Israel was created as a rather conventional European colony, to meet the demands of the European Zionist movement and to keep a western foothold in the Arab world. Built on an invented racial ideology which parallels that of the Nazi persecutors of European Jews, Israel almost managed to convince the world that it is a legitimate nation. But Palestinian resistance is putting an end to that.
There is no need to waste too much time debating the racial character of the Jewish state of Israel. There can be no doubt that it is built on ‘racial’ privilege and developed a thorough-going apartheid system with steady ethnic cleansing. The Adalah (2017) group within Israel, for example, has documented more than 65 laws that make Israel a racist state. The most recent authoritative report from the United Nations – by US lawyers Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley (2017) – makes it clear that Israel is indeed an ‘apartheid state’ and, therefore, a crime against humanity. Falk and Tilley conclude that “the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its own actions”.
All 13 of Israel’s Prime Ministers since 1948 came from European families. Not one came from a family which had lived in Palestine more than one generation. Yet they all claim a ‘right of return’ to a mythical ancestral land.
Zionism was and is a mostly secular, colonial project; but it drew on religious myth and came about after centuries of anti-Jewish discrimination within Europe. The religious myths were from Biblical texts and second temple revivalism, one strand within contemporary Judaism. This story suggests that Jewish people will not have their social and spiritual vindication until their Temple, destroyed in the Roman era, is reconstructed in Jerusalem (Isaacs 2005).
The missionary force behind the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine had two rationales. The first was a Zionist mission to colonise (or to ‘re-occupy’) what were seen as ancestral or ‘promised’ lands, based on scriptural history. The second was to seek refuge from centuries of discrimination against European Jews, which had its appalling culmination in the Nazi Holocaust of 1933-1945. The Nazi Holocaust, an attempted genocide of European Jews, has been well documented, despite the conditions of war and the destruction of records and human remains (Gutman, and Berenbaum 1998). There is no doubt about that great crime; nor is there any doubt that European Jews in the 1940s were seeking safe refuge from persecution in Europe. Yet none of that justified the dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Arab people of Palestine.
Contrary to popular myth, the United Nations did not ‘create’ the state of Israel. In the late 1940s the British passed their League of Nations ‘mandate’ on Palestine to the newly formed United Nations, which created a committee on the ‘Future Government of Palestine’. The majority report recommended the creation of an Arab state, a Jewish state and a ‘Special Regime’ of international status for Jerusalem (UNGA 1947). Even though the population of Palestine in 1946 was 65% Arab and 33% Jewish, with ‘no clear territorial separation of Jews and Arabs by large contiguous areas’, the committee recommended that the area for the Jewish state be 55.5% of the total area of Palestine. Resolution 181 was passed on 29 November 1947 with 33 votes in favour, 13 against and 10 abstentions (Hammond 2010; UNGA 1947). Both the British and the UN then left the Zionist groups to their process of violent ethnic cleansing.
On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of a State of Israel. The declaration was immediately recognised by the government of the US, then the USSR and gradually many others. Almost a year later Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations. However 25 states (Arab, Muslim and African) never recognised Israel, while seven countries (Iran, Chad, Cuba, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman and Qatar) subsequently revoked their earlier recognition (JVL 2018). Both preceding and accompanying the declaration was a terrible wave of Zionist violence which Arab Palestinians called ‘The Catastrophe’ (al Nakba), sweeping Palestinian people from hundreds of villages.
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe thoroughly documented the ethnic cleansing operation, and in particular the planning. This eventually turned into a ‘fourth and final’ plan in March 1948 ‘to ethnically cleanse the country as a whole’. David Ben Gurion, the leader of this operation, believed 80-90% of the British mandatory territory was needed and in 1947 he said that ‘only a state with at least 80% Jews’ would be ‘a viable and stable [Jewish] state’ (Pappe 2006: xii-xiii, 26, 48).
After a failed attempt to create a constitution, the Zionists resorted to a set of ‘basic laws’ in which the key rationales for the racial state were spelt out: refuge and the ‘return from exile’ (refuge from the Nazi genocide and broader European persecution) and return to a supposedly ancestral land. In its Declaration of Independence Israel is called a ‘state of Jewish immigration’. The Zionist ‘Law of Return’, drafted by David Ben-Gurion ‘in the shadow of the Holocaust’, argued that ‘whomever the Nazis called a Jew and sent to the death camps was to be offered refuge’ (Clayman 1995; Knesset 2014). However much of the Zionist leadership came from Eastern European families. Ben-Gurion did not even try to define who was a Jew. Clearly many of the subsequent European, Russian and American Jews who made use of that privileged law had not been ‘sent to the death camps’.
Greater religious and essentialist racial overtones were later added with the idea that this law was for ‘the in-gathering of exiles’ (Knesset 2014), building the idea that the ancestors of the Jewish people had been driven from the Levant with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, in 70AD. Historical and genealogical evidence was put forward in attempts to prove this common ancestry.
Yet Zionist racial ‘science’ adapted to the needs of the political project. Conventional Zionist historians these days maintain that all Jews have a common genetic makeup which comes from the Levant. This ‘Rhineland theory’ tries to link the European (or Ashkenazi) Jews to the Levant Jews, by saying that those who were driven out of Palestine by the Romans, after the destruction of the Second Temple, went into exile along the Rhine river in Germany. The implication is that European Jews might be said to be ‘returning’ to their ancestral home (Ostrer 2010; Entine 2013; Rubin 2013).
Yet Professor Shlomo Sand, in his book The Invention of the Jewish People could find little evidence of either the ‘exile’ or the racial connection. He went on to argue that European Jews were most likely the descendants of those subject to mass conversions in north east Turkey, Europe and North Africa (Cohen 2009; Sand 2010). Many millions of Jews lived in all the far reaches of the Roman Empire, the great majority outside Judea; and Judaism as a faith was exported ‘to Yemen, Ethiopia, India and China’. The ‘Rhineland Theory’ was contradicted by the ‘Khazar Theory’ (of mass conversions in the Caucasus) and other evidence of the wider origins of Europeans Jews. At the time of the destruction of the second temple in 70AD, more than 90% of Jews were living outside Judea, mainly in southern Europe (Ghose 2013). DNA analyses show that all major sources of Ashkenazi mtDNA ‘have ancestry in prehistoric Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus … thus the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Levant, as commonly supposed, nor recruited in the Caucasus, as sometimes suggested, but assimilated within Europe (Costa et al 2013).
The evidence for a greater diversity of Jewish origins, outside the Levant, is thus quite strong. Yet perhaps even more significant are the efforts to construct a loyal ‘racial science’, to bolster the Zionist project and its ‘right to return’ regime. This effort privileges Jews and, without even any pretense at science, excludes Palestinian Arabs. The latter are often simply dismissed as uncivilised people without culture or law. It is a terrible irony that Jewish people, who suffered so much from racial theorising and genocidal practice in Europe, should create their own racial myths to justify the Zionist colonial project.
‘Racial science’ has come to obsess Zionists, as it did the persecutors of the Jews in Nazi Germany. A special people with special rights and a historical mission, was always a manufactured device. Racial ‘science’ was turned to racist purpose, to reject people outside the special class. That is why we see striking similarities between the essentialist racism of Nazi ideologist Julius Streicher and Zionist historian Benzion Netanyahu. They similarly set up superior and inferior peoples, demonising their ‘racial’ enemies. This laid a common foundation for ethnic cleansing and genocidal practice (see Table One).
Table 1: Racial ideologies, the basis for ethnic cleansing Julius Streicher (1885-1946). Nazi ideologist, executed for spreading hatred of the Jewish people. Benzion Netanyahu (1910-2012). Zionist historian, father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a child
“a first suspicion came into my life that the essence of the Jew was a peculiar one … Who were the money lenders? They were those who were driven out of the temple by Christ himself … [they] never worked but live on fraud … The God of the Jews is … the God of hatred.” “He has no respect for any law … in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency towards conflict is the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence … It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance … what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war.”
Zionists attempt to conscript Jewish people to their cause, then accuse others of racism if they oppose Israel. In that view of the world, any calls for an end to the ‘colonial apartheid state’ means the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Jewish people (Nathan 2017b). Similarly, rejections of the demand that Apartheid Israel has a ‘right to exist’ are falsely painted as genocidal threats to the Jewish people. Yet the real genocide in Palestine is precisely by colonial Israel.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine adapted over time but was prosecuted steadily since the late 1940s. The often cited ‘Yinon Plan’ of 1982 was a reiteration of older Zionist ambitions, to create a ‘Greater Israel’ (Eretz Yisrael), a Jewish State stretching from ‘from the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates’ (Herzl 1960: 711).
Immediately after the 1967 conflict, Israel began to build illegal settlements and demolish Palestinian housing in the annexed areas of East Jerusalem. Yet the UN has not shifted from its position that the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, since 1967, are under belligerent occupation and therefore protected by the 4th Geneva Convention (AIC 2011: 5-6).
UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) demanded the ‘withdrawal of Israel armed forces from occupied in the recent conflict’, and emphasised ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’. Disregarding this resolution, successive Israeli governments began to colonise the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A range of devices were used to seize land. A large number of feeder roads, military bases and buffer zones expanded the territory absorbed by the Zionist colonies, called ‘settlements’.
Best informed estimates of Palestinian land occupied in flagrant violation of international law (categorised under Israeli law as ‘Category C’, for exclusive Israeli use) is now over 60% of the West Bank, including more than 200 colonies, both ‘authorised’ and ‘non-authorised’, containing around 600,000 ‘Israeli citizens’, of which over 200,000 live in those parts of the West Bank around Jerusalem, more recently annexed by a huge ‘separation barrier’ (DG EXPO 2016; Staff 2016; BTSELEM 2017), a veritable icon of the apartheid state. It is only Palestinian resistance, reinforced by International rejection, that has slowed the ethnic cleansing. Passive resistance, often referred to as sumud, is steadfastness or resilient resistance. Armed resistance, in context of violent colonisation, is also recognised by international law. The United Nations General Assembly has acknowledged on several occasions the right of colonised peoples to resist ‘by all available means, particularly armed struggle’ (UNGA 1978); including in relation to Palestine.
Israelis often promote the false idea that ‘Palestine does not exist’. Yet the people remain, and changing demographics tell an important story. Despite Jewish immigration and terrible conditions in the occupied territories, the Palestinian population is now almost the same as the Jewish-Israeli population. A report from Jerusalem in 2011 showed that the Palestinian population of the city had risen from 25.5% in 1967 to 38% in 2009 (AIC 2011: 10, 12). The trend in Israel-Palestine is even more striking. Officials from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the military run civil administration (COGAT) says that the Arab population of Gaza, the West Bank and Arab citizens of Israel and residents of the annexed East Jerusalem municipality now add up to 6.5 million, which is about the same number as ‘Jews living between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean (Heller 2018). The viability of a ‘two state solution’ has been undermined by Zionist colonisation of the West Bank. The real question is, how much longer can the apartheid colony endure?
Dr. Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He researches and writes on development, human rights and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. He has published dozens of articles and chapters in academic journals and books, as well as essays in a range of online journals. His work includes the areas of agriculture and food security, health systems, regional integration and international cooperation.