Why I am not an Israeli peace activist
Genuine socialists fight against the Zionist project, writes Moshé Machover
As the desultory “peace process” meanders from pointless appointment to meaningless meeting between heads of the Israeli settler state and the authorityless Palestinian Authority, with the US playing the part of dishonest broker, there can no longer be any lingering doubt that this is a charade staged by charlatans.
But behind and beyond this fairly obvious confidence trick there is a much more subtle deception or self-deception: it is widely assumed – even taken for granted – that “peace” is what it would take to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In other words: that what is needed is a genuine peace process instead of the present fake one.
This belief is held by almost all decent enlightened Israelis (the so-called Israeli left) – which is why they refer to themselves collectively as “the peace camp” and individually as “peace activists” – and it is shared by their friends and supporters in the west.
The ‘left’ Zionists of Peace Now as well as the ‘soft’ Zionists and semi-Zionists of Gush Shalom (‘the Peace Bloc’) display this self-deception on their name tags. The non-Zionist, Stalinist-turned-reformist Israeli Communist Party insists on giving top prominence to peace slogans.
Many of the activities in which these good people engage are highly commendable: dissent from oppressive policies and actions of the Israeli authorities, and in particular opposition to the post-1967 occupation. Some of them show real moral and physical courage in various acts of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians. Nevertheless, their self-description as “peace activists” reveals a profound misapprehension as to the nature of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and a delusion as to how it might be resolved.
The image it evokes is essentially symmetric: two sides, two nations, at war with each other, locked in a series of battles over a piece of disputed turf. To end the conflict, the two sides need to end the war, sit down together, and make peace.
In fact this is also the image promoted by Israeli hasbarah (propaganda). It likes to speak the symmetric language of “war” and “peace”. Thus, Israel and its friends describe the assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, codenamed ‘Operation Cast Lead’, as a “war”. In reality, it was not a war: there was virtually no fighting. It was a one-sided massacre. Similarly, Israeli diplomacy insists on referring to the territories seized by Israel in 1967 as “disputed” – a deliberately symmetric description – rather than occupied.
As for peace: none wish for it more ardently than most of Israel’s leaders. I am saying this with hardly a trace of irony. It is the truth. Only very few people - psychopaths, arms dealers and other war profiteers, as well as some cynical careerist demagogues and military officers eager for fast-track promotion - actually prefer war per se to any kind of peace. I suppose that a few Israeli political and military leaders do belong to each of these exceptional categories. But most Israeli leaders genuinely wish for peace - peace on Israel’s terms: their cherished wish is that the Palestinian people, dispossessed and subjugated, should peacefully accept their lot and give up the struggle.
The key to a proper understanding of the conflict is that it is an extremely asymmetric one: between settler-colonisers and the indigenous people. It is about dispossession and oppression. As was the case in other colonial conflicts, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has involved real wars between Israel and the neighbouring states; but these were spin-offs, consequences of the fundamental cause: the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. As this colonisation proceeds and expands, Israel will need to maintain its regional hegemony as western imperialism’s local sub-contractor, and new wars will no doubt be provoked.
In colonial conflicts, the colonisers always regard themselves as coming in peace, bearing the gifts of enlightenment and progress. It is the benighted natives who are the aggressors, resorting to violence against their benefactors. This compels the colonisers to use their superior force in order to put down the native aggressors. The latter have only themselves to blame.
I suppose this is the kind of thing my late friend, the socialist poet Erich Fried, had in mind when he wrote this poem:
so that one can no longer
responsible for the effects;
to make them responsible
is part of the effects
and effects are forbidden
by the causes themselves.
They do not wish
to know about such effects.
Anyone who sees
they pursue the effects
and still says
that they are
closely connected with them
will now have to
While the colonisers’ aim is to impose peace - on their own terms and, if necessary, by force - the indigenous people tend to have a rather different view of the matter. Their concern is not to make peace with their dispossessors but to resist being dispossessed. To this end they often need to come bearing not peace, but the sword.
This is why you would be hard put to find peace activists among the native Americans or Australian aborigines resisting colonisation in the 19th century, or among Algerian liberation fighters or anti-apartheid militants in the 20th century.
Of course, the Israeli peace activists do not support all the harsh “peace” terms that their government wishes to impose on the Palestinian people (although some of them do not object to some of these unequal terms). But by their reductive definition of the issue as being all about peace, they knowingly or unwittingly accept a point of view biased in favour of the colonisers.
This biased viewpoint is inconsistent with internationalism. So Israeli self-proclaimed peace activists cannot be genuine socialists. Israeli socialists, whether Hebrew or Arab, fight against the Zionist project and its practices: colonisation, dispossession, discrimination; and for equal rights and universal liberation.
Peace will be an outcome of liberation, not its starting point.
- After writing these words, I looked up “cast lead” in the Wikipedia, and was redirected to an entry headed “Gaza War”. The hasbarah machine employs a special corps whose task is to edit entries in the Wikipedia and tilt them closer to the Israeli official narrative.
- A similar view was propagated by the hasbarah machine regarding the Mavi Marmara incident on 31 May 2010. The armed Israeli commandos, who invaded the ship on the high seas, were depicted as defending themselves against violence initiated by a mob of “terrorist supporters”, in the course of which the commandos were forced to kill nine of their “attackers”.