WHAT IS SECURITY, WHOSE IS IT & WHO DECIDES?
I would like to use Israel as an example of a nation engaged in ongoing military conflict – with not only the Palestinian people, but its neighbours on all sides, ever since its inception, with the primary justification being the need for Israeli “security”. My focus will be upon Israelis and Palestinians.
Such a good question: What is security? My hunch is that it is the same for most people. The ability to attend to our basic survival needs for food, clean water, clean air and shelter, of course. Then there are our needs for psychological security: the need to belong, to feel safe, to have purpose, to make meaning of our lives, as well as to serve others. Underpinning those needs are our identity needs: we want to be secure to be able to be who we are as human beings. Those identity needs may be around gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ableness and more.
By imagining our physical world on the basis of outdated ideas of sovereignty and nationalism, we have narrowed our identity focus, shrunk it to borders and territories, and in so doing, we have lost sight of our common identity as humans on one small planet. We share many more similarities than differences with our global community.
So, in my view, the security needs of Israelis, specifically Jewish Israelis, are not different from those of the rest of us. Yet time and time again, the need of Jewish Israelis to feel secure in their own state is touted as the reason for ongoing violence/oppression of the Palestinians with whom Israelis live side-by-side.
The roots of this deeply embedded belief system (our safety lies in creating an “Iron Wall” against our enemies – Zev Jabotinsky) lie in Zionism, a 19th century idea, born amidst widespread antisemitism in Europe. The Zionist project in Palestine began well before World War II. It was doomed from the beginning by its embrace of an ideology that privileges one group over all others. By its very nature, it creates its own enemies. The Holocaust then acted as a catalyst, and despite serious concerns and dire warnings of non-Zionists, the Zionist project became Israel in 1948. (Prior to that time, a small minority of Jewish people had long lived peacefully with their Christian and Muslim neighbours in Palestine, part of the Ottoman Empire.)
During the 20th century, Zionism was intentionally conflated with Judaism – and taught in schools, synagogues, summer camps – so that for many Jewish people, their very identity became connected with support for Israel as a Jewish State. That idea is a basic tenet of Zionism, and to this day, that idea prevents Jewish Israelis from feeling secure. In fact, the majority live within a collective identity crisis that keeps them in fear and insecurity. If Israel has to be a state of and for Jewish people only, what about all the others who live there? What about the neighbours? Will they always be “the enemy”, out to “destroy” little Israel?
WHOSE IS IT?
This identity crisis which eats away at the idea of “security”, is by no means limited to Jewish people living in Israel-Palestine. Jewish friends have told me that acknowledging support for Palestinian rights in their family is as hard as coming out as gay/lesbian/trans, in a Conservative household. One pal was certain she had to keep her activism secret from her father or she’d be disowned. Others have told me of deep schisms within their immediate families over Israel. There are serious attempts in government and in education to conflate criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism. These folks are British, German or North American! How much harder must an anti-Zionist approach be for Jewish Israelis? Peace activists there risk banishment from their culture and their families.
For many Jewish Israelis who don’t support Zionism, however, the security need for belonging is met by joining another community – the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. There we see groups such as Zochrot, Israelis who research and commemorate Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948. Or the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, which tracks, witnesses, records, and gives tours of Jerusalem, exposing the brutal Israeli practice of Palestinian home demolition. ICAHD helps Palestinians rebuild as a form of resistance. Or Boycott from Within, young Jewish Israelis who see how Israeli government, society & business all contribute to the maintenance of the occupation. Defying Israeli law, they support the non-violent Palestinian call for BDS. These are a few examples of Jewish Israelis whose security lies in their integrity, in their belonging to a community whose values comport more with Judaism at its best than with Zionism.
The majority of Jewish-Israeli society accepts without question the need to use ongoing military means and a matrix of control to subjugate the Palestinians in order to protect their own security. Taking more land through military might, the settlement enterprise, annexation – none of this will make Jewish Israelis more secure. Until the rights of the indigenous Palestinians are recognized, resistance will continue in that region. This includes neighbouring countries, as the 750,000 Palestinians dispossessed and disbursed in 1948 are now 6 million people living in the West Bank, Gaza, the countries surrounding and beyond. No one is secure until all are secure.
My sense is that Palestinians are not motivated by revenge. After all, their security needs are pretty well identical to those of most of us. They are not determined to destroy the state of Israel. (Hamas’ threat within their Charter was deleted years ago.) They want recognition of what happened, their freedom, and peace with justice. Given that (by intention) there is no longer land for a Palestinian state, what will happen will be the end of the State of Israel as a Jewish State. When that bad idea is allowed to die, everyone can start working toward a truly democratic society, one that has freedom, equality and justice for all. Only then will all those living in Israel-Palestine find security. The right to be secure belongs to all.
As the Course on Miracles points out, we either come from a place of love or a place of fear. When our security needs are driven by fear responses, we’re locked into a self-fulfilling cycle. Ironically, the two million Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza are in certain ways more secure than the Israelis so close by yet living in another world – one that has reliable electricity, clean water, abundant food, housing, access to education, medicines, building materials and freedom – all of which are a daily struggle for Gazans. They are secure because they know that “the moral arc of the Universe always bends toward justice” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and that even though it may not be realized during their lifetimes, justice will prevail. Their practice of “sumud” (steadfastness) gives them an inner security Jewish Israelis cannot find.
The commons can decide to influence a state such as Israel to stop using military responses to address its security needs, primarily by ending financial support for its devastating agenda. The U.S. gives Israel a minimum of $3.5 billion/year. The community of nations can decide, by pressuring Israel to end its occupation, its siege of Gaza and its apartheid regime. We can all decide to support the non-violent Palestinian call for BDS. Israelis and Palestinians can then decide together what their form of governance will look like, and what constitutes security for all. There is no way out, only through.