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NADAV COHEN (Letters, June 2) must be aware that Zionism began as a secular movement and is in fact strenuously resisted on religious grounds by increasingly vocal Orthodox Jewish scholars, such as Yakov Rabkin, whose book, A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism, is most enlightening.
Despite the fact that Zionism began as a secular movement, Mr Cohen begins by repeating the biblical myth of “returning to… the land of their forefathers”. Quotes from two leading archaeologists (Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Neil Asher Silberman of the Belgian institute of Archaeology) show up this myth for the nonsense it is: “The historical saga contained in the Bible — from Abraham … to the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah — was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the human imagination”; and “The archaeological evidence points to a period of a few decades [in which a strong Israel existed] between around 835 and 800 BCE’.
The idea that something that happened almost 3,000 years ago can form the basis of a claim to sovereignty today is nonsense.!
While the historical truth is important, the moral issue about the Palestinian refugees does not depend on whether they left voluntarily or were forced out, but on why they were never allowed back in. During the 1948 war, and immediately afterwards, the emerging Israeli state made sure they had nothing to return to by destroying up to 400 Palestinian villages and cleansing their major cities.
Mr Cohen cites Haifa as an example of Jewish benevolence when it was in fact the first urban target of ethnic cleansing and of major atrocities. Beginning in December 1947, the 75,000 Palestinian inhabitants were subjected to a campaign of terror from the Irgun and Hagana gangs.
This had a twofold purpose: to force out Palestinians but also to test British resolve. The British troops who were supposed to be guarding the city did nothing. This gave the green light to both Irgun and the Stern gangs to commit appalling atrocities and broaden the cleansing assault.
In 1969, the then Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan told university students in Haifa, “Jewish villages arose in the place of Arab villages … Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Huneifis… There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
In the long term, this cleansing was enshrined in Israeli law in 1950 through the Law of Return. This gives the right to every Jew in the world to migrate to Israel and receive automatic citizenship while preventing the return of any Palestinians whose forefathers, by and large, were the actual inhabitants of this land for at least the previous five centuries.
Reading between the lines of Mr Cohen’s letter, one can detect what has become the underlying obsession of Israeli governments over the past decade — the fear of not being able to maintain a Jewish demographic majority within some new, well defined border. This explains the so-called disengagement from Gaza. By disavowing responsibility for the Gazan Palestinians while at the same tightly encircling them by land, sea and air, they have neatly achieved two objectives — with the added by-product that the world not only looks on benignly but actually applauds. The same thing is happening in the West Bank (which is now reduced to three non-contiguous Palestinian enclaves).
It is Mr Cohen’s reference to the Israeli Arabs which truly lets the cat out of the bag — just look at how wonderful and generous we Israelis are to enjoy the pleasure of our 1.5 million Arab Israeli citizens. He forgets to mention that these are the Palestinians and their descendants who refused to be cowed and driven out in 1948.
He also forgets to mention that they have been discriminated against ever since, initially isolated under military rule, their lands confiscated under the pretence of security, their houses demolished, starved of a fair share of education and health funding, endlessly harassed by the Shin Bet and generally treated as a ‘fifth column’. Again, because they have a vote and representation in the Knesset (Israel’s legislature), Europe and the US has bought into the hypocrisy.
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