Can there really be any doubt that the creation of the State of Israel was, at its heart, a colonialist act of dispossession, and has established an “apartheid regime” that systematically discriminates against and subjugates its own citizens? The evidence is overwhelming.
To begin with, at the Paris Peace conference in 1919, the Zionist Commission submitted a map of Palestine marked “grazing land,” empty of all its towns and villages. That was the certification of the myth propagated by the Zionist supporters that “Palestine is a land without people,” and its corollary, “the Jews are a people without a land.”
The colonial powers at the Paris conference — Britain and France — supported the big lie that Palestine was empty, although both had conducted extensive surveys in Palestine, most notably the Survey of Palestine by the Palestine Exploration Fund, and published maps and volumes about 1,200 towns and villages, many of which are 2,000 years old, in whose streets Jesus Christ most likely walked.
Does that reflect a glaring ignorance? No, it did not. It was a Zionist plan to convert Palestine into a land without (its) people. Hence the dispossession of Palestine carried out in 1948, in which 560 towns and villages were depopulated and largely destroyed. This major crime has continued to this day.
Racism and apartheid are intrinsic to the Zionist doctrine. Without the forcible expulsion of Palestinians, Israel could not have existed as it is today. There is not a single acre of land acquired by Israel in 1948 that was gained without recourse to military force.
Prior to the Paris conference, the inaugural Zionist conference in 1897 in Basel developed a plan, the Basel Program, to achieve a Jewish state by declaring that all Jews belonged to a nation of people and that this “nation” had rights to a country and that it would be in Palestine.
Very much in accord with the ethos of late-nineteenth century Europe, Zionism was a colonialist, political movement that used a biblical religious frame to encourage more European Jews to emigrate.
By the end of the nineteenth century, neither antisemitism in Europe nor religious sentiment had led to large numbers of Jews emigrating to Palestine. At the time of the Basel Congress, some 95 percent of the population were Arab Palestinians who owned 99 percent of the land.
Zionism was a secular, nationalistic movement; many of its key advocates were atheists. These are the people who came up with the first detailed plan to colonise Palestine by expelling the indigenous Palestinian population and by delegitimating and marginalising them in their own country.
The creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of most of the Palestinian indigenous population in 1948 — the Nakba — represented the acceleration of the “slow motion” dispossession which was a feature of this Jewish Euro-colonial history.
Arthur Balfour, the author of the infamous Balfour Declaration, refused entry of European Jews to England after Russian pogroms at the beginning of the twentieth century. He, along with David Lloyd George, drafted a scheme in 1903, suggested by Theodor Herzl, to create a colony for European Jews in East Africa.
This refusal of entry of Jews to England, while supporting their plan to colonise another country, Palestine, implied, in the spirit of the colonial era, that these colonial powers wanted to get rid of their European Jewish citizens and create for themselves an enclave state to split the Arab World and serve their interests.
Little wonder, then, that from the outset Zionism enjoyed little support from key Jewish figures. This form of extreme Jewish nationalism was criticised both by Western liberals and by most of the preeminent Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Russia and Eastern Europe. The Russian communists opposed Zionism and leading Marxist theorists saw it as complicit in the rise of antisemitism.
The racist and discriminatory actions of the Zionist organisations in Palestine prior to the Arab Uprising of 1929 were documented in the Shaw and Hope Simpson Commissions. Zionist propaganda sought to allay the fears of Palestinians by declaring — for example, during the 1931 Zionist Congress — that the desire of the Jewish people was to live with the Arab people and develop a common and prosperous community, while every legal document binding every settler in a Zionist colony was “not compatible with the sentiments publicly expressed.”
After the brutal destruction of the Palestinian society by the British Army during the Arab Revolt (1936–1939), the Zionists, at the Biltmore Conference of 1942, declared their aim of creating a “Jewish Commonwealth” in Palestine and initiated the intelligence project known as the “Village Files” in order to document every Palestinian village in preparation for the mass expulsion which took place in the Nakba of 1948.
Later that same year, on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. On the next day, UN resolution 194, calling for the right of Palestinian refugees to return home, was adopted. The aim of this international ruling was ostensibly to reverse the crime of forced dispossession which had been wrought against Palestinians with the unilateral establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
It is important to point out that anti-Zionism from the outset was not antisemitic, but was linked intrinsically to international recognition that Zionism was, at its core, a colonialist project. It provided the political and theoretical basis for the dispossession of Palestinians and the ongoing discrimination against and subjugation of Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948.
The UN membership swelled from 50 colonial powers in 1945 to 193 today — most of the growth coming from nations freed from the bonds of colonialism. Treaties were formulated to censure discrimination, racism, apartheid and war crimes. It is unsurprising that Israel is regularly censured for its violations of international law.
In April 2017, The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) issued a report describing Israel as “an apartheid regime,” and as applying apartheid policies against Palestinians in Israel, in Occupied Palestine or abroad. The United States government applied pressure on the UN General Secretary, António Guterres, who subsequently withdrew the report. Following this move, the ESCWA Commissioner, Rima Khalaf, resigned her position in protest. (She would go on to convene the first Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid in Istanbul late last year.)
The following year, in July 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed any remaining doubt as to whether Israel is an “apartheid regime” by promulgating the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” — a document of distilled apartheid.
I would submit that any concerned and conscientious citizen can reach this conclusion by reading about Israel’s daily violations of international law and human rights conventions in any part of Palestine under military control by Israel, and by looking at the scores of laws that specifically discriminate against Palestinians in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
How long must Palestinians wait for the justice and freedom which has been denied them since 1948? How long will the rest of the world tolerate the flagrant and ongoing practices of apartheid and systemic racism by the Israeli state?
In Australia, politicians frequently promote the importance of a global rules-based order in the context of criticising human rights abuses and violations of international law in various countries, but Israel has never been included in these condemnations. This omission does not serve the cause of world peace, nor the rights of the Australian citizens.
Salman Abu Sitta is the Founder and President of the Palestine Land Society.