Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2003
WHERE HATRED TRUMPS
What Does the "Palestinian Nation" Offer the World?
By Cynthia Ozick
And what rough beast, its hour come at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
When, some years ago, Golda Meir contentiously remarked, "There are no Palestinians," she was historically correct and evolutionally mistaken. She was right because the people who had only recently begun to take on the name "Palestinian" were ethnically and civilizationally Arab, part of what the Arabs themselves were pleased to call, with the poetic resonance of indivisibility, "the Arab Nation." Palestine, moreover, had its origin as a term of malice, the Roman invaders' way of erasing Judea by naming it after the Philistines who warred against the Jews. And like the Palestinians today, who deny the ancient reality of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, the emperor Hadrian also had the distinction of reassigning the history of Jerusalem; he dubbed it Aelia Capitolina, in honor of Jupiter.
Yet at the same time Golda Meir was mistaken: She declined to recognize a growing sectarianism rooted not merely in the bitterness of contemporary politics--the Arab war against the Jews--but far more comprehensively in a particularized and developing cultism. Whether the Palestinians nowadays constitute a cult or a sect or a nation within the greater Arab world is scarcely to the point. They have become a nation in their own eyes--and, with the blessings of the road map, internationally as well. Nevertheless it is not the determination of political borders that makes a nation; a nation is defined by its traits and usages, by its heroes and aspirations--in short, by its culture.
History, in Benedetto Croce's formulation, "is about the positive and not the negative." No one can refute the truth that the Palestinians have fashioned a culture peculiarly their own--but one so steeped in the negative as to have been turned into a kind of anti-history. In order to deprive Jews of their patrimony, Palestinians have fabricated a sectarian narrative alien to commonplace knowledge. Although the Arab invasion of Palestine did not occur until the 17th century, Palestinian Arabs are declared to be, according to activist Salah Jabr, "the descendants of civilizations that have lived in this land since the Stone Age." With equal absurdity, other such deniers of Jewish patrimony claim a Canaanite bloodline. By replacing history with fantasy, the Palestinians have invented a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors. And they have been assisted in these deviations by Arab rulers who for half a century have purposefully and pitilessly caged and stigmatized them as refugees, down to the fourth generation. Refugeeism, abetted also by the United Nations, has itself been joined to the Palestinian cult of anti-history. A people respectful of history, including its own above all, will work to fructify and invigorate life; it will not debase and vitiate it.
The salient attribute of any culture is originality and its legacies. Genius, no matter how rare, is a human universal. It sends into the world new perception and new experience, inspiring duplication: Out of Israel came monotheism, out of Greece philosophy, out of Arab civilization science and poetry, out of England the Magna Carta, out of France the Enlightenment. What has been the genius of Palestinian originality, what has been the contribution of the evolving culture of Palestinian sectarianism? On the international scene: airplane hijackings and the murder of American diplomats in the 1970s, Olympic slaughterings and shipboard murders in the 1980s. And toward the Jews of the Holy Land, beginning in the 1920s and continuing until this morning, terror, terror, terror, terror.
But the most ingeniously barbarous Palestinian societal invention, surpassing any other in imaginative novelty, is the recruiting of children to blow themselves up with the aim of destroying as many Jews as possible in the most crowded sites accessible. These are not so much acts of anti-history as they are, remarkably, instances of anti-instinct. The drive to live is inherent: The very mite crawling on this sheet as I write hastens to flee the point of my pen. The child who has been taught to die and to kill from kindergarten on, via song and slogan in praise of bloodletting, represents an inconceivable cultural ideal. And it is a cultural grotesquerie that Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a pediatrician entrusted by his vocation with the healing of children, is in fact a major recruiter of young suicide bombers. (When his wife was asked by a neighbor why her husband did not outfit his own teenage son in a bomber's vest, the good doctor instantly sent the boy abroad.)
Confronted by this orgiastic deluge of fanaticism and death, there are some who would apply the term psychopathological. But it is metaphysics, not Freud, that is at stake: the life force traduced, cultism raised to a sinister spiritualism--not because the "martyrs" are said to earn paradise, but because extraordinary transformations of humane understanding are hounded into being. A Palestinian ethos of figment and fantasy has successfully infiltrated the West, particularly among intellectuals, who are always seduced by novelty. We live now with an anti-history wherein cause and effect are reversed, protection against attack is equated with the brutality of attack, existential issues are demoted or ignored--"cycle of violence" obfuscations all zealously embraced by the State Department and the European Union.
The Road Map permits no contradiction to the Palestinians' emerging nationhood. But if it is teachings and usages that characterize a nation, then what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches out of Bethlehem to be born?
Ms. Ozick, a novelist, is the author of "Quarrel & Quandary: Essays" (Knopf, 2000).