"You have joined a media blitz against Israel. I believe this will be counterproductive to American values and interests in the Middle East."
"As I read your paragraphs about how much you feel you owe to the Jews of old, my instinct was to protect my vulnerable parts . . . . It sounds like you have been hoarding your irritations and biases against Israel and just waiting for the chance to unload. If that is your idea of a fair and honest description of the events in the Middle East, I sure would hate to have you on my jury."
"Your moral concerns were shamelessly manipulated by that retired State Department official who urged you to speak out against 'the little holocaust going on in Lebanon.' His is the voice of the hypocrite, not that of the prophet."
"You owe it to your readers to correct the false charge that the Jews gained their homeland by displacing the Palestinians."
"I suggest that you read a little more history of the Jews and the 1948 war. You will find therein no Arab was forced to leave Israel then, or at any other time thereafter. It was their leaders who urged them to leave. They were told otherwise they would be persecuted."
These excerpts are among the critical comments from American Jews received in response to my recent remarks in this space about the Israelis and the Palestinians. Before plunging anew into that subject, I want to take this opportunity to make some observations about the general thrust of those criticisms.
Judging from them, there's no doubt that many American Jews, whether a majority or not I can't say, believe the U.S. press to be engaged, as one reader put it, in a "media blitz against Israel." Specifically, they believe writers on this paper to be leading players in that anti-Israel assault. To say I disagree is hardly credible, nor the point here. The point is that such an attitude exists.
There also exists a strong, almost desperate, feeling that all the burden for the present tragedy in Lebanon unjustly is being laid at Israel's door. There is a feeling, in other words, that the present drumbeat of criticism for Israel fails to examine the actions of the Palestinians or the Arab states, and to assess their collective responsibility for the continuing Middle East bloodshed. In that respect, my remarks about the Palestinians being displaced from their homes drew the most attention.
It is certainly true that the Arab states objected to the formation of the Jewish state, as called for in the original 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine. That plan called for the creation of a Jewish state (Israel) on land largely settled then by Jews, and an Arab state on land in which the Arabs held the majority. The Arab states did more than object. They refused to abide by the mandate and invaded the fledging state of Israel, beginning what became Israel's victorious War of Independence.
But the record as to whether the half million or so Palestinians fled that war zone then under prodding of Jewish forces or at the urging of Arab leaders is by no means so clear. As Lawrence Meyer writes in his excellent new book, "Israel Now," at least one historian sympathetic to Israel finds nothing to support the Israeli leaders' claim that the Palestinians fled at the behest of their leaders' exhortations. Howard M. Sachar, in his "History of Israel," writes:
"Rather, the evidence in the Arab press and radio of the time was to the contrary. By and large, except for towns like Haifa, already captured by the Jews, the Arab League ordered the Palestinians to stay where they were, and stringent punitive measures were reported against Arab youths of military age who fled the country. Even Jewish broadcasts (in Hebrew) mentioned these Arab orders to remain. Arab leaders and the various 'national committees' appealed repeatedly to the Arabs not to leave their homes. The Ramallah commander of the Arab Legion threatened to confiscate the property and blow up the houses of those Arabs who left without permission. At one point the Lebanese government decided to close its frontiers to all Palestinians, except for women, children and old people."
Meyer, in examining this dispute, says one prominent Israeli directly involved, Yitzhak Rabin, has claimed that he acted under orders from David Ben-Gurion to drive Arabs from the territory under Jewish control. "Certainly," Meyer adds, "thousands of Arabs fled from Jewish-controlled areas voluntarily, out of fear, especially after the Deir Yassin massacre outside of Jerusalem in April, 1948, when more than 200 Arab men, women and children were slain and mutilated by forces of the right wing Irgun Z'vai Le'umi and the Lech'i."
Finally, and most striking about virtually all the letters received, is the deep sense of anguish among many American Jews, far beyond those inclined to be critical in the past, about the future of Israel, and their doubts and concerns about the present behavior of Menachem Begin's government and how it will affect Israel tomorrow.
What comes after the siege of Beirut ends, as it certainly shall, remains the question. Begin says we are on the verge of a historic period of peace. The world will rejoice if he is correct.
But I would suggest that even then the price of the outcome in Lebanon will be a heavy one for Israel. The actions of the last two months have eroded Israel's credibility. Worse, they have sown doubts not only among Israel's non-Jewish friends but also among many American Jews who are heartsick at what they see transpiring.
In his book, Meyer notes the disturbing eloquence of a contemporary Israeli historian, Jacob Talmon. Writing two years ago, but in words that seem especially pertinent now, Talmon says:
"For all the shame and pain we feel over the harm done to us by our neighbors because of anachronistic perverse policies, our fear should be greater over what these acts will do to us, to the Jewish people and to our dream of social and moral justice and renaissance. For this dream was one of the vital and beautiful aspects of Zionism, setting it apart from other national liberation movements. The desire to dominate . . . leads to perpetual fear and mistrust of the subjugated people and creates terrible temptations that are stronger than any subjectively good intentions."
Talmon goes on to say:
"In contrast to what generations have considered our unique gift to humanity--the idea of the rule of the spirit rather than the rule of force--we are using the rule of force . . . and so we no longer can expect the world to look upon our rights as so pressing that that they ought to cancel out the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination."
And on the eve of the establishment of Israel, its first president, Chaim Weizmann, wrote:
"I am certain that the world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with the Arabs."
I know neither of those remarks addresses the other side. I know they don't take into account the brutalities and murders committed, the unyielding hostility and refusal even to grant Israel the right to exist, to say nothing of the refusal to renounce further acts of terrorism. I know it's easy to pass judgment from here, in the comfort and safety of Washington, untroubled by the threat of experiencing another terroristic attack in the night or a bomb on the bus. But to me, at least, an outsider and non-Jew, those remarks do speak to a central part of the equation.
That has nothing to do with Israel's proper right of sovereignty, self-defense and security. It does have to do with the tarnishing of the dream that Israel represents.