I was a boy when modern Israel declared itself an independent nation. I had seen newsreels of what our GIs found when they entered the concentration camps, and heard stories from returning GIs in the neighborhood that were passed down to us little kids through older siblings until I'm sure what we ended up with were distortions of whatever the original anecdotes were.
But in both instances what we saw and heard was horrible. It took a while for that to sink in in terms of the ethnic biases of the neighborhood. The main trouble was always between the "Italians" (which stood for both immigrants and their Italian-American offspring whether still little or grown) and the "Irish" (ditto for us).
The other ethnicities in the neighborhood were too few to rally much opposition. They either stayed out of it or sided with one of us as sort of honorary Italians or Irish. Those in the neighborhood who were Jewish or "Negro"—as they said then—got more or less a pass because they were so obviously "other" and yet as familiar in many ways as our own. [PS: And there certainly was a lot of anti-Semitism and racism in attitudes and talk, but there also was a lot of anti-Italianism and anti-Irishism etc. in similar ways depending on who was expressing the attitude.]
To connect our own Jewish friends with what happened under the Nazis didn't seem to happen until we were older, at least for me. By then THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and other books and movies (like GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT and EXODUS et. al.) had made the Jewish cause seem noble and righteous and worth fighting for, and it overwhelmed most WWII history, at least as it was expressed in the culture in ways that elevated being Jewish and the state of Israel to not just a kind of Gandhi-esque purity of purpose, but also a kind of David (as in David and Goliath) underdog warrior iconic stature.
I was aware that the homes and property of many Arab Palestinians had been confiscated, taken as kind of the spoils of war, but it somehow seemed justified for many years. Justified by the attacks on Israel by its Arab neighbors, or by what the Nazis had done, or by what it seemed the whole world had done at what [another one of those strange post-brain-op typos, I obviously meant "one"] time or another to Jews.
And the continued attacks on Israeli citizens continued to justify much of Israeli policies and actions and support for them...until Rabin was assassinated by a rightwing fundamentalist Jewish assassin and Sharon deliberately provoked the second Intifada by going into the Muslim holy site at the Mount and allowed the rightwing settlers to take over more and more Palestinian land which continued under every Israeli leader since, even when gestures were made to remove some settlers and settlements, more were allowed to go up.
And more recently the taking over of properties in East Jerusalem that have been in Arab families for generations and turning them over to urban Jewish settlers and developers. I have no sympathy for the Palestinian extremists, but also no sympathy for Israeli ones. But Abbas established a functioning West Bank that controlled extremism and showed a willingness to negotiate with Israel with only one precondition, that Israel stop taking Palestinian land by allowing its settlers to, settlers who mostly believe that Palestine should never be a separate state but instead should be incorporated into a greater Israel in which Arabs remain second-class citizens or leave.
It's very dangerous for politicians to speak about this without constantly referring to the present Israeli political perspective as the only one, even though there are as many Israelis against the settler policy as there are for it probably. But as in our own Congress at the moment, a vocal and influential rightwing minority has outsized influence and control of the Israeli political establishment and therefore its policies.
Abbas made a smart move, I think, in asking for UN recognition for Palestine, despite all the talking heads on TV taking a contrary view, because it forces Netanyahu's hand. He would lay it on Obama, a man he treated dismissively until this moment, by setting a trap for the president if he doesn't veto the request of the Palestinians. But no matter how bad Israel has been treated by its neighbors, it's hard to read stories about German and other European Jewish descendants of parents and grandparents who had homes and property confiscated by the Nazis and now want compensation, and not think of the parallel (at least in terms of homes and property) situation with Israel and many of its original Palestinian inhabitants and in more recent times on the West Bank.
Once again I should probably not post so late before going to bed because I'm not being as clear as my thoughts seemed to be when I sat down to write this, and I know I will get flack from even some friends. Especially since the media, I noticed, almost never mentions that Abbas has been willing to sit down and negotiate if a halt is made to new settlements, which doesn't seem like too much to ask for the chance of finally ending some of the volatility in the relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis.
In the past, Israel has often turned down the chance to negotiate with the most reasonable of the Arab Palestinians because of the more extremist ones [and vice versa, of course, the Palestinian leaders have missed many opportunities as well], but that has usually ended up creating even more extremists ones, the exact opposite of what Israeli leaders say they intend. Yes Hammas are bad guys, but their Gaza constituents aren't too happy with them either now that they see what Abbas has helped create in the West Bank. So to treat Abbas and his government like some sort of feudal vassal state [or easily humiliated defeated enemy] rather than an equal partner is, I believe, only creating more future problems.
[PS: I added a few bracketed clarifications, I hope, this morning, and this caveat that I know this issue is much more complicated than a single blog post can address, but what has now happened at the UN with Abbas asking for recognition of Palestine is the issue I'm addressing and what I mention is relevant to the discussion, I believe.]