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something i wrote for a relative
i have been talking to a relative of mine about Palestine for about a month, and i recently sent them a kind of lengthy letter which i want to post here. the letter i wrote is responding point for point to the points they made. as i don’t want to share their writing here, i will be providing a paraphrasing of the issues they represented, and my responses will be edited as well to fit the new question and format.
(Note: in a previous letter, i dismissed the argument of indigeneity to Palestine as irrelevant since it provides no helpful context for understanding the colonial question of Palestine.)
It does not matter how Israel came into existence, we ought to have a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine both have independent states.
(Some helpful context for my response: In an earlier letter, and in a later point in this letter, my relative argues that calling Israel a colonial state is incorrect and unhelpful. I am arguing that attempting to ignore the colonial reality of Israel and attempting to ignore the conditions which lead to the founding of Israel will lead to an incorrect analysis of the situation.)
I find it troubling to discard the origins of any state, but especially a colonial state. I understand that you have qualms with the identifications of Israelis as colonizers and Palestinians as the colonized, but I do not see that point as defensible. Every characteristic of a colonial nation is there, from the planning to the execution to the denial of both. As early as 1895 Theodor Herzl was writing "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 employment in our own 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." In this excerpt of Herzl's own writings, we can see that he planned, purposefully, to create a segregated society and to steal away the land from Palestinians.
To draw a parallel between another colonial society and Israel, in North America during Western Expansion, Homestead Acts were passed which ended up giving away roughly 10% of the land of the United States, for free, to white Europeans. This is despite the fact that people were already living on this land. That is, the illegitimate government of the United States made a practice of taking land which was already lived on, farmed on, hunted on, maintained, cared for, and which a society of over 100 million people were collectively responsible for, and claimed that land as its own, and then divied up that land for use by white Europeans.
Similarly, in Palestine in the early 1900s, the zionist movement had already begun passing laws which allow settlers to claim land as their own despite the fact that Palestinians already lived on that land. This includes a law which stipulated that any land given to an Israeli settler would require that settler to never let a Palestinian own that land. They passed similar laws for the businesses: Israeli ran businesses could not employ Palestinians or let Palestinians become shareholders if the business was ran on settled land. The only time Palestinians could be employed by Israeli businesses was when the Israeli business was on a piece of Palestinian land.
To go further than simply providing evidence for the colonial nature of zionism, I will employ one of the earliest zionist leaders, Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Here are two quotes from him:
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.’"
“Zionist colonization … can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach." (It's no coincidence that Israel's defense system is called "The Iron Dome.")
Indeed, many zionist leaders and associations were not shy about Israel's status as a colonial entity, since, as you may know, colonialism was often pitched as a good thing. England under Churchill claimed to be improving and benefiting India (a disgusting notion if there ever was one), similarly, the colonizers of Zimbabwe (who tried to name it Rhodesia) claimed that they were the first to develop the land. Notably, the Europeans who colonized North America held the same beliefs: they claimed they were developing previously untouched land, they were enlightening the (supposedly few) people who did live there, and they were advancing man-kind. The leaders of zionism claimed to hold the same beliefs with regard to Palestine. Within occupied Palestine, the Jewish Colonization Association (also known as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association), was created to transfer Jewish people from Russia and Eastern Europe to colonies in South America. When zionism became a significant movement, the JCA pivoted to focusing on Palestine, and provided massive financial support to make land purchases and subsidize early zionist colonies. They were not shy about being colonizers. According to those who created and executed the plans, zionism is a specifically colonial movement.
I am harping on this point because it is not one that I believe can be overlooked: zionism is a distinctly colonial ideology and belief system, and the people who helped invent zionism, who established the political, social, and economic rules that to this day define zionism, understood it as a colonial enterprise. It is only since the anti-colonial and decolonial movements of the post-World War 2 era that zionism has been argued as "not colonization." I do not think the origin of Israel is something that can be overlooked, because it is precisely in that origin where the injustices begin.
What is happening in Palestine is not ethnic cleansing; it is reasonable for Israel to defend itself from people who wish to annihilate you.
Regarding ethnic cleansing, I am not merely representing an opinion: I am mirroring the UN's General Assembly Security Council. However, I would like to go a step further than the UN's General Assembly Security Council does, and point us backwards, to the Nakba. I am not sure if you are familiar with the Nakba as an event, so I will give a few quotes. The first is from The 100 Years War On Palestine by Rashid Khalidi (I have attached the entire book here for your perusal as well):
"By the summer of 1949, the Palestinian polity had been devastated and most of its society uprooted. Some 80 percent of the Arab population of the territory that at war’s end became the new state of Israel had been forced from their homes and lost their lands and property. At least 720,000 of the 1.3 million Palestinians were made refugees. Thanks to this violent transformation, Israel controlled 78 percent of the territory of former Mandatory Palestine, and now ruled over the 160,000 Palestinian Arabs who had been able to remain, barely one-fifth of the prewar Arab population."
The next quote is from Edward Said, from a book (which I've attached as well,) titled "A Map of Absence: An Anthology of Palestinian Writing on the Nakba," but is actually Edward Said quoting Moshe Dayan (an Israeli politician / military leader):
"‘We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here. In considerable areas of the country’ – the total area of the country that he’s talking about was only 6 percent – ‘we bought the lands from the Arabs. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either.’ In the events of 1948, 400 villages were destroyed and effaced from history. ‘Nahalal,’ which is Dayan’s own village, he says, ‘arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat – in the place of Jibta, [Kibbutz] Sarid – in the place of Haneifs and Kefar Yehoshua – in the place of Tell Shaman. There is not’ – this is the last sentence of his intervention – ‘There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.’" (One note to this quote: Said says "400 villages were destroyed and effaced from history." But the actual number is over 500.)
The fact of the Nakba is that 750,000 Palestinians were purposefully displaced. Over 15,000 Palestinians were killed. This displacement, these deaths, were specifically for the purpose of claiming that land for Israeli settlers. Israeli settlers immediately moved into the villages in which Palestinians had been living, they took their homes directly, they denied Palestinians entrance into their own communities, and killed those who attempted to forcibly reclaim their homes. Currently, Israel marks the date of the Nakba (May 15th) as Israeli Independence Day. This would be akin to the United States commemorating The Trail Of Tears as The 4th Of July. (I'd like to note here that The Trail Of Tears lasted for roughly 20 years and effected roughly 100,000 people, about 13% of the number effected by the Nakba).
To claim that Palestinians are the ones who want to "annihilate" Israelis is patently absurd. This is a completely indefensible claim that has no merit. Not only has the zionist movement argued, with that exact verbiage, for the destruction of Palestine and Palestinians, they are the ones who are actually doing it. Nowhere have Palestinians caused nearly the number of deaths that Israelis have. Nowhere have Palestinians destroyed entire villages, evicted thousands of people, forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their land and country. Beyond that, Palestinians do not want the annihilation of Israelis, they want the removal of the Israeli state. Palestine prior to the Nakba was not an ethnostate and did not have any goals of being one. Even in the Balfour Declaration the diversity of Palestine could not be ignored, as can be seen when Balfour identified the "non-Jewish" populace of Palestine. (I will point out that Balfour's use of "non-Jewish" was specifically for the goal of privileging Jewish people over non-Jewish people, despite the fact that at the time of writing Jewish people made up about 5% of the populace of Palestine.) Palestinians are not working towards the goal of annihilating Israelis, they are working towards being represented by their own nation state. This is in direct contradistinction to Israel, which has a goal of controlling as much Palestinian land as possible, denying Palestinians rights on that land, and killing anyone who disagrees. Even if we take a cursory glance at the casualties over the past month, we can see how absolutely ridiculous it is to claim that Palestinians are the ones who wish for the annihilation of all Israelis:
Over 11,240 Palestinians have been killed.
Over 1,200 Israelis have been killed.
Ten times the amount of Palestinians dead vs Israelis. Israeli military officials go even further than that, claiming over 20,000 have been killed. This includes thousands of children, journalists, and medical professionals.
Context for the Third Point: (In a previous letter, I said that Palestinians do not hide behind civilians or use human shields.)
Hiding behind civilians is not a far-fetched idea considering that Hamas decapitated babies. Also, Hamas may or may not be using tunnels underneath schools and hospitals, we currently have no way of knowing.
You make the claim that "Hiding behind civilians doesn't seem to me to be such a far fetched idea given that we're talking about folks who decapitate babies." This is an absolutely reprehensible claim and there is absolutely zero evidence to substantiate it. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that these folks use human shields. From the BBC to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch there has been no evidence found that Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority, or Palestinian fighters in general, use human shields. These claims about Palestinians using human shields and decapitating babies and other human rights violations are often levied by the Israeli government, and they mirror the exact nature of propaganda spread by every colonial government against those they colonize. For example, in the United States, it was common for news journals to publish reports that Native Americans had kidnapped a European woman, and then raped and murdered her, despite this not occurring. It stoked a sentiment of distrust, hatred, and fear within the colonial communities, and, much like the racial pogroms of the Jim Crow south, caused the unjust murder of many Native American men and their communities. (There is a great book, linked here, which has a section on this exact type of propaganda in the US.) Speaking of the Jim Crow south, it was (and still is) very common for Black people to be completely misrepresented by news outlets, politicians, and individual racists as perpetrating violent acts which they had not. This mischaracterization acts as a means to the end of inculcating distrust, justifying increased policing in Black neighborhoods and higher prison sentences for Black people, and maintaining a society in which Black people are second class citizens. This type of propaganda is even similar to the blood libel used to stir and create antisemitic sentiment in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries.
I beg you to take news you receive regarding anything in Palestine with more than a grain of salt. Israeli news has shown itself time and time again to be completely incapable of reporting honestly, and the IDF is even worse.
Context for Point Four: In previous letters, we spoke about violent action vs. non-violent action with regard to political movements.
Both violence and non-violence are useful, and non-violent efforts have created long-term change for the better. Some examples include: Daniel O’Connel, the Suffragettes, Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Parks, MLK Jr, the Plowshares movement, the draft resistors of Vietnam War, Nelson Mandela, the People Power Revolution in the Philippines.
(Note: This is a truncated version of my actual response which included my interest in reading about these people and these movements.)
I find MLK's representation in your list interesting because his assassination (orchestrated by the United States government) was the primary cause of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. The MLK assassination riots were the largest riots the country had seen to date, and LBJ, despite his racism, saw that he had to speedily pass legislation for the sake of pacifying the protesters. Those riots, which destroyed entire city blocks, were the key reason for passing this legislation, and lead to an infamous quote of LBJ in which he said "I'll get those n***** voting democrat for the next 30 years." I don't mean to present this as my opinion or my analysis, I mean that this is the common consensus regarding the causes of the very quick passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In a different vein, Nelson Mandela (labeled a terrorist by the United States until 2008 by the way), was an advocate for violence in Palestine.
Violence always begets more violence, and the violence which it begets is an escalation from the initial violence. If you slap me, and I slap you back, in all likelihood you will slap me back even harder or develop a more extreme form of suppression, until one of us is either dead or in the hospital.
I find it troubling to use a metaphor (slap for slap in this case) to talk about an extant conflict. This is not a case of "slapping someone back" but literally fighting for your right to exist. If we wish to look at this through the lens of vengeance, I find it impossible to see how Palestinians are the ones escalating. Palestinians have suffered losses that absolutely dwarf those of Israel, and that is true throughout every conflict. The deaths of Israelis during the Nakba were negligible. During the 6 Day War less than 1,000 Israeli soldiers were killed, whereas roughly 300,000 Palestinians were displaced (the numbers of Palestinians killed are hard to come by but usually around 1,500, and they weren't even belligerents!) During the 1982 War, 600~ Israeli soldiers were killed, and more than 1,200 Palestinian refugees were slaughtered (note that on the Israeli side, they were members of the military, and the Palestinians were in Lebanese refugee camps.) The trend here is clear, I hope: this is not a case of "I slap you you slap me" this is the case of a country having one of the most powerful militaries in the world, while being backed by two of the most powerful countries in the world (the US and England) and leveraging that military against primarily civilian populations.
Israel is surrounded by those who wish for its non-existence. However, those countries which oppose Israel will not even help Palestinians. Neighboring countries use the Palestinian cause as a means to fund terrorists but do not provide material assistance to Palestinians.
To identify Israel as being "surrounded by those who want its non-existence" without also identifying the necessarily violent and contentious nature of Israel's presence in the region is dangerous. Israel is not a peaceful neighbor. They regularly attack Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, with full support from the US and its military capacity. Israel has a track record of instigating conflicts with their neighboring countries, assassinating people within those countries (famed Palestinian writer Edward Said was killed by Mossad in Beirut, for example), denying safe passage through their borders, and in the case of countries such as Ethiopia, sterilizing Ethiopian Jews who attempted to claim birthright in Israel. Israel is not a victim of neighborly aggression, they are the instigator!
As for assisting Palestinians: It is these neighboring countries who have done more than any other in their assistance of Palestine. They accept refugees, offer aid, provide military response, apply diplomatic pressure, and work regularly to assist the Palestinian people. However, these countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) all have a history as colonized nations that paints their relationships with Israel. The political ramifications of their status as colonized nations are still being seen to this day. I am not nearly as well versed in the history of these countries as I would like to be, but I implore you to investigate how Israel, the US, and Western Europe have specifically worked to undermine Middle Eastern solidarity movements, to appoint leaders that side with the West regarding trade, diplomacy, and military affairs, and to investigate what has happened to these countries when they have fought back. In particular, the US' sponsored destabilization of Iran has had a massive impact on the history of the Middle East and Palestine. To analyze the colonization of Palestine without also investigating how the US and its colonial allies have worked to destabilize the region and destroy any movements towards independence is to engage with history through the lens of pro-US and pro-West propaganda.
The goal of the free Palestine movement is to establish a Palestinian state which exists exclusively for Palestinians and does not allow any people who are not Palestinian there. This means that a Palestinian liberation movement requires finding a solution to the problem of the representation of Jewish, Christian, Circassian, Armenian, and Druze populations who live in Israel.
I want to be very clear here: I am not advocating for an ethnostate of Palestinians in Palestine, nor am I advocating for the forced deporation of every non-Palestinian person living in Israel. I am arguing in favor of the decolonization of Palestine. This decolonization does not take any one "true" form, but the form of the will of the Palestinian people. Prior to the Nakba, prior to the zionist project, people of many faiths and origins lived in Palestine. Those same people still live in Palestine, but under rule of the Israeli government. It is not the case that Israel is somehow protecting Christians, Armenians, or Druze people from Palestinians, or that a decolonization movement in Palestine would result in them somehow being further opressed. It is distinctly the case that Israel is attempting to destroy Palestine and any trace of its people. What a decolonized Palestine would look like is not something I know or can describe because it is not a movement I am meaningfully apart of or capable of speaking for, however, I can tell you that what I am aware of regarding decolonization generally requires a complete re-writing of the laws and statutes that govern the land, a mass shift towards labor power, a restructuring of the government, and an equitable state legislature that is ran by the workers. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine says "For the sake of our independence, our right to return, self-determination, independence, social justice, and free democratic life on our homeland, this is the only option that must be adhered to in the face of the American-Zionist plan that aims to liquidate our national and historical rights." (Apologies if this is poorly worded, it is Google translated from Arabic.)
Decolonization is a difficult, painful, and almost always violent process. Attempts at decolonization have been made all over the world to varying success: Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Jean-Jacques Dessalines in Haiti, Marcus Garvey in the US, Kwame Nkumrah in Ghana, are particular leaders that have worked towards decolonization, and all of them facing the same opposition: The US, England, and Western Europe putting concerted military efforts to deny them their freedom and to oppose their attempts at independence. Many of the leaders I listed above were assassinated by the colonial powers they opposed, and of those leaders, many of them were replaced by leaders who acted directly in support of those colonial powers.
In the case of Palestine, decolonial movements have been repeatedly rebuffed by Israel, the US, and England. A particular example which I am sure you will find shocking is that Hamas as an organization was funded in part by the Israeli government in order to divert popular support away from the significantly more effective (and PR friendly) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). One of the PFLP's leaders, Edward Said, as said above, was assassinated in Beirut by Mossad. Another, Abu Ali Mustafa, was assassinated by Israel. Khalil al-Wazir was assassinated in Tunisia, and even Ronald Reagan opposed this. Even from this cursory glance at the massive list of extra-judicial assassinations carried out by the Israeli government, we can see that their interest is in keeping Palestinians weak, that their interest is in destroying any attempts at resistance to Israeli rule, and that they, as the US has done so many times, would rather provide material assistance to fundamentalist groups than allow a popular decolonial movement to take place.
I have attached another book here, The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon, which has shaped much of my thinking. Another book on the topic is How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, which I haven't attached here but can send you if you'd like
Link to the books mentioned here: https://mega.nz/folder/mRNUQAZJ#-aNPUcQkcOodH7suNWbt3Q