Hal Draper

Zionism, Israel & the Arabs

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Chapter VI

The Truth About the Fedayeen

Hal Draper, Zionism, Israel & the Arabs, pp. 93–106.

Labor Action, Vol. 21 No. 14, April 8, 1957, pp. 1 & 6

The finger was put on a tell-tale weak point in Nasser’s case for blockading Israeli shipping when it was demanded that the Egypt regime say whether or no it considers itself in a state of war with Israel. The Cairo dictator has refused to say because either a yes or a no exposes his hand.

To be sure, no one can dream of unraveling the Middle East mess by simply threading a way through the tangle of juridical rights involved, but this question of belligerence is a bit more than juridical. If Nasser said yes, then he could hardly object if Israel also considered itself at war (though others could); if he said no, then he would deprive himself of his formal basis for excluding Israeli ships from the Suez Canal and probably also from the Gulf of Aqaba.

As earlier articles have brought out, the Arab socialists (specifically, the Baath Socialist Party) unfortunately support Nasser’s blockade on the ground that it is an alternative to war. This hardly makes sense. A rock-bottom prerequisite in the Middle East, for the operation of any solution whatever, is a firm cease-fire. Anyone who breaks the cease-fire or provokes its breach deserves the condemnation of all people.

In the past week the Egyptian dictator has let it be known that he is ready to give the blockade up if Israel concedes on the Arab refugee issue. In reply, the Israelis say they are ready to talk about it. Anything fruitful that emerges, of course, would be a fine thing, but realism obliges one to fear that both sides are simply playing with that tragic issue as they have been doing for over eight years.

If Israel is responsible for cruelly keeping the Palestinian Arab refugees from their lands and homes, which it grabbed, then it is also true that Egypt (like most of the other Arab states) has shown little desire to do what it can to alleviate the refugees’ sad lot. Among the Gaza refugees, there is a reservoir of hatred not only for Israel but also for the Egyptians who have kept them herded in the Strip as in a concentration camp without allowing them to taint Egyptian soil by entering on it, while using them callously as fodder for fedayeen raids.

This anti-Egyptian feeling and potentiality in the Strip is not as well publicized in this country as the resentment against Israel that fills the refugees, for the simple reason that it does not fit very well into the propaganda which seeks to justify Israel’s October aggression by putting the spotlight solely on one side of the total picture. But it is very important, among other reasons, because it is one of the facts which points to the possibility of a peaceful political solution by Israel of its “Arab problem.” But it is a solution which would require a fundamental reversal of current Zionist policy.

The Gaza Strip could have been used as a demonstration-ground to show the Arab masses (in all the states) that Israel means justice to them. That is, a different kind of Israeli regime could have demonstrated this, on the basis of a different policy, for the Ben-Gurion team of chauvinists, who regrettably head Israel had no such intentions.

This has been well brought out in A.J. Liebling’s Letter from Gaza in the March 16 New Yorker:

The Israelis, during their four-month occupation of the Strip, which began when they captured it last November 1st and is ending as I write, did nothing to reduce this human edema on their borders beyond shooting a disputed number of civilians when their troops entered and removing twenty-five families compromised by overfriendliness when they left. Their renewed contact with the refugees seemingly offered an opportunity to begin negotiations for the return of some and the compensation of others, but the chance was neglected, and the popular Israeli line on Gaza following the withdrawal may be gleaned from a piece, signed Diplomatic Correspondent, on the front page of last Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post: ‘To continue to administer this island of misery and hate would be a tiresome and costly undertaking for such a small country as this. The best thing for the refugees themselves is, probably, the way chosen by nearly a million Jews – emigration.’ Diplomatic Correspondent’s advice to people trapped in a submarine is to call a taxi.

While on the subject of Liebling’s report from Gaza, another section of it demands quotation as giving one of the rare balanced views of how the Gaza refugees have been bedeviled on both sides. It is a good thing to keep in mind:

The Egyptians, when they were here, tried to strengthen this romanticism [of revenge] by precluding the hope of any other solution; it was a species of treason, for example, for an individual to admit that he might accept compensation from the Israelis for his land if compensation were offered. Egyptian security agents kept excellent tabs on the interminable public conversations, and there was no temptation to depart from the official doctrine of all or nothing, since there was no possibility of getting past the barrier up the road. In the Egyptian days, no refugee could be found who would say even that he would take his own land back if it meant returning to Israel as an individual and living among Jews. (There is no record, of course, of any such offer’s having ever been made.) This legend of the monolithic intransigence of the exiles – not the Gaza lot alone but all the diaspora, in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan – was in its time useful to Israel, too, because it barred any payments to anybody. The Israeli argument when visitors raise the question of the possibility of piecemeal compensation is that conditions have changed since the Arabs went away – and besides Israel can’t spare the money. On the piecemeal resettlement of the refugees in Israel, it is ‘We need the land for a hundred thousand Jews we expect from Portugal’ – or Pimlico or Guatemala; details are unessential. Many Israelis are not only incapable of thinking that this is a paradox but unable to believe that it seems odd to a foreigner. Yet there are Palestinians on the Gaza beach who say, ‘My land is five miles from here, and they have taken it to give it to men from ten thousand miles away.’ The difference of opinion is irreconcilable. The degree of intransigence expressed varies, however, with the known political views of your interpreter, who is usually a camp official, and the men among the refugees who have the most substance and education, and who themselves speak English or French, are generally the most reasonable of all. ‘I would go back and see if I could live happily in the new environment,’one such said to me – I had been warned against him as a hothead – and then see if I couldn’t sell out and go where I felt I had more freedom.’

Yes, there would be plenty of ground for a progressive political appeal by the people of Israel to the Arab masses. That road exists, in spite of the too often repeated sentiment that the only way to teach Arabs any sense is to knock ‘em on the head, etc. – which is a lineal descendant of the notorious MacArthur theory of how to deal with Orientals, of the dictum that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and of many related maxims of chauvinism and the military mind.

That road exists, and well-wishers of Israel can help it best by pushing it to take that road, instead of threatening to teach the Egyptians a lesson (all over again) by shooting its way through the Gulf of Aqaba in the name of Justice.

Labor Action, Vol. 21 No. 15, April 15, 1957, p. 6

One doesn’t often go to the New Yorker for serious political issues, as we did last week, but here we go again. The occasion is a second dispatch from embattled Palestine by A.J. Liebling; this time (March 30) a Letter from Tel Aviv which wends its way through the back-of-the-book cartoons, ads, and clippings for the Raised Eyebrows Dept.

In spite of the title Liebling is again writing about what he found in Gaza. Here, in a no-man’s-land between the Israelis and Egyptians, he saw both contestants quite plain, and, more than that, dares to say so. The result is unusual reportage.

There are two things he does very well. The first continues a theme in his Letter from Gaza. He goes in to it again, and we do too now, since there is nothing more important than this point in any discussion of the Middle East conflict.

It is the opportunity that was not taken by Israel.

Parenthetically, Liebling thinks an opportunity was also lost by the UN, for he seems to favor the UN’s forcible internationalization of Gaza, as the least evil. We can go along with him a certain distance, for, as we explained March 4, we favored a free plebiscite by the people of Gaza and would hope in such a plebiscite that the choice be for internationalization under UN administration. But unfortunately Liebling simply takes for granted that this solution should be imposed on Israel and Egypt by foreigners, just as both of the rivals yell for UN imposition of their own desires on the other fellow.

But the conditions which Liebling describes are very relevant to the line of policy for Israel which socialists should favor – and which has shown itself to be so impossible for the chauvinist Israeli regime.

There was plenty of potentiality in Gaza – even in the hell-hole of Gaza! – for a genuinely socialist Israeli government to appeal to the people of Gaza themselves as against the Egyptian enemy.

This fact is the starting-point of a program for Israel-Arab relations which turns a sharp edge against both the provocative chauvinism of Ben-Gurion and the reactionary dictatorship of Nasser. It undercuts the propaganda of both sides, which is about the only reading fare one usually has.

As mentioned, Liebling goes back to the theme of his previous dispatch:

“The state of belligerency between Israel and Egypt gave both countries an excuse for ignoring the refugees. The two governments were, in a sense, allies against the Gazans, just as Israel and Jordan, though belligerent, are tacit allies against the internationalization of Jerusalem ...”

“Egypt,” writes Liebling, who does not suffer from even a smidgen of pro-Nasserism, “which has steadily refused to offer the refugees Egyptian citizenship or to permit them to immigrate, has profited by their presence as an excuse for holding her Calais [i.e., a bridgehead on foreign territory] and at the same time refusing to accept any surcease of their woes short of what she knows to be impossible – mass return to their precise points of departure.”

Israel too has put on the subject of compensation.

Liebling puts no stock in the pro-Egyptian demonstrations held in the Strip after the Israeli departure; he derides their “spontaneity” and reports they were organized by Egyptian henchmen. For background on this and other points, by the way, Liebling is very good in conveying the atmosphere of idleness and despair which is forced on the Gazans and crowded refugees by conditions for which not they have the responsibility but the Egyptians and Israelis together.

The Egyptians had built up a big reservoir of resentment against themselves because they treated both the long-time Gaza residents and the refugees as subject peoples ... I heard several spontaneous testimonials to the former occupants, among them, ‘The Egyptian soldiers took off their shoes so they could run faster ... Only the Palestine Regiment [recruited from refugees] fought – that’s why it had all the casualties’, and even (if the speaker was sure his interlocutor wasn’t an Israeli) ‘All the fedayeen were refugees. Do you think an Egyptian would dare go across that line?’ On the night of the Egyptian surrender, a mob looted the enormous, hideous new palace of the Egyptian governor ... While there was a prospect that the United Nations would take the Strip over for an appreciable period, a good deal of anti-Egyptian sentiment – even in the presence of known Egyptian informers – was audible.

The fact is, then, that hatred, militancy and despair were forces that boiled up in the Gazan population against both the Egyptian and Israelis. The Egyptians were able to channelize this elemental force against Israel for obvious reasons: the country right across the border was one that had robbed the refugees of their land and property. This Israel was their enemy.

The thought that obviously haunts Liebling is that a different Israeli government, one of justice and mercy, could and should have made friends and allies of the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza.

In February–March, says Liebling (who was there at this time), “there were a great many people who, for disparate reasons, had become approachable by an honest broker.” But Israel took no steps; plainly didn’t want to. “And from the moment when the Israeli leaders recognized that they would not be there long – which must have been indeed early in their negotiations with the Americans and the UN – they did nothing to lay a foundation for future reconciliation.”

Like the Egyptians, Israel treated the Gazans as simple pawns, objects that were in the way, deplorable encumbrances on the scenery; the attitude was the callous one of the colonialist. (One notes that Lt. Col. Gaon, the Israeli military conqueror and then military governor of Gaza, had gained his military experience “with the Dutch army in the Far East.”)

Here the remarks Liebling made in his first dispatch would come in; but in the present article he does something additional that is interesting. For from a distance it is only on the big issues that one can concretize what it would mean for a new Israel to make an appeal-from-below to the Arab masses. And from a distance this is no doubt enough.

Being right on the spot, however, Liebling goes into some detail on two very immediate things that the Israelis could have done during their occupation if they had really wanted to use Gaza as a model to show that Israel intended justice and friendship to the Arab people, as against the Arab kings, colonels, and dictators.

He explains how Israel could have helped the Gazans save their orange crop this year – true, at some expense of generosity on their part but not really very much. And secondly, there had been a plan to rebuild the jetty at Gaza’s fishing port, which was a wreck when Liebling saw it after four months of Israeli occupation. Nothing was done, for: “I fear that the Israeli occupation authorities wanted to put nothing into Gaza that they couldn’t take out with them.”

These are only two examples; but they open a door; for otherwise how can one, in New York, possibly detail all the things it would mean if Israel were to come to the Arab people not as conquerors or threats but as friends and allies of theirs against their Arab overlords? – that is, if Israel were really to be that “bastion of democracy” in the Middle East that its admirers pretend?

Of course, this is not just a question of Gaza; this applies to the whole gamut of Israel’s relations to the Arab peoples in the surrounding states, to the Palestinian Arab refugees outside the borders, to the Israeli Arab minority inside the borders. In Gaza, the Israel-Arab problem is only synopsized and heightened in dramatic quality.

Are there people in Israel who see the problem this way, who can see through the miasma of chauvinist feeling which lies over that country like a chilling fog? Liebling has shown that he is quite sensitive to this aspect of the ideological climate of Israel; so he has no illusions. But he sees at least one chink of hope.

If the Israeli occupation had remained, he thinks, maybe personal contact with the people of the Strip would have influenced Israelis’ thinking. Maybe. In any case, he takes heart in meeting a young Israeli paratrooper, who is also a writer of sorts, a sabra (native-born) though his parents had come from Europe.

“I looked at those people sitting there so sad,” the young soldier-intellectual told him. “Having been born here, I speak Arabic, of course, and I talked to some. I thought, they are Palestinians like me. I felt ashamed. I thought, we have driven our neighbors from their land and we are giving it to Europeans – we are begging Europeans to come here and take our neighbors’ land. But we must live with our neighbors if we are to stay here. The old men who run the government don’t understand this, because they are Europeans, too.”

Liebling adds, as his final word: “I wonder how broad and deep this current runs.”

It is a good question, and a moot one. The current represented by the young soldier has often been noted among the youth, but no one really knows.

Labor Action, Vol. 21 No. 16, April 22, 1957, pp. 6 & 7

The second big point made by A.J. Liebling in his dispatch to the New Yorker entitled Letter from Tel Aviv concerns the tale that Israel’s primary consideration in invading Egypt was the need to stop the attacks by Egyptian fedayeen from the Gaza Strip.

To go by Abba Eban’s much-praised elocutions in the UN, or N.Y. Post editorials and columnists, or other apologists for the Ben-Gurion regime, the Israeli leaders were simply forced into the invasion by this pressure.

This is a complete myth, and one of Liebling’s services is that he shows it up. This is what he writes, and it is worth quoting at length.

The question of whether or not raids and reprisals are resumed – and of who raids and who reprises – is not a matter of such dramatic import as the press here contends. During the two years of scraggly border warfare that preceded the Israelis’ decision to raise the ante last October [the invasion of Egypt], the ‘crimes of the fedayeen’ claimed considerably fewer victims in Israel than the Israelis bagged on the Egyptian side of the line. The score kept by the UN observers of the Egypt-Israel Mixed Armistice Commission shows that between Jan. 1, 1955 and Sept. 30, 1956 the Israelis killed 239 Egyptian soldiers and 91 civilians, while the Egyptians killed 42 Israeli soldiers and 24 civilians – a ration of just under 6 to 1 in the first category and of just under 4 to 1 in the second. The discrepancy is a measure not of comparative ill will but of comparative efficiency ... As for the widely photographed peaceful Israeli settlers of Nahal Oz, who work their fields under the menacing shadow of the fedayeen-haunted Gaza ridge, they are members of a paramilitary farm colony planted there about six years ago to catch raiders. Border kibbutzim, or collective farms, like this one are an institution copied from the Roman coloniae of ex-soldiers, who received land and livestock as an inducement to settle at points on the imperial frontier where they could be of the most utility when war came. The young Israelis go to these kibbutzim straight from army service. It’s a good old-fashioned procedure that provides lightly fortified Stutzpunkte along the frontier at minimal expense, since the colonists grow their own vegetables and dig trenches in their recreation time; the czars planted belts of Cossack colonies along the Tatar and Polish borders for the same purpose. The kibbutzim at points where action seems most imminent are favored not only in equipment but in the allocation of farm machinery and livestock; they are like army units being beefed up for action. A young farmer I talked with at Nahal Oz while the Israelis still occupied Gaza said, half regretfully, ‘We’ve been making great progress here, but if the Egyptians don’t come back soon, the kibbutzim on the Syrian frontier will be getting the pick of everything.’ Recruiting for the more sheltered kibbutzim is falling away with the waning of the young Israelis romanticism about the land [146]; the persisting attraction of the border establishments is the opportunity to protect the fatherland from attack. (The only genuine romantic enthusiasm in Israel now, it seems to an observer from outside, centers on the armed forces. The popular line is that the army won the victory and the government threw it away – or Eisenhower or Hammarskjold or the oil companies stole it away.) The Israelis are far better qualified than their opponents for an indefinite game of cowboys-and-Indians. It is highly unlikely that the country will bleed to death because of the measly ‘incidents’ that the local press is already trying to blow up, like the theft of 3,000 dollars’ worth of farm machinery, of an unspecified nature, from the Israeli-governed Bedouin tribe named Abu Grab (in this case, more grabbed against than grabbing).”

Now this, of course, is not a rounded account of the fedayeen episode of the last couple of years, but it is a salutary corrective to the one-sided nonsense that has been written about it. Liebling is on solid ground in taking a fall out of the inflation of the fedayeen problem for purposes of justificatory propaganda, to which it lends itself so easily.

Thus, in its issue dated just one month before the invasion of Egypt, Commentary magazine carried an article on Israel by Benno Weiser, who reported with emphasis that the Israelis themselves shrug off the fedayeen raids and don’t take it as seriously as do foreign visitors. Among other things he quotes an “old friend” of his:

“‘Look’, he said, while we sipped coffee ‘there have been about three thousand casualties among both Arabs and Jews in border incidents since the conclusion of the armistice in 1949. That means roughly a yearly average of two hundred Jewish casualties. Every other day a Jew is wounded or killed because of the absence of peace. Compare this with the average number of casualties from our traffic accidents. What the Arabs take is perhaps 5 per cent of the toll of the Fords, Kaisers, Hillmans, and Chevrolets. Does it occur to anyone not to walk on the streets or not to use cars? ...”

This sort of thing, which sounds callous, was all very well before the invasion, when it was a question of protesting that Israel could never, never even think of starting a preventive war – except for bad people like the Herut gang; it was mainly after the aggression that the fedayeen attrition was converted into a matter of life and death for Israel.

Or take the Reporter magazine, whose staff writer Claire Sterling, like its editor and publisher, is violently pro-Israel. In the May 17 issue of that magazine last year, Miss Sterling revealed from Jerusalem that, fortunately, it was now definite and irrevocable that Ben-Gurion would never, never invade Egypt: “The Israelis will not invade Egypt, now or a year from now.” So overwhelming was her relief at this intelligence that she found it possible to reveal, as a moment of aberration happily long passed, that the preceding November “Ben-Gurion was strongly tempted to embark on such a war” and “he might well have tried it” except for warnings from Britain and the U.S.

(In that November of 1955, Israeli troops had forcibly moved into the demilitarized zone of El Auja on the Sinai frontier. Many believed at the time that Ben-Gurion was hoping to provoke the Egyptians into official military retaliation so as to be able to claim that it was the Egyptians who had started the war.)

The point is that Miss Sterling discusses in the very same article how the fedayeen raids had just been intensified in April; indeed they had reached a climax on April 11 when three children and a teacher were killed at evening prayers in a synagogue in Shafrir. Yet it does not occur to her, not even to her, that there is a connection worth discussion between this and the pressure on Israel to attack Egypt.

After the invasion, Miss Sterling’s equally authoritative article in the Reporter could have been esthetically appreciated only by staff writers for the Daily Worker before and after the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

But there is much more to the fedayeen story than simply the question of its mythical role in forcing Israel to its aggression.

What is not controversial, but indisputable and well publicized, is the viciously reactionary character of the fedayeen policy of the Egyptian regime – i.e., murderous sneak attacks by kamikaze raiders on Israeli civilians as well as soldiers. What is concealed by so many of the gentlemen who make heart-rending denunciations of these crimes is the equally reprehensible policy of the Ben-Gurion regime which, in point of fact, eventually elicited the fedayeen as a reactionary riposte.

The story of the border fighting begins with the very establishment of the borders – which are not national borders in many places, anyway, but simply the armistice lines established after the 1948 war to end the shooting. These lines were drawn higgledy-piggledy right through many a Palestinian Arab village, frequently separating the peasants’ homes from the land which gave them their sustenance.

Israel proceeded to implement a grab of every inch of territory on its side of the temporary line, outside the territory allotted by the UN partition plan. Palestinian Arab villagers found themselves stripped of their ancestral fields and reduced to seeing their property worked by the occupiers under their noses.

At the same time tens of thousands of Palestine Arabs had fled the war as refugees – partly in fear of the fighting and of the invading foreign-Arab forces, partly stimulated by the departing but bitter British, and last but not least, partly driven out of villages or terrorized out by Israeli forces. The Israelis grabbed their property and land wholesale and then, not illogically, refused to let them come back to their homes.

These too piled up behind the barrier of the “armistice lines” which Israel was converting into hard frontiers while their lands, crops, houses, and livestock were expropriated by the occupiers.

Thus began the chapter of the “infiltrators.”

The infiltrators were – overwhelmingly – some of these Palestinian Arab refugees or expropriated villagers who, living in seething misery and frustration slipped over the lines now and then for various reasons.

Often the reason was simply to visit friends or relatives still there. Not infrequently it was to secretly continue tilling fields which belonged to them and were lying fallow. Or it might be to “steal” back from one of the settlements some piece of property which they still considered to be theirs. Or, working up the scale, to harass out of simple reprisal a settlement that was now planted on their own land, say, by dismantling a pipe ...

So it started, a process that jacked itself up automatically.

The paramilitary colonies that Israel started feverishly planting along the “armistice lines” were in the first place designed to prevent such infiltration. Infiltrators could be and were shot on sight. The toll mounted.

This was a “war” between the Israeli regime and the Palestinian Arabs who had been robbed. The Egyptian or Jordanian regimes were not at first involved – except of course that the infiltrators came from across the line, in their territory.

But even as far as this is concerned, the evidence piled up by the UN agencies established to supervise the armistice is that both of these governments made sincere efforts during this chapter of the story in order to police the infiltrators and put a stop to the border harassment of Israel by its victims. [147]

The response that emerged from the Israeli government to the problem was the old one of “Teach ‘em a lesson.” Out-of-hand shooting of infiltrators when they were caught was not enough. Paramilitary squads from the border coloniae began to make terror-raids across the lines at refugee centers and Arab villages in order to “teach ‘em a lesson,” by shooting them up.

The Arabs thus killed (as “lessons”) were, of course, chance-selected by bullets; they themselves were not infiltrators, necessarily. The theory was that of collective punishment (well known to the Israelis from the former British rule.)

These paramilitary raiders cannot be called Israeli fedayeen because that word means “self-sacrificers” and implies a suicide operation.

Thus the jacking-up process on both sides reached a new level. Or, to change the metaphor, the Israelis raised the ante again. The war was still with the Palestinian Arabs, not with Egyptian or Jordanian forces.

It is this chapter of the story that reached its climax with the infamous Kibya massacre in 1953, when a well-organized and efficient Israeli military operation struck at the Arab village across the Jordan border, sprayed machine-gun bullets around, blew up houses wholesale, indiscriminately slaughtering over 50 men, women and children in the streets and in their homes. This was supposed to be an “answer” to the preceding murder of three people in an Israeli village, presumably by infiltrators. The ante was now being raised to near “Lidice” proportions. There were many smaller “Kibyas.”

By 1955, the spotlight focused on the Egyptian border.

In the Gaza sector, the infiltration problem was complicated also by raids into Israel by Bedouin tribes which had been driven out of Israel into the Sinai area. In February, the Israelis pulled off a military raid inside the Gaza Strip, killing about 40 Arabs. (This turn was heralded by the immediately preceding return to the defense ministry of Ben-Gurion, who had been in “retirement” since the outcry over Kibya.)

The jacking-up process was under way along the Gaza border. On August 31 it reached a climax with an Israeli strike against Khan Yunis, in the southern end of the Strip. This became a turning-point.

Another focal point was the El Auja demilitarized zone on the Sinai frontier. Israel established a military camp there under the guise of a kibbutz; Egypt protested the presence of soldiers. Israel rebutted that the Egyptian check-post just outside El Auja was in fact a few yards inside the lines. Clashes started. In October an Israeli force destroyed an Egyptian post on the border further south. Then in November (as we have already mentioned) Israeli troops moved in force against the Egyptian position and took over the demilitarized area in open battle.

This is where, as Claire Sterling later admitted, Ben-Gurion was ready to provoke a war. There were no fedayeen as yet.

To quote from the Jewish Agency’s Digest of Nov. 22, 1956 on The Fedayeen – Nasser’s Secret Weapon:

“Some time last year the prestige of the Egyptian occupation authorities in the Gaza Strip and in Egypt proper was at a low ebb because of their apparent inactivity against Israel. The public demanded military action. Fearful, however, that an all-out offensive by the regular Egyptian army may meet with failure, the Egyptian dictator hit upon an ingenious scheme ...” [i.e., the Fedayeen, H.D.] [148]

This makes crystal-clear from unimpeachable sources what has been treated as a well-known truth by many other observers: it was at this time, after at least seven years of Israeli ante-raising, that the Egyptian regime riposted by organizing the fedayeen forays in response to what “the public demanded.”

(The long-sufferance of Cairo should not be ascribed to overweening kindliness. As Liebling observed in a similar connection, it was basically due to disinclination to risk another military debacle.)

The “teach ‘em a lesson” policy had been raising the ante in order to bring the Arabs to their knees with pleas to the conquerors to kindly stop murdering them. The chauvinist-militarist mentality of its protagonists (spearheaded by Ben-Gurion) saw it as the way to make impudent aborigines grovel before their masters. Although it was initially directed against the Palestinian Arabs, it could naturally be carried through only in complete contempt of the Egyptian and the Jordanian states.

The monster that this monstrous policy created is called the fedayeen. It was sired by Israeli chauvinism upon the body of Egypt’s reactionary Nasserism. The fedayeen themselves were recruited from desperate Palestinian Arab refugees.

When Israel invaded Egypt last October, it was raising the ante again. There is a line that goes straight from Kibya to the Sinai aggression, and that goes, in the other direction, back to the expropriation of the Palestinian Arabs.

It is not the only line that delineates the politics of the Middle East mess, but it is the one most often left out of the picture. It is also a line which serves to cross out the pretense that the Israeli regime’s role in that shameful aggression was basically a defensive one against intolerable harassment.

* * *


146. For a more general discussion of what has been happening to the Israeli kibbutz, see the interesting comments by Stanley Diamond in the current Dissent.

147. This border happens to be the only one in the history of the world which has been under constant military observation for a number of years by an impartial, international organization of supervisors – the UN truce commissions. Their reports have never gotten any currency in the U.S. press. A recent book by one of the UN observers, Commander E.H. Hutchison, Violent Truce (Devin-Adair, N.Y.) reflects the findings of the UN agencies on the spot. It has succeeded in getting reviewed practically nowhere, with one exception, but is “must” reading for anyone trying to get acquainted with all sides of this story. The exception is a bitterly hostile review by Hal Lehrman in Commentary, which proves (by what it does not say) that Lehrman can find nothing to refute in the general factual picture drawn by Hutchison.

148. The J.A. Digest article, says a note, “is based on an article by Shabetai Tevet in Haaretz,” which is the leading daily of Israel. The information in it is “based on official Egyptian documents” captured, and on testimony by captured fedayeen.

Last updated on 27 August 2020