Salman Abu Sitta, a London-based Palestinian, recently attacked me, along with my cousin Adele Raemer, for living in a “denial bubble” about the nakba, the supposed destruction of his home by the “Zionist invasion of Palestine.” His one-sided attack, published on the anti-Zionist news website Mondoweiss, shows that the real conflict is not about the territories won in 1967, but Israel’s very right to exist.
It proves that while most Jews accept Palestinian nationalism, mainstream Palestinian rhetoric denies any Jewish claim to Israel – treating every Israeli as a “settler”(a word he used 17 times in his article).
Abu Sitta launched some petty gibes at me, all of which backfired. He sarcastically called me “the learned professor,” to mock me for calling Israel’s Green Line a “border.” He wrote that I “should have known that Israel never had a border neither by its own admission nor in international law.” I do. I also know English. A border is “a line separating two political or geographical areas, especially countries,” or “the edge or boundary of something.” To call something a “border,” one doesn’t need a formal peace treaty, just some demarcation between entities.
Yet Abu Sitta saved his harsher attacks for my cousin. Raemer, a heroic English-as-a-second-language teacher, has spent the last decade explaining to visitors and open-minded people worldwide what happened to her farming paradise, Kibbutz Nirim, when former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon tried making peace with the Palestinians by withdrawing from Gaza.
Abu Sitta doesn’t care that Raemer’s kibbutz is within the pre-1967 Israeli borders that the international community believes the Palestinians accept. He doesn’t care that she and her fellow kibbutzniks support ceding large amounts of territory to the Palestinians. He doesn’t care that his people in Gaza keep targeting Raemer – along with her friends, children and grandchildren – with rockets, flammable kites and terrorist attacks. And Abu Sitta doesn’t care about history, as he dismisses the 1947 UN partition plan, ignores the six Arab armies that tried to destroy the Jewish state in 1948 and discounts the rules countries have respected for millennia – namely, that military victors dictates the borders, especially if they were attacked first.
Instead, Abu Sitta insists “Palestine” was “my land.” Yet his imaginary timeline is wholly exaggerated, because the truth is that, while some Palestinians held the same piece of land for centuries, most were nomads.
In fact, most of them, like many Jews, were relative newcomers to Palestine at the time of independence, lured by the prosperity the Jews brought and the order the British enforced.
His timeline is imaginary because he treats the Jewish homeland as Europe, not Palestine. He ignores former justice minister Irwin Cotler’s insight that the Jews are the aboriginal people of the land. It is the Jews who have historically developed the same land, read the same book and spoken the same language. As Amos Oz wrote in A Tale of Love and Darkness, in Europe, “all the walls were covered with graffiti: ‘Yids, go back to Palestine,’ so we came back to Palestine, and now the world at large shouts at us: ‘Yids, get out of Palestine.’ ”
To see a colonialist enterprise that imported white settlers to displace the natives, go to Australia (or study Canadian history). Yet, while people might criticize Australia, no one questions its right to exist. Zionism was a homeland restoration project for Jews who kept their ties to their homeland for thousands of years – as well as a continuous physical presence there.
Proud Israelis like my cousin, who are fighting for their quality of life and the right to live in peace, are not in any bubble of denial. Those who think that all Israel should do is undo the 1967 war, and put their trust in Palestinian flexibility, are not just in a bubble of denial, but delusion.