What is the greatest obstacle in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict? You might be surprised at this Palestinian Canadian’s answer

trudeau at holocaust memorial.jpg

Prime Minister Trudeau at the opening of Canada’s Holocaust Memorial, 2017. Are Jewish Israeli fears about a new Holocaust real, or are they only an excuse to keep on oppressing Palestinians? Canadian Palestinian Monzer Zimmo thinks that human rights activists interested in bringing an end to the Israel/Palestine conflict need to think carefully about Jewish fears and how to deal with them. Read more.

Jewish Fear and the Right of Return:
Confronting the greatest obstacles in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Monzer Zimmo (002)

Guest columnist Monzer Zimmo

Justly resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict requires acceptance by both parties (i.e. Jews and Palestinians) that they are equally human beings who need to understand each other in a manner that recognizes the right of both parties to live in peace, security, and human dignity.

Jewish Fear:
When Jewish Fear is mentioned, many think of the Holocaust.  The truth about Jewish Fear is that it had existed as a Jewish reality for centuries before the Holocaust.  The Holocaust gave Jewish Fear validation, but it is not its source.

For centuries earlier, Jews – especially European Jews – were discriminated against in more ways than what can be accounted for in an article.  Anti-Semitism, as it is commonly understood to mean anti-Jewish, rendered Jews inferior and resulted in treating them as less than equal human beings.  The reality of anti-Semitism produced Jewish Fear.

Late in the 19th century, Zionism emerged as an organized Jewish political force advocating the cause of establishing a homeland for Jews.  Such homeland would be a safe haven to which Jews can flee in an event of danger that seemed to Jews to be imminent everywhere all the time.

To illustrate how deep Jewish Fear is in the Jewish psyche, I invite readers to consider the current balance of power in the Middle East.  The State of Israel is far stronger than the Palestinians and is more powerful militarily than the entire Arab countries put together.  Yet, concern for the security of the State of Israel continues to dominate mainstream Jewish thinking.

Jewish Fear is real; it exists; it is deeply felt; comprehending it is fundamental to understanding the Zionist narrative domination over Jewish communities worldwide; and addressing it is essential to justly solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Impact of Jewish Fear on the Palestinian people:
The Zionist movement focused on Palestine as the place in which to establish a homeland for Jews.  Additionally, establishing a state for Jews away from Europe was a Zionist “gift” to Europeans, for that would resolve what was then called the “Jewish Problem”; basically a bi-product of anti-Semitism.

Around the turn of the last century, “The Mother of All Lies” was pronounced.  Zionists declared Palestine to be “A land without people for a people without land.”  Based on that lie, Palestine was a ripe land for the taking, without the Palestinians.

On November 2, 1917, the British government – through the infamous Balfour Declaration – promised a homeland for the Jews in Palestine without consulting the Palestinian people.  In implementing the Balfour Declaration, the British facilitated the transfer of waves of European Jews into Palestine.  Palestinians rejected the denial of their existence, asserted their presence on their land, and resisted British and Zionist actions to reshape their society without their consent.  Facing overwhelming odds, Palestinian resistance was crushed, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians intensified, and Zionist efforts continued to score success after success as Jewish immigration became the new face-changing reality of Palestine.

After establishing the State of Israel, Jewish Fear caused most Jews to feel reluctant to tolerate any criticism of the State of Israel, for the preservation of their safe haven is far more important than any other consideration.  Most Jews see the State of Israel as the only place where Jews constitute a strong majority capable of stopping persecution against them, and they would preserve it; at any cost.

It is important to remember that while Jewish persecution is an undeniable historic fact, it is also an undeniable historic fact that the Palestinians did not cause it; did not initiate it; did not participate in it; and were not in any way responsible for it.  Jewish Fear, as a direct result of anti-Semitism, had been a Jewish reality for centuries prior to Palestinians becoming part of any conflict with Jews.

right of return

The Palestinian right of return frightens Jews because it means Jews would no longer be a majority in Israel and Israel would no longer be a “Jewish State”

The Right of Return:

When the State of Israel was established on the ruins of Palestinian society in 1948 more than 750,000 Palestinian civilians were displaced.  They, with their descendants, became known as the Palestine Refugees.  Today, seventy years later, the Palestine Refugees have grown to more than seven million people living all over the world, but the majority of them live as refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

On December 11, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 (III) in which the Right of Return was confirmed.  It is worth noting that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted a day earlier (i.e. December 10, 1948) by the same UN General Assembly.

The Right of Return is the right of the Palestine Refugees to return to their homes and resume their lives in peace.  Hundreds of the villages to which millions of Palestinians seek to “return” no longer exist, but the hope to return and the dream to rebuild and reconstitute their presence over their land grows stronger with every new generation of Palestinians.  History does not record any people ever accepting denial of their existence, and the Palestinian people will not be the first to do so.

Reconciling Jewish Fear with the Right of Return:
In Zionists’ eyes, the Right of Return would eliminate the safe haven for Jews.  Zionists claim that implementing the Right of Return and satisfying Jewish Fear are mutually exclusive; thus, the current impasse.

I assert that it is possible to implement the Right of Return and satisfy Jewish Fear at the same time.  I see that happening in the peaceful creation of a bi-national constitutional democracy on all the land of historic Palestine, rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others are treated as equal citizens and made to feel safe, secure, and at home.  While the details of the specific structure of the bi-national state are obviously numerous, the following would be its main shaping characteristics:

  • Jews would not lose anything except dominating Palestinians, and Palestinians would gain everything except dominating Jews.
  • The Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not end with either party victorious over the other, but with both parties winning.
  • Mutual respect would be the law, the culture, the norm, and the new path to a shared future for all in a country that would be as much Jewish as it is Palestinian.
  • Diversity will be celebrated and linguistic duality (Arabic and Hebrew) embraced.
  • Laws impacting religious and/or cultural rights would not pass with simple majority but only with clear majority from both communities.
  • There would be two levels of equality; individual equality before the law; and collective equality for the two communities, where they agree on an arrangement by which neither community would dominate the other by means of population growth or otherwise.

Empathically dealing with Jewish Fear is in the best interest of Palestinians, and justly dealing with the Right of Return is in the best interest of Jews.  When the Right of Return is realized, it will be the destiny of the Palestinian people to bring an end to Jewish Fear.

Monzer Zimmo
Ottawa, Canada


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We accept guest columnists from time and encourage brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at membership.ctip@gmail.com.


  1. I agree that Jewish fear is real and should be addressed. However, the current Israeli violent and oppressive policies are driven by socioeconomic and ideological factors that form the real context of the problem. I will mention 3 of them:

    – Interests of Israeli military and security industry: according to the researcher and journalist Shir Hever, the Israeli security elites turn violence into a commodity in order to preserve their status and wealth:

    – Ideological views: many settlers are coming from the U.S. to colonize Palestine for ideological and financial reasons.

    – US and western support to Israel as part of their global strategic interests.

    For a minute, let us leave aside the Palestinian refugees and their right of return. Look at what Israel is doing with Palestinians who live inside Israel itself:


    This proves that the problem is more complex than a psychological fear and inter-generational trauma which is important to understand.

    Now, it is mainly about balance of power.

    Palestinians and their allies should put non violent pressure on Israel to change its course. Even David Hare, the vice-president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, called openly for that:


    Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority and its supporters chose to collaborate with Israel and are actively engaged in “security coordination” with the occupation. Change should begin here. Palestinians need to rebuild their national movement, adopt a new political vision and new resistance strategy as the non violent protests at the Gaza fence.

    I understand that a one-state vision conference will take place this fall:


    Where are the Israeli partners who are open to live based on equality in one state? This is the real question.

  2. Dear Monzer, as you know I fully support your vision, as articulated above, of what might be possible. However I anticipate being long dead before it might come to fruition. I wish it were otherwise.
    Sylvia Laale

  3. Thanks for this article Peter. I think your guest columnist makes an important point, that Palestinians and their supporters would do well to consider. It was the deaths of thousands of Jews in the Russian Empire in the 1880’s, as well as the persistence of antisemitism in Western Europe, that spurred Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement to take action.

    I would add that the behaviour of today’s Palestinian leaders and their armed supporters, whether launching rockets or arson attacks at Israeli civilians from Gaza, or glorifying the killers of Israeli civilian, police and soldiers, do nothing but reinforce the belief by Jews that a strong Jewish state is the only viable solution to the “Jewish Question”.

    This is what Mr. Zimmo labels as Jewish fear, but it is more than fear. Since the establishment of the British mandate, 50,000 Jews have died protecting their settlements and later their state from violence, much of it perpetrated by Palestinians. I’ve written recently in one of my articles in the Canadian Jewish News, that although Palestinians are militarily the weaker side in the conflict, they do have the power to keep the conflict going, a power no amount of Israeli military power can take away from them.

    Conversely, they also have the power to opt for peace. Interested readers can see the whole article on line here: http://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/opinions/roytenberg-the-consequences-of-decades-of-israeli-concessions

    Thank you Peter for maintaining a respectful conversation on these important issues on which there is such profound disagreement.

    1. I am neither a Palestinian nor and Israeli, but the conflict between the two peoples has been at the forefront of world issues since I was born in ’48 and believe me, it’s been decades in my view, since anything positive at all has come out of that very troubled area.

      Your post, as it typical of so many friends of Israel, doesn’t even begin to even acknowledge the obvious upper hand the Israelis have had thanks to their support from the world’s most war like nation, the United States. This doesn’t even touch on the help from Britain and European nations in helping Jews from across the world literally invade, at least in Palestinian terms – their homeland, which led to the removal of tens of thousands of Palestinians as Jewish newcomers launched a coup of the region while the very western nations who assisted looked the other way.

      Yes, of course there has been an ongoing war since then on both sides. You are correct, the “Palestinians are militarily the weaker.” If Palestinians could count on the US stepping in any time they were in trouble I wonder if there might now be a two state solution up and working, but that isn’t the case, is it?

      As for non-violent power, Palestinians have tried to play that card over and over again and what are the results? Usually it means a visit from IDF into one of the Palestinian zones in an effort to intimidate the innocent and punish those who have spoken out, just as we have seen in the recent Friday efforts to focus on the “Right of Return.”

      You note that Israelis are frightened of a potential replay of the past. What you appear to be blind to is that Palestinians also fear potential replays of the even more resent past as it is they who over my lifetime who have suffered far greater than Israelis.

      But then you top off your argument that Palestinians could “opt for peace” and at what costs, my friend?

      In essence, if Palestinians get on bended knees, oust the very leaders who have at least kept them alive these past 7 decades and beg for peace, then maybe, just maybe Israel will do what; stop taking Palestinian lands, stop building Trump-like walls, allow Palestinians onto their own coastline to fish, sign a peace agreement giving Palestinians the right to return to the homes they were ousted from 70 years ago?

      The only parallel within my lifetime to the Palestinian-Israeli situation is what we saw in Apartheid South Africa. Eventually even the Americans who also backed the white-powered SA government, stood aside as real democracy took hold and the old regime died.

  4. Having grown up in a family of people who fled the Holocaust, I know that Jewish Fear is real and it is deep. Members of my family were permanently damaged by the anti-semitism that they experience and they passed their fear to the next generation. Were I ever able to forget about the fear of anti-semitism, I would be reminded of it whenever i discuss the Palestinian dilemma with an Israeli or other Jewish supporter of Israel’s actions.

    Mr. Zimmo’s eloquent message to his fellow Palestinians is exactly right; everyone who wants to see improvements in Palestine must not forget that fear.

    However, there are some things about that fear that many of my fellow Jews must rethink.

    1) Many of us discuss anti-semitism as if it were unique. We have grown up hearing many stories about anti-semitism and often forget that other groups have experienced hate and discrimination as well. It seems to be a sad property of human societies that majorities often select a minority as a scapegoat and mistreat them. Its scale and methodical organization made the Holocaust unique but anti-Zionism in general is similar to prejudicial treatment experienced by many other groups. If we treat the discriminatory behaviour that we have experienced as something unlike what other groups are now experiencing, we will never be able to bring such evil behaviour to an end.

    2) Many of us think that having suffered because of anti-semitism, we have earned an entitlement to special treatment. In discussions with Israelis when visiting Israel, I pointed out how much better their country treats Jewish Israelis than it treats non-Jewish citizens and residents; they inevitably reminded me of the suffering that we and our ancestors have experienced and insist that we need and deserve special treatment. We need to remember that “two wrongs do not make a right”. One wrong does not cancel another out.

    3) Many defenders of Israel’s actions seem to think that the history of anti-semitism shields Israel from criticism. They label all criticism of Israeli policies anti-semitic and then conclude that it is out of line and unacceptable. This is a barrier to progress. Everyone has done things that are wrong and the fact that we have been wronged in the past does not shield us from criticism.

    Mr. Zimmo’s writings remind us of a fundamental truth. If we stand for everyone’s rights, everyone will stand with us. If we fight for our rights at the expense of others, those others will fight us.

    Mr. Zimmo’s proposed solution reminds me of the Belfast agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) that brought so much progress in Ireland. Having lived in Ireland, I know that all is not perfect but it is much much better than it was before the agreement. As in Palestine, both sides in Ireland had reason to fear the other but acceptance of that fear has brought relative peace.

    Mr. Zimmo’s essay also reminds us that we should remember Roosevelt’s famous, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

  5. Monzer, I really appreciate your insights here, as always, but on a couple of points I beg to differ (as always).

    The previous post on this blog is from a Jew returning to Israel after decades, who might question the idea that most Jews are in fear. And many progressive Jews would scoff at the idea that Israel is any answer to those legitimate fears.

    It is also important to distinguish between the legitimate fears resulting from Jewish history, and those caused by finely-honed fear-mongering propaganda by Israel of the kind that irrationally garnered 94% Jewish Israeli support for the 2014 slaughters and decimation of Gaza, and those caused by fear of loss of privilege and power accorded by Zionist ethno-religious exclusivism.

    The latter is non dissimilar to those of white S.Africans a generation ago facing the loss of apartheid. It is the task neither of the international community nor Palestinian leadership to encourage Zionists who prefer apart-ness (Afrikaans: apartheid) to instead be nice, give up their privileges and grant the right of return. Rather their obligation is to impose the right of return using every form of non-violent pressure available, because it is the (international) law.

  6. Binationalism is a great idea. However, it will always remain an idea unless there are real incentives for the parties to implement it. Israel will never implement it unless it is given reason to: BDS, significant regional threat, international pressure, etc. But regardless, binationalism is a great idea.

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