"1948 — No Longer Shrouded in the Mists"
by Patrick Lawrence
Consortium News (May 18, 2021)
What we see now is a purposeful program of terror and it is merely the latest, in form and intent, of what Palestinians have endured since the Nakba.
Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria, established after Nakba, 1948. (Wikimedia)
The shattering events of the past few weeks in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip require us at last to understand the apartheid state for what it is. It is a Frankenstein created and sustained by those Western powers that have for the past 73 years encouraged and materially enabled its racist program to destroy Palestinians as a people — which is to say any semblance of a Palestinian polity with the autonomy and rights all people deserve.
No one with a head and heart that have not been deadened, and eyes that propaganda has not blinded, can any longer defend this nation’s conduct — not credibly, not morally. No one with a conscience can any longer wish it well, given what its leadership has made of it.
“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said of the current reign of violence during an emergency session of the Security Council over the weekend. This is a tragic circumstance, but we must correct the secretary-general on several points.
Palestinians have endured a chronic humanitarian crisis of Israel’s making for seven decades and some. It is the same on the security side: Israel, as the readily available record shows, began to unleash this crisis with the intent of terrorizing Palestinians even before the British Mandate expired in May 1948. It is the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations that have since been “contained,” and it is these that must be unleashed from Israel’s chokehold if a lasting peace is to be achieved.
The inhumane, criminal assaults on Palestinians throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza we witness daily now began a month ago with a shockingly uninhibited campaign to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah section of East Jerusalem. While these cases were pending in the Israeli Supreme Court, Israeli police provocatively attempted to restrict Palestinians’ access to al–Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, another Muslim holy site—this during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.
Israeli security forces then began three nights of intrusive raids on al–Aqsa during times of prayer — tear gas, “skunk bombs,” rubber bullets, boots trampling prayer mats, the lot. Then came the horrible frenzies — no other words for these—of crazed Israeli teenagers celebrating the murders of Palestinians and the destruction of their shops and homes.
Then came Hamas’ retaliatory rockets fired into Jerusalem from Gaza after an ultimatum it issued to retreat from al-Aqsa was ignored. And now we watch Israel’s fourth attack on Gaza in the past dozen years. And now we read in our corporate press of Israeli–Arab “clashes” and of Israel’s “right to self-defense.”
Can anything good come of these crimes and inhumanities? The question borders on preposterous given all we see daily on videos shot by eyewitnesses and all we read from those few independent correspondents with integrity enough to write honestly of what they witness.
But the answer is yes, and evidence in support of this conclusion is now all around us.
A Turning Tide?
Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, in 2017. (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
The entire world can now see that Israel is a laboratory monster whose animating electrodes must be cut. No one can any longer dispute its intent to ethnic-cleanse Palestinians: Israelis, from senior government officials to systematically deranged adolescents dancing in the streets, now tell us this. Neither can anyone question that the “Jewish state” has made itself the worst possible memorial to the 6 million killed in the Holocaust that anyone could possibly conceive of.
Israel is another South Africa, a terrorist state bent on creating “Palestans” as Africa’s apartheid regime herded Africans into Bantustans — worthless specks of land with no access to the outside world but through the controlling power. Israel’s conduct resembles the Nazis’ by way of its day-to-day realities and its intentions. By the day, very many more people now come to consider whether these statements are the exaggerations they were long taken to be.
It is early days yet, but the tide may at last be turning in the way the world understands Israel and the way it has long felt obliged to treat it. To be noted at this moment: The power to determine this lies with Palestinians at least as much as it does with the Israelis.
In an extended exchange with Richard Falk several years ago, the noted scholar, attorney, activist, and U.N. special rapporteur on Palestine spoke of what he called the Palestinians’ “legitimacy struggle” — the power conferred by legal and moral superiority as against “hard power.” The future of Palestinian resistance is up to Palestinians and is now an open question. But there is no question of their gains, as measured by Falk’s war by legitimacy, during these past weeks of suffering. Ask them on the streets of Chicago, or Glasgow, or Sana’a, or in numerous other towns and cities around the world. [Watch CN Live!‘s interview with Falk.]
David Ben-Gurion pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel. (Wikimedia)
It has long been remarkable the extent to which the history of Jewish colonization of Palestinian lands, with the backing of the U.S., Britain, and the United Nations, has been obscured. The events leading to David Ben–Gurion’s declaration of the independent state of Israel on May 14, 1948, have long been explained as expressions of the humanitarian debt the world owed all Jews who survived the Nazis’ terror regime. This is how the creation of Israel was sold to citizens of the Western powers, but “humanitarian” has little place in this story unless we think of it as “instrumental humanitarianism.”
A swift, non-scholarly examination of the history extending back only to 1948 is sufficient to reveal the Jewish settlement of Palestinian lands was humanitarian only if one does not count Palestinians as human — as many at the time did not. The strategy deployed on the ground was plainly and simply terror. Terrorize the Palestinian population until they simply go away.
I do not write anything new here. This, indeed, is my point. The late Edward Said, with his usual command of history, published The Question of Palestine in 1979. Curiously enough, that same year a British scholar living in Lebanon, Rosemary Sayigh, brought out Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries. It is a different sort of book, closer to the ground than Said’s. Here is an extract, deriving from Sayigh’s research among Palestinians dwelling by her time in refugee camps but with memories of the Nakba, otherwise known as the Palestinian Catastrophe. The event at issue is an Israeli massacre in a village called Deir Yasseen (now Deir Yassin) in April 1948, a month before Israel’s independence:
“I interviewed many of the womenfolk in order to glean some information on any atrocities committed in Deir Yasseen, but the majority of those women are very shy and reluctant to relate their experiences especially in matters concerning sexual assault…. The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women, who often break down…. There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed ...”
These sorts of accounts are plentiful enough. But they have been buried for seven decades beneath dense layers of propaganda and an incessant campaign of enforced forgetting. Now this history is again accessible; 1948 is no longer shrouded in the mists or deemed too far in the past to matter. I chose the above passage because it was disseminated via Twitter over the weekend by one Louis Allday:
This disturbing extract is illustrative of the calculated & extreme campaign of violence that Zionists used against the Palestinians during the Nakba in 1948. Up to this very moment the violence committed against them, & the grim logic behind it, has never ceased. #NakbaDay pic.twitter.com/RmhdkjFRjO
— Louis Allday (@Louis_Allday) May 15, 2021
To marshal history in this way is a source of power. In this case it tells us something vital about what we witness now. The Israeli method remains what it was in the late-1940s: What we see now is a purposeful program of terror and it is merely the latest, in form and intent, of what Palestinians have endured since the Nakba. There is no longer any cause to doubt this.
The manipulation of history took another turn after Israel’s victories in the 1967 War, when its use as a strategic asset in the American imperial constellation grew more significant. We enter now upon what Norman Finkelstein did us the great service of calling “the Holocaust industry” in his 2000 book of this name — for which he suffered a merciless and costly ostracism in the academy and in the pages of our corporate media.
Some readers may recall the 1970s and 1980s in this connection, when Holocaust museums and assorted memorials sprouted around the country like milkweed in an abandoned pasture. It was during this period when guilt and a preeminent debt to Israel were made into eternal features of the Western consciousness. If readers can think of a grosser abuse of the suffering of 6 million people than this, the instrumentalization of their suffering, please resort to the comment thread.
It is difficult to overstate the consequences of this appallingly cynical ploy. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the diabolic AIPAC, founded in 1963, began to accumulate what is surely unprecedented influence in American politics and policy in the post–1967 years. At this point, perfectly fair to say, the most powerful nation on earth does not have a foreign policy in the Middle East: This is Israel’s to determine.
Here are President Joe Biden’s White House flacks on his first conversation with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he swerved not an inch from the “unconditional support” for Israel Hillary Clinton made a de rigueur tenet of American political culture during her first failed presidential campaigns:
Today the President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, and condemned these indiscriminate attacks against Israel. pic.twitter.com/baHWh1b6Q2
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 15, 2021
More idiotically, here is Ned Price, the voice of American hypocrisy at the State Department, reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense but refusing to acknowledge the Palestinians have any such right themselves:
We had better understand this for what it is. Given the Israeli leadership’s stated intent, and the delirious passions of the nation’s citizenry, these sorts of equivocations in Washington amount to licenses to massacre. [emphasis added]
This is what manipulated history has done to the leadership and the policy cliques in the Western powers. Beyond them, criticism of Israel is on the way to being punishable [emphasis added]. The British Labour Party and mainstream Democrats in the U.S. may stand as extreme cases, but the phenomenon is poisoning all political discourse in (what remains of) the Western democracies [emphasis added].
The U.S. claims to hold to a “working definition” of anti–Semitism adopted by an international alliance of nations in 2016. It reads:
“Anti–Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti–Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non–Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
This is measured, correct, and useful. But the State Department, in the Newspeak Ned Price now typifies, accepts but does not accept this definition all at once. As it elaborates on its website:
“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti–Semitic.”
One would ask for help understanding what these sentences mean back-to-back, but the department relieves such confusion by explaining that identifying Israel as racist, or comparing its conduct with that of the Nazi regime, or holding Israeli citizens responsible for what their government and military do are to be counted anti–Semitic.
In other words, the official language is in place to charge that critics of Israel are anti–Semites.
I take vigorous exception to this. Nobody who does not know another’s beliefs, principles, associations, loyalties, and so on has a right to label anyone an anti–Semite. The state of Israel is prima facie racist at this point and one is obliged to say this. Comparing Israel with the Nazis seems to me exaggerated, but the thought that there are similarities between the conduct of the two is anyone’s to entertain and deserves a place on the table whether or not one accepts this as true.
Let us shine a bright light on this ridiculous bit of hocus-pocus so as to dispose of all efforts to use a label as an instrument of intimidation, for the events filling our news pages require this. All one needs is a pair of quotation marks. With strenuous objections, I accept that by the official State Department definition (and not by any rational definition) I am an “anti–Semite.”
It is time to look at ourselves and see what our Frankenstein has done to us these past 73 years. We in the West, and Americans and Britons above all, have lost all morality and decency in the service of this grotesque creature. We can no longer think for ourselves. We are no longer capable of reason or rational discourse, language itself having been mutilated. We can no longer see straight, for blindness has been essential to the furtherance of the Israeli project as it has been and as we now have it. Our press, not least, has thoroughly lost its way on any topic of concern to the Israelis — Palestine, Iran and Syria chief among these.
It is yet worse when we consider what has become of Israeli society. Decades of overindulgence and the instrumentalization of what began as a legitimate debt owed to the world’s Jews have turned Israel into a nation that proudly proclaims its hatred of Palestinians, celebrates their suffering, and dances jigs in the streets while mobs attack them. “We have a right to hate them,” one middle-aged Israeli said on cameralast week. No one can deny this. All must pity it.
As is always the case, we must note, the victimizers are victims, too. (And this is emphatically something Israelis and Nazis share, as victims of their own warped ideology, their own fears, and consumed by their own hatreds.) The great volume of video and film recorded on Israeli streets and disseminated over the past couple of weeks show us a warped people. This is what Israeli schools are turning out and what training for service in the Israeli Defense Force makes of its conscripts: They have created hate and violence machines. This is what far-right politicians (who have a new presence in the Knesset as of elections two months ago) want Israeli youth to be. In dehumanizing Palestinians, Israelis have dehumanized themselves.
There are those in Israel who raise their voices in objection. In doing so they preserve their humanity. It is time we all take the lesson: So must we object if we are to remain human.