The Start of a New Beginning: Gaza Shakes the World

Displaced Palestinians in Gaza. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Jeremy Salt

Its end as a Zionist state would be the start of a new beginning, undoing all the damage done since Balfour: the state can go but the people can survive alongside everyone else in a new state founded on the equality of all.

In an Australian television discussion a few days ago, the question of Palestine came up. One of the panelists, deeply hostile to Hamas, indicated a need to ‘get to the bottom of all this,’ beyond the headlines.

The conversation never did, as it soon turned to other topics, and given her bias, the panelist would have been led to the roots of her own ignorance but, yes, there always was an urgent need to ‘get to the bottom of all this.’ It was successfully suppressed in the ‘west,’ from the beginning, the truth swamped by cliches about the plucky little state only defending itself.

This long-running fraud has now been blown apart by the Gaza genocide. It is the window through which masses around the world are able to see Israel not just for what it is but for what it always was.

On the Zionist side, the beginning is not Herzl but the centuries of antisemitism that gave rise to Herzl. His idea of a Jewish state in Palestine arose out of the fusion between antisemitism, imperialism and nationalism but whereas other nations had a land, the Zionists did not. Behind the camouflage of the ‘ancient homeland,’ of tribes with whom religion was their only connection, they set out to take Palestine for themselves, to wrest it out of the hands of another people.

This spelled trouble and Zionism would have withered on the vine had it not been seen by the British as a useful tool to further its imperial ambitions. This Zionist beginning began the Palestinian beginning.

What anyone who is seriously interested in ‘getting to the bottom of all this’ must understand is that the Palestinians have been resisting the occupation and seizure of their land not since 1967 or 1967 but from the very beginning of Zionist settlement. It is crucial to bear this in mind. Resisting not now and again, but every day, week and month for more than a century.

The Palestinians resisting Israel in Gaza now are carrying the flame for the thousands who have resisted and died before them. They remember, commemorate and honor their martyrs as they defend their families and their rights.

The establishment of a colonial-settler state in Palestine violated every moral and legal precept on which the UN had been built. Within the borders of the Jewish state, all the land, collectively and individually, historically and culturally, belonged to the non-Jewish majority. The only exception was the 5-6 percent bought by Jewish colonist land-purchasing agencies.

At the high point of decolonization, the UN admitted as a member a settler-colonial state built on ethnically cleansed stolen land. It tried to resolve the contradiction by insisting in late 1948 that the landowners be allowed to return. Had this happened there could not have been a Jewish state, so of course it could not be allowed to happen. Accordingly, the land itself remains stolen from 1948 to the present day. The division between what is occupied and what is not, between 1948 and 1967, is an artificial ‘western’ construct: it is all both stolen and still occupied.

The proof of Palestinian rights is mountainous. Many Palestinians still have the keys and title deeds to their property, which is why seizing or destroying documentation has been an important part of the occupation of Palestine.

The proof is also abundant in statistics gathered from Ottoman times through to the British mandate. There is no court in the world that would not have found the charges of theft proven yet there was no prosecution in the case of Palestine: the thief was allowed to get away with the spoils. This is the sore that has been left to suppurate for 76 years and has now burst open in Gaza.

Israelis on the other side of the Gaza fence live in comfort between lawns and sprinklers while the people from whom the land on which they live was stolen live in the direst of conditions. The settlers can live comfortably only for as long as the people they have displaced can’t. This is guaranteed by the military that controls the concentration camp and punishes the inmates whenever they get out of hand.

All of this collapsed on October 7. Against all the odds, the inmates broke out and inflicted serious harm on those living at their expense. They reacted in outrage at this ‘unprovoked’ attack as if they had no idea of the history. There was no awareness amongst any of them that this day might finally come.

Across the ‘west, the attack of October 7 was described as an atrocity, as a heinous act of terrorism. Never have such phrases been used to describe the actions of the Israeli state, always infinitely worse than anything the Palestinians have done. What Israel does is ‘self-defense,’ what the Palestinians do is ‘terrorism.’

All this changed not because of October 7 but because of the genocidal response of the Israeli state. Eyes formerly closed were opened by the savagery of what they were seeing. The ‘most moral army in the world’ was revealed as being criminal and depraved, with the Israelis presenting the evidence themselves. Mass murder, torture, humiliation, and sadism, the young no safer than the old, the disabled no safer than the able-bodied, the ill no safer than the healthy.

Gaza is a turning point but unfortunately not towards peace but more war. There is no one state or two solution even remotely in sight. Israel is not interested in one state unless it is Jewish and supremacist. It has deliberately blocked a two-state solution by filling east Jerusalem and the West Bank with settlers: checkmate, Israel thinks, reinforcing the point by allowing the settlers to run amuck.

Peace is a great idea but Israel relentlessly heads in the opposite direction. Its policy is to beat in the heads of its enemies until they give in. That is not going to happen. Every crime only makes them more determined. The appointment of Ben Gvir and Smotrich are the confirmation of where Israel is heading – not towards peace but away from it. The continuing threats to send Lebanon back to the Stone Age and turn Beirut into Gaza are further evidence.

There is a time for negotiations and a time to realize that they are not working, are not going to work and in fact only strengthen the position of a lawless state. This was the fate of the 1990s ‘peace process.’ In the 1930s the western powers negotiated their way towards a world war. Had they stood up to Germany and Italy instead of appeasing them there would not have been one but finally, the point was reached where war was unavoidable if there was to be peace.

That is where the Middle East would seem to stand now. Israel is not listening. It is again openly flaunting that it will do exactly what it wants to do, irrespective of what the rest of the world thinks. It has completely ignored the genocide ruling of the ICJ. It has killed thousands more Palestinians in Gaza since that ruling and hundreds in the West Bank, where the government has handed administrative control to two openly racist hate-filled fascists.

The messages it is sending out could not be clearer. Will it take another world war for the ‘west’ to realize that it should have intervened earlier? How many more people will have to die before the ‘west’ realizes that Israel will not stop until it is stopped?

The dangers are hardly to be underestimated. Israel has nuclear weapons and may use them if the day comes when it starts a war it cannot win: given its present military exhaustion, the use of tactical nuclear weapons to clear the ground in southern Lebanon is already being mentioned as a possibility.

The conclusion reached by the resistance long ago is that no realistic option is left but to fight Israel to the point where it takes such damage in war that it cannot survive as a state and will be forced to negotiate a common future unless it chooses the doomsday option of taking everyone else down with it.

Its end as a Zionist state would be the start of a new beginning, undoing all the damage done since Balfour: the state can go but the people can survive alongside everyone else in a new state founded on the equality of all.

Israel cannot go on living like this: life at the expense of the death of others. It is gradually exhausting the patience of its friends as well as deepening the hatred of its enemies. Yet, in a land not far from where Belshazzar asked Daniel to read the writing on the wall for him , it refuses to see the portents of doom on its own wall.

– 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) and The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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