Israel’s efforts to erase Palestinian history reflect ‘incremental genocide,’ Ehrenreich says

Ben Ehrenreich

Ben Ehrenreich, author of The Way to the Spring, the chronicle of heroic resistance to occupation in a Palestinian village, spoke at Columbia’s Center for Palestine Studies a week ago, and described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an “incremental genocide.”

A questioner asked about the Movement for Black Lives statement saying Palestinians are experiencing “genocide,” and asked Ehrenreich, would you agree? The author said he did.


The question about genocide– yes, it’s an incremental genocide. And I think that’s a word that gives a lot of people pause and it certainly should. We don’t see the absolutely mass slaughters, although in Gaza I think we’ve seen something very much like it that we usually associate with genocide. But– the attempts to erase a people, to just erase them, to erase their history, I think follow a logic that can only be called genocidal. I mean, every time someone says– and people say it all the time, I get it on twitter all the time– “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian,” or “There was nobody there when the Zionists arrived”– these are genocidal statements, these are attempts to erase a culture, erase a history, decimate a people and I think they should be recognized as that.

Moderator Colm Toibin, the Irish novelist, pushed back, saying, that’s a very very loaded thing to say from the Israeli side, and difficult to accept, in the context of the Holocaust and European genocide. “I’m very uneasy about letting this go without questioning you one more time… I wonder if there’s another word you could use. I’m just uneasy about it.”

Ehrenreich elaborated:

You should be and we all should be. It’s an especially painful thing to talk about, given the history of the Holocaust, and as someone with a Jewish background, it’s extremely painful for me to use that word. It’s more painful to see those realities, and those historical ironies are brutal. I mentioned the Balfour Declaration because I think this always has to be put into a colonialist context. Israel is a settler colonialist society, and the one things that settler colonialist societies have in common is that they follow a genocidal logic. The one we’re living in right now. Every single one of them– South Africa, Canada, the United States, Australia, and Israel: places where settlers came in and declared the land theirs and did everything they could to either remove the people who were already there or so erase their history that they could pretend that they weren’t there.

Hatim Kanaaneh asked Ehrenreich how it was that American mainstream publishers put his article and book out. Ehrenreich said that things have shifted “quite a bit in terms of US public opinion. None of this is reflected in the actions of our politicians.”

He then observed that this is the issue that is “most tightly controlled” in our media, and he was “shocked” when the New York Times Magazine sent him to cover the resistance in Nabi Saleh, in that historic cover article of 2013 explaining why Palestinians have a right to throw stones.

I was shocked that the New York Times Magazine wanted to send me to a small West Bank village to write a story that was exclusively from the perspective of the people who lived there. And I think slowly, as long as I’ve been writing about this, I am sort of constantly seeing cracks in the wall, because there has been I think more than any other issue in the U.S., this is the one where the narrative is most tightly controlled, where certain perspectives are just not allowed in, Palestinian perspectives, that is. And that has shifted…. During the primary season, this issue was suddenly an issue that it was possible to talk about, which it never was in other election seasons in this country.

I’d add that anti-Zionists are also marginalized, including Jewish ones. And Ehrenreich’s observation about the narrative being most tightly controlled on this issue– wonderful. It inevitably raises the issue of the Jewish Zionist presence in the establishment, along with the shadow of the Holocaust as a muzzle on non-Jews’ willingness to express their opinions. Bernie Sanders said there was a war for the soul of Islam. There’s also a war for the soul of Judaism; and it involves Zionism.