Justice for Palestinians Is the Path to Redeem Zionism and Secure Israel's Future

By Brownfeld, Allan C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview

Justice for Palestinians Is the Path to Redeem Zionism and Secure Israel's Future


Brownfeld, Allan C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Increasingly, thoughtful Jewish observers are coming to the conclusion that justice for Palestinians and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is the path not only to redeem Zionism, as they see it, but to secure Israel's own future. Perhaps ironically, it is early critics within the Zionist movement itself who may point the way to such a resolution of the present dilemma.

In a thoughtful new book, The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press), Jacqueline Rose, professor of English at Queen Mary University in London, examines the history of Zionism, which she sees as a movement searching for a persecuted and homeless Jewish people. In the process, however, it trampled the rights of the Arabs in Palestine.

"I came to this topic having been preoccupied for many years as a Jewish woman with Israel-Palestine," Dr. Rose explains. "Having felt, most simply, repeatedly appalled at what the Israeli nation perpetrated in my name...I believe the creation of Israel in 1948 led to a historic injustice against the Palestinians still awaiting redress. But at the same time, I have always felt that a simple dismissal of Zionism-as insult or dirty word-was a mistake. If something is wrong, there will be a reason for it. If it is deeply wrong, then our understanding of it will have to dig deep, for us on journeys we may not wish to take. Zionism was a vision long before it took on the mantle and often cruel powers of the modern nation-state...Zionism holds the key to the tragedy daily unfolding daily for both peoples in Israel-Palestine."

Analyzing the messianic fervor of Zionism, she argues that it colors Israel's most profound self-image to this day. The notion that God gave all of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity fuels the settler movement, as well as the Christian fundamentalists who embrace the same vision, albeit as a means to a different end.

Messianism, however, is a minority view in contemporary Israel and among the majority of the world's Jews-as well as historically. "Up to 1492," writes Rose, "the messianic strand of Judaism had waned, but after the expulsion, the exiles from Spain responded with a wave of apocalyptic agitation, messianic birth pangs that would eventually reach their apotheosis in the life and movement of Shabtai Zvi... Born of catastrophe, it promises more. 'Jewish messianism is in its origins and by its nature/writes Gershom Scholem, 'a theory of catastrophe.. .This cannot be sufficiently emphasized/Messianic redemption is therefore a form of historic revenge. To put it crudely, it is a way of settling scores. The violence of a cruel history repeats itself as its own cure."

In a sense, the Palestinians are simply the innocent victims of history, as Jewish nationalists sought to redress their grievances against Russian pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust by recreating a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. "One of the tragedies of this conflict," Rose notes, "is that the Palestinians have become the inadvertent objects of a struggle that, while grounded in the possession of the land, at another level has nothing to do with them at all. A struggle that makes of them the symbolic substitutes, stand-ins, 'fall guys,' we could almost say, for something no longer spoken out loud, something quite else. In the context of Zionism, once the equation was set, once suffering had become degradation, any ethical sensitivity toward the indigenous people was viewed with abject horror, a form of self-indicting passivity...the Jews once again enslaved to fear. The Diaspora Jew is a wretch. To redeem him, or rather have done with him, the usage of force in Palestine becomes a gift."

There is, Rose points out, "another strand of Zionism to be found in writers like Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Hans Kohn and Ahad Ha'am that provides the profoundest analysis" of the dangers inherent in messianic Zionism. She declares that, "The classic and famous Zionist claim-Palestine was a land without a people-was not just a blatant lie but a cover. …

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