by Steven Salaita
Israel has been subject to some bad publicity recently. In 2008-09, it launched a brutal military campaign in the Gaza Strip that killed over 400 Palestinian children. In May, 2010, bumbling Israeli commandos murdered nine nonviolence activists on the relief flotilla Mavi Marmara. It only got worse for Israel when it was revealed that soldiers stole and sold personal items such as laptops from the ship. Last week, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil posted photos onto facebook showing her preening in front of blindfolded and despondent Palestinian prisoners, in some instances mocking those prisoners with sexual undertones. The photos were part of an album entitled “IDF—the best time of my life.”
While Abergil’s pictures may not seem as abhorrent as the Gaza and Mavi Marmara brutality—Abergil, for her part, described her behavior as nonviolent and free of contempt—all three actions are intimately connected. First of all, we must dispel the notion that Abergil’s photos are nonviolent. As with the Abu Ghraib debacle, a sexualized and coercive humiliation is being visited on the bodies of powerless, colonized, and incarcerated subjects, which by any reasonable principle is a basal form of violence; there is also the obvious physical violence of Palestinians being bound and blindfolded, presumably in or on their way to prisons nobody will confuse with the Mandarin Oriental.
More important, these recent episodes merely extend an age-old list of Israeli crimes and indignities that illuminate a depravity in the Zionist enterprise itself. What is noteworthy about Israel’s three recent escapades is that more and more people are starting to pay attention to its crimes and indignities. In so doing, more and more people are questioning the origin and meaning of Zionism—that is, the very idea of a legally ethnocentric Israel.
I would like to address this piece to those who have undertaken such questioning or to those who are prepared to initiate it. I would urge you not to limit your critique of Israel only to its errors of judgment or its perceived excesses; it is more productive to challenge the ideology and practice of Zionism itself. There is no noble origin or beautiful ideal to which the wayward Jewish state must return; such yearnings are often duplicitous mythmaking or romanticized nostalgia. Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.