by Peter A. Belmont / 2010-05-07
© 2010 Peter Belmont
In Roshomon style, I describe four Israels. The First Israel is the dream Israel, to which no one (some believe) can rightly object, comforting to liberal Jews. The Second Israel is the illegitimate Israel, to which everyone must object (others believe), a frightening bogey especially to militarist Zionists who speak of it constantly in response to BDS. The Third Israel is the Israel of wars and occupation and human-rights violations, with which the Palestinians must grapple, the target of the BDS movement. The fourth Israel is the peaceable kingdom for which the world waits, ever so long, the Israel no longer at war, the Israel that lives at peace with its Palestinian neighbor.
Like anything else more complex than tic-tac-toe, Israel is a social construct. Because of its history and the dreams and nightmares woven around it, however, it is not just one social construct, or even two. There are three principal Israels. A fourth beckons on the horizon.
The First Israel
The First Israel is the dream Israel, beloved of liberal Zionists in the USA, Israel, and elsewhere. The dream is the guilt-free solution to past European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, a guilt-free place to escape present and future anti-Semitism, a guilt-free home for the Jews who want to live there (non-Israeli believers in the First Israel don’t, for the most part, want to live there), a guilt-free place of artists, authors, scientists (yes and Nobel Prize winners), and water-conserving farmers, a place which came into existence at some slight cost to another people, but, hey, the Palestinians should have been welcomed in 1948 by their Arab brethren. The war of 1948? Israel was attacked by the Arab states! The Palestinian refugees? There are always discomforts and dislocations after wars, and the fact that the Palestinian refugees of 1948 didn’t disappear into the woodwork, as they properly should have, isn’t Israel’s fault. The fact that the Palestinians are still complaining after all these years is certainly not Israel’s fault and is an unfair attack on the legitimacy of the First Israel. Gaza? Shmaza! Israel had a right to fight back against all those rockets! The Goldstone Report? Just legal mumbo-jumbo. Settlements and a Wall in the West Bank? Israel won the war in 1967, and therefore owns the land. It’s just using its own land. Jews have a right to live anywhere in Mandatory Palestine. The Mandate said so. (And, as some say, God said so.) And, always, Israel has a right to its security against the threats and attacks of these people who have no legitimate complaint.
In the First Israel story or “construct”, it is the Palestinians who are somehow illegitimate, not Israel.
The First Israel is a sort of “teddy bear” which liberal Jews carry around with them, of particular use as a comfort toy whenever the news (i.e., vibes of the Third Israel, q.v. below) reaches within their coddled consciousness. Keeping the Third Israel at bay is not so hard, however, as it is the settled policy of the US main stream media (“MSM”) (and especially, and most shamefully, of the New York Times (“NYT”), which hid the Holocaust in the 1940s) to hide unpleasant realities of the Third Israel today. Cherishers of the First Israel largely ignore the actual present in favor of a mythical past.
The Second Israel
The Second Israel is a rather different idea or “construct”, the nightmare of right-wing, human-rights-be-damned Israelis and other Zionists. It is the First Israel turned on its head, the critur that should have been aborted or strangled at birth. It is the idea of an illegitimate creation, born of terrorist rebellion against legitimate authority and aggressive war against an unoffending people by robbers, thieves, monsters!
You might suppose that this Second Israel would be the nightmare of the Palestinians, but they are too busy trying to cope with the Third Israel, to which I will soon turn, to have time to dwell on the Second Israel.
The Second Israel is the bogeyman which Zionists imagine, fear, detest, and have fully internalized, and against which, in a spasm of “denial”, they cry out, as many have been doing during the recent surge of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activity, complaining to the heavens that people are trying to “delegitimize Israel”. The idea of the Second Israel is the flip side of the idea of the First Israel: it is the idea you get by a small change of moral or ethical perspective based on the well-known facts of Israel’s founding, but still largely ignoring the present.
The Second Israel is the delegitimized Israel, the Israel that is and always was illegitimate. A bad seed.
The Zionists recognize this Israel, because the idea that the a country could be created only by expelling the legitimate government, the British, who from 1922 to 1948 were the legitimate government of Mandatory Palestine—by application of terroristic force—is an idea that had to be imagined and accepted and acted upon by the early Zionists. (They see the proposed creation of a New Palestine within Israel/Palestine as a replay of this script, with Palestinian armed national self-assertion seen as “terrorism” threatening themselves.)
The Zionists recognize this Israel, because the idea that a country could be created inside another people’s country by force of arms is an idea that had to be imagined and accepted and acted upon by the early Zionists. (They see the proposed creation of a New Palestine within Israel/Palestine as a replay of this script, but now threatening themselves.)
They recognize this Israel, because the idea that a country could be created by expelling the residents (or most of them) from that people’s own country is an idea that had to be imagined and accepted and acted upon by the early Zionists. (They see the proposed expulsion of the settlers from the West Bank—and the often mentioned “pushing of the Jews into the sea”—as a replay of this script, but with Jews being the proposed expellees.)
There was “no space between” these Zionist ideas and what in other circumstances is called criminality—not a comfortable thought for anyone wedded to the dream of the First Israel, but a commonplace for anyone acquainted with the history of Israel. This is what Israel-apologists mean when they say that “you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs”, a sly suggestion that what happened to the Palestinians was a slight inconvenience and, more importantly, a sly elision of the entire question of whether the omelet should ever have been made in the first place (what with the need to break eggs quite well understood up front).
The Second Israel is not a bogey of believers in the First Israel, for if the thought, “Whatever have we done?” edgily threatens to creep into any mind wedded to the First Israel, it is quickly swept out, a thing unclean, like breadcrumbs before passover.
The Second Israel is not a bogey of believers in the Third Israel, for the horrors imposed by present-day Israel upon Palestinians living in the occupied territories is the reality with which human-rights activists and Palestinians must deal, in the here and now, and it leaves no time for philosophical ruminations about the Second Israel.
The Third Israel
The idea of the Third Israel is the idea of the Israel with which Palestinians and others must live today, the on-going reality as perceived, the Israel of intense oppression of the Palestinian people.
This is not only the perception (or idea or construct) of Palestinians and their most natural colleagues. It is also the idea of increasing numbers of young American Jews, such as these Jews at Brandeis.:
This is where we are today. For many young American Jews, the only association they have with Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel is the country that oppresses Palestinians, and nothing more.
No longer is Israel the country that managed to forge a future for the Jewish people when it was left in tatters after the Holocaust.
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Nor is Israel the place where Jewish cultural creativity is exploding with newfound energy
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No, Israel is none of those things. For many young American Jews, it is only the country of roadblocks and genocide, of a relentless war waged against the Palestinians for no apparent reason.
The Third Israel is the Israel which went beyond its difficult birth and said, we are not satisfied, we want more. It is the Israel that said, we do not accept the small place proposed for us by the UN in 1947 (55% of Mandatory Palestine for 1/3 the population). It is the Israel that said, we do not accept the larger but nevertheless small place we gained by the warfare and ethnic cleansing of 1948 (78% of Mandatory Palestine, with 85% of the Arabs removed and never allowed to return).
This is the Israel which said, hey, force of arms works so well that we should really keep using it. Let us refuse to make peace and there will be war forever, which we will win. War is our metier. With peace we would not know ourselves. We are warriors and evermore shall be so. This is the Israel that seeks to expand to occupy all of Israel/Palestine by gradually expelling the Palestinian people now living under occupation and replacing them with Israel’s illegal settlers.
This is also the Israel which said that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people, and which said that the people who call themselves Palestinians are a threat to us and must be forever denied—and which says, we will never give them an inch.
This is the Israel which, in 1967 (at age 19) destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in a few hours and defeated the armed forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in 6 days—and yet constantly cries out its fear and insecurity as justification for further war (now looking to attack Iran and attack Hezbollah, again, in Lebanon).
This is the Israel which invaded Lebanon, without cause, in 1982 and soon performed the encirclement (without exits) of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps and then ushered in the Maronite militia for a massacre which was carried out under Israeli supervision, a massacre that killed hundreds if not thousands of unarmed Palestinians, chiefly women and children, “like fish in a barrel”.
This is the Israel which began a blockade of Gaza in 2000, intensified it in 2007, continues it today with deadly effect, and, in late-2008 / early-2009 invaded Gaza (see here), again an operation like “shooting fish in a barrel”, the events which brought on the UN’s Goldstone Report, which identified what it called war crimes by Israel (and also by Hamas).
This is the Israel which continues to build settlements on land within occupied territories expropriated from Palestinians—in clear and constantly reiterated violation of international law—and settles Israeli citizens within occupied territories—also in clear violation of international law.
This is the Israel that kills Palestinians, internationals, and perhaps Israelis at peaceful political demonstrations often using so-called “live ammunition” in situations where shooting any sort of ammunition should not be allowed.
This is the Israel that arrests its own citizens for political dissent and places “gag orders” on its press so that such events will not become widely reported even or especially within so-called “democratic” Israel (see here).
This is the Israel that protects its settlers in the West Bank and rarely punishes them, creating for the settlers—what the US’s indulgence has created for the Third Israel as a whole—a culture of immunity and impunity, leading to recent burnings of Mosques by settlers, usually unpunished, (see here). In some cases the settlers are taking out on Palestinians their rage at proposed Israeli governmental limitations on settlement building and land grabbing for settlement expansion:
Jewish settlers have declared a “price-tag” policy, under which they have targeted Palestinians or their property in retaliation for any Israeli government measure they see as threatening settlements.
The Third Israel is an on-going reality, a horrible reality. Knowledge of the Third Israel is getting into the American mainstream, not much thanks to the US MSM, and this knowledge accounts for the gradual shifting of American opinion from blanket acceptance of Israel (heretofore near-universally considered under the idea of the First Israel) to critical complaints against current Third Israeli policies and practices. The divestment projects springing up on college campuses in America are a sign that knowledge of the Third Israel is replacing the comfortable belief in the First Israel among American Jews, especially perhaps among the young.
How Second Israel and Third Israel differ.
Complaints against the Third Israel are not to be confused with the blanket delegitimization implied by belief in the Second Israel. Those who decry Third Israel are not calling for the obliteration of Israel—they are calling for an end of Israel’s on-going crimes, especially for an end of the occupation and the creation of a (new) Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. They call for a fair sharing, in other words, of land and water in Israel/Palestine between Israel and Palestine; and for national and human rights, at long last, for the Palestinian people.
Some call for a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees from 1948 into Israel (that is, into the Israel of 1950-1966) on the unobjectionable ground that Israel’s continued refusal to allow this return (called for by annual UN resolutions from 1948 onward) is an on-going crime against the Palestinians, an on-going crime which should be ended. This particular claim is especially threatening to Israelis who foresee that a general return of Palestinians to Israel would make non-Jews a majority of the population, removing either the Jewish character of Israel (if it no longer has a majority Jewish population and majority Jewish electorate) or its democratic character (if the returning Palestinians were not allowed to vote). This is a vexed question which I have treated elsewhere..
Perhaps because of the internet, news of the Third Israel is getting out—in spite of the efforts of the US MSM and NYT to keep it secret—and it becomes hard for Americans (including American Jews, brought up on the First Israel) to ignore it. The hard-right Zionists are fighting this bad news (how criminals hate sunshine!) by pretending that those who seek to publicize and to stop Israel’s on-going crimes and human-rights violations are trying to delegitimize or even to destroy Israel. Although delegitimizing the Second Israel should not be thought of as a bad thing (it is clearly not anti-Semitic to identify and describe a crime just because the criminals are Jews), the program of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) and of others who shine the light of day on the Third Israel and thereby seek to correct its worst excesses is neither to delegitimize Israel nor to destroy it but, rather, to restrain it and to make possible a normal national existence for the Palestinian people free of the deadening repressions with which Israel has treated the Palestinians since 1947.
With luck, the Palestinians will soon have an opportunity to live their lives, to raise families and conduct normal lives free of oppression. With luck, Israel will have a chance to find out what a normal national existence may be like free of the soul-deadening activities required (especially since 1967) by the need to repress and suppress the Palestinians. Some think the new Israel (the Fourth Israel?) and the new Palestine will get along just fine.
 ”Israeli settlers on horseback set fire to fields of olive trees and stoned Palestinian cars in the West Bank yesterday, apparently in response to the Israeli army’s removal of an illegal outpost in the area.
At least 1,500 Palestinian-owned trees were destroyed and two Palestinians were injured in the attack, near the city of Nablus, by about 30 settlers, security officials said. Farmers fought fires late into the afternoon, as fears grew that the flames would spread across the dry summer fields.
It was the most recent example of the “price tag” policy, in which settlers seek revenge by attacking Palestinians for every outpost that is demolished. “The goal is to create a price for each evacuation, causing Israeli authorities to think twice about carrying them out,” the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said.”
 It has become fashionable, today, for Zionists to demand a “right” to a “Jewish State” by which they seem to mean a territorially-large super-majority-Jewish State. They never explain where this “right” came from (apart from their own dreams and desires). Most importantly, they never claim that the 1947 UNGA Partition Resolution (or the Mandate or the Balfour Declaration) granted them this “right”, nor that anything in law or otherwise granted them the right to expel even a single Palestinian—much less 85% of the Palestinians of 1948-1967 Israel. In fact, they deny that Zionist forces expelled anyone! A “divine wind” (or something similar) is credited with removal of all those Palestinians in 1947-50! It is quite recent that any Israeli at all admitted that Zionists deliberately expelled Palestinians in the 1947-50 war—see “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949” by Benny Morris. But however the Palestinians were removed, and whatever the UNGA may have demanded by way of their repatriation, Israelis now refuse repatriation and claim that this refusal is “of right” and not merely a continuation of a crime.
On the question of whether expulsion was thought likely before 1947, here is President Truman:
In supporting the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine the United States had no thought of embarking upon a policy which would be prejudicial to the interests of the indigenous population of Palestine... We would be firmly opposed to any solution of the Palestine problem which would permit a majority of the population to discriminate against a minority on religious, racial, or other grounds... I am convinced, furthermore, that the responsible Jewish groups and leaders interested in developing the Jewish National Home in Palestine have no intention of expelling now or at a later date the indigenous inhabitants of that country or of using Palestine as a base for aggression against neighbouring Arab States...
No people have suffered more than the Jews during recent years from aggression and intolerance. No people stands more in need of world sympathy and support at the present time. It is therefore inconceivable that responsible Jewish groups or leaders could be contemplating acts of intolerance and aggression against Arabs in Palestine or elsewhere which would be sure to arouse public opinion and to provoke indignation throughout the world.
From President Harry Truman’s letter to the King of Saudi Arabia, January 24, 1947, from a US government publication quoted in Victor Kattan’s great book, From Coexistence to Conquest, International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949.