Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reading Exodus by Leon Uris: Part 5

Continuing from Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 let us continuing looking at the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. Near the end of Book 2 (p. 304) we return to the main story line in 1947 in Cyprus. Under the leadership of Leon/Ari Ben Canaan the Lion the Aliyah Bet has broken through the British blockade against Jewish immigrants going to Palestine. They are now preparing to depart from Cyprus to go to Palestine openly without fear of arrest by the British authorities.

(Note: There will be spoilers.)

The children on the Exodus celebrate Chanukah. Judah Maccabee is remembered. After some hesitation Kitty Fremont joins the voyage. After that they sail on the Exodus and proceed to embark at Haifa. Ari takes Kitty to a night out at a cafe just in time to see the Maccabees blow up the Haifa oil refinery as part of their insurgency against the British. (The Maccabees are a fictional representation of the Irgun.)

Denigrating Palestinian's Houses, Farms and Hygiene

The next day Ari drives Kitty to Tel Aviv. On the way he showed her the countryside. While going there the author's prejudice against Palestinians slips through onto the page.
Ari shows Kitty how the Arabs had built their town on ruins, some Roman, some Crusader. The Arabs were experts on building on other people's civilizations and had, in fact, constructed only one wholly new city in all of Palestine in a thousand years. (p. 315.)
This is not some innocent, factual statement about Palestinians. This is a put down. A slur. This mocks Palestinians as unimaginative, backward and stupid.
Beyond Hadera the land around the Plain of Sharon was even more lush and fertile. They drove between enormous archways of Australia eucalyptus trees. "Everything you see was waste just twenty-five years ago," Ari said. (p. 315.)
This belittles the Palestinians who used to live there and have claims toward that land before it was purchased by the Yishuv, usually through the Jewish National Fund. Palestine has always been continuously inhabited since ancient times. It was never an empty land.

Furthermore the eucalyptus is not native to Palestine.

Ari and Kitty take a tour of Tel Aviv. They gradually wander into the southern, Arab part of the city, Jaffa.
Here was the older town where Tel Aviv had begun as an outgrowth of Jaffa. The closer they came to the Arab city the more run-down the buildings and shops became. ... The surroundings grew dirtier and more odorous and the shops grew smaller and shabbier with each step. (p. 316.)
In this novel Arabs are stereotypically portrayed as dirty and smelly. This is not an innocent, factual statement. It is a put down. The Palestinians are being mocked here.

Many Sabras Despise Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Ari and Kitty travel to Jerusalem. Kitty is interviewed by Harriet Saltzman on acquiring a job and she is accepted. The next day it is the start of the Sabbath and David Ben Ami takes Kitty to visit the New City of Jerusalem to visit and look at the Ultra-Orthodox Jews marking the start of the Sabbath on Friday evening.
"We have all kinds of Jews," David Ben Ami said. "I wanted to bring you here because I know that Ari wouldn't. He and many of the sabras despise them. They do not farm the land, they do not bear arms. They shove an ancient brand of Judaism down our throats. They are a force of reaction against what we are trying to do. Yet, when one lives in Jerusalem as I have, we learn to tolerate them and even appreciate the horrible things in the past that could drive them to such fanaticism." (p. 331.)
The nationalist dream of creating a Jewish state only arose in the 1880s in response to deadly anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian Empire. When it arose the religious leaders of Judaism fervently opposed it. Adherents of Judaism untouched by nationalism still live within the State of Israel to this day. One book that discusses the rationale that drove their opposition is What is Modern Israel? by Yakov M. Rabkin.

Denigrating Palestinians: Part 2

Ari and Kitty then drive up past Nazareth.
... the Jews had turned [Jezreel valley] from swamp into the finest farmland in the Middle East. ... On one side of the hill the lush lands of the Jezreel and on the other, the sun-baked, dried-out, barren fields of the Arabs. (p. 334.)
Once again the Palestinians are slurred as backward and stupid. This ridicules Palestinians farmers and their methods for farming the land. But those of the Yishuv came from other lands, predominantly Europe and other Western countries. They were used to seeing farms that looked different from Palestine. So they made their farms look like the farms they were familiar with.

They visit Nazareth and drive out.
Kitty was baffled as they drove from Nazareth: it was a dreadful place. "At least the Arabs are friendly," Ari said. "They are Christians."
[Kitty:] "They are Christians who need a bath." (p. 334.)
We also see here the beginning of a theme in this novel. It is asserted here and in other passages of this novel that the Palestinian Christians were sympathetic to the Yishuv. However many of the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled from the State of Israel during the Israeli War of Independence (1947-9) were Christians as well.

Furthermore a recent report from Haaretz noted that during the Israeli War of Independence it happened that Christian churches were desecrated by Israeli soldiers. 
An expose in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz revealed that during Israel’s War of Independence and the Palestinian Nakba of 1947-'49, Israeli soldiers desecrated Christian churches throughout the country. Israel’s first Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett recorded that IDF “soldiers turned places of worship… into toilets and covered the floor with their feces.” Sharett noted that this was no one-time event, but that it “went on for months.” (David Sheen, Alternet, January 31, 2016.)
War is a terrible thing. We should not be surprised that bad things like that happen in war. Within the chaotic situation it is easy for things like this to occur in any war.

Ari takes Kitty to his parents' home. At one point Ari and Kitty look at the land of Barak Ben Canaan's farm. Ari says the following:
Well ... you didn't have to build Indiana out of a swamp, (p. 337.)
The land was not empty. Palestine has always been continuously inhabited since ancient times. Much of the land owned by the Yishuv was farmland purchased by the Yishuv, usually through the Jewish National Fund. Often land was purchased from absentee landlords and the tenant Palestinian farmers were ordered to leave their farms in order to be replaced by members of the Yishuv. This was done to implement Hebrew Labor.

Ari and Kitty encounter a sow that is not supposed to be raised on Jewish national land. (p. 337.)

Ari shows Kitty the Jordan River. At this point this novel's age really shows.
Your colored people in America sing very pretty spirituals about this stream. (p. 338.)
Today after the civil rights movements we agreed that calling African Americans by that word was not appropriate so we have now moved on from such terminology.

The Orphans of Gan Dafna

Meanwhile the orphans of the Exodus are transported to their assigned residencies. The protagonists of this novel head to one location, Gan Dafna, near the border with Lebanon, the kibbutz established during the revolt of 1936-9 under Ari's leadership and named after his slain first love. The orphans love Palestine. (p. 328.)

Jordana Ben Canaan welcomes the orphans of the Exodus to Gan Dafna.
[Jordana:] You are in Palestine now and never again do you have to lower your head or know fear for being a Jew. (p. 336.)
After this Kitty goes to her new job in Gan Dafna, a camp for orphaned refugees. Karen and Dov are there as well. It is mentioned that the windows of Gan Dafna face the fields so the children see the land first thing in the day.
[Lieberman:] You will notice how all windows face the fields of the valley so their land will be the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see at night. (p. 343.)
Kitty saw some of the trenches around Gan Dafna as well as a bomb shelter. It is located near a British fortress. Lieberman notes that "there is too much worship of fighters among our children. I am afraid that condition will last until we will our independence..." (p. 343.)

"I Existed Because of Your Benevolence"

Ari then meets with Taha, muktar of Abu Yesha. Taha is becoming less allied with the Yishuv and his alignment with the Yishuv seems to be wavering.
[Taha:] "Yes, I existed because of your benevolence. Now you ask my village to exist the same way. You arm yourselves. Are we not allowed to arm ourselves? Or don't you trust us with guns as we have trusted you?"
[Ari:] "This isn't even you talking." (p. 344.)
After the Israeli War of Independence the Palestinians who remained there were placed under military rule until 1966. The Palestinian citizens of Israel were still under military rule when this novel was published.
"Taha! What has gotten into you? All right, then. Maybe you'd better hear it again. These stone houses in your village were designed and built by us. Your children can read and write because of us. You have sewers because of us and your young don't die before the age of six because of us. We taught you how to farm properly and live decently. We have brought you things that your own people would not give you in a thousand years. Your father knew this and he was big enough to admit that no one hates or exploits an Arab worse than another Arab. He died because he knew your salvation was with the Jews and he was man enough to stand for it." (pp. 344-345.)
In other words Ari thinks Palestinians are stupid and like little children they "need" the more sophisticated, "grown up" members of the Yishuv to rule over them. The condescension against Palestinians is quite blunt here.

"[Y]our young don't die before the age of six because of us." Wrong. Palestinians parents love their children and want the best for them like any other parents. So when they were introduced to medical and scientific advances they embraced them to look after their children. But in this factional dialogue Ari ignores the agency of Palestinian parents. Even the love of Palestinian parents for their children is ignored and denigrated.

"We taught you how to farm properly". The Yishuv was composed of people who predominantly came from the Western world. They had developed distinctive ways of farming. Meanwhile the Palestinians had also developed their own farming methods in a climate and ecological system that differed from that is the Western world. The Palestinians farmers' own initiative in how they farm is ignored. No respect is given for what they do know.

Taha then promises to never raise his hand against Yad El, the neighboring Yishuv town. But things could not be as they were. The author has Taha view himself as utterly helpless and in need of outsiders, namely the Yishuv, to get anything done.
He knew the Jews had built the great cities and the roads and the schools and they had redeemed the land and they were the enlightened ones. (p. 345.)
In other words Palestinians are like little children who "need" to be ruled by the predominantly European grown ups in the Yishuv. The Palestinians' own agency and their own talents and skills are devalued as useless, backward and deserving of scorn.

In real life after the Israeli War of Independence the Palestinians who remained in the State of Israel (sometimes by accident) were placed until military rule until 1966. This military rule was still in place over Palestinian citizens of Israel when this novel was published.

Denigrating Palestinians: Part 3

Every now and then Kitty visits the neighboring Palestinian village of Abu Yesha. She's not very impressed with the Palestinian children.
How pathetic the dirty little Arab children were beside the robust youngsters of Gan Dafna. How futile their lives seemed in contrast to the spirit of the Youth Aliyah village. There seemed to be no laughter or songs or games or purpose among the Arab children. It was a static existence.... (p. 348.)
Palestinian children are portrayed as devoid of fun and enjoyment. This is ridiculous. This claim cannot not possibly be true. Only prejudice, ignorance and contempt can produce such a scornful and patronizing opinion against little Palestinian children. The author's prejudice against Palestinians leaks out badly in this passage.

Later Ari and Kitty go for a hike on Mount Tabor. While hiking up Mount Tabor Ari spots a bunch of nomadic Palestinians on the mount. Kitty sees them and she is not impressed with them.
Kitty looked around. They seemed the dregs of humanity. The women were encased in black robes--and layers of dirt. ... The children wore dirty rags. (p. 353.)
Ari and Kitty are invited to the sheikh's tent. Ari gives Kitty some advice.
We must go in or he will be insulted. Be a good girl and eat whatever he offers you. You can throw it up later. (p. 353.)
Even the Palestinians' food is viewed with contempt and as something to be rejected. How can the Yishuv live in peace with the Palestinians when some of them view even the Palestinians' food and hospitality is with scorn?


Ari and Kitty reached the top of Mount Tabor and looked at the view. As the evening began the rest of the Palmach soldiers reached the summit and had a night out camping there.
They told of the wonder of the water sprinklers that redeemed the land and they told of the beauty of the Galilee and Judea. (p. 355.)
The author describes David Ben Ami and Jordana Ben Canaan's love for each other.

Palestinians Building on Ruins

Sutherland, a recently retired British officer sympathetic to the Yishuv, wanders around Safed. Once again the author lets his contempt for Palestinians slip onto the printed page. They (and Arabs in general) are denigrated as vandalizing medieval ruins and (absurdly) for lacking the imagination to produce their own buildings.
Consistent with the Arab renown for building atop ruins there were, in the Arab quarters of Safed, remains of medieval buildings converted into contemporary housing. The most beautiful example of the architecture was the Mosque of the Daughters of Jacob on the ruins of a Hungarian Crusader convent. (p. 363.)
It seems the author thinks Palestinians do not have enough imagination to build a building of their own. That is an inaccurate opinion. Considering that Palestine had been continuously inhabited for thousands of years no wonder the Palestinians expressed their architectural creativity in this way. The land was already inhabited. They respected the past and built on the previous buildings instead of demolishing them.

British Officer's Sympathy with Fascism

Meanwhile the British authorities discuss what to do with Palestine. It is proposed to escalate repression against the Maccabees' (Irgun's) insurgency.

The British officer Caldwell is ordered to transport a Maccabee prisoner, Ben Solomon. But despite the horrors of the Holocaust it so happens that Caldwell hates Jews. In the following paragraph the author is writing from Caldwell's perspective.
And they think Hitler was wrong, Caldwell thought. Hitler knew what the score was. It was bloody well too bad that the war ended before he could do them all in. Caldwell remembered Bergen-Belsen with Sutherland. Sutherland was sick at what he saw. Well, Caldwell wasn't sick. The more Jews dead, the better. (p. 367.)
In real life some British personnel stationed in Palestine bore fascist sympathies.
There was also some fascist influence within the [British] police force, the authorities having to issue orders forbidding the practice of men giving each other the Nazi salute in public. On another occasion, Jews complained when a riot squad in Tel Aviv appeared with swastikas painted on their short riot shields. (Mathew Hughes, A Very British Affair?, p. 24.)
So Caldwell maliciously dumped Ben Solomon in an Arab village knowing he would be murdered and this promptly happens as he expected. Once again Arabs are portrayed in a hostile manner. 

Meanwhile the British authorities continue deliberating what to do about Palestine. Haven-Hurst presents his ideas about how to crush the Maccabees' insurgency against the British. Cecil Bradshaw blanches at his far reaching ideas for a severe military crack down on the Yishuv and decides to hand this question of Palestine to the United Nations. (pp. 367-9.)

Shavuot (Pentecost) is celebrated at Gan Dafna. A play of Ruth is performed by the orphans at Dan Gafna. It is remarked how Ruth, a Gentile, was the grandmother of King David. (p. 374.)

A Jewish City

Kitty takes Karen out for a trip to Tel Aviv. They see the following sight.
A row of shops were indentations in a Crusader wall. (p. 375.)
The presence of those who were not Palestinian is emphasized once again. 

Kitty and Karen go to a store owned by a Palestinian. It is mentioned that he only speaks Arabic. (p. 376.)

Karen expresses her joy at seeing a Jewish city in Tel Aviv.
"It is so thrilling," Karen said. "I'm glad I was able to come. It is hard for me to realize that everyone here, bus drivers and waiters and salespeople, are all Jews. They built this whole city ... a Jewish city. You don't understand what that means, do you ... a city in which everything belongs to the Jews."
Karen's words annoyed Kitty. (p. 377.)
Now we have to be careful here. It is quite possible that these words do not reflect the author's personal views. This is a novel. So it is here necessary to discuss the idea without presuming to wonder if this reflected the author's view or not.

Due to the complexity of modern day life it is not possible for any city to belong exclusively to any single ethnic or religious group. We should not even want such a thing since it is not possible. It is a dream that can never come true for any ethnic or religious group. Indeed this statement is made just after visiting a store owned by a Palestinian. Considering that the Palestinians were already there living on the land what place would they have in such a city? Surely individual Palestinians would apply to be "bus drivers and waiters and salespeople" in such a city. We need to live together with each other. We are stronger together.

At this point a really dramatic part of the novel occurs but I do not wish to spoil it here. Reading this one can begin to see how this novel got to be so famous.

A Maccabee's Vow

Dov runs away from Gan Dafna to join the Maccabees (Irgun).

Ari and Kitty go on a date and tour around the Galilee region. They saw the Byzantine mosaic in a church marking the spot Jesus fed the five thousand. Once again the presence of those who are not Palestinian living in the Holy Land is emphasized once again. (p. 390.)

Kitty gradually falls in love with the land. (p. 392.)

Dov meets up with the Maccabees (Irgun) and makes the following vow to join the clandestine organization.
I, Dov Landau, do give my body, my soul, my being, without reservation or qualification, to the Freedom Fighters of the Maccabees. I will obey any and all orders without question. I will subordinate myself to the authority over me. Under torture, even to death, I will never divulge the name of a fellow Maccabee or the secrets entrusted to me. I will fight the enemies of the Jewish people unto the last breath of life in my body. I will never cease in this sacred battle until realization of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River, which is the natural historical right of my people. My creed to mine enemies shall be: Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, burning for burning. All this I swear in the name of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael and Leah and the prophets and of all the Jews who have been slaughtered and all my gallant brothers and sisters who have died in the name of freedom. (p. 399.)
The Irgun asserted that a Jewish homeland was to include what is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as well. This was reflected in their logo.

According to Rabkin traditionally Jewish religious leaders traditionally taught that an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth really referred to financial compensation.

The War Continues

After this Caldwell tortures a prisoner, Ayala. But Caldwell is then abducted by the Maccabees and killed off. Ayala died of her injuries from torture and the Maccabees launched a two week campaign of violence named Hell's Fortnight. In response the British drove a car bomb at Yishuv Central as an attempt to kill off the leadership of the Yishuv. This does not happen but 100 people are killed by the explosion including Harriet Saltzman. In response the Haganah and the Maccabees unite together against the British and assassinate Haven-Hurst.

Barak Ben Canaan goes to the United Nations in New York to debate what to so about Palestine. The odds do not look good for the Yishuv.

"But They Are Exiles"

Kitty tells Karen of her plan to move to the United States. Now before we look at this dialogue we should be weary of assuming that these are the author's views. That is not necessarily the case. The author lived in the United States. Hence the ideas mentioned here are discussed without assuming that the author believes it or not.  
[Karen:] "...I can't leave Palestine."
[Kitty:] "Whatever you have, you will still have it. Jews in America and I suppose Jews everywhere have this same sense of belonging that you have. Going away won't change that."
[Karen:] "But they are exiles."
[Kitty:] "No, baby ... don't you understand that Jews in America love their country too."
[Karen:] "The Jews of Germany loved their country too."
[Kitty:] "Stop it! Kitty cried suddenly. We are not that kind of people and I will not listen to those lies they fill you with! ... There are Jews in America who love their country so much they would prefer death to ever living to see what happened to Germany come to America." (p. 409.)
And so Karen denigrates Jews outside of Palestine as being exiles while Jews in Palestine are presented as being where they belong. It is true that in traditional Judaism it was taught that Jews are exiles. When we say one is exiled it conjures the image of a person forced to live somewhere far from home who yearns to go back. But that does not necessarily mean what one may think it mean.

Rabkin argues that exile in traditional Jewish thinking did not merely mean to be exiled from the Holy Land. Rather calling themselves exiles symbolized that the Jews lived in a world separated from God. They did not pray for simply moving to Palestine but rather this restoration would occur when the Messiah came and all the world would be united with God. When they prayed about Jerusalem they were not expressing a wish to merely move to another house. They were expressing the hope of a Messianic age that would come to the whole world.

Meanwhile continuing with the story Kitty tries to persuade Karen to move to America because it is a peaceful land and Kitty worries that Karen will forever be at war while living in Palestine. Kitty also gives Karen a letter from Dov in which he says he no longer loves her so Karen agrees to move with Kitty.

To be continued...

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