by MPT Member Sheri Wander
Commenting on a recent post, Israeli Threats of Genocide, Erin asked “Do you think that Israel is an illegal state – a colonial creation on Palestinian homeland?” And later, “Do you believe Israel is an illegal state?
“It’s the same question I often get asked when giving talks about my (and other MPT members) experiences in Palestine and Israel. “Does Israel have the right to exist?”
I always hesitate, not because I don’t want to answer it, but because I see it as an oversimplified question and ultimately, (whether it was meant this way or not) it is such a loaded question.
No matter how I answer it, there seems to be some who cannot hear beyond a “yes” or a “no”….
If I say “yes, Israel has the right to exist” some will only hear that as a justification of the occupation, and of denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. Some will only see it as defending racism or a theocracy.
If I say “no, I don’t believe Israel has a right to exist”, or “I don’t believe Israel has the right to exist as it currently does.” There are some who can only hear that Israelis have not right to exist. There will always be some who will hear “push them into the sea” or only see it as a defense of racism and antisemitism.
First, I have to say that it seems in some way odd language to be arguing. I don’t know that I recognize the right of ANY state to exist. Maybe it’s the anarchist in me, but the thing is I tend to recognize the rights of people – not of states or corporations. I recognize that states exist… that the state of Israel exists.
The other question that I ask myself is “What Israel?” “What borders?” The Israel recommended for a Jewish State by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The percentage of historic Palestine occupied in 1948? The Israel post the 1967 six day war? Is the “green line” the border? Or the border created by the separation barrier that reaches over 10 miles into the West Bank in some areas- effectively annexing (by some estimates) nearly 50% of the West Bank. Israel as it is or with the return of Palestinian refugees?
The other question I wrestle with here is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as an Islamic state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as a Christian state. I worry when there is no separation of church and state. When I’ve mentioned this to friends they have commented that it is not Judaism as a religion, but as an ethnic identity. Yet this too is problematic. It brings too quickly to mind things like Rwanda, Bosnia and Hitler’s quest for an “Aryan nation.”
But, for me the question at the heart of the matter is what does it mean to recognize Israel’s right to exist? It seems to me that recognizing Israel’s right to exist seems to inherently recognize the rightness of its creation at the expense of those living there. It seems to therefore recognize the right of Al Nakba (”the catastrophe”) — the expulsion of such a huge number of Palestinians from their homeland between’ 47-’49.
That said, I certainly DO recognize that Israel exists. And I have no hesitation to say that I recognize the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.
I think it is different to “recognize Israel,” (This is an act of diplomacy… one nation state recognizes another) or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” (I recognize that Israel exists and that is the framework in which we live.) or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.” (This seems to be recognizing its rightness to exist at the expense of at those who lived there historically.)
So, what does all that mean? It means I recognize Israel’s existence. It means I recognize the right of all people in what is now considered to be Palestine and what is now considered to be Israel to exist in peace and security. It means I recognize the right of all people in the region to self determination. I recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return. And I guess that if all that is true, then it follows that I cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist as it currently does.