The following review by Rebecca Whiting appears in Al Akhbar English:
Book Review: After Zionism Edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor, 2012 Saqi Books
Last September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bid for Palestine to receive full member-state status at the United Nations, based on the pre-1967 borders. After enraged reactions from Israel and the US, the UN member states voted against it. Now, Abbas is preparing to make a down-graded request for Palestine to be a non-member observer state, a move that if accepted would grant the PA leadership participation in General Assembly debates and improve their international standing and sway. Debates are raging as to what these political constructs and terms would mean on the ground for the Palestinian people.
After Zionism is a collection of essays by academics, activists and journalists analyzing the present day Israeli state and the ongoing daily suffering of the Palestinian people. The book’s main aim is to encourage debate surrounding the one-state solution to the conflict engulfing historic Palestine, demanding an outcome in which all Israelis and all Palestinians would live as equal citizens.
The authors by no means share a single vision on the issue; their essays range from advocating a one-state democracy as an inevitability to others explaining why this possibility, which would render Israel no longer a Jewish majority state, would never be allowed to come to pass. The scope of the subjects and views addressed in the collection allows for meaningful analyses of the current landscape, how it was reached, and what the possible future outcomes might be.
The introduction, written by the two editors Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor, argues that talk of a two-state solution has now been empty for some years. In their view, the voracious colonial expansion on both sides of the Green Line as well as deep divisions among Palestinian factions serve to endorse this position.
The first few essays divulge in detail the narrative expounded by the Israeli state since its inception and its denial of the Nakba. The authors explore the mechanisms by which the Israeli state so effectively erased the collective memory of the ethnic cleansing that was an essential element of its birth.
In the thread of explaining the background to the present day situation, the next essays dissect the Oslo Agreements negotiations. The negotiations were designed to ensure that the Israeli state could control the demographic, consolidate its hold over Palestinian land and lives, and maintain its international diplomatic standing. It was a “peace-process” according to a Zionist agenda and the protracted talks allowed for continued Israeli settlement expansion with political impunity.
By this stage in the book, one feels quite overwhelmed by Israel’s seemingly unstoppable hegemony, the strength of the establishment machine in effecting the Israeli state’s refusal to recognize Palestinian rights, and at how impossible to confront the status quo is. At this point comes the first essay that characterizes the power wielded by the Palestinians, citing their unique ability to garner support and solidarity. The crescendo is sadly short-lived as the essayist, Saree Makdisi, goes on to call for a battle in the field of symbolism and imagination that is hard to feel compelled by.
Several of the essays are optimistic in their conviction that this era is a time of great change in global thinking. From the internet allowing more access to truth and reality, uncensored by propagandists to the uprisings across the Arab world amid demands for democracy, they feel certain that they global community is becoming increasingly aware and simultaneously less tolerant of human rights abuses.
In a discussion of the evolving environment, several of the essays argue that as more American Jews feel they have to choose between their liberal humanitarian views and supporting the state of Israel, the Israel lobby with its powerful hold on American policy will gradually lose its sway. Most interestingly, the realization is made that the Zionist movement has in fact sabotaged itself. With its ravenous expansion of colonial control and its wars of aggression it can no longer maintain its mask of democracy and its appeal to the Diaspora Jews and is hence becoming increasingly isolated in the international arena. More than one writer, however, tempers the optimism by remembering that amid this change in sentiment, no change has yet been noticeable in America’s policies.
It is not until one of the last essays in the book, a dissection of the legal possibilities and ramifications of a one-state solution, that it is mentioned that Palestinians living in the 1967-occupied territories can be expected to oppose a unitary state, not wanting to co-exist with their long-time oppressors. Then, in the essay, ‘How Feasible is the One-State Solution?’, Ghada Karmi notes that in a 2009 poll, only 20 percent of Gaza and West Bank Palestinians favored a bi-national solution. These are the first acknowledgements that for all the theorizing, the wishes of the people whose lives are under debate must be considered.
Israeli academic and activist Jeff Halper makes the crucial point that it is absolutely essential for the Palestinian people to have representative political leadership backed by civil society movements and organizations, as “Non-Palestinian civic players, numerous, articulate and active though they may be, can neither represent the Palestinians nor take an independent leadership role. It is the Palestinians themselves who must provide the leadership and direction.” These factors call into question the value of an international academic debate on the subject, though, as repeatedly recognized by the writers, Israeli policies will never change without external pressure being exerted.
Nearing the end of the book, the reader might well feel frustrated by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to real change being implemented. At this point a bold strategy is suggested: “voluntary annexation of the Occupied Territories to Israel, thus transforming the struggle against occupation into one for equal civil rights within an expanded Israeli state.” The challenges and outcomes of such a move are discussed here in one of the most interesting parts of the book.
In an anti-climatic finale, the last essay propounds that the early, pre-formation of the state of Israel Zionist ideology was not inherently statist or colonial and explores the Israeli psyche of victimhood and staunch “ethnic-exclusivist nationalist ethos,” and argues that change will never come about without a dramatic shift in the national ethos. Although interesting and valid points are made, the reader is again left sensing unconquerable obstructions barricading the way towards positive change.
Throughout the compendium, calls and suggestions for action are somewhat thin on the ground. The Boycott, Division, and Sanctions movement is widely supported by the authors, though their views differ as to the strength of its efficacy. The power of the book lies instead in its approach to this debate that through becoming more widespread can lead to action on both civil and legislative levels.
Variations in style and address from the eloquently academic analyses to the recounting of personal experiences give the book an accessibility and human aspect. The validity of the subjects covered is enforced by the political pragmatism intertwined with the reality and emotive accent of personal experience, giving the reader an arsenal of information, analyses and theories.
The collection of different approaches could leave the reader bewildered as to which line is the most plausible, most realistic, most just. And in this we find an accurate reflection of the moral and legal contradictions entangled in the situation. There is, however, one point on the authors unanimously agree: the fight now cannot be for power or for territory – it must be a fight for human rights.