Guest Column: Speaking the Truth to Jews’s Paul Eisen morally compasses Palestine and Jewish Power
Excerpt from longer article here, by Paul Eisen

Editor’s note: I keep wracking this my brain for how is it even conceivable that Israel con-tinues to commit open genocide on the people of Palestine and how is it anything but unspeak-ably outrageous that my federal legislators (and millions of oth-ers) continue to be complicit in these ongoing crimes against humanity—especially vs. the helpless elderly, women, and children. Then along comes Mr. Eisen with a brilliant article so explaining. Paul is a dear friend of one of the local activists in a group I jokingly refer to as the Ann Arbor GDL. This group, whom I have only joined so far in spirit, not on the ground, conducts a weekly vigil for humanity in general at Beth Israel Congregation.

What Israel and Zionism have done, and are doing, to the Palestinians is indefensible, yet so many Jews defend it. How and why do they do this? And why does the rest of the world seem complicit and unable to speak out?

The Original Sin

Many arguments can be advanced in favour of a Jewish state in Palestine, from the simple right of the Jewish people to national self-determination, the right of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, and the need of a suffering and persecuted people for a haven where they can be safe and secure.

Jews can define themselves as they wish. If they feel themselves to be a nation, then they are a nation. But, in accordance with the dictum, that ‘your freedom to swing your arm ends where your finger touches my nose’, it is when this self-definition impinges on others that the problems begin. It is then that others may ask whether this Jewish sense of nationhood-often an emotional and religious matter based on a perceived sharing of history and even of destiny-can ever be realised politically. What it boils down to is this: Jews, like any other people, may have the right to establish and maintain a state of their own, but, do Jews have the right to establish and maintain a state of their own in Palestine, already the home of the Palestinians? All this may, and will be argued, but what is beyond dispute is that, for Jewish national self-determination and statehood, it is the Palestinians who have paid a terrible price.

By 1947-48, Palestinians had been reduced to a state of anxiety and insecurity, and in 1948, when the State of Israel was established, a traditional Palestinian society was no match for its democratic, egalitarian and fiercely ideological foe. As a consequence, an entire way of life was obliterated. At least 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and into exile, more than 450 of their towns and villages were destroyed or pillaged and people who had lived a settled life for generations ended up either in tents in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan, or as a bereft and traumatised diaspora in every corner of the earth.

Nor was all this an unintended by-product of war. Although the idea that the Palestinians just ‘ran away’ has, in the main, been dispelled, we are still left with many stories, obfuscations and downright lies about where responsibility lies for this ethnic cleansing. The critical issue now centres on the question of intentionality.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, like most instances of ethnic cleansing, was intentional, premeditated and planned. But we need not bother looking for direct documentation. Although there is mounting evidence for the desires and intentions of the Zionist leadership to cleanse the land of Palestinians, the architects of the Nakba left no ‘smoking gun’. There was no written order, because there was no need for a written order. Like other instances of ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the Palestinians was done on ‘understandings’. As Ilan Papp has noted, every local Haganah commander, and all the men under their command at every village and town, knew exactly what was required. Sometimes a few shots in the air would be sufficient, and sometimes a full-blown massacre was needed. However, the result was always the same.[1]

This was the original sin. Since then, the sin has been compounded many times over, as Israel has continued its assault on Palestinians and Palestinian life. From border raids and massacres to the occupation and the settlements, to the slaughter of 20,000 in Lebanon, through provocations, closures, expulsions, demolitions, arrests, torture and assassinations, right up to the chicaneries of Oslo and the Roadmap where Palestinians were to be bamboozled into going into their cage quietly, Israel and Zionism have sought to destroy the Palestinians, if not always physically, then certainly as a people in their own land.

“…While we babble and rave�”

“…Only then will the old and young in our land realise how great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we robbed, we put up houses of education, charity and prayer while we babble and rave about being the ‘people of the Book’ and the ‘light of the nations!'” (Buber/Chofshi).[2]

For a relatively small number of Jews, support for what is being done to the Palestinians is a relatively easy matter. God gave the land to the Jews, the Palestinians are Amalek, and if they will not submit to Jewish rule they must, and will, be destroyed. Just like those Germans who relinquished Nazism only when the Russians were on the streets of Berlin, such Jews will abandon their militant, eliminationist Zionism only when the options finally close down.

But for most Jews things are not so simple. Defending the indefensible is never easy, and many Jews, intellectually sophisticated, secular and liberal in their instincts, require more than just careful selections from the Bible to justify what is being done to the Palestinians. These Jews have had, over the years, to tell themselves a lot of stories. For some this has been easier than for others. For some, perhaps the majority, it has been simple enough to swallow the Israeli and Zionist line whole: Jews came to a land inhabited only by rootless peasants, and battled against overwhelming odds to establish their state. Since then, Israel, an island of Western decency in a sea of Arab decadence and decay has had to battle for its very survival. But for some, after 1967, and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the illegal settling of the land, and, later, the war in Lebanon, the Intifadas, and the work of the new Israeli historians in uncovering the truth of Israel’s birth, the story has had to be revised.

“End the occupation!”

Many Jews, now aware of the injustice associated with the establishment of Israel, but still unable to relinquish their belief in Israel’s essential innocence, have congregated around the slogans: “End the occupation!” and “Two states for two peoples!” That there is no ‘occupation’, and that there will never be a true Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, are simply denied.

The long-term Zionist strategy for the conquest of Palestine was always to wait for what Ben-Gurion called ‘revolutionary situations’, meaning situations which would provide cover under which the take-over of Palestine could be completed. The first of these ‘revolutionary situations’ presented itself in 1947 and 1948, when, under the cover of the conflict, 78 percent of historic Palestine was transformed into Israel. Another such situation presented itself in 1967.

Israel in 1967 was not the innocent party threatened with annihilation by the Arab states (though its population probably thought it was). Israel had been preparing for such a war for years. Neither was Israel’s victory anything other then totally expected by anyone who was even a little bit in the know. Like the 1947-48 conflict, the war of 1967 was an opportunity gladly taken for the take-over of the remaining 22 percent of Palestine. This was the fulfilment of Zionism’s historic mission.

There is, then, no occupation. There never was an occupation. If there had been an occupation, and the Israelis had the slightest intention of ending it they would have done so years ago. The fact is, that no Israeli government, either of the left or the right, has ever shown any intention of fully withdrawing back to the 1967 border. No Israeli government, left or right, has shown the slightest inclination to permit anything even remotely resembling a real Palestinian state to be established on the West Bank and Gaza. Any state that could emerge would be tiny, fragmented and weak, being simply a legitimisation of Palestinian surrender. The occupation, in fact, has been a fig-leaf to conceal the reality of the final conquest of Palestine.

Nevertheless, for many Jews the occupation is the bedrock of Israel’s essential innocence. Occupations are temporary and can be reversed, and this one, they believe, was the result of a war which Israel did not seek. So, Israel and Zionism are still, at heart, innocent. The Jewish state, established at the expense of another people’s national life, is still blameless. It is the occupation that has ‘forced’ Israel into the role of oppressor, and if only Israel would withdraw to the borders of 1967 all would be as it had been, only better: the gains of 1948 would then be secured, Jews would have their Israel with its ‘moral foundations’, and the Palestinians would be contained within a bantustan with a semblance, but not the reality, of justice. For many Jews, this would mean that they could have both their empowerment and their consciences.

The sin of moral equivalence

To talk about ‘a cycle of violence’ in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians is to commit the sin of ‘moral equivalence.'[3]

Conceived in the Israeli and Jewish peace camps, taken up by the mainstream and pretty much the entire solidarity movement, and now underpinning all acceptable discourse on Israel and Palestine, is the notion that the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not the brutal dispossession and oppression of one people by another, but a tragic conflict between two equal, but conflicting rights. This notion emerged after 1967 when doveish, more moderate Zionists, realising that the story of a blameless innocent Zionism could no longer be sustained, but still unable to acknowledge Israel’s guilt, after years of denying the very existence of the Palestinian people, began to concede that the Palestinians also had a story which ought to be heard.

In this new narrative Israel is not guilty, because no one is guilty, and Israel is not the oppressor, because there is no oppressor. Everyone is an innocent victim. Variations on the theme include the I’ve suffered, you’ve suffered, let’s talk approach, and what has been called the psychotherapy approach to conflict resolution, You feel my pain and I’ll feel yours. Proponents of this theory say that the two sides are not listening to each other. If only each side would hear the other’s story a solution would surely be found.

But it is not true that neither has heard the other’s story. Palestinians have heard the Zionist story ad nauseam, and they have certainly heard enough about Jewish suffering. It is not, then, both sides that need to listen: it is Israelis, and Jews who need to listen.

But, as is heard so often from inside the Jewish and Israeli peace camps, both sides have a point of view, and both sides must be heard; both sides have suffered, and right or wrong is never on one side only. This, of course, is true, but did these same Jews, then struggling against apartheid and now campaigning for the ‘justice’ of a disempowered statelet for Palestinians on a mere remnant of what was once their homeland-and many were the same Jews-say then that we had to see both sides of the picture? They did not. They acknowledged that white South Africans were as deserving of peace and prosperity as black South Africans, but they never lost sight of who was the victim and who was the perpetrator.

Nor are the two sides in Israel-Palestine equal in power, or in moral weight. Israel, a modern Western-style state, with the fourth most powerful army in the world, faces a civilian population with a few poorly armed militias, and enforces a claim which is highly questionable. Jewish claims to Palestine are not only more complex than Palestinian claims, but are also more contentious. Even whilst acknowledging a Jewish connection with Palestine, and even if one might wish to see a Jewish presence there, the historical evidence can hardly justify exclusive Jewish ownership

This recasting of the struggle as a conflict between equals means that Jews do not have to see Israel for what it is: a powerful state, founded and maintained on injustice, oppressing a weak and defenceless civilian population. Instead, they see it for what they would like it to be: a tiny, embattled state, well-intentioned, but caught up in a tragic conflict of equal but opposing rights. So, an assault by the fourth most powerful army in the world on a largely undefended refugee camp becomes just part of a continuing ‘cycle of violence’, and the imposition of surrender on an exhausted and defeated people can be recast as ‘negotiations’, or ‘peace talks’.

Additional headings

Good cop/bad cop

A light unto the nations

Speaking the truth to Jews

The Holocaust, “the ultimate mystery”

On being cursed as an antisemite

Full article here:

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