Keeping some people in and others out is nothing new. The crumbling Great Wall of China, built in 215 BCE evokes invading hordes sweeping down the hilly terrain which created the need for this 1,400-mile structure More recently, the Berlin wall was demolished in 1989, signaling the approaching age of globalization.
These are only two striking examples of humankind’s wall-building, “keep ’em in, keep ’em out” mentality, which was and continues to be taught to schoolchildren from Beijing to Berlin and all places betwixt and between. This mentality is evidenced in the violence being used in the Holy Land to imprison and isolate the people of Palestine because Israeli colonizers wish to take whatever land they want. This newest catastrophe confronting us morally harms not only Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews, but violates the rights of the many Israeli citizens who value justice. It is they who live “safely” in Tel Aviv, but in fear of retribution they know their own government imposes on them, because of Israel’s stance against Palestinians.
Today, the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon is acting out a plan initiated early in the last century by Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Zionist revisionist planner, racist, colonialist, militarist, and father of the Zionist Revisionist legacy. The ideals proposed by Jabotinsky and perpetuated by Sharon are as old, as violent and as exclusionist as any manifestation of the wish to keep the “other” out, on the other side of a fence or wall, whether in a shanty town, reservation, or concentration camp. Jabotinsky’s article “The Iron Wall, We and the Arabs” first appeared Nov. 4, 1923 in the magazine Rasswyet. Among other things, Jabotinsky wrote: Any native people – it’s all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birthright to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian ArabséThey look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairieéThis childish fantasy of our ‘Arabo-philes’ comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network. He continued, Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization canécontinue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break throughéAll this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopeséthey are not a rabble, but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope leftéthe only path to agreement is the iron walléa government without any kind of Arab influence. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.
This by-now-familiar philosophy has been passed from Jabotinsky to Begin to Shamir right on down to Sharon. Those of us who live in Palestine have seen that, regardless of how receptive to us an Israeli government purports to be, the Jabotinsky strategy remains the internal party line. Zion as a Hebrew homeland has been levied without regard to us Palestinians and with little concern for Israeli citizens who came to escape persecution and discrimination, not to inflict them on others.
I cannot speak of how Israeli citizens feel, but I know how I feel. The current catastrophe in Palestine is about political power, not about religion. Israeli government propagandists may impute religious motives to the conflict, but the immorality of their actions insults Jewish religious principles and all the greatness the earliest of the great Abrahamic ethical traditions represents.
Were he alive today, Vladimir Jabotinsky would be proud. As an initiator of the Zionist political philosophy of Revisionism, he took pleasure in training Menachem Begin and the dreaded terrorist group, the Irgun. Begin himself was so fearful that Zionism might lose its magnetism among the Jewish people, as well as western Gentiles and wealthy expatriated Jews, that he once led a Zionist political contingent to plead with the Polish government to initiate a more stringent anti-Semitic policy than Poland “dared or cared to implement.” Begin was much more eager to see Zionism succeed than to protect his fellow Jews from the Poles or the Germans.
Such behavior does not come out of Jewish morality, or any morality that I’m aware of. To me, it smacks of one man’s selfish need for political power, a power only possible through the securing of property over which to rule. Jabotinsky’s mentality permeated the Shamir regime and served as justification for formation of the infamous Stern Gang and, later, the Sharon-encouraged massacres at Sabra and Shatila. While Jabotinsky spoke the truth in saying that “all indigenous people will resist,” his is a truth used for evil, not grounded in Jewish religious morality. Instead, Jabotinsky-a lover of all things Italian including Garibaldi and, to some extent, Mussolini-challenged politically motivated Zionists to follow Machiavellian techniques to achieve their goals.
I and my family and my neighbors and my countrymen are paying the price of the Revisionist tradition. If this makes me sound anti-Jewish, consider that this is not my idea, but comes from the work of Jewish historian and journalist Lenni Brenner, who wrote fiery words about Jabotinsky: “When his [Jabotinsky’s] present-day followers tell us that he was a Zionist hero, a nation-builder required to use the powers-that-be for his purpose [Great Britain and Gentile Zionists], all they are doing, in actuality, is giving us advance warning that they, like him, are prepared to betray humanity for the sake of their Zionist state.” Jabotinsky was a man who willingly collaborated with one Russian government after another, from the czarist regime to socialist and communist reactionary powers, to secure support for Zionism-even when these same governments were initiating pogroms and hanging other Jews. He capitulated to the British to gain their political support and money against the wishes of more civilized, moderate, morally grounded Zionists. Now, however, the Zionists who live around me have taken Jabotinsky’s metaphoric idea, the iron wall, and made it real.
As if to honor Jabotinsky, in late April Israel made its contribution to the list of history’s infamous walls: an iron wall was erected in the narrow space that separates the West Bank town of Jenin from land confiscated by Israel on one side and the Palestinian town, Qabatia, on the other. The Jenin wall is the first structure of this kind constructed on Palestinian land. It is not, however, the first built by Israel. The Jenin Wall mimics the huge iron gate that separates south Lebanon from land once considered the Palestinian motherland, now an Israeli farm.
From checkpoints to piles of dirt that totally obstruct roadways to ditches that circle our towns to the “new” iron gate, the Israeli government seems determined to put all Palestinians under village-house arrest. We are in prison. The Israeli action confirms Jabotinsky’s philosophy, that “a voluntary agreement is unattainable.” Death or life in prison for those we displace is the only solution. Does this sound like a basis for peace accords? Is doing good for one group of people worth the price of doing ill to another?
A colleague in America sent me a letter from his father-in-law, who wrote that he was surprised that I could not seem to understand the perspective of the Israelis and only write about myself and my people. “I do understand,” I want to reply. “I understand the invasion of Palestine, the occupation, the endless repression and harassment, the death of my people, the emotional pain of countless Jews who disavow violence against us.
I have learned that the Zionist wall was constructed in the minds of politicians long before I was born or the population of the world reacted to the message of the Nuremberg Trials saying ‘Yes, the suffering Jewish people needed a place to call home.’ I understand all too well.” To many fundamentalist Zionists, assimilation, even integration, is a sin. Yet many integrated and non-assimilated Jews choose to find Zion in America today, rather than in Israel. Mr. Sharon and company, who need a war economy to keep Israel on board the game they’re in, simply refuse to act on the humane awareness that all people, regardless of faith, must feed and house and clothe their families.
I’m sorry to say that I am living through a time when the Zionists around me are willing to murder and jail all of us to realize not the dream of spiritual Zionism, but of political Zionism. I am a living witness to the results of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s evil philosophy. I read and reread the Mitchell Report, urging us to “end the violence, rebuild confidence, resume security cooperation, go to the conference table and talk things out.” Then, as I lay awake listening to the sounds of gunfire and bombs, I ponder what Jabotinsky said: éa voluntary agreement is just not possible. As long as the [Palestinians] pre serve a gleam of hope that they will succeed in getting rid of us, nothing in the world can cause them to relinquish this hope, precisely because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And a living people will be ready to yield on such fateful issues only when they have given up all hope of getting rid of the alien settlers. As Lenni Brenner wrote, “There is only one word that can be accurately used to describe Jabotinskyéthat is traitoréto the Jews of Russia, to the Jews of Britain, to democracy, to liberty, to humanity.”
This article is based on material from The Iron Wall, Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir, by Lenni Brenner, Zed Press, London, 1984.
(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)