Israel's Sacred Terrrorism
Foreword by Noam Chomsky

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HISTORY, particularly recent history, is characteristically presented to the general public within the framework of a doctrinal system based on certain fundamental dogmas. In the case of the totalitarian societies, the point is too obvious to require comment. The situation is more intriguing in societies that lack cruder forms of repression and ideological control. The United States, for example, is surely one of the least repressive societies of past or present history with respect to freedom of inquiry and expression. Yet only rarely will an analysis of crucial historical events reach a wide audience unless it conforms to certain doctrines of the faith.

"The United States always starts out with good intentions." With this ritual incantation, a liberal critic of American interventionism enters the area of permissible debate, of thinkable thoughts (in this case, William Pfaff, "Penalty of Interventionism," International Herald Tribune, February 1979). To accept the dogma, a person who is unable to tolerate more than a limited degree of internal contradiction must studiously avoid the documentary record, which is ample in a free society- for example, the record of high-level planning exhibited in the Pentagon Papers, particularly the record of the early years of U.S. involvement in the 1940s and early 1950s when the basic outlines of strategy were developed and formulated. Within the scholarly professions and the media the intelligentsia can generally be counted on to close ranks; they will refuse to submit to critical analysis the doctrines of the faith, prune the historical and documentary record so as to insulate these doctrines from examination, and proceed to present a version of history that is safely free from institutional critique or analysis. Occasional departures from orthodoxy are of little moment as long as they are confined to narrow circles that can be ignored, or dismissed as "irresponsible" or "naive" or "failing to comprehend the complexities of history," or otherwise identified with familiar code-words as beyond the pale.

Though relations between Israel and the United States have not been devoid of conflict, still there is no doubt that there has been, as is often said, a "special relationship." This is obvious at the material level, as measured by flow of capital and armaments, or as measured by diplomatic support, or by joint operations, as when Israel acted to defend crucial U.S. interests in the Middle Last at the time of the 1970 crisis involving Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians. The special relationship appears at the ideological level as well. Again with rare exceptions, one must adopt certain doctrines of the faith to enter the arena of debate, at least before any substantial segment of the public.

The basic doctrine is that Israel has been a hapless victim-of terrorism, of military attack, of implacable and irrational hatred. It is not uncommon for well-informed American political analysts to write that Israel has been attacked four times by its neighbors, including even 1956. Israel is sometimes chided for its response to terrorist attack, a reaction that is deemed wrong though understandable. The belief that Israel may have had a substantial role in initiating and perpetuating violence and conflict is expressed only far from the mainstream, as a general rule. In discussing the backgrounds of the 1956 war, Nadav Safran of Harvard University, in a work that is fairer than most, explains that Nasser "seemed bent on mobilizing Egypt's military resources and leading the Arab countries in an assault on Israel." The Israeli raid in Gaza in February 1955 was "retaliation" for the hanging of Israeli saboteurs in Egypt-it was only six years later, Safran claims, that it became known that they were indeed Israeli agents. The immediate background for the conflict is described in terms of fedayeen terror raids and Israeli retaliation. The terror organized by Egyptian intelligence "contributed significantly to Israel's decision to go to war in 1956 and was the principal reason for its refusal to evacuate the Gaza Strip" (Israel- The Embattled Ally, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).

To maintain such doctrines as these, or the analysis of alleged fact that conform to them, it is necessary scrupulously to avoid crucial documentation. Safran, in his 600-page study, makes no use of major sources such as the diaries that Livia Rokach reviews here, relevant parts of which had been made public in 1974, or the captured Egyptian documents published in Israel in 1975, or other sources that undermine these analyses (see footnotes 19, 20). Much the same is true of the mainstream scholarly literature and journalism fairly generally.

Moshe Sharett's diary, to which Livia Rokach's monograph is devoted, is undoubtedly a major documentary source. It remains outside of "official history"-that version of history that reaches more than a tiny audience of people unsatisfied by conventional doctrine. It is only reasonable to predict that this will remain true in the United States as long as the "special relationship" persists. If, on the other hand, Israel had been, say, an ally of the Soviet Union, then Sharett's revelations would quickly become common knowledge, just as no one would speak of the Egyptian attack on Israel in 1956.

In studying the process of policy formation in any state, it is common to find a rough division between relatively hard-line positions that urge the use of force and violence to attain state ends, and "softer" approaches that advocate diplomatic or commercial methods to attain the same objectives- a distinction between "the Prussians" and "the traders," to borrow terms that Michael Klare has suggested in his work on U.S. foreign policy. The goals are basically the same; the measures advocated differ, at least to a degree, a fact that may ultimately bear on the nature of the ends pursued. Sharett was an advocate of the "soft" approach. His defeat in internal Israeli politics reflected the ascendancy of the positions of Ben Gurion, Dayan and others who were not reluctant to use force to attain their goals. His diaries give a very revealing picture of the developing conflict, as he perceived it, and offer an illuminating insight into the early history of the state of Israel, with ramifications that reach to the present, and beyond. Livia Rokach has performed a valuable service in making this material readily available, for the first time, to those who are interested in discovering the real world that lies behind "official history."

Noam Chomsky, January 1, 1980



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