At the heart of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s discourse on Palestinians is an obsession with Hamas. The rhetoric is always the same: Israeli actions are justified because they are directed at Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States. In the name of clearing the Gaza strip of Hamas, Netanyahu has overseen devastating raids, bombardments and massacres against Palestinians in Gaza, which the Israeli military establishment cynically calls “mowing the lawn”. From comparing Hamas to ISIS to claiming Israel cares more for Palestinians than Hamas does, Netanyahu’s fixation on Hamas is boundless. Most recently, Israel tried to justify its murder of Razan Al Najjar, a twenty-one-year-old medic in Gaza by manipulating a video to claim she was a Hamas agent. Hamas, however, is hardly the problem. Rather, it is the Zionist ideology upon which Israel is based that is at the heart of the conflict in Israel-Palestine.
The global discourse of the so-called “War on Terror” has given Israel considerable freedom to enact violent and unlawful policies under the cover of fighting terrorism. Hamas is at the heart of this strategy, with its existence used to distract attention from the core issues plaguing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israel’s disregard for international law, occupation of Palestinian land, and the deadly blockade of Gaza. By framing Hamas as a terrorist organization with genocidal intentions, Israel depicts itself as a victim that has to defend itself. This myth crumbles, however, if one examines the history of Zionism, which is one of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. The tendencies, events, and statements of early 20th century Zionist leaders make it obvious that Zionists and Zionism are the real aggressors in Palestine and the reason why the current conflict eludes resolution.
Zionism as Settler-Colonialism
Both in theory and practice, the Zionist plan for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was always colonial in nature. The most clear, written articulation of this is, of course, Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State (1896). One of the main progenitors of political Zionism, Herzl meticulously detailed every step he believed necessary to create a “Jewish state.” This included a plan for European Jewish colonization by means of migrations and settlement to Palestine. His geo-political description of the future state was, itself, one of decided European chauvinism: “We could there [in Palestine] form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism”. Tellingly, he makes no mention of the indigenous Palestinian population. Their existence was of no significance for him and other Zionist colonists, who envisioned a purely Jewish-European state and society.
A major problem confronting Herzl’s movement was how the Zionists would initially acquire land in Ottoman Palestine. To address this issue, Herzl suggested creating a so-called Jewish Company that would gather funds from Jewish and European donors specifically for the purchase of land. Herzl’s strategy was the epitome of colonialism, the act of acquiring foreign land and transferring one’s population to occupy it (with disregard to the native population), and he made no efforts to hide it. He described the company as “modeled on the lines of a great land-acquisition company. It might be called a Jewish Chartered Company, though it cannot exercise sovereign power, and has other than purely colonial tasks”. In using the phrase “chartered company,” Herzl was drawing comparisons to European colonial entities, such as the Dutch East India Company; in North America, the Plymouth and Virginia Companies had been used to establish British colonial settlements.
Herzl’s chartered company became a reality at the 5th Zionist conference in Basel in 1902 and was named “The Jewish National Fund.” Still in existence today, the fund has served precisely the purpose Herzl had in mind. Indeed, the organization’s collection of funds and purchase of land paved the way for the creation of settlements in Palestine during Ottoman rule, which were exclusively inhabited by European Jews.
Herzl’s book also describes how the company will facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine and how Jews should travel to the new land in the most comfortable ways, providing organized groups with ‘special trains and boats’. He outlined what would later be known as Aliyahs, i.e. organized waves of Jewish migration to Palestine. The first five official Aliyahs (between 1882-1939) each brought tens of thousands of settlers to Palestine, and were followed by further waves.
Statistics confirm the rapid rise in Jewish migration to Palestine. According to a British 1922 census and a second census in 1931, the Jewish population in Palestine had risen from 11% to 17%. By 1947, the numbers had drastically increased, with Jews constituting a third of the population of Mandatory Palestine.
Colonization and Ethnic Cleansing
British-backing of the Zionist movement was a major turning point for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Although Herzl’s book included an appeal to the Ottoman Sultan to gift Palestine to the Zionists, it was ultimately the British who granted this request. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the land of Palestine was pledged to the Zionists, sealed the fate of the Palestinians as an oppressed people. The declaration was even enshrined in the very text of the Mandate of Palestine (1923-1948). For the duration of British dominion, there was a marriage of convenience between British Imperialists and European Zionists, or as Balfour himself said in a speech in 1920: “we are partners in this great enterprise.” As far as Balfour was concerned, the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine would bring about economic development in the land now under British tutelage. Still, the Zionists were not completely satisfied with the British Mandate. From their perspective, the land allotted to them was not sufficient for their colonial ambitions in the long-term, but merely served as a starting point to expand further into Palestine. A statement released by the Keren Hayesod (a Zionist fundraising organization) in 1921 stated:
“These boundaries and this mandate, unsatisfactory as they are, do they afford us sufficient space and protection for immediately starting the work of colonization? To this question the only reply can be: Yes”
Even in 1919, it was clear that Zionist ambitions, under the auspices of British imperialism, would trample over the human rights of the native population. The King-Crane Commission, which was established by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as part of the post-World War I peace conference in 1919, found that 90% of Palestine’s native population were opposed to Zionism. According to the commission, Zionists were “looking forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.” The commission concluded that “the erection of such a Jewish state [cannot] be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
By 1919, the Zionists movement had a concrete plan, funding, and the political backing of one of the world’s foremost powers for the creation of their state. With a steady increase in the Jewish population and slow acquisition of land, much of which was held by absentee Ottoman landlords, there remained one main task necessary to create a Jewish state: the expulsion of the natives. It was a task that could only be accomplished by a massive deployment of force. The King-Crane commission illuminated this point:
“No British officer, consulted by the commissioners, believe that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program on the part of the non-Jewish population of Palestine and Syria.”
In order for the Zionist project to be completed, for all of Palestine to be made Jewish, the native population would have to go. As predicted by the King-Crane commission, this was inevitably done by force.
This first time the British used force was in response to the first Palestinian uprising in 1929. The uprisings were bloody, sometimes referred to as riots, which saw violence enacted on both Arabs and Jews. The causes of the violent uprisings were best summed up by The Shaw Commission (1930) that followed them, when it stated that “…the Arabs have come to see in the Jewish immigrant not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future.” Hans Kohn, an Austrian-born pacifist Zionist leader who left the Zionist movement following this event, said in his resignation letter from the Keren Hayesod:
“The decisive experience was the Arab national uprising in 1929 … We [the Zionists, A.M] pretend to be innocent victims … But we are obliged to look deeper into the cause of this revolt … I believe that it will be possible for us to hold Palestine and continue to grow for a long time. This will be done first with the British aid and later with the help of our own bayonets — shame fully called Hagana [i.e. defense], by that time we will not be able to do without the bayonets. The means will have determined our goal.”
The second time the bayonets were pointed at the Palestinians was in 1936 when their frustration and rejection of Zionism culminated in another uprising, which are today called the ‘Arab Revolts’ (1936-39). The British Imperial army used extensive force to crush this uprising, and in some cases even fought alongside the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary group which later became the IDF. During and after this uprising, the British disarmed the Palestinians, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks and coercion by Zionists.
In what was later known as the ‘Village Files,’ Zionists collected information about all Palestinians who participated in the uprisings. The documents served as an extensive collection of topographical information about all important Palestinian villages, their leaders, resources, and age of inhabitants, among other details. With the meticulous details gathered in these files, Zionist forces forcibly expelled 750,000 Palestinians from Palestine to create their new settler-colonial state, from 1947-1949.
Evaluation: Palestinians Are the Victims
What this history tells us is that Hamas has very little to do with the real issues involved in today’s conflict. If history is any indication, it is clear Zionists never wanted to coexist with anybody, and have repeatedly and categorically ignored the will of the people they were – and still are – colonizing. Without defending Hamas, to describe it or any other form of Palestinian resistance as an obstacle to peace is simply to blame the victims. Palestinians strive for self-determination, while Zionists want the whole of Palestine. This dissonance is at the heart of the so-called “conflict.”
Palestinians cannot make any more concessions, for they have nothing else to concede. If there is any hope of resolving the conflict it is necessary for Israel’s ideological nature to change. About this we can have no illusions. Zionism is at the heart of all the violence we see in Palestine. Only by removing this political ideology will there be any hope for a peaceful resolution.