Understanding Israel-Palestine requires awareness of history

The MV Times declined to publish this Letter to the Editor on the basis that they do not cover international politics. So we publish it here instead.

I write in response to Jonathan Chatinover’s letter to the editor (May 16, 2024) in which he criticizes my letter of May 9, 2024, in support of the pro-Palestinian student movement. Several issues raised by Mr. Chatinover are beyond the scope of my letter, but they deserve to be addressed.

He complains that it is too facile to demand a ceasefire without also proposing an “endgame”. But a ceasefire is self-evidently a sine qua non for any long-term political solution; with tens of thousands having been killed, it is hardly unreasonable to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Mr. Chatinover claims that he has never heard me express disapproval of Hamas. I refer him to my op-ed in the MV Times dated November 30, 2023. On behalf of the island’s ceasefire movement, I stated that we condemn atrocities committed by anyone for any reason, including atrocities committed by Hamas.

Mr. Chatinover faults the Palestinians for their failure to have “made peace” with Israel, and speaks of the bankrupt “two state solution” as though it were an enlightened and progressive idea. Such use of this oft-repeated phrase betrays an ignorance of the historical facts. There is no equitable way to draw the borders of any such two states because the establishment of the state of Israel itself was based on violence, expulsion, dispossession, and massacres — in short, ethnic cleansing — against the indigenous Palestinian population. The partition plan adopted in 1947 under UN Resolution 181 violated the UN’s own charter, which enshrines the right to self-determination. That plan awarded more than half of the land, including the most fertile agricultural land, to a one-third minority population of relatively recent immigrants at the expense of the native inhabitants who had lived there for centuries. But the Zionist movement, still dissatisfied, was bent on de-Arabizing all of Palestine, and has used violence and terror in furtherance of that objective ever since. While the “conflict” has always been asymmetrical, episodes of Palestinian resistance and retaliation such as October 7 are to be expected.

The way forward? An emerging international consensus advocates a one-state solution: a single, secular, democratic state in Palestine with full social and political equality for all citizens. That would require the Palestinian right of return to be honored, in keeping with UN Resolution 194, and perhaps the Israeli ethnostate would have to be peacefully dismantled. Israel, sadly, has proven itself a rogue state with no regard for international norms such as borders and human rights.

It must be emphasized, however, that the ultimate resolution is not up to me, Mr. Chatinover, the US government, or anyone other than those who inhabit Palestine and Israel. That is another reason why Mr. Chatinover’s objection — that if one demands a ceasefire, one should propose a long-term solution — is without merit.

Mr. Chatinover cites the Israeli intelligence officers who reported to their superiors that a serious attack by Hamas was imminent and would “start a war.” This all-too-familiar canard locates the start of the current genocidal campaign at October 7, 2023, completely ignoring history going back 75 years and beyond. Further, he neglects to mention that the Netanyahu government knew Hamas was planning an attack, and chose to do nothing about it. The notion that Israel’s world-class intelligence services failed to “connect the dots” is absurd. The more plausible theory is that Netanyahu and company deliberately sacrificed their own citizens so as to provide a pretext for the current rampage. The gruesome irony is that Netanyahu shows less concern for the well being of Israeli hostages than does Hamas. Were this not so, he would have long since agreed to a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange.

The latest genocidal campaign against Gaza, horrendous as it is, represents a continuation of Israeli policy. The world is appropriately horrified and outraged. The only good news is that millions of people around the world — especially young people — have been motivated to take action. Many of us have made a point of learning more of the history of Israel-Palestine from principled and honest historians like Ilan Pappé, whose extensive and meticulous research relies on sources such as the Israeli military’s archives and David Ben-Gurion’s own diary. No wonder that apologists for Israeli aggression are screaming and pounding the table. The mask has been torn away; the myths and falsifications of conventional Israeli historiography have been exposed. We have reached a historical turning point from which there is no going back.