Slavoj Žižek on Anti-Semitism and Palestine

 The following is an extract from Slavoj Žižek’s book: Living in the End Times, 2011, London: Verso

 Pages 143-5

        On August 2, 2009, after cordoning off part of the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem, Israeli police evicted two Palestinian families (more than fifty people) from their homes, allowing Jewish settlers to immediately move into the emptied houses. Although Israeli police cited a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court, the evicted Arab families had been living there for more than fifty years. This event which, rather exceptionally, did attract the attention of the world media, is part of a much larger and mostly ignored ongoing process. Five months earlier, on March 1, 2009, it was reported that the Israeli government had drafted plans to build more than 70,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank (Financial Times, March 2, 2009); if implemented, the plans could increase the number of settlers in the Palestinian territories by about 300,000 – a move that would not only severely undermine the chances of a viable Palestinian state, but also hamper even more the everyday life of Palestinians. A government spokesman dismissed the report, arguing that the plans were of limited relevance: the actual construction of new homes in the settlement required the approval of the defense minister and prime minister. However, 15,000 planned units have already been fully approved. Moreover, almost 20,000 of unplanned units lie in settlements that are far from the “green line” separating Israel from the West Bank, in other words in areas which Israel cannot expect to retain in any further peace deal with the Palestinians. The conclusion is obvious: while paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating a situation on the ground which will render such a solution de facto impossible. The dream that underlies these policies is best rendered by the wall separating a settler’s town from the Palestinian town on a nearby hill somewhere in the West Bank. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with an image of the countryside beyond the wall – but minus the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass, and trees. Is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as it should be, empty, virginal, waiting to be settled?

             This process is sometimes presented in the guise of cultural gentrification. On October 28, 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal center could build its long-planned Center or Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance on a contested site in the middle of Jerusalem. Who else but Frank Gehry to design the vast complex consisting of a general museum, a children’s museum, a theater, conference center, library, gallery and lecture halls, cafeterias, and so on? The museum’s declared mission will be to promote civility and respect among different segments of the Jewish community and between people of all faiths – the only obstacle (overruled by the Supreme Court) being that the museum site served as Jerusalem’s main Muslim cemetery until 1948 (the Muslim community appealed to the Supreme Court that the construction would desecrate the cemetery, which allegedly contained the bones of Muslims killed during the Crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries). (Observer, October 29, 2008) This dark spot wonderfully enacts the hidden truth of this multi-confessional project: it is a place celebrating tolerance, open to all, but protected by the Israeli cupola which ignores the subterranean victims of intolerance – as if a little bit of intolerance is necessary in order to create the space for true tolerance.

             As if this were not enough, there is another, even vaster project going on in Jerusalem:

Israel is quietly carrying out a $100 million, multiyear development plan in the so-called “holy basin,” the site of some of the most significant religious and national heritage sites just outside the walled Old City, as part of an effort to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as its capital. The plan, parts of which have been outsourced to a private group that is simultaneously buying up Palestinian property for Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, has drawn almost no public or international scrutiny . . .

                 As part of the plan, garbage dumps and wastelands are being cleared and turned into lush gardens and  
                parks, now already accessible to visitors who can walk along new footpaths and take in the majestic views,
                along with new signs and displays that point out significant points of Jewish history . . . (New York Times
                May 8, 2009)

  And, conveniently, many of the “unauthorized” Palestinian houses have to be erased to create the space for the redevelopment of the area. “The ‘holy basin’ is an infinitely complicated landscape dotted with shrines and still hidden treasures of the three major monotheistic religions,” so the official argument is that its improvement is for everyone’s benefit—Jews, Muslims and Christians—since it involves restoration that will draw more visitors to an area of exceptional global interest that has long suffered neglect. However, as Hagit Ofran of Peace Now noted, the plan aims to create “an ideological tourist park that will determine Jewish dominance in the area.” Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University put it even more bluntly: “The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism and quasi-religious pilgrimage . . . the past is used to disenfranchise and displace people in the present.” (New York Times, May 8, 2009). Another great religious venue, a “public” inter-faith space under the clear domination and protective control of Israel.”


This is what I conclude from having read Žižek:

 The Israeli insistence on being recognised as a Jewish State and their objections to Hamas and Fatah, are preconditions to negotiations, preconditions to which the Palestinians will not agree. The Israelis are fully aware of this and that suits their purposes. As long as negotiations are not happening, the Israelis can continue to expand their settlements and other building projects and thus steadily shift Palestinians off their land. Soon there will be little or no land left to the Palestinians and that will make it impossible for a two-state solution.

 The big problem is not religion or terrorism; the big problem is Israeli expansionism, the building of settlements.

In an Aljazeera programme, Empire, in which panellists discussed the insurmountable problems preventing Palestinian freedom, one of the guests at the end of the show stated that Palestinians have to be forthright and denounce Israel as racist and colonialist. Only then will they find a way to achieve freedom.