In 1962, aged twenty-five, I went to Israel to write the book that was published three years later under the title, Next Generation. This was a golden age when it was possible to have Jewish and Arab friends. I made regular visits to the Arab Jewish Community Centre in Haifa, whose director Yaakov Malkin, born in Warsaw in 1927, was a typical Israeli intellectual, able and willing to discuss every topic under the sun. One day the journalist and novelist Atallah Mansour took me to a village in upper Galilee to visit his friend Rashid Hussein, the poet. His family’s house was small, yet I never saw anything of his mother except for her bony hand when she served the food through a door barely ajar.

Self-determination for the Jews seemed to me a good and necessary thing. My mother and her family were Jewish, and I was always asking myself whether this had any meaning for me; I wanted to find out. I had the impression that a whole new cultural experience was waiting for me in the wings. Next Generation was a preliminary expression of this feeling and perhaps was the reason that the Daily Telegraph sent me in 1967 to cover the Six-Day War.

At the time, people everywhere feared that Israel faced extinction; they thought it would be a general massacre. If there was any approval of the Egyptian President Colonel Abdul Nasser as he publically welcomed a war with Israel, it went unnoticed. In my hotel in Tel Aviv I ran into the novelist Elie Wiesel; his eyes were red, his agitation obvious, he was coming from a meeting with senior officers whom he had known since his school days in Hungary. Frightened men themselves, they had concluded that Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was not taking the right measures and was putting national security at risk by not attacking first. The world’s sympathy with Israel was unquestionable.

Nasser, meanwhile, made a telephone call to King Hussein of Jordan, which Israel monitored, proposing that Jordan join forces with Egypt and attack simultaneously. Through the United Nations, Israel advised the king to stay neutral. The king had to make up his mind. He flew to Cairo and committed Jordan to campaigning with Egypt. If the king had done nothing Jordan would have remained in possession of the West Bank; Israel would not now have responsibility for the Palestinians, and the horrors of Gaza might never have taken place. That is to say that Israel and Hamas today are paying for the king’s mistaken decision. And the whole dispute might have taken a different course. In the end Israel drove King Hussein’s Arab Legion out of Jerusalem and off the West Bank, that part of Palestine that Jordan had been occupying since the end of the British mandate but whose sovereignty nobody had recognized for twenty years.

To call the Israeli presence on the West Bank “occupation” is to stretch the meaning of the word. There are two million Arabs in Israel and there is no reason why there should not be half a million Israelis on the West Bank. Both parties have property rights. But an Arab who sells property to an Israeli faces severe punishment from the Palestinian West Bank Authorities. The so-called occupation, however, has transformed leftist opinion. The very people who in 1967 were weeping over the fate of Israel suddenly became its implacable critics. Progressives and leftists have a doctrine known as “social justice” whose implications are far from clear but seem to mean that all must be equal. Israelis and Palestinians are not in a position of equality. Zionism, an ideology which the progressive elite finds so baleful, is in reality a national liberation movement come to fulfilment, though the word itself is now another with a meaning that has been stretched to become pejorative. Jewish self-determination is democratic and Palestinians, like all Arabs, have the rule of the tyrant.

In these circumstances, progressives have put in place a falsification of history: Israelis today are seen as colonizers, settlers who have no rights to self-determination and can be demonized as creating an apartheid all their own. The murder of Jews is presented by progressives as resistance to oppression when in fact murder is always murder.

Hamas has a charter that justifies the murder of Israelis and repeats the historic hatred that Jews have suffered in Europe and the Middle East. Besides which, the Koran describes Jews in hostile terms and makes the religion of Islam anti-Jewish.

There is also a social code for shame and honor that activates Arab society but not Israel: a man must be seen as someone to whom honor can be attributed in the eyes of those who know him, for otherwise his stature is questionable. The avoidance of shame is indispensable, never to be borne. An example of this avoidance is the Yom Kippur War (1973) where President Sadat of Egypt could claim that his defeat was really a victory. The brutality of Hamas is driven today by the need to eradicate the shame of being defeated by Jews who hitherto had been a despised minority of second-class citizens. So it becomes honorable to drag an unconscious and naked dead young woman through the streets of Gaza, and for bystanders to spit at her face. Compromise with such a code of behavior is not possible.

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