Author Archives: Jon Simons

Only the Arabs can save us now

The results of the Israeli election on November 1st are no less shocking even though they are not surprising. A tipping point was reached and the veneer which sustained an image of Israel as leaning to the right but within the bounds of decency crumbled. In all likelihood, Netanyahu will become the Prime Minister of a government dominated by the far right, his main coalition partner being the Religious Zionists, including a Jewish Power faction led by a disciple of the overtly racist politician Meir Kahane. In its better days the Israeli Knesset literally turned its back on him when he was elected in 1984, then passed a law so he could be banned as a racist. Now his successor Ben Gvir can expect a significant cabinet position, even if he does not get the Ministry for Internal Security which he wants. The ramifications for Palestinian citizens of Israel are alarming, with threats of returning the notorious Border Police to mixed Jewish-Palestinian cities, reviving the military rule under which Palestinian citizens of Israel lived until 1966. The other enemy of the Israeli right, the ‘smolanim’, the Lefties, can also expect much harsher treatment, as will international anti-Occupation activists. LGBTQ+ communities, and more.

But Jewish Power and its Jewish supremacist ideology is not an aberration in Zionist and Israeli politics. I do not mean this in the facile, simplistic sense that ‘Zionism is racism’, but that the undercurrent of racism within Zionism has now become overt and mainstream, winning the support of some 15% of the Israeli population and being embraced, even nurtured, by the Likud. I share the view of other commentators that the only way in which Zionist respectability could be preserved would have been to embrace and nurture those who have most to fear from Jewish supremacism, Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Yes, one of the parties representing them, Ra’am, an Islamist party, did join the so-called ‘government of change’ along with the liberal Zionist Meretz which looks like it has failed to be elected this time, in the unrealized hope of winning material social and economic improvements in the daily lives of its constituency. Its leader Mansour Abbas knew he could not even dream of demanding the political changes advocate by other parties that are voted for mostly by Palestinian citizens. Those changes include: the abolition of the infamous Jewish nation-state law passed in 2018; turning Israel into a state for all its citizens, not only Jews; reining in the military-settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and negotiating peace with the Palestinian Authority. The most that Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid party could manage during the election campaign was to pay some lip service to the two-state solution.

Only the Arabs can save us now. By ‘Arabs’, the common Israeli way of referring to its Palestinian citizens and their compatriots in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I mean the Palestinians, the nation with whom we share the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. By ‘us’ I mean Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora for whom Jewish supremacism is abhorrent. By ‘now’ I mean both this moment but also since the historical point, more than century ago, at which the movement to build a Jewish homeland and refuge for persecuted Jews in the ancestral Land of Israel began. There was always only one option, to share the land with the Palestinian people who lived there, or to live by the sword permanently, insecure, and hated for the injustice perpetrated in order to create a majority Jewish state in the Nakba of 1948, by the military rule until 1966 over the Palestinians allowed to remain in the new state, and by the Occupation since 1967. The only option was in the minor voices of the pre-state Zionist movement, Achad Ha’am, Yehuda Magnes, Martin Buber, who did not equate Zionism with a Jewish nation state. The only option was, and still is, in the Lives in Common of Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron from the nineteenth century onwards, retold by Menahem Klein. The only option was the multitude of civil alliances between Jews and Palestinians signed in 1947-48, uncovered by Ariella Azoulay, as the route to a potential history in which the violent ethnic cleansing from 1947 into the 1950s would not have taken place.

The alliance of anti-racist Jews in Israel and the Diaspora with Palestinians is an alliance with no alternative if the current of Jewish supremacism is to be averted. It is a strategic necessity, the realist option. We do not have to be ‘Arab lovers’ to choose it, but in my experience it is not hard to love Palestinians who are open to sharing the space between the river and the sea. I think back fondly to the many, mostly happy and friendly hours I spent with Mazen, Ghassan, George, Jalal and others in the Rapprochement dialogue group between Beit Sahour and West Jerusalem during the first intifada. I cherish the connection I made with Mohammed, a student from Gaza who had suffered so much at the hands of the Occupation (and the Palestinian Authority) but welcomed the support he found from Jews when he came to study at the University of Nottingham in the UK. I am deeply touched by the words of Souli Khatib, a former Palestinian prisoner of the Israeli Occupation who became a key activist of Combatants for Peace and who has a vision of Palestinian freedom and Jewish belonging to the same land flourishing, as his book title says, In this place together. Because that is where we must be, in this place together with Palestinians, if the victory of Jewish supremacism in these elections is not to become permanent. And when I say, ‘only the Arabs can save us now’, I mean not that they are responsible for our salvation, but that we can only save ourselves in alliance with them.


To be Jewish and in support of Palestine

This blog is an extract from a draft of my autobiographical book about my life and Israel-Palestine. From 1995 – 2006 I lived in Nottingham, UK, where I taught at the University of Nottingham. I was active in the Nottingham Jewish Peace Campaign, from which developed a Muslim-Jewish dialogue group. Occasionally we were asked to provide speakers for events. A panel on ‘In Support of Palestine’ was organised in March 2005 by Sherwood for Global Justice and Peace. The other panel members were Caroline Lucas, then a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, before becoming leader of that party and now its only MP. The other speaker was Hasan Patel from Friends of al-Aqsa, an organisation I knew little about, but neither I nor others in our group felt a need to check their credentials.

The text of my speech, which shows my adherence to a two-state solution at the time, included the following:

“What does it mean for a Jewish group, and in my case also an Israeli citizen, to be speaking in support of Palestine? It means above all that in spite of the conflict between two peoples over the same land, it is possible to support the best interests of the people of Israel while supporting the Palestinian people. It means that it is possible for the two peoples to make a historic compromise and share this small stretch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It means that it is possible for the two peoples to live in peace. But it does not mean that compromise and getting to peace is easy.

To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means to be against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It means to believe in the self-determination of the Israeli people, and at the same time of the Palestinian people. It means that that the pull-out from Gaza and a few settlements in the northern West Bank can be only the first step, not a measure that can excuse the building of more new Jewish neighbourhoods to secure a ‘greater Jerusalem’. It means denying that the ideological Israeli settlers are today’s Zionist pioneers, denying that the removal of settlements is like the expulsion of Jews from Spain, and instead believing that the settlers are being returned home.

To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means recognising the enormous costs that the conflict has on both peoples. There is no need for altruism in acknowledging the costs born by the Palestinians, because there are so many costs for Israelis too. The huge military budget drains resources from social budgets, and compulsory military service weighs heavily on citizens, especially reserve duty, which has prompted hundreds of thousand of Israelis to leave the country. The conflict has also overshadowed ethnic relations within Israel. The children of Jewish immigrants to Israel from Arab countries grew up ashamed that their parents spoke the language of the enemy, losing the connection with the cultural heritage of their diaspora. Arab or Palestinian citizens of Israel feel they are treated as a fifth column, as second class citizens. The hatred that conflict brings has bred an endemic racism in Israel that shames the memory of the racism in Europe of which Jews were so recently victims. To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means not giving on the demand for security for Israel, but insisting that the only security that is meaningful is the security that comes with a just and lasting peace agreement.

To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means accepting that there are difficult choices ahead if peace is to be achieved. It means accepting that Israel does have responsibility for the flight of Palestinian refugees in 1948 and 1967, that the myths we were told about Israelis begging them to stay are precisely that, myths; that our great national leader Ben Gurion did order the expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda and Ramle during the 1948 war with a wave of his hand. It means acknowledging that the famous Zionist slogan from the early 20th century, ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ did a great injustice to the Palestinians in order to find a solution for Jewish homelessness. But it also means that homes for Palestinian refugees cannot be made in Israel at the cost of a new wave of homelessness for those who live now where there were once Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods. To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means accepting that Jerusalem, the city that is holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity does not belong to one people, that its sites and ruins, its alleys and highways must be shared.

To be Jewish and in support of Palestine means to resolve the conflict while acting according to teachings of the great Jewish Rabbi Hillel, who lived and taught in Jerusalem in the years before the temple was destroyed by the Romans. He said:

‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

               But if I am only for myself, who am I?

               And if not know, then when?’

He also summarised the whole Jewish teaching, the Torah, as: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour’. The Palestinians are our neighbours, so why do we do them what is hateful to us? It also means to understand the line from the Israeli national anthem, ‘To be a free people in our land’, means that we cannot be a free people in our land until the Palestinians are free in their land too. That’s what it means to be Jewish and in support of Palestine.”