The following article was written by Omar Shaban, a member of the Conference organizing committee and of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at UBC (SPHR-UBC), the conference hosting group at the University of British Columbia.
This article was inspired by the poorly written article in UBC’s official newspaper The Ubyssey.
There is no doubt that when an oppressor – no matter who they are – fails to make a good “moral” case as to why they are oppressing a certain person, or a group of people, this oppressor will try to find ways to reconcile between what they perceive as a necessity to oppress and the necessity to rebrand this oppression as a necessity. This is especially true when it comes to the Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people inside and outside of Historic Palestine. The Zionists have always tried to work on the two fronts I mentioned above: the necessity to oppress and the necessity to rebrand the oppression as a necessity.
The Necessity to Oppress:
The perceived necessity to oppress is a very distinctive feature of the Zionist movement inside and outside of Palestine. Since the beginning of the Zionist project, earlier Zionists had no qualm with inflicting suffering and misery upon another population in order to advance their narrowly defined political project. From the perspective of Theodore Herzl, it was absolutely acceptable for the Zionists to displace an entire population, remove them from their roots and replace them with an entirely alien population using false rhetoric such as “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Successive leaderships of the World Zionist Organization expressed similar sentiments – sentiments that were later transformed into actions that culminated in the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians from their land. The oppression of the Palestinian people continued to be a necessity for the the Zionist project even after the creation of the Israeli state on stolen Palestinian land. For Israel to be a democracy and Jewish at the same time, the state must maintain a Jewish majority which means two important things: 1) keeping the Palestinians who were forcibly expelled from Palestine in 1940s outside of Palestine, and 2) creating laws, rules and regulations to control and exclude the Palestinian who remained inside of Palestine.
Zionist rhetoric maintains that the Jewish state has, since day one, been facing an existential threat levelled against her by the brutal totalitarian regimes of the Arab world. Right after what they term as “the declaration of independence” (independence from whom? I am not sure), the newly born Jewish state was “invaded” by Arab armies bent on the inhuman objective of eradicating the only Jewish state in the entire world. The Jewish state has had to defend itself from her haters after this failure of an invasion numerous times – first the Zionists had to find methods to ward off the attacks of the Palestinian Fida’iyeen (self-sacrificers) whose activities were sporadic and disorganized, then they had to deal with a resurgent Palestinian National Liberation Movement represented by Fatah, then they had to fight the Arab armies in 1967, then an increasingly popular Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then a united Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1980s and an Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the late 80s and early 90s. Because of this imminent threat against Israel, because of the numerous and systemic attacks against it, and because this state is isolated in a sea of Arabs who are fuelled by hate and anger, Israel has a right to not only defend itself, but also attack whom it perceives as a threat – and that can be combatants and freedom fighters as well as their support base which includes civilians, their properties, their schools and playgrounds and their entire livelihood.
From the Zionist perspective, oppressing the Palestinian people is a necessity because the mere existence of Israel as a Jewish state depends on it. There is no other way to maintain a democracy for the Jewish people other than through the exclusionary policies of Apartheid and ethnic cleansing, occupation and siege. Disobeying the law – international and even Israeli law – becomes justifiable and an acceptable Kantian norm whereby the “ends justify the means.”
The Necessity to Rebrand this Oppression as a “Normal” Necessity:
Over the past hundred and so years, the Zionist quest to rebrand and promote the necessity for oppression has undergone an extremely significant transformation. In the beginning, the Zionists sought to convince the leaders of Europe of the worthiness of their “cause” using the language of Realpolitik and necessity. The leaders of Europe must support the Zionist project despite their flagrant anti-Semitism because it is in their political and economic interest to do so. From the perspective of earlier Zionists, this necessity had to become the norm; a norm that allows them to operate around the political and economic structure of Europe, as well as within this structure. If the Zionist project is indeed a political and economic necessity, then the only intelligible course of action is to support it and this is what happened. It began with the Kaiser of Germany allowing Herzl to present his ideas, to the political leaders of Switzerland allowing him and his supporters to hold their first conference in Basel, to supporting and facilitating Zionist immigration to Palestine, to convincing Britain to promise the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and eventually to creating a Jewish state after a long campaign of systemic ethnic cleansing.
Now the quest to promote Zionism is taking place on University campuses. Barely an event organized by a Palestinian solidarity group on university campuses passes without invoking the need to have “constructive and meaningful dialogue” and forgetting about the divisive issues and focusing on moving forward and achieving “peace” (whatever that means). This insistence on “constructive dialogue” is indicative of a strong desire by the Zionists to pacify and neutralize any resistance to advancing the Zionist project. University students are now taking the lead and initiative to debunk all the Zionist myths – historical and current – about the reality of the situation in Palestine. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is gaining ground in virtually every higher education institution all across the globe as students are becoming more aware that the last bastion of Western imperialism is an entity that should not be allowed to exist in its current form. More students are becoming more aware of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and of the systemic racism Palestinians with an Israeli citizenship face on a daily basis, and of the unjust and inhumane repression that Palestinian refugees have been enduring in their host countries for six and a half decades. This increased awareness of the Palestinian predicament is making the Zionist promotion of their project more difficult as it poses a moral threat to the very foundations of this project.
Thusly, rebranding the oppression of the Palestinians as a necessity becomes a necessity. Every crime perpetrated by the Israelis against the Palestinians and the areas where Palestinians are is framed within the context of self-preservation, protection and fighting an existential threat. Israel, which is facing this existential threat, cannot be reduced to a mere colonial entity created for the sole purpose of advancing the geopolitical interests of Western powers in the region – there is more to this “tiny state.” It is a state for its Jewish citizens who share a collective identity and a shared history represented by food, dance, culture, and music. These citizens are not merely political and military objects necessary for the maintenance of the regime, they are global citizens with achievements that span all disciplines, cross borders and boundaries and challenge pre-conceived notions. This elaborately fabricated structure which includes economic, financial, scientific and educational institutions was put in place by a people who have been yearning for emancipation for thousands of years; an emancipation that they finally attained in Palestine – a land which was apparently empty and a desert before the Zionist settlement in it.
Such is the discursive dichotomy of the Zionist modus operandi. It is a dichotomy based on rewriting history, falsifying facts and disseminating propaganda to promote and legitimize a racist ideology. And this is why we can’t be friends with the Zionists. The fundamental premise of any friendship – no matter how deep or shallow it may be – is a mutual understanding, a shared empathy and a genuine sympathy with the experiences of the other. Such a framework does not exist when it comes to the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians. The relationship between the Palestinians and Zionists is that of an oppressed with their oppressor. In this case, the oppressor is not only seeking to eliminate the Palestinian national existence from both consciousness and history, but it is also seeking to normalize this eradication through a vicious campaign that depends on an interdependent duality – 1) the legitimization of oppression and the existence of the oppressor and 2) the delegitimization and demonization of the oppressed and their mere existence.