I regret that hostility to Israel is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world, as its right-wing government escalates its conflict with the Palestinian people. The latest flashpoint, Gaza, is illustrative of the continuing problem. Why are there so many Palestinians in Gaza, and why are they physically separated from the rest of the Palestinian territory? These are primarily the people who fled south towards Egypt during the Israeli War of Independence, but were not allowed entry into Egypt. Egypt didn’t want them, and, moreover, reasoned that the plight of these refugees could be used as leverage against Israel. They were, thus, bottled-up between Israel and Egypt in what was then known as the Gaza Strip, and there they and their descendants remain. Israel took control of Gaza as a result of the Six-day War, but relinquished it to self-rule in 2005, in the attempt to trade land for peace. Peace was not achieved, however, because the Hamas organization immediately won political control of Gaza, and began using it as a base to launch rocket and other attacks on the Israeli populace. Israel’s increasingly harsh tactics towards Gaza are in response to the continuing attacks. This is the problem in a nutshell. So long as elements of the Palestinian population refuse to accept the State of Israel, and continue their attacks, peace will remain unattainable.
I visited Israel for a few months during the winter of 1962/3, during which time I lived and worked at a kibbutz – a communal farm. My initial interest in Israel was two-fold – I’m Jewish and have always considered myself a Socialist. My very positive experience at the kibbutz spoke to my interest in Socialism, and I could have happily remained there. And Israel was a very different country then, being far more left-leaning than today. I attribute the change to the influence of the religious parties. I am not religious. Rather, I consider myself a member of the Jewish tribe, which does not require religious practice of me .
So, here’s how I stand on Israel.
Does Israel have the “right” to exist? This question can be looked at in at least two ways:
a. Even though colonialism drove many or most indigenous people of the world off their ancestral lands, they are still generally considered to be the rightful occupants of the land where they live or lived. Likewise, the Jewish people are an indigenous group that lived in the eastern Mediterranean before being driven out by the Romans. This is year 5778 on the Jewish calendar, and the religion is considered to be 3500 years old. The Jewish people have a long memory, and still worship at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, which is a relic of a temple that was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans. The Jewish people dispersed to most corners of the world (the Diaspora), but throughout this long time, Jews repeat in prayer: “Next year Jerusalem”.* If there is no statute of limitations with respect to how long an indigenous group can claim ownership of ancestral lands, then their claim to the lands of Israel is valid.
*(L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim is a phrase that is often sung at the end of the Passover Seder and at the end of the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur.)
b. Was the establishment of Israel an act of colonialism? Above, I point out that Roman colonialism drove the Jewish people off their lands. Yet, some insist that the Zionist movement** is colonial in nature. I’m not here going into the complex history of how and why Jews emigrated to Palestine, their reception by the British (who had a League of Nations “mandate” to govern Palestine) and the events leading up to the War of Independence. Suffice it to say that this history in no way resembles the colonial exploitation perpetrated in the Americas, Asia and Africa by most of the countries of western European. The first Zionists to enter Palestine legally purchased the lands they then resided on and farmed.
** a movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.
I don’t intend to argue this point any further. Israel exists, and I support its continued existence. The only thing now standing in the way of peace is the continuing hostilities of those who refuse to accept Israel. And, moreover, the groups responsible for the continuing attacks on Israel have taken the balance of the Palestinian population hostage, and are largely responsible for their suffering. If Gaza is now an “open-air prison”, it is the doing of Hamas. Israel would like nothing better than to remove their blockade of Gaza in exchange for the termination of rocket attacks on its civilian population. Israel has no material interest in Gaza, having earlier turned it over to the Palestinian population in the bid to buy peace.
When hostilities cease, I support the following:
- the creation of a Palestinian state
- reparations be paid to those Palestinians who lost their homes in what is now Israel
- Jewish settlements in the West Bank be removed
- Jerusalem become a shared capital of both Israel and Palestine, with its security guaranteed by an international force
- and other measures to provide for the settlement of differences and to produce amicable relations between the citizens of both states.
It is in the mutual interest of Israel and the Palestinian people to live in peace.