Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine. In a week that saw escalated violence between Israelis and Palestinians, our editorial intern, River Heisler, found this essay and thought it appropriate to share.
I have not spoken in a synagogue for a long time. I was welcome in synagogues when I spoke about Jewish refugees, but the plight of Arab refugees is not a popular subject in synagogues.
From the beginning of Zionism we have hated to admit that the Arabs were there. We knew they were there, but we pretended that they weren’t. Or we talked about helping them. We didn’t talk about dislodging them- very few of us thought the day would come when we would dislodge a kindred people. Nothing seems to me more dreadful than that, in the effort to resettle our own people, we have been drawn into the terrible moral fate of treating another people with injustice.
We cannot ignore the problems of the Arab refugees, and of Palestinian national aspirations, nor blind ourselves to their realities. We cannot say that the Jews have a right to yearn for Palestine after 1,900 years and deny the Arabs the right to yearn for their homes after nineteen years. These were their homes; they are not all Bedouins. But anyone who wants to regard them as Bedouins must remember that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were Bedouins. Any Jew with historical imagination who sees the tents of the Bedouins can’t help but see the tents of our forefathers.
In any case, we are not dealing with Bedouins. The Arab world is in many stages of development. We are dealing with a contemporary people- many radical young people, many good older people.
Imagine that you are an Arab. Imagine that you were a dentist or a doctor in Jerusalem or Haifa, or that you had a villa along the little Arab Riviera in Jaffa- there were some lovely Arab villas there. Or imagine that you were a farmer, or that you had a business, or that you went to school. Then, suddenly, everything was swept away. You lost your home, your business, your school, your country. You would feel bitter- there is nothing mysterious about that- and you would feel desperate.
Terrorism is a reflection of that desperation. I do not favor terrorism, and I do not excuse it, but let’s be honest: If the situation were reversed, Jewish boys would be doing what Arab boys are doing. Jewish terrorists did it in 1946 and 1948. They killed women and children in Jerusalem, they blew up the King David Hotel, they destroyed Arab villages.
The way to end the terror, the way to heal the breach, is first of all to recognize (as Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, recognized from the beginning of Zionism) that this is a struggle of right against right, that there is an Arab side and a Jewish side, that we must find a way to live together. We must begin to see the problem through their eyes, and thus have the right to ask them to see it through ours.
I want to see Israel live.
If we do not pursue the path of reconciliation, the Jewish people will be transformed in the span of a generation; we cannot harden our hearts against our Arab brothers and remain the kind of people we have been proud of being for 2,000 years. We will begin to turn our backs on everything we have been proud of, everything that the Bible and the Prophets stand for. It would not be the first time. Now every time God has given the Holy Land back to us, we have gone after strange gods. Now we are in danger of bowing down to the idols of militarism and force and realpolitik.
Isaiah says, “Israel shall be redeemed by justice,” and for me, this time around, that means justice for the Arabs as well as for the Jews.
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