If there is one message that unifies critics of Israel and advocates for Palestinian rights, it is “End the Occupation.” As with many unifying messages, however, it is successful partly because of its ambiguity. What land and which people are occupied? And what are the terms under which the “occupation” will be ended.
The ambiguity allows groups as disparate as Hamas and J Street to chant the phrase with very different images in mind. Hamas and other anti-Zionists argue that all of the land defined by the British Mandate of Palestine is occupied territory, while J Streeters and other “soft” Zionists commonly refer only to Israel’s 1967 territorial conquests as “occupied.”
The dividing line between these two views has been articulated By Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of JBIG (Jews Boycotting Israeli Goods):
…there are many people within the movement who share the opinion – which is general throughout the West – that Israel needs to exist as a Jewish state, should exist as a Jewish state. And there are many Jews and others in the movement who don’t want to criticize that fundamental fact.[i]
Wimborne-Idrissi is undoubtedly correct in her assessment: public opinion in the West generally supports what is called “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”[ii] However, most Palestinians fail to understand why this “right” should trump their rights and why Palestinians should be made to pay for its exercise with expulsion from their homes.
Indeed, they may be forgiven for doubting the sincerity of people that claim to advocate for justice on their behalf but fail to defend their right to return to their homes. On the one hand, these “defenders” of Palestinian human rights claim to oppose Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians, both inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel and in other areas under Israeli control. On the other hand, these same champions of Palestinians will not lift a finger to correct and defend against the more massive ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948. It is as if 1967 is the dividing line between which criminal activity must be accepted and which must be resisted.
Do such persons really oppose ethnic cleansing as a matter of principle or merely as it suits their whim? The passage of time does not appear to be an issue. If 1948 seems like a long time ago, let us remember that there is no statute of limitations on such matters, as the prosecution of Nazi war criminals from an even earlier era illustrates.
J Streeters and other “soft” Zionists may appear to be allies of Palestinians, but they are not. Their overwhelming consideration is to create and maintain a Jewish state, and to mould it into their image of a liberal democracy that they can feel proud of. Palestinian rights and welfare are entirely subsidiary to that objective.
This explains why J Streeters defend Israel’s “right to exist,” i.e. the ethnic cleansing of 1948. They may not like ethnic cleansing, but it was necessary for the creation of a Jewish state, which has a higher order of priority. On the other hand, they see the current ethnic cleansing policies of the state of Israel as corrosive to the kind of state they would like to have. This is why they want to “end the occupation.” Look what it is doing to Israeli youth! Look at how it is driving Israel into the hands of “extremists.”
Let us therefore be clear. We are dealing with people whose opposition to ethnic cleansing is not very firm and whose primary interest in “ending the occupation” is to do what is good for Israel, not for humanity and least of all for Palestinians.[iii]
Indeed, one wonders why these advocates for Israel oppose a massive expulsion of the remaining Palestinians in all of the land held by Israel. Expulsion is clearly not a “red line” for them, and it is an expedient method of “ending the occupation.” I suspect that they harbor a nagging guilt for the theft and massacres of 1948, but not enough to want to give up the stolen property. Rather, they hope to expiate their guilt by returning a portion of the territories seized in 1967 for the purpose of creating Palestinian Bantustans. (The South African Bantustans served a similar purpose of assuaging the guilt of white supremacists.)
Regardless of the hypocritical games that Jewish supremacists in the movement play amongst themselves, Palestinians and human rights advocates must not be lured into false partnerships with them just because we share some of the same immediate tactics and objectives, such as stopping the growth of Jewish settlements, boycott of (some) Israeli products and institutions, an end to land confiscations, etc. Rather, we must expose the racist foundations and objectives of these ethically inconsistent elements within “the movement,” and avoid alliances with them.
Currently, I fear that we may be doing the opposite, i.e. allowing the “end the occupation” movement to be driven by the interests of people whose agenda requires Palestinians to give up inalienable rights and which rewards those who take those rights away from them.[iv] It is not in the interest of Palestinians and principled human rights advocates to make common cause with such morally compromised persons.
Dr. Paul Larudee is a human rights advocate and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea. He was deported from India on 31st December, 2012.
[i] Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, http://www.youtube.com/watch?
[ii] International law does not provide for the right of states to exist. Rather, states come and go as a matter of historical and social forces. International law describes the rights and obligations of states, but does not require that any given state must exist.
[iii] Gilad Atzmon (The Wandering Who, Winchester: Zero Books, 2011, p. 102) makes a similar argument with respect to Jewish anti-Zionists, i.e. that they are motivated by what is good for Jews and that they believe that a Jewish state is bad for the Jews. Atzmon contends that this is just another instance of Jewish exceptionalism, which will be the cause of injustice even if the form of the injustice is not Zionism per se. Even if this is the case, social justice groups are notorious for pursuing justice while failing to practice it, and this may be an instance of such. I do not discount the possibility that cliquishness, tribalism and exceptionalism are causes of injustice in many cases, but ridding human nature of this tendency is beyond the scope of most advocacy efforts, even if it deserves a place in all of them.
[iv] An instance of this is the Palestinian BNC (BDS National Committee). Although nominally Palestinian, its main website is in English, with the Arabic translation largely unfinished. An unauthorized amendment to its original mission statement, inserted at an unknown time, appears to remove the property seizures of 1948 from consideration as occupied Palestinian Arab land. This appears to be a concession to “soft” Zionist elements within the BNC-led BDS movement. The amended statement does not appear in any authorized Arabic version of the mission statement.