The opinion piece by Nijmegen for Palestine propagates dangerous narratives about Israel, history student Daniël Schiepers writes. In this article, he responds to some of the claims made by Nijmegen for Palestine. ‘This article is not meant to defend everything Israel has done to the Palestinian people, but that doesn’t mean we should just start throwing around horrific terms like genocide.’
On the 24th of October ANS published an opinion piece by Nijmegen for Palestine calling for the Radboud to cut all ties with Israeli universities. The article, however, mentioned a few dangerous narratives which shouldn’t be accepted. The article routinely mentions that Israel is ‘colonizing’ Palestine. This narrative dehumanizes Israelis and has led to people excusing or even denying the barbaric violence as seen on October 7th. It paints Israelis as ‘settler-colonialists’, which in turn gives Palestinians the right to fight against their oppressors. British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore notes in his article ‘The Decolonization Narrative is Dangerous and False’ (which has inspired parts of this response and I implore everyone to read): ‘This ideology, powerful in the academy but long overdue for serious challenge, is a toxic, historically nonsensical mix of Marxist theory, Soviet propaganda and traditional anti-semitism from the Middle Ages and the 19th century.’ Simply put, this analysis of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is lazy and has no touch with history nor reality.
Narrative of colonization
This theory of colonization misrepresents the history of Israel and the suffering of the Palestinians. The narrative suggests that Israel has no legitimacy as a state, that it is yet another consequence of British experimentation during the period of decolonization, and that Britain kept its promise to the Jewish people to create a Jewish state and broke their promise to the Arab people. This is incorrect. Israel didn’t receive their independence because of Britain, in fact, even after the Balfour declaration in which the British government voiced their support for a Jewish state, Britain opposed efforts to establish said state. Britain broke their promise, just like they would break so many promises to so many other ethnic groups. It was a Jewish revolt against the Imperial power of Britain that led to the birth of the Jewish state.
Finally, the ‘colonizer’ narrative implies that the Israeli people don’t belong to the region. In reality, most of the Israeli population today are descendants from migrants to the region in the period 1881-1949, prior to Israel independence. Furthermore, the historical Jewish homeland is Palestine. Jewish kingdoms used to rule large parts of the area for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Migration of the Jewish people to Israel is the return of people to their ancestral homeland after centuries of oppression in the rest of Europe. As Montefiore notes, even the people who see the history of the Jewish people as irrelevant must acknowledge that by now, Israel is the only home of 9 million Israeli’s who have lived there for multiple generations. No one would describe (grand)children of migrants that arrived in the Netherlands before the Second World War as colonizers or settlers, they are seen as Dutch. Meanwhile, the Israeli people are seen as colonizers. Furthermore, around half of the Jews are known as ‘Mizrahi’ – descendants from Arab Jews that lived in cities like Baghdad and Cairo for decades if not longer, until they got expelled after the creation of the state of Israel. These people are neither settlers or colonizers nor are they white. In the end, the danger of the colonization argument dehumanizes an entire people and is used by people to excuse and celebrate the horrific acts seen on October 7th. Another quote by Montefiore follows who puts the danger in much better words than I ever could:
It is presented as history, but it is actually a caricature, zombie history with its arsenal of jargon—the sign of a coercive ideology, as Foucault argued—and its authoritarian narrative of villains and victims. And it only stands up in a landscape in which much of the real history is suppressed and in which all Western democracies are bad-faith actors. Although it lacks the sophistication of Marxist dialectic, its self-righteous moral certainty imposes a moral framework on a complex, intractable situation, which some may find consoling. Whenever you read a book or an article and it uses the phrase “settler-colonialist,” you are dealing with ideological polemic, not history.
Ultimately, this zombie narrative is a moral and political cul-de-sac that leads to slaughter and stalemate. That is no surprise, because it is based on sham history: “An invented past can never be used,” wrote James Baldwin. “It cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay.”
Another term used in the article is ‘genocide’. Israel would be performing a genocide against the Palestinian people. Israel, as of writing, is not occupying Gaza. It left the strip in 2005 after dismantling Israeli settlements, forcing Israeli citizens to leave their homes if they did not leave voluntary. Unfortunately for the citizens of Gaza, Hamas took control of the strip in 2007 after a short conflict with Fatah, the former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice-president at the American think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote an article in 2009 describing how Hamas had been ‘Talibanizing’ Gaza by limiting women rights, banning same-sex relationships, calling for the murder of all Jews, imposing sharia law and deploying religious police to enforce said laws. Meanwhile, any dissent and opposition are violently crushed by Hamas.
Just like many parts of the world shuns Afghanistan since the Taliban once again took overpower, the world should (and does) denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israel does as well. After Hamas took power Israel (together with Egypt!) has enforced a blockade of Gaza. At times, in response to semi-regular rocket attacks, Israel fired off their own rockets at Gaza. The blockade and these rocket attacks have led to a large amount of human suffering. More than 7000 people have died, living standards in Gaza are extremely low. It is not, however, a genocide. Currently, around 25% of Israel’s population is Arab or Druze. These people participate and have a voice in Israel’s democracy – not what you’d expect in a genocide.
Finally, the number of Palestinians continues to grow while a strong indicator of genocide is a decline in ethnic population. For comparison: the worldwide Jewish population is still lower than it was in 1939. It’s not a competition in who has had it worse and these facts won’t lessen the suffering the Palestinian people feel, whether it’s caused by Israeli attacks, oppression from Hamas or politicians (Israeli and Palestinian) making bad decisions by rejecting peace plans to further their own ambitions. However, the original article in ANS calls on the Radboud to be a ‘place of critical thinkers’ it wants to be. If you truly believe that, you can’t selectively use history to advance your agenda, especially when you start throwing terms around such as ‘genocide’ and ‘colonialism’.
Escalating circle of violence
After the declaration of Israeli independence, a period of ethnic cleansing followed, as was often the case when rival ethnic groups struggled for power. Around 700,000 Palestinians lost their home, around 900,000 Jews lost theirs, both in the Palestine region itself and surrounding Arab countries. Both sides committed atrocities which were not justified. Since then, we’ve seen an escalating circle of violence which so far hasn’t stopped. Any time both sides have come close to a solution, extremists on both sides have tried their best to sabotage whatever they can. An extremist Orthodox Jew murdered Israeli PM Rabin after Rabin signed the Oslo-accords. By using suicide bombings, Hamas tried to derail plans for the two-state solution as agreed on in the same Oslo-accords.
Even the attacks seen this month are another example of how, in this case Hamas’, hatred of the other side is more important than bettering the lives of their own people. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence these attacks happened around the same time Saudi-Arabia was going to recognize the state of Israel, something which would have improved the lives of Palestinians and would have given new life to the Palestine Authority. Hamas wanted to put an end to these negotiations by provoking Israel into an overreaction. So far it seemed like they succeeded, at the costs of Palestinian lives.
The article in ANS asks whether we ‘stand on the side of the oppressed who are taking an active stand against apartheid, settler colonialism and genocide’. It fails to mention that the people who are taking an active stand are Hamas. Hamas who murdered babies, children, elderly, who kidnapped hundreds of people. A terrorist organization whose only goal is the destruction of the Israeli state and people, no matter the amount of Palestinian lives cost. The truly oppressed Palestinian, who is suffering under both Israeli sanctions and Hamas’s rule is right now sheltering, fearing for their lives. They aren’t actively ‘taking a stand’. It’s quite interesting how the article tries to justify Hamas’ terror attack (‘as the Hamas attack on Israel and the resulting military response cannot be decoupled its historical context’) by painting a false, incomplete view of history and calling Israel ‘genocidal’ while not mentioning that Hamas itself is extremely open about its desire to exterminate the Jewish population.
‘Listen to students’?
Finally, the article asks the Radboud to ‘listen to its students’ in its call to end ties with Israeli universities, meanwhile, the article itself admits only 60 people attended their protest regarding this subject. Radboud University has more than 20,000 students and 6000 employees. It’s quite self-confident to claim that the Radboud should listen to its students when you can’t even muster a fraction of the student body in support of your cause.
This article is not meant to defend everything Israel has done to the Palestinian people. Israel has for a long time been pushing the boundaries on human rights and ever since Netanyahu took power they’ve cared less and less about these human rights. Especially Israeli’s policy regarding the West Bank, where the more moderate Fatah is still in power, is completely unacceptable. That doesn’t mean we should just start throwing horrific terms like genocide around when this is simply not the case. It’s dangerous and unacceptable for academics to simplify such a complicated conflict to an extreme case of black vs. white. Finally, I once again implore everyone to read Montefiore’s article. It brilliantly explains the history of the region and the situation in far more words than I did, while remaining neutral regarding the conflict.