Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Avnery's Apology: A Critique

Taking the Canadian Prime Minister's recent parliamentary apology to the indigenous people of Canada as his cue, veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has followed his problematic essay 1948 (see my 1/6/08 post, Uri Avnery: A Critique) with an equally problematic stab at an official Israeli apology (An Apology, 14/6/08) to the Palestinian people:-

"We recognize the fact that we have committed against you an historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness. When the Zionist movement decided to establish a national home in this country... it had no intention of building our state on the ruins of another people. Indeed, almost no one in the Zionist movement had ever been in the country before the first Zionist Congress in 1897, or even had any idea about the actual situation here."

Avnery at least appears here to concede that there is no meaningful distinction between "national home" and "state." The contrary has, of course, been argued by legions of Zionist propagandists. The notion that the early Zionists were prepared to settle for anything less than a Jewish state has, however, been decisively refuted by Canadian philosopher and author of The Case Against Israel, Michael Neumann: "Could pre-Israel Zionism be understood as the quest for a homeland as opposed to a state?" he asks. "Was this to be a scattering of Jewish homes and farms, or a Jewish country with its own army, police, and government?" Neumann's evidence leaves us in no doubt. To quote just 3 of his many authoritative statements (pp 23-30):

1) "The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, had already in 1896 written an essay called 'Der Judenstaat'. In it, he said, 'The Idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish state... Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation, the rest we shall manage for ourselves'."

2) "Max Nordau, Herzl's vice-president at early Zionist congresses, wrote in 1920 that: 'I did my best to persuade the claimants of the Jewish state in Palestine that we might find a circumlocution that would say all we meant, but would say it in a way that would avoid provoking the Turkish rulers of the coveted land. I suggested 'Heimstatte [homeland] as a synonym for state... It was equivocal but we all understood what it meant... to us it signified Judenstaat and it signifies the same now'."

3) "Here is Walter Laqueur's account: 'When a Zionist delegation appeared on 27 February 1919 before the Supreme Allied Council, Weizmann was asked by Lansing, the American secretary of state, what exactly was meant by the phrase 'a Jewish national home'. Weizmann replied that for the moment [my italics] an autonomous Jewish government was not wanted, but that he expected that 70 to 80 thousand Jews would emigrate to Palestine annually. Gradually a nation would emerge which would be as Jewish as the French nation was French and the British nation British. Later, when the Jews formed the large majority, they would establish such a government as would answer to the state of the development of the country and to their ideals'."

But when Avnery claims that "the Zionist movement had no intention of building our state on the ruins of another people," it is hard to take him seriously. Assuming that the early Zionists went about their business of agitating for a homeland/state in Palestine without being aware of the grave implications their project held for the majority indigenous Palestinian Arab population defies belief.

Theodore Herzl, the 'father' of political Zionism, was certainly wise to the matter, writing in his diary in 1895: "We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. Let the owners of immovable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us things for more than they are worth. But we are not going to sell them anything back. The voluntary expropriation will be accomplished through our secret agents. The Company would pay excessive prices. We shall then sell only to Jews, and all real estate will be traded only among Jews." (Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, I, 51)

Typically, however, as Israeli historian Benny Morris points out in his discussion of the idea of transfer (the Zionist euphemism for ethnic cleansing) in Zionist thinking, the leaders of the movement tended to be forthcoming only in private*. (The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p 41)

That the logic of the Zionist push for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine meant that the Palestinians, absent an effective campaign of resistance, were doomed to dispossession, must surely have exercised the minds of all concerned, colonists and colonized alike. Neumann again: "Certainly it was possible that the Zionists would settle for less than all of Palestine. It was possible they would not forcibly transfer the indigenous population; it was just barely possible that, somehow, Zionism would be abandoned altogether. But there was no basis for supposing any of these outcomes likely. Nor could it be assumed that even a territorial compromise could be obtained without catastrophe... Indeed, the Palestinians could look at all of modern European history from the 17th century religious wars to the year of the Balfour Declaration as a record of failed territorial compromises. When settlers move into an inhabited area, territorial compromises are all too often mere pauses in a savage process of dispossession. This was apparent at the time. The rise of Zionism coincided with the last bloody stages of just such a process in the American West. Significantly, the American settler's progressive and very violent displacement of the native inhabitants was not some grand scheme thought out in advance. At many points in the story, the settlers seemed to have got all they wanted. But successful settlement and increasing immigration brought new usurpations. Enough was never, it seemed, enough. Even if the Zionists had never dreamed of taking all of Palestine from the Palestinians, it would have been foolish to suppose that they would not come to do so, bit by bit. The prospect of a Jewish state, therefore, posed a mortal danger to the Palestinians, a prospect of ethnic subjugation and very likely of what is now called ethnic cleansing." (pp 45-46)

As improbable as it sounds, Herzl and others may have entertained fantasies that the Palestinian Arabs could simply be bought out, but the Zionist movement's first Likudnik, Vladimir Jabotinsky, put paid to such nonsense in 1923: "Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birthright to Palestine for cultural and economic gains... Colonization has its own explanation, integral and inescapable, and understood by every Jew and Arab with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible... Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population." (See my 12/6/08 post, Pemulwuy in Palestine for a fuller quotation) To this end, Jabotinsky saw the necessity for a successful Zionist colonization to proceed behind an iron wall of bayonets, perhaps British, preferably Jewish. He was adamant that every Jew "with his wits about him" understood the logic of the Zionist enterprise, and that the only question was how to cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population. In fact, even Herzl admitted the need for a Jewish paramilitary corps "in preparation for the struggle against the indigenous population whose land was being systematically occupied." (Diaries, I, 88-89) It was of course Zionist militarism and force of arms, Jabotinsky's "iron wall," that prevailed in 1948. Avnery's depiction of his Zionist forbears as essentially well-intentioned blunderers, therefore, lacks all credibility.

[*David Ben-Gurion, who was later to to preside over the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and become Israel's first prime minister, continued this venerable Zionist tradition of dissimulation. He is described by Benny Morris as a man who "knew what to say and what not to say in certain circumstances; what is allowed to be recorded on paper and what is preferable to convey orally or in hint." (The New History & the Old Propagandists, Haaretz 9/5/89)]

"The Zionist founders who came to this country were pioneers who carried in their hearts the most lofty ideals. They believed in national liberation, freedom, justice and equality. We are proud of them. They certainly did not dream of committing an injustice of historic proportions."

Lofty idealists? How to square this with the testimony of Zionist moderate, Ahad Ha-Am, who wrote as early as 1891: "They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination." Ha-Am was later compelled to ask, "Is this the dream of a return to Zion which our people have dreamt for centuries: that we now come to Zion to stain its soil with innocent blood?" He scathingly described Avnery's pioneers as "a small people of new Levantines who vie with other Levantines in shedding blood, in desire for vengeance, and in angry violence? If this be the 'Messiah', then I do not wish to see his coming." (Quoted in The Zionist Mind, Alan R Taylor, p 103)

Or take the findings of the shelved 1919 report, Recommendations of the King-Crane Commission with Regard to Syria-Palestine and Iraq. US President Woodrow Wilson, who believed that the wishes of the population concerned should be the determining element in the choice of a mandatory power, had sent Henry King and Charles Crane to take the pulse of both communities in Syria/Palestine. Finding that Lord Balfour, in his famous 1917 declaration favouring 'the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people', 'it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine', had gone too far, they called for "the extreme Zionist programme" to be "greatly modified. For a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conferences with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase." This was for public consumption. It was left to the British interviewees to reveal the elephant in the room: given the intensity of the indigenous opposition to unlimited Jewish immigration, "No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms."

Nor did Ha-Am's "new Levantines" improve with the advent of a leadership "obsessed"* from the 30s on with the idea of forced transfer of the Palestinians (Morris, Haaretz, 9/5/89) - a leadership who even managed to convince themselves that it was "just, moral and correct,"** who hatched and implemented (in April, 1948) Plan Dalet ["a strategic and ideological anchor and basis for expulsions"***] , and who "understood at every level of military and political decision making that a Jewish state without a large Arab minority would be stronger and more viable both militarily and politically."****

[*Morris, Haaretz, 9/5/89; **Morris, 1948 & After: Israel & the Palestinians, p 43; *** Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, p 63; **** Morris, 1948 & After, p 22]

Avnery's idea of "a solution that may not fulfill all justified aspirations nor right all wrongs, but which will allow both our peoples to live their lives in freedom, peace and prosperity" is, of course, the two-state solution: Israel as an apartheid state ("governed by laws of our own making" as he puts it, presumably including those laws which incorporate the distinction between Jews and non-Jews and deny 93% of Israeli territory to non-Jews, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinian Arab refugees of 1948) on 78% of historic Palestine, and a truncated state of Palestine on the remaining 22% currently occupied by Israel, which he hypes as "... the free and sovereign State of Palestine in all the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, which will be accepted as a full member of the United Nations..." Avnery clings to the stale formula now trotted out by every friend of Israel within coee of a microphone. Meanwhile, the settlements expand, the Jews-only roads snake across the occupied West Bank, and walls and cages spring up around defenceless and impoverished Palestinians faster than than the words 'viable, contiguous and independent Palestinian state' can trip off a politician's lip.

And what of the thorniest problem of all, that of the Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces under cover of war in 1948?

We must approach with open hearts, compassion and common sense, the task of finding a just, and viable solution for the terrible tragedy of the refugees and their descendants. Each refugee family must be granted a free choice between the various solutions: repatriation and resettlement in the State of Palestine, with generous assistance; staying where they are or emigration to any country of their choice, also with generous assistance; and yes - coming back to the territory of Israel in acceptable numbers, agreed by us."

Like the two-state solution, Avnery's notion of the refugees exercising a "free choice" of returning to "the territory of Israel in acceptable numbers, agreed by us" is yet another example of his "solution(s) that may not fill all justified aspirations." Despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the right of all refugees to return and claim their properties (Articles 13 & 17), that the Palestinian refugees have the backing of the UN Charter and international law for their right of return, and that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for precisely that, Avnery is only prepared to go so far.

Sorry, Uri, it's back to the drawing board I'm afraid.

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