Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rarely been so politically embattled. His travails indicate the Israeli right’s inability to respond to a shifting political landscape, both in the region and globally.
The context for his troubles was his commitment in 2009, under great pressure from a newly elected US president, Barack Obama, to support the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a concession he never wanted to make and one he has regretted ever since.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has exploited that pledge by imposing the current peace talks. Now Netanyahu faces an imminent “framework agreement” that may require him to make further commitments towards an outcome he abhors.
Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, is not helping. Rather than digging in his own heels, he offers constant accommodation. Last week Abbas told the New York Times that Israel could take a leisurely five years removing its soldiers and settlers from a key piece of Palestinian territory, the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian state would remain demilitarised, while Nato troops could stay “for a long time, and wherever they want”.
The Arab League is another thorn. It has obliged by renewing its offer from 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative, that promises Israel peaceful relations with the Arab world in return for its agreement to Palestinian statehood.
Meanwhile, the European Union is gently turning the screws on the occupation. It regularly trumpets condemnation of Israel’s settlement-building frenzies, including last week’s announcement of 558 settler homes in East Jerusalem. And in the background sanctions loom over settlement goods.
European financial institutions are providing a useful barometer of the mood among the 28 EU member states. They have become the unexpected pioneers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, with a steady trickle of banks and pension funds pulling out their investments in recent weeks.
Pointing out that boycotts and “delegitimisation” campaigns are only going to gather pace, Kerry has warned that Israel’s traditional policy is “unsustainable”.
That message rings true with many Israeli business leaders, who have thrown their weight behind the US diplomatic plan. They believe that a Palestinian state is the key to Israel gaining access to lucrative regional markets and continued economic growth.
Netanyahu must have been disconcerted by the news that among those meeting Kerry to express support at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month was Shlomi Fogel, the prime minister’s long-time intimate.
Pressure on these various fronts may explain Netanyahu’s hasty convening last weekend of his senior ministers to devise a strategy to counter the boycott trend. Proposals include a $28 million media campaign, legal action against boycotting institutions, and intensified surveillance of overseas activists by the Mossad.
On the domestic scene, Netanyahu – who is known to prize political survival above all other concerns – is getting a rough ride as well. He is being undermined on his right flank by rivals inside the coalition.
Naftali Bennett, the settlers’ leader, provoked a chafing public feud with Netanyahu this month, accusing him of losing his “moral compass” in the negotiations. At the same time, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, has dramatically changed tack, cosying up to Kerry, whom he has called “a true friend of Israel”. Lieberman’s unlikely statesmanship has made Netanyahu’s run-ins with the US look, in the words of a local analyst, “childish and irresponsible”.
It is in the light of these mounting pressures on Netanyahu that one should understand his increasingly erratic behaviour – and the growing rift with the US.
A damaging falling-out last month, following insults from the defence minister against Kerry, has not subsided. Last week Netanyahu unleashed his closest cabinet allies to savage Kerry again, with one calling the US secretary of state’s pronouncements “offensive and intolerable”.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, tweeted her displeasure with a shot across the bows. The Israeli government’s attacks were ”totally unfounded and unacceptable”, she noted. Any doubt she was speaking for the president was later dispelled when Obama praised Kerry’s “extraordinary passion and principled diplomacy”.
But despite outward signs, Netanyahu is less alone than he looks – and far from ready to compromise.
He has the bulk of the Israeli public behind him, helped by media moguls like his friend Sheldon Adelson who are stoking the national mood of besiegement and victimhood.
But most importantly he has a large chunk of Israel’s security and economic establishment on side too.
The settlers and their ideological allies have deeply penetrated the higher ranks of both the army and the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret intelligence service. The Haaretz newspaper revealed this month the disturbing news that three of the four heads of the Shin Bet now subscribe to this extremist ideology.
Moreover, powerful elements within the security establishment are financially as well as ideologically invested in the occupation. In recent years the defence budget has rocketed to record levels as a whole layer of the senior military exploits the occupation to justify feathering its nest with grossly inflated salaries and pensions.
There are also vast business profits in the status quo, from hi-tech to resource-grabbing industries. Indications of what is at stake were illuminated recently with the announcement that the Palestinians will have to buy from Israel at great cost two key natural resources – gas and water – they should have in plentiful supply were it not for the occupation.
With these interest groups at his back, a defiant Netanyahu can probably face off the US diplomatic assault this time. But Kerry is not wrong to warn that in the long term yet another victory for Israeli intransigence will prove pyhrrhic.
These negotiations may not lead to an agreement, but they will mark a historic turning-point nonetheless. The delegitimisation of Israel is truly under way, and the party doing most of the damage is the Israeli leadership itself.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.
|WHAT’S WRONG about the demand that the Palestinian leadership recognize Israel as the “Nation State of the Jewish People”?|
Well, practically everything.
States recognize each other. They don’t have to recognize each other’s ideological character.
A state is a reality. Ideologies belong to the abstract realm.
When the United States recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, it recognized the state. It did not recognize its communist nature.
When the PLO recognized the State of Israel in the Oslo agreement, and in the exchange of letters preceding it, it was not asked to recognize its Zionist ideology. When Israel in return recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, it did not recognize any particular Palestinian ideology, secular or religious.
Some Israelis (including myself) would like to change the self-definition of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, omitting the word “Jewish”. Some other Israelis would like to omit or demote the word “democratic”. Neither of us believe that we need the confirmation of the Palestinians for this.
It’s just none of their business.
I DON’T know what the real intention of Netanyahu is when he presents this demand as an ultimatum.
The most flattering explanation for his ego is that it is just another trick to sabotage the “peace process” before it reaches the demand to evacuate the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. The less flattering explanation is that he really believes in it, that he is driven by some deeply rooted national inferiority complex that needs outside assurance of “legitimacy”. Recognizing the “National State of the Jewish People” means accepting the entire Zionist narrative, lock, stock and barrel, starting from the divine promise to Abraham to this very day.
When John Kerry considers whether to include this demand in his Framework Agreement, he should think about this twice.
Where would this leave his special emissary, Martin Indyk?
Mr. Indyk is a Jew, bearing a Yiddish Name (Indyk means turkey). If Israel is the state of the entire Jewish nation and/or people, he is included willy-nilly. The state of Israel represents him, too. So how can he function as an honest broker between the two warring sides?
And where does this leave the millions of American Jews, now that the conflict between the governments of the US and Israel is deepening? On what side are they? Are they all Jonathan Pollards?
THE NEWLY found independent American voice vis-à-vis Israel drives Israeli rightists to devise more and more weird solutions.
The latest example is Binyamin Netanyahu’s brilliant idea: why not leave the Israeli settlers where they are as Palestinian citizens?
This looks to many sensible people as eminently fair, in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition.
The state of Israel now has some 1.6 million Arab Palestinian citizens. Why should the State of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, not include some 0.6 million Jewish Israeli citizens?
The Arabs in Israel enjoy, at least in theory, full legal rights. They vote for the Knesset. They are subject to the law. Why should these Israelis not enjoy full legal rights in Palestine, vote for the Majlis and be subject to the law?
People love symmetry. Symmetry makes life easier. It removes complexities.
(When I was a recruit in the army I was taught to mistrust symmetry. Symmetry is rare in nature. When you see evenly spaced trees, I was told, it is not a forest, but camouflaged enemy soldiers.)
THIS SYMMETRY is false, too.
Israel’s Arab citizens live on their land. Their forefathers have been living there for at least 1400 years, and perhaps for 5000 years. Sa’eb Erekat exclaimed this week that his family has been living in Jericho for 10,000 years, while his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, is the daughter of an immigrant.
The settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are mostly new immigrants, too. They do not sit on the land of their forefathers, but on Palestinian land expropriated by force – either “private” land or “government land”. This so-called “government land” was the communal land reserves of the villages that in Ottoman times was registered in the name of the Sultan, and later in the name of the British and Jordanian authorities. When Israel conquered the area, it took over these lands as if it owned them.
BUT THE main point is something different. It concerns the character of the settlers themselves.
The core of the settlers, precisely those who live in the “isolated” small settlements in the areas that will in any case become part of the Palestinian state, are religious and nationalist fanatics.
The very purpose of their leaving comfortable homes in Israel and going to the desolate stony hills of “Judea and Samaria” was idealistic. It was to claim this area for Israel, fulfill their interpretation of God’s commandment and make a Palestinian state forever impossible.
The idea that these people would become law-abiding citizens of the very same Palestinian state is preposterous. Most of them hate everything Arab, including the workers who work for them without the benefit of minimum wages or social rights, and say so openly at every opportunity. They support the “Price Tag” thugs who terrorize their Arab neighbors, or at least don’t speak out against them. They obey their fanatical rabbis, who discuss among themselves whether it is right to kill non-Jewish children, who, when grown up, may kill Jews. They plan the building of the Third Temple, after blowing up the Muslim shrines.
To think about them as Palestinian citizens is ludicrous.
OF COURSE, not all the settlers are like that. Some of them are quite different.
This week, an Israeli TV station aired a series about the economic situation of the settlers. It was an eye-opener.
Those ideological pioneers, living in tents and wooden huts, are long gone. Many settlements now consist of palatial buildings, each with its swimming pool, horses and orchards – something the Israeli 99% cannot even dream of. Since almost all of them came to the “territories” without a shekel in their pocket, it is clear that all these palaces were built with our tax money – the huge sums transferred every year to this enterprise.
The clusters of urban settlements near the Green Line called “settlement blocs” are another matter. They are likely to be joined to Israel in the context of an “exchange of territories”. But at least two of them raise severe questions: Ariel, which lies some 25 km inside the putative Palestinian state, and Maaleh Adumim, which practically cuts the West Bank into two.
Incorporating these two large towns with their inhabitants into the sovereign State of Palestine is a pipe-dream
WHEN NETANYAHU promised this week that he will not remove one single settler nor evacuate one single settlement, he may have been thinking of Charles de Gaulle, who also did not remove settlers or uproot settlements. He just fixed the date when the French army would leave Algeria.
That was enough.
Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 he has advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with the PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yasser Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli Knesset and is the founder of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc). Visit his Web site.
- See more at: http://ramallahonline.com/2010/06/uri-avnery/#sthash.OEoSK6Kn.dpuf
January 20, 2014
President Wallace Loh
Office of the President
University of Maryland
College Park, Md 20742
Dear President Loh;
I have read your response to the ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In fact, if reports are correct, you said:
We firmly oppose the call by some academic associations—American Studies Association; Asian-American Studies Association—to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Any such boycott is a breach of the principle of academic freedom that undergirds the University of Maryland and, indeed, all of American higher education.
Faculty, students, and staff on our campus must remain free to study, do research, and participate in meetings with colleagues from around the globe. The University of Maryland has longstanding relationships with several Israeli universities. We have many exchanges of scholars and students. We will continue and deepen these relationships.
… To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary, and irreconcilable with our core academic values.
A high sounding tone. Defense of academic freedom. However, your statement is silent on the rights denied of Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation to enjoy the benefits of academic freedom, and fails, as well, to recognize the academic deprivations imposed on the Palestinian people by the 46 year long occupation by Israel of land conquered in the ’67 War. It also ignores the siege of the Gaza Strip where 1.7 million Palestinian people live on the edge of starvation and other depravations intentionally and consciously imposed on the civilian population by the state of Israel. Like so many western diplomats over the last century, you have completely ignored the interests of the Palestinian people.
Like most high ranking western leaders, you have ignored the Palestinian people altogether.
Your final sentence: “To restrict the free flow of people and ideas with some universities because of their national identity is unwise, unnecessary, and irreconcilable with our core academic values.” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what the resolution is all about.
The Boycott resolution is not about national identity. It is about the denial of academic freedom to the Palestinian people and their associated suffering as an intentional policy of the Israeli government.
Consider the following: The Gaza strip is under siege with both imports and exports being severely restricted, as I hope you are aware.
According to John Ging, the Gaza Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency of which some 200,000 Gaza school children attend is schools, says that many of the children come to school ‘hungry and unable to concentrate due to the fact that many Gaza families can only afford to provide their families a single meal a day. The children also experience many nights of lost sleep due to sonic booms or air or artillery bombardments. UNRWA reports high rates of failure in its schools. (Makdisi, Palestine Inside Out, 2007)
Perhaps you are also aware of the arrogant statement of Dov Weisglass, a former senior adviser to the Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
The Red Cross says the siege has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.5 million people living in the strip. According to the UN, 80 per cent of the population is dependent on foreign aid and 61 per cent is classified as “food-insecure”; it also says 90 per cent of the water supplied to residents is not suitable for drinking.
According to a joint report by U.S.-based NGO Save the Children and British aid group Medical Aid for Palestinians titled,” Gaza’s Children: Falling Behind” The report cites a number of ailments suffered by Palestinian children in Gaza. Ten percent of children under 5 have stunted growth due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition. Anemia, caused by an iron-deficiency, affects 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, 68.1 percent of children nine to 12 months old and 36.8 percent of pregnant mothers.
Incidents of water sanitation-related illnesses such as typhoid fever and diarrhea have increased sharply with cases doubling in children under the age of 3, which will carry with it long-term health implications, the report added.
Gaza’s medical facilities are underfunded, outdated and lack essential supplies. Travel restrictions make it difficult for Gazans to seek medical treatment elsewhere.
There are more than 400,000 people of Gaza of university age. Yet Gaza’s already overcrowded universities have at most a capacity of 70,000. Even if a student should win a foreign scholarship, having the resources for foreign travel as well as obtaining an Israeli permit to exit Gaza is a very difficult matter. Even for a Gaza resident to attend a university in the West Bank is a near impossibility due to Israeli restrictions, even though, according to the Oslo Accords, The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are to be regarded as a single unit. The siege of Gaza prevents visitations by international scholars.
You may or may not be aware that Israel bombed the science center of the University of Gaza during the 2009 assault on the Gaza Strip which also killed 1400 residents of Gaza, one third of whom were children.
Two of the main universities on the West Bank, Birzeit University and Bethlehem University have been closed repeatedly by the Israeli military for extended periods
Hundreds of military checkpoints, on the West Bank, make travel to and from classes by both students and faculty a difficult matter involving time consuming delays and hours long and frequently humiliating queues for trips of only a few miles.
Perhaps you also know that school children are often harassed by settlers who throw stones or spit at or otherwise harass them in their transits to and from schools. These settlers owe their presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem directly to Israeli policy of state expansion and settlement expansion into occupied territories.
Having observed for some time the behavior of settlers, I am convinced that the Israeli government and the radical settlers have a common purpose – to make life as miserable as possible for the Palestinians living under occupation so as to encourage emigration.
It has always been the intent of the Zionist movement to capture as much land as possible for a Jewish state with as many Jews and as few Arabs as possible. Any study of the Zionist movement must come to this conclusion. This is the fundamental premise of Zionism and of the Zionist movement.
You cannot be both a supporter of the Zionist project, of the state of Israel, and also uphold the Enlightenment liberal egalitarian ideal of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, not and be consistent. If you want consistency, you must make a choice.
Professor of genetics and biology at both Bethlehem and Birzeit universities, Mazin Qumsiyeh, reports that one of his students was arrested just before graduation and taken to Gaza. The handful of Gaza residents studying at West Bank universities do so surreptitiously and are subject to being arrested and deported back to Gaza at any time.
It is a difficult matter for international scholars to attend conferences or to take temporary teaching assignments at institutions inside the West Bank due to the military restrictions on entrances into the military controlled territories.
Al Quds University in Jerusalem is cut off from the rest of the West Bank, to all but a few students who have been able to gain permits, due to Israel’s policy of severing Jerusalem from the West Bank and ‘Judaizing’ Jerusalem.
I do not know if you troubled yourself to read the actual ASA resolution. I sounds like to me that you did not. If you did read the resolution, you failed to note or to understand the humanistic impulses from which the resolution is derived.
For your convenience:
American Studies Association Resolution on Academic Boycott of Israel
December 4, 2013
Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world;
Whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians;
Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students;
Whereas the American Studies Association is cognizant of Israeli scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement under conditions of isolation and threat of sanction;
Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars;
It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The American Studies Association is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history and of America’s place in the world.
The endorsement of the Academic Boycott of Israel was a highly deliberative process which had its origin in the wake of the 2006 assault on Lebanon by Israel when the call from Palestinian civil society for ASA’s participation of a boycott of Israel was discussed by the International Committee of ASA.
In 2009, in the wake of the assault by Israel on the Gaza, several committees of ASA, in response to requests by its members, again revisited the question of support for the boycott. The consensus at that time was that the members needed more time to study and acquaint themselves with the issues.
Thus began a deliberative process, as open as possible to varied opinions within its membership, consisting of students, faculty, and professionals, which culminated, this past November, in an election by members that attracted 1252 voters, the largest voter turnout in ASA’s history, of which 66.5% endorsed the resolution. 30.5% voted no, with 3.43% abstaining.
Since you purport to champion academic freedom, perhaps you have followed the efforts of the defenders of Zionism to block and impede the free expression of opinion if that opinion is not to their liking.
I remind you of the effort of these people to block the recent presentation by speakers supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which took place at Brooklyn College.
Perhaps you also recall similar efforts by Mr Alan Dershowitz who threatened the University of California Press with a law suit in an effort to prevent the publication of a book by Norman Finkelstein critiquing Mr Dershowitz’s book defending Israel. And also recall Mr Dershowitz’s successful efforts to prevent Depaul University from granting tenure to Mr Finkelstein, and effectively firing him – one instance of widespread efforts to punish the critics of Israeli policy.
According to Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), January 2005, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi “… taped an anonymous phone call he received, subsequent to the Campus Watch dossier publication, that said: “Khalidi, Columbia alumni love Campus Watch because they keep an eye on thugs like you. We have our eye on you. You’d better watch out.”
Have you ever championed the academic freedom of these victims of Zionist efforts at thought control, Dr Loh?
Of course, you may be all too aware of the practice of Mr Dershowitz, Daniel Pipes, and organizations like Campus Watch, which seek to intimidate, not without some success, academics and others.
You have not championed academic freedom, Dr Loh, as you no doubt believe, not for those who are actually in need of it. You have only helped to sustain the ability of one party of a conflict to deny academic freedom to the other – to those living under its military rule and its never-ending occupation.
Rather than actually stand up for academic freedom and freedom of expression, you have only chosen the easy path.
William James Martin
College Park, Maryland
Israel not ready to give up ‘villa in the jungle’
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
US Secretary of State John Kerry spent last week testing the waters with Israelis and Palestinians over his so-called framework agreement – designed to close the gaps between the two sides. But the issues he is trying to resolve appear more intractable by the day.
As he headed to the region, Israel’s hawkish cabinet ministers gave their blessing to legislation to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swath of the West Bank that might otherwise be the Palestinian state’s economic backbone and gateway to the outside world.
To underscore their point, the interior minister, Gideon Saar, a close friend of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led a group of rightwing politicians on a tour of the valley during which they held a dedication ceremony for a new settlement neighbourhood.
In a speech there, the deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, averred that the Jordan Valley must remain under “Israeli sovereignty forever”. Without it, Israel would return to what he called the “Auschwitz borders” before the 1967 occupation began.
On Sunday, as Kerry left, the defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, added a new condition: peace was impossible, he argued, as long as the Palestinians and their schoolbooks “incited” against Israel, even quoting from a government-compiled “Palestinian incitement index”.
The hyperbole overshadowed two Israeli surveys that might one day provide a yardstick by which to judge an equivalent “Israeli incitement index”.
An opinion poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Israeli Jews believe the conflict’s Palestinian narrative – including the nakba, the great dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 to create Israel – should be taught in schools.
This flies in the face of Netanyahu’s own view. His government passed a law in 2011 effectively banning public institutions from giving a platform to nakba commemorations.
The other study, following an experiment in a handful of schools, demonstrated that, when Jewish students are exposed to spoken Arabic at an early age, between 10 and 12, they hold dramatically less hostile and stereotypical views of Arabs. Currently, many Jewish students never learn Arabic.
With the experimental programme employing teachers from Israel’s large Palestinian minority, the study noted that for most of the Jewish children it was the first time they had developed a close relationship with an Arab.
The education ministry, however, was reported to have waved aside the findings and is apparently failing to fund the existing, small programme, let alone expand it.
This is no oversight. Successive Israeli governments have carefully engineered the structure of Israeli society to ensure that Jewish and Palestinian citizens, the latter comprising a fifth of the population, are kept in separate linguistic, cultural, educational and emotional worlds.
The reasoning is not hard to discern. The last thing Israeli leaders want is for Jewish and Palestinian citizens to develop shared interests, forge friendships and act in solidarity. That would start to erode the rationale for a Jewish state, especially one premised on the supposed need of the Jews to defend themselves from a hostile world – “the villa in the jungle”, as former prime minister Ehud Barak once characterised Israel.
In short, a Jewish state’s future precisely depends on the anti-Arab stereotypes inculcated in young Israeli minds.
It may not therefore be coincidental that, as Israel has faced increasing pressure over the past 20 years to make peace, the separation of Jews from Palestinians has entrenched.
Today most Israeli Jews rarely meet a Palestinian, and especially not one from the West Bank or Gaza. It is easy to forget that before the 1993 Oslo accords, many Israeli Jews regularly ventured into Palestinian areas, to shop, eat and fix their cars. Palestinians, meanwhile, were evident in Israeli communities, even if only as builders or waiters.
It may have been a very unequal, even colonial encounter, but nonetheless it made it hard for Israelis to demonise their neighbours.
Such contacts are now a distant memory. And that is precisely how leaders like Netanyahu want to keep it.
Inside Israel, the direction of policy is the same. In recent weeks, the government has insisted on raising the electoral threshold in a barely concealed effort to rid the parliament of Arab parties. Legislation is also being revived to tax into oblivion human rights organisations, those that give a voice to Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.
Last weekend Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued that a peace agreement must include disappearing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens by transferring their homes to a future, very circumscribed Palestinian state.
Palestinian legislator Ahmed Tibi’s complaint that Palestinian citizens were viewed by Israel’s leaders as nothing more than “chess pieces” goes to the heart of the matter. It is easy to dehumanise those you know and care little about.
Israel’s separation policy – and its security justifications – requires not only that Jews and Palestinians be kept apart, but that Palestinians be confined to a series of discrete ghettos, whether in the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza or Israel.
These divisions are the cause of endless suffering. A recent study of Gaza, the most isolated of these ghettos, found that a third of Palestinians there were physically separated from a close relative. Israeli-imposed restrictions force Palestinians to forgo marriages, learn of relatives’ deaths from afar, miss college courses, and lose the chance for medical treatment.
The prioritising of Israelis’ security over Palestinians’ freedom was a central weakness of the Oslo process, and the same skewed agenda pollutes the current peace talks.
In a commentary for the Haaretz newspaper last week, a leading general, Gadi Shamni, set out at length the many military reasons – quite apart from political ones – why Israel could never risk allowing the Palestinians a viable state. On the army’s best assessments, he argued, Israel would need to control such a state’s borders and much of its territory, including the Jordan Valley, for a period ranging “from 40 years to forever”.
The reality is that no arrangement on earth can guarantee protection for those in the villa from the beasts lurking outside. Either it is time to abandon the villa, or to start seeing the jungle as a forest to be explored.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.
A FORMER Israeli army Chief of Staff, a man of limited intelligence, was told that a certain individual was an atheist. “Yes,” he asked, “but a Jewish atheist or a Christian atheist?”
Lenin, in his Swiss exile, once inquired about the party affiliation of a newly elected member of the Duma. “Oh, he is just a fool!” his assistant asserted. Lenin answered impatiently: “A fool in favor of whom?”
I am tempted to pose a similar question about people touted to be neutral in our conflict: “Neutral in favor of whom?”
THE QUESTION came to my mind when I saw an Israeli documentary about the US intermediaries who have tried over the last 40 years or so to broker peace between the Palestinians and us.
For some reason, most of them were Jews.
I am sure that all of them were loyal American citizens, who would have been sincerely offended by any suggestion that they served a foreign country, such as Israel. They honestly felt themselves to be neutral in our conflict.
But were they neutral? Are they? Can they be?
My answer is: No, they couldn’t.
Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!
But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology.
This does not prevent them from being neutral. Neutral for one side.
By the way, in this respect there is no great difference between American Jews and other Americans. They have generally been brought up on the same history and ideology, based on the Hebrew Bible.
LET US take the latest example. John Kerry is carrying with him a draft plan for the solution of the conflict.
It was prepared meticulously by a staff of experts. And what a staff! One hundred and sixty dedicated individuals!
I won’t ask how many of them are fellow Jews. The very question smacks of anti-Semitism. Jewish Americans are like any other Americans. Loyal to their country. Neutral in our conflict.
Neutral for whom?
Well, let’s look at the plan. Among many other provisions, it foresees the stationing of Israeli troops in the Palestinian Jordan valley. A temporary measure. Only for ten years. After that, Israel will decide whether its security needs have been met. If the answer is negative, the troops will remain for as long as necessary – by Israeli judgment.
For neutral Americans, this sounds quite reasonable. There will be a free and sovereign Palestinian state. The Jordan valley will be part of this state. If the Palestinians achieve their long-longed-for independence, why should they care about such a bagatelle? If they are not considering military action against Israel, why would they mind?
Logical if you are an Israeli. Or an American. Not if you are a Palestinian.
Because for a Palestinian, the Jordan valley constitutes 20% of their putative state, which altogether consists of 22% of the territory they consider their historical homeland. And because they believe, based on experience, that there is very little chance that Israelis will ever willingly withdraw from a piece of land if they can help it. And because the continued military control of the valley would allow the Israelis to cut the State of Palestine off from any contact with the Arab world, indeed from the world at large.
And, well, there is such a thing as national pride and sovereignty.
Imagine Mexican – or even Canadian – troops stationed on 20% of the territory of the USA. Or French troops in control of 20% of Germany. Or Russian troops in 20% of Poland. Or Serbian troops in Kosovo?
Impossible, you say. So why do American experts take it for granted that Palestinians are different? That they wouldn’t mind?
Because they have a certain conception of Israelis and Palestinians.
THE SAME lack of understanding of the other side is, of course, prevalent in the relations between the two sides themselves.
On the last day of anno 2013, Israel had to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, who had been held since before the 1993 Oslo Accord. This was part of the preliminary agreement achieved by John Kerry for starting the current negotiations.
Every time this happens, there is an outcry in Israel and rejoicing in Palestine. Nothing exemplifies the mental gap between the two peoples more clearly than these contrasting reactions.
For Israelis, these prisoners are vile murderers, despicable terrorists with “blood on their hands”. For Palestinians, they are national heroes, soldiers of the sacred Palestinian cause, who have sacrificed more than 20 years of their young lives for the freedom of their people.
For days, all Israeli networks have reported several times a day on demonstrations of bereaved Israeli mothers, clutching in their hands large photos of their sons and daughters, crying out in anguish against the release of their murderers. And immediately after, scenes in Ramallah and Nablus of the mothers of the prisoners, clutching the portraits of their loved ones, dancing and singing in anticipation of their arrival.
Many Israelis were cringing at this sight. But the editors and anchormen would be astonished if they were told that they were inciting the people against the prisoner release, and – indirectly – against the peace negotiations. Why? How? Just honest reporting!
This revulsion at the other side’s rejoicing seems to be an ancient reaction. The Bible tells us that after King Saul was killed in the war against the Philistines, King David lamented: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon (both Philistine towns) ; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.” (II Samuel. 1:20)
Binyamin Netanyahu went further. He made a speech denouncing the Palestinian leadership. How could they organize these demonstrations of joy? What does that say about the sincerity of Mahmoud Abbas? How could they rejoice at the sight of these abominable murderers, who had slaughtered innocent Jews? Doesn’t this prove that they are not serious about seeking peace, that they are all unreformed terrorists at heart, out for Jewish blood? So we cannot give up any security measures for a long, long time.
The prisoners themselves, when interviewed by Israeli TV immediately after their release, argued in excellent Hebrew (learned in prison) that the main thing was to achieve peace. When asked, one of them said: “Is there a single Israeli, from Netanyahu down, who hasn’t killed Arabs?”
THIS GAP of perceptions is, to my mind, the largest obstacle to peace.
This week Netanyahu gave us another beautiful example. He spoke about the continued incitement against Israel in Palestinian schoolbooks. This item of right-wing Israeli propaganda pops up every time the other tired arguments are let out to grass.
How can there be peace, Netanyahu exclaimed, if Palestinian children learn in their classes that Haifa and Nazareth are part of Palestine? This means that they are educated to destroy Israel!
This is so impertinent, that one can only gasp. I don’t think that there exists a single Hebrew schoolbook that does not mention the fact that Jericho and Hebron are part of Eretz Israel. To change this one would have to abolish the Bible.
Haifa and Hebron, Jericho and Nazareth are all part of the same country, called Palestine in Arabic and Eretz Israel in Hebrew. They are all deeply rooted in the consciousness of both peoples. A compromise between them does not mean that they give up their historical memories, but that they agree to partition the country into two political entities.
Netanyahu and his ilk cannot imagine this, and therefore they are unable to make peace. On the Palestinian side there are certainly many people who also find this impossible, or too painful.
I wonder if Irish schoolbooks have obliterated 400 years of English domination or abomination. I doubt it. I also wonder how English schoolbooks treat this chapter of their history.
In any case, if an independent (neutral?) commission of experts were to examine all the schoolbooks in Israel and Palestine, they would find very little difference between them. Of Israel’s four main school systems (national, national-religious, western-orthodox and eastern-orthodox), at least the three religious ones are so nationalist-racist that a Palestinian competitor would be hard-pressed to trump them. None of them says anything about the existence of a Palestinian people, not to mention any rights on the country they may possess. God forbid (literally)!
TO BE more than a mere fragile armistice, peace needs reconciliation. See: Mandela.
Reconciliation is impossible if either side is totally oblivious to the narrative of the other, their history, beliefs, perceptions, myths.
John Kerry does not need 160 or 1600 experts, neutral or otherwise. He needs one good psychologist. Or maybe two.
One can easily understand the feelings of a mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian militant. If one tries, one can also understand the feelings of a mother whose son was ordered by his leaders to attack Israelis and who returns from prison after 30 years.
Only if the American intermediaries, neutral or otherwise, understand both can they contribute to furthering peace.
Ten days ago some 200 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea marched to Jerusalem to protest against their mistreatment by the Israeli government. They had left a new ‘open’ detention facility in the Negev desert, where they are obliged to spend the night and attend three role calls during the day. They walked for about six hours to the nearest city, Beer-Sheva, my hometown. After spending the night at the bus station, they marched on to Nachshon, a kibbutz that had agreed to put them up for the night. The following day, they continued to the Knesset by bus.
There they demonstrated against an amendment to Israel’s Prevention of Infiltration Law, which allows the state to detain migrants who enter the country illegally for up to a year without trial, and to hold those already in Israel in the open detention facility indefinitely. Almost all the protesters had already spent more than a year in an Israeli prison before being moved to the open detention facility, and most if not all of them had submitted a request for asylum more than a year earlier, but had not received a response from the state. Several hours after the protesters arrived in Jerusalem, officers from the immigration police put them back on buses, some by force, while a clerk in the Ministry of Interior issued an order to imprison them for three months.
This imprisonment order, according to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, has to be reviewed by an administrative tribunal and approved within seven days. But on 23 December, the judge ruled that the tribunal did not have the authority to approve the order, which meant that the state had to release the asylum seekers and transfer them back to the open detention facility.
Yet, as the bells struck midnight on Christmas Eve, the state submitted an appeal to a higher court, asking it to verify the imprisonment order. Asaf Weitzen, a lawyer who works for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and represents 123 of the asylum seekers, said he was disturbed by the fact that in the appeal the asylum seekers have no names, only numbers.
The judge on duty scheduled a session for 9 o’clock the following morning: the process usually takes a few weeks. Weitzen asked the judge, Sara Dovrat, to bring the defendants to court in order to guarantee the basic right of the accused to hear the charges being brought against them. Dovrat accepted the state’s position that it was too complicated.
Dovrat went on to rule that the court’s authority to approve the imprisonment of the Sudanese and Eritreans needs to be examined in depth. In the meantime, the unnamed and absent asylum seekers would remain in prison. The judge overlooked an important lesson taught in every Israeli primary school: that the moral imperative that every person has a name is categorical and therefore universal.
First published in London Review of Books
Neve Gordon is an Israeli academic. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Watson Institute at Brown University. During the first intifada, he was the director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Gordon is the co-editor of Torture: Human Rights, Medical Ethics and the Case of Israel, the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, and most recently the author of Israel’s Occupation. His writings have appeared in numerous scholarly journals as well as in publications like The Washington Post, LA Times, The Guardian, The Nation, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Chronicle of Higher Education and The National Catholic Reporter.
- More articles by Neve Gordon on RamallahOnline.com
Part I – A “Snowy Sky in Jerusalem”
In our house we get the New York Times (NYT) because the Philadelphia Inquirer’s (that is our city paper) coverage of international affairs is very limited. Sometimes I wonder why we bother. One can find a more thorough and certainly more balanced coverage on the web. However, we still enjoy the tradition of perusing a newspaper at the breakfast table.
It is important to keep in mind that a newspaper, or really any media source, really, is a reflection of the political and cultural sensibilities of its owners and managers. So you can politically and culturally peg those who run a media outlet such as a newspaper by what makes up its content as well as what is left out.
For instance, take the front page of the NYT for Saturday, 14 December 2013. There, above the fold, we find a large picture of what looks like a resort in the middle of a snowstorm. The description under the picture orients us: “Under a Snowy Sky in Jerusalem, Laps in a Pool. A snowstorm around Jerusalem disrupted travel and electricity on Friday but did not deter a swimmer at the David Citadel Hotel.” Beyond these few words there is no story. There is just the picture of what is an unusual climatic occurrence. Yet the photo also presents an image of Israel as a well-developed place. Some might see the photo as proof of their conviction that the Israelis really have made “the desert bloom” – with swimming pools.
Part II – What Is Left Out?
One thing you will not learn from the NYT is that Israeli development is always balanced by Palestinian de-development. This is the inevitable result of the fact that Israel is a nation built on property acquired through a long and ongoing process of ethnic cleansing. This consistent off-setting of development with de-development is reflected in present-day conditions in the Gaza Strip.
On the same day that the NYT put its poolside “Snowy Sky in Jerusalem” picture on its front page, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) stated “Large swathes of Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye could see. … Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man-made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this.”
The flooding in the Gaza Strip is in part a consequence of the same snowy weather depicted in the NYT’s Jerusalem photo. However, it is also the consequence of Israel’s systematic destruction of the infrastructure of the Gaza. That process of de-development has been going on for a long time. Thus, no one should be impressed because the Israelis, responding belatedly and half-heartedly, recently permitted into Gaza two weeks worth of fuel and some pumps to help with the flooding. These were not timely gifts from a concerned neighbor. Most of these supplies were paid for by Qatar. It is to be noted that Gaza’s only power plant went dead months ago thanks to Israel’s refusal (here assisted by the blockade of Gaza imposed by the truly wretched military dictatorship in Egypt) to allow the importation of adequate fuel supplies and replacement parts for its infrastructural equipment. Gazans have been subsisting on an average of three hours of electricity per day.
On 15 December 2013 the NYT did print a piece entitled “Gaza, Vexed by Floods, Gets Fuel and Power.” However, reading this piece (which did not include the UNRWA statement) you get the impression that the Israelis have nothing to do with Gaza’s problems. The article makes it seen that the fault lies with the West Bank Palestine Authority (PA). It claims, that the PA “can always ship oil to Gaza through Israel.” This is a highly misleading claim, for the Israelis regulate the importation of fuel to a trickle of the population’s real need. However, the article goes on to claim that the PA taxes the fuel and this contributes to its scarcity in Gaza. Laying the blame on the Palestine Authority, as awful as the organization otherwise might be, is a terrible distortion of the truth.
Part III – Rationalizations
Of course, both the Israelis and those who run the NYT have their reasons for acting as they do.
The Israeli rationale goes something like this: The Palestinians hate us and want to destroy our state. The Hamas government in Gaza even fires missiles into southern Israeli cities. We keep all the people of Gaza locked up in order to protect ourselves from their enmity.
Yes, some of this is accurate. But why deal with the situation by locking 1.6 million people up in a ghetto, reducing them to poverty, and systematically destroying their infrastructure? (A particularly ironic strategy by a state, Israel, that claims to represent a people who were themselves oppressed in ghettos.) Is it revenge for those missile attacks which are themselves revenge for Israeli aggression? Despite the fact that Israeli hatred and fear of the Palestinians quite equals that of their adversaries, I don’t think the revenge hypothesis fully explains Israeli behavior.
It is probable that the Israelis would have no need to implement their ghetto strategy if they were ready to reach a just and fair solution with all of the Palestinians (the PA represents only a shrinking minority). However, they are not willing to do this, so the ghetto strategy follows naturally. As long as Israel persists in stealing Palestinian land in a process of relentless expansion, they must convince themselves of the irreconcilable nature of the conflict and persecute not only those who would resist, but the entire population of Palestinians.
How about the NYT? Why is it that its staff refuse to accurately contextualize the paper’s coverage of Israel-Palestine? Part of the answer is to be found in the imperatives of running a newspaper business (that is, selling advertising) in the ethnic climate of New York City. However, to this must be added the fact that most of the NYT’s editors and reporters working on Israeli and Palestinian issues are just the latest generation in a long line of supporters of the Zionist movement. They probably prefer so-called moderate Zionists rather than hard-core Likud-style ones such as Benjamin Netanyahu, but in practice this does not matter. They are sufficiently dedicated to Israel as a “Jewish State” to support it regardless of its sins. Thus, de facto, the NYT’s self-censors when it comes to Israel’s behavior.
Part IV – Alternative Reads
Of course, readers are not limited to the NYT or any of the mainstream media. The World Wide Web has liberated us from these sources if only we know about the alternatives and take the time to go to them. I encourage readers to consult the links at the side of the home page of my blog,www.tothepointanalses.com, for some of these important sources. In addition I have listed below other examples of sites that give a different take on U.S. government behavior both at home and abroad:
– Electronic Intifada at http://electronicintifada.net/
– Middle East Research and Information Project at http://www.merip.org/
– Washington Report on Middle East Affairs at http://www.wrmea.org/
– Mondoweiss at http://mondoweiss.net/
– Ma’an News Agency at http://www.maannews.net/ENG/
– 972 Magazine at http://972mag.com/
There are many others as well. The important point is not to remain passive and, out of inertia, simply rely the mainstream media at hand. To do so is to lock yourself away in a small and easily manipulated world that, almost inevitably, will have you justifying unnecessary warlike actions against peoples whose enemy status is based more on propaganda than truth.
The real world is much larger. It deserves a bit of effort to get an accurate sense of what is happening to it, and to you.
Kerry’s framework agreementUS plans ‘Gazafication’ of the West BankBy Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
In recent days, US and European diplomats have been engaged in a frenzy of activity on the Israeli-Palestinian front, before they settle down for the usual two-week Christmas hibernation.A sense of urgency looms because Washington is supposed to unveil next month its so-called “framework proposal” for the creation of a Palestinian state, in a last desperate effort to break the logjam in negotiations. For this reason, the outlines of the US vision of an agreement are finally coming into focus. And, as many expected, the picture looks bleak for the Palestinians.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who has invested much of his personal standing in a successful outcome, has grown increasingly forthright that an agreement hinges on satisfying Israel’s security concerns, however inflated.
During a speech to the Saban Forum in Washington this month, Kerry said President Barack Obama’s highest priority was Israel’s “ability to defend itself, by itself”. Shortly afterwards, Kerry headed back to the region to show Israeli and Palestinian officials what he meant.Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was reportedly “boiling mad” by the US proposal. In recent days PA spokesmen have accused Kerry of “appeasement” and of failing to be “a neutral mediator”.
The criticism looks more than justified. Under cover of a vision for peace, the US secretary of state is offering an Israeli security plan at the expense of meaningful Palestinian statehood.
That is not entirely surprising given that the plan was drafted by John Allen, a general formerly in command of US forces in Afghanistan, who has spent months quietly liaising with Israeli counterparts.The main sticking point is the Jordan Valley, an area that was expected to comprise nearly a quarter of a future Palestinian state. Allen has indulged an Israeli demand that it be allowed to continue a long-term “military presence” in the Jordan Valley, of at least 10 years.
Not only this but, according to a memo sent by Abbas to Obama, which the Haaretz newspaper revealed this week, the US plan would condition an eventual Israeli withdrawal on the Palestinians meeting a “test of implementation. Abbas rightfully believes that this would give Israel an effective veto on ever leaving the Jordan Valley.
That is a big retreat from Washington’s earlier commitment, made at the Annapolis talks of 2007, that no Israeli soldiers would be stationed in the West Bank following an agreement. Security guarantees were to be provided instead by Nato troops, under US command.
The new proposal should be a deal-breaker. The valley is a vital resource for the Palestinians, one they have been effectively stripped of for decades by Israel’s exaggerated “security needs”.
The Jordan Valley offers the only land border in the West Bank that would be potentially under Palestinian control. It is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas, making it a possible site to which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees could return. And its lands are fertile and warm all year round, making it highly productive and a likely engine for the Palestinian economy.
According to Allen’s plan, Israel’s security also requires that Palestinian security forces be only lightly armed, that Israel has control over the airspace and all borders, and that the US install spying technology – euphemistically called “early warning systems” – throughout the West Bank.
In other words, the US vision of a Palestinian state looks remarkably like the model Israel has already implemented in Gaza.
One need only listen to the words of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from a decade ago to understand his role in this new plan.
In 2001 Netanyahu spoke to a group of settlers in the West Bank at a meeting that was secretly filmed. There he boasted that during his earlier premiership, in the late 1990s, he had halted the peace plan of that time, the Oslo Accords, through what he termed a “trick”.
He foiled a Palestinian state’s creation by agreeing to limited withdrawals from Palestinian land while insisting on the retention of the most significant areas, especially the Jordan Valley, by classifying them as a “specified military site”.
Netanyahu told the settlers: “America is something that can be easily moved. Moved to the right direction.” Those words now seem prophetic.
In rejecting the US plan, Abbas appears to have the backing of his people. A poll published this week showed only 19 per cent believed the talks would lead to an agreement.
So, given the essential conflict between Israel’s “security” requirements and the Palestinian demand for statehood, how does Kerry intend to proceed?
That too is becoming clear. The task of making Israel and the Palestinians play ball is being subcontracted to the European Union. That makes sense because, as the main subsidiser of the occupation, the Europeans have major financial leverage over both parties.
Earlier this month the EU brandished its stick. It warned that it would stop financing Abbas’ Palestinian Authority if no agreement had been reached by the end of the talks.
Though widely seen as a threat directed towards Abbas, whose political power base depends on EU money paying tens of thousands of PA workers each month, it was equally aimed at Netanyahu. Were the PA to be wound up, the huge costs of running the occupation would again fall to Israel.
The 28 European member states have also warned Israel that should it carry on building settlements in the coming months, they will officially blame it for the talks’ failure.
On Monday, Europe unsheathed its carrot. It is offering both Israel and the Palestinians a major aid package and an upgrade in economic relations to the EU, conferring on them a status of “special privileged partnership”. This would reportedly bring each side huge trading and security benefits.
However vigorous the EU’s arm-twisting, the reality is that the Palestinian leadership is being cajoled into an agreement that would destroy any hopes of a viable Palestinian state.
Abbas is said to have viewed the US plan as “worse than bad”. His agreement to it would be worse than disastrous.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website iswww.jonathan-cook.net.
A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
As United States envoys shuttle back and forth in search of a peace formula to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a matter supposedly settled decades ago is smouldering back into life.
In what was billed as a “day of rage” last month, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against a plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands inside Israel, in the Negev (Naqab).
The clashes were the worst between Israeli police and the country’s large Palestinian minority since the outbreak of the second intifada 13 years ago, with police using batons, stun grenades, water cannon and arrests to deter future protests.
Things are only likely to get more heated. The so-called Prawer Plan, being hurried through parliament, will authorise the destruction of more than 30 Bedouin villages, forcibly relocating the inhabitants to deprived, overcrowded townships. Built decades ago, these urban reservations languish at the bottom of every social and economic index.
Bedouin leaders, who were ignored in the plan’s drafting, say they will oppose it to the bitter end. The villages, though treated as illegal by the state, are the last places where the Bedouin cling to their land and a traditional pastoral life.
But the Israeli government is equally insistent that the Bedouin must be “concentrated” – a revealing term employed by Benny Begin, a former minister who helped to formulate the plan. In the place of the villages, a handful of Jewish towns will be erected.
The stakes are high, not least because Israel views this battle as a continuation of the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine.
Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued last week that the fight over the Negev proves “nothing has changed since the days of the tower and stockade” – a reference to heavily fortified outposts the Zionists aggressively built in the 1930s to evict Palestinians from the land they had farmed for centuries.
These outposts later became land-hungry farming communities, such as the kibbutz, that gave the Jewish state its territorial backbone.
Mr Lieberman’s view reflects that of the government: “We are fighting for the lands of the Jewish people, against those who intentionally try to rob and seize them.”
The labelling of the Bedouin as “squatters” and “trespassers” reveals much about the intractability of the wider conflict – and why the Americans have no hope of ending it as long as they seek solutions that address only the injustices caused by the occupation that began in 1967.
Doron Almog, who is in charge of implementing the Prawer Plan, observed last week that the Bedouin were not resisting it to save their communities but “to create territorial contiguity between Hebron and the Gaza Strip”. In other words, in Almog’s paranoid thinking, the Bedouin’s struggle for rights is really a cover for their ambition to serve as a bridgehead between the West Bank and Gaza.
In truth, both Israel and the Palestinians understand that the war of 1948 never really finished.
Suhad Bishara, a lawyer specialising in Israeli land issues for the Adalah legal centre, has called the Prawer Plan a “second nakba”, in reference to the catastrophic events of 1948 that stripped the Palestinians of their homeland.
Israel, meanwhile, continues to conceive of its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens – however peaceable – as just as alien and threatening to its interests as the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The roots of the Prawer Plan can be traced to one of Zionism’s earliest principles: “Judaisation”. There are cities across Israel, including Upper Nazareth, Karmiel and Migdal Haemek, founded as Judaisation communities next to large Palestinian populations with the official goal of “making the land Jewish”.
Judaisation’s faulty premise, in the pre-state years, was the fantasy that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Its sinister flip side was the cheery injunction to Zionism’s pioneers to “make the desert bloom”, chiefly by driving out Palestinians.
Nowadays, the term “Judaisation”, with its unpleasant overtones, has been discarded in favour of “development”. There is even a minister for “developing the Negev and the Galilee” – Israel’s two areas with large concentrations of Palestinians. But officials are interested only in Jewish development.
Last week, in the wake of the clashes, the Israeli Haaretz daily published leaked documents showing that the World Zionist Organisation – an unofficial arm of the government – has been quietly reviving the Judaisation programme in the Galilee.
In an effort to bring another 100,000 Jews to the region, several new towns are to be built, for Jews only, dispersed as widely as possible in contravention of Israel’s own national master plan, which requires denser building inside existing communities to protect scarce land resources.
All this generosity towards Israel’s Jewish population is at the expense of the country’s Palestinian citizens. They have not been allowed a single new community since Israel’s founding more than six decades ago. And the new Jewish towns, as Arab mayors complained last week, are being built intentionally to box them in.
For officials, the renewed Judaisation drive is about asserting “Israeli sovereignty” and “strengthening our hold” over the Galilee, as if the current inhabitants – Israeli citizens who are Palestinian – were a group of hostile foreigners. Haaretz more honestly characterised the policy as “racism”.
Judaisation casts the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in zero-sum terms, and thereby makes it unresolvable. In considering its Palestinian citizens, Israel speaks not of integration, or even assimilation, but of their enduring status as a “fifth column” and the Jewish state’s “Achilles heel”.
That is because, were principles of justice and equality ever to be enforced, Palestinians in Israel could serve as a gateway by which millions of exiled Palestinians might find their way back home.
With the policy of Judaisation revoked, the Palestinian minority could end the conflict without violence simply by pulling down the scaffolding of racist laws that have blocked any return for the Palestinians since their expulsion 65 years ago.
This is why Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands as part of the current peace negotiations that the Palestinians sanctify the Judaisation principle by recognising Israel as a Jewish state. It is also why the talks are doomed to failure.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.
Part I — Separating Legitimacy and Behavior
In the year 1762 the King of Prussia, Frederick II, launched an unprovoked attack on Austria with the aim of conquering the province of Silesia. One hundred and two years later, in 1864, Otto von Bismarck, then prime minister of Prussia, provoked a war with Denmark in order to seize the Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein. Since its founding, the United States has launched over 330 mostly unwarranted foreign military interventions around the globe. Concurrently the U.S. existed as a slave state until 1865 and then practiced institutional racism right up into the 1960s. Throughout all of this history the citizens of these countries never doubted the legitimacy of their nation-states.
This discounting of violent and inhumane policies reflects a long tradition that asserts that if a state exists, that is, if it has a government that can exercise sovereignty over territory, it is automatically legitimate. In this way the idea of legitimacy has been separated from the fact of behavior. If you think about it, this is the equivalent of saying a killer is a legitimate member of society simply because he or she is alive and occupying space. In both cases it is true that the state and the person exist, but can either really be judged legitimate members of their respective communities apart from their behavior? In the case of criminals, no society separates legitimacy and behavior. Criminal behavior leads us to try to rehabilitate the offender or segregate him or her from the population through incarceration. Dealing with states which act in criminal ways is, of course, more complicated.
Part II — The Zionist Gambit
Most Zionists play this game of separating legitimacy from behavior when they defend against those who question Israel’s right to be. For them, it should not matter if, like Prussia, Israel steals others’ land, and it should not matter if, like pre-civil rights America, Israel practices institutional racism. For most Zionists such behavior has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimacy as a country.
Take, for instance, Leon Wieseltier, a well-known and highly educated American Zionist, who goes down this road of separating legitimacy from behavior in support of Israel. He does this in a 24 November 2013 New York Times Book review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.
Here are some of the points Wieseltier makes:
– “Too much of the discourse on Israel is a doubting discourse. … As if some fundamental acceptance of its reality is pending upon the resolution of its many problems … consigning it to a historical provisionality. … As if anybody has the authority to declare that the experiment has failed, and to try to do something about it.” Wieseltier concludes that “Israel is not a proposition, it is a country.”
– Wieseltier likes Shavit’s book because the author “recover(s) the feeling of Israel’s facticity and revel(s) in it, to restore the grandeur of the simple fact in full view of the complicated facts.” And, of course, there are plenty of reprehensible “complicated facts” for which both author and reviewer recognize the Zionist state’s responsibility.
For instance, Wieseltier cites Shavit’s “narrative of the massacre and expulsion of the Arabs of Lydda by Israeli forces in the war of 1948.” He sees this recounting as an example of the author’s facing Israel’s crimes forthrightly. Yet, for Wieseltier, nation-states per se often act in a criminal fashion and so, in the end, we must accept it. He notes, with apparent approval, the following from Shavit: “The choice is stark, either reject Zionism [the Zionist State of Israel] because of Lydda, or accept Zionism [the Zionist state] along with Lydda. … If need be, I will stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the state of Israel would not have been born. … They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter and my sons to live.” Here Shavit has mixed up belief and fact. He does not actually know that the Israel would have not been “born” without “filthy work” such as mass murder. He just excuses the criminality by believing in its necessity.
– For Shavit, this all makes the “peace process” problematic. ”If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed. But if it does retreat it will face an Iran-backed and Islamic Brotherhood-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security.”
Wieseltier agrees that this description of Israel’s apparent dilemma “is all true” even though, once again, neither he nor Shavit really know this to be so. Israel has always treated the Palestinians in a way that encourages resistance. To then declare that security-threatening resistance is inevitable is to engage in circular reasoning. If Israel were to withdraw to the 1967 border and allow for the creation of truly viable Palestinian state it probably would not get those dreaded missiles in return. The conviction that the missiles are inevitable simply serves as a justification to do the criminal thing and illegally colonize the West Bank.
As to Shavit’s reference to Iran, the reality is that Iran has never been a physical threat to Israel and agreements (which the Israeli leadership opposes) that allow Iran to reconcile with the West help ensure that it will not be one in the future. On the other hand, Israeli policies that promote Muslim enmity are a real source of present and future danger to Israeli citizens.
Part III — Seeing Legitimacy and Behavior as One
There is something reductive and simplistic about Wieseltier’s thinking, as if the legitimate existence of the State of Israel is something completely apart from its manner of being or behavior.
Take for instance Wieseltier’s insistence that “Israel is not a proposition, it is a country.” Actually, he is wrong not only about Israel but about all countries. Nation-states are not eternal or unchanging. They have beginnings, and sometimes abrupt and violent ends. Moreover, those that do persist are in fact evolving propositions that are usually brought, peacefully or otherwise, to conform to their changing international environments.
This means that all nation-states will periodically change from one kind of nation into another. In many cases their legitimacy depends on their adaptability. Thus, the Germany of Adolf Hitler is not the Germany of today. The South Africa that practiced apartheid is not the South Africa of today. The Cambodia of Pol Pot is not the Cambodia of today. The Chile of Pinochet is not the Chile of today. And, the United States as it existed before the civil rights movement of the 1960s is not the United States of today. In each case the earlier versions of these countries were anathema not only to their own morally aware citizens, but to much of the rest of the world. In each case there were both domestic and foreign organizations and individuals who pointed to the country’s problems and called for actions to be taken against them. Why should Israel be treated as an exception to such an historical pattern of change?
Increasingly in the contemporary world legitimacy does not simply rest on the mere fact of occupying or asserting sovereignty over territory. Today legitimacy has to do with national behavior that satisfies international norms and laws. Now that might not be the consistent opinion of governments which are prone to hypocrisy, but it is increasingly the position taken by civil society. The expression of that position is the “doubting discourse” Wieseltier complains of. He does not recognize that within today’s international environment “fundamental acceptance of [Zionist Israeli] reality” is in fact “provisional.” It is provisional in the same sense that apartheid South Africa and the pre-civil rights U.S. evolved into a provisional status as much of the rest of the world came to see their behavior as unacceptable.
Thus, it is not those who engage in “doubting discourse” about Israel who defy reality, it is Wieseltier himself when he simplistically asserts that no one “has the authority to declare that the experiment [that is Israel] has failed, and to try to do something about it.” In truth, the entire world has that authority and, at the governmental level, it is only Israel’s special interest operatives embedded within the Western nations that, for the time being, keep government policy from following evolving popular opinion.
Part IV — Israel Must Change
Wieseltier also fails to recognize that central to today’s “doubting discourse” is the fact that the Israel of Lydda is still the Israel of today. It is clear from his review that he thinks today’s Zionist Israel is the only possible Israel, and the world just has to accept it. It is easy to see why one might get this idea. Listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warmongering over Iran, itemize the racist legislation coming out of the Knesset, count the number of Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israeli government, list the terroristic acts committed with impunity by violent Zionist settlers, etc., etc., and the Zionist Israel of the present — a racist state openly engaged in a process of ethnic cleansing — seems solidly established. Yet it is just this established behavior that moves millions of people to assert its illegitimacy. Wieseltier’s feared “doubting discourse” is not going away. It is spreading. If you want proof of this take a look at the Boycott Diversity and Sanctions (BDS) movement webpage listing accomplishments achieved just in the last few months. It is impressive, and topped off by the esteemed American Studies Association’s recent decision to endorse the call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
Will there come a time when Zionists like Wieseltier understand that the growing condemnation and evolving isolation of Israel will not cease unless that nation-state changes in fundamental ways — that is, becomes a different Israel? Will they also come to realize that the pressure for change is not a function of some “new anti-Semitism” but rather a reaction to the unchanging behavior of the “Israel of Lydda”?
In the end just existing, just possessing “facticity,” as Wieseltier puts it, will not confer legitimacy on Israel, just as merely being a living person does not confer a normal status in society to a criminal. What is important is being plus behavior. At this point in history the ideology that guides Israeli behavior, the ideology of Zionism, leads it to behave in a racist, expansionist fashion. So, just like the criminal, the choice is rehabilitation — which means a non-Zionist Israel wherein all its citizens are equal before the law — or segregation from the society of nations. Like Ari Shavit, Wieseltier must make a choice. Does he want to see Israel a just and humane place, or does he also choose to “stand by the damned”?