Commentary Magazine

The Masada Complex

History, however, is not the past. The past is always a created ideology with a purpose, designed to control individuals, or motivate societies, or inspire classes. Nothing has been so corruptly used, as concepts of the past.

J. H. Plumb, The Death of the Past

It may seem surprising that an archaeological site should provide the focus of debate on basic issues of national policy, but given the peculiarity of Israel's location in history and geography, there is a certain appropriateness in that odd link between ancient events and modern politics. Archaeology, of course, is Israel's greatest natural resource, both in the strictly economic sense and in a figurative one, feeding into the tourist trade, on the one hand, and into the romantic myth, on the other hand, of return to a proud national independence that was cut off two thousand years ago. Among the rich abundance of archaeological sites in Israel, a compelling centrality has long been attached to Masada, the forbidding mountain-fortress in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, where the last stand of the rebellion against the Roman legions took place in 73 C.E. Masada has repeatedly been a place of pilgrimage—the cultic concept seems quite strictly applicable, and the Hebrew equivalent, aliyah l'regel, “going up by foot,” is very literally appropriate—for Israeli youth groups, army recruits, new immigrants, and plain citizens on vacation. The fortress of the ancient Zealots has pointedly been chosen for a significant military ritual, the swearing-in of the armored corps. A ceremony of this sort, held on a March evening this year at the end of a sound-and-light show, inaugurated twenty-fifth-anniversary events in Israel. The ceremony, as always, was enacted by torchlight, the recruits intoning in unison the now famous line from Yitzhak Lamdan's long poem, Masada (1927), “Masada shall not fall again.” Later, I would like to return to the poem and its impact on Israeli consciousness.

Since Yigal Yadin's spectacular digs in the seasons of 1963-64 and 1964-65, Masada has also been a highly visible product for export. Yadin's vividly narrated, sumptuously illustrated book on the excavations and the history of the place is still an admirable presentation volume,1 and one recalls the striking success of his 1966-67 American lecture tour with a photographic exhibition on Masada at the time of the book's publication. More recently, also in the category of presentation volumes, the Four Winds Press has published an account of the last stand at Masada excerpted from Josephus, generously illustrated with photographs of archaeological finds,2 and there may well be other productions of this sort that have escaped my attention. At least two different popular novels on the Zealot uprising have been published in the last year here and in England, and rumor has it that two films on the subject are now in preparation, one a documentary on the archaeological site, the other a full-length narrative on the rebellion. Meanwhile, the defiant pledge, “Masada shall not fall again,” has been enjoying, since June 1967, unprecedented currency in this country, often used as a slogan by members of the Jewish Defense League, taking its place on many a wall alongside denunciations of imperialism and exhortations to sisterhood, even appearing in the peroration of a pro-Israel article in the Village Voice.

These details of background may help to provide a sense of the special resonance in a retort made by Golda Meir to Stewart Alsop at a Washington press luncheon during her recent American visit, reported by Alsop in his Newsweek column of March 19. Toward the end of the lunch, Alsop tells us, Mrs. Meir suddenly turned on him, and one can almost hear that gravelly, authoritative, I-brook-no-contradiction voice saying to the journalist: “And you, Mr. Alsop, you say that we have a Masada complex. . . . It is true. We do have a Masada complex. We have a pogrom complex. We have a Hitler complex.” Alsop's demurral to Mrs. Meir's representation of his own views was ignored: relentlessly pursuing her train of thought, the Prime Minister proceeded to deliver “a small, moving oration about the spirit of Israel, a spirit that would prefer death rather than surrender to the dark terrors of the Jewish past.” The truth of such affirmations of national faith can hardly be gainsaid, but Alsop goes on in his column to wonder whether the evocation of the horrors and heroism of the past will always provide a lucid perspective on the political complexities of the present.

Specifically, he suggests that early this year Anwar Sadat conveyed to Nixon and Kissinger through his foreign-affairs adviser, Hafez Ismail, an expression of willingness to enter into an interim agreement with Israel involving the reopening of the Suez Canal, provided Israel would agree eventually to discuss evacuation of the whole Sinai. Golda Meir, responding suspiciously to this admittedly limited overture, was prepared to concede so little that any initiation of real negotiations was precluded. What really went on, of course, between Ismail and Nixon, then Meir and Nixon, is a matter of conjecture upon hearsay, but one sympathizes with Alsop when he questions the long-term wisdom of repeatedly rejecting out of hand the possibility of negotiation because of mistrust, however the mistrust may be conditioned by recurrent historical trauma. Israel's ultimate problem, after all, as an increasing number of Israeli intellectuals have been contending, is not the maintenance of a cordon sanitaire, the strategic efficacy of which could at best be a matter of decades, but the creation of some kind of peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. This is the logic of Alsop's monitory conclusion: “To the horizon, it is easy to see that Israel can hold what it has. But beyond the horizon, it may be that Israel is creating its own Masada.”

The exchange between Alsop and Mrs. Meir produced some interesting reverberations in Israel, while Newsweek on its part apparently felt enough need to justify itself, or explain the exchange, to devote, in its long piece on Israel occasioned by the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Jewish state (May 7), a three-quarter-page inset to “The Meaning of Masada.” In the month after the appearance of the Alsop column, the Friday supplement of Ha'aretz, Israel's leading paper, published three different articles which responded to the Meir-Alsop contretemps, two of them on the history of Masada and its interpretative uses, the third analyzing the political implications of Mrs. Meir's response to Alsop's criticism. Though I haven't been following Ma'ariv and Yediot Aharonot, the two large afternoon competitors of Ha'aretz, I would assume that the incident did not go unnoticed there, either. (All this may seem a little less bizarre if one keeps in mind that the overseas editions of Newsweek and Time have a large circulation among the educated, English-reading class in Israel, the Hebrew press tending to be skimpy, spotty, or oddly skewed in its coverage of events outside the Middle East.) As Dan Margalit and Matti Golan, political analysts for Ha'aretz, noted, Mrs. Meir chose to react to Alsop's column not through her Washington embassy nor through an ordinary foreign-office spokesman, as one might have expected, but through a senior official close to her in Jerusalem, Michael Elitsur, who controls the North American desk of the Israeli Foreign Office. The Prime Minister seems to have been touched to the quick by the suggestion that through intransigence she might be the maker of a future Masada. Elitsur's letter to Newsweek (April 16) denied that there had been any hint of concessions from Cairo, as Alsop had implied, and the Jerusalem official affirmed that for Israelis Masada was “a symbol, not an ideal.” (Though literary critics as well as diplomats love to make such distinctions, I must confess that to my eye the boundaries between symbol and ideal blur and dissolve when the past is used as sanction for an ideology.)


What happened at Masada, and what in fact has been the meaning of Masada in Israel's imagination of its own predicament? As with most things, the more we have come to know about the subject, the more perplexing it has become to answer these seemingly straightforward questions. The only extant literary source on the events at Masada in 73 C.E. is Josephus's The Jewish War, an account by an ambivalent traitor to the rebellion, written in Greek chiefly for Roman consumption, which presents the resistance fighters in their last fierce resolve as more Roman than the Romans. That Josephus should be the sole source on Masada is itself noteworthy. Rabbinic literature, though rich in anecdotes and legends on the fall of Jerusalem three years earlier, is silent on the whole affair because it views the Zealots—Josephus gives them the more specific name of Sicarii, or Dagger-Wielders, Assassins—as fanatic dissidents, not as the she'erit ha-pleita, the last remnant of the Jewish people in its struggle for independence. Josephus's own attitude toward the Sicarii is deeply divided, perhaps was bound to be by the ambiguities of his situation as a former rebel commander who had gone over to the Romans. Although his history concludes in a great surge of praise for the final heroism of the defenders of Masada, he emphatically represents them not as the standard-bearers of the Jewish nation but, on the contrary, as a ruthless, avaricious band of cutthroats who were crueler to their countrymen than to the Romans, setting a precedent for murderous divisiveness among Jews: “First to begin this lawlessness among kinsmen were the Sicarii, who left no word unspoken, no deed untried, to insult and destroy the objects of their foul plots.”

Such an uncompromising characterization obviously raises the issue of Josephus's reliability, but if one begins to question his credibility on the character of the Sicarii—his version of them seems not unlikely—there is at least as much warrant for questioning his account of their heroic suicide. According to Josephus, the Zealots, realizing that their inner defense wall had been breached by the Romans, decided to die by their own hands rather than submit to the enemy. They proceeded to draw lots and then slew one another, men, women, and children, 960 in all, so that when the Romans entered the fortress to find “the rows of dead bodies, they did not exult over them as enemies but admired the nobility of their resolve.” The mass suicide is preceded by a long speech by Eleazar Ben Ya'ir, the rebel commander, a set-piece obviously invented by Josephus in accordance with the convention established by Thucydides. There are no grounds in rabbinic tradition for the justification of suicide as an escape from political subjugation (coercion to idolatry is another matter), and so it is hardly surprising that Ben Ya'ir's speech cites no Jewish sources. On the contrary, his praise of splendid death—“let us do each other an ungrudging kindness, preserving our freedom as a glorious winding sheet”—strikes the steely note of martial Rome, and his rhetoric takes him as far as India for precedents to the deed he is urging. Ben Ya'ir's exhortation has a noble ring, but its vision of human existence and of Jewish history leads only to a black cul-de-sac of doom. God must surely have sentenced his people to extinction, he argues from the evidence of recent national disasters. In any case, reflective men from time immemorial have realized that “life is the calamity for man, not death.” One wonders what has happened to the essential Deuteronomic injunction, “And thou shalt choose life,” especially since this radical pessimism is attributed by Josephus's Ben Ya'ir to “the actions and spirit of our forefathers.”

The dark rationale offered for the Zealots' suicide in the sole account of it we have makes it singularly unedifying as a model for Jewish nationalism, while at least one critic, Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, the contentious editor of the Jewish Spectator, has questioned whether the mass suicide ever took place.3 The defenders of Masada, she argues, were fighters, not martyrs, and the logic of all their previous actions would have led them to go down fighting or to try to escape rather than immolate themselves. Besides, Josephus, who seems to have tricked thirty-nine fellow soldiers at the fall of Jotapata into killing one another while he cunningly preserved his own life, might have had reason to repair his damaged public image by fabricating a large-scale suicide pact at Masada in which self-slaughter in preference to surrender could be presented as a sublime symbol of Jewish heroism. Mrs. Weiss-Rosmarin does not explain how the Romans, who after all had marched several thousand men into the fallen fortress, could be expected to believe the suicide story if it was merely an invention of Josephus's, but the doubts she raises (there are more than I have indicated) are not to be easily brushed aside; and even if the Zealots did finally kill themselves, the difficulties she points to in Josephus's text suggest that the process of mythologizing Masada began before the ashes of the great rebellion had cooled.


History and the past, to adopt the useful distinction made by J. H. Plumb in The Death of the Past, are two very different things. History is an intellectual endeavor that seeks to understand the endlessly complicated, ambiguous, shifting facts of what men and women through the ages have actually done, how social change has come about. History is thus committed to a sub-species of truth, however confusing or painful the truth may turn out to be. The definition of a past, on the other hand, that societies are constantly undertaking, is least of all concerned with the truth. Rather, in the making of the past, historical experience is subjected to drastic selection and reordering, when not simply invented whole cloth, in order to validate, justify, confirm the status and actions of a society, and, most particularly, of its ruling elite. What is paradoxical about Masada is that even as Professor Yadin and his diggers painstakingly unearthed its long-buried bones and scrolls and coins and artifacts, the mountain-fortress has stubbornly persisted more as a focus of Israel's past than as a fact of its history.

Yadin himself, impressive as his archaeological work has been, is not without complicity in perpetuating this state of affairs. His meticulous account of the excavations is marked by occasional observations such as this: “Masada represents for all of us in Israel . . . a symbol of courage, a monument to our great national figures, heroes who chose death over a life of physical and moral serfdom.” Yadin does not say whether Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, who chose the founding of an academy at Yavneh over death in a doomed rebellion, is to be regarded as having opted for a life of moral serfdom. Jewish tradition, at any rate, has always seen Yavneh and not Masada as the great symbol of national survival against terrible odds—of regeneration. To every man his own symbol in the making of a past, and so Yadin can blandly assert that the Zealots “elevated Masada to an undying symbol which has stirred hearts throughout the last nineteen centuries.” As a rhetorical flourish this may have a satisfying completeness, but the absence of references to Masada in the source-texts of Jewish tradition suggests that it stirred very few hearts until the 20th century, perhaps not even till after the publication of the Lamdan poem in 1927. Yadins ready acceptance, moreover, of the historicity of the Masada story in Josephus, and the quickness with which he identified particulars of his finds with details of that story, would seem to be motivated as much by patriotic enthusiasm as by scholarly zeal.

But even glossing over such historical difficulties, one is hard put to say of what Masada should be a symbol for modern Israel. By Josephus's account, Ben Ya'ir and his comrades-at-arms were brave and determined men, but it is difficult to ignore the grim fact that the meaning of the way they chose was ghastly self-destruction. Characteristic in the effort to wriggle past this obstacle are the words spoken this spring by Moshe Dayan at the ceremony commemorating the 1900th anniversary of the death of Masada's defenders: “Masada gave Jewish history a grandeur steeped in blood and valor, faith and pride, not only in facing death, but also in facing the trials of life.” The rhetoric of blood and valor, as nervous as it is likely to make one, can perhaps be excused by the pomp and ceremony of the occasion; but it is far from clear how the last speech of Masada's commander, that despairing, doom-ridden celebration of death which culminated in the voluntary massacre of nearly a thousand men, women, and children, could help Jews face the trials of life. Yigal Yadin, in a response to a Newsweek reporter for the May 7th article I mentioned earlier, was a little more concrete in making a connection between Masada and the challenge of life. Young Israelis, he confessed, tend to be disenchanted with the grim example of self-slaughter offered by Masada. What the last stand of the Sicarii, then, suggests to them is that Israel must remain strong enough never to be confronted again with the Zealots' terrible choice of death or submission. Now, this is certainly sane, but what it means is that Masada symbolizes the imperative for the Jewish state never again to be Masada, which makes it a peculiar symbol, to say the least.


Masada received its real impetus as an image of the Zionist enterprise and thus as a national myth in Yitzhak Lamdan's poem (which by now has gone through a score or more of printings), and we may understand more clearly the contemporary invocation of the place if we note how Lamdan treated it. Masada is an allegorical rendering of the Jewish settlement of Palestine in the years after the First World War, the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and the pogroms that followed them. It is made up of brief poetic units, part lyrical, part narrative, swelling at its worst to a flood of repetitious poetic effusion in strained sublime style, occasionally concentrating in individual images or poems of stark power. What penetration the poem does have derives ultimately from a single central insight of Lamdan's, that the historical phenomenon of Zionism was born out of the bleakest hopelessness of European Jewry as a last desperate wager against extinction, when all other bets had failed. The speaker of the poem, the allegorical type of the Jew returning to Zion, has made his way back to Masada, wounded, exhausted, half-dead, from the mayhem of warring Europe and the bitter disappointment of promised redemption through world revolution. Masada itself “sits on the brink of chaos,” but it is there that he will raise the “banner of the last rebellion,” in the soul-steeling knowledge that “We have one treasure left—the daring after despair.” In context, the declaration that Masada will not fall again is less a proudly confident affirmation than a fierce cry of desperation, echoing over a blood-darkened landscape of destruction amid the distant thunder-claps of a threatened apocalypse. The great world that stretches out from the foot of Masada has become a claustrophobic nightmare for the Survivor who clambers up to the ramparts of the Zealot fortress to take his last stand there.

           Oh, mercy is gone from the world!
Earth's circle—a hangman's knot at my throat.
           Earth's broadness—a hangman's grip,
All its roads are throttling fingers.
           And so I am here before you, Masada,
                  The one who escaped. . . .
In my brain—blood-flags flap in the storm of
          Blowing from the four corners of the sky.
Searing tongues of an auto-da-fé lick at my
                  And over all.
                Chaos, chaos, chaos—
          No people, no land, no God, and no man.

I do not mean to suggest that the Masada invoked by Israeli political leaders or used as a setting for military ceremonies is identical in meaning and feeling with the Masada of Lamdan's poem, though I suspect there may be a substantial, and disquieting, carry-over from poetry to politics. The whole question of the connection between literary and political images of the past is more complicated and crucial in Israel than in any other country 1 know. The antecedents of political Zionism, without which the movement might never have gotten underway are literary, going back to the development in 19th-century Russia and Poland of Hebrew poetry and fiction steeped in visions of a biblical Zion. Hebrew literary activity continued to serve a central energizing function in the Zionist enterprise throughout the earlier 20th century in a way that may seem strange to Americans and Western Europeans, whose modern literature has tended to be adversary and private in its concerns. It was to a large extent the creative selectivity and linguistic resourcefulness of writers like Mapu, Tchernichovsky, Shlonsky, Alterman, Lamdan, Uri Zvi Greenberg, that produced a usable past, in J. H. Plumb's sense, for the renascent Jewish state.

One must give Hebrew literature its historical due, but there is, I would contend, a danger in all this deriving from the differences between the exigencies of the poetic and the political imagination. A characteristic strength of the poetic imagination is its ability to pursue the possibilities of present things to the limits of their most extreme realization: the world can be seen in the glaring light of ultimacy, its shadows blacker, its bright surfaces blinding, everything tremulous with a terrible intensity that is only intimated in the realm of ordinary experience. The poetic process, moreover, through its essentially allusive operation, fosters a cognitive conservatism when directed to political events, by the very logic of its instruments of expression representing the immediate historical moment in terms of some deeply felt, imaginatively imperative past. The political imagination, on the other hand, needs to work in precisely the opposite direction. It must of course be aware of the data of history, but it knows that the “lesson” of history is almost never a direct and simple repetition, and that to identify, or confuse, present with past can be a fatal mistake in matters of state policy. Where there is something aprioristic about the poetic imagination, because the structures of language and literary tradition are givens, the political imagination has to be rigorously empirical, making constant discriminations about the changing differential elements of the problems with which it is confronted.

The proper cast of mind for coping with the realm of politics is sober, skeptical, nonchalant; current events are not to be dramatized and magnified but, on the contrary, searched out most undramatically for their qualifying components, for the various practical options of responding to them and modifying their possible consequences. Torchlit military ceremonies on the top of Masada are, I fear, a literal and dubious translation into public life of a literary metaphor, and a Prime Minister's subsuming Holocaust, pogroms, and Israel's present state of siege under the rubric of Masada might be the kind of hangover from poetry that could befuddle thinking on urgent political issues.


A trenchant critique of the Masada Complex along lines similar to these was carried out by Benjamin Kedar, a young Israeli historian, in the April 22nd issue of Ha'aretz. Kedar begins by characterizing Masada as an Israeli “myth, obsession [in the Hebrew, dybbuk], complex,” and he goes on to propose that the symbol of Masada has had such a powerful claim on Israeli consciousness especially because of the Holocaust. Thus, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is thought of as a Masada, and in a double exposure of mythic imagery, Israel's predicament is conceived as a ghetto surrounded by overwhelming hordes, a fortress besieged by the assembled might of imperial legions. (As a literary and historical footnote to this observation, one might add that the apocalyptic landscape of Yitzhak Lamdan's poem seemed to be progressively more justified by historical events during the twenty years following the poem's publication; in the quarter-century, however, since the founding of the State, the correspondence between Lamdan's apocalyptic vision and the plane of actual historical events has diminished, while the momentum of the poem's informing myth has continued to grow in Israeli consciousness.) Kedar points out that the very comparison with the Warsaw Ghetto illustrates how questionable Masada is as a model of national will and courage. Unlike the 960 under the command of Ben Ya'ir, the Warsaw Ghetto fighters knew that every one of them faced certain extinction, and yet their response was to fight to the end for their lives, not to seek to deprive the enemy of his satisfaction in that all-too-Roman gesture of self-slaughter.

Kedar rejects the assertion made at a recent armored corps ceremony that because of the heroism of Masada the State of Israel exists today; on the contrary, he argues quite plausibly, the suicides at Masada were an aberration from Jewish values and a historical dead-end, while it was rather Yavneh that was the key to underground survival and ultimate national rebirth. In any case, Kedar, prodded by Golda Meir's words to Stewart Alsop, is most disturbed by the tendency in the invocation of Masada to confuse present with past. He notes as a small but very telling symptom of this tendency that at the burial site of the twenty-five Zealot skeletons—if that is in fact what they are—unearthed by Yigal Yadin, a sign has been placed identical in all respects to the signs used to designate Israeli military cemeteries. One sees that Israel can be not only inspired by the past but also, almost literally, spooked by it.

Such confusions become really dangerous when there is a prospect of their distorting the vision of people in power. To insist on an identity between Israel and Masada is, as Stewart Alsop argues, to adopt policies that may become self-fulfilling prophecies. Kedar comments incisively on this danger:

It is desirable that a political leader have a sense of history. But he would be better off devoid of all historical sense rather than to cling compulsively to a specific image from the past and act as though it were literally applicable to him and his situation in the present. For in that case reality is not grasped as it actually is but according to its degree of correspondence to preconceptions drawn before the fact from the past. . . . In this context, the recollection of Masada is less an inspiring model than an obfuscating obsession, a complex that could pervert moral criteria. For if in fact our situation is as desperate as Masada's, the lines of demarcation between forbidden and permitted begin to waver.

After the Arab debacle of June 1967, after the virtual collapse of the guerrilla movement and the failure of Nasser's war of attrition, and above all after the Russian withdrawal from Egypt in the summer of 1972, one central fact of Middle Eastern politics has become increasingly clear: that Israel is the looming military power in the region. Israel has now amply demonstrated its capability to conduct at will pinpoint strikes against terrorist headquarters within Arab territory, to carry out large-scale retaliatory raids by air, land, and sea; and, barring the possibility of Great Power intervention, one can now hardly doubt Israel's ability to capture Cairo, Damascus, and Beirut in brief order if it ever chose to do so. The growing sophistication, moreover, of arms technology and combat know-how in Israel suggests that the strategic gap between Israel and its neighbors continues to widen. Every day Masada seems less appropriate as an image of Israel, encircled though it is by belligerent states that would, if only they could, drive it into the sea.


In recent months many Israeli political analysts, including some who are far from dovish, have observed that Israeli diplomacy is still conducted with a scared sense of desperation as though the Jewish state were in the stranglehold of superior powers, when in fact Israel has become the commanding power in the area and can afford to negotiate out of a position of strength. I do not mean to say that the fault for the current impasse is solely or even chiefly Israel's, and I am obviously not advocating sweeping unilateral concessions by the Israelis with no guarantees for Israeli security. What I am suggesting, as many observers within Israel itself have argued, is that Israel's position of strength may warrant a greater flexibility and more readiness for diplomatic risk-taking than the Israelis have so far evinced. The present moment, moreover, might be a particularly opportune one for flexibility, before the worldwide oil shortage or a changed configuration of international relations brings the Great Powers to pressure Israel into concessions it might find hard to live with.

I should like to emphasize that the rationale for Israeli diplomatic openness, as this whole argument on the seductiveness of the past implies, must be an accurate, pragmatic perception of present conditions, not a moralistic judgment of Israeli policy based on some abstractly symmetrical notion of “evenhandedness” in international conflict. One can violate factuality just as easily by being high and moral about politics as by being poetic about it.4 And finally, let me add that I do not want to attribute too much of the Israeli attitude to the national myth of Masada alone. Clearly, the murderous incursions of Arabs against Jews in Palestine from 1921 onward, the massive trauma of the Holocaust, even the recent diplomatic isolation of Israel in the UN, have contributed to the sense of encirclement and have made Israelis deeply and understandably suspicious of nations that have repeatedly sought their destruction. Nevertheless, I think it would be foolish to disregard the power of literature to generate myth—and in this regard, Josephus is “literature” as much as Lamdan—and the power of myth to affect politics. In this respect as in others, Israel, by virtue of the very anomalies through which it came into being, must live within the tensions of a paradox.

Israel was born out of a national myth. If Herzl and his immediate heirs created the machinery for the national movement through their organizational and diplomatic activity, it was still the new literary versions of the age-old myth of Zion that generated the necessary motor force. The Zionists were in part able to create a heroic present because they had first discovered a heroic past that could serve as a psychological platform for a new mode of Jewish existence, a new relationship to ongoing history. The sense of this past is still, I believe, a positive if problematic energizing force in Israeli consciousness. Without it, Israel's national existence would be trivialized, its sense of purpose undercut. With it, constant vigilance must be exercised so that the features of the present are not distorted to match the contours of the past.


1 Masada, Random House (1966).

2 Revolt in Judea: The Road to Masada, by Arthur Tamarin, 157 pp., $7.95.

3 See her articles in the Jewish Spectator, “Masada, Josephus, and Yadin” (October 1967) and “Masada Revisited” (December 1969).

4 Thus, an “Appeal for Peace in the Middle East,” signed by a distinguished international group of intellectuals and published in the New York Review of Books, June 14, 1973, seems to be pleading for reasonableness from all sides involved, but states the case with such nice symmetry that recent Middle Eastern history begins to look like a moral fiction. The Arab governments (as distinct from the Palestinians) are paid tribute for their “thirst for justice,” a thirst they have surely made no visible effort to slake during the last twenty-six years with regard either to Palestinians or to Jews. Israel, on the other hand, is said to have betrayed the ideals of its own pioneers through its “territorial annexations [note the plural] and alliances” (although Israel in fact has no formal alliances, presumably the U.S. is intended). Israel's current relations with the Palestinians are represented, in the devious shorthand of manifestoes, as the bombing of refugee camps. The signatories of the “Appeal,” who include, predictably, Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, Paul Jacobs, David Riesman, and I. F. Stone for this country, and, on the European side, figures like Günter Grass, C. P. Snow, and Angus Wilson, would do well to examine ostensibly parallel arguments by Israelis in order to see how one may look at both sides of a political conflict without the dubious aid of a specious moralism. Some of these Israeli views were surveyed by Shlomo Avineri in “Rethinking Israel's Position,” COMMENTARY, June 1973.

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