It is not an even-handed conflict between two sides with equal but
opposing claims. It is about a classic colonial competition between power
and control, which the Israelis have, and the assertion of rights and a
return to pre-colonial lifestyles on the Palestinian side. Israel dictates
the lives of the Palestinians, not the other way around. We are
dealing with the historical interaction between an occupying modern state
and a dispossessed and marginalized native people.
Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel, was based on the idea of
establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Palestine's native population
went from 90 percent Arab in 1895 to 20 percent in 100 years. The
establishment of Israel entailed the exodus of over 900,000
Palestinian refugees. This happened because of a considerable amount of
premeditated violence, and a continued program of systematic institutional
maneuvering to allow the influx of European Jews.
However, many work to deny, downplay or justify the colonial character of
this. Perhaps because as one pro-Israeli activist here in Berkeley said at
a panel, "the word colonization has negative connotations." That statement
is emblematic of a voice powerful enough to dictate descriptive
terminology not on the basis of its applicability but on the negativity of
the PR points attached to it.
The power of these voices aggrandizes the percieved complexity of a common
colonial script. I think it is intentional to paint the situation as
deeply ethnic, religious, or dating back thousands of years, because such
descriptions imply an insolvability to it. That benefits the status quo,
in which Israel is the heavily advantaged power. If Americans, who have
the most important public opinion in the world, concieve the situation as
so complex and nebulous, it precludes attempts to even think about it.
Change will only come if we look at the material terms of the conflict:
what actually happened.
While some claim the first Israelis wanted peace and the Arabs rejected
it, Jewish leaders then held no such pretenses. In 1937, David Ben Gurion,
the first Prime Minister of Israel, frankly stated, "We must expel Arabs
and take their places." In 1948, prior to the establishment of Israel, he
planned to "smash the Arab Legion's strength and bomb Amman, we will
eliminate Transjordan too, and then Syria will fall. If Egypt still dares
to fight on, we shall bomb Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo."
Jospeh Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department in 1940,
wrote about the need to "transfer the Arabs from here (Palestine) to the
neighboring countries" without sparing "one village, not one tribe should
be left." Any state developed with a "Colonization Department" deserves
critical attention. The fact that these statements were prophetic speaks
to the pre-existing power imbalances as well as the premeditative
character of events in Israel's history pro-Israeli scholars sell as
Some of the native Palestinian population and their children remain. Many
live in squalor, refugee camps and under the rule of Israeli occupation
forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their lives are so controlled and
in such destitute that they resort to rock-throwing against a modern army.
Others whither away in refugee camps, serving as statistical columns of
the largest and oldest refugee population in the world.
The Palestinian situation is the direct offspring of the Zionist success
of taking Palestinian territory and sovereignty. The native population
continues to be controlled by the settler population. Israeli forces
occupy Palestinian land and people, not vice versa. The best way to
understand Palestinian reactions is explained by Edward Said. He writes,
the "Palestinians have behaved as all colonized people in history have
behaved towards the colonizer: they rebelled in protest." Israeli actions,
conversely, are best understood as the actions of the colonizer.