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How one Palestinian university is remaking ‘Israel Studies’

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At Birzeit University (BZU) in the Israeli occupied West Bank, just north of Ramallah, a growing cohort of young Palestinian students are studying for their M.A. in Israel Studies. The program’s first cohort was admitted in 2015. By the summer of 2019, nearly thirty Palestinian students will have received their degree.

In the Birzeit classroom, students and faculty are, in their words, “trying to produce Palestinian knowledge of Israeli society” through deep, critical engagement with Israeli culture, politics and society, often working with primary texts in their original Hebrew. In the process, they are fundamentally remaking the dominant paradigm of Israel Studies as it has been configured in the United States and increasingly in Great Britain, with its proud “advocacy” mandate on behalf of the Israeli state. Birzeit’s program turns this paradigm inside out, providing students with a radical alternative.

The idea for the program began informally in 2010 with conversations between Birzeit faculty members, at the behest of the University president, and the Ramallah-based Institute for Palestine Studies. There was some minor disagreement among faculty about the program’s founding principles, evident in disputes over its naming: “settler-colonial studies,” favored by some, was rejected in favor of “Israel Studies.” After approval from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, funding was eventually secured through a partnership with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, an institute headed by former Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) and Birzeit faculty member, Azmi Bishara. The first Birzeit students in Israel Studies matriculated in the fall of 2015.

Like the broader Birzeit student population, the majority of M.A. students come from the Ramallah area, with smaller numbers from other West Bank locales, including Jerusalem, and the occasional student from the Gaza Strip who receives the requisite permits from Israel. The financial incentives are considerable: thanks to support from The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, the program has the means to provide students with full scholarships and living stipends and thus it can attract some of Birzeit’s best students. Most of the program’s faculty are Birzeit professors, but it also employs part-time faculty from other institutions, including Palestinian scholars from inside Israel.

The program’s mandate is clear: to establish a Palestinian base of critical knowledge about Israel and its settler-colonial history through deep engagement with Israeli political systems, religious thought, society and culture. The program’s current director, Dr. Munir Fakher Eldin, a historian of modern Palestine, characterized its rationale this way:

The idea for this program came out of the certain realization that it’s absurd to be under occupation for 50 years, with over a century of conflict with Zionism, and not have any Palestinian production of academic knowledge on Israel. So the basic idea is that we need this expertise… But this idea raised lots of questions. Can you study Israel and break with Israeli mainstream knowledge production? And the answer was: yes, of course.

The program’s curriculum is robustly interdisciplinary. All students receive intensive training in Hebrew and have the opportunity to pick from a roster of courses in such subjects as Zionist ideology and history; Judaism, Jewish history and thought; society and political systems within ‘48 Palestine; Israeli demography; Israeli political economy; Israeli culture and literature, and the list goes on. A settler-colonial framework is central within the curriculum, as is a comparative analytic framework, as Dr. Fakher Eldin suggests:

My basic strategy is to show them that all of the atrocities of Zionism and the occupation are basically comparable atrocities. They exist in a wider context. In my special class entitled “The Land Question,” for example, we don’t only speak about settler colonialism and the Zionist land grab. I also talk about capitalism, because settler-colonialism benefited from the history of private property… In other words, I [dismantle] the sense of extreme uniqueness. This is something new in the students’ minds and it’s a very important lesson.

Complicating the Story

When I met Izz Al-Deen Araj at Birzeit in November, 2018, he was in the final months of his M.A. work. A resident of Ramallah, he had also completed his B.A. at Birzeit, as had the vast majority of his colleagues in the program, with a major in sociology. He had opted for the program’s three-year thesis-track (some students elect only coursework, completed in two years) and when I met him, was finishing a thesis about the politics of demography within the Israel—that is, the ways that the Israeli and Palestinian demographic balance figures within internal political debates. His next step, he hoped, was a PhD program in the U.K., provided that the requisite visas from Israel could be obtained.

The Bir Zeit University Israel Studies program (Photo: Rebecca L. Stein)

The Bir Zeit University Israeli Studies program (Photo: Rebecca L. Stein)

Echoing the accounts of others, he described his learning experience as a process of continual surprise particularly so during his thesis research. The diversity and complexity of Israeli positions on the question of demography exceeded all prior expectations:

One side argues that we should keep the Jewish majority and we don’t want more land. The other argues that land is more crucial and we shouldn’t be as concerned with the demographic problem. I was amazed at how this discussion became the main factor [in determining] the left wing and the right wing in Israel.

So much of what he had learned about Israel was entirely new to him, he said, noting the influence of the ultra-orthodox Jewish population on the Israeli political and social landscape, the numerous inequalities inside the state’s Jewish populations, the tremendous variance in political discourses and the list went on. Such complexity, he said, had forced a rethinking of both the political paradigms and theoretical models on which he had previously relied.

When I finished the first semester, I was totally shocked because we all know about Israel [when we enter the program]. But I understood that most of what I knew was… not exactly wrong but…well, I started to think more deeply about Israeli society.

On the one hand, he said, he “started to think about Israel as a settler-colonial society, not [merely] as soldiers.” But this, too, he felt was inadequate to the variability of the Israeli social and political landscape. “We understand the conflict through one model: settler-colonialism or apartheid. But I think we can use more complex models…. Can we understand the administration of the West Bank in the same frame as we understand the [administration] of Gaza?”

The work of complexifying students’ prior knowledge about Israel is perhaps the program’s chief mandate. In the process, prevailing Israeli and Palestinian discourses and political models come under critical scrutiny. Again, Fakher Eldin:

I believe in thinking critically and thoroughly, and having the courage to ask difficult questions. In our case, it’s very easy to over-simplify the occupation of Israel, to create certain conventions about what Zionism is. And these are very critical positions because we are the victims of Israel. But in most cases, this is the only thing we know about Israel: the violence that it inflicts on Palestinians. We also need to move beyond this and study the Israeli system that produces this violence…You can problematize power in very important ways if you know the power system.

In my conversations with faculty and students, I learned of numerous student experiences along these lines—that is, of classroom and research experiences that challenged their prior conceptions of Israeli history, politics, and society. Professor Nabih Bashir, a scholar of Jewish intellectual thought in the medieval period, told a similar story about his students’ first encounter with Judaeo-Arabic literature in his course on Jewish history and thought:

After some introductory classes, after they became familiar with the Hebrew Alphabet, I give the students pages of an old manuscript to read… My most delightful moments are seeing their excitement after they have the tools to read it.

 The Master’s Tools

Marah Khalifeh was a student in the Israel Studies program’s first MA cohort; she entered in 2015 and completed her degree in 2017. When she began the program, she said, “Israel was something abstract: the enemy, the colonizer. I didn’t know more than that.” She left, she said, with an “in-depth knowledge about Israeli society…It’s part of knowing your enemy, part of the knowledge of resistance.”

When Marah started, she had just completed her B.A. at Birzeit in English literature; within the program’s thesis track, she focused on the writings of Israeli Mizrahi author Sami Michael. It was the polyvalence of Michael’s personal history that most intrigued her, his refusal to fall neatly into state-authorized categories: “He’s a communist, he’s Iraqi, a non-Zionist as he calls himself. And he’s Israeli. I tried to explore how he deals with these multiple and contradictory identities in this colonial context.”

On the one hand, she said, her prior conception of Israel as a colonial, perpetrator state was inadequate as a way to understand to Michael’s identity as (in her view) both “the victim and the assailant.” Yet when she considered the possibility of interviewing Sami Michael for her research, a proposition she would eventually reject, she found returning to core anti-colonial principles:

“At first I thought to myself, he’s Iraqi [so that’s ok]. But at the end of the day, he’s Israeli and he was in the army, and he’s part of this colonial society… He’s using the tools that Israel gives him. He’s not creating new tools.”

Her discussion of the Birzeit program frequently returned to Audre Lorde’s trope of the “master’s tools.” It was in these terms that she described the Palestinian relationship to the Israeli legal system, the subject of one of her Israel Studies seminars. The material fascinated her, even as it underscored the need for alternative Palestinian political instruments:

How you can you legally colonize a people?…[The Israeli state] tries to be legitimate and follow the law. Yet, at the same time, it’s the Israeli law that is legitimizing the occupation of the West Bank, and legitimizing the Nakba itself… So are we, as Palestinians, using the Israeli legal system or is it the system using us?… It’s like trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.

“Two Colonial Geographies”

At BZU, students have the opportunity to learn from Palestinian professors and researchers from ’48—the Palestinian terminology of choice to refer to Palestinian communities residing inside Israel as citizens. While they comprise the decided minority of the BZU faculty, their imprint on student learning is particularly striking within the Israel Studies program. Professor Magid Shihade was one such professor. A resident of the Galilee and expert in postcolonial theory, he taught in the program from 2015-2018, including a course on ‘48 Palestinian society and politics. He found that most of his students were encountering this material for the first time: namely, the history of Israeli state-sponsored discrimination, de-development and de-education within its Palestinian communities. For his students, the course material was novel and important; but their personal encounter with him, and other professors from ’48, was equally eye-opening. Marah Khalife:

In the day to day, we [Palestinians from the West Bank] do not deal with Palestinians from ‘48. The idea of being able, for instance, to live in Nazareth and be in Ramallah in the afternoon was new to me. For us from ‘67 [West Bank] it’s hard to be in two places, in two colonial geographies, during the same day. You either wake very early in the morning or arrive very late at night. But for the professors [it was different]: you call him in the morning and he’s in Nazareth and by 2 o’clock he’s in the class with us. So it’s reimagining Palestine.

The place of ‘48 Palestinian students within both Israeli and Palestinian universities has shifted considerably over the last decade. On the one hand, there has been an influx of these students into the West Bank, particularly to the Arab American University (AUJ) in Jenin (a private college, founded in 2000), attracted by its paramedical training and proximity to the Galilee. For the institution, they are a much-needed source of revenue, and actively courted. Today, they represent 55 percent of AUJ students. Other universities in the West Bank such as Al Najah University in Nablus are now courting Palestinian students from inside Israel, eager for the revenue.

The same period has seen a concurrent rise in the number of ‘48 Palestinian students enrolled in Israeli universities. In prior decades, Israeli universities were effectively off-limits to Palestinian citizens, given stringent admission requirements that tended to favor Jewish Israeli students. Today, numerous Israeli institutions trumpet their growing Palestinian student populations as evidence of democratic inclusion. Such is the case at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, now actively courting Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Critics of this policy charge Hebrew University with cementing the annexation of Palestinian Jerusalem.

At BZU, Palestinian faculty from ‘48 function within something of a legal gray zone. According to Israeli law, Israeli citizens are not permitted to enter Area A (the sector of the West Bank administered by the Palestinian Authority, where the university is located). As Professor Bashir notes: “The fact is that every time we, as Palestinians from Israel, go through the Israeli checkpoints, we are actually breaking the Israeli law.” For the time being, the Israeli authorities have elected to turn a blind eye.


BZU’s Israel Studies program is not without Palestinian precedents. Al Quds University in Jerusalem began its Israel Studies program in 2005, housed within its International Studies M.A. program. The BZU program also work closely with the handful of other Palestinian research centers that study Israeli politics and society, including Mada al-Carmel (The Arab Center for Applied Social Research, Haifa-based) and Madar (The Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies, Ramallah-based). Like the BZU and Al Quds program, both are post-Oslo institutions.

The Israel Studies program also has regional precedents. For decades, in institutions of higher education across the Middle East, Arab students have had the opportunity to study Hebrew and Zionist ideology as part of a “know your enemy” educational paradigm. Educational projects of this kind also existed beyond the university context. In the 1970s, for example, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s research center in Beirut engaged in its own educational program along these lines, including Arabic translations of foundational Zionist writings. But today, no regional equivalent of the Birzeit program exists outside of Palestine due to the taint of normalization—projects that normalize relations with Israel, therein legitimizing its policies and regime on both sides of the Green Line. BZU and Al Quds University offer the only degree-granting M.A. programs in Israel Studies in the Arab World.

BZU’s Israel Studies program, for its part, has not faced such critiques from within the institution despite the university’s strong anti-normalization stance and support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS] movement. “It’s never been an issue on campus,” says BZU Professor of Anthropology Rema Hammami. “Even the student groups who have raised normalization as an issue around specific events and professors, have never raised them towards the Israel Studies program.”

Normalization aside, some students and faculty still voice unease with the program’s central tenets. Professor Shihade was among those program founders who raised early concerns about the program’s name—preferring “settler-colonial studies” as a means of differentiating the program from the hegemonic scholarly paradigm in the United States and Great Britain. He reported a similar unease among some of the students he taught—less so within the classroom than beyond, when they returned home to their families. “When the students say, ‘we are doing Israel Studies,’ they are looked at in a slightly suspicious way from the society in general.”

The Birzeit program is raising more eyebrows within Israeli university settings, particularly amidst growing international support for BDS. For most Israelis, the very mention of BZU harkens back to a threatening history of radical political organizing during the first Palestinian uprising (1987-1991), when students and faculty were on the political frontlines. Professor Nabih, who also holds a faculty position at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, spoke of the suspicion he faces from his Jewish Israeli colleagues:

The moment they know that I am teaching in a Palestinian university, they start with their interrogation, as if there are Jewish secrets that I am going to expose to the enemy …They can’t imagine that some guy from Ramallah would want to study Judaism without having evil impulses.

Thus far, there has been little Israeli media or state scrutiny of the BZU program; but one imagines that, within the current political climate, such scrutiny is only a matter of time.

“Our Own Tools”

The growth of the Israel Studies program coincides with new challenges for Palestinian universities in the West Bank. During the last year and half, Israel has denied visa extensions to many international professors and scholars teaching at these institutions, particularly those actively supporting BDS. According to some recent reports, nearly half of the foreign faculty working in West Bank universities have been denied in the last year and a half. BZU’s faculty has been heavily impacted. The University, represented by the Palestinian legal advocacy organization Adalah, is currently bringing a legal case to the Israeli high court.

At BZU, as across the West Bank, student education continues under conditions of duress. Students and faculty are under perpetual surveillance, questioned and arrested on a regular basis. “We already have an education in Israel Studies,” many students noted wryly, thanks to the experience of living under military rule.

And while all of Palestine’s institutions of higher education suffer under military occupation, the Israel Studies program is subject to a unique set of constraints that confront students and professor alike in the most benign details of their daily educational work. Fakher Eldin:

The power relations are against you as a Palestinian researcher [in this field]: you can’t interview your enemy, you can’t do ethnography, you can’t easily teach and study Israeli sources…There are many constraints, but there are also many ways to overcome these disadvantages. I think we we’re seeing the fruits from the students who are writing theses. They’re coming up with very interesting ideas about Israeli politics.

Within Palestine’s constrained financial and political present, the professional futures for students in the Israel Studies program are admittedly uncertain. Some graduates hope to pursue to Ph.D.s in related fields in Europe or the United States. Others have moved on to governmental or media work within Palestine, or have joined the neoliberal NGO workforce. For her part, Marah Khalife is just beginning a job at the newly opened Palestine Museum, housed on campus, where she believes that her critical analytic skills will be put to good use.

When one studies the BZU Israel Studies program from the vantage of the United States, amidst the growth of donor-driven Israel Studies programs with their unapologetic advocacy commitments, it appears as a radical act of intellectual and political refiguration. In the hands of its faculty and students—in their close work with the details of Israeli politics and society, in their openness to the surprises and complexities that emerge from taking archives and histories seriously—the very notion of “Israel Studies” is being wholly remade. Here, again, Marah Khalifeh:

The general framework we’re studying under is clear to us. It’s all about the type of knowledge we are trying to produce. We are trying to produce a Palestinian knowledge of Israeli society…to create our own tools.

Note: Thanks to Joel Beinin, Munir Fakher Eldin, Rema Hammami, Shira Robinson, and BZU faculty and students.

A version of this article was first published by Middle East Report Online on May 16, 2019.

Rebecca L. Stein

Rebecca L. Stein is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and the author of (most recently) 'Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age' (Stanford University Press, 2015) with Adi Kuntsman.

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19 Responses

  1. Citizen on May 24, 2019, 1:48 am

    Interesting. Anything like this going on within native American education?

  2. Misterioso on May 24, 2019, 10:22 am

    I trust the Birzeit University course makes it clear that the nature of today’s “Israel” was established in the late 19th and early 20th century by foreign Zionist Jews whose ultimate objective was to forcibly rid Palestine of its indigenous Arab inhabitants and create therein an exclusionary, racist, expansionist “Jewish state.”

    To wit:
    “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” (Theodor Herzl, diary entry, 12 June 1895)

    Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and Zionist, 1901: [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession…or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population….”

    In May 1911, Arthur Ruppin, one of early Zionism’s leading figures proposed to the Executive of the Zionist Organization, a “population transfer” of the Arab peasants from Palestine.

    In 1918, Polish born David Ben-Gurion (real name, David Gruen), described the future borders of the Jewish state as: “to the north, the Litani River; to the northeast, the Wadi’Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into the Sinai at least up to Wadi al-`Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan.” (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs)

    In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians should be “transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919).

    Palestinians knew that the Revisionist Party (precursor of the Irgun and Stern Gang terror groups and today’s Likud party), founded in 1925 by Vladimir Jabotinsky, consisted of fascists who intended to expel them, but unlike Weizmann and the Labour Zionists who had the same objective, (see Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, pp. 30-38) they were up front about it. Jabotinsky did not mince his words: “We Jews, thank God, have nothing to do with the East….The Islamic soul must be broomed out of Eretz-Yisrael.” (Ya’acov Shavit, “The Attitude of Zionist Revisionism towards the Arabs.” (Zionism and the Arab Question, p. 74.) Nor did he hide his vicious racism. He viewed Palestinians as “yelling rabble dressed up in gaudy, savage rags” (Joseph Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jobotinksy Story, the Early Years, New York: T. Yoseloff, 1956, p. 54) and the colonization of Palestine by European Jews would “push the moral frontiers of Europe to the Euphrates.” (Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism, p. 180; cited by Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe, faber and faber, London. Boston, 1987, p. 13).

    Although its origins can be traced back to Herzl and other early Zionists, Plan Dalet (Plan D) began to take concrete form in 1937, when the Jewish Agency’s Transfer Committee was established by Yosef Weitz and others. The committee’s purpose was to devise a plan that would lead to the “transfer” of the Arab population out of Palestine so that Jews would become a large majority. This would be accomplished by “promoting measures designed to encourage the Arab flight.” Weitz did not mince his words: “…there is no room for both people together in this country….The only solution is a Palestine…without Arabs. And there is no way other than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe, should be left.” (Yosef Weitz, My Diary and Letters to the Children, 1965.)

    Ben-Gurion, 1937: “”[a] partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish state will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety.”

    During a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive on 12 June 1938, Ben-Gurion again advocated expulsion of the Palestinians: “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see in it anything immoral.” (Benny Morris, “Refabricating 1948”)

    In 1944 and 1947, the basis of Plan D was formulated by Israeli staff officer Yigal Yadin. He described its top priorities as “the destruction of Arab villages near the Jewish settlements and the expulsion of the inhabitants [along with] the domination of the main arteries of transportation that are vital to the Jews and the destruction of Arab villages near them. [Plan D also called for the] siege of Arab towns that are located outside the [Jewish] state created by the UN resolution [e.g., Acre and Jaffa].”

    In December 1947, a Jewish official with the Palestine government was asked by Glubb Pasha, the British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, if he was concerned about the fact that the Jewish state would have so many Arab inhabitants. The official replied: “Oh no! That will be fixed. A few calculated massacres will soon get rid of them.”

  3. jon s on May 24, 2019, 4:03 pm

    It looks like you’re recycling your comments. OK, I can do the same.

    In your first quote from Herzl, “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…”
    Do you see any mention of the Arab population of Palestine?
    In your last quote “a few calculated massacres…” I would like to know who was the official and the source.

    All the prominent mainstream Zionist leaders sought to live in peace with the Arab population.

    Herzl in his utopian novel Altneuland envisions a state which is liberal and secular. From the plot:
    Löwenberg and Kingscourt spend the following twenty years on the island, cut off from civilization. As they stop over in Palestine on their way back to Europe in 1923, they are astonished to discover a land drastically transformed. A Jewish state officially named the “New Society” has since risen as European Jews have rediscovered and re-inhabited their Altneuland, reclaiming their own destiny in the Land of Israel. The country, whose leaders include some old acquaintances from Vienna, is now prosperous and well-populated, boasts a thriving cooperative industry based on state-of-the-art technology, and is home to a free, just, and cosmopolitan modernsociety. Arabs have full equal rights with Jews, with an Arab engineer among the New Society’s leaders, and most merchants in the country are Armenians, Greeks, and members of other ethnic groups. The duo arrives at the time of a general election campaign, during which a fanatical rabbi establishes a political platform arguing that the country belongs exclusively to Jews and demands non-Jewish citizens be stripped of their voting rights, but is ultimately defeated.

    Ben Gurion:
    WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.(from the Declaration of Independence. BG wrote the final draft)

    We do not wish, we do not need to expel the Arabs and take their place. All our aspirations are built upon the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.(from a letter to his son Amos, 1937)

    In our state there will be non-Jews as well — and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well. …The attitude of the Jewish State to its Arab citizens will be an important factor—though not the only one—in building good neighbourly relations with the Arab States. If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, and if his status will not be the least different from that of the Jew, and perhaps better than the status of the Arab in an Arab state, and if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance, will be built… (Ba-Ma’Araha Vol IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265, quoted in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67)

    Jabotinsky :

    • Misterioso on May 24, 2019, 9:05 pm

      @ Jon s

      To be brief and hurried:

      Re: “In your first quote from Herzl, ‘We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…’ Do you see any mention of the Arab population of Palestine?” Are you serious? Who do you think comprised the “penniless population” other than indigenous Palestinian Arabs?

      Re your query “In your last quote “a few calculated massacres…” I would like to know who was the official and the source.” The source is well known to anyone who seriously studies the subject, i.e., “Sir Bagot Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs,” London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1957, p. 81; also cited by Hadawi, Bitter Harvest, p. 85)

      Re your assertion “All the prominent mainstream Zionist leaders sought to live in peace with the Arab population.” You live in a fantasy world. Let’s check out a few:

      Herzl’s diary entry for September 3, 1898, left no doubt as to what his objective was: “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly it would be this: at Basel I founded the JEWISH STATE [my emphasis] …. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” (Quoted by David Hirst, in The Gun and the Olive Branch, p. 20)

      On 18 October 1898, Herzl met with Kaiser Wilhelm II in Istanbul and offered to provide Germany with a considerable sum in exchange for its support for the Zionist agenda in Palestine. He also assured the Kaiser that Palestine would be “an outpost of German culture if it were a Jewish Palestine.” (ibid) The German monarch rejected Herzl’s offer.

      What is most interesting about Herzl’s brief stay in Palestine, as revealed in his diaries, is how he viewed the indigenous Arabs. It as if the Palestinians did not exist and when he does occasionally refer to them, it is in racist terms. Herzl also fails to mention the fact that the great majority of the population was Muslim and Christian Arabs. He only comments on Jewish holy sites and makes no reference at all to the Islamic ones, not even the Dome of the Rock or the al-Aqsa mosque. (See Walid Khalidi, “The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company: Herzl’s Blueprint for the Colonization of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXll, No.2, Winter 1993, pp. 39-42)

      Herzl’s diaries not only confirm that his objective was the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine, but that it would be an expansionist state. In the year of his death he described its borders as being “…in the north the mountains facing Cappadocia [Turkey], in the south, the Suez Canal [Egypt] in the east, the Euphrates [Iraq].” (Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries 11 p. 711)

      In true nineteenth century colonialist fashion, Herzl contended that his “Jewish state” would protect Europe and its superior culture from the uncivilized East. “We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” (Theodor Herzl, Judenstaat (The Jewish State), 1896, p. 26.

      Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and Zionist first believed that the Palestinians would simply “fold their tents and slip away;” It was Zangwill who first voiced the lie that Palestine was a “land without a people, waiting for a people without a land.” (Zangwill, Israel, “The Return to Palestine”, New Liberal Review 11, Dec. 1901 p 627, quoted by David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p. 19)

      In 1905, Zangwill contradicted himself, however, during a talk in Manchester when he observed that Palestine was “already twice as thickly populated as the United States…. [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population….” (Zangwill, Speeches, p. 210, quoted by Nur Masalah, Expulsion of the Palestinians, p. 10)

      In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians “should be gradually transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919, quoted by Masalha Expulsion of the Palestinians, p. 14) In 1920, he proposed in The Voice of Jerusalem, that there should be an “‘Arab exodus’…based on ‘race redistribution’ or a ‘trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony,’ which he advocated as ‘literally the only way out of the difficulty of creating a Jewish State in Palestine.'” He continued: “We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction …. To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.” (Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, p. 103, quoted by Masalha, EOTP pp. 13-14)

      During a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive on 12 June 1938, Ben-Gurion called for expulsion of the Palestinians: “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see in it anything immoral.” (Benny Morris, “Refabricating 1948”)

      On 30 January 1941, during a meeting in London, Chaim Weizmann revealed the details of a discussion he had just had with Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador to London regarding the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. According to notes taken during the meeting, “Dr. Weizmann said [to Mr. Maisky] that if half a million Arabs could be transferred, two million Jews could be put in their place. That of course would be a first installment; what might happen afterwards was a matter for history.” (Benny Morris, “Refabricating 1948”).

      Indeed, Some years later, Alfred Einstein revealed to the eminent Jewish America scholar, Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, that during a conversation he [Einstein] had asked Weizmann: “What about the Arabs if Palestine were given to the Jews?” And Weizmann responded: “What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence.” (Alfred Lilienthal, What Price Israel?)

      BTW: In 2004, when asked by Ha’aretz journalist, Ari Shavit, what new information his just completed revised version of The Birth of the Palestinian Problem 1947-1949 would provide, Israeli historian Benny Morris replied: “It is based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the original book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What the new material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves.” (Ha’aretz, January 9, 2004)

      To quote John H. Davis, who served as Commission General of UNRWA at the time: “An exhaustive examination of the minutes, resolutions, and press releases of the Arab League, of the files of leading Arabic newspapers, of day-to-day monitoring of broadcasts from Arab capitals and secret Arab radio stations, failed to reveal a single reference, direct or indirect, to an order given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave. All the evidence is to the contrary; that the Arab authorities continuously exhorted the Palestinian Arabs not to leave the country…. Panic and bewilderment played decisive parts in the flight. But the extent to which the refugees were savagely driven out by the Israelis as part of a deliberate master-plan has been insufficiently recognized.” (John H. Davis, The Evasive Peace, London: Murray, 1968)

      My references to Jabotinsky are thoroughly documented and common knowledge.
      Enough said.

      • jon s on May 25, 2019, 11:12 pm

        Your “brief” comment turned out to be quite lengthy. I’ll really try to be brief.
        1. Herzl’s diary entry regarding the “penniless ” population is from 1895, at a very early stage in his thinking on the “Jewish Question”. At that point he was thinking of Argentina as the location for the Jewish homeland.
        2. Herzl certainly intended to establish a Jewish state. He – and Ben Gurion -could fantasize about the territorial extent of that state, without necessarily implying that the Arab population would have to go.
        3. Herzl was a 19th century European liberal who (surprise!) reflected the attitudes and values of his time , regarding the supposed “cultural superiority” of Europe.
        4. Zangwill started out as an assimilationist, became a Zionist, and left the Zionist movement in 1905 in the aftermath of the Uganda debate and became a “territorialist”. He admitted to having been wrong regarding the “land without a people…” quote. Incidentally, at the time he was quoting Lord Shaftesbury, who was himself quoting the Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith, a Christin
        5. OK, Glubb is the source for the “calculated massacres” quote. My question is : who was the “Jewish official”?

    • RoHa on May 25, 2019, 3:06 am

      Fine words.

      But check the parsnips.

      The King-Crane commission apparently heard Zionist talk of dispossession of Arabs. Zionists bought land and then drove off Arab tenant farmers. Zionists set up an exclusively Jewish society in Palestine.

      So when Ben Gurion said “In our state there will be non-Jews as well — and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well”, the Arabs had cause to be sceptical.

      And if that is what Ben Gurion really wanted, why did he not accept the Arab calls for a single, unified, democratic state in Palestine with equal rights for all? It seems no different from his proposed Jewish state.

      Not much sign of any real butter.

      • MHughes976 on May 25, 2019, 12:27 pm

        Most 50 word snippets can be taken more than one way. Still, it’s clear enough that many Zionists, including BG at least in some moods, were Altneulandists – took the view that Z was a project by which everyone wins. But the project would not have made sense if its only outcome was to be just another Jewish minority. Non-J minorities, generously treated, would be fine because it was important to prove that Jewish people in power would be on a moral plane utterly superior to that of the anti-Semites who had oppressed the Jews in Europe. But illustration of Jewish, indeed Zionist, generosity would not be the same as Zionist acceptance that the non-Jews of Palestine had inherently, Jewish generosity or no Jewish generosity, just as much right to be there as, in the Zionist scheme of things, all people who are Jewish had and have. I don’t think that BG’s exclusion policy of 48, the definitive thing in the creation of Israel, would have been possible if that acceptance had been openly or even subconsciously there.

      • MHughes976 on May 25, 2019, 12:47 pm

        Crane became upset and angry over the way in which Jewish interests had, in his view, used the sacrifices of the war to make unjust gains for themselves. This – and his belief that Islam, the most important anti-Zionist force, was very like his own religion, Unitarianism – led him to speak less unkindly of the early Nazi regime than he should have done. Some say he was an anti-Semite, to be more or less disregarded, though his prediction of very serious use of force was prescient enough.

      • RoHa on May 26, 2019, 12:34 am

        “I’ll strangle those bloody kids!”

        How often do we hear that, and then believe that the speaker really approves of child murder?
        We usually take it as hyperbole driven by frustration.

        So, if Crane actually did say the words attributed to him (and I think Annie is quite correct in being sceptical), do we have to take it as proof that he was a Nazi-worshipping anti-Semite?

        During his commission, Crane had endured long periods of whining and haranguing from Zionists. He had seen their mendacity and cruelty. Can we not similarly consider his comments as hyperbole driven by exasperation, and, perhaps, lubricated by the ambassador’s liquid hospitality?

      • MHughes976 on May 26, 2019, 11:43 am

        Yes, I mentioned the accusations against Crane to illustrate how evidence of resentment based on how one has been treated can be somewhat misrepresented as evidence of original bias, which it need not be, and how weak the argument ‘he’s prejudiced to some degree, so he’s totally wrong’ can be..

  4. Mooser on May 24, 2019, 6:04 pm

    “It looks like you’re recycling your comments. OK, I can do the same”

    Of course you can “Jon s”. “Same bullshit, different day” about covers it.

  5. Stephen Shenfield on May 24, 2019, 8:03 pm

    There is surely room for both ‘Israel Studies’ and ‘Settler Colonial Studies’ but the latter would have to include other cases of settler colonialism apart from Palestine, such as European settlement in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and eastern and southern Africa, also Japanese settler colonialism in Korea and Manchuria, Chinese settler colonialism in Tibet, East Turkestan etc.

  6. MHughes976 on May 25, 2019, 12:35 pm

    Even the colonies of the ancient world would be relevant. I’m just chasing up the idea that Mycenae, a cradle of Western civilisation, was a Palestinian colony, the ‘cenae’ bit = Canaan. Mind you, there are some wild ideas out there.

    • echinococcus on May 25, 2019, 4:41 pm


      “Wild” doesn’t even start to describe the etymological leaps and bounds needed to even air the desperately acrobatic surmise that μυκηναι somehow, how unspecified, could < kanaan…

      • MHughes976 on May 26, 2019, 11:49 am

        Wild and very woolly, I admit, echino. But the point I was making seriously, that settlers and all that go way, way back, is true enough.

      • echinococcus on May 26, 2019, 3:24 pm


        But of course! In fact, it is their settler colonialism that’s the most telling sign that Zionists belong in the Bronze Age. Not in ours.

  7. wdr on May 25, 2019, 7:39 pm

    If Dr. Stein is opposed to “colonial settler societies,” she should put her money where her mouth is, and return her house in North Carolina to the American Indian tribe she stole it from.

    • oldgeezer on May 25, 2019, 11:32 pm

      @wdr I’ll accept that as a tacit admission that you know what Israel is doing is theft.

      The only thing worse than zionists who actively support an ongoing theft, ignoring historic theft, are those like yf who attempts to rationalize theft and appease theives. That’s the lowest of the low.

    • MHughes976 on May 26, 2019, 12:06 pm

      The United States has ceased to be illegitimate in the way Israel is, denying the First Americans their right to be enfranchised citizens of a sovereign state. That being so, the property rights the US establishes, such as Jill Stein enjoys, are not in general – though certainly there are still matters in dispute – mere distributions of plunder but are expressions of a valid social contract in which the First Americans participate. If we could get to that point with Israel and the Palestinians things would be much better than they are.

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