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Activists on the Ship 'Rachel Corrie' Challenge Israel's Unjust Gaza Blockade and Zionist Myths

Another ship is steaming across the Mediterranean toward Gaza,loaded with humanitarian supplies, posing another impossible dilemma for the government of Israel.

The MV Rachel Corrie is steaming across the Mediterranean toward Gaza, flying the flag of Ireland, loaded with humanitarian supplies, and posing another impossible dilemma for the government of Israel.

The root of the dilemma is not the conflict between Israel and the Free Gaza Movement, nor even the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It’s ultimately a conflict between two visions of Zionism that go back to the origins of Zionism itself.

Israel’s government is caught in a debate between two factions, representing those two visions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no doubt searching for a way to act upon both. But it’s an impossible task, like trying to square a circle, because the two visions contradict each other. So however the Israelis choose to meet the MV Rachel Corrie, they lose.

One side in the debate sees Israel rapidly losing its respect around the world, which was once quite considerable. Israel’s famous novelist Amoz Oz speaks for them: “We're putting ourselves under international siege, which is much more dangerous to us than the blockade of Gaza is to Gazans. Israel is turning into Apartheid-era South Africa, a country that the nations of the world do not want among their ranks.”

This faction warns that if Israel repeats the kind of bloody attack it launched on the Mavi Marmara, it could well lose whatever shred remains of its international standing. And they say that Israel simply cannot survive in a world that condemns and isolates it.

The thinking of this side goes back to the very beginning of Zionism. We Jews have been persecuted outcasts long enough, the early Zionists said. If we respect ourselves enough to break out of our long exile and become a normal nation, like all the other nations, we will earn the world’s respect and be treated as equals in the family of nations.

These first Zionists assumed that if they built a successful state they would escape the constant anxiety that had plagued their ancestors. They worked in a spirit of confidence that Jews could not merely survive, but thrive, as their nation developed friendly relations with the other nations of the world.

Yet ultimately they could not escape anxiety. Their test of the success of Zionism was how well the Jewish state was received by the gentile world. Though they broke free of the grip of the gentiles, they always had to be watching over their shoulders to see how the gentiles were viewing them. They are watching still, as the MV Rachel Corrie approaches Gaza, still worrying about what it will take to insure that the Jewish state survives, still feeling like the victims of history.

The other side in the Israeli debate within the government takes a very different approach. Why bother even thinking about the world’s response, they ask. The world hates us anyway. Nothing we do now can make the gentiles hate us more. Since we are surrounded by eternal enemies, let’s forget about world opinion. The only way to insure our survival is to maintain our strength and dominance -- by any means necessary.

This viewpoint, too, goes back to the very beginning of Zionism. The same Zionists who confidently pursued the goal of a normal nation also assumed that, as long as Jews lived among the gentiles, they would always be victims of persecution. For them, anti-semitism was an eternal fact of life, to be escaped only by taking refuge in a Jewish state.

Today’s Israeli hawks see the world in much the same way, except that they see no escape. We’ve discovered, they say, that even though we have our own nation we still live among the gentiles, and they still hate us so much they’d like to see us disappear. Our only option is to keep on fighting back, and let the blood fall where it may.

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