The Palestinian Poltergeist
Rethinking Israel After 60 Years
By JEFF HALPER, CounterPunch, May 15, 2008
Israeli Independence Day 2008, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the
rise of the Jewish State, should be cause for sober reflection and
reevaluation as well as celebration. Indeed, we Israeli Jews have much
to celebrate. But something, it appears, is amiss. Israel's 60 Year gala
appeared exaggerated, the joy expressed through the blaring loudspeakers
somewhat artificial and forced. The celebrations were certainly more
militaristic and triumphalist than usual. Neither the Palestinians nor
the Occupation were allowed to penetrate the close narrative encasing
Independence Day, of course, but military themes and displays, plus the
presence of thousands of soldiers and police in every public place,
conveyed an underlying disquiet. Something else was present, an
unsettling but unspoken element. I call it the Palestinian poltergeist.
Perhaps our loud triumphalism had to do less with celebration than with
the disturbing realization that the two-state solution, which even
Olmert claims is Israel's only hope of remaining a Jewish state, is
disappearing before our eyes. Anyone familiar with Israel's massive
settlements blocs, its fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and
their irreversible incorporation into Israel proper through a maze of
Israeli-only highways and other "facts on the ground," anyone who has
spent an hour in the West Bank, can plainly see that this is the case.
The expansion of Israel's Matrix of Control throughout the Occupied
Territories, coupled with American protection from any international
pressures for meaningfully withdrawal, have rendered a viable
Palestinian state, and thus a genuine two-state solution, unattainable.
The transformation of the Occupation into a permanent political fact now
shifts the question of co-existence, peace and reconciliation from the
West Bank and Gaza to the entire country, to an indivisible
Israel/Palestine. This is the true significance of the 60 Years. For if
a viable Palestinian state cannot be detached from Israel, then the
conflict becomes one which encompasses the entire country from the
Mediterranean to the Jordan River. The focus on 1948 raises issues we'd
rather leave untouched, events and policies we have suppressed these
past six decades.
Did the Palestinians really flee or did we Israeli Jews drive them out?
If almost half the inhabitants of that part of Palestine apportioned by
the UN to the Jews in 1947 were Arabs, how could we have turned even
that small bit of land into a "Jewish state"? Is Zionism, then, truly
free of war crimes or did we in fact conduct a deliberate and cruel
campaign of ethnic cleansing that went far beyond the borders of
partition? In that context, was the occupation of the entire land of
Palestine the result of Jordanian miscalculation or, from a perspective
of forty years later, was in actually an inevitable "completion" of
1948, as Rabin and many others have said? How can we reconcile our
professed desire for peace with a steady annexation of the Occupied
Territories, including almost 250 settlements? Can we really expect to
"win," to frustrate Palestinian aspirations for freedom in their
homeland forever, and if we do, what kind of society will we have, what
will our children inherit? Indeed, while we presume to speak in the name
of world Jewry, can we expect our Diaspora – fundamentally liberal and
not tribal as is Judaism in Israel – to support war crimes that only
undermine the moral basis of their community, convictions and faith?
And then comes the hardest question of all: If it was we who eliminated
a viable two-state solution – the creation of a truncated Palestinian
prison-state on 15% of historic Palestine a la South Africa's Bantustans
will not solve the conflict – then how will we end our century-old
conflict? How will we deal with the bi-national entity that is
Israel/Palestine, largely our own creation?
In order to avoid these questions, we have developed a number of
mechanisms, delaying forever a political solution being only one of
them. It is enough for us to merely assert our support for a two-state
solution in order that we be considered peace-minded and reasonable.
Two-state supporters require only the notion of a Palestinian state, a
never-ending process towards it, to escape confronting the reality we
created. As long as a Palestinian state can be held out as a
possibility, the pressure's off. Thus many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and
others – including such searching and otherwise radical figures as Noam
Chomsky and Uri Avnery, together with the Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, Rabbis
Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow and members of Rabbis for Human Rights
– cling tenaciously to the two-state solution, all refusing to admit it
is no longer viable.
The 40th anniversary of 1967 had to do with occupation. Had we dealt
with that issue wisely and justly, Israel today could have been a Jewish
state living at peace with its neighbors on 78% of the Land of Israel, a
true cause for celebration. This year's focus on 60 Years, on 1948, is a
different matter entirely. If we want to salvage a national Jewish
presence in Palestine/Israel, nothing remains but to courageously
confront what we did in 1948 and the bi-national reality we have
fostered since 1967. No longer can we blame the Palestinians for our
dilemmas; they accepted the two-state solution way back in 1988. No, it
is us, the triumphant, those who believed (and still believe) that
military power combined with Jewish victimhood can defeat a people's
will to freedom, who carry the burden of responsibility for this most
anti-Zionist, yet wholly predicable, situation.
Only a reconciling of our celebration with Palestinian loss will we
finally begin to deal with the presence "in our country" of another
people with equal claims and rights, paving the way to a just peace,
reconciliation and the securing of a Jewish national presence in the
Land of Israel – whatever political form that might take. Difficult as
it may be, such a reassessment may in fact allow us to achieve Zionism's
original and ultimate aspiration: a genuine homecoming of the Jewish
nation to the hearth of its civilization. Our dybbuks and the
Palestinian poltergeist will be finally put to rest. Now that will be
cause for genuine, unfettered celebration.
Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.