ISRAEL AROUSES EVERY emotion except indifference. The admiration of its friends and the virulence of its critics each has a special intensity. What is unusual is for the two attitudes to coexist in the same intellectual biography, and it is here that I. F. Stone gives us yet another display of his originality.
Over 30 years ago Stone fell passionately in love with Israel's struggle for independence. The salient theme was compassion. Six million of his fellow-Jews were beyond physical redemption, and all that could be done on their behalf was to give their martyrdom a pious commemoration. But what could not and need not be endured was the spiteful cruelty inflicted on their survivors. An emissary of President Truman, Earl Harrison, had put it trenchantly:
"We seem to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them."
While the whole world comes under his fair indictment, Stone's accusation is focused primarily on Britain in its capacity as mandatory power for Palestine.
It was there that the survivors wanted to go, and it was there that the ruling power had obtained its position by virtue of its obligation, in the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the League of Nations Mandate (1922), "to facilitate the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people." Whatever this did or did not mean, it clearly could not be reconciled with the idea of ensuring the death or humiliation of surviving Jews by excluding them from the right of entry to the country of their "national home," in which Jews, after all, had a stronger moral right of presence than the British officials who were administering it. I. F. Stone's rage, now 30 years old, burns as fiercely in the pages of his book today, as when he wrote the major part of it three decades ago. It comes to expression in the diary of his voyage to Germany and Czechoslovakia, and thence to an Italian port where he embarked on an immigrant ship carrying Jews through the British blockade.
The journey is a symphonic drama, alive with contradictory themes of nobility and squalor, vigor and sickness, resignation and militant fury, with every life hanging on a slender thread. Stone tells the story not only with literary truth, but with a solidarity of the most intense degree. "These Jews were my own people and I had come to love them on our long trip together." As for Britain, it "will emerge with shame, but not with victory."
The immigrants got their way, and after a short stay in an immigrant camp at Athlit, they were allowed to remain in Palestine. I. F. Stone went to Cairo, and thence back to America, where he continued his struggle for liberal and humane causes.
But the book does not end there. There are other chapters ("Reflections and Meditations Thirty Years After"), in which Stone pays tribute to some of the earlier Zionists who waged a gallant and totally unrequited campaign for Arab-Jewish understanding. The vehemence with which the Arabs then rejected all Jewish overtures, whether from the official Zionist leaders, or from the "other Zionists" who pursued Arab tolerance with single-minded zeal, comes through in Stone's text rather more faintly than strict truth would warrant. Stone seems to believe that the Arabs could have been brought to accept Zionism by Jewish benevolence and self-abnegation, rather than by coming to terms with Jewish strength and stability. It would be good to believe this, but, alas, the evidence points in the opposite direction.
All the Egyptians, including Anwar Sadat, to whom I have spoken since November 1977, have said frankly that they became reconciled to the idea of peace with Israel "because of your strength, not because of your or our righteousness." The Arab leader in 1947, Azzam Pasha, to whom Stone refers, told me in that year, "You might get your state if you win the fight for it. But any idea that the Arabs will accept you without fighting to prevent your existence is ridiculous."
Back in the 1930s a group of socialist Zionists who went to tell Mahatma Gandhi of the Jewish plight and of their hope to alleviate it by establishing a Jewish homeland, were met with the unexpected question, "Are you strong enough?" Somehow, they had expected to be interrogated by the great moralist about rectitude, not about strength.
Stone reflects deeply and painfully on the reluctance of many Israelis to relinquish Israeli rule over the West Bank and Gaza. I have great sympathy for his sentiment, and for his ultimate position, but not for the bizarre route by which he arrives at his conclusion.When a serious writer encounters a spectacle of obduracy, his duty is not only to describe it, but to understand and explain how and why it arose. That Israeli reluctance to accept the PLO state as a neighbor has anything to do with the PLO's policy of killing Israelis wherever they can effectively do so is a thought that goes unrepresented in Stone's book. The athletes shot through the head in Munich while they were trussed up like animals in a helicopter, the schoolchildren on whom the Palestinian "warriors" turned a machine gun, rather as a gardener sprays grass with a hosepope, the busload of Israelis murdered in horrifying brutality on the coastal road last fall, the victims amongst our shoppers in supermarkets -- all these cry out of their graves for I. F. Stone's tribute of human solidarity, and get nothing from him but stony silence. They do not exist in his consciousness, even as a partial or inadequate explanation of Israeli attitudes on the Palestine problem. After all, the demand for a Palestine state does not come from Palestinians who offer to cease these massacres, but from these who frankly brandish a "covenant" that summons them to continue them.
And the PLO decision to fight Israel came before 1967. It has nothing to do with the result of the 1967 war. Nor does Stone bring us a gallery of "other Arabs" who recognize, as do nearly all Israelis, that there are two peoples, not one, whose national rights must come to fulfillment in the land between the river and the sea. It is quite possible to cite the Israeli reluctance to get killed and to assert that nevertheless there is room and need for a more open attitude to a new relationship with Palestinians.
But to pretend, by silence or omission, that there is no psychology of Israeli vulnerability at all, or that this psychology has no origins in any series of facts, is to carry Stone's vicarious Jewish generosity a little too far. Even masochism has an ordained limit.
The existential liberal dilemma has never been resolved. It arises from the paradox that aims, which should be attainable by grace and human reason, are usually attained, if at all, by the very means that liberals would prefer to avoid. This was true of the two evils that Stone excoriates in the first part of his book -- the Nazi terror, and the subsequent denial of a homeland to Hitler's Jewish victims. There was no way in which these evils could be peacefully overcome.
Whether the Palestinians will come to terms with Israel except out of a conviction that Israel is permanent and inexorable is a question at least worth asking. My experience tells me that men and nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives. If Stone can prove otherwise, he should give us liberals the consoling evidence of his insights. The consolation is that the alternatives to peace in the Middle East may now be exhausted.
As it is, the book falls from intellectual grace towards its latter pages. Stone complains petulantly that he does not get invited to speak in synagogues, which is unfortunate but not earth-shattering. I can assure him that here in Israel, he could get crowded platforms seven days a week to expound views that most Israelis would regard as falling short of equilibrium. But it is sheer nonsense to write that "finding an American publishing house willing to publish a book that departs from the standard Israeli line is about as easy as selling a thoughtful exposition of atheism to the Osservatore Romano in Vatican City." This is poor rhetoric and total untruth. My own private library contains some shelves devoted to dissidents, from Chomsky to Arendt to Rodinson, to say nothing of Nahum Goldman and Eliav whose departure from the "standard Israeli line" held no terrors for American publishers at all. I doubt whether Stone had a hard time to get his "Reflections" into print, and I rejoice that this is so. He needs no Voltaires to defend his right to say what they oppose. May he long continue to inspire, to infuriate and to provoke. But he would do well to remember that Israel's condition is not fundamentally different today from the condition of the pathetic boatload that braved the storms of physical and human nature in 1946.