What the left forgets about Israel: the longing for a homeland is legitimate.


Let me explain. When my mother was four it was 1940. She was in Paris with her own mother, a blond bombshell. Harry Piel who discovered Marlene Dietrich also discovered my grandmother.

Before my grandfather, an Austrian Jew, swept her off her feet, Harry Piel said he would take her to Hollywood. She was the twin of a famous German character actor, Hieni Gobel, my great uncle. Look him up. Heini has become more famous since his death.

My mother lost her aunt, who was living with her, to Auschwitz via Drancy. She lost her grandparents in the Prague Ghetto, Theresenstadt and Treblinka.

For some reason, don’t feign ignorance, you know the reason, my mom had become preternaturally intelligent at age four. She had started to read La Comtesse de Segur, and in a shop at age four she turned around to her mother, who spoke French with a thick German accent and said:

‘Mutti, from now on let me do the talking in shops.’

My mother sat by the fire and turned to me and said. ‘Phil’. She knew, ultimately, that I understood her: ‘sometimes it is healthy to hate.’

‘I hate the people who killed my grandmother. I hate the people who jailed me in Apartheid South Africa. It is healthy to hate.’

My father spent many years as the editor of Middle East magazines. He was a progressive par excellence. He was a Roger Federer of geopolitics, unbeatable. He left the rest in the dust. He was too good, far too good, for the BBC. He has his affidavits from Pilger and the rest, but my father interviewed Mandela at age 25 while Mandela was in hiding. He knocks any British journalist into a cocked hat. Well, that’s his son speaking. He was deeply principled and good at his job.

But Dad, Tony Hall, had a soft spot for Palestine. He was at the Camp David talks with Menachem Begin – whom he reviled – and Anwar Sadat.

When I first arrived into that cesspool of the Muslim Brotherhood at the ITTC in Aramco in Saudi Arabia I told them a Sadat joke I had learned.

Why did Sadat have a scar on his forehead?

No, not because he was devout, but because Nasser jabbed him there so often saying:

‘Sadat. Why . Dont . You . Think?’

No one laughed. I didn’t realise quite a few of my colleagues were Islamo-fascists; Muslim Brotherhood. Kutub with his little Hitler mustache.

But my Mom thought about the death of her family and she understood the dream of a homeland, though it was so distorted later on by the Zionists.

We were sitting around the fire in Matumi and my father said.

Phil, you have a good voice. Sing us something.’

I thought. Then I started to sing.

‘Far and wide as the eye can wander
Heath and bog are everywhere
Not a bird sings out to cheer us
Oaks are standing gaunt and bare

We are the Peat Bog Soldiers
Marching with our spades
To the moor

Up and down the guards are pacing
No one, no one can get through
Flight would mean a sure death facing
Guns and barbed wire greet our view

We are the Peat Bog Soldiers
Marching with our spades
To the moor

But for us there is no complaining
Winter will in time be past.
One day we will cry rejoicing
“Homeland dear, you’re mine at last’

Then will the peatbog soldiers
March no more with their spades
To the moor.’

My mother laughed. ‘A good choice.’ My father said. ‘Phil, you will make me cry.’

understand why Jews might want a homeland. It was because Europeans like you persecuted them.

And now we come to the point. The terrible persecution of the Jews in Europe, one of whom was my mother as a child, lead to the unquenchable and understandable desire for ‘heimat‘, for home.

Ironically, perhaps Palestinians are in the best position now to understand this longing.

But the longing for homeland was a response to European antisemitism. To an antisemitism so fierce – and so widespread – that it lead to the death camps. The death camps are something Palestinians have not experienced, for all the awful persecution they have suffered.

Let me declare now my utter disdain for anyone who thinks that the persecution of the Palestinians is in any way equivalent to the persecution of Jews during WW2. It is, however, comparable.

It is true that Israel is an Apartheid colonial state, but it is also true that in Christian Europe the Jews underwent suffering beyond all comprehension and that their fate, like the fate of the enslaved Africans of 100 years before, is the measure of the evil that humans can inflict on other humans.

Europeans are hardly in a position to attack Jews again for who they are. And those British people who talk about the Rothschilds and global Jewish conspiracies are doing what their forebears did before WW2. In doing so they bracket themselves in with the Nazis. They may call themselves socialists, but they are not. They are National Socialists, scape-goaters. I hate them. They infest left forums with their conspiracy theories.

We can support the Palestinian cause, we can be against the Apartheid, right-wing elements of Zionism, we can support Palestinian rights with all our hearts, but at the same time, for God’s sake, understand why Jews might want a homeland. It was because Europeans like you persecuted them.

It was and is the vile antisemitism of Europeans that caused many Jews to want a homeland. This desire is perfectly understandable, even if it is not justifiable.

Photo: the Vel d’ Hiver round up of French Jews in July 1942

Phil Hall


Phil Hall is a university lecturer working in the Middle East. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain and Mexico. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.




Categories: Antisemitism, Eve Hall, Fascism, Palestine

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