By Jeremy Salt
Israel frequently claims its ‘right’ to exist. In fact, states do not exist by right and neither do they have a right to exist. They continue to exist because they have a strong army, capable of taking land and imposing their rule on the native population. They exist because they have the support of their people, even, eventually, those they have conquered. They exist because they rule with the consent of the people, as represented in consultation and democratic forms of government. They exist because they get on well with their neighbors. They exist because they form strong alliances with countries more powerful than themselves and because, globally, they form a community of nations committed to the rules that govern them all. This does not mean that they do not break them, because they often do, but they do not live in their permanent breach.
Israel meets only two of these criteria. It has a strong army and a strong relationship with a distant power, the US, but it does not have the support of the people, defined not just as those living within the territory on which the state was established but those who are entitled to live within that territory. As applied to Israel the word ‘democracy’ is a fiction, and not just because of discrimination against Palestinians living within the state or because of the suppression of the human rights of Palestinians living in the territories seized in 1967. It is a fiction because in 1948 the first act of the government of Israel was the expulsion of the majority of people living on the land it conquered. It is not just that they cannot vote. They cannot even live on the land, as is their inherent and legal right. No state founded on this basis can be called a ‘democracy.’
As for its neighbors, Israel has diplomatic relations with two, Egypt and Jordan. The ‘peace’ between them is better described as a state of no war, given the popular animosity to Israel in both countries. The theocratic anti-democratic monarchies of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain have responded to Israel’s efforts to open relations with more Arab countries but none of these governments can be said to represent the wishes of the people.
States have risen and fallen since the beginning of recorded history. They fade out of history or they emerge in new forms. Nazi Germany gave way to democratic Germany. The regional principalities of Italy were combined in one nation-state. The apartheid state of South Africa was finally replaced by a democratic state. Colonial-settler states have even less right than other states to claim a ‘right’ to exist. They destroyed the right of others to exist as they had existed, in some cases for tens of thousands of years. The white settlers in North America destroyed native cultures. So did the white settlers in Australia. What right do they have to claim a ‘right’ to exist?
Israel is a particular case. It was an anomaly from the start, a settler-state established not at the height of imperialism but at a time of decolonization and self-determination. The very organization which upheld these principles in its foundation documents, the United Nations, broke them in the case of Israel. There was no democratic vote on the future of Palestine.
The vote in favor of partition squeaked through the General Assembly in 1947 because the US threatened to punish vulnerable countries unless they voted ‘yes.’ Driving the majority of the indigenous people off their land, the Zionist settler-state then destroyed about 500 of their villages, after looting houses of everything they contained, furniture, carpets, books and even small household fittings.
Even Palestinians who were not driven out but left their homes to get away from the fighting were not allowed to return to them. Those physically expelled were classified as ‘absentees’, those who stayed but still lost their property were classified as ‘present absentees.’ The word absentee implies temporary absence, like a student not turning up for class, but Israel never intended the Palestinians to return. These verbal convolutions were absurdities designed to hide theft on a grand scale.
The expulsion of the Palestinian population was not the consequence of war. Rather, it was the other way around: the war was launched so they could be expelled. Their property was handed over to European migrants, with the exception of the beautiful stone homes in Jerusalem and elsewhere stolen by the Zionist leadership for their own use. Despite the destruction, theft, and pillage the UN voted to admit Israel as a member, on condition that it abided by its charter and principles. This Israel has never done. On the contrary, it has lived in permanent breach of the UN charter and the UN’s resolutions on the Palestine question as well as all international covenants and treaties dealing with human and civil rights.
Many states breach international law from time to time. Only Israel lives outside the law permanently, for the simple reason that living within the law would bring its existence as a Jewish state to an end. Zionism cannot be reconciled with international law, human rights and democracy any more than fascism or national socialism or South African apartheid could have been. Hitler and Mussolini were at least open in their contempt for liberal democracies: Netanyahu, on the other hand, constantly talks up his respect for democratic values while treating them with the same contempt in practice as the dictators.
He is not a democrat. He is a Zionist and as long as expelled Palestinians are prevented from returning to their land and exercising their democratic rights Israel cannot be called a democracy. It should be added that their return would be genuine compared to the false ‘right’ of return granted to Jews around the world who have never lived in Palestine and have no living connection with the land past or present.
Insofar as the Palestinians are concerned Israel has changed only for the worse. The state is committed to an ideology that is tribal, atavistic, primitive and criminal of its very nature. It has no place in a world of nation-states committed to universal values, however patchily they might be upheld. Israel assigns Palestine to the Jewish people only, wherever they live; it treats those with a real claim to the land with a ruthlessness and brutality that shocks the world, even if the world is too feeble to do anything about it; it refuses to take any responsibility for the crimes it commits. Zionist ideology is upheld and enforced at every level of government, giving rise to distorted pseudo-laws and deeply rooted racism even amongst children.
After seven decades of unremitting violence and attempts to split the Arab world apart and consign Arab history to history, Israel seems beyond redemption and beyond hope that it will change for the better. The ‘peace process’ has come and gone, destroyed by Israel because it never wanted a genuine peace in the first place. What it wants is a ‘peace’ entirely on its own terms, surrender, in other words. Hitler wanted peace, too, as long as he got what he wanted, slabs of Czechoslovakia and Poland without anyone objecting. Those who appeased him were simply feeding his appetite for more and when they finally stood firm, it was too late.
Israel revels in its power. It has a large military, it has the US in its pocket, it has nuclear weapons so what could possibly go wrong? It can do what it likes, from massacring scores of Palestinians along the Gaza fence just in one day, to killing Iranians and Syrians in missile strikes and murdering Palestinians in foreign countries who are deemed to be a threat. It gets away with all of this, and, encouraged by the quiescence of the ‘international community’, sees no reason to modify its abominable behavior.
The spectacle of the US embassy being opened in Al Quds, an occupied city under international law, was a freak show. As the celebrations of Israel’s ‘independence’ and the relocation of the US embassy continued through the day, Palestinians were being slaughtered on the other side of the Gaza fence line. No-one cared, not Netanyahu, not Ivanka Trump and not her father back in Washington, breaking international law by recognizing an occupied city as the capital of Israel. The champagne flowed. Trump received the accolades of a latter-day Balfour. Ivanka smiled her dolly bird smile while her husband Jared talked of how the embassy opening was going to help the cause of peace.
The killing of unarmed Palestinians, including children, by Israeli snipers could not be allowed to spoil the party. In any case, Jared blamed them: it was they who were responsible for the violence, not the snipers killing them and not the state that stole their land and drove them off it. It was grotesque. The day’s slaughter was not exceptional, not an aberration but fully consistent with Israel’s savage behavior ever since 1948.
The delusion of Jerusalem being a Jewish city is a thin mask pulled over the reality. Al Quds is an occupied Palestinian city, open to Muslims, Christians, and Jews until the Crusaders came along in the 11th century and until the Zionists set foot in Palestine in the 20th. Every stone in its streets, arches, walls and fine houses was put in place over the past 1000 years and beyond by Muslim and Christian artisans, not by Jews and certainly not by the Zionists living in stolen Palestinian property and on stolen Palestinian land.
There is not a great deal more that can be said about Israel that has not already been said. It has brought nothing to the Middle East but violence and destruction, directed against Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Tunisians, anyone who dares to challenge it. It is a state based on theft and murder. Its ruling ideology is little different from other racist ideologies, of Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
It destroys endlessly yet endlessly claims its own ‘right’ to exist. The Middle East has been pushed beyond all limits of human endurance by this psychopathic state. Norman Finkelstein once remarked that for Israel to change it would have to suffer a military defeat to bring it to its senses, but what it might find if that day comes is that what it could have had for nothing the day before, it will not be able to get at any price the day after.
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.