REVIEW REPORT: DANIEL SOKATCH’S “CAN WE TALK ABOUT ISRAEL?”
Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund since 2009 and founding Executive Director of Bend the Arc (formally, the Progressive Jewish Alliance) recently wrote a book entitled Can We Talk About Israel? A Guide for the Curious, Confused and Conflicted (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021). This is a preliminary report covering Sokatch’s presentation of the historical backdrop to the Six Day War in 1967.
Sokatch is forthright about his “perspective”, stating that he is “a product of the liberal American Jewish community”. Asserting that he possesses intimate familiarity with various aspects of the pro-Israel narrative held by Americans, he suggests that readers listen to the story as he sees it and draw their own conclusions. The reader is warned that “you are probably not going to agree with, or perhaps even believe, everything you read here” (p. 6) and “while I won’t engage in propaganda, I do (italics in original) have an agenda” (p. 5). Sokatch’s stated purpose in writing the book is “to explain why Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute seem to drive so many otherwise reasonable people completely bonkers” (p. 3-4). The book reflects the author’s view that the struggle, in line with Benny Morris’ famous paradigm, is between two groups of “righteous victims” (p. 5).
This reviewer has sought to relate solely to those items that, in his view, were misrepresented in the book. In such cases, an alternative interpretation of the issue has been suggested. Essentially, the reviewer has attempted to identify how Sokatch’s perspective is shaped by his errors. As Sokatch himself notes: “people have strong feelings…but that doesn’t mean those feelings are actually based on…well, facts – on an actual understanding of the situation…” (p. 3). I thus ask: Does Sokatch frame his historical overview and presentation of Israel in order to persuade his readers to adopt a particular political position?
An example of a devious misrepresentation is his sentence on p. 9: “King Hussein…flew his royal Jordanian jet around Jerusalem in a salute to the city he once ruled”. Hussein’s “rule” was the result of the invasion of Mandate Palestine by his grandfather, Abdullah, in 1948, itself a violation of United Nations appeals, an illegal occupation followed, in April 1950, by a further illegal act of annexation. Furthermore, on p. 372, the Index entry for “Jerusalem, East” contains this term: “Israeli annexation”. The term “Jordanian annexation” does not appear there nor At the entry for “Jordan”. What is missing in his telling can be at the least as important for the reader as what is present in his telling.
The review will proceed page-by-page. A conclusion and summing up will then be summarized. Does Sokatch provide a guide for the “Curious, Confused and Conflicted”? Or does his “guide” add to the confusion and exacerbate the conflict by providing an anti-fact and a fake presentation of Judaism, Zionism, Israel and Jewish history?
p.12 – “The idea of Israel in the Jewish imagination”
While the academic employment of the term “imagination” would be understood as “a power of the mind,” “a creative faculty of the mind,” or a “process” of the mind to indicate thinking or remembering, its usage here could mislead the reader to think it is a made-up and contrived idea.
p. 13 – “(“Nablus,” in Arabic)”
Indeed, Shchem is now known in Arabic as Nablus yet “Nablus” originates as a corruption (Arabic lacks a “p”) in the Latin name, “Neapolis”, or Flavia Neapolis, as named by the Roman emperor Vespasian in 72 CE following Jerusalem’s destruction, a precursor to the naming of Judaea as “Palaestina” by Hadrian at the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt in 132 CE, or just prior. Given the importance of the idea of an Arab Palestine, this background should have been provided.
p. 13 – “the Palestinian territories in the West Bank”
Following the previous comment, it should have been at this point that the term “West Bank” would have been explained as created only in 1950 as part of Jordan’s illegal annexation of the area. Indeed, in the Lexicon chapter, p. 321-324, discusses at length the “West Bank” but avoids any mention of its status during 1948-1967.
p. 13 – “The Hebrew Bible is…the origin story…for some people”
To use “some’ could be viewed as a belittling, especially as almost all Jews, all Christians and even the Moslems, based on the Quran, the vast majority of the world’s population, accept its reliability as a source text. Ancient steles, other writings and archaeological finds confirm, to a very large degree, the outlines of the Biblical narrative, at the least regarding Jewish settlement and residency in the Land of Israel and the Jewish people’s history in that land.
p. 13 – “The conquest by Israel of the West Bank in 1967”
While perhaps technically correct, “conquest” is a loaded term especially as Jordan’s 1948 conquest of that area is completely absent from his book. Sokatch is semantically prejudicing his readers.
p. 14 – “sets the stage for yet another musical”
The employment of frivolity would seem inappropriate except, perhaps, as an expression of the author’s downgrading Jewish heritage values or even demeaning their validity.
p. 14 – “Jewish kingdoms rose and fell in what is now Israel and the West Bank”
While technically true, to deliberately avoid mentioning the proper geo-historical place names of “Judea and Samaria” would seem a purposeful attempt to avoid those names.
p. 14 – In the footnote at the bottom of the page, relating to his use of the phrase “Jewish story”, rather than, say, the Jewish record, Sokatch writes “this is the Jewish version of the same kind of faith-based views on land ownership that motivated the Muslim conquests of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent; crusades…Manifest Destiny…and Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe”. This patently a false comparison as well as being an ideological framework.
p. 15 – “a group of Jewish rebels (and, by all accounts, religious fanatics)”
If all religious groups are described as “fanatics”, this might be a minor issue. If not, again, it is indicative of Sokatch belittling anything authentically Jewish. In the footnote at the bottom of the age, Sokatch employs “religious extremists” to describe again the Hasmoneans.
p. 16 – “the Western Wall is considered the holiest site in Judaism”
But it is not the holiest site. The Temple Mount is the most sacred site.
p. 17 – “While there were always small communities of Jews living in the Land of Israel between 70 C.E. and the late nineteenth century…”
The first date should properly be 135 C.E. In the early 2nd century hundreds of thousands of Jews resided in the country. Moreover, At this point Sokatch, over three pages, summarizes 1800 years of the Jewish Diaspora experience yet avoids the history of Jews emigrating to the Land of Israel, living there, developing communities there, highlighting, for example, the rise of Safed and Jewish mysticism, the continuous Jewish life in Jerusalem and Hebron, in particular, the emigrations of Hassidim in 1777 or the pupils of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna in 1810, the various settlement schemes and more (see, for example, Arie Morgenstern’s “Dispersion and the Longing for Zion, 1240-1840”, AZURE,
Winter 5762 / 2002, no. 12). On p. 22, he returns to the Land of Israel at the time of the 1850s and writes, “As I mentioned, even after the Roman exile, some Jews remained in the Land of Israel”. All this is quite an inadequate presentation, especially in connection with the Arab claim that Jews are a foreign entity in the region or they are non-indigenous.
p. 19 – “the Church adopted a position of hostility toward Jews…this resulted in…stereotyping…persecution and violence.”
No indication is provided that that violence – at the times of the Crusades, during the Black Death period or the Inquisition – resulted in mass murder, expulsions, accusations of ritual murder and more. Again, a downplaying of Jewish suffering.
p. 22 – “the General Jewish Labor Bund…rejected emigration.”
Coming after Sokatch mentions the mass emigration of East European Jewry to America, one would think the Bund was anti-emigration to another Diaspora land. Yet, the Bund was anti-Zionist.
p. 23 – “This philanthropy resulted in the founding, starting in the 1850s…”
Further to the above-mentioned waves of Jewish immigration in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Sokatch ignores the so-called “Forerunners of Zionism”, the Rabbis Yehuda Alkalai, Elijahu Guttmacher, Yehuda Bibas and Zvi Hersh Kalischer, the American Mordecai Manuel Noah and the European Socialist Moshe Hess, all active in a proto-political sense prior to 1860. He does not even quote American Presidents who supported a return to Zion such as John Adams in 1818 who wrote that Jews should be “restored to an independent government” and ”I really wish the Jews once again in Judea, an independent Nation…I wish your nation may be admitted to all the privileges of nations in every part of the world.” All this, it should be noted, was less of a response to anti-Semitic pogroms (such as in Russia in the 1880s and the Dreyfus Case of 1894) that Sokatch does detail as a springboard to political Zionism.
p. 25 – “Herzl was somewhat less wedded than other early Zionists to the notion that the Jewish State be established in Palestine…[emphasis in original]”
Herzl’s consideration of East Africa was not a free choice but one of temporarily saving the Jews in areas of pogroms. In the Zionist Congress that voted down his proposal of a Nachtasyl (“night shelter”), he swore allegiance to Jerusalem, quoting Psalms 137:5 – “Let my right hand forget its cunning if I forget Jerusalem”. Sokatch implies that perhaps even Herzl would have sought another area for the Jewish State than the Land of Israel but without explaining to his readers the historical framework.
p. 26 – “I’m often asked if I’m a Zionist…Israel is a reality, so asking about someone’s stand on the nineteenth-century movement…doesn’t seem particularly relevant”.
Sokatch would have us believe, as he writes there, that the goal of Zionism was simply self-determination and so in May 1948, that goal was realized. Framing Zionism this way not only allows him to ignore answering the posed question – is he a Zionist? – but he thus skirts the issue and moreover, he limits Zionism only to the borders of May 1948, which, of course, were the 1947 proposed partition lines. On p. 30, he returns to the “silly” question and again skirts the issue, writing he simply supports “the liberal vision of Israel enshrined in its Declaration of Independence”.
p. 27 – “right-wing (‘Revisionist’) Zionists preached a militant gospel of territorial expansion…their early symbols included a map that showed a ‘Greater Land of Israel’…based on the borders of a biblical Kingdom of Israel”.
The map he refers to, commonly known as the “Two Banks Has the Jordan” map, actually outlines the original Mandate of Palestine area of what became only Israel and TransJordan (Lebanon was not included in that map as he suggests there). The 1919 map that Chaim Weizmann tabled for deliberation of the Versailles Peace Conference did include parts of Lebanon, Syria and, in TransJordan, up to the Hejaz Railway line some 50 kilometers east of the Jordan River (the area of the Biblical tribal portions of Reuven, Gad and half of Menasheh).
It was in July 1922, as per Article 25 of the League of Nations Mandate, that all “the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined” were effectively separated from the Jewish National Home. The Carlsbad 1923 Zionist Congress, representing all the Zionist parties, adopted the following resolution: that Trans- and Cis-Jordan are “one historical, geographic and economic unit” and “in accordance with the legitimate demands of the Jewish people”, the Congress expects that an expression of such will be achieved in Transjordan and eventually it will be carried out. It was a map not for expansion but against the territorial whittling down of the Jewish National Home.
p. 28 – “[Jabotinsky] argued in his essay ‘The Iron Wall’ that…the native Arabs [would need be beaten] into submission”
That is not what Jabotinsky wrote. His 1923 Iron Wall concept was one of defense against an Arab wave of violence that had killed, injured and raped Jews in Jerusalem in April 1920, Jaffa and Petach Tikva in May 1921 and again Jerusalem in November 1921. He wrote that Zionism “can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach… the iron wall, which is to say a strong power in Palestine that is not amenable to any Arab pressure.” Sokatch twists Jabotinsky’s meaning and intent.
p. 28 – “today, most right-wing Zionists would never describe Zionism as a colonialist movement”
That is true but not so much, as Sokatch notes, that it ‘doesn’t serve political talking points’ as that there is a vast difference between the connotation attached to the term today and what the term symbolized in the minds of Zionist leaders and pioneers at that time. For them “colonizing” meant “settling the land” and bringing in Jewish immigrants according to the age-old Jewish legacy. Kibbutzim and moshavot were “colonies”. Colonialism today is the practice of European or ‘North’ countries to control a native people by a foreign people by establishing colonies with the aim of economic exploitation and dominance. Jews were returning home and sought to build social and economic cooperation with the local Arabs, themselves a people who had invaded the country and economically disenfranchised the Jews living there.
p. 29 – “from…1948 to 1977, the proponents of right-wing Zionism were in perpetual opposition…”
Gahal, the Herut-Liberal Bloc led by Menachem Begin was a full member of the 1967-1970 National Unity Government coalition with ministerial responsibilities.
p. 29 – “in order to gain a majority in the…Knesset, Zionist political parties found it necessary to work with ultra-Orthodox religious parties”
While in itself true, that cooperation, one quite normal in politics, especially a parliamentary system that relies on coalitions, even with groups outside the elected bodies of governing, existed during pre-state days with the World Zionist Organization in various periods and circumstances. For example, in 1933, an agreement with the Jewish Agency whereby Agudat Yisrael would receive 6.5% of the immigration permits allotted by the British was made.
On June 19, 1947, David Ben-Gurion sent his “status quo” letter to the leaders of the Agudat Yisrael party to mollify their opposition to the establishment of the Jewish state and achieve a united policy to be presented to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). There also was the 1943 Teheran Children Agreement with them as well.
p. 30 – “Jews were heading back to Palestine. Beginning in the 1880s…”
Again, Sokatch misses an opportunity to highlight many centuries of continuous and consistent Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel from all over the world and not only in modern times and due to persecutions.
p. 31-32 – “a large native Arab population who quite understandably became more and more hostile…”
In the first place, whether or not the entire Arab population was “native” (and let us not forget that there were also “native” Jews in the country. Not all were non-natives) is an issue that could be commented on. In the second place, why “understandably”? Why even intimate the Arabs were correct in their hostility without a more sophisticated presentation of the competing forces and their justification or lack thereof?
p. 33-34 – Is Zionism Justifiable?
In responding to the young camper’s question and the example of a stranger coming into someone’s house, Sokatch is negligent in stressing points that have been highlighted previously: that Jews, albeit without sovereignty, were present in the Land throughout the years of exile; that Arabs themselves were strangers who had arrived as conquerors and occupiers and had come to someone else’s house; that the Arabs, based on the Quran, were aware this land was the Jewish homeland; and that the Jews attempted as much as possible to come in peace, to purchase back their homeland and to accommodate with the local non-Jewish residents.
p. 35-36 – “one school of thought has today’s Palestinians descending from the Biblical Canaanites and Philistine (which is where the name ‘Palestine’ comes from”.
There is no true school of thought such as Sokatch writes. It is a propaganda claim. The name ‘Palestine’ come from, as noted above, the Romans. The Philistines of the Bible were the Sea People from the Aegean area. He doesn’t even present that “school of thought” to balance the argument. At least he did not note Saeb Erekat’s claim to be descended from the Natufians. Or that of Yasser Arafat and Faisal Husseini who claimed that Palestinian Arabs are descended from the Jebusites following the Al-Mawsu’at Al-Filastinniya (Palestinian encyclopedia) asserting that Palestinians are “the descendants of the Jebusites, who are of Arab origin” even.
This is not only a matter of historical fact but it indicates how Arabs simply fantasize and make up things. And it sets a pattern of ‘they claim/they claim’ as if there is no truth.
p. 40 – “World War I temporarily interrupted the waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine”.
Over 40,000 Jews were forcibly deported from their homes and also expelled from the country by the Ottoman government as well.
p. 41 – “The nations of the world had given the United Kingdom another colony to run”.
Again Sokatch reinforces the false status of the Jewish National Home within the special status it had been defined as a Class ‘A’ Mandate, different from the others in that a nation is provisionally recognized as independent, but receives the advice and assistance, as well as employing the false term of ‘colony’.
p. 42 – “The Palestinian Arab community’s increasingly furious opposition”.
Furious is an understatement. In April 1920, Arabs in Jerusalem rioted, after a series of unruly demonstrations demanding Palestine, which they referred to a “Southern Syria”, be rejoined to Greater Syria. Jews were killed and raped. On p. 43, Sokatch only notes the May 1921 riots and does not mention the killings of Jews at Tel Hai in two separate attacks at the end of 1919 and in February 1920.
p. 43-44 – “the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence…didn’t actually apply to Palestine”.
It did not. Moreover, when Faisal and Weizmann worked out a Zionist-Arab agreement in January 1919, the wording therein was clear: there was to be an “Arab State”, for the Arabs, meaning today’s Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Emirates, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq and a Jewish “Palestine”.
p. 46 – “the Irgun…clashed with the Hagana”.
No. The Hagana clashed with the Irgun, including kidnappings, beatings and handing over Irgunists to the British, the so-called ‘Saison’ operation which is alluded to on p. 47.
p. 46 – “The Irgun…engaged in tactics that today we would describe as terrorism”.
While probable, Sokatch could have indicated they may have not or better, compare its actions to other underground militia’s that are held in esteem by the progressive liberal left. He also could have noted that some of the Hagana’s actions also would be termed terrism today.
p. 48 – “Palestinian Arabs…in 1936…launched a massive general strike.”
Sokatch eliminates there the violent rioting and attacks the Arabs engaged in, murdering many dozens of Jews, burning kibbutz fields, cutting down Jewish-planted trees and stoning Jewish traffic on the roads. At the bottom of the page, mentioning the “Arab Revolt of 1936-1939”, again he hides its anti-Jewish nature but notes British, Hagana and Irgun attacks on the Arabs and that, on p. 49, “thousands of Arab fighters were killed” as if it was a one-sided conflict against Arabs who were but striking. He also hides that the forces of the Mufti assassinated leading local Arab politicians, who adopted a moderate line. This summary is a total reversal of the historical narrative.
Moreover, this section is introduced by highlighting the rise of Nazism and fascism. The Mufti’s outreach to Hitler in 1933 and the funding of Arab terror in Palestine by Germany and Italy in academic research articles is ignored. Only on p. 50 is his alignment with Hitler, defined as “an extreme case of sympathy” for the “Axis powers”.
p. 49 – “the Arab Revolt did have…one arguably positive outcome…it convinced the British that partition was unworkable”
Positive? What was positive? A decade later the Arabs again rejected partition, proving their diplomatic rejectionism and leaving them with no state at all.
p. 49 – “yet another white paper…that envisioned a Jewish national home…as part of an independent Palestine”.
That statement of policy, termed by David Ben-Gurion as a betrayal, contained this sentence: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” In September 1939, Ben-Gurion stated: “we must fight the White Paper” (and not as Sokatch translates on p. 50 as “we must stand against the White Paper”). Sokatch does not mention any Zionist opposition to the White Paper. He could have noted the Jewish Agency reaction as published in the Palestine Post, May 18, 1939: that this was “breach of faith as a surrender to Arab terrorism”. Was this what he meant by something “positive” that emanated from the White Paper?
p. 52 – “Exodus, by Leon Uris…has served as a compelling, if extremely romanticized and rather biased, introduction to Israel”
Indeed, it was a romanticized novel. Yes, it underplayed the role of the Irgun and Lechi. But how was it biased as an introduction? Without even one example, Sokatch does a disservice here.
p. 53 – “The Palestinian Arab leadership had fallen into a state of weakness and disorganization…”
In explaining the rejection by the Arabs of Palestine of the 1947 partition proposal, again Sokatch provides an excuse, that they were weak and disorganized. Actually, the Higher Arab Committee won recognition and its representatives, Henri Kattan and Emil al-Ghouri appeared before the UN committee. In addition, they were supported by the multiple Arab state members of the UN. However, upon the Mufti’s instructions, they later boycotted the deliberations out of what they perceived was a position of strength based on their 1939 experience. If anything, what characterized their position was that the Arabs preferred a zero-sum outcome, continued their three-decades old policy of rejectionism, were divided and put forth contradictory approaches.
p. 54 – “[Palestine’s Arabs] felt that they were being asked to pay for someone else’s (Europe’s) sin…”
While that may have been true, Soktach should also be talking whether that was true and whether the leadership of Palestine’s Arabs – the Mufti and top aides – were complicit in the Nazi attempts to exterminate Jews, anti-Jewish riots in Arab countries during the war including Nazi-inspired pogroms in Algeria in the 1930s, and attacks on the Jews of Iraq and Libya in the 1940s. In 1941, 180 Jews were murdered and 700 were injured in the anti-Jewish riots known as “the Farhud” and whether Arab nationalists was sympathetic to Nazism such as Rashid Ali al-Gaylani of Iraq and Anwar Sadat in Egypt.
p. 55 – “Almost immediately (following the UN Partition approval), fighting broke out between Arabs and Jews…”
That wording is quite deceptive. Arabs attacked Jews the following day across the country and Jews were forced to defend themselves as the British were called upon to defend them. In fact, already during the summer of 1947 there were Arab attacks on Jews, reflecting the Arab lack of confidence in the UN deliberations.
p. 56 – “the ultraright Irgun and Lehi organizations entered the Arab town of Deir Yassin…there they massacred between 100 and 250 people.”
According to a 1987 study of the Research and Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, a Palestine Arab academic institution, the number of Arab dead was 107. In May 2018, Professor Eliezer Tauber published in English the results of his research that there was no massacre in Deir Yassin and that the claim was a fabrication and itself was responsible for the fleeing of many thousands of Arabs out of the country. Uri Milstein published in 2012 the book “The Myth of the Deir Yassin Massacre”. Sokatch includes none of their assertions and counter-claims.
On the following page he writes of Menachem Begin’s bragging of “the story [his emphasis] of the massacre”, as if the no massacre claim is just a story. Moreover, in a footnote, he writes of Jewish college students unaware of the massacre, it having been “swept under the rug”, he suggests “if they bother to do a bit of research…[they’ll] find out that the massacre there actually happened”. If only he would have heeded his own suggestion and researched the matter.
At the end of this section, he writes of: “the massacres of Jews by Palestinians before”, the first time such a loaded term is applied to the Arab side of the conflict. Of course, during the time of the Mandate, Jews were also “Palestinians” and so Sokatch again compounds his ignorance, his political outlook and a false presentation of history to mislead his readers.
p. 59 – “this moment of promise for the Jewish people was one of catastrophe for the Arabs of Palestine: it was a moment their homeland disappeared.”
In paralleling the day Zionism’s leaders declared independence on May 14, 1948 with an outstretched hand to peace to the Arabs of the country and those already invading it with what happened to the Arabs of the country at the end of the aggressive hostilities they initiated, is not only wrong as to what happened at the time but again, a misrepresentation of what was at stake. The Jews were willing to compromise and live together with Arabs. The Arabs, on the other hand, were not willing to do so. The ‘moment of their catastrophe’ was in rejecting the partition and going to war six months earlier. As for a “disappearing homeland”, as noted above, that is a misreading of the geopolitical reality of the area of Palestine and its Arab inhabitants who, over the past decade or so, especially during the war years, had been a magnet for the incoming of Arabs from all over the Middle East due to the economic advantages. Their community collapsed and their leadership abandoned them and their rich fled. And the peasant folk blindly followed the calls for jihad and a war of extermination heard over the radio and in the Arabic press.
p. 59 – “the militant groups [Irgun and Lehi]…continued to make secret attempts to procure arms…”
Sokatch, as he expands further down, is referring to the Altalena arms ship affair on June 20-22, 1948. There was no secret. Already in March, the Irgun was in contact with the Hagana inn France who reported to Ben-Gurion and other senior defense leaders of the Yishuv. Two high-level negotiation meetings were conducted with the Hagana and then IDF. The IDF agreed that the ship arrive and dock at Kfar Vitkin, a Mapai moshav. All this and more can be found after a quick Google search. Again, Sokatch proves is unreliability and ignorance, or willful distortion of simple historical facts. He displays how he is a slave of his political outlook.
As an aside, on the very same day the Altalena beached at Tel Aviv, a few hundred meters away, the Palmach brought in its own arms ship, the Inaco, with a large quantity of ammunition and 200 tons of explosives.
p. 61 – “while Rabin was no peacenik…”
While it is true that Yitzhak Rabin’s last policy address in the Knesset on October 5, 1995, a month prior to his assassination, did not support a Palestinian Arab state – “a Palestinian entity…which is less than a state…The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines” – Sokatch is rather dismissive of the man who signed the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty and agreed to the Oslo Accords.
p. 61 – “When the fighting stopped…Israel…held 78 percent of the territory of historic Palestine”
No. It did not. “Historic Palestine” territory included all of Transjordan and as noted above, the territory east of the Jordan River was effectively removed from the intended Jewish National Home in 1922 as per Article 25 of the League of Nations Mandate. In fact until 1946, Jordan was ruled by the same British High Commissioner who also ruled the Palestine Mandate. The figure of 78% is an Arab propaganda claim without foundation.
p. 61 – “Jordan held the West Bank and East Jerusalem…the Palestinians held nothing.”
Again, “West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” were terms that did not exist in 1948. Jerusalem was a united city, as it had been for 3000 years. The West Bank was coined in 1950 when Jordan illegally annexed the area known in Mandate period as Judea and Samaria. Several thousands of Arabs of Palestine, according to their narrative, including the mayors of Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, the Arab Legion Military Governor General, military governors of all the districts, and other notables, convened in Jericho on 1 December 1948 and expressed the desire of unity between Transjordan and Arab Palestine and their wish that Arab Palestine be annexed immediately to Transjordan. They also recognize Abdullah as their King and request him proclaim himself King of new territory. They did have “nothing”; they had a new King. That he kept them mostly in refugee camps had nothing to do with Israel.
p. 61 – “Around 10,000 Jews were kicked out of or fled their homes in territories capture by Arab forces”.
This is wrong. The UN’s B. Scott Custer Jr., in correspondence with Yisrael Medad in October 2003, indicated that during 1949-50, some 17,000 Jewish Palestinians were cared for by UNRWA and its predecessor agency, just as Arabs were, and by 1952, the remaining 3000 Jews still then receiving assistance were transferred to Israel’s supervision. Of course, there were several thousands of Jews who, during the period 1920-1948 were residing in Judea and Samaria, mainly Hebron but also in the environs of Jerusalem, the Etzion Bloc, the Dead Sea and even in the majority Arab cities of Shchem/Nablus, Jenin, Tul Karem and even Gaza and Jericho who were ethnically-cleansed by the waves of Arab pogroms and riots and although, on p. 69, he mentions population transfers between 1920s and 1950s, he does include what Arabs did to Jews in the Palestine Mandate in his list). To that number should be added some 60,000 Jews, Internally Displaced Persons, who were either displaced or temporarily displaced from their homes according to Nurit Cohen-Levinovsky in her 2014 “Jewish Refugees in Israel’s War of Independence”.
According to Cohen-Levinovsky, some 97 Jewish villages were attacked and damaged: 11 of these were destroyed entirely, 6 were conquered and lost – until after the 1967 Six Day War.
In truth, between 10% and 20% of the total number of “Palestinian” refugees were Jews. Benny Morris’s book, “1948”, puts the number of Jewish refugees, even higher, at 70,000.
On p. 67, Sokatch returns to the subject and notes 10,000 Jews expelled from “behind Jordanian lines” and 2,000 from the Old City. He continues there: “This being Israel and Palestine, even the factual history I’ve related here remains a subject of controversy”. But he contributes to the controversy.
p. 61 – “Both narratives are true”.
No, they are not. Narratives are imagined realities. There are elements in them which are indisputably true and there are assertions that are less true. And there are lies, misrepresentation and propaganda, on both sides. Each narrative, that of Israel and that of the Arabs, should be subjected to objective historical research and inquiry.
p. 65 – “The population transfers that shaped the Arab-Israel conflict have a terrible sort of symmetry…”
Comparing the anti-Semitic persecutions that Jews suffered in Europe from the Crusades to the Black Death to the Inquisition and on to the pogroms of Eastern Europe from the 17th century and on to the 20th century Holocaust, when Jews did nothing to cause that violence except to exist to the supposed “mass expulsion and fight of Palestinian Arabs in 1947-48” is a travesty.
Jews did not blow up market places where Christians shopped nor did they throw rocks at buses as Arabs did in the 1920s and 1930s. They did not slaughter Christians in their churches. To attempt to create a false historical parallel is not “can we talk?” but more “can I discombobulate you?” It also, as previously noted, gives a pass to the Arab campaign to ethnically cleanse Jews during the Mandate years.
p. 71 – “the Palestinian diaspora – today numbering more than five million people who are the descendants of the “’48 refugees””
On the bottom of p. 72, Sokatch does mention that these refugees “pass down, patrilineally, their refugee status” but does not discuss the uniqueness of that status transferal or other issues connected to the UNRWA such as the fact that to be a ‘refugee, required but two years of residency in Palestine, quite a short period of time or that the UN maintains two refugee agencies: on for Palestine refugees and one for all the rest of the world’s refugees. He does not point to the problems of UNRWA supporting anti-Jewish incitement and terror (such as permitting the storage and the firing of rockets at Israel in UNRWA institutions either. According to the index, this is the sole mention of UNRWA in his book.
p. 75 – “we have come here and stolen their country”
The quotation of David Ben-Gurion was said to describe how the Arabs view the conflict, not how it actually is. And while Sokatch does write that Ben-Gurion “well understood both the terrible predicament and the unending anger of the Arabs of Palestine, now Israel”, to use that quotation to end his chapter, which is found in Nahum Goldmann’s “Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp. 121, a source, given Goldmann’s own conflicts with Ben-Gurion, is less than responsible.
p. 77 – “This wasn’t quite as North Korea as it may seem: early Israel was still a democracy, but individualism was less important than societal cohesion.”
The throw-away reference to North Korea is jarring as it is ridiculous. Nevertheless, as the kibbutz movement was always the darling of the old progressive left, it is odd that Sokatch seeks to point to it as a problem.
p. 81 – “local anti-Israel militants”
Only on the sixth page of a chapter devoted to Israel during “The Fifties” is Arab terror mentioned. The term Fedayeen is absent, even in his footnote on page 341. The term “militants” is an anachronistic usage. As can be readily found at Wikipedia, “According to the Jewish Agency for Israel between 1951 and 1956, 400 Israelis were killed and 900 wounded in fedayeen attacks”. That is an unusual number of terror victims. To provide just one outrageous example of this terror, completely avoided by Sokatch, on March 17, 1954, at the Scorpions Pass, an assault was made on an Israeli civilian passenger bus and eleven passengers were shot dead by the attackers who had ambushed and boarded the bus.
Besides omitting a retelling of Israel’s security difficulties, and the usage of a disguised term for naked terror, Sokatch thus manages to skip over the entire issue of did Arab terror start only after the Six Day’s War, was it the fault of an “occupation” or “settlement construction” or was it always there, from the Mufti’s first anti-Zionist riot in 1920, throughout the Mandate and on the Israel in the 1950s? On p. 86, in passing, he does not the in 1964, the PLO was founded but does not discuss what that “Palestine” was that Arafat and comrades were intent upon “liberating”? The lack of such a discussion does not help with an understanding of the conflict his book addresses.
p. 81 – “For his part, Ben-Gurion hoped that the invasion [of the Sinai Peninsula in 1956] would lead to expanded borders”
As already noted, Sokatch ignores the eight-year Fedayeen terror campaign against Israel, sponsored by Egypt and with Jordanian backing. He also ignores the sniping in Jerusalem over those years. For example, on September 18, 1948, the 12-year old Yonatan Abramsky was shot and killed by gunfire from the former Mandate-period Police School in Sanhedria while he was in his own courtyard in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood. On September 12, 1948, Isaac Fried and Zalman Deutsch were stabbed to death in an orchard at Udim, east of Netanya and their bodies mutilated. On September 24, 1948, 50-year old Shlomo Rzabari was knifed to death by infiltrators, and his body was disfigured, east of Petah Tikva. The victims of hundreds of the fedayeen infiltrators were civilians as on October 12, 1953, when a squad infiltrated and reached the village Yehud where they threw a grenade into a civilian house killing Suzanne Kinyas, and her two children, a 3-year old girl and a one-and-a-half-year old boy. The tracks of the perpetrators led to Rantis village in Jordan.
Israel had quite a specific security purpose during the early 1950s in linking up with Britain and France which Sokatch overlooks. The Arab states did not accept Israel’s legitimacy. In fact, those security problem could possibly have justified border rearrangements. At the very least, it could explain that those pre-67 borders were inadequate and illustrate to the people reading Sokatch’s book that Israel may have a valid justification for refusing to “return to the 67 borders”. Incidentally, Abba Eban, a very moderate Israeli politician and diplomat who when Israel’s Foreign Minister termed those borders “reminiscent of Auschwitz” in November 1969 in an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel indicating their extreme indefensibility, is not mentioned at all in his book based on the index. Sokatch, in leading up to the Six Days War thus minimizes the ongoing and long-term existential threats Israel faced throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
This is not a minor observation but points to a consistent effort on Sokatch’s part to misrepresent the history of the Arab-Israel conflict.
p. 86 – In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded
Actually, origins of the PLO began in 1959 when Fatah (which is the acronym PLO in reverse Arabic: Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini which translates into “The Palestinian National Liberation Movement”). Moreover, Sokatch does not discuss the early ideological positions of the PLO and their ramifications for comprehending what is the real conflict between Jews and Arabs such as
Article 2: Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the line of the British Mandate is an indivisible territorial unit.
This excludes any Jewish state in “Palestine”.
Article 3: The Palestinian Arab people possesses the legal right to its home land, and…it will exercise selfdetermination solely according to its own will and choice.
That would indicate that solely Arabs of Palestine possess a legal right to selfdetermination, not the Jews.
Article 6: Jews who were living permanently in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.
As Arab literature marks 1917 as the “Zionist invasion”, being the year the Balfour Declaration was announced, it would seem no Jew born in Israel after 1917 would be allowed to remain.
Article 19 – “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist and segregationist in its configurations and Fascist in its means and aims.”
Aligning Israel with the idea of colonialism automatically rejects any historical connection of Jews to their national homeland.
p. 89 – 94 “Lighting the Fuse”
Whereas Nasser of Egypt comes across in Sokatch’s presentation as bumbling, uncertain, taking moves based on being humiliated by Arabs states, led by the nose by Russia and so on, virtually stumbling into the 1967 war, and avoiding the bloodthirsty mass marches in the streets of Arab capitals and calls for Israel to be thrown into the sea, Moshe Dayan is “hawkish” and Israelis are “determined”. Another “those poor Arabs” portrayal.
Sokatch also omits any of Israel’s diplomatic attempts, including multiple visits to Washington and other Western capitals, to achieve international assistance to prevent war and keep the peace especially based on the Tripartite Agreement which Washington had ‘lost’ a copy of which assured Israel of freedom of safe passage after Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran. But he does write of Israel’s “political and military leadership” who “began to think war…was necessary…they wanted an opportunity to destroy, once and for all, the enemy armies”, this based on Gershom Gorenberg, an “anti-occupation” activist.
p. 96 – “the IDF…drove deep into the Jordanian-held West Bank…and captured the ancient cities…whose names evoke the biblical past: Hebron, ‘Shechem’, Jericho.”
Finally, Sokatch manages to hint at Jordan’s illegal occupation and annexation of Judea and Samaria as well as a rich Jewish national past of the area.
p. 97 – “Israeli leaders declared that Israel would trade some of (but not all) the land it had captured for peace…”
If Sokatch is referring to the June 19, 1967 decision, it was secret and relayed to the United States for transmitting to the Arab states. Despite disagreement among ministers on which territories to keep or even annex, the decision was simple: the Government approved unanimously that “Israel proposes reaching peace with Egypt [and with Syria] on the basis of the international border and the security requirements of Israel”.
Sokatch continues and des not the famous Khartoum ‘Three Noes’ but adds “Israelis weren’t worrying too much about that” as if Israel hadn’t taken an important diplomatic initiative based on territorial surrender and compromise. And he does not deal with Arab rejectionism, then or previously which was their bane for any independence. Moreover, until this day, the Arabs championing the cause of a Palestine still prefer rejectionism to negotiations, agreements and the keeping to the letter of those agreements, a major element churning the conflict.
p. 102 – “In other words, give up land for peace…although they continue to argue over its meaning”.
In dealing with the late 1967 diplomatic moves in the UN leading up to its Security Council Resolution 242, Sokatch refrains from engaging with the famous “the territories”/”territories” debate, leaving his readers probably confused. Even if a reader refers to his end book notes, there is no explanation.
As pointed out by many researchers, at this time the United States had adopted a critical change in its position and no longer was demanding an unconditional full withdrawal prior to any discussion of the conflict (as in 1957). Territories – not “the” or “all the” territories – were now bargaining chips. The United States rejected Soviet and Arab efforts to obtain an Israeli withdrawal to the prewar lines. In other words, Israel had a right to expand its borders. The United States secured the adoption of UNSC 242 that predicated a withdrawal for peace yet no withdrawal without a binding peace.
Moreover, UNSC 242 did not even mention “Palestinians”. It mentions “Arab states” and as we know, Palestine did not exist as a state, ever. It reads “a just settlement of the refugee problem”, not of a Palestinian people. In addition, it stipulated that there be a “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”, a clause Sokatch does include. Does that mean that Israeli citizens may reside in those territories? Sokatch declines to engage in these matters and what they mean.