Judea vs ’Fantasy Israel: Ilan Pappé on the Collapse of Israeli Pillars, and the Opportunities for Palestine
Israel’s legitimacy, in fact, its very viability, rests on two main pillars.
First, the material pillar, which includes its military strength, high-tech capabilities, and a solid economic system.
The above factors enable the state to build a strong network of alliances with countries that would like to benefit from what Israel has to offer: arms, securitization, spyware, high-tech knowledge, and modernized systems of agricultural production.
In return, Israel does not just ask for money but also for support against its eroded international image.
Second, the moral pillar. This aspect was particularly important in the early days of the Zionist project and statehood.
Israel sold to the world a twofold narrative: One, that Israel’s creation was the only panacea for antisemitism, and two, that Israel was built in a place that religiously and culturally belonged to the Jewish people.
The presence of an indigenous population, the Palestinian people, was initially denied altogether; then, it was dwarfed. And when the existence of the Palestinians was finally acknowledged, it was presented as an unfortunate coincidence.
Then, Israel, the self-declared ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, branded itself a generous peacemaker who is willing to resolve the problem by offering ‘concessions’ over its supposed right to the whole of historical Palestine.
Collapse of ‘Morality’
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the moral pillar upon which Israel was sustained began eroding, to the extent that it is now crumbling before our very eyes.
Some would say that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 started this process of erosion, while others look at the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987 as the transformative moment. Either way, Israel’s image within world public opinion has been changing for decades.
But what is often ignored is that, had it not been for Palestinian resistance and resilience, the legitimacy and morality of the Jewish state would have not been put to a test, where it is now being constantly examined against international law, common sense, and ethical behavior.
I would argue that as early as 1948 – when Israel was declared a state atop the ruins of historic Palestine – the facts on the ground became known to more and more people around the world. This has been a direct outcome of the efforts made by the Palestinians and their ever-growing solidarity networks.
Israel’s image – whether internally or internationally – as a democratic state and a member of the ‘civilized nations’ didn’t seem to match the new information. Increasingly, the so-called Israeli democracy was exposed as an apartheid regime, abusing Palestinian civil and human rights on a daily basis.
Still, the exposure of the true nature of Israel, and widespread public rejection of the Israeli narrative, did not seem to register among ruling political elites and governments around the world, whose attitude towards Israel remained largely unchanged.
On the contrary, governments in the global north are the ones leading the charge against the various solidarity movements with the Palestinians. They seem determined to suppress the freedom of speech of their own societies by legislating against civil initiatives which call for boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Tel Aviv.
The global south is not much better, where governments and rulers ignore the demand of their societies to take a firm stand against Israel. This includes Arab regimes, who are queuing to normalize their diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.
Until the latest November 2022 elections in Israel, it seemed that international silence and/or complicity had protected Israel from translating the shift in public opinion into concrete actions. The evidence for this was that the brave and truly impressive work of movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) has not influenced the reality on the ground even a bit.
Until November 2022, I assumed that the inability to translate public opinion into tangible politics was a result of the cynicism of our political systems all over the world. Now, however, I truly believe that only a change in the way politics from above are conducted will translate the incredible solidarity with the Palestinians into a formative power on the ground.
When Israel offered Germany missiles worth 4 billion euros and offered The Netherlands another kind of missile worth 300 million euros (to protect them from what, exactly?), political commentators in Israel argued that such weapons would serve as the best antidote against what they called the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
The Israeli media was actually proud to announce that arms allow the country to buy silence from Europe so that any words of condemnation of the atrocities Israeli soldiers and settlers commit in Palestine are not translated into action.
‘Fantasy Israel’ vs Judea
Yet, there is more. A certain Jewish electorate inside Israel even deceived itself – in fact, they still do – in believing that the West supports Israel because it adheres to a Western “value system” based on democracy and liberalism.
I call this construct ‘Fantasy Israel’.
In November 2022, Fantasy Israel collapsed for all intents and purposes.
The Israeli Jewish electorate, which won the election, never had much admiration for Western “value systems” of democracy and liberalism.
On the contrary, it wishes to live in a more theocratic, nationalist, racist and even fascist Jewish state; one that stretches all over historical Palestine, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Israelis call this alternative idea of the state, ‘Judea’, which is now at war with Fantasy Israel.
The people of Judea do not care about international legitimacy. Their leaders and gurus are highly impressed by Israel’s new allies in the world, be they the leaders of the far-right parties in the West or far-right movements in countries like India.
These nationalist and fascist leaders seem to admire the state of Judea and are willing to provide it with an international network of support. This has already translated into policy in countries where the extreme right is very powerful, such as Italy, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Sweden, Spain and, if Trump’s re-wins, then also the United States.
On the surface, it looked like a very gloomy scenario had unfolded in November 2022.
This, however, is not entirely true.
The failure of Fantasy Israel has exposed an intriguing nexus between the moral and material pillars.
It transpired that the neo-liberal, capitalist system has no reason to invest in the state of Judea if indeed it replaces Fantasy Israel. The international financial corporations and the international high-tech industry regard states such as Judea as unstable and risky destinations for foreign investment.
In fact, they are already pulling their funds and investments away from Israel. The BDS movement would have to work very hard to convince unions and churches around the world to divest from Israel billions of dollars in order to match the funds that have already been taken outside Israel since November 2022.
This type of divestment is not morally driven. In the past, Israel has served as an attractive destination for international financial investment regardless of its ruthless oppression of the Palestinians.
But it seems that the image of Fantasy Israel, and in particular the notion that its judicial system was able to protect neoliberal and capitalist investments, persuaded foreign investors to pour money into Israel with the anticipation of good dividends in return.
Now, the prospects of the state of Judea replacing Fantasy Israel is seriously affecting the economic viability of the Jewish state. Therefore, the ability of Israel to use its industry or money to influence other countries’ policies towards the Jewish State is more limited.
Time for Mobilization
The collapse of Fantasy Israel has also exposed cracks in the social cohesion, and in the readiness of many Israelis to devote as much time and energy to military service as they did in the past.
Moreover, the attack on the Israeli judicial system and the erosion of its alleged independence will expose Israeli soldiers and pilots to possible indictments as war criminals abroad by individual countries or by the International Court of Justice (ICC). Indeed, international law cannot intervene in domestic issues if the local judicial systems are considered independent and solid.
This is a rare moment in history that opens opportunities for those struggling for liberation and justice in Palestine.
In a meeting in Tehran, Iran advised the Palestinian movement Hamas and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah to refrain from any action and allow an implosion to take part from within Israel.
I disagree, though I don’t mean that there is, or ever was, a military possibility to liberate Palestine. However, this is a time to energize the popular Palestinian resistance and unite both the Palestinians and their supporters around an agreed vision and program. This mobilization is rooted in the Palestinian national struggle for democracy and self-determination ever since 1918.
The future liberated and de-Zionised Palestine may look now as a fantasy, but unlike Fantasy Israel, it has the best chance to galvanize locally, regionally and globally every person with a modicum of decency. It would also provide a safe place for anyone living in historical Palestine at the present or for whoever was expelled from there – Palestinian refugees around the world.
[Ilan Pappé is a professor at the University of Exeter. He was formerly a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Modern Middle East, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, and Ten Myths about Israel. Pappé is described as one of Israel’s 'New Historians' who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been rewriting the history of Israel’s creation in 1948. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.]