I’ve been thinking about the Nakba today, and I find myself continuing to come to the same conclusion: it’s hypocritical for anyone to at the same time condemn the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and insist that the cleansing not be reversed because Israel must remain a state with a Jewish majority. If you affirm the Jewish majority in Palestine as a necessity, then you must either affirm the political history by which this became a fact.
This is why I can respect, although consider racist and despicable, the positions of Benny Morris and Shlomo Ben-Ami. They are unrepentant Zionists that take seriously the real events of 1948, they recognize these events to be sins, but affirm them nonetheless because they were the necessary evil for Zionism to come into reality. I don’t think that Zionism is a very good idea, even aside from the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, mostly because it is basically consistant with 19th century European anti-semitism, and it sought to redeem and make strong again the Jewish people by turning them into farmers – a project which has since changed direction as the current Israeli economy is more like the 51st american state (heavily subsidized) than the agricultural socialist paradise labour zionists projected. For the events of ’48 to be historically justified, you have to think that the good that comes out of the coming into being of Zionism as a Jewish Majority state is worth the crime. I don’t.
Israelis should be honest about this. They should recognize that the Nakba happened, and that their current conception of their state relies on an affirmation of this event as historically necessary. Other states similarly born in violence should be subject to the same need to be honest with their past, but sadly they are not forced to do so. The reason for this is that usually a people once ethnically cleansed do not rise up and pose a credible threat against the people who occupied their land. Palestine is a special case because the colonized fought back, because they continue to resist, because they have refused to give up their lands and their rights. I think the world would be a better place if this happened more often, in more colonized nations, in more places where a people was dispossessed – but this is the real world. And in the real world, at least at this moment, I know of no stronger indigenous people than the Palestinians.
This need for historical honesty poses a fundamental problem for the conflict: if you think that reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians requires that Israelis admit the crimes of ’48, how do you think Palestinians will react of once the Israelis admit the crimes they affirm them and re-iterate the need for the dispossession of the refugees to continue indefinitely?
If we are honest, there are two ways the “conflict” between the Zionists and the Palestinians can be resolved: one is the defeat of the Palestinians, the other is the defeat of the Zionists. The serious question of “reconciliation” might better be directed at the question of what happens to the Palestinians if they are defeated, and what happens to the Zionists if they are defeated? If the Palestinians are defeated, they become Arabs like any other – they become (and actually they already are) part of the modern industrial disaster we call global capitalism. They cease to be a beacon of light, a beacon of hope that another way is possible, that exploitation between countries could end, that colonization could end, that politics based on selfishness could end. On the other hand, if the Zionists are defeated, what might happen to the Israelis? They might become Jews again, and don’t call me anti-semitic because the antagonism between Judaism and the Jewish State is already being articulated by Israelis as something Israelis must choose between. The question Israelis who truly favour peace should be asking is: how can Jews be safe and exercise some form of national-self determination in a Palestinian state with a Jewish majority? Zizek has also pointed out that in the long term who is truly harmed by the state of Israel is the Jewish people themselves – a people who became interesting and distinctive, with something special to contribute to humanity, because of their particular situation, mostly in Europe, over the past 2000 years. The “Jewish State” has worked hard and continues to endeavour to turn the Jews into a violent people who believe literally in their ancient stories and who are willing to kill over them. The extremists who want to rebuild the temple on top of the dome of the rock are not really a sectarian faction, they are the centre of Israel’s archeological-ideological machine, they are the logical conclusion of the use of force to recapture holy sites and expel, in whole or in part, the indigenous people.
A people is made great not simply by its stories but by the way acting on their stories brings freedom and justice into the world. The story of the Nakba is a story of a historical crime which remains incredibly relevant today as indigenous peoples all over the world are expelled from their lands. The destruction of the Israelite temple is from another era, and the reconstruction of the Jewish state as an imaginary recreation of an Israelite empire in the ancient world does nothing to serve the cause of freedom and Justice today.
The story of the Zionists is a bad one, a bad one for Jews, and a bad one for humanity. Their story affirms the right of a dispossessed people to take by force their ancient homeland. Their story is a recipe for Nakbas.