Friday, October 5, 2007

On Udi Lebel's New Book

Written out of history
By Tom Segev

At first, everything seemed heroic and high-minded, but it didn't take long before the voices of the screwed began to be heard; over the years this voice has dominated the history of the State of Israel. Mizrahim and Arabs and women, of course; Holocaust survivors; natives of almost every country in the universe, from the Yemenites to the Yekkes (German Jews): All were shortchanged, all suffered. Those who abandoned religion: Oy, how they suffered, in terms of family and of faith; those who were reared in children's houses in the kibbutzim: Oy, how traumatic it was that everyone saw their you-know-what.

Unfortunately, most of the crybabies are right, most of the time. Someone may eventually track down those Israelis who are unburdened by humiliations and discrimination complexes, but for the time being the voice of the members of the second generation is being heard. No, not those whose parents were in the Holocaust, but those whose parents fell victim to David Ben-Gurion's dictatorship because they were members of the Irgun and Lehi right-wing, pre-State paramilitary organizations.

Udi Label, who teaches political psychology and political science at Sapir College and at the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, has written a book that is full of bitterness and humiliation, but which is very much worth reading ("The Road to the Pantheon: Etzel and Lehi and the Boundaries of Israeli Memory," Carmel publishers, in Hebrew). History belongs to the winners, and Ben-Gurion knew that. That's why he closed the gates of the national pantheon to the dead of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (also known by the acronym "Etzel") and Lehi, and ordered Israel to remember only those heroes who fought in the military organizations connected to the Labor movement. The disabled of Etzel and Lehi did not receive assistance, widows and children were left without stipends. Ben-Gurion is portrayed as a petty tyrant who was not satisfied with the fact that he made history: He wanted to control memory as well.

The government monopoly over history left one sole arena for alternative clarification: the courts. The relatives of those killed in the battle over the weapons ship Altalena, and even relatives of several of those who carried out the massacre in Dir Yassin, demanded to be recognized as entitled to compensation from the Defense Ministry. Their lawsuits gave rise to several emotionally and politically fraught trials, which centered around what constitutes "terror," as opposed to a legitimate struggle for independence. Twenty years later, then-prime minister Menachem Begin rewrote history and shaped a new culture of memory: Terror thus received national legitimacy. Here is a fascinating book that Palestinians should also read, prior to the inevitable debate as to whether only the terror of Fatah, or the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well, deserve a place in their pantheon.