The Root Cause of the Never-Ending Conflict in Palestine; and How to Fix It
Editor’s note: The author is a retired sociologist from the University of Amsterdam and a Jewish-Dutch World War II survivor. He does not consider the latter relevant to his view on this topic, but we found it pertinent to include.
“Anti-Zionism, in fact, is the form that much of today’s anti-Semitism takes.” ~ Alvin Rosenfeld1
The view that Jews are a nation is the primary belief underlying Zionism. Other ideas too are inherent to Zionism, but no useful purpose would be served by discussing them all here. The notion of Jewish nationhood is a 19th-century invention,2 and like many other 19th-century inventions it is taking a long time to unravel and lay to rest. The following addresses the question of how the damage caused by the Zionist project might be reduced, or even reversed, by peaceful political means.
Zionism is a conceptual ideology in which it is assumed that part or all of the land of Palestine belongs to “the Jews.” Of course, we should all be free to assume whatever we want, but where such assumptions lead to organized conquests, expulsions, land dispossession or the kind of repetitive episodes of brutal violence we have just seen in Gaza, that is quite another matter.
Many words have been devoted to the question of how to attain “peace” between the Zionist colonists and the people who were living in Palestine prior to the Zionists’ arrival. This article is not about that kind of peace. Defining grounds on which to make peace within the status quo is not my concern here. What I have in mind is something far more fundamental: the return of Palestine, through political inducements, to the people we have come to call the Palestinians. It behooves those who seek an end to violence and a just peace to at least remain open to my argument, as follows:
By Palestinians, I mean all those who inhabited this region in the centuries during which it was under Turkish rule (1517-1917). Some of those people were Jewish. I include these Jews among the Palestinians, since they took no part in the Zionist colonization of Palestine from about 1890 onwards.
Palestine could be defined as the entire region that the League of Nations assigned to Great Britain by mandate in 1923. This included present-day Jordan, to the east of the river Jordan. Here, however, I am using Palestine to mean the entire British mandate territory with the exception of present-day Jordan. For about the past hundred years, this Palestine, excluding Jordan, has been regarded as an emigration destination for people calling themselves “Zionists.” These are people originating from a large number of countries where Jews have lived and still live today. I regard this emigration as unlawful, since it was forced on the local population by foreign powers. The people who lived in this region did not have any resources either to repel this flow of emigrants or to conclusively disprove the political and ideological justifications that were presented for it.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration is regarded as one of these justifications. However, no one maintains that the then government of Great Britain had any authority to assign the land of Palestine to anyone other than the people who were living there. Similarly, although the United Nations assigned a portion of Palestine to the immigrants in the so-called Partition of Palestine in 1947, its own Charter stated that it had no right to do so without obtaining the consent of the mandate territory’s population.3
Given their poor economic and political development, the local inhabitants of the British mandate territory were unable to prevent the Zionist immigration, although the British could see that this immigration was highly detrimental to the local population’s interests.
British attempts to stop the flow of immigration were inadequate, if not downright slapdash and lacking in credibility.4 There are no grounds on which to define the immigration to Palestine, which the British made feeble attempts to curb, as a lawful enterprise. Nor are there any grounds on which to classify the Zionists — who established themselves in Palestine against the will of the local population — as “inhabitants” in the sense of the UN Charter. They should be seen as squatters in a house that was not empty. The colonial powers that controlled the primary financial and military resources within the UN in 1947 enabled these squatters to move in and subsequently helped them furnish their new home.
In his voluminous, carefully formulated book, A Just Zionism, Chaim Gans sets out to demonstrate that the Jews possess “historical rights” to the land of Palestine. Like many other commentators, I disagree; his entire line of argument is spurious. The proposition that some Jews living today are descendants of those who lived in Palestine thousands of years ago is at best a hypothesis.5 But even if a plausible case could be made for this hypothesis, this still does not provide any lawful basis for the Zionist dispossession of Palestine. Other “evidence” needs to be provided to justify this act of colonization.
Gans therefore supplements the supposed “historical rights” by asserting that “the horrendous scope and nature of the persecution [of Jews] in the 1930s and 1940s provided justification for establishing Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel.”6 He repeats this argument in different ways in many places, all of them coming down to his conclusion that the Jews, like the original inhabitants, have rights, and must “therefore” share the land. This argument has all the logic of a criminal invoking the horrendous abuse he has suffered in childhood and the murder of all his siblings to explain why his crime is not in fact a crime at all.
This line of argument, the standard turn of phrase for those who are supposedly proposing a way out of this conflict, still has many supporters in Israel, in the United States, and in Europe. It is sheer obfuscation, however, and the twisted reasoning at its heart contains the origin of the conflict: a piece of land is given illegally to immigrants, after which this act is justified by advancing opportunistic arguments cast in a religious and historical mold, while carefully avoiding the proper description. What happened in Palestine, of course, was classical Western colonialism that can sustain itself only by dint of its superior military or economic resources and by enforced occupation.
However you look at it, the immigrants who went to Palestine from about 1890 onwards, or after the completely unlawful “partitioning” by the UN in 1947, are just that: immigrants. They descended on a mandate territory against the express wishes of the population and against the rules of international law as set down in the UN Charter. The population of Palestine and their leaders tried to put up some sort of resistance, with the primitive means at their disposal, but were defeated by the immigrants’ superior financial and military organization, derived from the West.7
This superior strength does not create legitimacy, however. All colonialism was achieved by virtue of vastly superior military and economic strength compared to those who were colonized. Not until colonies armed and organized themselves were they able to throw off the occupying forces. Examples include Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and Algeria. Where no such liberation was achieved, in Palestine, South America, Australia, and the United States, the indigenous people live in dire conditions.
But Palestine is a special case, because it was colonized far later than these other examples — it was colonized, in fact, during a period of general decolonization. It became a colonial state in a postwar period in which the UN had been founded precisely to halt colonialism and illegal conquests! It is one of the later, dramatic convulsions of Western conquest colonialism. It is time to call a spade a spade: Israel, as a colony, is a constant source of violence and conflict. It is not an ex-colony, nor is it an accepted part of the world for many. It is a territory in the Middle East under Western occupation, which possesses no political legitimacy now, nor can it ever acquire such legitimacy in the future because it has no raison d’être and cannot create one.
Instead, Israel’s policy has always been to create faits accomplis, conquests that have been consolidated with the aid of its constituent Western states in Europe and North America. To date, this policy has never been effectively challenged, and so it continues in the same vein. Israel can carry on creating more and more faits accomplis, perpetuating its status as an ever-expanding occupation with vastly superior military strength. But if it loses the West’s support, it will no longer have the means to defend itself, having nothing that could preserve its existence, nor the raw materials to sustain itself. It could use atomic weapons, but this does not in any sense bolster the legitimacy of the Western implant.8
The way out
What I propose here is that the flow of millions of Zionists to Palestine be reversed. That the Zionists who emigrated to Israel should be offered a peaceful and generously compensated return to where they came from or the choice of any other destination. And that the descendants of emigrants who were born in Israel be invited to return to the countries of their parents/grandparents, or to go somewhere else as they choose.
In a well-crafted UN plan to decolonize Israel and reconstruct Palestine, the injustices that befell the Palestinians should not be repeated. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes and lands, never receiving a penny in compensation for the immense damage inflicted on them by the Zionist project. This is not the example to follow. So my proposal does not involve “deporting” Israelis from Israel, but giving them opportunities to build far better lives elsewhere which over time would unwind the Zionist project. Let me repeat: the example set by the Zionists in 1948 should not be followed. Must never be followed! The goal should be to achieve a peaceful movement of people to restore the pre-colonization status. Compensation should (finally) be paid to the native Palestinians, and also to all Zionists who consent to a peaceful emigration from the conquered lands.
This compensation should be paid from a fund to be set up and administered by the UN, the money for which should be largely contributed by the countries that helped to partition Palestine in 1947: that is, the USA, Europe and Russia. These same countries would have to allow all those who took the Palestinian lands away to enter their territories as legal immigrants. Of course, other UN members could also offer to take certain numbers of Zionist colonialists.
Supplying extremely generous compensation in exchange for emigration would also save a great deal of money, in comparison to continuing the demographic and military occupation of Palestine. This proposal for compensation is similar to the one put forward by the Likud politician Moshe Feiglin (see note 11), who drafted it in relation to the Palestinians. In his view, it would be better to give the Palestinians money to leave than to have to spend vast sums on money on security all the time. As he statedin 2013:
“The State of Israel is paying 10 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product every year for the two-state solution and the Oslo Accords. Israel is paying for separation fences, iron domes and a guard at each coffee shop. Soon we will have to place iron domes at each school in Tel Aviv. With this budget we can give every Palestinian family in the West Bank $500,000 to encourage migration to a place with a better future. Western nations are declining due to low birth rates, so they will surely be accepted into the West.”
Within the view of Israel as a legitimate state, a view I oppose here, there has always been room for Palestinian aspirations for “their own piece of Palestine.” The argument goes that if Israel were to foster the creation of a so-called Palestinian state, it would acquire solid foundations with the status of one of the rightful claimants, and could make “peace” with the original population. But within my own view of Israel as a colony, “partitioning” and peace are both meaningless. Israel, as a colony, cannot continue to exist, and it cannot, therefore, “share” its continued existence with a Palestine. The Palestinians have the right to be completely liberated from the occupying colonialists, and these colonialists have somewhere to go: namely, wherever they came from or any other destination they prefer. This is a luxury that the Palestinians did not have in 1948.
New, non-violent thinking about Palestine, in terms of rewards, compensation and “Palestinian emancipation,” is essential if the arms race and escalating spiral of military force is to be halted. In Palestine, the population who had lived there for a thousand years was driven out to make room for the Zionists. This dramatic act of expulsion is maintained by the use of military oppression, which is both violent and highly unjust. There is no end in sight to this violence, since the Israelis have reaped major benefits from it over the years, in the form of land and political domination. But if the world were to adopt a different strategy, namely that of ending the deportation and military subjection of the Palestinians, this would be a good step in the direction of reversing the single most fatal mistake of post-war Western politics.
In addition, we should make Israel’s economic life extremely difficult, as in the case of South Africa not so long ago. That such measures would greatly alter the political, moral and economic position of Israel will be obvious. A date should be set (for instance, 12 or 15 years after the start of the compensation program) on which the Palestinians will be given full authority over their entire territory. An authority that they should have been given on the basis of the UN Charter following the end of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948. Zionists who want to remain in Palestine could be offered the choice of doing so, but it would be up to the Palestinians to decide whether to grant this option. These ex-colonialists would not have any separate privileges, roads, laws, protection or enclaves. Within the Palestinian State, they would be subject to a different legal system than they are now.
An unblinkered approach to Palestine
Almost all critics of Israel’s policies allow themselves to get hopelessly bogged down in a debate about the best status to aim for in the development of the conflict. For Israel, this debate is valuable as a perpetual vaudeville show, a show of trained animals performed far away but of enormous relevance in propaganda terms.9
A great many of these trained animals defend the most desirable scenario, in which Israel makes “peace” with the Palestinians, who will have “their own State.” This would of course require the Palestinians to accept the lawfulness of their expulsion. In this fantasy future, the Zionists and the Palestinians will live separate lives, each inhabiting their own piece of Palestine. Israel has sustained this fantasy ever since its earliest beginnings. The only problem is that there has at no time been a leader, or the right moment, or sufficiently resigned acceptance of the fait accompli, to offer or achieve that peace. In a situation where the Zionists set all the rules of the game, no such “peace” can ever be achieved.
Instead, the colonization process has continued to expand since 1948, and Israel’s laws make it clear that the Palestinians are not only militarily incapacitated but have also been stripped of all their legal rights. Palestinian opposition to Israel’s policy of “ever-expanding occupation” is exploited to serve as further justification for prolonging this policy. In the tiny, unlivable and socio-economically devastated part of Palestine that now remains, people are enclosed in a territory under despotic and often lethal military administration, hemmed in by walls, fortified settlements, and road blocks. It astonishes me that many people continue to believe, in spite of all this, that the Zionists will “make peace” with the original inhabitants. Under the banner of this utopian pipe dream, all Israel had to do, to become what it is today, was to endlessly postpone this phantom “peace.” Israel has become so large and powerful that people now dare to say out loud what used to be clear only to its strongest critics: the colonists seek to rid the whole of Palestine of Palestinians, thereby fulfilling the ideological — and racist — essence of Zionism.10,11
The so-called “one -state solution” is also based on a utopian vision, in which the impoverished Palestinians will acquire, by some miraculous means, the same rights as the colonists. How anyone can believe in the one-state solution is incomprehensible to me. No colonial power has ever relinquished its domination without a massive struggle. Could such a struggle succeed in Palestine? Could the Palestinians ever acquire enough people, weapons and allies to make this a realistic possibility? Of course not. The one-state solution is a deluded fantasy.
The same applies to the “two-state solution.” As long as the Zionists are left in charge they will never share the country; it was given to them and to them alone, by God and the atom bomb. They have used the past sixty years to make this crystal-clear. This leaves only one realistic solution: the complete dissolution of the colony, and the ending of the expulsions and land dispossession that was initiated in 1948. The only way to achieve this is by offering incentives for current and later generations of Zionists to resettle elsewhere, while removing the Western foundations of that colonization: the military, ideological, and economic support that sustains it.
This vantage point has the effect of redefining criticism of Israel: instead of criticism aimed at Israeli policies, it becomes primarily criticism of the inhumane policy pursued by the West. An “improved” Israel is a contradiction in terms. We must have the courage to finally end the Second World War, and to dismantle Israel in a sensible way.
Translated from the Dutch by Beverley Jackson, July 23, 2014.
1. Alvin Rosenfeld, “‘Progressive’ Jewish thought and the new Anti -Semitism,” American Jewish Committee, 2006, p. 8. In this article, Rosenfeld explains which forms of criticism directed against Israel he holds to be legitimate, and which he holds to be wrong and “anti-Semitic.” See here.
2. See Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People. London 2009.
3. Article 76b of the UN Charter states that the basic objectives of the trusteeship
system for the administration of a territory shall be:
• to promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self – government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement;
4. See e.g. Charles Enderlin, Par le feu et par le sang. Le combat clandestin pour
l’indépendance d’Israël 1936-1948, Paris 2008.
5. Ofri Ilani “Shattering a national mythology,” Haaretz, March 21, 2008.
6. Chaim Gans, A Just Zionism, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 25.
7. “Billions of dollars in annual aid, access to the most advanced weaponry in the world, the political immunity assured by the US veto in the Security Council and all the other forms of assistance have helped successive Israeli governments to maintain and intensify the occupation.” Uri Avneri, November 28, 2009.
8. It has already happened once, in 1973, that Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads were armed and prepared for action. As a result, the Americans felt compelled to offer Israel more conventional support. See Warner Farr LTC US Air War College, 1999.
The Americans have been supplying Israel with military airplanes equipped with nuclear capability since 1967. It is widely assumed that Israel’s German-manufactured submarines also have cruise missiles with nuclear capability. See
“Submarine Proliferation” NTI, 2006. Online here.
9. In the words of Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister: “I do not think there is anything to be expected from negotiations. Even if lasting 16 years they will produce no agreement. But my travels around the globe have shown me that the world is very interested in seeing peace talks start, even if only for the sake of appearance. A willingness to talk and talk is something we can give. Why not?” (Makor Rishon, April 30) translation Adam Keller.
10. Michael Neumann, who strips the mystique from the popular notion of Zionism as Jewish self-defense with devastating insight, refers to Zionism as a theory. In my view this term is inaccurate, since Zionism’s pretensions are not scholarly but inhabit the realm of political ideology. We do not call colonialism a “theory,” but an ideology that is used to attach all sorts of justifications to conquest and exploitation, according to the specific context. The same applies to Zionism. Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel, 2005, p. 83.
11. Moshe Feiglin, aspiring to push Netanyahu out of his job as Likud leader and PM, says “We will win because we represent what most Likud members really want — a government which says loud and clear that this country is ours and ours only. I definitely want to deprive Arabs of civil rights, unless they prove their loyalty to the state, and give them financial encouragement to emigrate from here. Any area from which Israel is attacked should be conquered and its whole population expelled.”Yediot Aharonot – April 23, 2010, translation Adam Keller.