The Lebanese crisis seen from Haifa

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Prof. Abraham B. Yehoshua, outstanding Israeli novelist.

Watching some dramatic scenes in Lebanon and Israel I dialled Haifa. Abraham B. Yehoshua, lecturer of literature at the University of Haifa, one of the most outstanding contemporary Israeli writers besides David Grossman and Amos Oz, answers the phone. At first I ask Prof. Yehoshua what life looks like in the city that is bombed by Hezbollah. He answers that he has no reasons to grumble. Since he lives in a modern building with a 'safe room' (a kind of bunker). When he hears an alarm he goes to the bunker with his wife. And his wife is a psychologist and sometimes she receives patients at home, so they must run to the bunker with the patient. Their children and grandchildren live in Tel Aviv. They visit them at weekends. Our conversation concerns such difficult matters like the existence of the state of Israel in the Arab Middle East, ways to solve the Jewish-Palestinian conflict and his opinion about the Lebanese conflict. Below are some fragments of the conversation.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: ( The first Israeli leaders knew of the difficult and unique situation of the Palestinians. It is enough to quote the words of Israel's father David Ben-Gurion who told Nahum Goldmann, President of the Zionist World Organisation, 'If I were an Arab leader I would never negotiate with Israel. And this is obvious: we have captured the country... We come from Israel but it was 2,000 years ago and why they should care about that any longer. Of course, there were the times of anti-Semitism and Nazism, Hitler and Auschwitz but was it their fault? They know only one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept this state of affairs?' Isn't the lack of sensitivity of the present Israeli leaders to the obvious drama of the Palestinian nation perhaps the most important obstacle to peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Prof. Abraham B. Yehoshua: - A nation that returns to its homeland after 2,000 years - which has never happened in the history of the world, this is the only example. Because of that the Palestinians were in a situation that any other nation had never been before. I think that this is the main source of the conflict in the Middle East. The basic problem is the question of legality: on what legal basis were the Jews to return to Palestine? Which law should regulate Israel's existence in the Middle East? This makes the conflict hard to solve. We must try to understand it, both from the Israeli point of view and the Palestinian point of view, and we can see the difference on the example of the Lebanese crisis. Let us take Hezbollah - they do not fight for land because the whole territory of Lebanon is in Lebanese hands, but they raise the question of Israel's right to exist.
During the first years of the Zionist activities, around the year 1917, when the declaration of Lord Arthur James Balfour (the British Foreign Secretary who proposed that the Jews should have their national headquarters in Palestine) was issued, in the world there were ca. 18 million Jews and 500,000 Palestinians. That's why the first Zionists thought it would be easy to integrate the Arabs in the Jewish state. Unfortunately, the Jews who had always dreamt of their own state, did not come here. If only half a million Jews had settled in Palestine after Balfour's declaration had been made, we could have created our own state and numerous Jews would not have been victims of the Holocaust. We could have solved the problem with the Palestinians, either sharing the land or integrating them in one state.
Ben-Gurion and other leaders realized that the best solution would be to create two states and therefore, after the UN resolution of 1948, which proposed such a solution, they accepted it although the territory that had been suggested constituted only a small part of Palestine, mainly desert areas. After the experience of the Holocaust we understood that we had to have our own territory and sovereignty. Unfortunately, the Arabs rejected that solution and began fighting. I understand that from their point of view the problem looked different. They could have told us, 'All right, Jews, you are the victim of the Holocaust but we did no have anything to do with that. Go to Europe'. But the Jews did not have any other place on the earth except the small territory that they defended. And I must add that until the war of 1967 all political powers in Israel favoured the division of Palestine into two states.

- And what happened in 1967?

- After the war of 1967 they abandoned that idea since they concluded that they could have the whole area of Great Israel (Eretz Israel) and refused the Palestinians the right to have a state. It was a big mistake and misfortune. New settlements on the Palestinian land were a wrong decision. Recently the majority of Israeli society has supported the idea of division of Palestine into two countries. We cannot occupy territories inhabited by Palestinians. The only solution is to create two states - Ben-Gurion and other Israeli leaders knew that from the very beginning. The majority of Palestinians support this idea although some of their demands cannot be accepted, e.g. Palestinians demand a right for the refugees to return to the territory of Israel - one cannot accept that since Israel would become a second Palestinian state. You can see both parties have problems but generally speaking most people in both nations support the idea of two states.

- Arafat was often criticized for not having accepted the Camp David agreement, which was 'sponsored' by American President. Arafat explained that he could not accept it because it did not include the creation of Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Political observers agree that the status of Jerusalem is one of the main problems to be solved in the future Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The Apostolic See, because of the unique role of the city in the three monotheistic religions proposes that historical Jerusalem has a special international status. What is your opinion about that?

- I do not know whether Barak (Israeli Prime Minister who negotiated in Camp David) strongly opposed the creation of the Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, but I think that the core of the problem is Mount Temple (the hill where the Jewish temple was built, and where today there is the Al-Aqsa Mosque). In my opinion Jerusalem should be divided into three parts: a Jewish part that would be the capital of Israel, an Arab part as the capital of Palestine and the Old City with its holy places should become some kind of Vatican of the three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The only solution for historical Jerusalem with its churches, mosques and synagogues is an international supervision.

- Israel won all wars with the Arabs and mot likely it will win the war against Hezbollah. Don't you think that each war multiplies Israel's enemies and contributes to some increase of hatred towards Jews, not only in the Muslim world...

- It seems to me that we did not win wars but only battles. I do not think that every victorious war automatically increased hatred towards Jews. Before the war of 1967 I myself experienced the hatred of Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians. They called us jackass and pigs. In my opinion a just war like the war of 1967 when we were attacked can bring about peace treaty. A war must be just and morally justified. But the present war in Lebanon is justified (which does not mean that I support any kind of war activities) since Hezbollah did not have the right to attack us. They have their own land and are independent. Why did they kidnap our soldiers and attack us?
I must confess something to you. I supported one-sided withdrawal from Gaza. However, when he left the settlements and military bases the Palestinians began firing at us from the deserted Gaza territory. There is no reason for them to do it. And that's why I hate them.

- You are living in Haifa, city of Jews and Arabs. Has the present conflict changed anything in the relationships between Jewish and Arab neighbors?

- Haifa was an example of peaceful co-existence between Jews and Arabs. These hard days have not changed the situation and weakened the Jewish-Arab friendship. One should not forget that Hezbollah's bombs killed many Arabs. Besides, the Israeli Arabs realize that Hezbollah does harm to Palestine interests.

- My Lebanese friend repeats that his country has become a victim of 'collective punishment'. It is true that Hezbollah was created in the environment of Lebanese Shiites but why - in order to destroy an altogether small group of fighters - does Israel change into ruins this wonderful country that has only been rebuilt after the last war?

- Lebanon is a lovely country that I love very much. It is an example of a wonderful mixture of Arab and Western civilizations. And Lebanon is a secular country. But Lebanese people must understand that independence and sovereignty do not exist without responsibility. If a state wants to be sovereign it be responsible for all its citizens. One cannot allow creating another state in the state like it was in the case of Hezbollah. The Lebanese authorities should not have allowed Hezbollah to accumulate 50,000 rockets.

- Can we be optimistic in this dramatic situation?

- I hope that there will be cease-fire and international troops will be placed on the border. I hope Polish soldiers will join these international forces. Polish people know best how much Jews suffered during World War II and that's why I would welcome them here with joy. In the presence of international forces this winter in the Middle East can be better.

- Thank you very much for the conversation and I would like to wish just peace for Israel and the entire Middle East.

"Niedziela" 35/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: