By Jamila Cassim Karolia
The present conflict of Israel and Palestine must be examined in its historical context and also against the background of the ideology of “Zionism”. Is this concept supported and endorsed by all Jews? How was the coming into being of an Israeli State and is there any justification to the carnage that is occurring in Gaza.
Zionism is a nationalist movement of Jews and Jewish culture that supports the creation of a Jewish homeland in a territory defined as the land of Israel. A religious variety of Zionism supports the upholding of the Jewish identity, opposes the assimilation of Jews with other nations and advocates the return of Jews to Israel as a means for Jews to be a majority in their own nation and to be liberated from anti-Semitism, discrimination and exclusion. Defenders of Zionism say it is a national liberation movement for the repatriation of a dispersed socio-religious group to what they see as an abandoned homeland, millennia before. Critics see it as a colonialist or racist ideology that led to the denial of rights, dispossession and expulsion of the indigenous population of Palestine¹.
According to the proponents of this ideology; it is based on historical ties and religious traditions linking the Jewish people to the land of Israel. It was in the year 586, during the Babylonian occupation of the land around Palestine known as Judea, that the first temple was destroyed. The Romans subsequently expelled the Jews from Israel changing its name to Syria Palaestina. Most Jews lived outside Palestine in Europe, America etc. According to the biblical narrative as well as all three monotheistic religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam- the area of land under dispute in Palestine is the and promised to the Jews by God¹
After almost two millennia, without a national state, the Zionist movement was founded by secular Jews largely in response to anti-Semitism in Europe, in France and Russia. At the time the movement sought to encourage Jewish migration to the Ottoman Palestine. This movement grew rapidly and proved to be a dominant force in Jewish politics. In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly termed it as “a form of racial discrimination” and in 1991this general assembly within the Arab- Israeli conflict viewed Zionism as a system thatfosters apartheid and racism¹.
Not all Jewish people are “Zionist”. The Neturei Karta, an orthodox Haredi religious movement, strongly opposes Zionism and Israel; it considers the latter as a racist regime. This movement equates Zionism to Nazism. Neturei Karta believes that Zionist ideology is totally contrary to traditional Jewish law and beliefs and the teachings of the Holy Torah and that Zionism promotes anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Yisrael David Weiss in a speech delivered in 2002 gave a riveting and insightful account of the tenants of the Torah. According to him in the Torah; the creator rewards and punishes mankind.
Through many of the prophetic books in the Old Testament the Jewish people were warned that a serious rebellion against the will of God would result in the most severe punishment. Unchecked it could lead to the ruin of the Holy temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the entire of the Jewish Nation
According to the Old Testament prophecies, the first exile also known as the Babylonian captivity lasted only 70 years. By a series of miraculous events the people were returned to the land. The second entry into the land led to the rebuilding of the temple. The second temple stood about 2500 years ago until about 1900 years ago, then too it was destroyed. This time the cause was once again the backsliding of the people who were, as always, held to a very Divine standard.
But the prophecies of doom were accompanied with promises of consolidation. The exile would not be forever. There would be years of dispersion, many of them enduring persecution. Yet there was a promise that the people would return to the land. But this return was not under human control. It would be heralded by the advent of Elijah the prophet and accompanied by many miracles. And this time, the redemption would not just be for the Jewish people, but rather for all men. All nations would cease to practice war. All would rejoice together in the Creator’s care. There would be no want of physical deprivation. It would be a time of spiritual brotherhood- all men united in Divine service. Thus, at the burning of the second temple, Jews were sent into exile which extends until today. For two thousand years Jews have prayed for the end of their exile and the accompanying redemption of the entire world. They were taught by prophets and sages that their exile was an expiation of their sins. This meant that the only reasonable and permissible path to end the exile was repentance and prayer.
To suggest that one could use political or military means to escape the Creator’s decree was seen as heresy. It was only towards the end of the 19th century, among Jews far estranged from their faith that the notion began to be put forth that exile was a sign of weakness. Theodore Herzl and a handful of others, according to the Rabbi Yisrael David Weiss- all ignorant or non-observant of the Torah- began to set the process in motion to create a nationalist state of Israel for the Jews²
Thus, Zionism was established with a goal of creating a Jewish State. The notion of Zionism was to create the land of Israel as a birthplace for the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Theodore Herzl first approached the Ottoman rulers to reach a political agreement, but was unsuccessful. He thus sought governmental support in other countries.
The Balfour Declaration sealed the fate of the Palestinians. The British government favoured an establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, but it was with the premise that the civil and religious rights of the existing non- Jewish communities in Palestine be honoured.
Jewish migration began in Palestine with widespread land purchases from feudal lords. There were riots in 1920, 1921 and1929 in which both Jews and Arabs were killed. Britain’s efforts at curtailing the number of immigrant Jews in the region did nothing to prevent the holocaust Jews from leaving Europe. Israelis this time had lots of support from American Israelis who put pressure on the United Nations to partition the West of Palestine into a Jewish state. Palestinians and Arabs rejected the UN decision and demanded a single state and the removal of Jewish migrants, this lead to the 1948 Arab- Israeli War.
On May 12 1948; at the end of the British mandate, the Jewish Agency led by David Ben-Gurion, declared the creation of the state of Israel. Seven Arab countries invaded Israel. The conflict led to the exodus of about 711000 Palestinians Arabs. In a series of laws passed after the conflict by the first Israeli government preventing Palestinians from returning to their homes or claiming their property.-they now became known as refugees of their own country¹
After the holocaust, the world took its sense of pity for the Jewish people and bestowed it upon the Zionist; but little thought was given to the deep and just desire of the Palestinians to be a sovereign people in their own land or the anti-Zionist Jews living therein³
Let us now examine the existence of the Palestinians and non- Arabs living in the Strip of Palestinian land now called the Gaza strip that is controlled by the Israeli Army:
According to John B Judis in an article in The New Republic, Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers and the Palestinians are its unruly subjects. The Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East of Jerusalem and rules harshly over its subjects, while maintaining blockades in the land, air and sea. Important to note, the Israeli government encouraged and subsidized Jewish settlements in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population into territories it has seized. Israel’s settlers now number over 500 000. Palestinians are allowed to build on only 40 percent of the West Bank. Settlers enjoy Israeli citizenship and rule of law. The Palestinians are under harsh military rule. No Palestinian may travel abroad without Israeli approval. There are 542 roadblocks impeding the movement of Palestinians, but not the settlers. Water and electricity is supplied by Israel and are restrictive. Settlers consume about six times more water than the 2.6 million Palestinians. Settler attacks on Palestinians have increased which the police ignore⁴.
In the words of our own former president and great leader Nelson Mandela: “The Palestinian- Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military occupation and Israel is not a country that was established “normally” and happened to occupy another country in 1967. Palestinians are not struggling for a “state but for freedom, liberation, and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South AfricaIsrael was not thinking of a “state” but of “separatism”. The value of separation is measured in terms of the ability of Israel to keep the Jewish state Jewish, and not to have a Palestinian minority that could become a majority at some time in the future” ⁵
The current full-scale attack on the Palestinians where thousands of men, women and children have been killed and their homes destroyed is inhumane and a call for ceasefire has been mostly evasive by the United States and Britain; as well as other countries that have the power to put an end to this carnage. Where is our human compassion, especially when witnessing the sheer horror, anguish and despair on the surviving Palestinians faces? Have we as mankind become desensitized to human suffering and Killings? Is there no longer justice that prevails as a world organization? And it remains to be seen if the Israeli’s would be tried for war crimes