The Scourge of Territorialism
from The Territorial Imperative
This is one of the most insightful and anti-conventional pieces of writing on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The core of the argument is that the violent enmity of the Arab League towards the colonising Jews has created the territorial State of Israel. This hypothesis could be seen as the confirmation of the idea exposed by Randolph Bourne that “war is the health of the state.” Moreover, reading this text, we can understand how territorialism (the state pretence to a monopolistic sovereignty of a large territory) can change the psychology of a population and transform the cosmopolitan gentle Jews into nationalistic aggressive Israelis. And this is the real scourge of territorialism.
Jewish difficulties with territory, it seems, began a very long time ago, when God promised Abraham, leader of some wandering pastoral tribes, title to a most unremarkable piece of real estate on the Mediterranean littoral. No people ever took a promise harder. They managed to gain it, and to settle down, but they were such a quarrelsome, rebellious lot that somebody was always carting them off into slavery. First it was Egypt, where they made out very well but still dreamed of nothing but the Promised Land. After some hair-raising experiences they managed to regain their territory, but then it was the Chaldeans. Nebuchadnezzar hauled most of them away to Babylon. Later it was the Roman Empire that found itself unequal to Jewish argument and so dispersed them by force to a variety of Western destinations. For almost 2000 years the Jew of the West and the Jew of the East had one thing in common: they never saw their Promised Land again.
By the waters of Babylon the Jew sang his song: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem . . .” And he never did.
Jews call it the Diaspora – the dispersal of the people. As a population they were denied a social territory; as individuals in most times and places they were denied even the right to own land, to possess private territories. Despite all indignities heaped upon him, the Jew of the East had the easier life, since Mohammed out of respect for Jewish and Christian religion decreed him a “People of the Book.” It was not the Moslem but the Christian, we may remember, who drove the Jew out of Spain. Through all Christian lands his fate was a harsh one; perhaps Christian amity demanded an enemy to complete its own complex. Should this be so, then secular society was not one to abjure the Christian creation of an omega fish.
The suspicion must exist that if anti-Semitism had pleasant conveniences for Christians it had certain unpleasant conveniences for Jews as well. The Jew faced a genetic problem confronting no other Western people: How, without the reproductive isolation of territory, could he maintain his genetic integrity? He owned nothing but memories. Anti-Semitism helped. He accepted the grim ghetto. He forbade marriage or intercourse with Gentiles. His rabbis and scholars maintained the memories. The Jewish family became the impregnable equivalent of a Greek phalanx. Spectacularly, the Jew refused to conform, cultivated outlandish costume, beard, headgear, cultivated outlandish dietary customs. He pursued the arts while we pursued each other; he reveled in education while we still reveled in illiteracy. He overlooked nothing, forgot nothing. As century passed into century, millennium into millennium, like some ancient magician the Jew made memories from the dust of the years.
The Jew was different, let there be no doubt. And he maintained that difference with unflagging resolution. We regarded him as a race apart; it was to Jewish interest to agree. We derided the Jewish personality; he exaggerated the personality. None of us guessed, of course, he or we, that the “Jewish personality” was nothing but a bundle of mannerisms preserving the identity of a de-territorialized man. And then came Zionism.
Let us pause for a warning: My sympathies have been always with Zionism. But neither my sympathies nor those of the computer at my elbow have the smallest effect on the workings of the amity-enmity equation. We shall see, in due course, what happens when sympathies are reversed.
Zionism, in any event, enlisted my imagination as the next man’s dream or the next man’s adventure might enlist one’s imagination in the reading of a good novel. As the great day of British withdrawal from Palestine approached, my Washington friends panicked. They foresaw an Arab massacre of defenseless Jews beyond anything in the history of pogroms. I was skeptical. I knew nothing about territory in those days, of course, but a playwright tends to give weight to the irrational. It seemed to me that the history of pogroms cast little light on what would happen when a people homeless for two thousand years had again the opportunity to defend its Promised Land.
What happened to the Arabs, then, did not surprise me. But many, many years later, when I had still not visited Israel but my computer and I were beginning to wonder about man and territory, I made a little list. If a territorial interpretation of the Jew carried validity, then certain theoretical consequences should have come about in reality.
First, a territory is a defended area. To defend it one must have hostile neighbors. The Arab League, happily for the Jew, presented him not only with a wealth of hostile neighbors but with the opportunity to make legitimate his territory in the strictest biological sense.
Second, if civilized man is to respect someone else’s title to a territory, he needs evidence other than a questionable, long-ago deal with God. He needs, in other words, to see the proprietors in defense of their land slaughter a maximum number of their fellow human beings. Here again the Arab League co-operated splendidly with Jewish purposes. They bared their bodies, they died in piles.
Third, such an astonishing reversal of what we had always regarded as the “Jewish personality” should have shaken the West. It did. From that date in 1948 anti-Semitism may have retained a nostalgia or two, but it ceased to be a workable institution. We flatter ourselves that the Hitler outrages awakened the conscience of mankind. They did nothing of the sort. I recall that in America immediately after Word War II anti-Semitism reached peaks never before attained despite all Nazi contributions to our universal conscience; and the literature of the period will bear me out. It was the photographs of dead Arabs, not of cremated Jews, that awakened our famed conscience. It was in 1948 that a stunned world realised that Jews could behave just like anyone else.
Fourth, acquisition and defense of a territory should have brought the usual enhancement of energy to the Israeli. It did. The Promised Land was as unpromising a collection of rocks, gravel, malarial swamps, and out-and-out desert as the Mediterranean littoral can provide, and had I been Abraham I should have demanded a better deal. Yet a people who for 2000 years had been denied ownership of land, had lived almost entirely in towns, and lacked both farming tradition and experience, have made themselves very nearly self-sufficient in food supply and are capturing one European market after another with their agricultural exports. I have mentioned the kibbutz. One understands why the collective farm has succeeded here and nowhere else in the Western World. You may visit a kibbutz called Sha’ar Hagolan, near the Sea of Galilee and within gunshot of the Jordan border. You may inspect the Neolithic antiquities which in the spare time the members have dug from their fields and which they display in a convenient bomb shelter; and you will have no need to examine the beaver to confirm the enhancement of energy in a territorial defender.
Fifth, a most important point. If the Jew never existed but was simply a de-territorialized man, then in theory he should cease to be a Jew when he becomes re-territorialized. When you visit Israel you will discover that it is the new nation’s favorite joke. There is the story of the visiting French-Jewish doctor met on the dock at Haifa by a friend. The doctor looked in puzzlement at the barrel-chested porters throwing luggage around. “Who are they?” he asked. “Jews,” said his host.
It is not just physique. It is posture, a manner of walking, a manner of speaking, a manner of thought. The “Jewish personality” has vanished, replaced by that of the Israeli, a being as confident, as resolute, and as willing to do battle as a roebuck on his wooded acres. You go to a party in Tel-Aviv and someone asks the inevitable question, “How do you like Israel?” and you answer, “Fine. But where are the Jews?” And the party goes off into the greatest laughter, for it is the nation’s joke.
Sixth, if territory has transmuted the Jew, physically and psychically, into another being called the Israeli, then in theory there should be a widening breach between the Israeli and the Jew of the Diaspora. The breach is far from theoretical; it is regarded by many in Israel as the second most severe problem that the new nation suffers. Many a thoughtful British or American or Continental Jew reproaches the Israeli as a chauvinist, as a man who has lost his world view and no longer acts according to his conscience, as one who has somehow betrayed the most profound ideals of a people. To the Israeli, his fellow of the Diaspora is a moralizer whose sermons if put into practice would mean death to Israel. Since it has been the financial generosity of world Jewry which has made Zion possible, there is anguish on both sides. What neither understands is that natural law has intervened; that they are no longer the same people sharing the same conscience and the same amity-enmity complex. Life would be easier for both if they understood.
The same division between Jew and Israeli witnessed a heart-rending demonstration during the Eichmann trial. I had not anticipated it with my theoretical list, but the Israeli elders with their intuitions had, for they dreaded what would happen when the inevitable documentation of Nazi atrocities unfolded. The dread was well founded. As the trial progressed, the bewildered young people – the sabras, the Israeli-born – confronted their parents in household after household. “Why didn’t you do something?” “You don’t understand,” said the parents, “there was nothing to do.” “But if you were going to die – if somebody knew he was going to die anyway – why didn’t he die fighting?” “You don’t understand,” said the parents. And it is true that the sabra will never understand, for unlike the Jew of the gas chamber, he is a territorial animal.
The final point I did not anticipate, the Israeli did not anticipate, none but the computer could have anticipated. It is the first of all Israeli problems, and it will be solved or it will destroy the nation. The Arab, of course – as he well knows – scarcely constitutes a problem at all beyond the military expense that he adds to the nation’s budget. Israel’s problem is race.
Had I been a Jew and a pioneer Zionist, I too should have had no inkling as to the horror that would raise its ugly head someday. The Zionist in his innocence accepted the Jew as a Jew, even as did the Gentile. He anticipated difficulties in the welding together of peoples from a hundred different lands speaking a hundred different tongues. He recognized his people as an opinionated lot, and foresaw quarrels. But he foresaw no transcendent problems once all were together in the Promised Land, once all spoke Hebrew as a common language, and once all children grew up in common schools. That the racial reality of the Jew did not exist did not enter his calculation, nor that out of the conglomeration of background would come two entirely different peoples, the Jew of the East and the Jew of the West.
The Zionist fallacy was at first not revealed. Of the 650,000 Israeli who in 1948 fought the War of Independence, almost all were of the West. For eighty or so generations they had survived the hard conditions of environmental selection imposed by Christian lands: they were tough, resourceful, educated, and none paled at confrontation with a hard day’s work. The Arab League, with its generous gift of blood to sanctify their legitimate union, launched successfully the Israeli ship. Then and only then arrived the other Jew in his massive migration. Israel braced itself, embraced the brother who had sung by the rivers of Babylon. It occurred to no one that the Oriental Jew, after one hundred generations of survival and natural selection in environments from Casablanca to Baghdad so different from those of the West, in societies for example where work if possible is left to women and study if possible left to scribes, might bear a genetic scar or two which no classroom could immediately erase.
Today at Hebrew University, Oriental Jewish students are so few that they are outnumbered by Arabs. Abba Eban, until recently Minister of Education, has stated that 30 percent of Oriental children who have reached the age of fourteen and have had eight years of Israeli schooling are unable to write a simple Hebrew text or a legible letter, or to perform the four basic calculations of arithmetic. The attitude toward education differs as does the eagerness to work. While the Western Jew, renouncing the ghetto, has accomplished the agricultural miracle, the Eastern Jew, creating a new ghetto, has crowded over half of his numbers into the Tel-Aviv area. There is little intermarriage. Less than 5 percent of Western women marry Eastern men. The comment of a girl at Hebrew University that the Oriental Jew is “not of our sort” sounds like discrimination; but the Eastern male, of course, is even more unlikely to tolerate a wife with education than he is to seek it himself.
The Oriental Jew is today in a 55-percent majority. He makes bitter charges of racial discrimination. Israeli leadership recoils at a phrase that for any Jew is a blow to memory’s solar plexus. Yet discrimination exists. Michael Selzer, writing in London’s Jewish Observer, describes a housing development in Jerusalem which excludes schwarzim, the blacks. Epithets like Cushim and Frankim are common; they correspond to the British kaffir. Zionist leadership in its innocence failed to reckon that when the Jew became an Israeli he would take on his newly straightened shoulders all the common burdens of mankind.
Yet despite all: despite disillusionment in the immediate efficacy of education, despite the failure of social conditioning, despite the entrenchments of “racial” animosities, despite deepening pessimism in many informed Israeli circles: despite all, Israel thrives and will achieve integration long before its pessimists believe. Why? Because of the amity-enmity complex; because the Arab League, persistent to the end in its animosities, will further accomplish the opposite of its purposes and in the end succeed in creating what no Israeli resource can produce, a truly permanent and united nation.
As the knowledgeable Israeli must dread the day when the Arab League appears on the Promised Land’s doorstep, in its hands an olive branch, so the South African must dread the day when like the apocalypse itself there appears below the Limpopo the unheralded cordiality of nations. He could, just possibly, be destroyed.