"There is nothing so absurd or ridiculous that has not at some time been said by some philospher," opined 18th century British poet and plawright Oliver Goldsmith. The truth of the poet's observation struck home with a vengeance as I listened in horror to ABC Radio National's Encounter program broadcast on 21/12/08. The philosopher in question was one, Jonathan Glover of King's College London. According to the introduction by the program's producer, Margaret Coffey, Glover (whose specialty is medical law and ethics) was going to "apply Simone Weil's understanding of 'uprootedness' to the circumstances of Palestinians and Israelis" in order to "discern a way forward in this most intractable of conflicts." What followed was, well, both absurd and ridiculous. Some lowlights:-
1) "I want to suggest that the intensity of the conflict is partly linked to the fact that both peoples have the experience of diaspora, and as a result have bitter knowledge of what it is to be uprooted..." We know that the bulk of Palestinians, whether outside the borders of Palestine or internally displaced, were uprooted by Zionist forces under cover of war in 1948 and have been living as refugees in exile now for over 60 years. But can the same, or similar, be said of Israelis? Only if you swallow, unexamined, as Glover does, the central foundational myth of political Zionism, which is that an imagined entity known as the Jewish 'people' had, in the mists of time, acquired a degree of sovereignty over ancient Palestine, but then, having lost it, sat around twiddling their thumbs for the next 2,000 years in inglorious and inauthentic 'exile', crooning songs of longing for 'Zion', until, at last, at the tail end of the 19th centery, along came a Messiah, Theodor Herzl, to kick-start a colonial-settler movement known as Zionism aimed at re-establishing that fabled Jewish sovereignty over Palestine, a process which finally bore fruit in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. This nonsense, of course, should not be confused with the fact of the Nazi genocide, which resulted in the dispersal of surviving European Jews to many parts of the world, only one of which was Palestine.
2) "I think that there's a recognisable [joint Israeli/Palestinian] narrative which roughly goes like this: We were the rightful owners of the land and we were usurped. They started the conflict. And at every point in the history we have reacted only defensively to their aggression. Time and again, they have insincerely pretended to want peace, while their real aim is to drive us out altogether. Their record shows we can't trust them, and the only language they understand is force." More nonsense. Here Glover confuses the mythical Zionist narrative with the historical Palestinian one, mythical usurpation with actual usurpation. He then glosses over the historical fact that, in the context of a European colonial movement (Zionism), dedicated to the creation of an ethnically exclusive state, entering a non-European land (Palestine) under the protection of European (British) bayonets, the resistance of the locals can hardly be construed as 'starting' a 'conflict'.
3) "[H] aving roots is linked to feeling secure where you are. It's hard to put down roots if you're insecure, and in the case of the Israel-Palestine thing [thing!!!], it's hard to feel properly secure if you feel that at any day your children may be killed by a suicide bomb or at any day some soldiers may turn up and bulldoze your house." How profound! Except, who, do you imagine, feels more insecure, the mob driving the dozers or their victims? And notice how Glover places one Palestinian tactical response to Zionist colonization and usurpation, suicide bombing, on the same level as the relentless process of dispossession that gave rise to that response. Yep, it must be hard to put down roots when the mob you've just uprooted won't lie down and take it.
4) "I want to suggest that the effects of uprootedness can be seen, not just in the people who are exiled, but in the children of Jews who are [were?] exiled, who have grown up in Israel... And then in the case of the Palestinians, I want to extend the idea of uprootedness to the partial uprootedness that comes from living in a country that's geographically yours but is under occupation." So the inherited uprootedness of the occupiers is on a par with the "partial uprootedness" of the occupied? And we won't even mention the complete uprootedness of those millions of Palestinians living outside Palestine.
5) "Now turning to security... again I'm struck by the sense of insecurity on both sides of that conflict. In Jerusalem in 1948, both Arabs and Jews knew insecurity and fear. Amos Oz in his powerful autobiography remembers rumours of rich Jews being advised to go away or to send their families to safety. And he says, 'Others told of groups of young Arabs who combed our streets at night, armed with pots of paint and brushes, marking Jewish houses'... and there were fears of the Arab Legion and the Muslim Brotherhood attacking from fortified positions in the hills round Jerusalem, and in the war many [How many?] Jewish settlements were captured and razed to the ground by Arab armies, with their inhabitants either captured or killed. But similarly, many [How many?] Arabs were uprooted in 1948. Ghada Karmi, who wrote a book about her life, had childhood memories of [fleeing Jerusalem] with her family in fear of being massacred 'as people were at Deir Yassin'. She wrote of 'The survivors who came with stories of mutilation, the rape of young girls and the murder of pregnant women and their babies. Twenty of the men were paraded in triumph round the streets of the Jewish area of Jerusalem. They were then brought back and shot directly over the quarries into which their bodies were thrown. The surviving villages fled in terror, and the empty village was then occupied by Jewish forces. The worst of it was that the gangs who had carried out the killings boasted about what they'd done and threatened publicly to do so again. They said it had been a major success in clearing the Arabs out of their towns and villages'." So the fears of the colonizers, whose armed gangs - Haganah, Irgun and Stern - were on the offensive, ethnically cleansing Palestine months before the Arab states were prompted to take action to save Palestine from being made completely Arabrein, were on a par with those of the 85% of Palestinians driven from hundreds of Palestinian cities, towns and villages overrun by Zionist forces in 1948?
6) "But there are humiliations of insecurity. Amos Oz quotes his aunt's description of the insecurity that was felt by Jews who lived in Poland." And the relevance of this for occupied, uprooted, exiled, permanently insecure Palestinians? Oh, I see, Israelis have inherited their relatives' European insecurity, so they're just as insecure as the Palestinians.
Glover plumbs new depths of absurdity and ridiculousness when he claims that the Middle East conflict is all down to "interpretation" or "stereotypes." You see, it could be a "duck" or it could be a "rabbit" - it all "depends on your angle of perception." Both Israeli and Palestinian stereotypes contain truths, "but not the whole truth." So, since "we're never going to get agreement on exactly what the truth is about what happened in 1948, or 1967... wouldn't it be better if we simply pushed the past aside? If we simply went for the best deal for both sides that we can get now, without actually settling the issues about the past... " Of course, when it comes to 1948, despite the mountains of evidence adduced by historians and researchers such as Pappe, Morris, Palumbo, Flapan, Sternhell, Shlaim, Childers, Khalidi and Masalha, no political Zionist worth his salt will concede an inch. But wouldn't you think someone who calls himself a philosopher, someone with no ideological axe to grind, someone regarded as a serious scholar, with access to those mountains of evidence, could see the Nakba for what it is, a monstrous act of ethnic cleansing, and the 'War of Independence' (from what?) for what it is, a triumph of Zionist propaganda? And what, pray tell, is "the best deal for both sides now"? Considering that we've "pushed the past aside," is it then a Swiss cheese 'state' for the West Bankers, and permanent exile for the Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan etc?