Nuanced Face of Zionism it Essay

  • Length: 15 pages
  • Sources: 18
  • Subject: History - Israel
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #91472133

Excerpt from Essay :

Rather, it was more a question of magical thinking: Ben-Gurion wanted a place for Jews and his desire was sufficiently strong that it blinded him to the nature of Palestinian self-definition and identity.

Another point that I will examine in greater detail later that would change Ben-Gurion's views towards Arab nationalism was that he could not, in the 1930s predict the extent of the Holocaust. The death of so many Jews so quickly would rewrite the equation -- for Ben-Gurion as well as others -- of the relationship between Jews and Arabs.

At the same time that Ben-Gurion was pushing to create an increasingly powerful economic base of Jewish workers and employers, Lockman writes, he was at the same time denying the legitimacy of Palestinians claims to Arab nationalistic authority and strongly arguing that Jews had a far stronger claim to the land. This is perhaps the best-known understanding of Ben-Gurion's position -- although one (as noted above) that is not sufficiently attentive to Ben-Gurion's own words as his position developed.

While publicly calling for peace and reconciliation with Palestine's Arab majority, and favoring acceptance of a 1937 British proposal to establish a Jewish state in only a small part of Palestine, he insisted in private that ultimately all of Palestine must be Jewish, a position whose formal endorsement by the Zionist movement he secured in 1942. After World War II Ben-Gurion directed the Zionist political and military struggle, first to compel the British to open Palestine to Jewish immigration and then to secure the establishment of a Jewish state.

Arab Nationalism and Pan-Arabism

Before I continue discussing Ben-Gurion's relationship with Arab nationalism, I would like to define the term. The term means a range of different things to different individuals and different groups, but the core tenets (developed from the beginning of the twentieth-century on) of the belief is that all of the people's of the Arab World -- from the Arabian Sea across to the Atlantic Ocean -- are fundamentally connected by language, culture, history, and religion.

Moreover, Arab nationalists argue that these connections should be realized -- should be reified -- into a single nation. (Although this idea is sometimes referred to separately as Pan-Arabism.) Concomitant with this is the belief of Arab nationalists that the Arab world has been deeply harmed (and continues to be harmed) by the influence of the West. Arab nationalists are especially concerned that the governments of Arab nations eliminate their dependence on Western nations. Thus Arab nationalism is not directly opposed to the existence of the state of Israel -- or at least not explicitly so. (This does not mean that those who call themselves Arab nationalists may not also be opposed to the existence of Israel.) However, many Arab nationalists do object (to put it in very mild terms) to the fact that the presence of Israel has substantially increased the influence and power of the West in the Middle East.

Ben-Gurion's assessment of the relative relationship between Palestinians and the land and Jews and the land -- and what seem to be the internal contradictions in his position -- was influenced by his assessment of how well the Jews could govern their own state as opposed to how well he believed that the Palestinians could. In 1924 Ben-Gurion wrote:

We do not recognize the right of the [Palestinian] Arabs to rule the country, since Palestine is still undeveloped and awaits its builders." In 1928 he pronounced that "the [Palestinian] Arabs have no right to close the country to us [Jews]. What right do they have to the Negev desert, which is uninhabited?"; and in 1930, "The [Palestinian] Arabs have no right to the Jordan river, and no right to prevent the construction of a power plant [by a Jewish concern]. They have a right only to that which they have created and to their homes."

In other words, Ben-Gurion argued that Jews had a right to the land not solely for historical reasons -- although he believed that these were perfectly valid as well -- but for reasons having to do with the future use of the land. Jews would be better stewards, he argued, and this trumped Palestinian claims.

A Hardening Heart

During the 1930s and early 1940s Ben-Gurion began a shift that he saw as one from idealism to realism. (This is in some ways a simplification of both his early position and the one that he took up during the years of World War II since he was never entirely a realist or entirely an idealist.) His position changed during these years both because of his own changing understanding and philosophy but also because of changes in the situation around him.

As Nazism and other fascist movements grew in strength in Europe, Ben-Gurion began to feel that time was quickly running out for European Jewry. In 1935 he wrote to Judah Leon Magnes (the chancellor of the Hebrew University and a supporter of a binational state:

"The difference between me and you is that you are ready to sacrifice immigration for peace, while I am not, though peace is dear to me. And even if I was prepared to make concession, the Jews of Poland and Germany would not be, because they have no other option. For them immigration comes before peace."?

The need that Zionists saw for a Jewish state arose before the Holocaust, although it arose in fundamental ways out of the same depth (if not efficiency) of anti-Semitism. But the shape of Israel would, by 1948, be determined by the Holocaust. The incineration of European Jews not only gave far more impetus to those who believed that Jews needed a place in the world where they could be safe but it also gave them more latitude. There could be no denying -- at least by rational people -- that terrible things could happen to Jews in an historical blink of an eye.

Violence Begets Violence, Nationalism Begets Nationalism

Even as Ben-Gurion and others became more steadfastly convinced that there must be a Jewish state, he also came to the realization that there could not be a state in which Jews could be a majority in which the rights of Palestinians would not be compromised. He also understood that the push of Zionists toward a Jewish state was creating a pushback by Palestinians who were formulating their own nationalist identity and strategies.

"The Arabs fear of our power is intensifying, [Palestinians] see exactly the opposite of what we see. It doesn't matter whether or not their view is correct.... They see [Jewish] immigration on a giant scale .... they see the Jews fortify themselves economically .. They see the best lands passing into our hands. They see England identify with Zionism.[Arabs are] fighting dispossession ... The fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people, which others want to turn it into the homeland of the Jewish people. There is a fundamental conflict. We and they want the same thing: We both want Palestine .By our very presence and progress here, [we] have matured the [Arab] movement."

Ben-Gurion came to realize that Palestinian nationalism could neither be denied nor derailed. He still believed that it could be limited in its efficacy. But more important that this, he also believed that there were fewer and fewer choices available to Jews.

In 1936, Ben-Gurion wrote: "There is only one thing that everyone accepts, Arabs and non-Arabs alike: facts." The "facts" that Ben-Gurion was talking about was the need for a Jewish state to be willing to act with force -- since force would be the only "language" that the Arabs understood. (This is now a claim made by both sides.) The idealism -- or naivete -- that Ben-Gurion had felt during the first decades of the twentieth century was diminished by the first Palestinian uprising in 1936-1939.

It would be simplistic -- and therefore not entirely accurate -- to characterize Ben-Gurion's shifting perspective on Arab nationalism and the rights of Palestinians as a movement from "dove" to "hawk." But there is this thread (among others) in his changing views over the decades that he spent in Israeli politics. In his earliest positions he did not occupy a standard dove position in that he did not overtly oppose the use (or threat of use) of military force. The trajectory that he initially saw for a Jewish state was limned along an entirely different spectrum. In is more accurate, on the other hand, to characterize his position in the thirties and forties as a movement towards hawkishness. And it is even more accurate to characterize his position in the last decades of his life as typically hawkish.

This shift towards hawkishness was a shift not only toward being less resistant to the need for Israel to use force but to an overall simplification of his understanding of the way in which Israel…

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