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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Thoughts on the Gaza massacres

Hamas and Gaza:

Noura Erakat, a professor at George Mason, gave an extraordinary interview on CBS News about the ongoing Gaza border massacre.

It is rare on mainstream news in the US to hear such a cogent presentation of the Palestinian view. At the same time, I think she seriously weakens her argument by being in denial about the extent of Hamas's support, and its willingness to accept a two state solution. Though they dropped their demand for the destruction of Israel in 2017, their official policy is still "There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity".

I'm not saying they necessarily should accept an Israel that permanently makes Palestinians second class. But the terms of the divide are wider than Erakat is making them out to be.

Does Israel offer peace?

Still, there was never a choice for peace available to Hamas. Peace means that if I walk to my family's home--say, the home my family lived in until we were told at gunpoint, in 1948 were after, that we were forbidden to return--I don't get arrested or shot.

That seems like a ludicrously low bar for those claiming to want peace, but in reality it is such an unacceptable idea in Israeli politics that it has been refused by every major party for 70 years.

In other words, there has been a choice available to Israel in those seven decades, between permanent conflict (on the one hand) and risking Jews becoming a minority (on the other), and a huge majority have consistently chosen to guarantee ethnic rule even if it means permanent conflict.

This is often framed, especially in the US, as an issue purely of security. But any understanding of the history of the region shows how inadequate an explanation this is.

Before the advent of Palestinian terrorism, there were essentially no efforts in mainstream Israeli politics to accept the return of completely peaceful Palestinian families to their homes. And since, though there are thousands of families who have done absolutely everything that scolds tell them to--keep their heads down, focus on work and education, don't engage in violence--those families, some which still carry the keys to their old homes within Israel, still have absolutely no audience for their grievances.

I have Jewish ancestry, so I could move to Israel today and become a citizen, and live in their old home. They cannot, and there is no sign that they ever will be, no matter how compliant or peaceful they are. The only real reason is that I am one ethnicity, and they are another.

1948: counterfactuals

I do think both sides (and Europe and the US) made decisions in and around 1948 that really undermined the security and prosperity of their own people. Ever since, both sides have been backing further into corners because of never owning their own role in the conflict.

What seems clear to me is that if the Arab countries had won in 1948, Jews would have been largely exiled and oppressed. And unarmed Jewish people moving towards their families' homes being shot by Arab soldiers would be rightly condemned as a horrific injustice.

Seriously though, think for a moment about this scenario. If Jews had been mass evicted at gunpoint, rather than Palestinians, and continued to have their homes bulldozed and bombed, their land seized, and Palestinian settlements and exclusive roads carving up their meager remaining territory--would anyone in the US who vehemently defends Israel today criticize them? or would they see their cause as unquestionably righteous? When there would be atrocities committed by zealots on the Jewish side, would these be universally condemned, or subject to excuses?

A standard refrain is: "If instead the Palestinians hadn't demonstrated their murderous antisemitism by aligning themselves with the Arab powers that invaded without any provocation in 1948..."

As if unilaterally declaring an ethnostate that permanently disenfranchises people of a particular ethnicity, with the help of imperial powers, isn't provocation! As if a similar declaration by Palestinians now, which includes thousands of Israeli homes and farms, wouldn't be met with violence!

Regarding the partition proposal that Jews supported but Palestinians rejected:

One part of the story that seldom gets talked about is that many Europeans considered the partition plan to have failed and to be null since both sides didn't agree to it. A Swedish diplomat was sent, who came up with a plan that more Palestinians agreed with. But instead of Jewish groups engaging about it and trying to find a peaceful resolution, the Jewish terrorist group Irgun shot him to death in his car.

"A land without a people,for a people without a land"

I was raised around a lot of progressive Jewish hippies, and even they told me that there was basically no one else in Palestine when Jews colonized it.

If you read Theodore Hertzl's speculative fiction novel about the Jewish state he envisioned, Old-New Land, what's most remarkable is that there are basically just no Palestinians anywhere. (IIRC, there is a single Palestinian who's happily assimilated.) The colonial and imperialistic frame of reference was so strong that it doesn't seem to have occurred to Hertzl to even wonder about the repercussions of forcibly evicting an ethnic group from their land and seizing their property.

Ethnic rule vs. democracy

It's important to note that in the US, it's controversial to suggest that Israel uses ethnicity as a central reason for including and excluding people from its land.

But in Israel, it's not only not controversial, it's unquestionable policy. Every major party in Israel for 70 years has held as a core principle that Israel-controlled land must be kept clear from too many ethnic Palestinians--including Palestinians who built their homes and farms themselves and lived there for centuries.

When Turkey lets foreign-born ethnic Turks become Turkish citizens but won't let ethnic Armenians whose families are from inside Turkey's borders return to their hometowns, we have no problem understanding that that's ethnic cleansing. "The people in this land should be Turks, not Armenians, and we'll use guns to keep them clear of it" is ethnic cleansing, even if there is some wiggle room in the form of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Turkey who are allowed to vote.

But with Israel, people have this idea that it can't be ethnic cleansing. Why? Because they support it!

if you're paying attention, I think you must acknowledge that this idea is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. That's why it's so maddening to supporters of the Palestinian cause when we hear Israel called the only democracy in the Middle East.

Certainly, Israel is much more democratic for its citizens than any other country in the Middle East. And that is significant!

But you can't be a democracy if that citizenship itself is primarily determined by ethnicity. Israel is more properly called an ethnocracy, or maybe an ethnocratic democracy.

Proposals in the Knesset to make it a true democracy--to drop all legal preference based on ethnicity, and to restore property and residence that was seized or forbidden on the basis of ethnicity--are literally shouted down, and have been for decades. Israel is proudly, vehemently, emphatically not a democracy, to the point that those who want it to be one are treated as a laughingstock, or as enemies of the state.

The bottom line

There's really only one question here: do you believe that countries' policies should discriminate on the basis of ethnicity?

Israeli soldiers are killing unarmed Palestinian children today, by the government's own admission, because Israel's leaders answer YES to this. There have been dozens of laws--from property seizure to land use rights to citizenship rights--that explicitly discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, and hundreds more that do so with the full understanding that they will be enforced only against one group, and not another.

If your answer is no, you disagree with every ruling party in the history of Israel. Welcome to the movement for Palestinian rights.

If your answer is yes, I hope you see the pain you're helping to cause in every injured or killed Palestinian child. Their suffering is the consequence of the explicit discrimination you support.

I say all this because I believe in Israel

I know this stuff is complicated, but there's a narrative of the Israeli side choosing peace that you've heard because there are many people lying to you.

For the record, I am a Zionist, a proud Jew, and a supporter of Israel. I wish for Israel to be a second home for me and my people, but I feel as though it has been hijacked from the start by its most violent and shrill voices. I'm part of the tiny minority who has always believed that a Jewish state must be a democratic one, and that if you are telling children at gunpoint that they can't live in their family's own home, you're being contrary to everything we believe in as Jews.

Here's to the Israel we long for, the Israel we think still can be.

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