Israeli peace activist Amos Gvirtz explains how he lost faith in the Zionist project that brought his family to the country. He argues that the only way for Israel to find sustainable peace is to embrace the Middle East Peace Plan.

The breaking point for me in relation to Zionism came in the beginning of 1997. The Israeli army demolished the houses and evacuated Palestinian-Bedouin inhabitants of the Jahalin tribe, in order to expand the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This was during the period of the Oslo peace process. At a time when most of us were under the illusion that Israel had turned toward the path of peace, the state took advantage of our inattention to do the thing that most characterizes the Zionist-Arab\Palestinian conflict – it expelled people from their homes and lands because they were Palestinians, in order to settle other people in their place because they were Jews. I participated in the struggle against this crime back in the time of Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party government. The evacuation was carried out during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister. 

Every time I visit El Araqib, a Bedouin village which the Israeli government has destroyed more than 120 times so that a forest can be planted on its ruins, my anti-Zionist stance is reinforced. Every time I visit Umm el Hiran, where the Israeli government is busy expelling people from their homes and village because they are Bedouins, in order to settle other people there because they are Jews, the anti-Zionist stance I have developed is reinforced. And, to my horror, there are plans to do the same to more Bedouin villages in the Negev. In the occupied territories as well, I am continually confronted with efforts to expel Palestinians in order to expand Jewish settlements.

I grew up on a kibbutz founded by, among others, my parents, who were ardent Zionists. In the Jewish history classes I took in school I noticed a motif that constantly repeated itself: People were persecuted not because of their actions but because they were Jews living as a minority among other nations. The logical conclusion was that Jews needed to live in a state of their own, the State of Israel. And yes, until today I agree with the Zionists that the historical experience of the Jews living as a minority failed, and that accordingly the Jews need a state of their own.       

The first argument that I remember having with my classmates was around the question of how we as Jews, who suffered from continuous persecution as a minority, can persecute the Arab minority that lives among us. With the passing years, as my knowledge of what was happening to the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories widened, this question became more acute.

This was a long and painful process. The transition from acknowledging Zionism to opposing Zionism was not easy for me then, and it is not easy today. I cannot ignore the terrible history of my people. But neither can I ignore the moral and existential questions that stand beside it. From the moment Zionists got power in their hands, their governments have behaved just like the persecutors of the Jews in the past, ignoring every moral consideration. The application of sufficient international pressure to make the price they pay for such actions too high is the only thing that can prevent them from carrying out crimes against minorities and occupied populations.

And there is the existential issue. Today in Israel, more than any other place in the world, there is a huge effort to hurt us and eradicate our existence, because we are Jews. And this effort does not stem from anti-Semitism, it stems from the past and present actions of Israel. Israel, because of its actions, has turned itself into the most dangerous place for Jewish existence!

And here is a surprise: Since 2002 the Arab League, with the support of most of the Muslim countries, has offered Israel a peace agreement including its recognition and acceptance in the Middle East, in exchange for the return of the occupied territories and an agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. To my sorrow, what we have seen thus far is that Israeli governments prefer the policy of expanding territory over peace and the end of the existential threat against us by the Arab world.

For a long time Israel has taken an active side in support of the Sunni Arab countries in their historic struggle with Shia Iran. The deal is: we fight Iran for you and you don’t put pressure on us about our occupation and settlement of Palestinian and Syrian territories. Now, under American pressure, they make it open under normalization agreements, like those of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

This policy takes secondary enmity between Israel and Iran – which are separated by at least two countries – to a central one. We have to remember that modern wars are more between populations than armies. Right now, tens of thousands of missiles and rockets are directed against all the towns and villages of Israel for the case of war. The normalization agreements don’t reduce this danger but encourage it.

Amos Gvirtz is an Israeli activist in the fields of pacifism, nonviolence, peace and human rights. He writes weekly short reports – ‘Don’t say we didn’t know’ – about violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories and in the Negev (the southern part of Israel, home to many Bedouin). He has also published a book with the same name: Don’t Say We Didn’t Know (2019).

The views and opinions expressed in posts on the Rethinking Security blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the network and its broader membership.

Image Credit: Novella Lola Photography: Bedouin women at the destroyed village of Umm el Hiran, January 2017.