I’ve asked this before, but previously I friendslocked it. Now I’m asking in public. It’s a very simple, yes-or-no question: Do you believe all human beings have, or should have, equal rights, regardless of sex or sexuality, race or religion?
If the answer is “yes”, as I hope it is, you must support the Palestinian cause.
It really is that simple. Certainly, there’s been tremendous pain and fear and suffering on both sides. On both sides (as is inevitable in populations of millions of human beings) there have been criminals, terrorists, and even psychopaths. But when it comes down to it, Israel was created, and maintains itself as a Jewish state, by denying the civil and human rights of the Indigenous Christians and Muslims—the Palestinians.
I believe all people everywhere should have equal rights, and therefore I support the Palestinian cause.
This does not make me an anti-Semite. How can wanting equal and fair treatment for all make me hostile to the Jews, whom Tolkien rightly called “that great and gifted people”? I do, however, have some problems with the Zionist project, which I’ll get to below.
I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian, so it isn’t for me to say whether there should be one state between the river and the sea, or two. To me, as an American, one democratic state makes more sense. No matter what solution is reached, however, equal rights for all are essential. That includes strict protections for minorities. I think it can happen, it should happen, and it will happen. But we need to overcome a lot of fear and anger first. Frankly, we also need to overcome the war economy. There are those—not Jewish at all; wealthy corporations and multimillionaires like Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky aircraft, and so on—who are using this conflict for their own ends. That has to stop.
You might well have some questions about what I’ve written. You might well disagree. I don’t mean to set up any straw men here. Nothing is more annoying. But I will respond, as well as I can, to some things I’ve heard from friends, family, and acquaintances, as well as on various websites.
- Doesn’t Israel have a right to exist? Don’t’ the Palestinians want to destroy Israel?
Israel exists. It’s going to continue to exist. The real question is, what sort of country is it becoming, and what sort of country will it be in the future? At the moment, Israel is a country for Jews only. But the native people of the country are Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And quite a few of the Jewish residents (there is no Israeli citizenship, and it’s against the law to assert that Israel should be the state of its citizens) are not native; they are recent immigrants, mostly from the U.S. or Europe. So, native Muslims and Christians are, at best second-class citizens and do not have equal rights with Jews.
These Christians and Muslims are the Palestinians. Shouldn’t they have equal rights in what is, after all, their own country?
- But don’t the Jews have a right to their own country?
That’s a tough one. Again, I’m looking at this from the outside, and it’s obvious to me that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality. But I completely understand why Jewish people desire a safe place after the horrible persecution of the Holocaust, and before that, the pogroms in Eastern Europe. Only—is Israel a safe place? Is it, really?
What I’d like to see is Jewish people living in freedom and safety anywhere they like, including Israel. But the Palestinians, again, should have that same right. And Palestine is their country, the only country they have. Somehow, we have got to stop playing zero sum games with peoples’ lives.
- But the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state!
To the Palestinians, accepting that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state means this: Jewish people had a right to force us from our homes, massacre us, and destroy our villages. They had a right to throw us into the sea—literally. They had, and have, a right to take our property, including homes, farms, livestock, bank accounts, and more. They had, and have, a right to kill us if we try to return to those homes, farms, and villages. They have all these rights, and we have none.
You may well say, “But that’s not what it means to exist as a Jewish state!” You may be right. But we need to understand that when Palestinians are asked to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, this is what they hear. As David Ben Gurion himself said, what people would ever agree to this?
Recognizing Israel as a state is a diferent proposition, and it's my understanding that the Palestinians have done so.
- But God gave Israel to the Jews!
If you read the Bible attentively, you will note that it’s often contradictory. To take one example, God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham, but a Canaanite priest, Melchizedek, welcomed the wanderer Abraham with bread and wine. And Ruth was a Moabite, and so on. In other words, even if you read the Bible literally, (I don’t) there was never a time, even when the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah existed, that the Holy Land was exclusively Jewish. And the Jewish kingdoms represent a very brief time in the history of Palestine. According to recent archaeology, the Palestinians have lived in that country for close to fifteen thousand years. As David Ben Gurion himself admitted, the Palestinians are the Jews of the Bible.
For an interesting Jewish perspective on this, I recommend the rabbis of Neturei Karta. I also recommend a new book, God’s Favorites: Judaism, Christianity, and the Myth of Divine Chosenness, By Michael Coogan.
One more thing about this, though, before I close. There is one religious belief I’m strongly opposed to, and that is Christian Zionism. This is a heresy, and quite a recent one, and it is anti-Semitic at the core. One of the goals of the British Christian Zionists was to get the Jews out of Britain. Before the Holocaust, the majority of Jews, both in Britain and throughout Europe, were strongly opposed to Zionism, whether Jewish or Christian. They correctly saw this view as anti-Semitic, and wanted to be equal citizens of their countries.
Summing up: Israel, like America, exists. Both countries will continue to exist. Both countries are oppressing their minorities and their indigenous peoples, and both are becoming steadily less democratic. We need to ask ourselves what sort of future we want, both for Israel and the United States. It is not in any way anti-Semitic to criticize Israel or to promote the rights of the Palestinians. No more than it is anti-American to criticize America or to work for the rights of its minority citizens. It IS anti-Semitic to slander or oppress Jews, and I will always fight anti-Semitism, just as I will fight for Palestinian rights. It’s quite possible to do both those things. Indeed, it’s what’s required of us if we mean to work for justice.
(A final note: yes, there were native Palestinian Jews. Yes, Jews have lived in Palestine 'from time immenorial'. But so have the Palestinians. The majoritiy of the native Jews converted, some to Christianity and many to Islam. That's where the Palestinians came from, as I understand it.)