By Issa Khalaf
As we bear witness to the daily, ever escalating, ever-unprecedented yet routine Israeli collective punishment and cruelty and torment inflicted on the Palestinians—men and women, young and old, boys and girls, children and infants, farm animals, fruit orchards, and olive trees—one cannot but be awed at the utter lack of morality and conscience the Zionist enterprise has wrought. These atrocities, banally implemented, speak more of a society’s character than they do of its victims, whatever Palestinians do or don’t do in desperation and despite all the lies and defamation heaped upon them. The Israeli state has raised, indoctrinated, a generation of young soldier-enforcers who are incapable of relating to the Palestinians’ humanness—literally. Israel clearly is a state that has elevated violence and militarism to a paramount state and societal doctrine. What explains this phenomenon?
The dominant narrative says it’s because of Jewish fear for survival after the Holocaust and determination to not ever let it happen again. Others add that it’s because Israel lost its way, lost a clear political vision and therefore subordinates sound political judgment to military power. I think its application of indiscriminate, absolute violence and force completely out of touch with rational political goals is because its political vision has always been quite clear: the colonization of Palestine. I attempted an answer in Al Ahram Weekly in 2006 (“Rationality and Israeli Violence”). Israel’s essentially colonial-settler origin provides a convincing explanation for its deep and broad violence. Let me get there by starting off, first, with why any plan for authentic Palestinian self-determination in either a state of their own or in a single state is doomed if Israel can help it.
A bi-national or federal or single state, call it what you will and imagine its outlines as you like, is the most humane, liberal, democratic solution to Palestine-Israel, for it makes no sense to separate and disentangle two populations so intimately, demographically, economically, and geographically intertwined. To separate them is to lead to cruel and unjust consequences, especially for the Palestinians, including “population transfers.” This, single state, is a moral, not just political premise, for not only will two states, had this solution become a reality, eventually lead to intimate integration of populations and structures anyway, but also two states implemented on Israel’s terms can only mean an apartheid situation. But we need not worry because Israel has made this impossible. The more important question is what this tells us about the nature and foundation of Israel as a Zionist state. To talk of one or two states is an empty intellectual exercise, not because it cannot happen at some future date, but because Palestine-Israel is not, really, a two-peoples-one land “dispute” nor accurately conceptualized as an age-old civil war. It’s not as if Jews actually had for centuries lived in and constituted one of two dominant ethnic groups in Palestine clashing over exclusive ethno-nationalist visions, say, as in the old Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Quebec, or the Basque country. Political Zionists began to arrive to Palestine in the early 20th century.
So Zionism is foreign to Palestine, and its product, Israel, is a colonial enterprise. This is clear in state structures and institutions, in the continuing dispossession, exclusion, separation, and privileging of Jews over “natives” in Israel itself and in the occupied territories, applying one law to Jews and another to non-Jews. Israel’s reversion to absolute military force and violence is, therefore, not accidental, not because it “lives in a bad neighborhood” or because it’s been in a constant state of war or because it’s fighting for its collective life or because it’s destined to remain under existential threat. The documentary and historical evidence belies these premises. Israel’s recent settlers do too. Consider one of the most rabidly racist segments of Israeli society, the one million Russians, Jews and non-Jews who arrived to Israel, in effect colonizing Palestine. Or the nut jobs from the US—violent racists who fantasize exclusive Jewish dominion over “their” reclaimed ancestral, sacred ground. These exactly represent the previous generation of settlers come to a land to wrest it and its resources from its inhabitants.
To argue Israel was or is corrupted by its occupation of “Judea and Samaria” is wishful thinking and denial on the part of those Jews and Israelis who wish to do good. To suggest that Israeli liberals, much less those such as Livni and Olmert, are motivated by a wish to preserve a democratic Jewish state and concern for Palestinian self-determination is dishonest (notwithstanding a few sincere liberal exceptions). Kadima and Labour, center and “left,” may not see the West Bank in religious terms but in terms of political, economic, and resource benefits; however, it’s still colonization by foreign settlers whose foundation remains a messianic-religious-nationalism called Zionism. Not only is an ethno-religious, Orthodox Rabbinate-defined state inherently anti-pluralist and anti-democratic, but also most liberal (as opposed to true leftists) Israeli Jews are more concerned about mixing and diluting their Jewishness, their politico-cultural life and superiority, with the “Arabs,” their whiteness repelled by the natives’ brownness. Race is in the back of the mind. The idea of a bi-national state is a nightmare to them. Israel is far from becoming a state for all its citizens, though it may some day, if it wants to survive in the region.
Yes, Jews have suffered genocide and anti-Semitism. However, Israel’s behavior is unjust under any moral or logical scrutiny, and its political and military leaders act not involuntarily, because of Jewish trauma, but by their own deliberate agency. Perhaps it’s because of Zionism’s colonial-settler part of its identity, its colonial psychology, that drives its occupation army to sadistically treat the Palestinians like animals, undeserving of human consideration, shooting their children for sport, urinating on them, attacking and incarcerating them to blackmail the adults to quit peaceful protest, extirpating their lives without remorse. Culturally defective, smelly, threatening, shifty, cowardly, savage “Arabs,” including and especially little ones who keep getting born, after all deserve no mercy. Empowered, unconstrained soldiers, acting without consequence, belonging to a military organization that reflects the racist attitudes of the larger society, feel little.
Loss of vision implies a missing moral/political vision towards the indigenous Palestinians, but such a vision—aside from cultural and bi-national Zionists who spoke out during the British Mandate and those who speak out today—was not there to go missing. This and its concomitant, violence, are characteristic of non-organic settler societies. European Jews came to Palestine to take it over and dominate those within it. It explains Israel’s use of sheer violence as its supreme instrument, for it can be the only instrument if its vision is displacing the Palestinians. Zionism has no other goal or vision than despoiling and eradicating Palestine, pushing out and taking away, violence having long ago metamorphosed into a means and an end.
Did Zionism arise only as a colonial movement? No. There was anti-Semitism. There was the romantic notion of return. There was the idea of Jewish labor. But there is the undeniable fact that to achieve its Jewish state it required colonization, and this remains its dominant ideological imperative. Am I denying the legitimacy of Israel? I think its foundation at the expense of the Palestinians is morally wrong. Do I advocate its disappearance? No, not under any circumstances, and not through violence. I advocate its peaceful change into a true democratic state for all its people. Several generations of Israelis are now indigenous to the land too. Zionism has constructed an impressive state, society, and economy—a democracy for people of the Jewish religion only. Also, despite my premises and conclusions, I’m one of a few who still argue that Israel’s Zionist institutions may even become liberally inclusive through an evolutionary process.
I am however, searching for truth, in particular why the Israeli state is so utterly violent against Palestinians. I find truth, for example, in arguing that not just colonialism and imperialism, but Arab political culture explains the dynastic authoritarian origins and tyranny of all Arab regimes, monarchical and “republican”—see “A great change is sweeping Arab political culture.” I find truth in arguing that deeply rooted Israeli violence—physical, psychological, cultural, sociological—is located in the dominance of its colonial-settler origins and institutions. Israeli tyranny and violence against the occupied Palestinians, actually, are morally and practically equivalent to the tyranny and violence of a Qadhafi against his people. Both share a basic inhumanity.
Like an individual or family or institution, a society, a state, cannot last, for such are unjust foundations. Interminable colonization and oppression, aka theft and murder, far from guarantee permanency, but only hasten the day of collapse. Nor do they provide the necessary foundation for a mentally and emotionally healthy society. Zionism has introduced many horrors to Palestine, including terrorism. It is one of the greatest dangers to itself, to the Jewish people, to the region. It has constructed (despite its many morally courageous people, including soldiers, who see the insanity of it all) an unwell society.