Palestine’s Post-Zionist Spring

Palestine my homelandIntifada – by Dr A.Clare Brandabur

On June 23, 2013, a handsome young wedding-singer from the Khan Younis refugee Camp in Gaza won the Arab Idol Song Contest in Beirut after a hair-raising journey across borders and checkpoints that make the short distance from Gaza to Beirut an obstacle course. With the aplomb and perfect phrasing of a La Scala veteran, Mohammed Assaf delivered his winning assertion of patriotism and peaceful resistance to a cheering worldwide audience. Even local Hamas officials, who had frowned on and impeded his journey, had no choice but to bask in his reflected glory, joining him in a motorcade on his triumphant return.  

Mohammed Assaf
Mohammed Assaf

Having lived and taught in Palestine, and having dear friends in these refugee camps with their ageing cinder-block shelters, I can appreciate Mohammed Assaf’s achievement. He attended UNRWA schools staffed mostly by Palestinian teachers, so overcrowded that classes are divided into morning and afternoon shifts; they suffer from shortages of desks, textbooks, computers. Many of these schools have had to be rebuilt repeatedly because of damage from repeated Israeli air-strikes, most recently in 2012 when kindergartens and other school buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. And yet here is Mohammed, self-assured and fully at home on a world stage, a tribute to the tenacity of Palestinian culture and its resilience under adversity. His teachers and his family have a right to be proud

Of course Mohammed was not supposed to have happened. Israel’s plan for Gaza was to turn Gazans into animals. As we learned in a recent Paul Jay interview with Max Blumenthal on The Real News out of Baltimore, the man who designed apartheid in Palestine/Israel, Armon Sofer, had withdrawn all Jewish settlements from Gaza to make it a free-fire zone, a closed prison. Sofer had promised Ariel Sharon he would design a society with a majority of Jews separated from Arabs, and Gaza would be a desperately poor, desperately crowded prison where the inmates would soon become

“even more animals than they already are,” where “we will have to kill and kill and kill every day, or else we [Jews] will cease to exist.”

Palestinians like Mohammed have maintained their humanity, but against great odds. Max Blumenthal was explaining his new book, Goliath, in which he maintains that Palelstinians believe the Jews will eventually leave, and that the Jewish exodus has already begun, citing the hundreds of thouosands of Israelis who live abroad, many of them in Berlin where they feel safer and more free than in militarized, apartheid, Israel.

Blumenthal’s book correctly assumes the hypothesis argued by Maxime Rodinson that Israel is a colonial-settler state, and therefore is intrinsically genocidal. For this reason Blumenthal is refreshingly realistic about calling Israel an ethnocrasy rather than claiming it is a democracy. Bumenthal reminds us that Gaza has to be detroyed because some 80% of its inhabitants, driven south from Al-Khalil and Beersheba, have legitimate claim to land in the colonial settler state and they have a right to return. “Cast Lead” was an attempt to eradicate their claim just as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with the murder of thousands of Palesltinians in refugee camps like Sabra and Shatila was given the ironic title of “Peace for Galilee”: the illegal usurpers of Palestininan land in the north of Israel would sleep better at night if those who had been driven north in the Naqba could be liquidated and the danger of their returning could be ended.

Haidar Eid
Haidar Eid

Over the past few months, the situation in both Gaza and the West Bank has worsened. Haidar Eid is co-Founder of BDS (Boycott, Divertment and Sanctions) and Professor of Compartive and Postcolonial Literature at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. Interviewed by Rami Almeghari on The Electronic Intifada, Haidar stressed “Gaza Construction Sector Still Crushed by Siege,” and he explained, “The crisis in the construction industry in Gaza is part of a broader economic and social crisis caused by Egypt’s crack-down on the tunnels.” By September 21, according to UN’s OCHA report, only about ten of the three hundred tunnels were still operating.

“Rehabilitation of the 78 Kindergartens that were damaged during Israel’s November 2012 attacks on Gaza was likely to be delayed or postponed and the construction of a new building at al-Aqsa University has stopped.”

Severe damage to the libraries of two of Gaza’s universities, deliberately targeted in Israel’s “Cast Lead” assault of 2009, destroyed a significant number of books thereby creating a serious shortage..

olive trees
Even as I write, West Bank Palestinian farmers suffer increasing vandalism to their olive trees, cars, and homes, because of the violent attacks and complete impunity from expanding Jewish settlements. On October 26, 2013, Al Jazeera broadcast a shocking report by Nadim Baba of the devastation of Palestinian West Bank farmland by the encroachment of Jewish settlers on Palestinian olive orchards and cattle grazing. Agriculture is damaged by raw sewage and chemical waste generated by industrial Jewish settlement uphill from this indigenous Palestinian land. Instead of intervening on behalf of the dispossessed Palestinian farmers, the State of Israel has declared this land confiscated for a “nature reserve” and has marked thousands of olive trees for removal without having informed the Palestinian owners or made any pretense of compensation.

Two days earlier, October 24, 2013, Al Jazeera also broadcast the announcement by a senior Israeli official that Israel will press ahead with building in existing West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, a day after talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The rights of Palestinians to pray at the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosques in Jerusalem have been infringed while various Jewish groups have demanded the right to pray, not only at the Wailing Wall, but also in the Haram al-Sharif.

"More than 30% of the land belonging to people in the village has been seized by the Israelis," he added.
“More than 30% of the land belonging to people in the village has been seized by the Israelis,” he added.

Churches and mosques have been attacked and vandalized, including the Trappist Monastery at Latrun in the West Bank, the entrance to which was burned and the walls inscribed with grafitti (including “Jesus is a monkey”), the trademark of Jewish settler groups taking revenge for the government’s token closure of a few small settler outposts.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that US Secretary of State John Kerry in his statement on November 7, 2013, for the first time in carefully calibrated diplomatic terminology, applied the term “illegitimate” to Jewish settlements after conferring with Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, a much stronger condemnation than the limp-wristed “obstacles to peace” we had come to expect. Kerry followed up this statement by making it retroactive, stating that this has always been the American position on settlements. It remains to be seen whether any actions will follow to speak louder than these words.

Post-Zionism in the Zionist State

To take a prominent recent example of the Post-Zionist position, Israeli scholar John Rose in The Myths of Zionism (2003) acknowledges the failure of Israeli archaeologists to locate Biblical Israel in spite of the frantic program of digging designed to find (or invent) any sign of possible Jewish habitation during the legendary era of the ”United Monarchy.” The term “Post-Zionism” has entered discussions of Israeli-Palestinian issues since about 1993; sometimes couched in terms of self-assurance by scholars like Herbert C. Kelman whose essay of January 1998, “Israel in Transition from Zionism to Post-Zionism” announces that the work of Zionism is now complete and has been followed in the natural course of events by “Post-Zionism,” a time for the Jewish state to consolidate gains in territory, to limit the intake of further Jews so as to stabilize its population, and work to pacify its non-Jewish population.

Kelman makes no reference to the evaporation of Biblical claims to the “promised land” or the myth of the “chosen people” as though such issues need not be alluded to in this rather complacent paradigm. Other commentators, however, do bring up these subjects, like Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People, the even-handedness of which is shown by its dedication: “To the memory of the refugees who reached this soil and those who were forced to leave it.” By referring to Jewish settlers as “refugees” and acknowledging that the Palestinians had been forced to leave, Sand shows compassion for both peoples. In an interview about his new book, he quotes Ami Ayalon, a former director of Shin Bet, who coolly dismisses these myths while frankly admitting their constructed quality: Sand says: “Ayalon spoke at J-Street three years ago and said in essence, “We gave the settlers one kind of myth about building Israel to get them to move into the Occupied Territories: now all we have to do is give them a different kind of myth to get them to leave, this time about ‘saving Israel.’” And Sand observes, “For me Ayalon’s comment was about the fluidity of religious myth — whether or not he is right about the possibillity of withdrawing the settlers.” For me, Ayalon’s comments amount to a cynical acknowledgement that the generally atheistic founders of the Jewish state exploited the religious beliefs of the settler population to manipulate them into breaking international law to steal Palestinian land, creating “facts on the ground” and thereby justifying the theft. As Palestinian Nur Masalha points out in his very scholarly treatment of the subject, The Bible and Zionism

. . .like other founding fathers of the State of Israel, who were secular or atheist Jews, Ben Gurion made extensive use of ‘elect people—promised land’ ideas . . . concepts which he put to use ‘for their political value, both as a means of attracting believing Jews to the Zionist cause and as a way of justifying the Zionist enterprise in Western eyes’. (Masalha 27)

However, other Israeli authors like John Rose, mentioned above, does confront the demise of these myths head-on in The Myths of Zionism(2003), in which he acknowledges the failure of the intense archaeological search for Biblical Israel. In this remarkably frank text, Rose faces the colonial-settler nature of the Israeli state and wholeheartedly joins the BDS movement. The important book by Ilan Pappé The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine was published in 2007-the same year in which a book by the same title by Joel Kovel was published in Canada Both authors deal directly with the criminality with which the whole Ziionist project was carried out and continues to be enforced.

Another collection of essays published in the same year is The Challenge of Post-Zionism: Alternatives to Israeli Fundamentalist Politics” edited by Ephraim Nimni (2003, Zed Books). This book contains an Appendix in the form of an essay by Edward Said who authorized the inclusion of his essay “New History, Old Ideas,” earlier published in Al-Ahram (May21-27, 1998). In this important essay Said recounts the very interesting conference in which Israeli “new historians” met with Palestinian scholars to exchange views on the Nakba. On the Israeli side were Bennie Morris, Itamar Rabinowitch, and Zeev Sternhell. Said argues that this kind of dialogue is valuable because it reveals the extent to which Israeli new historians “confirmed what generations of Palestinians, historians or otherwise, have been saying about what happened to us as a people at the hands of the Israelis.” And Said advocates the translation of their work into Arabic.

Surprising to Said is the schizophrenic view of the Israelis in this conference (except for Pappé) because even as they admit that the Israeli plan was the ethnic cleansing of the land by a policy of massacre and “transfer,” they admit it was wrong but claim it was a necessary wrong. It was necessary for the Jews.

If some Israelis seem willing to abandon the founding myths of the colonial-settler Jewish state, this Post-Zionist stance may result at least unconsciously from their failure to find support in the biblical archeology which had initially promised to justify their claims. In his essay “Jerusalem in the Age of the Kingdom of Judah” (in Jerusalem in Ancient History andTradition, edited by Thomas L. Thompson, 2003), Syrian scholar Firas Sawah says:

Up to the late 1970s, many scholars believed the age of the United Kingdom, beginning with the reign of Saul in 1025 BCE and ending with the death of Solomon in 931 BCE, to be the first historically credible period of biblical narrative. Now, however, archaeological field work has . . . removed the events of the United Kingdom from the sphere of history to that of religious literary construct. (Sawah 118) 

Sawah cites extensive recent excavations documenting the prolonged drought in the whole region from the late Bronze Age, a drought which caused the depopulation of the area around and including Jerusalem:

A comprehensive archaeological survey in the Judean highlands, conducted by the Israeli archaeologist Ari Ofer, shows that human settlement ceased in the region around Jerusalem early in the Late Bronze Age, and that it was resumed only in the transitional period between the tenth and ninth centuries BCE.(Sawah 122). 

And Sawah concludes:

The history of the [biblical tribe of Judah], as well as that of Israel, belongs to the Palestinian history that we have recently become able to write … But archaeology has begun recently to disengage the real history of Israel and Judah from the biblical narrative-narrative that is moving faster than ever from the realm of historiography to the realm of theological literature.(Sawah 144)

This view is consistent with the work of scholars like John Rose, The Myths of Zionism, Shlomo Sand Overcoming Zionism, and Meron Benvenisti The Sacred Landscape, works that have created in the whole discourse of Palestine/Israel, a space for radical questioning leading to a rejection of the legitimacy of the Zionist Project. Benvenisti is quoted in a Ha’aretzarticle of January 13, 2005, as follows:

Just as South Africa understood at a certain point, that there was no choice but to dismantle their regime, so I think the time has come to declare that the Zionist Revolution is over. Maybe it should be done officially, along with setting a date for the repeal of the Law of Return. We should start to think differently, to talk differently (Ha’aretz 8 August 2003).

Benvenisti’s stunning admissions of the Zionist crimes of the Nakba and all that followed also brings this Israeli view into harmony with that of Palestinian Salman Abu Sitta who has documented the destroyed Palestinian villages and towns, and has traced in amazing detail the numbers of the refugees who were murdered and those driven from these villages. Abu Sitta has argued tirelessly that the right of return for the Palestinians is both morally required under international law and physically possible. In 2004 Abu Sitta published a monumental Atlas of Palestine 1948 containing a detailed chronology listing all of the known massacres village by village, with maps and charts showing population density and distribution. He has recently published in Cairo’s Review of Books, Wajhat Nazar, an informed review of Benvenisti’s book, The Sacred Landscape. 
Another slightly earlier statement of disillusion with the failure to find archaeological support for Zionist myths comes from an article entitled “Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho” by Professor Ze’ev Herzog who is quoted by John Rose as saying in part:

This is what the archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign, and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the United Monarchy of David & Solomon which is described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom . . .(Ha’aretz, 29 October, 1999; quoted by John Rose pp. 22-23)

It is to be hoped that the digging underneath the Haram al Sharif can be stopped before the entire foundations of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosques are brought to the point of collapse.

While Israeli and Palelstinian scholars have engaged in a Post-Zionist discourse about archaeology, Amira Hass and Gideon Levi have made singular cotnributions in the realm of journalism. Both have dared to go “against the grain” and to report on the desperate plight of Palestinians under occupation and siege, and both write for the Israeli newspaperHa’aretz. Though Amira Hass has opposed the BDS Movement and Gideon Levi has only recently spoken of it favorably, both have made an effort, at great personal cost, to look at the history of the Israeli/Palestine conflict from the point of view of the Palestinians and not only that of Israel. To this list of Israelis who have gone against the grain to expose the racism of Zionism the late Israel Shahak who realized after 1967 that the occupation of another people would create a terrible moral dilemma for the Jews, He began a series of translations from the Hebrew Press of articles revealing extreme nationalism and racism, articles which have been collected into a series of books one of which is Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (New York: Pluto Press, 1994). 

Amira Hass

Amira Hass, author of Drinking the Sea at GazaDays and Nights in a Land Under Siege (1999), was the first Israeli journalist to actually go and live in Gaza and the West Bank, and to report on the already straitened circumstances of a community where conditions were so difficult as to defy bare survival. Some Israeli spokesmen have disingenuously complained that their generosity in having withdrawn their settlements from Gaza was met not with gratitude but with hate and violence in the form of homemade rockets. The truth is, Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza (as we implied above in our discussion of Armon Sofer) because it had become too expensive to try to kill Palestinians without harming Jews. They dismantled all of the Jewish houses, synagogues, community centers, shopping malls, greenhouses (destroying in the process irrigation systems which might have been useful for the natives), not as an act of generosity, but in order to make of Gaza a free-fire zone and turn it into the biggest outdoor prison in the world. Once that was done, they could bomb everything in sight without risk to Jews. Their frequent bombings and shellings from jets, helicopters, tanks and gunboats off the coast have repeatedly destroyed all the infrastructure such as power-plants, sewage treatment facilities, schools, and factories. For example among the valuable buildings destroyed in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 was the state-of-the-art chicken farm built by two brothers who had returned to Gaza, pooled their savings, and were successfully supplying healthy eggs and chickens to the entire Gaza Strip. Since its complete destruction, (before the tunnels were bombed or flooded) it was possible to find frozen chicken produced by Israelis as Ali Abunimah did recently (see on The Electric Intafada an article entitled “Yes, Gaza is still under siege” written by Ali Abunimah. Friday 21 May 2013). Among the striking photos in Ali’s article are pictures of packets of Frozen chicken with Hebrew lettering for sale at the Abu Dallal Super-Market in the Nuseirat Refuıgee Camp. This frozen chicken, Abunimah explains, was brought into Gaza through the tunnels because Gaza is still a lucrative captive market for Israeli consumer goods. They can regulate its flow, having created a market by violently destroying the capacity of Palestinians under siege to produce their own goods (a typical colonial ploy), and then bombing the tunnels at will to turn off the flow.

In her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza, Amira Hass documents the deteriorating quality of the water in Gaza, a phenomenon which, over a decade later, like almost everything else she describes, has only gotten worse. Her book now proves, if proof were needed, the disastrous consequences of the Oslo Agreements (condemned at the time by the late Edward Said), but the level of suffering that she faithfully records pales by comparison with the level of privation suffered in the wake of “Cast Lead” with its use of cluster bombs and white phosphorous leaving hundreds dead and thousands severely injured, and razing a huge proportion of hospitals, schools, homes and businesses. Even the clearly marked storage facilities of UNRWA holding stacks of wheat, rice, and lentils were set on fire, bombed by pilots who also destroyed the power-plant, the sewage system, and other food supplies-pilots who knew exactly what they were destroying. Amira Hass identified with Palestinian farmers displaced in theNakba from fields they had lovingly tended for years, because she remembered her Jewish father describing the crops he had grown on his farm in Roumania “before the fascist government confiscated their land, before they were deported to the ghettoes of Transnistria “ (Hass 153).

Gideon Levi 
In a stunning documentary by film-maker Bilal Youssef entitled “Going Against the Grain,” Al Jazeera traces the career of Israeli journalist Gideon Levi. For over three decades Levi has been documenting settler vandalism, the cutting down of olive trees and the theft of the olives, the arbitrary shootings, the imprisonment of children, the take-over of Palestinian houses by Jews in spite of proof of ownership, and the humiliation of Arabs at checkpoints Typical is the case of Abu Dahok family in Aprl 1996. When Fayez Abu Dahouk went into labor, her brother-in law tried to get her to the hospital. His car was stopped at a check point; when he saw no hope of getting through, he tried the checkpoint at Ras al Amoud. Again the soldiers refused to let them through, so she was forced to give birth to her son in the back seat of the car. and afterward to wrap him in her skirts and walk over two kilometers to the hospital. Not surprisingly, the baby, whom she had planned to name Youssef, died. In his regular column in Haaretz,Gideon Levi wrote an article called “The Death of A Baby” in which he asked by what right these soldiers had forced the mother to give birth in the back seat of a car, by what right they had in effect brought about the death of a baby.

In monologues interspersed through the documentary, Gideon Levi reflects on his motivation. He observes that, immediately after the war of 1967, he knew that this would be his vocation-to bear witness to the terrible events involved in the Occupation. He asks himself why he is incurring the hatred of his contrymen by doing this seemingly fruitless and dangerous task, recording for people who don’t want to know the crimes of the Jewish state aganst the Palestinians. He says he is writing for history, so that when people look back they can’t say “We didn’t know.” Because, he says, they will have to admit that “there were other voices.” 

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions

With impeccable timing, just as US Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Washington DC, two stunning new developments arise to complicate the situation. Typically every time international pressure attempts to resuscitate the “peace process”, Israel shifts from its usual guise of wary but rational defensiveness and goes into what some critics of the hard-line nationalists call its “mad dog” mode, carrying out some outrageous violation of Palestinian human and/or civil rights so egregious that the Palestinians will recoil in horror against any negotiations. This is an Israeli strategy designed to forestall the slightest chance that they might have to make actual compromises to the final status agreement. As of October 21, 2013, the Knesset passed a bill called the Prawer-Begin bill which would entail the most extensive ethnic cleansing since 1967. It would remove between 30 and 40 thousand indigenous Bedouin from their land in the Negev, destroy about 40 villages, and confiscate approximately 700,000 dunums of land. MK Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian Israeli, opposes the bill saying “This is a mark of Cain on the forehead of anyone who supports this bill.” The only excuse I have heard for this outrageous plan is that the IDF needs to use this land.

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