This has been a busy week with four presentations on Gaza in Albany, Hartford, and West Barnstable, the latter two as part of the Ninth Annual Tree of Life Conference (Tree of Life). The audiences were largely sympathetic with some concerned that I did not give enough attention to progressive Jewish Israelis and their power to impact change through dialogue groups and increasing connections and negotiations with Palestinians. We discussed the legacy of colonialism in the region, the post war division of the Middle East (it is only “Middle” if you are a Western colonial power gazing eastward) into countries with little regard for the indigenous peoples, installing minority groups beholden to the West to rule over majority populations. This was all complicated by US invasions, the establishment of failed states, and divisive local leadership, often propped up by various international benefactors.
We reviewed the role of racism in Israeli policy and attitudes and the problems with the special treatment of Israel’s nuclear program when it comes to trying to stop Iranian nuclear aspirations. The fact that Israel developed its program in secret with the international community largely conspiring to “not notice,”added to Israel’s refusal to sign on to nonproliferation treaties, monitoring, etc, only triggers the appetites of neighboring countries for nuclear power and sinks Israel’s credibility. I see the recent defeat of AIPAC’s efforts to stop the Iran agreement as a major positive development, but it seems the Israelis will now exact a “price” to be paid in military support from Obama, et al, so the struggle is far from over.
People asked, What is the Israeli strategy re: Palestinians?” and I reviewed the perverse idea of “contained conflict” and repeatedly “mowing the lawn in Gaza.” I think it is abundantly clear that since the founding of the state, the strategy has been to take as much land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible. Today we see talk of annexing area C, which is 65% of the West Bank, as well as Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. I reviewed some of the founding ideologies: the socialist/Bundist/kibbutzniks and the Jabotinsky right wingers who actually flirted with the Nazi party in terms of ideology, but then backed off when the extermination of the Jews became apparent. I discussed that while the Bundists were politically left, their treatment of the indigenous Arab speaking population was racist and exclusionary; the Jabotinsky types now dominate much of the political discourse and are strengthened by the influx of Russian immigrants unfamiliar with the democratic process and the growing ultra-orthodox population. This is partly due to a parliamentary system where the winning party coalitions with many smaller parties to achieve a majority; Netanyahu and his buddies repeatedly coalition to the right. This gives the ultra-religious and ultranationalist parties a disproportionate amount of power and allows Netanyahu to play the fear-Holocaust trauma card very effectively.
People were concerned about the growth of Hamas and I agreed there was much to be worried about, but as usual it is complicated. Hamas coalesced in the First Intifada as a form of Palestinian resistance to occupation. The group had a militant/suicide bomber side as well as a focus on social services, building schools, hospitals, and taking care of a beleaguered forgotten population. The fact that they agreed to be in an election in 2006 (despite their disturbing charter) implied a tacit acceptance of the fact of the State of Israel and a willingness to engage in political give and take. Indeed there are multiple examples of back door negotiations with Hamas diplomats that offer examples of a willingness to be part of the political process. Hamas won the legislative election as a vote against Fatah that was seen as corrupt and ineffectual. Many Palestinians have said to me that due to the crippling siege and repeated military attacks, Hamas never had a chance to govern and politically evolve (like many “freedom fighters” in the past: see the founding of the State of Israel). If they did not deliver, they would have been voted out in the next election, but of course that was never allowed to happen.
I talked about focusing on the struggle for human and civil rights for everyone and that this is indeed the focus on the boycott, divestment, sanction movement. Some worried that BDS would only push Israelis further to the right, but I pointed out that the Israeli populace has been moving to the right for years without BDS and that nobody gives up power voluntarily, international pressure is critical. In essence, what I see now is functionally a one state from the river to the sea, but it is a state characterized by a form of Jim Crow within the ’48 borders and apartheid beyond those borders. This is the challenge.
I urged people to reflect on the price of Zionism as it is currently practiced, the privileging of Jewish trauma, history, power, aspirations, over the non-Jewish population. Ultimately, I do not think that creating a State with this foundation is a recipe for keeping Jews safe, Jews have historically flourished in multicultural and Islamic societies. Not only do I fear for the future of Palestinians, I worry for Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. Additionally we see younger generations turning their backs on Israel because they cannot reconcile their concerns for justice and tolerance with the ongoing occupation, siege, and second class citizenship of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.