A Thoughtful Look At Zionism’s Often Overlooked Dark Side
Allan C. Brownfeld
THE DARK SIDE OF ZIONISM
by Baylis Thomas
The Zionist movement has been described in many different ways, often as the “national liberation movement” of the Jewish people. The narrative which has emerged holds that Jewish immigration to Palestine was benign, having no ill will toward the indigenous Arab population, and that the difficulties which have emerged since the establishment of the sovereign state of Israel in 1948 are largely the result of Arab intransigence and hostility.
The real history is, of course, far more complicated, as the “New Historians” who have emerged in Israel in recent years have made clear. Zionism, we now know, had a darker side, details of which are still emerging. Slowly, a narrative quite different from that presented to the world by organized Zionism, and by official Israeli success, is emerging.
In this thoughtful book, Dr. Baylis Thomas, who has taught at the Yeshiva University/Albert Ein-stein College of Medicine and Montefiore Hospital in New York and has devoted his career to examining the sources of individual and group conflict, psychological and political, carefully examines what he labels “The Dark Side of Zionism.”
It is Thomas’ contention that, “The Zionists intended removal of the Palestinian-Arab population was contemplated even before the 20th century. Still, it is emotionally understandable that the colonization of Palestine and the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs have come to be seen by some Jews and others as a defense against the Holocaust. And the Palestinian Arabs, rather than seen as secondary victims of the Holocaust, have, by their resistance to expulsion and loss of homeland, been seen by some as trying to perpetuate a second Holocaust.”
For the Zionists, writes Thomas, “A sovereign state seemed the way to gain permanent sanctuary for an abused and diffused people. And yet, from its very inception in the 19th century, the Zionist project was understood to require the forceful submission or removal of the Palestinian people in order to acquire their territory … When early Zionist settlers began filtering into Palestine in search of liberation, they adopted the usual European-colonialist attitude of contempt and abusive behavior toward the native Palestinian population. The Palestinians, increasingly dispossessed from their land by Jewish immigration, became alarmed by Zionist intentions to take control of Palestine. Already in 1895, Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, understood that a Jewish state in Palestine would require a fight and dispossession of the Palestinian population.”
This book describes the history of what the author views as Palestinian dispossession and subse-quent territorial acquisition of Arab state territory. In his view, Israeli policy was premised on the view that Israel, the dominant political power in the Middle East, had no need to limit itself through negotiations. He quotes Nahum Goldmann, who headed the World Jewish Congress, as bemoaning in 1978 that Israel had always evaded negotiations: “In thirty years, Israel has never presented the Arabs with a single peace plan. She has rejected every settlement plan devised by her friends and her enemies, she has seemingly no other object than to preserve the status quo while adding territory piece by piece.”
Zionism, Thomas argues, can be seen as analogous to 19th century European colonialism. In his book Israel: A Colonial-Settler State, the French Jewish historian Maxime Rodinson notes that, “Wanting to create a purely Jewish or predominantly Jewish, state in Arab Palestine in the twentieth century could not help but lead to a colonial-type situation and to development of a racist state of mind, and in the final analysis, to a military confrontation.”
The Palestinians, writes Thomas, “were dismissed by most Zionists as politically and culturally unworthy, an insignificant people who could only improve under Jewish rule … At the time of the First Zionist World Conference in 1987, colonial expansionism was still the accepted ‘way of the world.’ It was a time when Herzl was comfortable writing about the ‘expropriation’ of Palestine for a future Jewish state and a necessity to ‘spirit the penniless population’ across the border to Arab countries.”
Maxime Rodinson notes that the colonization by the Zionists seemed “perfectly natural,” given the atmosphere of the time: “(Herzl’s plan) unquestionably fit into the great movement of European expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries, the great European imperialist groundswell. There is no reason whatsoever to be surprised or even indignant at this. Except for a section of the European socialist parties and a few rare revolutionary and liberal elements, colonization at the time was essentially taken to mean the spreading of progress, civilization and well-being. There is no need for us to moralize by applying to the Zionist leaders or masses at that time criteria that have been common today. But neither do we have the right to deny that their attitude was what it was, nor to disregard its objective consequences.”
The immediate issue for the Zionists in the late 19th century was the “Arab problem” in Palestine, an indigenous population 92 percent Arab. The early Zionists, declares Israeli historian Benny Morris in Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, saw that the establishment of a Jewish state would require the removal of these Palestinian Arabs. The idea of removal, he notes, “goes back to the fathers of modern Zionism … one of the main currents in Zionist ideology from the movement’s inception.” Herzl accepted the removal (“transfer”) of the Palestinians, though he emphasized the need for diplomatic caution in the face of Ottoman, British and larger Arab vested interests. In his diaries in 1895, Herzl wrote of the need to “spirit the penniless (Arab) population” across the border to Arab countries while being mindful that “both the process of expropriation (of property and land) and that of the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
According to Morris, the Zionist settlers referred to Palestinians as “mules” and behaved “like lords and masters, some apparently resorting to the whip at the slightest provocation … a major source of Arab animosity.” The settlers seemed to believe that the only language the Palestinians understood was force — the settlers “behaved toward the (Palestinian) Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it,” wrote the Russian Jewish writer and philosopher Ahad Ha’am in 1891. He reported in 1893 that “the attitudes of the colonists to their tenants and their families is exactly the same as towards their animals.” He warned: “We are accustomed to believing, outside Israel, that the Arabs are all desert savages, a people like donkeys, and they neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But that is a great mistake.”
Ha’am surmised that aggressive settler attitudes stemmed from anger “toward those who reminded them that there is still another people in the land of Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.” Relations worsened. Baylis Thomas writes that, “The Zionists thought increasingly in terms of taking over Palestine and, to that end, increasingly evicted Palestinian farmers from their homes and traditional farmlands by means of land purchases from absentee owners. This caused political confrontation with Palestinians who themselves, beginning in 1907, aspired to national independence after centuries of oppressive Ottoman rule.”
Activists and Critics
It is instructive to hear the words of both Zionist activists and Jewish critics. The Zionist settlers believed that force would be required to remove the Palestinians. For example, Ben-Yehuda and Yehiel Michal Pines declared in 1882: “We shall easily take away the country if only we do it through stratagems without drawing upon us their hostility before we become the strong and populous ones.” Israel Zangwill insisted in 1904: “We must be prepared to expel from the land by the sword, just as our forefathers did to the tribes that occupied it.” Moshe Sharett, a future prime minister, would also acknowledge that “we have come to conquer a country from a people inhabiting it … the land must be ours alone” and negotiating with the Palestinian Arabs for their removal from their homeland was “deluded.”
In the early years of the 20th century, Thomas points out, the Zionist leaders approached the German Kaiser, the King of Italy, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, the Pope and the Ottoman rulers of Palestine: “Herzl argued that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would fit with European imperial aspirations; for the Kaiser it could serve as an outpost for German expansionism in the Middle East; for the British it could provide an outpost to guard the Suez Canal and secure its route to India; for Pope Benedict XV it could be a way to forestall a Russian Orthodox presence in Jerusalem.”
All of this, in Thomas’ view, was “a duplicitous game, for Britain had already … promised to support Arab independence over all Arab-speaking lands … D.G. Hogarth, head of Britain’s Arab Bureau, falsely reassured Sharif Hussayn in 1918 that the term ‘national home’ did not mean ‘state’ and that, in fact, the Jews were supportive of Arab independence. In response to these assurances, Sharif Hussayn ‘welcomed Jews to all Arab lands.’”
Concerned about Intentions
Prince Faisal, who initially extended his hand to the Zionists, became concerned about their inten-tions. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, he demanded independence over all Arab-speaking lands and asked that a commission of inquiry go to Palestine to determine the wishes of the people. President Woodrow Wilson complied with Faisal’s request, sending the U.S. King-Crane Commission to investigate the wishes of the Palestinian people.
Wilson’s belief, contrary to 19th century European colonialism, was that an indigenous people have a right to self-determination on their own land. The Commission reported: “If that principle (self-determination) is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine — nearly nine-tenths of the whole — are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. To subject a people so minded to unlimited immigration and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender land would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, that of the peoples’ rights … A Jewish state (cannot) be accomplished without the greatest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists look forward to practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants, by various forms of purchase.”
The following month, Lord Balfour openly defied the King-Crane Commission: “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country … The four great powers (Western allies) are committed to Zionism, and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-old tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.”
British Imperialism and Wilsonian Liberalism
Thomas argues that, “This stance became the template for the future Arab-Israeli conflict. British imperialism faced down Wilsonian liberalism.” Israeli historian Avi Shlaim writes: “Zionism was to be permanently allied with European colonialism against the Arabs.” Many Jewish voices were raised in criticism. Hannah Arendt writes: “Taking advantage of imperialistic interests … and alienating the good will of (Arab) neighbors,” the Zionists embarked on “folly,” a failure to understand “the awakening of colonial peoples and the new solidarity in the Arab world.” More humanist-socialist “cultural” Zionists such as Judah Magnes and Martin Buber in the 1920s criticized Zionism’s turn away from accommodation with the Palestinians and the Palestinians’ own search for liberation from oppressive Ottoman rule.
Through immigration, the Jewish population rose from about 60,000 to 280,000 between 1917 and 1920, and by 1935 to over 400,000. To accommodate this influx, the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut labor organization boycotted Palestinian labor on Jewish land or in industry.
Some Zionist leaders were more frank than others in explaining their goals. Vladimir Jabotinsky, a journalist, militant nationalist and father of right-wing Zionism, insisted on Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine and Transjordan, a position known as “Revisionism.” In 1923, he produced a plan titled “The Iron Wall” which called for the submission of Palestinians through force.
Jabotsinky wrote: “Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. This is how the Arabs will behave and go on behaving so long as they possess a gleam of hope that they can prevent ‘Palestine’ from becoming the Land of Israel … nothing in the world can cause them to relinquish this hope, precisely because they are not a rabble but a living people … All colonization must continue in defiance of the will of the native population. Therefore, it can continue and develop only under the shield of force…”
“Great Colonizing Masses”
At the 16th Zionist Congress in 1929, Jabotinsky flatly stated that a national home meant a Jewish state in which a Jewish majority would be achieved by the “great colonizing masses.” Convinced that the Zionists were mounting a worldwide effort and massive attack, the Palestinians rioted, resulting in much mutual bloodshed. The growing violence sparked two British Commissions to investigate its source. In 1929, the Shaw Commission concluded that Palestinian Arab hostility related to frustration about their national aspirations for statehood and their fear for their economic future under growing dislocation and landlessness. The Peel Commission investigated in 1937 and concluded that Palestinian fear and concern about the establishment of the Jewish national home had been largely responsible for the revolt. It recommended the end of the British mandate and the partitioning of Palestine.
David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency, acknowledged that frustrated Palestinian national aspirations lay behind the 1936 rebellion, as well as fears that a Jewish state was being thrust upon them. He knew that the Palestinians had “legitimate fears and grievances.” He stated, “Were I an Arab … I would rise up against immigration,” for Arabs are “fighting dispossession … the fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people, which others (we) want to turn into the homeland of the Jewish people. When we say the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves — that is only half the truth … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
Indeed, Ben-Gurion came to agree with Jabotinsky that the Palestinians would inevitably resist a Jewish state — that military force was necessary. Avi Shlaim observes: “Both concluded that only insuperable Jewish military strength would inevitably make the Arabs despair of the struggle and come to terms with a Jewish state in Palestine … When it came to dealing with Arabs, he (Ben-Gurion) had more in common with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin than he did with the moderates inside his own party.”
Baylis Thomas shows that Ben-Gurion revealed this strategy in 1937 to various party members and others. He declared: “After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Biblical Palestine. I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question … We will expel the Arabs and take their places … with the forces at our disposal. The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce (acquisition of) Transjordan … We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will limit them.”
In November 1947 the U.N. recommended partition of Palestine: 56 percent for a Jewish state, 44 percent for a Palestinian state. Thomas writes: “The Palestinians cited the inequity: the Jews with 3l percent of the population … were being allocated 56 percent of the land (a per capita allotment of nearly three times as much). Moreover, the Jews owned only 6 percent of Palestine. What, too, would happen to those Palestinians that comprised nearly half the population in the territory allocated to the Jews … The Palestinians argued that no division of the land was right, that an indigenous people on its own land were entitled to self-determination. At the least, a single state covering the whole of Palestine comprised of 31 percent Jews and 69 percent Palestinians seemed to them consistent with such principles. Talk about ‘fair’ shares seemed to them sophistic.”
Avi Shlaim summarizes the Palestinian case: “The Arab case was clear and compelling. Palestine belonged to the people living in it, and the overwhelming majority was Arab. In language and culture, as well as land ownership, the country had been Arab for centuries. Geographical proximity, historical ties, and religious affinity made Palestine an integral part of the Arab world. It was entitled to immediate independence. Jewish immigration and settlement could not take place without the consent of the country’s Arab owners, and this consent was emphatically denied. Neither Britain nor the League of Nations had the right to promise a land that was not theirs to promise, the promise was null and void.”
Land Promised by God
The Zionist argument, Thomas writes, held that “beyond compensation for the Holocaust, was that the Jews had a right to the land because their God had promised it, and because their ancestors had once lived there — a two-pronged argument that the Jews were both divinely entitled and the truly indigenous population of Palestine.”
Hannah Arendt provided this assessment of the hopeless indeterminacy of these competing moral claims: “The Jews are convinced, and have announced many times, that the world or history or higher morality — owes them a righting of the wrongs of two thousand years and, more specifically, a compensation for the catastrophe of European Jewry which, in their opinion, was not simply a crime of Nazi Germany but of the whole civilized world. The Arabs, on the other hand, reply that two wrongs do not make a right and that ‘no code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of the other.’ The point of this kind of argumentation is that it is unanswer-able.”
The 1948 war, Thomas explains, “provided opportunity to carry out the logic and intent of political Zionism, establishment of a state for Jews without Palestinians, or as few as possible. From Herzl through Ben-Gurion, consensus existed that forced ‘transfer’ was the solution to the Jews’ ‘Arab problem.’ Ben-Gurion’s position was clear: ‘better that the smallest possible number of Arabs remain within the area of the state. Their forced removal could be completed only under cover of war … Ben-Gurion insisted at the time: ‘We must respond with a decisive blow: the destruction of the place or the expulsion of the residents along with the seizure of the place. When in action we … must fight strongly and cruelly, letting nothing stop us. It is not our task to worry about the return of the Arabs.’”
Removal of Palestinians
Three strategies, Thomas notes, were employed for the removal of the Palestinians: (1) Economic triangulation. Immediately following passage of the U.N. Partition Resolution calling for Jewish economic cooperation with the Palestinians, Ben-Gurion focused on destruction of the Palestinian economy ... (2) Terror and massacre: Panic and flight were induced by massacres committed by Jewish terrorists, the Haganah and the IDF. For example, in April 1948, Begin’s Irgun TZL and Shamir’s LEHI massacred ‘with great cruelty’ (and Haganah consent) up to 254 Palestinian men, women and children from the peaceable village of Deir Yassin. The world was shocked. This, more than any other single event, was responsible for breaking the spirit of the civilian population and setting into motion the mass exodus of Arabs from Palestine. Publicly, Ben-Gurion expressed shock, yet days later ratified an agreement of cooperation between Irgun and Haganah.”
Benny Morris concludes that, “There can be no exaggerating the detrimental effect on Arab morale of the (Irgun) IZL and LEHI bombing campaigns in the big towns.” There were at least twenty massacres, according to a former director of the Israeli Army archives who stated: “In almost every Arab village occupied by us, during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres and rapes.” Ilan Pappe provides full descriptions of IDF operations and fixes the number of massacres at over 31. Morris notes that “almost all the massacres followed a similar course: a unit (of the IDF) entered a village, rounded up the menfolk in the village square, selected four or ten or fifty of the army-age males … lined them up against the wall and shot them.” By June 1, two weeks before Israel declared statehood, some 370,000 Palestinian refugees had fled.
Baylis Thomas contends that, “The largely forced dispossession of 750,000 Palestinian Arabs by economic strangulation, siege, massacre, terror and military expulsion was consistent with the political philosophy and practical intent of Zionism from its early beginnings, and was a matter of ‘virtual consensus’ among the Zionist leadership for a decade before it was finally accomplished. Neither the expulsion of the Palestinian population nor the acquisition of territory through war was an accidental by-product of war in self-defense. War was a necessary part of the Israeli plan that entailed avoidance of peace proposals, collusion with Transjordan and terrorism against a civilian population. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes: ‘It is not that the Zionist movement, in creating the nation-state, staged a war that ‘tragically but inevitably’ led to the expulsion of ‘parts of the indigenous population.’ Rather, it is the other way round: the objective was ethnic cleansing of the country … and the war was … the means to carry it out.”
Lausanne Peace Conference
Following the 1948 war, the U.N. sponsored the Lausanne Peace Conference in an effort to bring lasting peace to Israel and the Arab states. It failed. Thomas describes these developments: “The Arab states and Israel had widely different expectations. The Arab states by now had accepted the original 1947 U.N. Partition Plan but not Israel’s seizure of half of the U.N.-allotted Palestinian state … At Lausanne, the Arab states accepted the original U.N.-designated boundaries of Israel and the U.N. designation of Jerusalem as an international city. They also agreed, in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194, that Palestinian refugees should be permitted to return to their homes in Israel or be compensated with money or land. Sima Flapan observes: ‘By signing the Lausanne protocol, the Arabs had in fact accepted the legitimacy of the Partition Resolution … abandoned the idea of Palestine as a unitary state, accepted the reality of Israel, and agreed to solve the dispute by political means.’”
Using Israeli sources, Thomas shows that Ben-Gurion planned in the 1950s to capture the last 22 percent of Palestine not taken in 1948. His protégé, Moshe Dayan, agreed that “boundaries will be changed by war.” Avi Shlaim notes that Dayan considered the 1948 war “not yet over … several further large-scale operations were required to … round off Israel’s borders and to assert her military dominance in such a crushing manner that the Arabs (the states) would give up all hope of a second round.”
Over the years, as Israel proceeded to gain control of the West Bank and to place Jewish settlements throughout the occupied territories, many in Israel adopted a vision of a “Greater Israel,” incorporating these areas. This, Thomas shows, was the perspective of former and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the past, “Netanyahu campaigned on a platform of … fulfilling the Greater Israel vision: incorporation of all of Palestine, that is, no military withdrawal from the occupied territories. Netanyahu was devoted to the nullification of the ‘dangerous’ Oslo Peace Accords and explained his policy intentions to the Knesset in June l996: (1) construction of more Jewish settlements, (2) retention of Syria’s Golan Heights, (3) sover-eignty over all of Jerusalem, (4) right of IDF entry into Palestinian self-rule areas, (5) no return of Palestinian refugees.”
Enemies of Jewish People
Israeli author Avishai Margalit provides this assessment: “The primordialists believe that throughout history there have always been enemies of the Jewish people, whose genocidal intent is the only historical constant, from Pharoah … to the German Nazis and now the Arabs … If only, say the primordialists, we could rid ourselves of the enemies from within — the left — and create Jewish unity, then no one could destroy us. The futurists (the left) want a ‘normal’ Israel that would be like other well-ordered nations — a country in which individual rights and minority rights are respected, including the rights of the Arab minority in Israel.”
In various peace talks, Thomas argues, there has thus far been no genuine offer of a withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank to enable a viable Palestinian state to come into existence. Instead, settlements, roads and barriers continue to be built. When Ehud Barak met with Yassir Arafat at Camp David in July 2000, “an impression was left with the media that the Palestinians would have a sovereign state on the remaining 92 percent of the West Bank. What, then, would be the fate of the settlements, roads and security zones remaining on nearly half of the West Bank? Barak said nothing about the voluntary or forced evacuation of all these settlements and security zones. Nor did Barak address the question of who would possess the Jordan River Valley, the wide easterly swath of the West Bank (from which Palestinians are largely excluded). Since Barak made no clarification or commitment on these matters, Arafat had little reason to believe that the Palestinians were being offered over 92 percent of the West Bank.”
What was, in fact, being offered, in Thomas’ view, was “Palestinian sovereignty over pieces of land between Jewish settlements, roads and security zones perhaps of the West Bank on which 2.3 million Palestinians would remain isolated on four separate enclaves. If that was the offer, then, as Jimmy Carter later observed, ‘there was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive.’ Barak’s foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, a key participant at Camp David, later admitted: ‘If I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected Camp David as well.’”
In recent years, the intransigence of the Arab world toward recognition of Israel has undergone major change. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz proposed in February 2002 that the Arab League offer Israel diplomatic recognition, normalized relations, and guarantees of security in exchange for Israel conforming with U.N. Resolution 242 — withdrawal from virtually all territories occupied since the 1967 war. The Beirut Plan was unanimously approved by the 22 Arab League states again in March 2007 in Riyadh. The text also called for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem, presumably either repatriation or compensation in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194 of 1948.
In exchange, the Arab League would “consider the Arab-Israeli conflict at an end and enter into a peace agreement with Israel.” Saudi officials stated that such normalized relations with Israel did not preclude Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall in the Old City or over Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This historic offer, a final peace that Israel has always said it wanted, was, noted Henry Siegman, formerly a leader in the American Jewish Congress, “greeted with a yawn.” He states: “Mr. Sharon’s refusal to take notice of the new Saudi position should finally bring home … that Mr. Sharon’s insistence that there be no negotiations until all Palestinian violence ceases can only be an excuse to hold onto the West Bank and Gaza.”
At the present time, Thomas points out, two main solutions to the Israel-Palestine question have been proposed. The “two-state” proposal is for a sovereign state for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, side by side with Israel. He notes that, “This solution would satisfy both the Palestinians’ national aspirations and Israel’s demographic concerns about the enlarging Palestinian population in the region. The chief difficulty with this proposal is that Jewish settlements are scattered throughout the West Bank and would have to be relinquished. In contrast, the ‘one-state’ proposal envisions an enlarged democratic Israel that would include the West Bank and Gaza and be shared by Jews and Palestinians alike. This represents the democratic ideal, yet it poses formidable difficulties that seem to preclude its achievements. First, this new and enlarged Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority population, a prospect which leads most Jewish Israelis to reject the one-state solution.”
The two-state solution, Thomas believes, “appears to be the more practical, although not easily accomplished. Not only would the Jewish settlements have to be relinquished, but water would have to be equitably divided in order to create a viable Palestinian state. Still, the two-state solution is widely supported by the international community — both in the West and by 22 Arab League states, as well as by the Palestinian and Israeli populations … Two-thirds of Israelis and 84 percent of Palestinians are in favor. A state on the West Bank and Gaza may represent only partial justice from the Palestinian perspective, yet it is acceptable to them and is a clear formula for permanent peace. Giving up Jewish settlements on the West Bank — a shift in Israeli thinking from acquiring Palestinian land to relinquish-ing it — would be an emotionally difficult step. Yet that relinquishment would preserve the theological, political, historical and emotional meaning of the whole Zionist project, a sovereign Jewish state — and create the same for Palestinians. The two-state solution incorporates the historical reality that Jews and Palestinians each desire, ethnic homogeneity more than democratic mixing.”
Over the years, Thomas shows, there have been many Jewish voices expressing concern over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. I.F. Stone once made an implicit and hopeful appeal that the Jews would be different in character from their former oppressor: “How we act toward the Arabs will determine what kind of people we become: either oppressors and racists in our own turn like those from whom we have suffered, or a nobler race able to transcend the tribal xenophobias that afflict mankind.” Daniel Barenboim expresses this view: “We have a powerful army. We have the atomic bomb. But the psychology of what comes out of Israel has the tone of the Warsaw ghetto.”
When it comes to the question of justice, to the larger matter of who, in fact, can legitimately claim title to Israel/Palestine, Thomas believes that there is a good deal of confusion.
“Jewish nationalism,” he writes, “reflects a universal ideal, the right of a people to self-determination. However, fulfillment of this ideal involved the occupation and colonization of a territory already occupied by another people, the Palestinian Arabs, who were themselves seeking self-determination after centuries of oppressive Ottoman rule. The resulting conflict can be seen, thus, from competing perspectives: (1) the rightful restoration of an ancient Jewish homeland, or (2) the rightful possession by Palestinians of a homeland continuously maintained for centuries.”
Concerning the modern claim that ancestral possession confers title to Palestine — that modern Jews are descended from the Israelites and modern Palestinians from the Canaanites, Thomas asks: “Would not the diversity of peoples and dynasties through five millennia defy assignment of Palestine to any one people — even if ancestral lines could be validated, or if ancestral possession could confer such rights? Or can a faith-based claim to title on grounds that a god bestowed possession on condition of extermination of another people warrant belief in the modern age?”
It is understandable, Thomas notes, that, “Jews and Christians focus on biblical stories that provide them with cultural heritage. Yet Jewish history in Palestine was a relatively small and brief event among the histories of many peoples. ... From a religious, cultural and emotional perspective, every people’s history is believed both to authenticate their identity and validate their entitlements — a profound and compelling presumption. Nevertheless, the ancient history of Palestinians and Jews cannot validate modern claims, either political or territorial.”
Violation of International Law
The fact is, Thomas declares, that Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank are in violation of established International Law. The illegality of placing settlements on captured and occupied land derives from the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, known as “The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” This Convention prohibits an occupying power from (1) establishing settlements for its own population on occupied lands, (2) deporting inhabitants who are under occupation; (3) imposing collective punishment such as house demolitions; and (4) collecting taxes.
Article 49, paragraph 6 of the Geneva Convention explicitly states “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.” Thomas points to the fact that, “Consequently, Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories are illegal. The U.S. Government reaffirmed in June 1967 (and in 1978) that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to Israel and the occupied territories. (Israel, while it ratified this Convention in 1951 and accepted its applica-bility to the occupied territories, later denied its applicability). In 1979, U.N. Resolution 446 stated that the Fourth Geneva Convention did apply to Arab territories under Israeli occupation (‘including Jerusalem’) and that the settlements were both illegal and ‘a serious obstruction’ to peace … Avishai Margalit of Hebrew University points out that the clear purpose of Article 49 of the Geneva Conven-tion is ‘to prevent permanent colonization of occupied territories, which is undoubtedly the purpose of Jewish settlements. The rest is sophistry.’”
In a chapter on “Israel’s Global Weapon Sales,” Thomas reports of Israel’s role in supplying the breakaway white government of Rhodesia, the apartheid regime of South Africa, Somoza’s Nicaragua and the military dictatorship of Argentina, among others, with the most advanced weapons systems including, in the case of South Africa, nuclear weapons.
Hostility to America
It is Thomas’ belief, and one which is widely shared by Middle East specialists, that U.S. policy in the region has fueled hostility to America: “The U.S. has been seen in the Islamic world as a neocoloni-alist friend of Arab autocrats, as a champion of Israel’s domination of Palestinians, and as an exploita-tive intruder in Middle East affairs. The classic example of U.S. interference was its 1953 overthrow of the Islamic Iranian government, followed by U.S. support of the Iraqi war against Iran (1980-1989) … Arab reformists have also been critical toward U.S. support of repressive factions in Afghanistan (the Taliban and al Qaeda) in the 1979 war against the Soviet Union. And of course U.S. interference in the Arab Middle East was overt with its attacks and invasions in oil-rich Iraq in 1991 and 2003, as well as its continuing alliance with the repressive oil-rich Saudis. Equally blatant has been the longtime U.S. championing of Israel in its wars against the Palestinians and Islamic states. This is the historic background of conflict between Islamic groups and the U.S.”
Early Zionists recognized the inherent conflict between Jewish colonization of Palestine and the rights of the indigenous inhabitants. Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote in 1923: “(Arabs) look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence. Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. This is how the Arabs will behave and go on behaving so long as they possess a gleam of hope that they can prevent ‘Palestine’ from becoming the Land of Israel … Nothing in the world can cause them to relinquish this hope, precisely because they are not a rabble but a living people…”
Now, in 2010, Palestinians and Israelis are once again negotiating about a final peace settlement. As Baylis Thomas tells us, the plausible answer to the problem is well known: a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel. Yet, Israel persists in placing settlements upon land which, according to this formula, must be relinquished. Whether the wishes of the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians can be realized — or are politically impossible — remains to be seen.
Unknown to many American Jews, Zionism has a dark side which Baylis Thomas explores in this important book. Professor Joel Kovel, author of Overcoming Zionism says of this book that it possesses “a combination of a dispassionate analysis of the many facets of Israeli aggression on the one hand, with a keen and consistent moral compass on the other. The result is a work both scholarly and just, a valuable addition to this never-ending controversy.”
While many readers will disagree with portions of Thomas’ analysis, this book is one which de-serves a wide readership and the discussion and debate which will ensue. It is high time that all of us — on all sides of the question — see things as they really are. •
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and Editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.