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Monday, October 03, 2005



The following is Walid Khalidi's introduction to From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948. Khalidi, Walid, ed., Washington: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987. IBSN 0-88728-155-9

On July 1, 1970, President Nixon of the United States outlined U.S. policy on Palestine. His only reference to the essential merits of the Palestine question was a declaration that the Arabs wanted to drive the Israelis into the sea. It is doubtful whether this declaration indicates the real opinion of the American President or the quality of information available to him in Washington. Less doubtful is that he considered it politically opportune to make it. That he should have done so reflects a peculiar and continuing state of mind on the part of the western public vis-a-vis the realities of the Palestine problem, which has been both the cause and effect of such cynically inaccurate statements on it as the one made by President Nixon.

Of course the essence of the Palestine problem is something quite different. Nor is there any mystery about it. The Palestine tragedy, for that is what it is, did not unfold in some obscure era of history, in an inaccessible frontier area of the world. It has been enacted in the twentieth century, within the life-span and under the observation of thousands of Western politicians, diplomats, administrators and soldiers, in a country, Palestine, well within reach of modern means of communication. Nor was it the spontaneous outcome of fortuitous circumstances and uncontrollable forces. It was initiated by deliberate acts of will. The major decisions which brought it about were taken in two Western capitals--London and Washington--by constitutional leaders, including the predecessors of President Nixon himself. These decisions were taken in the teeth of the existing realities in Palestine, and against both the agonised appeals of the Palestine Arabs and the warnings and counsels of Western expert observers. As for the Zionists, they acted from the beginning according to a twofold strategy of propaganda and implementation. This strategy was multifaceted and carefully orchestrated and was dominated by a single ultimate political goal: the establishment of a Jewish state. The Zionists were the initiators. But they were also, as they still are, the proteges of their Anglo-American sponsors and the emanations of their power, resources, and will.

The Palestine tragedy of which the current Middle East crisis is but the latest chapter--has, unlike most great upheavals in history, a specific starting point: the year 1897. In this year an international European Jewish political movement, the World Zionist Organization, meeting in its constituent congress at Basle, Switzerland, resolved in a euphemistically phrased programme to work towards the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian Arab soil. At the time of the Basle Congress 95% of the population of Palestine was Arab and 99% of its land was Arab owned. In excluding these realities from their ken, the Jewish leaders assembled at Basle were behaving in a spirit characteristic of their age and continent. This spirit was faultlessly captured in the recent remark of the American-bred Israeli Prime Minister Mrs. Golda Meir: "There was no such thing as a Palestinian people...It was not as though there was a Palestinian people considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist." Mrs. Meir's remark, which was in reference to the population of Palestine early in this century should not, however, be taken literally. Her denial was qualitative. Properly construed, it underlines the capacity of European colonisers in the hey-day of imperialism morally to outflank the issue of the rights of the indigenous populations, in the name of the White Man's Burden, or Lebensraum, or whatever. The Zionist refinement of the day was, however, in justifying their ambitions by means of the brilliantly absurd slogans of Divine Promise and Biblical Fulfilment. All the poignant crises that have rent Palestine and the Middle East since then--the great Palestine Rebellion against the British in 1936-39, the Palestine War and Exodus of the Palestine Arabs of 1948, the Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, and the Arab-Israeli War since 1967--flow directly or indirectly from the Basle congress of 1897. Behind the seemingly labyrinthine complexities of the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict and the baffling maze of claims and counter-claims, there lies a continuous and continuing dual process. On the one hand, Zionist determination to implement, consolidate and expand the Basle "vision," irrespective of the Arab character and patrimony in Palestine and its hinterland; on the other, a corresponding development of Arab resistance to Zionist encroachment and self-fulfilment at Arab expense. This is the essence of the Palestine tragedy. All else is derivative. This process is continuing at the time of writing: overtly, in the brutal Israeli repressions coyly designated "environmental punishment" by Moshe Dayan, and best exemplified in the bulldozing of Arab villages and residential quarters in the occupied territories, followed by the setting up of so-called socialist cooperatives for Jewish immigrants on their confiscated and blasted sites; more insidiously, in the cumulative impact of a spectrum of psychological, economic and legislative pressures designed to destroy Arab will and self-respect and subtly suggest that salvation lies in departure.

But if this is the case, how is it that the context of the Palestine problem can be presented in such topsy-turvy terms as was done, for example, by President Nixon? And, further, how can Western public opinion find such presentation persuasive, or palatable at all? This was the point raised in the first paragraph of this introduction. The answer on one level lies in political exigencies. But if these do indeed affect politicians to the extent implied, one is still left wondering why they should equally affect mass opinion in the open and democratic societies of the Western world, themselves typically sceptical of official versions. The customary rejoinder has been that Zionist obfuscation is as thorough as Zionist propaganda is effective. But even this answer is not quite satisfactory. For what one seems to be dealing with here is not mere gullibility in the face of expert public relations. Rather there would seem to characterise the Western public's attitude to the Palestine conflict a certain aversion to the task of identifying the roles of the protagonists and an almost grateful acceptance of the topsy-turvy versions put about. It would seem as if there was an almost conscious turning away from the merits of the case and a positive flight toward the image of the conflict presented by the Zionist propagandist and endorsed by the Western gentile politician. Without for a moment going into why this should be so, the foregoing analysis could, if true, perhaps explain the spontaneous anti-Arab verdict of the West on matters pertaining to the Palestine problem. It would explain why the Arab (Palestinian and other)is invariably seen as the initiator, whether or not he is reacting, the offender whether or not he is offended against, the impinger whether or not he is impinged upon, the aggressor whether or not the debris of his national and communal life (thanks to the Zionism of Jew and gentile) lies around for all to see, with the body's eye if not with that of the mind.

These are not, however, the morose broodings of the self-pitying or the obsessed. This Western purblindness is itself a hallmark of the Palestine problem. The Palestinians are not the first and will probably not be the last people to be dispossessed and banished; but so far they are, perhaps, in the unique position where not only is there catastrophe ruled out of the Western court as being irrelevant to their reactions against its perpetrators, but where these very reactions are held to incriminate them. For the Zionists the issue has also an eminently practical aspect. It is this selfsame Western purblindness that has been the indispensable environment for the actualisation of the Zionist venture. Its impact is direct and functional. It is preparatory and retroactive: it both paves the way and sets the sea of moral approbation on each new sophistication in the Zionist-Israeli piecemeal progression. As to why the Western mind should be so accommodating, a probable explanation lies in what might be described as the Bible syndrome. The epicentre is the great dialogue between Christianity and Judaism. This has left in its wake throughout ancient, mediaeval, and more recent times, and with reason, a mounting burden of guilt on the Western Christian conscience. So brittle has this conscience become vis-a-vis Judaism that in self-defence and excruciating self-doubt it rejects, when we come to the Palestine problem, any train of thought, however warrantable, that might lead to placing the Zionists-as-Jews in the dock. This abdication of judgment is rendered easier by the hiatus in the historical memory of the West as to what happened in the Holy Land in the two thousand years preceding the Balfour Declaration. All this is undergone relatively painlessly--particulary when Western Christian fundamentalism adds its tonic of self-righteousness--because the Arab, like his fellow Afro-Asians, is hardly a three-dimensional phenomenon in popular Western consciousness. But if this explains, it does not justify. To put Zionism in the dock does not do violence to any precept of decency; nor of logic, for Jewish past sufferings, however monumental, do not, a priori, preclude the infliction by Jews-as-Zionists of sufferings on others; nor of compassion, for true compassion is universal. Moreover while it may be true that, in problems that have assumed the proportions of the Palestine tragedy, solutions can only be edged towards, it is nevertheless true that a solution divorced from the context of its problem is a solution built on quicksand.

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