‘Splendid Act of Conquest’: 70 years after Nakba, Israel still beholden to violent past
As the casualty count at the Gaza border keeps climbing, Israeli officials remain adamant and unfazed.
The likes of Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, perceives his war against unarmed protesters as a war on terrorists. He stated plainly that “there are no innocents in Gaza.” While the Israeli mindset is not in the least surprising, it is emboldened by the lack of meaningful action, or by the outright international silence to the atrocities taking place at the border.
At both ends of this ongoing fight, each side represents a legacy that spans decades: Palestinian youth are continuing with the same struggle that was espoused by generations of Palestinians since the onset of the Nakba – the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian homeland - 70 years ago.
The Israeli army that has killed scores and wounded thousands in recent weeks are implementing the same bloody policies of generations of Israeli soldiers and armed Zionist gangs that carried out the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1947-48.
It is as if time stood still, or that history reproduced itself in a most disastrous pattern. For change to happen, a paradigm shift is required. This tragic and violent reality cannot be allowed to perpetuate.
Controlling this reality
Israel insists on controlling this reality, and its adjoining intellectual discourse as well. Israelis abhor any comparisons between their treatment of Palestinians to Nazis, but prominent Jewish intellectuals, the likes of Albert Einstein, have promoted that analogy for a long time.
Einstein, along with other Jewish luminaries, including Hannah Arendt, published a letter in the New York Times on December 4, 1948, only a few months after Israel had declared its independence as hundreds of Palestinian villages were being actively demolished after their inhabitants were expelled.
The letter denounced Israel’s newly-founded Herut party and its young leader, Menachem Begin. Herut was carved out of the Irgun terrorist gang, famous for its many massacres against Palestinian Arab communities leading up to the Nakba.
The letter described the Herut (Freedom) party as a "political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to Nazi and Fascist parties."
For a letter of this nature to appear a mere few years after the end of World War II and the devastation of the Holocaust is a profound indication of the clear chasm that existed among Jewish intellectuals at the time: the Zionists who supported Israel and its violent birth, and those who took the high moral ground and objected to it. Sadly, the latter group - although still in existence - had lost the battle.
Herut later merged with other groups to form the Likud Party. Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Likud is now the leading party in Israel's right-wing government coalition. The ‘Nazi and Fascist’-like philosophy of Herut have prevailed, and it now engulfs and defines mainstream society in Israel.
The settler colonial mentality of the past continues to control Israel’s action today, as it will govern its future behavior if Apartheid is not demolished, and the Occupation is allowed to perpetuate.Ramzy Baroud
This right-wing tendency is even more pronounced among young Israelis than previous generations. It is these young Israelis who are maiming and killing children to the sound of cheers from their fellow officers.
The settler colonial mentality of the past continues to control Israel’s action today, as it will govern its future behavior if Apartheid is not demolished, and the Occupation is allowed to perpetuate.
Zionist colonial settlement in Palestine began in earnest in 1881 when the leaders of the Zionist Movement in Europe eyed Arab Palestine as an exclusive home for Jews, paying little heed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land. These early ambitions culminated in a bloody, but well-orchestrated terror campaign in 1947-48, resulting in the creation of the state of Israel on the ruins of Palestine.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the time was orchestrated by several Zionist militias. The mainstream Jewish militia was the Haganah which belonged to the Jewish Agency. The latter functioned as a semi-government, under the auspices of the British Mandate Government, while the Haganah served as its army.
However, other breakaway groups also operated according to their own agendas. Two leading bands amongst them were the Irgun (National Military Organization) and Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang). These groups carried out numerous terrorist attacks including bus bombings and assassinations.
Russian-born Begin, perceived by Einstein as Nazi-like , was the leader of the Irgun which, along with the Stern Gang and other Jewish militants, massacred hundreds of civilians in Deir Yassin.
'Tell the soldiers: you have made history in Israel with your attack and your conquest. Continue this until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest,” Begin wrote at the time. He described the massacre as a “splendid act of conquest.”
Nearly 30 years later, Begin became the prime minister of Israel. He accelerated land theft of the newly-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, launched a war on Lebanon, illegally annexed Occupied Jerusalem to Israel and carried out the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.
Einstein was right all along. However, the likes of Begin were gentrified, thanks to Zionist efforts and the support of the United States and other Western powers. Some of these terrorists-turned politicians included Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and Yitzhak Shamir. Each one of these leaders has a record smeared with violence.
Little regard for Palestinians, human rights, international law
That generation of politicians is gone, but a new, equally violent one, has taken their place. The likes of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked who now represent modern Israel and behind them, a massive constituency of right-wing religious zealots and ultra-nationalists, who have little regard for Palestinians, human rights, international law and such seemingly frivolous values as peace and justice.
While Israel labored to present itself as the savior of Jews and the upholder of the Jewish religion, in reality, it serves neither. In 1938, Einstein had espoused with the idea behind the creation of Israel, believing that it runs counter to "the essential nature of Judaism,".
A few years later, in 1946, he argued before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on the Palestinian issue: "I cannot understand why it is (meaning Israel) needed ... I believe it is bad."
Needless to say, if Einstein was alive today, he would have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which aims at holding Israel accountable for its violent and illegal practices against Palestinians. Equally true, he would certainly have been branded antisemitic or a 'self-hating Jew' by Israeli leaders and their supporters.
But this painful paradigm must be overturned. Palestinian children are not terrorists and cannot be treated as such. The Palestinian people are not ‘enemy combatants’ to be eradicated. Genocide must not be normalized.
70 years after Israel's independence and Einstein’s letter, the country's legacy is still marred with blood and violence. Yet, hope is kept alive because the Palestinian people are still resisting, and they need the world to stand in solidarity with them. It is the only way for the ghost of Herut to quit haunting the Palestinians, for the 'Nazi and Fascist' philosophies to be forever defeated, and for the Palestinian Nakba to be overturned.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.