Is Israel today like Serbia in the 1990s ? An exchange
I received today a critical response to my post yesterday about the conflict in Gaza from my friend Jasmin Ademovic, who is an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is from Srebrenica in Bosnia. With Jasmin’s permission, I am publishing his letter along with my response to it.
Hope all is well. I just read your blog article on the Palestine-Israel issue, and felt that I had to comment, something I rarely do on websites such as the Guardian, New Statesman etc because ignorance or the belief of righteousness can rarely be defeated. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.
However, reading your article disappointed me, probably because it was from you. It seems that you’re willing to go further in condemning the Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo than you are in relation to the Israelis, which is somewhat upsetting because I see a level of similarity between the Republika Srpska and Israel, i.e the creation of an entity (with the hope of eventual statehood through policies of attacks and non-refugee return) and the state of Israel which has expanded over 60 years to what it is now. This has been achieved through ethnic cleansing; Ilan Pappe and my own former personal tutor Oren Ben-Dor describe it as genocide. However, after my dissertation I’m not as convinced as they are about this because of the difficulty in law in defining it.
Anyway, we can all agree on Hamas rocket attacks being probable war crimes and pointless. Personally I hope for the Palestinians to become more like the Black South Africans in terms of violence/non-violence as a tactic. However, saying that ‘given the equal justice of both…causes’ does not seem to be accurate – in 60 years’ time if Bosnian Muslims were firing rockets at the RS I would not be saying that the Serbs had a ‘just cause’ and neither would you.
And as far as the Hamas rejection of Israel – they have said they would recognise them (because it would be practical and necessary to do so) if they fulfilled certain criteria. Considering Israel always wants its criteria fulfilled before it ‘talks’ about ‘peace’ why should it be any different for the Palestinians after 60 years of aggression, repression and war crimes ?
I could go on forever, do another dissertation on this etc, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully you can make out some valid points, as I feel that was more of a rant.
All the best.
I do understand where you’re coming from, and I used to feel that way about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict myself. But I think there are important reasons why one should be more even-handed with regard to Israel and Palestine than with regard to Serbia and Bosnia or Kosova.
Firstly, nobody in Bosnia or Kosova denies the right of Serbia to exist as a state, or denies the legitimacy of the Serbs’ national existence. Nobody is threatening to wipe Serbia off the map. By contrast, what makes the Israeli case unique is the way that wide sections of the Arab and Muslim worlds have linked the Palestinian cause with rejection of the legitimacy of Israel as a state and nation, and a belief that Israel ought rightfully to disappear
Secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t just about the Israelis and Palestinians. The international campaigns in defence of Bosnia and Kosova were for the most part benevolent, progressive and democratic. By contrast, while one section of the pro-Palestinian movement is indeed progressive and democratic, the Palestinian cause has unfortunately been to a considerable extent hijacked by some extremely poisonous elements: anti-Semites, Islamists and other members of the extreme right and extreme left in the West; people who hate the US and liberal democracy, and interpret the Palestinian struggle against Israel in anti-Western terms.
Very often, these are the same people who have supported Milosevic and the Great Serbian cause for the same anti-Western reasons. This is an entirely negative and reactionary category of people. By contrast, I feel I have a lot in common with liberal Zionists who support a two-state solution; many liberal Zionists have been staunch defenders of Bosnia, and opponents of the genocide in Darfur.
Thirdly, whatever the faults of the Izetbegovic regime, it was not on a par with Hamas, which is an explicitly fundamentalist, anti-Semitic organisation. Izetbegovic favoured Muslim coexistence with non-Muslims in Bosnia; Hamas would like to wipe out the Jews or drive them into the sea. Its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians have to be seen in this context.
I agree that there are some parallels between the Republika Srpska and Israel, but ultimately the differences greatly outweigh the similarities.
Firstly, the Serbs before 1992 already had their own national state – Serbia – and an independent multinational Bosnia was an entirely reasonable compromise solution to the Bosnian Serb national question. Bosnian Serbs had traditionally viewed Bosnia as their homeland and supported Bosnian autonomy, and a part of them did, indeed, accept Bosnian independence in 1992. But the Jews have no national state but Israel, and there was no realistic alternative for the fulfilment of their national aspirations; a bi-national Jewish-Arab state in Palestine was not a serious possibility.
Secondly, whereas it was the Serb nationalists who rejected the moderate option and started the war in 1992, it was the Arabs who rejected the UN partition plan of 1947, which was the most reasonable compromise solution. After losing the Israeli war of independence, the Arabs then refused to make peace with Israel or recognise it. They thereby ensured that the Palestinian refugees would remain refugees, and their implacable hostility led directly to the war of 1967, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Of course one should condemn the Israeli ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians in the 1940s and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, but it is ultimately the Arab side that bears the greater blame for the outbreak and persistence of this conflict.
Finally, there is a practical reason for being even handed: the world is bitterly divided over the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; international efforts to resolve it will only be effective and have legitimacy in the eyes of the world if pressure is put on both sides. But as for your point about the desirability of Palestinian resistance evolving to be more like Nelson Mandela’s black South African resistance; I entirely agree.
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