An error too common in analysis of Israel and Palestine is a feigned two-sidedness, something which in practice is often used to silence the voices of the Palestinians. Under the pretense that all sides must be heard to understand the truth, Gary Dreyer does the opposite, and the Palestinian point of view is rejected wholesale. Immediately, the opinion piece dismisses Abdel Razzaq Takriti’s work as illegitimate, referring to “meaningless terms describing ‘armed struggle’ or ‘Anti-Imperialism.’” But a closer look at these terms reveals that they have more meaning than was credited.
There is certainly a history of imperialism, particularly in the form of colonialism, in Palestine. Following World War I, Palestine was integrated into the British Empire as “Mandatory Palestine,” and until 1957, the “Palestine Jewish Colonization Association” provided funds for Zionist settlements in the territory. The acknowledgement of Israel as a colonial project originated earlier, with the World Zionist Organization flirting with the establishment of a state in regions like Uganda (a British colony at the time) and an early Zionist delegation claiming, “The bride [Palestine] is beautiful but married to another man.”
It is through the lens of colonialism and its inherent violence that we must understand the “armed struggle” of Palestine. The first thing to note is that any colonial project must find a way to deal with the inhabitants already existing on the land. In the 1948 war, over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in what would be termed in Arabic as the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe.” One of the many operations included the Deir Yassin Massacre, where mass executions were used to kill over 100 Palestinians living outside of Jerusalem, forcing others to flee. Now, over 7.5 million Palestinians live as refugees, removed from their homeland and unable to return, while the meager 20 percent ostensibly left to Palestinians is under military occupation, the site of settlement constructions, or under constant bombardment. To understand Palestinian violence against Israel, one must recognize that, from the start, the Palestinians were met by violence.
The Geneva Convention of 1949 declared it the right of all occupied people to resist occupation. But in regard to anti-colonial struggles, Western narratives — including Dreyer’s — have often focused primarily on the reactionary violence of the colonized people and not on the initial violence of colonizers. Consequently, any resistance of the colonized becomes incorrectly viewed as “terrorism” against a sovereign state, allowing for that state’s aggression to avoid such denigration.
On a more personal note, I find the conflation of being “Anti-Israel” with being “Anti-Jewish” to be both deceptive and outright offensive. As an American Jew, I vehemently do not want to be defined by Israel. Fundamentally, a religion is not a state, and I do not believe I have to unconditionally defend Israel to defend myself against Anti-Semitism. In fact, there is a long tradition among Jewish activists and intellectuals opposing Zionism. At this moment there are Jewish organizations, probably the most well-known of which being Jewish Voice for Peace, who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and criticizes Israel heavily. The Anti-Semitism associated with Neo-Nazis that most American Jews experience, is something particular to European white supremacism. Unlike European Anti-Semites, Palestinians have been fighting against a colonial state — not against the Jewish people. And (also unlike European Anti-Semites) Palestinians are fighting against colonial oppressors, not against historically marginalized Western Jewry. This distinction is key to recognizing that it is a fundamental misunderstanding to claim that Palestinians are the same as or analogous to the oppressive, genocidal force that Jews met in Europe.
Finally, Dreyer refuses to answer how Israel can choose to be both a “Jewish state” and a democratic state, when its non-Jewish population numbers over 20 percent. The objectives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its member parties — including the “terrorist” Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine — sought a single, secular state for all peoples over Historic Palestine. Meanwhile, the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, is banning those who wish to abide by a non-violent boycott of Israeli goods and has passed chilling laws, like the 2009 “Nakba Law,” which made it illegal for civilians to publicly mourn Israel’s “day of independence.” Dreyer’s claim that Israel constitutes the “Middle East’s only democracy” is unfounded when there are now over 50 laws that distinguish between Israeli civilians depending on their faith and race. His claim that the Palestinians have sought the “forced expulsion and/or ethnic cleansing” of Jewish Israelis is reprehensible in the manner that it ascribes to the Palestinians exactly what the Israeli state has done to them. It does take a “remarkable degree of contempt for the lives of innocent civilians, murdered on account of their faith [or race]” to go to “excruciating lengths to normalize and place on a pedestal” the beliefs justifying those deaths — remarkable indeed.
If one wishes to tell a story transparently and honestly, they must understand that this includes the historical context within which the story operates. Without this, we strip events of their historical meaning and lose sight of what the story actually shows.