A Retort to Bret Stephens

This WSJ article is making rounds declaring that “a culture that celebrates kidnapping is not fit for statehood”, referring to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers. With an assertion that one has to ask uncomfortable questions, Bret Stephens (the author) demands to know why Palestinians condone and celebrate the violence committed by some people among them.

Two things that came to my mind while reading the article:

a. The decree that a purportedly violent culture doesn’t deserve statehood.

Whether or not the Palestinian/Muslim culture is violent is a separate question altogether, but the assertion that for statehood a nation has to be non-violent is laughable. The very fundamental of any given statehood is violence. It is in fact, described as a social community that monopolises violence.

And also look who’s talking: a person coming from a nation-state built on the legacy of mass-murder, mass-kidnapping, mass-thievery, and at least two centuries of chattel slavery. But the same is the case of every other nation-state in the world. Each has a legacy of unspeakable brutalities committed in their name, and none have actually repented or gone through “moral rehabilitation”. India, Pakistan, ChinaTurkey, almost every other Western European nations, and any nation-state you name will have its own baggage of violence.

The author cites post-war Germany as having gone through moral rehabilitation, which in itself is questionable, but one can’t help but overlook the fact that anti-semitism was neither an indigenous invention of the Germans nor was it a patented ambition of the Nazi Germany. There was a reason why Hitler, Mussolini and Franco came to power, and were allowed to do the things they did against the Jewish people. There is a reason why almost all of the European nations were keen to have them leave for Israel. And there is also a reason why most of the Jewish refugees either left for the US or were sent to Mandate Palestine. I hope Stephens do not forget that.

b. The expectations of moral integrity from Palestine, without expecting the same from the Israelis.

Are the latter not guilty of condoning everything that Israeli state has done to the Palestinians, including the virtual disenfranchisement of an entire population, occupation of Palestinian homes, killing and displacement and forced impoverishment? Or is it so that because it’s done by the military and not average Israeli citizens it becomes legitimate? Maybe I misread him but at one point it seemed like Stephens was implying that getting killed by the military is different than getting killed by average people. Such blanket absolution for sovereign state militaries is quite common. We hear it in cases like Kashmir, Tibet, and Sri Lanka. And it’s such normalising and legitimising of state violence that is problematic, because it sends out a message that violence inflicted by any powerful authority is fine and justified.

Also such high expectations put on the colonised to be peaceful and morally upright, is reminiscent of the expectations of moral integrity and non-violence that the British colonial discourse had put on the Indian anti-colonial movement, especially after the Chauri Chaura Incident of 1922.


  1. Alex C. says

    Or is it so that because it’s done by the military and not average Israeli citizens it becomes legitimate?

    You should also remember that Israel has compulsory military service, so that the Israeli military is, in fact, “ordinary citizenry.” Deviation from the official line has very severe consequences for any upright Israeli there may be.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ Anish Nair : Please can I ask you three big questions :

    I) Do you really truly, honestly think this post is fair to Israel?

    2) Have you ever tried to imagine yourself in their shoes and empathise with them and how they perceive this issue?

    3) Are you aware that the Palestinians have already rejected a state of their own in previous peace talks several times? They were once – when Ehud Barak was Israeli PM and Arafat Palestine’s leader back in the early 2000’s offered 95% of what they demanded and turned it down in favour of resuming violence aimed at destroying Israel entirely.

    * Disclaimer : I am a strong supporter of Israel. I think the world’s one, only and tiny Jewish nation has a right to exist in peace unmolested by terrorism and from invading armies bent on its extermination. Israel has the right to decide its own future and its own people’s lives and protect itself and ts rights and own minute territory from those intent n massacring it. It seems to me that this view is not trendy, unfashionable , much attacked here – and yet is the ethically correct position. This is, of course, my humble opinion & others are free to make the case to the contrary.

  3. says

    To clarify, in the Camp David Summit the 5% land which the Barak government wasn’t willing to give the PLO included East Jerusalem, the territorial waters in the Dead Sea and the armistice zone near Latrun. One could have understood the Latrun area, but East Jerusalem with a clear Arab majority should justifiably belong to Palestine. Also demanding control over the Dead Sea area was just too much to ask for, knowing that there wouldn’t have been any geographic contiguity once Palestine gains independence. So the Palestinians did not reject statehood, they only rejected the sham of a plan.

    //I think the world’s one, only and tiny Jewish nation has a right to exist in peace unmolested by terrorism and from invading armies bent on its extermination. Israel has the right to decide its own future and its own people’s lives and protect itself and ts rights and own minute territory from those intent n massacring it.// You’re missing out one tiny little detail here. It’s someone else’s land. When taking an ethically correct position, make sure that you take an honest one. Israel is a settler-colonial nation-state, not to mention an apartheid state as well.

    Nevertheless, after more than six decades of existence, bringing down the state would only spell another international calamity. So Israel should exist, but within the confines of pre-1967 boundaries. It’s only fair for both parties at this point. For the expelled Jewish people of Europe and the displaced Arabs of Palestine. The exact same thing that almost all mainstream advocates for a Palestinian state have been demanding.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Okay. Thanks for clarifying there although I disagree with your view of what Israel is – don’t forget it has always been inhabited by, belonged to and special to the Jewish people as well. The Jewish link to the land goes back before any other existing peoples all the way to the Davidic Kingdom so to say the land belongs entirely to another group implying the Jewish people don’t have a legitimate claim to it … No.

    I strongly disagree with the accusation of Israel being an “apartheid” state because, among many other things, it provides Arab-Israelis with citizenship and voting rights and there’s even long been Arab-Israeli members of its Knesset or parliament.

    Also there were many peace plans and offers and talks that the Palestinians have walked away from over the many years of this conflict going all the way back to 1948 when the Jews accepted the UN partition of the former mandate and the Arabs rejected it and sent in armies bent on genocide. Launching first of the many and ongoing Arab-Israeli wars.

    There are competing historical narratives here and I just ask that you bear this in mind be and consider and treat fairly the Israeli one as well. It’s a conflict where both sides have admittedly done some great wrongs against the other and both sides can make a fair case for their side of the issue.

  5. says

    I maintain my stand that Israel is a settler-colonial nation-state and an apartheid state.

    Settler-colonial because a majority of Jewish citizens are of European origin. Ashkenazis, Sephardic and several South European Jewish communities are ones who had heavily invested and integrated into their respective local nationalities across Europe. They intermarried with the local population and even accepted converts. The original Judeo-Arabic Jewish population along with the local Palestinians (Muslims and Christians, many whose ancestors converted from Judaism), who lived there for generations had more authentic claim over the land than the European Jews. But the Zionist idea of Israel had clubbed everyone adhering to Judaism, as the original inhabitants of Israel. Just the way Buddhists and Muslims world over cannot claim exclusive rights over Bihar and Hejaz (respectively) by virtue of adherence to a religion, the same is the case for Jews and Israel.

    But to be fair, the European leaders were not that keen on taking the responsibility of the Jewish people and rehabilitating them to their actual homes, and with the creation of Israel the Allied-forces actually completed what the fascists wanted: they sent the Jews away.

    It is an apartheid nation because, the citizenship, while a natural right for the Jews, is conditional for the non-Jewish people, especially the Palestinian Arabs. While Arabs citizens living within the Green Lines are legally treated as equal, the Arabs living in the Palestinian territories are denied both entry and citizenship. Also since a large proportion of Israeli Arabs are related to Palestinians by marriage, their spouses and their children are both considered non-citizens. Also residents of Palestine being considered non-citizens are by default considered by the Israeli state as illegal settlers and hence are systematically being displaced to create space for new Israeli settlements. For the residents of Gaza, the treatment is special. They are blockaded and forcibly shut out from the outer world, with only humanitarian aid allowed inside and few square miles of fishing space, resulting in serious impoverishment (three-quarters of children in Gaza have been found to be malnourished) and virtual imprisonment of an entire city, which becomes a dart-board for Israeli missiles everytime they seek retribution. I might have to take back my labelling of Israel as an apartheid state. Because in South Africa apartheid was institued for the whites to benefit from the labour of Africans. This is something different since Israel doesn’t want the Palestinians to exist at all.

    And yes the 1948 War. A reaction for bifurcation of a nation, for the people of a foreign land, without even taking into consideration the opinions of the residents. Even when India and Pakistan were partitioned, it was after years of deliberation that leaders from both sides consented. How was Israel created?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *