[This article was published under the pen name Israel Morr in Matzpen 38, October 1967. Translated by the author.]
History cannot bear being ignored, and whoever tries to ignore it ends up being hit by it in the face.
For years we, members of Matzpen, have insisted repeatedly that the State of Israel is a Zionist state — it came into being as a result of the Zionist project and is an instrument for extending and expanding it. We were not playing with words or trying to attach labels. Understanding the nature of Israel is a prerequisite for understanding the essence of the Israeli-Arab conflict. From the proposition that Israel is a Zionist state it follows that the Israeli-Arab conflict is not an ordinary conflict between nations but a direct extension of the conflict between Zionism and the Arabs — which is to say, an inevitable and unbridgeable conflict between a colonizing movement and the indigenous population living in and around the area in which the process of colonization is taking place.
From this we concluded that resolution of the conflict would be impossible without a profound revolution that would change the character of Israel and transform it from a Zionist state into a normal state, that would be solely a political expression of the Hebrew nation living in it and would cut itself off from Zionism and the “Zionist vision”. Such a state would not be in essential and irreconcilable opposition to its Arab environment, and would eventually be able to integrate into a socialist union of this environment.
A Spurious Death Certificate
We therefore considered it very important to analyze the foundations of Zionism and to struggle against its ideology. We regarded this as laying the necessary theoretical foundations for a revolutionary struggle against Zionism.
(Let us note here parenthetically: we rejected as superficial and inadequate the view of the Israeli Communist Party, which concentrates on attacking Zionism’s ties to imperialism and its hostile attitude to the Soviet Union. Of course, we do not deny that Zionism has always collaborated with imperialism and was backed by it; this is a fact. But it is a grave error to concentrate on attacking a phenomenon without analyzing its roots. From such a conception of Zionism it would only be possible to draw one of two conclusions: either that Zionism is simply an “artifact” of imperialism, which supposedly created it at its own initiative, and that their relationship is confined to the former “obeying the orders” of the latter; or that Zionism is “generally OK”, except that it ought to change its foreign policy, and then everything would be fine. The first of the conclusions leads to gross political errors caused by misunderstanding the nature of the adversary; the second leads to compromise with Zionism.)
There were those who accused us of tilting at windmills: “True”, they said, “Zionism created the State of Israel, but this is past history; in what way is the Zionist nature of Israel pertinent today?” We pointed at the Law of Return as one example. But there were some who countered that in any case there was no mass Jewish immigration in recent years, and it was doubtful whether there would be such in the future — so the Law of Return is to a large extent a purely academic issue.
Indeed, the Law of Return is only an example. But, admittedly, in normal times, when in practice there were no decisively important issues on the agenda but only day-to-day ones, it was possible to be deluded into the belief that Zionism is no longer relevant, no more than a collection of dusty slogans without any connection to actual reality, which elderly leaders keep mouthing out of habit.
The truth is that Zionism was always much more than that; it was lying at the very foundations of the whole of Israel’s policy, and in the final analysis it was the motive or justification for innumerable deeds of the authorities. But when these deeds are small and routine, their Zionist common denominator is not too apparent. This was used by those who, for various reasons, did not wish to appear openly as Zionists, and attempted to disguise the closeness or rapprochement between them and the Zionists camp. They simply declared Zionism to be irrelevant, and issued it with a spurious death certificate.
Debate among Zionists
Then came the Six-Day War [of June 1967] and resurrected the “dead”. The debate taking place in Israel about the future of the Occupied Territories concerns inevitably the nature of Israel and the Zionist claim that the Jews have a “right” over the Palestinian territory. Thus the most fundamental principles of Zionism are back on the agenda.
For years the leaders of all the Zionist parties — except Herut [led by Menachem Begin, it was the major right-wing political party in Israel from the 1940s until its formal merger with other parties to form the Likud in 1988 and an adherent of “Revisionist” (right-wing) Zionism] — had been declaring that they were “satisfied” with the status quo created following the 1948 war; they asserted repeatedly that they had no further territorial claims. But the annexationist claims raised following the Suez-Sinai war [of 1956], and more insistently following the Six-Day War, prove that in fact none of the Zionist currents have ever abandoned in principle the claim to the “entire Land of Israel”. The old disclaimers, repudiating any desire for territorial expansion, were motivated either by propagandist considerations (the wish to appear righteous in the eyes of the world) or by pragmatic readiness to accept the facts when there did not seem to be any practical prospect of gaining further territory. But when the prospect of annexations appears to be realistic, the fundamental, essential position of Zionism is exposed.
It is true that even now there are those in the Zionist camp who do not support annexations (except for the Arab part of Jerusalem, which no one in the Zionist camp argues against). In most cases, their argument for opposing annexation is also thoroughly Zionist: they refer to the “demographic peril”, the danger that extensive annexations would cause the State of Israel to lose its exclusively Jewish character. Those who use this argument would surely be happy to annex all the Occupied Territories, if there were some reasonable means for getting rid of the inhabitants of these territories.
But there are some Zionists who also put forward principled and ethical arguments against annexation. Amos Oz, in an article entitled “The Minister of Defence and the Lebensraum” (Davar, August 22, 1967), comes out against the horrifying overtones accompanying the annexationist orgy. The arguments citing Jewish “historical” rights over the “entire Land of Israel” are described by him as “hallucinations of a myth”. He asserts that territorial rights and political borders can only be based on the demographic principle: every people has a right over the territory it inhabits and in which it constitutes a majority. Any other principle is baseless.
Yitzhak Auerbach-Orpaz comes out vehemently (Ha’aretz literary section, September 8, 1967) against those intellectuals who encourage and whip up the nationalistic frenzy engulfing the multitude, instead of standing up against it. He condemns the immorality of annexing a territory against the wishes of its inhabitants, and points out the damage it would cause to the spiritual complexion of Israel itself: “So long as there exists one slave, I am not free; much less so when I am his master”.
Of course, these positions of Amos Oz, Yitzhak Orpaz, and others like them must be welcomed. It is encouraging to see that there are still some people not swept off their feet by the general murky tide. But the truth of the matter is that the arguments put forward by them can in no way stand up in the debate — so long as it is conducted on a Zionist basis. Because these arguments are valid not only against the annexations proposed at present but also against those implemented during and in consequence of the 1948 war, as well as against the initial Zionist claim over Palestine. Here are a few quotes from the polemics of supporters of annexation against the arguments of Oz and Orpaz (all emphases in the original):
This criterion, “who inhabits this piece of land today”, can in no way be the sole criterion. Because if Amos Oz would apply it, and it alone, Zionism has no justification at all.
If Amos Oz approves of the borders within which we existed so far because they have a demographic rationale, he should ask himself whether that demographic situation that determined the borders had always existed or was created in a colonizing process. Indeed, according to a demographic criterion we did not have, at the start of the realization of Zionism, any right over this country! The entire right followed from hallucinations of a myth. This is what the anti-Zionists have always claimed.
Nevertheless we were not prepared to accept a given demographic situation as the sole criterion. We did everything to alter the demographic situation. Is it permissible to do this? If it is not — there is no justification to our very existence here. If it is — there is nothing sacred about the borders determined by one specific military confrontation, and it is permissible to alter the demographic reality in other zones as well. (Ariel Renan, Davar, September 14, 1967).
There arises a question: do these words [of Yitzhak Orpaz] not apply to the conquests of Israel in the War of Independence? Is the annexation of Jaffa or Nazareth permissible, and that of Nablus and Jenin forbidden? Why? Is the Old City [of Jerusalem] less Arab [sic] than Ramleh in 1948? Was Nazareth more Jewish in 1948 than Nablus is in 1967? What is the difference in the degree of Arabness between Tulkarm and Umm al-Fahm? Is the date of their conquest the only thing that matters? (Avraham Kena’ani, Ha’aretz, 15 September 1967).
By the way, the fact that the Occupied Territories are inhabited by Arabs who are not delighted with Israeli rule is emphasized and stressed so assertively by the remonstrators that one wishes to ask them first of all whether they have noticed that within Israel’s former borders there have lived, and are living, Arabs for whom the Jewish state was not an outcome of free choice; and whether it is not right that the same moral principle of taking their view into consideration ought to apply to the whole of the State of Israel.
I do not ask this for the sake of mere polemics. From the whole substance of these remonstrators’ words and the tone of their arguments one can well perceive also the shaky foundation of our very right to be in this country, even in its former borders. I do not say that it is forbidden to discuss this right. No topic is taboo. But in this case, as in other cases, it ought to be clear what the discussion is about. (Nathan Alterman, Ma’ariv, September 15, 1967).
Who Is Right?
On this point, Nathan Alterman is right: it ought to be clear what the discussion is about. A consistent person can hold only one of the following two positions.
- Accepting the Zionist argumentation. According to this argumentation, the whole of the Land of Israel, not only Palestine of the British Mandate, but much beyond its borders, belongs to the entire Jewish people by virtue of a divine promise. There are, it is true, some Zionists who put forward other arguments, such as the fact that about two thousand years ago there existed in this country a Jewish state; but no sane person — except for a few Zionists — would take seriously this kind of argument as a basis for political and territorial rights. Likewise, there are those who put forward as an argument the age-old yearnings of Jews for the Land of Israel. This too is a ridiculous argument: the spiritual attachment of Jews to the Holy Land is undeniable — but yearnings are not grounds for ownership rights. The only non-ridiculous basis for the Zionist position is the promise of God to Abraham in the midst of the divided carcasses (Genesis, ch. xv), and other such revelations. The advantage of this basis is that it does not require recognition by other peoples of the alleged right. Divine right is in no need for human recognition.
- Rejecting absolutely the hallucinations of the Zionist myth. In this case the inescapable conclusion is that the entire Zionist project from the start (including the conquests of the 1948 war) was not based on any right.
We hold the latter position. In our opinion, the Jews as such have no special political right over Palestine. What we do recognize — and demand that the Arabs also recognize — is the right to self-determination of the Hebrew people (i.e., the Jews living in Israel).
Insofar as the debate revolves around “morality”, “justice”, and “historical rights,” the inescapable fact is that the Arab case is irrefutable: the Zionist colonization in Palestine was unjust and was not based on any true right.
Our criticism of Arab nationalism is that it gets stuck at the level of debate about justice and rights concerning a process that has taken place in the past, and is unable to provide a political solution to an existing problem.
A political solution requires recognition of the right of the Hebrew people to self-determination — not because this people has an alleged “ownership rights” over Palestine but because it exists here and cannot be extirpated. So long as the Arabs do not realize this, the problem will remain unsolved.
At the same time, it must be asserted that so long as the Hebrew people puts forward claims based on the Zionist argumentation, it will not be able to reach a settlement with the Arabs. The Zionist argumentation demands recognition de jure of the “rights” of colonization, which is unacceptable.
So long as Israel is a Zionist state, its conflict with the Arabs contains an outstanding element of a colonial conflict, which cannot be resolved except by a total and absolute defeat of one of the two sides, which means — in the present case — that it cannot be resolved at all.
Resolution of the conflict would only be made possible by a total break with Zionism. This cannot be achieved by ignoring the past and refusing to confront it but only by a full and frank settling of accounts, in a revolutionary way.
As for the question of the borders, it must be stressed that a complete resolution of the conflict will come about through integration of Israel in the Arab world, in the framework of a socialist union. In such a union the question of borders loses much of its sting, and becomes a secondary matter. Within a socialist union or federation, borders will not be determined by myths nor by merely demographic considerations. Demography is only one factor among others, such as economic efficiency, administrative convenience, and so on.
In any case, as far as we — as socialists and enemies of nationalism — are concerned, there is nothing sacred about any border: neither the borders of the [1947 UN] Partition Plan nor the [post-1949] Armistice lines; neither whatever border would be determined as a consequence of the Six-Day War nor any border that would result from a future war.