An answer to “the” question

Commenting on a recent post, Israeli Threats of Genocide, Erin asked “Do you think that Israel is an illegal state – a colonial creation on Palestinian homeland?” And later, “Do you believe Israel is an illegal state?

It’s the same question I often get asked when giving talks about my (and other MPT members) experiences in Palestine and Israel. “Does Israel have the right to exist?”

I always hesitate, not because I don’t want to answer it, but because I see it as an oversimplified question and ultimately, (whether it was meant this way or not) it is such a loaded question.

No matter how I answer it, there seems to be some who cannot hear beyond a “yes” or a “no”….

If I say “yes, Israel has the right to exist” some will only hear that as a justification of the occupation, and of denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. Some will only see it as defending racism or a theocracy.

If I say “no, I don’t believe Israel has a right to exist”, or “I don’t believe Israel has the right to exist as it currently does.”  There are some who can only hear that Israelis have not right to exist. There will always be some who will hear “push them into the sea” or only see it as a defense of racism and anti-Semitism.

First, I have to say that it seems in some way odd language to be arguing. I don’t know that I recognize the right of ANY state to exist. Maybe it’s the anarchist in me, but the thing is I tend to recognize the rights of people – not of states or corporations. I recognize that states exist… that the state of Israel exists.

The other question that I ask myself is “What Israel?” “What borders?” The Israel recommended for a Jewish State by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The percentage of historic Palestine occupied in 1948? The Israel post the 1967 six day war? Is the “green line” the border? Or the border created by the separation barrier that reaches over 10 miles into the West Bank in some areas- effectively annexing (by some estimates) nearly 50% of the West Bank.  Israel as it is or with the return of Palestinian refugees?

The other question I wrestle with here is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as an Islamic state…. I wrestle with the right of a country to exist as a Christian state.  I worry when there is no separation of church and state.  When I’ve mentioned this to friends they have commented that it is not Judaism as a religion, but as an ethnic identity. Yet this too is problematic. It brings too quickly to mind things like Rwanda, Bosnia and Hitler’s quest for an “Aryan nation.”

But, for me the question at the heart of the matter is what does it mean to recognize Israel’s right to exist? It seems to me that recognizing Israel’s right to exist seems to inherently recognize the rightness of its creation at the expense of those living there. It seems to therefore recognize the right of Al Nakba (“the catastrophe”) — the expulsion of such a huge number of Palestinians from their homeland between’ 47-’49.

That said,  I certainly DO recognize that Israel exists. And I have no hesitation to say that I recognize the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.  

I think it is different to “recognize Israel,” (This is an act of diplomacy… one nation state recognizes another) or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” (I recognize that Israel exists and that is the framework in which we live.) or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”  (This seems to be recognizing its rightness to exist at the expense of at those who lived there historically.)

So, what does all that mean?  It means I recognize Israel’s existence.  It means I recognize the right of all people in what is now considered to be Palestine and what is now considered to be Israel to exist in peace and security. It means I recognize the right of all people in the region to self determination.  I recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return.  And I guess that if all that is true, then it follows that I cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist as it currently does. 

15 responses to “An answer to “the” question

  1. Well said! Bet you are going to get LOTS of hate mail! It’s still worth the post! Thanks.

  2. Pingback: An answer to “the” question

  3. Thanks Sarah! I’m anticipating “hearing it” — if not on the site then from friends, family and coworkers — so it is really nice that the first comment is a kind one.

  4. Sheri – this is a thoughtful answer to a hard question. It seems to me that if we could all be so intentional about our reactions, then we could talk to each other more easily. Your statement “the thing is I tend to recognize the rights of people – not of states or corporations” is a great example of how you have chosen to view the world. I share your view. I also appreciate your recognition that the question is more complicated than it initially seems.

    Thanks for thinking this through out loud.

  5. playfulspirit

    Thanks Laurel for your comment – and for appreciating “out loud”!

  6. As I understand it, prior to 1948, Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews lived under the authority of the Ottoman Empire and later the British Mandate. Then in 1948, Palestinian Jews accepted the United Nations partition plan to have their own state in part of the land. The Palestinian Arabs were also offered their own state, but instead they chose to join the surrounding Arab countries to attack Israel. What am I missing here?

  7. Wow. Growing up Jewish I was taught to NEVER question Israel. Now I am learning things that make me question. But I hadn’t questioned the right of Israel to exisit as a Jewish state. But, following along your thinking I find myself agreeing and almost at an inevitable answer that squares with yours. Shit.

  8. Rachel, Thanks for reading. Your comment made me grin. “Shit” is right… it is always so hard to question the things that have seemed so evident and foundational. Your words inspire me.

  9. You know what Sheri? This blog post is not really an answer to the original question.

    Something resembling a conviction comes out in the last sentence, where you write, “I cannot recognize Israel’s right to exist as it currently does.”

    Is this a delicate “yes” to the question as to whether or not you think Israel is an illegal state?

    I think it is, and that’s what I will take it to mean unless you say otherwise.

  10. Erin,
    I guess it is a delicate “yes”… I hesitate ‘cuz I don’t know exactly what that means “illegal state” And if it is illegal or not or if it has the right to exist or not — it does exist. And the people who live there certainly have a right to exist in freedom and securtiy.

    Your original question if I remember correctly (and I might not ) was more pointed, “do you think Israel is an illegal colonial outpost on stolen land.” … well, hell the US is a illegal colonial outpost on stolen land! But, the US is here. It exists. Isreael exists. Illegal? Legal?

    So if Isreal is illegal or if it is not is not so much the question to me as – what now? Where from here? What does Justice look like for those forciably removed from their land? How can Palestininas have justice and self-determination and Israelis have security? Those are the questions I want to spend my energy on.

  11. Justice? Self-determination? The answer is easy.

    How about stopping the sick use of violence as a legitimate means to achieve political ends?

  12. On that I think we both agree!

  13. I am absolutely sure that nothing good will happen until Palestinians strive to develop a stronger appreciation for rule of law, minority rights, freedom of speech and so forth.

    They need to amend their quest for sovereignty from its present condition, which in their own words, is a holy war of extermination.

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