The liberation of Palestine and the fate of the Israelis

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio

Mondoweiss  /  April 25, 2023

What will happen to the Israelis in Palestine after Palestinians are liberated from Zionism? The choices facing the “Pied-Noirs” at the end of colonization in Algeria may give us an idea.

The following is a speech that was given by Eitan Bronstein Aparicio on February 11, 2023, at the “From the River to the Sea: Visions of Palestinian Liberation” conference in Brussels, Belgium.

The title of this conference, “The Liberation of Palestine from the River to the Sea,” might not be comfortable for some, even among sympathizers of the Palestinian struggle.  For me, this title raises the question, “liberation from what?” The answer is simple: liberation from Zionism. Liberation from the racist and colonial notion and reality that emerged with the national Jewish movement, born in the 19th century in Europe, and fulfilled its political project: a Jewish state in the Middle East. 

At its beginning, there were different Zionist views. For example, an idea to have a  Jewish community and culture in “Zion,” Eretz Israel in Hebrew, without establishing Jewish sovereignty. But eventually, it turned into a political entity of Jewish exclusivity,  both in the state of Israel and on all the land of historic Palestine. The indigenous  Palestinian population was mostly expelled during the Nakba, and today their stay, both as citizens and occupied subjects, is always conditioned. 

From this, Palestine should be liberated as soon as possible! Obviously, the Palestinians should be free from Zionism as they are its constant victims, but the Israelis also pay a price for being colonizers, mostly at the mental level. In addition, Jews worldwide are paying a price for Israel’s violent and racist policy as it increases hatred and antisemitism against them. 

I know that some may interpret the title above as “liberation from Jews in Palestine” and understand it to mean a Jewish-free zone. It’s difficult to blame Palestinians under occupation who express such wishes due to their daily suffering. But actually, the idea of getting rid of the Jews in Palestine only reflects the success of Israel in being perceived as the real and authentic representative of all the Jews in the world. 

I’m an Israeli, and I’m speaking here as an Israeli, though I have not lived there for three years. I’m an Israeli not only in the formal and legal sense and not only because I’m a Jew who lived in Israel for 55 years but because Israel is my home. I carry its language and culture with me; all my political activity is done in and towards Israel, and my kids and grandkids live there. In Europe, I’m a foreigner. I also feel for the Israelis, I care for them, and that’s why I’m doing what I can for them to be free from being the occupiers they have been since 1948. 

So, to return to the title of today’s event, we should think about what will happen to the Israelis in Palestine when liberation comes and justice and equality prevail. In that situation, there won’t be a compromise with Zionism, not only because it’s not a moral ideology but simply because there’s no way to compromise on power and land with those who see them as exclusively their own. 

But Israelis as humans can change and choose not to be Zionists, as happened to many of us, including myself. How could this ideological transformation take place? Our book, Nakba: The Struggle to Decolonize Israel, was just published in English (following Hebrew and French versions) and can be read as a manual for the decolonization of Israelis. Basically, decolonizing the self is an educational process. In Israel, it should involve unlearning the country’s history, studying Arabic, refusing to serve in the army, imagining the return of Palestinian refugees, and more.

From history, we learn that no colonial power gave up its rule just by acknowledging that being a colonizer is not a wonderful idea. Colonizers should be defeated, which I hope will happen soon to Israel. Hopefully, the defeat will result from economic, political, and cultural boycotts, as in the case of South African apartheid, but maybe the world will have to exercise physical violence or at least prevent Israel from its massive lethal weapons.  

And when the day of liberation in Palestine comes, Israelis will face a choice similar to that of the French “Pied-Noirs” in Algeria in 1962, when the peace agreement with  France was signed: to stay and live as equals or to leave and “go back” to the metropole in France. Algeria was their home, as it was colonized 132 years earlier so most of the “Europeans settlers” were there for several generations, close to double the number of years of the Israeli colonization in Palestine. Many of the Jews in Algeria lived there for more than 1,000 years. 

Most of them chose to leave Algeria. They ran away in panic, out of fear of the day their domination would be over. But in fact, there was no real existential threat to them.  They left because they were captive in their own colonial identity. In other words, they could not imagine a situation in which they would live in equality with the Algerians. And they paid a huge price for being uprooted from their home due to their own occupier mentality.  

Close to 1,000,000 French left within a few months, but 200,000 French decided to stay and live in the liberated Algeria. From their testimonies, we learn that they saw Algeria as their home, and they had no reason to leave. The colonial identity didn’t take them over. Hopefully, this will be the case with the Israelis, and many of them will decide to stay and live in equality and justice with the Palestinians in one state, trying to restore the relations between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Arab world. 

To end, I wish to raise an actual speculative hypothesis that also draws from the history of French colonialism in Algeria. Maybe today’s extreme right-wing government in Israel is heralding its end. In 1961, towards the end of French colonialism, a violent terrorist organization named OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète or “Secret Army Organization”) emerged and caused many casualties, mainly Algerians but also anti-colonial French, in an attempt to prevent the liberation of Algeria. So maybe now, the highly violent Israeli government, with some of its members being criminals even under Israeli law, is the sign of the last gasp of Zionism? Let’s hope so. 

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio founded Zochrot in 2001 and he is the co-founder of De-Colonizer, together with Eleonore Merza Bronstein