Comments on the review of When the Rain Returns

I was deeply saddened by Stanley Zarowin’s review of When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel (FJ Nov. 2004). The volume was written by a group of 14 experienced peacemakers, mostly Quaker (but also Jewish, Muslim, and Mennonite), many with decades of experience working on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Among the participants were a black woman from South Africa who lived under apartheid, as well a person active in the U.S. civil rights movement, individuals who have spent significant amounts of time living and working in Israel and Palestine, and others with backgrounds in mediation and conflict resolution.

The group traveled together in 2002, and listened carefully and empathetically to individuals from a variety of perspectives. The work was guided by principles clearly stated (but not mentioned by the reviewer), such as the belief that "all persons are of equal humanity," that "only mutual respect can lead to long-term security," and that "creative nonviolent ways [do exist] that [can] allow the parties to this conflict to work together to bring about a fair, stable, and hope-filled outcome."

Whether or not one agrees with their conclusions, the authors are far from "naive," as Stanley Zarowin describes the book’s overall tone and its sentiments in support of Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. Instead, the authors took seriously the Quaker call to work for both peace and justice, rather than resigning themselves to the idea that this is an impossible goal. If the book appears "uneven" in its discussion of the horrors committed by both Israelis and Palestinians, this simply reflects the reality on the ground: While all parties have engaged in unacceptable brutality, an occupying power (in this case, Israel) is clearly in the dominant position and able to engage not only in acts of state-sanctioned aggression, but also of structural violence. This is not a situation of parity between two equal parties.

There are several factual errors in the review, but rather than enumerating these, I am compelled to address one set in particular, because they involve an appendix I wrote, which Stanley Zarowin praised as "balanced and accurate." While I hate to seem churlish when being given a compliment, his description of my historical discussion (and, implicitly, the Palestine-Israel Timeline for which I also bear primary responsibility) unfortunately makes several implications that are quite different than what I actually wrote. For instance, there was not widespread agreement in the world community about the creation of the state of Israel in its 1947 form; in fact there was great controversy between that model and a second approach that would have led to a single federal state with significant autonomy in Jewish and Christian/Muslim areas. It was only after the United States put significant pressure on a number of countries that United Nations Resolution 181 (the partition resolution) passed.

Second, at no point do I write, nor do I believe, that "an overwhelming force of Palestinians and their Arab allies, ignoring the opinion of the world community, instantly launched a military attack designed to throw the Jews into the sea," as Stanley Zarowin suggests. While it is true that when Israel declared itself a state, the surrounding Arab countries attacked it, the claim of overwhelming force on the part of these Arab armies has been thoroughly critiqued and discredited by numerous Israeli historians. Furthermore, this assault did not occur in a vacuum. Instead, there was significant turmoil in the region between the U.S. partition vote on November 29, 1947, and the Israeli declaration of statehood on May 14, 1948. In particular, during this period, well-organized and well-equipped Zionist military forces systematically extended their control beyond the areas specified by UN Resolution 181 to include additional parts of Palestine that they judged essential to the success of the still-to-be-declared State of Israel. One aspect of this was Plan Dalet, which was intended, among other goals, to reduce Palestinian presence through depopulation and destruction of Arab towns and villages in the areas granted to Israel by the United Nations. As a result of this civil fighting, before May 14, 1948, numerous Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed or taken over by Zionist forces, leading to what Chaim Weizmann referred to as "a miraculous clearing of the land." The occupants of these communities are among the people who remain refugees today.

I would urge readers of Friends Journal to look at the book itself and its extensive appendices and bibliography, rather than relying on comments of an individual who appears more interested in describing his own view than in discussing the contents of the book he is supposedly reviewing.

Deborah J. Gerner
Lawrence, Kans.