I’m in Jerusalem this week. You can write as much as you like about a place, but here’s no substitute for actually being there and imbibing the culture and the atmosphere first hand.
I’ve been here many times now. Today, however, I noticed two contrasting memorials as I walked back from the Old City to where I am staying off Emek Refaim.
I’ve seen them both on several occasions but for some reason, this time, something resonated.
The first is a plaque outside the King David Hotel which commemorates the attack on that hotel during the British Mandate. The plaque is at pains to tell us how many warnings were given by the Irgun to various bodies asking them to evacuate the building. The target was the central offices of the British Mandate authorities in July 1946.
This same plaque expresses the regret of the Irgun that these warnings were ignored and 92 people died.
Something is not right with that expression of regret.
As you enter Emek Refaim you cannot fail to miss a stone memorial for the eight people who died on a 14a bus as it was leaving the German Colony during the second Intifada in 2004. The suicide bomber was, of course, a Palestinian terrorist who gave no warning except, presumably, a final shout of Allah HuAkbar as he detonated he bomb.
Let’s, go back to the King David Hotel memorial. This plaque is telling us that the Irgun, and by implication, the Israeli people are very sorry that 92 people died, but it really wasn’t their fault because they did warn you and if you didn’t listen to that warning or believe it, then that was your problem. We regret the loss of life BUT ….
Well, sorry, there can be no ‘buts’. Terrorism is terrorism. Now I know such a view may not be popular among some supporters of Israel who will claim that the Irgun ‘had to do it’, ‘we were fighting for our state’, ‘we had to drive the British pro-arab mandate authorities out’ etc. etc.
Now imagine that the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had given warnings that were ignored by the US authorities. Suppose the planes were empty, except for terrorist pilots. Suppose that thousands of people were killed because the New York and Washington authorities had not heeded the warnings and evacuated the Pentagon and downtown New York.
Who would be to blame for these deaths? The municipal authorities or the terrorists?
So who was to blame for the King David Hotel bomb? The Irgun or the Mandate authorities?
You can argue all you want how much worse Palestinian terrorism is than Jewish terrorism of the 1940s, and I would agree, but it is still terrorism. I think it is time Israelis and the Israeli government acknowledged this and apologise for it rather than sanitise the worse excesses of the Irgun, Stern Gang and others. Not only is it morally right to do so but it avoids accusations of hypocrisy when it comes to terrorism and the glorification of terrorists.
It is always dangerous to judge the past by the standards of today, but very often the passage of time gives us a much clearer vision, even a clearer moral vision of past events. Much has been written about the bombing and much historical analysis about the ‘warnings’ has been written. I take the simplistic view: the British were not the Nazis, they were not an evil regime. The bomb was a crime – no excuses. This has always been my view.
When I was very young and saw the film Exodus these Jewish Freedom fighters became glamorous heroes of the Jewish people. This view became somewhat modified over time until I formed a completely contrary view.
None of this has ever changed my conviction of the rights of and the necessity for a Jewish State, but all decent states have to be cognisant of the crimes of the past committed in its name even before that state was actually formed. I will not be fully comfortable until that cognisance and that acknowledgement are made.
It goes without saying, but I will, nevertheless, say it, that it is unlikely that Palestinians will ever make a single apology for any act of terrorism. But their attitude has absolutely no bearing on the obligations of Israel. I mention it as a knee-jerk attempt to mitigate by comparison and thus I contradict myself.
What a terrible irredeemable Zionist I am.