Event Report: Normalisation – Israel's Strategy for Occupation

IHRC hosted an online webinar to discuss Israel’s strategy for occupying Palestine in light of the recent normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel, on Saturday, 12 September 2020. The full event is available to watch on YouTube and Facebook, with currently 1.3K views and 1.1K views on each platform respectively.

Nazim Ali chaired the event and began the discussion by stating how the changes in relations between Israel and certain countries in the Middle East will affect Palestinians and the struggle to live with freedom, dignity and justice for all in the region. Furthermore, Ali goes on to say that when we see the UAE accepting the peace accord with Israel, and Bahrain also announcing they too are doing the same, it is happening under a time where we have  a far-right leader in America, as well as Israel, who happen to court far-right leaders in Europe – it’s an indication of how they rule their own countries because none of them are democracies, they don’t allow people to vote, and therefore, there is no accountability. Consequently, we have a group of far-right people finding kinship in the Middle East. The speakers will also discuss what the future holds, why are they doing this, what are the implications, what is expected from activists.

First to speak, Professor Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, spoke about the normalisation of Israeli’s occupation from a historical perspective, a process which did not start now, nor in 1948, but with the dawn of Zionism, driven by Christian Zionism in Britain and the US, starting with the reformation. Christian Zionism precedes Jewish Zionism and presages it, depending on religious notions based on the book of Revelation, the final book of the Christian Bible; in modern (especially US fundamentalist) readings of this text, the Jews play a role in the ‘end of time’ scenario, and take over their old land of Palestine, before they are exiled to hell, and the end of days arrives. Thus, in order to bring about the New Heaven and Earth, the process has to run its course.

This influenced British political and areligious figures greatly in the UK, especially during the 19th century, leading to a strong Christian Zionist tradition. Professor Haim makes mention that the mainstream of Judaism in Europe and elsewhere was strongly opposed to Zionism, considering it harmful and destructive on a number of religious and civil historical arguments. By definition, Christian Zionism was an elite devoted to furthering the interests of Jewish Zionism as an agent and outpost of the British empire in the Middle East, a counterweight to the Arab and Muslim societies in control of the region. 

Both main British parties are part of this historical process. Churchill, Asquith and Balfour were all Christian Zionists, combining a religious reading of history with their interests of controlling the large British empire. The Labour Party was, and remains, the most Zionist party in Britain. In that sense, Corbyn represented a temporary divergence from that pattern, followed even by Tony Benn – the party was greatly influenced by the myth of Israeli socialism and the Kibbutz movement, disregarding its racist history, theory and practices, and its crucial role in colonising Palestine. This is why administrations of both parties carefully followed the Balfour declaration towards establishing Zionist control of Palestine, and avoided democratic elections at all costs, bringing about the inevitable collapse of the Mandate and the Nakba which resulted in 1948.

Professor Haim discusses the conception of Zionism as the bulwark of western capitalism against Islam and the Arab world, and used it to open up the Middle East for western interests. Countries of Arab and Muslim world are perceived by the west as untrustworthy allies, there to be exploited and controlled through client regimes like Saudi Arabia, Sadat and Mubarak’s Egypt, Sadam’s Iraq and UAE. Israel is sold to the world as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, armed and financed  by the west- UK, France, Italy, West Germany, and since 1967, the US. Israeli presumed ‘rights’ over Palestine are seen, as within Zionism, as exclusive and religious-based, with the Holocaust used as a clincher argument.

Trump’s largest and most powerful support bloc is the Christian fundamentalists of the South and Mid-West, numbering between 60 and 80 million, and solidly behind him, with his Vice President as a figurehead. This group of religious fundamentalists see the Middle East in terms of the Ground Zero of Armageddon and the crucial role of the Jews in bringing this about. Thus, they are able to combine deep Judophobia with admiration of Israeli military power, its function being the bringing forth the end of days. The crusader hatred towards Islam is feeding this very neatly – an iteration of White Supremacism, historically disparaging towards the non-Christian world. To defeat Israeli colonialism in Palestine, it will be necessary first to defeat or neutralise the wide-ranging neo-fascist racist coalition which finances, arms and supports Israel and its war crimes.

Next, Reverend Stephen Sizer discussed the context, causes and challenges of Zionism. Rev. Sizer began by exploring the roles Christians have played in this normalisation process.

The context begins in around 1840, whereby Lord Shaftsbury issued an advert in London Times calling for the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine. The movement which led to the birth of Zionism, was preceded by Christian restorationism. Theodor Herzl is associated with the phrase ‘a land of no people for a people with no land’ – used by Lord Shaftsbury in 1853 – a whole generation before Zionism, so that when the Balfour Dec was published, it indicated the official government position that Britain favoured the establishment in Palestine for a national home for the Jewish people. 

Rev. Sizer said he has a problem with the word ‘occupation’ because it implies something temporary or transient. Instead, he much prefers the word ‘colonisation’ – the intention was Britain would facilitate the colonisation of Palestine by Jewish people in the same way Britain was colonising South Africa, east Africa, the Far East, India and Canada. Christian Zionism, which emerged well before Jewish Zionism, is a movement within Christianity which views Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, therefore, it gives a mandate to Christians to support Israel economically, morally, politically and religiously. In 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I don’t believe that the Jewish state and modern Zionism would have been possible without Christian Zionism”. So, when Trump was elected president, Jerry Falwell Jr. said, “I think evangelicals have found their dream president reuniting Israel with America”. When Mike Pompeo was asked whether he thought Donald Trump was Biblical Queen Esther who saved the Jews in Persia, he said, “as a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible”. 

In terms of the normalisation of the Israeli agenda, Rev. Sizer said that the Christian lobby has at least 5 or 6 dimensions. First, is lobbying on behalf of Israel; there is a close relationship between the Israeli government and Christian Zionist organisations, such as Christian Friends of Israel, the international Christian embassy in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Prayer Team – they are the drivers of these 50 million or more in the USA that identify themselves as Christian Zionists. In Britain, we have Anglican Friends of Israel, Catholics for Israel, Baptists for Israel, Quaker Friends of Israel – they are all active in advocating and lobbying, pressuring and monitoring critics of Zionism too. Secondly, they are active in funding of emigrating Jews to Palestine. Thirdly, they support illegal settlements. The fourth point is the moving of embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognising it as the exclusive, undivided capital of Israel. Fifthly, vehemently accusing critics of antisemitism. Lastly, the normalisation agenda involves the perpetuation of the conflict because Christian Zionists are convinced that Israel must not compromise its claims to border Palestine. 

Dr Marwa Osman talked about how Zionism has elaborated into the Muslim world, creating a new group of ‘Muslim Zionists’ who serve a greater agenda to Zionism in the region, i.e. the role Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. The Muslim Zionists of our age, represented by regimes in Persian and Gulf Arab states, their reaction to the causes of the west Asian area from the occupation of Palestine to the invasion of Beirut, Iraq and world war against Syria – all of which were a pretext to what they were about to do now. Had it not been for the failure of the revolution in Syria, we would have also seen the new regime in Syria normalising the Israeli regime and occupied Palestine. 

The new form of Muslim Zionism is very new to Islamic teachings and Arab dignity because it always the culture of honour and dignity that prevented any sort of tribal wars and state invasions. They have managed to remove those values from the current post-modern Arab citizens who agree and are happy in the UAE versus those in Bahrain who have tried to start revolutions against the US and Saudi imposed regimes, which failed, and yet they are against the normalisation their regime is imposing. Dr Osman discussed the importance of supporting local armed resistance against Zionism and international pressure against Zionism. Furthermore, the regimes in west Asia were normalising the Zionist regime from the 1960s because they were under political occupation and military occupation via the USA. The normalisation of Israeli relations with Arab states would not have happened if it wasn’t for the Arab Spring – the west Asian area and North Africa has been a part of colonialism since before the UK left the area. 

Mick Napier began by discussing that there is nothing abnormal about the collaboration between the Arab regime and the Zionists. 78% of Palestine was conquered by Zionist militias in 1948 and most of the fighting was preceded by meetings between Golda Meir and the Jordanian King Abdullah, where they agreed to divide up Palestine; they agreed on the main lines of division, and that Palestinians would not be taken into account in that division and they agreed that they might fight around the edges. The agony of Palestine was not just by the Zionist with the backing of the British, but also by the Jordanian and various Arab regimes who pretended, in some cases, to come to the aid of Palestinians. Napier also discussed the Egyptian Peace Treaty with Israel, in 1979, which had no significant backing from the Egyptian population. Napier suggests that Israel and the UAE are in a sense made for each other. Israel is a settler colonial regime, based on the ethnic cleansing and violence against the native people, the Palestinians Arabs, to be replaced by Zionists from around the world. There isn’t any limit to that. The plan is that the Zionist will seize 100% of Palestine, in a way such that the victims cannot fight back. Napier also discussed the role British MPs and the US government have to play in upholding the Zionist regime.

Lastly, Massoud Shadjareh discussed the normalisation of Israeli occupation through Muslim organisations. Shadjareh spoke of the huge concern in the way of Zionist policy to normalise their colonisation tactics in all different arenas; within Christian communities, institutions such as the Labour party, some unions etc. But, there has been a tremendous effort to normalise within the Muslim community. Zionists have written extensively about how the normalisation within Churches and Christian communities benefit from normalisation: it has made it much more difficult for churches to speak out against atrocities carried out by the Israeli government and has fostered a relationship that has moved towards acceptance and make excuses of the Zionist institutions, despite the brutal activities of Israel and Zionists. 

Furthermore, interfaith institutions are tools used to penetrate Muslim communities with normalising Israeli colonialism; the vast majority, if not all, Jewish organisations involved in interfaith work are Zionists, whereas none of the anti-Zionist Jewish organisations are represented in interfaith work. Even the process of inviting Muslim clergy to occupied Palestine as guests of the Zionist institution, take place for this particular reason. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are supporters of Palestinians, thus, reducing the percentage of Muslims that are pro-Palestinian is valuable to Zionists. As such, Zionists start saying wonderful things about the Muslim community, stand up against Islamophobia and ironically get involved in anti-racist work. Following these interfaith conversations, we see suddenly clergy going completely silent on injustices taking place. One person in particular wrote a piece in his bio that he wants to spend his life on addressing the misunderstanding between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. What misunderstanding? Palestinian land is being stolen, they are being pushed into Gaza and other countries, living exiled lives, and then get brutally attacked every now and then.  If anyone has any illusion of what the Zionism is, look at the new ambassador of Israel to Britain: she said there should be no embarrassment [in Zionism] and this is our land in its entirety. They are normalising racism, apartheid system, ethnic cleansing and violence. As the Hadith of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) says, “Whosoever of you sees an injustice, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart”.