Vol.VIII, No.396 September 7, 2001 , Jumadi Alakhar 20, 1422 H

Palestine's Only English-Language Newspaper

The Rewriting of Zionism as a Road to Peace
by Ludwig Watzal

For the past 10 years I have been writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I came to the conclusion that this 104-year-old conflict can only be solved when there is a radical change in the Israeli historical narrative. There must be a dramatic change of what I would like to call the Zionist ideology on the theoretical and the practical level. Critical historians do not question the theses anymore, that the Zionist in part fabricated their own history; therefore basic assumptions of the Zionist narrative belong to the realm of mythology. The new historians, Neo Zionists or Revisionists are trying to clarify or demystify the history in order to give a more realistic picture. One of the most progressive and radical of them is Ilan Pappe.
From the very start of the Zionist colonial enterprise the question of transfer or expulsion was on the top of the political agenda. In order to establish and build a Jewish state one had to get rid of as many Arabs as possible. There was a great agreement among the leading Zionists on this topic. Up to the present day, the biggest problem between Israelis and Palestinians is the denial of the expulsion of the indigenous population in 1948 and their right to return to their homeland may it be in Israel proper or in a future Palestinian state.
For myself the Zionist project in Palestine was a colonial one. The Zionists themselves did not deny this. They had not such scruples as the names of some of their associations illustrate: like the Jewish Colonization Association, the Society for the Colonization of the Land of Israel, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, the Jewish Colonial Trust etc. The 12th Zionist congress set up a Colonization Department. Most of the Israelis would disagree with the fact that the Zionist project had anything to do with colonialism. For them Zionism was a liberation movement. In part they are right. Because of the Pogroms in Czarist Russia in 1880, the Dreyfus-Affair and other discriminations in other European states the Zionists came to the conclusion that only their own state could solve the Jewish question. They saw that the Jews could not be save in Europe.
What does Zionism mean? It is based on three assumptions:
The Jews are a people not only a religious group. Therefore the Jewish question is a national one.Antisemitism and in its course the persecution of the Jews is a permanent threat for all the Jews.
Palestine or Eretz Israel has been and will be the home of the Jewish people.
What did the Zionist movement want to achieve? The main goal was to establish a Jewish state in order to allow the Jewish people to live like any other people and become like any other state in the world. Israel should have been a normal nation state. Theodor Herzl, the Father of Zionism, wrote in his Judenstaat that only a jewish-political entity in Palestine or anywhere on this planet can solve the Jewish question.
The Zionist enterprise can only be judge correctly when one takes the catastrophic consequences for the indigenous people into consideration. Due to the perfect Israeli disinformation campaign they have succeeded in masking the fact that the creation of the state resulted in the planned dispossession and dispersion of another people. They claim that it was forced upon it by circumstances. Their fabricated narrative goes like follows: Zionism's birth was an inevitable result of Gentile pressures and persecution in Europe, and that their intentions did not necessitate a clash or displacement.
Nevertheless, Israel was born into an uncharitable, predatory environment. The Zionist efforts at compromise and conciliation were rejected by the Arabs, who though far stronger politically and militarily nonetheless lost the war. In the course of the war the Palestinian leadership ordered their people to quit their homes, thus laying the Jewish state open to charges of expulsion. Further was claimed, that the land was empty and neglected, that it was redeemed by Jewish labor which made the desert bloom. The Zionists never damaged, and indeed benefited the natives, who nevertheless remained ungrateful.
The Zionist acted without the assistance of the imperial powers and the few unsavory actions were the result of the stresses of war. All Israeli wars and invasions and its actions against the Palestinians were purely defensive. This sort of history is taught in Israeli Kindergarten and schools and to the international community. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary the cant is repeated over and over again.
I come to the parts of the history which I think should be revised in order to come to an fair settlement with the Palestinians. The major problem I have already mentioned is the question of transfer or expulsion. There must be from the Israeli side an acknowledgment of the fact of forceful expulsion from 1947 to 1949. Mainstream political Zionism was determined to displace the indigenous population. Privately Herzl and the majority of Zionists after him were in no doubt that the realization of the Jewish dream would require a nightmare for the Palestinian people.
After the declaration of the Balfour Declaration, Israel Zangwill began to campaign openly for transfer declaring that an Arab exodus based on race redistribution or a trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony was literally the only way out of the difficulty to creating a Jewish state. The build-up of the Yishuv's military capacity in the 1930s reflected its growing perception that the solution to the demographic problem lay in arms, rather than in diplomacy.
While it is true that the Yishuv contained a number of factions that advocated bi-national options (Brit Shalom, whose members included Judah Magnes, Martin Buber and Hans Kohn), they never gained wide popularity and had little impact on the policy of the Yishuv. The main division was between the Revisionists advocating a revision of the Mandate to include Transjordan who were maximalist and uncompromising, and the more pragmatic, gradualist Labour Zionism. Already by 1930 there were high-level discussion between the Yishuv and the British government on the transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Transjordan. The following myths have to be revised:

The myth of no expulsions
The disjuncture between what actually happened to the indigenous Arab population and the official Israeli version is striking. The Israeli government pamphlet on the refugee question in 1953 proclaimed that the Palestinian Arabs were induced or incited to leave temporarily by instructions broadcast by the president of the Arab Higher Executive (the Mufti, Hai Amin Husseini) and surrounding Arab states, to give the Arab forces the opportunity to defeat the Zionist invaders without Palestinian losses. Every Palestinian knows that the later called peace politician Yitzhak Rabin presided over some of the most ruthless expulsions of 1948 in Lydda and Ramle.

The myth of self-defense
Anita Shapira is one of the leading Zionist historians who justifies the population transfer. She argues that the Zionist movement never intended to resort to force, but was only driven to it by an accumulation of circumstances. She makes no ethical distinction between the Zionist aim to transform Palestine into a Jewish state, and the indigenous Palestinians determination to resist it she reduces the conflict to a clash of rights, more or less equal ? a perspective which dilutes somewhat the assumption that the Zionist claim is stronger, if not absolute. Self-defense can be applied only in an Orwellian sense to the conquest of 1948, the aggression against Egypt in 1956, the invasion of Lebanon in 1977 and 1982, and the frequent bombardments of Lebanon since. The applicability to even the 1967 war is dubious.

The myth of purity of arms
The myth of Israel's self-perception as morally superior in its purity of arms` - the slogan of the Haganah in early 1948 ? also has had to be abandoned in the face of the evidence. That Jews, too, were capable of committing atrocities has be comprehensively unmasked. The Socialism embraced by the Yishuv Labour leadership, was that of Stalin's Russia which legitimated the use of terror, the execution of suspected Jewish collaborators, the extortion of funds. During the Arab revolt of 1936-1939 the socialist end justified the means. Israeli sources confirm that in almost every Arab village occupied by Jews during the War of Independence war crimes were committed. These crimes did not end as Livia Rokach's book Israel's Sacred Terrorism shows.
Abraham Shapira's The Seventh Day, an oral history of the 1967 June war based on interviews wanted to show what the war did to Israeli soldiers rather than to the victims. The Israeli soldier was the war's salient victim. Such exercises in self-exculpation prevent the perpetrators from recognizing themselves as murderers, and show themselves as tragic figures and objects of pity.

The myth of the right to return
The right to return is among the major claims to justify the establishment of the Jewish state. The Law of Return which was enacted by the Knesset on July 5th, 1950 permits any Jew to settle in Israel. According to David Ben-Gurion this right to settlement is inherent in every Jew, simply by virtue of being a Jew, and precedes the state of Israel.
However, in the wider world, the right of return operates only when an appropriately defended community has been subjected to recent expulsion. Such an understanding ist a sine qua non of orderly international behavior. In customary international law, no group has a right to conquer and annex the territory of another people, and expel its population. Moreover, a people's return to the land from which it has been expelled is a two-fold right under customary international law.
Because of this ingrained right to return the historical right of Jews to Eretz Israel is considered so obvious that it does not require any demonstration. Today's Jews are presumed to be the descendants of the ancient people of Israel, while the Palestinians are interlopers. Historically the Palestinian Arabs are the descendants of the inhabitants of the region from the earliest times.
There is one predominant factor which legitimizes the State of Israel: the Holocaust. The systematic attempt by the German Nazis to wipe out European Jewry resulted in the murder of at least six million Jews; it was the first appearance in history of biological antisemitism. Israel would have been also established without the holocaust. One of the features of the holocaust as an apologia is that no attention is paid to the cost to the Palestinians. Indeed, since all the goyim, all non-Jews, are potentially antisemites, and even potential murderers of Jews, it might be necessary to cleanse Palestine ethnically, and expel the enemies within the gate.
I don't want to go into the Holocaust theology of Elie Wiesel and others. But it is naive to portray the establishment of Israel as a haven for powerless Jews. Marc Ellis writes, that the plight of the Palestinian people undermines the force of Holocaust Theology, with its portrayal of an innocent, suffering people in search of security and freedom. Auschwitz becomes for Jews a place where they can hide their accountability in the present, a symbol that makes them untouchable.
Michael Prior, a British scholar writes that the Holocaust cannot be appealed to credibly justify the destruction of an innocent third party. It is a dubious moral principle to regard the barbaric treatment of Jews by the Third Reich as constituting a right to establish a Jewish state at the expense of an innocent third party.
I agree with the Israeli revisionist historian Ilan Pappe who writes: Reconciliation can only be reached by ending the victimization and the recognition of the role of Israel as an victimizer.

Ludwig Watzal (www.watzal.com) is a German journalist
author of Peace Enemies (Passia Publisher)