Jun 17, 2007

Israeli Independence Day and the Palestinian Nakba

I'm part of an informal group of anti-Zionist Jews in Philadelphia, which issued the following statement last month. In addition to challenging standard pro-Israeli propaganda, the statement rejects the myth that we have to choose between fighting Zionism and fighting antisemitism.

On Sunday, May 6, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia sponsored its annual celebration of Israeli Independence Day. As Philadelphia Jews, it's important for us to remember that for Palestinians, this event was a Nakba, a catastrophe, in which at least 750,000 Palestinians lost their homes and became refugees. Today, Israel continues a program of dispossession and violence against Palestinians, with crucial financial support from us as U.S. taxpayers and in our names as Jews.

The state of Israel was founded in 1948, following a United Nations partition plan that awarded Jews more than half the land of Palestine, although they constituted only one-third of the population. In the 1948-49 war that followed, Israeli military and paramilitary units coordinated attacks against Palestinian villages in an effort to encourage mass exodus. In the Deir Yassin massacre, over 100 unarmed villagers were murdered; in Ramle and Lydda, 50,000 Palestinians were forcibly exiled from their homes. By the end of the war, over 80 percent of Palestinians had fled. The Israeli state confiscated their land and property and demolished over 400 Palestinian villages within Israel. Israel's occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights since 1967, and its repeated invasions of Lebanon, are extensions of these colonialist policies beyond the borders defined in 1949.

Israeli Independence Day celebrations perpetuate a romantic mythology about the state of Israel. We are told that Israel is an island of democracy in the Middle East. Yet the concept of Israel as a Jewish state, inscribed in the country's fundamental laws, means that Israel systematically discriminates against non-Jews, including those who hold Israeli citizenship.

We are told that the Israeli military defends innocent civilians against the threat of annihilation. Yet since 2000 alone, the Israeli army has killed thousands of unarmed Palestinians and Lebanese people and wounded tens of thousands more. The army has shelled residential areas and destroyed thousands of homes. We are told that Israel has "made the desert bloom." Yet the conquest of Palestine has included systematic destruction of Palestinian farms and orchards by force or by de facto methods such as preventing farmers' access to water.

The state of Israel and Zionist organizations in the U.S. exploit fears of anti-Jewish oppression to win support and silence dissent among Jews. Yet Israel's foundation and expansion have failed to make Jews safer. Rather, the Israeli state has subordinated the global needs of Jews to the regional quest for dominance. For instance, in the 1980s the Israeli government allied with Argentina's military junta, which conducted systematic terrorism against Jews. Today Israel allies itself with the U.S. Christian Right, which promotes an apocalyptic vision in which Jews who fail to convert to Christianity will be killed.

We oppose anti-Jewish oppression whether it comes from supporters or opponents of the Israeli state. Some critics of Israel exaggerate the power of a "Jewish lobby" in the United States or imagine a Zionist conspiracy behind global capitalism. For centuries, Jews have been scapegoated for systems of oppression, serving as a lightning rod to draw popular anger away from non-Jewish elites. Israel is not to blame for this kind of anti-Jewish scapegoating, but building the Israeli state has proved a counterproductive strategy for fighting it. Israel's oppressive policies and prominent role as a U.S. ally play right into this dynamic.

On Israeli Independence Day, we remind Americans that there is no Jewish consensus that supports the state of Israel. Like many Jewish people -- and many Americans -- we object to Israel's ongoing violence toward Palestinians and to the U.S government's role as chief supporter of Israeli militarism.

As we write, the United States continues to send billions of our tax dollars annually to Israel and ramps up its violent and costly occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's schools, housing, and healthcare continue to be negligently underfunded. As Jewish people and Philadelphia taxpayers, we envision a future in which our resources support a vibrant, healthy city instead of violence in Israel that is the legacy of the Nakba in 1948.

On May 6 and all year, we remember the terrible price Palestinians continue to pay for the foundation of the state of Israel. When the United States stops funding Israeli violence, when Jewish Americans imagine safety without militarism, and when Palestinians have self-determination over their lives and livelihoods, we will have a reason to celebrate: Next year, independence for all!


Anonymous said...

I understand that this is a political statement rather than an analytical work but Zionist ideology and organizations cover a pretty broad spectrum of opinion from the ZOA on the right to Peace Now on the left. There are a lot of Zionist organizations that do not rely on “fear” for support, that actively involve themselves in peace efforts and that spend a lot of time on cultural and social activities that emphasize the diversity and complexity of Israel. Ameinu, Habonim Dror, Meretz USA, and the Union of Progressive Zionists come to mind but there are others.

Also, your statement that “there is no Jewish consensus that supports the state of Israel” may express your political beliefs but it is factually incorrect, at least according to numbers I am familiar with. When polled, the vast majority of Jews time and time again express their support of Israel (I think the numbers are close to 80% across the board with numbers slightly higher for older Jews and slightly lower for younger Jews).