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News > Interviews

A Necessary Debate on Relations Between Palestine and Israel

  • Palestinian mother cries before the body of her child killed by the Israeli bombing in Gaza, Nov. 14, 2023.

    Palestinian mother cries before the body of her child killed by the Israeli bombing in Gaza, Nov. 14, 2023. | Photo: X/ @s_m_marandi

Published 14 November 2023

"A genocide is being perpetrated in Gaza in the name of the memory of the Holocaust," historian Enzo Traverso said.

Through the YouTube platform of the Geohistorical Observatory Channel “Coordinadas”, the Argentine intellectual Martin Martinelli conducted an interview with the Marxist historian Enzo Traverso focused on the analysis of the relations between Palestine and Israel. This interview is presented below:


Jordanian King Warns Against Any Scenario of Reoccupying Gaza

Our intention is to reflect from a historical point of view, as thinkers and activists in the relationship we have not from academia but from interacting with society. How do you think about what is happening right now in France and recently in London, regarding the conflict in Palestine and Israel?

It is a tragedy that affects us deeply, that has a global impact and no one can say that they are outside of this conflict.

It would be easier to say that Islamic fundamentalists, on the one hand, and a racist government, on the other hand, are facing each other. Put this way, we would have nothing to do with this madness and we can worry about other things. That attitude would be ethically and politically unacceptable, and it would also be blindness. Since no one is outside this conflict that has a global impact. So, we have the obligation to face this situation.

It is a tragedy, to a large extent, that no one was expecting because they were taken by surprise, but at the same time, reflecting on the context, it is a tragedy that is part of the long duration of this conflict, which are not meteorites that fall suddenly, but it was predictable.

No one knew how Hamas' attack on Israel would happen, but an eruption of the conflict was foreseeable. Then we must reflect on the causes of what happened, the dynamics of what is happening today within which we have to take into account the emotional impact. It is not the ideal time to analyze the situation, we need the necessary critical distance.

We must try to analyze events with rationality and critical distance, but we must consider the problem of how to act in response to this. We cannot just say: we are analysts without worrying about what to do at this moment. Afterwards, we can discuss the nature of the attack and response, as well as the nature of the war itself that started. It is a debate that we have to develop.

How do you see the large number of popular demonstrations that exist worldwide? And the role of the media, including social networks.

My first reaction was that of a citizen, an activist and a researcher who has a political commitment. It was the reaction of a leftist man.

It must be said clearly that there is some confusion on this issue. Let us be clear that the Hamas attack was a massacre and I have no difficulty expressing my condemnation of this. I rely on a principle of left-wing culture, in the broadest sense of the word, which establishes the relationship between the end and the means. If the goal is the emancipation or liberation of an oppressed people, there are means of action that are incompatible with the achievement of this goal. Among them, the terror and massacre of civilians, which is why I condemn those events.

However, things do not stop at that because there is a context that must be taken into account and there is a reaction from Israel. I do not agree with the analysis made by many, which is taken up in the official speech of many heads of government, when they say that it is the largest pogrom against the Jews after the Holocaust.

This analysis aims to establish a connection between what happened on October 7 in Israel and the Holocaust, and implies establishing historical continuity. It suggests an interpretation that denies that this event is not the product of decades of occupation and exploitation of Gaza, that it is a huge open-air prison, that it is not the consequence of humiliations that Palestinians suffered for decades.

The idea that what happened on October 7 was the last episode of eternal hatred of the Jews is what is sustained by affirming the long duration of eternal anti-Semitism, which has several expressions: Dreyfus in France during the 19th century, the Nazis in Germany around the 1930s, then the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and now Hamas. That is a wrong and false reading.

Can we talk about a pogrom in the most general sense of the word? Is there indiscriminate violence against civilians? What happened on October 7th follows a lot of pogroms against the Palestinians, so we must be clear, because what happened was an explosion of hatred, but it has production conditions that are the oppression of the Palestinians.

Instead, what is happening in Gaza today is a policy that cannot be defined in any other way than genocidal policy. That is, a policy of planned destruction against a civil society, in which no distinction is made between combatants and civilians.

There are 2.5 million people who are locked in a space that is subjected to permanent bombings with the impossibility of seeking a place of protection. All the means, the most basic for survival, they are cut off: electricity, water, half of the hospitals are closed.

I know that talking about genocide is very complex, and I say this as a researcher. Because it is a concept that has a legal origin and whose objective is to distinguish the perpetrators from the victims, but its application in the social sciences is very problematic.

I also know that it is a concept that is very well known in Argentina, because it is used as a political weapon and as a concept to build victimizing memories or to stigmatize the adversary. However, there is a definition of the 1948 United Nations concept of genocide, which applies very well to what is happening in Gaza today.

So, the problem today is the ceasefire of this genocidal policy that is openly and explicitly defined as such by the ministers of this government: “they are animals”, “Gaza must be destroyed”, “Gaza must be made into a tabula”. rasa”.

In this context, what is new and what worries me is that in the past there were powers that were accused of complicity due to omission. There is a whole literature that talks about the United States and the Holocaust, which suggests that during a war in which Germany was destroyed, the United States was able to prevent the genocide and Holocaust.

They call this “complicity by omission.” And the same can be said regarding France during the genocide in Rwanda and many other examples.

Now we are in the presence of a policy of genocide, which is being implemented with the open support of all those responsible for the great countries of the Western world, who went to Tel Aviv to meet with Netanyahu to tell him that he has the right to defend himself and that they are agree with this war.

This also explains the breadth of anti-war movements in the United States. It is like the Vietnam War, that is, people are aware that Israel can do what it is doing because it has the United States as support, which left its weapons, two aircraft carriers in front of Israel. The most important thing, in this sense, is that the Jewish community in the United States is against this war, understanding that they are not doing it in its name.

What bothers me a lot is that there is a lack of decency. At this moment I am in Paris, which is the capital of a country very affected by what is happening, because here are the largest communities of Jews and Arabs in all of Europe.

The tensions are very strong, but there is a reaction to what happened, an anti-Semitic and prejudiced reaction that existed in the past, although it is fortunately declining, but that drives attacks on synagogues, schools, threats to personalities. That is Judeophobia and we must combat it. Many times it is the product of enormous confusion, so we see, for example, that they make graffiti on synagogue walls, thinking that in this way they act in solidarity with the Palestinians. The socialism of imbeciles has always existed and must be fought.

Proportions and distinctions must be established. That is to say, at this moment there is priority: stopping a genocide, not demonstrating against the anti-Semitism that is expressed in Europe.

There are several aspects to distinguish that they intentionally try to intermix: Judaism, Zionism and being Israeli. So, if one is anti-Israel he is going against a country; Anti-Zionism is being against Israel's expansionist policies, and anti-Judaism is Judeophobia that generates a stereotype. However, what we are proposing here is the analysis of what the Israeli army is doing. How do you relate what is happening to the concept of apartheid?

The denunciation of the apartheid state in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel is not new. It's been something since 1975 at the UN. Gaza is the maximum and incontestable expression of this situation.

I agree with you that at the same time there is great conceptual and political confusion. There is a new Judeophobia that is fueled by Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, and it is new. It is not the expression of eternal anti-Semitism but is a product of the crisis in the Middle East and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. This new Judeophobia, which is widespread in the Arab world and also in the world due to immigration, and the presence of a diaspora not only Jewish but also Arab and Muslim, can recover rhetoric and some stereotypes that belong to tradition. antisemitic

There is a widespread prejudice that considers Jews to be rich, the embodiment of the world of finance, but the subjects who have this discourse have nothing to do with traditional classical anti-Semitism. That is, the idea of Jews as a foreign body to nations defined ethnically or with religious traits.

The new Judeophobia has nothing to do with that, because the first victims are the minorities in which this new form of Judeophobia spreads. We must combat them by understanding their nature and their orientation. Otherwise, we fall into a cliché like that of the “new Nazis.”

I also agree when you talk about Zionism and the equation that is often made between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is another mistake. We must distinguish between an interpretation and analysis of Zionism in the historiographic field, that is, what is the history of Zionism and, on the other hand, the use of the word Zionism in political debate.

If we were to write a history of Zionism, we must recognize the complexity and heterogeneity as a current of thought, intellectual and political, and as an expression of a Jewish identity current that took on national features between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

At that time there was a large number of Zionisms, which the Germans called “cultural Zionism.” It was not the project of building a Jewish state in Palestine, it was the project of building a Jewish national community in Palestine, and it could have coexisted harmoniously with the Arab majority of Palestine, without creating an exclusive state.

There were Marxist Zionist currents as well, Borokhov for example; There was also a fascist Zionism that admired Mussolini; There were Zionists who did not look at Palestine but at Argentina or Madagascar, for example.

There are a great variety of Zionisms, but one simple fact cannot be hidden. There was a dominant current, political Zionism led by Theodor Herzl who created the movement by publishing a book whose title was “The State of the Jews”.

There he said that the Jews should create a state in Palestine, which would be a bastion of Western civilization against the barbarism in and of Asia.

It is this Zionism that won and structured Israel as a state that has more ethnic than religious features. And that after 2018, it is written in the Constitution that Israel is the state of the Jews. So this Zionism is the source of all the conflicts that took place in the Middle East.

Faced with a Zionist state that was built on these bases, I believe that a liberation struggle of oppressed peoples, which calls itself anti-Zionist, is perfectly legitimate. I believe that this anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and is compatible with the idea of building a binational state, or a plural political space in which Jews can peacefully coexist with Arabs.

It is elementary and basic that it belongs, more than to a project, to the nature of things in the global world of the 21st century, that thinking about a state delimited with ethnic and religious bases is an aberration throughout the world.

I would like to investigate your perspective on Russia and Ukraine, which aroused so much Russophobia and, in this sense, there were sanctions of all kinds. In this case of Israel, there is a kind of umbrella for this type of rejection and that is why it is important to consider what actions to take to clarify the situation. What do you think can be done?

International public opinion is disoriented in the face of the hypocrisy of Western governments because everyone had understood that Russia had attacked the Ukrainians in their legitimate struggle for independence. And now the same principles are reversed in the Middle East.

This causes extreme disorientation. Zelensky has also taken horrible positions towards Gaza. There is a situation in which nothing can be understood, and these mistakes are strengthened by government policies.

It is difficult to fight effectively against Judeophobia when there are governments that identify all Jews with Israel. Diaspora Jews bear no responsibility for Netanyahu's policy in Israel. However, there is a context that makes them complicit or co-responsible.

For example, in Germany two weeks ago, if you tried to withdraw money from an ATM, there was a notification on the screen that said: “the bank is in defense of Israel and against anti-Semitism.” So, this is the context so it is almost impossible to make the distinction.

All Jewish institutions practically participate in the war, so it becomes very complex, because the Jews of the diaspora are subjected to a kind of blackmail, like what happened a few years ago when all Muslims had to apologize for Daesh. This is the situation of confusion that is often constructed, which prevents acting in a clear and fruitful way.

Why do you think that what is happening now challenges us in this case? I call it the “epicenter of an earthquake.” The war against terrorism proposed by the United States seemed relatively calm and this, in some way, rekindles tension in the region.

We live in a global world in which there is no protected place that does not suffer the consequences of what is happening. All the states that are supporting Israel today are going to pay the consequences and we should not be surprised if there are attacks or attacks; if despair and humiliation produce reactions of hate.

Terrorism, historically, is the weapon of the fragile and weak, not of the great powers. They are the weapons of the most oppressed who have no more possibility of action. Terrorism is typical of asymmetric wars and massacres against civilians were typical of all national liberation movements. It was the practice of Jewish nationalism before the creation of the state of Israel. It is the history of national liberation movements but it does not justify their actions. You have to understand them in their contexts.

I think it will continue and there is no one who is an innocent victim. Thus, if there were horrible attacks in France, it was because France took certain positions; If there was an attack in New York it was because the United States had a certain policy.

And the victims of these attacks are innocent, it is true, but they belong to countries that have that responsibility. It's like the post-war reflection on German guilt where it was stated that it was something that affected everyone.

In Western societies there is an intrinsic racism that underlies the natural order of things. In France you get on a subway and the only passengers who are controlled by the police are blacks and Arabs; The same situation repeats itself if you want to rent a place to live.

We can also use as an example that, if you live in the United States, you drive your car calmly if you are white, but not if you are black, you are more likely to experience violent controls. In the case of Israel, for more than a year there were constant demonstrations against corruption, against the reform of justice and nothing about the Palestinian occupation, because it entered the natural order of things and after decades things like what happen happen. we know.

We cannot say “we are innocent” and all the countries that support Israel in its position that it has the right to defend itself is wrong, because today it is not attacked by a military coalition of Arab countries.

Saying that Israel has the right to defend itself is a way of saying that it has the right to build the segregation wall with respect to Gaza. Israel has the duty to respect international law that it has been disobeying for decades.

I would like to delve deeper, finally, into the questions of the new fascisms in relation to these movements in Europe and how they are intertwined like Zionism.

Tomorrow there will be a large demonstration against anti-Semitism in France, today another demonstration for Palestine. Who organized tomorrow? The government with the extreme right that while demonstrating against anti-Semitism, supports the genocide in Gaza.

The fight against anti-Semitism is turning and that is a tragedy. It is becoming the place of legitimization of the extreme right, which is historically anti-Semitic and today is the first to express its solidarity with Israel.

This situation creates enormous confusion because we are saying that a genocide is being perpetrated in Gaza in the name of the memory of the Holocaust. Thus, it is impossible to make a distinction between oppressors and oppressed; good and evil.

The consequences of this will be devastating because, until now, the memory of the Holocaust allowed us to fight against all types of discrimination and violence, but I fear that after Gaza, this political use of the memory of the Holocaust, the fight for human rights will be impossible.

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