(ISRAEL HAS COMMITED A GENOCIDE)
Israel has not commited genocide against the Palestinians.But there are problematic episodes in Israel’s past that have been given a distorted interpretation. The attempt to avoid dealing with the past leads to the cultivation of false myths that underlie the regime of evil that is taking shape in the country today.
Israel is the product of a historical process that has a colonialist and settlement-oriented nature. Jews who fled from anti-Semitism, adventurers and reformers who believed in social revolution, refugees of the Nazi genocide, Jews who were uprooted from their homes in the 1950s because of Muslim hostility – these individuals built a country whose establishment was accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the native population. The natives and their descendants became either refugees or second-class citizens in the Jewish state.
In his book “Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview,” historian Lorenzo Veracini analyzes central aspects of settler colonialism that are applicable to the Israeli case. Settler colonialism is not an invasion or a time-bound event. It involves the creation of a social and political structure that is intended to remain in place for all time. In the case of Israel, following the initial military conflict, the state did not aspire to exterminate the natives (the local Palestinians), but rather to ensure the existence and consolidation of the ruling ethnic group, the Jews. Like all settler colonialism, the Israeli version, too, believed it could achieve reasonable coexistence with the natives and in return grant them integration in the new structure by means of improving their living conditions, providing more employment opportunities, offering modern education and so forth. Full assimilation was not in the cards from the outset, because the state defined itself as an ethnic nation-state and enacted important legislation to ensure this – first and foremost, the Law of Return.
The current regime in Israel is a product of the 1948 past with which both its leaders and citizens refuse to cope. It has not recognized its responsibility for the Nakba, just as the Turks refuse to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s responsibility for the Armenian genocide. Instead, there has been a decades-long process of denial and the projection of responsibility on others (i.e., the Palestinian leadership, the Arab states) – who, even if they shared in creating the tragedy, were not the ones who created the problem in the first place. And just as Turkey will never be a genuinely liberal democracy if it does not assume responsibility for the historical wrongs it perpetrated, neither will Israel.
The second element in whose light Israeli evil needs to be understood occurred after 1967. It is crucial to grasp the difference between 1948 and 1967. Until 1967, Israel seemed to be progressing successfully toward a situation in which a certain horizon had opened for the limited assimilation of the Palestinians within the state structure that had been created. It would have taken decades for that situation to arise, but gradually it would have happened. We can only imagine what the relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel would look like today were it not for the occupation of the territories. But this is far from taking place, because in 1967, Israel relaunched the war of settler colonialism against the Palestinian people. It’s different from the 1948 version, which was the war of the settlers for the establishment of the national structure that they were building. The leaders of the current war of settler colonialism do not have the goal of ensuring a haven for persecuted Jews and refugees of genocide, as was the case in 1948. They are, rather, messianic rabbis who, together with the thousands of disciples who are constantly flocking to them, believe in a genocidal holy war. It is they who have transformed Israel into a state of evil.
Ludwig Wittgenstein The Schwartz Museum. Berlin / Wittgenstein Archive, Cambridge
How, then, are we to define the current regime in Israel? Illouz, in the wake of Ludwig Wittgenstein, suggests that we see it as bearing a “family resemblance” to well-known regimes of oppression, but adds that under no circumstances must analogies be drawn with Nazism, fascism or the apartheid regime in South Africa. But what’s true of a “family resemblance” between Monopoly, Scrabble and chess, as per Wittgenstein, doesn’t really work when one is trying to understand regimes and societies.
IDF soldier Elor Azaria, charged with manslaughter in shooting death of a Palestinian in March in Hebron, in the military court in Jaffa, in April, 2016. Moti Milrod
Israel is not Nazi Germany not only because it has not been involved in the mass industrial extermination of civilians. It is not Nazi Germany, because Nazism as a political system has disappeared from the world, irrespective of any particular method of extermination. Some 800,000 moderate Tutsis and Hutus were murdered in the most rapid genocide of the 20th century, but that does not mean that the regime that existed in Rwanda in 1994 was a Nazi regime. It is a different genocidal regime, and it needs to be examined as such. But analogies can definitely be drawn between the behavior of societies in crisis situations, certainly between individuals who murder others in cold blood, because they perceive them as the enemy.
Elor Azaria, the Israeli Defense Forces soldier who shot to death a wounded Palestinian assailant lying on the ground in Hebron, is the bottom line – both the banality and the ideology alike – in this story. He has heard his prime minister speak derogatorily of Arabs as “droves” and attribute responsibility for the Holocaust to one of their leaders. He has heard members of the Knesset refuse, in the name of Jewish racial purity, to have their partner share a hospital room with an Arab woman. He has heard the chief rabbi of the army in which he serves say that it is permitted to rape gentile women in wartime. And between Azaria and the higher echelons of “leaders,” he saw a colonel, his senior commander in the field, shoot in the back and kill a Palestinian boy who threw a stone – and not go on trial for it. Azaria is serving in a territory where the life of the native population is regarded as worthless, where state authorities dispossess them of their land and seal their water wells, where settlers do as they please – and where all these injustices are legitimized retroactively. He was also raised in a home by parents who wrote in a Facebook post that all the Arabs, including women and children, should be killed.
What Azaria and thousands of young people in uniform like him understand is that to eradicate a helpless Palestinian is effectively to work toward the “Fuehrer” – in this case, the state. Because what’s happening in the territories today precisely embodies Hilberg’s division of labor in committing the crime: The state authorities, the army, the rabbis in the territories, the settlers, the Shin Bet security service – each contributes to this continuing evil.
Elor Azaria is not a Nazi criminal, and the IDF is not the Wehrmacht. But Azaria lives in a society and is serving in an army into which norms have penetrated that existed in Nazi Germany and in other regimes that perpetrated serious war crimes. Like every young soldier everywhere, he responded in light of what he understands and believes in. He is the anonymous product of the interaction between banality and ideological belief that is creating a mixture that gives rise to Israeli evil today.
Daniel Blatman is a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Israel Systematically Denies 1,400 Years of Muslim History
The education system, the media and the tourism industry all collaborate in erasing the country's Palestinian past.
How many among us have the slightest idea of what was happening in the Land of Israel during the Fatimid, Mamluk or Seljuk periods? While we’ve been busy arguing about the Nakba, all of us have been denying the Muslim past of this country.
“Filastin: It is the last one of the regions of Syria in the direction of Egypt. Its most famous cities are Ashkelon, Ramle, Gaza, Arsuf, Caesaria, Nablus, Jericho, Amman, Jaffa and Beit Guvrin.” This is the opening sentence of the section entitled “Filastin” that appears in the book “Dictionary of the Lands,” written by Muslim geographer Yaqut ibn Abdullah al-Hamawi in 1225. That was nearly 800 years before Likud MK Anat Berko raised the dubious assertion that “there isn’t even a ‘P’ in Arabic, meaning that the term ‘Palestine’ merits greater scrutiny.” She went on to explain that the Palestinians began to express their fabricated nationalism by means of adopting this name, “which was, in fact, being used by the Zionist movement.”
Berko’s baseless assertion provoked ridicule in the media. Yet the criticism of her at times bordered on the hypocritical, since denial of the Palestinian past of Israel is a widespread local phenomenon. The education system, the media and the tourism industry are all collaborators in the denial and omission of 1,400 years of Muslim history here.
Our history, as is well known to the majority of Israelis, abandoned the country following the Bar Kochba revolt, and reappeared only with the establishment of Petah Tikva in the late 19th century. Thus it is that precious few Israeli Jews, even among those who are well read in the Bible and the annals of the Zionist enterprise, know anything about the Fatimid, Mamluk or Seljuk periods?
Such subjects are studied by a limited circle of experts, and are considered in these parts to be about as esoteric as the history of the Aztecs. Similarly, the displays at archaeological sites in Israel underscore the short-lived Jewish past of the country (as the reader may recall, Jewish sovereignty existed over part of the land for only a few centuries, at most – if we include the kingdoms of both Israel and Judah). In many instances, strata from Muslim periods of history have been removed from the sites in order to showcase structures from periods of Jewish habitation. Crusader and Roman strata have been removed, as well. The idea is to de-emphasize periods of gentile rule.
The quote from the book by Yaqut cited above, can be found in “The Land of Israel in Arab Sources from the Middle Ages,” by Uri Tal, published (in Hebrew) two years ago by the Ben Zvi Institute. The book’s title is somewhat ironic because the sources it cites do not refer to the land in question as “Israel,” but rather as Falastin, as it is pronounced in Arabic. Nevertheless, the book is quite eye-opening, describing the wealth of villages and cities that existed in Falastin during periods of Arab rule.
Background Every year Palestinians mark the Nakba – “catastrophe” in English – when in 1948 around 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel. 500 villages were destroyed in a premeditated campaign, and their inhabitants never allowed to return. Zionist militias,