[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
Whenever the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state is mentioned by Israeli politicians, they take for granted that their interlocutors understand that the future state would have to be demilitarized and disarmed, if an Israeli consent for its existence is to be gained. Recently, this precondition was mentioned by the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to President Barrack Obama’s two states vision, presented to the world at large in his Cairo Speech this June. Netanyahu made this precondition first and foremost for domestic consumption: whoever has referred in the past to the creation of an independent state alongside Israel, and whoever does so today in Israel envisages a fully armed Israel next to a totally disarmed Palestine. But there was another reason why Netanyahu stressed the demilitarization of Palestine as a line-height:150%”>
In Israel, as in the West, the vision of a demilitarized Palestine is accepted as a feasible scenario, whereas a peace based on the demilitarization of Israel as well would be regarded as totally insane and unhelpful, indeed unimaginable. This disparity in the attributes of statehood is part of a much larger imbalance in the international community perception of and attitude towards Israel and Palestine.line-height:150%”>
Most Israelis would deem it sheer lunacy to contemplate a future without the army playing a dominant and supreme role in their lives. It is with good reason that scholars regard Israel not as a state with an army, but an army with a state. Their state appears in the works of some brave critical Israeli sociologists as a prime case study for a modern day militarized society; namely one in which the army deeply affects every sphere of life.
[i] Imagining an Israel without this influence is more than a utopian vision, it is really an end of time scenario.
And yet in the long run demilitarizing both Israel and Palestine may be the only way of ensuring a normal life for all who live there, and all who ought to live there, like the million Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and ever since. But this article aims to extend the meaning of the verb Disarm, to a wider, and admittedly more fluid interpretation. The more extended definition, it will be argued here, turns the idea of Disarming Israel from a utopian scenario for a very distant future, when the peace of the prophets would prevail, into a concrete political plan.line-height:150%”>
Long before one can contemplate any significant reduction of arms, let alone disarmament of anyone involved in the Palestine issue, a very different kind of disarmament is required, as a pre condition for reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. The wider context of disarmament must focus on Israel and less on Palestine, at least in its initial stages. There are no other current political, economic and military imbalances such as exist between Israel and the few hundred Palestinian fighters (even the term fighters for these Palestinians begs some stretching of our imagination). As these imbalances were there already in 1948, it stands to reason that only a transformative process in the attitude and nature of the stronger party in the equation will kick off any significant reconciliation on the ground. Throughout the one hundred years or so of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Zionist movement and later the state of Israel were the stronger party, and its policies towards the indigenous population of Palestine changed very little over that period.line-height:150%”>
This article is written under the premise that only a fundamental change in the basic Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and Palestine can lead to a change of attitude towards the Jewish settler community that came to Palestine in the late 19th century and colonized the land. Contrary to the conventional Israeli and Zionist narrative, still trumpeted proudly in the West today, the harsh anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian policies of the Jewish state are not a reaction to Palestinian hostility or general Arab animosity. These policies are in fact the cause of the regional antagonism towards Israel and Palestinian enmity towards it. Hence, since they are the source of the conflict and the reason for its persistence, disarming here is a quest for a way of exposing what lies behind the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. Since these policies have by now triggered the introduction of nuclear weapons to the region, the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians, thousands of people in the neighbouring Arab countries, almost twenty thousand Jews in Israel, inflamed a new wave of anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia and finally strained unnecessarily the relationship of the West with the Muslim world, they are obviously a deadly weapon and must be revised.line-height:150%”>
These policies are the product of a certain ideology, Zionism, or to be more precise of a certain interpretation of the Zionist ideology. Hence revising them would mean disarming Israeli Jews of the lethal version of the Zionist ideology, that which disables them to lead normal, quiet and secure lives in the country they have chosen at the end of the nineteenth century as their homeland.line-height:150%”>
The Production of the Weapon
The Zionist movement appeared in central and east Europe in the late nineteenth century as a movement motivated by two noble impulses. The first was a search by the Jewish leadership for a safe haven for its community that was increasingly exposed to a hostile anti-Semitic environment with the potential, which was realized in WWII, to become genocidal. The second impulse was a wish to redefine Judaism in a new secular form, inspired by the surrounding spring of nations when so many cultural, religious and ethnic groups redefined themselves in the new intoxicating terms of nationalism. As mentioned, the search for security and new self determination was noble and normal at the time. However, the moment these impulses were territorialized, namely gravitated towards a specific piece of land, the national project of Zionism became a colonialist one. This was also normal at the time, when Europeans, for a plethora of reasons migrated to non-European lands, colonized for them by force of expulsion and genocide by their greedy governments. But noble it was not. Where genocide occurred alas there was no way back, but where colonization did not deteriorate to such criminality, which was the norm, the settlers eventually returned to their countries of origin and the colonized became independent. The territory coveted by the Zionist movement, after other territorial options were examined, was Palestine where for hundreds of years the Palestinian people had lived.
The first Zionist settlers of Palestine arrived in the 1880s without declaring openly their dream of taking over the land and without disclosing their desire to cleanse it of its indigenous population. Until the 1930s, the leadership of the settler community was preoccupied with winning international support and legitimacy – which the British Empire gave them with the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 – and with gaining a foothold as a state within a state, which the British mandatory government allowed them to do. In that period their main predicament was that world Jewry did not fancy Palestine either as their salvation or destination. It was only with the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe that the validity of Palestine as a safe haven for the Jewish people made sense and the community of settlers grew in numbers. Still, until the end of the British mandate, it consisted of only one third of the overall population and possessed less than ten percent of the land in Palestine.line-height:150%”>
It was in the 1930s that the ideological weaponry, soon to be translated into real arms of destruction, was forged. A formula emerged which became consensual and almost sacred to those who led the Zionist movement then and those who lead the state of Israel today. The formula was simple: for the Zionist project in Palestine to succeed, the movement had to take over as much of the land of Palestine as possible and make sure that as few Palestinians as possible remain on it. This was – cynical though it may sound – in order for the new state to be democratic. The hope was to maintain a Jewish majority that would democratically vote for keeping the country Jewish eternally. In the 1930s, an additional recognition emerged: there was no hope that the indigenous people of Palestine would either diminish in numbers, or give up their natural right to live on their land as a free people, either then or in the future. Thus, for the ‘existential’ formula to succeed you needed military power of enforcement. This did not only mean building an army, but granting the military a prominent role, to the point of domination over all other aspects of life in Palestine as a Jewish community. Critical Israeli sociologists traced with astonishment how systematic and ever expanding this process has been ever since the conscious decision to militarize Zionism was made in the 1930s.
[ii] Political leadership, economic directorship even social and cultural management are all won through a military background or a career in the security octopus that runs Israel. Moreover, the major decisions on foreign and defense policy – especially towards the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular – were made ever since the 1930s by generals. The end result is only too visible today in Israel: the budget and the economy as a whole, the socialization process and educational system even the media, are all geared to service the army.
An Army with A State
Thus, the process of militarization of Israeli society was intense and exponential. Israel indeed became an army with a state. Two aspects are in particular worth stressing in this context. The first is the militarization of the educational system. Since this part of reality ensures that a militarized perception of life is reproduced time and again with each new generation of young men and women who will only be able to view reality through the perspective of an armed conflict, military values and wars. The second is the prominent economic role the Israeli arms industry plays in the state’s national product and in particular how crucial it is for its trade balance and export. Israel is the fifth largest exporter of arms in the world and hence any anti-militarized discourse, let alone action, can also be easily portrayed as undermining the very survival of the Israeli industry and economy.
This paramount position would not have been won without an occasional proof that the military force was badly needed. There are two types of military action: one a cyclic confrontation with regular Arab armies, not always initiated by Israel (the 1973 war was an Egyptian-Syrian initiative), but all could have been averted had not the Israeli army wished to be engaged in the battlefield for the sake of its own morale, its status and its need to experiment with weapons and exercise its soldiers. More importantly, each war enabled Israel to extend its territory in a never ending quest for living space and margins of security. The last round of this kind of military confrontation was in 1973 and despite Israeli attempts to engage the Syrian army twice since, once in 1982 and then in 2006; Israeli troops did not fight a war against a conventional army in the last thirty five years. Most of its weaponry, the most sophisticated and updated in the world, was produced for huge land and air campaigns between mammoth sized regular armies, but instead it has been used in the last thirty five years mainly against unarmed civilians and guerrilla fighters. The collateral damage is inevitable, as are the doubts about Israeli ability to engage in a genuine conventional war.