What You Don’t Understand When You Ask About My Zionism

I had two friends over for dinner the other night, both who had served in the army as lone soldiers when I did. We started talking about the current Political atmosphere and how we see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation playing out. I mentioned that I don’t believe in a two-state solution; our Peoples, cultures, economy, ‘borders’ and identities are intertwined, and we can’t separate them. One friend responded by asking what I do believe in, and I said I am still formulating it, but I believe in some form of a one-state solution.

Yet, I haven’t given up completely on Zionism.

People in Israel rarely ask if you are a Zionist because it is assumed that, if you live here, you are one. Abroad, however, I have been asked that question many times, especially after I express my left-leaning opinions. I am never quite sure how to answer because they are usually asking if I believe in the validity of the Jewish state as it is structured today. I don’t. However, that doesn’t mean I am against Jewish self-determination.

The separation wall between Israel and the West Bank
The separation wall between Israel and the West Bank

Pre-state Zionist thinkers had a plurality of views on how Zionism could and should be carried out. Some believed in the creation of an autonomous Jewish state, which is what we have today, but many actually saw the potential perils of such a plan. Martin Buber, Asher Hirsch Ginsberg (Ahad Ha’am) and, of course, Theodor Herzl did not plan or imagine the Israel we know today. While Herzl would have been happy to settle another land, Ginsberg preferred to stress ‘cultural Zionism’ over an autonomous state and promoted the gradual building of a state. He also warned early settlers not to mistreat the local population.

In essence, Zionism as we know it, in the form of the State of Israel, is actually only one path that Zionist ideology could have taken. It is, I believe, the most oppressive path.

Over the years, I have come to realize something greater: I don’t believe that nation-states are a sustainable form of governance. They exist right now, but they will not exist forever, nor do I think that they are the best way to organize societies. Israel, as nation-state, is no exception.

Even so, as long as nation-states exist, I do believe that Jewish self-determination is just as legitimate as other Peoples’ desire to self-determine. However, a legitimate need for self-determination and a belief in the sanctity of the land of Israel does not necessitate the creation of a Jewish state on this land. Even so, since we are already in Israel and since many Jews came to pre-state Israel after the Holocaust, with Europe and other nations closing their doors on them, I do see value in the realization of Jewish self-determination here on this land. It’s 2016, and the reality is that millions of Jews live here. Where would we go? Nations aren’t exactly opening their doors to refugees.

A sign held at a protest saying free Palestine referring to both the 1948 war of independence/nakba and the Six Day War of 1967
A sign held at a protest saying free Palestine referring to both the 1948 war of independence/nakba and the Six Day War of 1967

Jews did not come to an empty land. When we created the state in 1948, we kicked people out of their homes and villages (and yes, some fled on their own accord, but they were still not allowed by Israel to return). This event in known in Palestinian history and society as the Nakba, and Israeli government officials have discouraged teaching about it and have removed the word from some textbooks in the Israeli school system (though some officials have supported adding it to the official curriculum). I can’t ignore this history, and I can’t support a state that exiled hundreds of thousands in order to build itself and to create a majority.

But I can believe in a place that allows for semi-autonomy for the Jewish people, as long as the same system and rights are in place for the Palestinian people and other minorities living on this land. I believe in free movement between what is currently Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Both Peoples consider Jerusalem to be holy, and so both people should be able to freely move within its city limits. In essence, I believe in a bi-national state, which could allow for both people to live on this land but to enjoy semi-autonomous representation. Today, we live in a state in which a different set of laws apply to Israeli citizens (mostly Jewish) and Palestinians. A Jewish person with citizenship and a Palestinian from the West Bank who both live in Area C (Israeli-controlled West Bank) are subject to a completely separate set of laws and judicial procedures. In order to create a just bi-national state, both Peoples would need to be subject to the same laws and rights.

So no, I don’t believe in Zionism as it exists in the State of Israel today because it favors Jews over others. But yes, I believe in the possibility of Jewish self-determination that exists in partnership with Palestinian self-determination on this land. That is not the Zionism most people discuss, but it is my Zionism.

About the Author
A feminist, LGBT and anti-racism activist, Becca Strober is committed to creating a more just society.