A talk given at today in Edinburgh, hosted by the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
When thinking about Palestinian society we are basically used to thinking of some sharp ideological and cultural disputes between the Hamas and PLO. Not that I wish to undermine that staunch disagreement, but I am here to suggest an alternative perspective that perhaps could lead towards a different understanding of the notion of Palestinian activism and solidarity both ideologically and pragmatically.
I maintain that the Palestinian people are largely divided into three main groups and it is actually this division that dictates three different political narratives, with three different political discourses and agendas to consider. The three groups can be described as follows:
1. The Palestinians who happen to live within the Israeli State and possess Israeli citizenship
The Israelis have a name for them: they call them “Israeli Arabs.” These Palestinians are largely discriminated against by Israeli law in all aspects of their lives; their struggle is for civil rights and civil equality.
2. The Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories
In most cases those Palestinians are locked behind walls and barbed wire in Bantustans and concentration camps in the so-called “Palestinian Authority Controlled Area” (PA). Practically speaking, those people live under a criminal occupation. For three decades these people have been terrorized on a daily basis by Israeli soldiers in roadblocks and incursions, they are subject to air raids and artillery bombardments. Their civil system is shattered, their educational system is falling apart, and their health system is extinct. These Palestinian people are craving for a single day with no casualties.
3. The Diaspora Palestinians
Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed over the course of the years and denied return to their homes by the racially orientated Israeli legal system (the Law of Return and Absentee Laws). The Israelis do not have a name for them; they simply deny their existence. The Diaspora Palestinians live all over around the world. According to the UN statistics every third refugee is a Palestinian. Millions of exiled Palestinians live in the region in refugee camps, the others can be found in every corner of the globe, many are here, maybe among us tonight. The Diaspora Palestinians know their rights and they want to be able to come home if they so choose’ they demand their right of return.
Confronting very different realities, the three groups above have managed to develop three competing political discourses: The 1st group, the so-called “Israeli Arabs,” struggle for equality. The means they have to achieve their goals are largely political. They search for a voice within the racially orientated Israeli society.
The second group, namely the “PA inhabitants,” battle against the occupation. They fight for liberation. Their means are political, civil resistance as well as armed struggle (in fact it is within the second group where the bitter struggle for hegemony between the PLO and the Hamas is taking place).
Being out of Israel and lacking international support as well as adequate political representation, the third group is still ignored by the entire Israeli political system and even by major players within the international community. The exiled Palestinians are largely neglected and their demand for the right of return is yet to be addressed properly.
Apparently, the Palestinian discourse is fragmented. It is divided into at least three different, sometimes opposing discourses. Cleverly, not to mention mercilessly, on their behalf, it is the Israelis who maintain this very state of fragmentation. It is the Israelis who manage to stop the Palestinian political and cultural discourse from integrating into a single grand solid narrative. How do they do it? They apply different tactics that maintain the isolation and conflict between the three distinct groups. Within the State of Israel the Israelis maintain a racially orientated legal system that turns the Israeli Palestinians into 10th class citizens. When PA inhabitants are concerned, the Israeli military maintains solid and constant pressure on the civilian population. Gaza is kept starving, it is bombed on a daily basis. Some of it is flattened. More than a few observers regard the situation in the PA as nothing but slow extermination and genocide.
In order to humiliate the third group, the Israelis enforce racist legislation that welcomes Jews to the country but rejects others (Law of Return). In practice it is a racially orientated system that stops exiled Palestinians from returning to their land.
Paradoxically enough, the more pain the Israelis inflict on any of the groups, the further the Palestinians get from establishing a grand narrative of resistance. Similarly, the more vicious the Israelis are, the further the Palestinian Solidarity movement is getting from establishing a unified agenda of activism.
Indeed the Palestinian solidarity campaigner is confused and asks him or herself what campaign to choose. Who should be supported? The division of the Palestinian discourse into three conflicting narratives makes the issue of solidarity rather complicated. Seemingly, different Palestinian solidarity groups follow different political calls and Palestinian causes. Some call for an end to the Israeli occupation, others call for the right of return. Some call for equality. Many of the solidarity campaigners are divided amongst themselves. Those who call for the right of return and for “one State” are totally unhappy with what they regard as a watery and limited demand for the “end of occupation.” Seemingly, Palestinian solidarity is trapped.
Joining one call and not another is actually surrendering to a discourse that is violently and criminally imposed by the Israelis. This is exactly where Zionism is maintaining its hegemony within the Palestinian solidarity discourse. It is Israeli brutality that dictates a state of ideological fragmentation upon the Palestinian solidarity discourse. Whatever decision the Palestinian activist is willing to make is set a priori to dismiss a certain notion of the Palestinian cause. It is indeed painful to admit that it is the Israelis who have set us into this trap. Our work, discourse and terminology as activists are totally shaped by Israeli aggression.
The Battle Is Not Lost
However, there is a way around that complexity. Rather than surrendering to the Zionist practice that splits the Palestinian solidarity discourse, we can simply redefine the core of the Palestinian tragedy, which is now turning into a global crisis.
Once we manage to internalize that the discourse of solidarity with Palestinians is dominated by the malicious and brutal Israeli practices, we are more or less ready to admit: it is the Jewish State: a racist nationalist ideology that we must oppose primarily. It is the Jewish State and its supporters around the world that we must tackle. It is Zionism and global Zionism that we must confront immediately.
Yet, this is exactly where the solidarity campaigner loses his grip. To identify the Palestinian disaster with the concept of a “Jews Only State” is a leap not many activists are capable to do for the time being. To admit that the Jewish State is the core of the problem implies that there may be something slightly more fundamental in the conflict than merely colonial interests or an ethnic dispute over land. To identify the “Jews Only State” as the core of the problem is to admit that peace is not necessarily an option. The reason is rather simple: the “Jews Only State” follows an expansionist and racially orientated philosophy. It leaves no room for other people as a matter of fact and principle.
Yet, once we come to grips with this very understanding, once we are enlightened and realize that something here is slightly more fundamental than merely a battle between an invader facing some indigenous counter freedom fighting, we are probably more or less ready to engage in a critical enquiry into the notion of Zionism. We are more or less ready to grasp the notion of the emerging secular emancipated Jewish collective identity. We are ready to confront the modern notion of Jewishness (rather than Judaism). Once we are brave enough to admit that Zionism is a continuation of Jewishness (rather than Judaism), once we admit that Israel draws its force from a racist ideology, harbored in national chauvinism and blatant expansionism, once we admit that Zionism, which was once a marginal Jewish ideology, has become the voice of world Jewry, once we accept it all, we may be ready to defeat the Zionist disease. We do it for the sake of the Palestinians but as well for the sake of world peace.
Let’s try to think of an imaginary situation in which a dozen exiled German dissident intellectuals insist upon monitoring and controlling Churchill’s addresses to the British public at the peak of the Blitz. Every time Churchill speaks his heart calling the British people to stand firm against Germany and its military might, the exiled dissident Germans raise their voice: “It isn’t Germany, Mr. Prime Minister, it is the Nazi party, the German people and the German spirit are innocent.” Churchill obviously apologizes immediately.
I assume that you all realize that such a scene is totally surreal. Britain would never allow a bunch of German exiles to control its rhetoric at the time of a war against Germany. Moreover, dissident German intellectuals would not have the Chutzpah to even consider telling the British what should or what shouldn’t be the appropriate rhetoric to use at time of a war with Germany.
However, when it comes to the Palestinian solidarity discourse, we are somehow far more tolerant. In spite of the fact that it is the “Jews Only State” that we struggle against, we allow a bunch of self-appointed Jewish leaders and activists to become our gatekeepers. As soon as anyone identifies the symptoms of Zionism with some fundamental or essential Jewish precepts a smear campaign is launched against that person.
I have been closely monitoring the Jewish left discourse for more than a few years now. I might as well admit that I can think of at least one good reason behind Jewish anti-Zionist activism. I do understand the need of some humanist Jews to stand up and say, “I am a Jew and I find Zionism disgusting.” At a certain stage of my life I myself was saying just that. As some of you know, I totally admire Torah Jews for doing just that. However, when it comes to predominantly Jewish socialist and secular left groups, I am slightly confused.
Moshe Machover, a legendary Israeli dissident and a Jewish Marxist who happens to be the intellectual mentor of the British progressive Jewish activists, expressed the following view just a few days ago when he stated a complaint he had with a petition. “[A]nti-Semitism is a Palestinian problem, as it pushes Jews into the arms of Zionism. This has long been understood by all progressive Palestinians. Anti-semitism is an objective ally of Zionism, and the common enemy of Palestinians, Jews, and all humankind.”
Indeed anti-Semitism may be a problem, yet is it really a Palestinian problem? Should the Palestinian solidarity campaign engage in fighting anti-Semitism? Shouldn’t we leave that to the ADL and Abe Foxman? I think that we better try to do whatever we can to save the people of Beit Hanoun. This is where we are needed. I am certain that the vast majority of the Palestinian activists know that I am right.
Every PSC campaigner I have ever spoken to admits to me that only very few Palestinians find interest in the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. In fact, the statement by Machover provides the reason. According to Machover, those amongst the Palestinians who fail to see that anti-Semitism is the problem are nothing but reactionary, as only the “Progressive” Palestinians acknowledge that anti-Semitism is indeed a problem. Let me tell you, the Palestinians I know do not like it when Machover or anyone else calls them reactionaries just because they are not that concerned with anti-Semitism. Reading Machover, it is rather clear that such views serve as a body shield for Jewish secular collectivism and the Zio-centric historical narrative. If to be honest, there is not much reason for any Palestinian to join a movement predominated by the obsession with anti-Semitism.
May I tell you, I am not a historian. I am academically trained as a philosopher and particularly as a continental one. I am interested in the notion of essence. For me to attack Zionism is to aim towards a thorough realization of the essence of Zionism. To a certain extent I am indeed an essentialist. This is pretty worrying for those who try to reduce the discourse into positivistic exchange regarding numbers and historical facts. I am interested in the spirit of Zionism. I’m concerned about that which transforms the Israelis and their supporters into ethically blind killing machines.
You may have heard of the book I am holding in my hand. Probably, it’s the ultimate Zionist filth: Alan Dershowitz’s The Case For Israel. I don’t know whether any of you have ever considered reading this banal, not to say idiotic, text. I did, it fell into my hands a few days ago.
Shockingly enough, this book is structured as a beginner’s guide for the Zionist enthusiast, a kind of “Israel for Dummies.” It teaches the nationalist Jew how to be an advocate and defend the “case of Israel.” We know already that Norman Finkelstein has managed to prove beyond a doubt that the text is academically a farce. Yet, there is something revealing in this text.
The book is a set of deconstructions of “the anti-Zionist argument.” It starts with the heaviest ideological and moral accusation against Israel and it gets lighter, more historical and forensic as you progress.
Dershowitz launches with the “million Shekels” question” “Is Israel a Colonial, Imperialist State?” To a certain degree Dershowitz manages to tackle the question. He asks, “If it is indeed a colonial state, what flag does it serve?” Fair enough, I say, he may be right. I myself do not regard Zionism as a colonial adventure. However, hang on for a second, Mr. Dershowitz. It seems you might be getting off the hook easily here. Our problem with Israel has nothing to do with its colonial characteristics. Our problems with the “Jews Only State” have something to do with its racist, expansionist and nationalist qualities. Our problems with Israel have something to do with it being a fascist state supported by the vast majority of Jewish people around the world.
Now if you, Scottish activists stop for a second, ask yourselves why Dershowitz starts his book tackling the colonial aspect of Israel rather than facing its fascist characteristics. My answer is simple. We are afraid to admit that Israel is indeed a fascist state. It is predominantly the politically correct groups that furnish Dershowitz with a Zionist fig leaf. In fact, it is the Jewish gatekeepers on the Left who have managed to reduce Zionism merely into a colonial adventure. Why did they do it? I can think of two reasons:
1. If Israel, the “Jews Only State,” is wrong for being a racially orientated adventure, then “Jews for peace,” “Jews against Zionism,” “Jewish Socialists,” “Jews Sans Frontieres” etc. are all wrong for the very same reason (being a racially orientated adventure).
2. To regard the Israeli Palestinian conflict as a colonial dispute is to make sure it fits nicely into their notion of working class politics. May I suggest that a universal working class vision of Israel implies that the Jewish State is nothing but a fascist experiment.
I would use this opportunity and appeal to our friends amongst the Jewish socialists and other Jewish solidarity groups. I would ask them to clear the stage willingly, and to re-join as ordinary human beings. The Palestinian Solidarity movement is craving for a change. It needs open gates rather than gatekeepers. It yearns for an open and dynamic discourse. The Palestinians on the ground have realized it already. They democratically elected an alternative vision of their future. Isn’t it about time we support the Palestinians for what they are rather than expecting them to fit into our worldview?
Gilad Atzmon is an internationally acclaimed jazz musician whose CD Exile was selected by the BBC in 2003 as Album of the Year. He was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and is now living in self-exile in the UK. Visit his web site at: www.gilad.co.uk. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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