Israel is a threat to the entire region – Asa Winstanley/Middle East Monitor
The Zionist project represented by Israel is a fundamental threat to the entire Middle East. Despite the attempts by Arab dictators to demonise Palestinians and downplay the threat from Israel, many remain unconvinced.
In 2013, Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal told former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview that “the threat is from Persia, not from Israel”. The increasingly open nature of the Israeli alliance with the Gulf dictatorships is helpful in the sense that it clarifies things that many have long suspected.
But the way Israel has behaved historically throughout the middle east will not soon be forgotten by those who have been its victims. Israel occupied south Lebanon for decades and was only driven out in 2000 by a successful armed resistance campaign (although some small border territories remain illegally occupied by Israel).
Despite the way the Palestinian struggle has become the most iconic one against Israeli occupation and apartheid, there is no denying the reality of the threat that Israel poses to everyone in the region.
Historically speaking, Israel has started wars with every single one of its neighbouring countries, and has also been involved in covert and overt military actions in many other countries of the middle east, and even around the world, including military support and arms trafficking to repressive regimes in Latin America and Africa (including mutual support for the apartheid-era regime in South Africa).
As brilliantly documented in Shlomo Sand’s impressive book The Invention of the Land of Israel, the Zionist project has always been deliberately ambiguous about just how far its territorial ambitions reach. To this day, the state has no formally declared borders.
As Sand shows, Palestine “never served as a homeland for the ‘children of Israel,’ and for this reason, among others, [in the Hebrew Bible] they never refer to it as ‘the Land of Israel’” but as the land of Canaan. Later Jewish religious law “does feature the debut of the term ‘Land of Israel’ ” but, Sand explains, this was a “holy land” rather than a “homeland”. Most Jews did not seek to live there.
Zionism, the political movement, later sought to reinterpret Biblical stories for their own ends. Early Zionists drew on God’s promise in the book of Genesis to give the mythical patriarch Abram’s children “this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” in modern day Iraq.
In 1897, the same year as the first Zionist congress, Israel Belkind (“the first practical Zionist”) drew a map: “ ‘The [river] Jordan splits the Land of Israel in two different sections,’ asserted Belkind, whose assessment was subsequently adopted by most [Zionist] settlers of the period” .
David Ben Gurion, the future first prime minister of Israel and the leader of labour Zionism, later scaled back this more expansive conception of “Israel”, which threatens colonial Israeli occupation of countries from Egypt in the west, up to Iraq in the east.
But Yigal Allon, another leader in the supposedly left-wing labor Zionist movement, would, as late as 1979, refer to historic Palestine as “the western land of Israel.” Implicit in that statement is the perverse idea that the modern state of Jordan is the “eastern land of Israel”.
In other words, the indigenous population of the region should be driven out and/or live under the rule of Israeli occupation. The logo of the Irgun, the pre-state right-wing Zionist terrorist organisation that specialised in massacring Palestinians, clearly reflected this territorial claim, showing a map of Palestine and Jordan (then Transjordan) together as “the Land of Israel”. The group was integrated into the nascent Israeli army following its foundation in 1948, and today a museum in Tel Aviv is still dedicated to the extremist group.
But the even more maximalist, Egypt-to-Iraq vision of the “Land of Israel” has not gone away. Today one group of Jewish extremist settlers defines the “Land of Israel” as stretching “from the Euphrates to the Nile.” This would mean Israeli occupation of parts of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the whole of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and Jordan, and probably parts of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait.
While this so-called Sanhedrin council of Jewish “sages” currently has no formal power in the state, the interests of the so-called Temple Movement it represents are entirely sinister. This group of Jewish extremists wants to demolish the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and replace it with a temple.
Fanatics like Rabbi Yisrael Ariel lead these groups, and he has openly called for genocide of non-Jews across the entire region. Many such rabbis receive state backings for their work and military backing for their followers’ provocations on the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
As the tendency of Israel is to drift more and more to the right and more and more towards war, it must be recognised that Israel is a threat not only to the Palestinians but to all the peoples of the region.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.