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A Pacifist Position on Palestine


									A Pacifist Position on Palestine
Chris Marsh1, draft v.1 31/1/05

The Problem

Political people take „positions‟, usually „for‟ or „against‟ something. In that context, arguably the
only morally sustainable position on Palestine is „for‟ the desperate, beleaguered Palestinians and
„against‟ – well, what and who is the guilty party in this struggle? „The Zionists, of course,‟ is the
answer with which, until recently, I would have concurred. Why I now question that is complicated,
so let‟s look first at the easier matter of being pro-Palestine.

Reading about the situation in the Middle East inclines one towards being pro-Palestine because the
people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are victims of the powerfully armed and
disproportionately aggressive occupying Israeli army and government. Three and a half times as
many Palestinians have been killed in the past four years as have Israelis. So in a kind of sympathy
poll, the Palestinians win. They are the underdog, the oppressed, so that egalitarian, concerned and
fair-minded folk are moved to take their part. Palestinian sympathisers can even find themselves
supporting the acts of armed resistance by people of the OPT because such resistance is allowed
under international law. Furthermore, the pro-Palestine supporter does not seem to see these attacks
as futile and counterproductive, but more perhaps as the hero David with his sling potentially felling
the mighty Goliath. Avowed socialists are naturally drawn to „solidarity‟ with the Palestinians
because, like the working class, they are victims of capitalistic interests, in particular the puppet-
masters pulling the strings of the United States government, which supports Israel in every way it

Curiously though, there is another group apparently supporting „the Palestinians, these noble
courageous and hard-working people‟: quote from an article on the British National Party web site
by „one of many decent Jews who speak out against the literally insane Messianic fantasies of the
Zionish (sic) lobby‟.2 And here we touch on what is dangerous about declaring oneself anti-Zionist:
it is much too close for comfort to racism. The Palestine solidarity supporter will protest here that
s/he is not racist, certainly not anti-Semitic because, strictly speaking, that term includes Palestinian
Arabs because they are Semites too, and also because some Jews are anti-Zionist for political or for
theological reasons, and Jews can‟t be anti-Jew, can they? – although Zionists, apparently, have
dubbed such Jews „self-hating Jews.‟ A tangled web of terminology is being woven here, which
makes the anti-Zionist position and terminology less tenable, in my view. To reach clarity it is
necessary to step away from the current situation and the various protagonists and consider oneself
as a person in the world.

It is natural to believe that one is in control of one‟s thoughts and attitudes, but that may not be true
at all3. Attitudes in particular are taken in from outside like the breath we breathe and the food we
eat. In Orientalism, Edward Said cites Gramsci‟s challenge to each of us to compile an inventory of
the traces history has left on our consciousness.4 So try allowing your mind to come up with a list of
your attitudes to „the Orient‟, to adopt Said‟s academic and literary category, or call it „the East‟, or
even „the Other‟ as a more modish concept. I quite enjoyed and approved some connotations that
came to me: spiritual, exotic, seductive, thrilling and dangerous; like Omar Sharif in the movie
Lawrence of Arabia. I wanted to disown other thoughts: dirty, shifty, tribal, vicious and vengeful. I
wondered about the sources of these associations, which I have no recollection of having heard or

2, accessed 30/01/05
  See Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin, 1991) for how the illusion of being in charge of
one‟s thinking is created in the brain.
  Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 1985) p.25
been taught. But like most middle-class children of my generation I read voraciously in my teens, so
literature is probably the culprit, as Said would agree. The young of today may pick up their
attitudes first- or second-hand from the Daily Mail, in which case „the Other‟ is the bogus asylum
seeker. But to return to being pro-Palestine or anti-Zionist, try drawing up an uncensored inventory
of what you associate with Jews. I can feel good – generous perhaps – about recognising that Jews
are creative, often brilliantly so: many of the greatest philosophers, scientists and musicians are or
were Jews. But I have to admit a grudging element to this recognition. There is also pity, the Jews
as victims: the Holocaust most obviously, but also the history of centuries of persecution and
scapegoating, and archetypal villainy, typified by Shakespeare‟s Shylock. It‟s actually been
millennia: a recent TV programme5 about ancient plastic surgery described how Jews subjected
themselves to the excruciating agony of reverse circumcision to look normal and acceptable in the
Roman bathhouse. And it still goes on: an article in the Observer tells of „a rise in anti-semitic (sic)
incidents‟ in Britain which „Jewish groups blame … on tension in the Middle East.‟6

One may pity the Jews as victims, but thoughts also come up about: „they bring it on themselves‟,
always looking after their own, having ridiculous costumes and food taboos – and, most pertinently:
how could they, with their history, subject the Palestinian Arabs to persecution that amounts to
genocide? It is the Zionists amongst them that are guilty of this, of course, including – would you
believe? – Christian Zionists. The US government is run by Zionists. Zionists run the capitalist
system, the media – no wonder there is biased media reporting; by the way, you do know Jeremy
Paxman is a Jew? But we‟re not anti-Semitic, oh no! Some Jews, even orthodox Jews, some Israelis
even, like the refusniks, are as shocked at the Zionist crimes as we are. Hang on now, isn‟t that just
a bit disturbing? Both from the safe stance of sympathy with the Palestinians and through
tentatively dipping into the septic tank of one‟s attitudes and prejudices, we arrive at being „anti-
Zionist‟. And by the latter route one reaches dangerously near suspicions of the „Jewish conspiracy
to take over the world‟ which were current in countries on both sides of the Second World War, and
perhaps explains why every effort was not made to rescue the Jews from the Nazi „final solution‟.

A Pacifist Position

I have always considered myself a pacifist although until now this has never really been challenged.
A dear friend of mine, Dr Douglas Holdstock7 discovered he was a pacifist as a boy: he saw other
boys resolving their arguments by fighting, and noted that it was the best fighter who won, not the
one who was right. I have shared that general view: when the war is won, people get around a table
to decide the way forward; why not do that first and not have the war? I have been an admirer of
Gandhi and the whole idea of non-violent resistance. So Palestinians resisting occupation by suicide
bombing Israelis troubled me. Now it does not. However, nor does what the Israelis do to the
Palestinians. The consequences of both actions appal me; they are unutterably dreadful: every
wound, every lost life, every bereaved relative or friend, every ruined home and livelihood, every
olive tree, every wasted hour at a checkpoint, every fear, all insecurity.

How can that be? How can one exonerate the perpetrators completely? By embracing the „sin‟ as
well as the „sinner‟, so that in effect there is no sin, just dreadful consequences of a process as
innocent as an act of nature, like a tsunami.

But isn‟t that just words, a clever „cop out‟? What would one do differently having adopted such a
position? To answer that I have to refer to the process I went through to reach it. Part of this
involved a spiritual experience, a realisation, if you prefer. That is a peculiar and very personal
thing which will not be understood by those who have not been through something similar. As well

  Channel4, 29 January 2005
  „Anti-Jewish attacks at record level‟ in The Observer, 30 January 2005
7 ,
as that I did a lot of reading, sparked off by being troubled by „anti-Zionist‟ talk from fellow pro-
Palestine activists.

I asked myself the question: „what is this “Zionist” thing anyway?‟ and looked it up in Google. The
first three hits were:
     1. anti-Zionist: „Jews Against Zionism‟8;
     2. apparently unbiased: „Washington Report on Middle East Affairs‟9; and
     3. pro-Zionist: „Jewish Virtual Library‟10

Studying these and other sources I decided that being pro- or anti-Zionist has different meanings for
different groups of people. People who are Palestinian, either living in Palestine or in the diaspora,
will understandably be anti-Zionist: against Israelis occupying their homeland and persecuting their
people; how could they be otherwise? They might take positions on a spectrum of hostility from
wanting to wipe all Israelis off the face of the earth through to objecting to the intrusion of the
„security fence‟ onto their farm. But I am not Palestinian, and I used to feel very uncomfortable
with supporting their right to fight and kill even occupying forces, let alone suicide-bombing
civilians. However, a clear consequence of my new pacifist position of embracing the sinner and the
sin, is that I must accept uncritically whatever Palestinians say and do. And that is the easier half of
the equation.

I am not a Jew either. If I were, I might be interested in the theological argument put forward by
Jews Against Zionism. But I am not a Jew so Jewish theology is really none of my business;
another easy bit, which is encouraging: I seem to be getting a bit of clarity out of what was a
dangerous mess. Taking this a stage further, if I were a Jew I could take a position pro- or anti-
Zionism: for or against the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine – or anywhere else, for that
matter – and for or against my people, or any section of my people, taking advantage of being able
to wield power through the United States government, and through world-wide capitalistic interests,
including the military-industrial complex, thereby acquiring weapons bound to cause devastation
and loss of innocent lives. I can imagine a host of different positions Jews might take. Only one of
these interests me, and gives rise to two key questions: firstly, do Jews regard Israel as putting right
the persecution, suspicion and dislike that has been their lot: the identity imposed upon them by the
rest of the world, for untold centuries? In other words, do the Jews believe that the world owes them
Israel? The second question is does the world believe that we owe the Jews Israel?

I think that the answer to both these questions is „yes‟. And this leads to a third key question: do the
Jews feel they are securely in possession of Israel? Have they got Israel yet? Has the world paid its
debt? If the answer to that is „no‟, then I must accept uncritically whatever Jews, Israelis or Zionists
may say or do. And that includes prominent Zionists like Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister,
who caused controversy last year by inviting the Jews of France to move en masse to Israel.11 His
  A site „informing the world that all Jews do not support the Zionist state called „Israel‟, and that to equate traditional
Judaism with Zionism endangers Jews‟ accessed 30/1/05
  „Adherents of Zionism believed that the Jewish people had an inherent and inalienable right to Palestine. Religious
Zionists stated this in biblical terms, referring to the divine promise of the land to the tribes of Israel. Secular Zionists
relied more on the argument that Palestine alone could solve the problem of Jewish dispersion and virulent anti-
Semitism. Weizmann stated in 1930 that the needs of 16 million Jews had to be balanced against those of 1 million
Palestinian Arabs: “The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate have definitely lifted [Palestine] out of the context of the
Middle East and linked it up with the world-wide Jewish problem....The rights which the Jewish people has been
adjudged in Palestine do not depend on the consent, and cannot be subjected to the will, of the majority of its present
inhabitants.”„, accessed 30/1/05
   „In the late 19th century, the rise of religious and racist anti-Semitism led to a resurgence of pogroms in Russia and
Eastern Europe, shattering promises of equality and tolerance. This stimulated Jewish immigration to Palestine from
Europe.‟, accessed 30/1/05
    [A] boarder from the nearby Mekor Israel school was stabbed in the chest as he reached the first of a row of
ornamental boulders in the same street. | His suspected assailant, a 32-year-old man of Tunisian and Algerian origin
justification was what he described as a „wild‟ spread of anti-Semitism in France, which leads to a
further question: to what extent is anti-Semitism caused or aggravated by Israeli actions in
Palestine, and conversely is it a continuation of the historic hatred and suspicion of Jews
worldwide? If the latter is closer to the reality, the world can hardly expect Israel to stay within any
designated borders, even those of 1967 which would gain them international approval and support.

A report on the Israeli economy says that immigration to Israel has been falling12, but large numbers
of refugees from hardship continue to arrive. Perhaps this is a contributory cause of resistance to
leaving illegal settlements, particularly if these are on better land than the sparsely populated desert
regions. I admit I do not know enough about the ecological setting of Israel. But matters such as the
economy and the ecology become more relevant once one moves away from the crude politics of
„whose side are you on?‟ Make both sides blameless, take responsibility for attitudes and history, be
aware of continuing racism and one begins to see beyond anti-Zionism to the many contributory
factors to conflict in the Middle East, and thus to what needs to be tackled to make a peaceful future
possible. There is work to do.

To begin with, and reluctantly because I‟ve always dismissed such groups as beneath contempt, I
have to know more about modern racism and neo-fascism, and in particular the British National
Party and why they are pro-Palestine now. This is a prelude to exploring how anti-Semitism or
more correctly Judaeo-phobia maybe brought to an end. Of course, I recognise that other racial and
religious groups have been persecuted in the past and this continues. People have been killed for
being the wrong kind in greater numbers than in the Holocaust and some racial groups have even
disappeared utterly from the face of the earth. I also realise that many Jews, surely the majority, are
secure and settled in their native or adopted countries. But it intrigues me that two highly successful
men I heard speak on the radio recently: Professor Steven Rose13 and Jonathan Miller14, are atheists
but still Jewish, a part of their identity which even for them is problematic. The final question is „Is
a sense of common humanity possible – or will there always be some “Other” to gang up against in
order to know who we are?‟

now held for several attacks, cried “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as he lunged forward with a knife hidden in a plastic
bag. | Israel Ifrah, 18, is making a good recovery after two operations. But his encounter with apparent religious hatred
was almost certainly one of the more vivid examples that drove Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, to speak of a
“wild” spread of anti-Semitism in France. | Mr Sharon‟s remarks, and especially his suggestion that France‟s 600,000
Jews should immediately leave for Israel, enraged the French government and opposition alike. They also inspired rare
agreement between Jewish and Muslim leaders, who considered them at best unhelpful, at worst inflammatory. Colin
Randall, „Sharon‟s words strike at France‟s heart‟ Telegraph, July 24, 2004 accessed 30/1/05
   Immigration to Israel, long a key driver of the country‟s economy, has fallen sharply amid worsening violence in the
region and deepening recession. | The number of new immigrants fell to 15,000 in the first half of 2002, down 27%
from the corresponding period of 2001, the Central Bureau of Statistics said. | The greatest slowdown was in arrivals
from the former Soviet republics, which almost halved to 8,300 to account for 56% of all newcomers. | But immigration
from crisis-hit Argentina rose sharply, reaching 2,500 people from 687 the year before. | Arrivals from Europe were
46% lower at 7,600 although immigration from both France and the UK increased. accessed 30/1/05
   „In August, Steven Rose, who is Jewish, publicly renounced his entitlement to Israeli residence and citizenship. At
times, he and Hilary can make the boycott sound almost beyond criticism. It has generated important debates, they say.
It has put pressure on an unjust government. It has Palestinian support: "It is rather touching," says Hilary, "to have the
chancellor of Bir Zeit [the main Palestinian university] write to you." Finally, the boycott has reasserted the important
right of people to challenge Israel without being anti-semitic.‟,2763,858360,00.html

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