Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anton Shamas Was the Pioneer

The NYTimes notes that

Mr. Bishara, an outspoken and controversial figure in Israel, pioneered the notion that Israel’s definition of itself as a “Jewish and democratic state” is a contradiction in terms. He has called for Israel to become a “state of all its citizens” instead. Much of the political and intellectual leadership of Israel’s Arab minority, which is largely Muslim and makes up 20 percent of the total population, now subscribes to the idea.

That's not quite true about being the "pioneer". Besides Matti Peled and Mohammed Miari, from the Progressive List for Peace, the author Anton Shamas was in the vanguard of the "state of all its citizens" concept.

Tommy Lapid once took him to task back in 1995. Here are some excerpts from

THE Independence Day edition of Tel Aviv's local Ha'ir weekly ran an article by the Palestinian-Israeli writer Anton Shamas, penned with his usual fluency.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he wrote, "the time has come, on this festive day, to admit with complete candor, without shame or downcast eyes, that the whole business has turned out badly. The Zionist adventure has been a total failure."

It's a good thing Shamas came out and said it. Because an article like this, by an authoritative Arab intellectual, is a fine opportunity to express a few truths one hesitates to voice without a suitable pretext.

Shamas, my friend: Zionism is the greatest success story of the 20th century. Fifty years after the defeat of Hitler and the mufti of Jerusalem, Zionism is thriving in the heart of the Middle East, in a state of 4.5 million Jews - Jews whose survival was, for a moment, in doubt...

...Shamas might be able to forgive us for all this, perhaps. But what he cannot bear is the fact that, held up in the light of Zionism's achievements, the Arabs' failure appears so humiliating and depressing.

HOW MANY Palestinians are there, my friend? One million - two, three? And how many Arab states are there around you? Twenty? Twenty countries of kings and dictators, of terror and bloodshed. There isn't a single Arab democracy, one with freedom of expression and civil rights.

...How many Arabs live between the Atlantic Ocean and the Persian Gulf?...All of them pray to the same Allah, in the name of the same prophet, Mohammed. And all of them together can't solve Gaza's sewage problem.

For 47 years you've been preparing for Palestinian independence, and yet you're still not collecting the garbage in Jericho.

...You know all this, Anton Shamas, and that's what's eating you. Envy has led you into irrationality. Thus the time has come, with complete candor, without shame or downcast eyes, to conclude: It hasn't worked out, this whole business: The Palestinian adventure has been a total failure.

This article, "Post-Zionism in the Oslo era and the implications for the diaspora" contains a reference to Shamas and expands on the threat his ideology, carried on by Azmi Bashara, presents to the existence of the state.

The Other Israel, Uri Avnery's groupuscle, has this to say about Shamas, confiorming my point, in a backwards sort of fashion:

And when Arab writer Anton Shamas wrote in the 1980's a series of (Hebrew language) articles expressing his deep wish to become part of The Israeli People, he was met with derision and some crude insults in the counter-articles of the supposedly dovish writer A.B. Yehoshua. (Shamas is now living in the United States.)

Noam Chomsky quotes his piece, which is the one that I recall, from Kol Hair, Aug. 12, 1983.

Here's a recent exposition of the theory:

Israel should be a state of all its citizens, not a state that belongs to one part of its population. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. So, it’s not our state. It’s not just a question of definition or nature. It’s a question of substance, structure, aims, goals, policies, laws. Israel is not only a Jewish state. It is the state of many people who are not its citizens, because Israel claims to be the state of all Jews all over the world, including people who are living happily, with full citizenship and rights, in other countries.

Israel was built on the destruction of Palestinian people in 1948. It is responsible for the refugees. Since 1967 Israel has been occupying all of Palestine. The Israeli regime governs the majority of Palestinians directly and by its policies, refusing the right of return, also defines the destiny of all Palestinian refugees. You cannot speak of the state of Israel as separate from occupation. Many times when you speak about Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank, you hear the reply – this is not Israel, this is occupation, it’s temporary. But this “temporary” has lasted 40 years. Israel only existed for 19 years before this occupation – from 1948-1967.

We can summarize our problem in one sentence: Palestinians were the victims of the obsession to establish a Jewish state over those who were a majority in their own country. This could not be implemented without transfer or apartheid. Israel managed to do both.

In principle in 1948 the Zionist movement could have let Palestinians stay in their homeland, in their villages and towns, and establish a Jewish state excluding the majority from political decisions, separating them from citizenship. That would have been apartheid. But the Zionist movement wanted not only a Jewish state but a democratic state, and so to have both they needed to produce a Jewish majority. Because they did not succeed in producing the Jewish majority by immigration, transfer was the necessary result of the effort to build a Jewish and democratic state.

The Jewish intellectual Hannah Arendt wrote, after the Zionist conference in the early 1940s, that Zionists were proposing to Palestinians either that they leave their country or to agree to second-degree citizenship. This was the way to build a Jewish state. The demographic obsession is one of the main obsessions of Zionism and the Israeli elite. This has recently become demographic phobia. This is the main reason Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza – to get rid of Palestinians. All the Israeli political parties agree that in any solution, Israel should take as much land from the West Bank and Jerusalem area and that this land should include as few Arabs as possible. This is the rule that shapes Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinians: demography and geography. Geography is good, Arabs are bad. We want the good, and exclude the bad.

And a P.S.

Neveh Gordon wrote just last week:

But what, one might ask, are Bishara's new offenses? It is, after all, highly unlikely that he is a spy on the payroll of a foreign entity.

1 comment: said...

Thanks so much for the article, quite useful material.