By Jonathan Power*
Recall Shakespeare’s great work of dramatic art, the Merchant of Venice, where Shylock was treated as an unpleasant Jew (with a lovely, self-effacing daughter) who dealt mainly in shady usury.
His speech to the court is one of Shakespeare’s most remembered:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? / Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? /If you prick us, do we not bleed? /If you tickle us do we not laugh? /If you poison us, do we not die? /And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
But what if we substitute Palestinian for Jew? Viz: “Hath not a Palestinian eyes?” and so on. …
Do the Israelis treat the Palestinians as human beings like themselves? Or are the Palestinians just an anonymous threat, to be knocked down every time they push themselves up from behind the parapet?
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to make out that Israel is under permanent siege and that it must always be on the offensive if it is to save itself; if the Jews of Israel always want to go back to their memories of their war against the Arab nations after they’d been attacked following the handover of the British in 1948; if they want to go back to the Holocaust; if they want to go back to the anti-Jewish violence, the first so-called “pogrom” in 1819 when the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt was ransacked; or to twelfth century England when began the libel that the Jews ritually murdered Christian children to mix their blood in the unleavened bread baked at Passover, then the Israeli Jews should recall some equally important other events, some good, some bad.
What about the welcoming of the large numbers of Jews by the Moslem Turks when they were expelled from Spain in 1492? What about the long period up to the 12th century when Jews lived without persecution for the most part in Europe? What about the centuries up to the twentieth when the good periods of toleration far outnumber the bad years of repression, discrimination and, ultimately, the gas chambers?
Or what about Moses’ act of genocide? Moses’s army in the land now called Palestine, the “land of milk and honey”, attacked its resident tribes: the Canaanites, the Hittites, Midianites and the Amorites. Following the defeat of the Midianites, Moses told his victorious generals, claiming God was ordering him to do this, to return to the Midianites and kill all the women and their young sons. (It’s all recorded at length in the Old Testament’s Book of Geneses and the Book of Numbers.)
And now today what about looking themselves honestly in the mirror and realizing it is they, the Jews, not the Palestinians who are doing the oppressing?
Five decades have passed since Israel in 1967 crushed a large-scale Arab attack. It was following that that Israelis started to settle beyond the border of their state. For around two-thirds of its history Israel has been an occupying state, one that has extended its settlements. The state of Israel has been free of the malignancy of occupation for only nineteen years of its existence. The vast majority of the 6.2 million Israeli Jews do not know any other reality. The vast majority of the 4.4 million Palestinians who live under occupation similarly do not know any other reality.
Many Israelis have long believed that this is an untenable situation. It was not that long ago Israel’s Defence Forces intelligence division submitted a document to the head of military intelligence. They recommended that to ensure peace an independent Palestinian state should be established in the territories of the West Bank as quickly as possible, based on the 1947 truce.
But Israel under Netanyahu is going 180 degrees the other way. His latest move last month was to have written into law that only the Jews will have the right to self-determination within Israel’s borders. In effect this is a renunciation of the idea of a two-state solution, the concept propagated by North American, European and Arab countries and liberal Israelis.
The new law appears to be a preview of what a one-state solution will look like – an apartheid state where the Arabs’ political, voting and language rights are severely circumscribed. Thus the commitment of Israel’s founders to be both Jewish and democratic would become null and void. This comes after last year’s legislation which enables Israel to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.
If Israeli Jews want to live a secure and salubrious, an ethical and exemplary life, as taught by their prophets, they have to realize they are treading on the wrong path. Paradoxically, if they act as if they fear living under siege, when they are not, then they will end up one day living under siege. Before too long in a one-state society, given present day population growth rates, Arabs will outnumber Jews. And then what?
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