Zouheir Bahloul is an Arab citizen of Israel, a member of the Knesset for the ‘Zionist Union’ (once called the Labor Party) and a former radio sportscaster.
A few days ago he ignited a furor by saying that the Palestinian Arab who stabbed a soldier and then was shot dead while lying wounded on the ground was “not a terrorist:”
I agree the stabber is a murderer, but he is not a terrorist. My problem is when this word becomes too inclusive and turns every Palestinian into a terrorist.
Well, of course every Palestinian isn’t a terrorist, but why wasn’t this one? Later Bahloul clarified his meaning, digging himself an even deeper hole:
Bahloul said Israeli soldiers were “a symbol of the occupation” for Palestinians and asked why Jewish groups fighting British soldiers during the Mandate area could be considered as fighting for their freedom while Palestinians could not.
“What can a Palestinian, suffocating under the yoke of occupation for 49 years, do in order regain his freedom? The soldiers are, for him, a symbol of the occupation. Before 1948 there was the British Mandate here. Etzel, Lehi and the other Jewish organizations went out to the street to fight British soldiers and build your state, which is an amazing state. Why are the Palestinians not allowed to do so?”
Bahloul was attacked for his remarks by the Right, the moderate Left and the Center, all of whom understand well that there is no way a Jewish Israel in which the soldiers are everyone’s sons and daughters will accept them being legitimate targets. PM Netanyahu said,
MK Bahloul’s comments are shameful. IDF soldiers protect us with their bodies from bloodthirsty murderers. I expect all Israeli citizens, and members of Knesset in particular, to give them their full support.
Bahloul’s own party criticized him aggressively as well. “His statement established that he is not part of the Zionist Union,” said MK Eitan Cabel.
I beg to differ, MK Cabel! Bahloul is just expressing the logical consequences of the position held by his party. As the psychotic extremist of Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy wrote, Bahloul is indeed an “honest Arab.” The real problem is not Bahloul’s logic and honesty, but rather the wholesale acceptance of the ‘occupation’ narrative, according to which Israeli Jews are ‘occupying’ a land which is not theirs, ruling over ‘another people’.
This is deeply embedded in the beliefs of both Arabs and left-of-center Israelis. Cabel and Bahloul’s Zionist Union fully embraces this narrative, even when their leader, Yitzhak Herzog, says that it is “unrealistic” to end the occupation today:
I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution. I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.
The narrative does vary with regard to what is occupied. Bahloul’s mention of “49 years” marks him as a moderate occupationist, compared to most other Arabs who believe that the occupation goes back to 1948 and includes all of what the Jews call ‘Israel’.
The truth is that there is no occupation, except perhaps the ones operated by Hamas and the PLO in Gaza and Ramallah. The truth is that under international law, the borders of the state of Israel approximate those of the British Mandate, and its area was not reduced by the 19-year Jordanian occupation that ended in 1967. The truth is that the ‘Palestinian people’ is an artificial construct of very recent origin, developed in order to oppose Jewish self-determination in the land that was set aside for them in international law. Neither law nor justice is on the Arab side.
The ‘Palestinian’ who stabbed the soldier and was killed was therefore not a freedom fighter. He was an insurgent, a terrorist who is trying to overthrow a legitimate democratic sovereign in order to establish a racist apartheid state. Judging by Palestinian Arab propaganda in their official media and by their actions during the recent intifada, it would not be unreasonable to assume that their success would be accompanied by mass murder, if not genocide. This is hardly a just goal.
While it’s possible to understand why Arabs prefer the occupation narrative, it is hard for me to see why Jews – especially those who call themselves Zionists – would do so. Accepting it and, worse, negotiating with it as a basis, negates Zionism because it presupposes as a starting point that the Jews are here on land that belongs to the ‘Palestinians’, rather than the reverse.
A real solution to the problem of Jews and Arabs coexisting in close proximity can’t come from a historically incorrect narrative. In order to produce a just solution, we need to start with a correct description of the situation, including all of the historical, legal and demographic truths. And those are that Israel, a Jewish state of its indigenous inhabitants, holds the title to the land from the river to the sea; and that the Palestinian Arabs are not indigenous and not even a historic ‘people’.
I hope Bahloul will not be punished for his impudence in saying what Arabs think. Rather, this incident should serve as the starting point for a discussion about what Jews – particularly in a major ‘Zionist’ political party – think.