When I was nineteen I didn’t know much about Israel, Palestine, the Mid-East, where oil came from, and many other things. What I first learned about Israel came from sitting through the 1961 screening of Otto Preminger’s film, Exodus in Copenhagen, Denmark.
To keep it brief, the story is about Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust seeking their own nation in what was then Palestine, a place already occupied by people calling themselves Palestinians. Palestine was under the control of Great Britain as mandated by one of the treaties ending World War One and directions of the old League of Nations.
Emigration to Palestine by European Jews, being frowned upon by the British, made the central characters illegal immigrants seeking to force the newly formed United Nations into partitioning Palestine into two nations, one Arab, one Jewish.
With the backing and manipulation of the United States the UN did partition Palestine in 1947 thus immediately setting off a war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Additionally, the partition created a horde of Palestinian refugees who fled across neighboring borders, and who now had a reason to hate Jews, who now vowed to destroy Israel, and who continued to engage in acts of violence against Israel and all who supported her, mainly the United States. The roots of 9/11 are easily found in this series of events.
The Israel portrayed in Preminger’s film was a sort of utopia where liked minded, victimized innocents, fought and worked to create a home for their homeless bodies, and with liberty and justice for all. It was a moving story about moving people trying to create a meaningful place in which centuries of torment and displacement could brought to closure.
Those who actually helped create the new nation of Israel were mostly heroic, caring, and unselfish people. I remember always having a soft spot for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. His public persona was that of a father figure to his countryman, the world’s Jewish peoples, and motivated by of a desire to see his people finally realize the homeland they believed was promised in the Bible’s Old Testament.
Ben-Gurion never seemed motivated by personal gain, fortune, or fame. When he left public life he retired to a humble home on a desert kibbutz and lived simply till his death in 1973. I don’t know if the Ben-Gurion of my mind, the movie Ben-Gurion, represents the real Ben-Gurion but I still like the guy.
But, here’s the deal. The Israel people learned about in the movie, however accurate, is not the Israel that exist today. According to recent articles in both Newsweek and the New York Times, Israel is no longer a place where the common good remains the goal of government. Israel is no longer a nation of kibbutz dwellers sharing the fruits of their labor in a common purpose. Today it more closely resembles modern America, a nation where the fruits have increasingly been ending up in the pockets of a very select group of very rich and very powerful people. A nation that is becoming more stratified and divided by religious, cultural, ethnic, and economic differences. It’s extremely ironic that today there are thousands of young Israeli Jews living in Berlin, Germany because they can find a better future in Germany than in Israel.
Israel’s current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Newsweek, is removed from the simple life style of Ben-Gurion. He is extremely wealthy, owns at least three impressive homes, actively works to protect the élite class he is a part of, is unwilling to consider the needs of the Palestinians, whether they live in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank.
Netanyahu, and his political supporters, have become so unwilling to negotiate and consider the wishes and needs of the Palestinians, the former owners of the land have abandoned all hope for a negotiated two-state settlement and will soon formally ask the United Nations to declare them an independent nation, ironically, much as it did in 1947 in creating Israel. Seems to be no lack of irony in Israel’s story.
Just as America used its power to create and ensure the existence of Israel, it will also use its influence to prevent an independent Palestine from emerging. Metaphorically, America is going to suddenly find both nipples caught in the wringer of foreign affairs. As Newsweek reports, the Mid-East is in a state of flux. Established leadership is falling to the forces of popular revolution, Arab alliances are changing, democracy is not winning over fundamental Islam, and few extremists have any more reason to love either Israel or America. America’s unfettered support of Israel will only help increase the numbers of those who support anti-American and anti-Israel, terrorist activities.
I hate being the barer of bad tidings but I’m no longer nineteen and ignorant of world affairs. I’m sixty-nine and an observer of world affairs most of my adult life. What I’ve been discussing and what Newsweek and other journals are reporting does not speak optimistically about the future of Israel, its allies, or chances of ever seeing the causes of terrorism diminish.
If peace in the Middle-East is to remain a possibility the relationship between Israel and America, Israel and its people, Israel and its occupied territories, and Israel and its Arab neighbors must change. Given the strong pro-Israel lobby in America and such things as strong support for Israel displayed by a growing number of conservative Christian groups in America, I am becoming increasingly cynical.
One thought on “I Was Nineteen and the Movie was Exodus”
While not attempting to write a proverbial paper – I no longer have even a remote need in my psyche for others to believe that I an not naive, and what naivete remains I protect with absolute abandon as it facilitates hope in my life, the part of your story that “spoke’ to me was the apparent irony of the young Israelis finding work in Germany.
I wrote “apparent irony” because I have spoken to enough Germans and/or about Germany often enough to not think of it as irony, or even as shame, necessarily, but my point is that, for the most part, the mainstream German is not at all proud of their Hitstory, and – therefore – it is perfectly natural that Jews and others could find a home in Germany.