In “Shattering Zionist Myths — 100 Distortions Identified”, Firoz Osman has produced a well-written critique of key elements (concepts) of Zionist ideology. This book is a sequel to an earlier book, “Why Israel?” which Osman co-authoured with Suraya Dadoo, his then colleague at Media Review Network (MRN). I have worked with Dadoo in a Palestine solidarity project and also am currently involved with another MRN colleague, Iqbal Jassat, and others in that same project. MRN has been a committed Palestine solidarity organisation for decades in addition to its commitment to struggle against Islamaphobic depiction of Muslims, the Islam religion and Islamic culture. I approach this review of the book within the broad framework of Palestine solidarity activism, and not as a neutral outsider.
Elsewhere I have argued that at the root of Zionist ideology are three foundational concepts: (1) an eternal Jewish ethnos is the essence of being Jewish, (2) antisemitism is an eternal reaction of Gentiles to Jews, the modern manifestation of which is anti-Zionism, and (3) Israel is a democratic and Jewish state, a precondition for the protection and development of the Jewish ethnos and its culture. This framework informs my understanding of the political and scientific significance of the book.
Osman’s and Dadoo’s earlier “Why Israel” answered a question raised frequently by Zionists and supporters of Israel, namely why Israel is being (unfairly, in their minds) targeted with a ‘malicious fabrication’ that it is an apartheid state. There, Osman and Dadoo meticulously gathered scholarly research and events reports to answer the question in the title and thereby to justify the apartheid nomenclature.
“Shattering Zionist Myths” goes into more of the detail of 100 propositions frequently evoked by Zionists and Israel supporters. Osman categorises these propositions into ‘myths’ and ‘questions’. There are 55 myths and 45 questions that are addressed by this book. In the former category we find some of the key propositions that form the heard response of Zionists to critical comments about Israel. The questions are posed by Osman himself in order to interrogate and clarify important statuses (e.g., “Are Jews the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine?”), events (e.g. “What was the intifada?”) and motives (e.g., Why does Israel seek to cripple Iran?”). The book’s value lies precisely in making explicit the detailed propositions that form the basis of past and contemporary anecdotes, where in everyday discussion as well as formal presentations many people opine about Israel/Palestine. In doing so they more often than not express views that are congruent and consistent with the bedrock of Zionist ideology.
The power of the book lies in its not taking any of these Zionist propositions at face value. It subjects each one to a critical analysis, in the course of which it refers to scholarly and news reportage sources. It critiques each one of these myths and questions, to demonstrate that at best they are questionable and at worst outright falsification of historical reality. The book is significant within the context of the analytical framework I have adopted. The opening sentence of the Reviews Section by Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar (a co-founder of Hamas [the Islamic Resistance Movement]) captures the spirit and specific content of the book. He is quoted as saying that ‘Decolonising the land starts by decolonising the mind’. The book and its contents are effective examples of ideological struggle waged against a hegemonic view. Following Umberto Eco’s magisterial work ‘A Theory of Semiotics’ we can regard all language as coded. For Zionists there is a universal, unchanging code, namely ‘Israel’ stands for ‘Jew’. Hence resistance to Israel is equivalent to opposing Jews, therefore antisemitic. ‘Shattering Zionist Myths’ posits a counter code namely ‘true/false’ stands for ‘a scientific demonstration of the meaning of historical events’. Eco refers to linguistic codes as instantiated in, i.e. ‘living in’, what he defined as a ‘linguistic field’. This book is part of a larger project, namely that of projecting an alternative linguistic field about events in historical Palestine over the past century, indeed it reaches back many centuries depending on which of the Zionist Myths it is critiquing. The contents of the book cover 100 Zionist myths/questions which taken together make up the edifice and content of Zionist ideology. The book tackles each of these myths as a distortion of the true meaning of historical events. Hence its title, “Shattering Zionist Myths”.
Genocide and armed resistance
A key question is: Is Israel perpetrating incremental genocide? (Section 32 of the book). The charge of genocide is particularly controversial in mainstream media because the weaponization of the holocaust could expose journalists and other writers to the charge of antisemitism were they to publish opinion pieces and news reports suggesting this. Nevertheless, there is a large corpus of scholarly work on genocide that reflects the view that the systematic process starting in 1948 (and still ongoing) is a process of genocide defined as the intentional destruction of the Palestinians as a social group. This is not necessarily the physical obliteration of the bodies of individual Palestinians, but the thwarting of the realisation of their right to an own national identity. Historically genocidal practices have involved the killing of some/all of the bodies of those interpellated as forming the said group (‘genocidal moments’), and/or thwarting the realisation of their national aspirations through the denial of civil and national rights by a state power. Osman applies the term genocide not only to the events in Gaza post-2006 but also retrospectively all the way back to the 1948 Nakba.
The question about genocide and Osman’s answer provides a basis for another set of questions and answers: Why don’t the Palestinians follow the non-violent example of the National Congress (ANC) in SA? (Section 69). And, Do Palestinians have the right to resist? (Section 81). Given the genocidal violence referred to in Section 32 Osman’s answer is unequivocal, that United Nations General Assembly Resolution (UN GA R) 2649 gives people under colonial and alien domination the right to struggle for their self-determination by any means at their disposal, including armed struggle. He is critical of external agencies demanding justice telling the Palestinians how to liberate themselves — this is a reference to those supporters of the Palestinian struggle who advocate non-violent resistance only. This is a clear challenge to and rejection of the notion of Palestinian terrorism, a catch all phrase for almost all resistance activity (violent and non-violent) but with particular focus on Hamas and organisations like Islamic Jihad, organisations that have armed combatants and weaponry, the most common of which consists of the many rockets that they have fired into Israeli territory in response to provocations by the IDF and the killing of Palestinian combatants and civilians. This view of Palestinian terrorism (projected by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom[UK] and the European Union) extends to regional states (Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran) and non-state armed entities (Hezbullah in Lebanon) that either provide a space for Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives and/or support them through weapons and arms.
A pertinent example of this view is Mathew Levitt’s 2006 “Hamas — politics, Charity and Terrorism on the Service of Jihad”.
Osman’s and MRN’s principled stand on the right of Palestinians to bear arms in their liberation struggle is reflected in giving Hamas and Islamic Jihad publicity through book review comments by Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar (Co-founder leader of Hamas, Former Palestinian Foreign Minister and Chairman of Hamas Parliamentary Block), Dr. Mohammed El-Hendi (Head of political department, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine) and Dr. Khaled Qadomi (Member of Arab and Islamic Relations in Hamas, representative of Hamas to the Islamic Republic of Iran). Through legitimisng Hamas and Islamic Jihad viewpoints the book reflects MRN’s stated mission of countering Islamaphobia and presenting a view of lslam and Muslim communities in South Africa and elsewhere that reflects a Muslim and insider understanding of Islam and experiences of life as a Muslim person living in both secular and religious societies. Other Muslim scholars who have made review comments (from the Canadian Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, the Washington DC Islamic Center, the UK Chair of Friends of Al Aqsa, the International Movement for a Just World, the Middle East Monitor, the Beirut al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations and the Istanbul Centre for Islam and Global Affairs) reflect a consistency with MRN’s mission in that it is drawing on a range of scholars and public intellectuals of Muslim descent who have addressed social injustice not only as it manifests itself in historical Palestine but also in relation to the gaze from the West on the Arab cultural, political and religious world, under the banner of what the late Palestinian public intellectual Edward Said termed ‘orientalism’. For this reason alone it is a valuable and sobering corrective to outsider stereotypes about Islam and Muslims (which are often phantasies about the ‘savage other’).
In Sections 18, 21 and 35 Osman exposes certain myths about Hamas (that it doesn’t want a ceasefire, that it aims to kill civilians, and that it hides weapons in residential areas thereby endangering civilians [non-combatants] — the latter is the claim that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields). In Section 36 Osman addresses the question What does the Hamas charter contain? He challenges the depiction of Hamas as an antisemitic terrorist organisation, by reference to its 1988 Charter. In making the case that Hamas is a national liberation organisation struggling against the Zionist colonisation of historical Palestine, Osman provides a reference to the 2017 Hamas policy document, and also to interviews with senior Hamas official Khaled Meshaal and A Daud’s ‘The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy’. Reading this section and the earlier book referred to, by Mathew Levitt (see footnote 3), is like chalk and cheese. It is a good example of Osman’s counterposing a ‘national liberation’ to a ‘terrorist savagery’ linguistic field.
Other reviewers are Western and white critics of Zionism and Israel. Terry Crawford-Browne (international and anti-apartheid and human rights activist and author of ‘Eye on the Diamonds’, a critical analysis of the plundering of the mineral resources of the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo), David Cronin (author of ‘Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel’ and ‘Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation’), Professor Everest Benyera (University of South Africa) and Comrade Michael Shingane (President of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union and 1st deputy-President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions). This list reflects the internationalisation of the Palestinian struggle for freedom through securing equal national and civil rights in historic Palestine.
A key reason for the struggle against Zionism is that it is a form of apartheid, a viewpoint which is actively opposed by Israel and Zionists. The “shattering” of the myth that Israel is not an apartheid state (Section Three) and the myth that all Palestinian citizens are equal citizens in Israel (Section Four) is important because this provides justification for the apartheid label which has been attached to the state of Israel. After 1966 there were about 20 laws that provided unequal rights and obligations based on nationality (defined by religion). For example:
- Between 1948 and 1966 Palestinian Israelis — but not Jewish Israelis — lived under military rule.
- The Law of Return (1950) gives people interpellated as Jews the exclusive right to settle in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship, regardless of their countries of birth.
- The Nationality Law of 1952 entrenches Jewish nationality.
- The Jewish Agency Status Law (1952) creates a statutory function for the Womens International Zionist Organisation.
- The Requisitioning of Property in Times of Emergency Law (1949) functioned to legalise the confiscation of the land of 18 000 Palestinians expelled in 1948.
- The Absentees Property Law (1950) functioned to legalise the confiscation of the land of the expelled Palestinians. A further consequence of this law was that after the 1967 war Palestinians who had been ‘absent’ from East Jerusalem during its occupation were declared ‘absentees’ and had their property confiscated.
- The Land Acquisition Law (1953) functioned to legalise the confiscation of the land of those expelled.
- The Agricultural Settlement Law (1972) prevented the sub-leasing of land to Gentiles.
- Land acquired by the Jewish National Fund cannot be alienated to Gentiles: 93 per cent of the land can only be owned or leased by Jews and/or Jewish agencies.
- An admission-committee law enables the exclusion of Palestinians from Jewish-only communities. In practice Jewish settlements do not permit Palestinian citizens of Israel to live there.
- A loyalty oath requires Palestinian fealty to a Jewish and Democratic state.
- Palestinian Israelis cannot live in Israel with their spouses from the OPTs.
- Israel still imposes emergency laws in the West Bank of the OPTs.
The impact of apartheid laws contributes to gross material inequality, confirming the observation that historically segregated amenities and services were — and are always likely to be — unequal:
- Unemployment amongst Palestinian Israelis is 40 per cent higher than among Jewish Israelis.
- There are two times as many Palestinian Israelis as Jewish Israelis living below the poverty line.
- Less than five per cent of government employees are Palestinian Israelis.
- 80 per cent of all student dropouts are Palestinians.
- There is significant disparity in government spending on basic services for Palestinian as opposed to Jewish Israelis.
The essential quality of apartheid is the enforced separation of racial groups. Furthermore, the lives of Palestinians are controlled by a whole system of laws and practices based on institutionalised discrimination. It is this systematisation that makes Israel an apartheid state. The topic of apartheid gets picked up again with the myths that there are no discriminatory laws in Israel (Section Five) and that there is no racial dominance in Israel as there was in South Africa (Section Seven). It also gets picked up by the question: Does the presence of Palestinians in the Knesset, the right to vote, have political parties and the fact that there are Palestinian judges, not dispel notions of apartheid? (Section Six). In these sections reference is made to earlier points noted in Sections Three and Four, an example of cross referencing that is found throughout the book. Furthermore, the interrogation of the myths and addressing of the questions does not separate Palestinian citizens of Israel (living to the west of the Green Line) from Palestinians living in the OPTs. Osman knits together 100 discrete sections into a syncretic unity.
Other key questions and myths
A small sample of some of the other key questions examined, is:
- Is there archaeological evidence of Jewish/Israeli presence in Palestine?
- Does Israel conflict with Western values?
Regarding the argumentation basing claims for a Jewish ethno state on the long historical connections of Jews to the land, Osman makes the point that the same could be said for Christians’ and Muslims’, and prior to them, Zoroastrians’, connection to the same land. He asked rhetorically whether this means that these groups also have a claim for a state in which they are the exclusive nation with a predominance over the levers of state political power?
A small sample of other key myths interrogated, is:
- The Arabs are to blame for the miserable Palestinian plight.
- Arab armies attacked Israel and Israel had to defend itself.
- Israel is self-sufficient.
The myth that the Arabs were responsible for absorbing the Palestinian refugees, rests on the assumption of a world populated by irreconcilable ethnic groups. It reflects an expressed Zionist comparison of the 1948 population relocation (which they do not deny) with far larger population relocations of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe to West Germany at the end of World War Two and that between India and Pakistan in 1947. In Section Nine Osman challenges this ‘normalisation’ of ethnic cleansing to establish an ethno-nation state.
There are many other myths and questions dealt with by this book. The ones addressed above are to my mind key to the ideological struggle that MRN is waging against Zionist ideology. But the entire compendium of critiques needs to be read to appreciate this.
The book’s strength is well-researched, in-depth, critical analysis of the details of significant events claimed by Zionists. It appears to reference almost all the claimed events and facts to credible sources and interested readers are able to consult those and make up their own minds. With a few exceptions Osman also applies this standard to other cases that he refers to in the course of clarifying his critiques. However, I came across one case where another ethnic cleansing event was referred to where this was not so. I also came across a claim about Israel’s large-scale killing of Palestinians where no numbers were mentioned. My point is that we need to treat all claims with the same amount of rigorous interrogation that we apply to Zionist claims. In addition, there are other issues that I would have liked to see dealt with, namely suicide bombing and an analysis of the coalitions of class interests that get reflected through Hamas policies.
In Section Nine Osman assumed uncritically a questionable example of ethnic cleansing. To draw an analogy with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he referred to the alleged ethnic cleansing of an unwanted Albanian minority by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1999. But investigative journalist and writer Diana Johnstone (in her book ‘Fools Crusade’) made a case that the Albanian ethnic cleansing and Kosovo massacres had been framed by western media in a way that filtered out other critical factors. One of these factors is the actual ethnic cleansing at the time, of Serbs by Albanian Muslims. The strategic significance of this, according to Johnstone, is US imperialism’s instrumentalization of the cause of Muslim and other minorities against regimes that have served their purposes and become disposable (like Yugoslavia), recalcitrant regimes (like Iran) or sub-hegemons (like Russia and China currently).
In Section 96 Osman describes the US and Israel as the two principal killers of humanity. A Brown university study estimated at least 897 000 people killed around the world in violence that can be classified as part of the US war on terror. But Osman does not specify how many Israel has killed and this lacuna opens the claim to contestation by Zionists who have claimed that a relatively small number of Palestinians have been killed compared with other events in which large populations have been massacred. Several years ago the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Cape Town was about to publish a pamphlet in connection with Israel Apartheid Week that claimed that the Israeli regime had murdered 510 000 Palestinians between 1948 and 2017. In good faith one of my colleagues questioned the veracity of this figure and I did some research into the issue. Accessing readymade data on this matter is extremely difficult: a Wikipedia page has a table showing 75 000 Palestinians (combatants and civilians) killed between 1936 and 2015. In addition one Gideon Polya, drawing on United Nations Children Emergency Fund data, estimated that between 1950 and 2015 677 000 Palestinians living in the OPTs died indirectly through conditions imposed by Zionist colonisation on their habitats and quality of life. The site Palestinian Genocide estimated 1,9 million excess deaths, including Palestinians living outside of historic Palestine (i.e. elsewhere in the Middle East and further afield). These figures, and any others that might become available, deserve to be discussed and debated.
Osman addresses the question of armed struggle and the use of violence in the Palestine liberation struggle. He makes the point in Section 89 that ‘every form of violence is not terrorism’ and that terrorism can take the form of economic sanctions, enforced hunger, deprivation of medical services etc. Missing is addressing the question of whether the phrase ‘any means’ of UN GA R 2649 excludes suicide bombings from being a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL), which Levitt’s 2006 book identifies as actions organised and implemented under Hamas direction and management. ‘Hamas’ is coded in Zionist and western ideologies as ‘suicide bombers’, and this also reflects the reality of the period of the second intifada. Osman’s purpose is to convince readers of the validity of a counter hegemonic narrative to the dominant one about Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Convincing outsiders to break this code (by seeing that there is more to Hamas than suicide bombing) will require first an acceptance that the suicide bombing tactic violated IHL. For every previously sceptical or neutral reader that can make sense of the counter narrative, the book will have taken a (albeit small) step towards achieving its goal.
While the book focuses on shattering Zionist myths, it also refers readers to sources of the latest official Hamas policies. Noticeable throughout the book is the lack of questions of class interests that underlie the policies and practices of the various Palestine liberation movement formations, particularly Hamas. In considering Hamas’ foreign policy as well as the type of economy that might come about under Hamas, it is necessary to consider which class interests — or class coalitions — it represents. This resonates with a similar absence of critical class analysis towards the ANC in exile and also the ANC in government. Through one of the references (addressing Hamas’ Foreign Policy) Hamas is said to have taken the initiative to engage with the ANC and the South African government. However, while expressing support for the struggles for Palestinian freedom the ANC in government have desisted from calling Israel an apartheid state, as well as from supporting the global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement by sanctioning Israel. In part this might reflect the proximity of material interests of ANC leaders to Israeli and Zionist political interests. Understanding the likely outcome of Hamas’ policies requires a shift in focus away from the Zionist myths and on to potential myth making around Palestinian formations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad the BDS movement and others.
Paul Hendler, Stellenbosch 23 August 2022.
 Israeli historian Ilan Pappe coined the term ‘incremental genocide’ to characterise Israel’s post-2006 practices towards Gazans. He characterised the 1948 Nakba as a moment of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Some of the genocide scholars argue that ethnic cleansing is an opaque legal concept but which acquires a clearer legal description as a sub-category of genocide.
 Israel attacked Gazan civilian neighbourhoods seven times between 2006 and 2014: Operations First Rain (early-2006), Summer Rains (September 2006), Autumn Clouds (November 2006), Cast Lead (2008), Returning Echo (2012), Pillar of Defence (November 2012) and Protective Edge (July/August 2014), resulting in the killing of 3 191 Gazan civilians, , thousands more wounded, tens of thousands homes and critical social and economic infrastructure destroyed.
 A pertinent example of this view is Levitt, M 2006 Hamas — Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Yale University Press, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
 The then Israeli ambassador to South Africa referred to this in replying to my 2015 letter (to the press) about the numbers of Palestinians relocated from historical Palestine in 1948.
 The late Ed Herman, who co-authored the iconic ‘Manufacturing Consent — The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ with Noam Chomsky in the late-1990s, provided a well reflected, studied and though-provoking review of Johnstone’s book, which is exemplary for its setting out the method of authentic scholarship, that allows the facts to be part of moulding the story.
 UN GA R 2649’s permitting ‘any means’ of struggle as justified by the end of national self-determination contradicts the principle of distinction under IHL that makes it a crime to target non-combatants.
 Suicide bombings proliferated across Israel in the wake of second intifada (2000), killing more than 1 000 Jewish Israelis.
 In 2002 Palestinian human rights activist Ali Abunimah called suicide bombings a reprehensible and unacceptable tactic, and that they should stop. While IHL might in strict legal terms be applicable only to states, in principle it should apply to all armed formations. The condemnation of civilian atrocities committed by the Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram, and Al Shabbab, three non-state armed groups that claim to be fighting for political change, is congruent with IHL.
 In another article I noted the links between senior ANC leaders like (ex-Presidents) Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma and the Zionist-supporting arms and weapons dealer Ivor Ichikowitz. Furthermore, Crawford Browne (referred to earlier) noted the links with Israeli diamond tycoon Dan Gertler and current ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, ex-Premier of Gauteng province Tokyo Sexwale, Zuma’s nephew and Glencore, the world’s largest mining company and commodities trader. Scholar, analyst and social activist Patrick Bond has speculated about these relationships exerting pressure on the South African government to be ameliorative towards Israel. He made this point with specific reference to South Africa’s not condemning Israel for the barbarity of Operation Protective Edge, as the quid pro quo for Ichikowitz’s contributions to the ANC. Ideologically the ANC government has not identified Israel as an apartheid state. There is historical precedence for this. After his release from prison as well as before and during his term as President, Nelson Mandela never referred to Israel with this apartheid nomenclatur (see subsection — ‘Mandela: de facto right to exist’), restricting his criticisms to its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. During the 1950’s setting up of Umkhonto we Sizwe Mac Maharaj, one of Mandela’s close comrades, was inspired by the military struggle of the Palmach (a Zionist militia) against British colonialism in Palestine. Arthur Goldreich, who had participated in the Nakba (he called it the War of Independence) was a senior member of the Umkonto High Command. These are manifestations of a latent acceptance by the ANC leadership, of Zionism as a legitimate form of Jewish nationalism.
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“The power of the book lies in its not taking any of these Zionist propositions at face value. It subjects each one to a critical analysis, in the course of which it refers to scholarly and news reportage sources. It critiques each one of these myths and questions, to demonstrate that at best they are questionable and at worst outright falsification of historical reality. The book is significant within the context of the analytical framework I have adopted. The opening sentence of the Reviews Section by Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar (a co-founder of Hamas [the Islamic Resistance Movement]) captures the spirit and specific content of the book. He is quoted as saying that ‘Decolonising the land starts by decolonising the mind’. The book and its contents are effective examples of ideological struggle waged against a hegemonic view.”
- Review of Firoz Osman’s “Shattering Zionist Myths” - October 13, 2022
- Is Mandla Mandela an antisemite? - September 1, 2022