Whenever one hears arguments against apartheid that focus on Israel’s Palestinian citizens, it is fundamental to reconnect their history with the broader Palestinian story of which they are an inseparable part. It is disingenuous at best to focus on one subset of the Palestinian population that through historical accident, great bravery in the face of Jewish violence, and/or co-existence with dozens of laws that discriminate against them on the basis of their ethnicity alone, has managed to carve out lives in a state that defines itself without them, and that would love to have them gone.
Zionist thinkers themselves have done an extraordinary job of establishing the link between Israel’s Palestinian citizens’ history and that of its apartheid practices in the occupied Palestinian territories, a history easily overlooked by Israel’s current defenders. These wide-ranging records make clear the manner in which Jewish ethnocracy constitutes a single regime over a fractured Palestinian society, no matter how the specific rights are distributed. For more on this hierarchy of rights, see this previous post.
Here I want to share an article written by Joseph Weitz, Director of the Department of Land and Afforestation of the Jewish National Fund, and chief member of Ben-Gurion’s Transfer Committee tasked with the issue of population transfer, less euphemistically known by the euphemism ‘ethnic cleansing’, of Palestine’s Palestinians in the pre-state and early-state years. He writes in Davar newspaper on September 29, 1967, just three months into Israel’s now 44-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza:
“The first problem is understood by all and needs no explanations. . . . the need to sustain the character of a state which will henceforth be Jewish, and obviously in the near future, by the majority of its inhabitants, with a non-Jewish minority limited to fifteen percent. I reached this fundamental conclusion already as early as 1940, concerning which it is entered in my diary as follows:
“Among ourselves it must be clear that there is no place in the country for both people’s together. . . With the Arabs we shall not achieve our aim of being an independent people in this country. The only solution is Eretz Israel, at least the west part of Eretz Israel without Arabs. . . and there is no other way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, transfer all of them, not one village or tribe should remain, and the transfer must aim at Iraq, Syria, and even Transjordan. . . There is no other alternative.”
From this perspective a solution of transfer was then suggested which was advocated by B. Katznelson, Y. Vulkani, and M. Ussishkin, all of them now deceased; initial investigations were undertaken to help neutralise this concept concretely. After (some) years, consequent to the UN decision to partition the country, the War of Independence broke out to our great happiness, and in its course a double miracle took place: a regional victory and the escape of the Arabs. In the Six Day War only one great miracle took place: a tremendous territorial victory but the majority of the population of the liberated territories remained ‘fixed’ to their places, which can cause the destruction of the foundations of our state.”
This passage is filled with remarkable content that reflects an all-encompassing vision of establishing an ethnic-based rather than race-based apartheid regime in British Mandate Palestine. But I want to focus on just a few points:
- Extremely influential Zionists from Ben-Gurion to Weitz to Allon to Livni to Lieberman have always seen the Palestinians as a group that needed to be minimized vis-a-vis the Jewish population. This has been true from the earliest years of Zionism.
- Transfer (ethnic cleansing) featured prominently in Zionist thought, as above, and action, as Benny Morris, Nur Masalha, Ilan Pappe, and others have documented. Moreover, the Zionist leadership was well aware of the rights-oriented sensitivity of this matter and sought since before Israel was established to “neutralise the concept concretely.”
- Among important segments of the Jewish leadership, the War of Independence “broke out to our great happiness” and accomplished both a “regional victory” over additional, non-UN-sanctioned territory but also the “double miracle” of Arab flight, much of which at the hands of Jewish paramilitary groups.
- Unfortunately, for these thinkers, “only one great miracle took place” in 1967 and the Palestinians refused to leave their land after Israel’s “tremendous territorial victory” (Editor’s question: hasn’t this war always been sold as one of necessary self-defense? How quickly does existential self-defense morph into “tremendous territorial victory”? About three months in Weitz’s case—at most.).
- This passage shows very clearly how the Zionist relationship to Palestinians has been conceived, through various wars and periods, as one of maintaining Jewish privilege and life over and against a Palestinian underclass. This conception of Palestinian personhood and rights does not vary across Palestinian subgroups, even if the specific rights they have differ, and it links the Jewish treatment of Palestinians during 1948 through to 1967 and today into one apartheid structure with more complexity (and militarized brutality) than we saw in South Africa.
On this last point, I want to buttress the argument with a powerful image I saw today, which captures better than anything I’ve seen how rights are distributed on the basis of ethnicity and it’s intersection with a history of ethnic conflict. These maps were produced by Arena of Speculation, an interesting new initiative by a group of spatial thinkers: