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Hilton Obenzinger <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 11 Dec 2006 14:30:08 -0800
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Wes and Fellow Twainiacs,

Your friend's view that Twain's account is "highly prized by
defenders of Israel" raises a number of issues I've addressed in
other places, but I just want to comment briefly here.  Twain
developed his views on Jews as he grew older, as he did also about
his views of colonialism, in both cases growing against bigotry and
imperial theft.  In "The Innocents Abroad" there are a number of
references to Jews and to the myth of the Wandering Jew, and they are
all part of the same disdainful gaze he cast upon Arab and Turkish Muslims.

But the "verification" your friend speaks of is the abuse of Twain in
Jane Peter's book "From Time Immemorial" in which she tries to argue
that there were hardly any Arabs in Palestine, the land was desolate
and empty, Jewish colonization was justified and a positive
improvement, and when the economy improved Arabs were drawn to the
land en mass because it was economically thriving.  Portions from The
Innocents Abroad -- "Palestine is sack-cloth and ashes" and other
descriptions of desolation -- are part of Peters' arsenal.  She
avoids other accounts, such as Bayard Taylor's rapturous description
of lush landscape, causing him to describe California as "our Syria
of the Pacific" (the whole region was generally known as Syria).  The
point of Peters' whole exercise was to assert that Palestinians have
no claim to the land, and their national movement is invalid.  This
book was dismissed by Israeli scholars when it appeared in the 1980s
-- Israelis generally don't shield themselves from reality --
although it was heralded in the US.  One scholar, Norman Finkelstein,
went through all the quotations in the book and showed how they were
manipulated or falsified to serve Peters' ends.  Despite this, the
myth remains.  The argument that the land was empty is very similar
to the ones used by the early British settlers in North America: the
native people were nomadic, did not cultivate the land, and
consequently the land was available to be seized, since the native
people did not truly "own" it.  The long history of Arab Muslim,
Christian, Jewish and Druze presence in Palestine has long been
documented, and the early Jewish settlers had to admit that Palestine
was not "a land without a people for a people without a land."

Twain is regularly used for political purposes -- The War Prayer and
his writings on the invasion and occupation of the Philippines were
called upon during the Vietnam war and have been looked at through
the lens of today's adventure in Iraq.  The pro-Nazi German-American
Bund in the 1930s distorted "Concerning the Jews" for anti-Semitic
purposes.  We should be aware of all uses and abuses.  The
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dreadful enough.  Mark Twain does not
need to be dragged in as an unwilling accomplice to continuing the horror.

Take care,

Hilton Obenzinger
Stanford University