Michael Shurkin
Is Zionism Colonialism? p. 6

The second question of great importance is the identity of the métropole. Memmi's portraits assume very distinct and obvious terms: France is the métropole, Algeria (or Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, etc.) is the colony. Such clear cut lines mean that the struggle against colonialism is equally well defined and limited in its objectives. The colonized fights to kick the colonizer back to the métropole; he has no brief against the métropole itself, does not aspire to destroy it, and could not do so if he wanted. And the métropole fights not for its own survival but for the survival of its colony. The Israeli case, however, is not so straightforward.

Most well-intentioned Westerners, including the vast majority of the media, assume that Israel is the métropole and the territories seized in 1967 are the colony. They take for granted that when Arabs speak of "occuption," they, too, mean the West Bank and Gaza. It follows that the colonizers are the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, and pre-1967 Israel is the métropole. Some Arabs do indeed think this way. For them, the fight is about ending the occupation of them and sending the "colonists" back to Israel. But I suspect that this group is either a minority or, at best, a silent majority. The media, by reporting as if everyone agreed that "occupation" referred to the West Bank and Gaza alone, contribute to a dangerous illusion. Some Arab leaders deliberately obfuscate, providing enough information for everyone to hear what they want to hear (e.g., Arafat). Or, if Arab leaders talk of fighting for the liberation of the West Bank and Gaza alone, they find ways to communicate that they see this as a temporary expedient. Others, like Hamas or Professor Massad, are less shy, and explicitly define Israel itself as the colony. The distinction between pre- and post-1967 borders is fiction, and the métropole is the "West."

Such a view not only denies historical reality but also spells disaster for Jews. Simply, the "West" is not a métropole, and Zionists are not their agents. There can be no "repatriation," for there never was a Jewish "patria" (except Palestine, of course) and certainly no country that would welcome Jews back. The fate of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust only to be butchered upon their return in 1946 should leave no doubt about that. To imagine that Jews would flee from Israel and return to their imaginary métropole just as settlers in Algeria fled to France is obviously just a fantasy, and it thus can only be a polite way of imagining the disappearance of Israel's "settler" population. It negates their existence. People have dreamed such dreams before, with notorious results.

There is a less radical view, in which a Palestinian Law of Return would repopulate Palestine and make Israelis a minority either in a Palestinian state or in some hybrid dual-national state. A lot of well-meaning people, among them Jimmy Carter, believe that such schemes could work and that peace would arrive. One might argue that Jews could place their trust in some international peace-keeping force, but in light of the history of such forces (think Srebrenica, or the UN's retreat from Sinai in 1967 to clear the path for Nasser's crusading armies), one might as well argue that Jews should just place their head against Arab gun barrels and pull the trigger themselves. In addition, there is no reason to believe that Arabs would be happy with a Western military police force keeping them from slaughtering their neighbors. They would perceive it, not inaccurately, as just another colonial occupation.

Zionism ultimately has many features of colonialism. But it lacks several other, essential ones. If we wish to say that not all features are necessary, and that having only some is sufficient, then we must add that not all colonialisms are the same, not all colonizers are equal, and the solution to one colonial context is not valid for all. Israel quite simply is not Algeria, and both Arabs and anyone interested in a peaceful solution must recognize where the similarities between the two cases stop. Israelis, unlike French colonists, cannot "go home." Moreover, unlike France, which never had any reason to be in Algeria in the first place (Charles X invaded in 1830 to distract public attention from his failed domestic policies, not unlike America's recent foray), Jews have very urgent reasons to be in Palestine, of which the Holocaust is only one. Any bid to decolonize all of Israel is not acceptable.

Moreover, if we grant the legitimacy of pre-1967 Israel, we must accept that even a scheme featuring the decolonization of the West Bank and Gaza alone is so fraught with danger that Jews cannot reasonably be expected simply to nod in assent and walk away. France, which never had anything more at stake than its pride, mustered the will to pull out of Algeria only after eight years of horrible war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, waves of fascist terrorism, and the collapse of the government. If France did not have De Gaulle to lead it, it surely would have fallen into civil war. All that for a colony that could not threaten France in any way, a colony that never brought France anything but trouble. In contrast, Israel has everything at stake. It has no sea to separate it from its seething ex-colonials, many of whom are plainly interested in taking the war to the métropole and destroying it. It has no reason to trust that "occupation" refers to Ramallah and not Haifa. And, despite having all the ingredients for a nasty civil war, Israel has no De Gaulle with the strength to overcome fascist resistance and maintain national unity. Is it any wonder that these colonized people prefer to crouch in fear and take shelter behind an unmovable general-king who at least helps them sleep more securely at night?

I would like to see Israel 'decolonize' the West Bank and Gaza, because, there, Palestinian Arabs truly are colonized. Really, Israel has no choice; Memmi made clear that the revolt will not end. The only way there will be peace, however, is if the Palestinians take to heart the notion that "occupation" refers to the West Bank and Gaza and renounce schemes to 'decolonize' all of Israel. This means no Palestinian Right of Return applied to pre-1967 Israel. This means exterminating rather than harboring Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other maximalist parties. The Left and the media need to be honest about these groups and what they would do if they only had the power. Never mind Sartre's defense of terrorism; these people aspire to exterminate Jews. Yet NPR routinely gives the microphone to Hamas spokesmen who proceed to lie about how all they want to do is liberate the West Bank and Gaza. At the same time, Israel must find the courage to pull back, retrench, and suppress its own fascists. There may well be bloodshed. Only radical measures by the Palestinians, as well as strong and sympathetic American support for both parties, can give Israel the confidence it needs to accept the risks. As for the Europeans, the most useful thing they could do would be to spend billions of euros on Arab economic development. After all, this is all their fault.

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Images: Hamas seal (top) and suicide-bomber supporters (bottom)

Michael Shurkin holds a Ph.D. in History from Yale University.

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