The Palestinian Hope
By Dan Lieberman
Yasser Arafat formed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in an attempt to liberate the Palestinians from what he perceived as gross injustices and persecution. Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and oppressive tactics facilitated the Palestinians to embrace their common language, culture and history and to regain their rights. Israel's oppressive policies forged a Palestinian national identity.
A series of conferences predicted the emergence of a viable Palestine state. A series of failed negotiations thwarted that effort and a two-state solution has not been obtainable. For this reason, a subdued and struggling path towards Palestinian national liberation, led mostly by Hamas, has been re-established. This struggle, despite the confusing propaganda, intends to unite Moslem and Christian Palestinians from Gaza, West Bank and Israel and transform present Israel into a new democratic state, where Palestinians govern equally with Israeli Jews, and in which all will have a single national identity and the same rights.
Meanwhile, the original concept of creating a homeland for the Jewish people has been stalled and diverted into creating a nationalist and militarist nation that has more recently become a land for those seeking economic improvement and for those imposing extreme religious views. Similar to the Puritan experience in coming to America for religious expression and self-determination, and then suppressing the Native American population and creating a business-like Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Zionist experience in coming to Palestine for religious expression and self-determination has created a Mediterranean Sea Colony that suppresses the indigenous people and seems mainly interested in business for a ruling elite. Israel offers an appearance of transition from intended liberation for a people to an unintended colonial enterprise for several cliques, which leads to fundamental questions.
If so, can it succeed and what will be the result
Can present day Israel be characterized as a colonial settlement?
History provides clues to answer these questions. Unraveling the clues indicates what might happen.
Wars of Liberation
Wars of liberation have no time limitation. If a portion of the oppressed population has sufficient incentive to continually fight, history shows its war of liberation can eventually succeed.
French entry into North Africa in 1830 slowly shaped the Algerians into recognizing their sovereign rights. Despite, France's offer of citizenship to Algerians, the Algerians proceeded to wage a successful war of independence. On July 3, 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle declared Algeria to be an independent nation. Almost all of the 1,025,000 French settlers (pied-noirs) left Algeria.
Displacement or colonization of an indigenous population, followed by a severe oppression, almost always forges a strong national identity in people who have common language, customs, culture, social outlook and history. Add a subjugation leading to total destruction and the thought of liberation explodes into an active war for liberation. The present Palestinian struggle contains elements which drive that struggle to a war for independence.
Arafat realized that the promise of independence could not be easily fulfilled and a catastrophe awaited his people. This revelation shaped Hamas, who has shown in actions and statements, that it is renewing what it considers a Palestinian war for liberation. To most Palestinians, national liberation promises a single democratic state with equality for all in the previous British Mandate. Israel responds with a claim it is fighting terrorist groups. Israel's actions that destroy humanitarian infrastructure of schools, orphanages and welfare, close clinics, and attack Gaza and the West Bank demonstrate that Israel is fighting a national liberation movement.
There is no question that the present Israeli government is severely oppressing the Palestinian people. The charge of severe oppression is well documented, well accepted and beyond debate. Another question is whether the original Zionist experience, although it might have been sensible and well-intentioned, has deteriorated into a colonial enterprise that fuels a war of liberation? A book can be written on that topic. A short and methodical analysis can provide a satisfactory response to the question.
From Zionism to Colonialism
Zionism is portrayed as a mass movement by the Jewish people. History contradicts that depiction. The original Zionists of the late 1800s and early 1900s were a small group of European intellectuals who sponsored a variety of competing Zionist movements. They derived their convictions from personal and intellectual experiences, which each sincerely believed either represented or should represent world Jewry. Not many of the 11.2 million Jews of that time supported them – and for good reasons – Jews were being emancipated and integrated into the democratic atmosphere of the new century, rapidly moving to recognition in science, education, literature, arts, law and government. The Zionist messages impeded their advances. Zionism made nations question the loyalty of their Jewish citizens. Zionism reinforced a race-baiting theory that the Jews engaged in international conspiracies.
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"The 19th century emancipation movements liberated west and middle European Jews and permitted them to integrate into European society. The Russian Jews, who had major problems, didn't consider Zionism as a relief for their difficulties. Between 1881 and 1914, 2.5 million Jews migrated from Russia--2 million to America and only 30,000 to Palestine (ED: 15,000 returned to Russia). Another 500,000 went to the large capitals of Western Europe."
Bernard Avishai, The Tragedy of Zionism
By 1914, the Zionist experiment, due to the low number of immigrants to Palestine, seemed finished. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the Balfour Declaration, and the creation of a British Mandate for Palestine revived the Zionist mission. However the entry of Jews into the Mandate was not entirely due to faith in a Zionist cause. The British Mandate created political and socio-economic power vacuums in Palestine. English speaking Jews and East European settlers, not all of whom were driven by a Zionist conviction, filled the power vacuums. In 1920, after the Jewish population had grown to 60,000 in a Palestine composed of 585,000 Arabs, a reporter noted that earlier settlers felt uncomfortable with the later immigrants. They were less willing to work at agriculture and had no capability to live off the available land.