Zionist Israel at 60 – A Colonial-settler state?

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Next week Zionists the world over will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of a state-for-Jews-only in Palestine.

But "Israel, A Colonial-Settler State?" is the question posed by the title of Prof. Maxime Rodinson’s 1973 book, which answers this crucial question in the affirmative.

Rodinson, a renowned French historian and sociologist who taught at the Sorbonne, died in 2004 at age 89. His obituary in the British newspaper, The Guardian, said of his life and accomplishments: "In 1967, on the eve of the six-day war, Rodinson became well known in France when he expressed a certain reticence about Israel, despite himself being Jewish. He had always been suspicious of Zionism and considered those who expressed enthusiasm for Israel were indulging in a belated form of colonialism."

Rodinson himself wrote: "The Jews attracted by Zionism emigrated to Palestine, and then they dominated it. They occupied it in deed and then adopted legislation to justify this occupation by law … To be aware of the colonial character of the State of Israel is to begin to make clear why the pressure of the events does so much to thrust Israel into the camp of the Western powers, and why any other orientation would require heroic efforts on the part of progressive elements in Israel … The Zionist leaders are responsible [for] the colonization of a foreign land."

In 1940, Rodinson received an appointment to the French Institute in Damascus, both to extend his knowledge of Islam and to escape the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied France. Both his parents subsequently died in Auschwitz.

Rodinson’s 1973 book, Israel, A Colonial-Settler State? was translated from the French and introduced by Peter Buch, who asked in his foreword, "Can Israel be classified as a colonial-settler state, and the Palestinians, concomitantly, as a people colonially oppressed by Israel?"

Buch continued: "It is true that several hundred thousand Jews, fleeing Hitler before the war and escaping the wretched displaced persons camps after the war, found refuge in Palestine because they were not accepted by the western democracies who are today so friendly to Israel. These refugees, persecuted victims themselves, were absorbed into the settler community and only intensified the colonialist impact upon the Arabs. The same was true with the huge number of ‘Oriental’ Jews who arrived afterwards — some under Zionist pressure and others expelled from their Arab countries of origin in stupid and reactionary ‘retaliation’ for the expulsion of the Palestinians. In both cases, the Palestinians were made to suffer the consequences of the deeds of others."

Buch commented further: "In common with the dominant outlook of European chauvinism, Zionism considered any territory as ’empty’ and available if its indigenous population had not yet achieved national independence and recognized statehood. Rodinson balances this harsh description of the early Zionists by pointing out that their racist prejudices and assumptions were no worse than those prevailing among their contemporaries and might even be excused on that account as products of their time. This judgment can be questioned as overly charitable, in view of the existence — also among their contemporaries — of alternative movements for socialist and anti-imperialist liberation which were attracting far more of the Jewish youth than was Zionism. It certainly cannot excuse those who espoused this program in the name of socialism, either then or now. However, such considerations do not alter the basic facts."

Rodinson’s concluding remarks, even back in 1973, were extremely prescient given the current situation. He wrote: "It is possible that war is the only way out of the situation created by Zionism. I leave it to others to find cause for rejoicing in this. But if there is any chance of some day seeing a peaceful solution, it will not be achieved by telling the Arabs that it is their duty to applaud their conquerors because they are Europeans or are in the process of becoming Europeanized, because they are ‘advanced,’ because they are revolutionary or (almost) socialist and, even less, simply because they are Jews! The most that can be asked of the Arabs is that they resign themselves to a disagreeable situation, and that in resigning themselves they make the best of their resignation. It is not easy to get a conquered person to resign himself to defeat, and it is not made any easier by loudly proclaiming how right it was that he was soundly beaten. It is generally wiser to offer him compensation. And those who have not suffered from the fight can (and, I believe, even must) recommend forgiveness for the injuries inflicted. They are hardly entitled to demand it."

Sadly, Rodinson’s lifetime of wisdom has been ignored by Zionists everywhere. Today finds even more generations of Palestinians still living as victims of a colonial-settler state.

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