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Ben-Gurion University
Geography Professor Oren Yiftachel wants to end Israeli "Colonialism" - does he mean existence?

19 July 2005


Two of the moderate ideologues in the religious camp, Avi Sagi and Yedidya Stern, describe the struggle over the disengagement as a simple equation, in which there are two "gladiators." The Jewish settlers in the territories and the left are sparring in the arena, facing a supreme referee - the State of Israel - which is responsible for the relations between them ("Disengagement, not separation," Haaretz, July 15).

In the proposed deal, the settlers are asked to give up the refusal to obey orders in the military and violence, while the left is asked to defend the settlers' human rights and strengthen the Jewish character of the state - and salvation will come to Israel.

Does this sound simple and persuasive? Not really. Despite the atmosphere of compromise that arises from their proposal, it sins in a distorted description of the reality and thus continues to fuel the illusions that prevail in the Israeli-Jewish discourse, to the effect that "if only we learn to reconcile among ourselves, between
right and left, religious and secular, (nearly) all our problems will be solved."

Similarly, over the years we have been exposed to initiatives for conciliation between religious and secular, like Tsav Piyyus (Conciliation Order), the Kinneret Covenant and Siah Ahim (Dialogue of Brothers), but all of them err in whitewashing the root of the problem - the Jewish colonialism in the territories. These
initiatives leave the Palestinians as a kind of silent backdrop or incidental stage setting. There is not only a moral problem here of ignoring the inhabitants of this land for many generations, but also an analytical failure to understand the development of the political
geography of Israel/Palestine (in the context of which the
disengagement is taking place), as well as the disagreements between religious and secular that touch precisely upon the question of the attitude toward the Palestinians.

Sagi and Stern are not alone, of course. Their article reflects a long-standing Zionist discourse about the conflict, which looks exclusively into Jewish society. Even today, this discourse continues to ignore additional forces that impel the struggle for the land, above all the Palestinians, but with them also the international forces that are growing stronger. Such an attitude allows most Jews to believe to this day the illusion that they have a "Jewish democracy," despite the apartheid reality that is created by Jewish rule before their very eyes.

This approach, which is considerate of the Jewish settlers in the territories, has also led to the building of the separation fence inside the West Bank - a route that contradicts international law and the Palestinians' right to sovereignty. Thus, realizing the legitimate need to protect Jews from terrorism becomes a predatory act that scorns the international community and makes Israel vulnerable to increasing condemnation and the real possibility of the imposition of sanctions.

The exclusively Jewish discourse is also dominant within the Green Line (pre-Six-Day War borders). Recently, for example, the Southern District Planning Commission approved the deposit of a new master plan that ignores tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens who live in the unrecognized villages. It goes without saying that the plan was prepared without the participation of the Bedouin in shaping their own living areas; as such, it is doomed to failure before it is applied.

What is the connection between the plan for the Negev and the disengagement plan? Both reflect the Israeli approach of unilateralism that has been dominant for years - the attempt to impose the Jewish "consensus" on a binational reality, without dialogue or understanding. That is, the Jews will decide the Palestinians' future among themselves.

There is no doubt that entering into a real dialogue with the Palestinians on either side of the Green Line is not easy. It opens up all the pending "cases," confronting Zionism with its refugees, its victims, its foes and its deniers, but it also confronts the Palestinians with the Jewish Israelis as flesh-and-blood human beings, themselves refugees and descendants of refugees. Such a
dialogue is not an end in itself, as sometimes happened during the Oslo years, but rather a means to end the colonialism, achieve international legitimacy and obtain security for the two peoples who share a small land.

The unilateral approach has thus far led Israel into a series of failures and a cursed cycle of blood. The only dialogue that exists is between Qassams and assassinations, between Islamic terror and Israeli state terror, between a policy of demolishing houses and wild counter-building. Only a multidimensional dialogue between Zionists and Palestinians, between religious and secular and vis-a-vis the international community can perhaps create a possibility in which the disengagement will lead to a positive dynamic of conciliation, and not to the continuation of the violence and the deepening of the occupation.

The writer is a professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva.
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    1.  Except that colonialist powers
     From Raphael Israeli, Sent in 13-08-2005
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