Nationalism, transnationalism and concepts of citizenship
Speech at the University of Chicago Nov 10 2004
Thank you for inviting me. Here is my own bit of personal history grabbling with identity. I was born near Bethlehem to a Palestinian Christian family of Nebatean/ (Southern Canaanitic extraction), raised under occupation. I felt privileged that both my parents were educators (teachers and later school principles) and instilled in me a love for learning and challenging self-imposed mental chains. As a person I have and continue to evolve. In working on my book “Sharing the Land of Canaan”, I have also evolved in so many ways. My initial thoughts on Arab nationalism and anti-Zionism have evolved over the past few years towards support for concepts of citizenship rather than nationalism and concepts of a post-Zionist (as opposed to an anti-Zionist) discourse. In speaking out on these issues I have obviously received lots of Western education (some 25 years) and is influenced by my training in biology especially courses and seminars I took and taught on areas ranging from anthropology to sociobiology.
You heard the dominant discourse in US mainstream media about the issue of Israel/Palestine summarized by Ms. Bayefsky. It is a privelage to talk to you briefly about the Palestinian narrative, the silencing of which partially explains why the US government votes against the will of some 150 countries on issues of the Middle East. It partially explains why the US government constinues to give 40% of its foreign aid budget to Israel with a population of 0.1% of world population. It partially explains why the US public is not really aware that the US government has been thus the major obstacle to peace (I encourage you to read Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle or Aruri Dishonest Broker). It explains why we have an Oslo accord and a road map both devoid of International law and human rights.
Palestinian and Zionist Narratives clashed early on as Zionism emerged as an organized political movement in the 19th Century. Just for clarification, throughout my talk, when I use the term Zionism, I refer to political Zionism not spiritual or cultural Zionism because that is the discourse that has been dominant over the past 100 years. We read the definition of Zionism on the website of Israeli foreign affairs office today:
The Zionist movement aimed to solve the ‘Jewish problem,’ the problem of a perennial minority, a people subjected to repeated pogroms and persecution, a homeless community whose alienism was underscored by discrimination wherever Jews settled. Zionism aspired to deal with this situation by affecting a return to the historical homeland of the Jews - Land of Israel ... The Zionist national solution was the establishment of a Jewish national state with a Jewish majority in the historical homeland, thus realizing the Jewish people’s right to self-determination
Let us go back 100 years to read what Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of revisionist Zionism which is now dominant in Israel and represented by political parties such as Likud and the National Religious party. Here is Jabotinsky in 1904 explaining the need for Zionism:
It is inconceivable from a physical point of view, that a Jew born to a family of pure Jewish blood over several generations can become adapted to the spiritual outlook of a German or a Frenchman. A Jew brought up among Germans may assume German customs, German words. He may be wholly imbued with that German fluid but the nucleus of his spiritual structure will always remain Jewish, because his blood, his body, his physical-racial type are Jewish ... And a man whose body is Jewish can not possibly mold within himself the spirit of a Frenchman ... It is impossible for a man to become assimilated with people whose blood is different than his own
Again this is Jabotinsky whose picture graces the meetings of Likud party and Ariel Sharon’s office. Let me now read to you what Adolph Hitler had to say on the same subject some 25 years later (this is from his book Mein Kempf):
Yet I could no longer very well doubt that the objects of my study were not Germans of a special religion, but a people in themselves; for once I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people, which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans. And whatever doubts I may still have nourished were finally dispelled by the attitude of a portion of the Jews themselves. Among them there was a great movement, quite extensive in Vienna, which came out sharply in confirmation of the national character of the Jews: this was the Zionists.
Four years later in 1933, a memo from the Zionist Federation of Germany to the Nazi regime stated:
Zionism believes that a rebirth of national life, such as is occurring in German life through adhesion to Christian and national values, must also take place in the Jewish national group
Now the Zionist movement, rightly or wrongly put the interests of Zionism sometimes ahead of other interests. Here is what Ben Gurion (who was the first prime minister of Israel and whose party, the Labor Party used to dominate Israeli politics) said to a Labor Zionist Meeting in 1938:
If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel
Ofcourse Zionists knew what this program entails. Here is Jabotinsky 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 which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy. Not only must this be so, it is so whether we admit it or not. What does the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate mean for us? It is the fact that a disinterested power committed itself to create such security conditions that the local population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts.
Here again is Ben Gurion from his published diaries written well before the end of the first world war and the establishment of the state of Israel:
it must be clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples ... If the Arabs leave it, the country will become wide and spacious for us ... The only solution is a Land of Israel, at least a western land of Israel i.e. Palestine since Transjordan is the eastern portion, without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises ... There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer all of them, save perhaps for Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one tribe. The transfer must be directed at Iraq, Syria, and even Transjordan. For this goal funds will be found ... And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution.
Now with regard to Palestinian identity, I would recommend Rashid Khalidi’s book by that name. Briefly, Palestinian local nationalism evolved in context with interaction (some times negative interactions) with regional nationalism (Pan-Arab or Pan-Islamic nationalism) in a way similar to say Algerian nationalism (or for that matter Kenyan nationalism). As in Algerian nationalism, struggle against a colonial power strengthens and cements local nationalism at the expense of regional nationalism. But Palestinians were also unique in not only struggling against such powers (Ottoman, British, and later Israeli), there was a process of transformation of their country to a Jewish state (in 1907 80% of the population was Muslim, 15% Christian, 5% Jewish and other).
The self-proclaimed Jewish state has no constitution but a set of basic laws that include key lawssuch as giving automatic citizenship to any Jew (including converts) while preventing Christians and Muslim refugees from returning. They include absentee property laws which allow the state to take over land (including from the remaining Palestinains) and turning it for use by the Jewish agency, a supra national entity. This created the unusal situation of having Palestinian citizens of the state (called Israeli Arabs) who are by law present absentees. Israel is the only country in the world which recognizes its lands as belonging to a self proclaimed Jewish nation (include Jews around the world). The JNF says on its web site is that the JNF is “the custodian of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners, Jewish people everywhere.”An Israeli Jewish citizen once asked that under nationality he would be listed not as Jewish (vs Arab) but as “Israeli”. This was denied and Israel later removed the category of natyionality which used to be listed on the national ID card.
My book provide the full citations for all this and addresses some of the mythologies put in the way of a rational solution in the Land of Canaan that would replace the antiquated concepts of ethnocentric or religious nationalism with the concept of citizenship. I argue that if Apartheid was the problem in South Africa, why is it considered by some to be a solution in Israel/Palestine; us here them there as Barak and Rabin advocated.
I review research done by Israeli historians which show how between November 1947 (UN partition resolution) and 1949, 530 Palestinian villages and towns were depopulated. Some 75% of the native Palestinians were driven from their homes and lands. If you go on the website palestineremembered.com you will see ample evidence from Israeli and independent sources that half the Palestinian refugees were created before May 1948 when we are told Israel was declared promoting “Arab armies to attack”. Palestinians were literally being driven into the sea in Jaffa long before that fateful date of Israel’s declaration. Now 2/3rds of the nearly 9 million Palestinians are refugees or displaced people. I also review sociological and demographic data that show that Palestinians can return without displacing Jews; most Israelis live in the three Urban areas and most of the land the Palestinians left is still vacant. I review ecological and other data explaining why a two state solution is a ruse.