Creating people's geographies
The canard is making a comeback (did it ever really go away?) with the recent repudiation of talks with the new united Palestinian government by the Israeli government. It is a well-worn, more than disingenuous piece of hypnotic propaganda: that a precondition for peace talks with the Palestinians for Israel is a stated acknowledgment of their vaunted “right to exist”. Israel’s existence is clearly a reality and it is one the Palestinians have already clearly acknowledged. It is not Israel’s existence that is threatened, it is the Palestinians. This “recognition” is a furphy as examined previously, and one that is designed to prevent meaningful peace talks. Must a Native-American recognize the right of the United States of America to exist? As John Whitbeck argues: “Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans.”
Jonathan Cook argues in a similar vein in The Recognition Trap and Jeffrey Blankfort reminds us that this spurious precondition was not demanded of either Egypt or Jordan before Israel signed treaties with those countries.
Whitbeck argues further in the Christian Science Monitor:
It is inappropriate – indeed, nonsensical – to talk about a political party or movement extending diplomatic recognition to a state. To talk of Hamas “recognizing Israel” is simply to use sloppy, confusing, and deceptive shorthand for the real demand being made of the Palestinians.
“Recognizing Israel’s existence” appears on first impression to involve a relatively straightforward acknowledgment of a fact of life. Yet there are serious practical problems with this language. What Israel, within what borders, is involved? Is it the 55 percent of historical Palestine recommended for a Jewish state by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The 78 percent of historical Palestine occupied by the Zionist movement in 1948 and now viewed by most of the world as “Israel” or “Israel proper”? The 100 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel since June 1967 and shown as “Israel” (without any “Green Line”) on maps in Israeli schoolbooks?
Israel has never defined its own borders, since doing so would necessarily place limits on them. Still, if this were all that was being demanded of Hamas, it might be possible for the ruling political party to acknowledge, as a fact of life, that a state of Israel exists today within some specified borders. Indeed, Hamas leadership has effectively done so in recent weeks.
There is an enormous difference between “recognizing Israel’s existence” and “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.
To demand that Palestinians recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians’ acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the “rightness” of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive. Nor did native Americans have to live under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point.
Lawrence of Cyberia writes:
[T]he tendency of Zionists [is]to present Zionism as merely a project to establish a national homeland for the Jewish people, while leaving out the rather important point that it is actually a project to create a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, which already had an indigenous, non-Jewish population. For a long time, Israelis simply denied that there was a problem – maintaining a contradictory narrative that said that the Palestinians didn’t exist, but also that (despite not existing) the Palestinians “left” in 1948 because they wanted to, not because they were expelled. But Israel’s own New Historians put an end to those fictions, leaving Israelis with two choices. Either acknowledge the catastrophe that creating a Jewish state inflicted on the Palestinians, express regret for the suffering it caused, and discuss with them in good faith where both peoples can go from here. (And really, if you read the moderate kind of wording that the two sides were working on in Taba in relation to the refugee issue, you can see that nobody was asking Israel to rend its clothes or don sackcloth and ashes over this). Or deal with it by pretending you have nothing to regret, and beating the Palestinians as hard as you can in the hope that they will eventually tell you, “it’s OK, it doesn’t really matter”; which is what the “right to exist” precondition boils down to.
But the second option is not going to happen. No matter how much you hurt them, the Palestinians are never going to internalize the claim that their individual human rights and their collective national rights are inherently inferior to someone else’s, merely because of their failure to have a Jewish mom. They are never going to tell you that it was all right to dispossess them, just because this will make you feel better about the nagging doubt over your own legitimacy that is eating away at you. Palestinians are willing to reach a negotiated settlement in which the two parties will agree on what terms they will coexist, then legally recognize the existence of each other and the right of each to live in security within the framework they have mutually agreed. That is the only kind of recognition that can realistically be demanded of the Palestinians. They are not going to become Zionists in order to save Israelis from having to confront the skeletons in their cupboard.
As Saree Makdisi argues in this recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the ‘right to exist’ demanded by Israel is a meaningless cliche:
First, the formal diplomatic language of “recognition” is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to “recognize” a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).
Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to “recognize?” Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, “Israel” is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of “Israel”?
For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?
If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?
Actually, it asks even more. Israel wants the Palestinians, half of whom were driven from their homeland so that a Jewish state could be created in 1948, to recognize not merely that it exists (which is undeniable) but that it is “right” that it exists — that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land. The Palestinians are not the world’s first dispossessed people, but they are the first to be asked to legitimize what happened to them.
A just peace will require Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile and recognize each other’s rights. It will not require that Palestinians give their moral seal of approval to the catastrophe that befell them. Meaningless at best, cynical and manipulative at worst, such a demand may suit Israel’s purposes, but it does not serve The Times or its readers.
And yet The Times consistently adopts Israel’s language and, hence, its point of view. For example, a recent article on Israel’s Palestinian minority referred to that minority not as “Palestinian” but as generically “Arab,” Israel’s official term for a population whose full political and human rights it refuses to recognize. To fail to acknowledge the living Palestinian presence inside Israel (and its enduring continuity with the rest of the Palestinian people) is to elide the history at the heart of the conflict — and to deny the legitimacy of Palestinian claims and rights.
This is exactly what Israel wants. Indeed, its demand that its “right to exist” be recognized reflects its own anxiety, not about its existence but about its failure to successfully eliminate the Palestinians’ presence inside their homeland — a failure for which verbal recognition would serve merely a palliative and therapeutic function.
In uncritically adopting Israel’s own fraught terminology — a form of verbal erasure designed to extend the physical destruction of Palestine — The Times is taking sides.
Joseph Massad has also weighed in with Israel’s Right To Be Racist which is well worth a read:
With few exceptions, prominent Zionist leaders since the inception of colonial Zionism have desired to establish peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs whose lands they slated for colonisation and settlement. The only thing Israel has asked for, and continues to ask for in order to end the state of war with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours, is that all recognise its right to be a racist state that discriminates by law against Palestinians and other Arabs and grants differential legal rights and privileges to its own Jewish citizens and to all other Jews anywhere. The resistance that the Palestinian people and other Arabs have launched against Israel’s right to be a racist state is what continues to stand between Israel and the peace for which it has struggled and to which it has been committed for decades. Indeed, this resistance is nothing less than the “New anti- Semitism”.
Israel is willing to do anything to convince Palestinians and other Arabs of why it needs and deserves to have the right to be racist. Even at the level of theory, and before it began to realise itself on the ground, the Zionist colonial project sought different means by which it could convince the people whose lands it wanted to steal and against whom it wanted to discriminate to accept as understandable its need to be racist. All it required was that the Palestinians “recognise its right to exist” as a racist state. Military methods were by no means the only persuasive tools available; there were others, including economic and cultural incentives. Zionism from the start offered some Palestinians financial benefits if they would accede to its demand that it should have the right to be racist. Indeed, the State of Israel still does. Many Palestinian officials in the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation have been offered and have accepted numerous financial incentives to recognise this crucial Israeli need. Those among the Palestinians who regrettably continue to resist are being penalised for their intransigence by economic choking and starvation, supplemented by regular bombardment and raids, as well as international isolation. These persuasive methods, Israel hopes, will finally convince a recalcitrant population to recognise the dire need of Israel to be a racist state. After all, Israeli racism only manifests in its flag, its national anthem, and a bunch of laws that are necessary to safeguard Jewish privilege, including the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State’s Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the occupied territories.
Let us start with why Israel and Zionism need to ensure that Israel remains a racist state by law and why it deserves to have that right. The rationale is primarily threefold and is based on the following claims.
Jews are always in danger out in the wide world; only in a state that privileges them racially and religiously can they be safe from gentile oppression and can prosper. If Israel removed its racist laws and symbols and became a non-racist democratic state, Jews would cease to be a majority and would be like Diaspora Jews, a minority in a non-Jewish state. These concerns are stated clearly by Israeli leaders individually and collectively. Shimon Peres, for example, the dove of official Israel, has been worried for some time about the Palestinian demographic “danger”, as the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank, is beginning to “disappear … which may lead to the linking of the futures of West Bank Palestinians with Israeli Arabs”. He hoped that the arrival of 100,000 Jews in Israel would postpone this demographic “danger” for 10 more years, as ultimately, he stressed, “demography will defeat geography”.
In December 2000, the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre in Israel held its first of a projected series of annual conferences dealing with the strength and security of Israel, especially with regards to maintaining Jewish demographic majority. Israel’s president and current and former prime ministers and cabinet ministers were all in attendance. One of the “Main Points” identified in the 52-page conference report is concern over the numbers needed to maintain Jewish demographic and political supremacy of Israel: “The high birth rate [of ‘Israeli Arabs’] brings into question the future of Israel as a Jewish state … The present demographic trends, should they continue, challenge the future of Israel as a Jewish state. Israel has two alternative strategies: adaptation or containment. The latter requires a long-term energetic Zionist demographic policy whose political, economic, and educational effects would guarantee the Jewish character of Israel.”
The report adds affirmatively that, “those who support the preservation of Israel’s character as … a Jewish state for the Jewish nation … constitute a majority among the Jewish population in Israel.” Of course, this means the maintenance of all the racist laws that guarantee the Jewish character of the state. Subsequent annual meetings have confirmed this commitment.
Jews are carriers of Western civilisation and constitute an Asian station defending both Western civilisation and economic and political interests against Oriental terrorism and barbarism. If Israel transformed itself into a non-racist state, then its Arab population would undermine the commitment to Western civilisation and its defence of the West’s economic and political interests, and might perhaps transform Jews themselves into a Levantine barbaric population. Here is how Ben Gurion once put it: “We do not want Israelis to become Arabs. We are in duty bound to fight against the spirit of the Levant, which corrupts individuals and societies, and preserve the authentic Jewish values as they crystallised in the [European] Diaspora.” Indeed Ben Gurion was clear on the Zionist role of defending these principles: “We are not Arabs, and others measure us by a different standard … our instruments of war are different from those of the Arabs, and only our instruments can guarantee our victory.” More recently, Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Naftali Tamir, stressed that: “We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not — we are basically the white race.”
God has given this land to the Jews and told them to safeguard themselves against gentiles who hate them. To make Israel a non-Jewish state then would run the risk of challenging God Himself. This position is not only upheld by Jewish and Christian fundamentalists, but even by erstwhile secular Zionists (Jews and Christians alike). Ben Gurion himself understood, as does Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that: “God promised it to us.”Read in full at Al Ahram or at EI
A cartoon from Katie Miranda, reproduced here with her kind permission (click on cartoon for larger image or here for A4 size)
Please also visit her superb Postcards from Palestine page at her professional art site