A Lebanese Novelist’s Fictional Account of 1948 Fails as Both History and Literature

Recently published in English translation, My Name Is Adam is the first volume of a projected trilogy titled Children of the Ghetto by the celebrated Lebanese author Elias Khoury—a former member of the Palestinian terrorist organization Fatah. The book’s narrator and protagonist is an Arab from the city of Lydda who regularly claims to be a Jewish survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. In the book’s second half, the narrator recounts his family’s fate during Israel’s war of independence, making frequent reference to the 1948 massacre of Palestinians in Lydda by the Haganah—an event that, as the historian Martin Kramer has demonstrated in Mosaic, never happened. While one can appreciated Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe without believing it an accurate portrait of the Middle Ages, Adam Kirsch argues that this and other historical inaccuracies compromise My Name Is Adam even as a work of fiction:

A full explanation [of the events in Lydda] would require mentioning the 100,000 Jews who were slowly starving in Jerusalem, which was under siege by Arab forces; it was to open the road to Jerusalem that the Israelis launched their offensive against Lydda and Ramle. But Khoury doesn’t discuss this background, any more than he takes account of the reciprocal killings that Jews and Arabs had been inflicting on one another for twenty years before 1948. The fall of Lydda appears to the reader . . . as an inexplicable catastrophe, a bolt from the blue.

The main problem, however, lies in Khoury’s insistence on identifying what happened in Lydda with the Jewish experience in Europe during the Holocaust. The chief example is his use of the term “ghetto” to describe the Arab quarter of the conquered town. As Khoury acknowledges, this neighborhood was sealed off with fencing only for about a month while the war went on. Yet he insists that the term applies equally well to Lydda and to Warsaw, where 400,000 Jews were held captive for two years until they were murdered in death camps.

This kind of rhetoric is common enough, and to a reader who knows nothing more of the relevant history than what they read in My Name Is Adam, it might seem apt. But it is a vast distortion of the meaning, cause, and scale of what happened in 1948 to equate the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Jews with the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Of course, it’s not incumbent on victims to place their tragedy in historical perspective: each individual’s suffering is unique and deserves to be mourned on its own terms. But in comparing Lydda to Warsaw, . . . Khoury is precisely failing to mourn Lydda on its own terms.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arabic literature, Holocaust inversion, Israeli history, Israeli War of Independence, Lydda

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security