Robin Yassin-Kassab

Five Books on Israel-Palestine

with 31 comments

The interview below was published in the Five Books section of The Browser. I chose five books on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Tell me about the Ilan Pappe book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Pappe has written a great historical work on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947/8 and he shows that it was organised and planned, called Plan D, or plan Dalit, and he has exploded the myths that were current until his work.

What myths?

Well, for example, that the Arab leaders told the Palestinians to leave, or that the Palestinians were Bedouin people who didn’t really live there anyway, and he showed that they were ordinary people in brick and mortar homes who were intentionally forced out. This is very important because the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is the original sin of Zionism and the root of the current problem.

Pappe is part of a group called the New Historians or Revisionist Historians who have undermined the traditional narrative of the birth of the Jewish state. Benny Morris (Professor of Middle Eastern History at Ben-Gurion University) is another, and he says yes they were forced out but it was a good thing and let’s do it again. But Pappe is an anti-Zionist Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors, and a proponent of the one-state solution. He’s not suggesting getting rid of the Jews who are already there. This is an accessible book – a good work of history by someone who is unashamedly politically committed.

Now The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand.

It’s been a bestseller in Israel, and that’s very interesting because it undermines the blood and soil aspects of Zionism and also the Christian Zionism that is so rife in the United States.

What is Christian Zionism?

It’s a right-wing protestant thing that is actually quite anti-Semitic because it says that Israel is a land promised to the Jews and they must kick out all the Arabs and we will support them in that. The movement goes to apocalyptic extremes, saying the key sign of the ‘end times’ will be that the Jews return to Palestine and then Christ will come again and smite them all.

Anti-everyone really.

Well, not anti-Christian because the right kind of Christians will all be orgasmed away to paradise. But obviously it’s against the Palestinian Christians.

But the important thing about The Invention of the Jewish People is that it undermines all that by using science to show that the Jews are not, in fact, a race – that is a 19th-century idea that comes out of the same environment as fascism. Sand shows that there was never a mass exodus of Jews from Palestine – there was the decapitation of the political class but no exodus. The direct descendents of the Jews of Judea are, in fact, the Palestinians. Ashkenazi Jews are converts from the Khazar Kingdom in Russia (Arthur Koestler wrote a book about this) and the Sephardis are converted North African Berbers and the Yemeni Jews are, obviously, Yemeni. Sand again comes to the conclusion that Israel should be a democratic secular state and not a Jewish state. The ethnic underpinning of Zionism is false – the Jews are not a race. I mean, nobody is a race, of course. I think it was Benedict Anderson [the American Professor of International Affairs and specialist in nationalism] who said that we are all imagined communities. Of course, there are other arguments for Zionism that are much more sensible – I don’t happen to agree with them but they are more sensible than saying that today’s Jews are God’s chosen people who must return to the land God promised them. Those people are the Palestinians if they’re anyone and not this Jewish State made up of Russians, Moroccans and Yemenis.

Is Shlomo Sand Israeli?

Yes, he is, and, despite the ideological blindness that afflicts so many Israelis, the book has been a bestseller in Israel.

Now The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

Mearsheimer and Walt are scholars of great repute, not conspiracy theorists or racists. In this book they argue that the remarkable American financial, military and political support for Israel is motivated primarily by the workings of a powerful right-wing Zionist lobby. This acts against American interests and even against Israel’s long-term security. Mearsheimer and Walt examine who makes up the lobby and how it works.

Controversially, the book shows that the Israel lobby played a key role in agitating for the disastrous Iraq war – the lobby wasn’t the only factor, but was certainly more important than oil. The authors have been misrepresented and predictably accused of anti-Semitism, but many American Jews have expressed appreciation for their work. The lobby often pretends to speak for all Jews, but on Iraq, for instance, a majority of US Jews opposed the war from the start. Mearsheimer and Walt have opened up the debate. Brave souls like investigative journalist Phil Weiss continue the work.

Let’s move on to Ali Abunimah’s book and proposed solution to the conflict.

Yes. He’s the founder of the Electronic Intifada website and he’s written a very short, accessible, reasonable and humane book in which he makes parallels between the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa and the struggle to go beyond the Zionist state in Palestine and he argues that the Palestinians, like the ANC, must articulate an inclusive vision for the future that Jews can feel a part of. He looks at the South African model and at the Swiss model of different ethnic groups managing to live more or less peacefully together. Despite a difficult history, South Africa is now able to move beyond the past. In practical terms this is not going to be achieved by petty nationalism and tribalism and it would benefit Israel and the whole world if a humane one-state solution could be arrived at. He points out that there already is one state with an integrated infrastructure and no borders, but it’s an apartheid state. The West Bank is, in fact, religiously much more important to Jews than the coastal areas, so the Jews should stay in the West Bank but let the Palestinians return to their homes in Israel.

Does Abunimah believe this can be achieved? Is it an optimistic book?

Yes, he’s very optimistic. I’ve actually been to Palestine and seen it myself and there is no way a two-state solution is ever going to work. The endless theatre of supposed process towards a two-state solution just masks the continuing dispossession and cantonisation and barbarisation of the Palestinian people. Every village is surrounded by barbed wire, less than a fifth of the water in the West Bank goes to Palestinians, there is a network of Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements. It is obvious apartheid. Let’s recognise the reality that a two-state solution won’t work. When it was proposed in South Africa as the Bantustan System it was a joke and the whole world laughed.

One man, one vote, let’s live as equals. That’s what we should be saying. Otherwise the Palestinians get more and more desperate, the Israelis fall more and more into fascism, and it will all end in tears.

I see. And your next book is a novel, Mornings in Jenin.

This comes out in the UK in February and it’s the first English-language epic novel to comprehensively express the Palestinian tragedy. Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American and the novel starts shortly before the ethnic cleansing of 1947/8 in a village near Haifa and it follows a family driven out of their village to a refugee camp in Jenin. It covers the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, the refugee camp massacres in Beirut and finally the Jenin refugee camp massacre of 2002. It is a great interpenetration of fiction and documentary. Although the subject matter is necessarily political, it remains a great work of fiction and the characters are not ciphers for a political message. The main character’s first menstruation and first kiss are as important as the first time she has a gun pointed at her. There are interesting Jewish characters, one who has been a friend of the family since before 1947, escaping fascism in Germany, and another who is an Israeli soldier who discovers he was taken from Palestinian parents and brought up as Jewish.

Is that a true story?

These things have happened. I know of brothers born to a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother so that by Muslim law they’re Muslim and by Jewish law they’re Jewish, and one became a Hamas activist and the other a right-wing settler and apparently they all get on really well. This book is not an ‘us and them’ rant. It recognises complexity.

I include it partly because it’s a good book but partly as representative of the explosion of Palestinian talent that is happening at the moment in hip-hop, films, novels, poetry. I think this is really important, that people are able to represent themselves and be heard. It’s necessary because it means they can’t be typecast as nutters who only shout and blow themselves up. Palestinians now are very much like the Jews were, still are, in diaspora. On the one hand they can’t go from one place to the next in Palestine and on the other hand they are all over the world, building the Gulf and Jordan, in America and Britain.

Palestinians have a strange stateless existence like the Jews had in the past. They can’t really own anything, can’t invest in land because it will be taken away or in business because it will be destroyed, so they invest in education and culture. As the land disappears from under their feet their identity as a nation paradoxically grows stronger and stronger because it can’t be based in land or money.

(end of interview)


I could only choose five books, limited to Israel-Palestine so not including books on the Israel-Arab conflict. I tried to make them representative of broad areas. I could have also included Tanya Reinhart’s books, Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine, Norman Finkelstein’s Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (despite my disagreement with some of his current positions), and Ben White’s Israeli Apartheid – A Beginner’s Guide.

As for Palestinian writing and culture, I could have mentioned Ramallah Underground, Suheir Hammad, Ghassan Kanafani, Mahmoud Darweesh, Ghada Karmi, Randa Jarrar, Raja Shehadeh, Edward Said, Mourid Barghouti, Elia Suleiman, Hany Abu-Assad and many others.

This film is also a great introduction to some of the issues.

Now please add your suggestions..

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm

31 Responses

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  1. How about Professor Gabi Baramki’s book Peaceful Resistance: Building a Palestinian University Under Occupation recently published by Pluto Press

    From the publisher’s description:
    “This book tells the remarkable story of Birzeit University, Palestine’s oldest university in the Occupied Territories.

    “Founded against the backdrop of occupation, it is open to all students, irrespective of income. Putting the study of democracy and tolerance at the heart of its curriculum, Birzeit continues to produce idealistic young people who can work to bring about a peaceful future. Gabi Baramki explains how the University has survived against shocking odds, including direct attacks where Israeli soldiers have shot unarmed students. Baramki himself has been dragged from his home at night, beaten and arrested. Yet Birzeit continues to thrive, putting peace at the heart of its teaching, and offering Palestinians the opportunities that only education can bring.”


    December 10, 2009 at 5:01 pm

  2. Mornings in Jenin-sounds very interesting. Instead of pointing out the conflict between jews and arabs i want someone to show to the world ambiguity of interaction of our cultures


    December 12, 2009 at 10:18 pm

  3. I’d lik to also recommend Sari Nusseibeh’s book, Once Upon a Country. He also talks about Baramki and the academic institutions of the West Bank.

    Robin, I must say you have managed to butcher most of the subtleties in the topics of the first two books. I think you’re aware of that, but maybe not… then it would be surprising how much you can embed your own perspective into other people’s texts.

    With Sand’s book its fairly obvious. On the outset he says he doesn’t have the tools to prove any of the theories he entertains. All he wishes to show is that other options to the main Zionist narrative are available, and to demonstrate how science and history were manipulated to construct this narrative. His entire point is to show that the definitions of “race”, “origin”, etc. are always bad science. The assertions that you claim are in his book would appear to him as gross as the Zionist assertions. e.g., The Ashkenazi Jews are not “from Kazaria”, the same way they are not “from Judea”. The Palestinians are not “from Judea”, the same way they are not “from Arabia”. What if further DNA evidence proves that Ashkenazi Jews are 67.3% “from Judea”, will this make the “original claim” argument admissible all of a sudden? His whole point is to study the phenomenon and to explain that this bad science has ceased to be constructive in Israeli life.

    One thing that Sand doesn’t take into account is that even if we assume that the Jews weren’t a nation before Zionism, they are probably one now because of Israel. Jews today live either in Israel or the US, and they maintain strong cultural and familial ties between these two communities. Being a Jew today means either you are assimilating (so you kids will likely not identify as Jews), or you are tied to Israel somehow; the number of Jews not in one of these two categories is very low.

    Sand thinks that there emerges a new Israeli identity, which can encompass both Jews and non-Jews. I think it is likely that this is true, but not for non-Jews who are Arab. They don’t feel comfortable with the Israeli identity, and they are also not being welcomed. You can be a non-Jew Russian or Thai and become Israeli by going to a Jewish-Israeli secular school and then serving in the army. That’ll make you part of the tribe. However, the separate school system for the Palestinians and the general enmity between them and the Jews have so far ensured (this is by design of course, an interest of both Jewish and Palestinian leaderships) that the new Israeli identity doesn’t usually include Palestinians.

    On the question of ethnic cleansing I must admit I haven’t read Pappe book but based on Morris and the rest of what I read, you also have some serious mistakes in how you presented this topic, in my opinion. First, it is well documented that there were calls for the Arabs to leave, which were then reversed with calls to stay. BTW, why does this matter? Second, there were cases where a community was given the option to stay, as was in the case of Haifa, but it chose to leave so as not to appear to be collaborating with the Jews.

    On your definition of “original sin”… I would say this requires a very particular prism to call it such. As you know, no Jews remained in areas that were captured by Arab forces. Those that were captured by irregulars were typically massacred, those that were captured by regular forces (esp. Jordanian) were treated respectfully but deported into Jewish areas. On a declarative level, the Arabs declared they are going to make the rivers red with blood, push the Jews into the sea etc. The mysterious Dalet plan paled in comparison to the open intents of the Arabs towards the Jews. The Jewish community was a minority and thinly stretched (geographically speaking). Therefore the Palestinians up until I believe March 1948 were able to cut off settlement blocs from supplies and the people there (e.g., in West Jerusalem) were on the brink of running out of water and food. Nothing worked in getting convoys through until the IZL struck in the Deir Yassin massacre and then the Jews figured out that this method would work where everything else failed. In later stages of the war and later, after the war, they were carried away with their excesses. I think it’s typical of violence, once you get rolling. However I’d say to their defense that up until the invasion of the Arab armies they weren’t really sure whether they could afford to be “nice” to the Palestinians and then handle both the Arab armies and the irregulars. They must have thought “better safe than sorry” and didn’t spare some Palestinian villages, thinking that they are a dormant threat that would activate when the Arab armies invaded. So they drove them out.

    After the war, you could say that they could have just let the Palestinians back to their homes. That’s nice on a theoretical level but in practice there was no agreement on how to reach peace and therefore it seemed that letting the Palestinians back would simply renew the civil war. Of course they were also greedy.

    So… to take all of this complexity, which has shades of Arab responsibility, shades of self-defense, of disinformation and “fog-of-the-battle” and say that this war was the Zionist “original sin” is just pure propaganda. It would be more logical to say that the Zionist original sin was… its existence. We have discussed this before… I don’t necessarily fault the Arabs for starting the 47 war. Maybe they believed they didn’t have a choice or maybe their society didn’t have other means for conflict resolution at that time. Considering that the country today supports 11 million people, the 2 million or so which lived there at the time could have definitely worked something out if they were to approach it with the right mindset. I would just say that this is a bad joke of history. The joke is mostly on the Palestinians at this point, and this fuels your righteous rage, but it could have been the other way around, and it may be the other way around in the future.

    We should focus on the here-and-now instead of trying to construct a history that really flatters one side and demonizes the other. e.g., Abunimah’s book…

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 16, 2009 at 9:01 am

  4. I meant to say that Abunimah’s book concentrates on the present and offers a vision for the future.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

  5. Yossi – the past is important if it provides the myths and illusions which disrupt the present. I’ve read that almost half of Israeli Jews, for instance, believe Jews were a majority of the population of Palestine at the start of the 20th century. Focussing on what really happened in the past, particularly in Israel where they was a deliberate policy of ‘forgetting’ is essential.

    Tha Pappe book: You should read it. The Dalet plan is not as you call it ‘mysterious’ after Pappe’s work. Very danfgerous to assume from a reading of Morris that you know what’s in Pappe. You say it was well-documented that the Arabs were called on to leave. Please be specific. Here is Erskine Childers quoted by Sami Hadawi:

    “The BBC monitored all Middle Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948. Ther records, and companion ones by a United States monitoring unit, can be seen at the British Museum. There was not a single order or appeal or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine, from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948. There is a repeated monitored record of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put.”

    And even if distant Arab leaders had asked the Palestinians to leave, why would they have listened to them?

    But you don’t like my use of the term ‘original sin’ and you pursue ‘both as bad as each other’ and ‘the Arabs would have done worse if they could’ arguments. Now, I respect your contribution to the debate, Yossi, but I must say that these two are very tired and very sadly typical Zionist arguments. You really should read Pappe. He shows that Deir Yassin etc was not a spur-of-the-moment act of desperation but something planned well in advance. The Zionist leaders knew very well that it would be impossible to build a Jewish ethno-state in a land with a Palestinian majority, so they chose ethnic cleansing. Half of the ethnic cleansing was perpetrated before the first Arab forces arrived in Palestine. The fact remains that Israel was founded bt the ethnic cleansing of the indiginous population. Whay can’t you face up to this. And I don’t see the Zionist Jews as an innocent ‘minority’ as you do. 4% of the Palestinian population was Jewish at the start of the 20th century. The vast majority of those foreign immigrants who arrived afterwards came with the aim of setting up an exclusive state for themselves in someone else’s country. So I unashamedly side with the Palestinians. It’s a shame that Arab irregulars killed Jews during the war, but not surprsing and not, in my book, as great a crime (not nearly) as the ethnic cleansing of the ancient Palestinian people FROM THEIR OWN LAND.

    And why does it matter? Because the athno-state was founded in such blood, because the crime continues, and because many Zionists, including you it seems (who may or may not be a Zionist), still try to deny it or justify it or put a pleasant gloss on it. Polishing a turd.

    Which brings us to Sand. I was being interviewed on the telephone. If I had been writing I might have added modal verbs to a couple of sentences. But I don’t think I’ve butchered the book’s meaning as you say. I said that nobody is a ‘race’. My statement that the Palestinians are the descendants of the ancient Israelites if anyone is is a strong generalisation but not a falsehood given my conditioning of the statement. Likewise, the clearest idea of an ‘origin’ for the Ashenazis we can get is from the Khazar kingdom, certainly not from Palestine. Of course, Ashkenazis have a mixture of genes like everybody else. Yes, what Sand does is not to ‘prove’ but to ‘undermine’. That’s the word I used in the interview.

    Sand has explicitly said (in an interview) that he doesn’t consider Jews in Moscow, Tel Aviv and New York to be one people. But I see your point. It isn’t true that Jews only live in the US or Israel (that’s a wilder generalisation by far than any I make). But Israeli Jews are now a national group, indisputably, and how they can live securely in Palestine without furthering injuring the originbal inhhabitants of the place is the stuff of Abunimah’s book.

    You say it’s all a joke. Well, from one perspective it is, like the Holocaust and the slave trade. The fact that in a parallel universe it might be the other way round doesn’t help to get over examination, and taking responsibility for, what really happened. Jews arrived and drove out the Palestinian owners of the land. But you continue to equivocate and shift blame and rationalise and justify. I suggest that it is you, even you Yossi, who are repeating propaganda. Think about it.


    December 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  6. Ilona, you talk about the ambiguity and interaction of Israeli and Palestinian cultures. These exist, and a novel wont be any good if it ignores them. But let’s face facts: any narrative of the situation which does not take into account the conflict, and the central power dynamic by which Jewish immigrants have dispossessed, expelled, imposed apartheid upon and repeatedly massacred the Palestinians, is mere fantasy.


    December 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  7. […] a comment » Inspired by the Browser interview concerning my five favourite books on Israel-Palestine, I’ve come up with a list of five on Syria. […]

  8. Robin,

    I do not intend to establish moral equivalency between the Jews and the Palestinians. The Jews did invade the Palestinian land, initially mostly legally though or at least non-violently, and they did cleanse what turned out to be the territory of Israel from most of its original inhabitants.

    My point was that the situation between these two communities started deteriorating well before 47. The Jews were hell-bent on colonizing the land. The Palestinians were as persistent in their attempts to stop them. The settlers were under continual attack starting from 1929. The Jews had a lot of evidence to extrapolate from on what would happen to them if they didn’t preempt the Arabs.

    I’m saying that the Jews had more than reasonable doubt to assume that they had no other choice but to drive the Palestinians out, if they wanted to live. I’d like to know whether you disagree with that. What do you think could have been done differently around 47, when the moderate amongst the Arabs were declaring that their solution is to deport back to their original countries anybody who arrived after 1918? The Jews were quite belligerent as it were, but the Arabs all but made sure that their backs were against the wall. And then they had to act, or at least they had very compelling evidence to think that this was their only choice.

    The price that the Palestinians paid in 47 and afterwards was huge, but I can’t pinpoint a specific moment at that timeframe where a different decision could have been made without putting the Jewish settlers in a totally precarious situation. The Zionist enterprise was like (probably still is) like a pyramid scam, the more successful it was in attracting people, the more it had to resort to violence to keep them safe, because there was no way back. Now you can say that it’s fine, it was the result of their actions, and I would tend to agree. But how much of this was really under anybody’s control? They were running away from the torment in Europe to anywhere that would take them.

    I believe that the Jews’ cultural background did not allow them to factor the Arabs into their future picture. They were Europeans and the Arabs were natives. On the other hand, the Arab side viewed the Jewish intrusion as a slap on the face, also because they were Jews, the typical underdog—dhimmis—who must beg for protection and mercy. Neither side had what it takes to reach a different outcome in 48—and this is not a moral judgment of the actions which played out. They were both playing the only roles they could play. (So maybe it is a moral judgment… hmm…)

    About the question of leaving vs. being forced out. I hate to break this to you Robin, but people typically leave battle areas when they feel threatened. There was a civil war raging, everywhere, and the news about Deir Yassin was scary. I personally don’t see the great difference: somebody’s right to his home isn’t conditioned on why he had to leave it, be it to protect his family, or being forced to do so at gun point, or going on a business trip.

    On the question of whether the population was called on to leave, Morris says in page 95 of his “1948” book that throughout the war the Arab policy (he puts policy is double quotes) was ambivalent. “Advice and orders changed from month to month and from place to place”. Rereading this section I see that he provides no evidence for what he says, except in the plan of the secretary general of the Arab league from 1946, Mr. Azzam, to evacuate women and children if the situation deteriorates to war. But.. all the Palestinian military and civil leadership along with their families left the country and were waging the war from the outside. Morris said it sent a clear message to everybody beneath them on what needs to be done. The wealthy Christians also got up and left as soon as trouble started (he brings some evidence for that).

    In all honesty, all of the Levant was one political and cultural unit, so what’s so surprising that when a civil war broke out in one part of this area, families went to find refuge with the relatives in Damascus and Beirut? In 2006 when my parents house in Haifa was rained with rockets, they leaved to stay with family in Tel Aviv for a couple of weeks. It’s what people do, when they are in war and have a choice. The reason people at all argue about that is because it conflicts some agenda that they have . In the case of the Arabs, it conflicts with the heroic concept of Sumud, which is good for the West Bank, but not when murder squads go from house to house… It also conflicts with this picture that the Palestinian people is well delineated from the Lebanese, Jordanian or Syrian “people”. Because if Palestine is just a region of the Syrian Levant, then it has implications on the definition of the Palestinian people, and their national struggle. Zionists use this as evidence to show how flimsy the Palestinian attachment was to their homes, as if the residents of Sderot didn’t flee to far away town when Hamas shot their fire crackers at them. But the truth remains that people by far and large will get out of harm’s way when they have a choice, and that doesn’t diminish any of their rights.

    It’s a sad joke Robin. Very sad. God is laughing his lungs out.

    You make good points about what you say of Sand’s book and I understand the limitations of the phone interview medium.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm

  9. Did the Jews have any other choice if they wanted to live? Yes, they did. They could have realised (and they did) that Zionism in the sense of establishing a ‘Jewish state’ was incompatible with the rights of the indigenous population, that the indigenous population would fiercely resist the establishment of a foreign state on their territory. Then they could have given up on the Jewish state idea, and proposed to the Palestinians and Arabs a democratic, secular state. Of course the Jews’ backs were against the wall. A colonising population has its backs against the wall.

    Perhaps you mistake me for someone attaching abstract evil to the Jews present in Palestine in 1948. I agree entirely that players on both sides played the roles that history allotted to them. The past is the past, and almost all that generation is dead. But a full awareness of and sense of responsibility for the nakba is almost entirely absent in Israel. Hence the can’t link that dispossession, which was their independence, to the state of the Palestinians today. Hence they can’t understand Palestinian anger or reasoned calls to justice. My ‘righteous anger’ will become irrelevant when the past has been understood. I few posts back I wrote angrily about Britain’s imperial past in Afghanista, 19th century. Agian, the protagonists did what the ‘swarm life’ (Tolstoy) allowed them to, and are now dead, but it’s important because Britain is repeating its mistakes.

    Arab policy may have ben ambivalent. This is a different matter to orders reaching the Palestnian villagers, and Paestinian supposedly abandoning their own homes to satisfy the dictates of distant rulers, as the traditional Zionist story goes. Neither I nor Pappe have any doubt that most of the flight was not at gunpoint (although much was – forced marches, shelled villages and the rest) but was caused by fear, as you say. I don’t disagree with that. But Pappe shows how the ‘fear factor’ was taken into account by Zionist leaders and was in effect part of the plan.

    And I don’t disagree with your last long paragraph. I don’t know whay you think I do. Palestine always had a distinct identity but was also very much part of ‘bilad-ash-sham’ its people overlapping. And yes, most Palestinians assumed they’d beback home in a week or two when things calmed down, which is why so many took their house keys with them. The crime then was not allowing them to return, shooting them when they did, bulldozing their villages, etc. This is part f the ethnic cleansing process which Pappe also talks about.


    December 16, 2009 at 6:25 pm

  10. Most refugees weren’t staying with relatives. They were in overcrowded tented camps. But your point remains valid.

    I have no problem saying that Palestine, although it had a distinct regional identity, was always part of the larger bilad-ash-sham or levant unit. The Zionist argument that their scheme was more justified because the natives didn’t have a defined independent state and national identity in the way of early 20th century Europe has also struck me as barely worth arguing with. The same argument was used by the classic European empires against the people of India, Africa, North America, etc. It’s an argument that has in this post-classic empire stage been thouroughly discredited. Hasnt it?

    Yes, the ideal solution to so many problems is a bilad-ash-sham with open borders and residence rights. We’d all be winners. The trouble is the political and social underdevelopment of ALL the states in the region, I agree.


    December 16, 2009 at 6:56 pm

  11. Robin,

    I don’t think that in 48 with more than half a million relatively-new newcomers, the Arab side cared much for the what system of governance the Jews proposed. I don’t recall any call from the Arab side for a plan that called all to live as they were in a secular and democratic state. The Arabs were calling for the deportation of anybody who arrived after 1918. Perhaps this was in reaction to the message of Jewish dominance that was very blunt in most of the Zionist discourse. We cannot really tell what would have happened if the position of Magnes would have been more prevalent on the Jewish side. Would it have been reciprocated? Possibly. Of course saying that the Jews could have been different that way is a-historic but you illustrate their responsibility for what ensued, which I don’t shun. But as I said in my first response if you want to identify an “original sin”, you might as well identify it with the emergence of the Zionist movement.

    What do you suppose would have happened if the Jews let the Palestinians back to their homes after 1948? Are you aware of any proposals for a joint Jewish-Arab system of government from the Arab side after the war, to coincide with the refugees’ return to their homes? I don’t know too much about this particular aspect but as far as I can tell, an Arab proposal for a democratic and secular state was not on the table until the 70’s or 80’s (that is, without requiring Jews that arrived “after 1918” to leave). I believe that the Israeli government at that time didn’t shun responsibility for the refugees but said it was not practical or safe to let them return given the overall state of enmity between the parties and that this problem will have to wait for its resolution as part of a final peace agreement, when the Arabs will be ready to negotiate. Do you think they could have acted differently after the war? Would you?

    To summarize my position, I believe that the Palestinians suffered a great loss with no culpability on their behalf. The Jews were the ones who caused that, with a lot of backwind from Europe and the US, and they are responsible for fixing what they caused, but not at the cost of a suicide (I mean physical or cultural suicide, political suicide is OK, it is required as part of a comprehensive peaceful solution, as was the case in SA). I also believe that the Jews were drawn into something they didn’t fully understand and got entangled deeper and deeper without much maneuverability. I also believe that in a “parallel universe” as you say, the Arab reaction to the crisis might have been able to diffuse the situation with less suffering to both sides, most notably with less suffering to the Palestinian side.

    I don’t disagree with the importance of understanding these past events. I think that your version and mine of what happened are close enough that they allow for reconciliation, but also far enough such that they underscore the fundamental differences that remain in this Rashomon.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 16, 2009 at 10:02 pm

  12. Yossi, I will happily describe the emergence of the Zionist movement as an original sin. It’s a disgusting ideology, the idea that one people (if it is a people) should build an ethno-state for itself in someone else’s country. The good news is that there’s a possibility we can get beyond it, because Zionism is an ideology and ideologies develop, change and die. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have no problem whatsoever with a large population of Jews living as equals in Palestine with the original inhabitants of the country. Once the Zionist ideology has been defeated this could happen. The problem is Zionism, not Jewish people, just as in South Africa the problem was apartheid, not white people, and in Germany the problem was fascism, not Germans.


    December 29, 2009 at 10:53 am

  13. Robin,

    It’ll happen, over the next two or three generations. But you’re not going to help this process. You’re not a messenger of peace, sorry to tell you that. Your righteousness leaves too little room for (much needed) empathy. You’re a man of battle, and that’s fine, that’s what your side needs now.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 29, 2009 at 10:36 pm

  14. How do you know I don’t have empathy, Yossi? Your repeated comment about my ‘righteousness’ suggests to me that you don’t have much empathy.
    It’s like this: I have no problem with Jews. I have (had) a lovely aunt who was a Jew. I have Jewish friends. I very much admire certain Jewish writers. I do have a problem with Zionism. I also have a problem with fascism, imperialism, wahhabism. Does this make me ‘righteous’and lacking in empathy? I don’t think so.
    In Arab and Muslim company I find myself constantly pointing out the difference between people and ideologies, and proposing the very moderate and empathetic one state solution. In my time I have lectured classrooms and cafes on the reality of the Holocaust and on how natural it is that many Jews would have turned to Zionism after their European experience. I have frequently made the statement “If I had been born a Jew I might well have become a Zionist.”
    So there we go. If you think I lack empathy, so be it. I write and speak because I find all this interesting and because it moves me. I have no idea if I’m going to help whatever process is under way. It’s all too big for me to understand. I do want to deconstruct and discredit Zionism for my very limited English-speaking audience, and I do want in some tiny way to shift the discourse away from where we are now, when a basically fascist ideology is treated in the West as if it’s a variant of liberal humanism. But yes, you are quite right that I’m not a messenger of peace in the immediate sense. As Ali Abunimah recommends, and as the ANC did in South Africa, I propose a future in which Jews can have a place in Palestine. At present, however, while Israeli Jews remain wedded to Zionism, while the neighbouring Arab states are run by gangsters and client dictators, while Israeli massacres and expropriations continue, we do need battle, you’re right again.


    December 30, 2009 at 2:43 am

  15. I mean my audience is small, not intellectually challenged!


    December 30, 2009 at 2:50 am

  16. Robin,

    Tell me more about my lack of empathy, I don’t like being unaware of my blind spots.

    You are doing, in your battle, important work and that’s the high order bit. The message of empowerment you left to Palestinians while there, and the message you carried from them to your readers was powerful. While the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continues, I find it rather tasteless to attack you like I do. But still I will, because I feel that your vision for what lies beyond the horizon is over-simplified and in a way, rather violent. Also I do it because I like you, don’t know why 🙂 otherwise I wouldn’t bother.

    Here’s the thing. You are doing WAY too much unpacking, deconstructing and discrediting of Zionism. Zionism was just another European colonial movement, where the oppressed Jews said hey look at those gentiles with their nifty colonies, we can do that too. Of course we will also take care of the aboriginals as we settle and take them to modernity.. As the clumsy second-class citizens they were, they started out with their endeavors without the might of let’s say British or even Dutch colonialism, and about 100 years too late. Colonialism in itself is just another form of human migration which has been shaping humanity since it has come into existence, always with invading groups exacting tolls on aboriginal groups. This is just human nature. Would you attach the word “disgusting” to the Islamic conquest, or the Saxon invasion of England, or the Mongol invasion of the Middle East, or… the current Muslim migration into Europe which is reshaping the continent, not necessarily to the liking of its current residents? It’s just what people (and animals too) do. So of course it sucks to be on the suffering end of the equation and that’s what your battle is about and that’s a great cause. But… there is also something called MOVING ON. And what does it mean really? It means that you don’t necessarily need to look to visit revenge on what are 4th generation of Israelis because of their ancestors’ migration and ensuing struggle with the aboriginals. When I speak of revenge I’m talking about the “very moderate and empathetic one state solution”.

    You see, you think that by being able to tolerate and even like Jewish individuals you have done your bit of empathy towards *Israelis*. But I’m no frickin Jew. I’ve got nothing in common with the geezers from Golders Green. I’m an atheist Israeli with some mild cultural Jewish background. We love our country, our state and our self-determination. Your sympathy for Jews has nothing comforting in it for Israelis. The one-state solution has nothing to do with what Israelis want for themselves, and therefore you believe that they need to be coerced into a solution that may or may not provide minimum conditions of security, happiness and fulfillment for this collective. Contrary to what you think, what they like about being Israeli is not the privilege over Arabs, but rather the control they have over their destiny. You are asking them to put their fate in the hand of a people that has yet to prove that it can build a society with a minimum of liberties and security, and is patently incompatible in at least some glaring ways, such as the treatment of women and gays. What if Israel devolves into another Iraq or Lebanon and tens of thousands will die and millions will be impoverished? I don’t think you lose too much sleep over this possible outcome and that’s where I identify your lack of empathy or maybe more generously I can say lack of realism.

    Of course, you should care about Arabs more than, or at least as much as, you care for Israelis so if there was no other choice between a one-state solution and apartheid then of course one-state solution would be the preferred choice (mine too). But you’re ignoring the possibility of a two-state solution. Why is that? Ostensibly because the two-state solution is impractical, because “it would have been done if it was possible”…. Well, in reality, the first solution to be implemented, will be a two-state solution. That’s because when push will come to shove, and assuming Israel would go under a strong one-man-one-vote campaign, what would happen is that Israel will simply withdraw to the 67 line, leaving the settlers behind if it has too. It would prefer to do that 100 times over to losing Jewish majority within “Israel”. It also happens that this is what both Palestinians and Israelis want. They want to each have their own state. From there, we could learn to trust each other and maybe over time the borders will become less important. As we see in the EU, fragmentation of countries is not such as a big deal when you have a glue in the form of the EU which provides security and the free flow of people and commodities, and standard liberties. Similarly, instead of worrying about states splitting up in the Middle East, I believe that people know what they’re doing when they are demanding self-determination (as opposed to what you wrote a few weeks ago) and this should just be acknowledged and compensated for using federal and regional structures. This will provide the best of all worlds.

    When I look at supporters of the one-state solution, I see five groups:
    1. Those who would really like to use it as a way to ensure the subservience of the Jews to the Arabs. This would be let’s say the original one-state “vision” of the PLO.
    2. Those who believe it’s the only possible peaceful solution.
    3. Those who believe it’s the only possible peaceful and sufficiently just solution.
    4. Those who believe in the creation of a new culture/language/religion as a result of the amalgamation of Israeli and Arab societies as an end in its own right.
    5. Those who object any to sort of nation-state (anarchists, etc.)

    I’m not aware of any Arabs in group #4, I am aware of Jews in that group, including a university professor of mine, Uzi Ornan, who was influenced by a movement called the Canaanites. Group #5 is not important either.

    I think that many of the people in groups 2 and 3 are unconsciously really in group 1. It’s a more trendy way of saying “throw the Jews to the sea”.

    Given that the one-state solution may result in a cultural and perhaps physical holocaust (likely of the Jews, but the other way around is possible too—see 1948…), we have to think really hard on a two-state *compromise* that will be sufficiently just towards the Palestinians. Perhaps this is where my thinking is utopian but I think there are some arrows in the quiver that have not been used already, such as, adding more land to Palestine to resettle refugees.

    Let’s assume that you’re a high-impact Palestinian leader for a second, what effect could your words have?…

    • You demonize Zionism and deny that Israelis are a “real people”.
    • You fail to recognize that Zionist is a synonym for “good Israeli”, for almost all Israelis and that they very much consider themselves a people.
    • You’d convince Palestinians to go after a maximalist goal of sharing a country with a population you’ve incessantly demonized. The cue will be understood as expulsion of the Jews being the desired end-result.
    • You will also be trying to squeeze Israelis into a position which is impossible for them, assuming that the Israelis will be a pushover like the whites in SA and underestimating their willingness to use violence to protect their sovereignty, especially given all the rest of the background of your actions.
    • You provide zero guarantees or positive precedents for the ability of a predominantly Arab county to provide the liberties that Israelis need and are used to.

    It all reads like playing with people’s lives for the sake of (what you perceive as) uncompromising justice. It reads like 1948 all over again, as if we learned nothing.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  17. Lot to say here, Yossi, and I’m very tired and in my sister’s house in Qatar, but I’ll try to give some partial responses. First, my ‘íf it is a people’comment: I was referring (my grammar didn’t make this clear) to the situation before the establishment of the Jewish state. At that point, I do not believe that Moroccan Jews, Yemeni Jews, Russian Jews and British Jews constituted a people. But of course I do recognise that now after six decades plus and the existence of several generations of Israel-born Hebrew-speaking people with shared history, rituals and myths (and shared guilt) the Israeli Jews are a people in the same way the Syrians or the French are a people. This is one reason why I support the one state solution rather than plain decolonisation or kicking the Jews into the sea. Sixty years of history have passed and the clock cannot be turned back. These (Israeli) people are no longer Iraqis and Argentinians and Poles.

    You say I should go easier on Zionism. I shouldn’t work so hard on discrediting it because it ‘was’just another form of European colonialism. The thing is, while many other forms of European colonialism are historical relics, Zionism is not yet. If the British still ruled India I would savagely attack British imperialism at least once a week. The British are involved in stupid wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this involvement has quite a bit in common with European colonialism, and I don’t think Britain would have got involved if it didn’t still have a lot of colonialist assumptions – and as you know I attack the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as passionately as I attack Zionism. Zionism needs to be discredited so long as it holds sway, so long as it still cleanses people, and is portrayed in the West as some kind of good idea. Once there’s general acceptance that it ‘was’a historical mistake, it will no longer be necessary or relevant to discredit it.

    Now my sister is here. Much more to say. Please bear with me until tomorrow night…


    December 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm

  18. Oh, I didn’t know you’re travelling, well don’t worry about that, have a great trip. I envy you for being able to enjoy the Qatari sun this time of the year 🙂

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    December 31, 2009 at 6:51 pm

  19. It’s very good to walk about in a T-shirt, Yossi. When I left the UK there was snow on the ground and a deep freeze. Going to Oman in a few days where it should be even warmer.

    Back to our subject. I recognise that our perception of how ‘disgusting’ something is depends on our historical position. Slavery is very disgusting indeed in the 21st century, but wasn’t in the 11th or 1st centuries. Same with colonialism. You’re right – the Zionists were a century too late. Added to that, Zionism is a particularly nasty form of colonialism. The British organised the Indian economy to suit their purposes and not the Indians, they stole the country’s resources, they exacerbated sectarian and regional hatreds in order to divide and rule. But they never tried to get rid of the Indians or to write Indian history out of existence. An unhappy colonised Indian could look forward to a day when the British (tiny in numbers compared to the Indians) would leave. The Palestinians living in Lebanon or Qatar look at the map and see their country is now called Israel.
    Yes, the Mongol invasion certainly was one of history’s disgusting episodes by any standard, including standards of the time. The Islamic conquests also involved terrible crimes. I’m not a fan of any heroic version of history. Having said that, the Muslims did not in general engage in forcing people out of their countries. And please don’t call Muslim migration to Europe something similar to colonialism. So many Islamophobes are coming out with this ‘flooded by Muslims who are taking control’ stuff, and it echoes the antisemitic discourse of the 1920s and early 30s. Less than 4% of the European population is Muslim. The Muslims in Europe are in general among the weakest groups in society. They are certainly not kicking non-Muslims out of their houses. If they were, I would fight against them.

    Just come back from hearing my sister’s father-in-law talk about the battle of Loobiya, the details of the land and the families that farmed it, and how he and his family (those who survived) fled first to Lebanon then to Syria. He’s been in Qatar for years now. Sometimes I transport Palestine as a thought experiment to England. I imagine that the Gypsies (a group I sympathise with greatly – proportionately even more of them than Jews were killed by Hitler, and it’s still fairly acceptable to badmouth them in western Europe and to physically maltreat them in eastern Europe) took over England, drove out most of the English to camps in France, renamed London and Oxford with Romany names, etc. A simple thought experiment. The English would not accept this in a thousand years. If you suggested to them that they could have a state in Cornwall and Devon in return for their acceptance that 78% of their country remain a Gypsy state for eternity, most would reject it, and rightly so.

    I do not believe that the either the Palestinians or the Arab and Muslim worlds will ever accept a Jewish state on most of Palestine. This isn’t diplomatic of me, but I’m not noted for my diplomacy: I think the fears of people like Lieberman are logical. I have questioned Palestinians who believe in the two state solution closely, and almost always they admit that they support it because they believe it may be possible now, that if it could be achieved it will give them an opportunity to build for the next round, for a historical moment when they will be in a position to recapture the rest of Palestine. I think my one state solution is much more hopeful for Israeli Jews in the long term.

    I rankle when you talk about Arabs proving they can build societies which repect the rights of minorities. There is of course truth in what you say, but Arabs haven’t done too badly in the past, your comments about gays and women are, without going deeply into it, far too simplistic, and Israel has far more to prove in my opinion. But to address the key point, I don’t suggest the one state solution will be easy. It isn’t even a solution, but a framework we shjould statrt thinking about. I wrote a piece called four solutions where I talked in more detail about why i think a two state solution can’t work aND how one state might. I said that communal as well as individual rights would have to be guaranteed by constituion, and that it might take foreign involvement to guarantee the rights of a Jewish minority (in the forseeable future, Jewish money and education would ensure that Jews didn’t become an easily kicked-about mionority anyway). It makes more sense for America to intervene to prtect human rights and a multicultural set up than to protect an apartheid regime which indulges in massacres. In a one state situation there would be no Jewish state for Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims to attack, but there could still be a thriving Israeli society. Here’s where we need to imagine new models. For you Tel Aviv could be a place with a buzzing Israeli Hebrew culture. For me Tel Abib could be a place with a buzzing Palestinian Arab culture. Perhaps it could also be, for some people, a place in which the amalgamated culture you mention thrives.

    Another point – even if you support the two state solution, the quickest way of achieving it is to agitate for the one state, precisely because it concentrates Israeli minds on reality.

    And from my ‘side’, it seems pragmatically obvious that an articulate anti-apartheid rights-based one-man one-vote movement could win far more support in the West than the struggle for yet another crap Arab state. If the ANC fought for another black african state we would still have apartheid in south africa.

    Ten years before the end of SA apartheid the vast majority of white south africans, including many liberals who opposed apartheid, opposed one-man one-vote. They were after all only ten per cent of the population, they had treated the Africans terribly, other black-ruled states were a mess, they had very good reason to fear social collapse and massive revenge. The Boers were also a group whose ‘nationhood’ was forged in trauma (in concentration camps) and who were no longer at home in Holland. Yet today whites and blacks live together in a democracy. Certainly there are problems, particularly class problems, and the crime wave reflects that. It’s also possible that things could get worse in the future. But I wouldn’t want to go back to apartheid.

    I haven’t incessantly demonised the population. I have incessantly demonised Zionism, because it seems demonic to me, and its results are demonic, for Jews as well as Arabs. 94% supporting the gaza massacre doesn’t look like a people headed for happiness. I demonise this 94% because their heads are full of Zionist ideas taught in Zionist schools, by a Zionist army, by a Zionist media. If these people or thier children change their ideas, everything changes. Look at my What Hamas Should Do post on how I think demonising Jews is wrong and counterproductive.

    Finally, I like you too, Yossi. Except your Zionist parts.

    Must sleep. Happy New Year.


    December 31, 2009 at 10:55 pm

  20. Robin,

    It’s interesting that you mention the Gypsies because I also use them for analogy with the Zionist movement, only I send them back to Rajasthan, where they reportedly originally came from. So in my analogy I send them to replace and displace the current Rajasthanis. But as far as analogies go, some are instructive and some less so. There is no basis to compare the Zionists to the British economic exploitation of India, basically due to the reasons you cite, they had completely different motivations. The Zionist colonization of Palestine is much closer to other cases where a persecuted minority tried to find a safe-haven in a new place, or more generally a group of people wanted to create a new home far from home, permanently, such as the Puritan immigration to America or even the Boars in South Africa. I’ll return to these comparisons later.

    You know, I have a bookmarks folder, where I keep all the nasty stuff that happens in Israel, the various cases of Apartheid and implicit and explicit racism, recruited militaristic society etc. The name of that folder is “Zionism”. And indeed, today “Zionism” means mostly that, certainly in the Western anti-Zionist discourse that you are very well familiar with, but also inside Israel. For example when a fascist MK in Israel suggested a couple of days ago to increase the number of supreme judges to 18 and make sure they are more “balanced” such that the decision to reopen route 443 to Palestinian traffic would not reoccur… he did that specifically in the name of “sanity and Zionism”. But much like the term “Jihad” in Islam means much more than blowing up airplanes and is part and parcel of Islam’s spiritualism so is “Zionism”, in its broader sense, an integral part of Judaism. First, Zion, is a holly word for a holly country. A word such as “Zionism” that derives from the word “Zion” cannot mean a bad thing for a Jew. Second, when I learnt about Zionism in junior-high, I learned about Herzl, Ben Gurion, Jabotinski, Begin etc. but also about Henrietta Szold and Arthur Rupin of Brit Shalom who supported a bi-national country. They are considered Zionist too, and they are embraced as representatives of yet another current of thinking within broad Zionism which means “building a Jewish spiritual and/or cultural and/or national life within Israel”. Either at the expense of the other, or not. A nationalistic experience, or a religious one. Many different facets. Under this definition, you Robin, are a good Zionist, and maybe you can even get a street with a beautiful view to the Haifa Harbor named after you, as is the case with Henrietta Szold, or you can have both a Haifa road and a college named after you, as in the case of Rupin…

    The truth is, when Zionism started, there were many options open for its evolution as a movement. Some of them had nothing to do with colonization, BTW. The Zionist movement ranks swollen around 1900 due to the cultural and communal work they did in Russia, to further the self-esteem and sense of community of the Jews there. The violent and exclusive nature that it has largely taken is to some extent a counter-reaction to the Arab reaction to the initial Zionist settlement (which wasn’t violent or illegal). This is where the comparison to the Muslim migration to Europe is interesting. Some Muslim leaders are openly calling for all sorts of violent alterations of Europe, some are not even concealing their desire for a Muslim conquest of Europe. Let’s say that Muslims are 5% of European population. At the time the Zionists were 5% of the Palestinian population, I don’t think they had more outspoken colonialist thinkers than the Muslims in Europe have today. Imagine that the non-Muslim Europeans start rioting and massacring Muslims in reaction to what the non-Muslim conceive as the Muslims’ intrusion, as the Palestinians did in the 20’s. How would the Muslims react? Would they back down or become more militant? Like all comparisons there is no identity between the situations but I still think it’s constructive to look at it.

    Given the broad, deep and diverse roots of Zionism, you cannot tell an Israeli that you are anti-Zionist but not anti-Jewish, it would just be construed as a rhetoric trick. If you really believe in a one-state solution, or, more modestly, in any form of co-existence, you need to develop some sensitivity to that, the same way that you’d expect a Westerner to understand the diverse meaning of Jihad before they vilify all the Muslims who think that Jihad, in its broad meaning, is a positive thing. You can’t say “oh, I don’t have a thing against Muslims, they just need to understand that Jihad is disgusting”.

    Still, all of these bad things done in the name of Zionism…. Israelis WILL have to understand that THEY have vilified the concept of Zionism. The same way we have vilified the Star of David by putting it on F16s that massacre children, we will have to acknowledge the abuse, but not throw the scared word of Zion or the sacred symbol of the Star of David to the trash bin.

    About the one state solution. This isn’t about you and me… I live in the US specifically because I find Israel ethnically-claustrophobic. I would love to live in your unified state, if it ever existed and was liberal, but it cannot come into existence anytime in this generation and probably not in the next one. The Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine don’t like each other, are tribal, religious and violent people. They had a chance to build a life of co-existence during the British mandate but they failed miserably. I don’t see how things have changed for the better. If a one-state solution will come to pass, it will only be through an Arab conquest, and if that happened, many Jews will not be spared and the Jews will agitate and will return to their terrorism of the British mandate. Short of an Arab conquest, the Jews will not let a one-state solution materialize. We’re back to the SA comparison: unlike in SA, the Jews do not depend economically on Arab labor. Heck, if the Jews woke up one morning and discovered that the Arabs have all disappeared… that would be the ultimate proof for their god’s existence. It will become a greater miracle than that of Hanukah and will be retold until eternity…. Whereas, in SA, the whites couldn’t separate from the blacks because they couldn’t wipe their bottoms without the blacks. Secondly, the SA whites were heavily dependent on extraction of natural resources and agriculture, so they needed ALL the land, whereas Israeli industry doesn’t really depend on location and thus can thrive even if it is confined to the 67 borders. The only resource we do need which comes from occupied territory is water, but Israel can desalinate and has started doing that big-time. So worst case scenario, Israel cuts and settler gangrene and folds back to the 67 border. The supporters of one-state on the Apartheid ticket will then lose legitimacy. Yes, it will not be “peace”, some rockets will fly over the fence, but Israel will have legitimacy again and that’s the only thing that really matters. Hopefully, it can also have peace based on the 67 borders.

    Let me ask you this about those Palestinians who want to attack Israel inside 67 borders: will they stop their attacks before all the houses that were built on the wrecks of their old houses are either demolished or vacated of their current residents? Will they stop their attacks if they feel inferior to the wealthy Jews who got rich on their land while they were absent? I think many will feel frustrated (on both sides) and the situation will devolve into a bloody civil war. Better to all sides to rebuild themselves and start living in co-existence in two separate countries. The two boxers need some time to chill before they can hug… It will also be desirable that some Jewish settlers remain in Palestine. As in a medieval hostage-exchange plan, Israel will have its Palestinians to take care of, and Palestine will have its Jews. This will ensure we learn to treat each other respectfully and will signal when would be a good time to enter a more tightly-coupled federation.

    Finally, I fully agree with you that the quickest and safest way to a two-state solution would be to vociferously assert that the one-state solution is the other alternative, and is a just alternative. It’s the best way to illustrate to Israel that the two-state solution is an act of generosity from the Arab side and therefore can only succeed if the currency of this solution—-tracts of land—are handed generously to the new Palestinian state.

    Happy year to you too Robin.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    January 5, 2010 at 7:54 am

  21. […] I’ve been having an interesting discussion with Robin Yassin-Kassab (AKA Qunfuz) about Zionism. I had to play the role in some segments. Fat chance the fascist basterds (*) in Israel will […]

  22. Yossi, I think you are way off in your understanding of European Muslims etc and I will respond to it. On Zionism you are making me think, and I have a great deal to say. Had a conversation tonight with an old friend about how everyone from Noam Chomsky to King Fahd are called Zionist. I will respond, insha’allah, but give me some days. In Muscat now (come from Doha) and inundated by activity. Wonderful to be here in this beautiful country with these beautiful people.


    January 6, 2010 at 7:45 pm

  23. qunfuz,

    I think you have a lot of insight & a appreciate the level of though that has gone in to your discussion above.

    I think you have an interesting mix of an insider and an outsider’s perspective. I think that your position on the one/two state solutions is a result of the latter, armchair perspective. It’s analogous to those on the left that supported the Iraqi invasion on the grounds that it would result in Iraqi democracy.

    I have absolutely no moral quarrel with your description of a one man one vote state. But, I do not believe there is a path to it that results in a stable democratic state. That kind of cultural-political engineering is impossible at the best of times. Here, it stands an even worse chance. There are probably half a dozen insurmountable barriers.

    It is not even obvious that Palestinians would, at the moment, be able to form an effective democratic government in the entire area even if Jews magically disappeared tomorrow morning. It is unlikely that they will be able to form a state in the Territories that is stable & functioning enough to make Arab citizens of Israel want to join them even if they take their land with them (this was recently suggested by an ultra right camp within Israel).

    Your picture of Tel Abib is nice but the path to it is as hand wavy as it gets. I suspect that most of the intelligent insiders pushing for it are pushing for it with a concealed or semi concealed agenda. For many (as you both hint at), this is the two state agenda.

    I have a lot or respect for what you write above. It seems abrupt to introduce myself with a criticism so I apologise, but this is perhaps the nature if this topic.


    January 8, 2010 at 5:45 am

  24. On more thing,

    I think you have misunderstood Yossi’s mention of European Muslims. I don’t think it was intended as an example of colonialism, or immoral in some other way.

    It is an example of human migration with non trivial impact on the recipient countries or and the associated potential for escalating conflict & belligerence.


    January 8, 2010 at 6:04 am

    • thanks for comments. no time to respond yet, except to say that there is no comparison between Muslim migration to Europe and the Zionist colonial project. Any ‘Muslim leader’ that talks about turning Europe into an Islamic state is on an irrelevant fringe, has no audience among the vast majority of Muslims, and even if he did has no power behind him to make this absurd dream a reality. Apart from a few ‘cultural Zionists’ (I’ll talk about these distinctions when I get round to responding to Yossi) the Jews arrived in Palestine with a plan for a Jewish state, and with guns and miltary organisation, and with money to create new institutions and settlements, and with the Balfour Declaration in their pockets. The comparison is absurd. Some Muslims do talk about Europe becoming Muslim one day, but by ythis they mean by voluntary conversion of the Europeans, of which there is no sign. And if the Europeans do convert, that’s fine. If the Palestinians convert to Judaism, that’s also fine.

      The Palestinians don’t need to prove that they can build a democratic state in order to be released from apartheid and to exercise their right to return to the land they’ve been ethnically cleansed from. And I have never said that a one state solution will be easy to achieve. It does seem to me, however, that it is the only long term solution which has a possibility of working, and the only one which is just.

      More on this later – I accept that not all forms of Zionism are as nasty as the state-obsessed apartheid and iron wall system which exists at present, but I do think that they are seriously misguided as soon as they identify the Jews of the world in any concrete way with the territory of Palestine, which was inhabited by other people.


      January 8, 2010 at 10:30 am

  25. Robin,

    If/when you get to this… yes, Netty explains correctly what I meant to say about Muslims in Europe. Generally, I don’t know too much about the Muslims in Europe, except I just read this


    and have been hearing about the occasional terrorist cell, or outrageous Imam. I also presume to know that almost all first generation immigrants came to Europe to find work and didn’t plan on staying there for multiple generations. I also heard that xenophobia against Muslims is on the rise. That’s the extent of my knowledge…

    My point was that even given this largely non-colonialist and non-violent background (with a non-negligible modicum of exceptions), it would be hard to predict how the Muslim community will react to violent persecution from “aboriginal Europeans”.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    January 15, 2010 at 7:06 am

  26. again, Yossi, your analogy just doesn’t work. There are no calls to create a Muslim state in western Europe in response to rising Islamophobia. If there were such a call, and if the ‘state’ centred on a few urban areas with Muslim majorities, it would be problematic but no more so than the idea of an Ashkenazi state in a Jewish-majority area would have been in the early 20th c. Zionism’s fatal flaw was its territorial asscociation with Palestine and the colonial mindset that underlay this. Palestinians at first accepted or welcomed Jewish immigration. What changed that was not increased numbers but the realisation that the new batch of Jews was immigrating not only to escape oppression or for religious reasons but to establish a Jewish state. The Palestinian response was quite understandable.

    Nathan Birnbaum was the coiner of the term ‘Zionism’. He wrote “The distinction of the people stems from the distinction of the race.” And this is not an ancient Jewish idea. It’s the product of the late 19th century, of Volkish nationalism and racial pseudo-science. ‘Zion’ is indeed a holy word in Judaism. It signifies a range of spiritual referents. But Zionism is something else again.

    Shlomo Sand says “in Germany in 1914 Zionists accounted for less than 2% of Germans of Jewish origin, and in France even less.”

    Just written an essay on Sand’s book, which will appear on my blog eventually. Much of it is relevant to our discussion. Particularly this:

    For a fleeting moment in the Zionist enterprise the Judean origin of the natives was openly discussed. Some Zionists even argued for a unified homeland based on ethnic brotherhood with the Palestinians, but the 1929 Arab Uprising dashed their unrealistic hopes and the Judeans were forgotten again. “The inclusive concept,” Sand writes, “was based on the assumption that it would be easy to assimilate a ‘low and primitive’ Oriental culture, and so the first violent resistance from the objects of this Orientalist fantasy shook them awake.”

    On Islamic political ideas and the Caliphate, I strongly recommend a book called Who Needs an Islamic State? by Abdelwahab El-Affendi. I like his idea of non-territorial statehood, and I wonder if this could not be adapted to the Israel/Palestine situation. I may get around to writing about that too.


    January 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

  27. (Robin, sorry for double posting this comment, it appears that the earlier one is stuck because I wasn’t logged into WordPress)

    Hi Robin,

    Welcome back!

    I didn’t think I made a compelling case with the European Muslims analogy, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much, except I found what you said here:

    “If there were such a call, and if the ’state’ centred on a few urban areas with Muslim majorities, it would be problematic but no more so than the idea of an Ashkenazi state in a Jewish-majority area would have been in the early 20th c.”

    Highly inconsistent with the rest of your expressed opinions. The Jews in Europe were a national minority which existed in Europe (mostly in Eastern Europe) for centuries if not millennia and were a majority in substantial swaths of Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. You are saying that their case for national minority rights (which, they did happen to negotiate over in the 19th century) is not stronger than that of recently-arrived work migrants from Muslim countries. That sounds very flawed to me but, OK. Let’s accept this logic for the sake of argument. At the same time, the then-recently-arrived Zionist settlers of Palestine of the first half of the 20th century, did not, in your opinion, have a case for self-determination in those areas in which they constituted a majority. e.g., in the area allotted for a Jewish state in the UN partition plan. Don’t you find that a little inconsistent?

    Robin, I don’t want to sound condescending, but you really don’t have a chance at feeling what the word “Zionism” means to an Israeli. All of this discussion that we’re having, really has no applicability to how this word is experienced. You need to understand that, because your political plans (however personal they are…) include convincing Israelis that they need to renounce Zionism. This will not happen. The word Zionism is just a modern incarnation of terms such as “Ahavat Zion” and “Khibbat Zion” (both mean Love of Zion) that are as old as Judaism. The term, even though new, is deeply connected to Jewish spiritual roots as well as having a political meaning which, as Nethy has very accurately observed on my blog, is simply Israeli nationalism. The political meaning is intertwined with the religious strata of the term “Zionism” and Israelis in particular and non-assimilating Jews in general are deeply committed to both.

    That is not to say that Zionism (that is, Israeli nationalism) is not taken these days into fascist and racist directions (check news for “Im Tirtzu”), as happened to German and Italian nationalisms, but that in itself doesn’t mean that Israelis will renounce their national identity once their fascism is curbed. And their immutable national identity is: Zionists. BTW, Israelis doesn’t say “Zionism” they say “Tziyonut” and a person is “Tziyoni” which simultaneously means Zioni (from the land of Zion) and Zionist (a supporter of Zionism). In other words, convincing Israelis that they should not be considered Zionists is akin to convincing Italians that they are not Italian.

    I, for one, would be extremely surprised if Israelis all of the sudden realized that Zionism has been channeled to mean a supremacist ideology and that they need to renounce it and accept bi-nationalism. It’s much more likely that one side would be cleansed before that happened, or that a two-state separation solution would be implemented. It’s also very non-PC to say it, so you can’t, but I will, this tendency towards “exceptionalism” that is so central in Zionism is not an aberration of modern volkish Zionism—it’s part and parcel of Judaism. To fight the wrongs of Zionism, you’d have to force Jews to confront the exceptionalism that is strongly woven into our religion.

    Again, the reasons I’m telling you all of this is (a) because you may find this useful and (b) it illustrates, to me at least, that the effort that you undertake to tarnish Zionism will not result in Israelis renouncing this moniker but rather identifying you as their mortal enemy. I would think that a dialectic move towards defining “New Zionism” in a manner consistent with robust democratic values has better chance of succeeding, but is also a long shot.

    If you are interested, we can simulate you addressing an Israeli audience. This may help in framing your goals, your arguments and your language. We can try to get it translated and published and I could translate responses. Would you find that interesting to try? If not, I would maintain that the Hamas one-state vision, of coercion and Islamic supremacy, is more transparent and more realistic than yours.

    While you travelled, the two-state/one-state debate picked up some steam in Israel, due to a piece in Haaretz by Meron Benvenisti which is translated here:


    Some Zionism lefties tries to answer but didn’t really address the core of the issue: Israel is today and Apartheid bi-national state who wishes to believe otherwise. The two-state solution, if ever implemented, would restore Israel to its self-image of a predominantly Jewish democracy.

    Alex Yakobson: A binational state? Here?

    I regret you don’t read Hebrew as some of the most intelligent debates on these topics is in Hebrew only sites such as HaOkets (“the sting”) and Kedma (“towards the East”). In the latter, Sami Shalom Shitrit writes that anti-Zionism cannot be a constructive rallying point for the Jews of Israel because it says what it wants to destruct, but not what it wishes to build.

    One final word, be careful with Sand, a lot of what he says about the history of the Ashkenazi Jews is highly improbable, although his analysis of recent history (which includes Zionist historiography) and current affairs is brilliant . In particular, the Kazaria theory of the origin of Ashkenazi Jews is extremely weak, both because this people doesn’t have a recollection of this assumed (glorious!) period in their past (despite them being “the people of the book”!) and because DNA evidence, despite what Sand says about it, does support their Mideastern ancestry.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    February 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm

  28. Yossi – If you back down from your european muslims analogy I’ll back down from my response to your question on how muslims would react to european aboriginal persecution. I wasnt being serious about them building a state. My point was in fact to say that Jewish nationalism in Europe, in the context of surrounding nationalisms which excluded the Jews, and in the face of antisemitism, was understandable. If it had concentrated on building a state in areas where the Jews were a majority, it might even have been laudable. But aiming to create a Jewish state in Palestine by immigration, colonisation, and expulsion (or, in orientalist fantasy, assimilation) of the natives is indeed disgusting and has no analogy whatsoever in the migration of Muslims to Europe, where they still make up less than 4%, which was the proportion of Jews in Palestine at the start of the 20th century.

    I think you are being deliberately obtuse in claiming that Zionism is as old as Judaism. It just isn’t, as you know. It’s a modernist-secularist and ethnic-nationalist transformation of Zion concepts in Judaism. I’ve commented on that above. And what I’m saying isn’t even controversial. I’m not going to talk about that any more because I don’t think I need to.

    As for ‘feeling’ what Zionism means to Israelis, you’re right, I don’t. But I do understand that the Zionist ideology has been tauught to generations of Israeli (and non-Israeli Jewish) children, that people identify deeply with Zionism, that Israeli Jews obviously attach to the concept because Zionism is what brought them to Palestine in the first place. I know that. I also know that 94% of Israeli Jews supported the Gaza massacre and that half think Jews were a majority in Palestine at the start of the 20th century. Fortunately, I am not so foolish as to imagine that this is going to be changed simply by dialogue. Israeli society has no need to change when it is so much more powerful than the Palestinians. South African whites changed when the power balance changed. I support a BDS campaign in the hope that this will really build into an economic and political power challenge to Israel. But it would be foolish to put all my hopes in the West. The change will come, if it does come, from the Arab world and the wider region.

    Zionism certainly isn’t Israeli nationalism, as Sand reiterates. According to its own institutions, it is JEWISH nationalism. It does not include the quarter of the population (not counting the territories) which is not Jewish. It may not even include people like you, if you think about it. Sand talks about a person (of Jewish origin) who wanted ‘Israeli’ on his id card and wasn’t allowed.

    The problem with ‘The two-state solution, if ever implemented, would restore Israel to its self-image of a predominantly Jewish democracy.’ is that the Palestinians still end up losing 78% of their country. I am saying, Israeli Jews could live in the country with the Palestinians, and let’s start talking now, while Israel is still in a powerful position, about how this could be arranged to the satisfaction of all. I don’t say it will be easy. And it may never work. But I don’t see a state which defines itself as a ‘Jewish democracy’, which has established itself colonially in the Arab and Muslim world, surviving long term. I don’t think the environment will accept, especially if the environment becomes more democratic. And I don’t accept it. Those Palezstinians who want to should be able to return to their families’ homes.

    I am by no means an expert on DNA evidence, the Khazar people, or anything in this field. Sand, however, describes in some detail the argument about the DNA studies and their contradictory results. He also suggests good reasons why the ‘Ashkenazis’ may have forgotten their Khazar past.


    February 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm

  29. Robin,

    Thank you very much for your comments on this thread. I feel that at this point both you and I are reiterating what we have said before so I will stop at this point. Thanks again.

    Yossi (AKA Rumyal)

    February 9, 2010 at 3:35 am

  30. You’re right, Yossi. We couldn’t come to agreement, but we heard each other. Best wishes, and thanks to you.


    February 9, 2010 at 1:03 pm

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