Friday, July 15, 2016

Reading Exodus by Leon Uris: Part 6

Continuing from Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 let us continuing looking at the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris.

Imprisoned by the British

Dov and the Maccabee commander, Akiva, the brother of Barak Ben Canaan, are captured by the British and sent to Acre jail for waging an armed insurgency against British rule. (The Maccabees are a fictional representation of the Irgun which had declared war on the British in February 1944.)
The all-Arab city of Acre stood at the northern end of an arced bay with Haifa on the southern end. Acre jail was a monstrosity built on Crusader ruins. (p. 415.)
Akiva and Dov are sentenced to death by the British. Karen visits her beloved Dov in a heart wrenching meeting in prison.


Meanwhile, Ari's father and Akiva's brother, Barak Ben Canaan joined with the leadership of the Yishuv in arguing their case before the members of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.
Ben Gurion, Weizmann, Barak Ben Canaan, and the other Yishuv leaders argued with tremendous skill the morality and justice of the Jewish case.

On the Arab side, the Higher Arab Committee, steered by the Husseini family stirred up bitter demonstrations against the United Nations. They barred the committee from many of the Arab towns where the squalor and primitive factory conditions would turn the strongest stomach. When the inquiries opened the Arabs officially boycotted it.

On a basis of strict justice the United Nations would have to recommend a settlement in favor of the Jews, but there was the weight of Arab threats to consider. (p. 419.)
The nationalist dream of creating a Jewish state is presented as "the Jewish case" and as "a settlement in favor of the Jews" as though it was the cause of all Jews collectively. This is not so. Many Jews were not a part of this nationalist dream of creating a Jewish state. It was the cause of the Yishuv leadership and those who chose to support them, not of all Jews collectively.

Slurring Palestinians as living in "squalor" and having "primitive factory conditions" are ad hominem slurs that are made to incite loathing and condescension against Palestinians. Such things do not justify expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes into the surrounding nations which is what would forces aligned with the Yishuv would soon do.

To Escape the British

With his uncle Akiva and Dov imprisoned by the British the flawless Ari moves into action. He finds a Maccabee and compel him to meet a Maccabee leader. He is told the Maccabees are planning to launch an operation to free Akiva and Dov. Ari looks at the plans and effortlessly redraws the plans into a masterpiece. He is named after the author after all so of course he can do anything. Ari in Hebrew means lion, the same as the author's name. (p. 424.)

The escape is enacted. Some of the Maccabees are disguised as British personnel. While the prisoners escape a diversion is maintained along one checkpoint. Seventeen Maccabee insurgents are killed by the British while protecting Akiva and Dov's escape.

Ari makes a quick decision to evade a British checkpoint but Ari and Akiva are shot by the British while in the car. Akiva is fatally injured and dies. After reaching a safe destination in a Druze (Druse in the novel) village Ari gives instructions that Akiva is to be buried surreptitiously and no one must know he had died. The British would be kept fearful if they thought Akiva was still alive. Twenty of the Yishuv are killed in this escape.

Akiva is buried and at sundown Ari pays his respects to his slain uncle. But severe pain suddenly strikes Ari and he faints.

The "White and Clean" Druze Village

A Druze man informs Kitty that Ari is very ill and needs urgent medical attention but Ari's identity needs to be kept secret to prevent him getting arrested by the British. It is decided to organize a school field trip to the Druze village of Daliyat el Karmil on Mount Carmel to allow Kitty to surreptitiously attend to Ari. The orphans of Gan Dafna take a bus ride to the Druze village, Daliyat el Karmil.

When the protagonists arrive at the Druze village the author chooses to describe this village quite differently from the other Palestinian villages and homes described elsewhere in this novel.
Daliyat el Karmil seemed to sit on the roof of the world. It was sparkling white and clean in comparison to the filth and decay of most Arab villages. Most of the men wore mustaches and many wore Western clothing. ... the most dramatic difference was the carriage of dignity and outward pride and the look which suggested that they could be fierce fighters. The women were exceedingly handsome and the children were bright-eyed and sturdy. (pp. 435-6.)
It is intriguing how the author chooses to describe this particular Palestinian village differently. It seems as though the author chooses to slur Palestinians as smelly and backward based on their political alignment with the Yishuv. So it seems the author's political views taints his perception of them.

The author's slurs and denigration of Palestinians as smelly, backward and nasty reflects his bias against them. But when he describes a village that happens to be allied with the Yishuv he describes them favorably.  One cannot help but wonder if the Palestinians were really as smelly and backward as the author claimed.

So the author notes that they wear Western clothing. Is the author insinuating that the native clothes that the people had been wearing for so many years are not good enough for the author?

The author's praise of this Druze village merely reflects the political alignment here described. If they were opposed to the Yishuv one cannot help but strongly suspect they would also have been slurred by the author as smelly and backward. The author's praise of this village rings hollow. It feels awfully opportunistic and condescending. Did he expect his readers not to notice this?

Kitty is led to Ari and tends to his injury and nurses him.

Kitty complains about sexual promiscuity among the Yishuv. Ari assures her that because of the tense situation they choose to live life to the full.

Kitty tells Ari that she wants a man who can cry. Ari's aloofness begins to used as a point of tension in this novel.

After this meeting Kitty and the children and go back to Gan Dafna. Apprehensive at the increasing political tensions Kitty goes to Sutherland, a recently retired British officer sympathetic to the Yishuv to discuss the current situation, specifically the difficulty of defeating the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab nations.
[Kitty:] "I must know what is going to happen at Gan Dafna."
[Sutherland:] "The Arabs can raise an army of fifty thousand Palestinians and perhaps twenty thousand irregulars from over the border. There was a chap named Kawukji who led irregulars in the '36-'39 riots. He's already busy getting another gang of cutthroats together. It is easier to get arms to the Arabs than to the Jews ... they have friendly territory all around them." (p. 446.)
As it turned out the Yishuv would emerge victorious in the coming war.

Meanwhile in the negotiations in the United Nations in New York the Yishuv agree to accept partition.

Before she leaves to return to the United States Kitty looks at some of the case files in Gan Dafna. She decides she will stay at Gan Dafna.

The UN Partition Vote

On pages 448-9 a small section describes the negotiations regarding Palestine in the UN in New York.
At the end of August 1947 the UNSCOP announced its majority and minority plans from Geneva. Each of the plans called for partition into separate Arab and Jewish entities with Jerusalem to be an international territory. (p. 448.)
In other words the United Nations did not agree to award any part of Jerusalem to a proposed Jewish state. However during the Israeli War of Independence this aspect of the proposed partition was simply ignored and the forces of the Yishuv seized control of West Jerusalem without any permission to do so from the proposed partition proposal approved by the UN.
The Jews had begged that the Negev Desert be added to their state. The Arabs had millions of square miles of undeveloped wastelands. The Jews wanted this small piece of a few thousand square miles in the hope that they could redeem it. The United Nations committee agreed. (p. 448.)  
Diplomats representing the Yishuv are equated as "the Jews" when in fact not every Jew supported the idea of creating a Jewish state. Some opposed the idea on religious grounds. Some Jews had nothing to do with what the Yishuv's leadership was trying to do.

In actual fact the Negev was home to thousands of nomadic Palestinians including many Palestinian farmers. The land of their nativity. They were not asked whether they wanted to be in a Jewish state or not. It was only an "undeveloped wasteland" to those unused and unfamiliar with the nomadic lifestyle of these Palestinians such the people of the Yishuv who had predominantly arrived from the Western world or were children of those migrants. Potential development by an urban society would be sure to severely disrupt the lifestyle of these nomadic Palestinians.
The partitioned area, even with the Negev Desert, was an abortion of a state. It was, in fact, three strips of territory linked together by narrow corridors, resembling a chain of sausages. The Arabs had three strips of territory, larger in area, also linked by corridors. The Jews lost their eternal city, Jerusalem. They kept the Sharon and the parts of the Galilee they had pulled out of swamplands. The Negev was wasteland. What was the use of fighting it further? It was a monstrosity but they accepted. (p. 448.)
In other words the Yishuv leadership loathed the proposed partition. It is little wonder that once the Israeli War of Independence soon broke out the Yishuv leadership would disregard the proposed partition and seize as much territory as possible including West Jerusalem. After the war the Yishuv gained control of about two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine. And just twenty years after these negotiations at the UN the State of Israel would advance and seize control over all of the territory of Mandatory Palestine in the Six Day War of 1967. (And the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights as well.) The leaders of the Yishuv and the leaders of the State of Israel afterward clearly gave little regard to the partition. That attitude of disparaging the proposed partition is reflected in this novel nine years before the Six Day War.

It is asserted that some of the land owned by the Yishuv was "pulled out of swamplands." This is a trace of the legend of the empty land. In times past Palestine was advertised as "a land without a people for a people without land." This was never factually accurate but a trace of the idea is still present in this claim of pulling land out of swamps.

In fact much of the Yishuv's land was Palestinian farmland which was communally purchased by the Jewish National Fund from absentee landlords. In order to make sure that only Jews farmed the land many of the Palestinian tenant farmers were summarily dismissed by their new owners to implement Hebrew labor and be replaced by members of the Yishuv. These mass dismissals poisoned relations between Palestinians and the Yishuv. These mass dismissals convinced many Palestinians that the Yishuv was a threat to their livelihoods and therefore must be opposed.

On page 455 the narrative of Book 4 begins.

At the start of Book 4 the vote at the UN on whether to partition Palestine or not is made, which was held on November 29, 1947, is described in great detail.
The non-Arab world press generally favored partition. Moreover Jan Smuts of South Africa and the great liberal Jan Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, were out on the front of the battle lines. (p. 456.)  
Today any such link between the State of Israel and South Africa is somewhat embarrassing. Although Apartheid would not begin to be implemented until 1948 at the time of these UN negotiations in 1947 South Africa had numerous laws that racially discriminated against the black majority. Various forms of racial segregation had been in force there for hundreds of years by 1947 which would soon be built up into the infamous regime of Apartheid which continuously kept the black majority trodden underfoot. But after many struggles Apartheid was finally abolished within South Africa in 1994.

Czechoslovakia would later provide much needed and vital munitions to the forces of the Yishuv during the Israeli War of Independence.

The Yishuv's diplomats had assessed that Greece and Ethiopia were unlikely to support partition and they blamed their stance on Egypt.
Greece had an intense dislike for the Arabs but a hundred and fifty thousand Greek nationals lived in Egypt. Egypt made painfully clear the fate of this minority if the Greeks voted for partition.
Ethiopia had little love for Egypt but was tied to her geographically and economically. (p. 457.)
The Yishuv's diplomats wanted Jerusalem to be part of their longed for Jewish state but they were reluctant to call for this out of fear of losing support from Latin American states.
The Yishuv wanted Jerusalem as the capital of their state; they felt that without Jerusalem as the capital of their state would be a body without a heart. The South and Central American countries were predominantly Catholic. The Vatican wanted Jerusalem internationalized. If the Yishuv pressed for Jerusalem there was a risk of losing this vital bloc of votes. (p. 457.)
During the Israeli War of Independence the proposed partition was ignored and forces aligned with the Yishuv gained control over West Jerusalem. Twenty years after these negotiations the State of Israel seized control over East Jerusalem and annexed it but no nation state recognizes the State of Israel as having any right to rule over East Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip viewing them as territories acquired by military force and consequently belligerently occupied by the State of Israel under international law. Once the Six Day War ended it was proposed that the State of Israel should withdraw to their 1949-67 borders. The Israeli government chose to ignore this proposal.

In the meeting diplomats from Arab countries are portrayed as calling for war. Egypt's representative says Egypt is not bound by the vote.
"Egypt votes against and will not be bound by this outrage!" The gavel rapped and order came about slowly, following the Egyptian's angry outburst. (p. 462.)
The author gives the Iraqi representative a similar description.
"Iraq votes against and we will never recognize the Jews! There will be bloodshed over this day. We vote against!" (p. 463.)
The Saudi representative is also given a negative description.
The white-robed Arab [representing Saudi Arabia] screamed out against partition in a hate-filled voice. (p. 464.) 
Poland's vote in favor of partition is mentioned.
"Poland votes in favor of partition." The Jews were beginning to pull away. Poland had paid its small indemnity for the years of persecution. (p. 464.)
Or perhaps Poland was simply following Moscow's lead. At the time Poland was ruled by a Communist government closely aligned with the Soviet Union which would vote for partition.

It is asserted that (with the sole exception of Cuba) all those nations which voted against partition did so because they were Muslim majority nations or were coerced by Muslims to not support the partition. This explanation is also used regarding some of the nations that abstained.
China, jockeying to become the dominant power in Asia, feared to go against the Moslems of India and Pakistan. "China abstains." (p. 462.)

 "Greece votes against partition." In the last moment the Greeks had bowed to Egyptian blackmail. (pp. 462-3.)
In the final analysis, the Jewish victory was crushing. The Arabs had thirteen votes, and eleven of these were Arab or Moslem nations. The twelfth was a vote coerced from the Greeks. The thirteenth vote, Cuba, represented the only nation on the face of the earth that the Arabs were able to convince by force of argument. (p. 465.)
Calling this a "Jewish victory" insinuates that every Jew supported this particular proposal of partition. That is not the case. Some Jews opposed the creation of a Jewish state on various grounds. Some Jews had nothing to do with the Yishuv leadership's acceptance of partition. And some within the Yishuv loathed the partition proposal calling it an abortion of a plan and proceeded to disregard the proposal during the Israeli War of Independence.

The votes in the novel are described with the following tally.
  • For partition: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian SSR, South Africa, USSR, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.
  • Abstentions: Argentina, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, Great Britain, Yugoslavia.
  • Against partition: Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.
Notably both India and Pakistan voted against partition. Among the nations that voted they were the only two nations that had just recently gone through a partition.

Earlier in 1947 it was decided to partition India. India and Pakistan declared independence in August 1947. It was a disaster. The partition provoked a most severe period of violent conflict between Hindus and Muslims. The previous unity among the Indian people in calling for independence from British rule was torn apart and destroyed as these new borders were put into place. Hindus were expelled into India. Muslims were expelled into Pakistan. As India was divided into a Hindu majority state and a Muslim majority state the peoples split by this new border turned on each other.  Thousands were killed. A border dispute arose concerning Kashmir which poisons relations between India and Pakistan to this day.

Perhaps the horror of what had just happened during their partition is why both India and Pakistan voted against partitioning Palestine.

Didn't anyone at the United Nations worry that a similar thing might just happen if Palestine was to be partitioned like India and Pakistan? The terrible events that occurred during the partition of India and Pakistan is never mentioned or discussed in this novel.

However India, Pakistan and several of the nations neighboring Palestine were overruled. The partition was approved by the United Nations.

But the partition was never implemented as proposed on November 29, 1947. During the course of the Israeli War of Independence the forces of the Yishuv seized territory beyond the area allotted to them in the UN partition proposal that was under discussion on November 29, 1947. Furthermore the UN partition proposal envisaged Jerusalem as being in an international zone. The Yishuv's seizure of West Jerusalem contradicted the partition proposal that the UN had voted for.

The fact that the partition proposal was not adhered to by the leaders of the Yishuv suggests that they may have disregarded a negative result from the United Nations if the UN had voted against partition.

With the UN vote approving partition the war began.
...the cry "Perish Judea!" arose like thunder on Arab lips. (p. 465.)

War of Partition

Various Arab leaders are quoted calling for war against the Yishuv. (pp. 465-6.)

Riots against Jews erupt in Aleppo and Aden. (p. 466.)

It is asserted that violence was necessary to forge a partition which would include a Jewish state in Palestine. The United Nations are chided for not using force to impose the partition over the objections of the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab nation states.
The body [United Nations] seemed to want to believe that partition was going to be enforced without dependence on a single gun. The Jews were more realistic. A Jewish state had been given an unalterable basis of legality, but if the Jews intended to declare the statehood after the British left, they would have to face the Arab hordes alone. (p. 466.)
Former Nazi soldiers began appearing in the ranks of the "Forces of the Yarmuk" and other "liberation volunteers." (p. 468.)
While this may very well be true it should be stated that Palestinian opposition to the creation of a Jewish state was made evident immediately after the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

The massacre in Haifa is mentioned.
In Haifa the worst so far of the fighting took place. In retaliation for Maccabee raids the Arabs rioted at the refinery where both Jews and Arabs worked and more than fifty Jews were killed. (p. 468.)
This seem to be a reference to the Haifa Oil Refinery massacre of December 30, 1947. It is not mentioned that immediately before the massacre the Irgun had planted a bomb at the plant which killed six Palestinians. That detail is sanitized away. Of course that does not justify in any way the mob's massacre against innocent people who had nothing to do with the deadly bombing. Furthermore the death toll of Jews killed by the mob was actually thirty-five.

One community of the Yishuv makes a decision to stand and fight even though the military setting looks bad for them. Ari discusses the situation with them. Their leader, Ramez, in explaining why they were staying to fight, relates to Ari his severe fear of the Palestinian Arabs during the revolt of 1936-9.
For three years we ran and cowed in the old Turkish fort every time a loud noise came from the Arab section. (p. 472.)
Dov comes out of hiding with the Maccabees and returns to Dan Gafna to be reunited with his beloved Karen.

The Maccabees used barrel bombs against the Palestinians in Haifa. What is not mentioned is that some of the Palestinians learned from this and began using the same tactic. (p. 479.)

No Evacuation of Children

As Palestine becomes divided between the Palestinians and the Yishuv with the British trying to avoid getting entangled in the conflict events take a bad turn for the Yishuv within Gan Dafna. The nearby British fort, Fort Esther, had unexpectedly been handed over to Arab allies of the Palestinians.

Ari confronts and condemns the British commander formerly in charge of it, Hawks, for letting Arabs aligned against the Yishuv to gain possession of Fort Esther. Ari states that the children of Gan Dafna will not be evacuated despite the strong possibility of armed conflict against the Palestinians and their allies. Hawks is horrified at Ari's decision.
[Hawks:] "You're not going to leave those children on the mountain ... you've got to take them away!"
[Ari:] "You should have thought about that. Without Fort Esther we've got to hold Gan Dafna or lose the whole Huleh Valley."
[Hawks:] "Look, Ari ... I'll convey the children to safety."
[Ari:] "They have no place to go."
... [Hawks] had turned Gan Dafna into a suicide position. (p. 482.)
And so Ari decides to leave the children of Gan Dafna within it despite being "a suicide position" and disregarding an offer by the British officer to evacuate them from the potential conflict zone.

The Stereotyped Arab Speaks Back

Ari then goes to meet with Taha, the muktar of the neighboring village and asks him to convince his people to disassociate themselves from the irregular fighters who had arrived to fight the Yishuv. It does not go very well.
[Ari:] "You are the muktar of Abu Yesha. You can rally your people just as your father did. You've got to stop doing business with the irregulars."
[Taha:] "Or What?"
[Ari:] "Or you will be treated as an enemy."
[Taha:] "Or what? Ari?"
[Ari:] "You are going to bring on the destruction of Abu Yesha."
Neither Ari nor Taha quite believed Ari's words. (p. 484.)
About 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from the land that became the State of Israel during this war (1947-9). This was no idle threat.

As they continue their talk Taha reveals his resentment at being looked down upon by Ari.
"Please," Ari said. "Help me."
"I am an Arab," Taha said.
[Ari:] "You are a human being. You know right from wrong."
[Taha:] "I am a dirty Arab!"
[Ari:] "It is you who thinks that of himself."
[Taha:] "Are you going to tell me I am your brother?"
"You always have been," Ari said. (p. 484.)
Ari's insistence that Taha is to blame for feeling inferior to Ari is hard to take seriously. It is worth recalling what Ari said to Taha in an earlier dialogue.
"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.) 
With an attitude like that it should not have been unexpected that Taha should have grown weary of Ari's condescension. No wonder Taha would imagine that Ari viewed Palestinians as "dirty Arabs." What must it do to a person to be told that one's people are backward, foolish and full of hate? Who wouldn't be angry being told by another that one's own people are like that?

In the earlier dialogue Ari complained that he had to explain things again indicating that he felt compelled to say such things numerous times. Perhaps that was part of the problem. Taha had heard it all before. He knew what to expect to hear but he had now taught himself to disregard such condescending words.

Furthermore the author numerously refers to Palestinians as being smelly and dirty and yet the author has Ari insist that it is Taha who thinks that Ari looks down on him as a "dirty Arab". It is hard to accept this thought at face value.

In real life it would only be a matter of time before an individual in such a situation as this to wake up and realize that he or she was fully capable of doing all these things that Ari boasted of. It is hard to take Ari's defense seriously.

It is intriguing that the author goes along this line of thought. It seems as though he almost states that the Yishuv just might have contributed to some of the problems. But that possibility immediately goes out the window afterward when Taha dramatically states that he wants Jordana's hand in marriage. Once he says that it is easy to marginalize his fears of what a Jewish state would mean for the Palestinians living there and just assume that this argument is over an unmet romantic desire. The Palestinians' opposition to the creation of a Jewish state on land they had lived on had nothing to do with such a personal squabble.

In territory controlled by the Yishuv that linked to Jerusalem the Hillmen Brigade fighting to capture Kastel lifted their spirits by remembering the Biblical personages of their ancient forefathers.
"In this wadi King David also lived as a guerrilla fighter!" ...
"Remember, you are fighting at the place where Samson was born!"
"In this valley David met Goliath!"
"Here Joshua made the sun stand still!"
At night the Bible was read to the exhausted warriors as a source of inspiration for the superhuman efforts the next day would call forth. (p. 489.)
Meanwhile war prepared to erupt at Gan Dafna.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered this post while looking for something else ... and I am surprised to find the revisionist history ...

    "After the war the Yishuv gained control of about two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine. And just twenty years after these negotiations at the UN the State of Israel would advance and seize control over all of the territory of Mandatory Palestine in the Six Day War of 1967. " - that is "Mandatory Palestine" as discussed here ?

    The British Palestine Mandate was given by the League of Nations, so that there could be a Jewish State and an Arab State carved out of it ... the Balfour Declaration was the blueprint for the implementation of this two-state solution - until the newly-formed Labour Government reneged upon the Balfour Declaration ... the Arab State was formed from the part of the British Mandate east of the Jordan, was called Transjordan, and is now known as the Kingdom of Jordan ... the remainder is what was fought over when the surrounding Arab countries decided to try to wipe out the nascent Israel ...

    Any attempt to pretend that what was fought over was "Mandatory Palestine" is thinly-disguised anti-semitic revisionist history ...