In their own words

To understand the genesis of the violence and intolerance in Gaza, we must understand Zionism. Here are some quotes from Israel’s Zionist founding fathers and military, political, and intellectual leaders.

Dan DeWalt, a frequent contributor to these pages and one of the founders of this newspaper, writes that if he didn't love his country, he "wouldn't spend so much time trying to get it to live up to its purported principles."

Since the eruption of violence in Israel/Palestine on Oct. 7, some narratives have been espoused by apologists for Israel.

First, they say that terrorist violence is unique to Palestinians/Hamas, and that Israel faces an existential threat to which it has the right to respond.

And they argue that this conflict is not about Zionism - and that to suggest such is simply to engage in antisemitism.

From the early days of the 20th century, violent attacks were carried out by Jews and Arabs upon each other. Many Arabs, not just Palestinians, were mistrustful of the influx of Zionists entering Palestine. They believed that the Zionist goal was to displace Palestinians in order to create a Jewish state.

By the time World War II had ended, organized Zionist terror groups and militias were operating in Palestine and targeting both the British and the indigenous Palestinians.

On April 9, 1948, these groups attacked an Arab village near Jerusalem, what is now referred to as the Deir Yassin massacre. Murder and rape were part and parcel of this attack, and it escalated tensions and spurred reprisals and further violence.

The sick interplay of attacks and reprisals, with ever-escalating degrees of violence and brutality, has continued in a steady cycle ever since.

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If we want to understand the genesis of the violence and intolerance, then we must understand Zionism as its adherents immigrated to Palestine and began to build a future for themselves. The best source for understanding would be the words of these actors themselves.

Most of the quotes below - from some of Israel's Zionist founding fathers and military, political, and intellectual leaders - can be found in the second edition of Eve Spangler's Understanding Israel/Palestine: Race, Nation, and Human Rights in the Conflict, along with their sources.

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Theodor Herzl, founder of the political form of Zionism: "Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. This platform is unchangeable."

"If you will it, it is no dream."

Yitzhak Epstein, a Russian Jew who moved to Palestine in 1907: "In our lovely country there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave... The time has come to dispel the misconception among Zionists that land in Palestine lies uncultivated for lack of working hands or the laziness of the local residents. There are no deserted fields."

And: "Among the grave questions raised by the concept of our people's renaissance on its own soil, there is one that is more weighty than all the others put together. This is the question of our relations with the Arabs. [...] This has not been forgotten, but rather has remained completely hidden from the Zionists, and in its true form has found almost no mention in the literature of our movement."

Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky, revisionist Zionist leader, author, poet, orator, soldier: "[It is the] iron law of every colonizing movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf. […] Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force."

David Ben-Gurion, primary national founder of the State of Israel as well as the state's first prime minister: "[L]et us not ignore the truth among ourselves[...]. [P]olitically we are the aggressors, and they defend themselves."

Moshe Dayan, Israeli military leader and politician: "What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza and before their eyes we turn into our homesteads the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived."

Aharon Cizling, Israeli politician and signer of Israel's declaration of independence: "Now we too have behaved like the Nazis and my whole being is shaken."

Yitzhak Shamir, former Israeli prime minister: "Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: "Ye shall blot them out to the last man" [...] But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play."

Amos Oz, writer and Israeli veteran of the 1967 Six-Day War: "There is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when the created the state of Israel."

• Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor: "Everybody is somebody's Jew. And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis."

Hannah Arendt, a German Jew who escaped from Germany after a brief imprisonment by the Nazis: "And even if Jews were to win the war[, t]he 'victorious' Jews would be surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interest and activities."

* * *

If you attack someone's home, expel them and occupy it for yourself, you do indeed face an existential threat from those who want their homes back. Those who were expelled face an even-more-drastic existential threat, for they no longer have a home base from which to defend themselves.

Today, Israel is a nuclear power. The nation has access to the latest and most deadly weapons known to mankind. The sheer power of this weaponry has changed the extent of the threat they face.

Palestinians would like to be able to defend their homes and land, but they don't have the same means as the Israelis to do so.

The United States likes to think of itself as a worldwide keeper of the peace and a beacon of democracy. Yet we are the creators of - and, so far, the only ones to use - nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

Our president has recently sidelined our hobbled and discredited vestige of democracy, the U.S. Congress, and has sent tank munitions to Israel as an executive (read: kingly/authoritarian) decision. These are the munitions that are slaughtering children and adults alike, every day, in a futile attempt to kill an idea - the idea that Palestinians will always fight for their freedom and their homeland.

This quote by Shimon Tzabar, from an op-ed that appeared in Ha'aretz in 1967, offers a fitting conclusion.

"Our right to defend ourselves from annihilation does not give us the right to oppress others. Foreign occupation results in foreign rule, foreign rule results in resistance, resistance results in suppression, suppression results in terrorism and counter-terrorism. Victims of terrorism are usually innocents. Holding on to the Territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. Let us get out of the Occupied Territories now!"

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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