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Simon Schama – ideology versus truth and reason

Simon Schama – ideology versus truth and reason

by Leslie Bravery
16 October 2013

In the third part of his BBC history documentary The Story of the Jews Simon Schama announced “I am a Zionist and quite unapologetic about it.” That honest but blunt admission advises us that when the subject of Israel/Palestine is under discussion, whatever opinion or evidence Schama may contribute to it will be constrained within a self-confessed commitment to a political ideology. Political Zionism began as a secular ideology that has since been embraced by some religious Jews and Christians and by many politicians, especially in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately, the Zionism that captivated Western politicians is so far removed from rational thought that its true purpose has had to be disguised through deceit and the use of what one of Zionism's co-founders called “circumlocution”. In reality, the Zionist enterprise has resulted in a period of over 65 years of gross violations of international humanitarian law and untold human suffering.

Great power politics – the Balfour Declaration
While Israel's self-declared 1948 Declaration of Independence is generally held to be the Zionist state's founding document, the military power and international diplomacy that made that possible depended upon the earlier Balfour Declaration of 1917. Zionists themselves point to the Balfour Declaration when justifying Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The ideological intentions behind the Balfour Declaration have led inevitably and predictably to Zionist domination over the whole of historic Palestine and beyond. Leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel, the Zionist enterprise manifested itself in violence and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Zionist terrorists. These crimes became the foundation for the militaristic psychology that epitomises the Zionist state today and which led more recently to the infamous Operation Cast Lead massacre in the Gaza Strip.

Arthur Balfour's statement of intent to align British foreign policy with Zionist ideology, and the cabinet papers that relate to it, reveal both contempt for the Palestinian people and the dishonesty that has been so fundamental to the promotion of the aims of Zionism. It has been argued that the Balfour Declaration was sincere in saying that Britain would help to establish a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people in Palestine “without prejudice to the rights of the existing Moslem and Christian Arab population.” But the aims of Zionism and the results of the implementation of the ideology's ambitions are very different from the propaganda that surrounds them. The proof can be found in policy statements relating to the Balfour Declaration and the lies that have subsequently accompanied Israel's drive to circumvent justice by establishing facts on the ground.

Even before the Balfour Declaration, the proclaimed respect for “. . . the rights of the existing Moslem and Christian Arab population” conflicted with what had already being envisaged. In 1915 the dedicated Zionist, Sir Herbert Samuel, who later became the chief executive of the British mandatory government in Palestine, was expressing the hope that Jewish immigration would ensure that in due course a Jewish majority would prevail and rule the country (See online note [3]).

Following publication of the Balfour Declaration during World War One, leaflets were dropped over Germany and Austria, and pamphlets were circulated among Jewish soldiers fighting on the side of Germany, proclaiming that Britain and her allies “are giving the Land of Israel to the people of Israel.” Stop fighting, was the message, because “an Allied victory means the Jewish people’s return to Zion”. (See online note [8]). Of course, the Balfour Declaration did not go anywhere near so far as to say that. But the appeal to Jewish soldiers was closer to the truth – as has been borne out by the subsequent unfolding of events – and later British Cabinet documents of the period are particularly revealing in this regard. In a letter to Lloyd George in February 1919 Balfour wrote, “The weak point of our position is of course that in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination”. (See online note [14]). In a reply to Lord Curzon, Balfour stated flatly that “in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country …. The Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land” (See online note [15]). “Right or wrong, good or bad”, this is a political mind in the grip of an ideology – devoid of both reason and humanity.

The lack of honesty behind Zionist intentions was also made icily clear when Balfour wrote to Lord Curzon: “In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate”. (See online note [16]). Even at the first Zionist Conference in Basle in 1897, Max Nordau, co-founder with Theodor Herzl of the World Zionist Organisation, spoke of the need to present Zionism's goals to the rest of the world through what he termed 'circumlocution'.

The 1948 UN Partition Plan gave 56% of mandatory Palestine to Israel, regardless of the indigenous people’s objections, true to the Balfour Declaration's view that the Zionist enterprise was of “far profounder import” than “the desires and prejudices” of the native people. But no matter whether they live in Palestine or Israel, Palestinians find themselves discriminated against. In the occupied territories they are subject to Israeli military law, and within Israel itself they are discriminated against as taxpayers and denied the services to which they are entitled. In both areas, Palestinians suffer frequent Israeli Army home invasions and the destruction of dwellings that are subject to a discriminatory permit system. Needless to say, Jewish Israeli homes are never invaded or destroyed.

Israel's Law of Return specifies that its benefits belong only to Jews. The Zionist state offers no rational argument or evidence to justify how it is that any Jewish person from anywhere in the world, and who may have had no former connection with the state of Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, can possibly have a right to 'return' to either. Yet Israel denies the Palestinian Right of Return for ethnically-cleansed Palestinians (UN General Assembly Resolution 3236). The resolution declared that right, quite reasonably, to be "inalienable". But the process of discrimination continues to develop. In August 2004 the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination (CERD), again urged the Government of Israel to revoke the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law and reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family unification on a non-discriminatory basis. The law of 31 July 2003 raised serious concerns under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Israel's Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law forbids residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories married to Israeli citizens or Palestinian residents of Israel to live lawfully in Israel with their spouses, and therefore contravenes both the Basic Laws of Israel, granting equality to all its citizens, and the many international human rights instruments ratified by Israel and, in particular, article 5 (d) (iv) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ratified by Israel in 1979), guaranteeing “the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law.” The right to marriage and the choice of spouse is of particular relevance.

Two faces
Before Israel was created, David Ben-Gurion, who was to become Israel's first prime minister, asserted that the right of the Jews to Palestine rested on their capacity for developing its resources. One of Ben-Gurion's official biographers, Shabtai Teveth (Weizmann Institute, Tel-Aviv University), wrote that he declared: "We do not recognise any form of absolute ownership over any country” and he went on to affirm that “this is the principle behind the right of free migration, championed by international socialism." (Shabtai Teveth, p.37) But on the ground, Israel denies 'free migration' to Palestinian refugees to return and settle in the homeland from which they were driven by Zionist forces. The disparity between fine words and true ideological intent mark the progress of the Zionist plan to gain public support. In 1931 Ben-Gurion proclaimed that Palestinian Arabs had the same rights as Jews to exist in Palestine. In his book We and Our Neighbours, he stated: "The Arab community in Palestine is an organic, inseparable part of the landscape. It is embedded in the country.” (Shabtai Teveth, p.5-6) Yet in 1936 Ben-Gurion expressed his true feelings when he told the Mapai Party that, “A Jewish state would encourage peace,” because, with it, the Jew would “become a force, and the Arabs respect force.” He went on to say, “these days it is not right but might which prevails. It is more important to have force than justice on one's side.” There, plainly stated, is the fundamental divide between Zionism and the rest of humanity.

A recent Jewish Chronicle article, Simon Schama and BBC attacked over Story of Jews, published on 12 September 2013, brings the matter of Zionist duplicity right up to date. In the article, columnist Marcus Dysch misrepresented the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign by writing that “. . supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have complained to the BBC, claiming it was 'alarming' that Professor Schama should be allowed to discuss the Shoah.” In fact the Palestine Solidarity Campaign complaint never mentioned the Shoah.

Zionism in practice
Arthur Balfour's prejudice led him to contemptuously refer to the Palestinian people merely as “the present inhabitants of the country” but it was an Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, who took the contempt to its logical conclusion. Quoted in the Sunday Times (15 June 1969) and The Washington Post (16 June 1969) she said: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” Just occasionally, the mask slips and the spoken word reveals the true meaning and intent of Zionism – but the decades of undeniable discrimination, brutality and injustice do reveal the nature of Zionism for all who wish to see it for what it is. Massacres such as Operation Cast Lead and the murderous attack on the Mavi Marmara grab the headlines but it is the smaller, unreported, everyday cruelties that appeal more directly to our humanity, perhaps because of their individual, personal scale: The overwhelming sense of fear and violation Palestinian family members feel when their home is invaded in the middle of the night by foreign troops. The petty vandalism of the soldiers inside their home – what is this ideology doing to the minds of the people sent to impose its will? The terrified children (see documentary), some torn from their families, blindfolded, bound and physically assaulted. The psychological effects on the other children. The mindless rituals of humiliation perpetrated by bored young Israeli soldiers at the hundreds of checkpoints. What does that do to their humanity? The farmer who loses his olive harvest to settler arsonists. The Palestinian families made homeless, watching in despair as Israeli troops demolish their homes. Why are they destroyed? Quite simply because the Zionist enterprise decides that their existence is impermissible. These are war crimes of course but Israel is not called to account and the US continues to give as much aid to Israel as it does to the rest of the world put together. Israel continues to be rewarded in the interests of what Western politicians like to call 'dialogue' while the pretence that there is a peace process and that there are two equal parties to it continues.

Bedouin and the Prawer plan
In 1928, at a time when the Palestinian people constituted 85% of Palestine's population and owned and farmed over 97% of the land, David Ben-Gurion said, “We do not recognise the right of the [Palestinian] Arabs to rule the country . . .” and “What right do they have to the Negev desert, which is uninhabited?" (Shabtai Teveth, p.38) Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinian Bedouin villages in the south of Israel were officially categorised as ‘unrecognised’ by the new government. Since then, the people there have been denied water, sanitation, electricity, health-care and education. Today, Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel face a fresh wave of ethnic cleansing. On 24 June 2013, the Israeli Knesset approved the discriminatory Prawer-Begin Bill for the expulsion of the Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) Desert in the south of Israel. If implemented, the 'Prawer-Begin Plan', as it is known, will result in the forced dispossession and displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the destruction of a further 35 villages. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that, according to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “the Law for the Regulation of the Bedouin Settlement in the Negev is discriminatory and would legalise racist practices.” A European Parliament Resolution of 5 July 2012 called for: “the protection of the Bedouin communities of the West Bank and in the Negev, and for their rights to be fully respected by the Israeli authorities, and condemns any violations (e.g. house demolitions, forced displacements, public service limitations); calls also, in this context, for the withdrawal of the Prawer Plan by the Israeli Government”.

Israel's borders – still not defined in public
Following Israel's Declaration of Independence, Ben-Gurion, discussing the future with his aides, said: ". . . now the issue at hand is conquest, not self-defence. As for setting the borders – it's an open-ended matter. In the Bible as well as in our history, there are all kinds of definitions of the country's borders, so there's no real limit. No border is absolute. If it's a desert – it could just as well be the other side. If it's sea, it could also be across the sea. The world has always been this way. Only the terms have changed. If they should find a way of reaching other stars, well then, perhaps the whole earth will no longer suffice." (1949, The First Israelis, p.6)

Israel's 'separation' (annexation) Wall
In the final episode of his BBC documentary, Schama informs the viewer that “very few” people have been killed since the Wall went up – but then to Zionist thinking, apparently, the 4286 Palestinians killed since construction of the Wall began would not count for much. Israel's separation Wall is also one of annexation. The Wall does not follow the Green Line and thus divides the West Bank into a mass of disconnected areas some commentators refer to as Bantustans. In addition to this immediate illegal theft of land (International Court of Justice), life is being made unbearable and economically unsustainable for Palestinians as they find themselves increasingly restricted by constantly expanding illegal Israeli settlement. The separation of Palestinian communities from each other and villages from their farmland is about creating despair and acquiring ever more territory. Settler mobs, often with Israeli Army complicity, constantly commit acts of agricultural sabotage and terror against neighbouring Palestinian villagers. Since 1967 Israel has destroyed over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees. Israel's annexation Wall is a grim, tragic monument to Zionism's self-absorbed inhumanities.

Peace talks
The present so-called peace talks have to be seen against the background of Zionism's territorial ambitions and the relentless processes of land confiscation, settlement building and intransigence concerning the status of Jerusalem. These violations raise legitimate questions regarding Zionism's ultimate purpose and what it may presage, not only for the Palestinian people but also for peace and stability in the wider region. It is certain that neither the UN Partition Plan nor the public face of the Balfour Declaration bear any resemblance to the present plight of the Palestinian people and the total hegemony Israel enjoys over their lives. Israel is a nuclear-armed power that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or co-operate fully with the IAEA and, although the Zionist state has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has yet to ratify it. The fruitlessness of the 'peace' process is undeniable as it has achieved nothing other than to buy time for Israel to take more Palestinian land.

The Holocaust
The Palestinian people had no part in that barbarity, which was perpetrated in Europe, by Europeans, yet generations of Palestinians have had to listen to Zionism's advocates invoking the Holocaust as justification for the process that turned them into refugees and second-class citizens. Israel accuses its critics of what it calls 'anti-Semitism' while imposing its discriminatory ideology upon the Semitic Arab population of Palestine. For many Jews, Israel's claim to be a Jewish state is objectionable. One example of their reaction to it is “not in my name”. The constant reference to the Holocaust by pro-Zionist politicians is seen by some Holocaust survivors and their descendants as an abuse of the memories and sacrifices of Holocaust victims. Most of the world is saddened by Israel's apparent impunity concerning its violations of human rights and when the Holocaust is invoked in the service of defending the indefensible, then the lesson of the Holocaust itself is devalued. In 2009, Jean-Moïse Braitberg, the grandson of a Holocaust victim gassed to death at Treblinka, wrote to, the President of the State of Israel, requesting that his grandfather's name and those of other members of his family be removed from the Yad Vashem memorial that is dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims of Nazism. He said that his request was because of “what took place in Gaza, and more generally, the injustices to the Arab people of Palestine for sixty years. . .” Braitberg went on to say that Israel's behaviour disqualifies it from being “the centre of the memory of the harm done to Jews, and thus to all humanity.” He also said, “I note that despite dozens of resolutions adopted by the international community, despite the glaring evidence of the injustices done to the Palestinian people since 1948, despite the hopes raised in Oslo, and despite the recognition of the right of Israeli Jews to live in peace and security, repeatedly reaffirmed by the Palestinian Authority, the only answers given by successive governments of your country have been violence, bloodshed, confinement, incessant controls, colonisation, deprivations.”

Blowing away the myth
In the final episode of The Story of the Jews Schama told his audience “I don't live in Israel”. With that simple admission Schama blew away completely the Zionist myth that only in a Jewish state could Jews live safely. Here was a person living outside Israel, being afforded the privilege of putting the Zionist case with the help of one of the world's most powerful and influential broadcasters, the British tax-payer-funded BBC, whose main responsibility is to provide impartial public service broadcasting.

Peace and reason
There is an alternative narrative, embracing Jews and non-Jews, the religious and the secular, that unites humanity and seeks an end to discrimination. The Jewish author of Micah's Paradigm Shift has written a spiritual non-Zionist appraisal of Schama's BBC history documentary, which steps outside the view of Israel as the “messianic redemption, for a people who have suffered thousands of years of discrimination, oppression and genocide.” The writer observes that although “Religious particularism helps to forge personal identity, rootedness, community pride . . .” it can fail “when a particular route to a universal understanding of faith and humanity slips into exclusivity and chauvinism.” Judaism was opposed to Zionism from the outset and religious groups such as Neturei Karta continue to vigorously oppose the ideology. Christians who feel for the persecuted, dwindling presence of Christianity in Israeli Occupied Palestine share their activism with the wider peace movement. The majority support the BDS movement which points the way for politicians to follow as a means of upholding the principles and observance of international humanitarian law.

Miko Peled, the ex-Israeli Army son of a celebrated Zionist general, describes in his book The General's Son how, following the death of a beloved niece in a suicide bombing, he made the long painful journey away from his Zionist upbringing to an understanding of the harm done by the ideology. In her record of personal involvement, the Jewish author, Anna Baltzer, A Witness in Palestine, experienced for herself the cruel realities of Israeli military occupation and the sometimes petty meanness that alternated with greater war crimes. She decided to find out for herself after she had heard from families “. . of past and present military attacks, house demolitions, land confiscation, imprisonment without trial, and torture.” She wrote that “It seemed that these actions were not carried out for the protection of Jewish people, but rather for the creation and expansion of a Jewish state at the expense of the rights, lives, and dignity of the non-Jewish people living in the region.”

Our responsibility
Truth and justice are not served by devious purposes, the misuse of power and Great-Power-afforded immunity from the requirement to observe the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. If there is ever to be a peaceful end to this suffering there has to be a return to sanity. At its core, that must mean the enforcement and due observance of international law and an end to all ethnic discrimination in Israel-Palestine. The Israeli state has over-reached itself and taken too much now for Zionism to have any future credibility. The world is faced with a choice: either to speak out and work for justice and humanity or be complicit to the bitter end in the unfolding of an uncompromising Zionist enterprise. The single state solution, with equal citizenship rights for all, offers hope of achieving a just and therefore lasting peace. When faced with the grim, ideologically-imposed alternative, who, in their right mind, could really be against that?


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