Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gaza Calling: It’s the Colonialism, Stupid!

On how Gaza lays Zionism bare, in eight bites.



Subjugate, expel, exterminate

This summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza was a horror show. Whole families killed, whole neighborhoods levelled, schools and hospitals attacked, electricity, water, and waste treatment facilities destroyed, about 500 children killed, 3000 injured (1000 with lifelong disabilities), and 1500 orphaned – utter devastation.  We’ve all seen the pictures. I’ve written about it. I’m not going to go over the specifics again.1

I share with many the conviction that this deliberately disproportionate carnage constitutes a despicable crime. It has certainly forced everyone to confront the deep disparities and injustices embedded in what’s called the Israel-Palestine conflict. The incessant waves of death and destruction visited on Palestinians for decades have challenged even those Westerners predisposed to “liberal Zionism” to question more radically what they think the Jewish state, and the Zionist project, is, was, or could be all about.

Conversely, the aftermath of the Gaza carnage has seen the defenders of Israel become ever more frantic and adamant in asserting the absolute righteousness of the Zionist project—not just refuting, but wherever possible refusing to allow any fundamental questioning of its legitimacy. Ask Stephen Salaita.

Yet, casualty figures and atrocity photos are not really what the argument is about. We have to remember, as Miko Peled points out, that: “Israel began attacking Gaza when the Strip was populated with the first generation refugees in the early 1950s.”2 This summer’s Gaza carnage helps reveal the problem, but it is not itself the fundamental problem.

The fundamental problem is colonialism. You know, that thing where a group of people, who want the land somebody else is living on, take it. By subjugating, expelling, and/or exterminating the indigenous population.

The fundamental argument here between Zionists and non- or anti-Zionists is not about civilian casualties, but about colonialism. It is not about how many civilians the IDF (or Hamas) killed last month, but about the ongoing colonialism-in-progress that necessarily produces these casualties. It’s colonialism that provides the context which gives the facts and events their ethico-political meaning.

This needs to sink in. Israel is a colonial-settler state. Zionism is a colonialist project.

Forty years ago, when Maxime Rodinson pointed this out in a small book, nobody in the West wanted to hear it, and he was therefore cast into oblivion by Western intellectuals for saying it.3 Today, largely because the internet has made it impossible to hide the relevant facts and research, as well as the shredded bodies and demolished neighborhoods, no serious-minded person can deny it: Zionism is colonialism. Israeli historians (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe) have verified this, and honest “liberal” defenders of Zionism (Avi Shavit, Peter Beinart) acknowledge it. As Anthony Lerman says: “Both liberal Zionism and the left accept the established historical record: Jews forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes to make way for the establishment of a Jewish state.”4

The shunned “colonialism” analysis of forty years ago is now so unavoidable that the New York Times has seen fit to acknowledge its legitimacy, by publishing an op-ed from Palestinian political scientist Ali Jarbawi, entitled “Israel’s Colonialism Must End,” which flatly proclaims that: “The Israeli occupation of Palestine is one of the only remaining settler-colonial occupations in the world today.” 

To be sure, the NYT only published Jarbawi’s piece in its international edition—American eyes being too sensitive, I guess—and only because Jarbawi discreetly refers to the last “47 years” of occupation, but, just as everybody can read the NYT “international” website, everybody can understand that “Israel’s colonialism” did not start in 1967. Zionism has been a colonialist project, in principle and practice, since day one.5 And Israel’s devastation of Gaza this summer can only be understood as one element of an overall colonial project: the elimination of the Palestinian people as an obstacle to the formation of a Jewish state in historic Palestine (what Zionists call Eretz Israel).

The point: There are still a lot of people (especially Americans) who are ignorant of the facts and history, and there will always be a few holdouts who will stubbornly refuse to admit this, but, by and large, liberal-minded, intellectually-honest supporters of Israel and Zionism know that it is no longer possible to deny that Zionism is colonialism and Israel is a colonialist state.


Reasons to Believe

Still, most staunch defenders of Zionism today want the discussion not to be about colonialism. They want to frame their discourse in a way that avoids colonialism, an issue of political principle, much preferring to debate about important but contingent issues—civilian casualties, human shields, self-defense, etc. Even though they are on extremely weak ground regarding these issues as well, at least this discourse allows for dueling statistics and anecdotes. Forced to engage the issue of colonialism, Zionists are on the considerably more uncomfortable ground of asserting either 1) Zionism is not colonialism, or 2) So what? It doesn’t matter if it is.

As indicated above, I think the first argument is virtually impossible to make today with any intellectual honesty. The variants of the second argument—It doesn’t matter if it is colonialism—are of more interest.

There is, of course, the religious version (God gave us the right to colonize this land.), but that’s not one that secular Western liberals are likely to embrace.

An argument that secular Zionists are more likely to snap out, as if it’s a killing rhetorical blow, packed with irrefutable historical realism, is some version of: “So what, you’re a colonizer, too. American Indians!” Gotcha! QED.

It baffles me that anyone thinks that’s an effective argument.  My reply, after confirming that the speaker is unambiguously admitting that the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs today is ethico-politically analogous to that between European settlers and Native Americans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, would go something like the following.

Yes, the U.S. and virtually every nation-state that came into being before the mid-twentieth century rests on a legacy of war, conquest, and injustice. 
And, yes, it’s hard to think of a worse colonial genocide than that visited on Native Americans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Those facts are hardly enough to support the analogy as intended, however. First of all, being historically realist and all, we have to recognize that, tragically, over those four centuries, the Native American population was so completely ravaged that it now constitutes less than 1% of the population. If Native Americans were now the majority of the population in North America under white settler control; if they were engaged in a fierce resistance struggle in order to prevent being expelled or exterminated; if they had the support of hundreds of millions of their neighbors, as well as of populations and powerful governments throughout the world, as well as of an established international ideological and legal framework that forbade and denounced the colonial project the white settlers were still trying to complete (while demanding that everyone recognize America as the White Man's State)—then you would have a relevant analogy.

Furthermore, it’s not the fifteenth-to-nineteenth, but the twentieth-into-twenty-first century that we’re talking about. My country was also, as I recall, founded on centuries of slavery, a practice that was acceptable to many Western minds for centuries.  Does any liberal-minded Westerner today think it would be OK to establish or perpetuate a polity based on slavery?  To let just one more slip by, because, well, so many people have done it before and this is the last one, promise?

Sorry, but It doesn’t matter because someone else did it at some other time is a shallow, specious historicism. Isn’t what we learn from history, precisely, what should never happen again? I can’t stop the slave ships, or give the island I am living on back to the Manhattoes, but I can learn from history that it’s necessary to support today’s struggles against the New Jim Crow in my country, and the fight against the ongoing, unfinished colonial subjugation of Palestine that my country is enabling. That, I think, is how to historicize.

So, yes, there are historical lines that are often drawn under past injustices that cannot be reversed. The point—what Gaza shows—is that the fate of the Palestinians is not one of them; it is an ongoing struggle-in-progress that is nowhere near finished, and that calls on us to take responsibility, not excuses, from history.

A more contemporary justification for Zionism is the explicit or implicit argument that Israeli Jews are essentially more secular, tolerant, and modern than those crazy beheading Muslims, and therefore their just-like-us colonial enclave deserves our support. Of course, you’d have to ignore the religious-nationalist settlers mentioned above, like this modern family,6 who have created what many Israelis see as an increasingly “fascist” political atmosphere, filled with chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists.”7 You’d have to forget that Israel’s state-supported rabbis issue statements like: “In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created…There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.”8 You’d also have to ignore that, in order to buttress its “we’re the only sane ones around here” image, Israel itself is promoting the crazy jihadism in the region—giving jihadis in Syria, for example, medical and military support in exchange for their promise not to challenge Israel’s confiscation of the Golan Heights.9 Because when you notice these things, Israel’s claim to be the anchor of secular rationality weakens considerably.


SVU

But the last redoubt of Zionist apologetics, often backstopping all the other arguments, is something like salvation. Sometimes this is stated explicitly; sometimes it’s a sub-text that turns discussions that are ostensibly about other issues into sterile cross-talk. While non-Zionists are talking colonialism, Zionists are talking about salvation. While non-Zionists are saying Israelis a colonial state, Zionists are saying Israel is the place that saves the Jews.

In this deeply-entrenched paradigm, Jews, who have been undeniably persecuted—most egregiously in the advanced modern countries of Europe—cannot, unlike other historically-persecuted groups (homosexuals, for example) be expected to rely on securing their rights in a diverse polity. They must have a state of their own, a kind of global safe room, to protect themselves.

This is Zionist lifeboat ethics. Jews are unique and eternal targets, Israel is the lifeboat, and tough luck for whomever they throw out to save themselves. Damn right, we deserve to be in it more than Palestinian Arabs. If you were drowning, wouldn’t you throw them out, too? Your refusal to recognize this proves that you really hate us. And want to drown us.

Irrespective of any ostensible topic of rational discussion, non- and anti-Zionists are often seen and felt as implicitly harboring at least a disregard for the existential safety of Jews, and probably a secret desire to pounce on them once their safe room is unlocked.

Frankly, this is an ideological position nearly impervious to rational discussion. If one believe the real position of Jews in the world’s polities is that they are and always will be uniquely and ubiquitously unprotected by the laws, institutions, ideologies, and practices that all other religious and ethnic groups depend on for their rights and security; if one believes that they are and always will be constantly on the verge of mass pogrom, even where they are an integral part of the social fabric, firmly embedded in its political, economic, and cultural elite and regarded as its most respected religious group;10 then one inhabits an impenetrably defensive ideological armor. And one takes a stubbornly offensive stance: That’s what gives us the right, the need, to colonize. Zionists who have that position should say it, to forestall irrelevant debate.

From this perspective, Zionism--developed, as James Brooks explains, within a paradigm of essentialist “ethnic nationalist fervor that swept Europe for several decades before and after World War I”11—sees Israel, and the ultimate separation of Jews from non-Jews it represents, as the solution to the unique and eternal “Jewish question.”12 Non- and anti-Zionists see it as a contingent historical formation of a recognizable type, a colonialist enterprise that, this time, happens to be run in the name of Jews. One just has to decide which seems the more relevant secular paradigm.

No matter how it’s reframed, however, Zionism rests on the same kind of essentialist tribal supremacism as any other colonialism: It doesn’t matter because the people being colonized do not matter as much (whether because not as civilized or not as victimized) as the people doing the colonizing. This colonialism is OK because it’s our colonialism and because it’s visited on those people.



Criminal Intent

Here’s the thing, and it’s the principal thing: Colonialism is, in principle and practice, a crime. It’s a crime because, well, colonialists must subjugate, expel, or exterminate the colonized indigenous population.

In international legal terms, I would contend, and I think most secular, liberal-minded people would agree, that colonialism—like slavery, torture, genocide, apartheid, and wars of aggression and “territorial aggrandizement”—is  criminal under jus cogens—the preemptory, compelling norms of international law. These are fundamental principles governing international relations that supersede any treaty, agreement, or claim of sovereignty, and “from which no derogation is ever permitted.” These norms are subject to universal jurisdiction, which means the perpetrators of such acts—whether states or individuals—can be investigated and prosecuted anywhere, and are considered hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.13

Now, I neither want to dismiss or overstate the importance of international law. Palestine’s accession to the ICC, and its ensuing complaints against Israel, based on jus cogens and other arguments, are weapons in the Palestinian political arsenal that Zionists are rightly afraid of. We can be sure, however, that the US will exert enormous pressure on any international institution on Israel’s behalf. Jus cogens itself is an unwritten law, based on “near-universal” international consensus, and there is disagreement about what specific practices it covers. End of day, this issue won’t be settled in court. No colonial struggle is.

Besides, even written, codified, treaty-ratified international laws (regarding, for example, torture and aggressive war) are routinely flouted and ignored by Israel and its patron, the United States—a dynamic duo that has pretty thoroughly undermined the post-WWII architecture of international law and institutions. So, sure, some supporters of Israel and Zionism—certainly the more reactionary and/or religious fundamentalist Zionists—might say that colonialism is not prohibited under jus cogens or any other international legal standard, or that they don’t give a damn whether it is. But liberal-minded, intellectually-honest supporters of Israel and Zionism in America and Europe will be loath to discredit themselves by exempting colonialism from the international legal sanction they know very well it deserves. If they do, let’s make them say so explicitly.

Whether or not colonialism contravenes any institutionally-enforceable law, it is a crime against humanity, a politically and ethically illegitimate and disgraced practice that has been cast into the historical ignominy it deserves, and is now abhorrent to the conscience of humanity. Whatever the lawyers say, colonialism is, as Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson said of “aggressive war,” the kind of “supreme international crime [that] contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 

Because, again, colonists must subjugate, expel, or exterminate the indigenous population, colonialism “contains within itself”—in some combination, at some levels of intensity—a web of necessary supportive crimes like apartheid, genocide, aggressive wars, and wars of territorial conquest.  Thus, colonialism also “contains within itself,” and bears the prime responsibility for, the violence that arises from the the colonists’ attempts to impose, and from the indigenes’ anti-colonial resistance to, that subjugation, expulsion, or extermination.

“Prime” does not equal “all” or “only”; in the Palestine-Israel context, it does mean colonialism is the master crime from which the moral meaning of Gazas past, present and future derives, and around which sides are chosen. It means there is, indeed, no moral equivalence between the force used to enforce colonial rule and the force used in anti-colonial resistance.



So Much Older Then

Zionism has the particular distinction of being the last major initiation of a blatant settler-colonial project. At the end of WWII (1945-8), it was still possible to sell that as a legitimate project to the “international community” of the day—i.e., the victors of World War II.

It was possible because racism and ethno-supremacist colonialism were still integral parts of the Western worldview.

It was possible because Zionists had, for decades, worked diligently on the imperialist powers, from Balfour to Truman. The culmination of this historic lobbying effort came at the at the crucial moment in 1948, when the American diplomatic corps was opposed to Palestine partition plans that ignored the Arab population’s consent, because such plans, which “recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state,” were “in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the [UN] Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based.…such principles as self-determination and majority rule,” and because they “would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future.” 14 At that crucial moment, as Steve Smith, Ted Kennedy’s brother-in-law, recounted: “Two million dollars went aboard the Truman [campaign] train in a paper bag, and that’s what paid for the state of Israel.”15

It was possible because a large number of displaced European Jews who had been the targets of Hitler’s exterminationist policy were shepherded into Palestine by the Zionist movement. Although Zionist leaders at the time clearly understood that, “Zionism is not a refugee movement. It is not a product of the Second World War…. Were there no displaced Jews in Europe…Zionism would still be an imperative necessity,”16 they also insisted that the only way for the victorious powers to express their great sympathy, and assuage their great guilt, for the Jews who had suffered under European fascism, was to enable the forcible ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs. (See previous post on the “Exodus-effect.”)

At the time, it wasn’t so hard for the great world powers to blithely consider the lives, land, and humanity of an Arab population as dispensable—secondary both to the aspirations of the largely European Jews who formed the Zionist vanguard and to the guilty consciences of European gentiles. It was compensatory colonialism, with the compensation paid by an expendable third(world) people. (Arguably just would have been a Jewish state in Bavaria, but nobody would dare suggest doing to Europeans what was, and is still being, done to Palestinian Arabs. Not throwing any White Europeans out of the lifeboat.)

In those historical and ideological conditions, from 1946-8, it was possible for Zionists to carry out an abrupt and brutal ethnic cleansing of least 726,000 Palestinian Arabs—enough to secure, for a good while, at least, a Jewish-majority “Jewish State” on most of the territory of historic Palestine. (By 1948, Zionists had seized 78% of the territory, up a bit from the 6% owned by the Jewish population in 1947.)17

In that context, Zionism had the further peculiar distinction of being able to conjure about itself an aura of virtue that effectively occluded the blatant injustice of the colonialism it is. Thanks to the consistent and intensive Zionist influence on Euro-American political, media, and cultural institutions, that aura has enshrouded Zionism for Westerners’ eyes for 65 years, long past colonialism’s sell-by date. That aura of Zionist virtue is, I think, what makes the break-up with Zionism so hard to do for so many to this day.

Of course, in the late-1940s, colonialism was approaching its event horizon, on the verge of being decisively defeated and disgraced. Ten years before, the Zionist conquest would have been impossible because the imperialist powers would not have permitted it and world Jewry was against it. Ten years later, it would have been impossible because colonialism was in full retreat, and no Western liberals were imagining there was any virtue in it.

Today, in the 21st Century, I do not think any person of a modern, secular, liberal cast of mind would deny that the abolition and rejection of colonialism is one of history’s irrefutably progressive milestones. To attempt a colonial conquest on the planet earth today is a crime against history itself.

Yet that is exactly what Israel is doing. Israel is exactly that attempt.



Only Just Begun

“Attempt” is an important word here. Liberal Zionists like to speak as if, whatever crimes were committed in order to make it possible, the nasty, colonial work of establishing Israel, which occurred in the ancient times of 1945-8, is over.

This attitude is epitomized by Israeli reporter Ari Shavit, who, in his much-fȇted (by American Zionists) book, My Promised Land, speaks forthrightly about the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that made Israel possible. Shavit uses the massacre and expulsion of the inhabitants of Lydda (now the Israel town of Lod) as an example. Lydda was a town of some 70,000 Arabs lying outside the area set aside for the Jewish state by the UN Partition Plan, which was attacked by the most-moral Zionist army in July, 1948, resulting in, as the New York Herald Tribune correspondent put it: "the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge." Light-unto-nations Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered that all surviving inhabitants “be expelled quickly without attention to age."18

The murder of at least 250 and expulsion of about 70,000 Arabs: an important, emblematic victory for the Zionist colonial project, as Shavit acknowledges. 

Shavit is “sad,” even “horrified” by the conquest and “cleansing” of Lydda, and knows very well it’s only one example among many. Here, for example, is the testimony of a Zionist soldier, published in a leftist Israeli union paper, regarding events in the Palestinian village of Duelma in 1948:
Killed between 80 to 100 Arabs, women and children. To kill the children they fractured their heads with sticks. There was not one house without corpses. The men and women of the villages were pushed into houses without food or water. Then the saboteurs came to dynamite the houses. One commander ordered a soldier to bring two women into a house he was about to blow up. . . . Another soldier prided himself upon having raped an Arab woman before shooting her to death. Another Arab woman with her newborn baby was made to clean the place for a couple of days, and then they shot her and the baby. Educated and well-mannered commanders who were considered "good guys". . . became base murderers, and this not in the storm of battle, but as a method of expulsion and extermination. The fewer the Arabs who remain, the better.19
There’s a nasty coda to these massacres, that’s just come to light in research by Salman Abu Sitta and Terry Rempel, based on ICRC (International Red Cross) records, as reported in Al-Akhbar. It seems that all the Palestinian survivors of Lydda and other village cleansings were not immediately expelled. Instead, Israel imprisoned thousands of them in at least 22 forced-labor camps, for years (some until 1955), doing “public and military work” in “conditions described by one ICRC official as ‘slavery.’”  Here’s how the authors present an interview with one such prisoner, Marwan Iqab al-Yehiya:
“We had to cut and carry stones all day [in a quarry]. Our daily food was only one potato in the morning and half dried fish at night. They beat anyone who disobeyed orders.” This labor was interspersed with acts of humiliation by the Israeli guards, as Yehiya speaks of prisoners being “lined up and ordered to strip naked as a punishment for the escape of two prisoners at night.”
“[Jewish] Adults and children came from nearby kibbutz to watch us line up naked and laugh. To us this was most degrading,” he added.
Another prisoner recounts how, “Anyone who refused to work was shot," and the study finds that detainees were “routinely shot on the pretense that they had been attempting to escape.”

A UN report talks plainly about “a Jewish concentration camp,” and Abu Sitta can’t help but notice: “It is amazing to me, and many Europeans, who have seen my evidence, that a forced labor camp was opened in Palestine three years after they were closed in Germany, and were run by former prisoners – there were German Jewish guards.”

Only after Israel extracted this forced labor from them, were these people thrown out of their own country—“expelled across the armistice line without any food, supplies, or shelter, and told to walk into the distance, never to return.”

Of course, the ICRC's and other organizations' protests about these camps at the time, "were simply ineffective as Israel ignored its condemnations with impunity, in addition to the diplomatic cover of major Western powers."20

Civilians captured during the fall of Lydda and Ramle around the time of July 12, 1948 and taken to labor camps. (Photo: Salman Abu Sitta, Palestine Land Society)

An honest liberal Israeli like Shavit recognizes—and if he does, his liberal Zionist confrères in America and Europe must—that carnage like this wasan inevitable phase of the Zionist revolution.” Knowing this, he nonetheless “stand[s] by the damned” ethnic cleansers, because, if it wasn’t for the “horrifying” work of the Zionist armed forces in 1948, “If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been born. They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter, and my sons to live.”21

Revolution?  Note the surreptitious, and pathetic, rhetorical attempt to melodize the screech of Zionist history for sensitive liberal ears: “The fewer Arabs the better” is the slogan of a racist colonialism, not the rallying cry of a progressive “revolution.” With all of this history available to anyone who wants to find it, liberal Zionists find it hard to deny that the violence of the Zionist “revolution” of 1945-48 that created Israel was anything more than colonialist ethnic cleansing. And they know very well that if such a project were to be proposed today, everyone, including themselves, would denounce and reject it—no ifs, ands or buts.


It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over.

Which is why they are wont to think, and talk as if, all that “dirty, filthy work” is in the distant past. However integral it was to creating the Jewish state, Israel now stands as a finished product: a liberal democracy filled with juice bars and tech startups—which would be stable and progressive, if only the fanatical Arabs/Muslims would leave it alone.

And yeah, OK, maybe if it gave back all most some of the occupied disputed territories it captured in that war of territorial aggrandizement self-defense that took place in early modern period of 1967 (when, some Zionists grudgingly acknowledge, colonial aggression was certainly past its sell-by date). Anyway, these are territories Israel (except the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, who have just made clear the Israelis have no intention of leaving the West Bank) has really always wanted to give back, if only those crazy Arabs would calm down.22

Gaza 2014 puts the lie to that, again. Israel—what Uri Avnery calls “the ‘Nation state’ of the Jews” and Max Blumenthal aptly dubs “the Jewish State In the Levant” (#JSIL)23—is not finished or stable. The colonial project is ongoing, with all its inevitable “dirty, filthy work.” This time with Twitter—i.e., too many real-time reports and images, unfiltered by Zionist-friendly editors and producers. All the colonial violence, all "the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge," are in our face, and Avi Shavit, and every American, is in the middle of it, walking over those bodies every day. The hegemonic lives of Ari Shavit, his daughter, and his sons are secured not just the by corpses of the Arab sons and daughters murdered in Lydda in 1948, but also by those of the 500 children killed in Gaza this summer. The fewer, the better is still the colonial rule, and the ongoing project.

What we’ve seen in Gaza this summer of 2014 is the continuation of Gaza in 2012, and in 2008-9, and in Gaza and Lebanon in 2006, and in Lebanon in 1982, and in Lydda and Duelma and Deir Yassin in 1948.  After this summer’s slaughter, “Then it was ‘dirty, filthy’ ethnic cleansing; now it is ‘self-defense’” rings hollow. To be intellectually and ethically honest, everyone who supports the completion of the Zionist colonial enterprise, has to accept that then is now, and to embrace, to do, the continuing, unfinished work of the damned that is yet to be done.

As Saree Makdisi says:
Israel’s disregard for Palestinian life in Gaza today is, in short, a direct extension of its disregard for Palestinian life since 1948, and what is happening in Gaza today is the continuation of what happened six decades ago. Eighty percent of the people crammed into Gaza’s hovels and shanties are refugees or the descendants of refugees that armed Zionist gangs, which eventually coalesced into the infant Israeli army, terrorized from their homes elsewhere in southwestern Palestine in 1948. They have been herded, penned, and slaughtered by a remorseless power that clearly regards them as subhuman.24
It’s not hard to figure out that the loaded question Does Israel have a right to exist? really means: “Do you agree that it was right for Zionists to establish a colonial-settler Jewish State, ‘dirty, filthy work’ notwithstanding?” The question, in other words, is really demanding Palestinians (and the world) to ratify the ethico-political legitimacy of their own ethnic cleansing. But the critique of the question has to be more thorough than that. The question is also asking: “Do you agree that it is right for Zionists to be establishing a colonial-settler Jewish State, ‘dirty, filthy work’ and all?” Are you going to sign on for that?

The “right to exist” question is posed by Zionists so insistently precisely because it is an unsettled question about the future. It’s not about past events—whether Zionists back in the day had the right to establish the colonial entity they did, but about a present, aspirational practice—whether they now have the right to establish the colonial entity they would like to. The question, really—and Zionists know it—is: Will Israel exist?

This is so because the Palestinians are not defeated and have not surrendered. Too few of them have been exterminated; they have not been expelled far enough away; they have not been thoroughly enough subjugated. The existence and resistance of Palestinians put the lie to the idea that Israel is a stable, finished state and that the dirty work of Zionist colonialism is in the past. As the rallying cry of many Zionists in Israel today has it, they still have to “finish ’48.”25 Gaza 2014 is an illuminating moment in the ongoing, unfinished colonial project of slaughtering the colonial subjects into submission.

Israel will only be finished and stable if it achieves that. One can argue that it’s almost there or that it’s a long way off, but done it ain’t. In fact, I think it can be said that both perceptions are true, just as ’48 is both in the past and right here and now. Therein lies the danger and opportunity. 

I share the sense of many in the Palestinian solidarity movement that the exhaustion of the phony “peace process,” the dwindling possibility of any two-state solution, the discrediting of the Palestinian Authority, implacable demographics,26 and the accelerating de-legitimization of Zionism through its own actions and through movements like BDS, all open up new possibilities for a just, democratic, and de-colonized polity for Palestinian Arabs and Jews in the territory of historic Palestine. Politically and ideologically, Israel lost in Gaza this summer, contributing to its own discredit and jeopardizing its future.

I also recognize the persistent weaknesses of the Palestinians, who suffer constant, horrendous, human and material losses at the hands of a Zionist war machine granted impunity by the “international community.” Though it may seem a distant possibility in our historical conjuncture, I do not think it is impossible for Zionism to defeat the Palestinians in some effectively final and irreversible way, as it keeps trying to do. Since 1948—since, that is, colonialism’s disgrace—Israel has been constrained to pursue its ethnic cleansing in a fitful series of measures, with levels of brutality adjusted according to particular political and ideological circumstances, but it has not ceased to probe those limits. Israel is working very hard to compress political time and make it suddenly possible to exterminate, or more thoroughly expel, enough Palestinians (we’re talking at least tens of thousands) to stabilize Israel for most of a century. That’s one of the things Israel’s, and its American patron’s, support of jihadi chaos in the region is all about.27 The fat lady hasn’t sung, but the orchestra is in full swing.

Ali Jarbawi recognizes:
The longer any colonial occupation endures, the greater the settlers’ racism and extremism tends to grow. This is especially true if the occupiers encounter resistance; at that point, the occupied population becomes an obstacle that must either be forced to submit or removed through expulsion or murder.
Liberal Zionists like to imagine ’48 is finished in some democratically acceptable way; militant Zionists know they still have to finish ’48 as ruthlessly as possible; principled anti-Zionists—that is, principled anti-colonialists—have to work very hard to see, precisely, that ‘48 ends in failure, and that Israel never becomes the finished colonial project it wishes to be.


Gaza Calling

Why is this our responsibility as Americans? Because, as Noam Chomsky reminds us:
In 1958, South Africa’s foreign minister informed the US ambassador that although his country was becoming a pariah state, it would not matter as long as US support continued. His assessment proved fairly accurate.28 
The other thing that Zionism thought was taken care of once and for all, that one thing Zionism needs to persist—American, especially Jewish-American, support for Israeli colonialism—turns out to be still a work-in-progress, too. Though it’s hard to see in mainstream media, where it is being fiercely held at bay, a sea-change is underway in American cultural ideology toward Zionism, especially among youth, and, importantly, within the Jewish community.

To be clear (and to dismiss a canard), though most American and Western Jews may now be (they were not before WWII) at least casually Zionist, the vast majority of Zionists in America (and the world) are not Jews, many of the most effective critics of Israel and Zionism have been Jews, and many of the most fervent proponents and enablers of Zionism have been anti-Semites. There is no necessary correlation between one’s religion or one’s attitude toward Jews and one’s embrace of Zionism.

Despite its being kept in the cultural shadows, many Americans have some awareness of the critical tradition toward Zionism and Israel, from Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Anyone who’s politically aware today cannot avoid confronting the fearless critiques and new cross-identity alliances we see in the work of actors like Max Blumenthal, Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada), Philp Weiss (Mondoweiss), Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the BDS movement. On American campuses today, Zionism is losing the all-important ideological battle, and the effects of that will radiate throughout the culture.

One can imagine, for example, that one day, not because of any principled change of heart, but—as in the South African example—through a combination of domestic and international ideological, economic, and political pressures, the United States will start acting in the Middle East in ways that, without the confusion of its support of Zionism, more effectively serve its own imperial interests. On that day—and not one second before—an Israeli government may start to seriously negotiate a two-state solution, accept ’67-ish borders, etc. And it will be two seconds too late. Because that day will only come once the movement for a democratic polity incorporating Jews and Arabs as equal citizens has gained too much momentum to stop.29

Per Chomsky’s point about South African apartheid, Israeli colonialism hangs by the thread of American support. It’s time for principled American anti-colonialists to pull it.

I’ll leave the last word to Miko Peled, former IDF Special Forces soldier, whose grandfather signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence and whose father was a well-known general who served as military governor of Gaza—someone, in other words, who knows whereof he speaks. Peled describes Israel succinctly as a state in which “half of the population lives in what it thinks is a Western democracy while keeping the other half imprisoned by a ruthless defense apparatus that is becoming more violent by the day,”30 and he challenges us to take the lesson of what we saw with our own eyes this summer:
Gaza is being punished because Gaza is a constant reminder to Israel and the world of the original sin of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of a so-called Jewish state. … 
Israel is an illegitimate creation brought about by a union between racism and colonialism. The refugees who make up the majority of the population in the Gaza Strip are a constant reminder of this.
Ending the insufferable, brutal and racist regime that was created by the Zionists in Palestine is the call of our time.




[3] Israel: A Colonial-Settler State Pathfinder Press: 2002 (first published 1973).

[5] “Zionism” throughout refers to the political Zionism we see in the Israeli state since 1948. The other, and interesting, strain of “cultural Zionism” associated with figures like Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt has been rendered historically moot, and is beyond the scope of this discussion.

[16] Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, President of the Zionist Organization of America, quoted in, Alfred M. Lilienthal, What Price Israel? (1953).


Here are Goldberg’s (conservative) numbers:
Palestinian Arabs, West Bank: 2,676,740
Palestinian Arabs, Gaza Strip: 1,763,387
(Total Palestinians, Israeli military-administered territories: 4,440,127)
Israeli Arabs (citizens): 1,666,800
Total Arabs under Israeli sovereign administration: 6,106,927
Israeli Jews: 6,056,100

[29] Note to all sincere two-staters: Start criticizing actual Israel policy, start denouncing all AIPAC-like fealty demands, and start participating in activist groups protesting Israeli occupation and aggression—including BDS, which takes no official position on one or two states—now, if you want to retrieve a chance for your preferred outcome.


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