An Ethnostate For Me But Not For Thee: A Response To The Alan Dershowitz “Challenge”
This article addresses the personal challenge retired Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz laid down for the critics of Israel and the establishment of a racist nation set up exclusively for Jews. The reader should keep in mind two additional considerations. First, the personal choices Dershowitz has made as a legal defender.
The second factor is the history of Jewish terrorism against British officials and soldiers that commenced while Britain was fighting WWII to liberate Jewish people from the “Nazi” regime. Jewish terrorists did not confine their activities to the Middle East, they even mailed bombs to British officials in England. Meanwhile, Jewish-American film producer Ben Hecht who was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame proclaimed: “I have a holiday in my heart every time a British soldier is killed.”
The British had to be evicted from Palestine so the Palestinians could then also be evicted from Palestine, by any means necessary.
An Answer to Alan Dershowitz’s Challenge
Retired Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz frequently challenges critics of Israel with the following:
“Name a single country in the history of the world, faced with threats comparable to those faced by Israel, that has a better record of human rights, compliance with the rule of law or seeking to minimize civilian casualties.”
This article will answer Dershowitz’s challenge.
Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians
Israel was formed by the ethnic cleaning of the indigenous Palestinian population. There were 600,000 Jews and 1.3 million Palestinians in Palestine in December 1947. Jews owned less than 7% of the land, and almost all of the cultivated land was owned by Palestinians. Because of this demographic and geographical balance, the Palestinians regarded any plan which did not allow them to decide their future as being unacceptable and immoral.
The United Nations decided to appease Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion by allowing an unlimited immigration of Jews and granting 55% of Palestine’s land to the Jewish state. The Jewish community knew that the Palestinians would reject such an unfair agreement when it agreed to this U.N. plan. Israeli propaganda, however, has repeatedly used its acceptance of the U.N. plan and the Palestinian rejection to indicate Israel’s peaceful intentions towards the Palestinians.
The Arab world did not have the military means to stop Zionist military aggression. Three months before Arab armies entered Palestine in May 1948, the Zionist military forces began to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their houses, fields and land. In the process, Zionist military forces added another 23% of Palestine’s land to the 55% granted to them by the U.N. Israel as a state covered almost 80% of Palestine by January 1950.
New documents released in 1998 from the archives of the Israel Defense Forces prove the planned massive, intentional expulsions of Palestinians. The Zionist takeover of Palestine was aided by detailed files of every Palestinian village prepared by Haganah, the main Zionist underground militia in Palestine. These files, which included aerial photographs indicating the best access and entry points to each village as well as the number of weapons held in each home, enabled the Zionists to know how to best attack Palestinian villages.
There were at least 33 massacres of Palestinian villages during Israel’s “War of Independence.” Zionist forces were larger and better equipped than their opponents, and by the end of the war over 750,000 Palestinians were ruthlessly expelled from their homes. Israeli historian Tom Segev writes,
“Israel was born of terror, war, and revolution, and its creation required a measure of fanaticism and of cruelty.”
Entire cities and hundreds of villages in Israel were left empty and repopulated with new Jewish immigrants. The Palestinians lost everything they had and became destitute refugees, while the Jewish immigrants stole the Palestinians’ property and confiscated everything they needed. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé writes that the Zionist takeover of Palestine “was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity.”
Norman Finkelstein writes:
“The injustice inflicted on Palestinians by Zionism was manifest and, except on racist grounds, unanswerable: their right to self-determination, and perhaps even to their homeland, was being denied.” Finkelstein concludes that “the scholarly consensus is that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948.”
Israel claimed that the majority of Palestinian refugees voluntarily fled and were not expelled. However, Israel did not allow the Palestinians to return to their homes as demanded by a U.N. resolution shortly after the 1948 war. The State of Israel was clearly founded through the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.
Israeli leaders established a racist nation set up exclusively for Jews. A Palestinian who was born within the boundaries of what is now Israel cannot return to his homeland and become a citizen of Israel. By contrast, a Jew born outside of Israel can immigrate to Israel and be granted instant citizenship with numerous benefits. Israel has segregated housing areas, schools and recreational facilities where Palestinians are not allowed. The legality of marriage between Jews and Palestinians is also not recognized by Israeli law.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians continued in June 1967 after the Six-Day War. Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. These territories are still occupied by Israel today. As an ethnocentric state, Israel denies voting rights and other political and civil liberties to the more than 4 million Palestinians in the occupied territories because of their non-Jewish ethnicity.
Approximately 300,000 Palestinians fled or were driven into exile as Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. Hundreds of villages were systematically razed, and over 2,000 Palestinian homes were demolished or sealed without charges or trial. The Israeli government confiscated fully 50% of the land and 80% of the water reserves in these territories. Approximately 100,000 Jews settled in the West Bank and Gaza to replace the exiled Palestinians. These actions were in violation of U.N. Security Resolution 242, which demanded that Israel withdraw from all of the occupied territories in 1967.
Palestinian Gaza has been turned into a massive prison ghetto. Surrounded by electronic fences and military posts, tightly sealed from the outside world, Palestinians in Gaza are forced to live in extreme poverty. Israeli linguistics professor Tanya Reinhart wrote in 2002:
“What we are witnessing in the occupied territories—Israel’s penal colonies—is the invisible and daily killing of the sick and wounded who are deprived of medical care, of the weak who cannot survive in the new poverty conditions, and of those who are approaching starvation.”
Israeli leaders proceeded to implement throughout the West Bank their model of control perfected in Gaza. Since May 2002, Israel has been constructing a wall in the West Bank which will make this system of control a reality when completed. Along the route under construction, Israel is dispossessing Palestinian farmers of their land and pushing them into small enclaves between fences and walls. Eventually Palestinians in the West Bank will be surrounded on all sides, as is currently the case in Gaza.
The Israeli Knesset has also enacted numerous laws in recent years that discriminate against Palestinians. The Nakba Law of 2009, for example, stipulated that whoever would commemorate Israel’s day of independence as a day of mourning would be arrested. This law was slightly revised under international pressure: arrest was replaced by the denial of public funding to any entity that commemorates the Nakba. Since virtually all Palestinian institutions and homes remember and commemorate the Nakba, this law is highly discriminatory against Palestinians.
Israel’s Human Rights Record
Palestinians have faced ongoing terrorism from Israel in times of both peace and war. A partial list of the massacres committed by Israel against Palestinians include: Sharafat Massacre, Kiby Massacre, Kafr Qasem Massacre, Al-Sammou Massacre, the Sabra and Chatila Massacre, Oyon Qara Massacre, Al-Aqsa Mosque Massacre, the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, the Qana Massacre, and the Jabalia Massacre. Israel also bombed and invaded Lebanon in the 1980s, with estimates of civilian casualties exceeding 15,000.
Israel has assassinated hundreds of Palestinian leaders. Many of these Palestinian leaders had never been associated with violence or terror of any kind; they were simply writers or clerics who by their words inspired their countrymen to seek freedom. The assassinations of Palestinian leaders have often also killed innocent bystanders.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been tortured in Israeli jails. A Jewish human rights group in Israel confirmed in a 60-page report that 85% of Palestinian prisoners undergo torture while in custody. Many thousands of these prisoners have died while in Israeli custody.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture last year cited continued complaints of torture by the Israeli Security Agency and Israel’s refusal to implement the U.N. Convention Against Torture in occupied Palestinian territories.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution in January 2017 condemning Israel’s unlawful killings of Palestinians in the so-called buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The resolution was based on a report compiled by Swedish Assembly member Eva-Lena Jansson, which states:
“Cases of the deliberate fatal shooting of individuals who posed no imminent danger to life amounts to an appalling pattern of apparently systematic unlawful killings…It is estimated that over 12,620 houses were totally destroyed [in Gaza] and 6,455 severely damaged. 17,650 families or about 100,000 persons were displaced.”
The report says that Gaza has become so uninhabitable that many of its residents have joined the influx of refugees into Europe. The resolution called for an end to Israel’s blockade on Gaza, voicing alarm over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the impoverished area.
Alan Dershowitz writes that Israel’s record on human rights is “generally superb.” However, Israel’s human rights record has been monitored by a multitude of independent organizations with autonomous research and field staff. Contrary to Dershowitz’s claim, all of these human rights organizations consistently document egregious human rights violations on the part of Israel.
Norman Finkelstein writes:
“Either mainstream human rights organizations and independent experts have engaged in a vast anti-Semitic conspiracy to defame Israel, or Dershowitz has egregiously misrepresented the factual record. No third possibility exists.”
Amnesty International summarizes Israel’s human rights record in a recent report:
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli forces committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested against or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment remained rife and were committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, further tightening restrictions amid an escalation of violence from October, which included attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians and apparent extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces. Israeli settlers in the West Bank attacked Palestinians and their property with virtual impunity. The Gaza Strip remained under an Israeli military blockade that imposed collective punishment on its inhabitants. The authorities continued to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank and inside Israel, particularly in Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting their residents. They also detained and deported thousands of African asylum seekers, and imprisoned Israeli conscientious objectors.
Israeli Violence and Oppression
Israel’s occupation and its settlements have been maintained through the organized and systematic use of violence. The rights of Palestinians have been ignored. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir justified Israel’s violent policies when she infamously stated in 1969 that “[t]here were no such things as Palestinians” and asserted,
“It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
Living in a moral universe in which Israeli Jews are the permanent victims and Palestinians are invisible allows Israel to justify almost any measure. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared in the Knesset after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, “No one, anywhere in the world, can preach morality to our people.” A similar statement was included in a resolution adopted by Begin’s cabinet after massacres in Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.
The Israeli military’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has resulted in arbitrary killings and destruction on a daily basis. Amira Hass wrote in January 2005 that the Israeli army
“controls Gaza through its fortified positions, which dominate densely populated residential areas; it controls Gaza with its airborne drones and their unceasing buzzing; the bulldozers that have not ceased demolishing, flattening, exposing, uprooting for the last four years; the helicopters that fire missiles; the military orders that turn roads and farmlands and half the coastline into areas ‘prohibited to Palestinians’ so that any Palestinian using them ends up dead; orders that close all the passages into Gaza; the tanks that fire into civilian neighborhoods with…tank shells and other forms of munitions with a frequency that makes it impossible to count them…”
Ilan Pappé writes in 2017 that what the Israeli army has been doing in the Gaza Strip since 2006 can appropriately be called an incremental genocide. Israeli military operations have been steadily escalating in every area. Ilan Pappé writes:
Firstly, there was the disappearance of the distinction between “civilian” and “non-civilian” targets: the senseless killing had turned the population at large into the main target of the operation. Secondly, there was the escalation in the employment of every possible killing machine the Israeli army possesses. Thirdly, there was the conspicuous rise in the number of casualties. Finally, and most importantly, the operations gradually crystallized into a strategy, indicating the way Israel intends to solve the problem of the Gaza Strip in the future: through a measured genocidal policy. The people of the Strip, however, continued to resist. This led to further genocidal Israeli operations, but still today a failure to reoccupy the region.
The historical record indicates that Israel is a racist, apartheid ethnostate formed through the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. Israel has an atrocious human rights record, has violated more U.N. resolutions than any other country in the U.N., and has mass murdered Palestinian civilians with impunity. The so-called threats to Israel are a result of Israel’s violent and discriminatory policies, and not because Israel is surrounded by inherently dangerous or violent neighbors.
The answer to Alan Dershowitz’s challenge is that Israel’s human rights record, noncompliance with the rule of law, and violence against the Palestinian civilian population is among the worst in world history. The more appropriate challenge would be to name a country in the history of the world, surrounded by neighbors who desire peace, with a worse record than Israel of human rights violations, noncompliance with the rule of law, or failing to minimize civilian casualties.
 Pappé, Ilan, The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011, pp. 16-17.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Ibid., pp. 17-18.
 Pappé, Ilan, The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge, London: Verso, 2014, p. 277.
 Pappé, Ilan, The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011, p. 15.
 Weir, Alison, Against Our Better Judgement: The Hidden History of How the U.S. was Used to Create Israel, 2014, p. 58.
 Segev, Tom, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust, New York: Hill and Wang, p. 63.
 Ibid., pp. 161-162.
 Pappé, Ilan, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford: Oneworld, 2007, p. xiii.
 Finkelstein, Norman G., Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005, p. 8.
 Ibid. p. 5.
 Reinhart, Tanya, The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003, London: Verso, 2006, pp. 1-2.
 Duke, David, Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question, 2nd edition, Mandeville, LA: Free Speech Press, 2007, pp. 213-214.
 Reinhart, Tanya, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002, p. 8.
 Abunimah, Ali, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014, p. 195.
 Finkelstein, Norman G., The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 52.
 Pappé, Ilan, Ten Myths About Israel, London: Verso, 2017, p. 77.
 Reinhart, Tanya, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002, pp. 18, 175-176.
 Reinhart, Tanya, The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003, London: Verso, 2006, pp. 157-160.
 Pappé, Ilan, The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge, London: Verso, 2014, pp. 272-273.
 Duke, David, Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question, 2nd edition, Mandeville, LA: Free Speech Press, 2007, pp. 219, 222-223.
 Ibid., p. 225.
 Ibid., p. 226.
 Reinhart, Tanya, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002, p. 175.
 Dershowitz, Alan, The Case for Israel, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003, p. 204.
 Finkelstein, Norman G., Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005, pp. 91-92.
 Ibid., p. 223.
 Abunimah, Ali, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, pp. 48, 107.
 Ibid., 141.
 Segev, Tom, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust, New York: Hill and Wang, p. 399.
 Reinhart, Tanya, The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003, London: Verso, 2006, pp. 58-59, 157.
 Pappé, Ilan, Ten Myths About Israel: London, Verso, 2017, pp. 130, 133.