One of the positive things about the Gaza onslaught is that it has revealed to reasonable Americans that Israel has no answer to its foundational problem– the question of Palestinian disenfranchisement– except killing and ethnically-cleansing Palestinians. And that the nihilism of that Israeli policy is longstanding: Gaza is filled with refugees from 1948 and their descendants.
Thus the current onslaught has broached a root-causes conversation: the wisdom or justice of establishing a Jewish state there in the first place.
Yesterday Andrew Sullivan posted a dialogue with Sam Harris in which Sullivan demolished Harris by repeatedly citing the injustice entailed in Israel’s creation: the terroristic expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the Nakba is “the deep wound in that part of the world,” “the most recent big event in the history of that part of the world – and the Palestinians had almost no say in any of it.”
Now Sullivan is a conservative who doesn’t want to upset a long-established order, which is to say, he’s for a two-state solution. But Sullivan’s comments on Zionist history are bracing and wonderful:
[W]hen you say the Israelis only want to live in peace with their neighbors, is that why 1948 is regarded by any non-Israeli in the region as a “catastrophe”? Was that living in peace with their neighbors? That was a terroristic campaign of expulsion, of ethnic cleansing, and of mass murder. That’s how Israel was founded. And many of the people living in Gaza and on the West Bank are the descendants of refugees from that original act of ethnic cleansing. One problem of the debate in the U.S. is that this vital piece of context is so often removed, and so we have an utterly ahistorical understanding in which the motives of one side become unintelligible…
[T]he problem is that other people happened to live there already in the land assigned to newcomers – and they regarded their lives as ruined. They were the majority, and they were not Jewish. This is the most recent big event in the history of that part of the world – and the Palestinians had almost no say in any of it. So to claim that we just have to accept this as a given and that any complaints about the deep wound in that part of the world are somehow illegitimate or to be bracketed off from the core discussion seems to me to miss the whole point of the conflict….
It’s not simply a nice, peaceful country fighting forces of jihadist Islam. In fact, you can say that one of the major sources of jihadist Islam and anti-Western terrorism has been not just the founding of Israel, but its expansion and its constant presence in the lives of so many Arabs in the Middle East….
If I suddenly found that the south of England, where I grew up, had been occupied by the French through a war of conquest, and they were then populating England with French people dedicated to creating France in Britain, then I don’t think I would be some bigoted anti-Semite to be furious about the land that was taken from me. You don’t need anti-Semitism to explain why people would feel enraged about a hostile takeover of their own land. It’s such a canard to say that there’s something outrageous about being offended that you’ve been thrown out of your land, town, or home. And it’s made worse when even in the place left to you, you are then policed, monitored, harassed, and constantly controlled by an occupying force. This is an absolute recipe for disaster.
Yes, as John Judis informed us in Genesis, FDR and Harry Truman both said that establishing a Jewish state on Palestinian land would lead to World War 3.
I would contrast Sullivan’s straightforward insight about Zionism to the refrain we’ve heard in recent weeks about other root causes: radical Islam, French and English colonialism.
Fareed Zakaria has told Brooke Baldwin on CNN that ISIS in Iraq represents “the end of the multicultural Middle East:”
The Middle East actually used to be a place where Christians, Muslims, Jews for many, many centuries, Jews were very much part of our Arab countries. Baghdad was a third Jewish in the early 1940s. That’s over.
What you’re watching in Iraq is, first of all, remember, something like 600,000 Christians have already fled Iraq because of the Shiite sectarian government in place in Baghdad.
Now what you’re witnessing is a kind of dramatic ramping up and horrific escalation of it. What you’re seeing in Syria is the Christians leaving, the Armenians, Druze, these ancient communities that are really in some cases Christians from the time of the Bible. They are all leaving. And they are going to have to find some safe havens. Iraqi Kurdistan is proving to be one of the great safe havens. Probably Lebanon will be the other. But all of these other countries you’re just seeing massive ethnic cleansing.
Obviously ISIS is a scary player. But Zakaria could have mentioned Zionism’s role in that mess, couldn’t he? The emptying of Baghdad’s Jewish population, for instance, followed the establishment of a Jewish state, and was surely accelerated by Zionists.
Then there’s that other historical theme of a few weeks back: that the problems began with the secret Sykes Picot treaty of 1916. Dexter Filkins, Richard Engel and Brooke Gladstone all treated that colonial agreement to draw arbitrary national lines in the Middle East as a root cause of ethnic conflict in Iraq today. And of course it has a role; but they could also have mentioned England’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine, which no Arab leaders wanted.
Finally, there’s Tom Friedman. “This isn’t Scandinavia,” he intoned solemnly— in explaining that Israel was justified in going crazy on Hamas in Gaza because Hamas is connected to jihadists across the Middle East.
Exactly: it’s not Scandinavia, Scott Roth said to me lately. It’s been carved up by colonial schemes for the last 100 years, and Zionism created a state in defiance of Arabs’ wishes.
When will Friedman turn his harsh light on Zionism? He grew up in the Zionist community. He was giving chalktalks on the Six Day War to his classmates in high school. Andrew Sullivan knows that this too is part of the problem, the Zionist inoculation in American Jewish identity:
I’m not that invested by my identity in any of this. I have been to Israel once and I have nothing but amazed admiration for what they’ve achieved and who they are and have incredible respect for their achievements. I really do…
But the thing that happens to me in this debate in America is that many of my Jewish friends cannot debate this, it seems to me, without extreme emotional investment in it, and that’s a very hard thing to deal with. It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough. Do you not think that your being a Jew affects the way you talk about this thing?
Sam Harris says No. But I don’t believe him. It’s affected me and countless other Jews seeking awareness. It’s our gift and our struggle.