Jonathan Ofir on September 4, 2016
It has long been the trademark of the Israeli Zionist left, to blame the occupation of 1967 for the supposed moral corruption that has onset since, and its “demographic threat” to the “Jewish and democratic state”.
Ari Shavit, who takes a generally “liberal Zionist” position, recently claimed that “Israel’s radical left committed suicide, and now the right will kill us all.” Whilst chiding the Israeli left for being unreasonable and not adjusting to ‘realities’, he still takes a stand against the right wing. This position places him in the Israeli ‘center’. In his celebrated recent book My Promised Land, Shavit considers the West Bank settlement, asking whether it is “a benign continuation of Zionism or a malignant mutation of Zionism”, and concludes that, though its modus operandi is similar to that of early Zionist settlement, “the historic and conceptual context is completely different” and so it is “an aberration, a grotesque reincarnation” (see Nathan Thrall in LRB).
This “centrist” view endorses the idea that the 1967 occupation was a birth in itself. That in its conquering of territories which include a large Palestinian population, it has come to threaten the “Jewish State”, demographically. If Israel were to annex the West Bank and Gaza (which it de facto controls despite claims to “disengagement” since 2005), it would have a more or less equal Jewish and non-Jewish count. Such a state could not be both Jewish and democratic. The Israeli left cries that the occupation is destroying the moral fabric of Israel, since it “forces” upon it a brutal occupation – and that this is the evil and inevitable outcome of having to control that population, without offering its people equal rights.
Yet historical analysis betrays that the 1967 war didn’t just happen. Norman Finkelstein, in his scathing critique of Michael B. Oren’s Six Days of War, concludes that whilst Oren (a former ambassador and now Member of Knesset in the center-right Kulanu party) represents the 1967 war as a set of events where things “just happened”, the actual fact was that things were “just waiting to happen”
The 1967 occupation was regarded by the generals who were younger officers in 1948, as “finishing the job”.
As historian Anita Shapira notes, towards the end of the 1948 war, Ben Gurion “rejected Yigal Allon’s proposals to conquer the West Bank, which at the time was militarily achievable. He was sensitive to the demographic problem of governing hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and did his utmost to avoid that snare”. Historian Ilan Pappe gives other reasons for not conquering all of the West Bank (notably, a secret agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah); but let it be noted, that Israel DID conquer large areas of the West Bank territories which were outside the borders of the 1947 UN “Partition Plan”, which Israel committed to at its establishment.
During the conquering of one the cities in those areas, Lydda, IDF commander Yigal Allon asked Ben Gurion “what shall we do with the Arabs?” Ben-Gurion made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, “Expel them”. (Per John Pilger). The expulsion order was signed by Yitzhak Rabin.
In 1967 the same ‘problem’ was present. How to get rid of all those ‘Arabs’. Laborite PM Levi Eshkol said in a closed meeting: “I want them all to go, even if they go to the moon.” (Per Tom Segev.)
Israel coveted the West Bank (but not its non-Jewish population). It was not the right wing that conquered these areas – it was the left that was in quite uncontested leadership from 1948 (until 1977).
Blaming the right wing for the “occupation” is as silly as blaming the “occupation” itself for what it causes Israel to be. The occupation is a thing. It’s not a human. It’s not as if the occupation forces soldiers to be evil, to torture Palestinians or to murder them in broad daylight. The occupation was brought about by humans, and it is manned by humans, who have choice. They can indeed refuse orders. They do not have to murder. The problem with this occupation is not, primarily, the presence of soldiers and military governance (although that in itself is a problem) – the problem is the ideology that informs it. That is – Zionism. This ideology seeks maximum land with minimum Palestinians. The hunger and craving for territory most often gets precedence over humanitarian concern for non-Jews.
This is how the occupation came about. In this respect it is not a new birth, not “an aberration”, not “a grotesque reincarnation,” as Shavit would have it. And this is why people like Shavit are unable to separate themselves from Israel’s expansionism – the reason is PRIDE, national pride. He opines that the “The radical left committed suicide when it disconnected from Israeli pride”.
But Zionist leftists are often very proud, and they often compete with the right as to who is more “Zionist”, as left leader Yitzhak Herzog has often done with Netanyahu. “Pride” is what makes many Israelis so intransigent, and resistant to the questioning of the whole ideology that has brought them thus far – Zionism – right or wrong, left or right. For them, this Zionist pride is so central, that they will view it as a life-or-death allegiance, in supposed protection of the Jewish national survival. Even if you point out to them that it has meant death and destruction for non-Jews, and that it has become a dead end with no possibility of allowing a future of dignity for Palestinians.
Blame is about relinquishing responsibility. You hang the blame on a person, or a thing. The occupation, the right-wing, the Palestinians – and now Shavit also blames the left. Everything so as to not end up having to confront the elephant in the room: Zionism.
The reason that it is often more contradictory to be a Zionist “leftist” than to be a Zionist “right-winger” is, that Zionism is an ultra-nationalist ideology. It fits in with the right, not the left. Leftists seek to wear the glass shoe of Zionism like Cinderella’s step-sisters, and it just doesn’t fit. Whilst sending Palestinians to the moon may seem a logical option for liberal Zionists, the solution may be far simpler, and involve no rocket science: leave Zionism behind.