Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for May 2021

Following the brutal onslaught on Gaza in 2009, hailed by the Israeli government as a “military victory”, one of the wisest political voices in Israel, Uri Avnery, wrote: “What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.  In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves, too, a crime against the State of Israel.”

I have written so often on this Blog (particularly, 26 November 2014 and 09 April 2019) about the indifference of Western governments and publics towards the colonial aggression of the Israeli state that it depresses me to address this topic again, in the light of the recent events in Gaza.

What I will do is remind readers of 7 important facts which I hope they will share with others in their circles of influence.

(1) Israel is the last remaining European colonial power, which is why its aggression is not treated in the same way as that, say, of China or Iran. Whenever fresh violence breaks out, the US and the EU issue bland appeals for a ceasefire without attending to the obvious questions: “What event(s) triggered this violence?” What can the international community do to prevent such events from recurring?” “How many Palestinians were killed, and how many Israelis?” (The latter question will reveal just how disproportionate Israel’s military responses are, violating all “just war” principles encoded in international law and rules of military engagement.)

(2) Israel is the only country in the world that does not have internationally recognized borders. Just compare a map of Israel in 1948 with a present map. Israel continues to flout international laws with impunity (for instance, erecting permanent structures on lands seized by invasion). It does so because it enjoys the diplomatic, ideological and military protection of the United States.

The military occupation of Palestine encroaches on every area of peoples’ lives: restrictions on travel, high youth unemployment, poor healthcare and educational facilities, forcible annexation of houses and land.

Monoethnic, autocratic regimes in many countries (such as my own) look to Israel’s example in how to deal with their own intransigent ethnic and religious minorities. Seize land, re-settle it with members of the majority community, protect the latter by sending in an occupation army, label all attacks on the new settlers as “terrorist” or “extremist” acts and use them to justify further acts of repression.

(3) Far more Jews live outside Israel than within it, and many are outspoken critics of the Zionist project. There are also courageous rabbis and human rights activists within Israel who are opposed to the abuses heaped on the Palestinian people by the Israeli army and right-wing Jewish colonists. So to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Jewish. Yet some Western media and politicians regularly confuse anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. (The latter is also a misleading term, as most Jews who settled in Israel have European rather than Semitic ancestry. Arabs are also Semites, yet attacks on Arabs- who include many Christians- are labelled anti-Muslim!)

(4) While insisting that everybody recognizes Israel’s “right to exist”, Israel will never recognize the Palestinians’ “right of return”, let alone their right to liberation and self-determination. Israel’s settlement and development programs in the occupied territories- all illegal, as Israel was informed in 1967 by its own highest legal authorities and affirmed later by the World Court- are designed to undermine the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

(5) Israel is not a democracy by any modern understanding of that term. It officially declares itself to be a “Jewish state”. Its own Arab population that carries Israeli passports are second-class citizens; and as for the indigenous Palestinians, they are a beleaguered and segregated people in their own land. So Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa was under apartheid.

(6) Theodore Herzl, the Austrian journalist often credited with the label “founder of the Zionist movement”, was rightly concerned that assimilation and sporadic persecution were destroying Jewish culture in Europe. The Jews need a “home” where they could preserve their traditional way of life. Herzl was not thinking of Palestine as the Jewish “home”- for Judaism had for the past two millennia reconfigured itself around the study of the Torah rather than the Land and Temple. He initially toyed with the idea of Uganda as a safe haven.

It was “dispensationalist” Christians in the US and UK following the teachings of John Nelson Darby, Henry Irving, the Moody Bible Institute and (later) the Texan Cyrus Scofield’s commentary on the Bible, who influenced the Zionist movement and the British colonial authorities to settle the Jews in Palestine. Wrenching Old Testament texts out of their historical contexts, they taught that the return of Jews to Palestine was foretold in biblical prophecy and would usher in the parousia, or “return” of Christ.

I tell my British and American Christian friends that they can never be part of the solution to the Palestinian crisis until they recognize that they have been a huge part of the problem. And fundamentalist Christian preachers in the so-called American Bible Belt, continue to be the problem as they refuse to accept any other reading of “biblical prophecy”, and spread misleading Zionist historiography around the world through the Internet and TV channels. Benjamin Netanyahu is a great friend of these American fundamentalist preachers and visits them on his trips to the US.

Ignorance of history has to be countered with historical facts. Bad theology has to be challenged with good theology. The Christian theologians of Palestine have come up with a Kairos theological statement similar to the seminal Kairos document of South Africa in 1985 that countered Afrikaaner state theology and mobilized the Church against apartheid. I commend it to you.

(7) As for the United States, there is a huge gap between public opinion and foreign policy. In relation to Israel, U.S policy since the Johnson era has been dictated by the hugely influential pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC) and the corporate-military sector. Many conscientious Americans oppose U.S. government policy and younger members of the Democratic party are far more outraged over Palestine than Biden and his generation and call for a halt to military and economic support to Israel. If the U.S. too were to become a properly functioning democracy, in which an informed public had a meaningful voice in policy formation, things may well change.



May 2021