The Zionist Project, Anti-Semitism and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine

We published the map (insert in graphic) and accompanying text on our facebook page four days ago as a commentary on Israeli expansionism in Palestine. It's proved massively popular, some 400,000 people have now seen it. There are also many comments and in one of those, a WSM supporter said "I do think that you've very lazily reproduced an image that is borderline anti-semitic by back dating the problem of israeli expansionism to before Israel existed when the "problem" was not Israel, but Jews"

We take the issue of continuing to oppose anti-semitism while opposing the Israeli state's massacre in Gaza very seriously. That has involved deleting blatantly anti-Semitic comments and banning repeat offenders (and the same with Islamophobes) and debting with and educating those making softer versions of such comments. So this criticism coming from a supporter concerned us, had we, albeit accidentally, stepped over the line?

Another supporter (David Landy) responded to that accusation and we found that response so educational we asked if he might write it up in more detail. 

Below David discusses the difficult question of the nature of Zionist colonisation prior to the creation of the state of Israel.


The words of that famous boycott-breaker, Leonard Cohen has been going around in my mind the last few days: ‘there is no decent place to stand/in a massacre’. These days, everything one does seems false, inappropriate. There simply is no ‘proper’ response to the massacre in Gaza.

So it might not be right to use the massacre to talk about the history of European Jewish colonisation and Palestinian dispossession in Israel/Palestine – it may be that the better response is simply to support the BDS campaign, to pressure Israel in any way possible to end this massacre that has claimed over 1400 lives so far. 

Nevertheless historical context can help us understand why this massacre is taking place. The WSM has come under some flak (and some praise) for trying to provide this context and for publishing the below image, which transposes Palestinian loss of land to an Irish context. In this article I want to defend this image as a true reflection of the history of Israeli colonisation and Palestinian dispossession, arguing that it is both important to understand the history as well as to avoid getting trapped in this history and mirroring Zionist racism and exclusion. 

What this image does is to portray in stark simple terms the main experience of the Palestinian people since the onset of European Jewish colonisation - the loss of land, the loss of living space, and the experience of ethnic cleansing. 

This ethnic cleansing is not something that happened in 1948 and ended then; as the succession of pictures show, this is an ongoing experience for Palestinians – not only in Gaza where the new buffer zone has meant the loss of 40% of the land of Gaza to Israel, but also in the West Bank where settlers and the Israeli state are continually taking Palestinian land, taking away their freedom to move, and seeking to expel them or contain them into tiny ghettos. This image shows that process, making it real for Irish people by transposing it to a domestic setting.

I don’t think anyone would mind the last three maps, showing how the Israeli state and the UN took Palestinian land. However what about the first map which transposes the areas of European Jewish settlement before the establishment of the state of Israel, dividing Palestine into clearly demarcated Jewish and non-Jewish areas? Does this image not just reproduce the sectarian divisions of Zionism, whereas anarchists need to move beyond such racist categories? Worse, does this image suggest there was something wrong with Jewish settlement, that Jews were some sort of cancer infecting the ‘pure’ Palestinian nation?

In the first place, the transition from map one to two indicates most of all the unjustness of the UN partition plan. A minority of recently arrived immigrants (in the last 50 years) who were intent on expelling or subjugating the locals under their control, were going to be given most of the land. Palestinians have been characterised as being unreasonable for rejecting the UN partition plan; the first two maps indicates the reasonableness of this position.

In addition, we need to acknowledge that there was indeed something wrong – not with a Jewish presence in Palestine – but rather with the nature of European Jewish settlement before the establishment of the state of Israel. Palestinian Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived in relative amity before the advent of Zionism a hundred years ago. Palestine was no paradise, but it was at least in the happy state of being a peaceful backwater. What changed that was a European colonisation process – Zionism – and it is important to understand that there was nothing neutral about the process of European Jewish emigration to Palestine.

Jews around the turn of the century were migrating from Eastern Europe and then from Germany because of the growing antisemitism of these places; the vast majority went to the New World, England and France, a very small number of them went to Palestine. When they went to places like the US, England and Ireland, they went as immigrants - when they went to Palestine they went, explicitly, as colonists, they went specifically in order to found a Jewish state on someone else’s land. This wasn’t some utopian project of theirs to live in peace and self-govern. The project was to conquer and rule. Everywhere else that Jewish emigrants went they didn’t establish stockades, build their own militia, wage economic war on the local population, and seek in various ways to drive them from their land. In Palestine this is precisely what they did. 


There was, it is true, differences and discussions on what to do with the native population – should they all be expelled? should only part of them be expelled?, how should the expulsion happen? – these were openly discussed in the Zionist newspapers of the day. Thus while Jewish emigrants elsewhere behaved more or less like any other emigrant group, to suggest that the yishuv (the pre-state European Jewish colony) was just another instance of Jewish emigration is false. It was radically different. They saw themselves as colonists and acted that way. 

Put simply, my immigrant ancestors in Portobello in Dublin did not draw up detailed maps of land use in Rathmines, Ranelagh, and Rialto in order to distribute the houses once they had ethnically cleansed the locals – this is precisely what Jewish colonists in Palestine did. And they did this before the establishment of the state of Israel. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine did not stem from nowhere, it stemmed from the nature of European Jewish immigration.

Thus we need to understand the problematic nature of this emigration – not because the immigrants were Jews, but because they were colonists. There was no originary innocent Zionism from which the state of Israel deviated. It is for this reason that left-Zionists find it difficult to build a coherent argument against the settlements in the West Bank. These settlers are after all merely emulating the ‘heroic nation building’ activities of the yishuv. Just as one can say that Jewish settlement in the present day West Bank is wrong, so was the explicitly colonial settlement in the pre-state days.
However while it is important to understand the history of the area, it’s equally important not to get caught up within it. While criticism of European Jewish colonisation of Israel/Palestine is justified, this criticism should never lead to a rejection of present-day Israeli presence in Israel/Palestine. 

Anti-colonial struggles, as we well know in Ireland, often get trapped into reproducing the binary logic of the coloniser – the ‘us’ and ‘them’ are merely reversed. Just as Zionism offers nothing to non-Jews besides – at best – a barely tolerated existence, so too can anti-Zionism often lead to the point of view that Israelis don’t have a right to be in Israel/Palestine, or aren’t ‘really’ present, or alternatively it doesn’t allow them anything other than a residual status in Israel/Palestine. This needs to be countered – even though in the depths of a massacre that is supported by the vast majority of Israelis it is easy to lose hope and simply deny political subjectivity to Jewish Israelis. Yet any future worth aiming towards needs to have within it a vision where all in Israel/Palestine – whatever their origins – can live in equality with each other.