Years ago I discovered the bible. No, not the one that starts ‘In the beginning…’. Well, almost, but a little different.
This bible begins, “It was not until this book was well under way that I reluctantly confronted the historical factors underlying the “Palestinian problem.’ The book was originally meant to be solely an investigation of the current plight of the “Arab refugees,” as that subject was then still generally known.” The first chapter ends with the words that title the last chapter, (This book is) “in essence, about flight from fact.”
The book, four hundred pages later, concludes, Today (1984) the explicitly stated Arab goals appear to be gaining credence once again through the medium of propaganda and twisted rhetoric, unquestioned by those of us who haven’t known the questions to ask, and unhindered by many who have guessed. Those who understand the reality ought to demand more.”
So it was that the twentieth century bible of those seeking truth about Israel and the Middle East was born, called “From Time Immemorial,” authored by Joan Peters.
A few weeks ago, while still in the United States, a friend from Chicago called me about a couple wanting to visit Hebron. I get such requests frequently and offered to place them on one of our regular tours. Then he told me their names: Dr. William Caro, (yes, related to Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, the most important codification of Jewish Law ever written, who lived in Tzfat some 500 years ago), and his wife, Mrs. Joan Peters.
I froze.” Joan Peters – From Time Immemorial,” I asked? Of course the response was positive. A little while later, speaking to her on the phone, I told her that as I relate to her magnum opus as a bible, she could easily understand how I relate to her.
This week Joan, together with her husband Bill, came to visit in Hebron. We didn’t have a lot of time, but managed to visit the community’s neighborhoods, Ma’arat HaMachpela, and meet some people. While introducing her to one of my friends, his wife walked by, looked at my guests and blurted, “Joan Peters?! You’re here, in Hebron?” She recognized Joan from a small photo of her, taken about 30 years ago, on the back of the book cover.
Driving from Tel Rumeida to Beit Hadassah, we gave Hebron resident and activist Baruch Marzel a ride down the hill. Baruch told Joan, “I didn’t just read your book. I studied it and learned it.”
During a short interview outside Machpela, I asked Joan what struck her about Hebron? She answered, “The history, the history is awesome. The archeological dig, that’s awesome. The 97 percent, being surrounded by Arabs is also awesome; it’s terrifying that Israel’s government has put Hebron in this situation.
Her husband, Dr. Bill Caro: “I find this a remarkable place. One of the remarkable things about Hebron is the continuity of the Jewish community, going way way back, to Biblical times. And as American citizens we don’t know much about it, we don’t learn much about it, we take it for granted. We know about Israel, we’re here with a group that strongly supports Israel (Honest Reporting), but Hebron we read about, but being here is really important, and it’s so gratifying to be here.
I asked Joan Peters the million dollar question – what brought about the writing of ‘From Time Immemorial?’
“That’s a tough question to answer. The short answer is, I think it was a dibbuk (inner spirit – ed.) because I don’t know how I could have done it now by myself. But it went from pillar to pillar and one question begot another and the research was fascinating to me – I love research – and I found all sorts of things I didn’t expect to find, and in the process I had no idea what I was up against when I started. And when I finished I had no idea what it was going to inspire and I’m terribly humbled and gratified by the fact that people care so much about what I found. It was there, it was all there. I just found it.”
One of the fascinating chapters in this classic is titled, “’Muftism’ and Britain’s contribution to the “Final Solution.” Here the connection between Nazi Germany and the Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini is examined. Recently this subject has been the source of more than one book, but a few decades ago it was almost untouched. Also studied is the British refusal to allow Jews into their homeland.
“The Jews had nowhere to go. The irony was that the very loss of their nation had become the source of much of the anti-Jewish antagonism. The Jews could be pushed around or held suspect, because they weren’t “from” anyplace and no place totally accept them. The more they clung to their beliefs, the more they seemed to stand out…”
“From Time Immemorial” is a permanent fixture on my office table. Despite the seemly everlasting mess which continues to grow, I can always find this book, and, as a rule, show it to just about every reporter who interviews me. The message is quite clear: If you really want to understand the Israeli-Arab conflict, this literature is a must-read. I don’t know how many of them actually follow through, but surely anyone who takes the plunge and examines the book must realize that common preconceptions are usually close to 100% wrong.
When I asked Joan if she’d continue writing she responded positively, but preferred not to go into details. I would be thrilled to receive a new Joan Peters expose, continuing to deal with Israel and present day issues. But even if she should never write another word, Joan’s place in history is assured. She is truly a modern-day wonder woman. She put it plainly, ‘the material was all there – I just found it.’ So simple and so true. But the fact is that nobody else cared enough to search for, and reveal the truth. I can only but take my hat off to Joan, while hoping and praying that she is not the last of her kind.