November 19 2017
A talk at a distance delivered to a group of 30 people assembled by Rev Jenny Adams, who looks after World Mission matters in the Presbytery of Moray, to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Jenny was kind enough to “channel” my remarks, although (as she says) “without the beard”.
This may not be the best time of year to mention it, but children eventually realize there is no Santa Claus.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post on Hallowe’en, Alex Benjamin told his Israeli readers that the Palestinians and their leaders need to shed a similar illusion.
They “cannot get their heads around the fact,” he wrote, “that the ‘Nakba’ (the disaster, as they refer to the creation of the State of Israel) is not a flash in the pan, and that some 70 years later, Israel exists, is flourishing and isn’t going anywhere.”
This is the sort of sentence that gives chutzpah a bad name.
It’s true, of course, that the state of Israel exists and isn’t going anywhere. But it isn’t true that it has to exist in its current Zionist form.
And it isn’t true that when Palestinians speak of the Nakba or catastrophe, what they have in mind is the creation of the state of Israel as such. As Benjamin must know, they are referring to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, when, during the creation of the state, more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes – and never allowed to return.
Jews in Israel, and Zionists everywhere, have three standard ways of responding to this Nakba: they deny it happened, they say it was an unfortunate side-effect of the creation of Israel, or they claim it was a necessary evil in creating a necessary state.
Benjamin adds a new response to the repertoire.
He tells the Palestinians: Get over it. The Nakba is “irreversible”. If you think that “everything that was done can be undone, that every battle lost can in fact be won”, you are as deluded as a child who believes in Father Christmas.
Plainly put, we are right, you are wrong. We won, you lost.
On Thursday, Yoav Galant, minister of housing and construction in the Netanyahu government, told Israeli public radio that in the Jordan Valley today, after 50 years of occupation, there’s a total of 5,000 people.
Writing in Haaretz, the veteran journalist Amira Hass noted that Galant “didn’t say Jews, he didn’t say Israelis. He said ‘people.’”
“And the experienced presenter didn’t interrupt and say: ‘Just a minute, there are at least 70,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley, and they’ve been there since before 1967. In Ouja alone there are about 5,000 people. And a similar number in Jiftlik, and let’s not forget the city of Jericho, which has a population of about 35,000, and thousands of families of shepherds for whom the valley is home.’”
For Galant and the radio presenter, the only “people” in the valley are the Jewish settlers.
The tens of thousands of Palestinians are, to borrow a useful term from Mark Curtis, “unpeople”. They don’t count, any more than do the 200,000 or more Palestinians who fled and were expelled in 1967 and are also not allowed to return.
This is Israel today. This is how more and more Israeli politicians and Zionist propagandists speak. This is, as Amira Hass suggests, the “ultimate Zionist vision”: the land of Israel, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, as a Jewish state for the Jewish people, with the Palestinians marginalized, confined to Native American-like reservations, or transferred out.
We are, in short, in a very bad place.
The Netanyahu government feels no need to conclude a peace treaty with the Palestinians, because the present “unpeace” suits it very well, allowing it to do whatever it pleases without making the slightest “concession” – “concession” being the Zionist term for restitution.
If Donald Trump’s new negotiations ever get off the ground, Netanyahu’s Israel will join in only if it is confident they will lead nowhere.
Hope in this time of darkness springs from three sources: from Palestinian civil society, which bases itself on fundamental human rights – the right not to be discriminated against, the right not to live under military occupation, the right to return from exile; from Israeli dissidents in organizations such as Breaking the Silence, B’tselem, or Rabbis for Human Rights who, whatever their political views, also struggle for Palestinian human rights; and from civil society in the West, which increasingly rejects Israeli propaganda and the false claim by Western governments that anti-Zionism is antisemitic.
The Jews of Israel are not bad people. I have lived among them for over three years now, and I can testify that they are no worse, if no better, than the good people of Moray. But today they find themselves trapped in a political dead end of their own making.
Helping them, and the Arabs of Palestine, to escape from that cul-de-sac is the best thing we can commit ourselves to in the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
 Alex Benjamin, “Palestinian leaders need to have ‘that’ Santa conversation with their people”, Jerusalem Post, October 31 2017
 Amira Hass, “Transfer of Palestinians, in word and deed”, Haaretz, November 14 2017
 Mark Curtis, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses (London: Vintage, 2004)