In Israel, as in Canada, reconciliation can only come if it’s based on truth

gideon levy in tel aviv

A few days prior to Israel’s Memorial Day (April 27th), Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy (seen here last November meeting with a Canadian delegation in Tel Aviv) asks “Why Didn’t You Tell Us About the Palestinian Village of Tantura?” Read more…

In Canada, as in Israel, everyone wants “peace”. Everyone wants “reconciliation”. That’s the easy part. But true reconciliation must start with recognizing truth and taking responsibility. It cannot develop on a foundation of hidden realities. In Canada, we have started a process of “Truth and Reconciliation” with our indigenous population. We now officially recognize that the conquest of North America was unjust, unfair and had tragic consequences for our indigenous population. We still have a long way to go. In Israel, that process has yet to begin.

gideonIn preparation for Israel’s Memorial Day 2020, journalist Gidon Levy recounts a personal story and asks “Why weren’t we told the truth?” Here some excerpts from a column in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz article of April 25, 2020.

“Every year, on the eve of Memorial Day, we’d go visit the Bachrachs in their ground floor apartment on Spinoza Street. Albina (Bianca) and Arthur Bachrach lost their only son Gideon during the conquest of the village of Tantura, in the 1948 War of Independence. They were childhood friends of my grandparents.”

(CTIP editorial note: Tantura was one of over 500 Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed in 1947/48 in order to make way for new European Jewish immigrants.)

“On the ruins of Tantura there now stands a vacation village. When they read out the names of the fallen on Memorial Day, I wait until they reach Gideon Bachrach, then feel a shiver go through me. My parents decided to name me after (him), and since then I’ve felt a need to visit (him) every Memorial Day.

“Nobody told us anything about what happened, except that we were fighting for a just cause. Perhaps we were told the truth, but it was partial and embarrassingly tendentious. That’s how it is when you have to consolidate a nation, establish a state and put together a narrative that is absolutely just.

“My personal hero, Gideon Bachrach, fell in a battle which led to the expulsion of 1,500 people who were never allowed to return to their lands and homes.

“According to historian Benny Morris in his book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1947-1949, the [pre-state paramilitary organization] Haganah decided in advance to expel the inhabitants of Tantura.

“According to one contentious version there was a massacre there. That’s how one coastal village among many others was wiped out. Its residents’ world collapsed, with some of their descendants now living in the Tulkarm refugee camp. They are not allowed to visit the ruins of their village.

“My childhood hero had a part in that. Perhaps there was no other choice, perhaps not. In any case, we weren’t told a thing about it. We only learned about the Nakba in our late adulthood, after decades of denial and concealment, indoctrination and lies. Who knew there was a nation here, not just “gangs”? Who even asked themselves who those ruins and few remaining houses on the roadside had belonged to, and where on earth were their inhabitants? Who had planted the prickly pear and palm trees, often the only remaining sign of a village destroyed?

We (…) consoled Gideon’s grieving mother. That was the right thing to do then. But someone should have told us about Gideon’s victims. Someone should have told us about their just cause, alongside our own, about the bitter fate we had in store for them and imposed on them.”

In Canada as in Israel – recognizing the “truth” is the starting point

Levy’s conclusion is directed to his fellow Israelis, but it applies equally well to many Canadians.

“It’s not just about historical truth or about the root of our existence in a land upon which another people lived. We were never told what happened on the beach of Tantura the way it really happened, since there was something to conceal there.

“What happened there should have led Israel to an acknowledgement, to compensation and atonement, and that was the greatest threat of all. That’s why we never chose to do that. We never changed our attitudes to the inhabitants of this land, who were here long before the Bachrach family arrived, and we never, to this day, pondered our heavy guilt. Which is why, for most Israelis, it doesn’t exist.”


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. There is no need to use strong words. A focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights is enough. Readers who have a different point of view are invited to make comment. 

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    1. Hey Bhupinder, your question is well posed.
      Of course there is quite a bit of social media (+972 Magazine, Ha’aretz, Mondoweiss, The Electronic Intifada to name a couple.
      The mainstream media is struggling economically. It will pick and choose stories (and angles) according to what it thinks the public (and its advertisers) want. And most people are not very interested in Israel/Palestine (or any other foreign affairs issue, for that matter). So I don’t think we can EVER expect the mainstream media to make a big deal out of this, except occasionally – eg. when there is a war or massacre.

      1. Peter, The mainstream media is struggling economically because it tends to avoid real controversy. That makes those papers very dull. If they published all views of the situation in Palestine, there would be a lot of controversy. I believe readership (both paper and digital) would rebound.

  1. There’s an appetite among many Israelis, myself included, to know more about the Nakba.
    I always wondered about the whereabouts and the fate of the inhabitants of Mojeidal and Mahalul, the two villages that preceded my Kibbutz on the same lands

    What stops Israelis from delving into that chapter of history is the fear from the consequences of the Palestinian demand of return

    Only when we’ll be be able to decouple this two issues, we’ll be able to start a truth and reconciliation process similar to the one in Canada

    Remember, not a single Canadian lost his field his house or his livelihood as a result of the truth and reconciliation process, and the Canadian way of life was never threatened by it

    1. Hey Ahik, thanks for your comment.
      I do think that one HUGE difference between Canada and Israel on this issue of settler colonialism is that NO CANADIAN fears that they will be sent back to Europe (or wherever), or will live under the thumb of an indigenous Canadian government. Israelis do fear this.
      On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that the ‘right of return” will mean that all (or even most, or many) Israelis will be turfed out of their houses. While a small country, as you know there is still lots of empty land. Who goes where will have to be a subject of discussion and no doubt compromise.
      Salman Abu Sitta has shown that many/most of the destroyed villages are still vacant for example, and could be rebuilt. And of course Israel was able to incorporate over a million Russian “Jews” (many were apparently not very Jewish) without displacing anyone.

      1. I am uncertain as to the basis of your opinion that “Israelis do fear… that they will be sent back to Europe (or wherever), or will live under the thumb of an indigenous (Arab) government.

        Israelis fear genocide.

        As for the Arabs being indigenous, they are as indigenous as the residents of Rio de Janeiro. The Arabs invaded the Palestinian region 1300 years ago. That they intermarried with the current residents is exactly the same as the Spaniard invaders of South America intermarried with the natives. That ended any concept of indigenous identity other than those tribes that stayed hidden.

      2. Hey Jack, I’m sure they do fear genocide as well. As to indigeneity, how many centuries would it take for you? In Canada the Inuit people are considered indigenous, though archaeological evidence seems to indicate their arrival in the Canadian north (from Siberia), goes back less than 1000 years.

      3. It seems the reply button is missing from your comment box. Regardless, there was no Jewish conquest. There was a war started by the Arabs and the Jews won. As for immigration during Ottoman times, it appears that 75,000 Jews arrived between 1880 and 1914. That is hardly a few.

        As for indigenous regarding the Inuits, I have no idea. Was the land uninhabited? While there is an indication, by your word, that the migration to Alaska may not have occurred more than 1000 years ago, is there an issue that reflects on the Arab-Israeli conflict? Hardly.

      4. Mr. Sigman,

        If we view “indigenous” as a binary/boolean function, and accept the scientific evidence that says that mankind originated in Africa and spread out from there, then the only indigenous people are people who have ancestors who never left the area where humans originated and still live there. Everyone else is either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant.

        Of course, nobody uses the word that way today. We tend to label as indigenous those groups of people who were living in the place under discussion when the latest wave of immigrants arrived. Its a relative term. By that definition there are quite a few groups that qualify as indigenous including Palestinian Arabs, Samaritans, Druze, Bedouin and a small number of Jews whose ancestors did not leave. Those who either came in living memory or had parents who came in living memory cannot yet be called indigenous. They constitute the most recent wave of immigrants.

      5. Mr. Parnas,

        Arabs in the Palestinian region conquered (they did not peacefully immigrate as the Jews did from 1860s through 1939 when the racist supremacist Arabs riots forced Britain to severely restrict the human right to peacefully move) and intermarried. There is nothing indigenous about them that is more than the inhabitants of Brazil and Mexico. The Samaritans may well meet the definition of indigenous, but I am not that familiar with their history. I am that familiar with Arab history. They are indigenous to what is now Saudi Arabia.

    2. Ahik, When Israel recognizes that the former inhabitants, and their descendants, have a right of return, the conditions for returning (and remaining) would have to be carefully negotiated, explained, and enforced. Return must be tied to the creation of a single democratic state that does not discriminate on the grounds of religion or ethnicity. All who return would have to agree to live in such a state and abide by its laws. Compensation would also have to be regulated. The present owners of property, who often bought it at the market price, should not have to pay for the crimes of the state and its predecessors. Many were not even alive in 1948. The cost of fair compensation would have to be shared (i.e. borne by the state).

      1. Actually, compensation will have to be borne by Britain and the UN. Britain for refusing to prepare anything for the partition and the UN for recommending the partition and not forcing Britain to make preparations. Regardless, there is no such right of return and thus there is nothing about it for Israel to “recognize.”

        There was no Jewish invasion. They peacefully immigrated to the Ottoman Palestinian territory and then British mandate Palestine. Nothing they did was comparable to what the major European powers did during their colonial heyday.

      2. Hey Frank, right you are. There was no Jewish invasion. European Jews came to Palestine with protection of the British. (A few came under the Ottomans as well.) But there was a Jewish “conquest” in 1948. Best.

      3. Mr. Sigman,

        While there is no doubt that Britain shares the guilt for what has gone wrong in Palestine, it is not currently enjoying the benefits of the land that was taken from Palestinian Arabs. It is those who currently possess and benefit from those resources that should contribute to any compensation. Others are free to contribute as well.

        I cannot imagine a definition of “peacefully” that fits what went on before and after 1948 as Palestinian Arabs were driven from their villages and those villages were destroyed. Perhaps you could tell us the definition that you are using.

        You may be right that there is no “right of return” but under Israeli law, I have it. Are you suggesting that I, with no known roots in Jerusalem, have the right to move to there but people who were born there and fled in fear do not?

  2. For the near and not so near future there’s no chance that Israeli policy makers will admit to any massacres, terrorism or ethnic cleansing. For decades they are working in hiding it all and brain washing the public that the Palestinians are to blame for everything. So there will be no resistance to the plan of taking over West Bank or ordinary Israelis feeling sympathy toward the Palestinians.
    I also know first hand that there is no desire by Israelis, young or old to really get to know the history. On one hand their minds are made up and on the other hand they don’t really care to know.

  3. Mr. Parnas,

    That Britain abandoned the property does not absolve its legal responsibility to compensate those damaged by their deliberate malfiance. If you only refer to the events that occurred during the Arab led civil, then reginal, war, it is clear that the term peaceful cannot be used. However, The Jews peacefully immigrated to the Palestinian region, starting in the 1860s. The Arab riots of 1921, 1929, and 1936-39 could not be characterized as peaceful.

    There is no general right of return under any law affecting the region, unless some sovereign power has enacted such for their state.

    I do not know you. I do not know your affiliation. I do know that no one has a right of return to the state of Israel. I do know that Jews who desire to move to Israel, with certain qualifications, can receive instant citizenship. The reason for this is valid and legal.

    That you have no knowledge of your roots is not a disqualifying factor. If you were a French resident who went to fight for the Nazis, it seems logical that if you tried to regain residency in Paris, it would likely that France would only allow that residency to be in the Paris prison. Likewise for Arab residents of Jerusalem who fought against the IDF in the Palestinian Civil War or the Arab-Israeli war.

    1. Mr. Sigman,

      Britain lost (or tired of) its fights with violent Zionist militias and abandoned its mandate. Immediately thereafter, Israel declared its independence and inherited both the powers and the obligations that Britain had. Israel is, of course responsible for the ethnic cleansing, theft, and destruction that followed Britain’s defeat.

      There is under international law a general “right of return” that has roots in rulings thousands of years ago (from which Jews did benefit) and is confirmed in many international treaties and conventions. Of course, if the returnee is accused of a crime committed before leaving he or she may be arrested and put on trial if they return. Nevertheless, they may return. Nazi guards, who were forced to return to Germany, have been put on trial but they were not denied entry.

      Personally, I was born the child of two Jewish refugees (from the Nazis) and meet all the conditions for what you call “instant citizenship”, commonly known as the right of that term. I have been told that repeatedly including by many supporters of Israel including Israeli officials. I don’t know what you mean by “valid” but “legal” is a relative term -its meaning in action depends on the laws in force at a certain time of place.

      Israel grants me this so-called “right of return” but denies it, and even denies entry, to a colleague who was born in Jerusalem. Having departed as an infant, he is not accused of any crime.

  4. Mr. Sigman
    You wrote, “The Jews peacefully immigrated to the Palestinian region, starting in the 1860s.” More accurately “SOME Jews …..”. Other Jews formed militias that were very violent, attacking both British and Arab installations. Those militant groups were instrumental in forming the country that exists today. The heads of some of those violent groups became leaders in the newly formed Israel. The Zionist militias were incorporated in the core of the IDF.

    I find it easy to distinguish immigrants from conquerers. Usually, those who immigrate, attempt to learn the language spoken in their new land. Conquerers attempt to make those who were there before them speak their language.

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