The Roots of Catastrophe

Photograph Source: Hossam el-Hamalawy – CC BY 2.0

In my public presentations on the subject of Palestine-Israel, I am frequently asked to identify the force most responsible for the catastrophe we are witnessing today in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.  Audiences are surprised when I say that the source is easily identifiable—it is Zionism. 

Zionism is the political ideology that emerged in 19th-century Europe among a small minority of Jews determined to establish a Jewish homeland.  Twenty-two Zionist congresses were convened between 1897 and 1946.  Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), Viennese journalist and founder of the modern Zionist movement, began the process of implementing his vision of a Jewish utopia at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in August 1897.   

Confident in his success, Herzl proudly announced, “I founded the Jewish state in Basel.”  He helped build a campaign that transformed a popular movement to create a homeland for Jews into a political movement that shattered the homeland of Palestinians.   

Fundamental to understanding Israel’s massacre of Palestinians and the wasteland they are creating in Gaza is to discern the blueprint that Israel’s founders drew up to create their Jewish homeland; what they called Eretz-Israel. 

Early Zionist leaders were explicit about what they deemed “transfer” plans to effect a “Jewish majority” in Palestine.  Yosef Weitz (1890-1972)—known as the “architect of transfer”—served as director of the powerful Jewish National Fund’s Land Settlement Department.  As head of what he deemed Transfer Committees, Weitz set in motion long-held Zionist plans to “transfer” (ethnically cleanse) and dispossess Palestinians from their homes, land and businesses.  His diary entry from 12 December 1940 is revelatory:   It must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples….If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us…. The only solution is a Land of Israel…without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises…There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps [a few].”  

Weitz also spoke about expanding the “Jewish state’s” borders to include areas in Lebanon and Syria. In a meeting on 22 June 1941 with Jewish National Fund Chairman, Menachem Ussishkin (1863-1941), Weitz wrote:  “The land of Israel is not small at all, if only the Arabs will be removed, and if its frontiers would be enlarged a little; to the north all the way to Litani [River in Lebanon], and to the east including the Golan Heights . . . . while the [Palestinian] Arabs be transferred to northern Syria and Iraq. . . . From now on we must work out a secret plan based on the removal of the [Palestinian] Arabs from here . . . [and] . . . to include it into American political circles. . . . today we have no other alternative. . . . We will not live here with Arabs.” (Expulsion Of The Palestinians, 134-135) 

The history of Palestine is one of the most intentionally distorted histories of our time.  The European war of 1914-1918, the collapse and dissection of the Ottoman Empire (circa 1300-1923), the paucity of civil government in the Arab world, the hubris of European empires, Zionist intrigue, zeal and violence, all seeded the birth and growth of Israel.  Born in illegitimacy, Israel has been mired in violence and in mythical religious ideology ever since.

Palestinians, reeling from the collapse of the Ottomans, were unprepared to fight British encroachment and the waves of Jewish emigres who were progressively gaining influence as well as political control over Palestine.  The al-Buraq/ Western Wall uprising of August 1929 marks a turning point in the anti-Zionist, anti-colonial movement in Palestine.  It was the first large-scale uprising and clashes  among Arabs, Jews and the British mandate forces.

As Israel attempts to erase Palestinians from their homeland, it is important to reflect back on historical injustices and to also underscore the fact that Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together peacefully in Palestine before the forceful importation of European Zionism into the heart of the Middle East.   

Since 450 B.C., Arabs have lived in a geographical region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.  Palestinian roots are deeply embedded in the land they have lived on for centuries, long before the Ottoman period and the advent of Zionist colonialism following the First World War.  According to the records of the Government of Palestine, A Survey of Palestine, 1946, Volume I, page 144, by 1914, the population in Palestine numbered 689,000; of whom, 534,300 were Muslim Arabs; 70,000 Christian Arabs; and 84,700 Jews, who resided for the most part for religious reasons in four cities, Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron.  There were also some Zionists who had come to settle in agricultural colonies largely under the generous patronage of Baron Edmund James de Rothschild (1845-1934), French member of the Rothschild banking family and strong supporter of Zionism.  For centuries, religious tolerance and tranquility was the rule and animosity the exception in pre-Zionist Palestine.  

The world is awakening to the deadly consequences of past decisions, and of the judgments being made today through the same imperial, arrogant lens.      

For 17 years, the people of Gaza have had to wake up every morning—if they survived the Israeli aerial bombardments of 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022— subjected to the whims of a foreign power determining if they will have the basics of life—food, medicine, electricity and clean water.  They have had to face the daily humiliation of being dependent upon outside aid because Israel restricts   goods entering the Gaza Strip.  Unable to plan for and seeing no hope for a future, some determined Gazans have spent their days not in school or gainful employment, but digging tunnels to resist and escape their unending imprisonment.  

The myths of noble Israelis simply defending themselves, of the circumspect warrior and civilized aggressor do not correspond with the horrific images of destruction coming from Gaza. 

It is apparent that the goal of the Israeli regime is to make Gaza uninhabitable.  According to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, the impact of the Israeli bombing campaign has had the equivalent effect of two nuclear bombs.  They have also documented Israel’s use of cluster and phosphorus bombs, internationally banned weapons.   Additionally, Israel is engaged in a genocidal effort to kill or forcibly remove the more than two million Palestinians living in Gaza.  Senior Israeli officials have openly expressed their genocidal intent.  Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, for example, referred to the residents of Gaza as “human animals,” as he ordered a complete siege of the enclave.   

Gallant’s statement is an expression of what Israel thinks of Palestinian Arabs and by implication all Arabs. Israel’s genocidal war has put them on notice. If they do not demand an immediate end to the massacre of fellow Arabs, they will forever be servile to American and Israeli interests.  For far too long the Arab world has been obsequious and docile to foreign interests.  They have the opportunity now to shed that image.

Israel has survived on the bottomless pit of U.S. dollars.  It would be unable to conduct its genocidal warfare in Gaza without U.S. military hardware, intelligence, diplomatic assistance and, most consequentially, the oil that fuels its war machine.  It is time for the Arab world to use its formidable oil weapon to end the carnage. And much the same way that Israel employs its powerful lobby in the United States to corral American politicians, the Arab world needs to wield an oil lobby to do the same.

What the world is currently bearing witness to in Gaza is a progression of the systematic plan mapped out a century ago by Zionist theoreticians like Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Weitz, Ussishkin to create an Israel “without Arabs.”  Like Israel’s founders, who refused to recognize Palestinians, referring to them instead as Arabs, Israel’s current extremists continue the strategy of “transfer” (ethnic cleansing).  The regime’s intent can be heard in the statements of Israel’s extremist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who in March 2023 denied the existence of a Palestinian people, while days before calling for the erasure of Huwara, a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank. 

Until 7 October, Israel’s brutality and expansionist schemes had been largely hidden from the American public.  Hamas’s military campaign has laid bare the unbridled imperial and historical designs of Tel Aviv and Washington.  The conscience of the world has been stirred and the Middle East has been forever altered.