Thanks for your comment.


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