1948 and All That
Founding fighters: Soldiers of the IDF's Eighth Brigade in the 1948 War of Independence (photo: GPO)
As the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached their nadir (or climax, or wherever talks doomed from the start eventuate), an interesting thing happened. Israel had agreed at the outset of the talks last year to a rather demented goodwill gesture, taking the form of a four-stage release of imprisoned Palestinian Arab terrorists. As the final stage approached last month, the Palestinian Authority insisted that some Israeli Arabs also be included in the roster of prisoners to be set free.
This was interesting because it demonstrated once more that the distinction between Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs — between Arabs who live west of the 1949 armistice line and Arabs who live to its east — is meaningless. The former happen to have Israeli citizenship; the latter are ruled by the Palestinian Authority. But they hail from the same families and clans as one another; some are even siblings. The distinction is meaningless because the armistice line is meaningless. It follows no outstanding feature of the topography of the land and it demarcates no historic boundary. It does not even reflect earlier, abortive colonial partition plans. Arabs and Jews live on both sides of it. Jerusalem is divided by it. The majority of Jews are on one side; many of their ancient sites (including the tombs of the Patriarchs, Joseph, Rachel, Joshua and Samuel, the biblical cities of Hebron, Shiloh, Shomron, Jericho and the City of David, as well as the Temple Mount itself) are on the other. Yet in the ill-informed and often prejudiced imagination of the international community, this line is supposed to be the basis of the border between two independent states.
And so, outside the Middle East, the 1949 armistice line (misleadingly known as the "pre-1967 borders") is the blueprint for peace, the only idea worth talking about. But inside the Middle East, it is ultimately irrelevant to both the Jewish and Arab narratives. Zionists on the Right see the entire Land of Israel as the Jewish inheritance, regardless of the armistice line; while critics and anti-Zionists on the Left are obsessed with the displacement of the Arabs from the entire land, regardless of the armistice line. Meanwhile, the Arabs cannot tolerate any Jewish sovereignty in the midst of Islam, especially not a Jewish state that splits the Arab world in two, again, regardless of the armistice line. These are the contours of the struggle for the Land of Israel, and it is within that middle category of critics and anti-Zionists that one can place the authors of these three books, despite their being written from rather different perspectives.
Lipika Pelham is a Bengali-born British BBC editor and filmmaker who married a left-wing anti-Israel Anglo-Jew, moved around the Middle East in furtherance of his career and eventually found herself living in Jerusalem as he secured himself a position in the international peace industry embedded there. The Unlikely Settler is the memoir of an ordinary woman who sacrifices her career for her aloof husband's and whose family is breaking apart, set largely in a foreign country that happens to be Israel.
Over the course of the family's sojourn there, Pelham's adolescent son befriends an Arab and becomes menacingly hostile to the Jewish state; her infant daughter, by contrast, becomes a budding Zionist — until, that is, her distressed parents send her to an Arab-dominated international school and she, too, descends into comfortable antagonism toward Israel. Pelham's husband, who, like other foreign peaceniks in the Middle East, is obsessed with Israel's transgressions and blindly pursues utopian delusions, separates from his wife and leaves the home. Although he eventually returns, their relationship is not what it once was, as she resigns herself, pitifully, to "the region's greater need of him".