North Africa, West Asia

Letter to a Zionist friend

Jewish people have been legitimately concerned with their own suffering; perhaps it is time to consider what suffering their governments may have imposed on others. 

Peter Rhoades
5 September 2014

Dear Friend,

I am not at all sure that you will bother to read anything that I may write about Israel but I shall attempt to summarize my current thoughts using you as an audience and hoping that you might give my text some consideration.

Firstly, as I have said before, I do understand the Zionist’s feeling of need for a ‘homeland’. I do totally accept the historical victimhood of Jewish people and the idea of establishing somewhere safe in which to live. You may say that my thoughts (those of an English gentile) about the present state of Israel and the Middle East are of no relevance, but I believe them to be shared by many other non-Jews.

Just as I was woken to the behaviour of the IDF by images of the murder of large numbers of civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 so I was similarly alerted by pictures of very poor people in Vietnam during the 1960’s being slaughtered by the most powerful war machine on earth, that of the US. I became deeply involved in protest and resistance to the prosecution of that war.

Operation Cast Lead and the recent wholesale attack on Gaza have stimulated me into historical research. Recent publications, Ahron Bregman’s “Cursed Victory”, Alan Pappe’s “The Idea of Israel”, Robert Fisk’s very close up accounts of the crimes and atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict, Miko Peled’s work in America and Avi Shlaim’s ongoing commentaries are relevant to interpreting events.

It seems to me that just as Vietnam was of universal concern in its time, so are Israel and the Middle East now. Both situations involve the imposition of overwhelming colonial force by the United States and the inevitable resistance to it. It is absurd to deny as you have, that Israel has been maintained, at enormous expense, as a client state by the US and that its involvement in the area has not been disastrous. It is surely our duty, as citizens of a close ally, to express our reservations about its behaviour and policies. The role as “peacemaker” by the United States in Palestine has never been convincing, has it? Since its primary role is to support Israel whatever its behaviour, the US has correspondingly failed to communicate with comprehension or sympathy with the Palestinians or Arabs in general.

 The “new” or “revisionist” Jewish historians such as Shlaim, Pappe and Bregman have presented new and reinterpreted old material drawing attention to the full disastrous consequences that the imposition of Israel over Palestine has had for the Palestinians. This process, beginning in the 1920’s and 1930’s, powerfully since 1948, and brutally since the Occupation in 1967, has involved systematic displacement, theft, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture, collective punishment, wholesale destruction of property and the dehumanisation and humiliation of the Palestinian population.

These strategies are very reminiscent of those of the Third Reich in Europe during the Second World War. A female Jewish friend said to me recently, “How can we do to others what was done to us?” The term “imprinting” has been used in relation to this, whereby the abused, unable to come to terms with their abuse, themselves become abusers. Edward Said identified this phenomenon by describing the Palestinians as “the victims of victims”.

Senior Israeli politicians have referred to Palestinians as lice and cockroaches. The new historians seem to be suggesting that the only alternative to conceiving of the Palestinians and Arabs in general as nothing but enemies, terrorists and vermin is to begin to attempt to understand them and their problems and in particular, the suffering of the Palestinians. Jewish people have been legitimately concerned with their own suffering; perhaps it is time to consider what suffering their governments may have imposed on others.

Attempting bridge building and reconciliation is an alternative concept to indefinite bloody, vengeful and punitive conflict. The Palestinians will continue to resist the occupation. What alternative do they have in their desperate prison camp existence and Israel’s continued theft of their territory? The hardest form of Zionism, from the beginning of the idea of Israel in Palestine, saw the Palestinians, if they existed at all, as disposable, to be eliminated or expelled. Recent events in Gaza could imply that this policy is still very much alive. There is a staggering irony in that, after two thousand years absence, Jewish people have automatic right of return to Palestine whereas Palestinians, after an absence of fifty years, have no such right.

Hamas and a succession of previous violent resistance organizations are not arbitrary products of brutal and life-devaluing Arab culture; they have emerged out of suffering just as Jewish terrorism, which established the State of Israel, came out of Jewish suffering in Europe. However, the Palestinians were not responsible for the genocide of Jews in Europe and they may well ask why they have to pay such a terrible price for the crimes and failure of social life in Europe.

With best wishes for times of less pain and destruction,

Peter Rhoades

Christ Church, University of Oxford, UK

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