My following piece in the Melbourne Age, co-written with Michael Shaik, reflects on Israel’s 60th anniversary:
“If you will it,” wrote Theodore Herzl, the founding father of the Zionist movement, in 1902, “it is no dream.”
The dream to which he referred was the establishment of a Jewish state in the Arab country of Palestine.
To realise the dream, he insisted, the Jews must be willing to seize the reigns of history by renouncing the classical Jewish tradition of pacifism and collaborating with European anti-Semites who supported the Zionist movement as a means of ridding Europe of its “Jewish problem”.
Ultimately, the indigenous population of Palestine would have to be forced from the country.
In 1948 the dream was realised with the establishment of the state of Israel and the flight of the Palestinians from almost 80% of their homeland. Though some Zionist apologists have insisted that Israel did not practice a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, the displacement of the Palestinians was an indispensable part of the Zionist dream.
In a country that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish it would have been impossible to establish a Jewish state without the expulsion of its native population.
While the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state was a sudden and violent event, however, Israel’s subsequent transformation into a Jewish-Palestinian entity has been a gradual and predictable process.
In 1967 Israel conquered the remainder of Palestine, comprising of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Because of the speed of the victory, the Israeli army was unable to carry out a comprehensive program of ethnic cleansing but nevertheless began colonising its newly occupied territories with Jewish settlers.
In 1973 Ariel Sharon boasted that Israel would “make a pastrami sandwich” of the Palestinians by building strips of settlements throughout the West Bank. In 1983 the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi warned that Israel’s continued colonisation of the occupied territories would lead to the transformation of Israel into an Arab-Jewish state and the consequent “Belfastisation” of the area.
Today 450,000 settlers dominate 40% of the West Bank, while the ratio of Palestinians to Jews living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is nearing one to one.
Last year Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that without a two-state solution the Palestinians would eventually opt for a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights and Israel would be finished as a Jewish state. His vision of a two-state solution, however, is unconvincing.
If this plan is realised the “state” remaining to the Palestinians will constitute a patchwork of reservations, surrounded by Jewish settlements, subdivided by “bypass roads” (which Palestinians are banned from using) and totally dependent on Israel for their electricity, water supply and access to the rest of the world.
Last time such an arrangement was tried was in 1980s South Africa, where the government endeavoured to conceal the ugly reality of apartheid by creating the fiction of “Bantustans” or “Black Homelands” for its black population, while maintaining total control over the country’s natural resources and road network.
Israel’s strategy for dealing with criticism of its colonisation of the occupied territories has been to keep the issue out of sight and off the agenda. The core issue, its advocates claim, is that Arafat/Hamas/the Palestinians refuse to renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Leaving aside the proposition that an occupied population must renounce violence while they are being violently dispossessed by an occupying power, the argument raises some interesting issues for a state that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East.
According to the American Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men to secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to abolish it.
This contradiction, however, is unlikely to intrude upon the festivities of those gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday. In March Kevin Rudd invoked the memory of the Holocaust when he moved a motion in Parliament commending Israel for its “commitment to democracy, the Rule of Law and pluralism” and pledging Australia’s friendship, commitment and enduring support.
Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the British historian Arnold Toynbee described the Western powers’ insistence that a non-Western people should be made to compensate European Jewry for a crime of which they were completely innocent as a “declaration of the inequality of the Western and non-Western sections of the human race”.
Sixty years later the Palestinians are still paying for the Nazis’ crimes.
Michael Shaik is the public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Antony Loewenstein is journalist and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.