Some State Solution: The Problem with Israel
Is Israel, by the evidence of its history and policies, a racist, apartheid state? I would argue that for all intents and purposes, it is. That is not an assertion that should be made lightly, it is a grave charge against a state, and one that should be taken seriously. Then I must here present my reasons for labeling the state of Israel racist, and apartheid. Israel is in the news once again, as they send overwhelming firepower into the Gaza strip, punishing the Palestinians for their rocket attacks into Israel. To many people around the world, this story is quite the familiar refrain. Someone on one side starts shooting, and before you know it, the whole area is alight with rockets, missiles, bombs and gunfire. Often it would seem that people who aren’t familiar with the history of the conflict throw their hands up in exasperation. “That’s just the way that area is, they’ve been fighting for thousands of years, and they’ll keep fighting for thousands more.” That is quite an unfortunate assessment however, as there are reasons for this modern conflict, and those reasons aren’t as ancient as some would have you believe. These problems go back to before the genesis of the state of Israel, back to the 19th century and the start of a Zionist movement.
The geographic area commonly called Palestine has a long and storied history, and has been the home of some of the world’s greatest religions and cultural traditions. Jerusalem is sacred to all of the Abrahamic religions, accounting for billions of believers worldwide. It has also long been a source of conflict as different religious and cultural groups vied for supremacy and control over the small sliver of land in the Middle East. That long and storied history however is far too complicated and long to include in this short essay, so it will have to suffice to begin a little more recently in the story, namely the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The state of Israel was created following the end of the second World War, however the movement to create such a state began in earnest in the late 19th century. There are a number of factors that would many people sympathetic to the Zionist cause, their hope for a homeland. Jewish communities in Europe had been long subject to horrible discrimination, slander, and even mass murder. Pogram was a common word in many countries, and many died for simply being the wrong member of an ethnic and religious minority. Perhaps it was thought that if the Jews had their own homeland, that they would be free forever from the scourge of racism and religious bigotry. Centuries of antisemitism had resulted in the murder of multitudes of Jews, the destruction of their property and their disenfranchisement from the societies they lived in. Understandably, they wanted an end to that bigotry, and an end to living in fear. The problem is that the establishment of the state of Israel as a “Jewish state” has not solved those problems. They continue to live in a world that is rocked by war, hatred and ill will. The state of Israel did not solve the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry because it is impossible to solve problems of racism by nationalist xenophobia.
So if we know that Jews were running from persecution and mass murder, some may wonder why anyone would deny them a national home where they would feel safe. A haven where they would have their culture, traditions and people protected. The answer is a simple one, and it is one whose reasons have been played out time and again in multiple different scenarios throughout history. The problem is that we’re defining “Jewish” as a cultural and religious identity, an ethnic identity, and asserting that they should have an exclusive piece of land just for them, and no one else; which does reveal some problems. How does one define what a Jew is? How far back in one’s family tree does one have to go before they are considered Jewish? Is it only a religious and cultural identity? Is there a perceived biological aspect to the identity of “Jewishness”? Why should any country be able to deny the entry or settlement of people on the basis of race, class, national origin, religion or other factors of a similar nature? Does the history of oppression of a group of people give them the right to persecute and or exclude other perceived groups of humans? Is that morally or logically tenable as a building block of national policy and identity? The question arises whether or not Israel by its history and policies is a racist, apartheid state. I would argue that for all intents and purposes, it is. That is not an assertion that should be made lightly, it is a grave charge against a state, and one that should be taken seriously. Then I must here present my reasons for labeling the state of Israel racist, and apartheid.
During the British Mandate of Palestine in the early 20th century, the demographics of Palestine were much different than today. That alone, of course is not grounds for worry, however the differences between now and then, and how it came to be are historically significant. The Jews returning to the Palestinian region before, during and after World War Two did not simply slip into town and join the rest of the populace living in peace. During the British Mandate of Palestine, a majority Muslim population existed side by side with Jews, Christians, Druze and other minorities. The program of returning the Jews to the ancient land of Israel increased hugely after the war, and pushed out many of the original Palestinian inhabitants. It created a humanitarian nightmare. In the 2009 book by Richard Becker titled “Palestine, Israel and the US Empire” this time in Palestinian history is explained. Becker describes the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group aiming to seize the entire land of Palestine from the hands of the British, and then the Palestinians, resorted to the horrific massacre of civilians, documenting eye-witness accounts of the horror. This was part of an ethnic cleansing campaign that would dramatically change the demographics of Palestine, and would steal away land from Palestinians who had lived there for many centuries. One such massacre was in a village called Deir Yassin. Becker states “On April 9th, 1948, the Irgun wiped out the entire population of Deir Yassin. The Irgun soldiers arrived in the village and announced that the residents had 15 minutes to leave. Then the attack began. The Zionist soldiers blew up homes with their inhabitants still inside, fired at will and at close range, and committed other atrocities. When it was over, more than two hundred lay dead.” (Becker, p. 61) That campaign of terror he describes was repeated many times as they drove out the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, causing a large humanitarian crisis. In discussing the Palestinian right of return in Chapter 18, he mentions just how large that exodus of refugees really was. In 1948, the expulsion of almost three fourths of the Palestinian population caused 750,000 refugees, and the 1967 war led to another 300,000 refugees. (Becker) Israel took the land from the Palestinian people, and now have relegated them to tiny slivers of land in what used to be their own country. They are denied the right of return, and are forced to live within the confines of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. This is reminiscent of the regime of apartheid in South Africa that lasted until recently. Some wanted to create national homes away from the other ethnicities, to keep them separate. The population of the West Bank and Gaza now number in the millions of people, people who still don’t have the right of return to their homes and their villages.
Aside from the history of the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes and villages and being forced into defacto Ghettos, what exists in the State of Israel today that would designate them an apartheid state? We only have to look at the words of Israeli politicians, and the Israeli people themselves. Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian newspaper recently revealed the results of a poll first published in the Haaretz newspaper detailing what the Israeli public thought about apartheid and the Palestinian people. She said that the poll revealed that more than two-thirds of the respondents thought that the 2.5 million residents of the West Bank should be denied the right to vote should the area be annexed. Furthermore, three out of four Israelis polled wanted separate roads for Palestinians and Israelis, and 58% of respondents already considered Israel an apartheid state. (Sherwood ) Israel has denied the Palestinians a state of their own. Israel has demanded that they hold elections, and then blockaded those who dared to vote for the party Israel didn’t approve of, causing more humanitarian crises. Israel has assassinated at will Palestinian officials, and then condemned the Palestinians for fighting back. Palestine seems to be in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of position. This all arises from the goal of establishing a state that was of, by and for one religious group, at the expense of everyone else. That bad idea has now gone on for decades, causing thousands of deaths, many of them civilians, even children.
The irrational fear and distrust of the Palestinian people by the Israelis is evident in the speech of their politicians. In 2008, as reported by the Telegraph newspaper, Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defense minister called for a genocide stating “The more qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” (The telegraph) Shoah is the Hebrew word for holocaust. There have been many examples of this kind of speech.
In the book “Racism: A Very Short Introduction” by Ali Rattansi, he explains that racism can be based in cultural, or religious terms rather than overtly biological ones. He says “In practice, though, cultural demarcations are often drawn and used in a form that naturalizes them by implying that they are more or less immutable.” (Rattansi, p. 104) The Palestinians have been labeled as inherently violent, as incompatible for life in a society alongside the Israeli population. They have been subjected to apartheid, separated from the rest of their society for decades now, with no end in sight.
I believe that if we are to end the violent conflict in Palestine, we must bring about an inclusive, one state solution. We must heal the wounds, not by continuing to keep them separate, but by uniting them together into a peaceful coexistence. I believe it can be done. I think a two state solution would just legitimize the crimes of the Israeli state, and foster further resentment. Israel, in its current form as an apartheid state must end, for there to be peace again.
1) Sherwood, Harriet. “Israeli poll finds majority would be in favour of ‘apartheid’ policies.” Guardian 23 OCT 2012, Online n. pag. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/23/israeli-poll-majority-apartheid-policies>.
2) Becker, Richard. Palestine, Israel and the US Empire. 1st Ed. San Fransisco: PSL Publications, 2009. Print.
3) Rattansi, Ali. Racism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
4) ” Israeli minister vows Palestinian ‘holocaust’.” Telegraph 29 FEB 2008, Online n. pag. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1580339/Israeli-minister-vows-Palestinian-holocaust.html>.