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'The Old New Land' and the Doomed Utopia of Israel

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
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I think it might be better to wait a bit before circulating this on social media?
You're the one who'd be getting the abuse so your call but maybe if you don't use israel and palestine hashtags it'll be ok?
 

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
You're the one who'd be getting the abuse so your call but maybe if you don't use israel and palestine hashtags it'll be ok?
I think we'd do better to use those but just wait a week so (hopefully) it's not quite so visceral or subject to us looking bad taste if it escalates further after we post it. Your article though so I'll ask if you're OK with that.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
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I think we'd do better to use those but just wait a week so (hopefully) it's not quite so visceral or subject to us looking bad taste if it escalates further after we post it. Your article though so I'll ask if you're OK with that.
@SpanishSpy's article really. I think it's a good article and I'd like to see it advertised but as long as Alex is fine with it, I don't see any harm in delaying that until you're comfortable.
 

Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
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I do agree with stuff about social media but anyway the article itself, which is incredibly insightful and well written (there were a couple of spelling mistakes but mostly ‘as’ instead of ‘is’).

The mention of the Soviet Union is a good point, similar to some of the original founders of Israel it was conceived by Lenin as being a Rational Utopian state with Trotsky mentioning how the average worker would not only work but be readers of Plato and Aristotle. Soviet Union was in many respects imagined in a similar way to how Herzel imagined Israel, a multiethnic nation of the Future.

This didn’t happen and what occurred was what was described in the article.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Herzl's idea that the natives would be grateful for Western colonists taking over their land in the name of an idiosyncratic mission civilisatrice does very much fit the zeitgeist of the high imperialist era. That was also, by and large, the French conceit vis-à-vis Algeria.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
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Herzl's idea that the natives would be grateful for Western colonists taking over their land in the name of an idiosyncratic mission civilisatrice does very much fit the zeitgeist of the high imperialist era. That was also, by and large, the French conceit vis-à-vis Algeria.
I always think of Liberia as the closest analogy. But yes, you have to remember the extent to which Zionism fitted naturally into what everybody else in the world was also doing at the time. Both terra nullius and civilising missions were very mainstream idea and Zionism was more justified than a lot of it.
 

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
@SpanishSpy's article really. I think it's a good article and I'd like to see it advertised but as long as Alex is fine with it, I don't see any harm in delaying that until you're comfortable.
Sorry, yes, I misread the author.

I'm with Thande, the risk of social media-ing it is it looks like we've actively timed it to coincide with current events, which is tasteless and untrue.
We'll wait on this one a tad then.
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
In regards to scheduling (@Thande @Meadow ) I don't have a problem with delaying it being shared around. I wouldn't want y'all to be the subject of abuse on my account.

As said in the article, my interest in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict started in the summer of 2019, with a particular interest in testing Lottem and Teitelbaum's assertion. I pitched and recorded the Israel-Palestine episode of Ben Kearns' Alternate History Show because of that interest, and the core idea for this article had manifested itself in my mind in December or January, I think. I submitted it to @Gary Oswald last week, after Sheikh Jarrah but before the storming of Al-Aqsa.

Good lord, do I hate being a prophet; I always end up predicting bad things! (for the interested, this was the first time)

For those of you who read my big article on dance, you may remember that there was a lot of meta-commentary therein. Due to length constraints, my meta-commentary for this article was not actually put in the article. This comment will contain that meta-commentary.

Subject-wise, I view this article as being in the vein of my articles on The War in the Air or The World Set Free, wherein I take old science fiction and compare it to reality. The Old New Land is interesting because one could argue many steps were taken to actually bring its vision about; the actual result, we can see, is a land where Israelis live in fear of rockets and Palestinians live in fear of airstrikes. Furthermore I feel that The Old New Land ought to be brought up more when discussing utopian fiction.

In writing this article, I tried to emulate a certain member of this forum: @SenatorChickpea (as Gary said, he's our guiding light). I'd like to thank him personally for his postings on this forum as they gave my my model as to how to write about this rather sensitive subject.

What impresses me so much about Liam is that he combines wide-ranging knowledge about human events with a very strong empathy for the human beings caught in the crossfire. Read his interview on the blog or this post or this post or the series of posts that starts here. You can see how he both thinks about history, but also feels it. It is that mixture that I have tried to emulate when writing this essay.

(incidentally I would love to hear Liam's thoughts on this essay)

It's that welding of intellect and emotion that I think a good deal of academic historical writing doesn't quite do as it should; off the top of my head, Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands does it well, as does James M. Scott's Rampage and Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking. It can feel like human beings are reduced to evidence to prove a thesis, even when the thesis is about massive suffering of real human beings. It's what I tried to resist in the dance article and it's what I tried to resist here. It's also why I like writing for this blog on historical topics; I get to engage with human beings in the past in a way I just couldn't when I was at William & Mary.

In history that is so divided on sectarian lines, like that about that land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that synthesis of emotion and intellect is needed more than ever, and it is needed for all involved. If you empathize with only the Israelis, the conflict becomes a story of a people who had barely escaped from the maw of Auschwitz and Treblinka finally receiving a place where they can be safe; this reduces the Palestinians to squatters at best and a uniform bloc of terrorists at worst. If you empathize with only the Palestinians, it becomes a story of valiant anti-colonial resistance with the Israelis as malevolent Pied-Noirs or Afrikaners, willing to lie, cheat, steal, bulldoze, and kill in the name of what they view as their birthright. Both have elements of truth, but neither does its due diligence to the real human suffering that has happened to those on both sides of the Green Line.

I'm going to make a bit of a personal digression for a bit to explain how I process a lot of this. Some of you may remember that I've mentioned growing up in an abusive family, and still having to live it. As such, I think a lot about how people process trauma, myself and others. In abuse survivor circles, there's a saying: "hurt people hurt people." That saying is a pithy way of expressing the truth that many people who have lived trauma end up inflicting trauma on others; I'm ashamed to say that I fear that I may have replicated that in my own life, and it's something of which I try to be very mindful.

I've never seen a better demonstration of the truth of the saying "hurt people hurt people" than the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister who started a savage war of peace in Lebanon but also made peace with the Egyptians, founded the hard-right Likud party to which Benjamin Netanyahu belongs. He grew up in Poland, where he was a local Zionist leader, later tortured by the Soviets when he fled to Vilnius after the Nazis invaded. He was then released to fight in the army of Wladislaw Anders, and then deserted that army to join the Irgun, the Zionist insurgent organization in Mandatory Palestine. Begin was a man who was haunted by the Holocaust and the history of Jewish persecution, and this was a very strong influence on his political views.

In his tenure as Prime Minister, he had a major hand in turning Lebanon into what David Hirst called "a land of Hobbesian chaos." Under his watch, Maronite militias allied with the Israelis slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He referred to Yasser Arafat as a Hitler-like figure.

Amos Oz, the Israeli writer, said that Begin had a “weird urge to resurrect Hitler from the dead just so that you [Begin] may kill him over and over again each day.”

(it's worth noting that Oz's daughter told the public after his death that he was brutally abusive to her. It's something that weighs on me as I quote him)

This is how, in my opinion, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is hard to wrangle with not just because of the intense and vicious sectarian divide, but also that it says things about human psychology that most people don't like to admit. In my first semester at William & Mary, I took a class called 'Writing and the Holocaust,' and one of the things the professor repeated over and over again is that a victim does not always become the paragon of empathy that we want them to be. The example that sticks out in my mind is in Art Spiegelman's Maus, where Holocaust survivor Wladek is viciously racist to an African-American hitchhiker. In retrospect, it's surprising we didn't mention Israel at all in that class.

That notion, of the abused becoming the ever-kind, is something that so many of us are very deeply emotionally invested in. Unfortunately, it is not always true. It is damning of our species that a government intended to protect an entire ethnic group from annihilation turned Gaza into a massive open-air prison, and it is damning of our species that groups intended to free a people from something so kafkaesque as a decades-long military occupation end up butchering children in synagogues.

One of the uncomfortable realizations when doing the reading for all this was that very few people involved here are deranged. The motivations of both sides are very understandable, and that's what makes it excruciating.

That, ultimately, is what makes writing about Israel and Palestine so difficult. This conflict forces you to see humanity as it is, in all its insularity and its viciousness, its stubbornness and its suboptimal ability to deal with trauma, and not as how we desperately wish it were.

I don't trust myself to offer a solution to that.
 
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Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
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The example that sticks out in my mind is in Art Spiegelman's Maus, where Holocaust survivor Wladek is viciously racist to an African-American hitchhiker. In retrospect, it's surprising we didn't mention Israel at all in that class.
Not to get sidetracked but I think Maus and Vladek is a good example about how someone can deal with the Holocaust without dehumanising everyone involved but also making it about human beings and not as you said paragons of empathy. I must discuss a bit of this on the books section of the forum...
 

SenatorChickpea

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@SpanishSpy, I just want to thank you for your generous words; I'll respond properly to this at some point in the future when things are not quite so frantic, because right now my time for reading has shrunk dramatically, but I just wanted to say that you're being far too kind.

I look forward to reading the article.
 

Francisco Cojuanco

Sometime traitor to his class
Location
Arizona
I think in addition to the Jewish utopia, Israel as it is today is also supported by the utopia of some small but important sects of American Christianity, one of a coming Apocalypse and the Millenium (which requires a strong Israel to be a precursor to be absorbed).
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
I think in addition to the Jewish utopia, Israel as it is today is also supported by the utopia of some small but important sects of American Christianity, one of a coming Apocalypse and the Millenium (which requires a strong Israel to be a precursor to be absorbed).
The country wasn't designed by Evangelicals, though; if we're going with the science fiction metaphor, those Christians are the weird periphery fanbase that nevertheless gives the Israelis a lot of money and so the latter has to put up with the former.

It was a huge scandal when it became known that Herzl's son had converted to Christianity.
 

Charles EP M.

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Published by SLP
It was forever bizarre to me that Israel and foreign pro-Israel groups buddy up to people who think "Israel must exist so the End Times can happen, which will destroy Israel".

Then I realised that they (obviously) don't believe any of that is real, so from their POV this is "ha ha we're scamming those losers".
 

Dan1988

Sorry, sunshine, wrong place

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
Definitely. I'm reminded of John-Peter Pham's book, Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State, which does something similar.
I keep intending to read more about Liberia, partially because it seems to be a mirror of Israel from my vantage point.
 
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