Guest Column: Middle East facts and delusions

In his rankled response to my cautionary letter acknowledging different interpretations of Middle East history (TRRT, Nov. 15-21, 2006), Lenny Levinson accuses me of charges I never made, and ignores the one suggestion I did make (TRRT, Sept 6-12; Oct. 11-17, 2006). He says I accused him of “not providing a full listing of (his) sources,” when I actually said that he referred to the “documentary record…three times without citing a single or secondary source (except the Bible).”

If this were the only diversionary argument Mr. Levinson has constructed in attempting to “prove” that only his interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has merit, it would be sad enough. But it isn’t. He claims I “completely mischaracterized Dershowitz’s central, thoroughly documented arguments,” when I didn’t attribute so much as a single argument to Dershowitz. I cited Dershowitz’s book, The Case for Israel, at the close of my letter, and contrasted it with another book on the subject, Beyond Chutzpah, by Norman G. Finkelstein—without critical commentary on either.

Finkelstein teaches political science at DePaul University. He has monumentally different views of the same purported facts that Levinson claims are indisputable. Although I was well acquainted with the various positions of those on different sides of the conflict, I had never before encountered two such adamantly antagonistic interpretations of the historical realities. My concluding suggestion—that “perhaps a deep reading of these two books will discourage simplistic conclusions”—was an attempt to foster the “both sides are right” views of thoughtful and knowledgeable people like Chaim Weizman and Rabbi Hertzberg.

Since Levinson ignores this reference, doesn’t even mention the Finkelstein book, and doggedly continues to defend his one and only one side is correct position, I can only assume that he has not yet read Beyond Chutzpah. He even says that he “can’t imagine what kind of history professors are filling (my) mind with obfuscation.” He doesn’t have to imagine; I referenced Finkelstein’s book.

As much as I respect Arthur Hertzberg, I have concluded that while both sides may be right, it is of far more deadly consequence that both sides are also wrong. I came to this conclusion after an intensive three-month study of Dershowitz’s points and Finkelstein’s counterpoints, all fact-checked against my comprehensive reference library of respected Middle East scholars. Levinson suggests that I read Dershowitz’s book “more carefully.” I doubt if he (or any other layperson) has devoted as much time and energy to carefully studying these works as I have. I find flaws in both books; most notably each author’s acrimonious tone toward those who have different views of the facts. In addition to believing that both sides are right and wrong, I sense that there may be no stand-alone military or political solution to it. It is a problem perpetuated by two equally wounded spirits, and therefore cries out for spiritual healing.

Levinson challenged me to refute his claims in this paper. Since I never challenged any of his specific “facts,” per se, and only pointed out that the different sides interpret the contextual significance of these facts differently, I am not going to respond to his challenge. Instead, I will share what David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said about the conflict in a 1938 speech to the Mapai Political Committee, as quoted by Colin Chapman in Whose Promised Land.

“This is an active resistance by the Palestinians to what they regard as a usurpation of their homeland by the Jews—that’s why they fight. Behind the terrorists is a movement, which though primitive is not devoid of idealism and self-sacrifice…I insist on the truth…The acknowledgement of this truth leads to inevitable and serious conclusions regarding our work in Palestine…A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire easily…But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict which is in essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves. Militarily, it is we who are on the defensive, who have the upper hand…but in the political sphere they are superior. The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside” (p. 63-64).

Finally, I cannot comprehend why Mr. Levinson sees fit to malign my motives for having a different interpretation of history than his, by blindly accusing me of “bad faith.” Perhaps he might benefit from some genuine good faith introspection himself.

W. Harrison Goodenow is a Rockford resident.

From the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2006, issue

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