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Ghada Karmi | Al-Ahram Weekly | 22-28 January 2004
Whatever the discursive niceties it is important to realise that Israel is Zionist, and that Zionism displaces and kills, writes Ghada Karmi*
For those who have forgotten or never understood what Zionism is about two recently published pieces will make salutary reading. The first is an interview with the Israeli historian, Benny Morris, published in the Israeli daily Haaretz on 4 January. The second is an article by Morris in the 14 January edition of The Guardian. In both Morris explains, with breathtaking candour, what the Zionist project has entailed. Few Zionists outside the ranks of the extreme right have been prepared to be so brutally honest. Morris not only claims a leftist position but, more significantly, was the first to expose the circumstances of Israel's creation. Using Israel state archives for his groundbreaking 1987 book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, he was hailed as a courageous revisionist historian.
Though he balked at confronting the full implications of his discoveries and still refuses to recognise the deliberate Zionist transfer policy that aimed to drive Palestinians from their homeland long before the 1948-9 War, his work suggested to many that, knowing the facts, he was bound to be sympathetic to the Palestinians. In the last few years, however, he has been expressing ever more hard-line views, as if he regretted the pioneering research that helped expose the savage reality of Israel's establishment. This shift seems to have culminated in his most recent utterances about the nature of Zionism. Unpalatable as these are, we must thank him for saying so bluntly what all Zionists, however liberal, really think but cannot say.
There was a time when Arabs understood Zionism to be the basic cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. From the 1920s onwards Palestinians feared Zionism might take over their country. They tried to fight it but failed and the Zionist project took hold. When other Arabs came on board it was commonplace to refer to Israel as the Zionist entity. It was a black and white issue.
After the 1967 War a new ambiguity appeared. Resolution 242 introduced the idea that the basis of the conflict was the Israeli occupation of post-1967 territory. This set the pattern for all subsequent Arab-Israeli peace proposals, the first successful application being the 1979 Camp David Agreement. By the time of the 1991 Madrid conference the post-1967 land- for-peace formula was firmly established. In 2002 the Saudi peace proposal upgraded the Arab offer to one of Israeli withdrawal from all the 1967 territories in exchange for normalisation of relations with the Arab world.
Israel was once viewed by all Arabs as an illegitimate body forcibly implanted into the region, possessed of an ideology, Zionism, that inevitably involved aggression and expansion to the detriment of the Arab world. Subsequently it was only Israel's post-1967 occupation that was the problem and, once rectified, Israeli integration into the region could presumably proceed.
The Palestinians had a clearer view of Zionism. In 1969 the PLO propounded a vision of a democratic state replacing Israel that would give equal rights to all its citizens, Muslims, Christians and Jews. This was a direct challenge to the idea of a Jewish state. More importantly, it refused to acquiesce the Zionist theft of 1948 Palestine. But the huge power imbalance between the parties forced the PLO to modify its stance and in 1974 a two-state idea was born. In 1988 the PLO formally recognised Israel's 1948 borders. By 1993 the PLO had signed up to the Oslo Agreement that finally legitimised Zionism, since its terms excluded any discussion of 1948 Israel and concentrated on the 1967 territories. This process found its apotheosis in the recent Geneva Accords, which require Palestinians to recognise Israel as "the state of the Jews".
Accompanying this U-turn in attitudes has been a sort of Arab flirtation with Zionism. Following the Israel-Egypt treaty a number of Arab-Israeli projects and initiatives came into being. Arab-Jewish dialogue groups sprang up as the breaking of traditional taboos became more enticing. All this intensified after the Oslo Agreement. Contacts between several Arab states and Israel were made, either officially or in secret. Even previously hard-line anti-Israel states like Libya and Syria have started to make overtures towards Israel. The majority of these initiatives have involved "liberal" Zionists, not the small minority of radical but marginalised anti-Zionist Jews.
Benny Morris's revelations are like a slap in the face. He reminds us that Israel was set up by expulsion, rape and massacre. His recent researches, cited in the new edition of his book, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem Revisited, marshal much evidence. The Jewish state could not have come into being without ethnic cleansing and, he asserts, more may be necessary in future to ensure its survival. Force was always essential, he explains; native hostility to the project was inevitable and it had to be countered by overwhelming strength. The Arabs in any case have a tribal culture, he says, "with no moral inhibitions" and "they understand only force". Muslims are no better. "There's a deep problem in Islam... in which human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien."
Morris regrets the Palestinians' suffering entailed in Israel's creation, but sees it as a necessary evil in pursuit of the greater good.
"The right of refugees to return to their homes seems natural and just", he says. "But this 'right of return' needs to be weighed against the right to life and well-being of the five million Jews who currently live in Israel."
He eloquently shows why Zionism is a dangerous idea: at its root it is a conviction of self- righteousness that justifies almost any act deemed necessary to preserve the Jewish state. If that means nuclear weapons, massive military force, alliances with unsavoury regimes, theft and manipulation of other people's resources, aggression and occupation, the crushing, however inhuman, of Palestinian and all other forms of resistance -- then so be it. The Zionist idea has lost none of its force today; it is deeply implanted in the hearts of most Jews, whether Israelis or not. No Arab should be under any illusion that it is a spent force, no matter what currently fashionable discourse about '"post-Zionism" or "cultural Zionism" may say.
* The writer is a Palestinian political analyst and research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University, England.