By Joseph Varilone, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.
In the Jan. 23 article “Viewpoint: Engage in Productive Discourse,” Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a student organization dedicated to the liberation and self-determination of the Palestinian people, was unfairly slandered by its author Max Heller, who inappropriately insinuated false things about SAFE as an organization and what we stand for. Heller’s accusation of SAFE propagating myths is directly contrary to the first-hand experiences and testimonies of the Palestinians themselves, and his historical analysis is predicated on colonialist assumptions.
Heller contends that it is “dishonest to claim the Israeli government is racist and expelling Israeli Arabs from their homes.” This is what made the Jewish state of Israel possible — the 1948 expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes during what Palestinians refer to as al-Nakba (the catastrophe). To this day, expelled Israeli Arabs continue to speak up about this reality. Perhaps more egregious is that Israel and the Jewish National Fund attempt to erase the record of the Nakba by planting trees over the sites of old Palestinian villages. It’s nothing more than a falsehood to claim that Palestinians were given a chance to live peacefully within Israeli borders. A quick look through the writings of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, reveals that his plans were nothing less than the complete ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians from their land to create a Jewish state. That’s precisely what he did.
Heller’s historical summary and analysis are predicated on the assumption that Jews were entitled to their own state in the land of Palestine, and since Palestinians were denying them this privilege, they deserved what they got. But why would anyone allow a foreign people to take ownership of their land and establish a state in which the indigenous people were not welcome? This is the reality: Israel, like the United States, is a nation founded upon colonialism and oppression. It is founded upon the killing and expulsion of indigenous peoples from their lands. It is founded upon entitlement, privilege, supremacy and ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians were never morally obliged to give Jews any of their land, just as the Potawatomi, Tolowa and the Lakota were never morally obliged to give up their land to European colonialism. All future peacemaking attempts must be viewed in this light. Israel has always failed to recognize the Nakba and the Palestinian right of return to their lands that were stolen. This implies that what Israel defends as necessary for national security is in reality its way of maintaining hegemony, colonialism and dominance in the region.
SAFE stands for human rights. We not only oppose Israeli colonialism and racism, but also the oppression of all people, wherever it may manifest itself. We don’t condone violence and we condemn anti-Semitism, but Heller inappropriately insinuates the contrary when he refers to Hamas and Fatah as terrorist organizations and subsequently questions our claim that we do not support or affiliate with them. We strongly affirm our statement that we do not officially support any political party, be it American, Israeli or Palestinian. This distracts discourse and resistance from the root causes of Palestinian oppression. Heller implies that since Palestinians have elected these parties to power, they have no right to self-determination. But this is akin to saying that since the Democrats and Republicans are both incompetent, the American people do not have the right to self-determination. What if Palestinians aren’t fond of either Fatah or Hamas, but view one of them as the lesser of two evils? Does this sound familiar? All peoples have the right to self-determination. If Israel is so democratic, then why do they oppose the right of the Palestinian people to determine their own future?
Israel’s supporters consistently oppose so-called unilateral Palestinian acts of resistance and self-determination, as they did during the Palestinians’ UN statehood bid last fall, and this is reflected in Heller’s response to SAFE’s walkout of Israeli politician Ishmael Khaldi. Supporters of Israel consistently oppose any form of Palestinian resistance that they do not have complete control over, such as the statehood bid, walkout protests and humanitarian flotillas. They only support dialogue, which has failed to achieve Israeli recognition of the Palestinian right of return. As stated in our Dec. 11 viewpoint, we don’t believe dialogue with one’s oppressor leads to liberation. Would explicitly racist U.S. laws have ended if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat down with white leadership and had a quick chat?
Would British imperialism in India have ended if Gandhi sat down with royalty and asked them to leave? We don’t think so, and for the same reasons, we know that dialogue will not free Palestine.