Such was my pro-Israel ardor back in 1967, I actually put my name down as a volunteer soldier in the Six-Day War. I was living in Paris, and I was asked by the recruiter if I were Jewish. When I answered in the negative, he jumped up and shook my hand. As everyone knows, my services were not needed that June 54 years ago; the war was over before I finished considering which Parisian girl I would invite to watch me gallantly defend Israel’s right to exist.
Two years later, I was in Jordan covering the aftermath of that famous victory as a freelance photographer for Newsweek and Paris Match, and what I saw made me ashamed to have ever contemplated fighting for Israel. I had been shown around the refugee camps by Faris Glubb, son of Sir John Glubb—or Glubb Pasha, as the Arabs called him. Sir John was the British general who created and headed the Arab Legion when it fought for Arab independence from the Turks during World War I. Faris clued me in to what had been happening since 1948, when Israel expelled the Palestinians and created its modern state. These 700,000 exiles were living in outdoor camps in dire conditions and had been there since 1948. After the 1967 war, hundreds of thousands were added, and the number has grown exponentially ever since.
I covered the Yom Kippur War of 1973 from the Israeli side, and witnessed the Syrian and Egyptian armies giving a good account of themselves during the first week. The Egyptians used wire-guided, hand-carried missiles to attack Israeli armor in the Sinai, while Syrian tanks brought the Israeli armor to a standstill in the Golan.
I spent my nights in Tel Aviv and drove to the front in either the desert or the Golan every morning. Peter Townsend, a famous Battle of Britain pilot and the erstwhile lover of Princess Margaret, was writing for Paris Match and was my constant companion. He had never seen a dead body before, having done his fighting up in the air. It was an education for him. Peter and I witnessed some totally unnecessary shooting of Arabs in places far away from the front. Needless to say, Israeli censors disallowed the slightest criticism.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been in the news lately, and the only comment I have to make is what else is new? More than seven decades ago, Palestinians were expelled to create a Jewish state. This is an indisputable fact. Now the Palestinians are being expelled to make Jerusalem a Jewish city. In between, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in camps, having lost their homes to Israeli settlers. Creeping annexation in the West Bank by Israeli settlers is an undisputed fact.
The irony in my case is that I am a man of the right siding with a pro-leftist cause, that of the Palestinians. Israelis long ago foresaw the conundrum of being occupiers, and the inevitable criticism for it, and declared it to be anti-Semitism.
While core support for Israel remains strong in the United States, especially in Congress where the Israeli lobby is extremely effective, Europe has always been more skeptical about Israel being a bulwark against Arab radicalism. Yet the historical displacement of Palestinians, including current efforts to remove them from Arab Jerusalem—acts that violate international law—does not seem to bother Bibi and his merry gang. Israel, in fact, is the only country on earth that enjoys a free hand in assassinating its perceived enemies without a peep emanating from the West.
Yet try and condition our $4 billion in annual aid to Israel on a fairer deal for the Palestinians, and the cries of anti-Semitism will be heard all the way to Mecca. During the last clash between Israel and Hamas in 2014, 551 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli bombings, and only 61 children have died during the most recent hostilities, as opposed to one Israeli child killed by the 3,500 rockets launched by Hamas.
Mind you, the Arab states have wearied of corrupt and intransigent Palestinian leaders. And truth be told, Israel is the only democracy—by far—in the Middle East. And Arab Israelis are full participants in Israeli society. There are Arab justices on its Supreme Court, and Arabs are probably more free in Israel than anywhere else in the Middle East.
And yet, the West Bank is under occupation and has been since 1967. Israel proper used to be half Arab, and the descendants of those Arabs are still in camps. Gaza is one big concentration camp, with two million people deprived of power and water four days per week. When American media denounce terrorist attacks by Palestinians, I’d like to know what Americans would have done if they had been under a similar occupation for decades. The Howe brothers thought highly of George Washington, but they still regarded him as a terrorist.
My problem is that the people who condemn Israel and root for the Palestinians, like myself, stand for everything I loathe in this world. I suppose nothing to do with Israel is easy. Even condemning its policies puts one in Satan’s camp.
above: barbed wire obstructs the view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jersusalem (Adobe Stock)