I believe in Zionism. The word has a controversial history, and never fails to polarize and create divisions. Many are strongly opposed to it. In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly voted 72 to 35 to condemn Zionism as a "form of racism and racial discrimination." To this day, the word Zionism is tainted by its inevitable association with the actions of the Israeli government.
But Zionism and Israeli government policy are not one and the same thing. It is true that some forms of Zionism advocate expansion- the current policy of the Israeli government- into Judea and Samaria, land which is universally recognized as belonging to the Palestinians. Other forms reject the notion of a Palestinian state outright. But at its most basic level, Zionism, as defined by the Jewish Virtual Library, simply means support for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
In general, the concept of states being defined by a race is something I am against. But with the Jewish people, I make an exception, given their long and gruelling history of persecution during the Diaspora. A Jewish state is both necessary and right, and should be supported and defended through thick and thin. This, for me, is what it means to be a Zionist.
But I am also passionately opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine- of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, land which, according to every government in the world other than Israel, belongs to the Palestinian people. I believe that the land should be returned to its rightful owners. By definition, this makes me an advocate of Palestinian Nationalism. As a Zionist, I am proud to be a supporter of the Palestinian people, and of the national movement which demands their right to self-determination. Their suffering must go on no longer, and I firmly believe that it is Israel's duty, as the occupying power, to relieve them of their suffering and end the occupation.
Contrary to popular belief, this position is entirely uncontroversial. Dating back to the unanimously passed 1967 UN Security Council resolution 242 calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories, there is in fact an international consensus on what a just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict should look like. The UN, the EU and the Non Aligned Movement all call for the creation of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, which would of course entail the end of the occupation.
Inevitably, however, those who oppose the occupation will face accusations of being anti-Zionist or even anti-Israeli. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. It is in fact in Israel's best interests, not only regarding national security but also its floundering international reputation, to end the occupation and bring about the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. The Fatah-led government in the West Bank have shown themselves to be peaceful, and even Hamas promises to end its armed struggle against Israel if the international consensus on a two state solution is implemented. Israel should make peace with the Palestinians now, while they still can, before the Palestinians are pushed too far and a peaceful settlement is rendered impossible.
For any genuine supporter of Israel, creating a Palestinian state should be their top priority, seen as the ultimate service to the Israeli people. But as long as the occupation continues, the country's international reputation- something else Zionists should care about- will remain in tatters. Israel has been condemned by UN resolutions a total of 293 times, more than any other country. The disproportionate focus on Israeli crimes is not fair by any means, but it nonetheless reflects a worrying fact: in the eyes of the UN, Israel has become a pariah state. The damage this has done to Israel is not irreversible, and the world has certainly made clear what the country needs to do to re-establish its reputation as a peaceful, law-abiding liberal democracy. Restoring Israel's standing in the world, particularly when the country is surrounded by states that refuse to even recognize its right to exist, should be a top priority for anyone who claims to be a supporter of Israel or Zionism.
As a Zionist, however, I will no doubt be condemned as biased by many of those who champion the Palestinian cause, just as supporters of Israel will make the same accusation, for different reasons of course. In reality, I am every bit as pro-Israeli as I am pro-Palestinian. And here's why.
For me, Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate, equal claims to the land formerly known as Mandatory Palestine. The only just solution is for two states and two peoples. From its creation in 1948, Israel has deserved to have the same rights as any other state. Unfortunately, its government afforded itself an extra right in 1967- namely to occupy, annex and build settlements on foreign land. Palestine, of course, deserves the same rights as Israel, including the one denied to it by the occupation, self-determination. Unfortunately, groups like Hamas believe that Palestinians also have the right to practise terror against Israelis- an abhorrent crime, against both peace and human rights.
In my opinion, however, the suffering of the Palestinians and the injustice imposed on them by Israel, the US and the Arab world is indeed greater than the suffering of the Israelis. But if we are being honest, this is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel has been attacked, time and time again, but it remains intact, and strong as ever. Palestine, on the other hand, exists as a shadow of its former self, shattered by war, its economy in ruins, living with the daily humiliation of a foreign occupation it seems incapable of shaking off. Pointing this contrast out does not make me biased, or anti-Israel. It is, unfortunately, just a fact, which any honest debate on the conflict would surely recognize.
And honest debate is the key. An objective observer would conclude that both sides have committed serious crimes. It should, therefore, no longer be considered biased, or against the Palestinian cause, to condemn the terror and violence of groups like Hamas. Equally, one should never be accused of bias for opposing the occupation. Inextricably linked, Palestinian violence and the Israeli occupation are both monstrous infringements on human rights, and deserve the utmost condemnation.
Ultimately, however, it is Zionists who will have final say on the fate of the conflict. Palestinians will never be able to end the occupation by force, and must instead rely on the goodwill and sense of the Israeli government. If the Zionist community, not just within Israel but throughout the world, can embrace a form of Zionism which rejects occupation, peace can surely be achieved. But first we must understand what Zionism is at its most basic form. Supporting the Jewish state does not mean defending the occupation or apologizing for settlements. At its most basic form, Zionism stands for the self determination of a dispossessed people. True Zionism extends that principle to all people, including the Palestinians.