Palestine: The Greatest Moral Issue of Our Time – M. Reza Behnam 1/10/23


Long before South Africa filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice on 29 December 2023 over its genocidal war on Gaza, its iconic anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, who came to embody the struggle for justice worldwide; stated, “Palestine was the greatest moral issue of our time.”

Three decades have passed since Mandela expressed those sentiments.  They remain as relevant today as they were then.  Perhaps more so.

Mandela and fellow Black South Africans finally won their fight against apartheid beginning in the 1990s. Palestinians, however, have yet to be free from the shackles and evils of settler-colonial apartheid.

Palestinians have not lived free in their own country for over 75 years.  On 7 October 2023, they refused to live imprisoned for one more day.  And for three months now, in the rubble of bombed-out buildings in Gaza, they have challenged the powerful U.S.-Israeli war machines.

American politicians and U.S. media – themselves under a form of occupation through intimidation and groupthink – have reluctantly begun to break their silence on Palestine.  They have yet to clearly state that:  Israel is not a democracy, it is an apartheid entity; it is not a promised land, it is a settler-colonial project; it is not a nation under siege, it is an aggressor; it is not defending itself, it is conducting a genocidal war in Gaza.

The American enablers of Israel continue to call the slaughter of civilians and destruction of their homes in densely-populated Gaza a “war.”  Dropping over 40,000 tons of high explosives, some weighing 2,000 pounds, capable of killing and wounding people more than 1,198 feet away, must be described for what it truly is – Israel’s quest to systematically annihilate an entire population.

Seizing a people’s homeland is comparable to robbing them of their identity, history, culture and future. All of which Israel has tried to do since it declared statehood on Palestinian land in 1948.

Through their ongoing resistance, Palestinians have denied the Zionists their dream of an “Eretz” Greater Israel.  Not on our land, they say.

Palestinian identity remained steadfast under Ottoman rule, during the British Mandate from 1922 to 1948 and has grown stronger under Israeli apartheid.  They have a deep relationship with the land of Filastin (Arabic for Palestine), in existence for over 3,000 years.  With the introduction of Islam (in 7th century AD), it has been the nucleus of the Islamic world, a sacred land with Al-Quds (Jerusalem) its spiritual, geographical and political center.

Creating an ethno-nationalist state on the ruins of Palestine, as we see in Gaza today, is not new to the Zionist project.  Statehood at any cost was the primary objective of Israel’s founders, regardless of the casualties.

The genocide we are witnessing in Gaza is the culmination of over a century of European imperialism, European Zionism and American collusion and deception.  Expulsion and erasure are entrenched in Zionist history and is a pervasive sentiment in Israeli society today.

Zionist colonization and the roots of erasure began with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War.  After the war, the newly-created League of Nations granted Britain and France colonial authority (called mandates) over former Ottoman territories.

Under Article 22 of the 1920 Covenant of the League, the Fertile Crescent – present-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan (then Transjordan) and Palestine – were to be governed until such time as they could become independent.  All of the mandate countries achieved varying degrees of independence, except for Palestine.

A small cadre of influential European Zionists labored to make sure that Palestine remained under British control, knowing that the British Mandate for Palestine (officially adopted in 1922) incorporated the principles of the Balfour Declaration – a 109-word letter, authored by British foreign minister, Arthur James Balfour, declaring his government’s support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.  From the start, and throughout, the people of Palestine were never consulted.

The mandate system specifically stated that the territory entrusted to the mandated power be developed for the benefit of the native people.  In Palestine, however, instead of working in support of the Palestinians, the British, in collusion with European Zionists, established the framework and institutions for the creation of an eventual Jewish state on Palestinian land.  For example,  Article 2 of the Mandate reads: “The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home….”  Promotion of Jewish immigration into Palestine was also a mandate provision.

Additionally, Article 4  recognized the Zionist Jewish Agency as the public body to advise and cooperate with them (the British) in the administration of Palestine to affect the Jewish state.

No where in the mandate’s 28 articles was there any reference to the Palestinians as a people or to their national or political rights.  The British mandate essentially legalized their erasure.

After years of conflict, Britain terminated its mandate on 14 May 1948.   On that same day, Israel proclaimed its “independence,” and set in motion its “Plan Dalet” expulsion policy – euphemism for ethnic cleansing – to destroy Palestinian towns and villages and to repopulate them with Jews.

Russian-born Ze’ev Jabotinsky, influential Revisionist Zionist who provided the ideological map for Israel’s future Likud Party, expressed those same sentiments. Aware of the financial limitations of European Jewry, Jabotinsky wrote in November 1939  to a fellow party member: “We should instruct American Jewry to mobilize half a billion dollars in order that Iraq and Saudi Arabia will absorb the Palestinian Arabs….The Arabs must make room for the Jews in Eretz Israel.  If it was possible to transfer the Baltic peoples, it is also possible to move the Palestinian Arabs.”

Plan Dalet and what Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, referred to in 1938 as “compulsory transfer,” is clearly Israel’s scheme to depopulate Gaza.

Unlike the Nakba of 1948 when 780,000 Palestinians were violently forced from their ancestral land, the Israeli regime cannot furtively carry out mass expulsions of Gaza’s population as it did then.  It has, therefore, resorted to making Gaza uninhabitable and unable to support life.  To destroy the collective memory of the Palestinians, the Israeli military has obliterated entire neighborhoods, so there will be nothing recognizable; nothing to return to.

By denying the people of Gaza food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel, some Israeli officials, like retired Major General Giora Eiland – who continues to advise Israel’s defense minister – sees the spread of disease as a tool of war.  Eiland callously remarked, “Severe epidemics in the South of the Gaza Strip will bring victory closer.”

Israel’s plan is to make life so unbearable, that the people of Gaza will have no choice but to leave or die.  To effect its scheme, the Israeli regime has been laying the groundwork and attempting to build international support for permanent mass expulsions of Gaza’s civilians to neighboring Egypt and Jordan; thus far rejected by both countries.

Although he later changed course on Israel’s displacement plan, Biden had initially given Tel Aviv the green light to conduct ethnic cleansing in Gaza.  On 11 October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the administration was working with Egypt and Israel to create what he called a “humanitarian corridor” in the Sinai for Palestinians fleeing Gaza.  And on 20 October, an official funding request was sent to Congress to “address potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighboring countries.”

President Biden is one among many U.S. presidents who have shamelessly and brazenly embraced Israel.  The United States has been deeply implicated in Israel’s crimes against humanity from the beginning.  On 14 May 1948, President Harry S. Truman hastily issued a statement officially recognizing the new state of Israel – the first world leader to do so.  He released it to the press without first notifying his top ranking State Department officials and U.S. delegates to the United Nations.

In the foreword to Israel Shahak’s 1994 book, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Gore Vidal writes that “John F. Kennedy told me how in 1948 Harry S. Truman had been pretty much abandoned by everyone when he came to run for president. Then an American Zionist brought him two million dollars in cash, in a suitcase, aboard his whistle-stop campaign train.  That’s why our recognition of Israel was rushed through so fast.”

Since 1948, influential pro-Israel lobby groups have spent millions of dollars to insure that U.S. politicians never stray from supporting Israel. Their lobbying has also come to define the American political landscape.  Biden, for example, who prides himself on being an honorary Zionist, has been the number one recipient of Israel lobby money.  For his implacable support, he has, since 1990, received $4,346,264 from pro-Israel groups.

While publicly stating that it has stressed to the Zionist regime the importance of minimizing civilian casualties, the White House continues to provide the Israeli military with the bombs it has been using to exterminate an imprisoned population.  For the second time in December 2023, Blinken has approved the “emergency” sale of weapons to Israel; once again bypassing Congress.  Despite civilian deaths nearing 23,000, with over 57,000 wounded and 24,000-25,000 children made orphans by Israeli bombs, Blinken approved another “emergency” sale of weapons amounting to $147.5 million.

Contradicting his promise to “restore the soul of America,” Biden has thrown the country’s power and reputation behind the supremacist Israeli regime; a regime determined to erase the Palestinian people.  His decisions to shield, finance and militarily involve the United States in Israel’s war crimes are incomprehensible. It is unclear how America’s short-term, long-term or moral interests are served by Biden’s policies.

Israel’s barbarity has exposed its “might makes right” ethos, defined in the core writings of Jabotinsky, who set in motion Israel’s ideology of force.  Israel’s war on Gaza has also revealed the callousness of the U.S. government, well disposed to finance Israel’s genocide.

In his 1923 essay, “The Iron Wall,” Jabotinsky argued that morality and conscience could not dictate Zionist policy and that extremism and force were integral to accomplishing Jewish statehood.  His directive read: “Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force,” and that,  “It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot….”

Israel’s birth certificate has been stained with the blood of Palestinians.  It has no place in the Middle East until it puts down the gun and rejects the ideology of force and exclusion.

For over a century, Palestinians have endured untold injustices orchestrated by Britain, Israel and the United States.  The horrific crimes done to them can only be undone when the ongoing Nakba is ended and their fight against apartheid leads to a free Palestine.