What do you expect?
What’s been going on in Israel/Gaza/Palestine over the last few days…I don’t have much to say — I don’t know what’s going on there, not beyond what we can all see circulating online and in the news. But what I do know is the reaction that a lot of diaspora Jews have had following the attack launched by Hamas fighters from Gaza. Total shock. Anger. Helplessness, as if the ground under their feet disappeared. The general sense is, “What did we do to deserve such barbarity? Those who carried out this crime are monsters!”
And my response is…Yeah it’s fucked up. But what did you expect?
The last few weeks I’ve been picking through a biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky — a journalist originally from Odessa who also had minor success as a playwright, poet, and novelist, and who played a big role in setting up the rightwing flank of the Zionist movement, whose maximalist “fuck you, we’re taking all the land” nationalist movement produced Israeli politicians and influenced the extremist political culture that dominates Israel in a big way today.1
There’s a bit in this book that describes Jabotinsky’s first trip to Palestine in 1908, a few years after he abandoned his literary work to dedicate his energies to the Zionist movement. (Funny thing these literary types. Theodore Herzl was also a playwright and journalist…) He travelled around, inspected the few Jewish settlements that existed at the time, and then took in the sights with a local Jewish teen as his guide. In one outing, they climbed Mount Tabor and looked over the land below them in what today is northern Israel, a land filled with biblical sites. Jabotinsky seemed less interested in the history than in being awed by the attitude that he saw in his young Zionist guide — an attitude of covetousness for the land around them…someone else’s land.
In an article that was published in Odessa News, a Russian-language newspaper Jabotinsky worked at as a correspondent, he describes what his young guide said to him at the top of that mountain:
“You see, sir, the valley is beautiful. But we Jews don’t own a single acre of it. All those houses down there are Arab villages. Not one acre, do you understand?”
“I do,” I said, and I really did grasp the strange look in my small companion’s eyes. It was hunger—that sacred, unparalleled hunger that has been uprooted from the hearts of our vagabond tribe, which may still know what it is like to be hungry for freedom, and perhaps even hungry for power, but has forgotten the pure, wondrous hunger for land.
Well our vagabond tribe succeeded. It got the land that it hungered for so much. It got power, too.
But the people whose land the tribe took didn’t disappear. They were displaced. Their kids, their grandkids, their great-grandkids are still alive today — spread around the world but also corralled into ghettos not far from their old homes, surrounded by walls and barbed wire, periodically bombed and shot by “our” side — by the grandkids of the Zionist Jews who first coveted the land of their forefathers. It’s no coincidence that at least 70 percent of the 2 million people in Gaza are descendants of Palestinians that had been cleared in ethnic cleansing campaigns — led by David Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky’s political enemy on the liberal-left side of the Zionist movement — cleansing campaigns that the Zionist forces carried out to create their Jewish majority state.2 This history is now very well documented — in a big part by Israeli historians. And it is very much real, no matter how much the majority of diaspora Jews ignore it or convince themselves it never really happened that way.
So what do my fellow diaspora Jews, living safe integrated multicultural lives in America and Europe, expect to happen in their Zionist homeland? They think they can support an active colonial state and a brutal military occupation…and have people in Israel live normal protected western consumerist lives, just like them, with no hiccups, no violence, no death spilling over the ghetto wall? Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what they want.
The ghetto wall in Bethlehem. We were there in 2019.
If the diaspora really wants to take a shot at making things “normal” in Israel, it has two paths: to either fully back genocide or give up on Zionism and push Israel towards reconciliation and integration. I know it’s useless to type all this out. I don’t have much faith in the second option happening. My Zionist diaspora isn’t into it at all. And the Israelis definitely aren’t — it seems like they’re getting crazier and crazier.3 The Palestinians still haven’t given up fighting, either. So…on it goes.4
Notes for subscribers only…