The language of Zionism
The reason for the ongoing "violence" in Israel and Palestine is not on account of Israeli colonialism at all but rather a direct result of mistranslation. Joseph Massad*
provides an abridged lexicon of Zionist terminology
"Colonialism is peace; anti-colonialism is war." This is the unalterable equation that successive Israeli governments insist must determine the basis of all current and future relations between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. Indeed, the deployment of the rhetoric of peace between Palestinians and Israeli Jews since the 1970s has been contingent on whether the Palestinians would acquiesce in this formula or insist on resisting it. The Oslo Accords were in large measure a ratification of this formula by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Nonetheless, Palestinian resistance, violent and non- violent, to understanding "colonialism as peace" never fully subsided, even as the Palestinian Authority insisted that it become the law of the land.
The deployment of the rhetoric of peace however was more than anything else a deployment of the rhetoric of the "peace process." In his book about the peace process, William Quandt traces the history of this deployment:
"Sometime in the mid-1970s the term peace process began to be widely used to describe the American-led efforts to bring about a negotiated peace between Israel and its neighbors. The phrase stuck, and ever since it has been synonymous with the gradual, step-by-step approach to resolving one of the world's most difficult conflicts. In the years since 1967 the emphasis in Washington has shifted from the spelling out of the ingredients of 'peace' to the 'process' of getting there... The United States has provided both a sense of direction and a mechanism. That, at its best, is what the peace process has been about. At worst, it has been little more than a slogan used to mask the marking of time."
I disagree partly with Quandt's conclusion, mostly because the "peace process" since 1993 has been a mask for nothing short of Israeli colonial settlement and attempts by the Palestinian people to resist it and by the Palestinian Authority to coexist with it.
As has become clear even to the staunchest believers in the peace rhetoric, the Oslo Accords have not only been the main mechanism by which Israel subcontracted its occupation of the Palestinian people to the Palestinian Authority but also the main instrument through which Israel maintained its colonial control of Palestinian lands. While the occupied territories had been subjected to a different set of military laws since 1967 that governed the Palestinians and their land, the Oslo Accords began to institute the principle of separation, or in South African lingo, Apartheid. It was Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's former prime minister and the ethnic cleanser of the Palestinian population from the cities of Lydda and Ramleh in 1948, who would express Israel's separation principle on 23 January 1995: "This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them." The separation or Apartheid principle will ultimately translate into Israel's construction of the Apartheid Wall, which has already swallowed up more than 10 per cent of West Bank lands and will swallow more once it is completed. Let me remind you here that the South African Apartheid regime itself was not terribly comfortable with the term Apartheid, which means separateness in Afrikaans, and began to replace it since the 1970s with the term "separate development".
But this Israeli separation and colonial appropriation of land was again articulated through the rhetoric of peace. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel has more than tripled its colonial settler population in the West Bank and more than doubled it across the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian lands for colonial purposes and suppresses all Palestinian resistance to its colonial efforts. In 1993, there were approximately 281,000 colonial settlers in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (124,200 in the West Bank, 4,800 in Gaza, and 152,800 in Jerusalem). At the end of 2009, there were approximately 490,000 colonial settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As of September 2009, there were 301,200 colonial settlers in the West Bank and 190,000 in East Jerusalem. Israeli leaders have maintained that their colonial settlement did not detract from Israel's commitment to peace. On the contrary, Israel is clear that it was the Palestinian Authority who is to blame for the cessation of negotiations. Current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not only committed to "colonialism as peace", he, like his predecessors, insists that the Palestinian Authority protests that Israeli colonial settlement must stop for negotiations to begin is nothing short of an imposition of "pre-conditions" for negotiations, which he cannot accept.
This Israeli position is hardly new. Israeli leaders have always insisted that Israeli colonialism is not only compatible with peace, but that the Palestinian leadership's acquiescence in it will ensure peace, while it was Palestinian resistance to it that causes war and terrorism.
One of the most pressing arguments often made by Israeli leaders since 1948 is how they have always been committed to peace with the Palestinian people and their Arab neighbours only to be rebuffed time and again by them. Israeli leaders from David Ben-Gurion to Netanyahu have insisted that all the wars Israel fought were not of Israel's choosing but imposed on it by Palestinian and Arab rejection of Israel's right to colonise. While Israel is ready to fight all wars, they insist, its preference has always been for peace. Golda Meir had declared in 1969: "We have always said that in our war with the Arabs we had a secret weapon -- no alternative." This is not just a question of political propaganda, but also a reflection of Israel's sincere commitment to "colonialism as peace."
Political wisdom in Israel has it that Israeli Jews have prayed and worked for peace for the last 62 years only for their peaceful offers to be turned down by their Arab enemies. What Israelis mean by this is that they have prayed that they could continue to colonise Palestinian lands and also have peace at the same time, but instead they have had to deal with war, terrorism, and resistance to their "peaceful" colonial efforts. It is true that finally one Arab, Anwar El-Sadat, met Israel's extended hand with a peace agreement in 1979, but he was unique in his efforts. It took King Hussein 15 years to follow suit under international pressure. Still even these peaceful agreements have not resulted in normalisation of relations with Arab states or of popular acceptance of Israel by the Arab peoples. The Palestinians while pretending to offer peace to Israel have been proven to be deceptive and not serious about peace at all, as they insist on resisting its colonial efforts. What is Israel to do in this belligerent and "tough" neighbourhood in which it lives? How can it deal with such bellicose people intent on destroying it when all it asks for is peace and security for its colonial settlement?
Just a few weeks ago President Shimon Peres insisted: "I want to say in the name of the state of Israel at large: We do not seek war... We are a nation that yearns for peace, but knows, and will always know, how to defend itself." Even the much maligned Netanyahu also declared a few weeks ago: "We are a peace seeking nation who prays for peace... our one hand is extended in offering peace to our willing neighbours, while the other wields a sword to protect ourselves against those who seek to destroy us."
In order to understand Israel's commitment to peace, we need to understand what it means by that term and its commensurate companion, the term "security". These are key concepts in the language of Zionism. Many of Israel's detractors believe Israel is lying when it insists on peace and security. I will argue that these detractors are wrong. Israel is dead serious about its commitment to peace and is honest when it insists that war is something imposed on it by its enemies. The problem is one of translation. Israel's enemies do not seem to understand the language of Zionism -- and by that I do not mean the Hebrew language! I will translate from Zionism to English one more time: Colonialism is Peace, Anti-Colonialism is War.
I will give you some historical background. On 14 May 1948, Israel's first prime minister Ben-Gurion stated Israel's peaceful intentions in the nascent state's foundational document, The Declaration of Independence. Ben-Gurion announced:
"We appeal -- in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months -- to the Arab inhabitants of the state of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions...We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The state of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East. "
These noble sentiments were uttered while the Israeli army was proceeding with its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the colonisation of their lands. Indeed by 14 May 1948, Israel's army had already expelled 400,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes. Ben-Gurion was clearly calling on the remaining Palestinians who had not yet been expelled to "preserve the peace" before the army moves to expel them. But the expulsion of the Palestinians was necessary for Jewish colonisation of the country, which could only proceed peacefully once they were expelled.
It is true that the Zionist movement was predicated on the colonisation of Palestine primarily by European Jews since the 1890s. But many Zionists came to regret that the organisations they set up in the late 19th and early 20th century for the colonial effort were named in ways that are embarrassing today: "The Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association", "The Jewish Colonial Trust", "The Jewish Colonial Bank", or "The Colonisation Department" of the Jewish Agency, among others. In the 1930s they tried to correct some of this as they worried it could be offensive to Palestinians. Indeed, F.H. Kisch, the director of the Jewish Agency's Political Department and the Chairman of the Jewish Agency's Executive in Palestine, proposed a change in Zionism's colonial language. He wrote in his diary in 1931 that he was "striving to eliminate the word 'colonisation' in... connection [to Jewish colonial settlement in Palestine] from our phraseology. The word is not appropriate from our point of view since one does not set up colonies in a homeland but abroad: e.g. German colonies on the Volga or Jewish colonies in the Argentine, while from the point of view of Arab opinion the verb to 'colonise' is associated with imperialism and aggressiveness." Unfortunately for future Israeli strategists, the word would persist in Zionist language, even while Israeli propagandists were insisting that the Zionist movement was an anti-colonial movement not unlike anti-colonial movements in India and Ghana.
But not only would the "C" word persist, so would colonisation of the lands of the Palestinians. After 1948, however, Israel would replace the term to "colonise" with the term to "Judaise", as in its scheme to "Judaise the Galilee" in the 1970s. This notwithstanding, Israel continued to make its case to the world, and to explain its acts through Hasbara, which, as many of you know, means "explanation". Unlike other countries that resort to political propaganda, Israel only offers explanations, Hasbara. For example, Israeli leaders "explained" after 1948 that Israel's colonial actions were peaceful acts. The only reason why there were wars is because Palestinians and other Arabs opposed and resisted these peaceful colonial acts. To cite Golda Meir again, what alternative did Israel have but to fight back those intent on stopping its colonial efforts?
But why would Israel's enemies insist that Zionist and Israeli colonialism, or Judaisation, was not compatible with peace; indeed that it was not equivalent to peace? It is true that Israel expelled three quarter of a million Palestinians by the end of the war it launched against them, but that was in order to establish a peaceful Jewish state. It has refused to repatriate the Palestinian refugees in violation of international law in order to preserve the peace, and it has confiscated their property and the property of those Palestinians who remained in Israel, also in violation of international law, for the sake of establishing peace. It only went to war when it was forced to. On 15 May 1948, five Arab armies intervened to stop its five-month long war on and expulsion of the Palestinian people, but this only proves that the Arabs were the ones who started the war! When it invaded Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967, Israel did so in order to bring about peace. Sure, it began to implant colonial settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the Sinai, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and yes it annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but all of this was done peacefully. Even when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, Israel called its savage invasion "Peace for Galilee". Israel's language of peace could not have been stressed more strongly.
Another important Zionist term is "security", which is of course linked to peace. By "security" Zionism and Israel have always meant security for Israel's colonial settler project and for its colonial settlements. This could also mean insecurity for the Palestinians at whose expense the colonial settlement proceeds. This, however, is immaterial, as the insecurity to Palestinians is incidental to the meaning of security in the language of Zionism. I believe Ariel Sharon put it best when he declared in 2000 Israel's commitment to peace and security: "I am for lasting peace," he said: "United, I believe, we can win the battle for peace. But it must be a different peace, one with full recognition of the rights of the Jews in their one and only land: peace with security for generations and peace with a united Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people in the state of Israel forever." What this means is that security is actually a synonym for peace and colonialism, just as the opposite of colonialism means anti-colonialism, and the absence of security means anti-colonialism, and therefore war. Let me translate for you one more time: Colonialism is peace is security; anti-colonialism is war is terrorism.
Let me now move to the important formula on which the "peace process" has been based, namely "land for peace". I will suggest to you that the reason why the "peace process" has not been successful is not because of continuing Israeli colonialism, but rather as a result of the perennial problem of translation. What "land for peace" means in the language of Zionism is that Israel will pledge not to colonise some small parts of the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel, with God and America on its side, consider as the rightful lands of the Jews, in exchange for a cessation of Palestinian anti-colonial resistance as war. It is in effect a major Israeli concession and an attempt by Israel to understand the Palestinian language of anti-colonialism.
While Israel is baffled that colonialism does not seem to mean peace for the Palestinians as it does for Zionism and other colonial languages, it is willing, in the name of cultural relativism, to concede to the Palestinians that it will not colonise some of what they mistakenly believe are their lands, if the Palestinians would only stop their anti-colonialism as war. The problem is that Palestinians also failed to understand what "land for peace" means. For Palestinians, "land for peace" means that Palestinians will be giving up 78 per cent of their own lands to Israeli colonialism in exchange for a cessation of Israeli colonial wars against them and a cessation of Israeli colonial settlement on the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine, including all of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians (and international law with them) believe is their land. This has infuriated the Israelis who insisted that their interpretation of "land for peace" must be the basis for negotiations and not this strange and esoteric, even "anti-Semitic" Palestinian mistranslation which rejects God's mandate and promises to the Jewish people as interpreted by Zionism. Israel has since provided the Palestinian Authority with a Zionist dictionary to avoid future misunderstandings, but to no avail.
The problem of translation was most apparent in the failure of the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000, which resulted in Yasser Arafat's rejection of Ehud Barak's offer. In the language of Zionism, Barak offered Arafat 73 per cent of the West Bank, which could expand in 10 to 25 years to 91 per cent (although some American and Israeli accounts insist that Barak offered 95 per cent of the West Bank). The problem was again one of translation. The West Bank means something different in the language of Zionism from what it means to the Palestinians and international law. The West Bank was the name the Jordanian authorities gave to the Central and Eastern parts of Palestine that they annexed in 1950. This included the small city of East Jerusalem, which was six square kilometres in size when the Israelis occupied it in 1967. In the language of Zionism, the West Bank not only excludes the small city of East Jerusalem but, in fact, also excludes the much-expanded city which the Israelis annexed in 1967 and ratified their annexation in 1980 by expanding its size to 70 square kilometres at the expense of West Bank lands, i.e. they expanded it to almost 12 times its original size. United Jerusalem would be renamed in the 1980s by the Israelis "Greater Jerusalem", and it would be expanded to almost 300 square kilometres by stealing more land from the West Bank. Indeed Greater Jerusalem has come to encompass almost 10 per cent of the West Bank, not to speak of the more recent plan of Metropolitan Jerusalem, whose geographic size is being expanded by the Israelis to encompass possibly as much as 25 per cent of West Bank lands. Moreover, according to Barak's offer at Camp David, the West Bank would be bifurcated by a road from Greater Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, which Israel would close to non-Jews in accordance with its security considerations. This means that 73 per cent of the West Bank means 73 per cent of 75-90 per cent of the West Bank, i.e. 55-65 per cent of what the Palestinians and international law understand by the term West Bank. The Israelis were appalled at Arafat's stinginess. Here was Israel pleading with Arafat that it would continue to colonise anywhere from 35-45 per cent of the West Bank but it would commit no longer to colonise 55- 65 per cent of the West Bank, which in the language of Zionism equals 91-95 per cent of the West Bank, and Arafat still rejected this generous offer. This was clearly a language problem. Let me recap for you: Colonialism is peace is security; anti-colonialism is war is terrorism; Half the West Bank is the West Bank.
Another problem of translation has to do with the term sovereignty. In the language of Zionism a sovereign Palestinian state on half the West Bank and all of Gaza means according to Ehud Barak's offer the following: The Israelis have the right to establish early warning stations inside the Palestinian state to be; they will have full and exclusive control of Palestinian airspace; Israel also will have the right to deploy troops in the Palestinian state in the event of an emergency, and an international force including Israel must be stationed in the Jordan Valley. Finally, the Palestinian state must be demilitarised. Aside from this, the Palestinian state would be "sovereign". This arrangement is not that dissimilar from the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa. The Palestinian Authority has been submitting to intensive language and translation courses by the Israelis and the Americans in the past 10 years to bring its strange notion of sovereignty (shared by international law) to the more familiar Israeli meaning of it. These lessons have recently borne fruit. Let me translate for you one more time: Colonialism is peace is security; Anti-Colonialism is war is terrorism; Half the West Bank is the West Bank; A Bantustan is A Sovereign Independent State.
The best Palestinian student of the language of Zionism has been Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad understands Israel's language so well that he is preparing to build the institutions of this "sovereign" Palestinian "state" by August 2011 on 40 per cent of the West Bank where the PA has partial authority. It is true that since Barak's offer, the Apartheid Wall has taken another 10 per cent of the West Bank, but that does not matter. President Barack Obama is now considering a new "peace plan" whose map, according to the Washington Post, is essentially 90 per cent of the map offered by Ehud Barak to Arafat in 2000. I presume the 90 per cent here is an acknowledgement that the 10 per cent of the West Bank swallowed up by the Apartheid Wall is no longer on offer. New supplementary editions of the Zionist dictionary are just out with new definitions of the entry "West Bank." If Ehud Barak offered 55-65 per cent of the West Bank, then 90 per cent of that is 49-58 per cent of the West Bank. If Obama's attempts are successful in bringing the Netanyahu government down soon and Ehud Barak (who was visiting the Pentagon and the White House last week) becomes the new prime minister of Israel and makes a new offer to Fayyad, then this is what Fayyad will be signing on to. This of course will be the pragmatic thing to do, which brings us to another important set of Zionist vocabulary that merits translation, namely, the terms "pragmatism" and "extremism".
These two terms are important because in large measure they require not only the comprehension of the meaning of Zionist terms but also the ability to adopt them and to speak the Zionist language fluently. "Pragmatism" in the language of Zionism essentially means accepting the meanings assigned to words in the language of Zionism, i.e. a pragmatist is someone who accepts that "colonialism is peace is security" and that "anti-colonialism is war and terrorism". Moreover a pragmatist, which Israeli and American officials agree Fayyad is one, must agree that Bantustan means sovereignty and that half the West Bank means the entire West Bank.
Here, it is important to remember that Arafat had only partially learned the language of Zionism when he agreed to identify Palestinian armed resistance to Israeli colonialism as "terrorism", which he pledged to renounce in 1988. Nonetheless, Arafat still suffered from language limitations that prevented him from understanding that "half the West Bank means the entire West Bank" and that "Bantustan means sovereignty." It is true that Ehud Barak tried to introduce Arafat to another Zionist term, namely that Jerusalem means the Palestinian village of Abu Dis and that Arafat could have his capital in Abu Dis as Jerusalem, but Arafat remained clearly illiterate when it came to that new terminology.
On the other hand, there is the term "extremism", which in the language of Zionism refers to all positions that refuse the meanings accorded to terms in the language of Zionism. Any Palestinian who insists that the West Bank means all the West Bank including East Jerusalem and does not refer to half the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem must be an extremist. Moreover, any Palestinian who insists that sovereignty means an independent state which controls its borders and airspace and cannot accept the deployment of foreign troops on its sovereign territory except by invitation must also be an extremist, as would anyone who believes that colonialism does not mean peace and security and that anti-colonialism does not mean war and terrorism. I realise that it is time to translate for you what we have learned so far: Colonialism is peace is security; anti-colonialism is war is terrorism; Half the West Bank is the West Bank; A Bantustan is a sovereign independent state; and a pragmatist is someone who accepts all the above while an extremist is someone who rejects it.
Last but not least is the question of Palestinian recognition of Israel. During the 1970s, Israel introduced a novel notion unknown in international relations, namely "Israel's right to exist", which it insists the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states must recognise as a precursor to any kind of peace. "Israel's right to exist" of course means "Israel's right to colonise Palestine," which would therefore legitimise the catastrophe it had visited on the Palestinian people in 1948 and continues to visit on them since then. Much resistance ensued until the PLO acquiesced partly to this formulation in 1993 and recognised Israel's "right to exist in peace and security". Israel realised that the United States, which forced this formulation on the PLO, misunderstood what Israel meant by its "right to exist". In the last decade Israel explained (again, Hasbara here is the operative term) to the Americans that what the Palestinian Authority must recognise is Israel's "right to exist as a Jewish state", meaning a state that has the right to colonise Palestine solely by Jews and one that has the right to have discriminatory laws between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens and one that grants Jews differential rights -- in short, Israel's right to be racist state. This is essential for "colonialism as peace", the Israelis insisted. The Americans obliged. Presidents Bush Jr and Barack Obama have been insisting to the Palestinian Authority for some time now that peace means recognising Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state". Fayyad recently agreed and told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israel was a "biblical" country and that Jewish settlers can colonise its empty lands but should stop colonising half the West Bank on which he wants to establish a Palestinian state: "Related to the Zionist ethos, fine, Israel is a biblical country, there are lots of hilltops, lots of vacant space, why don't [the Jewish colonial settlers] use that, and let us get on with it?" Here Fayyad is recognising "colonialism as peace" on 78 per cent of Palestine that became Israel and in East Jerusalem and on 50 per cent of the West Bank but no more! He also understands that recognising Israel's right to be a racist state means peace.
Now that I have provided an abridged lexicon of Zionist terminology, I hope it has become clear to everyone that the reason for the ongoing "violence" in Israel and Palestine is not on account of Israeli colonialism at all but rather a direct result of mistranslation. It is essentially a language problem. If some conflict resolution experts could be given the chance to explain to Palestinian leaders that Israel refuses to deal with "extremists" and that it is willing to deal with "pragmatists" and that pragmatism for Israel means accepting the language of Zionism, then this whole sordid affair misnamed the "Palestinian/Israeli conflict" will be over in a jiffy and we can all go home. Sadly, these experts have tried and have been going at it since the 1980s but they cannot seem to break the language barrier completely though they produced some remarkable successes. President Obama is hoping to build on these successes to advance his new "peace plan". This time he seems to have a Palestinian partner in Fayyad who is fluent in the language of Zionism. The problem, however, is that, in contrast with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people have never been illiterate in the language of Zionism, but rather too fluent in it to the point of understanding very well how Zionist words translate on the ground.
After 62 years of persistent Israeli colonialism of Palestine, unless President Obama and Israeli leaders understand that colonialism is war and anti-colonialism is peace and that the only viable state project in the area would be one that encompasses all Palestinians and Israeli Jews as equal citizens in it, whatever "peace plan" they offer to the Palestinians will be nothing short of a war plan.
* The writer teaches modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question.