Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at St. Anthony's University, University of Oxford (Al Jazeera)

As the Israeli war on Gaza enters its third month, Israeli anti-Zionist historian Avi Shlaim, insists that the roots of that conflict go back to the beginning of the occupation, contrary to what is promoted by the official narrative of Israel, pointing out that the Jewish claim to the legitimacy of owning land on a religious basis is completely false in modern times, and criticizing what he calls the terrorism of the State of Israel and the doctrine of "if force does not succeed, use more force."

Shalayim is an Israeli-British historian of Iraqi descent who, for his outstanding scholarly work, ranks as one of the world's most prominent historians, and is one of the pioneers of the critical trend known as the "New Historians", for presenting a critical presentation of the Zionist narrative prevailing in Israel.

Professor Shalayem, a Fellow of St. Anthony's College and Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, was Director of Postgraduate Studies in International Relations in (1993-1995) and (1998-2001), and received the rank of Research Professor in (2003-2006) and in 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and has many academic books, most notably the book "The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World", so to the dialogue:

  • What were the foundations on which the Zionists established a state in Palestine? And why do you see it crumbling?

The Zionist claim to Palestine was based on very weak foundations and a distortion of the Palestinian reality, as a very clever Zionist slogan was employed at the end of the 19th century represented in "a homeland without a people for a people without a homeland" This slogan implies that the Jews are a people without a homeland, and this is a fact, but it is also a market for the idea that Palestine is a land without a people, and this is not true, in Palestine there was a vibrant Arab society for centuries, and the Zionist claim to Palestine is not convincing, because Zionism is a secular movement, invoking "the divine promise" to the Jews in the Promised Land", despite their lack of faith in God, as their invocation of this religious idea was only to find a justification for taking the land from its Palestinian owners.

The visionary of the Jewish state, Theodor Herzl, was a Jew from Vienna, after he wrote a pamphlet explaining his idea of the Jewish state in Palestine, the rabbis of Vienna met, collected some money, and sent two of them to Palestine to verify Herzl's claims. The two rabbis sent a famous telegram saying "The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man"; in other words, Palestine is beautiful but it has a truly vibrant people living in it.

  • Is it correct to claim land ownership on a basis that exceeds two thousand years to establish a modern state according to the elements of the modern era?

The claim of the Jews to the legitimacy of the acquisition of land on a religious basis is completely false in the modern era, in the presence of international law, international organizations, and international borders, a claim that dates back two thousand years is absolutely indefensible with the elements of modern times, because any other people is capable of reviving claims dating back thousands of years, such as the Muslims' claim to Andalusia on a historical basis, and this will revive an endless conflict around the world.

I do not deny that there is a strong emotional and historical connection between the Jewish people and "Zion" (Zion, one of the many names of Jerusalem), as it enjoys great religious symbolism for the Jewish people, and no one has prevented Jews from practicing their prayers in Jerusalem for centuries, which is the true embodiment of the final return to Jerusalem, and the acquisition of land has no legal basis to support it.

  • Can 1948, which saw the cultivation of the State of Israel, be considered the focal point in the history of the Middle East and the beginning of the conflict?

It is true that 1948, in which the world witnessed the establishment of the "State of Israel" and the occurrence of the first Arab-Israeli war, is a turning point in the modern history of the Middle East, but I would not choose that year to mark the beginning of the conflict, if I had to choose a date that embodies the beginning of the conflict, I would definitely choose 1917, the year in which Britain issued the "Balfour Declaration" in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, this promise is a really important document in which Britain devoted the political right to national self-determination. This is knowing that the Jews constituted only 10% of the population at the time, while the Arabs constituted 90%, and the Jews owned only 2% of the land, however, the British intervention enabled the Zionist movement to initiate the systematic seizure of Palestine, which continues to this day, so I would like to say that the British Mandate for Palestine from 1922 to 1948 is what enabled the Zionist movement to consolidate itself, declare "independence" and establish State of 1948.

Here I point out that I never question the legitimacy of the State of Israel within its borders that were agreed upon between Israel and its neighbors in 1949 after the end of the war, which are the only internationally recognized borders that I consider legitimate, but it cannot be denied that the establishment of the State of Israel involved a grave injustice to the Palestinians, which was mainly embodied in the "Nakba", which witnessed the displacement and displacement of three quarters of a million Palestinians, which embodied half of the Arabs who were in Palestine, and found It is undeniable that the Nakba embodied a real catastrophe for humanity and for the Palestinians.

It is undeniable that the June 1967 war was another historic turning point in the Middle East, as for the first time Israel had something concrete to trade with the Arabs for peace, as this war extended Israel's borders at the expense of Arab lands, seizing the Syrian Golan Heights, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. This situation prompted Jordan's King Hussein, to propose an end to hostilities, on Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal from the territories annexed in 1967, but Israel did not accept this, and began building its settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.

  • Why did Israel not agree to the Arab proposals for peace as you suggested, does this mean that Israel was opposed to peace from the beginning?

In the aftermath of the Arab defeat in that war and Israel's victory, there was a rapprochement between secular nationalism and religious nationalism, and both secular Israelis and devout Israelis felt that this was an opportunity to own the Land of Israel, transforming the "Land of Israel" from a mere concept, into a reality that would qualify for the establishment of a real state, through the integration of the West Bank into Greater Israel.

The West Bank, or as right-wing Israelis prefer to call it, Judea and Samaria, favors the rights enshrined in the Bible. Thus, it was the rise of strong nationalism in Israel that worked against a settlement, and settlements were one factor that was not only illegal, but also remained the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

It was a missed opportunity on the part of Israel, to establish real peace, and here I recall that the United Nations offered a formula for settlement through United Nations Resolution No. 242 in exchange for Israel giving up the territories it occupied during the war, when Israel applied the formula Resolution 242 in 1979, in events on a peace agreement with Egypt after its defeat in front of it, when it returned to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula, in exchange for establishing peace, Israel could have achieved peace as well with Syria if it had agreed to return The Golan Heights is fully Syrian sovereignty. Again, 1967 was an opportunity for Israel to offer land in exchange for peace with its neighbors, but preferred land to peace in the Palestinian case.

  • How do you evaluate the Oslo Peace Accords? Why did this agreement fail? Is the Israeli side responsible for the failure to establish peace?

I consider the Oslo agreement a very modest step in the right direction, and here I acknowledge that when the Oslo Accords, which marked the 30th anniversary of it, were signed, I was jubilant, as I thought that this agreement was the beginning of a real solution, because I thought it was an occasion to start the process of gradual and disciplined Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but I was wrong and now that the Oslo peace process has collapsed. The reason for the collapse of the agreement can be attributed to two different interpretations, the first explanation (the official explanation) says that Oslo collapsed, because the Palestinians returned to violence, and that it was the "terror" operations that destroyed the agreement, although Benjamin Netanyahu never accepted the Oslo agreement, and therefore rejected it from the beginning.

My explanation for the reason for the collapse of the agreement is that Israel retracted its position on the agreement, due to the killing of Yitzhak Rabin, and the return of the right-wing Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu to power in 1996, and the other reason for the collapse of the Oslo peace accords in one word is "settlements", the latter represents the embodiment of the seizure and theft of Palestinian-owned land, and here I mention that the seizure of land and the peace process never meet, so it can be said that Israel has shown its preference for "settlements" at the expense of peace.

Netanyahu also bears a very large share of responsibility for the collapse of the Oslo Accords, because when he was leader of the opposition he led a campaign of incitement against the government of Yitzhak Rabin, which was a democratic and elected government because of his strong rejection of the agreement, and his incitement ended with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and once he was elected in 1996, by a margin of less than 1%, he immediately proceeded to undermine and sabotage the Oslo Accords and restore Israeli control over the entire West Bank territory, the Labor Party built settlements only in areas it believed were Strategy, while Netanyahu's Likud party has built settlements throughout the West Bank in order to make a territorial settlement impossible.

  • Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements have spread in the West Bank to the point where there are about 750,<> settlers in the West Bank.

Israel has completely turned its back on the Oslo Peace Accords, as proof that its goal was not to move forward with the peace track with the Palestinians, because if it had aimed to do so, it would have supported a strong and unified Palestinian leadership, but Israel's policy, especially during Netanyahu's five terms as prime minister, has always been based on a policy of "divide and rule", even if at the expense of peace. Through its actions, Israel has shown that it does not want a real Palestinian partner for peace, because it wants to maintain its control over the region. Until its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, it was not part of a comprehensive peace settlement.

  • There is a smear campaign led by the Israeli and Western media against Hamas as a terrorist movement, what do you think about that, and how do you see Hamas?

For me, Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement, which emerged in 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada, and it is ironic that Israel initially supported Hamas to break the domination of secular nationalism represented in the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is an embodiment of Israel's old practices of the "divide and rule" approach, and this does not change my view of Hamas as an Islamic resistance movement to the Israeli occupation, and this movement succeeded democratically in 2006, winning free and fair elections with an absolute majority in elections in which all Palestinians participated.

But I also distinguish between the military leadership of Hamas, which committed acts condemnable to international humanitarian law, and the political leadership that took the parliamentary path to power, winning elections in January 2006. What happened recently on October 7 is a crime against Israeli civilians, an internationally criminal act that cannot be discussed, but this should also apply to Israel's killing of Palestinian civilians, as is happening now in Gaza, which in my view embodies state terrorism. But despite my condemnation of the mistakes of Hamas' military wing, I cannot classify it as a terrorist organization, and I tend to examine each case separately, and again if it attacks civilians, we are facing a violation of international humanitarian law, but if I attack Israeli military targets or soldiers, I will not call it an act of terrorism but resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Here, I affirm that people living under occupation have the right to resist the occupier under international law, and Hamas exercises the right to resist the Israeli occupation, which is the only element within Palestinian society that resists the Israeli occupation, because the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel in perpetuating the occupation. The Palestinian Authority is therefore a subcontractor for Israeli security in the West Bank, which is why it has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

  • Do you think Hamas is a rigid movement that has not changed anything from its early literature? What is the secret behind Israel and the West's rejection of Hamas?

Political movements and national liberation movements are evolving just as the PLO has evolved from absolute rejection of Israel to normalization with it, which was embodied by the signing of the Oslo Accords, and Hamas is a politician who has modified its position since the 1988 Charter, which embodied an ideological vision that may reach the point of anti-Semitism, but once it ran in the election game, Hamas seriously modified its position, formed a coalition government with Fatah, and called on the government to hold negotiations with Israel for a long-term ceasefire.

Israel refused to recognize the government formed by Hamas and engaged in an economic war to break it. Unfortunately, the United States and the European Union supported Israel in these efforts.

Western powers now claim to be there to promote democracy, and what happened with Hamas shows how hypocritical they are, because they say they want to promote democracy, but when the Palestinians chose Hamas they turned against them, what happened was a conspiracy involving Israel, the United States, Fatah and Egyptian intelligence to isolate and weaken Hamas, in order to overthrow it in the end, where he prepared a coup plan against Hamas, which prompted it to seize power in Gaza in 2007.

Israel refuses to accept Hamas as a partner in the negotiations, because it always feels threatened by it and will never negotiate with it, Benjamin Netanyahu's policy was to allow Hamas to rule the Gaza Strip, but with the containment of the Strip, this policy collapsed, because it was not possible to contain Gaza.

Israel refuses to accept Hamas as the representative of a large bloc of Palestinians, despite its realization that no peace agreement with the Palestinians will be reached without Hamas. So what needs to be done both by Israel and the Western powers is to recognize and negotiate with Hamas in order to reach a political settlement to the conflict.

  • Why is there no movement towards a peaceful settlement of the current conflict? Why does Israel insist on using brute force against civilians in Gaza?

Since 2007 there has been no movement or any step towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict, although the conflict is political between the two sides, Israel only uses brute military force to oppress Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, there is an Israeli saying that "if force does not work, use more force", but military force can never solve a political conflict, and Israeli generals use the phrase "mowing the lawn" in Gaza; meaning that Israel enters Gaza every few years with weapons. Very advanced and great technology, and in fact it causes an enormous amount of damage, not only to Hamas and its military capabilities, but also to civilians, the population and civilian infrastructure. "Mowing" is a mechanical act that Israel occasionally undertakes in order to create a setback inside Gaza, but what must be acknowledged is that this approach has expressed a complete failure.

  • Does it acknowledge Israel's distortion of the narratives of reality in Gaza and Palestine using its domestic media tools as well as Western media tools?

Israeli propaganda is an embodiment of the people's ignorance apparatus, which completely ignores that Hamas was democratically chosen by the Palestinians, the reality confirmed that Hamas tried the path of politics, but Israel tightened its closure, what Israel ignores and does not want its media to show, is that the Palestinians are a people like other peoples who love to live freely and with dignity on their land, and Israel is the one who prevents this, by launching successive attacks on Gaza, the first of which was Operation "Cast Lead" (the "Battle of Al-Furqan" as the Hamas resistance calls it) in 2008. In <>, what is happening in Gaza today from the Israeli attack is the sixth aggression against the people of Gaza, which confirms that all that Israel possesses is "violence" only, so it resorts to demonizing Palestinians systematically by discrediting Palestinians as terrorists.

The danger of dehumanizing an entire people as Israel is doing to the Palestinians is that it paves the way for ethnic cleansing and genocide, and what we are witnessing today in Gaza is the embodiment of Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

  • What is the responsibility of the West, especially the United States, towards what is happening to the civilians in Gaza? Will its marketing of Hamas as a terrorist organization help to find a solution to the crisis?

The Western perception of the conflict is far from reality, it is clear to everyone that the victims of this conflict are not Israelis, but Palestinians, and here I want to emphasize that the West bears a large share of responsibility for the existing impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, because the West is completely biased towards the Israeli thesis, America in particular gives Israel financial support, weapons and diplomatic protection, which is unconditional support, with anything until Israel complies with international law, or respects the human rights of the Palestinian people, this support encourages Israel to commit More war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians.

The recent support of Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and other European leaders towards Israel without calling on Israel to cease fire has now worsened the responsibility of Israel and Western countries, while Hamas has taken the initiative to trade the release of civilian prisoners in exchange for a ceasefire, which Israel has rejected.

Returning to the events of October 7, Israel has intensified its blockade and committed war crimes by cutting off water, food, electricity, fuel, and medical supplies to Gazans. Therefore, the conflict did not begin on 7 October, and Hamas's actions should be seen as an act of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

  • How do you explain Netanyahu's continued prime minister in Israel for more than 15 years, despite the fact that these years have witnessed a rise in the level of bloodshed in crimes committed against Palestinian civilians, mainly against Palestinian civilians?

There are many reasons for Netanyahu's political success throughout his tenure as prime minister for the last 15 years, most notably his manipulation of the sense of threat that he creates for the Israelis, Netanyahu is fed by the balance of demonizing the Palestinians in front of the Israelis and considering them and Iran an existential threat to Israel, despite the fact that Israel is the one who monopolizes nuclear weapons, and is the one who threatens Iran, which left Iranians feeling the need to acquire nuclear weapons to confront the Israeli threat.

This is also what he does in front of Hamas, which Netanyahu repeatedly markets as an existential threat to Israel, and the reality confirms that Hamas is a very small and poorly equipped organization, and does not pose any existential threat to Israel's security, and what it is doing is resistance in order to defend some of the basic rights of the Palestinian people, and the October 7 attack actually embodies the collapse of Netanyahu's policy in dealing with the Palestinian issue.

  • I observed a shift in the doctrine of the Israeli army and its transformation into a systematic repressive apparatus for committing war crimes, how is that?

What can be said is that the IDF has become a brutal police force of a brutal colonial force, and here I reiterate that I do not question Israel's legitimacy within the borders of the 1949 armistice. What I reject outright is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The ICC has expressed its failure in the Palestinian case, even asserting the existence of Western double standards, and the current prosecutor, Karim Khan, a British lawyer, has completely failed to make progress in the investigation condemning Israel, but in return when Russia invaded Ukraine, the court declared itself within two days that a war crimes investigation had begun, and within a week, an advance team was sent to Kiev to begin collecting evidence for war crimes investigation and trial, which clearly shows the hypocrisy of the international community. The Westerner condones all the war crimes committed by Israel.

  • Do all Jews agree with Israel in their violent proposal in Palestine? How has Israel turned "anti-Semitism" into a weapon against anyone who opposes it?

Although the Israel lobby in America "AIPAC", the most powerful political lobby in the United States, supports Israel's policy, there is a significant rise in the level of American Jews critical of Israel, and they have their own organizations, such as the organization "J Street", which embodies American liberal Jews who support the human rights of Palestinians, as they strongly criticize the Israeli occupation under the slogan "Not in my name", I am not a religious Jew, but I know that the three pillars of Judaism are truth, justice and peace, and I look at Israel today, and I do not see in the government None of these values, Netanyahu is a big liar, he has not provided any justice to the Palestinians and has not made any real proposal for peace, all he has is repression, violence and force against the Palestinians.

Israel and its allies deliberately confuse anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, I define anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews as Jews, while anti-Zionism is embodied in criticizing or objecting to the official Zionist ideology of the State of Israel, which embodies occupation, apartheid and the brutal use of force as we witness today in Gaza.

  • You describe yourself as an Arab Jew by virtue of your Iraqi roots, can we still talk today about an Arab Jew? How does the concept of "Jewish-Arab" help you anticipate the future?

I was born and lived in Baghdad until the age of five, and I see myself as an Arab Jew because I live in an Arab country, and I cannot separate the racists together, the Jews in Iraq and the Arab countries, although they were a minority like other minorities, we were never the "model of the other" that the Jews lived in Europe, Iraq did not have a Jewish problem, where coexistence prevailed over the situation despite the religious difference, and I am a living example of the Arab Jew, and I do not deny my pride in both racists from my identity.

And in answer to your question, "Is the concept of the Arab Jew still now? Unfortunately, the answer is no, because when we left Iraq in 1950, there were 135,3 Jews in Iraq, and today only <> Jews remain.

But we must acknowledge that the state of coexistence between Islam and Judaism was not an abstract and ideal concept, but history confirms that coexistence between them for centuries.

Through the experience of my family and the experience of the Jewish community in Iraq, I can think of a prospect for a better future for our region, to counter the Zionist claim that Jewish-Arab-Israeli hostility is destined, that both sides are doomed to live in perpetual conflict, and for me the concept of "Jewish-Arab" helps me think about the possibility of establishing a single democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equal rights for all regardless of religion and race.

Source : Al Jazeera