Fri 08 Dec 2023 12:42 pm - Jerusalem Time

"A state created by a colonial movement"... The moral foundations of Israel between fundamentalism and nationalism

Israeli historian and academic Ilan Pappé believes that dehistoricizing the context of the war on Gaza helps Israel continue its genocidal policies in the besieged Strip.

Pappé - Director of the European Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter - belongs to the so-called “School of New Israeli Historians” along with thinkers such as Benny Morris, who addressed the “politics of transfer” (mass displacement), Ze’ev Sternhell, who discusses Israel’s liberal and democratic claims, and Avi Shlaim, who chronicles for settlement and resistance before the Nakba of 1948, and Tom Segev, who studied the racism and ugliness of the first Israeli settlers, and others.

  The moral foundations of Israel

Pappé wrote in his article for Al Jazeera that Israel is demanding that the definition of anti-Semitism be expanded to include criticism of the Israeli state and questioning the moral basis of Zionism. The academic - who left teaching at the University of Haifa in 2006 because of his views - adds that dehistoricizing the events of last October 7 helps Israel. And governments in the West are beginning to implement policies that they had avoided in the past, either for ethical, tactical, or strategic considerations.

Thus, the October 7 attack is used by Israel as an excuse to continue its genocidal policies in the Gaza Strip, as the writer says, and it is also an excuse for the United States to try to reassert its presence in the Middle East, and it is also an excuse for some European countries to violate and limit democratic freedoms in the name of " The new War on Terror".

But there are many historical contexts for what is happening now in Israel and Palestine that cannot be ignored, according to Pappe, as the broader historical context dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when “evangelical Christianity” in the West turned the idea of “the return of the Jews” into a “millennial religious necessity and called for Establishing a Jewish state in Palestine is part of the steps, and this would lead to the resurrection of the dead, the return of Christ, and the end of time.”

"Political Theology"

Pappé considers that "theology" (or the political use of religion) has become a policy followed since the end of the 19th century and in the years preceding World War I for two reasons:

Firstly, for the benefit of the British who wished to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and incorporate parts of it into the British Empire.

Second, this idea resonated with the British aristocracy, both Jews and Christians, who became fascinated with the idea of Zionism as a panacea to the problem of anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe, which produced an unwelcome wave of Jewish immigration to Europe and Britain.

When these two interests united, they prompted the British government to issue the famous “infamous” Balfour Declaration in 1917, as the author of the book “Ten Myths About Israel” (2017) says.

Judaism as a nationality

Jewish thinkers and activists who redefined Judaism as a nationality hoped that this definition would protect Jewish communities from existential danger in Europe by focusing on Palestine as the space required for the “rebirth of the Jewish nation.”

In this process, the Zionist cultural and intellectual project turned into a “settler-colonial project aimed at Judaizing historical Palestine,” ignoring the fact that it was inhabited by indigenous people, as the author of the book “The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel” (Yale University 2011) says.

In contrast, Palestinian society, which was a completely pastoral society at that time and in its first stage of modernization and building national identity, produced its own anti-colonial movement, and its first major movement against the Zionist colonial project was the Buraq Uprising in 1929, and it has not stopped since then.

Another historical context relevant to the current crisis is the ethnic cleansing that took place in Palestine in 1948, which included the forced expulsion of Palestinians to the Gaza Strip from villages on the ruins of which some Israeli settlements were built (the same areas that were attacked on October 7). These were The Palestinians uprooted from their land are part of the 750,000 Palestinians who lost their homes and became refugees.

“The world observed the ethnic cleansing of 1948, but did not condemn it,” Pappe wrote. “As a result, Israel continued to resort to ethnic cleansing as part of its efforts to ensure its complete control over historic Palestine with as few indigenous Palestinians remaining as possible. This included the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians during After the 1967 war, more than 600,000 have been expelled from the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since then.

Occupation and fundamentalism

There is also the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Over the past fifty years, the occupation forces have imposed continuous collective punishment on Palestinians in these territories, exposing them to constant harassment by Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of them, according to Pappe, author of the book “Evil Bureaucracy” : A History of the Israeli Occupation” (Oxford 2012).

The writer says that since the election of the current “fundamentalist Messianic” Israeli government in November 2022, all of these “harsh policies” have reached unprecedented levels, as the number of Palestinians killed, injured, and arrested in the occupied West Bank has increased significantly. Furthermore, the Israeli government's policies towards the Christian and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem have become more aggressive.

Finally, there is also the historical context of the 16-year blockade of Gaza, where nearly half the population are children. In 2018, the United Nations already warned that the Gaza Strip would become an uninhabitable place for humans by 2020.

Pappe notes that it is important to remember that the blockade was imposed in response to “the democratic elections won by Hamas after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza,” and more importantly to remember the era of the 1990s, when the Gaza Strip was cordoned off with barbed wire and separated from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem in the wake of the Oslo Accords.

The isolation of Gaza, the fence surrounding it, and the increasing Judaization of the West Bank were a clear indication that the Oslo Accords (1993) in the eyes of the Israelis meant occupation by other means, and not a path to real peace, as the Israeli historian concludes.

Israel controlled the exit and entry points into Gaza, and even monitored the type of food that entered, and sometimes limited it to a specific number of calories. Hamas responded to this debilitating siege by firing rockets at civilian areas in Israel, according to the writer.

The Israeli government claimed that the motivation behind the Hamas attacks was “the Palestinian movement’s ideological desire to kill Jews, and considered it a new form of Nazism, ignoring the context of the Nakba, the inhuman and barbaric siege imposed on two million people, and the oppression to which Palestinians were subjected in different parts of historic Palestine.”

Hamas was, in many ways, the only Palestinian group that promised retaliation for these policies. However, the way it decides to respond may lead to its demise, at least in the Gaza Strip, and may also provide a pretext for further repression of the Palestinian people, according to Pappe.

The historian - who was born in Haifa and currently resides in Britain - says that "the brutality of the attack cannot be justified in any way, but that does not mean that it cannot be explained and put in context. As horrific as it was, the bad part is that it does not constitute an event." “It changes the rules of the game, despite the enormous human cost on both sides,” he said, and he wonders: What does this mean for the future?

Pappe answers his question by saying, “Israel will remain a state created by a settler-colonial movement, and that factor will continue to be in its political DNA as a determinant of its ideological nature. This means that although it portrays itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, it will remain a democracy for its Jewish citizens only.”

Internal conflict in Israel

Pappe says that the conflict within Israel between what we might call the “Judas State,” that is, the settler state that desires Israel to be more religious, theocratic, and racist, and the “Tel Aviv State” (which is more secular) and desires to maintain the status quo will erupt again. There are already signs of its return.

In his previous speech to Al Jazeera, Pappé considered that these two states (the “State of Judah” model and the “State of Tel Aviv” model) are not democratic when it comes to the Palestinians, while the possible democracy in the case of the “State of Israel” is only for the Jews and not for the Palestinians.

Pappe asserts that “Israel will remain an apartheid state - as a number of human rights organizations confirm - regardless of the developments in the situation in Gaza.” On the other hand, the Palestinians will not disappear and will continue their struggle for liberation.

He concludes that the possible way out is to change the regime in Israel to provide equal rights for everyone from the river to the sea, and allow the return of Palestinian refugees. Otherwise, the cycle of bloodshed will not end.

Source: Al Jazeera


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"A state created by a colonial movement"... The moral foundations of Israel between fundamentalism and nationalism