There is a Right and There is a Wrong: I Stand with Palestine
As I write this, the Israeli Defense Forces have begun a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. I am a secular Jew, and myself along with millions of other Jews, hear that the state of Israel which claims to speak and act in our name - is now indiscriminately bombarding and murdering Palestinians. What stand should we take? What is the right and the wrong? The reactions among the apologists for Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish, Democrat and Republican, are to be expected: support for Israel's offensive against “terrorists” and “extremists.” Israel is praised for “showing restraint” and its “purity of arms.” After all, this is only natural for the “only democracy in the Middle East” which shares “our values.” And none of this whitewashing for Israeli colonialism should be surprising to anyone. We are under no illusions – they are forthright about where they stand.
Yet there is another position among Jews and the “well-meaning” that seeks to portray what is going on in Palestine/Israel where the blame “is not all on one side” but it is more “complicated.” This position seeks to stand above the fray and to condemn both sides equally. And to the untrained eye, it may seem reasonable that “both sides have been killing each other for thousands of years” and “all nationalisms are reactionary.” After all, they are “all led by extremists” and caught in an endless “cycle of violence.” Surely, if the situation is so complicated then it makes sense to just take a hands off or neutral position that stands above it all.
Those positions sound sane. They sound reasonable.
They are also utterly full of crap.
There is a right and a wrong here. Both as Jews and more importantly as human beings, we cannot merely say that Israel does not speak for us, but to make a stand unapologetically and uncompromisingly in solidarity with Palestine and their struggle for liberation. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Let me break it down for you: Israel, despite its claims, is not a democracy. In its own words, Israel strives to be “a Jewish state for the Jewish people.” The settlers chose Palestine as their destination since in their minds “it was a land without people for a people without land.” (part of this claim comes from the Bible, but how seriously should we take such a claim from a book that argues in favor of slavery and genocide?) The thing is, there were people living in Palestine who had been there for hundreds of years. The settlers systematically uprooted them, stole their land and drove them out in the time-honored methods of ethnic cleansing. The state of Israel, established in 1948, is not a state for all the people living in it, rather it is a state only “for Jews.” This may appear uncontroversial, but replace the word “Jew” with “White” then the racist implications of Israel becomes crystal clear.
Nor does Israel have anything to do with protecting Jews from antisemitism. In fact, the ideologues who made the case for colonization in Palestine accepted the basic premises of antisemitism. According to the logic of antisemitism, Jews were foreign elements in gentile society and should leave rather than try to change things. Founders of Israel like David Ben-Gurion accepted this, and rather than argue for fighting antisemitism, they urged Jews emigrate to Palestine and 'ironically' inflict on the Palestinians a similar discrimination which they have historically endured. Rather, the fight against antisemitism was not carried out by those who founded Israel, but by socialists, communists and other leftists.
Israel claims that settlement in the Middle East was necessary due to the injustice of the Holocaust. And no one denies the monstrous atrocity of the Holocaust (which the Palestinians had nothing to do with). Yet as the Palestinian scholar Edward Said argued, “We don’t want anybody’s history of suffering to go unrecorded and unacknowledged. On the other hand, there’s a great difference between acknowledging Jewish oppression and using that as a cover for the oppression of another people.”
And within Israel proper, approximately twenty percent of the population are Palestinians. They are only second class citizens though, the "rights" of full citizenship are reserved only for Jews They are denied equal access to land, housing and education. Respectable Israeli politicians routinely call them “the enemy within.” Israeli politicians routinely call for expelling the Arabs and their extermination. Palestinians expelled from Israel, who lived there for generations, cannot ever return home, but any Jew in the world is free to do so. And since 1967, Israel has occupied all of historic Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza. The subjected Palestinians are forced to endure humiliation, terror and random killings by the IDF. Furthermore, the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are also being dispossessed by Israeli settlers who claim they have full rights to the land. And far from discouraging this, the Israel government has given full support to the settlement of the occupied territories and forcing the Palestinians to endure impoverished and wretched living conditions where they are treated like wild beasts. The situation of Palestinians under Israeli control itself is analogous to that of blacks in the Jim Crow South or Apartheid South Africa, Catholics in North Ireland. It is the imposition of a racist and apartheid regime of oppression and exploitation where one group, in this case Palestinians, are placed underneath the jackboot of systematic colonial occupation.
Well, all this could be conceded by our “soft” apologists for Israel. Yet they will hasten to add that the Palestinians should try to “act reasonable” and trust in the “peace process,” renounce “terror” and “recognize Israel.” After all, there is a “cycle of violence” going on. Although, no one who blames both sides seems to recognize that the Israelis possess a state and a modern army while the Palestinians are without rights and largely at their mercy. What are the Palestinians supposed to do in this situation, turn the other cheek? Appeal to the good nature of the IDF soldiers who beat them and bulldoze their homes? We can ask ourselves, as Jews, should the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 have acted “reasonably” and “passively” in the hope of appealing to the conscience of the Nazis?
Those who argue for a “liberal” or “reasonable” Israel are no more deserving of respect than “friendly” fascists.
This effort to stand above the fray as high and mighty, acts enlightened, but rather it is the contemptible position of cowards more concerned with offending the oppressor than standing in unconditional solidarity with the oppressed. And ultimately, this position is more revolting than that of the unapologetic colonialist. They make no excuses for their evil. Passivity and the hollow words of compromise from the neutrals is merely the “humane” face of colonialism and oppression. As Jews, and as human beings, we should ask - is this the side we want to be on?
For there is a right and a wrong here. Just like the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were right to fight their oppressors with all the means available to them - it is right for the Palestinians to resist. It is right to rebel. It is right to fight back. There can be no equation between the struggle of those who enforce colonialism and subjugation and those who fight it. The slave who shatters his chains is not equal to the master who uses violence to shackle him. Israel is the occupier – their war is illegitimate and unjust. Any other position is tantamount to support for Israel and colonialism. And as Jews, we have a responsibility to make our opposition known – to stand always and everywhere with the oppressed.
This is the right and the wrong.
As a Jew, I will not stand in support for an Apartheid state founded upon ethnic cleansing and the colonial subjection of the Palestinians. Ties of 'blood' and 'religion' be damned. For me, solidarity with the oppressed means clear and uncompromising opposition to Israel and Zionism.
I stand with Palestine.