Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: The Politics of Expansion

Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: The Politics of Expansion

by Nur Masalha

ISBN: 9780745316154

Publisher Pluto Press

Published in Nonfiction/Politics

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Sample Chapter


Labour Zionism's 'Activists': New Territorial Maximalism and the Whole Land of Israel Movement, 1967–77

In the wake of Israel's 1967 conquests, the deep-rooted perception of Eretz-Yisrael as a whole was not only found in the traditional Zionist maximalism of the Revisionist Herut (later Likud) camp, but increasingly gained ground in all the main political parties, including the traditionally pragmatic Labour Party. This maximalist concept of state frontiers was based on a Zionist political and military strategy (backed by a very powerful army equipped with nuclear weapons) which served as a means to essentially imperialist ends: the creation of a Middle East more favourable to a greatly enlarged and regionally dominant Jewish state. This territorially expansionist and imperialist approach found its first manifestation in the Whole Land of Israel Movement (Hatnu'ah Lema'an Eretz-Yisrael Hashlemah) (WLIM), a secular elite organisation and an influential ideological movement of territorial maximalism which was founded promptly after the war with the aim of annexing and settling with Jews the newly 'liberated' territories. In addition to Begin's Herut, the WLIM was one of the most significant organised efforts to push Israel towards the permanent incorporation of the occupied territories. Devoted to the 'whole Land of Israel' as the highest operational imperative, the highly publicised, founding Manifesto of the WLIM of 1967 was almost entirely supported by prominent members of the Labour establishment. Full of historical imagery, the Manifesto laid the foundations of the project of imperial Israel in straightforward terms:

Zahal's [the Israeli Defence Force] victory in the Six-Day War placed the people and the state within a new and fateful period. The whole of Eretz Israel is now in the hand of the Jewish people, and just as we are not allowed to give up the State of Israel, so we are ordered to keep what we received there from Eretz Yisrael ... We are bound to be loyal to the entirety of the country ... and no government in Israel is entitled to give up this entirety, which represents the inherent and inalienable right to our people from the beginning of its history.

The occupation of Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza – their combined territories four times bigger than Israel proper and the destruction of the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan thrilled most Israelis and encouraged many of them to develop an imperial outlook and to embrace an imperialist project based on a conviction that their state was the strongest military force in the Middle East. The same expansionist instincts helped to sanctify the Zionist principle that 'never again should Eretz-Yisrael be divided.' As Professor Ehud Sprinzak explains, since 1967 this principle has become 'a most energetic and influential tenet in modern Zionism'. Against the intoxicating backdrop of the new Israeli empire, the official founding conference of the WLIM was held on 31 October 1967.

The new movement of territorial expansion and imperial domination cut across all party lines in Israel and brought together diverse Zionist schools of thought, from Labour activists to Jabotinsky's Revisionists to smaller groups and individuals. By and large, however, the movement was set up and dominated by Labour intellectuals, poets, politicians, generals and kibbutz leaders, and other personalities prominent in the pre-1948 Zionist struggle. It drew its inspiration from the pre-state 'activist' and militant tradition of Labour Zionism, which attempted to reconcile romantic Jewish socialism with colonial expansionism, and focused on the 'whole Land of Israel'. Within Labour Zionism, the activist approach was characterised by militant commitment to territorial expansion, tough policies towards the Arabs, and maximum extension of Jewish settlement and sovereignty. Its advocates were committed to the idea of creating settlements as a means of determining future political borders. The speeches and writings of one of its most influential ideologues, Yitzhak Tabenkin (1887–1971), were imbued with imagery of East European romantic and organic nationalism. Although explicitly secular, his message and that of other activist leaders, often featured references to the Bible and biblical Israelites. The militant ethos of the activist movement of Labour Zionism also contained mystical overtones of communion between Jewish workers and fighters, and the 'soil of the Land of Israel'. These ideas were most prominent within the Ahdut Ha'avodah political party (and its affiliated settlement movement, Hakibbutz Hameuhad), whose concepts of state frontiers and Jewish territorial space also included parts of the Sinai Desert.

Another significant group within the WLIM was made up of people who had followed former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when he left Mapai in 1965 to form the Labour parliamentary faction of Rafi. The list of the WLIM signatories included leading Labour figures such as Rahel Yanait, a prominent Mapai leader and the widow of Israel's second President Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, Yitzhak Tabenkin, a prominent ideologue of the Hakibbutz Hameuhad movement, who had supported the 'transfer' solution in the early 1940s, Haim Yahiel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Isser Harel, Israel's first head of the Mossad, 'Uzi Feinerman, the secretary-general of the Moshav movement, Beni Marshak, Eli'ezer Livneh, the nation poet Natan Alterman, the novelist Yehuda Burla and Tzvi Shiloah, a writer and an old-timer of the Mapai party. These representatives of Israel's political elite were joined by a gallery of reserve generals: Major General Ya'acov Dori, the army Chief of Staff during the 1948 war, and the Generals Dan Talkovsky, Eliyahu Ben-Hur, Avraham Yoffe and Meir Zore'a. The writer Shmuel 'Agnon, recipient of the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature was also present at the founding conference as were many other authors, poets and university professors. Members of the new movement were neither an opposition group nor an extremist protest movement; many of them were very close to the Israeli Labour government and taken together, Ehud Sprinzak writes, the 72 signatories of the manifesto of the movement were 'probably the most distinguished group of names ever to have joined a public cause in Israel'.

Despite the presence of two rabbis among the scores of its manifesto's signatories, the WLIM was a manifestation of secular ultra-nationalist (mainly) Labour Zionism. It aspired to be neither a mass movement nor a political party, but a respected pressure group whose main objective was to influence government policy through newspaper articles, books and personal contacts with Labour government ministers. A glance at the political background and public career of five co-founders and leading members of the WLIM, Eli'ezer Livneh, Yehuda Burla, Rahel Yanait, Dr Haim Yahiel, Tzvi Shiloah and Natan Alterman, is most instructive: they were all veterans and prominent members of Mapai, Israel's ruling party (later to become the Labour Party).

Eli'ezer Livneh (1902–75) was a typical elder statesman of the new movement, with an impressive Labour Zionist record. After emigrating to Palestine in 1920 and joining Kibbutz 'Ein Harod, Livneh rose from day labourer to Labour leader. He held many public offices, including a political job for the Zionist movement in pre-war Nazi Germany. Between 1940 and 1942, he headed the political section of the Haganah (Defence), the para-military organisation of the Yishuv's leadership, and edited the magazine Ma'arakhot, which subsequently became the main organ of the Israeli Army. From 1942 to 1947, he was editor of Eshnav, the Haganah's underground weekly. Meanwhile in 1942, he also became editor of Beterem, a political fortnightly, which opened its pages in the 1950s to Avraham Schwadron (Sharon) and his campaign for the total 'transfer' of the Arab citizens of Israel (see below). A prominent member of Mapai, Livneh was a Knesset member from 1949 to 1955 and served on the influential Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee between 1951 and 1955. He was also an editor of Hador, an influential Mapai newspaper. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Livneh was a distinguished columnist for Israel's most influential newspapers and magazines. In the summer of 1967 Livneh put forward a plan for the transfer of 600,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories (see below).

Yehuda Burla (1886–1969) was a director of the Department for Arab Affairs of the Histadrut before 1948. After the establishment of the State of Israel, he served as a director of the Department for Culture, Press and Information in the Ministry of Minorities. He received the Bialik and Ussishkin Prizes for literature in 1942 and 1949 respectively.

Rahel Yanait (1866–1979), the widow of Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, the second President of Israel, was a founder of the Po'alei Tzion labour movement together with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Tabenkin. In 1908, she emigrated to Palestine and later was a founder of the Hashomer Zionist defence organisation. After the First World War, she helped found the Ahdut Ha'avodah movement, from which the Mapai Party originated and the Histadrut. She served as a delegate to Zionist Congresses and as a member of Asefat Hanivharim, the pre1948 Yishuv Assembly. After the establishment of Israel, she was one of the editors of the Labour weekly Haahdut. And in late 1956, after the Israeli Army overran the Gaza Strip and Sinai, she appealed to Ben-Gurion to 'transfer' the Gaza refugee camps' residents to Sinai.

Haim Yahiel (1905–74) first arrived in Palestine in 1929 and there he joined Kibbutz Giva'at Hayim for a short time before returning to Europe. Returning to Palestine in 1939, he became a Histadrut official, serving first (1939–42) as director of its Education Department in Haifa and then (1942–45) as a member of the Executive Committee. From 1945 to 1948, Yahiel served as representative of the Jewish Agency in Munich, Germany, and was then (1948–49) Israeli Consul in the same city. Between 1949 and 1951, he was director of the Jewish Agency's Department of Absorption in Jerusalem. From 1951 to 1953, he served as head of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 1956 to 1959, he was appointed first as Minister to the Scandinavian countries and later became Ambassador to Sweden and Minister to Norway and Iceland. From 1960 to 1964 he served as director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 1965 to 1972 he served as chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Yahiel was a delegate to numerous Zionist congresses and for several years also served as head of the Centre for the Diaspora of the Jewish Agency. Even after becoming a leader of the Whole Land of Israel Movement and until his death in 1974, Yahiel still served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in various capacities, including as Chairman of the Editorial Board of its major publication, Israel's Foreign Relations, Selected Documents. The first two volumes of these official documents, published in 1976, were dedicated to the memory of Haim Yahiel.

Natan Alterman (1910–70), the central figure of the Whole Land of Israel Movement, served on the editorial board of the daily newspaper Haaretz from 1934 to 1943, when he joined the Histadrut daily Davar, virtually the mouthpiece of the Mapai Party. In an article in the mass-circulation Ma'ariv shortly after the 1967 conquests, Alterman wrote that the transfer solution 'is only possible in an ideal peace situation between us and Arab states, which will agree to cooperate with us in a great project of population transfer'.

It is also worth noting that in justification of his views on Arab 'transfer', Alterman cited the statements made by Berl Katznelson (1887–1944), the hero of Labour Zionism, and one of the most important leaders of the Yishuv period and the founder and editor of Davar (the Histadrut newspaper). In 1943 (the year Alterman joined Davar) he wrote:

Our contemporary history has known a number of transfers ... [for instance] the USSR arranged the transfer of one million Germans living in the Volga region and transferred them to very distant places ... one could assume that this transfer was done against the will of the transferees ... there could be possible situations that would make [Arab] population transfer desirable for both sides ... who is the socialist who is interested in rejecting the very idea before hand and stigmatising it as something unfair? Has Merhavyah not been built on transfer? Were it not for many of these transfers Hashomer Hatza'ir [which later in 1948 founded the Mapam Party] would not be residing today in Merhavyah, or Mishmar Ha'emek or other places ... and if what has been done for a settlement of Hashomer Hatza'ir is a fair deed, why would it not be fair when it would be done on a much larger and greater scale, not just for Hashomer Hatza'ir but for the whole of Israel?

These leading Labour figures and representatives of Israel's political elite were joined by Menahem Begin and other personalities from the traditional camp of territorial maximalism, the Revisionist camp (or the Gahal as the Herut Party was now known), furnishing the campaign for territorial expansion and annexation with its organised political backbone. Signatories of the WLIM also included Professor 'Ari Jabotinsky, Vladimir Jabotinsky's son; Dr Reuven Hecht and Shmuel Katz, two veteran Revisionist figures; Uri Tzvi Greenberg, the poet laureate of the Zionist right since the 1930s, who is considered by Jewish ultra-nationalists as the greatest Hebrew poet of the contemporary era; several leaders of the National Religious Party, and Dr Yisrael (Scheib) Eldad, the former commander of Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Lehi or the Stern Gang), who was later to become one of the most articulate publicists of the settlement movement of Gush Emunim. In time, the WLIM was to give birth to Gush Emunim and a number of extreme right-wing and 'transfer' parties such as the Moledet Party – which will be discussed below.

Inevitably, one of the central questions for the new territorial maximalists of the WLIM was what should be done with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, who remained, by and large, in situ. According to Ehud Sprinzak, most members of the movement were open, democratic and tolerant in relations to the Palestinians of the occupied territories: 'The individual Palestinians of the West Bank were honestly invited to take part in building the new Israeli empire. Most of the members of the [Whole] Land of Israel Movement agreed with Eli'ezer Livneh that the Arabs should get full political rights in the Jewish states.' However, as we shall see below, the available evidence indicates the opposite; Livneh as well as many other leading members supported the 'transfer' concept. Moreover, the movement's spokesmen and sympathisers did not, on the whole, put forward new ideas in this regard but rather resurrected phrases derived from the classical Zionist arsenal of terminology and conceptions, such as 'only Israel's genius and the extraordinary efforts of Jewish settlers can make the untended and barren landscape productive', the Arab 'demographic problem' and 'demographic threat', the 'transfer solution', all of which had been so familiar in Zionist debates before 1948 and indeed in use since the beginning of political Zionism. Suddenly the deep-seated 'transfer' formula came out into the open.

The first set of proposals appeared in a book in 1967, immediately after the war, under the revealing Hebrew title Hakol [Everything]. It was a collection of articles from the Hebrew press edited by Dr Aharon Ben-'Ami, who had been brought up in the 'activist' tradition of Labour Zionism. In the 1940s, Ben-'Ami had served in the Palmah, the strike force of Labour Zionism. In the mid-1960s, he had been a member of the Labour Zionist faction of Rafi, headed by Ben-Gurion and Dayan, while teaching sociology at Tel Aviv University and Haifa Universities. After June 1967 he had helped organize the WLIM and wrote articles for its organ, Zot Haaretz. He later became one of the first residents of Ariel, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank and since 1986 he has served as the editor of Hayarden ('Jordan'), an organ of the territorial maximalists of Greater Israel. In Everything, the supporters of the new movement outlined their attitude towards the Palestinian inhabitants as well as the refugees residing in 'Judea', 'Samaria' and Gaza. Once again the theme of 'untended land', that the land can only be made to bloom and yield up its produce by the extraordinary efforts of Israel, was invoked in justification of Jewish colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian removal: the Palestinians – 'like the Crusaders' – forfeited their right to the country because 'they neglected it,' wrote Rahel Saborai. Saborai proposed to resettle the refugees in northern Sinai between the Gaza

Strip and El Arish: 'from the early period of Zionism they intended to develop these large tracts of land as part of the Zionist settlement. This [old, Herzl's] plan should be reactivated by Israel as a giant water project for the settlement of the [Palestinian] refugees.' The 'transfer' of the refugees to, and their settlement in, Sinai was also raised by Dr Yehuda Don, who believed that about 'one million refugees and their children', residing in the West Bank and Gaza, should be relocated to Sinai: 'The Israeli technology and experience in settling [Jewish] refugees and making the desert bloom have acquired fame in the whole world ... This proposal could also be a very important political weapon, since we are proposing a solution in one of the desolate provinces of a defeated country [i.e., Egypt] ... No doubt such a measure would require great capital.'

Excerpted from "Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: The Politics of Expansion" by Nur Masalha. Copyright © 2013 by Nur Masalha. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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