I regret having to spend my weekend rebutting Jonathan Freedland. He is, I think, a humane man; one who earnestly supposes that if we all went down to the end of the garden, held hands, closed our eyes and chanted in unison ‘we believe, we believe,’ the peaceful social democratic Zionism, that he imagines lies concealed below the carapace of actually existing Zionism, would spring forth and dazzle us with its immanent benevolence. Since he has more influence than my 3 year old granddaughter I cannot indulge him as I do her. I must decline fairyland and instead enter the pit of political dispute.
Freedland argued in the Guardian on 30 April:
As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed. Yet Israel alone is deemed to have its right to exist nullified by the circumstances of its birth.
There is some truth and a far greater omission in this argument. Israel continued into the 20th century the crimes of European settler occupations of earlier centuries. It would not be unreasonable to argue that the Nakba, terrible as it was—and as it continues with daily demolitions and exclusions—pales compared with the genocide of Native Americans, Australian First People or the Caribs and Arawaks.
However, timing—as is so often true of historical events—cannot be ignored. 1948 saw not only the foundation of the state of Israel, but the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In setting up their state, the Israelis breached numerous rights of the Palestinians. For instance the Present Absentee Law, by which Palestinians who fled their homes found them confiscated, even if they returned only a few days later. The law breaches Articles 13 and 17 of the UDHR. The various forms of detention without trial that have been applied from 1948 to the present day breach Article 9, and so on.
There were no such international codifications of rights during earlier settler colonisations, and so there were no standards by which to judge them, except the right, assumed by Europeans, to occupy the land of anybody not able to resist their industrialised military power. Had the UDHR been written earlier, the founding of the United States and Australia and the rest would have been judged far more rigorously. Continue reading “Freedland in Fairyland”