Khals (enough!) In Palestine

The regime that will succeed the nation-state will not be the fruit of preconception or social engineering, but of sociological and political imagination wielded through transformative actions. (1)Gustavo Esteva

The chilling observations by Israeli historian Benny Morris in an interview recently published in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz (2) shed intriguing light on the real face of the Zionist rationale of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinians in 1948 under David Ben Gurion and its perpetuation today. His remarks also point out the utter hopelessness of the imaginary nation-state in resolving the conflict in historic Palestine.

But the bleak assessment of the future of ‘statism’ in Palestine, Morris suggests, can also be read against its own grain. Inverting his grim evaluation of Zionist history and the present impasse, anti-authoritarians must address the problem of reinventing politics in Israel/Falastin now — laying the groundwork for a kind of Jewish-Palestinian Zapatismo, a grassroots movement to “reclaim the commons.” Moving beyond the necessary preoccupation with the brutal Occupation, and resistance against it, will entail strategies of building direct democracy, participatory economy and genuine autonomy for the people, a new symbiosis of ta’ayush (togetherness). In that mix of anti-Power, Martin Buber’s vision of the “rebirth of the commune” could also be re-energized: “an organic commonwealth — that is a community of communities” (3). Advancing toward a ‘no-state solution.’

‘Systemic Bifurcation’?

Israel and Palestine may be entering what Wallerstein calls a conjuncture of “systemic bifurcation,” a “transformational TimeSpace,” when fundamental values and narratives are questioned and the “face of an alternative, credibly better, and historically possible (but far from certain) future” becomes visible. For Wallerstein, the end to the “process of endless accumulation of capital that governs our existing world” is leading to a “structurally chaotic situation —thoroughly unpredictable in its trajectory” on a global scale (4). In his diagnosis, this system is swelling into terminal crisis, unsustainable socially and environmentally, the most non-egalitarian order in world history.

In Palestine, the cumulative effect of the continued Occupation and its monstrosities, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and the implosion of internationally engineered ‘peace processes,’ has been system-shattering, at multiple fractal scales. Bifurcation there finds its literal icon in the Great Wall of Palestine being gouged into the land against the will of all Palestinians and many Israelis. Opposition to that Apartheid Wall, including direct action by new groups such as Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel and the grassroots Palestinian resistance initiative Stop the Wall, signals a new qualitative change in the deepening struggle. The views elaborated by Morris, who has been pushed to the nationalist right by the dynamic of bifurcation and violence, should be interpreted in that light. They are worth reviewing at some length to sense the desperation and reactionary dearth of vision of a key commentator at the present ‘liminal’ juncture.

Masks RemovedMorris is Israel’s preeminent historian of the Palestinian expulsion and catastrophe (al-Nakba) in 1948. Over several decades of research, he has carefully documented the numerous atrocities (the worst at Dawayima village near Hebron [5]) and systematic evictions committed by the Hagana in the ‘War of Independence.’ This pre-state precursor of the present Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was under explicit orders to capture territory to create the new state and ‘cleanse’ it (le-taher, the term repeatedly used in 1948 Hagana orders and field reports) of its native Palestinian population (6). He has long been considered a leading light of the ‘post-Zionist’ left in Israel. In 1988, he was jailed for refusing to serve in the territories. Yet now Morris has taken off his mask, expressing hard-bitten views that can only hearten Israelis on the extreme right. As his interviewer Ari Shavit notes: “the great documenter of the sins of Zionism in fact identifies with those sins.”

Alas, an ‘Incomplete’ Transfer

Morris praises Ben Gurion’s policy of population ‘transfer’: “Of course. Ben Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. —Ben Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”

But Morris ups the ante. Startling many Israelis, he accuses Ben Gurion of a colossal ‘mistake’: “Even though he understood the demographic issue and the need to establish a Jewish state without a large Arab minority, he got cold feet during the war. In the end, he faltered. —But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. —It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.”

Destroy or be Destroyed

Asked if he thinks ‘ethnic cleansing’ is justified, he replies: “A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.” And he does not think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes: “when the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it’s better to destroy. There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing.”

Cages and Iron Walls

In commenting on the Great Wall of Palestine now being built, Morris’s take is almost vicious, racist: “Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another. —An iron wall is a good image. An iron wall is the most reasonable policy for the coming generation. In the 1950s — Ben Gurion argued that the Arabs understand only force and that ultimate force is the one thing that will persuade them to accept our presence here. He was right —Preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts” (7).,

The Enemy Within

Speaking about his fellow citizens who are Palestinian, nearly 20 percent of the Israeli population today, and more than a quarter of the population of the Negev/al-Naqab desert where Morris teaches at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva/ Bi’r As-Sab’, he replies: “The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms, they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. — If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified.”

Dead End

Does Morris see any solution? Wedded to the notion that there must be two nation-states, he is totally pessimistic: “in practice, in this generation, a settlement of that kind will not hold water. At least 30 to 40 percent of the Palestinian public and at least 30 to 40 percent of the heart of every Palestinian will not accept it. —There will not be a solution. We are doomed to live by the sword. —Even if Israel is n
ot destroyed, we won’t see a good, normal life here in the decades ahead. —The whole Zionist project is apocalyptic. It exists within hostile surroundings and in a certain sense its existence is unreasonable. It wasn’t reasonable for it to succeed in 1881 and it wasn’t reasonable for it to succeed in 1948 and it’s not reasonable that it will succeed now.” He does not even consider the one-state, bi-national solution, an option now being rekindled in desperation by many commentators, both Israeli and Palestinian.

Barbarians at the Gate

Invoking racist arguments, Morris goes so far as to reiterate the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis, with Israel at its very forward outpost: “The Arab world as it is today is barbarian. —I think that the war between the civilizations is the main characteristic of the 21st century. —This is a struggle against a whole world that espouses different values. And we are on the front line. Exactly like the Crusaders, we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this place.”

Shavit then concludes: “Which leaves us, nevertheless, with two possibilities: either a cruel, tragic Zionism, or the foregoing of Zionism.” And Morris concurs: “Yes. That’s so. You have pared it down, but that’s correct.”

Reclaiming Commons: Harambee!

Morris’s dark assessment of the fundamental unworkability of the nation-state in Palestine is a powerful argument for the imperative of alternative vision: the need for a Zapatista’d movement to capture the imagination of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to move beyond the solution of conventional ‘governmentality’ and any ‘state.’ In a sense, this conflict is emblematic of the “perverse perseverance of sovereignty,” its “vicious, security-based ontology” (8). We have to turn that authoritarian ontology on its head, precisely where community has imploded and the commons is controlled on both sides of the divide by hierarchies of violence. We must strive to create a mosaic society of ta’ayush, founded on autonomy, direct democracy, participatory economy and the kind of neighborhood Household and Home Assemblies that Jared James envisions in Getting Free, generating a scalar geometry of peopleís initiatives from the bottom up, a network of dual power, the incubators of a new society of synergism (9). In the spirit of an Arab-Jewish harambee!, we must press ahead to a more egalitarian society of mutual aid (10) and advance a call for “non-hierarchy, confederated direct democracies, communal economics, social freedom, and an ecological sensibility”(11).

How that movement can be built at this historic impasse, itself perhaps a ‘transformational TimeSpace,’ is a topic anti-authoritarians need to be addressing (12). In the transition from the disintegrating capitalist world-system that Wallerstein foresees, there will be a period of conflicts and aggravated disorders, and what many will see as the collapse of moral systems. Not paradoxically, it will also be a period in which the “free will” factor will be at its maximum, meaning that individual and collective action can have a greater impact on the future structuring of the world than such action can have in more “normal” times, that is, during the ongoing life of an historical system (13).

Beginnings in Israel/Falastin can be small. Nodes for an anti-authoritarian sub-politics are necessary. There is one; the social-anarchist space now opened on the Israeli left by the libertarian affinity group One Struggle (Ma’avak Ehad) needs to be broadened, and extended into Palestinian society. Popularizing its anti-authoritarian values into a grassroots movement to prioritize equity, diversity, solidarity, and self-management within and across the communities in this internecine struggle (14). The focus on animal rights inside One Struggle (human and animal liberation) is a distinctive component many libertarian socialists would not espouse so centrally. But their overall analysis is congruent with core anti-authoritarian positions, and they are in daily motion and direct action against militarism, Zionism, the IDF and the Occupation. And, they are the principal group in Israel behind Anarchists Against the Wall.

A hundred flowers can bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend in this pluralistic imaginary — its very eclecticism a necessary amplitude at this juncture, as the manifesto of One Struggle stresses (15). Geographer David Harvey has noted that there is a time and place “where alternative visions, no matter how fantastic, provide the grist for shaping powerful forces for change. I believe we are precisely at such a moment. Utopian dreams —are omnipresent in the signifiers of our desires” (16). Khalas!


1. Esteva, Gustavo. 2003 “A flower in the hands of the people,” The New Internationalist, #360,

2. “Survival of the Fittest,” Ari Shavit interviews Benny Morris, ‘04 Ha’aretz, Jan. 9.

3. Buber, Martin. 1958 Paths in Utopia, Boston: Beacon, 136. Separated from their Zionist nationalist envelope, Buber’s ideas on communalism, heavily influenced by Gustav Landauer’s anarchism, are worth being retrofitted within a retrieval of Israeli libertarian heritage, itself feeding into the beginning of an Israeli and Palestinian people’s movement for a ‘Cooperative Commonwealth of Jerusalem.’

4. Wallerstein, Immanuel 1998 Utopistics, New York: New Press, 2-3, 89-90.

5. Morris: “a column entered the village with all guns blazing and killed anything that moved.”

6. See Morris, 2004 The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

7. The need for an ‘iron wall’ against the Palestinians is a slogan coined in 1923 by Zeev Jabotinsky, founder and ideologue of the movement and party Ariel Sharon now heads.

8. Burke, Anthony 2002 “The Perverse Perseverance of Sovereignty,” borderlands e-journal 1 (2),

9. James, Jared. 2002 Getting Free,

10. In Swahili, harambee means “let’s all pull together!” It is the cry in unison of the fishermen as they draw their nets towards the shore, the chorus when a collective effort is made for the common good. It can be adopted as a rallying cry for mutual aid on both sides of the divide in Israel/Falastin. See also Wallerstein, Utopistics, 92.

11. Alliance for Freedom and Direct Democracy 2002 “Manifesto,”

12. See my exploratory paper forthcoming in borderlands e-journal 2004.

13. Wallerstein, 35.

14. Albert, Michael. 2003 Parecon. Life after Capitalism, London: Verso, 4 ff.

15. One Struggle 2003 Manifesto, (Hebrew & partial English).

16. Harvey, D. 2000 Spaces of Hope, Berkeley: UCP, 195.


Bill Templer is a Chicago-born Israeli on the staff of the Dubnow Institute for Jewish History, University of Leipzig.