We seemed to have thought of everything except the Arabs
In London deranged thug attacked British MP George Galloway in broad daylight breaking his jaw al the while screaming about Hitler and the holocaust. The kicker is the assailant identified himself as a Catholic Zionist.
I was one once. Right after the war and into the 60s you couldn’t help being a Zionist. At that time Catholics did not have language for our support for the little country in the Middle East which was founded to be a safe haven for Jews.
In my case it was natural. Growing up as I did in a largely Jewish area of downtown Toronto, Jews were my friends and team mates. With the exception of the eastern European accents of their parents they were no different than others in the great stew I found myself in.
In retrospect I was blind to the plight of the Palestinians and the tragedy of the Nakba, their shocking dispossession from their historic homes. They were as invisible to me as they were to the early Zionists of the dawn of the 20th century.
By pure happenstance by geography and upbringing my life trajectory was steered in the right direction. At an early age I became aware of antisemitism and racism. It formed my worldview and I naturally carried it into my teaching. I wrote about this in my memoir Never Neutral: A Teaching Life. I thought Catholics should know about the holocaust and as an act of reparation and of deep gratitude I exposed my students to the holocaust and its lessons.
It took sometime however for the scales to fall from my eyes. One of the main reasons I suspect was that Arabs in general were off my radar. Like most people in Anglo Toronto I saw them as kind of exotic creatures, desert nomads. They were a total abstraction, devoid of any history. Jews I knew but who knew Palestinians or Arabs?
The world was legitimately enthralled by the portraits of Jews building a new home in this small country after the ravages of Nazism. Let nobody stand in their way. Sadly the Palestinians who bore no responsibility for the Jewish tragedy subconsciously became the new enemy.
We had no understanding of the early years of Zionism (1882 and on) when the population of Palestine was 96% Palestinian and Muslim. In 1945 the Jewish population of this same area was less than 7% of the total. we had no idea that Jerusalem for example had been overwhelmingly Arab since the seventh century. For us true believers Zionism had the exclusive right to this patch of land. Facts of the incremental dispossession of the indigenous people were seldom heard in the West. So powerful was the dream of Zionism and fellow supporters like myself. We were literally caught in a romantic trance. In the 60s and 70s we could have easily reiterated the words of The Zionist founder Theodore Herzl’s good friend Max Nordau who one day in 1897 exclaimed to him,”But there are Arabs in Palestine. I did not know that!”
This slowly began to change.
Sad to say it the reason for the change was the sudden appearance of Arabs on the screen and in the news.