Saturday, June 30, 2012

Unlovable Rogues

One of the great mysteries of our time has been the collective Western delusion that Zionists are the epitome of normality, whereas Arabs are not. This strange delusion comes in many formulations: Zionists are moderates, Arabs extremists; Zionists are rational, Arabs irrational; Zionists are civilised, Arabs savages; Zionists defend, Arabs attack; Zionists are victims, Arabs perpetrators; Zionists are the good guys (to lapse into contemporary US baby babble), Arabs the bad, etc.

You've heard them all before. Put it down to a well-oiled propaganda machine, the likes of which the world has never before seen, and the classic human default positions of stupidity, credulity and simple  aversion to homework.

In fact, the reverse is generally the case, as the testimony of those who've had to deal directly with both groups attests. What follows is taken from Major General Carl Von Horn's 1966 memoir, Soldiering for Peace. Von Horn was the Swedish commander of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in Palestine from 1958 to 1963:

"Our raison d'etre as peacekeepers was objectivity and impartiality. Yet these very qualities were exactly those which led to hostility. It was understandable; time and time again in the course of frank discussions with Israeli officers and officials, I had heard them openly repudiate the idea of objectivity. Their flat statement, 'You are either for us or against us', explained why - having dared to be entirely objective - I had now been branded as irrevocably 'against'. I had seen it happen many times before from my predecessors down to the ordinary observer on the frontiers who, in the course of his duty, had incurred Arab or Israeli hostility simply because his impartial version had been very different from theirs. Even nastier was an Israeli tendency immediately to brand objectivity as anti-Semitic; a convenient label which could be smeared on to any UN soldier whose impartial report did not weigh down in favour of the Israelis.

"We had from time to time incurred a certain degree of animosity in our dealings with the Arabs, but never in the same implacable and frenetic way. The Arabs could be difficult, intolerant, indeed often impossible, but their code of behaviour was on an infinitely higher and more civilized level. I think that we all came to this conclusion in the UNTSO, which was strange, because there was hardly a man among us who had not originally arrived in the Holy Land without the most positive and sympathetic attitude towards the Israelis and their ambitions for their country

"Never in my life have I encountered a nation with such an infinite talent for turning goodwill into disillusion and so often disgust. It seemed as though the state were possessed of some demon with a capacity to turn potential friends into enemies. I am certain that I shall be bitterly attacked for setting down my impressions so frankly, but unfortunately they are the truth. All of us who went to Israel knew very little about the Arabs, but a great deal about the Jews and their appalling sufferings in the Second World War. I have never been - and am not - anti-Semitic; I have always numbered Jews among some of my closest friends since boyhood. I have good friends in Israel, wonderful families who stood by me and welcomed me into their homes during the height of the boycott. Many of our personnel, too, had close friends in the new state long before they came out to Jerusalem, and I would think that seldom before have the members of any organization - and this was a truly international one - started off with such a fund of goodwill towards a state which had emerged at the cost of such dreadful suffering.

"What went wrong? I always had a talk with staff members who were leaving the Mission. Invariably it was the same story. Nearly all of them had arrived with the honest intention to help both parties to the Armistace Agreement, but with a conscious sympathy for the people of 'poor little Israel'. Yet after two or three years in daily contact with officials, soldiers and private individuals on both sides, there had been a remarkable change in their attitude. I found it sad but very significant that when I asked them what their most negative experience had been during their service with UNTSO the reply was almost invariably: 'The consistent cheating and deception of the Israelis'." (pp 304-05)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Von Horn was just one of a long list of reputable and honest international observers to change his outlook following first hand experience in Palestine.