Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Unpalatable Truth About Martha Gellhorn 3

The October 1961 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carried a lengthy report by Gellhorn called The Arabs of Palestine.

Here's the editor's preface:

"Martha Gellhorn, novelist, journalist, and former war correspondent, has recently returned from a journey to the Middle East, where she went to see the 'Palestinian Refugee Problem' in terms of real life, real people. Here she reports how the Arab refugees and Arab Israelis live, and what they say about themselves, their past and their future."

Gellhorn's introductory paragraphs set the tone for what is, in effect, a journalistic hatchet job. Were she speaking to us directly, it'd go something like this:

Listen, I know what refugees are. I saw them "in Germany at war's end... [T]he whole country seemed alive with the roaming mad - slave laborers, concentration camp survivors who spoke the many tongues of Babel, dressed in whatever scraps they had looted, and searched for food in stalled freight cars though the very rail-yards were being bombed." Now I knew that in the Middle East "there would be no high explosive, no concentration camps, but the imagined, expected scene was bad enough, lice and rickets and tuberculosis, bodies rotting in the heat, the apathy of despair [but] nothing I had read or heard prepared me for what I found." So what did I find? You're not going to believe this: A bunch of people as happy as pigs in clover, living off the fat of the land, and spoilt rotten, one and all, by Aunty UNRWA!

First a camp for Palestinian Christians in the hills near Beirut:

"The camp consisted of little cement or frame houses rambling over the hillside, a village of poor people, disorderly and beflowered and cheerful. School was letting out for lunch; troops of children... meandered home, shouting bye-bye at friendly, giggling length. They are Roman Catholics here, but the young teachers are refugees, not priests. They have to teach the children about Palestine, since most of them have never seen the country and even the oldest cannot remember it. The children are taught hate, the Garden of Eden stolen from them by murderers; their duty is to live for Return and Revenge.

"The miniature white clinic had only one customer, a nice-looking girl of 21 who had brought her fourth baby for a checkup. Her husband works in Libya... The resident nurse, a buxom elderly woman, said they had no real sickness... My [Palestinian UNRWA] guide announced that if any refugee needed an operation he was taken in an ambulance to a hospital in Beirut where UNRWA reserved beds and paid for everything; you would have to be a rich man in Lebanon to get such good and speedy treatment."

Luxury! What more could they want? Their country back? No, no, no. According to Gellhorn, her guide tells her:

"It can all be solved with money... if every man got a thousand dollars for each member of his family... he could be a citizen in any Arab country he likes, he would not think of Palestine any more. Then he could start a new life and be rich and happy... [T]hose who really do own something in Palestine must be paid for what they had there. But those are not many. Most had nothing, only work'."

Why, this guide could almost be a product of the good old Israeli propaganda mill:

"Out of the blue, my guide announced: 'There is no crime in the camps. No thefts, no fires, no blood feuds. It is much better than it was in Palestine..."

As could Gellhorn herself, chiming in with:

"And this is true. In all the camps. Exile has taught one valuable lesson: how to live lawfully and peacefully together."

Then it's off to Gaza:

"The refugee camps are much larger than those in Lebanon, small towns by Middle Eastern standards. They are by no means luxury establishments, but many people live in a nastier state in American and European slums. The poor villagers of Gaza are not as well housed or cared for as the refugees. The Gaza Strip is not a hell hole, not a visible disaster. It is worse; it is a jail - with a magical long white sand beach, and a breeze, and devoted welfare workers (UNRWA) to look after the prisoners. The Egyptian government is the jailer."

We should be so lucky!

Now check out these happy little vegemites:

"The Vocational Training School at Gaza is a freshly painted group of buildings, with well-kept lawns, flower borders, scrubbed Spartan self-respecting dormitories, and impressive workshops equipped with the complex machinery that modern life seems to depend on. The boys were on their playing field that afternoon, a holiday, marking white lines for various sporting events to come. A few of them drifted back and wanted to show off every inch of their school. Did they like it here, did they enjoy their work, were they happy? Needless to ask; the answer glowed and shone on them. The graduates of this school find good jobs for which they are trained; amongst its many other parental functions UNRWA operates a placement bureau throughout the Middle East. This is the new generation, the UNRWA graduates, and you find them everywhere in the Arab refugee world. They have not yet been crippled by exile, regret, or hate, and they may well be the brightest citizens of the Arab future."

So nice to see that, unlike the UNRWA school in Lebanon, hate is not on the curriculum.

Gellhorn bids adieu to Gaza's Club Med thus:

"I left Gaza, wishing that I could take all the young people with me, and not to Palestine, but out into the wider world. Their destiny should not be to go back, but to go forth. They need exactly the opposite of what the Jews need. There is plenty of room for both needs."

Now let me get that straight: Palestinian 'refugees' need to be dispersed throughout the Arab world. 'The Jews', on the other hand, need to be crammed into Palestine - sorry - Israel.

Talk about taking the words right out of Israel's mouth!

To be continued...

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