IAM reported in March how “Anti-Zionist Haim Bresheeth Admits Being anti-Semite.” As an Israeli BDS activist who teaches film at SOAS University of London, Prof. Bresheeth-Zabner admitted that “my background qualifies me as an antisemite according to the Labor coda,” because he is a “socialist, anti-Zionist and anti-racist activist.” Bresheeth-Zabner is a member of a group calling for “dismantlement of the Zionist structure of the state of Israel,” which is also anti-Semitic.
Bresheeth-Zabner, who is not a historian, regularly provides a distorted account of history. In his 2018 article, “The Israel Lobby, Islamophobia and Judeophobia in Contemporary Europe and Beyond: Myths and Realities,” he writes that for speakers and authors who discuss the concept of the New anti-Semitism, it “was a crucial invention – it enabled them to mark leftwing and Muslim critics of Israel as anti-Semites… but even more ridiculous accusations were to come. Much of these were levelled at a number of Hollywood films and Broadway musicals… From its inception, the ‘new anti-Semitism’ was intended as a political weapon… while the facts give cause for serious concern, the idea that they add up to a new kind of anti-Semitism is confused. Moreover, this confusion, combined with a McCarthyite tendency to see anti-Semites under every bed, arguably contributes to the climate of hostility toward Jews.”
Published last month, Bresheeth-Zabner’s new book is titled An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defense Force Made a Nation.
In a recently recorded interview about the book, published by Verso Blog, Bresheeth-Zabner claimed that South Africa exterminated black people; Herzl requested the transfer of Arabs from Palestine; Benjamin Netanyahu perceives Israeli Arabs not as Israeli citizens; among other claims.
Not surprisingly, the book is full of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist tropes.
One of his chapters is, “Is Israel a Democracy?” To which he answers, “While Israel was not a democracy even before the Netanyahu government took over in 2009, it is clear that the few threads that still connected its social structure to that of normative democracies were removed in the last decade, making way for a proto-fascist apartheid state.”
Bresheeth-Zabner details how “In Israel, military service starts before birth.” He gives an example, “an advertisement in the rightwing newspaper Makor Rishon, depicting a mobilized Israeli fetus. The advertisement for Lis Maternity Hospital, part of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, shows a fetus wearing a military beret with a caption reading: ‘Recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence 2038’. Portraying an unborn child as a soldier is disturbing in its own right, regardless of country. In Israel, an occupying power whose military has for over five decades been primarily concerned with maintaining control over a civilian population, this advertisement is even more charged.”
However, in an article by Merav Zonszein, a +972 Magazine journalist, she wrote this paragraph verbatim. Not only did Bresheeth-Zabner copy Zonszein, but also, in his twisted logic, an ad in a newspaper is proof that military service starts before birth in Israel.
In the book, Bresheeth-Zabner also tells the story of his arrival in the United Kingdom. He says, “On arrival in Britain I was ready for a change. I studied for a graduate degree at the Royal College of Art, a progressive institution in the early 1970s, and soon enough met members of Matzpen, the radical organization of Middle Eastern radical anti-Zionists, mainly Israelis but also some from Arab countries, led by Moshe Machover, who by then had left Israel for London… At last, I started to understand the nature of Zionism and Israel. It was a painful experience of inner transformation. It allowed me to resolve my identity and beliefs and freed me from the all-powerful, stifling collectivities of Zionism.”
Interestingly enough, in another book chapter about Professor of Media Studies, Stuart Hood, written by Bresheeth-Zabner, he reveals being accepted to an MA degree in films at the Royal College of Art Film School, for his political views. In an interview for a place in the MA program, Hood, the then head of the school, “asked me what I felt about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Sinai and the Golan Heights. I was obviously against it, I said.”
Bresheeth-Zabner’s story is, unfortunately, typical. His lifelong academic career boils down to anti-Israel scholarship. Some Western universities recruit radical Israelis because of their anti-Israel stance. IAM often documented this phenomenon. These activist-scholars serve as the “useful idiots” of the massive anti-Israel academic movement by shielding its leaders from accusations of anti-Semitism.
Exploring the Gulf Between History and National Myth in Israel
Haim Bresheeth-Zabner on His Father’s Refusal to Serve in
the Israel Defense Force
August 24, 2020
The projection of their own evil impulses into demons is only one portion of a system which constituted the Weltanschauung [World View] of primitive people, and which we shall come to know as “animism.”
–Sigmund Freud, “Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence,” Origins of Religion
I am the son of two Holocaust survivors from southern Poland who, like most Polish Jews before 1939, shunned the Zionist call, supporting instead the socialist Jewish Labour Bund; like most other Jews, both considered Polish and Yiddish their languages and cultures. Both my parents were forcibly taken from the Nazi-controlled ghetto in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski to the nearby Auschwitz extermination camp in June 1944, after the rest of their families were destroyed in Treblinka during 1943. Reduced to horrifying skeletons, they were forcibly marched to other camps in January 1945, as the Red Army approached Auschwitz. My mother was liberated from Bergen-Belsen by the British in April 1945; her weight at the time was recorded as thirty-four kilograms and she suffered from advanced typhoid. My father was liberated by the US Army from Gusen II, a subcamp of Mauthausen, on May 8, 1945. His recorded weight was thirty-two kilograms. They were married in a Torino Displaced Persons camp in October 1945. I was born, stateless, a year later in Rome.
Having failed to secure passage elsewhere, my parents decided to emigrate to Israel in May 1948, not a choice they would have otherwise considered. On the boat my father refused to undertake weapons training. After what he had experienced, he was not prepared to shed blood, his own or anyone else’s. He was promptly arrested on arrival in Haifa as a draft resistor; he may have been the first, or one of the very first, conscientious objectors.
My mother and I were incarcerated in Athlit, a prison camp built by the Mandate authorities, then used to house immigrants. My father resisted for some weeks, but after realizing that he might spend years in prison, agreed to serve as an unarmed medic and was sent to one of the worst battles of 1948, in the Latrun area, at which almost 2,000 Israelis, mostly Holocaust survivors, perished; so too did a large number of Jordanian troops. Many were buried in mass graves; having just arrived, their identities were unknown.
How my father survived this hell I will never know. He never spoke to me about it or admitted that he had refused to serve in the army; later, when I became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), he was ashamed to tell me about it. I only know this part of his story because his communist brother, who admired him for his stand, told me about it; he wanted me to appreciate my father’s courage. This revelation affected me deeply.Jebaliya, and Jaffa itself, were hardly parts of Israel proper then—they existed in a twilight zone where Holocaust survivors were living cheek by jowl with Nakba survivors
I grew up in Jebaliya, a small modern town adjoining Jaffa, that was forcibly cleared of its Arab inhabitants by the Etzel (Irgun, the rightwing Zionist militia) even before the Mandate expired. Only a few Arabs managed to remain, becoming the unwilling and unequal captives of the Jewish State. The neighborhood was exclusively populated by Holocaust survivors in their twenties and thirties, and none of the many children had grandparents. We lived, like everyone else, in a flat that had been the home of a Palestinian family. Yosefa Loshitzky accurately describes this process:
Many Holocaust survivors were, as a matter of government policy, settled in evacuated Palestinian homes in Arab towns like Jaffa, Haifa, Lod and Ramla, thus forcibly grafting the memory of the Holocaust onto Palestinian national memory, and symbolically linking the Holocaust of the Jewish people (mostly Polish Jews) to the Palestinian Nakba.
This aptly describes our own situation. Jebaliya, and Jaffa itself, were hardly parts of Israel proper then—they existed in a twilight zone where Holocaust survivors were living cheek by jowl with Nakba survivors, their children studying in the same school, Al-Ahmadiyya, a green modern Bauhaus building within a copse of sycamore trees, renamed Dov Hoz after a Zionist apparatchik. We studied in Hebrew but also learned Arabic, and when later I was transferred to a religious school, I found that the Arab boys had to stay in for the Hebrew daily prayers—an odd punishment for the crime of being Other.
My parents, like so many other Holocaust survivors who came to Palestine/Israel after WWII, were hardly willing colonialists. But living as part of the colonial project, they were normalized into its ranks, and later also accepted its rationale and methods. When faced with such massive injustice, one either rises in opposition or, willingly or otherwise, joins in. By the time I was drafted at eighteen, in 1964, my parents had changed their relationship to military power; it had become the symbol of survival for them, as for most other survivors. I, on the other hand, was disinclined to join the IDF, having developed a naïve, instinctive gut pacifism but lacking the courage to follow in the footsteps of Giora Neuman, two years my senior, one of the famous draft resisters of Israel. He spent some years in prison for his principled stand, but I was not strong enough to emulate him or my own father (about whose courage I only learned later). I was selected for officer training, which I tried unsuccessfully to get out of or postpone.
I was placed in one of the few regular fighting units, the Golani infantry brigade, as a young second lieutenant, a role I held during the 1967 war. As part of the brigade command staff, I did not partake personally in the horrific battle in the Golan Heights, taking place a few hundred yards from us; I followed the battle through the communications system. When the battle was over, I heard the dazed voice of one of the battalion commanders asking the commanding officer standing next to me, a shaky voice emanating from the metal speakers: “I have 200 prisoners of war. What shall I do with them?”
He received no answer from the commanding officer, who snarled at us, “The idiot, doesn’t he know what to do with them? Do I have to tell him? No one answer this idiot, do you hear?!”
After some further requests, the transmissions stopped. The penny dropped.I was told that Golani had to earn its glory, like the paratroopers did in 1956, and that glory is only earned through battle and bloodshed.
I was deeply shocked; throughout the officer training program we were told that the IDF was the most moral army; that we never harm civilians; that we never shoot prisoners of war. So, what was this officer, one I intensely disliked, trying to tell us? Deep bitterness grew inside me.
In the debriefing session after the war, it became clear to me that the battle fought by Golani had no real military objective: The men who had died like rats in a barrel had not represented a threat: their positions were isolated, their retreat was blocked, and the main force was getting around through other routes. I asked the commanding officer about the purpose of the attack. I was told that Golani had to earn its glory, like the paratroopers did in 1956, and that glory is only earned through battle and bloodshed.
For the first time in my young life I started to comprehend the deep gulf between reality and propaganda. I also grasped that as a young, white male of European origin, there may be some duties I am morally bound by and need to be committed to, as a past refugee indebted to the refugees in whose home I grew up. What could I do for them? I needed to find out. I also needed to get out of the Jewish State.
On arrival in Britain I was ready for a change. I studied for a graduate degree at the Royal College of Art, a progressive institution in the early 1970s, and soon enough met members of Matzpen, the radical organization of Middle Eastern radical anti-Zionists, mainly Israelis but also some from Arab countries, led by Moshe Machover, who by then had left Israel for London. In Israel it was at its zenith, with almost 2,000 members, while in London there were only ten of us at the weekly meeting, sometimes less. What followed was an intensive, political group study lasting months if not years. We read and discussed Zionist history and radical literature. Ironically, then as now, the main readers of key Zionist texts are anti-Zionists. At last, I started to understand the nature of Zionism and Israel. It was a painful experience of inner transformation. It allowed me to resolve my identity and beliefs and freed me from the all-powerful, stifling collectivities of Zionism.
From An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defense Force Made a Nation by Haim Bresheeth-Zabner. Used with permission of the publisher, Verso Books. Copyright © 2020 by Haim Bresheeth-Zabner.
Professor Haim Bresheeth-Zabner is a Filmmaker, Photographer and a Film Studies Scholar, and Professorial Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He is the editor of The Gulf War and the New World Order, (with Nira Yuval-Davis), and the author of The Holocaust for Beginners (with Stuart Hood). His films include the widely shown State of Danger (1989, BBC2)—a documentary on the first Palestinian Intifada—and London is Burning, after the 2011 riots. He has also written in the Israeli Ha’aretz and the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Weekly. (edited)
Middle East. “Israel is a militarized state preferring the state of war”
Haim Bresheeth, research fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London (1).
What are the reasons you focused your work on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)?
Haim bresheeth The IDF has been the most crucial social institution in the Israeli state since 1948. It is the largest, best funded, and largest in number, comprising most of Israel’s men and a huge number of women. This has serious repercussions – the IDF is fully representative of the Jewish population in Israel. In this sense, the army is the most representative organ of Israeli society. Understanding this is starting to understand Israel, and the difficulty we face when it comes to resolving the conflict in Palestine, a colonial type conflict. Because the only solution the IDF will accept is one in which they hold all the cards.
You say the IDF made a nation. Why ?
Haim bresheeth In the book, I deal with the fact that what existed in 1948 was an army, and that army built a state, but there was no nation! This is not my point of view, but that of David Ben-Gurion, who understood that a collection of people from all parts of the world, without anything connecting them, is not a nation. The nation had to be formed by a broad social organization in order to create a national culture, a sense of belonging, the identity of a new Israeli-Jewish nation. The only body that was capable of this complex task, which takes hundreds of years in most cases, was the IDF, and Ben-Gurion chose it because in 1948 it included virtually all Jewish adults – all of them. men and most women. It was an army that fought the Palestinians and the Arab armies. But it also performs all the civic tasks normally performed by civil society. Most of them are still carried out by the IDF. In the latest coronavirus crisis, the IDF and the secret services (Shabak) thus took over from a large part of the country for the monitoring and tracing operation, for example. The flip side is that most Israelis see their identity only in terms of the military and only see the conflict through the filter of military force.
What is the role of the military in political and economic life?
Haim bresheeth The IDF and related companies form Israel’s largest sector and are responsible for the bulk of the income from exports, between $ 12 billion and $ 18 billion per year. Selling to more than 135 countries, Israel is one of the world’s leading arms dealers. Israel turned the conflict into a thriving business – it turned adversity into commercial success, under the slogan “tested in action”. The business model also includes thousands of high-tech companies started by retired officers, which, along with nationalized arms and security companies, are the country’s largest employer. All academic institutions benefit from substantial research funding from the IDF, the Ministry of Defense and various security organizations; some universities and colleges have also organized training programs for IDF and related organizations.
In the book, you wonder about “Israel is a democracy” and if “there could have been another Israel”. Can you give us some answers?
Haim bresheeth There has never been a colonizing society that was democratic or free. Israel is no exception. A settlement plan is all about control – over land, resources and labor. As such, it depends on anarchy and injustice, always defended by the violation of the legal system. It was true for Algeria, Australia, North and South America, South Africa, Congo, and it is true in Palestine. A military society in illegal occupation cannot be democratic, and, as Marx pointed out, cannot, per se, be free. Therefore, Zionist Israel can never be democratic. In the past, some leftist Zionists have argued that the Zionist idea is pure and fair, but somehow soiled by practice. There is nothing further from the truth. As I have pointed out, the ultimate goal of the Zionist project, from the time it appears in Herzl’s work until our time, was and remains the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians, and the establishment of an exclusive Jewish society on racist principles. This is the reason why, over time, Israel becomes more racist and more aggressive. The Zionist dream is essentially a colonial nightmare. Even if one is brutal enough to ignore Palestinian suffering, life for Jews in Israel cannot, by definition, be safe or normal. Israelis live a Spartan life of soldiers on vacation. Israel has had many chances to achieve peace and has always avoided it. It is a militarized state, preferring a state of war – with its empire illegally clinging to the territories of four Arab states – which imposes racist oppression on nearly five million Palestinians without any rights. Nearly two million of its own Palestinian citizens are now losing the few rights they once had. We can safely say that Israel is a militarized state by choice, due to its need to protect its empire with military booty and illegal occupation. No one imposed this occupation regime on the Israelis. It’s their decision. The rest of the world, however, is responsible for authorizing and funding it, especially the United States and the European Union.
As of July 1, Israel is supposed to annex 30% of the West Bank. How does the IDF behave in this context?
Haim bresheeth The move towards the illegal annexation of most of the West Bank is the ultimate example of US-backed lawlessness – unilateral, non-negotiable illegal action against Palestinian rights. The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed his annexation deadline by July 1 is a clear sign that even the IDF is opposed to this measure. Prior to the 1990s, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) controlled the West Bank and had to invest enormous human and material resources in maintaining order throughout Palestine. This dire situation, which developed in the aftermath of the first Intifada, prompted Israel to organize the Oslo Accords, establishing a Palestinian National Authority (NPA). Since then, the AFN – formed and armed by Israel, and partially funded by the EU and the United States – has secured the occupied territories on Israel’s behalf, exonerating the IDF from their duties and from any financial cost.
But annexation can lead the ANP to collapse. Ultimately, it could lose control of the Palestinian security organizations, hated and despised by the Palestinian people. The IDF does not wish to lose this important relaxation of its functions and is greatly concerned about its ability to control the occupied territories if such a scenario occurs. The IDF has vetoed the annexation program as Netanyahu presented it, and so he seems to have had to quietly abandon it for now. In contrast, Israel has not abandoned its real program, which continues at a steady pace. The inability of the international community, as it stands, to oppose such atrocious illegality is a danger to the rule of law everywhere in the world, at a time of great international fragility. International law must be applied before further irreparable damage is done to the Palestinians, and a dangerous precedent is set.
All Western countries, but also the PLO, are still talking about the two-state solution. With the annexation, this idea died. But when the Zionist state refuses a Palestinian state, is it possible to establish a single state, even binational and with full rights for all citizens?
Haim bresheeth It should be clear to readers of Humanity that Israel never intended to end its military occupation, and has done everything humanly possible to block any form of Palestinian state since 1948, and especially since 1967. It could not do so. do it alone, of course. Without the strong and unwavering support of Western “democracies”, this would never have been possible. In this sense, Israel has always been against the so-called two-state solution. The debate at the UN actually included two options: that of partition, which was passed, led to the Nakba and the expulsion of two-thirds of Palestinians from their homes. But also, we less remember, the proposal for a single secular and democratic state over the whole of Palestine: a state of all its citizens, without special racist laws. Until 1988, this option, rejected by the UN in 1947, was the official position of the PLO. In arguing that such a democratic outcome cannot take place because of Israeli opposition, let us remember that this is also the reason why there can be no agreement on another solution. Israel has rejected any solution that would give the Palestinians some autonomy even over a tiny part of their land. So we, the rest of the world, must force Israel to accept it. The world had done it in the case of the other apartheid state – South Africa. Only a committed, internationally coordinated boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign can dislodge Israel from its colonial project. Such a campaign, in favor of equality, human rights, international law, United Nations resolutions, Geneva conventions, and the International Criminal Court, can bring hope to establish peace. just and lasting justice in the Middle East to all those residing in Palestine, as well as to Palestinian refugees.
The BDS campaign, which opposes Israel’s illegal and aggressive military actions, is a civilian campaign. Civic action carried out by all citizens of the world, avoiding violence and brutality, trying to change the situation by non-violent methods. I think the time has clearly come for such an approach, if we want to avoid more bloodshed and suffering.================================================
An Army Like No Other
How the Israel Defense Force Made a Nation
by Haim Bresheeth-Zabner
Hardback with free ebook
448 pages / August 2020 / 9781788737845
A history of the IDF that argues that Israel is a nation formed by its army
The Israeli army, officially named the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), was established in 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who believed that “the whole nation is the army.” In his mind, the IDF was to be an army like no other. It was the instrument that might transform a diverse population into a new people. Since the foundation of Israel, therefore, the IDF has been the largest, richest and most influential institution in Israel’s Jewish society and is the nursery of its social, economic and political ruling class.
In this fascinating history, Bresheeth-Zabner charts the evolution of the IDF from the Nakba to wars in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the continued assaults upon Gaza, and shows that the state of Israel has been formed out of its wars. He also gives an account of his own experiences as a young conscript during the 1967 war. He argues that the army is embedded in all aspects of daily life and identity. And that we should not merely see it as a fighting force enjoying an international reputation, but as the central ideological, political and financial institution of Israeli society. As a consequence, we have to reconsider our assumptions on what any kind of peace might look like.
“It is said that Israel is an army with a state. This book validates fully this assumption. With a clear and accessible style and with illuminating of many hidden chapters in Israel’s history, Bresheeth exposes fully the militarizationof the Jewish State. The book unpacks successfully the military grip of the IDF on every aspect of life in Israel and Palestine, from crucial decisions of going to war to the formulation the policies towards the Palestinians. Even if you are a knowledgeable reader on the topic, this book will be an essential contribution to your library.”
– Ilan Pappe, author of 10 Myths About Israel
“Israel’s drive to become a modern-day nuclear Sparta could only be ensured by An Army Like No Other—an army at the centre of illegal occupation, the creation of settler-colonial facts on the ground and Israeli identity self-fashioning. Thoroughly researched and painstakingly documented, this book is a must for those seeking to understand the centrality of the most powerful institution of Israel and for those who wish to see a just and lasting solution in Palestine–Israel.”
– Nur Masahla, author of Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History
“An original and a remarkable interpretation of the wide-ranging impact of the military on Israeli society and one of the most insightful and challenging works on Israeli society from 1948 to our days. His book traces the ways in which military power acquired legitimacy in the civilian society and how the use of organized violence became an acceptable solution to all conflicts in the Arab-Israeli history. Anyone interested in understanding the Middle East should read this book.”
– Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People
“Israeli left-wing critics of the Zionist state have long described it as ‘an army with a state, instead of a state with an army.’ And yet they have produced very few studies of the Israeli military-industrial complex over the years. In helping to fill this gap, Haim Bresheeth makes a crucial contribution to the critical study of the Zionist enterprise.”
– Gilbert Achcar, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust
“Bresheeth—one of the most important anti-colonial intellectuals of our era—takes the Israeli army as an entry point to undertake a deep analysis of Jewish-Israeli society. The original contribution of the book lies in its ambitions and scope: Bresheeth brilliantly describes the way an army whose ethos is rooted in Jewish historical trauma, has grown to become the occupation arm of zionism, the motor of its settler-colonial domination and the basis of its politics of separation.”
– Eyal Weizman, author of Hollow Land
“This book places the Israeli army under an uncompromising lens. It reveals a yawning gap between the propaganda about ‘the most moral army in the world’ and the dark reality. Through a wide-ranging historical survey, studded with little known facts, it exposes the army for what it really is: a brutal police force of a brutal settler-colonial state. Essential for understanding the political sociology of Israel today and the reasons for the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian so-called ‘peace process.’”
– Avi Shlaim, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
“A hard-eyed look at the role of Israel’s army in the creation of the Jewish state.”
“This is a very important book, offering a highly timely and rigorously documented view of the military/nation-state nexus in Israel, its links and dynamics, and its global sources of power. In the process it unavoidably affords us a view of the workings of the contemporary global order, in which Israel’s role as policeman and instrument is becoming more critical to the repressive, discriminatory and surveillance operations that are being increasingly developed and deployed today.”
– Lena Jayyusi, Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies
“Bresheeth-Zabner has written a comprehensive and well-researched history of the Israeli military. In doing so, he has also issued an indictment of its brutal tactics, its political power and its destructive effects on the Israeli state.”
– Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch
“An Army Like No Other is a real page-turner, combining history and analysis with firsthand tidbits from within the belly of the beast … Bresheeth-Zabner deserves substantial praise for his pursuit of truth.”
– Belén Fernández, Jacobin
“An insightful look into the history of Israeli militarism and the military ethos that marks both state and society.”
– Rod Such, Electronic Intifada
Middle east. « Israel is a militarized State, preferring the state of war »
Lundi 17 Août 2020
The Israeli army, officially named the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), was established in 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who believed that “the whole nation is the army.” In this book (1) Bresheeth charts the evolution of the IDF from the Nakba to wars in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and the continued assaults upon Gaza, and shows that the state of Israel has been formed out of its wars. (French version available here).
Haim Bresheeth, researcher at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas).
What are the reasons you focused your work on the Israeli Defense Forces?
Haim Bresheeth The IDF is the most crucial social institution of the Israel State, ever since 1948. It is the largest, best financed, and with the widest ‘membership’ Most Israel males, and many females. In that sense, it is a pseudo-democratic institution, if one can say this about an instrument of violence and injustice of this kind. This has serious repercussions – the IDF is fully representative of the Jewish population in Israel, rather than being a small professional army. It means that large numbers of Israelis of all classes, ethnicities and backgrounds are involved in IDF war crimes, since 1948. The fact that the publisc support given to brutal actions like the attack on South Lebanon in 2006, and on Gaza in 2008/9, 2012, and 2014, ranged higher than 95% is evidence of such wide public consent for such illegal, not to mention immoral actions by the IDF. It is the only social institution in Israel with such wide, almost total support for its actions, most of which are against international law and UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions. In that sense, the IDF is the most representative body in Israeli society, beyond the many tribal, political, gender, class and ethnic divisions. It is more important than the Israeli parliament, the intellectual elites, the financial cultural and political leadership. To understand this is to start understanding Israel, and the difficulty we face when wishing to resolve the conflict in Palestine – a settler-colonial conflict. Because the only solution that the IDF will accept is one in which it holds all the cards, it is clear that waiting for Israel to resolve the conflict is senseless and unwise position – Israel had always gone for military solutions for political problems, due to the special position afforded to the IDF.
You say that IDF made a Nation. Why?
Haim Bresheeth In the book, I deal with the fact that what existed in 1948 was an army, and this army built a state, but there was no nation! This is not my view, but that of David Ben-Gurion, who understood that the collection of people from all parts of the world, with nothing connecting them, is NOT a nation. The nation had to be formed by a large and wide-ranging social organisation – to form a national culture, a feeling of belonging, an identity of a new, Israeli-Jewish nation. The only body which was capable of this complex task, which takes hundreds of years in most cases, was the IDF, and Ben-Gurion chose it because in 1948, it included practically every single Jewish adult – all males and most females. This meant an army which was not only fighting the Palestinians and the Arab armies, responsible for expelling two third of the indigenous population of Palestine, but also for all civic tasks normally carried out by civil society. Thus the IDF dealt with education, language teaching, water projects, agricultural and urban settlement, industrial production, broadcasting, performance arts, communications, media and cultural production, publishing, research, building and commercial activities. Most of these are still performed by branches of the IDF. There is no other military force anywhere in the world which includes such a range of activities. In the latest Corona Virus crisis, the IDF and the Secret Service (Shabak) have taken over large part of the country, and the track and Trace operation, for example. Ben-Gurion was right – if one intends building a modern Sparta, it can only be done by the military authorities. The flip side is the most Israelis see their identity in terms of the IDF – and they see the conflict through the filters of the military force. This means that they look at the Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims through the virtual gunsight. This also makes a just and peaceful solution of the colonial conflict almost impossible, if Israel is allowed the whip hand. Since 1948, this has always been the case.
What is the role of the militaries in the political and economical life?
Haim Bresheeth The IDF and the companies connected with it, are forming the largest sector in Israel, and are responsible for the largest portion of income from exports, between 12 and 18 $ billions annually. These figures are indicative only, as much of the arms trade Israel is involved in is secret. Selling to more than 135 countries, Israel is one of the main arms dealers on the planet, and always amongst the top ten. Israel has turned the conflict into a thriving business – it made adversity into a commercial success, building on the strapline ‘tested in action’. What it really means is: tested on Arab and Moslem people, and especially, on Palestinian civilians. Israel has turned Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and some other countries into the largest testing grounds of modern arms. The business model also includes thousands of hi-tech companies set up by IDF retired officers, which together with the nationalized armament and security companies are the largest employer in Israel. All academic institutions enjoy substantial research funding disbursed by the IDF, the Defence Ministry, and the various security organisations; such universities and colleges also ran training programmes for the IDF and related bodies. For example, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem includes a large army camp inside its campus on Mount Scopus, with hundreds of soldiers studying and living there, behind barbed wire. It is difficult to find similar arrangements elsewhere in the world. The income from such activities ties the universities financially, politically and ideologically to the Security forces.
As currently set up, the Israeli economy, financial system and industry are all parts of a war economy. This was economy, destructive and violently-oriented as it is, is the mainstay of Israel’s prosperity. Israel received more foreign support than any other country since 1948. This financed its wars, occupations, destructions of countries in the region, and the lawlessness of continuous massacres of tens of thousands. This is good business for Israel, because the bills are paid by Washington and Brussels. Unless this changes, there is no reason for Israel to change its tactics and strategy.
You ask « Is Israel a democracy ? » and « Could there have been another Israel? » The best is to read your book but can you give us some elements of response?
Haim Bresheeth There never was a settler-colonial society which was either democratic or free, and Israel is no exception. A colonizing project is about control – of the land, resources and labour. As such, it depends on lawlessness and injustice, always defended through the violation of the legal system. This was true about Algeria, Australia, North and South America, South Africa, the Congo, and is true in Palestine. A military society in illegal occupation cannot be democratic, and as Marx pointed out, cannot, in itself, be free. Hence, Zionist Israel cannot ever be democratic.
In the past, some left-Zionist argued that the Zionist idea was a pure and just one, and it was somehow defiled by the practice; there is nothing further from the truth. As I pointed out, the ultimate goal of the Zionist project, from the moment it emerges in Herzl’s work to our own time, was and remains the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians, and the setting up of a Jewish-exclusive society on racist tenets. This is the reason that Israel is getting more racist and more aggressive as time passes – the Zionist ‘dream’ is in essence colonial nightmare. Even if one was brutal enough to disregard Palestinian suffering, the life of Jews in Israel cannot, by definition, be safe or normal. Israelis are living a spartan life of soldiers on vacation. In its more than seven decades of existence, Israel was involved in armed conflict in every single of these years, and in major armed wars, ‘operations’ and other military adventures more than any other state on this earth. This is not an accident, but the result of building a society based on the armed forces.
Israel had numerous chances to bring about peace, and always avoided it: in 2002, the Saudi initiative, for example, offered Israel enduring peace with the Arab world if it agreed to retreat to the international boundaries of 1967, and allow a Palestinian State to be set up in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For decades Israel claimed that there is no one to make peace with, and if only the Arabs were agreed, peace will reign. Here was the whole Arab world, including Saddam Hussein and Muamer Ghadaffy, offering Israel stable and dependable peace, and it did not even agree to discuss this or negotiate on this basis. Israel never wanted peace, and now is even frightened of discussing it. It is a militarized State, preferring the state of war – with its empire which holds on illegally to territories of four Arab states, and enforces racist oppression on almost five million Palestinians with no rights whatsoever, and near two million of its Palestinian citizens are now losing the few rights they had.
We can safely say that Israel is a militarized state by choice, because of its need to protect its empire of military spoils and illegal occupation. This it does by its own choice and is handsomely rewarded by the western world. No one has imposed this occupation regime on the Israelis – it is their own free choice, and they are fully responsible for it. The rest of the world is, however, responsible for allowing and financing it – especially the US and EU.
Since July 1, Israel is supposed to annex 30% of the West Bank. How did the IDF behaves in that framework?
Haim Bresheeth The move towards the illegal annexation of most of the West Bank is the ultimate example of lawlessness supported by the US – an unnegotiated, unilateral illegal action against the rights of the Palestinians. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to meet his deadline of annexing by 1 July is a clear sign that even Israel’s own military opposes the move.
Before the 1990s, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) controlled the West Bank and had to invest enormous human and material resources in policing the whole of Palestine. This dire situation, which had developed in the wake of the first intifada, pushed Israel to arrange the Oslo accords, establishing a Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Since then, the PNA – trained and armed by Israel, and partially funded by the EU and the US – has securitized the occupied territories on behalf of Israel, removing both the duties and the cost from the IDF. But annexation may drive the PNA towards collapse; ultimately, it could lose control of the Palestinian security organisations, hated and despised by the Palestinian people. The IDF does not wish to lose this important easing of its duties and worries greatly about its ability to control the occupied territories if such a scenario takes place. It is right to be worried. The attacks on Lebanon in 2006, and on Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 have shown the IDF’s inability to act in a logical and efficient way against well-organised guerrilla units.
This is not merely a question of firepower – in 2006, Hezbollah had few thousand well-trained and motivated fighters, and the IDF threw more firepower at them than used by both sides in El Alamein during the second world war . It is impossible to defeat a guerrilla force by firepower alone, as the US army found out in Vietnam. The IDF has vetoed the annexation programme as Netanyahu presented it, and hence he appears to have had to quietly abandon it for the time being. But Israel has not abandoned its real agenda, which continues apace.The failure of the international community, such as it is, to move against such atrocious unlawfulness is a danger to the rule of law everywhere, at a time of great international fragility. International law must be enforced before further, irreparable damage is caused to the Palestinians, and a dangerous precedent is set.
All the Western countries, but also the PLO, still speak about the two States solution. With the annexion that idea is dead. But when the Zionist state refuse a Palestinian State, is it serious to think that it’s possible to establish only one state even binational and full right for all the citizens?
Haim Bresheeth I think that from all I said above it should be clear to your readers that Israel has never intended to retreat from its military occupation, and has done all that is humanly possible to block Palestinian State of any description, ever since 1948, and specifically, since 1967. It could not do this on its own, of course; without the strong, unwavering support of the western « democracies » this would never have been possible.
In that sense, Israel was always against the so-called two-states solution, which is the reason why it could not and did not happen. The debate at the UN included two options – the Partition option, which people remember and which was voted upon and led to the Nakba and the expulsion of two thirds of Palestinians from their homes, and the proposal for a secular, democratic single state in the whole of Palestine – a state of all its citizens, without special racist laws. Until 1988, this option which was rejected by the UN in 1947, was the official position of the PLO.
When arguing that such a democratic solution cannot take place because of Israeli opposition, let us remember that this is also why any other solution cannot be agreed upon – Israel has rejected any solution which will offer to Palestinians a measure of autonomy on an even tiny bit of their land. There can be NO solution – any solution – in Palestine because Israel will not allow it. That is the simple truth. So, for a just solution we, the rest of the world, must force Israel to accept such a solution. The world had done so in the case of the other Apartheid State – South Africa. Only a committed internationally-coordinated campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions can dislodge Israel from its colonial project. Such a campaign, in support of equality, human rights, international law, UN Resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, and the International Criminal Court holds the hope of bringing about just and durable peace to the Middle East, and to all people residing in Palestine, as well as to the Palestinian refugees.
The BDS campaign, as opposed to Israel illegal military and aggressive actions, is a civil campaign – civic action by the citizens of the world, avoiding violence and brutality, attempting to change the situation through non-violent methods. I think the time has clearly come for such an approach, if more bloodshed and suffering is to be avoided.
(1) « An Army Like No Other. How the Israel Defense Force Made a Nation ». By Haim Bresheeth-Zabner. Verso Books Edition
http://www.jfjfp.org/ London, 17/18 Nov 2007
Challenging the Boundaries: A Single State in Palestine/Israel
Venue: The Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London
Fees:£30 (includes lunches, coffee, tea and biscuits)
£20 Concession (includes lunches, coffee, tea and biscuits)
Please post your cheque, payable to ONE STATE GROUP, with attached note of email address to
C/O SOAS Palestine Society, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG
Or book by email
Please note that seats are limited, book in advance
Organised by London One State Group and SOAS Palestine Society
Saturday, 17th of November 2007
9:00-9:30 Registration SOAS Brunei Gallery, Lobby
9:30-9:45 Opening Statement
Nur Masalha, Reader in Religion and Politics and Director of the Centre for Religion and History and of the Holy Land Research Project at Saint Mary’s College, University of Surrey (UK)
9:45-11:45 PANEL I: Why one state?
Chair: Ghada Karmi, University of Exeter, Author of In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story (2002) and Married to another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine (2007)
The historical roots of the One State idea
Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter, Author of The Modern Middle East (2005) and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)
A matter of immediate urgency, not a distant utopia
Joseph Massad, Columbia University, Author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism an the Palestinians (2006) and Desiring Arabs (2007)
The state of the One-State Idea
Ali Abunimah, Co-founder of Electronic Intifada, Author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (2006)
11:45-12:00 Coffee Break
12:00-13:30 PANEL II: Mapping the geopolitical landscape: past, present and future
Chair: Haim Bresheeth, University of East London, Chair of Media and Cultural Studies
Leaving the Cake Whole
Ghazi Falah, University of Akron, Ohio, Co-editor of Geographies of Muslim Women: Gender, Religion, and Space (2005) and Author of Galilee and the Judaization Plans (in Arabic, 1993)
Local politics: the one state and the Palestinians
As’ad Ghanem, University of Haifa, Author of The Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel, 1948-2000: A Political Study (2001) and The Palestinian Regime: A “Partial Democracy” (2002)
With an eye to the future
Leila Farsakh, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Author of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labor, Land and Occupation (2005)
13:30-14:30 Lunch Break
14:30-16:00 PANEL III (Presentations): Land, Citizenship, and Identity: Rethinking the nation-state
Chair: Leila Farsakh
This panel provides a platform for the internal debate within the One State camp regarding the desired institutional and constitutional formation of the state which is commonly dichotomized into the bi-national model on one side and the multicultural democracy on the other.
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Author of The Censor, the Editor, and the Text: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century (2007)
Nadim Rouhana, George Mason University, Author of Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict (1997)
Omar Barghouti, Political Analysts, Co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
Tikva Honig-Parnass, Political Activist, Co-author of Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. “War on Terror” (2007)
16:00-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-18:00 PANEL III (Discussion): Land, Citizenship, and Identity: Rethinking the nation-state
Sunday, 17th of November 2007
10:30-12:30 PANEL IV: Looking at the past, rethinking the future
Panel Chair: Ali Abunimah
Drawing lessons from the case of South Africa
Louise Bethlehem, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Co-editor of South Africa in the Global Imaginary (2005) and Violence and Non-Violence in Africa (2007)
Northern Ireland: power sharing in a divided society
Kathleen O’Connell, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Gilbert Achcar, SOAS, Co-author of Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S . Foreign Policy (2007) and The 33-Day War: Israel’s War on Hezbollah in Lebanon and its Consequences (2007), Author of The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2006)
India – Pakistan: the partition
Sumantra Bose, London School of Economics, Author of Kashmir: The Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (2003) and Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka (2007)
12:30-13:30 Lunch Break
13:30-16:00 PANEL V: One state from within civil society social movements, and grassroot activism
Chair: Omar Barghouti
The lived experience and stories of the invited activists will portray the current public mood in regard to the One-State option, and point at both the difficulties and the opportunities for promoting this line of thought among the various social movements and civil society organizations that are operating within the different communities. This mosaic of personal accounts and observations will provide the foundation for the following discussion about ‘the way forward’.
Haidar Eid, Al-Quds University Gaza, Co-founder of One-State Group in Gaza
Eitan Bronstein, Political Activist, Zochrot (“Remebering”)
Eyal Sivan, Goldsmith University, Film Director of The Specialist (1999) and Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel (2004)
Yousef Faker el Deen, Political Activist, Founder of Al-Jaras Al-Awda (“Bells of Return”) Syria
Rajaa Omari, Political Activist, Founder of Natrinkum (“We are waiting for you”), Haifa
16:00-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-18:00 PANEL VI: The way forward
A roundtable with several participants of the conference will discuss what would be the immediate actions required for promoting the discussion about alternatives to the two-state paradigm, and for helping the ideas of One-State develop into a meaningful political agenda.