Response to Lauren Booth

This is cross-posted from the blog, Yaacov Lozowick’s Ruminations.

Lauren Booth is an anti-Zionist journalist based in London; people who follow such matters seem to think she’s even worse than the rest of the pack. I mentioned her a while back, here.

This week she published a chirpy letter to the Israelis, in which, so she claims, she set aside her house chores in order to write us a personal letter. Oddly, she posted it on the website of an ex-Israeli who dislikes us intensely, the last place you’d expect if someone wishes to catch our attention and engage us in conversation; even curiouser, the website doesn’t offer the possibility of leaving visible comments. So I’m sending them notice that I’ve responded, and perhaps they’ll forward it to her; I encourage the rest of you to think where else Ms. Booth can be found and to leave her a message. She’s made such an effort to reach out, it wouldn’t be polite not to reciprocate.

Dear Ms. Booth,

I was touched by your concern for us as described in your “Mom to mom” letter of August 22 2010, in which you tried to inform us about all the bad things happening in our name. I’m a dad, not a mom, but I’ll give a stab at reassuring you.

First thing, right up front: nothing’s being done “in our name”. Whatever it is, it’s we who are doing it ourselves. I personally spent three years in the IDF as a young man, and another three over the following twenty-some as a reservist. About the time I was given a pen and retired from service, my first son was serving in the second Intifada, and last year my youngest fought in Gaza with his tank brigade. Ever since high-school I have been well-informed about events, as is expected of a voter in a democracy. There’s nothing particularly unusual about me, I’m a mainstream fellow with a standard story. For better or worse, what “Israel” does is done by the flesh and blood Israelis, not “in their names”. Is this different in your country?

There is no need to carefully broach the matter of looting by IDF troops and nasty graffiti. We’ve been at war for a very long time, and bad things happen in war; we don’t pretend otherwise. Innocent Palestinians have repeatedly died at our hands, which is far worse than looted credit cards, serious though that may be. So we can agree that innocent Palestinians have suffered at Israeli hands. They have. Some still do. Others will, as far into the future as the Palestinian nation refuses to accept the right of the Jewish nation to a homeland in part of the tiny little country they both call home.

The crux of our very substantial disagreement is when you write about your friends in the Free Gaza Movement:

“They are to a man (and to a woman) kind, concerned citizens of the world. People, who simply cannot go about their normal daily lives whilst your state, your army, your settlers torment other human beings. Every minute of every day. Of every month. Of every year. For sixty-two years.”

Where to begin?

First, you’ve got your chronology wrong. The first time Palestinian leaders incited a mob to murder Jews for the crime of Zionism was in 1920, then again in 1921. There have been ups and downs ever since, but the Jewish-Palestinian war has been raging for 90 years, not 62.

Second, since it’s war we’re discussing, I really think we should focus on the worst aspect, loss of life. The true numbers are fiendishly hard to estimate and frankly impossible to know with much accuracy, but the total number of Palestinians killed in their war with Israel is below 35,000, and that includes soldiers, children, suicide murderers and innocent women. In almost a century. Care to look at some other numbers about the 65 years since the end of WW2? Here are some of the big ones:

Late 1940s. Partition of India and Pakistan: At least 500,000 dead. Chinese civil war: Perhaps 2.5 million dead.

1950s. Korean war: Millions of dead. Chinese domination of Tibet: 600,000 dead Tibetans. After the 1950s the numbers continued to grow.

1960s. The various wars in Vietnam lasted decades, but let’s list them here. Millions of people died in them. Also in the same decade, remember the time when Nigeria abolished Biafra, and for a while starving Biafran children were the top international metaphor of suffering? Something like a million people died in that conflict.

1970s. More than a million people died when the West Pakistanis massacred East Pakistanis. Millions were murdered in Cambodia. This was the decade when the wars in Ethiopia began; hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and there was a famine which was exacerbated by war in which about a million people died.

1980s. There was the Soviet war in Afghanistan in which more than a million people died. The Iranians and Iraqis fought a war in which about a million people died. The war in South Sudan (distinct from Darfur) began in the early 1980s and eventually killed about two million people.

The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) is too minor to be mentioned in this list, but more than 100,000 people died in the parts of it that had nothing to do with Israel.

1990s. About 800,000 murdered in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands killed in Europe, in the Balkans.

2000s. Darfur, hundreds of thousands murdered. The killings in the Congo go on, in the bloodiest conflict since WW2. More than 5,000,000 dead so far.

You’re British, Ms. Booth, so you must be aware of the British participation in some of these conflicts. Still, allow me to point out the single worst Post-WW2 chapter, the Mau Mau war in Kenya, in the 1950s. Your soldiers killed more Kenyans, in those eight years, many of them civilians, than Israel has killed Palestinians in a century – and in defense of what, exactly? Need I mention the war against the Islamists, raging as we talk, in which the numbers of dead civilians at the hands of Coalition forces are larger than the numbers of dead Palestinians, probably significantly larger but no-one gives all the numbers?

Don’t these numbers rather indicate that Israel is not anywhere near the list of large killers? In spite of its being continually at war for a century? And since it isn’t, might this actually indicate that it restrains its use of power and makes an effort not to kill people at random? If you can read these numbers differently, I’m listening, but I warn that I’ve given the matter much serious thought all my life, and am comfortable saying that we do try to wage our wars morally. Actually, you might be interested in a description I once wrote of how this is done in practice. Ask yourself, while you do those house chores, if you can even imagine the moral challenge we face, and if you’d face it better.

In your letter you name 26 members of the Al Samouni family who were killed when our artillery mistakenly shelled their home. Indeed, the death of each innocent is tragic, but I’m wondering if you can name any of the Afghani children killed by your forces this year? Last year? The year before? Any Kenyans? Anyway, it is precisely because we do know the names of most of the dead, that the Israeli authorities are so sure that most of the casualties in Gaza last year were anything but innocent bystanders. The painstaking listing of names and checking of identities has demonstrated that most of the people we killed (not all) were people we intended to kill, because they were at war with us. No apologies.

One more point, and then a question. Had you stated that you object, say, to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we could have discussed the merits of your case. You didn’t. Instead, you explicitly said your problem is with Israel’s existence (that’s the 62-year code). In other words, your mom-to-mom letter is a demand that we Jews renounce our national claim even while the Brits, the Azeris and the Nicaraguans have theirs. This is puzzling, and raises the obvious question. If you’re angrier at us for our limited wars than with anyone else for their mass slaughters, while demanding of us that we, alone among hundreds of nations forgo national expression, and this even as you agitate for Palestinian nationalism, and yet you insist you’re not an antisemite: then what, pray tell, are you?

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick,

PS. Since you wrote about names of innocent victims, you might be interested in these two links. The first is where we list all of our dead, this past century. The second is a list I spent about ten years working on, trying to collect names of our dead in another case. When I left the project we were still only about halfway through.

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