Why the Middle East Will Never Be the Same Again September 20, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab awakening, arab spring, Avigdor Lieberman, ehud barak, israel, israel colonies, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, oslo agreement, Palestine, palestine statehood, peace process, road map, robert fisk, roger hollander, west bank
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The Palestinians won’t achieve statehood, but they will consign the ‘peace process’ to history.
The Palestinians won’t get a state this week. But they will prove – if they get enough votes in the General Assembly and if Mahmoud Abbas does not succumb to his characteristic grovelling in the face of US-Israeli power – that they are worthy of statehood. And they will establish for the Arabs what Israel likes to call – when it is enlarging its colonies on stolen land – “facts on the ground”: never again can the United States and Israel snap their fingers and expect the Arabs to click their heels. The US has lost its purchase on the Middle East. It’s over: the “peace process”, the “road map”, the “Oslo agreement”; the whole fandango is history.
Personally, I think “Palestine” is a fantasy state, impossible to create now that the Israelis have stolen so much of the Arabs’ land for their colonial projects. Go take a look at the West Bank, if you don’t believe me. Israel’s massive Jewish colonies, its pernicious building restrictions on Palestinian homes of more than one storey and its closure even of sewage systems as punishment, the “cordons sanitaires” beside the Jordanian frontier, the Israeli-only settlers’ roads have turned the map of the West Bank into the smashed windscreen of a crashed car. Sometimes, I suspect that the only thing that prevents the existence of “Greater Israel” is the obstinacy of those pesky Palestinians.
But we are now talking of much greater matters. This vote at the UN – General Assembly or Security Council, in one sense it hardly matters – is going to divide the West – Americans from Europeans and scores of other nations – and it is going to divide the Arabs from the Americans. It is going to crack open the divisions in the European Union; between eastern and western Europeans, between Germany and France (the former supporting Israel for all the usual historical reasons, the latter sickened by the suffering of the Palestinians) and, of course, between Israel and the EU.
A great anger has been created in the world by decades of Israeli power and military brutality and colonisation; millions of Europeans, while conscious of their own historical responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust and well aware of the violence of Muslim nations, are no longer cowed in their criticism for fear of being abused as anti-Semites. There is racism in the West – and always will be, I fear – against Muslims and Africans, as well as Jews. But what are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in which no Arab Muslim Palestinian can live, but an expression of racism?
Israel shares in this tragedy, of course. Its insane government has led its people on this road to perdition, adequately summed up by its sullen fear of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt – how typical that its principle ally in this nonsense should be the awful Saudi Arabia – and its cruel refusal to apologise for the killing of nine Turks in the Gaza flotilla last year and its equal refusal to apologise to Egypt for the killing of five of its policemen during a Palestinian incursion into Israel.
So goodbye to its only regional allies, Turkey and Egypt, in the space of scarcely 12 months. Israel’s cabinet is composed both of intelligent, potentially balanced people such as Ehud Barak, and fools such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Ahmadinejad of Israeli politics. Sarcasm aside, Israelis deserve better than this.
The State of Israel may have been created unjustly – the Palestinian Diaspora is proof of this – but it was created legally. And its founders were perfectly capable of doing a deal with King Abdullah of Jordan after the 1948-49 war to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. But it had been the UN, which met to decide the fate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, which gave Israel its legitimacy, the Americans being the first to vote for its creation. Now – by a supreme irony of history – it is Israel which wishes to prevent the UN from giving Palestinian Arabs their legitimacy – and it is America which will be the first to veto such a legitimacy.
Does Israel have a right to exist? The question is a tired trap, regularly and stupidly trotted out by Israel’s so-called supporters; to me, too, on regular though increasingly fewer occasions. States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel? It is the only nation on earth which does not know and will not declare where its eastern frontier is. Is it the old UN armistice line, the 1967 border so beloved of Abbas and so hated by Netanyahu, or the Palestinian West Bank minus settlements, or the whole of the West Bank?
Show me a map of the United Kingdom which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it has the right to exist. But show me a map of the UK which claims to include the 26 counties of independent Ireland in the UK and shows Dublin to be a British rather than an Irish city, and I will say no, this nation does not have the right to exist within these expanded frontiers. Which is why, in the case of Israel, almost every Western embassy, including the US and British embassies, are in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.
In the new Middle East, amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. So locked into Israel has US foreign policy become, so fearful of Israel have almost all its Congressmen and Congresswomen become – to the extent of loving Israel more than America – that America will this week stand out not as the nation that produced Woodrow Wilson and his 14 principles of self-determination, not as the country which fought Nazism and Fascism and Japanese militarism, not as the beacon of freedom which, we are told, its Founding Fathers represented – but as a curmudgeonly, selfish, frightened state whose President, after promising a new affection for the Muslim world, is forced to support an occupying power against a people who only ask for statehood.
Should we say “poor old Obama”, as I have done in the past? I don’t think so. Big on rhetoric, vain, handing out false love in Istanbul and Cairo within months of his election, he will this week prove that his re-election is more important than the future of the Middle East, that his personal ambition to stay in power must take first place over the sufferings of an occupied people. In this context alone, it is bizarre that a man of such supposed high principle should show himself so cowardly. In the new Middle East, in which Arabs are claiming the very same rights and freedoms that Israel and America say they champion, this is a profound tragedy.
US failures to stand up to Israel and to insist on a fair peace in “Palestine”, abetted by the hero of the Iraq war, Blair, are responsible. Arabs too, for allowing their dictators to last so long and thus to clog the sand with false frontiers and old dogmas and oil (and let’s not believe that a “new” “Palestine” would be a paradise for its own people). Israel, too, when it should be welcoming the Palestinian demand for statehood at the UN with all its obligations of security and peace and recognition of other UN members. But no. The game is lost. America’s political power in the Middle East will this week be neutered on behalf of Israel. Quite a sacrifice in the name of liberty…
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
Tags: Avigdor Lieberman, blockade, flotilla, free gaza, gaza, gaza aid, gaza massacre, goldstone, humanitarian aid, humanitarian disaster, International law, israel, israel attack, israeli blockade, paul jay, roger hollander, War Crimes
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Last night, Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish aid ship on its way to Gaza. It is reported that they killed ten to fifteen activists and injured thirty more.
The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast. Organizers said the flotilla was carrying 10,000 tones of humanitarian aid headed to Gaza challenging the Israeli blockade.
The Israeli Army Radio said soldiers opened fire “after confronting those on board carrying sharp objects”. Israel says they offered to deliver the aid if the ships turned back.
The Free Gaza Movement, the organizers of the flotilla, however, said the troops opened fire as soon as they stormed the ships. They also said they were fully within international law delivering the aid directly to Gaza.
Turkey in a written statement condemned Israel over the deadly attacks: “This deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations,” it said.
Turkey is a member of NATO and one of the few majority Muslim countries that has diplomatic relations with Israel. Although Israel has been a major supplier of arms to Turkey, diplomatic relations have been tense following the 2008-2009 Israel attack on Gaza.
Prior to the attack on the aid ship, Israel ‘s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “The aid convoy is violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow its sovereignty to be threatened in any way, in any place – land, air, or sea. There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.” The UN and numerous NGO’s have described the conditions in Gaza as a humanitarian disaster.
Lieberman has openly talked about ethnically cleansing Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin. In late May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan in which the populations and territories of Israeli Jews and Arabs, including some Israeli Arabs, would be “separated.” According to the plan, also known as the “Populated-Area Exchange Plan,” Israeli Arab towns adjacent to Palestinian Authority areas would be transferred to Palestinian Authority, and only those Arab Israelis who migrated from the area to within Israel’s new borders and pledged loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel would be allowed to remain Israeli citizens.
I was in Israel in April of this year, my first visit since 1998. I interviewed Michel Warschawski, founder of the Alternative Information Centre, who spoke about the significance of Lieberman: “it’s not anymore a small lunatic right wing, like [Meir] Kahane gang 20 years ago. He’s minister of foreign affairs. He’s government. He’s part of the coalition, an important part of the coalition. So what we have is the blatantly racist language and measures that were on the margin of Israeli politics are now in the middle.”
After Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008, the UN appointed a Fact Finding Mission to investigate alleged war crimes. The mission, led by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, produced a report that accused both Israel and Palestinian militias of war crimes.
The UN human rights council referred Goldstone’s report to the UN General Assembly in Washington for follow-up, but under US pressure, the report never reached the Security Council for possible referral to the International Criminal Court. The Canadian government joined the US in denouncing the report.
On Thursday Amnesty International accused the US and European states of obstructing justice by using their position on the UN Security Council to shield Israel from accountability for war crimes committed in Gaza.
As long as the American, Canadian and European governments continue to allow Israel to flout international law without consequence, defend and expand illegal settlements, maintain a “secret” stockpile of nuclear weapons, sustain the siege of Gaza . . . Israel will continue on this road with impunity.
The American and Canadian elites support such actions of Israel not because they love Jews or care about a Jewish state. A long history of North American and European anti-Semitism says otherwise. They do so for their own geo-political objectives. Like most issues in the Middle East, it’s mostly about oil and maintaining a system of regimes, Israeli and Arab, which make sure that fabulous oil revenues remain in very few hands.
I think most ordinary Americans and Canadians, including those of Jewish origin, do not agree with a policy of unconditional support for the increasingly fanatical direction of Israeli policy.
© 2009 – 2010 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Paul Jay is the CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. He is an award-winning filmmaker, founder of Hot Docs! International Film Festival and was for ten years the Executive Producer of the CBC Newsworld show counterSpin.
The Unmaking of the Palestinian Nation March 16, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: Avigdor Lieberman, balfour, ben gurion, british mandate, gaza, history, intifada, israel, israelis, jeffrey goldberg, juan cole, league of nations, Mahmoud Abbas, mandates, Middle East, netanyahu, Palestine, Palestinians, roger hollander, settlements, west bank, zionism
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On March 10, I posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build 1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it did.
The tiff between the U.S. and Israel is less important that the worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the Palestinians as well. There is talk of a third Intifada or Palestinian uprising.
As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past century.
Andrew Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site, which set off a lot of thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, but shed very little light.
The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I. (The Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia.)
But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence of President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas about self-determination, Britain and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman territories into simple colonies. The League of Nations awarded them “Mandates.” Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.The League of Nations Covenant spelled out what a Class A Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was:
Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.
That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to ‘render administrative advice and assistance” to these peoples in preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless prisoners in colonial cantons).
The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion that the Negev Desert was ‘empty’ and should not have been shown in the first map. But it wasn’t and isn’t empty; Palestinian Bedouin live there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training. The Mandate of Palestine also had a charge to allow for the establishment of a ‘homeland’ in Palestine for Jews (because of the 1917 Balfour Declaration), but nobody among League of Nations officialdom at that time imagined it would be a whole and competing territorial state. There was no prospect of more than a few tens of thousands of Jews settling in Palestine, as of the mid-1920s. (They are shown in white on the first map, refuting those who mysteriously complained that the maps alternated between showing sovereignty and showing population.) As late as the 1939 British White Paper, British officials imagined that the Mandate would emerge as an independent Palestinian state within 10 years.
In 1851, there had been 327,000 Palestinians (yes, the word “Filistin” was current then) and other non-Jews, and only 13,000 Jews. In 1925, after decades of determined Jewish immigration, there were a little over 100,000 Jews, and there were 765,000 mostly Palestinian non-Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. For historical demography of this area, see Justin McCarthy’s painstaking calculations; it is not true, as sometimes is claimed, that we cannot know anything about population figures in this region. See also his journal article, reprinted at this site. The Palestinian population grew because of rapid population growth, not in-migration, which was minor. The common allegation that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority at some point in the 19th century is meaningless. Jerusalem was a small town in 1851, and many pious or indigent elderly Jews from Eastern Europe and elsewhere retired there because of charities that would support them. In 1851, Jews were only about 4 percent of the population of the territory that became the British Mandate of Palestine some 70 years later. And, there had been few adherents of Judaism, just a few thousand, from the time most Jews in Palestine adopted Christianity and Islam in the first millennium CE all the way until the 20th century. In the British Mandate of Palestine, the district of Jerusalem was largely Palestinian.
The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s impelled massive Jewish emigration to Palestine, so by 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews there amid over a million Palestinians.
The second map shows the United Nations partition plan of 1947, which awarded Jews (who only then owned about 6 percent of Palestinian land) a substantial state alongside a much reduced Palestine. Although apologists for the Zionist movement say that the Zionists accepted this partition plan and the Arabs rejected it, that is not entirely true. Zionist leader David Ben Gurion noted in his diary when Israel was established that when the U.S. had been formed, no document set out its territorial extent, implying that the same was true of Israel. We know that Ben Gurion was an Israeli expansionist who fully intended to annex more land to Israel, and by 1956 he attempted to add the Sinai and would have liked southern Lebanon. So the Zionist “acceptance” of the UN partition plan did not mean very much beyond a happiness that their initial starting point was much better than their actual land ownership had given them any right to expect.
The third map shows the status quo after the Israeli-Palestinian civil war of 1947-1948. It is not true that the entire Arab League attacked the Jewish community in Palestine or later Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. As Avi Shlaim has shown, Jordan had made an understanding with the Zionist leadership that it would grab the West Bank, and its troops did not mount a campaign in the territory awarded to Israel by the UN. Egypt grabbed Gaza and then tried to grab the Negev Desert, with a few thousand badly trained and equipped troops, but was defeated by the nascent Israeli army. Few other Arab states sent any significant number of troops. The total number of troops on the Arab side actually on the ground was about equal to those of the Zionist forces, and the Zionists had more esprit de corps and better weaponry.
The final map shows the situation today, which springs from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and then the decision of the Israelis to colonize the West Bank intensively (a process that is illegal in the law of war concerning occupied populations).
There is nothing inaccurate about the maps at all, historically. Goldberg maintained that the Palestinians’ “original sin” was rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan. But since Ben Gurion and other expansionists went on to grab more territory later in history, it is not clear that the Palestinians could have avoided being occupied even if they had given away willingly so much of their country in 1947. The first original sin was the contradictory and feckless pledge by the British to sponsor Jewish immigration into their Mandate in Palestine, which they wickedly and fantastically promised would never inconvenience the Palestinians in any way. It was the same kind of original sin as the French policy of sponsoring a million colons in French Algeria, or the French attempt to create a Christian-dominated Lebanon where the Christians would be privileged by French policy. The second original sin was the refusal of the United States to allow Jews to immigrate in the 1930s and early 1940s, which forced them to go to Palestine to escape the monstrous, mass-murdering Nazis.
The map attracted so much ire and controversy not because it is inaccurate but because it clearly shows what has been done to the Palestinians, which the League of Nations had recognized as not far from achieving statehood in its Covenant. Their statehood and their territory has been taken from them, and they have been left stateless, without citizenship and therefore without basic civil and human rights. The map makes it easy to see this process. The map had to be stigmatized and made taboo. But even if that marginalization of an image could be accomplished, the squalid reality of Palestinian statelessness would remain, and the children of Gaza would still be being malnourished by the deliberate Israeli policy of blockading civilians. The map just points to a powerful reality; banishing the map does not change that reality.
Goldberg, according to Spencer Ackerman, says that he will stop replying to Andrew Sullivan, for which Ackerman is grateful, since, he implies, Goldberg is a propagandistic hack who loves to promote wars on flimsy pretenses. Matthew Yglesias also has some fun at Goldberg’s expense.
People like Goldberg never tell us what they expect to happen to the Palestinians in the near and medium future. They don’t seem to understand that the status quo is untenable. They are like militant ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand while lashing out with their hind talons at anyone who stares clear-eyed at the problem, characterizing us as bigots. As if that old calumny has any purchase for anyone who knows something serious about the actual views of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, more bigoted persons than whom would be difficult to find. Indeed, some of Israel’s current problems with Brazil come out of Lieberman’s visit there last summer; I was in Rio then and remember the distaste with which the multi-cultural, multi-racial Brazilians viewed Lieberman, whom some openly called a racist.
© 2010 Salon.com
Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His most recent book Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) has just been published. He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.
Only Psychiatrists Can Explain Israel’s Behavior January 12, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: Avigdor Lieberman, gaza, gideon levy, golan heights, goldstone report, israel, israel peace, natanyahu, Palestine, Palestinians, roger hollander, settlements, two-state, west bank
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Our wild world of crime has recently been sent for observation. From the bodyguard of the IDF Chief of Staff to the killers of their own children – all have been sent for observation. The time has come, as is the custom around here, to send the country for observation, too. Maybe with ongoing treatment from specialists, the diagnosis that will save us can be made.
There are numerous reasons for the observation. A long series of acts that have no rational explanation, or really any explanation whatsoever, raise the following suspicions: a loss of touch with reality; temporary or permanent insanity, paranoia, schizophrenia and megalomania; memory loss and loss of judgment. All of this must be examined, under careful observation.
The psychiatric specialists might be so kind as to try to explain how a country with leaders committed to a two-state solution continues to direct huge budgets toward building more settlements in territories it intends to vacate in the future. What explanation could there be, if not from the psychiatric realm, for a 10-month halt to residential construction in the settlements, to be immediately followed by more construction? How can a country be so tightfisted when it comes to healthcare spending on its citizens, whose poor are getting poorer – and yet when a portion of the roads in the West Bank are already deemed as dangerous, they build more and more roads there leading from nowhere to nowhere?
They should explain how the state prosecutor can announce his intention to expropriate more privately-owned Palestinian land at the settlement of Ofra – the “largest illegal settlement in the territories” (in the words of the defense minister’s adviser on settlement issues) – when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his address at Bar-Ilan University last year, explicitly committed not to do so, and President Shimon Peres did more of the same in a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
They should explain what lies behind the decision to examine annexing Highway 443, which runs through the West Bank, as Israeli territory – as a way of defeating the recent High Court of Justice ruling opening it to Palestinian motorists. How can a country that preaches the rule of law dare outfox the High Court through “bypass” laws? And how have an insignificant minority – the settlers – sown fear and managed to extort the country for so many years?
Psychiatric specialists should make clear how a country that’s been dealt a report as potentially disastrous for it as the Goldstone report can so adamantly and stubbornly refuse to convene the commission of inquiry the report provides as an escape clause. How can a nation that has so desperately fought for its international image and standing, and which is so dependent on the world’s benevolence, appoint such a thuggish and violent figure as Avigdor Lieberman as its No. 1 diplomat? Half the world is closed to the foreign minister and we suffer the consequences.
Why didn’t Israel consider presenting, even through some illusion, a nicer face to the world than Lieberman’s threatening visage? Why doesn’t a country so ostracized by so much of the world not ask itself, even for a moment, what part it played in shaping that position of isolation, from which it simply attacks and points fingers at its critics? How can a society which has already existed with a cruel occupation in its backyard for two generations refuse to deal with it, continue feeling so good about itself and evade any kind of self-examination or even an inkling of moral equivocation?
What kind of explanation can be given for the fact that a nation with a clear secular majority has no system for civil marriage, no buses or trains operating on Shabbat? How in such a country are wealthy municipal governments required to transfer funds to religious councils, of all places, rather than other needs? How can a country that has to deal with a domestic Arab minority which has maintained surprising loyalty to the country for more than 60 years do everything to put it down, humiliate and exclude it, treat it unfairly and engender a sense of frustration and hatred within it?
Can it be rationally explained how a country, to which all of the Arab nations have presented a historic peace proposal, refuses to even discuss this? It is a country that the president of Syria (whose major ally, Iran, is threatening Israel) is begging to come to a peace agreement with, yet it remains insistent in its refusal. Only psychiatric experts could possibly explain how the continued occupation of the Golan Heights and the missed opportunities for peace relate to security or logic. At the same time, they should try to explain the connection between the sanctity of historic sites and sovereignty over them. And above all, they should clarify how such a smart and talented society participates in this march of folly without anyone objecting.
True, it’s a difficult case to figure out – all the more reason to recommend the country be sent for observation.
© 2010 Haaretz
Tags: anti-arab racism, arab emgration, arab israelis, arab minority israel, arab transfer, Avigdor Lieberman, conn hallinan, ehud olmert, expel arabs, gaza war, israel, israel army roadblocks, israel occupied territories, israel racism, israel settlements, israel xenophobia, israeli extremists, jewish nationalists, jewish state, kach, kadima, knesset, likud, meir kahane, meretz, Middle East, national union, nteanyahu, palestinian state, roger hollander, shin bet, tzipi livni, west bank, yisrael beiteinu, Zeev Sternhell
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There is a growing consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel its Arab citizens to either a Palestinian state or to Jordan and Egypt.
One of the more disturbing developments in the Middle East is a growing consensus among Israelis that it would acceptable to expel — in the words of advocates “transfer” — its Arab citizens to either a yet as unformed Palestinian state or the neighboring countries of Jordan and Egypt.
Such sentiment is hardly new among Israeli extremists, and it has long been advocated by racist Jewish organizations like Kach, the party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as groups like the National Union, which doubled its Knesset representation in the last election.
But “transfer” is no longer the exclusive policy of extremists, as it has increasingly become a part of mainstream political dialogue. “My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines,” Kadima leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a group of Tel Aviv high school students last December, “and among other things, I will be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, ‘ your national solution lies elsewhere.’”
Such talk has consequences.
According to the Israeli Association for Civil Rights, anti-Arab incidents have risen sharply. “Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism that damages freedom of expression and privacy,” says Sami Michael, the organization’s president. Among the Association’s findings:
* Some 55 percent of Jewish Israelis say that the state should encourage Arab emigration;
* 78 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose including Arab parties in the government;
* 56 percent agree with the statement that “Arabs cannot attain the Jewish level of cultural development”;
* 75 percent agree that Arabs are inclined to be violent. Among Arab-Israelis, 54 percent feel the same way about Jews.
* 75 percent of Israeli Jews say they would not live in the same building as Arabs.
The tension between Israeli democracy and the country’s Jewish character was the centerpiece of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party’s campaign in the recent election. His party increased its Knesset membership from 11 to 15, and is now the third largest party in the parliament.
Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement near Bethlehem, calls for a “loyalty oath” from Arab-Israelis, and for either expelling those who refuse or denying them citizenship rights. During a Knesset debate last March, Lieberman told Arab deputies, “You are only temporarily here. One day we will take care of you.”
Such views are increasing, particularly among young Jewish Israelis, among whom a politicized historical education and growing hopelessness about the future has fueled a strong rightward shift.
In a recent article in Haaretz, Yotam Feldman writes about a journey through Israel’s high schools, where students freely admit to their hatred of Arabs and lack of concern about the erosion of democracy.
“Sergei Liebliyanich, a senior, draws a connection between the preparation for military service in school and student support for the Right” Feldman writes, “‘ It gives us motivation against the Arabs. You want to enlist in the army so you can stick it to themI like Lieberman’s thinking about the Arabs. Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud Party] doesn’t want to go as far.”
Feldman polled 10 high schools and found that Yisrael Beiteinu was the most popular party, followed by Likud. The left-wing Meretz Party came in dead last.
In part, the politicalization of the education system is to blame.
Mariam Darmoni-Sharviot, a former civics teacher who is helping implement the 1995 Kremnitzar Commission’s recommendations on education and democracy, told Feldman, “When I talk to a civics class about the Arab minority, and about its uniqueness in being a majority that became a minority, my students argue and say it’s not true that they [Arabs] were a majority.” She said when she confronted teachers and asked why students didn’t know that Arabs were a majority in 1947, the teachers become “evasive and say it’s not part of the material.”
In part, students reflect the culture that surrounds them.
“Israeli society is speaking in two voices,” says Education Minister Yuli Tamir. “We see ourselves as a democratic society, yet we often neglect things that are very basic to democracy. If the students see the Knesset disqualifying Arab parties, a move that I’ve adamantly opposed, how can we expect them to absorb democratic values?”
All the major Israeli parties voted to remove two Arab parties, United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad, from the ballot because they opposed the Gaza war. Balad also calls for equal rights for all Israelis. Kadima spokesperson Maya Jacobs said, “Balad aims to exterminate Israel as a Jewish state and turn it into a state for all its citizens.” Labor joined in banning Balad, but not Ta’al.
The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the move and both parties ended up electing seven Knesset members in the recent election.
“The ultimate aim here,” says Dominic Moran, INS Security Watch’s senior correspondent in the Middle East, “is to sever the limited ties that bind Jews and Arabs, to the point that the idea of the transfer of the Arab-Israeli population beyond the borders of the state, championed by Yisrael Beiteinu, gains increasing legitimacy.”
This turn toward the Right also reflects an economic crisis, where poverty is on the rise and the cost of maintaining the settlements in the Occupied Territories and Israel’s military is a crushing burden. Peace Now estimates that the occupation costs $1.4 billion a year, not counting the separation wall. Israel’s military budget is just under $10 billion a year. According to Haartez, the Gaza war cost $374 million.
Some 16 percent of the Jewish population fall below the poverty line, a designation that includes 50 percent of Israeli Arabs.
“The Israeli reality can no longer hide what it has kept hidden up to now — that today no sentient mother can honestly say to her child: ‘ Next year things will be better here,’” says philosophy of education professor, Ilan Gur-Ze’ev. “The young people are replacing hope for a better future with a myth of a heroic end. For a heroic end, Lieberman fits the bill.”
Intercommunity tension manifests itself mainly in the Occupied Territories, where the relentless expansion of settlements and constant humiliation of hundreds of Israeli Army roadblocks fuels Palestinian anger.
This past December, settlers in Hebron attacked Palestinians after the Israeli government removed a group of Jewish families occuping an Arab-owned building. In response, the settlers launched “Operation Price Tag” to inflict punishment on Palestinians in the event the Tel Aviv government moves against settlers. Rioters torched cars, desecrated a Muslim cemetery, and gunned down two Arabs.
Settler rampages on the West Bank are nothing new, even though they receive virtually no coverage in the U.S. media. But a disturbing trend is the appearance of extremist settlers in Israel. Late last year Baruch Marzel, a West bank settler and follower of Kahane, threatened to lead a march through Umm al-Fahm, a largely Arab-Israeli town near Haifa.
“We have a cancer in our body capable of destroying the state of Israel,” Marzel told The Forward, “and these people are in the heart of Israel, a force capable of destroying Israel from the inside. I am going to tell these people that the land of Israel is ours.”
Arab-Israelis charge that settlers — some of them extremists re-settled from Gaza three years ago — played a role in last year’s Yom Kippur riots in the mixed city of Acre and forced Arab families our of their houses in the east part of the city. Arabs make up about 14 percent of Acre and 20 percent of Israel.
Rabbi Dov Lior, chair of the West Bank Rabbinical Council, has decreed, “It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel.”
The Adallah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights is urging Israeli Attorney General Mernachem Mazuz to investigate “Wild incitement to racism against Arabs in general and the [Arab] residents of Acre in particular.”
On Oct. 15, three days after the Acre riots, two Arab apartments in Tel Aviv were attacked with Molotov cocktails. Seven Jewish men were arrested. The Arab residents of Lod and Haifa charge that they too are being pressured to move.
In the case of Lod, municipal authorities are open about their intentions. Municipal spokesman Yoram Ben-Aroch denied that the city discriminates against Arabs, but told The Forward that municipal authorities want Lod, to become “a more Jewish town. We need to strengthen the Jewish character of Lod and religious people and Zionists have a big part to play in this strengthening.”
However, the growing lawlessness of West bank settlers and Jewish nationalists has begun to unsettle the authorities in Tel Aviv. After rightwing extremists tried to assassinate Peace Now activist Professor Zeev Sternhell, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said the intelligence organization was “very concerned” about the “extremist right” and its willingness to resort to violence.
Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “We are not willing to live with a significant group of people that has cast off all authority,” and called Operation Price Tag a “pogrom.”
So far, however, the government and Shin Bet have done little to rein in the rising tide of rightwing terror, which is aimed at Jews as well as Arabs.
Ahmad Tibi of the Arab Ta’al Party says that while Arab Israelis feel threatened by what Ben Gurion University political scientist Neve Gordan calls a “move toward xenophobic politics,” Tibi warns that, “It is the Jewish majority that should be afraid of this phenomenon.”
To Gaza, With Love February 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: aipac, american jewish community, apache helicopters, Avigdor Lieberman, ceasefire, code pink, f-16, gaza, gaza children casualties, gaza massacre, gaza will not die, geneva conventions, genocide, hamas, holocaust, J Street, jewish community, just peace, massacre, massacre children, medea benjamin, Middle East, netanyahu, never again, Palestinians, roger hollander, smart bombs, tikun, tzipi livni, War Crimes, west bank, white phosphorus
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by Medea Benjamin, February 17, 2009
Published on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me. I saw it in a brochure called “Gaza will not die” that Hamas gives out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the street, when I go to sleep at night.
It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.
What was this little girl’s name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring?
Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children-each as beautiful and precious as our own.
As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness, firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping “smart bombs” that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.
If the invasion was designed to destroy Hamas, it failed miserably. Not only is Hamas still in control, but it retains much popular support. If the invasion was designed as a form of collective punishment, it succeeded, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers and traumatized children.
To get a sense of the devastation, check out a slide show circulating on the internet called Gaza: Massacre of Children (www.aztlan.net/gaza/gaza_massacre_of_children.php). It should be required viewing for all who supported this invasion of Gaza. Babies charred like shish-kebabs. Limbs chopped off. Features melted from white phosphorus. Faces crying out in pain, gripped by fear, overcome by grief.
Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that “Israel has the right to self-defense” or “Hamas brought this upon its own people,” or worse yet, “the Israeli military didn’t go far enough,” does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to humanity.
Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a desire to alleviate that suffering. True compassion is not circumscribed by one’s faith or the nationality of those suffering. It crosses borders; it speaks a universal language; it shares a common spirituality. Those who have suffered themselves, such as Holocaust victims, are supposed to have the deepest well of compassion.
The Israeli election was in full swing while was I visiting Gaza. As I looked out on the ruins of schools, playgrounds, homes, mosques and clinics, I recalled the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, “No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it’s not enough.” As I talked to distraught mothers whose children were on life support in a bombed hospital, I thought of the “moderate” woman in the race, Tzipi Livni, who vowed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, insisted that “terror must be fought with force and lots of force” and warned that “if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message.”
“The message,” I can report, has been received. It is a message that Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean nothing to them. Even more chilling is the pro-war message sent by the Israeli people with their votes for Netanyahu, Livni and anti-Arab racist Avigdor Lieberman.
How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.
Here in the U.S., Congress ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and pledged its unwavering support for the Israeli state. All but five members out of 535 voted for a resolution justifying the invasion, falsely holding Hamas solely responsible for breaking the ceasefire and praising Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time when food supplies were rotting at the closed borders.
One glimmer of hope we found among people in Gaza was the Obama administration. Many were upset that Obama did not speak out during the invasion and that peace envoy George Mitchell, on his first trip to the Middle East, did not visit Gaza or even Syria. But they felt that Mitchell was a good choice and Obama, if given the space by the American people, could play a positive role.
Who can provide that space for Obama? Who can respond to the call for justice from the Palestinian people? Who can counter AIPAC, the powerful lobby that supports Israeli aggression?
An organized, mobilized, coordinated grassroots movement is the critical counterforce, and within that movement, those who have a particularly powerful voice are American Jews. We have the beginnings of a such a counterforce within the American Jewish community. Across the United States, Jews joined marches, sit-ins, die-ins, even chained themselves to Israeli consulates in protest. Jewish groups like J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom lobby for a diplomatic solution. Tikkun organizes for a Jewish spiritual renewal grounded in social justice. The Middle East Children’s Alliance and Madre send humanitarian aid to Palestine. Women in Black hold compelling weekly vigils. American Jews for a Just Peace plants olive trees on the West Bank. Jewish Voice for Peace promotes divestment from corporations that profit from occupation. Jews Against the Occupation calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.
We need greater coordination among these groups and within the broader movement. And we need more people and more sustained involvement, especially Jewish Americans. In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our-and Palestinian-children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out. As Sholom Schwartzbard, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, explained at a New York City protest, “We know from our own history what being sealed behind barbed wire and checkpoints is like, and we know that ‘Never Again’ means not anyone, not anywhere – or it means nothing at all.”
On March 7, I will return to Gaza with a large international delegation, bringing aid but more importantly, pressuring the Israeli, U.S. and Egyptian governments to open the borders and lift the siege. Many members of the delegation are Jews. We will travel in the spirit of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but with a heavy sense of responsibility, shame and yes, compassion. We will never be able to bring back to life the little girl buried in the rubble. But we can-and will–hold her in our hearts as we bring a message from America and a growing number of American Jews: To Gaza, With Love.
For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact email@example.com.
A Toxic Force Rises in Israel February 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Avigdor Lieberman, bibi netanyahu, greater israel, hamas, Israel Beytenu, israel settlements, israeli election, jonathan freedland, kach party, kadima, knesset, likud, meir kahane, palestinian state, roger hollander, shimon perex, tzipi livni, west bank, yitzhak shamir, zionism
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The search for silver linings in the murky cloud of yesterday’s Israeli election requires a great effort of the will. There is not much to go on. You could draw comfort from the fact that Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu, who thought he was such a dead cert to win a matter of weeks ago, was rejected, albeit narrowly, in favour of the woman he so consistently patronised, Tzipi Livni of Kadima.
Or you might take solace in the notion that the near tie between Bibi and Tzipi would most easily be resolved by the pair rotating the premiership between them, each taking a two-year turn, following the precedent set by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir after they fought each other to a dead heat in 1984. The virtue of such an arrangement could be the exclusion of the ultra-nationalist hardman Avigdor Lieberman, whose Israel Beytenu – Israel our Home – party surged to third place on Tuesday.
Or you might assume that the likeliest coalition will be unambiguously of the right, given that – even though Likud itself fell short – the parties of the self-styled “national camp” won a convincing victory over the centre-left bloc. Bibi’s motivation will be to expose Kadima to the chill of opposition for the first time in its short life, where, Bibi hopes, it will wither and die. The result will be the most rightwing government in Israel’s history. Good, one longtime peace campaigner told me yesterday. “Let the right have power and live with the consequences.” They will soon be on a collision course with Barack Obama’s Washington. Under US pressure, they will unravel, the right’s limitations will have been exposed and the pendulum will swing back leftwards.
Even if that is too hopeful, some on the Israeli left see a value in the country having a full-bloodedly rightist government. “Maybe we’re like the alcoholic who needs to touch bottom before we can start the climb back up,” was how one put it. Perhaps there has to be a crisis before there can be a recovery.
If these sound like heroic attempts at self-consolation, that is because they are. The truth is, the clouds are much clearer to see. The hawkish camp thumped the centre left on Tuesday, and that’s even when you generously count Kadima and Labour – co-authors of operation Cast Lead – as the centre left. But this is about more than a victory for the right. Something else happened and its face belongs to Avigdor Lieberman, the kingmaker whose 15 seats are essential if either Bibi or Livni are to govern without each other.
He does not fit straightforwardly on the Israeli right wing. For one thing, he is avowedly secular. Indeed, much of his appeal was to anti-religious voters who liked his demand for civil unions, thereby breaking the orthodox rabbinate’s current monopoly on state-sanctioned marriage. Talk of liberalising the sale of pork products proved too much for at least one religious party, whose spiritual leader warned that a vote for Lieberman was a vote for Satan. The result is that Bibi may find assembling a coalition that includes both the religious parties and Lieberman impossible.
Even more striking is the kingmaker’s stance on the defining issue of Israeli politics: territorial compromise. The hard right have always opposed the very idea, clinging to the notion of Greater Israel. But Lieberman – who lives in a West Bank settlement – has said he would be prepared to give up even his own home. Unlike some of his fellow settlers, he does not regard the land as sacred soil that can never be conceded.
Make no mistake, this is not because Lieberman is some kind of crypto- peacenik. The opposite is true: I saw him give a victory speech on Tuesday in which he declared his refusal to join any government that would allow Hamas to remain in power: “Our first goal is clear, to destroy Hamas, to take it down.”
What separates Lieberman from the traditional Revisionist Zionists that formed Likud is that his goal is not holding on to the maximum amount of land but governing over the minimum number of Arabs. To put it concisely, he would prefer a smaller, ethnically pure Israel to a larger, binational one. To that end, he would give up heavily-populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank and – much more controversially – seeks to redraw the border so that Arab areas of pre-1967 Israel become part of a Palestinian state. In other words, those who are now Palestinian citizens of Israel will find themselves living in their same homes – but under the jurisdiction of another country. Whether their consent will be sought for this move is left vague.
But it’s not this idea which has made Lieberman such a toxic force. For that you have to look to the slogan that drove his campaign: “No loyalty, no citizenship.” He would insist that every Israeli swear an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state: anyone who loses will lose his citizenship.
Israel Beytenu denies this is racist, insisting that every Israeli will have to swear the oath, Jewish or Arab. It is true that plenty of ultra-orthodox Jews who don’t accept the authority of a godless secular state may also refuse. But the target is clearly Israel’s 1.45 million Arabs. If they will not swear their allegiance, explains Lieberman deputy Uzi Landau, “They will have residency rights but no right to vote or be in the Knesset.”
It is a truly shocking idea. I asked several Israel Beytenu luminaries if they could name a single democracy anywhere that had removed citizenship from those who already had it. I asked what they would make of demanding that, say, British Jews, swear an oath of loyalty to Britain as a Christian country on pain of losing their right to vote. I got no good answers.
There was a time when such a poisonous idea would have been confined to the lunatic extremes of the racist Kach party, led by Meir Kahane (of whose youth wing Lieberman was once a member). Twenty five years ago Kahane was banned from the Knesset. Now his heir is courted by the two main parties, desperate for his support. Kadima is untroubled by the loyalty oath scheme; Bibi says he agrees with it.
Who is to blame for this? Israel Beytenu puts the blame on the Israeli Arab leadership for flaunting their “disloyalty”, especially during January’s Gaza offensive when several prominent Israeli Arabs proclaimed their solidarity with Hamas. They say no democratic society could tolerate such a fifth column, cheering on a mortal enemy.
The Israeli left bear some indirect responsibility here too, at least for the idea of reassigning Palestinian villages inside Israel to Palestine. For years, the left has couched its opposition to the occupation in demographic terms: ruling over millions of Palestinians would eventually imperil Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Lieberman is simply extending that logic beyond the 1967 borders. In this sense Lieberman is the bastard child of the Israeli peace movement.
Above all, it is Israeli society that has to take a hard look at itself. For so long, it has lived inside a bubble in which it can only see its side of the story: they hit us, so we hit back; we are under siege from hostile forces, we are the victim. In this mental landscape, even a Moldovan-born immigrant stripping people born in their own land of their citizenship can come to seem acceptable. What’s needed is not just a change in the electoral system that would allow “strong government” of the kind Lieberman yearns to implement. What’s needed is for Israelis to step outside the bubble, to begin to see the causes of their current predicament, instead of dealing again and again, ever more ineffectively, with the symptoms. Tuesday’s election prompts no confidence that that is about to happen.