June 02, 2008 By Gilbert Achcar
Interview with Gilbert Achcar
[This interview was conducted on May 20, 2008 by Foti Benlisoy and Aykut Kılıç for the critical review Mesele (Question), printed in Turkey. It is published in the June 2008 issue of the review.]
2008 is the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Israel and of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe. What do you see as the Israeli goal and has it changed over the years? What is the current Israeli strategy regarding both Gaza and the West Bank?
These are many questions. Well, first of all the continuity between 1948 and today is of course that of the initial and basic Zionist project of seizing the whole of Palestine, British mandate Palestine. This was only partially achieved in 1948, as the Israeli state was founded roughly on 80% of this territory. It was considered then as a first step only, as we know now from all the biographies, documents, and archives of the Zionist leaders and especially of Ben Gurion -- the first stage in a drive to control the whole land. Those conditions were fulfilled in 1967 when Israel invaded and occupied the rest of Palestine, to the west of the Jordan River. So since 1967, which is the second major turning point in the history of the conflict, the problem of Israel has been to implement the initial project that started in 1948 in the 1967 occupied territories through the building of colonial settlements, settler-colonialism. However, there was a major difference between 1948 and 1967 and that is the main problem for Israel today. The difference is that in 1948 80% of the population in the territories controlled by Israel fled the war. They were terrorized, directly or indirectly, and fled like any civilian population would do during a war. As everyone knows, they were prevented from coming back and became refugees, constituting a majority of the Palestinian people. In the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, however, the same process did not happen because the population had learned the lessons of 1948 and understood that if they fled their homes they would not be allowed to come back. Therefore most of them stayed this time. They had also learned from 1948 that they would not be massacred if they stayed: this is what they had feared back in 1948. Israel kept a Palestinian Arab minority within its territory after 1948 and since those who stayed then remained alive, the majority followed their example in 1967. Ever since Israel has been trying to solve this problem, which is the biggest problem it is facing: the population of the West Bank and Gaza. This population is itself composed of a large proportion of refugees from the 1948 territories in addition to the autochthonous people of the West Bank and Gaza. They are opposing and rejecting Israeli control over their territories. What Israel is striving to secure, since it cannot simply expel the Palestinian population, is control over the territory of the West Bank by means of a network of settlements, strategic and military posts, roads and walls, etc. in order to keep the Palestinians in separated enclaves under Israeli control in the same way that Gaza as a whole is a kind of enclave under full Israeli military control from outside, something like a huge concentration camp.
This is what many call the demographic dead end of Israel. Now Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic at the same time.