recent times, no nationalist project has been so completely mythologized
by its partisans as Zionism. In the construction of nearly all
aspects of its history, the official Zionist narrative is often
at variance - even complete variance - with the facts as they
are known to the rest of the world: and, more recently, even as
they have been documented by some Zionist historians.
Yet few Zionists
would deny one central fact of their history: and that is the
history of violence that has attended the insertion of Jewish
colons into the Middle East. The history of the Zionist movement
in Palestine - it can scarcely be disputed - has been attended
by violence between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians;
it has led to unending conflicts between Arab societies and Israel;
and these conflicts continue to draw Western
powers, especially the United States since 1945, into ever widening
clashes with the Islamic world.
history of this violence was contained in the Zionist idea itself.
Violence is integral to Zionism: not incidental to it.
violent history of Zionism had been foreseen by the early Zionists
in their private musings; and certainly, the risks inherent in
Zionism could scarcely remain hidden once its victims began to
resist the colonization of their lands. However, the Zionists
chose to shelve these concerns, convinced that the 'natives' lacked
the will, organization and resources to derail their plans.
Thus it is
that the Zionists, who engaged in voluminous and intense discussions
about the nature of their movement, never developed a coherent
"Arab doctrine" that would examine and appraise the unfolding
Arab response to Zionism.
is integral to Zionism: not incidental to it.
part, they may have felt that this was unnecessary. After all,
many of the early Zionists - according to Ahad Ha'am writing in
1891 - believed that "the Arabs are all savages who live like
animals and do not understand what is happening around them."
Why worry about these "savages," when they were sure to be swept
away by the inexorable advance of civilization the Jewish settlers
were introducing into the region?
who took note of the incipient Arab resistance nevertheless chose
to dismiss their concerns with wishful thinking.
Once the Palestinians would begin to reap the benefits of Jewish
colonization - in rising land prices and new employment opportunities
- they would welcome the settlers with open arms.
the Zionist world-view, the Palestinians were not a people; they
had no national identity, no national aspirations.
any case, it would have been impolitic for the early Zionists
to air their concerns in public. In the face of open discussions
about the violent consequences of Jewish colonization, and the
resistance this was certain to evoke among Palestinians, Arabs
and Muslims, the meager support that Zionism enjoyed among Jews
would quickly have dried up. At this stage, Zionism could not
have survived sober consideration of its long-term, violent consequences.
absence of a public debate, these concerns could not have been
limited to the Zionist leadership. How else can we explain - despite
the putative Jewish yearning for Zion - that only a trickle of
Jews had heeded the call to colonize Palestine in the years before
the rise of Nazi Germany? Weren't they afraid that they might
be walking into a trap?
the Zionist world-view, the Palestinians were not a people;
they had no national identity, no national aspirations.
also made an effort to overcome Palestinian resistance by invoking
pan-Arab nationalism. In return for help from Jews, who would
advocate their cause in the councils of great powers, the Arab
nationalists could be persuaded to sacrifice Palestine for a
higher objective, the creation of an Arab kingdom stretching
from Morocco to Iraq.
centers of Arab civilization - so the Zionists argued - lay in
Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, not in Jerusalem. Why would the Arabs
grudge the loss of Jerusalem if this would help them to realize
their dream of restoring the ancient Arab empire?
met with some initial success in these efforts. In 1919, at the
Conference of Versailles Chaim Weizmann persuaded Emir Faisal,
a leader of what is known as the Arab revolt against the Ottomans,
to cede Palestine to the Zionists. When he confronted Arab anger
at this surrender of Islamic lands, the Emir inserted a clause
making his contract with the Zionists conditional on the creation
of the Arab kingdom that he and his family sought. This conditional
agreement too was short-lived. Under Arab nationalist pressure,
the Emir was forced to repudiate his deal with the Zionists.
could not long maintain their fiction about somehow creating a
Jewish state in Palestine without violence; the challenge came
from the right wing of the Zionist movement. In an essay that
laid the foundations of Revisionist Zionism in 1923, Ze'ev Jabotinsky
punctured the fiction that the Palestinians would voluntarily
surrender their historical rights to their country. He wrote that
the Arabs would "resist alien settlers as long as they possess
a gleam of hope that they can prevent 'Palestine'
from becoming the Land of Israel."
argued that a change in the stated Zionist strategy was imperative:
in order to succeed, the Zionists would have to extinguish the
Arab's "gleam of hope." If the Arabs were not going to sell their
lands and move out, they would have to be defeated and driven
out. Settlement would proceed, in the words of Jabotinsky, "under
the protection of force that is not dependant on the local population,
behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down."
had forced into the open what was always implicit in the Zionist
idea - and, indeed, in the thinking of the Zionist leadership.
Despite appearances, they had always known what Jabotinsky now
challenged them to acknowledge openly.
thinker) Ze'ev Jabotinsky
argued that a change in the stated Zionist strategy was
imperative: in order to succeed, the Zionists would have
to extinguish the Arab's "gleam of hope."
of violence was not the Zionist fallback plan: privately, the
Zionists knew that this was the only plan that had a chance
of succeeding. Covertly and openly, with or without British
support, they had always prepared for a showdown against the
Arabs; and they had prepared well.
showdown came in 1948, the Zionists achieved their goals almost
in their entirety: they defeated five Arab armies to create a
Jewish state in 78 per cent of Palestine nearly cleansed of its
Arab population. Eight years later, in alliance with Britain and
France, in a lightning strike, Israel occupied all of Egyptian
than 20 years after its creation, in the June war of 1967, Israel
went on to deal a crushing defeat on three Arab armies, occupied
the rest of Palestine, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights - and,
in the process, quadrupled its territories. Most importantly,
however, they had dealt a stinging blow to the power of Arab nationalism,
a humiliation from which it would not recover.
these dramatic successes, Israel has failed to attain normalcy
- or, more likely, its interests are not served by normalcy. Many
Israelis now openly acknowledge that something has gone awry.
massive rounds of ethnic cleansings in 1948 and 1967; despite
repeated military victories over Arabs; despite a ten-fold increase
in its Jewish population; despite unlimited US support; despite
its deepening strangulation of Palestinians; despite the largest
economic and military transfer from one country to another in
history; despite one of the most powerful armies in the world;
despite the sustained support of a Jewish Diaspora, more powerful
and better organized than ever before; and despite the readiness
of all Arab states to recognize Israel, the Zionist project has
not come to rest.
has yet to break away from its dependence on Western powers;
it has not succeeded in extinguishing the Palestinian's "gleam
of hope;" and Israelis are far from being assured of a secure
have Israel's triumphs - and no one would question the magnitude
of these achievements - failed even to secure confidence in its
six decades after its creation - six decades of impressive military,
territorial, demographic and economic gains - Israel is still
working to destroy its neighborhood, out of insecurity and to
remove the last pockets of resistance to its hegemony.
have Israel's triumphs - and no one would question the
magnitude of these achievements - failed even to secure
confidence in its survival?
nearly all its Arab adversaries, after successfully urging the
United States to occupy Iraq, after devastating Lebanon in a
new war in the summer of 2006, Israel is once again urging the
United States to unleash its war machine against Iran, and to
use nuclear strikes if necessary to destroy its nuclear sites.
"iron wall" that Israel erected against Palestinians in 1948,
despite the wall of apartheid it has built in the past few years,
the Palestinians have not disappeared. Indeed, the Israelis continue
their policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in slow
motion, all the while preparing to launch a final round of ethnic
cleansing to finish the job they had begun in 1948.
now seen as one of the leading threats to world peace. What is
worse, Israelis are increasingly seen in nearly every country
barring the United States as oppressors, as racists, the inheritors
of South Africa's apartheid.
Is it the
case - as Hugo Bergmann, a young Jewish philosopher from Prague
had feared in 1919 - that Palestine had became a Jewish state
but only by betraying Jewish ideals?
the creation of Israel has not solved the 'Jewish question;' it
has changed its locale, its form and name. The Europeans had long
wrestled with what they called the 'Jewish question.' Israel
has transformed the 'Jewish question' into the 'Zionist question':
and made it global.
the world now waits for the Zionist creation - Israel - to make
its next significant move.
the world hopes that this next significant move will be historic
and not destructive: that it will secure the rights of Palestinians,
all Palestinians; that it will redress the wrongs done to Palestinians,
all Palestinians, in the same way that Jews still demand redress
for the wrongs done to them by the Nazis.
is little reason for optimism. Israel cannot render justice to
the Palestinians without abolishing its exclusively Jewish character,
without dismantling the apartheid that grinds the Palestinians.
yet has restrained itself because the colonial masters had acquired
a conscience. It was force that stopped them: countervailing force,
with or without violence.
before the Western world, before the Americans especially, is
to develop the countervailing force that can compel a solution
If the West
- if the Americans - fail here, if they fail to nurture this countervailing
force: they only leave the room wide open to violent solutions.
Click here for other articles by M. Shahid Alam:
Islam Now, China Then - Any Parallels?
America's 'Fake Global War On Terrorism'
Has Regime Change Boomeranged?
An 'Islamic Civil War'
Pitting The West Against Islam
Not All Terrorists Are Muslim
Israel, The U.S. And The New Orientalism
The Muslims America Loves
Real Men Go To Tehran
Did Thomas Friedman Flunk History
Shahid Alam, professor of economics at a university in Boston,
is also a regular contributor to CounterPunch.org. Some of
his CounterPunch essays are now available
in the book, Is There An Islamic Problem? (Kuala Lumpur: The
Other Press, 2004). He is also the author of Challenging the
New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on America's 'War
Against Islam' (IPI Publications: forthcoming).He may be reached
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