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Millions of activists have come to see an organic link between the occupation and colonization of Palestine and diverse and pressing global issues ranging from the war on Iraq to global poverty. How did we reach a point where Palestinian flags dominate anti-war rallies and the demonstrations against US-dominated world financial institutions? Why do these activists see the hypocrisy of American foreign policy with regard to Israel/Palestine as the Achilles’ heel that might allow a successful challenge to its hegemony? How did we get to the point where mainstream churches and more than 30 American campuses have active divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel? Why do the US and Israel stand isolated in international fora, and in public opinion around the world?

The roots of Zionism

To answer these questions, we must first understand the history of Zionism and the roots of the Israeli/Palestinian conundrum and then look to how we might advance towards a durable and just peace in Israel/Palestine, which is a key to peace and justice elsewhere.

In early 1840, the British imperial government hired Lieutenant-Colonel George Gawler, a founder of the British penal colonies in Australia, to look into the feasibility of Jewish colonization in Palestine. In 1845 Gawler published Tranquilization of Syria and the East: Observations and Practical Suggestions, in Furtherance of the Establishment of Jewish Colonies in Palestine, the Most Sober and Sensible Remedy for the Miseries of Asiatic Turkey. In 1852 British officials founded the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine. This society later evolved into the Palestine Fund, the first concrete modern Zionist project.

Pioneering Zionist colonies were first established in Israel in the 1880s. The movement gained steam in 1896 with the publication of Die Judenstaat by Theodore Herzl, a Hungarian-Jewish journalist, and the formation of the World Zionist Organization. Today, Zionists shy away from the use of the term colonization but early Zionists like Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky spoke openly of Jewish colonization. Jabotinsky, whose picture and philosophy dominate the ruling Likud party in Israel, had this to say in 1923: «Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall that the native population cannot break through.»

Evolving methods

Zionists have been skilled at evolving their methods over the years. There were three important shifts in strategy since the movement began in the late nineteenth century. The first was a change in patronage. The shift from British to American protection was most noticeable between the 1930s and the 1960s. The second was the acceptance of Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization as groups to negotiate with on establishing autonomy for Palestinian in the truncated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The third strategic shift was the idea of a Palestinian statelet comprised of the disconnected ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza, not more than a fifth of historic Palestine, occupied by Israel in 1967, a la South African Bantustans.

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French poster ( 1976 )

Yet, despite these strategic shifts, today’s Zionist programme is unwavering in its original goals, goals that are shared by all major factions in Israeli politics (Likud, Labour, Shas and other religious parties). Its consensual programme includes: the rejection of complete withdrawal from all areas illegally occupied in 1967; the rejection of refugees’ right to return to their homes and lands; the rejection of concepts of full sovereignty or self-determination for Palestinians, and a refusal to change Israel’s basic laws that discriminate against non-Jews.

Unchanging goal

Thus, while tactics may change, the goals of political Zionism are unchanging: demand for Jewish Zionist control and maximum land with minimum Palestinians (maximum geography with minimum demography). Between 1947 and 1949, this was accomplished by outright removal of 70% of the Palestinian natives in the area that was to become Israel by 1949. More than 530 Palestinian villages and towns were completely depopulated and erased off the face of the new Israeli map. Even Israeli Zionist historians like Benny Morris now acknowledge this.

According to most historians and declassified material, Israel initiated the 1967 war to acquire more land, some of it for bargaining and some for strategic and economic reasons. Immediately, a new phase of colonization was started in the occupied areas in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). A total of 450,000 colonial settlers have moved into these areas over the past 39 years (while 2% have been withdrawn from Gaza over the past year an additional 4% has been added in other areas).

American friends

Gatekeepers in the American media ensure that political Zionism is not questioned. The only debate allowed in pages of The New York Times or on major television broadcasts is between different brands and strategies of Zionism. On the other hand, we see literally millions of people in America and around the world, using the internet, reading between the lines, and questioning the Zionist narrative. We see thousands of Jews reach the same conclusion as Gilad Atzmon, the musican and writer, Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, and Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthopologist: that political Zionism is the problem. They articulate an optimistic post-Zionist discourse based on universal justice and human rights. They pose the question: If apartheid was the problem in South Africa, why is it a solution in Israel/Palestine?

Those who advocate political Zionism cannot defend it on its own merits so they focus instead on diverting attention and distorting reality. The best example of this is ignoring the cause of the disease and focusing attention to one of its many symptoms: violence of the natives against the colonial settlers (but not the vastly more deadly violence of the colonizers on native people). The idea is that if we vilify the natives and make them look subhuman, we will not be criticized for killing them and taking their lands.

This is an old strategy to justify the pillaging. It was used by the French government in Algeria, by European colonizers in the Americas, by apartheid South Africa, by the Americans in Vietnam, and in hundreds of other places were Western economic and colonial interests came in conflict with the rights of indigenous people.

Israeli apartheid

Zionism not only supposes that Jewish people (including converts) enjoy ethnic, national or historical rights to Palestine but that these rights are superior to the rights of the native population. Unlike South Africa where black labour was needed, Zionism wanted the natives out. Simply put, the goal of Zionism was to create a state by, for, and of «the Jewish people everywhere» to the exclusion of most of the native people and then ensure that the minority that remained at all odds is not treated equally.

Amnesty International reported: «In Israel several laws are explicitly discriminatory. These can be traced back to Israel’s foundation in 1948 which, driven primarily by the racist genocide suffered by Jews in Europe during the Second World War, was based on the notion of a Jewish state for Jewish people». Some of Israel’s laws reflect this principle and as a result discriminate against non-Jews, particularly Palestinians who had lived on the lands for generations. Various areas of Israeli law discriminate against Palestinians. The Law of Return, for instance, provides automatic Israeli citizenship for Jewish immigrants, whereas Palestinian refugees who were born and raised in what is now Israel are denied even the right to return home. Other statutes explicitly grant preferential treatment to Jewish citizens in education, public housing, health, and employment.

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Israel and South Africa developed together their armament program and their communication services

Zionism represented a colonial British venture later taken up as one of many possible responses to discrimination in Europe. Other responses to discrimination like socialism and humanism were indeed available and had at least equal strength. Zionism can be seen as 19th century-style chauvinistic, ethnocentric – mostly Ashkenazi (central European)– nationalism response to prevalent European chauvinistic ethnocentric nationalisms. It is in that sense an assimilation by some Jews to a now outdated European colonial period.

In this sense, it is not surprising that the Zionist lobby has been pushing the US to a neo-colonial era perpetuating these outmoded forms of human relations. In a society that values equality and separation of Church and state, a concerted media campaign justifies «preemptive» invading of other countries, religious apartheid, sectarianism, ethnic cleansing, and putting walls around ghettoized «undesired» people. Zionist apologists do not find it contradictory that they talk about equality in America and Europe but support discrimination and exclusion of Palestinian refugees (for being not Jewish) in Palestine/Israel. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to «think tanks» in our nation’s capital to promote bankrupt ideas.

The relentless efforts of many to defend apartheid and separation can only be described as symptoms of cognitive dissonance at best and racism at worse. In their Orwellian world, occupation becomes «security», a relentless war of colonization and occupation becomes «advancing democracy», a «peace process», an apartheid wall becomes a «security fence», being anti- or post-Zionist is morphed into being anti-Jewish, and «moderation» becomes a code word for shredding international law and basic human rights.

Our demands

In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a historic document. It articulated Israel’s persistent violations of international and humanitarian laws and conventions and called upon «international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.»

The call stated that: «these non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting,

- Protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.»

We propose that global civil society take this call seriously and build a coalition open to all people for a global Movement Against Zionism or a global Movement Against Israeli Apartheid. This would have merit on its own for bringing peace with justice to all people regardless of their religion or ethnicity. It would also be a significant contribution to exposing American government-led programs of domination and hegemony in the Middle East, most aptly exposed by its support of Zionism.