When you write regularly as a progressive Zionist about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict either as a blogger or journalist you invariably face tremendous opposition. You are always explaining and defending your positions to critics, sometimes extremely hostile ones as anyone who reads the comment threads here can attest.
That’s why I found Gershon Baskin‘s Answering My Critics so useful. He writes a regular column for the Jerusalem Post. You can’t get more daring than that as an Israeli progressive–like sticking your head in the lion’s mouth. So naturally Baskin gets fierce, derisive, antagonistic and even hateful responses from his reader-critics. In this essay he takes a step back from general everyday coverage of the conflict to think about his beliefs and those of his critics in a broader context. It is like a credo–a statement of “this, I believe:”
Since February 2005, I have been writing this column in the Jerusalem Post every other week. The talkbacks to my articles which also appear on jpost.com are consistently angry, aggressive, and opposed to almost everything I write. The responses to my repeated calls for taking steps toward peace with our neighbors have been complete rejection.
The basis of opposition comes from those who question the very existence of the Palestinian people. Others, who might be willing to recognize that Palestinians do exist, are not wiling to accept the reality of their presence on any part of the Land of Israel. Others who might be willing to accept the presence of Palestinians in some part of Eretz Israel are not willing to accept the possibility of equal rights for them within the State of Israel or even in areas that are under the control of the State of Israel.
I have been called everything from a self-hating Jew to a post-Zionist. I am neither. I am and have always been very Jewish and very Zionist. The main motivations behind all of what I believe are in fact both my Jewish identity and my Zionist one. For me the existence of State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is the ultimate expression of the national strategic interests of the Jewish people. It is an expression of our liberation and our determination to be a free people in our land. But Israel cannot fulfill the national strategic interests of the Jewish people if it is a state built on oppression, persecution and denial of the national rights of another people.
This passage in particular is a good riposte to those pro-Israel partisans who try to discredit the Palestinian claims to their land by proving that “Palestinians” never existed as a people:
Like or not, recognize it or not, there is another people living with us on this land. It does not matter when that people defined itself in national terms. It does not matter if they did not declare independence before 1967. It does not matter if they (and we) failed to bring about their independence through the Oslo process. The reality of their existence and our failure to remove ourselves from ruling over them is the gravest danger to the continuation of the Zionist enterprise since the very establishment of the State of Israel.
Yesterday, I warned in a post that those Israelis who are chortling at the civil unrest in Gaza ought to cut themselves short. Baskin explains why here:
Many of my critics are celebrating the bloodshed in Gaza caused by Palestinians fighting other Palestinians. What those in celebration fail to realize is that the destruction of Palestinian governance in Gaza and perhaps later in the West Bank is a disastrous situation for Israel. Whether they realize it or not, we need a Palestinian partner.
Here Baskin rebuts the notion of Arab “transfer:”
FROM ALL of my critics I have yet to understand in practical terms what they propose as an alternative to serve the interests of Israel and the Jewish people. I don’t believe that there are real Jews who could even think of the possibility of removing the Palestinians from here by force. There is the notion of “transfer by choice” – a ridiculous idea based on the suggestion that if we make their lives so intolerable, they will chose to pick up and leave on their own.
Could that be done in the name of Judaism?
I have argued with fellow progressive Jewish blogger Jonathan Edelstein about the Separation Wall and his support for it. Baskin states my views better than I could myself:
Let’s not forget the genius of those who see the separation walls as the ultimate solution. Let’s build walls high enough and electronic fences sophisticated enough that we can close the gates, lock the doors, throw away the keys and make believe that what exists on the other side is not our concern. Those brilliant planners only forgot that we have hundreds of thousands of settlers on the other side of walls and fences. They also forgot that those settlements are completely in contravention of international law.
This is the most chilling portion of Baskin’s column in which he contemplates a complete breakdown in the peace process:
I must honestly confess, I don’t know if we as a state of the Jewish people will be able to survive either. Our hatred, our fears, our extremism and our arrogance have helped us to arrive at a place and a time when the possibility of liberating ourselves from the occupation of the Palestinian people may be too late. I, for one, am at a total loss of what happens then. Once the possibility of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel is no longer real, it seems to me that the dream of a democratic state of the Jewish people comes to an end. Israel can and will continue to exist but it will no longer be able to claim its commitment to democracy or to prophetic values of our Biblical teachings.
Once there is no longer a two-state option, Palestinians will divert their and the world’s attention to the demand for full democracy within a singular state. They will not talk about a bi-national state; that is not what their struggle will be predicated on. Their demand will be for one man one vote. They will demand to de-Zionize and de-Judaize Israel.
We in response will dig in deeper. Israel will fight off the international onslaught which will remove the very legitimacy that the international community granted the Jewish people’s right to a state of their own in November 29, 1947 when the UN Resolution calling for the establishment of two states in Palestine was first passed.
IN THE end, if we fail to bring an end to the occupation and if we fail to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors, we will be bringing about our own downfall.
Here Baskin makes an argument I have made scores of times in this blog–that there IS no military solution to this conflict:
It is not possible for us to simply use our military might to wipe out the problem either. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is not a military problem and there are no military solutions to it. This is a political conflict between two peoples fighting for national self-determination. There are ways for mutual accommodation, but they require changing “the disk,” because the old logic of mutual destruction is working too well. We as Jews and as Israelis can not afford to lose anymore.
After 40 years of occupation, it is time for all of us to be liberated.
Wise words from an Israeli peace activist and respected journalist. Baskin is also the co-CEO of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.