Palestine: Should We Celebrate Settler-Colonialists For Refusing to Serve in the IOF?

Originally posted October 2012.

Jewish ‘Israeli’ refusenik Moriel Rothman receives widespread media attention as Palestinian prisoner Ayman Sharawna, facing imminent death on hunger and water strike, is met with silence. Should we even be celebrating settler-colonialists who refuse to enlist?

I, like many in the American Jewish community, am a Zionist ~ Moriel Rothman.

Recently, ‘Israeli’ refusenik Moriel Rothman was detained in ‘Israeli’ prison for refusing to enlist in the ‘Israeli’ Occupation Army. The individual action of refusing to enlist in the IOF is a commendable step. However with regards to such people we must take all of their actions and views in hand at the same time, to keep Zionism in perspective and avoid misplaced hero-worship – something which already seems to be happening in the activist community.

Should we celebrate a Jewish refusenik who settled in Palestine, and supports foreign Jews’ right to do so, thus usurping Palestinian land?

Though 23 year-old Moriel was born in ‘Israel’ and thus holds an ‘Israeli’ passport, he was raised in the United States for twenty years, is an American citizen, and settled in Palestine by choice.

Of his own admission, Moriel is in ‘Israel’ by choice(1): “I am here by choice“. In his Why I Refuse: On God/Love, Nonviolence and Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories(1) piece, he explains his reason for moving to Palestine after being brought up in the United States (emphasis mine).

And a word on my choice to be here: I moved here, to Israel-Palestine, like millions of other Jews over the last century, because I feel a connection to the people and to the land. I chose to be here. I chose to throw my lot in with the Jewish people, in the place on earth in which Jewish decisions- for better and for worse- have the most impact. I want to be a part of this society, and I want to make my contribution to this society’s safety, with the hope that we can break free from the cycle of violence into which the Jewish people was collectively launched, and to live up to the ethical ideals carved into our holy books and our historical memories.

I too feel a connection, a profound connection, to the people and the land of Palestine. I however, cannot settle here because I am not Jewish. The racist immigration policies of ‘Israel’ are in place in order to usurp Palestinian land and engineer the demographics of Historic Palestine, achieving a Jewish majority. Anybody who contributes to this mechanism is contributing in a concrete way to Zionism. Moriel, in his choice to settle in Palestine, is thus a Zionist by deed. The same applies to his forefathers who settled in Palestine as Zionists.

Most will argue that Moriel, like many other ‘Israelis’, was born here and is thus an ‘Israeli’ citizen with a right to reside in Historic Palestine.

This argument is not valid as it ignores the history of Palestine. Palestine was settled by Zionist immigrants who came to the land with the goal of usurping and ethnically cleansing the land. This cultivated in Al Nakba (‘The Catastrophe’, in Arabic) in 1948 wherein approximately 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homeland in a sustained campaign of terrorism, intimidation and murder carried out by foreign Jewish terrorists. This campaign continues to this day in a number of direct, indirect, and surreptitious ways.

This begs the question: do these people and their descendants have a solid moral claim to the land of Palestine? Moriel comes from a white settler-colonialist non-Semitic Ashkenazi family which has zero link to the land of Palestine, outside of religious fairy tales. They settled in Palestine as part of the Zionist colonial project.

How does the status of such people differ from the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, universally recognised as illegal by the world? Verily, the only difference is the amount of time that has elapsed since their initial settlement, and the fact that the illegitimate but globally recognised state of ‘Israel’ has been created on the land in question. Once a further sixty years has elapsed and Israel has officially annexed the West Bank, will we recognise the West Bank settlers’ rights to that land? I most certainly will not; this is what ‘Israel’ hopes will happen as it establishes non-removable facts on the ground.

To bring this full circle, ‘forty-eight’ (‘Israel’) is occupied just the same as the West Bank is, though Moriel only considers the West Bank as being occupied. The ‘Israeli’ citizens in forty-eight (excluding those who resided in Palestine before Zionism) are colonists and settlers – this is an incontrovertible fact cemented by the tragic history of Palestine.

In his ‘Why I Refuse’ letter,(1) Moriel hopes that his “action can be an example for others (including other immigrants from the US who have similar privileges and opportunities)“. By ‘immigrants‘ of course, he is referring to Zionist settlers – Jews who have chosen to settle in Palestine, utilising Israel’s racist immigration policies so that they can usurp Palestinian land as part of the Zionist project. All Jews who do so – regardless of their political views or how often they preach peace and love – are strengthening Zionism through its most central mechanism: the theft of Palestinian land and the attainment of a Jewish majority in Palestine.

Moriel’s letter(1) focuses heavily on non-violence. Something which escapes Moriel however is the fact that his (and his forefathers’) decision to settle in Palestine is inherently violent. The settlement of foreign Jews in Palestine results in the usurpation of Palestinian land and rights, and pushes Palestinian self-determination ever further away.

Moriel’s case has been covered by several media outlets and blogs including Mondoweiss(2) and Ha’aretz,(3) but of course the aforementioned issues are absent from the discourse.

What is absolutely unforgivable is the fact that, while thousands of Palestinians languish in ‘Israeli’ jails in unthinkable conditions – many being tortured and held in solitary confinement – the online community is focusing on the story of Moriel Rothman, a settler-colonialist who settled in Palestine by choice, strengthening Zionism in a concrete way. While Rothman is cruelly refused vegan food by the IOF catering services,(4) Palestinian Ayman Sharawna remains on hunger strike after more than 115 days. On Wednesday – three days ago – Ayman began refusing water.(5) This brave man is facing imminent death in ‘Israeli’ custody and what do we have from Mondoweiss and Ha’aretz? Deafening silence. We have failed as an online community, this writer included, to draw attention to this brave and selfless man’s struggle.

So the question remains: should we celebrate settler-colonists who refuse to serve in the occupier’s army? No. We should not. We should commend the individual action of refusing to serve, but only in the context of recognising and denouncing what these people have done and what they are still doing: the usurpation of Palestinian land.

Palestinian refugees are scattered all over the Middle East and the world. They still hold the keys to their former homes – long since razed to the ground and now with illegitimate Jewish towns/cities/settlements in their place, sanctioned by an illegitimate Jewish state. Foreign Jews can freely settle anywhere in Palestine’s occupied lands. How can the Right of Return be realised without liberating these stolen lands? We must never cease to draw attention to this ongoing process of colonisation, and cases like colonist Moriel Rothman’s should never obscure our vision.

Notes

(1) ‘Why I Refuse: On God/Love, Nonviolence and Israel’s Military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories.’ – thelefternwall.com, October 14, 2012
(2) ‘Moriel Rothman on why he refused Israeli military duty — ‘The Occupation is cruelty and injustice manifest’’ – mondoweiss.net, October 26, 2012
(3) ‘Israeli conscientious objector begins 10-day sentence for refusing to serve in IDF’ – haaretz.com, October 25, 2012
(4) Tweet from @MorielRothman (twitter.com/MorielRothman), October 25, 2012
(5) ‘After 115 Days Of Hunger Strike, Palestinian Detainee Stops Water Intake’ – International Middle East Media Centre, October 24, 2012

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