By Hossam Shaker
Palestine was never really there. A thousand years is just a worthless length of time, and all you see on the ground is a layer waiting to be stripped away completely. This is not my imagination speaking; it is what dominates the mindset of too many Israelis and their supporters thanks to decades’ worth of sustained propaganda, which has fed the minds of generations with uncompromising convictions which accept neither discussion nor review.
One of the most sensitive taboos in this respect is the mere recognition of the existence of the Palestinian people in the past, or even in the present. The truth is at odds with the very roots of Zionism. Israelis used to talk crudely about “Arabs”, a convenient solution to the problem of saying “Palestinian”. The Arabs, they reason, are just people who came from the desert and can go back to it or can be expelled there. “This country won’t be enough for all of us together,” the Zionists argue. “They have 20 Arab countries, why won’t they go there?” Such naïve “logic” can be used both ways: You have a great friend in US President Donald Trump, so why didn’t you go and join him?
This Israeli mentality has provided the cultural pretext for the ethnic cleansing that Israel’s “New Historians” have described in detail, starting with Benny Morris up to the expanded works of Ilan Pappé. Hence, don’t exhaust yourself searching for references to “the Palestinian people” in anything issued by Israeli officials during the “peace process” for a quarter of a century, because you won’t find it. There are only “Palestinians”, but the people have a homeland, history, identity, roots and rights, and these are concepts that Israelis cannot imagine as part of a country which is not Palestine at all in their view. The forgotten fact today is that the founder of political Zionism himself, Theodor Herzl, and his colleagues in the early World Zionist Organisation had no choice but to call it Palestine, a name which was also included in all subsequent documents, including the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
In Israeli hands, archaeology and history are saturated with propaganda. Israeli excavations and museums are guided by an arrogance and ideology to reach specific conclusions. The Zionist narrative began in Europe in the late nineteenth century and not in Palestine. Archaeological propaganda must invent an imaginary country to match the Israeli myth. It does not recognise what happened during the past 2,000 or 3,000 years, and does not pay attention to what is beyond even that.
The Israelis face a dilemma, though: what do they do with a place that obviously has an indigenous culture and character; and is an Arab and Palestinian, Muslim and Christian environment, with evidence of this equally obvious? How should they deal with all these minarets, domes and church towers which survived demolition and destruction; the well-known Arab architecture; and even the olive trees and palm trees that have survived the uprooting and burning? The Israeli trick to overcome this very real dilemma is to escape from the reality by basing their state on a relatively very short period of ancient history, smothered with nationalist ideology. This is significant, because what we see of Israel today is superficial; peel this particular layer back and what you will find underneath actually belongs to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the Zionist myths appeal to Trump and his predecessors in the White House, although only he has dared to declare that Jerusalem is there for Israelis alone.
The celebration of the Israeli narrative justifies the sweeping aside of vast periods of historical facts that are denied in order to create a scenario that corresponds to the imagined history based on Zionist ideology and mythology. In June 1967, for example, a few days after occupying the eastern part of Jerusalem (having occupied the western sector since 1948), Israeli bulldozers destroyed a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the Old City. This represented one of the most extensive campaigns of destruction in the 20th Century. The Moroccan Quarter included 135 historic buildings dating back centuries; it was destroyed completely in order to create an empty space in the heart of Jerusalem that is now a large square next to the Western (“Wailing”) Wall. Who is strong enough today to compare the images of this area before and after 1967? Who remembers the historic Moroccan Quarter, with all the features of the archaeological sites that precede the era of Saladin? Who asks where the rubble of the Quarter’s ancient stones and monuments which lasted for more than 1,000 years has gone?
What is striking about this, as with other incidents of mass destruction that discreetly and hastily followed the military occupation, is the fact that these events have not yet been discussed in any great depth amongst Israelis themselves, or even internationally. This sort of thing remains one of the major Israeli taboos. Everything related to occupied Palestine’s indigenous identity and history is a very serious no-no for discussion in Israeli circles.
Israeli propaganda has shackled its audience to an ideology, which provides them with naive perceptions of the land 2,000 or 3,000 years ago and, of course, not before or since. This propaganda begins with the words of the Zionist anthem, Hatikvah, which the Zionist Organisation later manipulated to include Jerusalem, though the city was not mentioned by the writer, Naftali Herz Imber, when he wrote the song in 1877. This is not only about the historical fabrications of the propaganda, but it is also about the manipulation of the words in the anthem, since some were taken from the Polish national anthem, and its melody was stolen from popular European folk songs in many versions.
The propaganda feeds politicians’ speeches so that they can fill Israeli minds with a specific concept: You were here yesterday, and you are back here today. The implication is that all who were here between “yesterday” and “today” are of no value. They were just wanderers with neither roots nor history of their own. Some enthusiasts who favour this logic may understand it as giving them the green light to destroy the “wanderers” and their property and expel them if necessary. It is the mentality of “transfer” and ethnic cleansing; it is the logic of the bulldozers that are crushing history in favour of an invented history creating “facts on the ground” in accordance with the mindset of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right party that is backed by the army, illegal settler gangs, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Antiquities Authority.
Danny Ayalon, a close associate of Netanyahu, served as Deputy Foreign Minister for years, and was a fierce advocate of illegal Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Ayalon appeared in a popular propaganda video about Jerusalem in which he appeared to sneak into tunnels under the Old City and started to imagine himself walking around 2,000 years ago. The video is full of historical naivety, as usual, but it includes a truly horrifying image: the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and its surrounding compound, as if the most prominent Jerusalem landmark is just a fast food takeaway or suchlike that can be destroyed and replaced by a garage.
Well-known for his social media activity, Ayalon has done in the virtual realm is what the neo-fascist religious organisations have tried to do in the real world by carrying out attacks and incursions of the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa for decades. These far-right Jewish groups want to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock Mosque and other Islamic and Christian monuments. This started with an arson attack on Al-Aqsa in 1969, since when there have been numerous plots to bomb the sanctuaries. Jerusalem, for them, is just something to be eliminated, as suggested by Ayalon in the video clip.
The so-called “price tag” attacks by Jewish settlers include arson, vandalism and graffiti on mosques, churches, monasteries, houses and the graves of Muslims and Christians, with demands in Hebrew that they leave the country. The people responsible are the products of the Israeli education system. They were subjected to Zionist propaganda, which filled their minds with the notion that they are the masters of history and the masters of the land. The result has been an apparently endless stream of attacks since the beginning of this century, some of which resulted in burning families and children; the then 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burned alive along with his parents in a 2015 arson attack on their home; his four-year-old brother Ahmed survived, but with serious burns.
A whole raft of theatrical propaganda and props have been created to fuel the mentality of hate that produces the perpetrators of such acts. One of the most important institutions of the state that was founded on the ruins of Palestine is the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Members of the Knesset sit facing a large artificial stone wall, which is mean to provide a sense of historical depth to their country. Racist laws are drafted by these parliamentarians so that the state can impose a Jewish identity on the country while ignoring its real history and denying the existence of the Palestinian people. Such laws are increasing in number, along with restrictions on Israeli human rights organisations that oppose the official propaganda.
Among the Knesset members there are fanatical settlers who live in houses built on lands stolen from Palestinians in the West Bank by force of arms. They are convinced that God gave them this land thousands of years before the inauguration of Netanyahu’s government. Some of them give you the impression that God is there on the side of the armed thugs who use automatic rifles to intimidate Palestinians in their own homes, and burn their olive trees. Because they are the undisputed masters of history, their carefully fortified settlements are usually built in strategic locations on the hills, where they have a superior view over the Palestinian villages at their feet.
In the cities and towns on the Mediterranean coast, the most difficult questions that the resident of a house that has been stolen since 1948 might face are, “Who built this house, father? Who planted this tree, mother? Who made this road, grandfather?” Such questions cover very sensitive Israeli taboos; if peace is to be a genuine option, they must be broken and opened up to honest and open discussion.