Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Letter to Professor Jensen, part II

Below is Professor Robert Jensen's reply to my letter, which you can read here.

Zak: From its origins, Israel has been a colonial settler state. After more than 50 years of Israeli expansionism, I agree it's difficult to imagine a just resolution. But same could be said of South Africa and any other number of places where apparently intractable differences were overcome. It seems to me that one basic rule is that the first steps toward peace must be taken by those in violation of basic moral and legal principles. On this, I think there are many important voices in Israel speaking out. Jeff Halper, Ilan Pape, and others. best, bob

Dear Bob,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I realize you are probably busy. I debated on whether to write a long reply or short one. I’ve opted for the latter. I understand if you do not have the time to get into a dialogue/debate. You probably have more important fish to fry (like your research, the classes you teach, articles you pen, etc).

Anyway, to be blunt my question was designed to force you to say whether one side in the conflict has been repeatedly more aggressive and uncompromising than the other. You didn’t answer my question, but your relpy raised a number of questions for me.

You answered that Israel is an expansionist colonial settler state, which puts Israel in the legal and moral wrong, as you pointed out. Therefore, you suggested it was up to Israel to take the first steps toward peace.

I disagree strongly with your contention about Israel being a colonial settler state, and I also object to describing Israel as expansionist. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend you are correct.

From 1948 until 1967 the Arabs controlled the West Bank and Gaza. For 19 years the “occupied territories” were under Arab rule. If the crux of the conflict is the “occupied territories,” why did the Arabs prepare to destroy Israel during the build up to the Six Day War?

Before the Arabs could launch their imminent attack, Israel pre-empted and the rest is history. If you want to accuse Israel of expansionism, fine, but it seems a bit of an intellectual low-blow; sort of like complaining that somebody is violent because they punched you in the face while neglecting to mention that you came after him with a baseball bat in the first place. Inasmuch as Israel was smaller prior to the Six Day War than it was after, you are right, Israel expanded.

But what do you make of what happened immediately following hostilities? Israel was on record as willing to negotiate the return of most of the territories in exchange for peace. In response, the Arabs gathered in Khartoum and issued the infamous Three No’s: No negotiations with Israel; no recognition of Israel; no peace with Israel.

If we ignore Israel’s desire to make peace after 1948, and again following the Six Day War, what would you consider the Oslo Accords to be? Hasn’t Israel already made the “first steps toward peace” by entering into the Oslo Accords?

I would argue that the Oslo Accords in 1993 were a good first step. Without getting into specifics, Israel turned over significant amounts of land and population centers to the Palestinian Authority in return for mere lip-service. Tangible land was traded for intangible signed agreements that were broken. Despite that, and scores of Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombings later, in 2000 former Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered a far-reaching, sweeping peace deal that Arafat rejected out of hand without making so much as a counter-proposal.

But forget Olso. Do you think that the unilateral pullout from Gaza and the dismantlement of the settlements was a good step towards peace?

You say Israel is obliged to make first steps towards peace. I say Israel already has—numerous times. After the pullout from Gaza, do you think the ball is now in the Palestinians’ court? Do you think the ball can or should ever be in the Palestinians’ court? Or are they always going to be justified in their quest to eliminate Israel since you seem to believe Israel is illegitimate to begin with?

As for the colonial-settler nature of Israel, how can Jews be colonists in a piece of land that is historically connected to the Jewish people since antiquity? Whereas Europeans never lived in Africa or North America, Jews lived in the land of Israel over 3,000 years ago and maintained an uninterrupted—albeit at times small—presence in the land. If the Jews are no more than mere “colonizers” and “settlers,” how do you account for the fact that Hebrew is a Middle Eastern tongue? Even Yiddish, the language of European Jews, is a mixture of Hebrew and old German written in Hebrew script. Do you suggest that a bunch of Europeans got some cockamamie idea that they had Middle Eastern roots and went with it from there? Finally, one definition of “colony” is: a body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state.

The European Jews who laid the foundations for the modern state of Israel left their “parent states” most often with the intention of severing ties, not to expand the power of the parent state(s). In many cases, they were escaping violent persecution. Therefore, when you scoff at Israel as being nothing but a “colonial” setter state, no different from a South Africa, I wonder why you are unable or unwilling to appreciate the complexity of Israel's origins.

True, the founders of the modern state of Israel hailed primarily from Europe, but soon after Israel’s birth, Middle Eastern Jews became the majority, a position they hold to this day. I find it curious how such people can be construed as “colonists” from the outside when they already hail from the region. I guess Israel’s Persian-born President and Defense Minister are “colonists.” So too the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom (Moroccan), and the countless of other Jews who were born in, or whose parents were from, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, Afghnistan, etc.

My intention was not to quibble over the smaller details of the conflict, which I can do until kingdom comes. I wanted to get a general idea of where you stood regarding the larger contours of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of your reply to me, as you did not elucidate your points. Maybe that’s just because you are busy. You seem to have argued that Israel doesn’t have a strong moral right to exist. If Israel doesn’t have much, if any, moral right to exist, does that make it's okay to destroy Israel? Does that mean that if you were alive in 1948 you would've been rooting for the 600,000 strong Jewish population of Palestine to have been anhiliated by the Arabs, even if several thousand of them were Holocaust survivors?

Your position, as it relates to Jewish people, is quite heartless. Do you believe the Jews don’t deserve or need a safe-haven, a homeland? Do you really believe that after centuries of pogroms, the Holocaust, the expulsion from Arab lands, that all of the Jews who have moved to Israel, European and Middle Eastern, are all living in “violation of basic moral… principles”?

Do you have any standards for how the Arabs should behave? I have not read about them in any of your articles. Does the widespread belief in wild anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and rank anti-Semitism, so common in the Middle East, disturb you?

If Iran dropped a nuclear weapon on Israel tomorrow, would that consitute restorative justice?

These questions may seem emotion-ladened, but what other conclusions can I draw based off of your hyper-critical views of Israel?


Blogger airforcewife said...

I hope he replies and you publish that one, too. I'm totally hooked on this.

I've always wanted to see an anti-semite (but being anti-zionist isn't being an anti-semite!) actually defend themselves.

If the cognitive dissonance makes his head explode, I want pictures.

9:20 PM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

I wrote a little something in reply to your message above, but then it got lost when the computer got stupid. I think I'll turn those thoughts into a separate post.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, Zak!
The Arabs and Muslims are the real colonists, and since there are more Arabs in Paris than Palestine I still reckon my ´3 for 1´ bargain swap of Palestinians for French Jews is the best answer.


4:08 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

Hey Ryan!

I've been following your messeges that are contained in the emails. Keep it coming!


4:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

see web stats