Israel: 60 Years of Birth Pains
New York City
The year Israel was founded, I was in eighth grade and trying to understand the world. I was helped after my days in St. Mary’s Catholic school by the bound volumes of The Nation on the rear wall of the public library in my native Rockford, Illinois. St. Mary’s taught me about sin. The Nation taught me about Israel. Sixty years on, distinguished Oxford scholar Avi Shlaim uses the May 26 Nation to say, “Israel still has not arrived at a reckoning of its sins against the Palestinians, a recognition that it owes the Palestinians a debt that must at some point be repaid.” Then Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi, descended from a long line of distinguished Jerusalem Palestinians, uses The Nation to suggest some methods of repayment. I am happy to say that St. Mary’s and The Nation taught me steadfastness, not despair, toward goals of liberation, peace and justice and enabled me to keep hearing the Shlaims and Khalidis, even above the all-networks praise of Israel by my President before the Knesset, saying what I have learned to think is injustice.
As a member of A Jewish Voice for Peace and a longtime student of the Middle East, I must point out that Avi Shlaim, in his otherwise excellent article, refers to “a clash between two movements for national liberation.” But the Palestinians had no need for liberation. They had lived (under various regimes but basically undisturbed) in Palestine, as Arabs, since 700 ad. And their racial background was largely Canaanite, a people who had lived in the area thousands of years before the Jewish people existed. They were the great majority of the indigenous people when the Zionists showed up in the late nineteenth century and decided to “liberate” the Palestinians’ land in order to create a Jewish homeland. This was colonialism, plain and simple, and in that light the moral case for the Palestinians’ claim to the land is much more compelling than the Jewish one.
Nonetheless, Israel now exists. Officially since 1988 and unofficially for years before that, the majority of Palestinians have been willing to coexist with Israel, as long as it returns to its 1967 borders, following UN Resolution 242’s Land for Peace format. But Israel, with crucial US backing since the early 1970s, has refused to abide by several direct UN Security Council resolutions, dozens of General Assembly resolutions, the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. The Charter specifically states that land conquered by force of arms cannot be occupied indefinitely, and the Geneva Conventions state that an occupying power cannot import its own people into occupied territory. So every square inch of the West Bank and Gaza is being held illegally, and every Jewish-only settlement on occupied land is a direct violation of international law. As Shlaim accurately states, “Land-grabbing and peacemaking do not go well together.”