The Narrative of Decolonization Misrepresents Historical Realities
It fails to provide an accurate portrayal of Israel's establishment and the Palestinian plight. (Guest author)
Achieving peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict was already a daunting challenge even before the harrowing attack by Hamas on October 7 and the subsequent military retaliation by Israel. The path forward appears even more intricate now, but the core objective remains transparent: the necessity for negotiations that lead to the coexistence of a secure Israel alongside a sovereign Palestinian state.
Despite the intricate dynamics involved in envisioning this future, one fact stands paramount: the act of taking 1,400 lives and abducting over 200 individuals, many of whom were civilians, is unequivocally reprehensible. The Hamas assault bore a grim resemblance to the ruthless raids of medieval Mongols, with the stark difference of being documented and broadcasted on contemporary platforms like social media. Disturbingly, since that fateful day in October, several Western scholars, students, artists, and activists have either downplayed, justified, or even praised these actions by an organization with a declared anti-Jewish genocidal agenda. Some expressions of support have been overt, others have been subtly cloaked in the guise of humanitarianism and justice, while some have resorted to coded language, including the ominous phrase “from the river to the sea,” an allusion that tacitly condones the elimination or expulsion of Israel's 9 million inhabitants. It's unsettling that in our modern era, we need to reiterate a fundamental truth: the act of taking innocent lives, regardless of age, is universally and morally indefensible.
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How can one reconcile the justifications presented by educated individuals who display such indifference and endorse such cruelty? A multitude of factors contribute, but many rationalizations for harming civilians stem from the prevailing ideology of “decolonization.” On the surface, this ideology dismisses the possibility of a two-state solution, which remains the most viable approach to resolving this long-standing conflict. This mindset is not only misleading but also perilous.
The stance of certain leftist intellectuals towards Stalin, as well as the leniency shown by aristocrats and peace activists towards Hitler, has always been perplexing. The modern advocates for Hamas and those who dismiss its actions draw parallels to these past ideologies. However, there's a distinct difference: today's apologists are confronted with undeniable evidence of harm inflicted on the elderly, teenagers, and children. Unlike the individuals from the 1930s, who eventually acknowledged the truth, these modern defenders remain unyielding in their perspectives. Their apparent disregard for human life is staggering. Almost immediately after the Hamas attack, numerous voices emerged that either trivialized the acts or outright denied any wrongdoing, portraying it as if it were merely a conventional military engagement against combatants. Those who negate the events of October 7, akin to Holocaust deniers, occupy a profoundly unsettling space in the discourse.
The decolonization narrative has reduced Israelis to such a devalued status that even otherwise discerning individuals seem inclined to condone, dismiss, or advocate for acts of violence. This perspective paints Israel as an "imperialist-colonialist" entity, frames Israelis as "settler-colonialists," and argues that Palestinians possess an inherent right to resist and even eliminate what they view as their oppressors. The events of October 7 poignantly illustrated the implications of this belief. Within this narrative, Israelis are often portrayed as "white" or "white-adjacent," while Palestinians are categorized as "people of color."
This prevailing ideology, influential within academic circles but meriting rigorous critique, is a volatile blend of Marxist tenets, Soviet-era propaganda, and age-old anti-Semitic notions that trace back to the Middle Ages and the 19th century. A driving force behind its modern-day traction is the contemporary discourse on identity, which interprets history primarily through a racial lens rooted in the American context. Within this framework, the assertion is that the "oppressed" are virtually incapable of harboring racist views, while the "oppressor" cannot be a target of racism. Thus, Jews are often deemed immune to racism due to perceptions of their "white" status and "privileged" position. This mindset further contends that Jews, being privileged, exploit those less fortunate—whether in the West via "exploitative capitalism" or in the Middle East through "colonialism."
The contemporary leftist discourse, characterized by its stratification of oppressed identities and a complex lexicon that often obfuscates rather than elucidates, has supplanted many traditional, universalist leftist ideals in numerous academic and media spheres. These erstwhile ideals include an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of human life and the protection of non-combatants. When this current form of analysis is applied to the intricacies of the Middle East, it frequently distorts or omits historical truths.
It demands a considerable suspension of historical awareness to overlook the enduring legacy of anti-Jewish prejudice that spans over two millennia since the destruction of the Judean Temple in 70 C.E. The horrifying events of October 7 are reminiscent of the chilling annals of anti-Semitic violence: from the medieval mass slaughters of Jews in both Christian and Islamic domains, the Khmelnytsky pogroms in the 1640s of Ukraine, and the Russian pogroms spanning 1881 to 1920, to the unparalleled tragedy of the Holocaust. It's concerning to note that even the Holocaust is occasionally misinterpreted in the public discourse. For instance, the comments made by Whoopi Goldberg, which erroneously suggested that the Holocaust was "not about race," are a testament to this. Such a perspective is not only historically inaccurate but deeply insensitive.
Contrary to the decolonizing narrative, Gaza is not technically occupied by Israel—not in the usual sense of soldiers on the ground. Israel evacuated the Strip in 2005, removing its settlements. In 2007, Hamas seized power, killing its Fatah rivals in a short civil war. Hamas set up a one-party state that crushes Palestinian opposition within its territory, bans same-sex relationships, represses women, and openly espouses the killing of all Jews.
Very strange company for leftists.
Of course, some protesters chanting “from the river to the sea” may have no idea what they’re calling for; they are ignorant and believe that they are simply endorsing “freedom.” Others deny that they are pro-Hamas, insisting that they are simply pro-Palestinian—but feel the need to cast Hamas’s massacre as an understandable response to Israeli-Jewish “colonial” oppression. Yet others are malign deniers who seek the death of Israeli civilians.
The toxicity of this ideology is now clear. Once-respectable intellectuals have shamelessly debated whether 40 babies were dismembered or some smaller number merely had their throats cut or were burned alive. Students now regularly tear down posters of children held as Hamas hostages. It is hard to understand such heartless inhumanity. Our definition of a hate crime is constantly expanding, but if this is not a hate crime, what is? What is happening in our societies? Something has gone wrong.
In a further racist twist, Jews are now accused of the very crimes they themselves have suffered. Hence the constant claim of a “genocide” when no genocide has taken place or been intended. Israel, with Egypt, has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over, and has periodically bombarded the Strip in retaliation for regular rocket attacks. After more than 4,000 rockets were fired by Hamas and its allies into Israel, the 2014 Gaza War resulted in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths. More than 7,000 Palestinians, including many children, have died so far in this war, according to Hamas. This is a tragedy—but this is not a genocide, a word that has now been so devalued by its metaphorical abuse that it has become meaningless.
While many attempt to frame the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in terms reminiscent of the Holocaust by labeling it a "genocide," the reality is different. Palestinians undoubtedly face challenges: a military occupation, hostility and isolated instances of aggression from settlers, a lack of constructive leadership within their own political ranks, indifference from neighboring Arab states, and historical decisions such as Yasser Arafat's rejection of compromise plans that could have led to an independent Palestinian state. However, these challenges do not amount to genocide, nor do they resemble the systematic extermination associated with that term. Israel's objective in Gaza is, among other reasons, to reduce the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. In contrast, organizations like Hamas have repeatedly indicated that increasing Palestinian casualties serves their strategic objectives.
For perspective: the global Jewish population has yet to recover to its pre-1939 numbers due to the atrocities of the Nazis. Meanwhile, the Palestinian population has been on the rise. One typical indicator of genocide is a decreasing population of the targeted group. In the broader context of the Middle East, the death toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1860, which involves both Arabs and Jews, stands at approximately 120,000. This contrasts sharply with more recent conflicts in the region, such as the Syrian civil war, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 individuals, predominantly civilians, since its inception in 2011.
The prevailing ideology of decolonization, promoted in academic institutions as a historical framework and echoed fervently in public discourse as a righteous ideal, fails to accurately represent current circumstances. Furthermore, it does not truthfully depict the history of Israel, as it purports.
Proponents of the decolonization narrative contend that Israel's existence has always been illegitimate. They argue this on the grounds that it was a byproduct of British imperialism and that many of its founding figures were Jews of European descent.
In this interpretation, Israel's foundation is perceived as being marred by Britain's unfulfilled promise of Arab independence and its fulfilled commitment to establishing a “national home for the Jewish people,” as articulated in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. However, the so-called promise to the Arabs was, in reality, a vague 1915 agreement with Sharif Hussein of Mecca. His ambition was for his Hashemite lineage to govern the entire region. One of the reasons he wasn't granted this vast empire was the overestimation of his family's regional influence. Nevertheless, the British did eventually grant three kingdoms—Iraq, Jordan, and Hejaz—to the Hashemite dynasty.
The imperial juggernauts of Britain and France, during their dominion, frequently made pledges to various ethnic groups, only to prioritize their own strategic objectives. The commitments made to both Jews and Arabs during World War I exemplify this trend. Similar assurances were extended to the Kurds, Armenians, and other ethnic groups in subsequent years, but most of these remained unfulfilled. Thus, the widely accepted narrative that Britain reneged on its commitments to the Arabs but upheld its promises to the Jews is an oversimplification. In the 1930s, Britain's support for Zionism waned. Between 1937 and 1939, it gravitated towards the establishment of an exclusively Arab state, sidelining the idea of a Jewish one. Ultimately, it was the Jewish armed resistance against British rule, spanning 1945 to 1948, that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.
The existence of Israel is not merely a product of this uprising, but also of international collaboration and legal frameworks—concepts traditionally endorsed by progressive factions. The proposition of a Jewish "homeland" was articulated in formal declarations by Britain (endorsed by Balfour), France, and the United States. This idea gained further traction in July 1922, when the League of Nations adopted a resolution that led to the establishment of British "mandates" over Palestine and Iraq, paralleling French "mandates" in Syria and Lebanon. Further legitimizing the partition, in 1947, the United Nations proposed the division of the British mandate of Palestine into two distinct entities: an Arab state and a Jewish state. The establishment of states from these mandates was not an anomaly. Following World War II, France recognized the independence of Syria and Lebanon, both of which emerged as newly-formed nation-states. Similarly, Britain was instrumental in the creation of Iraq and Jordan. Most countries in the region, with Egypt as a notable exception, were shaped by imperial designs.
Furthermore, the imperial practice of promising distinct homelands for various ethnicities or sects wasn't unprecedented. The French had once pledged independent states for the Druze, Alawites, Sunnis, and Maronites. However, they ultimately merged them into the modern-day territories of Syria and Lebanon. Historically, these regions functioned as "vilayets" and "sanjaks" (provinces) under the Turkish Ottoman Empire, with governance centralized in Constantinople from 1517 to 1918.
The notion of "partition" within the context of decolonization is often portrayed as a malevolent imperial tactic. However, it was a standard practice during the establishment of 20th-century nation-states, which frequently emerged from the remnants of collapsed empires. Regrettably, the birth of these nation-states often entailed massive population exchanges, extensive refugee movements, ethnic conflicts, and outright wars. Examples include the Greco-Turkish war of 1921–22 and the partition of India in 1947. In this regard, the Israel-Palestine situation was not an outlier.
Central to the decolonization discourse is the characterization of all Israelis, both past and present, as "colonists." This classification is inaccurate. A majority of Israelis trace their lineage to ancestors who migrated to the Holy Land between 1881 and 1949. Their connection to the region is not entirely novel. Historically, Jewish communities established Judean kingdoms and worshiped in the Jerusalem Temple for a millennium. Subsequently, though in diminished numbers, they continuously inhabited the area for the next 2,000 years. Essentially, Jews have indigenous roots in the Holy Land. If one supports the idea of exiled populations returning to their ancestral lands, then the Jewish return epitomizes this principle. Even skeptics who challenge this historical perspective or deem it irrelevant to contemporary contexts must recognize that Israel now stands as the sole homeland for 9 million Israelis, many of whom have roots spanning four, five, or six generations.
Most migrants who relocate to countries like the United Kingdom or the United States are recognized as British or American within their lifetime. Indeed, political landscapes in these nations are dotted with influential figures, such as Suella Braverman, David Lammy, Kamala Harris, and Nikki Haley, who have roots that trace back to parents or grandparents from places like India, West Africa, or South America. It would be incongruous to label them as "settlers." Yet, some Israelis, whose families have resided in Israel for over a century, are often branded as "settler-colonists," facing grave threats and violence. Advocating violence based on ethnicity is reprehensible, irrespective of the ethnicity of the perpetrators or victims. It is indeed troubling that some individuals who identify as "anti-racists" might appear to support such acts based on ethnicity. Many progressive voices argue that migrants fleeing persecution should be embraced and allowed to rebuild their lives in a new land. It's crucial to note that a significant portion of the forebears of today's Israelis sought refuge from persecution.
(While the "settler-colonist" narrative may not encapsulate the reality, it is undeniable that the conflict ALSO stems from an intense territorial dispute between two ethnic groups, each with valid claims to the land. As Jewish migration to the region increased, the Palestinian Arabs, some of who had inhabited the land for many centuries and constituted the majority, felt threatened by the newcomers. The Arab Muslim connection to the land is indisputable, as is their rightful aspiration for statehood. However, the early Jewish migrants primarily sought to reside and cultivate the land they regarded as their "homeland," without initial intentions of establishing a state. In 1918, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann met with Hashemite Prince Faisal Bin Hussein to deliberate over Jews living under the latter's reign in greater Syria. The present-day conflict wasn't preordained. It materialized as communal relations deteriorated, with the parties becoming unwilling to cohabit and eventually resorting to violence.)
The application of the "colonizer" label becomes even more questionable when considering the "whiteness" argument frequently found in decolonization discourse. Such a characterization is simply inaccurate. Israel boasts a significant Ethiopian Jewish population. Moreover, a bit over half of all Israelis are Mizrahi Jews—descendants of Jewish communities from Arab and Persian territories. They are unequivocally people of Middle Eastern heritage, with historical ties to cities like Baghdad, Cairo, and Beirut. They have been part of these regions for centuries, if not millennia, before facing expulsion post-1948.
It's worth reflecting on the significance of the year 1948—the year marking both Israel’s War of Independence and the Palestinian Nakba, or "Catastrophe." In the narrative of decolonization, this period is often equated with ethnic cleansing. During this time, marked by profound ethnic tensions, several Arab nations mounted an invasion to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and their actions inadvertently obstructed the formation of a Palestinian state, which was envisioned by the United Nations, albeit fervently rejected by the neighboring Arab nations. The Arab coalition aimed to either exterminate or evict the entire Jewish populace, a chilling objective that was vividly manifest on October 7. In territories seized by Arab forces, such as East Jerusalem, Jewish inhabitants faced complete expulsion.
During the tumultuous events of this war, a number of Palestinians were indeed expelled from their homes by Israelis; the majority, though, opted to leave due to the escalating conflict, while some remained and are now classified as Israeli Arabs, enjoying voting rights in the Israeli democratic system. (It's noteworthy that approximately 25% of the current Israeli population consists of Arabs and Druze.) The war resulted in around 700,000 Palestinians being displaced. Subsequent to 1948, an estimated 900,000 Jews were dispossessed from their homes in Islamic nations, with the majority settling in Israel. While these events are not directly analogous, and it's not my intention to foster a competitive narrative of suffering or establish a hierarchy of victimhood, it's evident that history is multifaceted and often more intricate than some interpretations suggest.
From this maelstrom, Israel emerged as an independent state, while Palestine's establishment remained unrealized. The foundation of a Palestinian state is a long-awaited development.
It's indeed striking how a relatively small state in the Middle East garners such fervent attention in the West, to the extent that students in Californian schools fervently chant "Free Palestine." Yet, the Holy Land holds a unique position in Western history. Due to its prominence in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, its role in the narrative of Judaism, the inception of Christianity, its significance in the Quran and the birth of Islam, and the historical weight of the Crusades, the Holy Land is deeply ingrained in the Western cultural psyche. These collective historical ties make many Westerners feel intrinsically linked to its fate. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, a pivotal figure behind the Balfour Declaration, once remarked that place names in Palestine "were more familiar to me than those on the Western Front." This profound connection to the Holy Land initially bolstered the cause of Jewish resettlement, but more recently, it seems to have pivoted against Israel. Many in the West, driven by a desire to highlight the misdeeds of Euro-American imperialism yet often lacking a comprehensive understanding of the nuanced history, have gravitated towards the Israel-Palestine conflict, viewing it as the epitome of imperialistic transgressions.
The contemporary world of liberal democracies, often referred to as the West, finds itself grappling with political stagnation, divisive debates over identity and gender, and a complex reckoning with its historical triumphs and transgressions. Strangely, this introspection sometimes translates into an affinity for forces that oppose democratic principles. In this narrative, Western democracies are consistently portrayed as deceitful, hypocritical, and reminiscent of imperialistic tendencies, while certain autocratic regimes or groups, like Hamas, are perceived as genuine champions against imperialism. Israel, within this perspective, becomes an embodiment of the West's perceived wrongdoings, leading to unparalleled scrutiny and assessment against standards that few warring nations, including the U.S., ever meet.
However, the decolonizing narrative isn't merely about double standards; it's more insidious in that it marginalizes an entire nation and can inadvertently condone or even glorify violence against civilians. Recent events have highlighted how decolonization has become the prevailing narrative in several educational institutions, humanitarian organizations, and within the artistic and intellectual community. Though positioned as historical analysis, it often devolves into a reductionist and distorted representation, bordering on ideological dogma. This narrative thrives in an environment where genuine historical accounts are overshadowed and where all actions by Western democracies are viewed through a lens of inherent deceit. Even though it doesn't have the nuance of Marxist dialectics, its assertive moral righteousness attempts to overlay a simplified moral structure onto complex geopolitical issues. Hence, when one encounters terms like “settler-colonialist” in literature, it's essential to recognize the polemical nature of such discourse, rather than equating it with objective historical analysis.
It is worth mentioning that the prevailing narrative, often devoid of nuanced understanding, inadvertently leads to a deadlock with catastrophic consequences. As James Baldwin astutely observed, a fabricated historical account is fragile, crumbling easily under real-life pressures, akin to clay.
This ideology, even if not explicitly named, permeates much of the media's coverage of conflicts and is evident in recent criticisms of Israel. The reactions from student bodies at institutions like Harvard and the University of Virginia, along with endorsements from prominent figures in the arts, demonstrate a concerning deviation from principles of morality and humanity. Equally disconcerting are the ambiguous stances taken by leaders at some of America's premier research institutions, revealing a disheartening lapse in ethical judgment and common decency.Αρχή φόρμας
A disturbing example is an open letter endorsed by numerous artists, including renowned British actors such as Tilda Swinton and Steve Coogan. The letter prominently cautioned against impending war crimes by Israel but overlooked the provocation: the tragic loss of 1,400 lives. In a compelling piece for The Times of London, journalist Deborah Ross expressed her profound astonishment at the letter's glaring omissions. She noted its silence on Hamas and its failure to address the "abduction and murder of individuals ranging from infants to the elderly, and even those innocently partaking in a peace festival." She poignantly remarked on the evident absence of empathy and humaneness. "Is it so challenging," she inquired, "to extend sympathy towards Palestinian citizens while also recognizing the undeniable atrocities of the Hamas offensives?" Addressing the artistic community behind the letter, Ross questioned, "What purpose does such a letter serve? And what motivates one to endorse it?"
The Israel-Palestine conflict remains an intricate challenge to resolve, and the introduction of decolonization rhetoric further diminishes the likelihood of achieving a mutual compromise, which appears to be the sole viable resolution.
Since its inception in 1987, Hamas has consistently undermined attempts at a two-state solution by targeting civilians. For instance, in 1993, its attacks on Israeli civilians sought to sabotage the Oslo Accords, which aimed to recognize both Israel and Palestine. Recently, the aggression by Hamas not only aimed to jeopardize potential peace agreements with Saudi Arabia, which might have uplifted Palestinian politics and living standards but also to challenge the Palestinian Authority, their longstanding rival. Furthermore, these actions align with Iran's interests, designed to limit Saudi Arabia's influence, and act as a deliberate ploy to incite a forceful Israeli response. Tragically, such tactics exploit innocent Palestinian lives, subjecting them to the collateral damage of political agendas, constituting another grievous violation against civilians. Similarly, the decolonization ideology, which negates Israel's right to exist and its citizens' rights to safety, hampers the feasibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
The challenge confronting our nations is resolvable: It's time for civic society and the majority, who are understandably disturbed, to step forward with assertiveness. Student radicalism, with its inherent attraction to revolutionary extremes, should not be our primary concern. However, the public displays of indifference in cities like London, Paris, and New York City, coupled with the apparent hesitation of prominent academic leaders to condemn acts of violence, underscores the implications of overlooking the issue and allowing the “decolonization” narrative to permeate our educational institutions.
Students and parents possess the agency to select universities led by individuals committed to clarity, not equivocation. Donors have the power to redirect their resources, a trend that's emerging in the United States. Philanthropists can reconsider funding humanitarian organizations headed by individuals who tacitly endorse acts that undermine human rights and target victims based on ethnicity. Movie-goers can consciously choose not to support films featuring actors who remain oblivious to heinous acts like the harming of children; studios have the discretion to not employ such actors. Within our academic corridors, this harmful ideology—endorsed not just by the misguided, but also by the trendy and well-meaning—has become a predominant stance. It's time for this perspective to be challenged and deconstructed for its historical inaccuracy and ethical void. Its moral bankruptcy is now evident for all to discern.
Educators, scholars, and the pillars of our civil society, including institutions responsible for funding and overseeing universities and charities, must confront and challenge an insidious ideology that lacks a foundation in the genuine history or current realities of the Holy Land. This ideology wrongly enables seemingly rational individuals to overlook or even justify the most heinous of acts, such as harm to innocent children. While it is everyone's right to protest Israel's (or any other country’s for that matter) decisions and actions, there is no justification for endorsing extremist groups, the deliberate targeting of civilians, or the propagation of menacing anti-Semitic sentiments.
The Palestinian people undeniably have legitimate grievances and have suffered grave injustices. However, their political leadership leaves much to be desired. The Palestinian Authority, governing a significant portion of the West Bank, is marred by corruption, inefficiency, and general unpopularity. Its leaders have been as ineffective and reprehensible as some of Israel's most controversial figures.
Hamas is a murderous death cult that hides among civilians, whom it sacrifices on the altar of perceived resistance, a perspective shared by some moderate Arab commentators (unlike their counterparts -some would argue Hamas apologists- in the West). Recently, the notable Saudi statesman, Prince Turki bin Faisal, firmly expressed his disapproval of Hamas's actions. He criticized Hamas for undermining the moral standing of the Israeli government, which, he observed, is not universally supported by the Israeli populace. Prince Turki bin Faisal also lamented Hamas's obstruction of Saudi Arabia's efforts to peacefully resolve the Palestinian issue. In a conversation with Khaled Meshaal, a representative of the Hamas politburo, journalist Rasha Nabil underscored the allegation that Hamas prioritizes its political agenda over the well-being of its people. In response, Meshaal drew a parallel between the sacrifices made during resistance movements, citing the heavy Russian casualties during their conflict with Germany.
Nabil exemplifies courageous journalism, standing out among Western reporters who often hesitate to critically assess Hamas and its actions. The romantic portrayal of members of Hamas by some Western perspectives is viewed as not only condescending but also echoes Orientalist undertones, especially when many Arabs hold a contrary view. Downplaying or denying the brutalities committed by Hamas does a disservice to the objective pursuit of truth. It's crucial for Western critics to heed the insights of moderate Arab voices rather than subscribing to a biased perspective promoted by a terrorist group.
Historically, some devastating events have led to transformative change. Leaders like Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin forged peace in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Similarly, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat reached an agreement following the Intifada. The horrific events of October 7 will forever be etched in memory. But one can hope that in the future, after Hamas's influence diminishes and divisive leadership ideologies fade, Israelis and Palestinians might find a path to mutual acknowledgment, informed by their shared tumultuous history. Peaceful coexistence remains the only viable path forward.
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