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12 July 2007 - The case against Israel 101


12 July 2007

I’ve just received part of the syllabus for a course I’m taking this fall on “legal issues” in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I was invited by the professor, whose views I had challenged in the past, to help him prepare the Israeli case. I had severe reservations about accepting his challenge, but I decided to take him up on it. So I’ve been spending time here in Israel investigating source, both “for” and “against.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the authors we’ll be reading from the “prosecution”:

Ilan Pappe:

Pappe believes that historians have an obligation to take the side of the weak against the strong in both their interpretations of data and their conclusions. Therefore he adopts a conspiratorial approach to the Palestinian refugee crisis, calling it “ethnic cleansing” and alleging that it was deliberately planned by Zionist leaders; he also frequently equates today’s Israel and apartheid South Africa.

Oren Yiftachel:

Yiftachel believes spatial planning in Israel is dominated by ethnic concerns, and the drive to “Judaize” Israel. Israel, he charges, is an “ethnocracy” whose history is dominated by an “inter-ethnic” struggle over land. Israel’s land use policies, accordingly, aim to ensure the Jewish settler ethnic group wins the struggle. The ethnic hierarchy is represented and enforced within Israeli society as well.

Nur Masalha:

Masalha argues that the idea of “transfer” has been central to Zionism since the beginning, that it was partially carried out in the 1948 war and that it remains central to Israeli political thought today. She argues that land and territory are fundamental goals for Israel, and that Israeli leaders willing to reach compromises, like Ehud Barak, are “pragmatic expansionists,” not genuine peacemakers.

There are several other critics we’ll be reading, including Yishai Blank, Michael Massing, Aeyal Gross, and Sandy Kedar. On the pro-Israel side, we’ll also be reading Alan Dershowitz andBenny Morris (wait: for or against?), and whomever else I can manage to squeeze onto the list. I don’t know who will actually be taking the class, but I do know some of the anti-Israel campus activists will be there.

I’m worried that the class might simply become an Israel-bashing session, and I’ve expressed some of my concerns to the professor—writing recently, for instance:

“I am also deeply uncomfortable with the fact that, since the seminar is meant to consider the legal aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel alone seems to be in the dock, at least according to the course outline. I could provide material documenting Arab and Palestinian violations of international law, et cetera, but I am not sure whether to present Israel’s defense or Palestine’s deficiencies.

“What an examination of ‘legal aspects’ of the conflict seems keen to avoid are the political aspects of the conflict, which shed light on its dynamics and on some of its dominant themes—such as Arab rejectionism, Islamism and the failure of Palestinian nationalism. I am tempted to wonder whether a ‘strictly legal’ approach is intended to reduce areas of complexity to superficial simplicity.”

I haven’t yet received a response. But—whatever. I’m going to do my best to grapple with the issues, and put up a good fight—while taking important criticisms on board. I just hope the whole experience doesn’t turn into a Kafkaesque trial.

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