The Separation Wall and The Myth of the Israeli Left by Gilad Atzmon, 2004-07-10
Since the earliest days of Zionism, the question of polarity between right-wing and left-wing Zionism has been more than a little confusing. Where Zionism is concerned, it is difficult to determine who is the dove and who is the hawk. It was Ben Gurion, the legendary labour leader who led the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine in 1948. It was Menachem Begin, the legendary hawk who signed the peace deal with Egypt in 1977. It was Rabin, the labour minister of defence, who ordered the Israeli platoons to break the arms and legs of Palestinians (first intifada). And now, it appears, it is the Israeli 'Peace Now' movement who support Sharon's unilateral withdrawal. Many of the elder doves support the separation wall, unsurprising considering the fact that it was Haim Ramon, a labour minister who was the first to come up with the idea of such a wall. At the end of the day, Jewish peaceniks love the two-state solution. More than simply loving peace, they actually want to live in peace.
We should ask ourselves whether there is any substantial difference between Israeli left and right. Many Middle Eastern commentators raised this question many years ago. As a matter of fact, Israeli Left/Right polarity is no more than a virtual concept. In his book, 'The Iron Wall', Avi Shlem argues that, in practice, the Israeli 'Left' leadership adopted hard line right wing philosophy since the 1930s. A paper published a few days ago by Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon, explains the current emerging alliance between Peace Now and Sharon. Here is what he says: "In terms of militarist ideology, certain elements within Peace Now hold views that are in many ways similar to Sharon's." According to Gordon, Peace Now are in fact endorsing a Zionist nationalist interpretation that is utterly "non-universalistic". Within this very discussion, it is crucial to mention that even Uri Avnery and Gush Shalom, the most vocal humanist voices of the Israeli Jewish population, support the two-state solution. In fact they argue that the two peoples should be separated. As it appears, the only real debate within the Israeli left is how high the separation wall be. If these are the Israeli doves, who needs Jewish warmongers?
So is there any difference between right and left in Israel? I would argue that if there is any difference it is more of a cultural one. It is a form of speech and dress-code rather than a substantial philosophical or ideological dispute. Although the ideological differences between the two camps are barely marginal, it is crucial to show that in fact it is the Israeli Left's practice that is far more harmful for the Palestinian interests. While Israel's Left pushes towards the transformation of Palestine into a list of Bantustan-like isolated patches (Bark at Camp David), it is the right wing expansionist views that lead both Israelis and Palestinians to acknowledge the possibility of a one-state reality.
It appears that, within the internal Israeli Left's discourse, Jewish Peaceniks identify with secularity, rationality and sanity. In their eyes, these elements are the voice of reason. They would argue that right wing Zionism is messianic. They would equate it with irrationality and insanity. In response, right wing Zionists would argue that, considering the very real threat to the existence of the Israeli state, the Left's behaviour appears to be irrational, even suicidal.
Let me state loud and clear, within the general parameters of Zionist discussion, the right wing argument is quite rational. Very much like the Palestinians, the right wing have noticed that Left Zionists have no intention of addressing the Palestinian cause. The Israeli Left camp never acknowledged the 1948 mass expulsion of the Palestinian population. The Israeli Left denies the Palestinian right of return and avoids the issue of Jerusalem. In practice, the Israeli Left supports peace with the Palestinians as long as the latter are left out in the desert. Moreover, if we look into Left Zionist philosophy, we find out in fact that it is no less messianic or irrational than its counterpart. Even if we accept the bizarre assumption that Jews are a nation and are entitled to a piece of land, it doesn't necessarily imply that this land should be in Palestine (Zion). As a matter of fact, it was Left Zionism that invented the notion of the colonialisation of Zion. It was Left Zionism which transformed the Bible from being a spiritual text into a legal document (a land registry). If this isn't messianic, then the notion of messianism should be redefined. Since it is Left Zionism that invented the notion of 'redemption of the land', the American settlers who flood the West Bank in the name of their Jewish God are, in practice, the real followers of the Left Zionist school.
So where exactly is the political dispute? Apparently, Left Israelis amended their world view in the last decade. They would still argue that the land of Zion should be redeemed but they'd agree to be far more flexible when referring to the definition of Israeli territory. While the right wing would talk enthusiastically about the redemption of the whole of greater Israel, left wing Zionists adopted a more moderate take on the subject. For the Peacenik, Israel is where he lives, i.e., within the 1967 borders. The Peacenik would roll his eyes arguing that there is indeed room for the two peoples on this land (as long as he stays in Tel Aviv and the Palestinian stays in Gaza). He would propose to erect a separation wall, and shred the Holy Land into Bantustans. Of course, he would turn a blind eye to the blatant fact that the vast majority of pre-1967 Israel is in fact confiscated Palestinian lands. Israeli doves refuse to admit that the vast majority of the Palestinian people are in fact dispossessed refugees. They live in complete denial of their present and past. They are happy with the concept of peace as long as they determine its terms and conditions. Funny enough, Sharon and his unilateral withdrawal, following that very philosophy.
While trying to analyse Sharon's acts we should remember that the big man himself grew up in the Israeli Left. Much like his mentors, Sharon adopted an offensive military doctrine. He believes in the Israeli power of deterrence. He believes in a Jewish democratic state rather than a state of its citizens, He believes that it is Israel that should dictate the fate of the region. This is the story behind his unilateral withdrawal. This is the story behind his separation wall. This is very much the essence of Left Zionism.
This leads us to the absurd realisation of the Israeli political environment. While the Israeli Left endorses the most radical nationalistic and supremacist interpretation of Zionism, it is actually the Jewish right wing expansionist philosophy that pushes towards a one-state solution. In fact it is the settlers from Brooklyn who are going to help the Palestinians to establish a multi-cultural society throughout the whole of Palestine. It is the American Jewish zealots who make this wet dream into reality. This is where the settlers become so vital for the chance of the Palestinian future.
It appears that the one-state solution is the only viable option from now on.
Gilad Atzmon was born a Jew in Israel, grew up in Jerusalem and currently lives in London. During his military service in the Israeli army he witnessed the suffering of the Palestinian people at first hand and as a result became a committed anti-Zionist. He is renowned as a jazz musician (saxophone and clarinet) and as a composer (his CD Exile is available from Amazon). He has also written a novel, A Guide to the Perplexed. This article first appeared on his website at http://www.gilad.co.uk.
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