The Mideast War: A Rejoinder

(Note: In the November 15 issue of The New York Review appeared a statement on the Mideast War signed by twenty-one members of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the November 29 issue Professor Daniel Amit of The Hebrew University replied in the form of an open letter to Professor Jacob Talmon, one of the signers of the statement. Professor Talmon’s rejoinder to Professor Amit follows.)

Dear Professor Amit:

May I start my reply to your Open Letter (NYR, November 29, 1973) by pointing out the differences in our approaches, yours as a scientist and mine as a historian. Dialectical thinking seems to be alien to you. Nor do you appear to have much feeling for the dynamics of historical events and situations. This is at the root of our present disagreement. A government statement, an official handout, a conference resolution, and a sentence in a minister’s speech are treated by you not only at their face value but as if they were components of a chemical experiment and data in a physical process.

Our statement presented the Yom Kippur War as a war for Israel’s very existence and spoke of the Arabs’ basic desire to destroy the state of Israel, whereas you refer to Arab declarations which in your view indicate no such intention, but rather a desire for political settlement. You fail to see that even if these were meant seriously and sincerely when they were made, once the guns began to roar a new and very different dialectic was created by them from that in peace time. War develops a momentum and a dynamic of its own. Do you really believe that had the going proved to be good and the Egyptian tanks had broken through in the direction of Tel Aviv and the Syrian troops reached Tiberias or Haifa—as seemed quite possible when we were drafting our statement—past conciliatory Arab statements would have halted the élan of success, the sweep forward, and the fury of the more determined, the more ruthless, and the more extreme? There would have been nothing to stop the Arab victors at the 1967 borders and to prevent wholesale massacre, not to speak of the liquidation of the state of Israel.

In face of the stark fact of imminent mortal danger to the homeland created by so much idealism, toil, and sacrifice, on the morrow of Auschwitz and of the unspeakably tragic end of over a thousand-year-old Jewish civilization in Central and Eastern Europe, what relevance had all that careless talk of one’s own loose-tongued and excitable politicians, the occasional lack of restraint, tact, prudence, or foresight by government, the mystique of manifest destiny which turned the heads of some Israeli scribes, to which you refer, and all of which have hardly made any significant, lasting, and irreversible change in the position of the territories occupied since June, 1967?

In the hour of the supremely dangerous surprise attack, the grimmest diagnosis of Arab intentions, the vital importance of defensible borders, the…

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