by Michael Neumann
[ed. This is a response to Dr. Jacob Amir's Letter to the Editor related to the review of The Case Against Israel, the latest book by Professor Neumann.]
(Swans - January 16, 2006) Dr. Amir makes several criticisms of my book without having so much as laid eyes on it. Unsurprisingly, he offers for the most part red herrings.
To say that "the Jews" were not "foreign to the land" of Palestine is to replace argument with pomposity. I never claimed the Jews were "foreign to the land." I claimed that the Zionist Jews, who came in their hundreds of thousands, did not live there, and that the Palestinians did. The few non-Zionist Jews who already inhabited Palestine were not, nor did they ever become, the problem. (Moreover, Jerusalem did not have a Jewish majority since 1840. The 1844 census gave Jews a plurality in Jerusalem, then a tiny city of 16,720 inhabitants. There were 7,120 Jews, 5,760 Muslims, and 3,390 Christians. See the Web site of the World Zionist Organization.)
Amir says: "They ['the Palestinian Jews'] did NOT impose their sovereignty through expropriation. They were in Palestine legally according to the laws of the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain." First, the phrase "the Palestinian Jews" is disingenuously misleading. The Jews indigenous to Palestine were not the ones seeking to impose sovereignty. Many of them were anti-Zionist or neutral. Second, there is obfuscation. Jews, Palestinian or otherwise, imposed sovereignty by establishing a sovereign state, Israel. They did this in the 1948 conflict. No one denies that this conflict involved expropriation of Palestinian lands. Amir hopes to muddy the waters sufficiently so that his ambiguities can pass for an assertion he could never, once clarified, defend. Third, to say that Zionists were legally in Palestine is further obfuscation. For one thing, there is no reason at all why the Palestinians should have felt themselves bound by British or Ottoman laws, which were imposed on them without their consent. For another, supposing the Zionists were "legally in Palestine," this only means that they were entitled to live there. It does not follow that they had legal grounds for imposing their sovereignty on the Palestinians, and they didn't. Fourth, and by far the most important, it really doesn't matter how Zionists imposed sovereignty; it matters that they imposed it. They had absolutely no right to do so, and the Palestinians had every right to resist that imposition. The sovereignty of an ethnic group over all other inhabitants within the territory it controls is an odious state of affairs that no amount of legalistic whitewashing can render any more legitimate.
Amir says that, had the Palestinians accepted partition, their state would be 57 years old, and there would be no Palestinian refugees. Had partition been accepted, there would have been an ethnic state in territory inhabited by the Palestinians. The Palestinians inhabiting this territory would then have had the choice so many did in fact have: to let another ethnic group hold the power of life and death over them, or to leave. Since not all Palestinians would have accepted subjugation, there would have been refugees even if partition had been accepted. Moreover, since many Zionists had no intention of settling for what was offered in partition, there can be no confidence that partition would have avoided more fighting, more refugees, and the denial of Palestinian statehood. Palestinians were of course aware of this at the time, and Ben Gurion was quite explicit about his intention in private. He wrote his son that:
I am an enthusiastic advocate of the Jewish State, even if it involves partitioning Palestine now, because I work on the assumption that a partial Jewish State will not be the end, but the beginning. When we acquire 1,000 or 10,000 dunams of land, we are happy. Because this acquisition of land is important not only for its own sake, but because through it we are increasing our strength, and every increase in our strength helps us to acquire the whole country. The formation of a State, even if it is only a partial State, will be the greatest increase of strength we could have today, and it will constitute a powerful lever in our historic effort to redeem the country in its entirety. (Source: David Ben-Gurion, Letters to Paula, Aubrey Hodes, tr., Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press) 1971 , 154f.)
So it is a myth, not even a plausible one, that partition was likely to give the Palestinians anything at all.
It is not surprising that I "'forgot' the Hartoom conference" because there was never any such beast. Amir refers to the Khartoum conference of August 1967. In the first place, by this time Israel had already decided not to support the Palestinian notables to whom I referred. In the second place, the Khartoum conference was not a conference of Palestinians, but one of the Arab leaders, including King Faisal. That the PLO took an active part in the conference had not the slightest tendency to remove a willingness to deal with Israel among the Palestinian leaders who were actually in Palestine in June and July. The future does not change the past. In the third place, had there been no willingness, it would not have changed the rights and wrongs of the situation at all. In 1967, Israel extended its sovereignty, its power of life and death, over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. This posed, for a second time, a mortal threat to the Palestinians, who had absolutely no say in how this power was to be wielded. Zionist sovereignty was imposed on all of them, men, women, and children, whether or not they had engaged in any hostilities towards Israel. Once again: any group of people subjected to such power, without their consent, has a right to resist its imposition by any means necessary. So the Palestinians had such a right whether or not they showed any willingness whatever to negotiate. Israel may conceivably have had some right to occupy its conquests until a secure withdrawal could be effected, but none whatever to settle on the land, which simply increased the Palestinians' prospects of unending occupation accompanied by creeping dispossession.
Finally, Amir tells us that "Nation-states are found all over the world. Opposing the right of the Jewish people to its own nation-state while supporting that right for everybody else is nothing short of racism." This is the worst obfuscation of all. Nation-states are, for the most part, not ethnic states. They are not states designed to perpetuate the power of a single ethnic group over everyone else within the territory over which that group holds sovereignty. All such states are illegitimate. No one ought to support that supposed right, and I certainly do not do so.