Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Monday, 26 November 2012

Why Israel Desires to be Hated by Palestinians by Oren Ben-Dor

This piece was writ­ten just prior to the cur­rent cease­fire.



Yet another mas­sacre is unfold­ing in Gaza, the largest prison in the world.* We are sur­roun­ded by famil­iar chat­ter: ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’; ‘Palestini­ans’ legit­im­ate res­ist­ance to (the 1967) occu­pa­tion’; ‘who star­ted it this time?’ Most insi­di­ous, how­ever, is the stale refrain, sung by a chorus which includes Pres­id­ent Obama, that the viol­ence is dis­astrous for the ‘peace pro­cess’ aimed at a ‘two-​state solution’.

While it has been noted that one motiv­a­tion for the Israeli gov­ern­ment, in the run-​up to elec­tions in Janu­ary, is to unite voters behind a ‘no choice’ rhet­oric, there is a deeper motiv­a­tion at stake here — to restrict the hori­zons of polit­ical debate, to con­trol what should be regarded as a lit­mus test for ‘real­istic’, ‘mod­er­ate’ and ‘reas­on­able’ voices.

War is use­ful because the pas­sion it arouses pre­vents people from ask­ing two basic ques­tions that must be addressed if the core of silen­cing and viol­ence that we are wit­ness­ing is to be grasped and, in turn, if pro­gress is ever to be made towards justice and endur­ing peace. First, what kind of state is Israel? Second, who are the Palestini­ans that this state is in con­flict with?

Israel was estab­lished to be a Jew­ish state. Its insti­tu­tions have always been shaped and con­strained so as to ensure the con­tin­ued exist­ence of a Jew­ish major­ity and char­ac­ter. Passing a test of Jew­ish­ness entitles someone to Israeli cit­izen­ship regard­less of where in the world she lives. Fur­ther­more, her cit­izen­ship comes with a bundle of polit­ical, social and eco­nomic rights which are pref­er­en­tial to that of cit­izens who do not qual­ify as Jew­ish. This inbuilt dis­crim­in­at­ory premise high­lights the apartheid nature of the state. But apartheid is not an acci­dental fea­ture of Israel. Its very cre­ation involved immense injustice and suf­fer­ing. Shield­ing and ration­al­iz­ing this inbuilt premise pre­vents the address of past injustices and ensures their con­tinu­ity into the future. It is a premise that, in mat­ters of con­sti­tu­tional inter­pret­a­tion, takes pre­ced­ence over, and thus involves the impos­i­tion of ‘reas­on­able’ lim­it­a­tions on, equal­ity of citizenship.

The Palestini­ans, we are told, are a people who live in the West Bank and Gaza. The impres­sion forced on us is that the con­flict con­cerns a com­prom­ise to be made regard­ing the cor­rect bor­der between Israel and a Palestinian state. We are led to believe that a par­ti­tion into two states would sat­isfy both genu­ine and real­istic aspir­a­tions for justice and peace. In this view, the viol­ence in Gaza is just an unreas­on­able aber­ra­tion from an oth­er­wise noble peace process.

But Palestini­ans actu­ally com­prise three groups. First, those whose fam­il­ies ori­gin­ate in the ter­rit­or­ies that were occu­pied by Israel in 1967 (Gaza and the West Bank, includ­ing East Jer­u­s­alem). Second, the des­cend­ants of the approx­im­ately 750,000 non-​Jews who were eth­nic­ally cleansed in 1947 – 9 in order to ensure a Jew­ish major­ity in the new Jew­ish state. This group is dis­persed around the world, mostly in refugee camps in the ter­rit­or­ies occu­pied in 1967 and the neigh­bour­ing states. Israel has per­sist­ently denied them their inter­na­tion­ally recog­nized legal right to return. The major­ity in Gaza con­sists of refugees from vil­lages which are now bur­ied under Israeli towns and cit­ies that were cre­ated expli­citly for Jew­ish cit­izens, places which include Ashkelon and Tel Aviv that were hit by rock­ets in the cur­rent con­flict. The third group of Palestini­ans, which Israel insists on call­ing by the euphem­ism ‘Israeli Arabs’, are the non-​Jews who man­aged to evade eth­nic cleans­ing in 1947 – 49 and who now live as second-​class cit­izens of Israel, the state which likes to claim that it is ‘Jew­ish and democratic’.

Until 1948, the ter­rit­ory of Palestine stretched from the River Jordan to the Medi­ter­ranean. The viol­ence that has afflic­ted the area ever since is the dir­ect res­ult of an event whose true nature our soci­ety seems determ­ined to deny. Viol­ence keeps erupt­ing because of the silen­cing and mar­gin­al­iz­a­tion of a simple truth sur­round­ing any par­ti­tion policy: that the injustice that afflicts Palestine can­not be par­ti­tioned. It is because of the desire to pre­serve a Jew­ish state that first, the legal dual­ism that exists in the 1967 Occu­pied Ter­rit­or­ies as well as the hor­ror at the ‘Sep­ar­a­tion Wall’ have become the dom­in­ant polit­ical dis­courses of apartheid; second, the refugees have remained dis­pos­sessed; and thirdly, both actual and poten­tial non-​Jew Arab cit­izens do, and would, suf­fer dis­crim­in­a­tion. The two-​state vis­ion means that the inbuilt apartheid within Israel, and in turn the injustice to two groups of Palestini­ans, never becomes the cent­ral polit­ical problem.

The range of reac­tions to the cur­rent carnage shows just how suc­cess­ful viol­ence has been in sus­tain­ing the legit­im­acy of Israel by entrench­ing the polit­ical focus merely on its actions rather than on its nature. These reac­tions keep the dis­course that calls for cri­ti­ciz­ing Israel rather than for repla­cing it with an egal­it­arian polity over the whole of his­tor­ical Palestine.

Israel desires to be hated by Palestini­ans. By pro­vok­ing viol­ence Israel has not merely man­aged to divert the lime­light from its apartheid nature. It has also man­aged to con­vince that, as Joseph Mas­sad of Columbia Uni­ver­sity once cap­tured, it has the right to occupy, to dis­pos­sess and to dis­crim­in­ate, namely the claim that the apartheid premise which founds it should be put up with and ration­al­ized as reas­on­able. Would any­body allow such a right-​claim to hold sway in apartheid South Africa? How come that the anti-​apartheid and egal­it­arian calls for the non-​recognition of Israel’s right to exist are being mar­gin­al­ized as extreme and unrealizable? What kind of exist­en­tial fet­ters cause the world to exhibit such blind­ness and a drop of com­pas­sion? Is there no unfold­ing tragedy that anti­cip­ates viol­ence against Jews pre­cisely because past viol­ence against them in Europe is being allowed to serve as a ration­al­iz­ing device of an apartheid state?

Israel has already cre­ated a de facto single state between the river and the sea, albeit one which suf­fers from sev­eral apartheid sys­tems, one within Israel and another in the occu­pied ter­rit­or­ies. We must not let Israeli aggres­sion pre­vent us from treat­ing as mod­er­ate and real­istic pro­pos­als to turn this single state into one where all would have equal rights.

Oren Ben-​Dor grew up in the State of Israel. He is a Pro­fessor of Law and Philo­sophy in the Law School, Uni­ver­sity of Southamp­ton, UK. He can be reached at: okbendor@​yahoo.​com.