Palestinian Liberation, Israeli Occupation, And Israel’s Right To Exist

November 8, 2023

by Hagar Harpak

All my life I stood against the Israeli occupation. I still do. 

I was a little girl when my parents took me to protests against the occupation. I was young when my dad had to choose between going to a military prison for an uncertain period of time, or serving in the army reserve in Hebron. It was before my 12th birthday when a Palestinian terrorist slaughtered a few of my neighbors with a knife. I was a teenager when buses were bombed by terrorists, and my friends and I went to peace rallies. 

It was on November 4th 1995, the evening before my 17th birthday, when my plans changed and I ended up not going to the peace rally where prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a radical right wing Israeli man. 

The months before were filled with hope. Peace talks were making progress. Two state solution seemed closer than ever. The image of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands saturated our minds and hearts. There was hope. For all of us. There was hope. 

The months before that horrible night, when the chance for peace died along with the Prime Minister, were also loud with hate speech. Peace rallies were countered with right wing protests on the streets of Jerusalem. Calls for the death of Rabin were heard. Calls for the death of all Arabs were shaking the city that, in my mom’s words, loves her stones more than her people. 

In the violent right wing protests, Benjamin Netanyahu was a guest of honor. The calls for the death of innocent people did not escape his ears. He relished the violent cries. They fed his power. 

Yitzhak Rabin had a piece of paper in his shirt’s pocket that night, and if this was in a movie, I would say it was a cheap, cheesy, tear jerking manipulation, but this was not a movie. The piece of paper that was retrieved from Rabin’s pocket had the lyrics of The Song For Peace. And it was drenched in blood. 

The country shook. The world shook with us. Teenagers lit candles and decorated street corners with flowers. We all cried. 

But in the years that followed, terrorism made the average Israeli move rightward. Another bus bombed. And another. Another coffee shop bombed. And in the 1996 election in Israel, Netanyahu won. He’s been the prime minister of Israel on and off since then, destroying the country, brainwashing, lying, pouring the oil of hatred into the fire of fear, strengthened by his crowd of believers, and slowly convincing the herd that “the other ” is dangerous. 

Terrorist attacks – one after the other – and the second intifada, were assets for Netanyhu. It’s easy to convince people that “the other” is dangerous when “the other” is a suicide bomber that blows up your coffee shops, malls, and buses.

It’s easy to convince the people that “the other” is evil when “the other” is a soldier in the army of the oppressor, when you live under occupation, when your mother couldn’t protect your brother, when you’re a kid and the poverty and your family’s condition are clearly associated with “the other.” 

The years go by. The average Palestinian is raised to hate Israelis. The average Israeli is raised to hate Palestinians. “The Other” is a soldier, an oppressor, and they are out to get you. “The Other” is a terrorist, an enemy, and they are coming for you. 

While a quick look will show you that Israel is the oppressor, and the Palestineans are oppressed, we must not take a reductionist view on a region’s history so complex, it won’t fit into three volumes of books the length of the Jewish diaspora. 

The world isn’t simple. And the left, just as much as the right, has a hard time sitting in the discomfort of a reality that doesn’t add up, that isn’t made of clear lines, and isn’t divided into black or white, good and bad. 

The thing with brainwashing and with herd mentality, is that it is dangerous not only on the Israeli side, not only on the Palestinian side, not only among Trump supporters, but in the progressive left too. Whenever people buy into propaganda, fear of The Other grows, hatred spreads like wildfire, and justification for atrocities becomes acceptable. 

Whenever we begin to divide the world into good and evil in clear lines, we have, most likely, bought into propaganda.

I’ve been seeing the brainwash, the herd, the mob, the othering, the misinformation, and the justification grow since October 7th.

I’m seeing it in Israel, where more settlers have been attacking innocent Palestinians in recent weeks. I see no difference between a settler who tortures and murders a Palestinian, and a Hamas terrorist who slaughters, rapes and kidnaps an innocent civilian. 

I think the settlements are the cancer in the heart of Israel. Not all settlers are evil, of course, but their belief in their ideology seems more important to them than human life, their claim for the land, their righteousness, their religious fanaticism, and the violence with which settlements are built and sustained, is a form of terrorism. 

I’m seeing the herd of the US progressive left supporting Hamas, cheering for Palestinian liberation, and calling the horrific actions of October 7th “part of the cause.” More than 1400 innocent people slaughtered, raped, tortured, burned alive. 242 kidnapped. I am seeing human rights activists either ignoring the massacre or celebrating it. 

Let me be clear: I am in support of palestinian liberation. But I am not in support of dismantling Israel. I can hold the paradox, people. 

The war in Gaza breaks us. The images are impossible to ignore. Of course our human heart wants a ceasefire. Now! 

And when I hear the call for a ceasefire now, without the demand to release the hostages, I am alarmed. 

When I read the conspiracy theories about how Israel isn’t willing to take the hostages back, I am alarmed. 

When it’s as if October 7th didn’t happen, and this horrific war in Gaza has nothing to do with it, I am alarmed. 

I am seeing people I know and love; brainwashed, bathing in misinformation, rooting into partial pieces of information placed out of context, which paints a very different picture of reality, and distorts the truth. 

I see the hate for Israel in their eyes, more than I see actual love and care for Palestinian lives.

There are many reasons to be critical of Israel. Particularly of the Israel shaped by Netanyahu. I feel the hate in my own eyes when I look toward the settlers in the West Bank, when I hear some of the disgusting rhetoric coming out of the mouths of the current government in Israel. But let’s remember that more than half Israelis are against this government, and that before October 7th Israelis were out on the streets protesting against it. 

I’m hearing people refer to the entire state of Israel as Settler Colonialism. 

I am alarmed when I hear people call Askenezi Jews “White Colonizers.” If that wasn’t a dangerous term to throw around, I would think it was a great joke. 

Let’s be clear: The Nazis did not think the Jews in Europe were white, ok? 

The Jews that arrived in an area – not a country – called Palestine, in the years before it became Israel, were escaping pogroms and genocide. Europe was ethnically cleansing itself from Jews. They left Eastern Europe not because they wanted to take over the world, not because they were good with money (I’m shocked when I discover people still think that nowadays), not even because they were dreaming of the land of milk and honey. They were running for their lives. 

My ancestors thought they were returning to the land of their ancestors, and thought they could create a safe life for themselves and for their children. 

And yet, zionism has many colonialist attributes. I can hold that piece, even though it isn’t comfy in my hands. It’s part of the truth. And we must be willing to hold as many pieces of truth as possible, if we are to truly support justice, peace, and human rights. 

Were there people living on that land? Yes. 

And, something not many people talk about, is the fact that many people from Arab countries who now identify as Palestininans, moved to the area during the first half of the 20th century, along with the Jews. 

A lot could be said about how Israel was born, about the process, about the pieces that came together, and about the ones that broke apart. There were terrible things done in the name of indigeneity. The story is not one sided. Not simple. Not one that can be reduced to a five minute tik-tok video that explains the entire social-geo-political #truth of the middle east. 

We can be here all day, discussing how wrong or right or necessary or fucked up was the 1917 Balfour Decleration, and the fact the the British Empire decided to “give” the Jewish people some land.

Israel was founded because the world recognized that Jewish people needed a home. Do we need to remind ourselves? 6 million anyone? AND we can also debate the problematics of establishing a democratic state created for a particular ethnic or religious group. 

Israel was never perfect. No bone in my body diminishes the pain of the Palestinians who were displaced during the “war of independence.” 

On November 30th 1947, a day after the UN declared the establishment of two states in the area – both an Arab state and a Jewish state, Arab militant groups declared war, and began to attack Jewish villages. The Arab nations resisted the establishment of a Jewish state, and joined the war as soon as Israel became an official state in May of 1948.

The “Nakba” was a horrible, sad, and infuriating event. The Palestinians who were displaced during the war were not allowed to return to their home. And that is one of Israel’s greatest shadows, for sure. 

I grew up hearing about the injustices, and holding close the pain the displacement had caused. My parents had a dear friend who was especially dear to me. He was an Israeli-Arab whose family was displaced during that 1948 war. He died of Cancer earlier this year. I remember the stories I heard in my childhood, about the village his family couldn’t return to. I can taste on my tongue the olives he cured. I remember his wisdom, his kindness, his sense of humor. I can feel the breeze moving through the fig trees in his garden. And I can hear his laughter, mixed with a heavy smoker’s cough. 

I was never a zionist. 

My mom’s family came to the area called Palestine in the early 20th century. They were zionists. They made their way from Russia, where they were harassed, threatened, and persecuted for being ethnically Jewish. 

My dad’s dad – a poor orphan – found his way alongside most of his siblings, leaving antisemitic Poland behind in 1933. They also left behind one brother who was already married with children, who all later died in the Holocaust. 

My dad’s mom and her family moved to the region from Poland in 1935, as the scent of Nazi Germany became too close for comfort. 

I am not a zionist. But if I was an anti-zionist, I’d be a hypocrite, because I would deny my own right to exist. 

Our world is complicated, full of flaws, embodying paradoxes in every direction, unfolding into greater complexity with every breath. 

We haven’t even touched on the Islamic Jihad, on the fact that the current war, and the massacre of October 7th, are moved by much bigger forces than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (Check out this episode on the Making Sense podcast by Sam Harris)

The certainty of religion, the fanatic face of Hamas, the unshaken belief of the settlers, the herd mentality of Trump supporters, are mirrored in the lack of doubt and in the wildfire of conspiracy theories within the progressive left. The fear of the other, the hatred, the narrow mindedness, the inability to see complexity, the stuckness in myopic views, the slogans, the righteousness . . . 

If we cannot turn toward the tangled roots of a reality so vast, so intricate, so ancient, so filled with contradictions, and see that it is more complex than what our short attention span can handle, then we are the problem, and not the solution. 

There is a lot more to say. There is a lot more thinking to be done. There are lots of feelings flooding our systems. 

I want each of my progressive friends who think Israel should not exist because of its settler colonialism, to start to pack their belongings, and also go back to where they came from, because they also live on stolen land.

There is no going back. There’s only going forward. We can’t take the world back toward what was. Do we even want to? Take one thing back and a whole host of other things will be twisted back through the process with it. 

So we must imagine what is possible as we move the story along. We must learn from the past, learn the facts, and not only the ones that sit within the narrative that we try to push forward. And if we are to create a world that cares for its people and animals and plants, we must be willing to sit in the nuanced complexity of truth. We must be willing to look at our own hypocrisy. We must see where we are part of the problem. 

Palestinian liberation is necessary, but when we chant: From The River To The Sea, we are literally calling for the death of my family. And my four year old niece, who is fifth generation Israeli, does not deserve to die. 

So how do we move forward? 

Where are we going from here?

Let us not jump into answers. Let us not be so righteous, so sure, so clear on what the goal is and what the next step is. Let us break with a broken world, and in the shattering, let us become softer, changeable, and creative. Let us hold one another in our grief. Let us be cradled in the arms of uncertainty. 

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