Catalog of all Link issues Since 1968
Over 175 subject matter experts in professions such as medicine, church ministry, archaeology and diplomacy have authored over 300 Link issues since 1968.
The Link Catalog archive below constitutes a body of informed commentary, fact and anecdotal evidence that is all the more valuable for writers, researchers and historians because each issue (for the most part) covers only one subject.
AIPAC, Dark Money, and the Assault on Democracy
November 22, 2023 | Allan C. Brownfeld | Current Issue
The Politics of Archaeology – Christian Zionism and the Creation of Facts Underground
October 2, 2022 | Mimi Kirk | The Link
Apartheid…Israel’s Inconvenient Truth
February 2, 2022 | Chris McGreal | The Link
Israel’s Weaponization of Time
December 12, 2021 | Omar Aziz | The Link
September 12, 2021 | John Mahoney | The Link
On A RANT
July 20, 2021 | Sam Bahour | The Link
How Long Will Israel Get Away With It
April 9, 2021 | Haim Bresheeth-Zabner | The Link
The Decolonizing of Palestine Towards a One-State Solution
January 9, 2021 | Jeff Halper | The Link
Israelizing the American Police, Palestinianizing the American People
November 26, 2020 | Jeff Halper | The Link
The ONE-STATE REALITY and the REAL MEANING of ANNEXATION
August 23, 2020 | Ian Lustick | The Link
June 6, 2020 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
UPDATED: The Latest on the Suspected Murderers of Alex Odeh
April 12, 2020 | David Sheen | The Link
The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine
February 29, 2020 | Rashid Khalidi | The Link
Fact and Fiction in Palestine
December 15, 2019 | Gil Maguire | The Link
Once Upon a Time in Gaza
November 10, 2019 | Rawan Yaghi | The Link
Uninhabitable: Gaza Faces Moment of Truth
October 5, 2019 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
What in God’s Name is going on?
April 14, 2019 | Edward Dillon | The Link
Jews Step Forward
January 31, 2019 | Marjorie Wright | The Link
Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Detention
December 15, 2018 | Brad Parker | The Link
The Judaization of Jerusalem Al-Quds
September 9, 2018 | Basem L. Ra'ad | The Link
Apartheid West Bank
June 6, 2018 | Jonathan Kuttab | The Link
March 12, 2018 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
January 13, 2018 | Rawan Yaghi | The Link
Anti-Zionism Is Not Anti-Semitism, And Never Was
November 29, 2017 | Allan C. Brownfeld | The Link
The Cult of the Zionists – An Historical Enigma
August 20, 2017 | Thomas Suárez | The Link
Marwan Barghouti and the Battle of the Empty Stomachs
July 1, 2017 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
Al-Tamimi et al v. Adelson et al
April 1, 2017 | Fred Jerome | The Link
In The Beginning…
January 22, 2017 | John Mahoney | The Link
Wheels of Justice
December 3, 2016 | Steven Jungkeit | The Link
August 14, 2016 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Murder of Alex Odeh
June 4, 2016 | Richard Habib | The Link
Protestantism’s Liberal/Mainline Embrace of Zionism
April 3, 2016 | Donald Wagner | The Link
The Second Gaza
January 10, 2016 | Atef Abu Saif | The Link
Between Two Blue Lines
October 31, 2015 | Tom Hayes | The Link
A Special Kind of Exile
August 15, 2015 | Alice Rothchild M.D. | The Link
June 13, 2015 | Fred Jerome | The Link
The Art of Resistance
March 7, 2015 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Window Dressers: The Signatories of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence
January 3, 2015 | Ilan Pappe | The Link
The Immorality Of It All
October 25, 2014 | Dr. Daniel C. Maguire | The Link
Can Palestine Bring Israeli Officials before the International Criminal Court?
August 16, 2014 | John B. Quigley | The Link
In Search of King Solomon’s Temple
June 9, 2014 | George Wesley Buchanan | The Link
March 2, 2014 | Charles Villa-Vicencio | The Link
In Search of Grace Halsell
January 17, 2014 | Robin Kelley | The Link
November 3, 2013 | Pamela Olson | The Link
What Israel’s Best Friend Should Know
August 24, 2013 | Miko Peled | The Link
Dimona—(Shhh! It’s A Secret.)
June 23, 2013 | John Mahoney | The Link
April 7, 2013 | Charles A. Kimball | The Link
Like a Picture, A Map is Worth A Thousand Words
January 28, 2013 | Rod Driver | The Link
When War Criminals Walk Free
November 18, 2012 | Dr. Mads Gilbert | The Link
Welcome to Nazareth
July 30, 2012 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Neocons… They’re Back
May 27, 2012 | John Mahoney | The Link
Is the Two-State Solution Dead?
March 28, 2012 | Jeff Halper | The Link
January 8, 2012 | Maysoon Zayid | The Link
Who Are the “Canaanites”? Why Ask?
November 19, 2011 | Basem L. Ra'ad | The Link
Palestine and the Season of Arab Discontent
September 1, 2011 | Lawrence R. Davidson | The Link
An Open Letter to Church Leaders
June 20, 2011 | David W. Good | 2011
May 1, 2011 | Geoff Simons | 2011
What Price Israel?
January 9, 2011 | Chris Hedges | 2011
Publish It Not
December 20, 2010 | Jonathan Cook | 2010
September 4, 2010 | Khalid Amayreh | 2010
Where Is The Palestinian Gandhi?
July 18, 2010 | Mazin Qumsiyeh | 2010
A Doctor’s Prescription for Peace with Justice
May 20, 2010 | Steven Feldman M.D. | 2010
The Olive Trees of Palestine
January 8, 2010 | Edward Dillon | 2010
Spinning Cast Lead
December 9, 2009 | Jane Adas | 2009
Ending Israel’s Occupation
September 23, 2009 | John Mahoney | 2009
July 28, 2009 | James M. Wall | 2009
April 2, 2009 | John Mahoney | 2009
January 26, 2009 | Joel Kovel | 2009
Captive Audiences: Performing in Palestine
December 18, 2008 | Thomas Suárez | 2008
Israeli Palestinians: The Unwanted Who Stayed
October 5, 2008 | Jonathan Cook | 2008
The Grief Counselor of Gaza
July 10, 2008 | Eyad Sarraj | 2008
State of Denial: Israel, 1948-2008
April 22, 2008 | Ilan Pappe | 2008
January 6, 2008 | Khalid Amayreh | 2008
December 30, 2007 | Kathy Kelly | 2007
Avraham Burg: Apostate or Avatar?
October 4, 2007 | John Mahoney | 2007
Witness for the Defenseless
August 20, 2007 | Anna Baltzer | 2007
About That Word Apartheid
April 24, 2007 | John Mahoney | 2007
One Man’s Hope
January 7, 2007 | Fahim Qubain | 2007
Beyond the Minor Second
December 5, 2006 | Simon Shaheen | 2006
October 9, 2006 | Barbara Lubin | 2006
Why Divestment? Why Now?
August 20, 2006 | David Wildman | 2006
Inside the Anti-Occupation Camp
April 17, 2006 | Michel Warschawski | 2006
Middle East Studies Under Siege
January 14, 2006 | Joan W. Scott | 2006
A Polish Boy in Palestine
December 20, 2005 | David Neunuebel | 2005
The Israeli Factor
October 19, 2005 | John Cooley | 2005
The Coverage—and Non-Coverage—of Israel-Palestine
July 20, 2005 | Allison Weir | 2005
The Day FDR Met Saudi Arabia’s Ibn Saud
April 23, 2005 | Thomas W. Lippman | 2005
January 29, 2005 | Geoff Simons | 2005
When Legend Becomes Fact
December 21, 2004 | James M. Wall | 2004
Timeline for War
September 20, 2004 | John Mahoney | 2004
The CPT Report
June 16, 2004 | Peggy Gish | 2004
April 22, 2004 | Mary Eoloff | 2004
Beyond Road Maps & Walls
January 1, 2004 | Jeff Halper | 2004
December 5, 2003 | Cindy Corrie | 2003
Why Do They Hate US?
October 25, 2003 | John Zogby | 2003
In the Beginning, There Was Terrorism
July 5, 2003 | Ronald Bleier | 2003
April 20, 2003 | John Mahoney | 2003
January 20, 2003 | Phyllis Bennis | 2003
The Making of Iraq
December 6, 2002 | Geoff Simons | 2002
A Most UnGenerous Offer
September 27, 2002 | Jeff Halper | 2002
The Crusades, Then and Now
July 5, 2002 | Robert Ashmore | 2002
A Style Sheet on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
April 2, 2002 | J. Martin Bailey | 2002
Law & Disorder in the Middle East
January 15, 2002 | Francis A. Boyle | 2002
Reflections on September 11, 2001
November 20, 2001 | James M. Wall | 2001
Inside H-2 [Hebron]
September 12, 2001 | Jane Adas | 2001
Americans Tortured in Israeli Jails
June 8, 2001 | Jerri Bird | 2001
Today’s Via Dolorosa
April 20, 2001 | Edward Dillon | 2001
Israel’s Anti-Civilian Weapons
January 1, 2001 | John Mahoney | 2001
Confronting the Bible’s Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine
December 17, 2000 | Michael Prior, C.M. | 2000
On the Jericho Road
September 5, 2000 | AMEU | 2000
The Lydda Death March
July 13, 2000 | Audeh Rantisi | 2000
The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights
April 27, 2000 | Bashar Tarabieh | 2000
Muslim Americans in Mainstream America
February 20, 2000 | Nihad Awad | 2000
Native Americans and Palestinians
December 20, 1999 | Norman Finkelstein | 1999
Iraq: Who’s To Blame?
October 3, 1999 | Geoff Simons | 1999
July 20, 1999 | John Sugg | 1999
May 20, 1999 | Muna Hamzeh-Muhaisen | 1999
February 20, 1999 | Edward Mast | 1999
Dear NPR News
December 18, 1998 | Ali Abunimah | 1998
Israel’s Bedouin: The End of Poetry
September 22, 1998 | Ron Kelley | 1998
Politics Not As Usual
July 8, 1998 | Rod Driver | 1998
Israeli Historians Ask: What Really Happened 50 Years Ago?
January 8, 1998 | Ilan Pappe | 1998
The Jews of Iraq
January 8, 1998 | Naeim Giladi | 1998
“People and the Land’: Coming to a PBS Station Near You?
November 12, 1997 | Tom Hayes | 1997
U. S. Aid to Israel: The Subject No One Mentions
September 1, 1997 | Richard Curtiss | 1997
Remember the [USS] Liberty
July 24, 1997 | John Borne | 1997
AMEU’s 30th Anniversary Issue
April 8, 1997 | AMEU | 1997
The Children of Iraq: 1990-1997
January 22, 1997 | Kathy Kelly | 1997
Slouching Toward Bethlehem 2000
December 16, 1996 | J. Martin Bailey | 1996
Deir Yassin Remembered
September 2, 1996 | Dan McGowan | 1996
Palestinians and Their Days in Court: Unequal Before the Law
July 22, 1996 | Linda Brayer | 1996
Meanwhile in Lebanon
April 8, 1996 | George Irani | 1996
Hebron’s Theater of the Absurd
January 8, 1996 | Kathleen Kern | 1996
Epiphany at Beit Jala
November 24, 1995 | Donald Neff | 1995
Teaching About the Middle East
September 19, 1995 | Elizabeth Barlow | 1995
Jerusalem’s Final Status
July 8, 1995 | Michael Dumper | 1995
A Survivor for Whom Never Again Means Never Again [An Interview with Israel Shahak]
May 1, 1995 | Mark Dow | 1995
In the Land of Christ Christianity Is Dying
January 24, 1995 | Grace Halsell | 1995
Refusing to Curse the Darkness
December 8, 1994 | Geoffrey Aronson | 1994
Humphrey Gets the Inside Dope
September 29, 1994 | John Law | 1994
The Post-Handshake Landscape
July 19, 1994 | Frank Collins | 1994
Bosnia: A Genocide of Muslims
May 8, 1994 | Grace Halsell | 1994
Will ’94 Be ’49 All Over Again?
January 22, 1994 | Rabbi Elmer Berger | 1994
December 18, 1993 | Ann Lesch | 1993
Save the Musht
October 8, 1993 | Rosina Hassoun | 1993
August 8, 1993 | Colin Edwards | 1993
An Open Letter to Mrs. Clinton
May 8, 1993 | James Graff | 1993
Islam and the US National Interest
February 8, 1993 | Shaw Dallal | 1993
A Reply to Henry Kissinger and Fouad Ajami
December 16, 1992 | Norman Finkelstein | 1992
October 8, 1992 | Don Wagner | 1992
Covert Operations: The Human Factor
August 8, 1992 | Jane Hunter | 1992
AMEU’s 25th Anniversary Issue
May 19, 1992 | John Mahoney | 1992
Facing the Charge of Anti-Semitism
January 20, 1992 | Paul Hopkins | 1992
The Comic Book Arab
December 12, 1991 | Jack Shaheen | 1991
Visitation at Yad Vashem
September 3, 1991 | James Burtchaell | 1991
A New Literary Look at the Middle East
August 25, 1991 | John Mahoney | 1991
Beyond the Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Solidarity with the Palestinian People
February 8, 1991 | Marc Ellis | 1991
The Post-War Middle East
January 2, 1991 | Rami Khouri | 1991
Arab Defamation in the Media
December 21, 1990 | Casey Kasem | 1990
What Happened to Palestine?: The Revisionists Revisited
September 17, 1990 | Michael Palumbo | 1990
Protestants and Catholics Show New Support for Palestinians
July 26, 1990 | Charles A. Kimball | 1990
My Conversation with Humphrey
April 2, 1990 | John Law | 1990
American Victims of Israeli Abuses
January 17, 1990 | Albert Mokhiber | 1990
Diary of an American in Occupied Palestine
November 8, 1989 | Mary Mary | 1989
The International Crimes of Israeli Officials
September 23, 1989 | John B. Quigley | 1989
An Interview with Ellen Nassab
July 8, 1989 | Hisham Ahmed | 1989
US Aid to Israel
May 23, 1989 | Mohamed Rabie | 1989
Cocaine, Cutouts: Israel’s Unseen Diplomacy
January 14, 1989 | Jane Hunter | 1989
The Shi’i Muslims of the Arab World
December 8, 1988 | Augustus Norton | 1988
Israel and South Africa
October 3, 1988 | Robert Ashmore | 1988
Zionist Violence Against Palestinians
September 8, 1988 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1988
June 25, 1988 | George Weller | 1988
The US Press and the Middle East
January 8, 1988 | Mitchell Kaidy | 1988
The US Role in Israel’s Arms Industry
December 8, 1987 | Bishara Bahbah | 1987
The Shadow Government
October 24, 1987 | Jane Hunter | 1987
Public Opinion and the Middle East Conflict
September 8, 1987 | Fouad Moughrabi | 1987
England And The US in Palestine: A Comparison
May 22, 1987 | W. F. Aboushi | 1987
Archaeology Politics in Palestine
January 11, 1987 | Leslie Hoppe | 1987
The Demographic War for Palestine
December 21, 1986 | Janet Abu-Lughod | 1986
October 21, 1986 | Cheryl Rubenberg | 1986
The Vatican, US Catholics, and the Middle East
August 5, 1986 | George Irani | 1986
The Making of a Non-Person
May 2, 1986 | Jan Abu Shakrah | 1986
The Israeli-South African-US Alliance
January 17, 1986 | Jane Hunter | 1986
Humphrey Goes to the Middle East
December 4, 1985 | John Law | 1985
US-Israeli-Central American Connection
November 23, 1985 | Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi | 1985
The Palestine-Israel Conflict in the US Courtroom
September 1, 1985 | Rex Wingerter | 1985
The Middle East on the US Campus
May 24, 1985 | Naseer Aruri | 1985
From Time Immemorial: The Resurrection of a Myth
January 12, 1985 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1985
The Lasting Gift of Christmas
December 29, 1984 | Hassan Haddad | 1984
Israel’s Drive for Water
November 25, 1984 | Leslie Schmida | 1984
Shrine Under Siege
August 21, 1984 | Grace Halsell | 1984
The USS Liberty Affair
May 6, 1984 | James Ennes Jr. | 1984
The Middle East Lobbies
January 21, 1984 | Cheryl Rubenberg | 1984
US Aid to Israel
December 23, 1983 | Samir Abed-Rabbo | 1983
November 18, 1983 | O. Kelly Ingram | 1983
Prisoners of Israel
August 22, 1983 | Edward Dillon | 1983
The Land of Palestine
May 11, 1983 | L. Dean Brown | 1983
Military Peacekeeping in the Middle East
January 5, 1983 | William Mulligan | 1983
US-Israeli Relations: A Reassessment
December 20, 1982 | Allan Kellum | 1982
The Islamic Alternative
September 5, 1982 | Yvonne Haddad | 1982
Yasser Arafat: The Man and His People
July 9, 1982 | Grace Halsell | 1982
Tourism in the Holy Land
May 5, 1982 | Larry Ekin | 1982
Palestine: The Suppression of an Idea
January 18, 1982 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1982
The Disabled in the Arab World
December 14, 1981 | Audrey Shabbas | 1981
Arms Buildup in the Middle East
September 26, 1981 | Greg Orfalea | 1981
The Palestinians in America
July 5, 1981 | Elias Tuma | 1981
A Human Rights Odyssey: In Search of Academic Freedom
April 23, 1981 | Michael Griffin | 1981
Europe and the Arabs: A Developing Relationship
January 12, 1981 | John Richardson | 1981
National Council of Churches Adopts New Statement on the Middle East
December 20, 1980 | Allison Rock | 1980
Kuwait: Prosperity From A Sea of Oil
September 7, 1980 | Alan Klaum | 1980
American Jews and the Middle East: Fears, Frustration and Hope
July 24, 1980 | Allan Solomonow | 1980
The Arab Stereotype on Television
April 22, 1980 | Jack Shaheen | 1980
The Presidential Candidates: How They View the Middle East
January 13, 1980 | Allan Kellum | 1980
The West Bank and Gaza: The Emerging Political Consensus
December 16, 1979 | Ann Lesch | 1979
The Muslim Experience in the US
September 5, 1979 | Yvonne Haddad | 1979
Jordan Steps Forward
July 22, 1979 | Alan Klaum | 1979
The Child in the Arab Family
May 30, 1979 | Audrey Shabbas | 1979
January 12, 1979 | John Mahoney | 1979
The Sorrow of Lebanon
December 22, 1978 | Youssef Ibrahim | 1978
The Arab World: A New Economic Order
October 5, 1978 | Youssef Ibrahim | 1978
The Yemen Arab Republic: From Behind the Veil
May 20, 1978 | Alan Klaum | 1978
The New Israeli Law: Will It Doom the Christian Mission in the Holy Land?
April 24, 1978 | Humphrey Walz | 1978
January 14, 1978 | John Sutton, ed. | 1978
War Plan Ready If Peace Effort Fails
December 19, 1977 | Jim Hoagland | 1977
Concern Grows in U.S. Over Israeli Policies
September 25, 1977 | Allan C. Brownfeld | 1977
Prophecy and Modern Israel
June 5, 1977 | Calvin Keene | 1977
Literary Look at the Middle East
April 16, 1977 | Djelloul Marbrook | 1977
Carter Administration & the Middle East
January 8, 1977 | Norton Mezvinski | 1977
Unity Out of Diversity: United Arab Emirates
December 19, 1976 | John Sutton, ed. | 1976
New Leader for Troubled Lebanon
October 5, 1976 | Minor Yanis | 1976
Egypt: Rediscovered Destiny – A Survey
July 5, 1976 | Alan Klaum | 1976
America’s Stake in the Middle East
June 5, 1976 | John Davis | 1976
January 12, 1976 | Patricia Morris, ed. | 1976
Zionism? Racism? What Do You Mean?
December 21, 1975 | Humphrey Walz | 1975
October 8, 1975 | Marcella Kerr, ed. | 1975
June 20, 1975 | Ray Cleveland | 1975
The West Bank and Gaza
April 16, 1975 | John Richardson | 1975
Crisis in Lebanon
January 8, 1975 | Jack Forsyth | 1975
The Arab-Israeli Arms Race
December 14, 1974 | Fuad Jabber | 1974
The Palestinians Speak. Listen!
October 12, 1974 | Frank Epp | 1974
Holy Father Speaks on Palestine
May 26, 1974 | Pope Paul VI | 1974
History of the Middle East Conflict
March 18, 1974 | Sen. James Abourezk | 1974
Arab Oil and the Zionist Connection
January 21, 1974 | Jack Forsyth | 1974
Christians in the Arab East
December 8, 1973 | Humphrey Walz | 1973
American Jewry and the Zionist Jewish State Concept
September 30, 1973 | Norton Mezvinski | 1973
US Middle East Involvement
May 8, 1973 | John Richardson | 1973
A Prophet Speaks in Israel
March 8, 1973 | Norton Mezvinski | 1973
The Arab Market: Opportunities for U.S. Business
January 21, 1973 | Humphrey Walz | 1973
Toward a More Open Middle East Debate
December 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Some Thoughts on Jerusalem
September 15, 1972 | Joseph Ryan | 1972
Foreign Policy Report: Nixon Gives Massive Aid But Reaps No Political Harvest
May 13, 1972 | Andrew Glass | 1972
A Look at Gaza
March 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Religion Used to Promote Hatred in Israel
January 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Computer Age Answers to M. E. Problems
December 18, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Peace and the Holy City
September 5, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Why Visit the Middle East?
May 15, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Arab-Israeli Encounter in Jaffa
March 12, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
At Stake in UNRWA’s 1971 Budget
January 1, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Is the Modern State, Israel, A Fulfillment of Prophecy?
December 6, 1970 | Bradley Watkins | 1970
Council of Churches Acts on Middle East Crisis
September 26, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Mayhew Reports on Arab-Israeli Facts
May 24, 1970 | Christopher Mayhew | 1970
Sequel Offered Free to Refugee Agencies
March 22, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Responses to Palestine Information Proposal
January 3, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Churches Plan for Refugees and Peace
December 15, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
End UNRWA Deficit for Refugee Aid
September 28, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Church Statement Stresses Mideast Needs
May 3, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Mosque to Add Minaret to NYC Skyline
March 9, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Black Bids New Administration Face Facts
January 3, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
UN Struggles for Mideast Peace
November 3, 1968 | Humphrey Walz | 1968
How The Link Was Born and Can Grow
September 1, 1968 | AMEU | 1968
By Rashid Khalidi
For a few years during the early 1990s, I lived in Jerusalem for several months at a time, doing research in the private libraries of some of the city’s oldest families, including my own. With my wife and children, I stayed in an apartment belonging to a Khalidi family waqf, or religious endowment, in the heart of the cramped, noisy Old City. From the roof of this building, there was a view of two of the greatest masterpieces of early Islamic architecture: the shining golden Dome of the Rock was just over 300 feet away on the Haram al-Sharif. Beyond it lay the smaller silver-gray cupola of the al-Aqsa Mosque, with the Mount of Olives in the background. In other directions one could see the Old City’s churches and synagogues.
Just down Bab al-Silsila Street was the main building of the Khalidi Library, which was founded in 1899 by my grandfather, Hajj Raghib al-Khalidi, with a bequest from his mother, Khadija al-Khalidi. The library houses more than 1,200 manuscripts, mainly in Arabic (some in Persian and Ottoman Turkish), the oldest dating back to the early eleventh century. Including some 2,000 nineteenth-century Arabic books and miscellaneous family papers, the collection is one of the most extensive in all of Palestine that is still in the hands of its original owners. (Private Palestinian libraries were systematically looted in the spring of 1948 by specialized teams operating in the wake of advancing Zionist forces as they occupied the Arab-inhabited cities and towns, notably Jaffa, Haifa and the Arab neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. The stolen manuscripts and books were deposited in the Hebrew University Library, now the Israel National Library, under the heading “AP” for “abandoned property,” a typically Orwellian description of a process of cultural appropriation in the wake of conquest and dispossession. See Gish Amit, “Salvage or Plunder? Israel’s ‘Collection’ of Palestinian Private Libraries in West Jerusalem,” Journal of Palestinian Studies, 40, 4 (Summer 2011) pp. 6-23.)
At the time of my stay, the main library structure, which dates from around the thirteenth century, was undergoing restoration, so the contents were being stored temporarily in large cardboard boxes in a Mameluke-era building connected to our apartment by a narrow stairway. I spent over a year among those boxes, going through dusty, worm-eaten books, documents, and letters belonging to generations of Khalidis, among them my great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi. Through his papers, I discovered a worldly man with a broad education acquired in Jerusalem, Malta, Istanbul, and Vienna, a man who was deeply interested in comparative religion, especially in Judaism, and who owned a number of books in European languages on this and other subjects.
Yusuf Diya was heir to a long line of Jerusalemite Islamic scholars and legal functionaries: his father, al-Sayyid Mohammad ‘Ali al-Khalidi, had served for some 50 years as deputy qadi and chief of the Jerusalem Shari’a court secretariat. But at a young age Yusuf Diya sought a different path for himself. After absorbing the fundamentals of a traditional Islamic education, he left Palestine at the age of 18 — without his father’s approval, we are told — to spend two years at a British Church Mission Society school in Malta. From there he went to study at the Imperial Medical School in Istanbul, after which he attended the city’s Robert College, founded by American Protestant missionaries. For five years during the 1860s, Yusuf Diya attended some of the first institutions in the region that provided a Western-style education, learning English, French, German, and much else. It was an unusual trajectory for a young man from a family of Muslim religious scholars in the mid-nineteenth century.
Having obtained this broad training, Yusuf Diya filled different roles as an Ottoman government official: translator in the Foreign Ministry; consul in the Russian port of Poti; governor of districts in Kurdistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria; and mayor of Jerusalem for nearly a decade — with stints teaching at the Royal Imperial University in Vienna. He was also elected as the deputy from Jerusalem to the short-lived Ottoman parliament established in 1876 under the empire’s new constitution, earning Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid’s enmity because he supported parliamentary prerogatives over executive power.
In line with family tradition and his Islamic and Western education, al-Khalidi became an accomplished scholar as well. The Khalidi Library contains many books of his in French, German, and English, as well as correspondence with learned figures in Europe and the Middle East. Additionally, old newspapers in the library from Austria, France, and Britain show that Yusuf Diya regularly read the overseas press. There is evidence that he received these materials via the Austrian post office in Istanbul, which was not subject to the draconian Ottoman laws of censorship.
As a result of his wide reading, as well as his time in Vienna and other European countries, and from his encounters with Christian missionaries, Yusuf Diya was fully conscious of the pervasiveness of Western anti-Semitism. He had also gained impressive knowledge of the intellectual origins of Zionism, specifically its nature as a response to Christian Europe’s virulent anti-Semitism. He was undoubtedly familiar with “Der Judenstaat” by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, published in 1896, and was aware of the first two Zionist congresses in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and 1898. Indeed, it seems clear that Yusuf Diya knew of Herzl from his own time in Vienna. He knew of the debates and the views of the different Zionist leaders and tendencies, including Herzl’s explicit call for a state for the Jews, with the “sovereign right” to control immigration. Moreover, as mayor of Jerusalem he had witnessed the friction with the local population prompted by the first years of proto-Zionist activity, starting with the arrival of the earliest European Jewish settlers in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
Herzl, the acknowledged leader of the growing movement he had founded, paid his sole visit to Palestine in 1898, timing it to coincide with that of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. He had already begun to give thought to some of the issues involved in the colonization of Palestine, writing in his diary in 1895:
“We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
Thus Yusuf Diya would have been more aware than most of his compatriots in Palestine of the ambition of the nascent Zionist movement, as well as its strength, resources, and appeal. He knew perfectly well that there was no way to reconcile Zionism’s claims on Palestine and its explicit aim of Jewish statehood and sovereignty there with the rights and well-being of the country’s indigenous inhabitants. It is for these reasons, presumably, that on March 1, 1899, Yusuf Diya sent a prescient seven-page letter to the French chief rabbi, Zadoc Kahn, with the intention that it be passed on to the founder of modern Zionism.
The letter began with an expression of Yusuf Diya’s admiration for Herzl, whom he esteemed “as a man, as a writer of talent, and as a true Jewish patriot,” and of his respect for Judaism and for Jews, who he said were “our cousins,” referring to the Patriarch Abraham, revered as their common forefather by both Jews and Muslims. He understood the motivations for Zionism, just as he deplored the persecution to which Jews were subject in Europe. In light of this, he wrote, Zionism in principle was “natural, beautiful and just,” and “who could contest the rights of the Jews in Palestine? My God, historically it is your country!”
This sentence is sometimes cited, in isolation from the rest of the letter, to represent Yusuf Diya’s enthusiastic acceptance of the entire Zionist program in Palestine. However, the former mayor and deputy of Jerusalem went on to warn of the dangers he foresaw as a consequence of the implementation of the Zionist project for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. The idea would sow dissension among Christians, Muslims and Jews there. It would imperil the status and security that Jews had always enjoyed throughout the Ottoman domains. Coming to his main purpose, Yusuf Diya said soberly that whatever the merits of Zionism, the “brutal force of circumstances had to be taken into account.” The most important of them were that “Palestine is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, and more gravely, it is inhabited by others.” Palestine already had an indigenous population that would never accept being superseded. He spoke “with full knowledge of the facts,” asserting that it was “pure folly” for Zionism to plan to take over Palestine. “Nothing could be more just and equitable” than for “the unhappy Jewish nation” to find a refuge elsewhere. But, he concluded with a heartfelt plea, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”
Herzl’s reply to Yusuf Diya came quickly, on March 19, 1899. His letter was probably the first response by a leader of the Zionist movement to a cogent Palestinian objection to its embryonic plans for Palestine. In it, Herzl established what was to become a pattern of dismissing as insignificant the interests, and sometimes the very existence, of the indigenous population of Palestine. The Zionist founder simply ignored the letter’s basic thesis that Palestine was already inhabited by a population that would not agree to be supplanted. Although he had visited the country once, like most early European Zionists, Herzl had not much knowledge of or contact with its native inhabitants. He also failed to address al-Khalidi’s well-founded concerns about the danger the Zionist program would pose to the large Jewish communities all over the Middle East.
Glossing over the fact that Zionism was ultimately meant to lead to Jewish domination of Palestine, Herzl employed a justification that was a touchstone for colonialists at all times and in all places and that would become a staple argument of the Zionist movement: Jewish immigration would benefit the indigenous people of Palestine. “It is their well-being, their individual wealth, which we will increase by bringing in our own.” Echoing the language he had used in “Der Judenstaat,” Herzl added: “In allowing immigration to a number of Jews bringing their intelligence, their financial acumen and their means of enterprise to the country, no one can doubt that the well-being of the entire country would be the happy result.” (Herzl’s letter is reprinted in “From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem,” Walid Khalidi, ed., Beirut, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971.)
Most revealingly, the letter addresses a consideration that Yusuf Diya had not even raised. “You see another difficulty, Excellency, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine. But who would think of sending them away?” With his assurance in response to al-Khalidi ‘s unasked question, Herzl alludes to the desire recorded in his diary to “spirit” the country’s poor population across the borders. It is clear from this chilling quotation that Herzl grasped the importance of “disappearing” the native population of Palestine in order for Zionism to succeed. Moreover, the 1901 charter, which he co-drafted for a Jewish-Ottoman Land Company, includes the same principle of the removal of inhabitants of Palestine to “other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire.” (The text of this charter can be found in Walid Khalidi’s “The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company,” in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 1993, pp. 30-47.) Although Herzl stressed in his writings that his project was based on “the highest tolerance” with full rights for all, what was meant was no more than toleration of any minorities that might remain after the rest had been moved elsewhere. (See Muhammad Ali Khalidi, “Utopian Zionism or Zionist Proselytism.”) Herzl’s almost utopian 1902 novel “Altneuland” (“Old New Land”) described a Palestine of the future which had all these attractive characteristics.
Herzl underestimated his correspondent. From al-Khalidi’s letter it is clear that he understood perfectly well that what was at issue was not the immigration of a limited “number of Jews” to Palestine, but rather the transformation of the entire land into a Jewish state. Given Herzl’s reply to him, Yusuf Diya could only have come to one or two conclusions. Either the Zionist leader meant to deceive him by concealing the true aims of the Zionist movement, or Herzl did not see Yusuf Diya and the Arabs of Palestine as worthy of being taken seriously.
Instead, with the smug self-assurance so common to nineteenth-century Europeans, Herzl offered the preposterous inducement that the colonization, and ultimately the usurpation, of their land by strangers would benefit the people of that country. Herzl’s thinking and his reply to Yusuf Diya appear to have been based on the assumption that the Arabs could ultimately be bribed or fooled into ignoring what the Zionist movement actually intended for Palestine. This condescending attitude toward the intelligence, not to speak of the rights, of the Arab population of Palestine was to be serially repeated by Zionist, British, European and American leaders in the decades that followed, down to the present day. As for the Jewish state that was ultimately created by the movement Herzl founded, as Yusuf Diya foresaw, there was to be room there for only one people, the Jewish people: others would indeed be “spirited away,” or at best tolerated.
Yusuf Diya’s letter and Herzl’s response are well known to historians, but most of them do not seem to have reflected carefully on what was perhaps the first meaningful exchange between a leading Palestinian figure and a founder of the Zionist movement. They have not reckoned fully with Herzl’s rationalizations, which laid out, quite plainly, the essentially colonial nature of the century-long conflict in Palestine. Nor have they acknowledged al-Khalidi’s arguments, which have been borne out in full since 1899.
Starting after World War I, the dismantling of indigenous Palestinian society was set in motion by the large-scale immigration of European Jewish settlers supported by the newly established British Mandate authorities, who helped them build the autonomous structure of a Zionist para-state. Additionally, a separate Jewish-controlled sector of the economy was created through the exclusion of Arab labor from Jewish-owned firms under the slogan of avoda ivrit, Hebrew labor, and the injection of what were truly massive amounts of capital from abroad. By the middle of the 1930s, although Jews were still a minority of the population, this largely autonomous sector was bigger than the Arab-owned part of the economy. According to the Israeli scholar Zeev Sternhell, during the entire decade of the 1920s “the annual inflow of Jewish capital was on average 41.5% larger than the Jewish net domestic product (NDP)…its ratio to NDP did not fall below 33% in any of the pre-World War II years…” See Sternhell’s “The Founding Myths of Israel,” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998, p.217. The consequence of this remarkable inflow of capital was a growth rate of 13.2% annually for the Jewish economy of Palestine from 1922-1947; for details see Rashid Khalidi, “The Iron Cage,” pp. 13-14.
The indigenous population was further diminished by the crushing repression of the Great 1936-39 Arab Revolt against British rule, during which 10 percent of the adult male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled, as the British employed 100,000 troops and air power to master Palestinian resistance. Meanwhile, a massive wave of Jewish immigration as a result of persecution by the Nazi regime in Germany raised the Jewish population in Palestine from just under 18 percent of the total in 1932 to over 31 percent in 1939. This provided the demographic critical mass and military manpower that were necessary for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. The expulsion then of over half the Arab population of the country, first by Zionist militias and then by the Israeli army, completed the military and political triumph of Zionism.
Zionism: A Colonial Settler Movement
Such radical social engineering at the expense of the indigenous population is the way of all colonial settler movements. In Palestine, it was a necessary precondition for transforming most of an overwhelming Arab country into a predominantly Jewish state. As I argue in my recent book, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” the modern history of Palestine can best be understood in these terms: as a colonial war waged against an indigenous population, by a variety of parties, to force them to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will.
Although this war shares many of the typical characteristics of other colonial campaigns, it also possesses very specific characteristics, as it was fought by and on behalf of the Zionist movement, which itself was and is a very particular colonial project. Further complicating this understanding is the fact that this colonial conflict, conducted with massive support from external powers, became over time a national confrontation between two new national entities, two peoples.
Underlying this feature, and amplifying it, was the profound resonance for Jews, and also many Christians, of their Biblical connection to the historic land of Israel. Expertly woven into modern political Zionism, this resonance has become integral to it. A nineteenth-century colonial-national movement thus adorned itself with a Biblical coat that was powerfully attractive to Bible-reading Protestants in Great Britain and the United States, blinding them to the modernity of Zionism and to its colonial nature: for how could Jews be “colonizing” the land where their religion began?
Given this blindness, the conflict at best is portrayed as a straight-forward, if tragic, national clash between two peoples with rights in the same land. At worst, it is described as the result of the fanatical, inveterate hatred of Arabs and Muslims for the Jewish people as they assert their inalienable right to their eternal, God-given homeland. In fact, there is no reason that what has happened in Palestine for over a century cannot be understood as both a colonial and a national conflict. But our concern here is its colonial nature, as this aspect has been as underappreciated as it is central, even though those qualities typical of other colonial campaigns are everywhere in evidence in the modern history of Palestine.
Characteristically, European colonizers seeking to supplant or dominate indigenous peoples, whether in the Americas, Africa, Asia or Australasia (or in Ireland), have always described them in pejorative terms. They also always claim that they will leave the native population better off as a result of their rule: the “civilizing” and “progressive” nature of their colonial projects serve to justify whatever enormities are perpetrated against the indigenous people to fulfill their objectives. One need only refer to the rhetoric of French administrators in North Africa or of British viceroys in India. Of the British Raj, Lord Curzon said: “To feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist — that is enough, that is the Englishman’s justification in India.” (See “Lord Curzon in India, Being A Selection from His Speeches as Viceroy & Governor-General of India 1898-1905,” London: Macmillan, 1906, pp. 589-590.)
Those words “where it did not exist before” bear repeating. For Curzon and others of his colonial class, the natives did not know what was best for them and could not achieve these things on their own. “You cannot do without us,” Curzon said in another speech, cited on page 489 of the above mentioned book.
For over a century, the Palestinians have been depicted in precisely the same language by their colonizers as have been other indigenous peoples. The condescending rhetoric of Theodor Herzl and other Zionist leaders was no different from that of their European peers. The Jewish state, Herzl wrote, would “form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” (See “Der Judenstaat,” translated and excerpted in Arthur Hertzberg, ed., “The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader,” New York: Atheneum, 1970, p. 222.)
This was similar to the language used in the conquest of the North American frontier, which ended in the nineteenth century with the eradication or subjugation of the continent’s entire native population. As in North America, the colonization of Palestine — similar to South Africa, Australia and Algeria and a few parts of East Africa — was meant to yield a white European settler colony. The same tone toward the Palestinians that characterizes both Curzon’s rhetoric and Herzl’s letter is replicated in much discourse on Palestine in the United States, Europe, and Israel even today.
In line with this colonial rationale, there is a vast body of literature dedicated to proving that before the advent of European Zionist colonization, Palestine was barren, empty, and backward. Historical Palestine has been the subject of innumerable disparaging tropes in Western popular culture, as well as academically worthless writing that purports to be scientific and scholarly, but which is riddled with historical errors, misrepresentations, and sometimes outright bigotry. At most, this literature asserts the country was peopled by a small population of rootless and nomadic Bedouin who had no fixed identity and no attachment to the land they were passing through, essentially as transients.
The corollary of this contention is that it was only the labor and drive of the new Jewish immigrants that turned the country into the blooming garden it supposedly is today, and that only they had an identification with and love for the land, as well as a (God-given) right to it. This attitude is summed up in the slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land,” used by Christian supporters of a Jewish Palestine, as well as by early Zionists like Israel Zangwill. In “The Return to Palestine,” New Liberal Review, December 1901, p. 615, Zangwill wrote that “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.” (For a recent example of the tendentious and never-ending reuse of this slogan, see Diana Muir, “A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 55-62.)
Palestine was terra nullius to those who came to settle it, with those living there nameless and amorphous. Thus Herzl’s letter to Yusuf Diya referred to Palestinian Arabs, then roughly 95 percent of the country’s inhabitants as its “non-Jewish population.”
Essentially, the point being made is that the Palestinians did not exist, or were of no account, or did not deserve to inhabit the country they so sadly neglected. If they did not exist, then even well-founded Palestinian objections to the Zionist movement’s plans could simply be ignored. Just as Herzl dismissed Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi’s letter, most later schemes for the disposition of Palestine were similarly cavalier. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, issued by a British cabinet and committing Britain to the creation of a national Jewish home, never mentioned the Palestinians per se, the great majority of the country’s population at the time, even as it set the course for Palestine for the subsequent century.
The idea that the Palestinians simply do not exist, or even worse, are the malicious invention of those who wish Israel ill, is supported by such fraudulent books as Joan Peters’ “From Time Immemorial,” now universally considered by scholars to be completely without merit. On publication in 1984, however, it received a rapturous reception and it is still in print and selling discouragingly well. The book was mercilessly eviscerated in reviews by Norman Finkelstein, Yehoshua Porath and numerous other scholars, who all but called it a fraud. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who was briefly my colleague at Columbia University, told me that the book was produced by Peters, who had no particular Middle East expertise, at the instigation, and with the resources, of a right wing Israeli institution. Essentially, he told me, they gave her their files “proving” that the Palestinians did not exist, and she wrote them up. I have no way of assessing this claim. Hertzberg died in 2006 and Peters in 2015.
Such literature, both pseudo-scholarly and popular, is largely based on European travelers’ accounts, on those of new Zionist immigrants, or on British Mandatory sources. It is often produced by people who know nothing about the indigenous society and its history and have disdain for it, or worse yet have an agenda that depends on its invisibility or disappearance. Rarely utilizing sources produced from within Palestinian society, these representations essentially repeat the perspective, the ignorance and the biases, tinged by European arrogance, of outsiders. Such works are numerous. See Arnold Brumberg, “Zion before Zionism, 1838-1880,” Syracuse University Press, 1985, or in a superficially more sophisticated form, Ephraim Karsh’s characteristically polemical and tendentious “Palestine Betrayed,” Yale University Press, 2011. This book is part of a new genre of neo-conservative “scholarship” funded by, among others, extreme right-wing hedge-fund multimillionaire Roger Hertog. Another star in this neo-con firmament, Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, is equally generous in his thanks to Hertog in the preface to his book “Ike’s Gamble, America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East,” Simon and Schuster, 2016.
The message is also well represented in popular culture in Israel and the United States, as well as in political and public life. American public attitudes on Palestine have been shaped by the widespread disdain for Arabs and Muslims spread by Hollywood and the mass media, as shown by Jack Shaheen in “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People,” and by Noga Kadmon in “Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948,” which shows from extensive interviewing and other sources that similar attitudes have taken deep root in the minds of many Israelis.
The message has been amplified via mass market books such as Leon Uris’s novel “Exodus” and the Academy Award-winning movie that it spawned, works that have had a vast impact on an entire generation and that serve to confirm and deepen pre-existing prejudices. In her article “Zionism as Anticolonialism: The Case of Exodus” in American Literary History, 25, 4 (Winter 2013) Amy Kaplan argues that the novel and the movie played a central role in the Americanization of Zionism. See also chapter two of her book “Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018, pp. 58-93.
Leading American political figures have explicitly denied the very existence of Palestinians, as did former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs.” While returning from a trip to Palestine in March 2015, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said “There’s really no such thing as the Palestinians.” Similar views are strongly held by major political donors like the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the largest single donor to the Republican party for several years running, who has stated that “the Palestinians are an invented people.” To some degree, every U.S. administration since President Harry Truman’s has been staffed by people making policy on Palestine whose views indicate that they believe Palestinians, whether or not they exist, are lesser beings than Israelis.
Significantly, many early apostles of Zionism had been proud to embrace the colonial nature of their project. The eminent Revisionist Zionist leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, godfather of the political trend that has dominated Israel since 1977, upheld by Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhadk Shamir, and Benjamin Netanyahu, was especially clear about this. Jabotinsky wrote in 1923: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.’”
Such honesty was rare among other leading Zionists, who like Herzl protested the innocent purity of their aims and deceived their Western listeners, and perhaps themselves, with fairy tales about their benign intention toward the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. Jabotinsky and his followers were among the few who admitted publicly the harsh realities that were inevitably attendant on the implantation of a colonial settler society within an existing population. Specifically, he acknowledged that the constant threat of the use of massive force against the Arab majority would be necessary to implement the Zionist program: what he called an “iron wall” of bayonets was an imperative for its success. As Jabotinsky put it in his article “The Iron Wall: We and the Arabs,” first published in Russian under the title “O Zheleznoe Stene” in 1923: “Zionist colonization…can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population — behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.” This was still the high age of colonialism, when such things being done to native societies by Westerners were normalized and described as “progress.”
The social and economic institutions founded by the early Zionists, which were central to the success of the Zionist project, were also unquestioningly understood by all and described as colonial. The most important of these institutions was the Jewish Colonization Association, renamed in 1924 the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association. This body was originally established by the German Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch and later combined with a similar organization founded by the British peer and financier Lord Edmund de Rothschild. The JCA provided the massive financial support that made possible extensive land purchases and the subsidies that enabled most of the early Zionist colonies in Palestine to survive and thrive before and during the Mandate Period.
Unremarkably, once colonialism took on a bad odor in the post-World War II era of decolonization, the colonial origins and practice of Zionism and Israel were whitewashed and conveniently forgotten in Israel and the West. In fact, Zionism — for two decades the coddled step-child of British colonialism — rebranded itself as an “anti-colonial” movement. The occasion for this drastic makeover was a violent campaign of sabotage and terrorism launched against Great Britain after it drastically limited its support of Jewish immigration with the 1939 White paper on the eve of World War II. This falling out between erstwhile allies (to help them fight the Palestinians in the late 1930s, Britain had armed and trained the Jewish settlers they had allowed to enter the country) encouraged the outlandish idea that the Zionist movement was itself anti-colonial.
There is no escaping the fact that Zionism initially had clung tightly to the British Empire for support, and had only successfully implanted itself in Palestine thanks to the unceasing efforts of British imperialism. It could not be otherwise, for as Jabotinsky stressed, at the outset only the British had the means to wage the colonial war that was necessary to suppress Palestinian resistance to the takeover of their country. This war has continued since then, waged sometimes overtly, but invariably with the approval, and often the direct involvement, of the leading powers of the day and the sanction of the international bodies they dominated, the League of Nations and the United Nations.
Today, the conflict that was engendered by this classic nineteenth-century European colonial venture in a non-European land, supported from 1917 onward by the greatest Western imperial power of its age, is rarely described in such unvarnished terms. Indeed those who analyze not only Israeli settlement efforts in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, but the entire Zionist enterprise from the perspective of its colonial settler origins and nature are often vilified. Many cannot accept the contradiction inherent in the idea that although Zionism undoubtedly succeeded in creating a thriving national entity in Israel, its roots are as a colonial settler project — as were those of modern countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Nor can they accept that it would not have succeeded but for the support of the great imperial powers, Britain and later the United States. Zionism, therefore, could be and was both a national and colonial settler movement at one and the same time.
Why This Book?
Rather than write a comprehensive survey of Palestinian history, I have chosen in my latest book “The Hundred Years’ War” to focus on six key moments that were turning points in the struggle over Palestine. These six events, from the 1917 issuance of the Balfour Declaration, which decided the fate of Palestine, to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its intermittent wars on Gaza’s population in the early 2000s, highlight the colonial nature of the hundred years’ war on Palestine, and also the indispensable role of external powers in waging it.
I have told this story partly through the experiences of Palestinians who lived through the war, many of them members of my family who were present at some of the episodes described. I have included my own recollections of events that I witnessed as well as materials of my own and other families, and a variety of first-person narratives. My purpose throughout has been to show that this conflict must be seen quite differently from most of the prevailing views of it.
I have written several books and numerous articles on different aspects of Palestinian history in a purely academic vein. While this book is underpinned by academic research, it also has a first-person dimension that is usually excluded from scholarly history. Although members of my family have been involved in events in Palestine for years, as have I, as a witness or a participant, our experiences are not unique, in spite of the advantages we enjoyed because of our class and status. One could draw on many such accounts, and much history from below and from other sectors of Palestinian society remains to be related. Nevertheless, in spite of the tensions inherent in the approach I have chosen, I believe it helps illuminate a perspective that is missing from the way in which the story of Palestine has been told in most of the literature.
I should add that this book does not correspond to a “lachrymose conception” of the past hundred years of Palestinian history, to reprise the eminent historian Salo Baron’s critique of a nineteenth-century trend in Jewish historical writing. (Baron, by the way, was the Nathan L. Miller Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Institutions at Columbia University from 1929-1963, and is regarded as the greatest Jewish historian of the twentieth century. He taught my father, Ismail Khalidi, who was a graduate student there in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Baron told me four decades later that my father had been a good student, although given his unfailing courtesy and good nature, he may simply have been trying to be kind.)
Palestinians have been accused by those who sympathize with their oppressors of wallowing in their own victimization. It is a fact, however, that like all indigenous peoples confronting colonial wars, the Palestinians faced odds that were daunting and sometimes impossible. It is also true that they have suffered repeated defeats and have often been divided and badly led.
None of this means that Palestinians could not sometimes defy those odds successfully, or that at other times they could not have made better choices. But we cannot overlook the formidable international and imperial forces arrayed against them, the scale of which has often been dismissed, and in spite of which they have displayed remarkable resilience. It is my hope that this book will help recover some of what has thus far been airbrushed out of the history by those who control all of historic Palestine and the narrative surrounding it. □
Chapter 1: The First Declaration of War, 1917—1939
Chapter 2: The Second Declaration of War, 1947—1948
Chapter 3: The Third Declaration of War, 1967
Chapter 4: The Fourth Declaration of War, 1982
Chapter 5: The Fifth Declaration of War, 1987—1995
Chapter 6: The Sixth Declaration of War, 2000—2014
“The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917—2017” will be released on Amazon on Jan. 28, 2020. Hardcover price is $30.00.
The Kindle version is $14.99.
The hardback version is also available from A.M.E.U. for $28.00, postage included. Send check to AMEU, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 245, New York, NY 10115. Or go to our website www.ameu.org and order through PayPal.
By Gil Maguire
1948 was going to be a busy year for my family. My grandfather, Robert F. Maguire, had just been appointed to serve as a judge in the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. My father, Robert F. Maguire, Jr., a pilot for Alaska Airlines, had just finished an assignment in the Philippines where he had organized a charter airline called Far East Air Transport which would later become Philippine Airlines. He was now headed to what soon would become the Jewish state of Israel to take charge of flying Jews from around the world to their new national home. I was four years old.
I’d always thought my focus on the history and conflict over Palestine began with my father’s role as chief pilot in Operation Magic Carpet. But I think it really began with my grandfather’s service as a judge in the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1948-49. He was one of three judges in the last of the trials, the so-called Ministries Case whose main focus was the crimes committed by Nazi bureaucrats during the occupation of countries they had invaded and conquered.
My grandfather’s role in the Nuremberg War Crimes trials was important to our family because it showed we were not only involved in fighting (and dying) to defeat the Nazis but also in their trial and conviction for the war crimes they committed, including against the Jewish people in the horrors of the Holocaust.
Our role in World War II and its aftermath is a source of pride for my family. None of our many wars since has had anywhere near the same effect. That was a war to end all wars and they were our greatest generation. All of our many conflicts since have been ambiguous affairs that ended indecisively, were poorly disguised defeats, or have refused to end at all. Not the stuff of heroes and national myths. The death of an uncle at Guadalcanal in 1942 seemed painful but worthwhile. A nephew’s loss of a leg fighting in Iraq is equally distressing but more ambiguous.
While there is something noble about Nuremberg and even heroic about Magic Carpet, there is no little irony in these accomplishments: In 1948, my grandfather was judging and convicting German Nazis for war crimes involving its illegal occupation of foreign lands including forced deportations of Jews, unlawful destruction or seizure and appropriation of private and public property, and other crimes of occupation.
At the same time, similar crimes of occupation were being committed by Zionist Jews in Palestine, later Israel, against the indigenous Arab people of Palestine. They too suffered forced deportation or ethnic cleansing as well as destruction and seizure of their lands, homes, and personal property. Over 500 Arab villages and small towns in Palestine were leveled by Israeli forces to prevent the inhabitants from having homes to return to. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian war refugees to return to their homes after hostilities had ended was also a war crime. Unlike Nazi war crimes, Israel’s would go unpunished. Obviously the horrendous Nazi war crimes aimed at the extermination of European Jews have no applicability or parallel to Palestine and the conduct of Zionist Jews toward the Palestinian Arab population in 1948 or after.
To further the irony, my father’s efforts bringing deserving Jewish refugees to Israel during this period were inadvertently in furtherance of the Zionist goal of removing Palestinian Arabs from the lands captured and occupied by the Israeli army in order to replace them with non-indigenous Jews. The homes, lands, and personal property confiscated from ethnically cleansed indigenous Palestinian Arabs became the property of non-indigenous Jews flown to Israel by my father in various operations he headed including Magic Carpet and Ali Baba.
Israel in 1948 was desperate for people to build the country they desired but only Jews would suffice. Palestinian Arabs weren’t acceptable and some 90 percent were forced to leave and never allowed to return to their lands, homes, and personal property. Despite their Semitic ancestry, they were the wrong kind of people.
My father was proud of his role bringing the Jews to Palestine, but he was also well aware of the price Palestine’s indigenous Arabs would pay. The forced removal of some 750,000 from their homes and lands as tens of thousands of Jews were flown to Israel as replacements.
The myth of Magic Carpet and the Irish Moses hid some stark realities. In some ways even my grandfather’s Nuremberg trials was also more myth than truth. Of the 19 convicted defendants in the Ministries Case, with sentences up to 25 years, all were pardoned and released in 1950 or 1951, only a year or two after their convictions. The politics of the emerging Cold War had triumphed over meting out justice to convicted Nazi war criminals.
Later generations of my family would research and write about both Nuremberg and Magic Carpet: My nephew, Peter Maguire, a historian and war crimes investigator, wrote about the Nuremberg trials in Law and War: An American Story Columbia University Press (Revised Ed., 2010). He is often interviewed or called to testify on incidents involving war crimes and has written other books and articles on the subject including Facing Death in Cambodia Columbia University Press (2d Ed. 2005). My own focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began with articles I wrote and published (primarily on Mondoweiss.net) starting in 2008 and culminated this year (2019) in the publication of my novel about the conflict, The Exodus Betrayal: A President Confronts Israel.
OPERATION MAGIC CARPET AND THE ROLE OF THE IRISH MOSES
In 1948, Alaska Airlines was a small charter airline operating on a shoestring by using cheaply acquired World War II surplus cargo aircraft and war veteran pilots to fly them. Alaska and its aggressive new general manager, James Wooten, began by getting contracts to fly supplies for the Berlin Airlift, and then for flying Jewish refugees from Germany and even China to what was about to become the state of Israel.
Robert F. Maguire Jr., my father, flew in all those operations and as chief pilot managed Alaska Airline’s contracts to fly the Jewish refugees of Europe, the Middle East, and even from Shanghai, China to Israel. In 1949, as the Communist Chinese were taking over China, he rescued a trapped Jewish community in the northern Chinese city of Tientsin by chartering a ship to take them to Hong Kong. From there they were then flown to Israel, many in a plane he piloted.
When Wooten landed a big contract to fly 50,000 Yemeni Jews to Israel, Maguire was picked to head that project which became known as Operation Magic Carpet. It was underfunded and lots of strict rules for aircraft maintenance and aircrew flying hours were repeated violated. Eventually, the Civil Aeronautics Board watchdog agency imposed heavy fines on Alaska and forced it to give up Operation Magic Carpet. Maguire was secretly tasked with creating a new airline called Near East Air Transport to finish the contract even though Alaska owned the planes and the new company.
The Jews of Yemen were a snapshot into ancient times and were thought to be among the lost tribes of Israel. They trekked for days through the high deserts of Yemen to arrive at the pickup point in British controlled Aden. Many died along the way and over 80 were slaughtered in an Arab riot in Aden in 1948. Those that survived the long trek arrived with a few personal belongings but with family Hebrew bibles in hand. The elders of each village carried the Holy Torah Scrolls of their synagogues aboard the planes. Few had ever seen an airplane so when faced with a huge silver-colored DC-4, they often refused to board.
The Old Testament came to the rescue. Maguire had eagles painted over the airplane doors and an Israeli ground crewman would read the passengers a quote from the Book of Isaiah foretelling of their journey across the desert wilderness and how the Lord would transport them on the wings of eagles. The silver planes, they were told, were the eagles complete with silver wings. Convinced that the silver birds were a fulfillment of a biblical prophecy, the Yemeni Jews then eagerly boarded the planes, their Torah scrolls in full view.
Once aboard the planes, their education continued. Unfamiliar with modern facilities, the passengers had to be instructed on using the large, barrel-like latrine at the rear of the plane. One stewardess recalled gesturing to a village elder how to use the latrine. He smiled then promptly climbed into the barrel feet first.
Maguire said the urine, vomit, and bodily waste on the cabin floors from 150 passengers sitting on wooden benches for a typically eight hour flight threatened to corrode the aluminum structure of the planes, so the cabins had to be thoroughly hosed down upon arrival and then were doused with cheap perfume to help disguise the lingering smell. The resulting combined odor seemed much worse, Maguire recalled.
On one flight, Maguire smelled smoke. Fire in the cabin was the dread of every crew member. He rushed back into the cabin and saw a stewardess angrily yelling as she frantically stamped out a fire started by some of the passengers who were very cold in the unheated cabins. To handle the long distances, the cabins contained an extra fuel tank in the main aisle. They had started their fire between the fuel tank wall and the cabin floor. Fortunately, there was no explosion.
Despite the many problems and frustrations incurred, those that flew in operations Magic Carpet, Ali Baba, and the China run think of their experiences as the high point of their lives. Maguire talked of the cheers and tears that would accompany his announcement that they had finally arrived in Israeli airspace. On the ground there would be prayers and more tears even among the hardened crewmembers as Yemeni Jews descended the stairway onto the hard but welcoming ground of Eretz Yisrael. Maguire would recount those scenes on the eve of his death, 56 years later, and still choked up at the memory.
The flying was also dangerous as the routes were over Arab territory and the Arabs were fighting a war with Israel. It was not uncommon for the planes to be shot at as the entire flight was flown along the borders between Arab countries, none of whom gave clearance for the flights. A few planes were hit although none were downed. On one flight, Maguire was forced to land to get fuel in Port Sudan. He feared that he, his crew, and their human cargo of 150 Yemeni Jews would be interned, imprisoned, or even worse. When an armed jeep approached his plane, he requested that his airplane be refueled. His request was denied and he was told to evacuate his crew and passengers. He said he would but informed the officials he would need doctors and ambulances as many of his passengers were infected with smallpox. He was ordered to leave his passengers on the plane and soon a fuel truck appeared, refueled his plane, and his armed guards demanded he immediately depart. A few hours later, he and his smallpox-free passengers arrived safely at Lod airfield near Tel Aviv.
As Operation Magic Carpet was winding down, Alaska and Wooten surreptitiously obtained a new contract to fly some 150,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel. This project was also headed by Maguire using Near East Air Transport as the named air carrier and became popularly known as Operation Ali Baba. As with Operation Magic Carpet, the overall project was managed and funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which was heavily involved in arranging transportation for Jewish refugees from around the world to Israel.
Maguire had expected to be richly rewarded once the operations concluded. He said he was told large monthly bonuses were being deposited in a Swiss bank account in his name and would be paid once the work was completed. This turned out to be a false promise as no Swiss bank account in his name existed and his requests to be paid were refused. Upon his return to the US, he met with an expert in international law who told him he had virtually no chance of succeeding in an international lawsuit. He was angered and devastated by the news. He now had to begin a new career in commercial real estate starting from the bottom. While he would eventually succeed, the decade of the 1950s were financially challenging for Maguire and his family.
A certain amount of chicanery was involved in Maguire’s work as he was listed as the owner of Near East Air Transport. It was actually owned by Alaska Airlines, which had been prohibited from being involved in these charter operations by the US Civil Aeronautics Board. I suspect the secret bonuses offered Maguire were an incentive for him to illegally operate the airline, Near East Air Transport, as a front for Alaska Airlines in violation of the orders of the US Civil Aeronautics Board the predecessor to today’s US Federal Aviation Authority.
Maguire would later be lauded for his role managing Operations Magic Carpet and Ali Baba. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, allegedly referred to him as “the Irish Moses” for his role in returning some 200,000 Jewish refugees to their promised land. Despite the fame, he remained bitter about not being paid when the operation terminated. While he spoke highly of Israel’s accomplishments in creating a state for the Jews, as the years went by, he became more and more critical of Israel’s policies and actions and felt it had taken advantage of the massive economic and political support it had received from this country.
In 1998, in preparation for Israel’s fiftieth anniversary, Maguire was offered an expense-paid trip to Israel to join in the fiftieth anniversary celebration where his role as “the Irish Moses” would be celebrated. He politely refused the offer and later said he didn’t want to be used as a propaganda tool for Israel to celebrate the return of Jewish refugees to Israel while at the same time ignoring the treatment of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who had been forced to leave their land, homes, and property. I also think he retained some bitterness over the funds he was promised but never paid at the conclusion of the two operations.
In 2004, a year before his death, Maguire finally received the public recognition he deserved when he was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Simon Wiesenthal Center at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance for his role in Operation Magic Carpet flying thousands of Jews from Yemen to the new state of Israel in 1948-49. It was a gala event that included a documentary movie of Magic Carpet in which Maguire described many of his experiences and how emotional it had been for him to see the joy and happiness of his Yemeni Jewish passengers as they arrived in Israel as foretold in the Old Testament. The highpoint of the evening for him and our family was meeting several Yemeni Jews who had been rescued from Yemen during Operation Magic Carpet, one of whom had been born on one of the flights. Despite his eventual disillusionment with Israel, Maguire was proud of what he and his band of fellow brother pilots had accomplished. He felt they had played an important role in history in returning the people of a lost, small, primitive tribe of Jews to the promised land, to Israel. Although he was not a practicing Christian, he saw his and the actions of his pilots and their planes as a mystical fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.
Both operations, Magic Carpet and Ali Baba, came under some criticism in later years for mismanagement by Alaska Airlines, Near East Air Transport, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee as well as financial irregularities and corruption by various representatives in Aden and Yemen and by the Israeli government’s handling of the arriving refugees in Israel. Magic Carpet and Ali Baba were not the idyllic operations they were later depicted as. These were shoestring operations that were filled with the range of human frailties, including greed, but also with ample doses of human courage and dedication.
In 1957, my father received an indirect accolade for his role in Magic Carpet when the novel Exodus was published. In Book 5, entitled, “With Wings of Eagles”, Operation Magic Carpet is described in largely accurate detail, substituting “Artic Circle Airways” for Alaska Airlines and the head of the airline as “Stretch” Thompson instead of James Wooten. Robert F. Maguire, the chief pilot for Operation Magic Carpet, is portrayed by a character named Foster J. MacWilliams. He is an overly heroic stick figure, a heavy drinker and carouser who sees little wrong in getting plastered the night before a major flight and being “carted” to the tarmac the next morning with a horrible hangover. He bears no resemblance to Maguire who would have fired any pilot exhibiting such behavior. While MacWilliams is described as “the best goddam chief pilot any goddam airline ever had”, that label more properly fit Maguire who was dedicated to his mission, courageous, and a superb pilot.
Despite his accomplishments as the fabled “Irish Moses”, Maguire was never contacted by the book’s author or publisher to help publicize the novel. This probably reflected continuing animosity between the Israelis, Alaska Airlines and Maguire over his rancorous parting from Operations Magic Carpet and Ali Baba. Uris, in his research for the novel, undoubtedly spent time with both Richard Wooten of Alaska Airlines and Harry Vitalis, who directed the American Jewish Joint Coordinating Committee in Tel Aviv. Maguire had fallen out with both by the time he left Israel. He sued Wooten for unpaid wages after his return and was discouraged from litigating his claims against Vitalis’s group because of the uncertainty and expense of pursuing a lawsuit outside the US. Both Wooten and Vitalis may have disparaged Maguire’s role to Uris which would explain why his role was never publicized after the book was published.
By 1998, both Wooten and Vitalis were gone and a fairer appraisal of my father’s contribution surfaced. This resulted in the desire and offer to include him in the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the birth of Israel. My father’s role as the Irish Moses, unlike Wooten’s and Vitalis’s, was dramatic and heroic and fed directly into the Exodus myth and narrative, so publicizing and celebrating his contribution would benefit Israel and the Zionist cause.
INFLUENCING AMERICA: THE ROLE OF LEON URIS’ NOVEL, EXODUS
The novel Exodus, which was published in 1957, remained at the top of the bestseller charts for over a year. It would sell over 20 million copies in the next two decades. To this day, it has never gone out of print and is arguably one of the most influential novels in US history, certainly rivaling Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, and, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Exodus was an intentionally political novel, commissioned and written with the purpose of introducing Israel to the American public and burnishing its image. It had been tarnished by its aggressive actions against Palestinian refugees and its Arab neighbors when it joined ex-colonial powers, Great Britain and France in a 1956 invasion to reclaim the Suez Canal from Egypt. Its independent ruler, Gamal Abdul Nasser had seized the canal as property belonging to Egypt. When President Eisenhower demanded the three countries cease their aggression, France and Great Britain removed their forces from Egypt. However, it would take a public scolding and a threat of sanctions by Eisenhower to force the Israelis to return the captured Sinai to Egypt.
How could a work of fiction have such a major impact? Exodus worked because it told a compelling story through the eyes and experiences of engaging fictional characters that American readers could identify and empathize with. Through these characters, readers were taught and bought into an often fictional Zionist narrative. Art, in this case fiction, persuades through emotional engagement, which can be far more effective and lasting than dry, rational/logical attempts to persuade.
Exodus came out during the era of the epic novel, the late ‘50s. It immediately became a best-seller and put Israel and the Zionist narrative myth on the map. I think back then most people didn’t know much or care about Israel. Exodus changed that. Suddenly, the American public saw Israel as a noble David fighting off the hordes of savage Arabs. Instead of just another squabbling Middle East country, it now had a unique identity that we cared about because we had become emotionally engaged by its characters and the story or myth they told us. And it stuck. The American public feared for and cheered for Israel in the 1967 war and then again in 1973. It supported our massive airlift of arms and supplies to Israel and then blamed the Arabs instead of the Israelis for the immense harm caused by the oil embargo.
The movie Exodus and the Ferrante and Teicher musical theme with added lyrics sung by heart throb crooner, Pat Boone, added more emotional cement to the Israeli narrative. It was an artistic triple whammy: an engaging work of fiction, a dramatic movie, and a stirring musical theme and song. I think the myth stuck at least until the 1982 Lebanon war when Israel’s excesses began to create some doubt in the general American public.
Fictional stories can have a major impact on political issues as did Exodus and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. They do so by appealing to the emotions of readers rather than the appeal to logic and reason of dry nonfiction. If a reader becomes emotionally committed to fictional characters and their story, he or she can also become committed or at least sympathetic to the story’s narrative, whether true or untrue.
Exodus had a host of strong characters that captured readers emotionally. These same characters came alive in the epic movie: Handsome, blue-eyed Paul Newman as the heroic tough Jew, Ari Ben Canaan. Eva Marie Saint as the beautiful American nurse, Kitty Fremont, who would come to see Israel as the enactment of the biblical prophecies she was taught in her childhood Christian Sunday School classes.
Exodus was also effective because it described Israeli Jews as tough, aggressive agents of change not passive victims like Anne Frank whose famous diary recorded her passive acceptance of her inevitable betrayal, arrest, deportation, and eventual death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In Exodus, the Jew becomes a heroic figure fighting to create a homeland out of a wild desert inhabited by primitive Arab savages. It is an image that resonates with the American narrative myth about conquering the west, defeating the Indian savages, then settling and farming the land.
Exodus also played on an anti-colonialist narrative as Jews in Palestine fight and ultimately defeat the British, the greatest colonial power in history, to win their freedom. This too resonates with our American colonial narrative in our revolution against British tyranny.
Finally, Exodus is effective because it links Israel and Jews to the American Christian narrative. Since the Old Testament appears to promise Palestine and modern Israel to the Jews, presumably they have every right to fight to fulfill God’s promise and are therefore worthy of our unquestioning and unlimited support. This presumes that a 3000 year old quotation from the Old Testament can function both as a deed for modern European Jews to Palestine and an eviction notice to the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants of that land. The obvious moral and legal flaws in this presumption don’t seem to trouble America’s evangelical Christian organizations. Each of the heroic characters in Exodus reinforce these narratives which makes Exodus a distinctly American novel written to persuade an American audience that Israel is a slice of America deserving of our unquestioning support.
Exodus is certainly flawed. Its dialogue is stilted, its plot little more than thinly disguised Zionist propaganda, its treatment of Arabs often outrageously racist. As history it is at best one-sided and often just plain false. Uris proudly quotes the Balfour Declaration but omits the paragraph that guarantees the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish people of Palestine. He recounts the heart-wrenching tale of the ship Exodus in its failed attempt to bring Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine but substitutes a ship filled with Jewish orphans whose willingness to die of starvation creates an international furor which allows the ship to reach Palestine. Great drama but false history.
Despite its flaws, Exodus is often a compelling read, and as a tool of persuasion it worked brilliantly in creating and maintaining American emotional commitment to Israel by strumming on our dearly held narrative myths. But times have changed. A powerful, modern Israel can no longer be depicted as a weak David under threat of annihilation by savage Goliath-like Arab hordes. The Greater Israel its Zionist founders dreamed of and worked to create is now a reality from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.
But that conquered territory comes with a price. There are 5 million undesirable Palestinian Arabs living in the lands conquered and occupied since the 1967 war. They live under strict military law and rule and are deprived of all the rights and benefits granted to Israeli citizens. As much as Israelis and many US Jews hate and reject the term, Israel is an apartheid state and has knowingly been one for over half a century. Disguising that reality with foundational myths is no longer possible. The power of the myth of Exodus has become a relic of the past. The question is what will replace it. Can Americans’ blind, unquestioning loyalty to Israel and its foundational narratives and myths be maintained?
EXODUS BETRAYED: THE FINAL CHAPTER
I published my novel, The Exodus Betrayal: A President Confronts Israel in April of 2019, but its origins go back to 2008. Like Leon Uris’s Exodus, it was intended as a work of political fiction aimed at persuading my readers to consider an alternative narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. My motives for writing it were complex. My father’s role in flying thousands of Jews to Israel in 1949-50 was part of our family history so that was always there. I also can remember the 1967 war as a key event. I was in college and that Jewish friends were going to enlist in the IDF to defend Israel made me jealous. It seemed a far more noble cause than preventing Asian dominoes from falling in the brutal quagmire of far-off Viet Nam. Then, a few days later, the war was over, and Israel was again triumphant. What a miracle it was, except it turned out it really wasn’t. The combined Arab armies were never a match for Israel. They knew it and Israel knew it.
I think my father’s disillusionment with Israel before his death and the catastrophe of the Iraq War were turning points for me. When I began to discover how much the Neoconservatives were beholden to Israel’s US lobby and Israel and how much they had influenced US foreign policy to favor Israel’s interests and not our own, I immersed myself in the history of the conflict and of its effect on US Middle East foreign policy. I began joining in discussions on blogs devoted to the conflict, like Mondoweiss. I also began writing and publishing articles on the subject. But soon I realized I was preaching to the choir and having little or no influence in generating change or changing minds.
A few years back, my best friend from high school told me I should try writing fiction because I’d had such a weird, convoluted, interesting life. I was skeptical but gave it a try and loved it. I loved how fiction brought out the emotional side of me, how it created and developed my characters and drove my plot in unexpected directions. That emotional side of fiction captures both writer and reader. I then enrolled in a fiction writing program at UCLA where I wrote a lot of short stories and then my first novel, all unrelated to Israel. One day it occurred to me that I could write a reverse Exodus novel that might have a lot more impact than my non-fiction efforts were having.
I wanted to write a good story with engaging characters struggling to deal with a tiny little country with powerful domestic lobby that was doing great harm to our national interests by enticing us into wars of choice that really weren’t ours to fight. While the novel Exodus is framed on Israel/Palestine in the 1940s, my novel is centered in a present day White House struggling to prevent an intransigent Israel from attacking Iran while being under tremendous pressure from Israel’s US lobby and a Congress which provides unquestioning support for Israel even when its actions threaten US interests.
The main myth I was trying to undo was the Israel-as-a-poor-little-David besieged by powerful savage Arab Goliath states. This was never true, even in 1947-48. I was also trying to show how dysfunctional and harmful our relationship with Israel had become and how the so-called special relationship itself was based on a myth of Israel’s importance. Unlike Exodus, my plot wasn’t focused on Israel. It was about the US and how an inexperienced US president tries to prevent Israel from attacking Iran. When that fails and Israel goes ahead with the attack, the president is subjected to massive pressure to support Israel militarily or risk losing the pending election.
The novel is about how US presidents are forced to compromise US interests in order to retain Israel’s support and the loyalty of Congress. It was about how one US president tries to protect US interests while under tremendous pressure from Israel, its US lobby, and Congress which appears to prioritize Israel’s interests over even our own.
AN UNEXPECTED OUTCOME
I began the novel thinking its climax and conclusion would contain the expected solution to the conflict in which negotiation results in a two-state solution with Palestine becoming an independent state alongside Israel based roughly on the armistice lines of 1949. Alternatively, the solution could be a single state in which Palestinians would gain equal rights to those possessed by Israel’s Jewish citizens. But in my decade-long effort to write my novel, trying to frame a plot consistent with either of these hypothetical outcomes proved unrealistic and impossible. It had become clear to me that Israel was using the negotiated settlement process as a means to avoid a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.
Despite attempts by a host of competent arbitrators or mediators, nothing of substance was ever accomplished. Negotiations seemed to be aimed at perpetual delay and avoidance of any resolution. At the same time, the conflict and major issues were being resolved based on Israel’s unilateral actions that were clearly aimed at creating facts on the ground that made any reasonable two-state settlement unlikely if not impossible.
While negotiations stumbled along in perpetual limbo, Israel was moving hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens into the occupied Palestinian territories into exclusively Jewish settlements protected by Israeli army units, serviced on roads made exclusive for use by Jews. Israel was also monopolizing the resources of the occupied territories including the major water aquifers of the West Bank and natural gas resources off the coast of Gaza. Meanwhile, Palestinians were under a strict military rule and deprived of all the civil rights and benefits being afforded Israel Jewish settlers living next to them in all-Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
By 2016, it was clear that no Israeli government would be willing to allow an equitable two-state solution to the conflict. The dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were considered sacrosanct and would not be removed to allow a reasonable settlement. That meant that there was no possibility of creating a contiguous Palestinian state. Instead they would have to accept a series of disconnected Bantustans across the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a permanent state of occupation under Israeli control. This outcome was of course unacceptable to the Palestinian people who expected the US to intervene and force the Israelis to negotiate and act in good faith. This also proved unrealistic as it became more and more obvious the US was acting as Israel’s lawyer in the negotiations and not in any sense neutral.
A NEW APPROACH
The dilemma in plotting my novel became how I could create a realistic resolution to the conflict that also reflected the reality on the ground. My first question was why the model of a negotiated settlement between the parties was being used. It clearly benefitted the stronger party, the Israelis, and left the Palestinians with no negotiating leverage. Moreover, mediated negotiation as a form of dispute resolution is normally used to resolve good faith disputes in civil matters and as a means of avoiding the expense and delay associated with litigation. Its desired outcome typically involves a good faith compromise between the parties. It isn’t used in civil matters when one or both parties are unwilling to compromise, and it is never used in criminal matters when one side has committed a crime against the other. In those cases, the legal recourse or litigation model is used. A formal trial is conducted and a judge or jury hears and weighs the evidence and decides which party prevails or whether the accused is found guilty or acquitted.
In this case, Israel is clearly the party at fault. It is violating a host of long-established international laws protecting occupied peoples from a belligerent conqueror and occupier. These laws are codified under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Laws of War and their violations are characterized as war crimes. So why had Israel been given the power to negotiate a settlement of war crimes it had committed or was committing against the Palestinians? It was as if Saddam Hussein had been allowed to negotiate how much of Kuwait he could keep after conquering and occupying that country in violation of international law. The answer was that the Palestinians were forced to accept the mediated negotiation model because the US had used its UN veto to block all their attempts to pursue their legal remedies for war crimes committed by Israel.
My next question as the author of The Exodus Betrayal was how I could create a credible scenario in which the negotiated settlement model is dropped in favor of the legal recourse model to achieve a just solution to the conflict. I decided Israel would have to do something so outrageous that it would cost it the support of the president and the US electorate and make the US unwilling to exercise its veto in order to protect Israel from sanctions. This would allow the US president to use the bully pulpit to convince the American voter to insist its congressional representatives stop their slavish support of Israel and focus instead on supporting US interests. This would also allow the Palestinians to pursue justice through the legal process model and not be forced to negotiate an outcome with Israel. A tall order to be sure. But Israel has never been shy about committing outrageous acts so basing a novel on an attack by Israel on Iran is well within the realm of possibility.
In the novel, Israel’s attack goes horribly wrong and creates a chaotic out-of-control scenario which turns the Middle East into a caldron putting the entire world at threat. International anger at Israel’s role in creating the chaos is so intense that its support evaporates, and the US and its major allies are able to fashion a solution to the conflict. Israel is suddenly subject to all the legal remedies available through the international bodies designed and created to allow adjudication of legal claims and remedies, namely, the United Nations.
Without the support of its major US benefactor and its UN veto power, Israel finds itself defenseless and is ultimately forced to accept an outcome that is fair for both the long-suffering Palestinians and for the Israelis, fair to both Arabs and Jews. Getting to that outcome is difficult and complicated and consumes a lot of pages. But get there we did, and the world becomes a better place because of it. But that’s all fiction, and truth, unfortunately, is often stranger and far less satisfying.
My hope from the beginning of my project was that the power of my fictional tale would change enough minds to make a difference. But that will require millions of readers who are captured by the story and who insist on the legitimacy and necessity of its outcome. A tall tale to be sure. While it is still early days, the results so far are not encouraging. I have yet to find an agent and/or publisher, possibly because of the controversial nature of the topic. I’ve had some success marketing and selling the book when it’s been publicized. I’ve also received mostly positive reviews so I remain hopeful.
THE DEATH OF OPTIMISM
My family and I have come a long way since 1948. From the glory and myth of Nuremberg war crimes trials justice to the heroic tales of Magic Carpet and the Irish Moses, to the foundational myths of Exodus, and to the fictional triumphant justice of The Exodus Betrayal, Palestine forms a part of my family’s history in both truth and fiction. I’d hoped that history would end, as did our family history after World War II, in victory and a sense of pride, accomplishment, and optimism for the future. But the post-World War II optimism of a rule and rights-based world aided by a United Nations designed to prevent conflict, enforce the rule of law, and encourage liberal democracy proved chimerical.
Early on, faced with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the great powers’ UN Security Council failed to intervene to protect Palestine’s Arab population and insist on equal justice for both Jews and Arabs. In the seven decades since, Israel’s excesses have become normalized and the original intent of the United Nations undermined and trivialized. Israel’s many violations of the Geneva Conventions including the war crimes of ethnic cleansing, destruction and seizure of Palestinian land, homes, and property, its unlawful transfer of its own Jewish civilians into settlements on Palestinian land and its apartheid-like treatment of some 5 million Palestinians has become so pervasive that it no longer elicits angry reaction.
Just recently, on November 18, the United States government declared Israel’s Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be legal, undermining the international standards of the rule of law as set forth in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ratified by both the US and Israel, and by various decisions of the International Court of Justice and UN resolutions. Paradoxically, in the very same public statement, Secretary of State Pompeo, pompously chided China for interfering with the civil rights of the people of Hong Kong.
Intense lobbying by Israeli organizations in Europe and the US have resulted in laws that define criticism of Israel as antisemitism and even criminalize such criticism thereby undermining the most fundamental of rights in a democracy, the freedom to speak one’s mind regardless of how unpopular or mistaken one’s views may be. Such ill-considered laws can easily become the tools of tyrants.
The US as a beacon of hope and a bastion of democratic values and partner in fostering liberal democracy throughout the world has proved laughable. Much of the world now see us as hypocritical and motivated more by greed than any real commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We are defined not by our liberal democratic values, our constitution and our bill or rights but by our ubiquitous military presence on nearly 800 bases in some 80 countries around the globe as we chase aimlessly after terrorists with drones while never achieving victory in what seems a permanent state of undeclared war.
Our reputation has been further sullied by our unquestioning support and enablement of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians which is overwhelmingly bi-partisan. Any military action by Israel to throttle Palestinian resistance, no matter how excessive the means used, is justified by the handy bromide, “But Israel has a right to defend itself.” Since 9-11, we appear to have adopted Israel’s methods where every problem or threat has a military solution. In a real sense, we have tossed aside our foundational values in democracy and the rule of law and become more like Israel.
The halcyon days of the five-year period after the end of World War II were filled with promise and optimism. But by 1950 it was becoming clear that promise was not being fulfilled. The bleak record in the ensuing seven decades leaves little room for optimism. I can only content myself with the fantasy that a president like Hailey Levitsky Hannagan, the protagonist of my novel, will come along, courageously confront the lobbies, solve the problems, and return us to our democratic roots and the optimistic days of 1948.
 See, “Alaska to the World: Alaska Airlines’ Postwar Adventure by Richard Stretton in Yesterday’s Airlines, August 22, 2017.
 See On the Wings of Eagles: Operation Magic Carpet, and Ezra and Nehemia: Operation Ali Baba, both by Richard Stretton in Yesterday’s Airlines. Also, The “Magic Carpet” Exodus of Yemenite Jewry: An Israeli Formative Myth, by Esther Meir-Glitzenstein; Sussex Academic Press, 2014, and Book Review: The Yemenite Tragedy by Seth Franzman, in Feigeleh, January 11, 2015.
“Senator, the White House just called,” one of my aides said. “The president would like to meet with you right away.”
“Whatever for?” I hardly knew the man. Couldn’t stand him even if he was the head of my party. Bluster and demagoguery had got him elected but his presidency had been disorganized and chaotic. The Republican brand was in tatters.
“To what do I owe the honor, Mr. President?” I asked as I was ushered into the Oval Office. President Frederick Forsythe was tall and portly, with a shock of red-orange hair; not a strand of gray.
He remained sitting at his desk, bruskly waving me to a chair. No handshake. “Senator, as you’ve probably heard, the Attorney General is about to indict the Vice President for corruption. The evidence against him is overwhelming. I’m going to demand he resign, and I intend to appoint you to replace him.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had barely even spoken to the president before this meeting. “Why me? I can think of a dozen people who’d be a better choice.”
“The public’s going to be very angry about this,” he said, “and they’re already pissed off at me. I want someone who looks clean and independent, a bipartisan choice. I need a quick confirmation and no more controversy. I’ve got a reelection campaign to worry about.”
Excerpt from “The Exodus Betrayal: A President Confronts Israel.”
Jews Step Forward – By Marjorie J. WrightWithin every film there’s a story beyond the narrative itself and the filmmaking process. There is a compulsion, a reason to devote the considerable resources necessary and seemingly endless hours over several years, to create that visual message. Nowhere is this more true than with the documentary and with this issue in particular.
For me, the genesis for Jews Step Forward traces back to 1988 with the beginning of the First Intifada and moves through a self-education regarding Jewish social justice and its current re-awakening within that community regarding Israel.
A large proportion of American Jews today trace their roots through Ellis Island and the Yiddish speaking working class wave from 1880 to the early 1920s. Landing in New York with few resources and in search of work, many became part of that hard fought struggle on behalf of organized labor, women’s suffrage and equal rights as a religious minority. That is a shared solidarity, which has survived, even as religious observance has thinned — a kind of cellular memory shaping Jewish political loyalties today.
Early Jewish organizers, like British immigrant Samuel Gompers, who in the 1880s championed craft unionism and founded the American Federation of Labor, which he led until 1924, wielded enormous influence.
The power of Jewish leadership created and sustained a force inside that organization and as a model for others. The Socialist Labor Party, United Hebrew Trades, the Yiddish socialist press, Russian Bundists, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, International Ladies Garment Workers Union and Emma Lazarus Clubs all had Jewish leadership and played a role in labor and social justice issues. The Socialist United Hebrew Trades, a Federation of Jewish unions, numbered some 250,000 members in 1913.
As Jews climbed the economic ladder, political engagement and educational levels increased inside the community, as did an expanding consciousness for social justice. The children and grandchildren of some of those Jewish immigrants did not abandon those roots and went on to be part of the “New Jewish Left” of the 1960s and ‘70s, the ”New Jewish Agenda” in the 1980s, as well as the Anti-Apartheid movement supporting indigenous South Africans, and the Feminist, Gay and Civil Rights Movements nationally.
This has dovetailed with reinterpretations of Jewish liturgy, to fuse with those activist causes. The concept of “Tikkun Olam” — do something that will repair the world — emerged from a prayer in the middle of the 20th century, to be the motto of a new generation’s self-understanding.
Shlomo Bardin advanced the idea that Tikkun Olam should move beyond a religious abstraction and into an active obligation “to work toward a more perfect world.” While later also assuming a role in Kabbalah, Tikkun Olam brought together the synagogue with secular branches of a new generation, joined in common cause.
Jewish social justice is not a modern concept however, but one with roots in communitarian medieval Jewish society, Judaism’s value-based foundation, and the life, work and influence of Eastern European Orthodox Rabbi Salanter.
In the 19th century, Rabbi Yisrael ben Ze’ev Wolf Lipkin (1809-1883), known as Rabbi Salanter, was the founder of a new movement termed Musar. The word Musar literally means instruction, discipline or conduct, but the Rabbi applied that concept to ethical development. Believing that ethical consciousness and actions were closely tied to spiritual enlightenment, ritual observance was empty without it. Musar thought was and is an important foundation for Jewish social justice, and its resurgence today has brought a new generation of secular Jews closer to their religious roots.
Originally, Zionist institutions mirrored in many ways the initiatives spearheaded by the Jewish labor movement in Europe and America. In the U.S., the Workman’s Circle network of services included health care programs, old age homes, schools, libraries, summer camps, sports teams, women’s clubs, reading circles, orchestras etc. It represented Jewish culture and values, but without religion. This was also the essence of Labor Zionism’s model at its outset.
As the communitarian kibbutz movement and the Israeli Labor Party have eroded with the rise of Israel’s hard Right, along with an increasingly violent military necessary to maintain the Occupation, Israel’s shared consciousness with American liberals has dwindled.
Today, a growing number of young Western Jews do not want to identify with Israel, irrespective of the notable cultural, academic, and intellectual achievements that Israel has developed. Their issue is really with Zionism, by definition exclusionary and supremacist. As Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund wrote on 20 March 1941: “The complete evacuation of the country [Palestine] from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”
Today, what was termed solidarity has been expanded into political intersectionality, which recognizes Palestinians as indigenous peoples. Even Moment Magazine, co-founded by Elie Wiesel, in 2016 ran a cover story entitled: “How the Black Lives Matter and Palestinian Movements Converged.”Moment has conducted symposiums on topics which would have been untouchable before: “Can Religious Pluralism and an Official Rabbinate Coexist in Israel?”, “What Does it Mean to be Pro-Israel Today?”, and “Is There Such a Thing as the Jewish People”?
So, while official American Jewish organizations still support Israel without scrutiny, an increasing number of mainstream Jews just can’t go with the old story or current PR, for which Israel pays so exorbitantly every year to manage their image and ’brand.’
In Jews Step Forward, every interviewee began as a devoted follower of the state of Israel, investing their collective hope in the idea of European Jews rising from the ashes of genocide to create a safe haven and utopian society inside the Middle East.
It is almost impossible to overstate how deeply the Jewish community internationally wanted to believe collectively in this abstract construct and how difficult and painful it is for many to relinquish a beautiful myth and see clearly the reality of Israel today.
Each interviewee reflects upon his or her own journey from that deeply socialized ‘group think’ to a ‘eureka moment,’ where they were compelled to leave hasbara [Zionist propaganda] behind.
For some, it felt intensely painful and tragic, while others manifested anger and shame. For still others, it was a call to action, to shed hypocrisy and define Israel with the same standards of deep commitment to human rights, social, and political justice, which defined who they are as Jews. Dorothy Zellner said: ”I could not work to make sure that Black people in Mississippi had the right to vote and then turn around and be supportive of a state where every citizen does not have equal rights before the law…. We’re human beings, and we refuse to be stampeded by so-called group loyalty or blindness to Israel….It is not a privilege to fight to change our community. It is a moral imperative. “
Some experienced their ‘eureka moment’ in the late ‘40s, some during the 1967 Six Day War, others in the ‘70s or ‘80s, and with two writers as late as 2006. My own was in 1989, one year into the First Intifada.
Mixing interpretations of theology in both Jewish and Christian communities with a 19th-century ethnic nationalism that required colonialism to depopulate and repopulate its religio-political state, this marked the beginnings of Zionism. It was a strategy, whose presentation was carefully managed and presented in the West, but which ignored or concealed ethnic cleansing, advocacy for genocide, institutionalized theft of assets, homes and property, racism, repression, incarceration, torture and murder of the indigenous population.
The biblical term “Land of Israel” created cover to use any means necessary to drive Herzl’s “dream.” While a number of important Jewish intellectuals resisted the idea of Zionism at its outset, the Holocaust sealed Israel’s acceptance throughout the West, both among Jews and non-Jews. European governments had no desire to take back thousands of impoverished displaced survivors and many of those victims had no desire to return.
So, a perfect storm marked the first time, during the process of modern decolonization that a country was given, not to its indigenous inhabitants, but instead to an outside population. This kind of exceptionalism continues in Israel to the present day, exacerbated by codependent relationships with current corporate and political world powers, coupled with historic guilt.
Regarding my own experience, I was raised a Christian Zionist and socialized much like Jewish children on the subject of Israel. It was all about ‘God’s chosen people in their land’ with ‘all those Arabs’ as ‘amalek.’ The words Israeli and Israelite were almost interchangeable terms, which is still true today across many Christian fundamentalist congregations.
One of the only films in a cinema that I was taken to see as a child was Exodus. As with most American school children, nothing about this subject is taught beyond the Holocaust. So, I coasted along in ignorance, despite going on to attend an Ivy school.
My epiphany came in the late ‘80s. I recall reading an article in a mainstream American magazine about the Israeli military policy of breaking children’s bones if they threw stones, as a punishment and disincentive. The inherent atrocity of that idea hit me and (although not at the time) I now retrospectively realize how symbolic that is of the disproportionality between Israelis and Palestinians in this conflict.
That moment led to more reading, the discovery of Tikkun Magazine, and a short film by Israeli filmmaker, Haim Bresheeth: State of Danger, which I sponsored on public access TV, creating a furor. As Ellen Davidson has written about that period: “The needle on this debate has moved considerably since the 1980s, when just to say the word “Palestinian” was considered inflammatory, even in some left circles.” Norman Finkelstein was among a few leading voices deconstructing Israel’s policies and practices and he was receiving constant threats.
From that day forward, I began wading into activism. My first real contact with Palestinians came in the mid-1990s in Dubai, followed by my first filmed interview in 2003 with Israeli activist Jeff Halper, the founder of ICAHD: Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
As one thing led to another, I met a young European director also committed to this issue. In 2008 we produced an hour-long documentary, based on interviews with 16 Israeli Jewish peace activists, which won four awards internationally. Some of these activists represented leadership within the movement and important key organizations: B’tselem, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, The Parents’ Circle, Seruviks refusing military service from New Profile, Machsom Watch, Gush Shalom Ta’ayush, ICAHD and the extraordinary Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom.
That film is entitled Voices From Inside, Israelis Speak and from that, came the momentum for the current documentary Jews Step Forward.
The latter was really set in motion by Joel Kovel, whose inspiring book: Overcoming Zionism was a catalyst and whose help was immeasurable. He was an eloquent, modest and self-effacing intellect, hugely respected inside the movement. Tremendous credit goes to my very creative co-producer and editor, Elika Rezaee, who breathed visual life, music, animation, dimension and continual movement into spoken words. Without her, this would still be a script of talking heads. Recognition is also due our archivist Sage Brucia, composer Joe Berry, and Dan Walsh and his Palestine Poster Project of over 8,000 archived images at Columbia University.
Jews Step Forward is a confession by informed Jews who deconstruct Zionism, paired with on-the-ground stills and moving footage, which make their words undeniable.
The American media is saturated with entertainment violence. However, on the subject of Israel, there is a blanket blackout on showing any violence perpetrated by its Jewish citizens or military. Consequently, war crimes can remain conjecture, a ‘he said, she said’ with no visual evidence. Our film moves from the safety of intellectual abstraction to visceral reality, as we don’t visually tiptoe around the institutionalized racism and atrocities discussed.
Jews Step Forward is based upon interviews with 24 American Jewish activists, spanning generations, socioeconomic divides, geographical locales, and extremely varied experiences inside religious practice and observance.
Each of their personal stories led them to a 180-degree turn and a call to action. Some had that epiphany through reading and research, some by first hand experience on the ground. A number of them have written books, taught courses, founded organizations and initiatives, or led direct action organizing and disruptions or protests on this issue, bringing it to the public square. Some approach the issue, along with assisting indigenous Palestinians, through the lens of their profession, be it law, medicine, journalism, religion or academia. All are introducing form and leadership to this growing movement across America today, like pixels shifting to change the larger picture.
There has evolved a kind of Jewish solidarity around Palestinian rights, which binds them the way religion or Zionist loyalty formerly did. Palestine work is a new way of expressing and developing spiritual values, the way fighting segregation or ending apartheid had been in the past. And although in its infancy, there is a new way of worship and observance, purged of the Israel of today and without any reference or allegiance to the Zionist state. This is instead referenced with the prophets, Rabbi Salanter, Musar, and the concept of Tikkun Olam.
Modern Judaism views Mashiach — Messiah — not as a literal savior, but as a metaphor for an age of Messianic enlightenment, with liberal Jewish belief in a world perfected through striving to reach the highest Jewish ideals of justice and compassion. Listen to Rabbi Alissa Wise: “There is no Judaism without that experience of being in exile, right?….Exile itself is a metaphor….One of the dangers of Zionism is that belief, that we’ve reached that place of redemption, of Mashiach….and I see Zionism eclipsing the spiritual and ethical work that is our heritage.” Or, as Dorothy Zellner puts it: “They have hijacked our Jewishness, and they have made it into a place, a country—so our Jewishness became a place.”
Following are summary descriptions of some of the activists in Jews Step Forward, who now define their lives in large part by working to change Jewish attitudes, influence Christian congregations, and improve the lives of Palestinians living under brutal military Occupation.
Three interviewees were in their 80s, two being German Holocaust survivors: Hedy Epstein and Silvia Tennenbaum and the third, a noted writer for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: Rachelle Marshall. These ladies have all recently died, but inspire a lasting moral legacy with the memory, work, and writing that survives them.
Born Hedwig Wachenheimer on Aug. 15, 1924 in Freiburg, Germany, Hedy Epstein grew up, an only child in Kippenheim. During the Kristallnacht period, her father was arrested, suffered a heart attack during four weeks incarcerated in Dachau, and Hedy, like all other Jewish children, was expelled from school by edict. In 1939, her parents arranged her escape on a Kindertransport to England, while they and almost all her extended family died in Auschwitz.
After the War, Hedy returned to Germany, worked at the Nuremberg trials and later emigrated to the U.S., working with displaced refugees in New York and Minneapolis. After marrying and moving to St. Louis, most of her career there was devoted to fair housing and employment discrimination issues in the African American community.
It was during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon that Hedy had her eureka moment and began active opposition to Israeli actions. She helped organize chapters of the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as in 2001 founding a Women in Black group in St. Louis. Nearly 80, Hedy began visiting the West Bank as a volunteer with ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, where she was tear gassed and suffered hearing loss from IDF sound bombs.
At Ben Gurion Airport in 2004, tiny Hedy was accused of being a terrorist and roughly stripped and cavity searched, a violation which viscerally took her back to her childhood responses during the Nazi era. That indelibly engraved her definition of what Israel had become and strengthened her resolve to be a witness to effect change.
Meeting and hearing Hedy’s story was an indescribable experience, as few times in one’s life will anyone meet someone as transcendent as Hedy Epstein. Her 1999 memoir, written in German and published in Germany, is entitled “Erinnern Ist Nicht Genug” (“Remembering Is Not Enough”).
Writer and activist Silvia Tennenbaum was born into a wealthy family in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1928. Anne Frank was her cousin. Her stepfather was a conductor for the Jewish orchestra there during the early Nazi period and subsequently in 1936, helped found the Palestine Orchestra, which became the Israeli Philharmonic. The family sailed to America in 1938, sponsored by Arturo Toscanini of the NBC Symphony.
Growing up in New Rochelle, N.Y. and attending Barnard College, in 1951 she married a young Rabbi attending Columbia, Lloyd Tennenbaum. After a posting in Virginia, the family came to Long Island where Rabbi Tennenbaum took the pulpit at the Huntington Jewish Center. The couple shared leftist political views and were very active in anti-war and social issues.
Silvia’s controversial, semi-autobiographical exposé novel, “Rachel, the Rabbi’s Wife,” was on the N.Y. Times bestseller list. Silvia was active in Women in Black vigils well into her 80s, protesting the Occupation and writing letters to the editor, where she was considered an octogenarian radical. She discussed hearing extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane speak in N.Y. in the ‘70s, when his Kach party was banned in Israel, and his similarities with today’s Israeli Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is even more extreme than Kach during that period. In Silvia’s words: “My God, that experience with Kahane was extremely prescient, given things that are happening in Israel now…..What was the point of giving Israel a state, if this is what was going to happen to it.”
Writer, Rachelle Lubarsky Marshall was born in New York City into an observant immigrant family in 1927. Marrying Hubert Marshall, a Stanford academic, they spent 53 years in that community. Both were active in civil rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and worked on housing issues in West Virginia.
Like others of her generation, as a young woman she felt there was “no inconsistency in working for civil rights in America and giving my full support to Israel”. However, it was U.S. involvement in Vietnam that opened up a more objective evaluation of Israel, which she had denied or dismissed earlier. She wrote: “The light began to dawn as I learned the Jewish haven I had welcomed, was established on the land the Palestinians have a right to claim as their own…..the more I read, the greater my sense of betrayal.”
Rachelle’s anger turned to activism and she went on to research and write on Israel in The Progressive, Foreign Policy in Focus, and for 25 years in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Maintaining that all wars were inherently war crimes, she wrote: “I am compelled to speak out against acts of brutality and injustice, no matter who commits them.”
Jeffrey Blankfort was a pioneer in the movement, at a time when almost no Jew dared question Israel in any forum. Jeff was raised as a secular leftist, whose father was a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter during the Red Scare. After organizing the largest fundraiser in history for the newly declared Jewish state at The Hollywood Bowl in 1948, his family became very disillusioned with Israel and the corruption they saw at the outset. Favoring a bi-national state, they never supported Zionism.
Jeffrey is a photographer, print and broadcast journalist with extensive work on the Middle East, his own radio program, a former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor Committee of the Middle East.
As a member of the first generation of Jewish critics of Israel, Jeffrey was targeted by the ADL. Subsequently, he exposed their spying operations against Americans speaking and writing critically of Israel, winning a lawsuit in 2002 against them. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Mondoweiss, Pulse Media, Left Curve, TIKKUN, the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and other publications.
Phil Weiss grew up in Boston, where his father was an academic at Harvard, which he attended too. He has written for New York Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, and The New York Observer.
A visit to Hebron in 2006 marked his turning point, compelling him to write about Israel. He is an anti-Zionist journalist who , in 2007, after pushback from the newspaper where he was a writer, created with Adam Horovitz, the daily independent blog Mondoweiss, which they describe as “a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.” [The newspaper Phil worked for was The New York Observer, and the pushback came from its young new owner Jared Kushner.]
It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Mondoweiss, which is probably the most widely followed English language blog and website on this topic existing today, a daily ‘go to’ read for activists internationally on this issue, as well as a platform for their voices. As Phil puts it: “We are editors and we guide the stream, but there is a large stream of people who are actively questioning these issues and who want to join us: young Jews, young Muslims, young Palestinians, young Americans.”
Psychologist and Writer: Mark Braverman, grew up in Philadelphia, attended Jewish Day Schools, was a leader in Zionist youth groups and is a fifth generation descendant of a Jerusalem Lubavicher. With many relatives in Israel, he originally revered it as the only safe haven for Jews. However, in stages he began to enlarge his perspective, meet Palestinians, and deeply educate himself.
Today, he works full time on this issue speaking with Christian groups to empower them to be informed and forceful in demanding accountability from Israel. He is a leader of Kairos USA, a pro-Palestinian group for American Christians. He also authored: Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land and A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine.
Mark speaks decisively against Israeli exceptionalism and ‘chosenness’ as tribal anachronisms impeding equality and justice; as he puts it: “The role of occupier is leading Israel down a road of political disaster, and the Jewish people down a road of spiritual peril…..the greatest crisis in Jewish history since the Babylonian exile…Our task is to rescue Judaism from an ideology that has hijacked the faith, continues to fuel global conflict, and has produced one of the most systematic and longstanding violations of human rights in the world today…..I am a proud Jew. I love Israel. And I am heartsick about her.”
Miko Peled could safely be termed Zionist royalty. His maternal grandfather, Avraham Katznelson, was a signatory to the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence and a member of the Provisional Council of State, which comprised the leaders of the state-in-making. Mr. Katznelson was a Labor party politician, diplomat, director of the Health Department of the Zionist Executive and a member of the Va’ad Leumi, as well as the central committee of Hashomer Hatzair and Mapai. Miko’s father was Matti Peled, who fought in the 1948 war, rose to be a Major General in the 1967 War and became an architect of the modern IDF, where Miko himself served in the Special Forces. When Miko’s 13-year-old niece was killed in a suicide bombing, it began his path to transformation, after her parents joined Bereaved Families.
Beginning with dialogue groups in San Diego, where he felt more at home with Palestinians offering tabbouleh and hospitality, than liberal American Jews, he abandoned the ‘2 state solution’ and began advocating for full democratic rights for all in a single secular state. In our film he states openly: “The Zionist state is a bad thing, it was that way from the beginning.” He has written 2 important books: The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine and Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. He is now married to a Palestinian and is a dynamic speaker, lecturing internationally on this issue.
Rabbi Alissa Wise (family name originally Schnautski) grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where her grandfather was involved with kosher food distribution. She is part of the Nahalat Shiva through her Rivlin forebears, one of the original seven families from Lithuania to settle outside the wall of Jerusalem’s old city in 1809.
Raised with that pedigree in a large patriarchal, modern but Orthodox extended family, observing Shabbat, Alissa attended both Jewish day school and Zionist summer camp. She said while growing up: “Zionism was like a cornerstone of my Jewish identity….really a centerpiece.” Visiting Israel and the death camps in Europe, like many Jewish teens, cemented her loyalty and desire to attend university in Israel.
Her Junior year abroad at Hebrew University led to her epiphany. From the first day on campus, with a Nakba demonstration, she began to deconstruct both her socialization and Zionism itself in what she describes as “a very painful year, realizing I had been lied to.”
Since graduating from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia in 2009, she has been an activist for justice in Israel/Palestine, first with Jews Against the Occupation in N.Y.C., on the West Bank with the International Women’s Peace Service, and as the founding co-chair of the JVP Rabbinical Council.
Rabbi Wise is now a spiritual leader within the movement, as the Director of Campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and serving as the National Coordinator for the We Divest Campaign.
Barbara Lubin is a very unique activist. Growing up in a staunchly Zionist home, the family attended synagogue every Friday night and she remembers the joy when Israel became a state. Her mother was president of the local ORT, a Jewish service organization, and her father was a lawyer defending Jews during the Red Scare. When she was 16, he died. With that shock, she dropped out of high school, became a beatnik in the circle of Alan Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and worked actively against the Vietnam War. Raising four children, she continued activism across various issues.
It was not until a visit to the West Bank during the First Intifada, where she was tear gassed inside a Palestinian home in 1988, that her life completely changed. With Howard Levine, she founded The Middle East Children’s Alliance, MECA immediately thereafter. Having witnessed the grave injustice, poverty and violence of the Israeli Occupation paid for with U.S. tax dollars, Barbara and Howard decided to speak out about what was happening to Palestinian children.
The initiatives, projects, organizing and outreach of MECA would fill this publication. Possibly in part because she did not follow a formal education, Barbara thinks outside the box and is consistently unafraid of creative solutions. With a special needs child herself, Barbara responds like a mother for all Arab children. She steps out of Judaism and into Ahl-i-Kitab — People of the Book — and an Arab consciousness.
MECA has done projects in Iraq, donating food, medicine, school supplies for children and raising consciousness all over America of the deprivation of children there.
In Palestine, inside the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, MECA has supported a women’s embroidery collective, computer center, and many educational workshops on health and nutrition in the camp.
In 1999, MECA brought The IBDA dance troupe of 20 children and their leaders to the United States, raising funds to build a four-story guest house with a restaurant, computer center, multipurpose hall, as well as a five-story computer center, multipurpose hall, as well as a five-story
women’s building, which houses a kindergarten, children’s library, mental health clinic and other projects for women.
In 2002, Israeli tanks and helicopters invaded Dheisheh Camp and soldiers took over one of the buildings. They used the roof as a sniper’s nest and critically wounded four small children. Then they destroyed most of what was inside that center. MECA, along with other partners, rebuilt it.
MECA gives hundreds of scholarships for university education inside Palestine, as well as some for colleges in the U.S.
In Gaza, where malnutrition is widespread and many families live on one meal a day, MECA has provided tons of powdered milk, fortified children’s cereal, an ambulance, wheelchairs, and surgical instrument—as well as art and school supplies and has partnered to buy and distribute food, blankets, and plastic sheets to cover windows in winter, broken by IDF bombing.
In September 2009, MECA launched what I think is their most brilliant and important idea: the Maia Project, a long-term initiative to decentralize water purification in Gaza. Its purpose is to address and circumvent the repeated IDF policy of bombing the water treatment plants, intended by Israel to increase infant mortality and spread disease inside the captive population. MECA provided funds for clean drinking water systems in kindergartens, elementary and middle schools in Gaza, where children have filtered drinking water at school and fill containers daily to take home for family use at night. This empowers children to participate in family survival.
Since 1988, MECA has brought the reality of the suffering of Palestinian children to thousands of Americans, through public events and the media, organizing dozens of demonstrations and actions to protest Israeli bombing, occupation and sanctions against the children of Palestine. “I’m really glad that my children and my grandchildren, that every one of them, they’re in touch with being Jewish, but they’re all anti-Zionist.”
Dorothy Miller Zellner was born in 1938 in Manhattan, the child of immigrant Jewish leftists, who supported racial equality and social justice. After graduating from Queens College and during the summer of 1960, she trained with the Congress of Racial Equality in non-violent resistance. In 1961, she worked with the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta and subsequently the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), run exclusively by young people from 1962 to 1967, and worked with Julian Bond to help build a national network. She spent Freedom Summer 1964, in Greenwood, Mississippi.
After SNCC, Zellner and her husband Bob moved to New Orleans to join the Southern Conference Educational Fund. Having returned to New York after 22 years living in the South, a trip to Israel in 2002 galvanized her to devote herself to ending the Occupation, the same way she had worked for equal rights in the Civil Rights movement in the South. She is a founding member of Jews Say NO and has toured with Open Hillel, making a mark on the next generation of Jewish college students.
In her own works: “I do not think that states that privilege one group over another are viable states…. I’m a Jewish activist organizing against the Israeli occupation of Palestine…the attacks on us are going to be worse. This is like a cornered animal: its fangs are out now….. Remember, it’s not because of our failure that we’re being attacked, but because of our success….. You can see this happening already….. And as far as the established Jewish organizations are concerned, this is the beginning of the end of the hand on our throats preventing us from talking or thinking…. I’ve been in two big struggles in my life. The Civil Rights Movement, and this…… And relying on Jewish tradition, I felt that I could not stand idly by. ”
Alice Rothchild grew up in Sharon, MA, attended Bryn Mawr, became an obstetrician-gynecologist involved in healthcare reform and women’s issues, and was a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. With Orthodox family roots in Brooklyn and having received a Jewish education, Alice took a more secular direction and became very active with the Boston Workman’s Circle in Brookline.
Visiting Israel as a teen charmed her, but witnessing Israel/Palestine as an adult, she felt called to activism, where she has been a leader across the last 20 years: doing pro bono medical work for women in Palestine, authoring 3 books: Broken Promises, Broken Dreams; On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion; and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine, and directing a documentary on the Voices Across the Divide.
Now retired from medicine, she writes and travels to present screenings and speak on the Occupation across the country. “When you don’t see people as human, you do really awful things to them…And then, for the same Jews to be inflicting… massive demonization and destruction on other people is horrible, is just devastating. We really should know better.”
Rich Forer was born in New Jersey into a family of lawyers, raised in a Reform congregation, with grandparents who were immigrants from Russia and Poland. He grew up acutely aware of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, feeling fearful and defensive as a Jew, particularly regarding Israel. His identical twin brother, after college, went to Israel and during a kibbutz year became an ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher. Rich like others believed that Israel had been a land without a people, that Arabs had fabricated the existence of the Palestinians, and that Jews there were superior to the Arabs and only benevolent. He joined AIPAC, fought with anyone criticizing Israel, attributing all criticism to anti-Semitism, which he felt was everywhere.
In 2006, during Israel’s second invasion into Lebanon, he supported the bombing as perfectly appropriate, rationalizing anything Israel did. This came to a crescendo when he read Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah.
From shock to anger to embarrassment to shame to sorrow for the Palestinians in one sitting, this culminated in a kind of spiritual experience for Rich. His epiphany freed him from Zionism, like a Zen transformation.
After that day, Rich authored a book, lectures nationally, writes prolifically, travels to the West Bank, and pursues activism and the truth with compassion on this issue.
His articles on the conflict include: “Lack of Self-Reflection Leads to Moral Disintegration”, “Perpetuating Distrust and Conflict: Israel’s Use of Character Assassination,” “The Root Cause of Delusion, Prejudice, Suffering and Conflict,” and “Fighting Slander and Oppression. “
The next group of activists, also often writing, are direct action, grassroots organizers working to bring visibility to the Occupation and reframe the issue in order to counter Israel’s narrative.
They bring numbers and outrage to force recognition of the problem, but as Rae Abileah states: “We have a lot of creative tactics, a lot of humor in our actions.” These include street theater, flash mobs, disruption of speakers including Prime Minister Netanyahu, demonstrations, visits to Congressmen, billboard and boycott campaigns, marches, rallies, and attempts to break the Gaza siege by sea.
Although local and ‘in the moment,’ they build both solidarity and awareness, particularly among young people, using social media to magnify and document their ‘moment.’
Rae Abileah, whose father is Israeli, grew up in suburban California in a secular family, sought out religion at 12 and continues to be observant today, as an ordained Kohenet.
While initially in love with Israel as a teen on her Young Judeah Hadassah trip, after visiting the West Bank with her ordained Israeli partner, they both had an epiphany, which turned them to work for Palestinian rights.
She studied human rights at Barnard College, has written for Mondoweiss, AlterNet, Common Dreams, Tikkun, and is a direct action activist, disrupter and organizer. She served as co-director for CodePink Women for Peace for eight years and is a founding member of Young Jewish and Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her work in the Jewish community includes past projects with American Jewish World Service, Wilderness Torah, B’nai Brith Youth Organization, Hillel, and synagogues.
In Rae’s own words: “It’s an unlearning of a brainwashing that I think needs to happen around this issue….We really got to see some of the harshest forms of Israeli cruelty…..and felt so much more empathy being there in person, so for me that’s the crystallizing experience”.
Tarak Kauff and Ellen Davidson:
Tarak is a longtime NY antiwar and social justice activist from the Vietnam War onward, after serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962. He is a member of Veterans for Peace, a founder and editor of the bimonthly Woodstock International and quarterly War Crimes Times, both Progressive papers. Veterans for Peace was awarded the 2016 Peace Prize by The U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation “in recognition of heroic efforts to expose the causes and costs of war and to prevent and end armed conflict.”
Ellen is an activist reporter and photographer, who began her work at the New York Guardian and has written for Mondoweiss, Ma’an News, and the NY Indypendent. As the Vietnam War radicalized Tarak, the anti-Apartheid Movement did Ellen. Moving from her childhood perception of Israel, as a victim beset by terrorists and threatened by attacking armies, she writes: “I realized that Israel was on the wrong side of all the struggles for freedom and national liberation I supported, that it backed dictatorships in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and elsewhere. The more I learned about Israel, the more I realized that what I had been taught growing up was a lie.”
Tarak and Ellen took part in the 2009-10 Gaza Freedom March in Cairo and were part of a nine-person Veterans For Peace Team that went to the West Bank and the Negev in 2017 to make these three demands:
An end to the Occupation.
An end to the system of apartheid, referred to by Desmond Tutu as worse even than South Africa’s.
An end to the four billion dollar U.S. military aid to Israel.
Hannah Mermelstein grew up outside of Philadelphia in a Jewish suburb and loved Hebrew, Hebrew school and synagogue, but more than anything else, the sense of Jewish community. Attending Zionist summer camp, taking a gap year at a kibbutz in Israel and attending Goucher College which had no Arab or Muslim students, Hannah states: “So, I still, throughout my life, into college had never heard a non-Zionist narrative, never heard an Arab narrative.”
It was while living in Nicaragua that her perspective on Israel began to change. Senior year in college and a trip with International Women’s Peace Service to the West Bank, followed by spending time in Dheisheh refugee camp, prompted Hannah to become anti-Zionist.
In 2005, Hannah co-founded Birthright Unplugged, in response to Birthright Israel, which leads free 10-day Zionist trips, intended to indoctrinate and bind Jewish youth to Israel. Birthright Unplugged trips introduce youth to the Palestinian narrative, visiting Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps in the West Bank and encouraging engagement and activism.
In Hannah’s own words: “I haven’t been to services in years. Most synagogues have the American flag and the Israeli flag hanging in their sanctuary; I don’t feel comfortable in synagogues now and so that part of Jewish community and identity and consensus I’m not part of anymore. What inspires and sustains me now, is Palestinian people, the work and relationships with Palestinians.”
Jane Toby, a New York academic living in Verona in the 1990s, first learned about Women in Black. The group was founded in Israel in 1988 by Jewish and Palestinian women, who stood in silent vigils wearing black, against the Occupation and for a just peace. During the Balkan war, women of varied factions there also joined ranks, to hold vigils of solidarity against the atrocities and division in their own country. Jane brought Women in Black to America to protest Israel’s Occupation and other wars. She wrote: “Our future rests on ethical behavior and personal responsibility, not on nationalistic orientation.”
In conclusion: Judaism is not a template, despite the success over several generations of utilizing Israel as the ‘tie that binds’ disparate American Jews together into a loyal consensus.
Dissolving the shtetl created a liberation moving outward in all directions. Ironically, the ‘in gathering’ inherent in Zionism’s creation of its religion-based state is seen by some as a new ghetto of consciousness, beholden to militarism, racism and violence to sustain it.
“Zionism” as Mark Braverman says “has served to keep Jews trapped in an isolationist, exclusivist past…… yoked to a theology of territoriality and tribal privilege.”
Or, as Miko Peled puts it: “Israel is faced with two options: Continue to exist as a Jewish state while controlling the Palestinians through military force and racist laws, or undertake a deep transformation into a real democracy where Israelis and Palestinians live as equals in a shared state, their shared homeland. For Israelis and Palestinians alike, the latter path promises a bright future.”
There is no question that Zionism has tried to overlay itself across Judaism. Perhaps that is changing, as we are seeing diaspora Jews across every divide free themselves and step away. Some with indifference, others with open rejection. But this is happening in America, as the move for justice and equal rights for Palestinians is increasingly led by Jewish activists.
As Dorothy Zellner told Mondoweiss: “Look at the large number of Jews in the anti-Occupation movement. These are people who have been told since babyhood that Israel is everything…. And the miracle of this is that so many people who were brought up like that began to see with their own eyes. Who would have thought that Jewish Voice for Peace would have 140,000 people on their list now.”
Jews Step Forward is dedicated in memory of Hedy Epstein, whose life exemplified Jewish humanism and Ali Lallo, whose journey from Dheisheh refugee camp to Al Khaleej, has inspired all my films.
A word about Ali. He was born in Dheisheh refugee camp, worked hard to learn English, ultimately becoming a journalist. I met him in Dubai at a lecture given by a British Muslim discussing Palestine. I had raised my hand and mentioned Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Tanya Reinhart, all writing inside Israel. Ali approached me afterward, introduced himself and that began the friendship between our two families. He was working for Al Khaleej in Shariah, the largest publishing house on the Gulf at the time, where among his duties, he chose the English language books to translate into Arabic. I remember he zeroed in on Norman Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry.” It was through Ali that I met the Consul General representing Palestine and members of that Consulate in Dubai, who shared footage and photographs for my first film. Sadly Ali passed away in 2013.
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In Appreciation: Donald Neff, 1930-2015
By Basem L. Ra’ad
At last year’s Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, I attended a session entitled “Jerusalem, We Are Here,” described as an interactive tour of 1948 West Jerusalem. It was designed by a Canadian-Israeli academic specifically as a virtual excursion into the Katamon and Baqʿa neighborhoods, inhabited by Christian and Muslim Palestinian families before the Nakba — in English, the Catastrophe.
Little did I anticipate the painful memories this session would bring. The tour starts in Katamon at an intersection that led up to the Semiramis Hotel. The hotel was blown up by the Haganah on the night of 5-6 January 1948, killing 25 civilians, and was followed by other attacks intended to vacate non-Jewish citizens from the western part of the city. Not far from the Semiramis is the house of my grandparents, a three-story building made of stone that my grandfather, a stone mason, had designed for the future growth of the family. It still stands today. I visited the location recently and found it occupied by Israelis, who never compensated my grandparents or even asked permission. My parents and their children lived nearby in Baqʿa. Then on April 9 the Irgun and Stern gangs executed the massacre at Deir Yassin which, combined with other Zionist plans for depopulation (the last Plan D or Dalet), led to the complete exodus of Palestinians from West Jerusalem and surrounding villages, as well as hundreds of towns and villages in Palestine. Our family and almost 30,000 West Jerusalem Palestinians, plus 40,000 from nearby villages, adding up to more than 726,000 from throughout Palestine (close to 900,000 according to other U.N. estimates) were forced into refugee status and not allowed to return to their homes.
The true story of West Jerusalem is far from what Zionist propaganda portrays to justify the expulsion of its Palestinian inhabitants: an “Arab attack” against which the Jews held bravely, rich Palestinians escaping on the first sign of violence, then being overwhelmed by Jewish immigrants whom the Israelis were forced to let stay in vacated Arab houses—or other similar tales.
In 1995, I made a “return” to Palestine by virtue of a foreign passport that allowed me to enter on a three-month visa. I was obliged to leave at the end of each three-month period and to rent accommodations. It was not always easy to get the usual three months, and I wasn’t allowed to renew my stay internally, though the Ministry of Interior gives renewals to other holders of foreign passports for those not of Palestinian origin. I faced restrictions and received none of the privileges accorded to Jews, born elsewhere, who wished or were recruited to come to the country of my birth. By this time, my grandparents and my parents had died and were buried in Jordan. East Jerusalem has been occupied since 1967, and the whole of geographic Palestine controlled by Israel.
Before crossing, I searched the papers kept by my brother in Jordan and discovered two documents: one related to a parcel of land my parents had purchased in the early 1940s, and the other a deed to a piece of land on the way to Beth Lahm/Bethlehem my father acquired in 1954 (in “the West Bank,” then under Jordanian rule), perhaps thinking of it as a substitute for the loss in 1948. In searching for the first parcel, I was told a request for information has to go to a Tel Aviv office, though I’m pretty sure it would be found to be classified under the Absentees’ Property Law and thus already expropriated by the Israelis.
I then started looking for the second parcel. No one seemed to know about it; the Israeli municipal office said it did not exist. Months passed when by accident I raised the subject with a colleague who told me she heard about that area and that I should check with an old man who lives near New Gate. The man indeed had maps and documents for the parcels in that development. He told me that after 1967 he lost contact with some landowners who lived on the other side of the Jordan river, that the whole hillside was expropriated by the Israeli government in 1970 to build the colony of Gilo. He showed me letters that he as a representative had written to various governments, to the U.N., to the Pope, to any organization he thought could help, to no avail.
To recall such events highlights a small part of the enormity of the Palestinian Nakba. Depopulating Palestinians from West Jerusalem was part of the process of destruction and ethnic cleansing of scores of cities and towns and hundreds of villages throughout the whole of Palestine, documented in Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains and Ilan Pappe’s Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. The Arab countries were half-hearted in their interference on May 15, with ill-equipped armies and foreign-influenced governments; the Palestinians were unprepared and poorly mobilized to deal with a well-planned Zionist invasion, their resources and much of the leadership having been decimated by the British in the 1936-39 uprising. The Zionist plan has continued to operate and expand until today, pursuing its objective for control of all of Palestine, in spite of Israel having agreed to the U.N. partition plan leading to two states and to the return of Palestinian refugees as a condition for Israel’s acceptance as a member of the U.N.
What happened in West Jerusalem in 1948 is today sidelined by the attention given to occupied East Jerusalem, with the issues shifted in focus to make it appear as if the “dispute” is now only about the “West Bank” and “East Jerusalem.” To begin with West Jerusalem is to emphasize that any eventual solution must account for it as part of the refugee issue, which also includes other cities like Yafa and Haifa and hundreds of villages throughout the country, either destroyed (as with most of them), replaced by colonies, or kept intact as in the old homes now inhabited by Israelis without regard for the original owners (in places like ‘Ein Hawd/Ein Hod and ‘Ein Karem).
This essay analyses the claim Israel used for taking Palestinian land, and details Israel’s Judaizing actions within the city and outside in the expanded municipal boundaries where several Jewish colonies have been built. It discusses the most blatant “laws” enacted by Israel to provide legal cover for its takeover of land and properties and its measures to control the city’s demography by applying discriminatory regulations on residency.
The Zionist Claim System
When considering historical Jerusalem, we think of the small area now called the Old City, contained within the Ottoman walls completed in 1541. It is less than one square kilometer, compared to the city’s current self-declared Israeli boundaries, which encompass 123 square kilometers. In the map (Figure 1) the Old City is the barely noticeable rectangle in the middle. Before June 1967, Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem, along with suburbs outside the wall, measured only 6 square kilometers, while West Jerusalem covered 32 square kilometers. The boundaries that existed until 1967 were the result of the 1949 Armistice Agreement. The “green line” then violated the stipulation in the U.N. partition resolution that Jerusalem and surrounding areas be designated as a “corpus separatum.” The city’s internationalization as a kind of Vatican, affirmed in later resolutions, still informs the special status of various consulates, and points to the specific impropriety of the recent U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Zionist claim system, which was developed and adapted over more than a hundred years, was preceded for centuries by a somewhat similar Western claim system. The identification with biblical narratives was useful in providing a religious rationale for colonial and racial theories, starting with the discovery of the New World and expanding across the world starting in the sixteenth century. Accounts like Exodus and “the Conquest of Canaan” drove colonial projects in North America, Australia and South Africa. Colonists in what became the U.S. and Canada transferred biblical typology to construct a myth of exceptionalism—as God’s Chosen People entitled to conquer, dispossess, and exterminate millions of indigenous inhabitants. Later in the 19th century emerged a movement called “sacred geography” as a literal tracing in the “Holy Land” to salvage old religious understanding against the discoveries that undermined biblical historicity. It produced hundreds of travel accounts of Palestine and semi-scholarly works of “biblical archaeology” that prepared the ground for Zionism. This antiquated model for dispossession is now alive in “the Holy Land,” and has revived similar entitlements.
Fixating on Old Testament narratives and exaggerated connections, Zionist claims about Palestine go something like this: followers of Judaism about 2,000 years ago are the same as Jews today, which gives today’s Jews the right to occupy Palestinian land because of promises inserted in the Bible, which they interpret as given to them by “God.” Hebrew is seen as a very ancient language that goes back to the presumed time of Moses and before him Abraham, although it did not exist in those periods but was a later appropriation of other languages and scripts such as Phoenician and Aramaic.
Zionist arguments encompass a whole complex of assumptions and fabrications which, to be realized, have had to take over aspects of continuity available only in the people who lived on the land, the Palestinians. In Hidden Histories, under “claims” and “appropriation,” I cite more than 40 refutable claims and appropriations that cover aspects involving biblical stories, stipulated connections between present Jews and ancient Jews, or Israelites, as well as a range of fabricated or exaggerated ascriptions related to culture, foods, plants, sites, place names, languages, scripts, and other elements. These appropriations create a false nativity, magnifying Jewish connections and undermining or demonizing ancient and modern peoples. In this context, Palestinian existence and continuity over many millennia become invisible, camouflaged by this claim system through strategies of dismissal or justification (e.g., Palestinians are Muslims who came from the Arabian Peninsula, so don’t have the same ancient connections.)
Discoveries since the 19th century have debunked the historicity of a host of notions underpinning this Zionist system. Epigraphic and archaeological finds show that biblical accounts, such as the story of Nūh/Noah, were copied from more ancient regional myths, such as the story of the Mesopotamian flood . Among scholars who have come to these conclusions are Israelis, like archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog who summarizes as follows: “The patriarchs’ acts are legendary… the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, Jehovah, had a female consort.”
Contrary to common impressions, people in Palestine were predominantly polytheistic in their religion, mostly Phoenicians, Greeks and Arab tribes. People in the region may have transitioned from one religion to the next, but they in general stayed where they were. Further, “exile” is “a myth” and the notion of a “Jewish people” is a historical fantasy, as shown by Arthur Koestler, Shlomo Sand and others. Nor are present Jews connected in any real way to ancient Jews or to “Israelites” and “Hebrews.” For present Jews to make these ancient links is like Muslims in Afghanistan or Indonesia saying they descend from Prophet Muhammad and have ownership rights to Mecca and Arabia as their ancestral homeland.
The Stones of Others: Israeli Judaizing Actions
Plans were ready, existing “laws” in place, new “laws” conveniently enacted for how to take over the stones built by other people and to control the demographics. It is a grand strategy that appears to have been prepared well in advance.
Judaizing the city has proceeded through expropriations within and outside the walls, expansion of the Jewish Quarter, establishing enclaves elsewhere in the Old City, ringing the city with colonies within arbitrarily expanded boundaries, manipulating a Jewish majority through measures to limit or reduce the Palestinian population by excluding/including areas using the separation wall, restricting family reunification and child registration, revoking residency status (see sections below), refusing permits, demolitions, and other regulations to constrain Palestinian building and development. These measures are being taken in addition to changes to street and place names that use Hebrew above Arabic and English names, changes made by committees which, in most cases, distort the original Arabic names into Hebrew phonetics.
Only three days after the June 1967 war ended, the Israelis demolished Hāret al-Maghāriba, Maghribi (Moroccan) Quarter, which dates back to the 12th century, in order to clear the area for a plaza in front of the Western or Wailing Wall. By June 11 the quarter was totally leveled, 135 houses demolished and 650 residents evicted. Among the demolished buildings were a mosque, Sufi prayer halls, and hostels. The renowned Khanqah al-Fakhriyya, adjacent to the Western Wall, a Sufi compound, was destroyed two years later by Israeli archaeological excavations. During the destruction of the quarter some residents refused to leave and stayed until just before the building collapsed. One woman was found dead in the rubble.
In 1968, Israel started the project to settle and expand the Jewish Quarter. As Meron Benvenesti and Michael Dumper point out, prior to 1948, the Jewish Quarter was less than 20% owned by Jews since most buildings were leased from the Islamic waqf or private family waqfs. While Jewish immigrants increased outside the city walls, in the quarter the Jewish population had declined well before 1948. At the end of fighting those who had stayed were removed to Israeli-held areas, the buildings partially used to house some West Jerusalem Palestinian refugees. Zionist writers make a point of repeating that this happened, that Jews had no access to the Western Wall or Mount of Olives between 1948 and 1967, a by-product of the conflict and hostilities; they forget that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were evicted from West Jerusalem, other cities, towns and villages, their property taken, and that Israel had refused to allow any of them to return.
To implement this expansion, Israel expropriated more than 32 acres of Islamic and private Palestinian property, using the 1943 British ordinance and Absentees’ Property Law, between the Maghribi Quarter and the Armenian Convent, and from the Tarīq Bab al-Silsilah in the north to the city walls in the south. That included 700 stone buildings, of which only 105 had been owned by Jews before 1948. Palestinian property seized included 1,048 apartments and 437 workshops and commercial stores. (Even then-mayor of West Jerusalem Teddy Kollek objected, saying hundreds will lose their livelihood and thousands dispersed and, citing the expulsion of Palestinians from West Jerusalem in 1948, wondered when they would reclaim their property.)
Owners and those evicted were offered compensation, but the offer was essentially meaningless since waqf property trustees are prevented by shariʿah law from accepting any change in property status. The process took several years since most refused compensation. This resulted in litigation along with harassment and coercion. As still happens in takeovers, people who refuse have their entry blocked, surroundings demolished and are subjected to annoyances such as drilling and falling masonry.
In addition to the above, two other drastic developments occurred over the coming years: inserting enclaves in the Old City and building colonies around the city’s expanded municipal boundaries.
The enclaves within the Old City exhibit extreme ill-intention and are a constant source of tension. Other than the expanded Jewish Quarter, at least 78 properties within the walls have been seized and made into fortresses or mini-colonies. Figure 2, a partial indication with numbers, shows the extent of this cancerous infiltration. With government assistance and foreign Jewish money, extremist groups took over properties, using various pretexts and acquisition tricks, among them to locate and occupy properties previously owned or leased by Jews, remove protected Palestinian tenants, coerce tenants to sublet, and acquire by shady purchases that hide the source.
The drive by militant groups to establish a presence in the Muslim Quarter intensified after the rise of Likud and after Ariel Sharon, who was then Minister of Housing, in 1987, took hold of an apartment in a property in Al Wad Street owned by a Jewish Belarusian in the 1880s. (It is as if anything owned or leased by a Jew can be re-owned by any Jew, contrary to what is applicable to homes that were emptied of Palestinians in 1948 whose direct owners can’t claim them.) The drive for infiltration and acquisition has recently also been active in areas close to Jaffa Gate and around the periphery of the enlarged Jewish Quarter, it seems with the intention of expanding it further at the expense of the Muslim and Christian quarters.
Outside the Old City, as early as 1968, 17,300 acres were annexed to the municipal boundaries. These included the lands of 28 villages and some parts of Beit Lahm (Bethlehem), Beit Jala and Beit Sahour municipalities. Much more confiscation occurred in the West Bank, and by now in addition to all the colonies in the West Bank, in the area called Greater Jerusalem scores of Jewish-only colonies, which are increasing in number have been built of various sizes, some already cities, all the result of confiscation of mostly private land, as well as communal or public lands.
Colonies constructed since 1968 within the Israeli-declared Jerusalem municipality itself, include: Ramat Eshkol, French Hill or Givʿat Shapira (both on 1,186 acres, expropriated mostly from Sheikh Jarrah), Sanhedria Murhevet, Givʿat HaMivtar, Gilo (on land belonging to residents of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Safafa and Sharafat), Neve Ya‘akov (using the pretext of 16 Jewish-owned acres before 1948, Israel confiscated 3,500 acres of privately owned and titled Palestinian land for “public purposes”), Givʿat Hamatos, Ramot Alon (expropriated from Beit Iksa and Beit Hanina), Ma’alot Dafna (485 dunums expropriated from East Jerusalem and no-man’s land), East Talpiot (on more than a fifth of Sur Baher land), Pisgat Ze’ev (1,112 acres, seized from villagers of Beit Hanina, Hizma and Anata), Pisgat Amir (expropriated from the Palestinian village of Hizma), Ramat Shlomo called Reches Shuʿfat earlier (expropriated from Shuʿfat), Har Homa (1,300 dunums seized from private land owners from Beit Sahour and Sur Baher), Nof Zion (extending into the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal el Mukabber), and Mamilla.
In the early 1970s, just outside the Israeli-declared municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, colonial growth proceeded at an equally brisk pace, with Ma‘aleh Adumim on lands confiscated from the town of Abu Dees achieving city status in 1991,with about 40,000 inhabitants.
Despite the Oslo Agreement, the Israeli government in 1995 started discussion of the “Greater Jerusalem” Master Plan with an outer ring of colonies, including Ma‘aleh Adumim, Givʿat Ze’ev (on public land, the site of a Jordanian camp), Har Adar (confiscated from Palestinian lands of Beit Surik and Qatanna), Kochav Yaʿakov and Tel Zion (on thousands of dunums confiscated from Palestinian villages of Kafr ʿAqab and Burqa), settlements east of Ramallah, Israeli buildings in Ras el-ʿAmud, Efrat, the Etzion Bloc and Beitar Illit—extending over more than 300 sq. km. of the West Bank. Such a Greater Jerusalem is aimed at strengthening Israeli domination in the central West Bank by adding 19 colonies into Jerusalem and a population of more than 150,000 Jews—for sure to finally kill any prospect for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
In 2017, a bill for Greater Jerusalem was introduced for a vote in the Knesset, and would likely have been approved except for some apparent U.S. and European pressure. It is clear, however, that the Israeli government and city officials are taking advantage of Trump’s policies to “push, push, push,” as one of them said, and to accelerate their building rampage and take other Judaizing measures while they have a freer hand.
Silwān has become another focus of Israeli acquisition, partly as a result of relative limitation in further expansion of enclaves within the Old City. Silwān is a town of about 35,000 Palestinian residents that borders the southern wall of the Old City. It is associated in part with what is called “the City of David.” Evidence points to continuous habitation since the fourth millennium BCE, but the fixation has been with the presumed Israelite period and the conquest by David. A Zionist archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, has claimed discovery of what remains from David’s palace, though many Israeli archaeologists say the findings contradict this claim.
The takeovers have accelerated in particular in the area called Wadi Hilweh and in al-Bustan neighborhood. Private, well-funded right-wing Zionist organizations such as Elad, as well as the Jewish National Fund, are used by the government, which hands over properties to them and protects their designs to control buildings and develop methods to settle Jews and dislocate Palestinians. Most properties in Silwān have been seized using the Absentees’ Property Law, though technically East Jerusalem had been declared by Israel to be exempt from it.
Elad has been given power by the government to run the “City of David National Park,” thus archaeological excavations are employed as another excuse to expropriate more Palestinian private land and to rewrite historical memory by misinterpreting and falsifying results. (A Byzantine water pit becomes the pit into which Jeremiah was thrown, according to Elad guides.) Plans for an archaeological/amusement park will lead to further destruction of Palestinian neighborhoods. By creating an archaeological tourist park dominated by extremist elements, Israel is intent on maintaining an exclusivist national narrative, the inventiveness about “David” being limitless.
This “Davidization” is going apace in other parts of the city, with an apparent design to join Silwān to the Jewish Quarter and the Tower of David area. In this effort to solidify an invented narrative, there has been a shift in the visualization of Jerusalem and its perception for tourists and Israelis, re-centering the gaze on the Tower of David and wielding new architecture and memorabilia to it, as argued by Dana Hercbergs and Chaim Noy (“Beholding the Holy City: Changes in the Iconic Representation of Jerusalem in the 21th Century”). Certainly, this narrative of making the Tower of David a museum of “Jewish history” is not only contradicted by its archaeology and history, but also by 17th-century minaret that tops the citadel and makes it a “tower”—though few tourists would raise a question. The mushrooming of Davids during the last decades has occurred with the speed and multiplication of other malignancies.
“Laws” have been issued ever since the beginning of the Israeli state in 1948 that have accumulated and intensified in their design to dispossess the Palestinian population and entrench Zionist exclusivity—a web of laws that can only be described as a parody in any sense of legality.
It’s a one-sided process. Where convenient, Israel has employed British mandatory land regulations, such as the 1943 Land Ordinance, and even Ottoman laws, to implement its expansion by expropriation. Other than the “right of return” for any Jew, the reverse of which is no return for any Palestinian forced to leave, the most flagrant legal tool is the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), signed by David Ben-Gurion as prime minister and Chaim Weizmann as president. The other instrumental laws were the Land Acquisition Law in 1953 and the Planning and Construction Law of 1965, which more or less completed the process of expropriation, though more disinheriting laws continue to be issued until today.
The 1950 law was devised for the purpose of disinheriting Palestinians and preventing their retrieval of properties (or their return), in order to establish Israeli control of land or houses and buildings owned by Palestinian refugees in cities, towns and destroyed or depopulated villages. It also applies to furnishings and valuables, bank accounts and other holdings, covering persons as “absentee” and property as “absentee property” even when “the identity of an absentee is unknown.”
An absentee’s dependent does not have rights if she/he happened to have stayed behind (no inheritance, as would have been normal) and any small allowance if paid to an unlikely dependent (only to one dependent in case there are more than one) is at the discretion of the appointed state custodian. The Israeli custodian has the power to liquidate businesses and annul business partnerships, to demolish buildings not authorized by the custodian, to sell or lease immovable property (through the Development Authority), and to rent buildings or allow cultivation of fertile land to a person (an Israeli Jew of course), with some income due to the custodian, but such that “his right shall have priority over any charge vested in another person theretofore.”
In one of the most incredulous sections (27), the law defines who could apply to be defined as “not an absentee”—only if that person left his residence “for fear that the enemies of Israel might cause him harm,” but excludes those who left “otherwise than by reason or for fear of military operations.” (In other words, it makes “not absentees” equivalent to Israelis who are not “absentee” anyway but beneficiaries from “absentees.”) Section 30 states that the “plea that a particular person is not an absentee … by reason only that he had no control over the causes for which he left his place of residence … shall not be heard” (presumably to apply to men who were not fighters, women and children, etc.). Thus, this “law” tries in every way to cover all the corners, to make sure that the original owners have no recourse to recover their rights under Israeli law. Israel creates such laws to say that what it is doing is legal, and to give its courts the tools to approve.
While this “law” was especially useful in the early years of the state, making possible expropriation of more than 6 million dunums of land, it is still being used today. The “law” is careful in defining “Palestinian citizens” (contrary to later Zionist denials that they exist), and in delineating for absenteeism the period 29 November 1947 to 19 May 1948 with the design to include the hundreds of thousands of properties lost in 1948. (“Present absentees” applied as well to more than 35,000 Palestinians who became Israeli citizens after 1948, and they or their descendants are still in that category.)
Since the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel has used the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law to confiscate properties from those classified by it as absentees although they are present. Technically absentees by Israeli definition, East Jerusalem residents were mostly exempt from this status in the Law and Administration Ordinance 5730-1970, section 3, thus considered “not absentee” only if they were physically present in Jerusalem on the day of annexation. However, that section excluded Palestinians who lived outside the municipal boundaries but owned land or property inside the city limits, or those who happened to be visiting outside the country. Occasionally after 1967 and after the 1980s, Israel and settler groups have found it expedient to apply the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law in places like Silwān and Sheikh Jarrah as well as in areas to the north of Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Beit Lahm (Bethlehem) that were incorporated into the enlarged Jerusalem municipality.
As happened with Gilo in1970, 460 acres of land were expropriated in 1991 on Jabal Abu Ghneim south of Jerusalem to build a colony called Har Homa, which now has a population of more than 25,000 Israeli Jews. The residents of Beit Sahour, who owned the land, were thus declared “absentees” (since they were prevented from reaching it) and their lands seized without compensation or legal hearing. In addition to the plan within Greater Jerusalem, an objective was clearly stated that this expansion is intended to obstruct any future expansion of Beit Sahour and Bethlehem.
Another excuse used was that in the 1940s a Jewish group had purchased 32 acres, on the hill! The strategy is similar to some other locations such as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, Hebron, and “Neveh Ya‘akov” colony, where a contention of some pre-1948 ownership was used to take much more land to build huge colonies and establish enclaves.
The Abandoned Areas Ordinance was an immediate measure taken on 30 June 1948 (retroactive to 16 May) to define abandoned areas as “any area or place conquered by or surrendered to armed forces or deserted by all or part of its inhabitants, and which has been declared by order to be an abandoned area.” The Ordinance provided for “the expropriation and confiscation of movable and immovable property, within any abandoned area” and authorized the Israeli government to determine what would be done with this property.
The 1953 Land Acquisition Law was the second law enacted after the Absentees’ Property Law as another step to wrest land from Palestinians. This law immediately confiscated an additional 1.3 million dunums of Palestinian land, affecting 349 towns and villages, in addition to the “built-up areas” of about 68 villages. This “law” completed the process of formal transfer of ownership, until then, of expropriated lands from their Palestinian Arab owners to various Israeli state institutions, and permitted the Minister of Finance to transfer ownership to the Development Authority. The authority to expropriate also resides in the Planning and Construction Law of 1965, and in a number of other legislative acts such as the Water Law, the Antiquities Law, Construction and Evacuation legislation, and others.
Several other “laws” are used to acquire Palestinian land. One is the Prescription Law, 5718-1958 enacted in 1958 and amended in 1965, which essentially repealed provisions of the 1858 Ottoman Land Code, and which also reverses some British practices of that law. It changes the criteria for Miri lands, or arable land whose cultivators were tenants of the state but entitled to pass it on to their heirs, one of the most common types in Palestine, in order to facilitate Israel’s acquisition of such land. According to the Centre on Housing Rights Evictions (COHRE) and the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (BADIL), the Prescription Law is one of the most critical to understanding the legal underpinnings of Israel’s acquisition of Palestinian lands, both in the period after 1948 and in the West Bank after the occupation of 1967. Although not readily apparent in the language, in conjunction with other land laws, this law enabled Israel to acquire lands in areas where Palestinians still dominated the population and could lay claims to the land.
Another is a leftover from the British Mandate, the Land Ordinance (Acquisition for Public Purposes) of 1943, which remained active for Israel because of its usefulness in enabling land expropriation, particularly in Jerusalem. After enlarging the municipal border, Israel gradually issued scores of orders expropriating several additional square kilometers for “green areas” under the provisions of this old regulation. Declared as “public parks,” the acquisitions are in fact designed not for “conservation,” but rather to prevent Palestinian development, to isolate Palestinian areas, to ensure the contiguity of Jewish areas, and to build for Israel’s purposes. Until now, four “national parks” have been declared in East Jerusalem, including on privately- owned Palestinian land and land adjacent to Palestinian neighborhoods or villages, with plans for more “parks” under way.
Israel also amends to serve its purposes. On 10 February 2010, the Knesset passed an amendment to the 1943 Land Ordinance (Acquisition for Public Purposes), with the primary aim of confirming state ownership of land confiscated from Palestinians, even where the land had not been used to serve the purpose for which it was originally confiscated. The amendment was devised to circumvent an Israeli Supreme Court decision (in the Karsik case of 2001), whose precedent Palestinian Israelis were planning to use to retrieve property. This amendment gives the state the right not to use the confiscated land for the specific purpose for which it was confiscated. It further establishes that a citizen does not have the right to demand the return of the confiscated land in the event it has not been used for the purpose for which it was originally confiscated, if ownership of the land has been transferred to a third party or if more than 25 years have passed since its confiscation. The new amendment also expands the authority of the Minister of Finance to confiscate land for “public purposes.” It defines “public purposes” to include the establishment of new towns and expansion of existing ones. The law also allows the Minister of Finance to change the purpose of the confiscation and declare a new purpose if the initial purpose had not been realized.
Such pliability in legal application is clear in Israel’s continued use of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations enacted by the British in 1945, with some modifications (although the Zionists were vehement in their attack on these British regulations before 1948). The regulations included provisions against illegal immigration, establishing military tribunals to try civilians without granting the right of appeal, conducting sweeping searches and seizures, prohibiting publication of books and newspapers, demolishing houses, detaining individuals administratively for an indefinite period, sealing off particular territories, and imposing curfews. In 1948, Israel incorporated the Defense Regulations, pursuant to section 11 of the Government and Law Arrangements Ordinance, except for “changes resulting from establishment of the State or its authorities.”
There was debate in the Knesset in the early 1950 about repealing the Defense Regulations for their undemocratic practices, but they were never abolished because they served the military rule imposed on the Palestinian Arabs who had remained in Israel and became citizens. After cancellation of military rule, a Ministry of Justice committee was entrusted with drawing up proposals for repeal, but the occupation of 1967 brought a stop to this process, and resulted in the Emergency Regulations (Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip – Jurisdiction in Offenses and Legal Aid), whereby it was decided the Regulations were in effect as part of the status before the occupation and thus still in effect. Israel has since used these regulations to punish residents, demolish hundreds of houses, deport and detain thousands of people, impose closures and curfews, and other measures. These Regulations were amended in 2007, mainly to exclude Gaza.
In one instance the Israeli system tried to liquidate claims that could be lodged by Palestinians who lost their property, such as in an amendment in 1973 called Absentees’ Property (Compensation). This amendment devised a ghostly arrangement according to which Palestinian Arabs in “unified” East Jerusalem could receive compensation for their property elsewhere on the basis of its value in 1947. While the properties of tens of thousands of Palestinians who had left the Western sector had been transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, there was only a very small percentage remaining in East Jerusalem, and the majority who were no longer residents of Israel were still not entitled to claim compensation. Jews, too, were compensated for their property in the eastern part of the city where public structures were built, but here the sum was calculated according to the 1968 value. This of course resulted not only in uneven legal application, whereby Jews can make their claim and Palestinians cannot make theirs, but also a measure that could for propaganda purposes say the “Arab refugee” problem is being solved, but limits the compensation to residents of Israel, patently not refugees. In effect it is an erasure of the larger claims by hundreds of thousands of the dispossessed, ending up being a take-it-forever law since Israel could declare ownership reverted to it after the set period was over.
Demographic Control and Residency Regulation
In June 1967, Israel held a census in the annexed area. Those who were present were given the status of “permanent resident” in Israel – a legal status accorded to foreign nationals wishing to reside in Israel. Yet unlike immigrants who freely choose to live in Israel and can return to their country of origin, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have no other home, no legal status in any other country, and did not choose to live in Israel. It is the State of Israel that occupied and annexed the land on which they live.
Permanent residency confers fewer rights than citizenship. It entitles the holder to live and work in Israel and to receive social benefits under the National Insurance Law, as well as health insurance. But permanent residents cannot participate in national elections – either as voters or as candidates – and cannot run for the office of mayor, although they are entitled to vote in local elections or run for the municipal council (although none have done so). And this residency can be lost.
The residency system imposes arduous requirements on Palestinians in order to maintain their status, with drastic consequences for those who don’t. If they happen to live outside the country for study or work more than seven years or if they take on another passport or take on residence in another country, or live outside the municipal boundaries, that automatically results in revocation of residency in Jerusalem. Some revocations have taken place for flimsier reasons, invoking the 1952 Law of Entry for anyone who does not maintain “a center of life” in Jerusalem (except Jews of course, who often shuttle back and forth from business and work abroad, and keep their apartments vacant in colonies). Jewish residents of Jerusalem who are Israeli citizens do not have to prove that they maintain a “center of life” in the city in order to safeguard their legal status, and many have dual citizenships.
Between the start of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017, Israel has revoked the status of more than 15,000 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, according to the Interior Ministry, which means they lost the right to live there along with benefits for which residents pay taxes. The Law of Entry authorizes arrest and deportation for those found without legal status. Without legal status, Palestinians cannot formally work, move freely, renew driver’s licenses, or obtain birth certificates for children, needed to register them in school. The discriminatory system pushes many Palestinians to leave their home city in what amounts to forcible transfers, a serious violation of international law.
Permanent residents are required to submit requests for “family reunification” for spouses who are not technically residents. Since 1967, Israel has maintained a strict policy on requests of East Jerusalem Palestinians for “reunification” with spouses from the West Bank, Gaza or other countries. In July 2003, the Knesset passed a law barring these spouses from receiving permanent residency, other than extreme exceptions. The law effectively denies Palestinian East Jerusalem residents the possibility of living with spouses from Gaza or from other parts of the West Bank, and denies their children permanent residency status.
More than 10,000 children born to such “mixed” marriages are being refused registration as another measure to control the city’s Palestinian population. Israeli policy in East Jerusalem is geared toward pressuring Palestinians to leave in order to shape a geographical and demographic alternate reality.
Residency revocation is employed as well as collective punishment for the entire extended family after an attack on Israelis by a member of the family. In Jabal el Mukabber after such an attack, the mother and 12 family members, including minors, received notices from the Ministry of Interior revoking their residency. The Interior Minister stated that “anyone conspiring, planning or considering a terrorist attack will know that his family will pay dearly for his actions.”
“Loyalty to Israel” has become a law for occupied Jerusalemites. It was first applied “illegally” in 2006 by the Interior Minister who revoked the residency of four members of Hamas elected to the Palestinian Authority’s legislative council. The case was stuck in court for over a decade. In early 2016 and before the Israeli courts ruled on the issue, Israel’s Interior Ministry again invoked this power to strip three 18 and 19-year-old Palestinians of their IDs for throwing stones.
In September 2017, the High Court of Justice held that the Interior Ministry did not have the statutory authority to strip East Jerusalem ID holders of their legal status, but postponed the application of the decision for six months to permit the Knesset to pass a bill to provide for the statutory authority. Now a new “law” has been enacted (in March 2018) to take away the residency ID of anyone if there’s a “breach of loyalty” to Israel—that is, requiring the occupied person who has been placed in limbo (not a citizen of any country) to have loyalty to the occupier. Israel has “unified” the two parts of Jerusalem, but wants to keep Palestinian Jerusalemites outside the formula and makes all efforts to diminish their number.
With the scarcity or absence of building permits, some Palestinians improve or build without permits, and thus there have been hundreds of demolitions. Illegal settlements, however, are multiplying while Jewish building is not demolished but protected. Since 1967, there have been more than 25,000 home demolitions in the West Bank and more than 2,000 in East Jerusalem. Studies have shown that the rate of demolition for permit violators in East Jerusalem is more than twice as high as for similar Jewish violators in West Jerusalem. According to Meir Margalit, the demolitions and associated measures are part of the broader context of colonial control over land and processes similar to those implemented by white settlers in settler colonial societies worldwide.
Right of Birth vs Law of Return
Many countries have avoided holding Israel accountable under international law for its practices. Instead, in some countries like the U.S., huge amounts of tax-exempt money continue to be collected to support Israel’s colonizing activities. With U.S. recognition of “Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, permission has been granted to the occupying power to continue to Judaize the city with impunity. The unevenness in the application of justice is abundantly flagrant.
Israel and Zionist organizations have successfully obtained reparations for Jewish suffering in WW2, not only from Germany but from other countries. The World Jewish Restitution Organization has repossessed property that belonged to people of Jewish background, sometimes with sketchy documentation. Even unidentified bank accounts and such items as jewelry and art work have been recovered. This ought to be a precedent that, under normal moral standards, applies to Palestinians who lost their homes and properties in 1948, in 1967 and later.
Being born in a place is enough in several countries for one to earn citizenship, regardless where the parents come from or their status. In the U.S., for example, this applies to children of people on temporary student or visitor’s visas, and, as in the case of the DACA issue, even those who arrived illegally as minors may eventually have a path to citizenship.
Not so in Israel, or in Jerusalem. Any Jew not born in Palestine or Israel, upon arrival in Israel, has the right to citizenship under Israeli law, a right denied to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians born in the country before or after 1948. In Jerusalem, isolated from its natural rhythm by artificial barriers and colonies, children now born in it can go unrecognized and unregistered, while those already born in it are either not allowed into its compass or their official belonging to it is withdrawn arbitrarily and by force. Those Palestinians who remain in it as recognized residents, not citizens, are controlled in their rights and their future, their ability to develop constricted, and efforts continue to deplete their number.
This type of mentality and resultant policies would be made to stop in a normal world, as a perversion of law and any sense of truth. Adalah’s Discriminatory Laws Database lists over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel, Palestinian residents of other occupied territories and in Jerusalem on the basis of national belonging and of being non-Jews, whether explicit or indirect in their implementation in various aspects of life. And now we have further confirmation of the apartheidist nature of the state in the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People,” enacted on July 19, 2018.
In view of all the above, it was particularly jarring and patently absurd to watch the gleeful faces of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and billionaire Sheldon Adelson at the celebrations of the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Fundamentalist preacher Robert Jeffress and other evangelicals spoke at the event and gave prayers, in effect reviving the old thinking that identified the U.S. national myth with biblical Israel as a justification for colonial expansion. Clearly, it reflected a dangerous alliance between rapacious Zionist colonization and blind evangelistic mania that harks back to the worst periods of colonization and surely negates the presumed spirituality and higher values “Jerusalem” is supposed to represent.
The history of Jerusalem has been so filled with imaginaries, investments, and inventions, which were generally somewhat benign, but are now exploited with dreadful designs and deceptions. It is an unusual situation that differs from other “holy” cities where the sacred is at least stabilized into mundane religiosity. The world must know that these “Holy Land” abuses are a parody of the holy.