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

Sept. 4 2019

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.

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Read more at Tablet

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

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy