Last month during a debate in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, there was a disturbing comment made by one of the right-wing politicians. It was racist remark that revealed much about Zionism, the founding ideology of the state of Israel.
It took place during a debate on the so-called Prawer Plan. As I’ve previously mentioned in this column, this was Israel new plan to ethnically cleanse the southern Naqab desert of its Palestinian Bedouin inhabitants.
Under the plan, 30-70,000 people would have been forcibly removed from their homes – villages that have been in existence since before the state of Israel. And these people are now citizens of Israel – but the reality of law and practice in the “Jewish state” shows they are fundamentally unequal.
Arguing in favour of the plan was Miri Regev, a former soldier in the Israeli army propaganda unit, and a law-maker in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right Likud faction. A Palestinian MK accused Regev of wanting to “transfer an entire population.”
Regev’s reply was stark, but honest: “Yes, as the Americans did to the Indians.”
It was a clear statement of Israel’s really-existing ideology, intentions and practice. It is refreshing in the sense that at least she openly stated her racist animosity to Palestinians. It stands in contrast to liberal Zionism’s smokescreens about “peace,” while at the same time carrying out the same policies.
Why was Regev able to feel comfortable in so openly stating such an expulsionist policy?
To answer this, it’s worth recalling what it was exactly that “the Americans did to the Indians.” Before the onset of European colonization of North America, native peoples numbered in the millions and had an advanced civilization.
In the course of a few hundred years, the population was decimated by European settlement, war, disease and their ever-encroaching colonization of native land. As the late Howard Zinn chronicled in his important book A People’s History of the United States (in just one part of the long and brutal tale): “In 1820, 120,000 Indians lived east of the Mississippi. By 1844, fewer than 30,000 were left. Most of them had been forced to migrate westward.”
Today, the North American Indian nations have been relegated to small reservations of land, on a fraction of the territories these peoples used to inhabit. The parallels of American history with Palestine are obvious enough.
And therein lies the reason Regev need not be too worried about her international image: the horror that most people would have in reaction to such comments does not really concern Israel’s leaders. The backing of the imperial superpower in the United States, to the tune of more than $3 billion in military aid every year, it what matters to them.
(It’s also worth mentioning that Regev once slandered African refugees as a “cancer” – and then later compounded this racism by apologising to cancer patients for comparing them to Africans!)
The Israel lobby, although powerful, does not have to work very hard to convince American elites which side to support. The very existence of both states is predicated on expulsion of the indigenous population and plunder of their land and resources.
“There is no one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population,” admitted Israel’s late military leader Moshe Dayan in 1969 (see page 14 of link). “We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs … Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either [after Israel destroyed them]. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat – in the place of Jibta, Sarid – in the place of Haneifs and Kefar Yehoshua – in the place of Tell Shaman.”
Compare that with what Zinn recounts: “When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians … The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.'”
The latter point on the misuse of the Bible raises another reason behind American support for Israel: Christian Zionism.
What the Europeans did to the native peoples of America has indeed been happening to the Palestinians, at the hands of the Zionist movement over the last century or so. But the Palestinian people have never given up resisting (as, indeed, indigenous Americans still struggle for their rights) and are today about half of the population in the historic land of Palestine between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea.
They are recovering from the historic Zionist expulsion of 1948, but are still occupied, displaced and oppressed. The Prawer Plan may well return in another form. But it has been shelved for now, after sustained Palestinian protest on both sides of the Green Line.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.