Jennifer Loewenstein looks at the devastation caused by modern Zionism and finds the roots of these calamities in the ideology that underpins the nation state of Israel today.
Modern Zionism contradicts what we, in the West, claim as our fundamental political and social values. It does this by undermining the norms and standards we claim as the foundation of the modern democratic state.
The Letter of the Law.
At the 94th plenary meeting of the United Nations on 7 Dec. 1987, on the eve of the first Palestinian Intifada, the General Assembly passed a resolution on the subject of terrorism. In an effort to define the parameters of ‘terror’, UNGA Res. 42/159 highlighted the exceptions to its characterisation by noting that “nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right…” In other words, all people are entitled to seek and establish these rights without being labelled terrorists.
This is one of many resolutions passed by the United Nations over the decades that differentiates between terrorism, which involves the use of violence against innocent civilians for political gain, and the struggle for freedom and independence of oppressed peoples, “…particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination…”
The United States and Israel opposed the resolution in part because it explicitly recognised the right of occupied peoples to resist their persecution and “to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support…” for their aims. Had they voted in favour of this resolution they would have, in effect, acknowledged the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to resist Israel’s occupation of their lands in whatever manner they saw fit. This was not something either state was ready to do. The United States and Israel instead maintained their rejectionist stance opposing a just and lasting resolution to the question of Palestine.
For over half a century now, therefore, the US has unconditionally supported the subjugation and occupation of the Palestinian people by Israel. In so doing, it accepts implicitly the right of one people to rule over another based, in this case, on an ethno-national supremacist world view. To be a first-class citizen in Israel one has to be Jewish –a characteristic that elevates the intrinsic value of those who belong to that group above those who do not. In practical terms, it has had the effect of dehumanising an entire people.
Allowing as well for the process of orthodox conversion, being Jewish entitles a person in Israel to flout the norms of a functioning democratic society and to claim rights determined by blood. Modern Zionism upholds this system, defying the very essence of the Enlightenment, the age of reason, and the sanctity of the rule of law. To support modern Zionism, therefore, is to reject the central tenet of democracy as “the will of the people”; it is to justify and accept, whether by the rule of one person – or of one select group of people – the inevitability of state tyranny. This approach to governance is intrinsic to modern Zionist ideology.
Although in 1948 Israel’s Basic Law pledged that the State of Israel would “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants” and “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex,” Israel never set out to guarantee equality under the law or universal human rights.
Israel’s founders intended its Basic Law to look attractive to the West at a time when it’s future was unclear. As those who framed it worked, the processes of expulsion, dispossession, and dehumanisation were underway. As its generals and enlisted men engaged in terrorising, clearing out, and massacring entire segments of the Palestinian population, the Basic Law for “Human Dignity and Liberty” yellowed somewhere on a dusty shelf where it could be retrieved when convenient.
This did not trouble its leaders in the least. What is surprising is that the July 2018 Nation State Law took as long to be codified as it did. In it, Israel’s existence as the Nation State of the Jewish People, without any democratic pretence, is unambiguously acknowledged:
1) Jews alone have the right to exercise, within the deliberately imprecise boundaries of the Israeli state, national self-determination based on ‘natural,’ ‘religious,’ and ‘historic’ qualifications;
2) Hebrew shall be the sole official language of Israel while Arabic is relegated to a “special status”; and
3) Israel shall promote, as a national value, Jewish settlement throughout the land – a quasi-religious form of ‘redemption’.
It should surprise no one that Israel has criminalised the efforts by Palestinians and others to resist this state of affairs. The more determined, well-organised and vociferous criticism of modern Zionism becomes, the more hysterically the ‘pro-Israel’ camp reacts – labelling even the mildest critics of Israeli society “racist” and “anti-Semitic”. The alternatives are few. One can rush to adore Israel in all things and claim it is a free and democratic country; one can defend Israel’s national exclusivism, including its treatment of the Palestinians, based on its history or on one’s religious beliefs; one can ignore the issue and remain silent in order to keep the peace; or one can protest the century-long efforts to deny another people their most fundamental rights doing whatever is practically possible to erase their historic and physical presence in the land.
Illustrations of what life is like for people imprisoned by the manifestations of modern Zionism range from the dark to the damned. Anyone interested need spend less than half a day in a Palestinian community within Israel or within the occupied Palestinian Territories —including East Jerusalem— in order to experience life at the bottom of an ethnic hierarchy. One comes away almost gasping for breath, seeking to escape the suffocating air of oppression; seeking open sky and sunlight.
Baptism of Fire
From the convenient distance of a helicopter gun ship, an Israeli Air Force pilot fired a missile at a group of men gathered around a burst water pipe in the small village of Beit Hanoun in north Gaza. There to inspect his home and gather up some belongings during a cease fire, Anwar Za’anin noticed there was no running water in the house. Outside, some neighbours had assembled to assess the damage. In July, 2014, Operation Protective Edge raged through Gaza with a ferocity that stunned even the war-weariest inhabitants of the Strip.
More than two men standing together in Gaza make a justifiable target for the IDF. One Palestinian man is an enemy; two are terrorists; and three or more make a cell of militants plotting Israel’s destruction. Anwar, the janitor and caretaker for a local human rights organization, had taken his wife, mother, and five children to Gaza City to shelter them in relative safely. He’d gone back during the temporary ceasefire to fetch some of their modest possessions. Later that day, he died of his wounds at the Kamal Adwan hospital minutes after the ambulance brought him there. Blood pooled on the floor beneath him. The sole breadwinner for a family of eight was gone.
In a hallway of the hospital, a child lay upon the floor, arms curled tightly around the family dog. The child’s face was buried in the dog’s fur. He lay there, motionless, eyes opened, as if the commotion around him were taking place on a separate plane of existence. He and the dog alone survived the bomb that destroyed his home, his parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins.
Milk & Honey or Violence & ‘Security’?
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Zionism means, “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” Since 1948, it goes on to explain, “Zionism has come to include the movement for the development of the State of Israel and the protection of the Jewish nation in Israel through support for the Israel Defense Forces [IDF].”
This definition is problematic because it precludes a context. What if the land Jews are returning to is already inhabited? What if those inhabitants wish to rule themselves, and what if they don’t want to change their society to incorporate the wishes of the settler population that claims that the land they are settling is theirs? What are the boundaries of this homeland?
Find me a people willing to vote away more than half their ancestral homeland. When the settlers conquer the remaining lands, find me a people happy to live under an illegal military occupation. What group of people is ready to surrender their houses, businesses, schools, mosques, churches, orchards, fields, streets, and villages, ready to flee indefinitely to an unknown world and forced to relinquish their right to return home? What people would be willing to renounce their history and culture, or see it grafted as a form of treachery onto someone else’s? What people want to become stateless refugees?
A “Jewish State” is, by definition, territorial. If non-Jews also live on the land, a “Jewish State” will become anti-democratic, chauvinistic, and discriminatory. Conversely, “a State for Jewsto live in free from persecution and discrimination” is different. Only a democratic state of all its citizens can avoid succumbing to the inherent flaws of the ethno-nationalist and ideological state, a phenomenon chillingly familiar to students of 20th and 21st century national miseries. Only a democratic state of all its citizens free of the violence of mob rule can guarantee equal treatment and equal protection under the law.
No people will ever live in a state free from persecution and discrimination until the rule of law, including international law, takes precedence over aggression, tyranny, and the misguided but ubiquitous principle that might makes right. Jews living in America have the same ability to demand protection under the law as they do the rights and privileges granted everyone equally under the US Constitution. The US, therefore, offers Jews – just as it does other minorities who struggle for justice – more genuine security and protection than any militarised garrison state whose raison d’etre is to maintain expand while guaranteeing supremacy to a single ethno-religious nation.
During an interminable curfew in Ramallah, A. had to sneak out in the back of a Press jeep, crouched like a cat, ears pricked up and silent, as it passed the checkpoint at Qalandia, now fully mechanized. From there she travelled by taxi across Israel to the Erez Crossing and into Gaza. At a small shop near her flat, the owner looked at her imploringly and said, “Look at us here. What kind of life is this? What kind of future do my children have?” What could she say? She nodded her head. Would it help him to know that she’d felt relief when she got back into Gaza? That she’d felt her muscles relax once she’d gotten out of Israel, away from the omnipresent soldiers with their guns and the endless parade of blue and white flags lining the streets? In Gaza she felt protected, away from the ‘how dare you’ gaze of a state whose rogue behavior punished its most prescient, devoted critics. What an exquisite irony: to feel safe among people whose lives are perpetually in danger.
Jews living in Israel will never know true security until the rules of war are abandoned; until the creeping annexation of territory for its resources but without its indigenous people ceases. In a state where violence, however visible or unseen, dictates the actions of people and organizations, true security will always remain elusive. This is as real for African Americans drawn into the cruel orbit of a modern American police force as for Palestinians living within the savage confines of legal terror – terror that imprisons their daily lives and inhibits their futures; that surrounds them with the external iron, barbed wire, and concrete barriers of checkpoints and closures, and the internal manacles of unrelenting subjugation. The violence that murders protesting children and renders dissent to an indefinite administrative detention, has no room for the dispassionate, ‘self-evident truths’ of universal human rights and justice.
Violence both contradicts democracy and undermines what began as early Zionist ideals. As a weapon of the rulers it destroys the will of the people. As a tool for the suppression of free will, violence impedes the establishment of peace. That modern Zionism is considered inextricable from “the protection of the Jewish nation in Israel through support for the Israel Defense Forces [IDF]” leaves it fatally flawed. Militarism as a preeminent value indivisible from an expansionist state devours societal harmony necessary for coexistence.
And the Walls came Tumbling Down
In Jenin, the dead men were laid out in rows upon the dirt in their white linen shrouds.
A group of journalists dispersed upon the moonscape. Two men carrying a dead body on a stretcher wound down along a dirt road to the camp hospital – damaged but still standing. Outside, at the back of the hospital, four men loaded the bodies into the back of an old pick-up truck. To their right, also covered in white shrouds, were more rows of dead people awaiting identification. An old woman weeping among the bodies turned and cursed the journalists taking pictures. Other people mulled over the dead. A young man crouched and prayed over the shroud of someone he knew. Along the bottom of the shrouds in black ink were labels in Arabic with the names of the victims.
Further back, men were digging up dirt-covered, shrouded bodies of people who had died during the siege. They’d had to be buried there temporarily to avoid the spread of disease because ambulances – like all other vehicles – had been prevented from entering or exiting the camp as it was being demolished and flattened by Israeli army bulldozers. The dead had had to wait for a proper burial.
During the siege, soldiers commandeered a school building at the back edge of the camp. It was still partially standing. Inside, a colourful mural of students at play, at work, at rest, together with friends, decorated a long hallway. On close inspection, one could see it had been vandalized: a soldier had taken a sharp tool, like an exacto blade and, with precision, scratched out the eyes of every single child.
A Law Unto Themselves.
On May 7, 2020, an editorial appeared in the New York Times by Daniel Pipes. (“Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel,” NYT, May 7, 2020) President of the Philadelphia based think tank, Middle East Forum, Pipes has long been known for his right-wing, anti-Arab and Islamophobic views.
“I am not someone who frets over the ‘occupation’ of the West Bank,” he writes, reminding us that there are still people who refer to the ‘so-called’ occupation. Israel’s Arab citizens, Pipes continues, “constitute what I believe is the ultimate enemy of Israel’s status as a Jewish State. … Citizens of Israel, unlike external enemies, cannot be defeated. Their allegiance must be won over, and the larger their number, the harder that becomes.” He is right, of course, but it will remain difficult to win over the allegiance of a subset of people who are guaranteed permanent inequality.
While Pipes is considered an extremist by some, his views in fact reflect mainstream Zionist thought. Anyone who believes Israel must remain a Jewish State – the state of the Jewish people and a state in which Jews must remain sovereign – ultimately accepts that being non-Jewish, especially being Palestinian, constitutes being part of the “Other”; that which threatens Israel’s organic nationhood.
In Khan Yunis, before the “disengagement”, an ambulance used to park each day in the shadows of a brick building near where the younger boys still played. IDF soldiers maimed or killed them so frequently by then that it was necessary to have medics on standby. Some of the boys wore big, Palestinian flags around their shoulders like superman capes, but these capes bestowed no superpowers.
Post “disengagement,” the situation remains virtually the same: Be sure to show them who’s boss. Be sure to let them know they’re dead if they defy you. Maintain the starvation diet; the electricity blackouts; the scarcity of goods; the lack of construction materials; the outdated medicines; the poisonous water; the constant uncertainty; the perfect level of torture. Be sure to keep them imprisoned in this vast and rotting camp, blockaded by land, sea, and air. Be sure the stifling air asphyxiates their will; smother them in their desert prison; this oven on the Mediterranean.
There are many people who claim that a person can be non-Jewish and equal in Israeli life. The facts do not support this claim, however, especially with regard to,
1) land ownership (93% of Israel’s land is under direct control of the state and of the Jewish National Fund and cannot be owned by or sold to non-Jews);
2) military conscription and the rights and privileges that having served in the IDF automatically confer upon an individual;
3) residency and marriage (a spouse from the occupied territories cannot come to live permanently with his or her partner in Israel.
In fact, the Israeli government issued a ban on family unification in July 2003 such that Palestinians from the Occupied Territories are unable to acquire residency or citizenship in Israel based on their nationality); and governance (no Arab party has been included in a ruling coalition government since Israel’s establishment in 1948). [Footnote: www.adalah.org; March 2011, The Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel)
Try as one might to argue that Israel can be Jewish and Democratic simultaneously, the history of Israel and the facts of daily life belie this claim. The mechanisms of exclusion reach far beyond empirical data. An ingrained system of belief and more than 70 years of indoctrination sponsored by state legal, educational, and military institutions will remain no matter how eloquently Israel’s apologists might hope to wish them away.
In a state that has no intention of legislating Jewish and Palestinian equality, it is difficult to imagine the shackles of prejudice dissolving at all.
A young mother smiling, but with frightened eyes, stood just outside the flaps of her tent holding her baby daughter. She would be there night after night as bullets whizzed by striking the grey walls of the apartment block opposite her temporary shelter. She would be there in her ‘home’ where her children would reach out to her, terrified, for comfort. She wanted to fill up a jug with water from a nearby spigot but was afraid that if she went on her own she would be shot. If the soldiers’ shooting had been predictable, her fears might have been unjustified, but no one knew when they would fire, or if they would seek a living target.
Uncertainty is part of the game just like at the Great March of Return gatherings that lasted for two years before the pandemic hit: one day no one would die. The next a journalist was dead and the next a female paramedic [quickly labelled a Hamas terrorist by the grinding machine of state propaganda eager to qualify anyone a legitimate target]. A wheelchair bound man with no legs carrying a Palestinian flag would be shot dead too. No one outside Gaza cared.
Western visitors offered to fill the water jug for the stranded mother. They were desperate to help; eager to show their defiance and march right past the guards in their cylindrical concrete tower. That was before Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall; before James Miller, Ian Hook, and Brian Avery (www.B’tselem.org) before the Mavi Marmara – before it was understood that the Jewish State will maim and kill anyone who stands in its way. It is a symptom of ‘Nishtagea” (“to go crazy”) – a precursor of unbridled state insanity if the pressure to back down becomes extreme, even if – in its fury – the state self-destructs along the way.
In the Temple of the Philistines
In the Hebrew Bible, Samson is the last of the warriors and judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges. He is renowned for the exceptional strength he derives from his uncut hair. Seduced by Delilah who is bribed by the Philistines, Samson falls asleep one day and has his hair cut. He is reduced to being a humble servant and miller in what today is Gaza. As his hair begins to re-grow, Samson prays to God to have his strength restored and God grants him this wish. In the Philistine temple of Dagon where more than 3,000 Philistines have come to worship, Samson is tied to two pillars but there, with his strength returned, Samson pulls down the pillars and with them the entire temple.
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the [temple of Dagon] stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, ‘let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might; and the [temple] fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life…. [Judges: 15:29-30]
In his desire for vengeance against the Philistines, Samson prefers to die with those he kills than to return to the Israelites. The “Samson complex” or “going crazy” is an option Israelis have entertained even with regard to nuclear weapons. A moshav settler once remarked to the Israeli novelist and writer, Amos Oz, that “…Israel should be “a mad state,” so that people “will understand that we are a wild country, dangerous to our surroundings, not normal,” quite capable of… “opening World War III just like that,” with nuclear weapons if necessary. Then “they will act carefully so as not to anger the wounded animal.” [The Fateful Triangle: The US, Israel, and the Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky; South End Press; Cambridge, Mass; 1999, pp. 447]
Chomsky notes Israeli journalist Yaakov Sharett who wrote that “the greatest danger facing Israel now is the ‘collective version’ of Samson’s revenge against the Philistines…” This Samson complex, writes Noam Chomsky, “is not something to be taken lightly” and “is reinforced by the feeling that ‘the whole world is against us’ because of its ineradicable anti-Semitism, a paranoid vision that owes not a little to the contribution of supporters here…” [The Fateful Triangle, pp. 467-8]
My Brother’s Keeper
Zionism has littered the pages of modern Palestinian history with the debris of hatred. Its military operations alone read like biblical chronicles of battles against a mighty enemy. In the 21st century alone we’ve had Operation Noah’s Ark, Operation Defensive Shield, Operation Determined Path, Operation Rainbow, Operation Days of Penitence, Operation Autumn Clouds, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Sea Breeze, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge – to name but a few. Who would guess that the dreaded adversary is a stateless people with no national military, no air force, no navy, no state-of-the-art arsenal of deadly, precision guided weapons or defensive, missile-detecting domes to shelter the millions of people within its ever-shrinking, resource-deprived enclaves?
What does it say about a modern ideology, whose state maintains one of the world’s most lethal collections of mass murder, that its self-declared adversary is a people living half scattered across the globe? A people more than half of whose members live either in squalor and misery as refugees, behind concrete and barbed-wire walls under a crippling blockade, or surrounded by remote-controlled checkpoints, high tech surveillance systems, army patrolled roads, illegal settlements expanding across stolen lands, and other trappings of an illegal foreign occupation? A people whose rite of passage into adulthood so often involves detention or imprisonment for engaging in legally recognized forms of resistance?
Rising numbers of coronavirus cases within the Gaza Strip threaten to overwhelm the Palestinian territory’s already collapsing healthcare system within a matter of days. As of November 22, 2020, there were more than 14,000 confirmed cases and 65 deaths. Those numbers have risen dramatically since. There are 100 ventilators in the Gaza Strip, 79 of which were in use as of that date. The Hamas government has imposed a partial lockdown of the Strip – weekends only – and set a 6:30pm curfew for the rest of the week. It fears a total lockdown because too many Gazans are going hungry or cannot afford to feed their families. Many parents cannot afford to buy the masks required by law and for which the failure to wear one will result in a fine. (BBC.com); 22 Nov. 2020.
On his way into the Gaza City, Jamil – alongside his donkey cart- spotted a policeman giving out fines to anyone not wearing a mask. Unable to afford one, let alone pay the fine for not doing so, Jamil spied a used, dirty mask on the side of the road and placed it over his nose and mouth. Back at home, he tossed the mask into the garbage and washed his face with the brackish, salty water that trickled into his hands from the sink. Less than 4% of Gaza’s water is drinkable and the sea surrounding Gaza is polluted by sewage. Re-washable masks will be washed in this water when there is electricity to power the pumps or the washing machines necessary to clean them.
The average Gazan can expect 7-8 hours of interrupted electricity on a good day. As the weather gets colder, this will decrease to between 2-6 hours. With over 50% of the population of Gaza living under the poverty line it is difficult to imagine how disease and hunger will be averted. In a sobering letter, Ruba – a human rights office worker – describes her day to day life:
Living every day in Gaza is a struggle. Everything is a challenge. We toil to make sure our basic needs are met and to secure some kind of future. We spend each day afraid for our lives – and now doubly so because of the virus. I cannot expect to get good care should I become sick.
I long for the night when I can sleep without the sound of Israeli drones buzzing in my ears. What is it like to lie under the stars and gaze up at a non-militarized sky? How has it come to be that even the heavens have been polluted with the weapons of war?
Gaza is under permanent siege, separated from the rest of the world. We are alone and must figure out how to accomplish the simplest things without the means and materials accessible to other modern societies. We have been pushed backwards in time and told to re-invent bricks and mortar – homes and businesses bombed years ago lie in ruins because we are forbidden from importing the staples necessary to rebuild them.
We live on the sea, and yet the sea is a prison. Our fishermen are gunned down if they exceed the number of nautical miles Israel permits when they are out fishing. As a result, the fish they catch are small and swim in the waters most polluted near the shores.
We must find alternative sources of water to drink because what drips out of the tap is brown and salty and putrid to taste. This is what we bathe, cook, clean and brush our teeth with. If we swallow it we feel sick. Purified water costs money and not every family can afford to buy it. How can we go on living like this?
Indeed, not everyone can go on living. The suicide rate among young people in Gaza is alarming. The Palestinian Center for Conflict Resolution reported 30 suicides and 600 attempted suicides in the first seven months of 2020 – a threefold increase over the last five years. [www.english.alaraby.co.uk; July 29th, 2020]
Last week, M., the son of a good friend of this author’s brother had a fight over money. He could not afford to feed his family. Sometime later, he set himself on fire and burned to death. Hopelessness and despair are rampant in Gaza. It has one of the worst mental health crises in the world. The 13-year-old blockade must come to an end if any semblance of normal life is to return to the Gaza Strip. As of this writing, there is no sign that this is in the works or that the desolation of Gaza is a priority for anyone.
Israel’s “friends” are its enemies; its enemies are its Prophets; and its Prophets are silenced, discredited, or outlawed. We live in formidable times when to champion universal human rights, self-determination for all peoples, freedom, independence and democracy is denounced, legislated against and declared anti-Semitic. In what upside down, through-the-looking-glass or metamorphosed reality can we retrieve the laws of reason, the art of compassion, the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the self-evident truth of human equality? Zionism as a modern ideology has failed and will either self-destruct or bring down with it all its partisans.
Formerly Associate Director of Middle Eastern Studies & Senior Lecturer of Modern Middle East History & Politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jennifer Loewenstein is currently an independent researcher, editor, & freelance journalist. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.