Free Palestine

(This was also posted at Medium on August 18, 2019. My latest single, Free Palestine, is streaming here, here and here.)

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Palestine In The Grip Of Zionism

When Jewish American author Leni Brenner set out to locate a publisher for his book Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators, he was told “You are about to write the most controversial book imaginable. Your enemies are going to look for the slightest mistake in it and blow it up. So there can be no mistakes. You must send us a photocopy of every document you quote.” Brenner complied and the book was published by Croom Helm, Ltd. in 1983. In the Preface, Brenner asserts that the “consequences of Zionist ideology deserve study and exposure. That is what is attempted here. As an unabashed anti-Zionist, I clearly conclude that Zionism is wholly incorrect; but that is my conclusion drawn from the evidence. The conclusions, in short, are my own. As for the persuasiveness of the arguments used in arriving at them, readers are invited to judge for themselves.”

As if to emphasize this invitation, Brenner soon published a compilation of many of the documents he had provided to Croom Helm, titled 51 Documents. Combined, his two books provide a window into the history of modern Zionism that has seldom been defogged with such clarity.

One of Brenner’s primary points of focus is the Haavara Agreement of 1933 between Nazi Germany and the Zionist Federation of Germany, also known as the Transfer Agreement. It allowed German Jews who could afford it and who wanted to emigrate to Palestine without having the Nazi government confiscate their wealth, to move their assets out of Germany by transferring them to the Anglo-Palestine Bank in Palestine (now known as Bank Leumi). The Bank would then purchase manufactured goods from Germany and import them into Palestine. To complete the transfer, merchants in Palestine would buy the German goods from the Bank and the Bank would then return wealth to the now-immigrated Jews who had initiated the transfer.

Now 1933 was also, of course, Hitler’s first year in power. The German economy was still limping out of the Great Depression and the Nazis were beginning to use all means at their disposal to transform the country into a war machine. War machines operate best when designated scapegoats are brightly identified — the Nazis had Jews, Gypsies, leftists and any other groups that didn’t fit neatly into the fantasy of an Aryan world.

In response to the Nazis’ virulent antisemitism, the vast majority of the world’s Jewish population supported the Anti-Nazi Boycott of 1933, since it was thought that the lever of an international boycott provided reasonable prospects for curbing the Nazi strategy and perhaps removing them from power. A majority of Zionists, however, disagreed; they were focused instead on the opportunity of furthering the goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. The Haavara Agreement was signed in August of 1933.

In that same month, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland, Ohio denounced the Zionist strategy:

“Why the very idea of Palestine Jewry negotiating with Hitler about business instead of demanding justice for the persecuted Jews of Germany is unthinkable. One might think that the whole affair was a bankruptcy sale and that the Jews of Palestine were endeavoring to salvage a few bargains for themselves.” (Untermyer, Rabbi Silver Denounce Deals Reported Negotiated with Germany, Jewish Daily Bulletin (30 August 1933), p.4.)

Two years later, Chicago’s Jewish Chronicle also decried the agreement:

“The spectacle is puzzling to the world, whose sympathy we bespeak and disheartening to Jews for whom the boycott is one of the few weapons to their hand and who now see themselves deserted by the Movement which they most have a right to claim as an ally in their fight. (“Zionists close their Ranks,” Jewish Chronicle (London, 6 September 1935), p.9)

Later still, in December 1935 Baruch Charney Vladeck, Chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee, debating Berl Locker, head of the Palestinian Poale Zion, before a large New York City crowd, had this to say about the agreement:

“You may argue from now till Doomsday, but this is double bookkeeping of the most flagrant sort. That nobody should break the boycott but the Jews of Palestine! And nobody deal with Germany but the Zionist organisation! … It is my contention that the main purpose of the Transfer is not to rescue the Jews from Germany but to strengthen various institutions in Palestine … Palestine thus becomes the official scab-agent against the boycott in the Near East … When the news of the Transfer Agreement first came out … Berl Locker said: “Not a single Zionist agency has the slightest connection with the Transfer” … From this I can conclude in only one vein: The Transfer Agreement is a blot on the Jews and on the world.” (“Debating the Issues of the Transfer,” Call of Youth (January 1936), pp.3–12.)

So, perhaps Zionism was not an ideology that, per U.N. Resolution 181, could have been expected to create a state in which “No expropriation of land owned by an Arab…shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of expropriation full compensation as fixed by the Supreme Court shall be paid previous to dispossession.” (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II). “Future government of Palestine,” B. Part I, C. Declaration, Chapter 2.8).

The irony of the invocation of this U.N. General Assembly Resolution, a “recommendation” and not legally binding — unlike a Security Council Resolution, which is — to, in part, justify the unilateral claim of statehood by the Israeli government would not be lost on the 750,000 Palestinians whose land was expropriated via ethnic cleansing in 1948. Thus began, and continues, the Nakba.

Today, over 5.3 million Palestinians live in Israel, the Occupied Gaza Strip, Occupied East Jerusalem, and the Occupied West Bank, while another 5.5 million live in neighboring countries, primarily Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, 1.5 million as refugees.

Among them are Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian Israeli citizen, who was imprisoned in 2018 for 5 months for the crime of poetry; Nael Barghouthi, imprisoned initially in 1978 and, though briefly released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange agreement, now serving a life sentence plus 18 years, despite the Israeli military court’s finding that he committed no offense since his release; and Ahed Tamimi, imprisoned for 8 months in 2018 for the crime of slapping a heavily armed IDF soldier in the face in front of her home in Nabi Saleh.

Among those who have perished at the hands of Israeli forces are Razan Al-Najjar, a 20-year-old medic, interviewed by the New York Times only a month prior to her assassination, shot to death while trying to administer aid to a wounded protester in June of 2018; and teenagers Luay Kaheel and Amir al-Nimra, guilty of playing football during yet another Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

To some, simply broaching the topic of Palestine, let alone engaging in a critical assessment of the history of Zionism, is an act of antisemitism. Indeed, Israeli propaganda has found considerable success equating “antisemitism” on the left, primarily criticism of Israel, and antisemitism on the right, such as shooting up synagoguesassaults, and the like. That these two phenomena are as different from each other as, say, a chickpea is from an AK-47 should be obvious, but alas, we live in an age in which many are untroubled by the hazards of fabulism — it gets the job done.

In the meantime, Israeli settlements continue to expand into the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, Palestinian Israelis are second-class citizens, and Palestinian refugees are denied their right of return.

The American “peace process” — generally cynical and, more recently, ascendantly puerile — has done nothing for the interests of most Palestinians except to incarcerate them more thoroughly into an ever-diminishing portion of what was theirs to begin with. If one is flummoxed into believing that BDS is somehow a hateful movement infused with violence against Jews, please consider these helpful definitions of the words that constitute the acronym: BoycottDivest and Sanctions — let me know when you find the parts that refer to violence.

Without the special relationship Israel enjoys with the United States, acknowledged by both supporters and critics of Israel for many years, it would be impossible for Israel to continue its unconscionable occupation and further incursion into Palestinian territory, be the custodian of at least 90 nuclear weapons or have the ability to maintain the third-highest per capita funded military on earth.

Since 1948, Palestinians have been resisting an ideology embodied by a government that sees them as merely objects in the way to be removed or destroyed, not human beings to be reckoned with. With both Israel and the United States having donned arguably their ugliest faces to date, certainly with respect to Palestinians, the time has come for all those PEPs (Progressive Except Palestine) to reflect on what sort of world, what sort of justice, their tweets are truly advocating. As Ahed Tamimi said upon her sentencing in 2018: “There is no justice under occupation.”


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