One of the great disappointments of the past two years has been the “collapse” of the “left” or the so-called “peace camp” in Israel. People who supported Ehud Barak, have become disillusioned about the possibility for negotiations. Following Barak’s lead, they see “separation” from the Palestinians, including the building of a separation fence, as the solution du jour,
In this article by Professor Menachem Klein, the author points out the many fallacies in this thinking.
Klein’s article is a play on a famous tract by the father of Revisionist Zionism, Vladimer Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky led a group that split from the main Zionist congress, and preached a militant form of Zionism. The leaders of the Revisionists in pre-WWII Palestine founded two terrorist organizations – the Irgun, and the even more extreme Lehi.
After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 the Labor Zionists, led by Ben Gurion nearly came to a civil war with the Revisionists and the Irgun, led by Menahem Begin. The latter decided to stand down, but his defiance led to many years in the political wilderness. The Labor party led Israel for nearly thirty years. In 1977, Begin and his Likud party came to power in what Israelis called the “mahapach,” the great upset. The political brains behind this revolution was a young, ambitious politician by the name of Ariel “Arik” Sharon.
From representing a small minority of the Zionist movement, Jabotinsky’s revisionism has come to totally dominate political thinking and action in contemproary Israel. To understand what is going on in Israel today, it is essential to understand the political philosophy and ideology of Jabotinsky.
I am almost ashamed to admit that for many years I never read Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall. I read about it many times. And I also read an intellectual biography of Jabotinsky by a Labor Zionist, Raphaella Bilski Ben-Hur, which is a very flattering portrait of the man, and squarely positions him as liberal political thinker.
But over the years, I’ve learned that second hand is exactly that. So I recently read what Jabotinsky had to say. And what I read was an eye opener. I strongly recommend that you read it as well.
If you read the first paragraph, Jabotinsky does in fact seem quite “liberal.” After all, he opposes ethnic cleansing:
“I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality [between Jews and Arabs] and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs.”
But immediately we see this oath is conditional:
“But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This depends, not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs relationship to Zionism.”
From the get go, Jabotinsky places the onus of the conflict 100% on the Arabs. This particular approach continues to this very day. Of course, Jabotinsky quickly tells us that he has 0% hope that in fact the Arab’s will ever accept Zionism. Why?
“..there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country.”
This is a fascinating statement. First, Jabotinsky clearly admits the deep attachment the “indigenous inhabitants,” i.e. the Palestinians, have to their land. In fact, Jabotinsky even admires and praises them for this attachment:
“We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our Arabo-philes comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.”
How many times have I heard Zionist apologists saying how the Arabs under Jewish rule are so much better off than other Arabs, so “why are they complaining?” Jabotinsky understood the arrogance inherent in this thinking.
So if the wonderful, liberal Jabotinsky conceded that Palestinians viewed the land as their own, and in fact rightfully and justly so, then how did he justify taking the land away from them?
“…if anyone objects that this point of view is immoral, I answer: It is not true; either Zionism is moral and just or it is immoral and unjust. But that is a question that we should have settled before we became Zionists. Actually we have settled that question, and in the affirmative. We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmet agree with it or not.”
In other words, because Zionism is just and moral, it can do anything to achieve its means, and still remain just and moral, even if what it does is steal the land away from someone else. And make no mistake, that is exactly the intention of Zionism according to Jabotinsky. He points out the wisdom of an Arab editor, who clearly understood the goals of Zionism, maybe even better than Jabotinsky’s fellow Zionists:
“The [Arab] editor of the paper is even willing to believe that the absorptive capacity of Eretz Israel is very great, and that it is possible to settle many Jews without affecting one Arab. [nevertheless he opposes Zionism.] ‘Just that is what the Zionists want, and what the Arabs do not want. In this way the Jews will, little by little, become a majority and, ipso facto, a Jewish state will be formed and the fate of the Arab minority will depend on the goodwill of the Jews. But was it not the Jews themselves who told us how pleasant being a minority was? No misunderstanding exists. Zionists desire one thing freedom of immigration and it is Jewish immigration that we do not want.’”
“The logic employed by this editor is so simple and clear that it should be learned by heart and be an essential part of our notion of the Arab question…Colonization itself has its own explanation, integral and inescapable, and understood by every Arab and every Jew with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible. This is in the nature of things. To change that nature is impossible.”
One side note here. Next time someone criticizes me for referring to settlement activity as colonialism, I will quote Jabotinsky. Because Jabotinsky clearly says that Zionism is Colonialism and thats a good thing!
Since Jabotinsky believed the Arabs would justifiably reject Zionism’s “peaceful” colonial goals, he argued there was only one way for Zionism to succeed:
“All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.”
“I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.”
Arik Sharon started his political life on the Labor Zionist side of the map. So there are those who delude themselves into thinking that Sharon might in fact reach a true compromise to divide the land with the Arabs, as an equal partner. But Sharon is a true disciple of Jabotinsky, as he makes clear in all his actions. For Sharon, there can be no division – the whole land is ours (and the Revisionist want all of Mandatory Palestine, which includes modern day Jordan). At best, if the Arabs totally surrender, they will be granted the “promise of not being expelled” and “national autonomy” (what “equality” means in a colonialist context is hard to fathom). But until the Palestinians totally capitulate and absolutely accept Zionist ownership of the land, Sharon has built an iron wall of Israeli tanks and guns.