Monday, May 14, 2018

First glimpses of Israel/Palestine, including Jerusalem, August 1967

This is a draft chapter from an unpublished manuscript. It recounts my visit to Israel (and Palestine, I would now say) in August 1967, using the proceeds of my first professional job, translating historian Jacob Katz's text book, Israel among the Nations, from Hebrew to English. This was before the Birthright program, and I was not part of any program. Hard as I now find it to believe, at the age of 17, having never traveled anywhere, I went on my own, and perhaps a sign of now thoroughly I had intimidated them, my parents let me do so.I would now say I did not understand a lot of what I saw, but I wrote it down in a tiny notebook. Here it is as it looked at the time, with comments from what was then a distant future.

Chapter Four. In the Land of Israel

I left Josh White and Arlo Guthrie behind on Monday, August 7, 1967, when my El Al flight took off from John F. Kennedy airport, renamed for the president assassinated three months after the March on Washington. We stopped en route in Orly, then Paris’s only international airport, where I bought myself an espresso. Back on board, my fellow passengers included a group of Hasidim, one of whom prevailed on me to pray in the aisle as we crossed the Alps, thereby, in his view, helping to hasten the coming of the messiah by enabling a Jew to fulfill one of the commandments, much to the annoyance of the flight crew, who butted against us as they tried to go about their duties. 
A few hours later we landed at Lod (today Ben Gurion) International Airport, and the passengers burst into applause. The British founded the airport in 1936, just outside the Palestinian city of Lydda, which had a population of 50,000 Arabs until their expulsion by the Israeli Army in July 1948. On July 11 a regiment led by Moshe Dayan sped “into the city of Lydda, firing at all in its way. In forty-seven minutes of blitz, more than a hundred Arab civilians are shot dead—women, children, old people.”[1]   The next day the troops came under light fire, though there are no Arab military units nearby: “The soldiers shoot in every direction. Some throw hand grenades into homes. One fires an antitank PIAT shell into the small mosque. In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than two hundred civilians are killed. [2]Then:
When news of the bloodshed reaches the headquarters of Operation Larlar in the conquered Palestinian village of Yazzur, Yigal Allon asks Ben Gurion what to do with the Arabs. Ben Gurion waves his hand: Deport them. Hours after the fall of Lydda, operations officer Yitzhak Rabin issues a written order to the Yiftach Brigade: “The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly, without regard to age.” [3]
 On July 13, the Arab population of Lydda was left with no choice but to leave the city with whatever they could carry. An Israeli brigade commander told Shavit what he saw:
Standing by his command car, he watches the people of Lydda walking, carrying on their backs heavy sacks made of blankets and sheets. Gradually, they cast aside the sacks they cannot carry any farther. In the heavy heat, suffering from terrible thirst, old men and women collapse. Like the ancient Jews, the people of Lydda go into exile.[4]  
The Israeli soldiers looted the entire town as well as the fleeing people. This was the largest single expulsion of population in the 1948 war.[5]A former brigade commander at Lydda explained to Shavit why it had to happen: “Ben Gurion and [Yigal] Allon knew it was impossible to allow an Arab Lydda to remain by the international airport, not far from Tel Aviv. If we did so there would be no victory and there would be no state. “ [6]
I came down the ramp into the August heat of that international airport attired in the madras sports jacket my parents had insisted I wear on the first transcontinental flight anyone in our family had ever taken, not counting the Army Air Corps transport that took my father to Guam in 1944. I at least had resisted their demand that I wear a tie. 
I called my former classmate from Akiba, Michael Ashkenazi, to tell him I had arrived. I had the impression that the Ashkenazis had agreed to host me in Israel, but, in retrospect, I am not sure that they fully shared that impression. Michael seemed a bit surprised to hear from me but told me to get in a bus to Beersheba, the capital of the southern (Negev) desert, where his family would pick me up. They lived in that city’s suburb, Omer, where Michael’s father was stationed as a judge for the Bedouin tribes of the Negev. I found a bus to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and boarded another for Beersheba.
Northeast of Beersheba, Omer today is invariably described as an “upscale” suburb, but that is not how it looked to a teenager from suburban Philadelphia in 1967. It consisted of modest bungalows laid out on small streets branching off a main street connecting to Highway 60, the “Route of the Patriarchs,” a road that had only recently been reopened, connecting Beersheba to Hebron, Jerusalem, Jenin, and Nazareth. 
The Ashkenazis had a maid who came daily to help with the housekeeping and cooking in their three-bedroom bungalow. She was a Libyan who had moved to Omer from the nearby “ma’abarot” or transfer camps that housed immigrants from the Arab world and were closed in 1962. Over 30,000 of Libya’s estimated 40,000 Jews had moved to Israel after a series of pogroms and anti-Jewish riots in 1948-1951. The Libyan Jewish community was legally dissolved in 1958, and the State deprived almost all Jews of citizenship in 1961. Similar persecutions occurred in much of the Arab world in response to the founding of Israel and the wars of 1956 and 1967, just as Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi had warned Herzl they would. 
Despite the maid, the Ashkenazis’ life style in their government-assigned bungalow was modest by American middle-class standards. That evening, on a cot next to Michael’s bed, I learned for the first time that it was possible to sleep without a special outfit called pajamas and to wash one’s face without a special item called a washcloth. The next morning, I learned that the Israel was not flowing with milk  -- I quickly exhausted the family’s supply. 
In Beersheba the next day I saw my first mosque (I don’t know if there were any in Philadelphia in those days) – and then went to a movie with some of Michael’s friends. Michael’s friends played backgammon (sheshbesh) in the street. One of them, a chronic loser, responded to every defeat by declaring, “nitzahon musari” (a moral victory) -- a joke that reminded us of the realvictory Israel had just won, as compared to the Jews’ long history of winning only moral victories.
On Thursday I made a foray with Michael into the Negev. I was surprised to see black-skinned, African looking Bedouin in the market (suq) in Beersheba. We visited the kibbutz of Sdeh Boker, where former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was living. Just before the war, on May 22, Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin had paid a secret visit to Ben Gurion, who told him the government was committing a serious mistake by going to war.[7]We went on to Dimona, site of the reactor where Israel was about to start full-scale production of nuclear weapons. 
Back in Omer that evening, we went to the community center to watch “Shisha Yamim la-Netzach” (Six Days to Victory), a film that ended with images of Israel’s soldiers arriving at the Wailing Wall, listening to IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blow the shofar, and then singing Naomi Shemmer’s “Jerusalem of Gold.” The song, which had won the Israel song contest the day Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, included a verse reminiscent of the Book of Lamentations, as if nothing had happened in Jerusalem since the destruction of the Second Temple:
How the cisterns have dried, the marketplace is empty, 
And no one frequents the Temple Mount in the Old City. 
And in the caves in the mountain winds are howling 
And no one descends to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho. 
Now it was constantly on the radio with a new final verse:
We have returned to the cisterns, to the market and to the marketplace -- 
A ram's horn (shofar) calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City. 
And in the caves in the mountain thousands of suns shine --
We will once again descend to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho!
As the novelist Amos Oz pointed out at the time, before June 1967 East Jerusalem’s marketplaces, Harm al-Sharif, and the road to Jericho had been full of people for centuries – Palestinians, travelers, and Christian, Muslim, and (until 1948) Jewish pilgrims. The only gold I saw in Jerusalem was the gilt on the Dome of the Rock (Kipat ha-Sela’ in Hebrew) over the Mosque of Omar on Harm al-Sharif.[8]
The next night, Sabbath Eve, I hung out with friends of Michael and his younger sister Tamar. Between songs by Los Paraguayos, a Latin American group popular in Israel, I flirted with one of Tamar’s friends over a game of Ping-Pong. We amused ourselves listening to recordings of broadcasts from the opening days of the war by the Egypt-based Hebrew radio station, “Kol ha-Ra’am mi-Kahir” (the Voice of Thunder from Cairo), warning Israelis in heavily accented Hebrew, “Our valiant fedayin are circulating in the streets of Tel Aviv.” I found it so hilarious that I brought a copy home. 
On the Sabbath Michael’s parents took us on an archeological hike. In a thorny desert grove, we explored cisterns hewn from stone in Ottoman times to capture the overflow of periodic rains from the nearby wadi. Michael and I got on a bus to Tel Aviv, where we stayed at his parents’ permanent home in the genuinely upscale residential neighborhood of Tzahala.  
I spent the next day in Tel Aviv with Michael and a friend of his named Ilan Carmel. They spoke constantly of the Army they were about to join. I was six months away from registering for the draft in the U.S., where the war in Vietnam was escalating, but I knew that attending Yale would entitle me to a 2-S student deferment. We met another friend, Yoram Sharett. Michael told me his family members were like the “Kennedys of Israel” – his grandfather had been prime minister and Ben Gurion’s deputy. We walked down Dizengoff Street, where we saw some of those things that marked Tel Aviv apart from the rest of Israel – Philippine workers, multi-lingual pornography, street prostitutes, and the California Café of peace activist Abie Nathan, an Iranian-born Israeli pilot who in 1966 had flown to Egypt in his plane, Shalom 1, to present a petition for peace to Nasser. He was sent back to Israel from Port Said, where his plane landed, without delivering the petition, and arrested on his return. We stopped in front of the Ministry of Defense, where I was admonished to take no photos. 
We spent that evening, Monday, August 14, at the Carmels’ house, where I was bombarded with questions like whether all of America was like Texas. Texas, Shmexas, it was the eve of Tisha be-Av, and the radio broadcast services live from the Wailing Wall. This was the first Tisha BeAv after Israels capture of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif to Muslims), including the Wailing (Western) Wall. That wall includes remnants of the second temple as rebuilt by Herod the Great in 19 B.C.E., though most of it was rebuilt by Muslim rulers since the seventh century. Tisha Beav commemorates the day that the First and Second Temples fell to the Babylonians and Romans respectively, as well as the day of the Roman massacre of the city of Betar, which wiped out the Bar Kochba uprising in 135 C.E. This was the first Tisha Be-Av that the Wall and the Temple Mount were under Jewish control since 70 C.E., when the Roman General Titus completed the work of his father, the Emperor Vespasian, by crushing the Great Revolt of the Jews and destroying the Second Temple. The Book of Lamentations, by tradition the lament of the Prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE was chanted in several different traditional cantellations, or nushaot. The announcer provided a history lesson: the wall we see today was built by Herod the Great. Now we are back again. 
The next morning, Michael, Ilan and I took the train to Jerusalem. The first stop outside Tel Aviv was Lod. Then came Ramla, which the UN partition plan had awarded to the Arab state of Palestine, but which Ben Gurion had ordered the army to capture. It was during the battles in that area, on April 9, 1948, that the right-wing Irgun Zevai Leumi (Etzel or National Military Organization) led by Menahem Begin carried out the massacre of over a hundred villagers in Deir Yassin, an Arab village between Ramla and Jerusalem that had signed a truce with the Haganah. This was the only 1948 act of massacre and ethnic cleansing acknowledged and apologized for by the Haganah, though Etzel always claimed that nothing happened in Deir Yassin that did not happen in many other places, such as Lod/Lydda. Deir Yassin eventually became the Har Nof neighborhood of an expanding Jerusalem, where on November 18, 2014, two Arab men from East Jerusalem killed four worshippers and a Druze policeman trying to protect them at Kehilath Bnei Torah synagogue.
We passed groves of oranges and olives – “the most protected trees in Israel,” Ilan told me – at least some of which must once have belonged to the Palestinians driven out nearly twenty years before. It was against the law to cut down olive trees, Ilan said, though in later years Israeli settlers on the West Bank often cut down the olive trees of their Palestinian neighbors. 
In 1988 I had another experience with Israeli olive trees. After attending a conference in Herzliya, another upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, I traveled north to Kibbutz Kabri, east of Nahariya on the Lebanese border. There I stayed with Anna Farkas, the sister of a friend from the University of Chicago and Yale, and her husband, Yosi. The Farkases were Hungarian-speaking Jews from Romanian Transylvania who left Romania when emigration opened up after 1968. One evening they served me olives from the kibbutz with some wine. The olives came from very old trees, Yosi told me. It seemed, in fact, that the trees were older than the kibbutz, founded in 1949. They had belonged to the Arabs who had lived in the village of al-Kabri since the time of the Crusaders. And where are they? I asked. Over there, Yosi said, nodding toward the Lebanese border. And what happened to them? I asked. Yosi started to explain but stopped himself. “Pashut nitgarshu,” he said. They were simply expelled. On March 27, 1948, armed Palestinian villagers attacked a Jewish convoy, killing 49 people. In reprisal, the Haganah ordered al-Kabri destroyed. Most of the villagers fled. Those men who remained were lined up and executed into a ditch.[9]
Michael, Ilan, and I passed long trains making their way to Tel Aviv laden with Soviet-made military equipment -- tanks, artillery, and trucks – captured from Egypt in the Sinai or Syria on the Golan Heights. Ilan explained how Israel kept “Persia” in line with agricultural, chemical, and industrial assistance. As for the holiday, he said – on Tisha be-Av we say “she-hecheyanu.” [The prayer thanking God for keeping us alive till this day.] “That’s enough until we reach Jerusalem.”[10]
After Ramla the train climbed, winding around the hillsides, approaching Jerusalem through the northern edge of what was later designated as the Judean Hills wine region, an appellation I learned of in Oslo in June 2011. Together with the Norwegian government, we at the Center on International Cooperation of NYU had organized a track 1.5 meeting (official participants in an unofficial setting) for representatives of Afghanistan and its major neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, and Turkey (China declined to participate in these meetings after the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident), as well as the U.S. and the UN. A special feature of this meeting was a briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney, whom we had invited to speak about U.S. construction of airfields and other military infrastructure in Afghanistan. In previous meetings Iran and, most vocally, Russia (in the person of its outspoken special envoy Zamir Kabulov) had said that such construction contradicted claims that the U.S. had no intention to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. At the first meeting in this series, Kabulov had responded to my presentation of the U.S. position by saying, “The trouble is, we don’t believe you.” Sedney explained how willing the U.S. Department of Defense was to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on first-rate infrastructure that it would abandon or destroy in a few years. Kabulov shared a late-night bottle of whiskey with Sedney, but I don’t think he was convinced. 
Tehran’s ambassador to Norway and his deputy represented Iran. Over the dinner where Sedney spoke, the Norwegian hosts tried to show their cultural sensitivity by offering the Iranians “non-alcoholic” wine, which upon closer inspection turned out to be low-alcohol wine (about two percent) produced in the Judean Hills region of Israel. The Iranians, no longer kept in line by Israeli assistance, declined, as did the Turkish representative, Burak Akçapar, who insisted on drinking Rioja like the rest of us. 
After dropping off our bags at the apartment where we were staying, Michael and I headed for the Old City, which Michael, like me, had never visited. As the first site I noted in my diary was Gehennom, I imagine we entered the city by David’s Tomb and Mount Zion through the Zion Gate. Gehennom (Gei Ben-Hinnom in Hebrew), a valley where in ancient time the Canaanites to whom Elie Wiesel compared Hamas were said to sacrifice their children to the God Moloch, lies just south of Mount Zion. 
Walking north, we soon found ourselves in the covered market close to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, between the Jaffa Gate and Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. We were not the only first-time visitors: an Israeli girl marveled: “There’s everything! We thought they had nothing!”[11]
In this market I had my first conversation with a Palestinian. A shopkeeper whose goods I examined unburdened himself, becoming bitterer the longer he spoke. While we were talking, Radio Amman played in the background. Since the crisis and war, Christian tourists had stopped coming, he said. The merchants had to buy new stamps. Packages sent to fill orders with the old (Jordanian) stamps were returned. He joked that he was now a stamp collector, as I had been a few years earlier. “It is not good on heart,” he said. He hoped for no more wars. The Israeli government should have asked the merchants about their problems. 
His family had property on Yafo (Jaffa) Street in West Jerusalem, not more than a half-hour’s stroll from where we were talking, but it had been confiscated, and he could not visit it since 1948. What he wanted from Israel, he said, was to be considered a native of the land. His brother, who he claimed knew eighteen languages, had moved to, of all places, Zion, Illinois, after studying in Chicago. The shopkeeper summed up his views on human rights: “I think that is shit. A grave 180 by 140 centimeters is the end of everyone.” 
Michael and I made the short walk to the “Kotel,” the Wailing or Western Wall. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t there. Whatever we had heard on the radio the night before was the sole commemoration. Today it was business as usual. The area did not even seem particularly busy. We had to leave quickly to be on time to see Professor Jacob Katz.
Since Michael and I were not observing the fast, we had a quick shashlik on the street and took a bus to the Kiryat Noar neighborhood on the southeastern edge of the city, where Katz lived with his wife. The neighborhood was full of green and gardens. Katz, a kippah-wearing scholar who had completed his PhD in Nazi Germany in 1936, reminded me of Dr. Gundesheimer, the German refugee Talmud and ancient history teacher at Akiba. Although Katz and his wife were observing the Tisha be-Av fast, they offered us water, tea, cookies, and, eventually a light supper. Katz thanked me for translating his book, and we talked of hitchhiking in Israel, the Holocaust, and the meaning of prayer. 
As evening fell, Michael and I got back on a bus back to the center of town, where my classmate Avi Katz and Pnina Rosenberg, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg’s daughter, who had been a year behind Michael and me at Akiba, was enrolled in some summer program. We surprised Avi and Pnina at the hostel where she and the others in the program were staying. We went out on some excursion, and I left my camera under a bunk. That was the last I saw of my camera or the pictures I had taken during my first week in Israel.
We spent the next couple of days with some relatives of Michael’s in Jerusalem, some of whom mocked the euphoria over the Kotel/Wall by calling it a “Diskotel” or “Discotheque Shechinah,” Shechinah being the Kabbalistic term for the immanent, feminine presence of God that had been exiled from this world, as the people of Israel were exiled from their land, when the Temple was destroyed. At their home I met a soldier who had received a battlefield commission as lieutenant for his service in the Golani Brigade during the war. He spoke of a brother-in-law who was lauded as a war hero in the battle for Jerusalem but now awoke suddenly at night shouting, “Eysh! Eysh!” – fire, or “incoming” in U.S. military slang. 
The next day, August 17, we took the train back to Tel Aviv. I ended up seated next to a Yemenite yeshiva student concerned about my secular life style. I would have liked to talk to him, but, alas, I could not understand his Hebrew well enough. The Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew is considered the closest to Biblical Hebrew. Jews lived in Yemen for at least two thousand years, possibly since Biblical times, as the Bible speaks of close ties, including marriage, between King Solomon and the Yemenite kingdom of Sheba (Sab’a). In the century before Islam Yemeni tribes that had converted to Judaism established a Jewish kingdom in southern Arabia (Yemen means “south”) and massacred thousands of Christians. During over 1,300 years of Muslim rule, the position of the Jews oscillated between being tolerated second-class subjects under Sunni rulers, and being harshly persecuted when power fell into the hands of the Shi’a Zaidi sect, today represented by the Houthis.  Jewish responses to persecution included several Yemenite pseudo-messiahs, one of whom inspired an epistle from Maimonides, the Igeret Taiman(Epistle to Yemen). A tenth of the Yemenite Jewish population emigrated to Palestine in the early twentieth century, when Yemen was briefly under Ottoman rule. As Ottoman subjects, Yemenite Jews could move anywhere in the empire, and, following their religious inclination, many moved to Palestine. As elsewhere in the Arab world, the founding of Israel set off anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in Yemen in 1948. Eighty-two Jews were killed. Most of the community was airlifted to Israel in 1949-1950 in Operation Magic Carpet
Michael and I intended to visit the Jezreel Valley and northern Israel. Since we had no magic carpet, after arriving in Tel Aviv we started to hitchhike north along the Haifa Highway. It was tough competing for rides with all the hitchhiking soldiers, especially girls, but one guy finally picked us up. We drove with the sparkling Mediterranean on our left and got out on the western outskirts of Hadera. Hadera, gateway to Jezreel and the site of the largest Zionist land purchase in Palestine, in 1891, was the scene of one of early Zionism’s greatest successes: the draining of the malarial swamps and the founding of a self-sustaining agricultural settlement. But the purchase of the land from a Christian Arab absentee landlord living in Beirut led to conflict with the local bedouin whose customary grazing rights the Jewish settlers did not recognize. 
Walking through town on the way to the home of yet another Ashkenazi relative, Michael and I bought “dumbbell” hats – kova’ tembel -- for our upcoming hike. Our host kept an enormous collection of birds. After a lunch of fried eggs and tomato-cucumber salad, we rested on a veranda overlooking the thirty-five dunams our host farmed in Hadera. After lunch, he drove us to Moshav ha-Yogev (Cooperative Settlement “The Farmer”), 40 kilometers up the Valley, half of the way to Mount Tabor, where I discovered an agrarian paradise.  There he had forty dunams with grazing milk cows, pear orchards, vineyards, and olive groves, all watered from a nearby reservoir. Through the clear dry summer air we gazed at Mount Tabor and the hill of Nazareth in the distance. Ahead of us the Valley stretched to Afula and beyond, where the Ottoman cavalry had been camped on April 16, 1799. The night before, Napoleon’s general Kléber marched his men south from Nazareth around the eastern slopes of Mt. Tabor to surprise the Ottoman force at daybreak and join up with Napoleon himself. The emancipator of the Jews had just arrived at Mt. Tabor from the siege of Acre, while a captive Rebbe Nahman had managed to escape before the battles started and sailed on toward Rhodes and his personal emancipation.[12]
 Our host showed us Ha-Yogev’s public services: a public hall, a tractor shed, cold storage for produce, a mill to produce fodder and silage, a cooperative store (tzorchaniya) – and an arsenal. The village was on guard for attacks by al-Fatah, coming from the West Bank – Jenin was only 21 kilometers away. There must have been a synagogue, but we didn’t see it. Here the milk was flowing -- we drank that morning’s directly from the dairy truck. As we walked, our host asked me about events in the U.S. It was the “long hot summer” of 1967. The struggle for racial justice in the U.S. had been transmuted from the peaceful March on Washington into a series of violent uprisings. That summer, there were 159 “riots” in American cities, including major clashes in July in Newark (26 dead) and Detroit (43 dead). In both cases the National Guard was called up, and President Johnson deployed the U.S. Army to Detroit. Our host said of the black rioters, “I don’t blame them.” We watched the sun set behind Mount Tabor through the high hedge that bordered his house.
Michael and I rose at 6:30 the next morning and started to hike. We passed the Hill of Megiddo, Har Megiddo in Hebrew, transliterated into Greek as “Armageddon,” where, according to the Book of Revelation, Satan would muster the armies of Gog and Magog in the final battle against the messiah and his followers, and where so many historical battles had taken place. Here an ancient town bestrode the pass linking the Egypt of the Pharaohs to Mesopotamia.  In the fifteenth century BC, Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite army at Megiddo, extending the Egyptian empire into Syria. Alexander the Great marched this way from Egypt to Babylon and on to Persia and India. Had Napoleon been able to consolidate his position in the Galilee after defeating the Ottoman cavalry, he too could have proceeded east in the footsteps of Alexander, toward Damascus, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India, but the British Navy cut off his supply lines.
At Megiddo the British General Edmund Allenby had defeated the Ottoman army, allied with the Central Powers, in August 1918, commanding imperial troops newly reinforced from India, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. This battle opened the same road to Damascus Napoleon had tried to control, assuring that Palestine would come under the authority of a British Empire committed as ever to securing transit routes to India. Britain also sought control of Palestine to guard pipelines carrying petroleum, the new black gold of the internal combustion engine, from fields in Syria and northern Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean via the port of Haifa, and to enhance control of the Suez Canal. Britain’s ally, Russia, beset by internal conflict, was doing poorly on the eastern front, where the Jews of Galicia and Ukraine lived. This population, the reserve manpower of Zionism, inhabited strategic territory between the Central Powers (Germany and Austria), where Jews were treated better than in Britain’s virulently anti-Semitic ally, Russia. A struggle was underway to gain their loyalty. I saw that struggle chronicled in a special exhibit on the role of Jews in Marshal Pilsudski’s Polish Legion in Warsaw’s Museum of Jewish life in Poland, Polin, in September 2014, the day after I returned from my visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. These considerations provided a strategic rationale for whatever religious beliefs and humanitarian concerns may have led some in “His Majesty’s Government” to “view with favour the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine,” in the words of the Balfour Declaration. 
Allenby’s victory effectively ended German efforts to undermine the Allied rear. For several years before, a German mission had tarried in Kabul, seeking the support of Amir Habibullah Khan to pressure the British to divert forces to India by launching a campaign for the full independence of Afghanistan and the freedom of India. Since the 1879 Treaty of Gandamak, the British had permitted Afghanistan to host no foreign legation other than one from British India; the British controlled Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. The German mission, whose presence arguably violated that treaty, won the support of Habibullah’s brother, Prince Nasrullah and his son, Prince (later Amir and King) Amanullah, but the Amir ultimately maintained Afghanistan’s neutrality. His refusal to move against the British was the main reason for his assassination in 1919, after which his son and successor, Amanullah Khan, launched the Third Anglo-Afghan War, resulting in Afghanistan’s full independence, just as Palestine fell under the British mandate. 
Michael and I left the small road we had been taking and followed a wadi south between some fields. An elderly Palestinian man with a grey moustache dressed in a robe and kafiya walked towards us in the middle distance. While in 1948 most of the Palestinian population had been expelled from or fled the villages and towns in the plains, we were entering the hills of Galilee, where a substantial Arab population had remained. Since 1949, when Ha-Yogev was established, the government of Israel had pursued a policy of “Judaization of the Galilee” (Yehud ha-Galil). Israel established an exclusively Jewish “Upper Nazareth” over the Arab town in 1954 and in 1964 founded a new Jewish regional development town, Karmiel, on land confiscated from the Arab villages of Deir al-Asad, Bi'ina and Nahf. 
As we and the Arab approached each other, I walked to the side of the path to give him a wide berth. Michael looked at me as if I were insane and exchanged Arabic greetings with the man (al-salaam ‘aleikum). After the man had passed, Michael asked me, “Why did you do that?” I don’t know what answer I came up with, but the reason was fear of the other, to be generous. 
We continued on till we reached the main road and got a lift to the Afula crossroads (Tzomet Afula), where Highway 65, the road up the Jezreel Valley, meets Highway 60, the same road that ran from Nazareth to Beersheba, passing Omer along the way. Michael suggested we hitchhike through the West Bank, via Jenin and Shechem (Nablus) to Jerusalem, but we did not have the special permits required, and none of the drivers was willing to extend his permit to us. Michael attributed this to our lack of “protektsia,” the Russian word used in Israel to denote connections that get you favors, like “guanxi” in China or “wasita” in Afghanistan. 
We took a bus back to Tel Aviv and then to the suburb of Ramat ha-Sharon, where family friends of the Ashkenazis named Green lived. On the bus from Tel Aviv to Ramat ha-Sharon we met a South African Jewish volunteer, who said that Ramat ha-Sharon was “crawling” with South Africans. He was reading The October Country, a collection of eerie stories by Ray Bradbury, He said that his grandmother in South Africa had said, “Give the blacks what they want.” He also advised us Americans to end the war in Vietnam, which was so far from the U.S. 
At the Greens’ in Ramat ha-Sharon I was happy to find Michael’s sister, Tamar. We compared notes on shopping. We dropped in to visit some of the Ashkenazis’ South African relatives whose “gorgeous” ultra-modern house impressed me. I even learned how much it cost to build it: IL 250,000. I was shocked when our host disparaged the religio-nationalist euphoria over the capture of East Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall, he said, was “just stones.” Michael, meanwhile, was mocking the Chinese Red Guards who were still rampaging through the Cultural Revolution. He performed his best imitation of American gang slang to show how the Red guards used the  “exchange of revolutionary experiences” to tell their rivals, “Hey, man, you’re on my turf.”
We ran into Yoram Sharett again. He described a recent trip to Europe. There were no showers in Paris, he said, and the Germans still claimed their lands across the Oder-Neisse line (the Polish border), up to Königsberg, now a Soviet enclave known as Kaliningrad. Yoram shocked me by showing me his German knife and praising the engineering of German products, which many Jews were still reluctant to buy. 
It was Friday night. People were singing and dancing in the streets, doing the Horah to “Der Rebbe Elimelech,” a Yiddish dancing tune modeled on “Old King Cole” written by a Jewish communist in New York in 1927. (“Und der Rebbe Elimelech iz gevorden seyer frailich, iz gevorden seyer frailich, Elimelech!”)[13]Then they switched to army songs, including a jazzy version of the “Song of the Palmach”:
Though the storm is ever mounting

Still our heads remain unbowed.
We are ready for our orders,

We, we, The Palmach.

From Metulla to the Negev,

From the sea to the desert,

All our youth are under arms,

All the youth are on the guard.
On the eagle’s path in the sky,
On the wild ass’s trail in the mountains,

Through stony heights and caverns,
We are tracking down the enemy.
We are always in the vanguard,

By light of day and in the dark,
Always ready for our orders,

We, we, the Palmach.[14]
We went back to the Ashkenazis’ house, where Michael, Tamar, and I sat outside, talking on the curb late in the night. Without pressure from outside, we concluded, there would never have been a Jewish state. 
We slept in the next day, despite being temporarily awakened at 6 A.M. by the congregation of a Sephardic synagogue marching through the streets of Tzahala chanting the Sabbath morning service. That evening I caught the bus to Jerusalem by myself. Avi and Pnina’s group was having some kind of party with Yemenite drummers. Avi and I took over the drums to try to prove that the African diaspora culture we had absorbed growing up in Philadelphia gave us a special sense of swing. 
Now that I was on my own, I became a full-fledged tourist. I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Palace of the Book (Heichal ha-Sefer). At the Knesset I saw the Chagall murals. At the President’s official residence (Beit ha-Nasi) I saw his official gifts including elephant tusks, miniature golden temples from Nepal, and some books from Lyndon Johnson. I climbed Mount Herzl to see the military cemetery with those who had fallen in 1948, 1956, and now 1967. There I found the graves of Herzl and the right-wing Zionist leader Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. I don’t think I had any idea who Jabotinsky was or what he stood for, but as a hard-line nationalist he understood the Palestinians’ challenge to Zionism better than most liberal or leftist Zionists. In 1923 he compared the Palestinian people to other vanquished nations that had lost their homeland:
They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence.[15]
Below the slope of Har Herzl was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, where I had an incongruous encounter with the Harvard-Radcliffe glee club. Only six years had passed since the trial of Adolf Eichmann, before which the Holocaust had not played the huge role in public discourse about Israel that it did later. As a sixth and seventh-grade student I had followed Eichmann’s trial in 1961-62. I particularly remember one incident from the testimony against him – when the trains arrived in one of the extermination camps, and the prisoners had been gathered on the quay for selection, an SS guard quieted a wailing baby by smashing his? her? head against a wall. I read Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” when it was published in two installments in The New Yorkerin February 1963, one month after my bar mitzvah. At Akiba one afternoon we assembled in the library to watch a movie – the Germans’ internal raw footage of the starvation, humiliation, and, finally, extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto. One night I had sat on the lawn of a classmate’s parents’ ranch house in Wynnefield – both of his parents had tattooed numbers from Auschwitz on their forearms – as my friend asked his father a question he never tired of -- what was it like to be whipped? As his father, a jeweler, demonstrated to his son’s clumsy friend the right way to string pearls on a wire, watching intently the delicate and deliberate motions of the fingers of his two hands, he recited words he seemed to have repeated often – being whipped was like having your back sliced by a knife, over and over again. Yet he was one of the lucky ones – he had been selected for labor rather than immediate extermination. He had been sent to the barracks at Auschwitz rather than the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau, and he had survived to raise a family in Philadelphia. 
I went back to the apartment of Ruth Rigby, a friend of the Ashkenazis where I was staying. Ruth had lived in London during the Blitz. I read some essays by George Orwell and went to sleep.
I spent three more days by myself in Jerusalem before returning to Omer on the evening of August 23. I visited the shrines of the three monotheistic religions. I left God a note (petek) at the Wailing Wall and visited the Hurva Synagogue. The main Ashkenazi synagogue in the Old City, it was first built in the early eighteenth century, destroyed soon after, rebuilt in 1864 by the followers of the Vilna Gaon, the leading opponent of Hasidism, and destroyed again by the Arab Legion in 1948. It was still in ruins when I saw it, but a commemorative arch was dedicated in 1977 and a new synagogue in the old style consecrated in 2010. 
I visited the Dome of the Rock, where I saw the stone on which Abraham had started to sacrifice Isaac, or from which Muhammad’s steed had ascended to heaven, depending on which unverifiable story one favors. For the first time in my life I heard the call to prayer of the muezzin, simultaneously from Haram al-Sharif and another mosque from a nearby valley. I walked down the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, encompassing the site of the crucifixion, burial, and, reportedly, resurrection of perhaps the most successful Jewish messianic claimant to date.  Katz described Jesus’s career as part of the political turmoil leading up the Great Revolt and destruction of the Temple:
The expectation of redemption kept growing among the people. . . . It is no wonder that men arose from among the nation calling themselves messiahs. . . . Most of the false messiahs were isolated among the people and have disappeared from memory. Only one of them managed to attract many believers and establish a name for himself for generations to come. That man was Jesus of Nazareth.[16]
I marveled at the complex arrangements among the various Christian sects. As Mark Twain noted, remarking on the need for Turkish guards at the site, “All sects of Christians (except Protestants) have chapels under the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and each must keep to itself and not venture upon another’s ground. It has been proven conclusively that they cannot worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the world in peace.”[17]In a monastery on Mount Olive I saw a pavement lined with Jewish tombstones uprooted from the ancient cemetery there. I visited the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. On the way I saw the plaque commemorating the killing of seventy-eight Jewish medical personnel and Haganah fighters and one British soldier in an ambush by Arab forces on April 13, 1948. The convoy was transporting medical supplies to Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, which the Arabs claimed was being used as a base to attack them. They were also taking revenge for the massacre of Deir Yassin four days before. 
I toured Gethsemane and the tomb of Mary, many other tombs (of kings, Absalom, David, and the Ben Hazir priestly family). I visited the tunnel supposedly dug by King Hezekiah to bring the water of the spring of Siloam inside the city walls in preparation for the siege by the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, a Jordanian bunker, and the underground ruins of the pre-Israelite Jebusite settlement.
The dirt and disorder bothered me almost as much as it had Mark Twain and Herzl. I found the Jewish quarter a “mess.” The Via Dolorosa, I noted, was “narrow and dirty.” The Muslim quarter was the “dirtiest,” a jarring contrast to the magnificent dome of the Mosque of Omar. 
One afternoon I took a tour to the nearby parts of the West Bank. Our bus stopped at Rachel’s Tomb, Bethlehem (where I tasted tamar hindi, tamarind juice), and Hebron, where I bought fresh almond milk from a street vender. We visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Cave of Machpelah, supposedly the burial plot that Abraham bought when his wife Sarah died. Since the Mamelukes constructed a mosque on the site in the thirteenth century, Jews were permitted only up to the seventh step of the entrance and completely barred after 1948. Our tour group entered the mosque less than two months after IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first Jew to enter the premises in seven centuries, who came to Hebron after blowing the shofar at the Wall. Skirmishes leading to injuries and the destruction of Torah scrolls continued in Hebron for a decade after that as Israel used its occupation to establish the right of Jews to pray there.  In February 1994, Purim, Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler, massacred twenty-nine worshippers in the mosque, leading to a rare joint demonstration of solidarity by the Muslim and Jewish student associations at Columbia University, where I was teaching at the time. 
This shrine exemplifies the intimacy of the conflict. In June 2011 at the Oslo Forum, I spoke to the former foreign minister of the Taliban, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil in the lobby of the Bristol Hotel. I had first met Mutawakkil when he led a delegation to New York in January 1997, asking the U.N. to grant the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” the country’s seat in the General Assembly. I chaired a gathering where he spoke at Columbia University. He promised that the Taliban would cooperate with the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism, which led a religious leader of the Muslim community of Columbia University (a Pakistani, I believe) to criticize him harshly for accepting America’s definition of “terrorism.” I met him again in Kandahar in June 1998, when UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi asked me to go to Afghanistan to give my impressions of how the UN was carrying out its various missions. Mutawakkil’s interpreter was a young man named Tayyib Agha, later the lead negotiator for the Taliban in their unofficial office in Qatar. 
After the post-9/11 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, Mutawakkil surrendered and was placed under house arrest in Kandahar. He expressed willingness to bring a group of Taliban into the new system, but Vice President Dick Cheney reversed CIA attempts to integrate the Taliban into the new order and ordered him detained –he was kept in Bagram for five years. I met him again in Kabul shortly after his release in 2006: he lived there as a “reconciled” Talib, supporting efforts for a negotiated solution. 
Somewhere during all this I told Mutawakkil that I was Jewish, which apparently piqued his curiosity. During a lull in our conversation in Oslo, he asked me if I knew why Jews and Arabs were fighting. I said I had my own ideas, but I would like to hear his. “Tarburwali,” he said. “Tarburwali” is Pashto for rivalry between cousins or other agnates (patrilineal relatives). In Pashto lore, tarburwali can develop into the most intense and violent hatred, as cousins fight over the legacy of their common male ancestor – in this case, Abraham. It is a myth that Jews and Arabs can trace their lineage to a common ancestor who lived about four thousand years ago, a myth to which Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi referred in his letter, but regardless of the distribution of genetic material, the two groups are cultural and religious cousins. Otherwise they would not be fighting over the same land and holy places. As Mutawakkil recognized, the hostility is political, not religious – tarburwali derives from the secular tribal code of Pashtunwali, not the Islamic shari’a. 
Because of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the religious, pre-Zionist Jewish community considered Hebron one of the land’s four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. In August 1929 Arab rioters killed sixty-seven Jews from the traditional community. Tensions had been building since the British established their mandate. They not only destroyed the Ottoman Empire (with the help of Turkish and Arab nationalists), but reneged on their commitments to the Arabs. The British, through T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) had supported the Arab uprising against the Turks, and many Arabs expected Palestine to be incorporated into a Hashemite kingdom based in Damascus. Instead the Arabs got colonial rule: the British mandate for Palestine and the Sykes-Picot Agreement for the rest of the Levant. 
The British rulers, carrying out their mandate to support the establishment of a Jewish National Home, relaxed the constraints on Jewish immigration and land purchase imposed, if ineffectively, by the Ottomans. Jews fleeing rising anti-Semitism in Europe arrived in increasing numbers. The Palestinians no longer had any access to sovereignty with which to regulate immigration, unlike the U.S., which. under the influence of racist and anti-Semitic ideologies, had enacted restrictive legislation intended to preserve the predominance of Northern European “races” in the population.  The lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915 demonstrated the intensity of U.S. anti-Semitism at the time. In 1929, the same year as the riots in Palestine, the U.S. Congress made the exclusionary immigration quotas enacted in 1921 and 1924 permanent. Jews were largely barred from immigrating to the U.S., but they could come to Palestine, where they no longer faced the obstacle of indigenous sovereignty that had confronted Rebbe Nahman and Theodore Herzl in the port of Jaffa. 
Simmering resentment boiled over in August 1929, when right-wing Zionists demonstrated at the Wailing Wall, claiming the Temple Mount for the Jewish people. Rumors spread that Jews were attacking Arabs and the Muslim holy places – in Jerusalem one Jew was stabbed to death and three Arabs shot and killed. Rioters killed sixty-seven Jews in Hebron, and Jewish residence in Hebron came to an end till it was re-established by conquest in 1967.  The 1929 wave of violence also claimed the lives of 18-20 Jews from the traditional community in Safed. 
While I was in Jerusalem, something started that has not stopped yet: people asked me for directions wherever I go: Kabul, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, Istanbul….  One day late in the morning just outside the Old City an Arab boy, who was about the same size as my ten-year old cousin Michael Buckman but said he was thirteen, asked me in English how to get to Rachel’s Tomb. He must have missed it on the way to Jerusalem, because he had fled from Bethlehem when his father beat him that morning. Rachel’s Tomb is between the two towns, just east of Highway 60. I took him to the YMCA across from the King David Hotel, where in July 1946 the Irgun Zeva’i Le’umi led by Menahem Begin had bombed the headquarters of the British mandatory and military authorities, killing ninety-one people. The hotel staff had shrugged off the telephoned warning of this terrorist attack amid a proliferation of fake bomb scares. In 1967 the hotel staff likewise shrugged off my inquiry and directed me to the police. I kept asking directions to the station – it look so long that I offered the boy some kabab for lunch, but he said he only wanted a roll. Eventually the police took him in.  
After a three-day break in Omer with Michael and Tamar’s friends, there were only ten days left until Labor Day, September 4, when I would fly back to the U.S. in time to drive up to New Haven the next day and start Yale.  On August 27 I took a bus to Haifa, which I made the center of my tour of northern Israel and the occupied territories, both the West Bank and the Golan Heights. 
Haifa was the closest thing I saw to Herzl’s Altneuland. It surprised me with its unexpected combination of German/Austrian and Palestinian Arab café cultures. I bought wurst from a cart while Arabs smoked in a cafe with Lebanese TV playing in the background. From one street vendor I ordered “Eine Ganze (German for ‘a whole’) Mana (Hebrew for ‘portion’) von Falafel.” 
On a tour of the Galilee as we drove up the Valley of Jezreel, I heard the Israeli account – how the Baron de Rothschild brought eucalyptus from Australian to drain the swamps, how Jews from around the world had financed the development of the valley, the breadbasket of Israel, which the Arabs had called the Dead Valley.  Wherever we traveled in northern Israel the guide told the tourists on the bus which Israelite tribe – Asher, Naftali, Efraim -- had been allocated which territory by Joshua according to the Bible, but he remained largely mute about what changes in settlement or property rights might have occurred in the subsequent three thousand years, except to mention that before Zionist colonization the plots of land were too small to introduce modern farming methods. In 1910 Afula, or al-Fula, as the town was known in Arabic, was the site of a major land purchase by the Jewish National Fund, which bought 233,000 dunams from the Sursuq family in Damascus. They encountered resistance from both the peasants and the local Ottoman administration when they took possession of the land and expelled the peasants.[18]In graduate school a few years later I learned how empires commercialized rural areas and raised cash in the nineteenth century by turning traditional rights to tribute into full private property in land. In return for cash purchase from the state, the landlords could then sell all rights to the land in a single bundle called “property.” Peasants lost their land as a result in India as well as Palestine. I also learned how the claim that landholdings were too small for modern commercial farming was used to justify expropriation of peasant land in many colonial countries.
The guide took us through the familiar historical narrative from ancient times to the present, calling the roll of all those leaders and empires that had passed through, with emphasis on the Hebrew, Israelite, and Jewish ones: Abraham, Joshua, Deborah, Saul, David, Solomon, Josiah, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander, Antiochos, the Romans, the Byzantines, Caliph Umar, the Crusaders, Salahuddin, Richard the Lion-Hearted, the Turks, the English, and then, again, the Jews. Unless my note taking was faulty, he omitted Napoleon. 
We stopped in Nazareth. It looked to seventeen-year-old me that that Arabs in Nazareth, citizens of Israel, were “very loyal” with “sweet Arab faces,” not like the wary ones I had seen in Hebron. We went on to Tiberias, overlooking the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), where Rabbi Nahman jumped over the wall to escape the plague quarantine. Along the lake I saw holes left by shells fired by Syria from the Golan Heights before the war. In Tiberias and Merun we visited the graves of some rabbis, including the tomb of Simeon bar Yohai. Elijah had left the premises. We went on to the restored fourth or fifth-century synagogue of Capernaum, perhaps the site where Jesus had taught, according to the Gospels. We saw the River Jordan where it flowed into the Sea of Galilee – it looked to me about a third of the size of the Schuylkill river that bisected Philadelphia, not much like the one Joan Baez sang about at the March on Washington: “The River Jordan is chilly and cold, it chills the body but warms the soul – all your trials, Lord, soon be over.” 
On a tour of the Upper Galillee the guide told us that a year and a half earlier, the Knesset had decided to “fortify the north for seven years,” part of the plan to Judaize the Galilee. We visited the new all-Jewish town of Karmiel, founded in 1964 as the regional capital. When local Palestinians whose land had been expropriated to build the town applied for permission to live there, the Minister of Housing turned them down, saying "Karmiel was not built to solve the problems for the people in the surrounding area."[19]Unlike the neighboring Arab villages, Karmiel had a new Town Council building, walled residential areas, and many supermarkets and cinemas. Many immigrants from the former Soviet Union have settled there.
We drove north to visit the reconstructed remains of the third-century Synagogue of Bar’am, on the Lebanese border. Tradition long held that this was the synagogue of Simeon bar Yohai, though he lived a century before the synagogue was built. The residents of the nearby Arab Christian village were expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and replaced by a Kibbutz composed of demobilized Palmach soldiers. After lunch at Kibbtz Ayelet ha-Shahar, we drove through Meron, where Agnon’s goat emerged from Simeon bar Yohai’s cave, and took a brief look at the “entirely Jewish” town of Safed, where I noted the many art galleries. 
Another day we crossed the Upper Galilee to the Golan Heights. We traversed the three lines of Israeli defenses below it. The guide led us into a stone bunker, where we tried to imagine the terror of being shut up underground shielding oneself from Syrian rockets. We crossed the bridge of Jacob’s Daughters and climbed the Golan. Druze villagers were threshing wheat in the fields beneath snow-covered Mt. Hermon. I swam in the chilly water of Baniyas at the source of the Jordan – here its water was indeed “chilly and cold” -- with an assortment of other foreigners – a girl from New Jersey, a Jewish boy named Raphael Rubben from Egypt with a French passport and an Italian mother, who had been in Kinshasa (Leopoldville until the previous year) during the fighting a few years earlier, an Iranian Israeli from Ramat Gan, and Rivka Beilin, a biologist from New York.
I toured Haifa, visiting the world center of the Bahai faith with its luxuriant gardens on Mount Carmel. One day I went north to Acre. Here the succession of populations was inescapable, with Roman ruins recycled into Crusader monuments, reused as Ottoman and British prisons. My notes do not mention the Napoleonic siege or Haim Farhi. I went south to Caesarea, where I saw the hippodrome and a Roman temple of Aswan stone from Egypt. This was the town established by the Emperor Augustus as the seat of the Roman provincial administration of Judea. The Great Revolt broke out there in 66 C.E., when the Roman emperor Nero ruled in favor of the Greco-Syrian inhabitants, who demanded that the Jews of Caesarea be denied rights of citizenship, as befits those whose country has been occupied by others. 
One long day – a Saturday – I took a tour of the West Bank.  The bus drove again from Haifa up the Jezreel Valley to Afula to the crossroads and turned south on Highway 60, where Michael and I had failed to hitch a ride. In Jenin I bought lemonade and flattered myself that I was getting along all right with my pidgin Arabic.  As we drove from Jenin to Nablus (Shechem) the guide explained that “Samaria,” the ancient name for this region, was derived from Shemer, from whom Omri, the ninth century B.C. founder of the Omrid dynasty of the northern kingdom of Israel, the father of King Ahab, purchased the site for his capital. I did not visit the Samaritan holy sites on Mt. Gerizim on that visit, but I saw them when I returned in 1999 for a meeting with the Palestinian analyst and pollster Khalil Shikaki. 
In 1967 the tension in the market was palpable as our busload of mostly Israeli tourists dismounted. The guide explained that less than three months earlier the Israeli army had entered Nablus from the east. The Army drove south from Bait She’an to secure the Jordan Valley and cut off the West Bank from Jordan, where the government had stationed two brigades of the Arab Legion and an Iraqi brigade across the Damia Bridge, with three more brigades on the way from Baghdad. The soldiers had removed their insignia, and the population, which mistook them for the Arab Legion, lined the streets shouting “Ya’ish,” tossing flowers on the soldiers, and asking for arms to fight Israel. “Ma pitom, anahnu Yisrael” – “Hold on, we are Israel,” the troops answered. 
I bought a Pepsi from a vender in the marketplace, who, to my surprise, spoke Hebrew. I asked him where he was from. He answered, “From near Nahal Yarkon,” the river that empties into the port of Tel Aviv after running through a park two blocks south of Shmuel Yosef Agnon Street. When I didn’t know where the Yarkon was, he laughed with a kind of ironic resentment, thinking that I was an immigrant who didn’t even know the country’s basic geography, while he, a native-born Palestinian, could no longer visit his childhood home. I tried to mollify him by explaining I was an American tourist. I wandered off and lost my way in the market. I felt people staring at me. A group of boys pointed at me and shouted, “Yahud!” – a Jew!
I found my way back to the bus, which took off toward Jericho. We stopped at Gilgal, overlooking the site where, the guide said, Joshua, the Israelites, and the Ark of the Covenant had crossed over Jordan to the Promised Land. The wind buffeted us, sweeping down the Great Rift Valley extending from Eastern Anatolia to Kenya. (Geographic studies since then have determined that the Great Rift Valley is in fact several separate though contiguous rifts, but that did not shield us from the wind.) Over the River Jordan near the ancient crossing point were the remains of Damia Bridge to Jordan, which the Israeli Army had blown up in June to block the advance of Jordanian and Iraqi troops into the West Bank. 
The Haganah had blown up the old bridge on night of June 16-17, 1946, in an operation (“Night of the Bridges”) targeting eight bridges used by the British Army. The Yishuv turned against the British toward the end of World War II, as Britain’s half-hearted attempts to mollify Arab protests against Jewish immigration clashed with the revelations about the Holocaust and the rising tide of refugees, who fled toward Palestine some out of sincere Zionism and many for lack of an alternative in a world where most sovereign states, including the U.S., enforced tight restrictions on immigration. 
The guide, however, offered a different explanation for blowing up the bridge: the Haganah, he said, dynamited the bridge to prevent the Palestinian leader al-Hajji Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem, from returning to Palestine after spending much of the war in Berlin under Hitler’s protection. Husayni, for many years the best known Palestinian leader, gave Zionism one of its major propaganda victories. Like some Arab nationalists and other anti-colonial activists at the time, he saw Germany as a potential ally against Britain – and, in Husayni’s case, the Jews. A few weeks before writing this, in January 2015, I saw a picture of Husayni having tea with Hitler over the entrance to the downtown 1 subway at Lincoln Center. It was an ad by some organization dedicated to depicting opposition to Israel as anti-Semitism. According to Rashid Khalidi, the mufti believed that he could “play on great power rivalries with little cost to himself or to the cause of Palestine. The falsity of this notion,” Khalidi went on, “was to be proved when he fled to Germany during World War II, becoming a pariah, and gravely harming the Palestinian cause with which he had become identified.”[20]
I recognized Husayni’s name when the guide mentioned it – his collaboration with the Nazis was part of the narrative I had learned. Later in my life I even got into an argument about it. I spent the summer of 1974 in Jaipur, India, doing research for my M.A. thesis at the University of Chicago. At the University Guest House where I was staying, I met four Palestinian refugees from Lebanon who were enrolled in a medical residency program. At first we chatted about anodyne subjects such as the similarities of the Arabic and Hebrew languages – unlike the Pepsi vender in Nablus, they were unfamiliar with Hebrew. I got to know one of them better, and we both became slightly obsessed with trying to argue with and understand each other. One evening the conversation stumbled down a rathole:  he said that Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust, and I brought up al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni’s collaboration with the Nazis. 
Husayni fled from a British warrant to arrest him for his leadership of the 1936-39 uprising. After staying some time in Damascus and Tehran, Mussolini’s intelligence service smuggled him to Rome, and he soon established himself in Berlin. He acted out the choice that faced many leaders of anti-colonial movements in the British Empire during World War II. Like others, he hoped that Britain’s war with Germany and Japan would weaken the colonial rulers, though few took their action to as high a level of open collaboration with the Nazis as Husayni. 
One leader of the Indian National Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose, made the same choice as Husayni, though with more success. Husayni asked Hitler to enable him to lead an Arab Legion to free the Arab world from colonialism. Wary of his allies in Italy and Vichy France, both of whom had colonial possessions in the Arab world, Hitler never made such a commitment.[21]  Bose fled from an Indian prison to Berlin, where he gained Hitler’s support. The Germans eventually transferred him by submarine to the Japanese in Sumatra. With Japanese support he organized the Indian National Army, which fought the British with some initial success alongside the Japanese in Southeast Asia and Burma. After the war, the Congress praised Bose’s patriotism but distanced itself from his collaboration with fascism. Bose died in a plane crash in 1945 while trying to flee to the USSR. The Congress and the Muslim League joined forces to oppose the court martial of British Indian Army officers who had joined the INA, whom the Indian public perceived as patriots.
The mainstream leadership of the Indian National Congress took a different path. In the letter I received from Indira Gandhi’s aide in June 1967, he mentioned that Mrs. Gandhi’s father, Jawarharlal Nehru, “was in the forefront of the world’s protest against Nazis.” From the prison cell where the British held him during World War II, he wrote: 
It was not merely the physical acts of aggression which fascism and nazism indulged in, not only the vulgarity and brutality that accompanied them, terrible as they were, that affected us. But the principles on which they stood and which they proclaimed to loudly and blatantly, the theories of life on which they tried to fashion themselves. For these went counter to what we believed in the present and what we had held from ages past.[22]
In the 1930s Nehru refused invitations from both Hitler and Mussolini, preferring instead to show his solidarity with Czechoslovakia by visiting Prague before Munich. He “wanted India to take her full share in the war against fascism and Nazism, but “only as a free country and an equal.”[23]When Germany attacked Poland in 1939, the British Viceroy declared that India was a party to the war as part of the British Empire. The leadership of the Indian National Congress passed a resolution expressing principled opposition to German aggression but offering India’s support to the war only as a sovereign country. Gandhi called the British insistence that independence could be negotiated only after the war was won “a post dated cheque on a crashing bank" and launched the Quit India movement. Most of the leaders of the Congress spent the war in prison in Agra, where Nehru wrote The Discovery of India.[24]
Palestinians paid the price both for having no anti-colonial leader with the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru and for wanting to save their land and homes from the Nazis’ worst victims.  
Our bus passed the white mesas on the road to Jericho and kept going down Highway 90 until we reached Ein al-Feshkha for a dip in the Dead Sea – the warm, viscous water was the antithesis of the spring water of Baniyas. We stopped in Qumran, where Bedouin found the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we had lunch in the oasis of Ein Dik, where again I remarked on the presence of what I called “Negro Arabs.” Returning toward Jericho, we took route 1 west toward Jerusalem. In Ramallah, which I found clean and prosperous, I bought falafel, softer and larger than what I was accustomed to, and washed it down with some tamar hindi. We drove back via Nablus, where a muezzin was calling acoustically from the mosque – according to some boys I met, the electricity was out, so he couldn’t use the loudspeaker. We returned to Haifa via Hadera. 
On Shabbat September 2, I hitchhiked to Ramla, where I caught a bus to Jerusalem. After dinner at the Rigbys I returned to Omer. I had only one more full day to visit Israel. On Monday September 4, Labor Day in the U.S., I had to take the bus to Lod and get on the plane. I decided to leave Omer that evening to pay a visit to Masada.  

[1]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1780-1781). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[2]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1788-1790). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
[3]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 1790-1793). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[4]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 2054-2056). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[5]Ari Shavit, My Israel
[6]Shavit, Ari (2013-11-19). My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Kindle Locations 2068-2070). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[7]Rabin, Memoirs, pp. 75-76.
[8]I have since learned that the term “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) refers to a promise Rabbi Akiba gave to his wife, when her father cast her out of the house for marrying such a good-for-nothing against the family’s wishes, but to me and many other listeners the phrase evoked the view of the Old City from the surrounding hills, centered on the shining Dome of the Rock. 
[9]Morris, Origin of the Palestine Refugee Problem.
[10]Be- tisha be-av mevarchim she-hecheyanu. Ze maspik ad Yerushalayim. 
[11]“Yesh ha-kol! Hashavnu she-ain lahem kelum!”
[13]A recording can be found at
[15]Mordechai Bar-On, In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement(Washington, DC: USIP, 1996), 12, cited by Morris, Righteous Victims, Kindle version, location 948.
[16]JK, YA 1:113.
[17]Twain, Innocents Abroad, p. 405.
[18]Khalidi, Identity, 106-110.
[19]Knesset debate, 2 Dec. 1964, page 486, cited in Jiryis, Ṣabrĭ (1976). The Arabs in Israel. New York : Monthly Review Press. 
[20]Khalidi, The Iron Cage, pp. 113-114.
[21]Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem.
[22]Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 3.
[23]Ibid., p. 5.
[24]Ibid., pp. 339-381.
Read more on this article...

Monday, April 30, 2018

David Scott Palmer, RIP

It saddens me to note the passing of David Scott Palmer, my colleague for 25 yrs. Scott was a skilled Latin Americanist, a fine teacher & a remarkably generous person. Scott's contributions to Boston University are just part of his legacy. I will miss him. It saddens me to note the passing of David Scott Palmer, my colleague for 25 yrs. Scott was a skilled Latin Americanist, a fine teacher & a remarkably generous person. Scott's contributions to Boston University are just part of his legacy. I will miss him.
Read more on this article...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Memoir of MLK and the March on Washington, with reflections on the Jewish histories of liberalism and Zionism

This is a draft chapter of an uncompleted work that needs editing and much more. Some of the references are unclear as they are to the previous chapter. Apologies. I am posting in honor of MLK day. It starts with a memoir of Dr. King at the March on Washington and then veers into historical stream of consciousness on the history of Jews, liberalism, imperialism, and Zionism. Comments welcome.

Chapter Two: The Emancipation of the Jews 

 On August 27, 1963, my mother, Shirley Cooperman Rubin, and I got up early to board a bus chartered by the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Congress to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. AJC’s leader in Philadelphia, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg, barely sat down during the whole trip, leading us in singing Hebrew songs, civil rights anthems, and what were then known as “Negro spirituals.” On the way back from the rally our chorus joined with the many buses chartered by black churches travelling beside us along the highways, with people singing and shouting, “Freedom!” through the open windows in those days before air conditioning. Rabbi Rosenberg, who was then the leader of congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, died in Jerusalem in 2000 while visiting his daughter Pnina, who was a year behind me at Akiba. I last saw her in Jerusalem during my 1967 visit, when I dropped in on a summer program in which she was participating.

 In a chapter about the U.S., Jacob Katz’s text taught about slavery in the South and explained the conflict over the doctrine of states’ rights, but it did not mention the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some slave owners treated their slaves humanely, Katz wrote, but others subjected them to oppression (“parekh,” a Hebrew word applied in the Bible to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt). The original edition, written before Brown vs. Board of Education and the growth of the civil rights movement in the U.S., did not discuss race relations after abolition. Later editions stated: 

Negroes were equal citizens before the law, but they continued to be considered as an inferior race by the majority of whites, and suffered discrimination even in the North.

 Katz did not mention legally imposed segregation, the deprivation of voting rights, or the use of terrorism, including lynching, against the black community. At Passover seders in my family we often compared the liberation from Egyptian slavery to the blessings of coming to the U.S. Starting sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, we also reminded ourselves that we were obligated to continue progress toward an incomplete freedom by supporting the civil rights movement in the U.S., and we sang the spiritual “Go Down Moses” at every Seder. That was part of our version of Luria’s tikkun ‘olam.

 My parents collected signatures on petitions for “open housing” for the American Jewish Congress, though I don’t recall ever discussing the civil rights movement in my all-white public elementary school in Lower Merion Township outside Philadelphia, where I studied through the spring of 1960. At Akiba, which I entered in the fall of 1960, all the students were Jewish and Ashkenazi. We had a Haitian French teacher of aristocratic demeanor (the only faculty member who always wore a suit and tie and whom we later – much later -- learned was a closeted gay jazz piano player) and a Moroccan Hebrew teacher, who had composed a Hebrew poem about racism, which he read at the school Seders: “’Ad ana, Eli, ‘ad matai, yad levana ta’oz ‘alai?” – For how long, my God, until when, will the white hand oppress me?

 Our Jewish contingent at the March on Washington got off the bus somewhere near the Mall and gradually made our way toward the Lincoln Memorial. We arrived too late to hear Josh White, the black folksinger whom my mother had seen perform in the 1940s, when she was a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate with leftist friends from New York. I finally saw Josh White myself on August 5, 1967, when I took my then girlfriend, now wife, Susan Blum, to hear him the Saturday night before my departure for Israel, at a coffeehouse called the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The opening act was a unknown singer with a well-known name, Arlo Guthrie, who performed the “Multi-Colored Rainbow Roaches” variant of his as-yet unrecorded song about draft resistance, “Alice’s Restaurant.”

 Our AJC group arrived at the Mall during the “folk music” segment of the March’s program. Joan Baez sang “Oh Freedom,“ “All My Trials” (which she changed to “All Your Trials,” addressing the crowd), and We Shall Overcome.” Bob Dylan performed “Only a Pawn in their Game,” about how one group of oppressed people, poor whites, were used against another, black people. Then Baez joined him for the first public performance of Dylan’s messianic hymn, “When the Ship Comes In,” which Dylan had written earlier that month as a prophecy of doom for a hotel clerk who refused to register him because of his ratty clothes:

 Then the sands will roll Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’
And the ship’s wise men Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’
Oh the foes will rise With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

Then they’ll raise their hands Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharoah’s tribe They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

As we got closer to the front, Peter, Paul, and Mary were singing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which they had released a few months earlier. Dylan didn’t release a recording till 1964. I had never heard it before:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

I saw Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary one more time -- at about 3 A.M. on August 29, 1968, when he calmed a beaten and tear-gassed crowd of antiwar protesters at the Democratic National Convention, including me, in Chicago’s Grant Park by singing Dylan’s as yet unrecorded, “I Shall be Released,” accompanying himself on the guitar:

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now I shall be released

 About an hour earlier, along with my fellow student from Yale, Josh Javits, son of Jacob Javits, the (liberal Jewish) Republican senator from New York, I had run into Norman Mailer behind the Hilton Hotel. Mailer was another Jewish participant in (and chronicler of) the 1963 march, but we didn’t see him at the time – by his own account the rhetoric wore him down, and he wandered off, missing King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. President Kennedy was assassinated a few months after the March. While I was a freshman at Yale, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, and Bobby Kennedy just a month later, on June 5.

I had read Mailer’s “On the Steps of the Pentagon” in Harper’s magazine, an account of the October 1967 march on the Pentagon that would late be published as the book Armies of the Night. On June 6, the day after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination I wrote Mailer:

 When Martin Luther King was shot, I didn't quite understand what it meant. I had seen Kennedy during the campaign in 1960 and I heard King at Washington in 1963, and I could see that there was something similar in these men, some specific strength or knowledge that the slagheap left after the industrial production of men could not tolerate. At the time, in April, I wanted to write you to ask you to write something that would clarify things to me as The Steps of the Pentagon had clarified them. Now that Bobby Kennedy is dead, the need seems more pressing. So my request is that you write something now which would at least begin to explain what the mystery at the center of these events was.

 Mailer replied on August 2: “Well, I’ll be covering the Republican and Democratic conventions. Let’s see if anything comes out of that.”

I reminded him of our correspondence when we met behind the Hilton, scene of the first clash of police and protesters the day before. The protesters, or, should I say, we were chanting a version of a line from “When the Ship Comes In”: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” The world was listening too: the crack of police batons on skulls was louder than I had anticipated. Mailer grinned, and we shook hands.

 In the adrenalin-fueled insomnia of that early morning in late August 1968, that sublime, hope-filled morning in late August 1963 seemed a long time past. As the music ended and the speeches began, my mother and I and the rest of the AJC group made our way from our starting point down the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and ended up slightly behind stage left of the podium. We had a pretty clear view of the speakers’ left profiles.

 Mahalia Jackson opened the final section of the program with “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned”: “There’s trouble all over the world, children, ain’t gonna lay my religion down.” She followed with “How I Got Over”:

 Tell me how I got over Lord, Had a mighty hard time coming on over
You know my soul look back and wonder How did I make it over?

The final verse of the spiritual, which she did not sing that day, told where she was going – the same destination to which Isaac Luria intended to lead his students:

In that new Jerusalem I'm gonna walk the streets of gold
It's the homeland of the soul
I'm gonna view the host in white
They've been traveling day and night
Coming up from every nation
They're on their way to the great Cognation
Coming from the north, south, east, and west
They're on their way to a land of rest.

 Jackson took a seat directly behind the podium. King had not decided how much he would preach that day. As he reached the end of his prepared text with a somewhat stiff paragraph starting “I am not unmindful that,” Jackson called out to him, “Tell them about the Dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” And he did, in language I recognized:

 I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

 But before Dr. King gave his new testimony, we heard some of that old testimony from Rabbi Joachim Prinz, President of the American Jewish Congress and one of the leading rabbinical supporters of the civil rights movement. He was so well known for his activism that Philip Roth made him a character in his 2004 novel, The Plot against America, in which Prinz organizes the Jews of Newark into a self-defense force against anti-Semites inspired by Hitler’s ally, U.S. President Charles Lindbergh.

Prinz was AJC’s contribution to the day, and my mother always resented that King’s speech got all the attention, while everyone forgot Rabbi Prinz’s. But I never forgot it. This is what he said:

I speak to you as an American Jew. As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice, which make a mockery of the great American idea. As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a two-fold experience -- one of the spirit and one of our history. In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor.

Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity. From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say: Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe. Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation. It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience.

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence. A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality, and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act, from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.

 Enlightenment and Pseudo-Messiahs

 This was the Jewish narrative that brought us to the March on Washington: a people born in slavery, freed by a lawgiver, exiled by an empire, oppressed in ghettos – and emancipated by the movements that followed the Enlightenment, starting with the revolutionary French National Assembly’s proclamation of September 27, 1791, to which Prinz referred, granting full and equal rights of citizenship to the Jews of France. Commitment to those full and equal rights – for everyone – brought us to Washington.

 In his book, Wir Juden, written when he was a rabbi in Berlin under Hitler, Prinz described Jewish life before the French Revolution as being like life in a cell, where the prisoner counts the days by drawing lines on the wall. And then, in Katz’s words: Half a year after the outbreak of the French Revolution the Sephardim [who lived in areas long under the rule of France] were recognized as citizens of France with equal rights. The deliberations on the Ashkenazim [who lived mostly in Alsace, which had distinct anti-Semitic regulations] continued contentiously throughout the session of the first National Assembly. But before the dissolution of the Assembly the sympathizers of the Jews gained the upper hand. In September 1791 a declaration was issued granting the Jews equality of rights with all other citizens of the state. Prinz recounted how the revolutionary armies under Napoleon took emancipation farther afield. “When Napoleon marched though the Rhineland shining like a Roman Emperor, the Jewish youth cheered him as the liberator, the warrior, the stormer of the ghetto.”

 Katz taught a generation of Israeli Jewish youth:

 When the French armed forces entered the Rhineland and Northern Italy, the residents of the ghettos welcomed them with open arms. The report of the equality of rights of French Jews spread everywhere quickly, and the Jews of the conquered cities saw with their own eyes that Jews were serving in the French armed forces like the rest of the citizens. Everywhere that a republic was founded under the influence of the French conquerors, a law was enacted that there should be no difference in rights between Jew and non-Jew. Thus were emancipated the Jews of Holland, the cities of the Rhineland, and Northern Italy. It was as if the walls of the ghetto had fallen in one night.

 This is the history that led French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to say, after the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher massacres of January 2015, that the departure of France’s Jews would mean the “failure of the republic.” Though Napoleon later backtracked on some of his reforms and always considered the Jews with some suspicion, his acts led Tsar Alexander I to call him the “Anti-Christ.” Austrian Chancellor Metternich feared that the Jews might greet Bonaparte as “the promised Messiah,” as did some followers of Jacob Frank, an eighteenth-century pseudo-messiah born in Buczacz, the same town as Agnon.

 Napoleon did not only emancipate the Jews and spread the republican doctrine of the revolution (at least until he crowned himself Emperor) – his 1798 invasion of Egypt and Palestine also made him the first liberal imperialist. During that campaign Napoleon may have contemplated harnessing the messianic longings of the Jews to his imperial ambition. He may have been the first European ruler to take up, if unwittingly, a proposal made in the sixteenth century by the pseudo-messiah David Reubeni.

 I wrote a paper on David Reubeni in the fall of 1967, my first semester at Yale, in a class taught by David Price, then a history PhD student and now a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from North Carolina whom I met again in the course of my duties at the State Department. Reubeni claimed to come from a Jewish kingdom called Khaibar, possibly in Arabia, Cochin (India), or Afghanistan. Arriving in Venice in 1524, he offered European rulers an alliance with his kingdom’s Jewish army against the Ottomans, who had captured Palestine only seven years earlier. He proposed to the papal court in Avignon, King João III of Portugal, and the Emperor Charles V that they join with this army to establish a Jewish kingdom on the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Diego Pires, a forcibly converted Jew serving at the Portuguese court, reverted to Judaism and took the name Shlomo Molcho to serve as Reubeni’s herald and propagandist. It was in this role that he met Joseph Karo in Salonika. Nothing came of the plan at that time. The Inquisition burned Molcho at the stake, and Reubeni disappeared into its dungeons.

 Reubeni and his followers saw themselves as actors in the Jewish drama of exile, persecution, and redemption, but another history was going on around them. Reubeni met Charles V in 1530, thirty-eight years after the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, when Christopher Columbus, possibly a secret Jew, sailed from Seville looking for a western passage to India. He undertook that voyage using a mariner’s astrolabe and techniques of open-sea (blue-water) navigation developed in the previous century. Columbus’s wrong-way journey led to the conquest and colonization of the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade, which powered the global industries of first sugar and then cotton -- but Asia remained the prize. China and India produced over half of global GDP before the industrial revolution. Five years after Columbus, in 1497, Vasco da Gama circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope, opening the sea route from Europe to India. In 1521, four years after the Ottomans captured Palestine, Magellan circumnavigated the globe. By the time Reubeni reached the courts of Europe, their rulers were already thinking of how to expand their reach into Asia despite Ottoman control of the land routes.

Two hundred and fifty years later, by the time of Napoleon, the struggle for trade routes and military access to those lands affected the entire globe – including the Jews with their hope for redemption. The original version of Katz's Israel and the Nations omitted any mention of colonialism. Later editions, written after the start of decolonization, included a chapter on “European Imperialism”:

 By the last third of the nineteenth century the western states that had reached the stage of industrial development dominated large parts of the continents of Asia and Africa. Thus the dominant states established their rule over areas outside of their own countries, as the Romans did in ancient times. Such an extensive state was called “imperium,” from which derives the modern term “imperialism.” This form of domination started with England, Holland, and France, which had established settlements for trade there as early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They called these settlements “colonies,” and rule over colonies was called “colonialism.”

 Katz drew no connection between the European imperialism he described and the British mandate in Palestine under which he was living when he wrote the first edition of the textbook. Nor did he connect it to an episode he recounted involving Napoleon and the Jews.

As part of his invasion of Egypt and then Palestine, Katz wrote, Napoleon launched an appeal to the Jews of Asia and Africa to ally with France against the Ottoman Empire, as Reubeni had offered to do several centuries earlier. As a general of revolutionary France, Napoleon faced a Britain that was not only leading the reactionary powers of Europe against the revolution, but was also competing with France on the seas and in the scramble for Asia. The British East India Company ousted the French from North India in 1757, when it defeated their ally, the Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey. By 1793, two years after the French National Assembly offered full rights of citizenship to the Jews of France, the British East India Company established its capital in Calcutta (Kolkata). Its expansion temporarily blocked to the northwest by the rising powers of the Sikhs in Punjab and the Durrani empire in Afghanistan, the Company turned to the conquest of France’s holdings in South India, with its ports on the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. By 1798 the Company’s army was on the way to defeating France’s ally in the South, Tipu Sultan, in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. Among the commanders of that war was Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who as the first Duke of Wellington eventually defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.

Unable to attack Britain’s island redoubt directly, Napoleon riposted to Britain’s offensive in India by establishing a beachhead between London and Calcutta, astride the land route from the Mediterranean to the British rear in India, the same route that Alexander the Great had followed. In 1798 he shocked the world by occupying Egypt, and in March he followed in Alexander’s footsteps toward Palestine and Syria. He captured Jaffa and Haifa and besieged the port of Acre in March 1799. Napoleon marched through Galilee toward Tiberias on the road to Damascus, destroying an Ottoman relief force at Mt. Tabor on April 16. But before Napoleon could reach Damascus, the British blocked him on both fronts. The Royal Navy, which had landed in Acre on March 16, 1799, imposed a successful blockade on Napoleon’s forces in Jaffa and Haifa. On May 4, 1799, Tipu Sultan fell in battle against the Company’s forces at Srirangapatna, in today’s Indian state of Karnataka. Wellesley (Wellington) was the first to confirm his death.

In the summer of 1973, during my first trip to South Asia, I viewed murals depicting the resistance of Tipu Sultan at his palace in Mysore, which I visited together with the Hillel rabbi of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. I had met him at Sabbath services in the seventeenth-century Portuguese synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, established by the descendants of Portuguese conversos who declared themselves Jews when the Netherlands captured Cochin in 1662.

 Unable to resupply his troops in Jaffa and Haifa, and facing defeat in India, Napoleon lifted the siege of Acre and withdrew from Palestine on May 21, 1799. Before receiving news of Napoleon’s retreat, however, the French official newspaper Le Moniteur Universel published a dispatch from the front on May 22:

 Bonaparte has published a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa to gather under his flag in order to re-establish ancient Jerusalem. He has already given arms to a great number, and their battalions threaten Aleppo.

Katz devoted a paragraph to what he called “The Great Hope [ha-Tikvah – the Israeli national anthem] in the Days of Napoleon”:

When Napoleon sent his military expedition to Egypt, it aroused hopes that good things would come to all the people of Israel from his success. They believed that Napoleon intended to conquer the Land of Israel from the Turks and give it to the Jewish people as its ancient homeland. When Napoleon penetrated from Egypt into the Land of Israel, rumors spread that he had issued a proclamation to the Jews of Asia and Africa to gather under his flag and capture control of the Land of Israel. These rumors even reached Jerusalem, where the Jews awaited the events with beating hearts. The Turkish rulers of Jerusalem had already started to assess that the Jews secretly favored the foreign enemy who had entered the country. But none of Napoleon’s plans were implemented.

 This account seems to be based on a 1940 book by Franz Kobler, which included the only document purporting to include the full text of the proclamation. Kobler claimed that the document was a contemporaneous German translation of the proclamation brought by Napoleon’s emissaries to followers of the pseudo-messiah Jacob Frank in the Jewish community of Prague. Most now consider the document a forgery. Whatever Napoleon intended, no Jewish battalions came to his rescue. Some Jews did participate in the events precipitated by Napoleon’s incursion into Palestine, but their involvement shows how different the Jewish relationship to great-power geo-politics was then compared to a century later, when Theodore Herzl founded political Zionism.

 The nineteenth-century German Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz conjectured that Napoleon’s proclamation might have been aimed at winning over Haim Farhi, a Jewish Ottoman official who was organizing Acre’s defenses, something Katz did not mention, and which clashed with his contention that the Turks suspected the Jews’ loyalty. Katz’s initial work contained no account of the Jews living in the Muslim world except for the mystics in Safed and a chapter on the 1840 blood libel instigated against the Jews by Christians in Damascus. Later editions included chapters on the Jewish communities of the Muslim world that largely emigrated to Israel after 1948. Katz highlighted the response by leading Jews of Western Europe to the Damascus blood libel, but he did not mention the Farhi family, one of whose members defended his co-religionists as a member of the Damascus city council. The Farhis were the Rothschilds of the Levant, In the eighteenth century they controlled much of the Ottoman finances.

When Napoleon launched his attack on Palestine, Haim Farhi, respected by the Jews of Syria and Palestine for his religious learning, was advisor to the Ottoman governor of Galilee, Ahmad al-Jazzar (the butcher). Jazzar Pasha, as he was known, was a former Christian from Herzegovina (what we would now call a Bosnian Croat) who sold himself as a slave to escape a murder charge, converted to Islam, and rose in the Ottoman ranks thanks to a felicitous combination of brains and brutality. He once put out one of Haim Farhi’s eyes while in a pique: drawings of Farhi show him wearing an eye patch. In 1820, Farhi was killed by his Muslim stepson, whom Jazzar Pasha had made his successor. In response to an appeal from Farhi’s three brothers in Damascus, the grand mufti of Istanbul issued a firman authorizing Ottoman governors to supply troops to Farhi’s brothers to lay siege to Acre and take revenge. This Jewish-led Islamically mandated army, however, did not try to establish a Jewish state.

 Besides Farhi and the non-existent battalions menacing Aleppo, another Jewish participant in events surrounding the siege of Acre was the Jewish mystic and sage, Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. In his chapter on the rise of Hasidism in eighteenth-century Poland and Ukraine, Katz summarized Nahman’s teaching in one Zen-like quotation: “The greatest wisdom of all wisdom is to abandon all wisdom, but instead to be plain and direct in simplicity.” Katz did not mention Nahman’s journey to Palestine. In his book of Hasidic Tales, Souls on Fire, however, Elie Wiesel described that voyage as: [T]he journey of a visionary, a pilgrimage worthy of the teller and of his tales. Abounding in unpredictable, incredible adventures that succeed one another at dazzling speed, it is a race toward the unknown, toward nothingness. Wiesel mentions the context: “The Egyptian campaign is at its height. Napoleon wants Jerusalem,” but, like Katz, he did not mention the struggle over imperial access to Asia that explained why Napoleon wanted Jerusalem. Like Rebbe Nahman, Wiesel depicts the events as part of Jewish spiritual history rather than secular world history.

 Nahman never fully divulged what holy mission drew him to the Land of Israel, but he seems to have believed or hoped that the messiah would come soon. Some scholars hold that he believed he was the messiah. He identified with Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, who was taught by the Prophet Elijah, as the messiah would be. Just as David Reubeni emerged to catalyze apocalyptic longings after the expulsions of the Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496), waves of messianic fervor had swept over the Jews of Ukraine and Poland after the 1648-49 massacres of tens of thousands of Jews by the Ukrainian revolutionary leader Bohdan Chmielnicki. In those days of horror, many survivors placed their hopes in the false messiahs Shabbatai Zevi of Izmir (1626-1676) and Jacob Frank of Podolia (1726-1791), who claimed to be Zevi’s reincarnation.

 Before leaving for Palestine Nahman traveled to Kamenets, a town with a long history of anti-Jewish regulations, and the center of Podolia, the region where the Baal Shem Tov, Jacob Frank, Rebbe Nahman, Agnon, and my wife’s grandmother were born. Susan Blum’s paternal grandmother, Rose Blum, born in Kamenets, told us of a pogrom in 1905 when the rioters cut off a Jewish baker’s fingers and threw them in the oven so he could never knead dough again. The town’s bishop expelled the Jews in 1757 (about the same time as the Battle of Plassey) after orchestrating a public debate between some rabbis and the Frankists, many of whom eventually converted to Christianity, a religion founded by an earlier claimant to the messianic title.

Though in 1798 Jews other than converted Frankists were forbidden to spend the night in Kamenets, Nahman stayed there secretly and never revealed how he evaded the police or what he did there. The implication was that he had secretly contacted the Frankists about his messianic mission. Nahman sailed from Odessa across the Black Sea and down the Bosporus to Istanbul, where he knew no one. He tried to hide his identity and suffered from bouts of depression and aggressive childish behavior, all interpreted by his followers as manifestations of his doctrine of simplicity and means of avoiding the great dangers in wait for him on his messianic pilgrimage.

When Nahman sought to leave for Palestine, he learned that “France had entered the land of the Sultan, Egypt and the Land of Israel, … and France was moving to and fro on the sea.” The Jewish community of Istanbul, far from trying to use Napoleon’s advances for political purposes, tried to stay out of the war. It forbade all Jews to leave the city. But the community arranged one ship for a Sephardic scholar from Jerusalem who had collected the traditional Halukah, or portion, for the Jews of the Holy Land, and Nahman, among others, was allowed to board. After calming a storm that terrified his shipmates, apparently through spiritual prowess, Nahman arrived in the port of Jaffa.

When he tried to debark with the Jerusalem sage, however, “The Ishmaelites [Arabs, Turks, or Muslims] did not allow him to enter, because they saw his clothes and the form of his face, with long sidelocks (peyot), as is the custom in our country, and also saw he did not know their language. They therefore concluded that he was certainly one of the spies” sent by France. “No request or supplication sufficed,” and Rabbi Nahman remained on the ship.

 The Ottomans were right to be alert. Napoleon, already occupying the former Ottoman territory of Egypt, was planning a land invasion via Sinai and Gaza, which he launched within six months, on March 3, 1799. As any reader of Kipling will recognize, it was common for states to send spies disguised as pilgrims or traders to collect data of military importance.

 Bad weather and high waves in a spot that Sephardic passengers identified as the location where Jonah had been thrown into the sea forced the captain to leave Jaffa for Haifa, where there seemed to be no Ottoman customs house. Nahman debarked without hindrance on September 8, 1798, in time to celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah the following day. But after services, Nahman again fell into depression: “Anxiety and a broken heart awoke within him, and he uttered nothing to anyone.”

 Messages started to arrive from Safed and Tiberias, where Hasidim from Ukraine had started to settle since 1768 in order to be close to the tomb of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, asking the Baal Shem’s great-grandson to honor them with a visit, especially as his paternal grandfather, Nahman of Horodenka, a disciple of the Baal Shem, was buried there. But Nahman refused. His depression persisted, and during an otherwise joyful pilgrimage to the cave of Elijah on Mt. Carmel during Sukkot, Rebbe Nahman remained quiet, refusing to dance or celebrate. After Simhat Torah, a week later, he told his companion he wanted to return home.

 After Sukkot, Rabbi Nahman finally agreed to travel on to Tiberias. He visited the tomb of his grandfather and proceeded to the cave of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, where he suddenly rejoiced, singing Hasidic melodies to himself all night. He put on his tallit and tefilin and prayed for several hours. Plague struck Tiberias, which was placed under quarantine, and Nahman escaped only by climbing the city wall overlooking the Sea of Galilee. He made his way to Safed. In Safed he heard that “the French would soon come to Acre,” presumably that Napoleon had captured Jaffa on March 7. In Jaffa the representative of the Enlightenment and emancipator of the Jews massacred about two thousand Ottoman prisoners (mostly Albanians) who had surrendered under promise of safety.

A frightened Nahman immediately sent a messenger to Acre with instructions to book him passage on a ship flying the flag of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), a neutral city that had managed to become a trading superpower in the Mediterranean. Ragusan ships sailed freely through the war zone. Nahman arrived in Acre on the eve of Shabbat Zachor (March 16, 1799), but people fleeing the city had booked all the Ragusan ships. Nahman was terrified as 50,000 heavily armed “Ishmaelite” soldiers took over the city and locked the gates. He did not know they were carrying out the orders of his fellow Jew, Haim Farhi, who was personally supervising the city’s defenses.

The agent who was trying to find a ship for Nahman told him on the Sabbath (March 16) that the only one available was an “Ishmaelite” merchant vessel taking goods to Istanbul. The danger of capture and piracy seemed less than the danger of remaining in a city about to go to war, which the agent guessed would start in two or three days. The siege started on March 20, when Napoleon’s infantry arrived from Jaffa. Nahman authorized the agent to hire a ship on the Sabbath, because pikuah nefesh (saving a life) has priority over the Sabbath.

 And then, the Rabbi’s chronicler recounts: “Many ships with men of war from England also arrived in Acre, and panic spread more and more, for there was great crowding in the city, for there was little space to hold so much population.” This was the Royal Navy flotilla led by Commodore Sidney Smith, a rival of Lord Nelson, arriving in time to secure the route to India from France. Then came the announcement that the government had decreed that all civilians who did not evacuate the city by sea (the gates were closed on the land side) within two hours would be executed to clear the ground for the battle.

Though this order too probably came from Farhi, Nahman did not appeal to his fellow Jew, of whom he was apparently unaware; nor did he approach the British, as this was before the Balfour Declaration. Instead he and his companion with great difficulty made their way to the shore, where they took a “bark” to a large ship, thinking or hoping it was the one on which they had booked passage. When they saw it bristling with cannon, they tried to convince themselves that it was a merchant ship armed in self-defense, but it turned out to be a Turkish warship filled with “savage Ishmaelite warriors” who they feared would sell them into slavery. But they had no alternative and boarded.

 The battle started, the French Navy bombarded the ship, and the cannons roared. Nahman and his companion were confined to a small cabin with no food or water. One crewmember spoke a little Russian to them. The cook brought them black coffee twice a day. Battered by French artillery and storms, the ship took on water. The pumps broke, and the crew tried to bail by hand. They threw all the cargo overboard, but nothing helped. Nahman feared that the crew would sell him and his companion into slavery in a country with no Jews, an anxiety he coped with by working out how he would observe all 613 commandments alone, even if he had no books or texts and did not know whether it was the Sabbath or a holiday.

 The ship docked on the Isle of Rhodes, part of the Ottoman Empire, the day before Passover, April 18. Knowing that there were Jews in Rhodes, the captain let Nahman’s companion enter the city under guard to buy kosher food. The companion feared that the city’s security forces would arrest him as a foreign spy in time of war, but finally “they did nothing at all to him,” and he met the community’s chief rabbi (hakham, the Sephardic term) and told him what had happened. The hakham told him not to worry.

 The companion was in a hurry to buy matzah and wine, but first he played a little Jewish geography. It came to his mind that when he was in the inn in Tiberias he heard from Rabbi Zvi Horker that the latter’s wife, who was from an important Sephardic family, had a brother in Rhodes, a great and righteous hakham. He couldn’t remember his name, but he asked the hakham if he had a sister in Tiberias married to Rabbi Zvi. He didn’t, but he knew the hakham who did, so he invited both of them to the seder and again told them not to worry.

Rabbi Horker’s brother-in-law told him that the community had already convinced the captain not to leave until they had ransomed the captives, and they would pay whatever was necessary. The captain, he said, was a notorious thief, deeply rooted in evil, related to the five lords of the Philistines, which was how he signed his name. (The Philistine polity was composed of five city-states, named in Joshua 13:3 and I Samuel 6:17.) After sending the companion to the hammam and serving him coffee, they asked who the other captive was. They knew of the Baal Shem and were thrilled and honored to redeem his descendant.

 The next day, the first day of Passover, having returning to the ship to tell Nahman of what had happened, the companion came back to the city. He attended services and was invited to the afternoon holiday meal, during which he was plied with so much wine that when he returned to the ship laden with delicacies for Nahman, he passed out before he could say a word.

 The next day, the first of the intermediate days of Passover, the hakham and two wealthy members of the community called on the captain and asked him to release the two passengers. The captain may have been a Palestinian, since the only sense I can make of the claim that he signed his name as a descendant of the Philistines is that he called himself so-and-so (his name is not recorded) al-Filastini, the Palestinian, using a geographic surname.

 While the Jews of Rhodes considered him a thief, he presented a different narrative of his actions, which Rabbi Nahman’s companion passed on to the chronicler:

 What do you have to do with these two? I saved them from chaos. . . . Not just that, let me tell you, during this whole trip there was hardly a moment without an accident (rega’ be-lo pega’) and we could have tossed these two into the sea or sold them to the Ishmaelites (slave traders). We could have taken all their money and belongings without anyone so much as whistling or saying a word. But what could we do? They had lucky stars in heaven, and what’s more, God (may He be blessed) performed a miracle for them: this ship quickly arrived here, and, miracle within a miracle, God has unburdened my heart and enlightened my mind, so that I took one of them into the city. Even now it would be within my rights to take their money, but all I ask is that, to prevent my sailors from complaining to me, you give me two hundred thalers, and take them off the ship.

The Jews of Rhodes paid the ransom, equal to about the price of one African in the New York slave market on Wall Street at that time.

Nahman and his companion were freed from the ship on May 21, the same day that Le Moniteur Universel announced Napoleon’s plan to recruit a Jewish army against the Ottomans, whose authorities in Rhodes immediately accused the two Hasidim of spying. Much to their chagrin, they had to remove their black Hasidic garb and peyot and dress like the Sephardim to disguise themselves. The Jews of Rhodes got Nahman on a ship to Istanbul.

 In Istanbul the Ottoman authorities found that Nahman and his companion had not shown their passports when they had passed through before. They confiscated their passports and tried to impose an enormous fine (evidently larger than the ransom demanded by the captain). A member of the Istanbul Jewish community bribed someone in the Ottoman administration and the two rushed off to Galati, Romania, where they were put in quarantine. They each had to pay four gold ducats to be released. They got back to Ukraine with no further incidents.

 In 1805 the British Navy terminated Bonaparte’s oriental ambitions at Trafalgar, where Lord Nelson fell, and Britain ruled the waves. Five years later Rabbi Nahman died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 in Uman, Ukraine, two years before Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia, without ever benefitting from either the emancipation of the Jews or Napoleon’s transient Middle Eastern conquests. Those of his followers who survived after their community was nearly extinguished in the Holocaust gather at Rebbe Nahman’s tomb every Rosh ha-Shanah. A formula containing his name now appears on many bumper stickers in Israel, as protection against the many dangers of travel that Nahman surmounted.

 In July 1944 the German forces occupying Greece deported the entire Jewish community of Rhodes to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 151 out of 1,673 survived. The Turkish consul general, Selahettin Ulkumen, managed to rescue about forty and is listed as one of the Righteous among the Nations at Yad Va-Shem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. A few survivors ended up in Seattle, where they founded the third largest Sephardic community in the US, which now includes a research center that is leading the revival of the Ladino language of Sephardic Jews. One member of the community, Howard Behar, became president of Starbucks.
Read more on this article...