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Why Israel Should Not Exist May 27, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger: the title of this article is provocative; but it shouldn’t be taken in the sense of the “drive Israel into the sea” rhetoric of anti-Israeli extremists, such rhetoric used by the Israeli Apartheid regime to justify is aggression in the name of self-defense.  No this title signifies what is the only viable long term solution to the explosive situation in Palestine.  At first blush, the two-state solution seems logical, particularly from the point of view of giving status to the oppressed Palestinians.  And maybe a two-state solution is a necessary step, but in the final analysis, a single secular state that provides equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, is the only final goal that is worthy of anyone who is interested in justice and lasting peace.  This article puts the Israel/Palestine conundrum in its proper historical context.

An Illegitimate Consequence of Western Imperialism

by GARRY LEECH

By suggesting that the state of Israel should not exist, I am not being anti-Semitic. I am, however, being anti-Zionist. There is a distinct difference. An anti-Semite is someone who is prejudiced against Jews. An anti-Zionist, on the other hand, is opposed to that sector of the Jewish population who see it as their God-given right to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

The creation of a Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world not only represents the continuation of European colonialism in Palestine, it has also consisted of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the establishment of an apartheid system by a rogue nation that has repeatedly violated international law. Given this reality, and the fact that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions, the only just solution to the Zionist project of the Israeli state and its Western backers is the establishment of a single country: a democratic secular state of Palestine in which Jews, Arabs and Christians all have equal rights.

The Rise of the Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement emerged in Europe in the late 19th century and encouraged European Jews to escape anti-Semitism by migrating to Palestine, which was ruled by the Ottoman Turks at the time, with the goal of creating a Jewish state in the Holy Land. This migration saw the Jewish population in Palestine increase from 4 percent in 1850 to 11 percent in 1917, the year that the British government’s Balfour Declaration stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, the countries of the region were ruled by Britain and France under mandates from the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations). But World War Two brought about the downfall of the European empires as colonies throughout the world gained independence. Accordingly, Lebanon (1943) and Syria (1946) gained independence from France while Jordan (1946) was liberated from British rule. The exception was Palestine, which had been ruled by Britain since 1922.

By all rights, Palestine, like its neighbors, should have become an independent nation following World War Two, but the Western-backed Zionist project prevented this from happening. In accordance with the Balfour Declaration, Britain and the United States sought to ensure the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Under British rule, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased from 11 percent in 1922 to 32 percent in 1948, with many having arrived following the end of the war.

In 1947, the newly-established United Nations adopted the Partition Plan for Palestine without any consultation with the Palestinian people. The plan called for 56 percent of Palestine to become the Jewish state of Israel with 43 percent of the territory turned into a Palestinian state. Despite a large Arab majority in Palestine, Israel’s share of the territory was larger in order to accommodate the anticipated increased migration of European Jews. The remaining 1 percent of Palestine, consisting of the Holy City of Jerusalem, was to be an international territory administered by the United Nations.

Jewish groups supported the partition plan but Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states opposed it on the grounds that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter under which Palestinians should have the right to decide their own destiny. The plan was not implemented. Nevertheless, the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The New European Colonialism

By the end of 1949, according to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Israel had destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost a million Palestinians, who ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. In other words, with the Jewish people having just endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists were now carrying out, according to Pappe, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

This process of ethnic cleansing allowed Israel to expand and encompass 77 percent of Palestinian territory, all but East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Over the next three years, 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, mostly from Europe. This Jewish Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300colonization of Palestine represented a continuation of European colonialism as the wielding of power over the Palestinian people shifted from the British government to European Jews in the form of the new Israeli state.

Following the 1967 war with several Arab states (Syria, Jordan and Egypt), Israel militarily occupied the remaining 23 percent of Palestine (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza). The UN Security Council responded by passing Resolution 242 demanding the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The United States has since used its veto power in the Security Council on 41 occasions to ensure that the numerous UN resolutions condemning Israel’s illegal occupation have never been enforced.

It wasn’t until after the Palestinians were forced to exist under Israel’s illegal military occupation following the 1967 war that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) decided to make armed struggle the centerpiece of its campaign to achieve a Palestinian state. And it wasn’t until after 20 years of enduring an oppressive military occupation and the unwillingness of the international community to enforce UN resolutions that sectors of Palestinian society became increasingly radicalized and the Islamic group Hamas was formed. Hamas began using suicide bombing as a tactic in the early 1990s because it could not combat the vastly superior US-backed Israeli military through conventional warfare. Beginning in 2001, it also began launching primitive and inaccurate rockets into Israel from its Gaza strongholds.

Even though Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005, it implemented a military blockade of the tiny territory the following year through which it strictly controls all access of people, food, medicines and other materials. Some analysts claim that Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants has created the world’s largest prison camp.

Meanwhile, Israel has not only continued its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has further violated international law by forcibly displacing Palestinian communities and encouraging Jews to move into the Occupied Territories. It is now estimated that almost half a million Jews live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite UN resolutions demanding that they be dismantled.

Israel has also constructed a giant wall known as the separation barrier throughout the West Bank in order to segregate the illegal settlements from Palestinian communities and to restrict the movement of Palestinians. Meanwhile, in addition to establishing the illegal settlements, Israel has also constructed industrial zones in the West Bank in which Palestinian laborers are forced to endure low wages and poor working conditions.

The flagrant discrepancy in rights afforded to the Jewish settlers in comparison to Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories constitutes a system of apartheid. In fact, as John Dugard, a South African human rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur, has noted, “I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”

In 1947, the year before Israel declared itself a sovereign state, Palestinians lived in 94 percent of Palestine. Today, they inhabit a mere 15 percent with some five million living in refugee camps in the West Bank and surrounding countries. The population densities in Palestinian refugee camps are among the highest of any place on earth. For example, more than 10,000 refugees live in the one square kilometer al-Amari camp in the West Bank, which amounts to five times the population density of New York City. As one third-generation refugee in the al-Amari camp told me, “We have a dream to return to our lands. How long it will take and what generation it will be, we don’t know.”

The disproportionate number of Palestinians killed in the long-running conflict is a reality hidden from many in the West. Over the past 15 years, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 8,701 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis compared to 1,138 Israelis killed by Palestinians. The disparity in the number of Palestinian children killed is even greater with a total of 1,772 killed during that period compared to 93 Israeli children.

Given this history, the repeated claim made by the United States and other Western nations that Israel’s military actions are merely acts of self-defense contradicts the reality on the ground. Surely it is the violence carried out by people forced to live under a violent illegal military occupation and blockade that should be considered an act of self-defense. After all, the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two is viewed as a heroic struggle for national liberation. In stark contrast, Palestinian resisters are labelled ‘terrorists.’

Despite the best efforts of the United States and other Western governments as well as the mainstream media to portray Israel as the victim in this conflict, the numbers make evident who is doing most of the killing and who is doing most of the dying. The fact that a people forced to live under an illegal foreign military occupation are portrayed as the aggressors constitutes a stunning example of Orwellian doublespeak.

Collaborating with the Colonizers

This violent expansion of Israeli control over all of Palestine fulfils the European Zionist dream initiated in the late 19th century. Sadly, over the past couple of decades, some Palestinian leaders have been complicit in the Zionist project. The Oslo peace process during the 1990s saw the PLO recognize the state of Israel and in return Israel permitted the Palestinians limited self-governance in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. However, the so-called peace process postponed addressing the crucial issue of ‘the right of return’ for Palestinian refugees.

The first Palestinian parliamentary elections under the Oslo Accords were held in 1996 and were won by Fatah, the PLO’s political party, which then headed the new Palestinian Authority government. The Palestinian Authority began receiving significant aid from Western governments. In return, the Palestinian Authority has policed the Palestinian population on Israel’s behalf in the areas of the Occupied Territories that it governs. In other words, in the same way that Indian administrators and police oversaw the day-to-day governing of colonial India on behalf of the British colonizers, the Palestinian Authority has served the Israeli colonizers of the Occupied Territories in return for Western aid and a reduced Israeli military presence.

The infusion of foreign aid, especially funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is intended to achieve ‘economic peace’ by allowing sectors of the Palestinian population to attain a certain material comfort without challenging the ongoing Israeli occupation and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which violate both the Oslo Accords and international law. In reference to the long-running, oft-stalled peace talks, former UN Special Rapporteur Dugard recently stated, “I think the strategy of Israel and also of the United States is simply to allow talks to go on forever and ever, while Israel annexes more land and takes over Palestinian territory.”

Meanwhile, the economic model emerging in the West Bank is not sustainable because it is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid and international NGOs. Furthermore, the benefits from the economic model are largely restricted to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government, creating what is known in the West Bank as the ‘Ramallah bubble.’ As Dr. Hanan Chehata, a professor of law and former correspondent for the Middle East Monitor, explains,

… while those in Ramallah may currently travel throughout that small city relatively unimpeded, Palestinians in the rest of the region are subjected to daily humiliation at Israeli road blocks and military checkpoints; they also have to endure indiscriminate arrests and unjustified interrogations leading frequently to torture and sometimes to death. While the residents of Ramallah can go to work in the day reasonably secure in the knowledge that they will return home in the evening to a hot meal and well-rested family members, other Palestinians leave their homes not knowing if their houses will still be standing when they return or if they will have been demolished by Israeli Caterpillar bulldozers in order to make room for new Israeli settlements.

In other words, if the Palestinian Authority and its supporters cooperate with the Israeli colonizers they will receive economic rewards and be spared the excessive brutality wielded by the Israeli military. But those who insist on actively resisting the colonizers will bear the full force of Israeli aggression. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority has sold out to the colonizers by colluding with Israel and the United States to achieve ‘economic peace’ at the expense of national liberation.

The growing discontent with the Palestinian Authority became evident in the 2006 general elections when Fatah was handily defeated by Hamas. Following the election, Fatah refused to hand over power in the West Bank and, with the support of Israel and Western nations, has continued to rule for the past nine years as an un-elected government—while Hamas has governed Gaza.

The one place that elections have been allowed to take place is in universities and these are seen as a barometer that reflects the political views of the broader Palestinian population. In the student council elections at Birzeit University in Ramallah last month, the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafaa’ Bloc defeated Fatah’s student party, winning a majority of the seats. Nadine Suleiman, a fourth-year public administration student, explained why she voted for Hamas: “I detest the corruption of the PA [Palestinian Authority], their security coordination with Israel which involves arresting and killing Palestinians who are on Israel’s wanted list while Palestinians get nothing in return. The PA is only interested in keeping its wealth and privilege.”

The Palestinian Authority’s US-funded security forces quickly responded to the Birzeit University election results by arresting four students belonging to the winning party and then interrogating and beating them. In total, 25 students throughout the West Bank were arrested and scheduled elections in An-Najah National University and Hebron University were postponed. According to Human Rights Watch, “It is deeply worrying that students are being held by Palestinian forces for no apparent reason other than their connection to Hamas or their opinions.”

So while on the international front the Palestinian Authority has challenged Israel by gaining membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the ground in the West Bank it regularly arrests, interrogates, imprisons and tortures Palestinians who are viewed as sympathetic to Hamas or who aggressively challenge the Israeli occupation in their quest for liberation. As a result of its failure to call new elections, its corruption with regard to handling foreign aid and its collusion with the illegal Israeli occupation, many Palestinians no longer view the Palestinian Authority government as legitimate.

In contrast, Hamas is seen by many Palestinians as actively resisting Israel, and it is this perception—and its relative lack of corruption—that lies at the root of its popular support. This resistance has also led Israel to launch three large-scale military assaults against Gaza during the past seven years (2008, 2012 and 2014). According to the United Nations, the Israeli military’s seven-week invasion of Gaza last year resulted in the deaths of 2,025 Palestinians, including 1,483 civilians, of whom 521 were children. Meanwhile, 71 Israelis died, of which 66 were soldiers. Additionally, more than half a million Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes by the assault.

The One-State Solution

The Palestinian Authority has accepted the two-state solution proposed as part of the Oslo peace process. The basic idea being that the West Bank and Gaza would constitute a Palestinian state (only 23 percent of Palestine) with the remainder being Israel. But the Palestinian Authority’s support for a two-state solution is at odds with the wishes of the majority of Palestinians. In a poll conducted last year, 60 percent of Palestinians believed in a one-state solution while only 27 percent supported the two-state option.

The two-state solution constantly being touted by the United States and other Western nations, and backed by the Palestinian Authority, is completely out of touch with the reality in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Tariq Dana, a professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, “A two-state solution is not possible. It is not viable given the reality on the ground.”

The reality that Dana is referring to is the constantly expanding illegal Jewish settlements that are now home to almost half a million Jews. The settlements now cover more than 40 percent of the West Bank, dominating the best agricultural land and access to the region’s principal water supply. As Daniella Weiss, a Zionist former mayor of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, admitted a few years ago, “I think the settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal. And this is the reality.” Clearly, any two-state solution that creates a viable Palestinian state would require the dismantling of these settlements and removal of the settlers from what the Zionists consider to be their Holy Land.

Far from dismantling the settlements, Israel’s policies are further entrenching them. With its building of the separation barrier, the Israeli government is seeking to annex the settlements into the state of Israel, which would leave the Palestinians with three small, unconnected chunks of arid and rocky land that lack access to essential water supplies. Such an outcome would not constitute a viable Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians support the establishment of a single state of Palestine in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second largest member of the PLO after Fatah and a terrorist group in the eyes of the United States, Canada and the European Union because it advocates armed struggle, is opposed both to the Palestinian Authority government and the two-state solution. According to the PFLP,

The Palestinian liberation movement is not a racial movement with aggressive intentions against the Jews. It is not directed against the Jews. … The aim of the Palestinian liberation movement is to establish a democratic national state in Palestine in which both Arabs and Jews will live as citizens with equal rights and obligations and which will constitute an integral part of the progressive democratic Arab national presence living peacefully with all forces of progress in the world.

Hamas also sees the one-state solution as the only answer, albeit an Islamic state in which the rights of Jews are protected. But creating an Islamic Palestine would simply replace one religious state (Israel) with another. Given that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and the fact that a significant portion of the Palestinian population supports a secular state, the solution to this seemingly intractable conflict could be the replacement of a Zionist state with a secular democratic nation in which all citizens—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—have equal rights and responsibilities.

Conclusion

The establishment of a Zionist state in the middle of the Arab world for Jewish migrants from Europe was only possible due to the support of Western imperialist powers including the United States, Britain and Canada. And Israel’s existence and ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes the continuation of European colonialism into the 21st century at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

Given this reality, the Jewish state of Israel should be viewed as both illegitimate and yet another catastrophic consequence of Western imperialism. The only just solution to this entrenched conflict is to finally allow Palestinians to establish the independent state they should have attained following World War Two and to allow for the return of all refugees. In other words, a single, secular Palestinian state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims all share equal rights. Such a one-state solution is not anti-Semitic, it is sensible.

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). ). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University in Canada.

 

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Two-State Solution or Illusion? An Analysis September 22, 2013

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ROGER’S NOTE: THE TWO STATE SOLUTION IS THE ORTHODOX POSITION FOR LIBERALS AND PROGRESSIVES, BUT FOR SOME TIME I HAVE DOUBTED THAT IT WOULD BE A TRUE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM.  THIS ARTICLE, WHILE REFLECTING A GREAT DEAL OF PESSIMISM, IN MY OPINION TAKES A REALISTIC LOOK AT THE SITUATION.

 

 

 (22 September 2013) by Lawrence Davidson
(about the author)

 

http://www.tothepointanalyses.com/

 

 

israel-takeover-jpg_79840_20130921-406 

 

Part I – The Two-State Solution

 

 

 

Peter Beinart is a “liberal Zionist” who has written a piece in the New York Review of Books of 26 September 2013 entitled “The American Jewish Cocoon.” In this essay he laments, “The organized Jewish community [is] a closed intellectual space.” By this he means that most American Zionist Jews (it is important to remember that not all Jews are Zionists) know little or nothing about those who oppose them, particularly Palestinians. They also seem to have no interest in changing this situation. For these Zionists the opposition has been reduced to an irredeemably anti-Semitic “them.”

 

 

 

Beinart goes on to tell us that such is the political clout of the organized Zionist community that this know-nothing attitude has come to characterize the “debate about Israel in Washington” and the opinions offered in the mass media as well. While Mr. Beinart does not say so, I can tell you that this has been the basic situation since the early 1920s. Beinart does note, however, that over time this situation has led Palestinians and those who support them to show less willingness to dialogue with Zionists, most of whom they consider irredeemably racist.   

 

 

 

Beinart thinks this prevailing ignorance is a disaster. Why so? Because he feels that Jews betray the lessons of their own past by failing to understand the meaning of the “dispersion and dispossession” of the Palestinians. They do not seem to care that this particular people has had its “families torn apart in war – [continue] to struggle to maintain [their] culture, [their] dignity, [their] faith in God in the face of forces over which [they] have no control.” This sort of situation, according to Beinart, is something “the Jews should instinctively understand.” 

 

 

 

Be this as it may, achieving such an understanding is, for Beinart, a means to an end. That end is realizing a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggle. For this to happen the Zionists have to essentially feel the pain of the Palestinians and the Palestinians have to understand their no-win situation so that everyone agrees to a Palestinian mini-state on “22 percent of British mandatory Palestine” along with “compensation and resettlement [for the] people whose original villages and homes have long ceased to exist.” 

 

 

 

Part II – The Two-State Illusion

 

 

 

An important question is whether Mr. Beinart’s two-state solution does not itself represent a goal whose practicality has “long ceased to exist”? That certainly is the opinion of Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times of 15 September 2013, he published an op-ed piece entitled “Two-State Illusion.”

 

 

 

According to Professor Lustick, the two-state idea has become something of a fraud behind which lies opportunistic political motives. For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

 

 

 

Lustick believes the two-state solution is an impossible hope that has produced periodic negotiations which have always been “phony” and have prevented new ideas for positive change from being seriously entertained. This long-term stifling has also set the stage for possible “sudden and jagged” events that can send the conflict off in catastrophic directions. Oddly enough Lustick finds this prospect of heightened conflict a necessary one.   

 

 

 

He tells us that only when the “neat and palatable” two-state solution disappears – and with it the PA and its policies of collaboration – will we get the “mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel,” along with the subsequent withdrawal of unconditional U.S. support for the Zionist State. At that point 

 

 

 

“Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.” Then, finally, they will become reasonable, and something new and acceptable (a one-state solution?) will be possible. 

 

 

 

Lustick’s necessary scenario happens to be Peter Beinart’s nightmare and in the latter’s essay it is called “civil war.” Beinart’s call for greater mutual understanding is designed to prevent this violence. One can assume that, for Professor Lustick, things have gone too far for this understanding to suddenly prevail. “Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic,” he tells us. Delaying the inevitable with false hopes will only make things worse.  

 

 

 

By the way, Lustick is not alone in his view that the two-state formula is a dead end. One of Israel’s very best historians, Ilan Pappe, who now is the director of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Palestinian Studies, believes that this prospect has been dead for over a decade. What killed it, and what keeps it dead, are “Zionist greed for territory and the ideological conviction that much more of Palestine [beyond the 1967 borders] is needed in order to have a viable Jewish State.” It is worth noting that it is just this ideological conviction that renders Peter Beinart’s plea for more understanding of the Palestinian position by American Zionist Jews a nonstarter. Any ideology that can justify incessant ethnic cleansing has to make its adherents incapable feeling their victims’ pain.

 

 

 

Part III – Conclusion

 

 

 

If Beinart’s hope for mutual understanding is naive, Lustick’s hope that more “blood” will lead to the “magic” of a positive outcome is not at all assured.

 

 

 

One might ask just how much disaster is necessary before the hard-line Zionists who have long controlled Israel will compromise their ideological commitment. Keep in mind that the Israeli political elites, right and left, have always been expansionist. Even Peter Beinart is not pushing for a return to the 1967 Green Line and an evacuation of illegal settlements, as far as I can tell. In the past, the Israeli elites have judged their terror and brutality to be justified. They will do so in the future as well. Some of them will interpret any increase in Jewish emigration (a process already ongoing) as a weeding out of weak elements. Militarily the Israelis can probably maintain superiority over their neighbors even in the face of reduced American aid, and as far as world opinion is concerned, most of them care little about it. If this assessment has any validity, the Israelis could go on ethnically cleansing for a very long time. 

 

 

 

In my view, the only viable weapon against such vicious stubbornness is a worldwide comprehensive economic boycott on the South Africa model. However, even this may not be the last page in the drama. Such an economic boycott may prove strong enough to undermine the will of some Israeli ideologues, but not all of them. And then, unlike South Africa, you may need an intra-Israeli Jewish civil war to finally bring the curtain down on the tragedy of Zionism.

The Occupation That Time Forgot September 23, 2011

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Thursday 22 September 2011
by: Sandy Tolan, TomDispatch                 | Op-Ed

I’m reminded of how Chinese premier Zhou EnLai supposedly answered a question in 1972 about the significance of the French Revolution. “Too early to tell,” was his reputed reply; and though he may never have said it, how true it is that the major events of our world carom through history in ways that remain unpredictable even hundreds of years later.  How then to arrive at an assessment of the Arab Spring — and now far harsher Summer and Fall — of 2011, other than to say that it has proven monumental?

Perhaps all that can or should be said is that history’s surprises have their joys (as well as horrors), and that the young people who propelled the Arab Spring, toppling some regional autocrats and tyrants, challenging others, and leaving still others shaken, offered genuine hope (Yes, We Can!) in a region where it had been a scarce commodity.  Their many and complex uprisings and serial demonstrations have clearly destabilized significant parts of the Middle East that had been in a kind of deadly stasis.  Who knows what will shake out from it all?  At this early date, however, one of the losers from these cascading events seems to be the ever more right-wing government of Israel which — as its autocratic allies in the region totter or fall — has been left in a state of growing isolation and anxiety.

The Arab Spring has evidently even offered a kind of confused and bedraggled hope to a Palestinian not-exactly-state, the Palestinian Authority, about as powerless as an entity could be, which is heading this week for the U.N. to do it’s-not-quite-clear-what.  Its decision signals, at least, the utter bankruptcy of the former “road map” to peace in the region — there are no roads, only checkpoints and obstacles, and as for maps, the Israelis control them.  The zombie-style “negotiations” Washington has long been brokering in the region are now officially dead, no matter how many diplomats rush from one capital to another.

If it weren’t so grim, the uproar over such a non-power essentially pleading with the U.N. for membership when it controls next to nothing on the ground, and the scurrying around of everyone from Tony Blair to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to speak of the threats of the anxious Israelis to withhold money and tear up the Oslo Accords, of the U.S. Congress to withhold yet more money, and of Republican presidential candidates accusing the Obama administration of “appeasement” or worse would be the material for the Middle Eastern equivalent of a bedroom farce.

Journalist Sandy Tolan, author of a moving book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, is just back from the West Bank.  As he makes clear, by anyone’s measure the Israelis are winning the war of and on the land.  And yet symbols do matter — and so, in the end, may the kind of isolation the Israelis could, one day, find themselves in, especially in a destabilizing region with potential surprises in store, some predictable, some not faintly so. Tom

It’s the Occupation, Stupid:
The State to Which the UN May Grant Membership Is Disappearing
By Sandy Tolan

It’s the show that time and the world forgot. It’s called the Occupation and it’s now in its 45th year. Playing on a landscape about the size of Delaware, it remains largely hidden from view, while Middle Eastern headlines from elsewhere seize the day.  Diplomats shuttle back and forth from Washington and Brussels to Middle Eastern capitals; the Israeli-Turkish alliance ruptures amid bold declarations from the Turkish prime minister; crowds storm the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, while Israeli ambassadors flee the Egyptian capital and Amman, the Jordanian one; and of course, there’s the headliner, the show-stopper of the moment, the Palestinian Authority’s campaign for statehood in the United Nations, which will prompt an Obama administration veto in the Security Council.

But whatever the Turks, Egyptians, or Americans do, whatever symbolic satisfaction the Palestinian Authority may get at the U.N., there’s always the Occupation and there — take it from someone just back from a summer living in the West Bank — Israel isn’t losing.  It’s winning the battle, at least the one that means the most to Palestinians and Israelis, the one for control over every square foot of ground.  Inch by inch, meter by meter, Israel’s expansion project in the West Bank and Jerusalem is, in fact, gaining momentum, ensuring that the “nation” that the U.N. might grant membership will be each day a little smaller, a little less viable, a little less there.

How to Disappear a Land

On my many drives from West Bank city to West Bank city, from Ramallah to Jenin, Abu Dis to Jericho, Bethlehem to Hebron, I’d play a little game: Could I travel for an entire minute without seeing physical evidence of the occupation?  Occasionally — say, when riding through a narrow passage between hills — it was possible.  But not often.  Nearly every panoramic vista, every turn in the highway revealed a Jewish settlement, an Israeli army checkpoint, a military watchtower, a looming concrete wall, a barbed-wire fence with signs announcing another restricted area, or a cluster of army jeeps stopping cars and inspecting young men for their documents.

The ill-fated Oslo “peace process” that emerged from the Oslo Accords of 1993 not only failed to prevent such expansion, it effectively sanctioned it.  Since then, the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has nearly tripled to more than 300,000 — and that figure doesn’t include the more than 200,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.

The Oslo Accords, ratified by both the Palestinians and the Israelis, divided the West Bank into three zones — A, B, and C.  At the time, they were imagined by the Palestinian Authority as a temporary way station on the road to an independent state.  They are, however, still in effect today.  The de facto Israeli strategy has been and remains to give Palestinians relative freedom in Area A, around the West Bank’s cities, while locking down “Area C” — 60% of the West Bank — for the use of the Jewish settlements and for what are called “restricted military areas.”  (Area B is essentially a kind of grey zone between the other two.)  From this strategy come the thousands of demolitions of “illegal” housing and the regular arrests of villagers who simply try to build improvements to their homes.  Restrictions are strictly enforced and violations dealt with harshly.

When I visited the South Hebron Hills in late 2009, for example, villagers were not even allowed to smooth out a virtually impassable dirt road so that their children wouldn’t have to walk two to three miles to school every day. Na’im al-Adarah, from the village of At-Tuwani, paid the price for transporting those kids to the school “illegally.” A few weeks after my visit, he was arrested and his red Toyota pickup seized and destroyed by Israeli soldiers.  He didn’t bother complaining to the Palestinian Authority — the same people now going to the U.N. to declare a Palestinian state — because they have no control over what happens in Area C.

The only time he’d seen a Palestinian official, al-Adarah told me, was when he and other villagers drove to Ramallah to bring one to the area.  (The man from the Palestinian Authority refused to come on his own.) “He said this is the first time he knew that this land [in Area C] is ours.  A minister like him is surprised that we have these areas?  I told him, ‘How can a minister like you not know this?  You’re the minister of local government!’

“It was like he didn’t know what was happening in his own country,” added al-Adarah.  “We’re forgotten, unfortunately.”

The Israeli strategy of control also explains, strategically speaking, the “need” for the network of checkpoints; the looming separation barrier (known to Israelis as the “security fence” and to Palestinians as the “apartheid wall”) that divides Israel from the West Bank (and sometimes West Bankers from each other); the repeated evictions of Palestinians from residential areas like Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem; the systematic revoking of Jerusalem IDs once held by thousands of Palestinians who were born in the Holy City; and the labyrinthine travel restrictions which keep so many Palestinians locked in their West Bank enclaves.

While Israel justifies most of these measures in terms of national security, it’s clear enough that the larger goal behind them is to incrementally take and hold ever more of the land.  The separation barrier, for example, has put 10% of the West Bank’s land on the Israeli side — a case of “annexation in the guise of security,” according to the respected Israeli human rights group, B’tselem.

Taken together, these measures amount to the solution that the Israeli government seeks, one revealed in a series of maps drawn up by Israeli politicians, cartographers, and military men over recent years that show Palestine broken into isolated islands (often compared to South African apartheid-era “bantustans”) on only about 40% of the West Bank.  At the outset of Oslo, Palestinians believed they had made a historic compromise, agreeing to a state on 22% of historic Palestine — that is, the West Bank and Gaza.  The reality now is a kind of “ten percent solution,” a rump statelet without sovereignty, freedom of movement, or control of its own land, air, or water. Palestinians cannot even drill a well to tap into the vast aquifer beneath their feet.

Living Amid Checkpoints, Roadblocks, and Night Raids

Almost always overlooked in assessments of this ruinous “no-state solution” is the human toll it takes on the occupied. More than on any of my dozen previous journeys there, I came away from this trip to Palestine with a sense of the psychic damage the military occupation has inflicted on every Palestinian.  None, no matter how warm-hearted or resilient, escape its effects.

“The soldier pointed to my violin case.  He said, ‘What’s that?'” 13-year-old Alá Shelaldeh, who lives in old Ramallah, told me.  She is a student at Al Kamandjati (Arabic for “the violinist”), a music school in her neighborhood (which will be a focus of my next book). She was recalling a time three years earlier when a van she was in, full of young musicians, was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near Nablus. They were coming back from a concert.  “I told him, ‘It’s a violin.’  He told me to get out of the van and show him.”  Alá stepped onto the roadside, unzipped her case, and displayed the instrument for the soldier.  “Play something,” he insisted.  Alá played “Hilwadeen” (Beautiful Girl), the song made famous by the Lebanese star Fayrouz.  It was a typical moment in Palestine, and one she has yet to, and may never, forget.

It is impossible, of course, to calculate the long-term emotional damage of such encounters on children and adults alike, including on the Israeli soldiers, who are not immune to their own actions.

Humiliation at checkpoints is a basic fact of West Bank Palestinian life.  Everyone, even children, has his or her story to tell of helplessness, fear, and rage while waiting for a teenaged soldier to decide whether or not they can pass.  It has become so normal that some kids have no idea the rest of the world doesn’t live like this. “I thought the whole world was like us — they are occupied, they have soldiers,” remembered Alá’s older brother, Shehade, now 20.

At 15, he was invited to Italy.  “It was a shock for me to see this life.  You can go very, very far, and no checkpoint.  You see the land very, very far, and no wall.  I was so happy, and at the same time sad, you know?  Because we don’t have this freedom in my country.”

At age 12, Shehade had seen his cousin shot dead by soldiers during the second intifada, which erupted in late 2001 after Israel’s then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon paid a provocative visit to holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Clashes erupted as youths hurled stones at soldiers. Israeli troops responded with live fire, killing some 250 Palestinians (compared to 29 Israeli deaths) in the first two months of the intifada. The next year, Palestinian factions launched waves of suicide bombings in Israel.

One day in 2002, Shehade recalled, with Ramallah again fully occupied by the Israeli army, the young cousins broke a military curfew in order to buy bread.  A shot rang out near a corner market; Shehade watched his cousin fall.  This summer Shehada showed me the gruesome pictures — blood flowing from a 12-year-old’s mouth and ears — taken moments after the shooting in 2002.

Nine years later, Ramallah, a supposedly sovereign enclave, is often considered an oasis in a desert of occupation.  Its streets and markets are choked with shoppers, and its many trendy restaurants rival fine European eateries.  The vibrancy and upscale feel of many parts of the city give you a sense that — much as Palestinians are loathe to admit it – this, and not East Jerusalem, is the emerging Palestinian capital.

Many Ramallah streets are indeed lined with government ministries and foreign consulates.  (Just don’t call them embassies!)  But much of this apparent freedom and quasi-sovereignty is illusory.  In the West Bank, travel without hard-to-get permits is often limited to narrow corridors of land, like the one between Ramallah and Nablus, where the Israeli military has, for now, abandoned its checkpoints and roadblocks.  Even in Ramallah — part of the theoretically sovereign Area A — night incursions by Israeli soldiers are common.

“It was December 2009, the 16th I think, at 2:15, 2:30 in the morning,” recalled Celine Dagher, a French citizen of Lebanese descent. Her Palestinian husband, Ramzi Aburedwan, founder of Al Kamandjati, where both of them work, was then abroad.  “I was awakened by a sound,” she told me.  She emerged to find the front door of their flat jammed partway open and kept that way by a small security bar of the sort you find in hotel rooms.

Celine thought burglars were trying to break in and so yelled at them in Arabic to go away.  Then she peered through the six-inch opening and spotted 10 Israeli soldiers in the hallway.  They told her to stand back, and within seconds had blown the door off its hinges.  Entering the apartment, they pointed their automatic rifles at her.  A Palestinian informant stood near them silently, a black woolen mask pulled over his face to ensure his anonymity.

The commander began to interrogate her. “My name, with whom I live, starting to ask me about the neighbors.” Celine flashed her French passport and pleaded with them not to wake up her six-month-old, Hussein, sleeping in the next room. “I was praying that he would just stay asleep.” She told the commander, “I just go from my house to my work, from work to my house.”  She didn’t really know her neighbors, she said.

As it happened, the soldiers had blown off the door of the wrong flat.  They would remove four more doors in the building that night, Celine recalled, before finding their suspect: her 17-year-old next door neighbor.  “They stood questioning him for maybe 20 minutes, and then they took him.  And I think he’s still in jail.  His father is already in jail.”

According to Israeli Prison Services statistics cited by B’tselem, more than 5,300 Palestinians were in Israeli prisons in July 2011.  Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, an estimated 650,000 to 700,000 Palestinians have reportedly been jailed by Israel.  By one calculation, that represents 40% of the adult-male Palestinian population.  Almost no family has been untouched by the Israeli prison system.

Celine stared through the blinds at the street below, where some 15 jeeps and other military vehicles were parked.  Finally, they left with their lights out and so quietly that she couldn’t even hear their engines.  When the flat was silent again, she couldn’t sleep.  “I was very afraid.”  A neighbor came upstairs to sit with her until the morning.

Stories like these — and they are legion — accumulate, creating the outlines of what could be called a culture of occupation.  They give context to a remark by Saleh Abdel-Jawad, dean of the law school at Birzeit University near Ramallah: “I don’t remember a happy day since 1967,” he told me.  Stunned, I asked him why specifically that was so.  “Because,” he replied, “you can’t go to Jerusalem to pray.  And it’s only 15 kilometers away.  And you have your memories there.”

He added, “Since 17 years I was unable to go to the sea. We are not allowed to go. And my daughter married five years ago and we were unable to do a marriage ceremony for her.” Israel would not grant a visa to Saleh’s Egyptian son-in-law so that he could enter the West Bank.  “How to do a marriage without the groom?”

A Musical Intifada

An old schoolmate of mine and now a Middle East scholar living in Paris points out that Palestinians are not just victims, but actors in their own narrative.  In other words, he insists, they, too, bear responsibility for their circumstances — not all of this rests on the shoulders of the occupiers.  True enough.

As an apt example, consider the morally and strategically bankrupt tactic of suicide bombings, carried out from 2001 to 2004 by several Palestinian factions as a response to Israeli attacks during the second intifada. That disastrous strategy gave cover to all manner of Israeli retaliation, including the building of the separation barrier.  (The near disappearance of the suicide attacks has been due far less to the wall — after all, it isn’t even finished yet — than to a decision on the part of all the Palestinian factions to reject the tactic itself.)

So, yes, Palestinians are also “actors” in creating their own circumstances, but Israel remains the sole regional nuclear power, the state with one of the strongest armies in the world, and the occupying force — and that is the determining fact in the West Bank.  Today, for some Palestinians living under the 44-year occupation simply remaining on the land is a kind of moral victory.  This summer, I started hearing a new slogan: “Existence is resistance.” If you remain on the land, then the game isn’t over.  And if you can bring attention to the occupation, while you remain in place, so much the better.

In June, Alá Shelaldeh, the 13-year-old violinist, brought her instrument to the wall at Qalandia, once a mere checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, and now essentially an international border crossing with its mass of concrete, steel bars, and gun turrets.  The transformation of Qalandia — and its long, cage-like corridors and multiple seven-foot-high turnstiles through which only the lucky few with permits may cross to Jerusalem — is perhaps the most powerful symbol of Israel’s determination not to share the Holy City.

Alá and her fellow musicians in the Al Kamandjati Youth Orchestra came to play Mozart and Bizet in front of the Israeli soldiers, on the other side of Qalandia’s steel bars.  Their purpose was to confront the occupation through music, essentially to assert: we’re here.  The children and their teachers emerged from their bus, quickly set up their music stands, and began to play.  Within moments, the sound of Mozart’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major filled the terminal.

Palestinians stopped and stared.  Smiles broke out.  People came closer, pulling out cell phones and snapping photos, or just stood there, surrounding the youth orchestra, transfixed by this musical intifada.  The musicians and soldiers were separated by a long row of blue horizontal bars.  As the music played on, a grim barrier of confinement was momentarily transformed into a space of assertive joy. “It was,” Alá would say later, “the greatest concert of my life.”

As the Mozart symphony built — Allegro, Andante, Minuet, and the Allegro last movement — some of the soldiers started to take notice.  By the time the orchestra launched into Georges Bizet’s Dance Boheme from Carmen #2, several soldiers appeared, looking out through the bars. For the briefest of moments, it was hard to tell who was on the inside, looking out, and who was on the outside, looking in.

If existence is resistance, if children can confront their occupiers with a musical intifada, then there’s still space, in the year of the Arab Spring, for something unexpected and transformative to happen.  After all, South African apartheid collapsed, and without a bloody revolution. The Berlin Wall fell quickly, completely, unexpectedly.  And with China, India, Turkey and Brazil on the rise, the United States, its power waning, will not be able to remain Israel’s protector forever. Eventually, perhaps, the world will assert the obvious: the status quo is unacceptable.

For the moment, whatever happens in the coming weeks at the U.N., and in the West Bank in the aftermath, isn’t it time for the world’s focus to shift to what is actually happening on the ground?  After all, it’s the occupation, stupid.

US Boat to Gaza Is a Quarter Jewish – “Not Too Shabby!” June 7, 2011

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Hedy Epstein is an 86-year-old US Boat to Gaza passenger whose parents died in the Holocaust. (Photo: marx21de)

Tuesday 7 June 2011
by: Robert Naiman, Truthout

Editor’s Note: Robert Naiman will be a passenger aboard the Audacity of Hope boat, which sets sail for Gaza this month. – ms/TO

According to The New York Times, a quarter of the passengers on the upcoming US Boat to Gaza are Jewish.

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? According to the noted American Jewish commentator Adam Sandler, a quarter Jewish is “not too shabby!” Maybe the US Boat to Gaza will be mentioned in Adam’s next Hanukkah song.

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that the Israeli authorities will have some compunction about shooting up our boat. After all, isn’t the official story of Zionism all about making a “safe harbor” for Jews in Palestine? We’re not trying to make aliyah. We just want to visit. Should we be shot for trying to do so? Wouldn’t it be a mitzvah to let us pass unharmed?

What does it mean that the US Boat to Gaza is a quarter Jewish? Maybe it means that we can openly contest a construction of Jewish identity based on supporting the obstruction of Palestinian freedom, with a Jewish counter-narrative of universal human liberation.

US Boat to Gaza passenger Hedy Epstein, an 86-year-old whose parents died in the Holocaust, told The New York Times,

“The American Jewish community and Israel both say that they speak for all Jews. They don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the Jews in this country who are going to be on the US boat and the many others standing behind us.”

Of course, in referring to “the American Jewish community,” Hedy meant organizations commonly presented in the media as representing American Jews on the question of Palestine, even though the leadership of these institutions isn’t elected by American Jews as a whole and even though key policies that these institutions support, such as Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and opposition to Israel’s internationally-recognized 1967 borders being the basis of a peace deal, don’t represent the opinions of the majority of American Jews.

In a March 2009 poll commissioned by J Street, 60 percent of American Jews opposed Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, 76 percent supported a peace agreement on the 1967 borders with negotiated land swaps (the position recently articulated by President Obama) and 69 percent supported the US working with a unified Fatah-Hamas Palestinian Authority government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel.

To act as if Bibi Netanyahu has been anointed to speak for all Jews on the question of Palestine is preposterous. Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, has said that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and has criticized the Israeli government for failing to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and for ignoring the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines, as The New York Times noted last week.

In the 2009 poll, 65 percent of American Jews agreed with the statement,

Israel has the right to defend itself, but it must also take into account humanitarian considerations and avoid collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population by closing the borders and causing major civilian hardship.

I have previously noted that in challenging the blockade of Gaza, we are acting consistently with the policy advocated by President Obama in June 2010 when he said that external restrictions on Gaza’s travel and commerce should be “focusing narrowly on arms shipments” rather than a general blockade of goods and persons, to which some exceptions are permitted.

But we are also acting consistently with the policy advocated by 65 percent of American Jews in March 2009: no to “collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population.”

It will be a great day when the opinions of the majority of American Jews matter more than the tired right-wing slogans recycled to try to maintain the destructive status quo. Letting our peaceful boat reach Gaza unmolested would be a great place to start. If you agree, tell Secretary of State Clinton, whose job duties include the protection of Americans traveling abroad.

Defending Israeli War Crimes May 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Friday, May 29, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus by Stephen Zunes

In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general – whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law – to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

Facile Legal Reasoning

The legal rationale put forward in the March 30 letter is extraordinarily facile. For example, they claim that the war waged on the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was taken in furtherance of Israel’s “right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.” In reality, however, while Article 51 does allow countries the right to resist an armed attack, it doesn’t grant any nation the right to engage in such a disproportionate response. 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the Israeli invasion had been planned for months, back when a six-month cease fire was still in effect. Even when Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel in December, following a deadly Israeli raid into Gaza the previous month, there were few casualties. Indeed, not a single Israeli had been killed by Hamas rocket attacks for more than half a year prior to Israel launching its war on December 27. During the subsequent three weeks of fighting, Palestinians killed 10 Israelis, three of whom were civilians, while Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. 

Incredibly, these attorneys general insist that these mass killings by Israeli forces were “justified and, in our view, met the international legal standards.”

The attorneys general also ignored the fact that Article 33 of the UN Charter explicitly prohibits nations going to war unless they “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”  However, Israel – with strong bipartisan U.S. support – had refused to even meet with Hamas to negotiate a long-term ceasefire, which Hamas had offered prior to the breakdown of the six-month lull in return for a lift in the Israeli siege of the enclave.

The letter correctly accuses Hamas, which had lobbed rockets into civilian-populated areas in southwestern Israel, of violating Article 48 of Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1948, which states: “Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

However, the attorneys general refused to acknowledge that Israel had also violated that same provision on a far grander scale. While virtually every human rights organization, intergovernmental organization, and international legal authority that researched this recent conflict recognizes both Hamas and Israel were guilty of war crimes, these attorneys general still insist that Hamas alone was to blame and that Israel’s actions were perfectly legal.

Ignoring the Facts

Human Rights Watch (HRW) – which has been highly critical of Hamas attacks on civilian areas of Israel as well as repression by the Islamist group of Palestinian opponents within the Gaza Strip – reported during the fighting that in using heavy shelling against heavily-populated civilian areas, “Israel is committing indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war.” In a comprehensive report published in March, HRW noted that “Israel’s repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

Similarly, while Amnesty International also “found evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties to the conflict” and attacks by both sides against civilian areas in which no fighters were present, the attorneys general insisted that the Palestinian side alone was guilty of such illegal actions.

An independent United Nations inquiry documented six major Israeli attacks against UN buildings, including schools in which children were killed, noting that actions by Israeli forces “involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” The report concluded that “no military activity was carried out from within the United Nations premises in any of the incidents.”

Without presenting any evidence to the contrary, the attorneys general categorically rejected such findings, insisting that Israel was engaged only in “a limited and directed action against the source of Hamas’s military acts.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) focused on other war crimes, noting how the “Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded,” citing instances in which Israeli forces prevented Red Cross or other medics safe access to assist seriously wounded civilians. The Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights reported with “certainty” that Israel violated international humanitarian law by attacking medics, damaging medical buildings, engaging in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured. The ICRC declared Israel’s “delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.” In addition, Israel rejected pleas by international humanitarian agencies by closing border crossings days at a time, denying access to food, medical supplies, fuel, and water sanitation equipment. Despite this, the attorneys general instead praised Israel for “allowing the entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

A report by a delegation of prominent U.S. attorneys which visited Gaza Strip soon after the fighting reported that “that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the Gaza offensive.” The Israeli press has reported testimony of Israeli soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians under highly permissive rules of engagement that allowed soldiers to kill any Palestinian in certain areas regardless of whether they were armed, and were ordered to intentionally destroy civilian property. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian revealed a series of Israeli missile attacks against clearly distinguishable civilian targets.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Richard Falk, noting Israel’s “unlawful uses of force on a large scale” against Gazan society as a whole, referred to the operation as a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions.” Falk, an American Jew and emeritus professor at Princeton University who is arguably the country’s preeminent international legal scholar, also noted the illegality of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, but stressed that Israeli airstrikes “were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world.”

Ignoring such evidence, the attorneys general insisted that Israel was directing its artillery, bombings and missile attacks only towards “the source of Hamas’s military attacks” and the Israeli government should therefore not be held responsible for any military action which harmed Palestinian civilians because they did so “unintentionally.”

Defending Mass Killings of Civilians

These attorneys general try to absolve Israel of any responsibility of the hundreds of civilian deaths by accusing Hamas of “using these civilians as human shields.” They provide no evidence for this charge, however, save for a quote from the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

Independent human rights groups have accused Hamas of less-severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positioned fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this isn’t the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields. Furthermore, the nature of urban warfare, particularly in a territory as densely populated as the Gaza Strip, makes the proximity of retreating fighters and their equipment to civilians unavoidable in many cases.

Even if Hamas were using human shields in the legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve Israel from its obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Amnesty International has noted that the Geneva Conventions make it clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

To argue otherwise, as do these attorneys general, is a dangerous legal position for the chief law enforcement official of a state to take, such as ordering their state police to kill innocent people in a hostage situation. By this logic, if a botched bank robbery led the would-be robbers to hold bank employees and customers at gunpoint, these attorneys general could then order state patrolmen to kill the gunmen and hostages alike, defending their action on the grounds that the bad guys were using “human shields.”

Denying Political Reality

It’s not just this flawed legal reasoning that underscores how this initiative by these attorneys general was based not upon a legitimate interpretation of law but for narrow ideological purposes. They reveal their political prejudices in their insistence in the letter to Clinton in claiming that “Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005” but that the Palestinians failed to establish “a flourishing independent state.” In reality, despite the removal of illegal Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of occupation forces from that crowded urban enclave, Israel has maintained sole control over Gaza Strip’s airspace and territorial waters, thereby prohibiting movement of people and goods by land and sea, as well as largely controlling the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt. Effectively preventing any exports or imports, except for occasional humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed and, even prior to the war, the territory was experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis. Since Israel’s “withdrawal,” the Israeli government has also controlled the Gaza Strip’s electricity, water and telecommunications and has periodically engaged in air strikes and armed incursions into the enclave, murdering and kidnapping suspected militants. No people could reasonably be expected to establish “a flourishing independent state” under such circumstances. Furthermore, in maintaining their siege on the enclave, Israel legally remains the occupying power.

The attorneys general go on to accuse Hamas of taking advantage of Israel’s “withdrawal” to “cause a civil war with the Palestinian Authority, leading to a coup d’etat in 2007.” However, while Hamas is indeed guilty of innumerable political intrigues and inexcusable violence towards its Palestinian opponents, this is a gross misrepresentation of recent history: Rather than making war against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas was part of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, they controlled the legislative branch of government as well as the post of prime minister and most other ministries as a result of winning the plurality of the vote in parliamentary elections in January 2006. The following year, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which still controlled the presidency. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged President Mahmoud Abbas to renounce the agreement, dismiss the entire government and abolish parliament.

The Bush administration then began secretly arming Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and pushing Fatah to stage a coup. This is what led Hamas to launch a countercoup by overrunning Fatah offices and taking full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Alvaro de Soto, former UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that “the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas” and “worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry.” De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier that year, a U.S. official told him that “I like this violence…[I]t means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas.”

Though all this has been well-documented and is widely known in both Israel and Palestine, this bipartisan group of attorneys general has instead sought to defend the Bush administration’s provocative and illegal intervention by putting the entire blame on Hamas.

This letter to the Secretary of State was put together by a right-wing group calling itself the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), which boasts that the organization has sent 42 states attorney general to Israel in the past 21 years.  It refers to the letter as “a strong rejoinder to those who have castigated Israel over its role in Gaza and used it in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State.”

Dangerous Precedent

The Bush administration strongly supported Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip as an extension of its “war on terror.” It was in the name of this “war on terror” that President George W. Bush shamelessly politicized the U.S. Justice Department to justify spying on nonviolent dissidents at home and the torture of suspects abroad. Now we have a bipartisan group of state attorneys general who have shown themselves similarly willing to politicize their offices by putting forward twisted and perverse interpretations of the law in the name of fighting terrorism. Unless these rogue attorneys general are challenged by elected officials and ordinary citizens in their respective states for their signing on to such a reckless statement, it could mark a dangerous precedent regarding respect for human rights and the rule of law.
© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

Israel-Palestine: One-State Supporters Make a Comeback April 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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by Helena Cobban

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has spoken out forcefully – including this week, in Ankara, Turkey – in favour of building an independent Palestinian state alongside a still robust Israel. However, many Palestinians have noted that President George W. Bush also, in recent years, expressed a commitment to Palestinian statehood. But, they note, Bush never took the actions necessary to achieve such a state – and neither, until now, has Obama.

 

[Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home.  (Fogelson-Lubliner)]Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home. (Fogelson-Lubliner)

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to give very generous support to Israel – where successive governments have built Jewish-only colonies in the occupied West Bank and taken other actions that make a viable Palestinian state increasingly hard to achieve. 

Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel’s now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the ‘two-state solution’ envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home.

That goal was advocated most eloquently in the 1930s and early 1940s by Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and other intellectuals at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, most Israelis moved away from it after Israel was established as a specifically Jewish state in 1948.

Later, in 1968, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) articulated a somewhat similar goal: that of building a ‘secular democratic state’, which comprises both pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank and Gaza – which Israel brought under military occupation in 1967.

However, the PLO leaders could never agree on which of the numerous Jewish immigrants brought into Israel before and after 1948 to include in their project. A few years later, in 1974, most PLO supporters – but not all – moved decisively away from the ‘one-state’ model. They started working instead for the two-state model: an independent Palestinian state in just the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, alongside the Israel state.

For 26 years after 1974, Israel’s governments remained deeply opposed to an independent Palestinian state. All those governments made lavish investments in the project – illegal under international law – of implanting their own citizens as settlers in the occupied West Bank. They annexed East Jerusalem. When pressed on the Palestinians’ future, they said they hoped Palestinians could exercise their rights in Egypt or Jordan – just not inside historic Palestine. This idea has been making a comeback recently – including among advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 1993, Israel finally recognized the PLO, and concluded the Oslo Accord with it. Under Oslo, the two sides created a new body called the Palestinian Authority (PA), designed to administer some aspects of daily life in parts of the occupied territories – though not, crucially, in occupied East Jerusalem.

Even after Oslo, Israeli officials made clear that they had not promised the PLO a full Palestinian state. They also said, correctly, that their rights and responsibilities as a military occupying power would remain in place. The final disposition of the occupied areas would await conclusion of a final peace agreement.

Oslo specified that that agreement should be completed by 1999. Ten years later, that deadline has still not been met – a final peace treaty still seems fairly distant. Meanwhile, Israel has used the 16 years since Oslo to increase both the number of settlers it has in the West Bank and the degree of control it exercises over the economies of both Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian-American political scientist Leila Farsakh describes Israel’s policies toward the economies of both areas as “the engineering of pauperisation.” She notes that despite the large amounts of international aid poured into the West Bank, poverty rates there have risen. Most West Bank areas outside the territory’s glitzy ‘capital’, Ramallah, are poor and increasingly aid-dependent. Lavish new settlements housing 480,000 settlers crowd much of the West Bank’s best land, and guzzle its water, Farsakh explains.

In an Israeli population of just 7.2 million, those settlers now form a formidable voting bloc. Attempts to move them out look almost impossible. In the latest round of peace negotiations that Israel and the PA/PLO pursued from 2000 until recently, participants discussed ways to reduce the number of settlers required to move by annexing the big settlement areas to Israel in return for a land exchange. But those boundary modifications look complex, and quite possibly unworkable.

Meanwhile, the negotiation over a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has sidelined the concerns and rights of three important Palestinian constituencies. The 1.2 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel would remain as an embattled minority within an Israeli state still ideologically committed to the immigration of additional Jews. The 270,000 Palestinians of Jerusalem might also still be surrounded and vulnerable. And the five million Palestinians who still – 61 years after they and their forbearers fled homes in what became Israel in 1948 – would have their long-pursued right to return laid down forever.

From 1982 – the year the PLO’s leaders and guerrilla forces were expelled from Lebanon – until recently, the main dynamo of Palestinian nationalism has been located in the Palestinian communities of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But in recent years, those communities have been severely weakened. They are administratively atomised, politically divided, and live under a palpable sense of physical threat.

Many ‘occupied’ Palestinians are returning to the key defensive ideas of steadfastness and “just hanging on” to their land. But new energy for leadership is now emerging between two other key groups of Palestinians: those in the diaspora, and those who are citizens of Israel. The contribution those groups can make to nationwide organising has been considerably strengthened by new technologies – and crucially, neither of them has much interest in a two-state outcome.

Not surprisingly, therefore, discussions about the nature of a one-state outcome – and how to achieve it – have become more frequent, and much richer in intellectual content, in recent years.

Palestinian-Israeli professor Nadim Rouhanna, now teaching at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is a leader in the new thinking. “The challenge is how to achieve the liberation of both societies from being oppressed and being oppressors,” he told a recent conference in Washington, DC. “Palestinians have to… reassure the Israeli Jews that their culture and vitality will remain. We need to go further than seeing them only as ‘Jews-by- religion’ in a future Palestinian society.”

Like many advocates of the one-state outcome, Rouhanna referred enthusiastically to the exuberant multiculturalism and full political equality that have been embraced by post-apartheid South Africa.

Progressive Jewish Israelis like Ben Gurion University geographer Oren Yiftachel are also part of the new movement. Yiftachel’s most recent work has examined at the Israeli authorities’ decades-long campaign to expropriate the lands of the ethnically Palestinian Bedouin who live in southern Israel – and are citizens of Israel. “The expropriation continues – there and inside the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem,” Yiftachel said, explaining that he did not see the existence of “the Green Line” that supposedly separates Israel from the occupied territory as an analytically or politically relevant concept.

Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation? March 6, 2009

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Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2009

www.electronicintifada.net

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference at the International Conference in support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza, 2 March 2009. (Victoria Hazou/Sipa Press)

 

Still reeling from the Israeli massacres in the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians have lately had little to celebrate. So the strong start to intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last week provided a glimmer of hope.

An end to the schism between the resistance and the elected but internationally-boycotted Hamas government on the one hand, and the Western-backed Fatah faction on the other, seemed within reach. But the good feeling came to a sudden end after what looked like a coordinated assault by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union High Representative Javier Solana, and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas whose term as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) expired on 9 January.

On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt’s powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established committees to discuss forming a “national unity government,” reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganizing security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks were adjourned until 10 March.

Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh ostensibly about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza.

Clinton was asked by Voice of America (VOA) whether she was encouraged by the Cairo unity talks. She responded that in any reconciliation or “move toward a unified [Palestinian] Authority,” Hamas must be bound by “the conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet,” the self-appointed group comprising representatives of the US, EU, UN and Russia. These conditions, Clinton stated, require that Hamas “must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by previous commitments.” Otherwise, the secretary warned, “I don’t think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state.”

The next strikes came from Ramallah. With the EU’s top diplomat Solana standing next to him, Abbas insisted that any national unity government would have to adhere to the “two-state vision” and abide by “international conditions and signed agreements.” He then demanded that Gaza reconstruction aid be channeled exclusively through the Western-backed, but financially bankrupt and politically depleted PA. Solana affirmed, “I would like to insist in agreement with [Abbas] that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority.” Solana fully endorsed the campaign waged by Abbas ever since the destruction of Gaza that the PA, plagued by endemic corruption, and which only pays salaries of workers deemed politically loyal, be in sole charge of the funds, rather than neutral international organizations as Hamas and others have suggested.

Was the Sharm al-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the long war against Hamas by other means? Indeed, Clinton had already confirmed the politicization of reconstruction aid when she told VOA, “We want to strengthen a Palestinian partner willing to accept the conditions outlined by the Quartet,” and, “our aid dollars will flow based on these principles.”

Hamas warned that Clinton’s and Abbas’s statements set Palestinian reconciliation efforts back to square one. “Hamas will not recognize Israel or the Quartet’s conditions,” said one spokesman Ismail Radwan, while another, Ayman Taha, said Hamas would “reject any preconditions in the formation of the unity government.” Khaled Meshal, head of the movement’s political bureau, insisted that the basis for national unity must remain “protecting the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Such statements will of course be used to paint Hamas as extremist, intransigent and anti-peace. After all, what could be more reasonable than demanding that any party involved in a peace process commit itself to renouncing violence, recognizing its enemy, and abiding by pre-existing agreements? The problem is that the Quartet conditions are designed to eliminate the Palestinians’ few bargaining chips and render them defenseless before continuous Israeli occupation, colonization, blockade and armed attacks.

None of the Western diplomats imposing conditions on Hamas have demanded that Israel renounce its aggressive violence. Indeed, as Amnesty International reported on 20 February, the weapons Israel used to kill, wound and incinerate 7,000 persons in Gaza, half of them women and children, were largely supplied by Western countries, mainly the US. In a vivid illustration, Amnesty reported that its field researchers “found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli army — including many that are US-made — littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

For Palestinians to “renounce violence” under these conditions is to renounce the right to self-defense, something no occupied people can do. Palestinians will certainly note that while Abbas stands impotently by, neither the US nor the EU have rushed to the defense of the peaceful, unarmed Palestinians shot at daily by Israeli occupation forces as they try to protect their land from seizure in the West Bank. Nor has Abbas’ renunciation of resistance helped the 1,500 residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan whose homes Israeli occupation authorities recently confirmed their intention to demolish in order to make way for a Jewish-themed park. A cessation of violence must be mutual, total and reciprocal — something Hamas has repeatedly offered and Israel has stubbornly rejected.

While Israeli violence is tolerated or applauded, Israel’s leaders are not held to any political preconditions. Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu emphatically rejects a sovereign Palestinian state and — like his predecessors — rejects all other Palestinian rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. When told to stop building illegal settlements on occupied land, Israel responds simply that this is a matter for negotiation and to prove the point it revealed plans in February to add thousands of Jewish-only homes to its West Bank colonies.

Yet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, asked by Al-Jazeera International on 1 March how his masters would deal with a rejectionist Israeli government, said, “We have to work with whoever the Israeli people elect, let’s test it out not just assume it won’t work.” Unless Palestinians are considered an inferior race, the same logic ought to apply to their elected leaders, but they were never given a chance.

It is ludicrous to demand that the stateless Palestinian people unconditionally recognize the legitimacy of the entity that dispossessed them and occupies them, that itself has no declared borders and that continues to violently expand its territory at their expense. If Palestinians are ever to recognize Israel in any form, that can only be an outcome of negotiations in which Palestinian rights are fully recognized, not a precondition for them.

During last year’s US election campaign, Clinton claimed she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland during her husband’s administration. Yet the conditions she now imposes on Hamas are exactly like those that the British long imposed on the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, thereby blocking peace negotiations. President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — helped overturn these obstacles by among other things granting a US visa to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, whose party the British once demonized as Israel now demonizes Hamas. Like Tony Blair, who as British prime minister first authorized public talks with Sinn Fein, Hillary Clinton knows that the negotiations in Ireland could not have succeeded if any party had been forced to submit to the political preconditions of its adversaries.

Former British and Irish peace negotiators including Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami made similar points in a 26 February letter they co-signed in The Times of London. “Whether we like it or not,” the letter states, “Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions.” The signatories called for engagement with the movement, affirming that “The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations.”

Those who claim to be peacemakers should heed this advice. They should allow Palestinians to form a national consensus without external interference and blackmail. They should respect democratic mandates. They should stop imposing grossly unfair conditions on the weaker side while cowering in fear of offending the strong, and they should stop the cynical exploitation of humanitarian aid for political manipulation and subversion.

There are many in the region who were encouraged by US President Barack Obama’s appointment of former Northern Ireland mediator Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. But in all other respects the new president has continued the Bush administration’s disastrous policies. It is not too late to change course, for persisting in these errors will guarantee only more failure and bloodshed.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

(Metropolitan Books, 2006).

A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.

Israel’s war on Gaza shows need for a total uprooting February 25, 2009

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NEWS & LETTERS, February – March 2009

www.newsandletters.org (Marxist Humanist)

 

 

 

by Gerry Emmett

 

The tentative “cease-fire,” already interrupted by grenade, mortar and missle strikes, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, of Jan. 18 following 22 days of war, was ushered in with a scene of pure modern horror. Palestinian doctor Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who works at an Israeli hospital and has reported on Gaza for Israeli television, announced live on the air that his home had just been bombed by Israeli warplanes. Three of his daughters were killed, and two seriously injured. Dr. Aboul Aish said truthfully, “All that was ever fired out of our house was love, hugs and acts of peace, nothing else, ever.”

Shocked viewers caught an unexpected look at the barbarity of the Gaza war as the Israeli news anchor broke down into tears along with the Palestinian doctor. A Gazan described the experience of life under attack this way: “In my home we can’t get basic needs. There is no safe place we can go. We cannot communicate with our relatives or friends–networks are down as missiles rain on our homes, mosques, and even hospitals…”

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

As Palestinians began to dig out thousands of destroyed buildings, the horrific toll of innocent life from weeks of air and ground war became even clearer. As of this writing, of 1,259 Palestinians dead, well over half are civilians. Many are children. An estimated 4,100 homes were destroyed, along with 1,500 factories and workshops.

There were also attacks upon buildings housing emergency humanitarian aid, like the UN Relief and Works Agency. “International law unequivocally forbids attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission,” said UNRWA spokesman Malcolm Smart. “Deliberate attacks on humanitarian assistance facilities or personnel may constitute a war crime.”

All this could hardly have been otherwise, fighting in crowded Gaza. It could not have been otherwise considering the cynical effort by Israel’s government to use its battle with Hamas to make some statements.

One statement was directed to Israeli voters by the current ruling Labor-Kadima coalition. Israeli peace protestors were quick to point out the timing of the war in relation to the February national elections, naming it the “6-Seat War,” the number of Knesset seats that the Labor Party expects to pick up. It likely won’t have stopped the right-wing Netanyahu of Likud from being elected Prime Minister.

The other statement was directed to Iran, the biggest regional supporter of Hamas. It was meant to say that Israel had “learned the lessons” of its destructive war in Lebanon in 2006, which was claimed as a “victory” by Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah–if hardly by the suffering people of southern Lebanon or Beirut. Thus even greater destruction was visited upon Gaza.

What the Israeli government hasn’t learned, though, is the futility of its attempts to control the Palestinians, or to crush their desire for self-determination. In this, Israel shows itself as one more state-capitalist power wedded to its ignoble imperial ambitions.

The U. S. government has shown nothing but complicity in this regard. This is true of both the outgoing Bush regime and the incoming Obama administration, with his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Certainly Israel wouldn’t have proceeded without an understanding with the U.S. The careful timing of the war around the U.S. election shows this, with one Israeli government figure claiming that the cease-fire was implemented to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama in his first days in office. Future U.S. policy is unclear–though Obama’s first phone call to a foreign leader went to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, despite the cease-fire, thousands of Israeli troops remain poised to re-enter Gaza, and Hamas retains the ability to launch rocket strikes into Israel if it so chooses. The blockade of Gaza continues.

Much of the situation in Gaza is inexplicable without looking at the various rivalries that involve many parties besides Israel and the Palestinians. This includes the continuing struggle between the fundamentalist Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and West Bank. Even while under attack by Israel, Hamas put some of its military effort into attacking Fatah members–they succeeded in killing and maiming many more of them than they did Israeli soldiers, at least 80-100 according to witnesses.

This helps to explain the otherwise incredible fact that in the face of Israel’s largest military incursion in decades there was no military unity among Palestinians. Only the marginal PFLP (General Command), a tool of the Syrian state, launched a single, random rocket from Lebanon that blew up the kitchen of a retirement home in northern Israel.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

There was no unity among the Arab states, either, owing to regional rivalries between Hamas’ Iranian patrons and the equally reactionary fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia. While there was a lot of rhetoric from Hezbollah, they are constrained by the opposition of the Lebanese people to any new war with Israel.

The conflict between Egypt and Hamas is also significant. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that fundamentalist group is seen as a threat to the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Egypt has aided Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and as much as anyone, it was the Egyptian government that gave Israel the green light to attack.

The Syrian-based leadership of Hamas distinguished itself by opposing any cease-fire and being ready, from the safety of Damascus, to fight to the last Palestinian. Even Hamas’ Gaza leadership couldn’t stomach this. To indicate how deep the lack of principle runs here, it is instructive to note that Hamas’ leader, Khaled Mashaal, accepts the hospitality and support of the same Syrian Baathist government that massacred 2,000 imprisoned Islamists in 1982. It also destroyed the city of Hama killing 20,000 civilians, in the course of repressing its own Muslim Brotherhood.

This should illuminate his callous willingness to sacrifice the people of Gaza. In this Mashaal is certainly within hailing distance of the Sharon of 1982 and the Sabra and Shatila massacres. It is only the other side of Hamas’ reactionary fantasy of destroying Israel which doesn’t shrink from referencing the Protocols of Zion–counter-revolutionary forgeries of the czarist secret police and “Black Hundreds” pogromists.[1]

The devastation wrought by the war should also help lay to rest the myth of Hamas as a “good government” alternative to the undeniable corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Their launching of hundreds of rockets into Israel, sometimes killing civilians, which became the stated justification for Israel’s attack, is barbarous and nihilistic. In the end Hamas may have hoped to duplicate Hezbollah’s experience in 2006, but 2009 is not 2006 and they greatly overreached.

Although there have been declarations of “victory” and rallies, in the words of one Gazan: “We can’t talk about real victory because there were thousands of martyrs and we didn’t liberate anything. It’s no time for a parade.”

OPPOSITION TO WAR

As against the horrors of this war, there were also many protests and important efforts at solidarity. The Free Gaza Movement attempted to deliver medical aid by boat, but was prevented from docking and rammed by an Israeli navy vessel. International aid, including ambulances, medicine and food, was also sent from European trade unions to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, which put out a call for such support. The war-weariness among Gazans was well expressed by one Palestinian woman who confronted a Hamas member passing out leaflets: “Why are you handing out paper instead of bread?”

The Israeli peace movement was in the street from the first hours declaring, “This is not our war!” Adam Keller of The Other Israel wrote, “At record speed, a rendezvous for protest was suggested by the Coalition of Women for Peace and quickly taken up by Hadash, Gush Shalom, the anarchists, Tarabut and also the Meretz grassroots network. The message spread among all by word of mouth and phone and email and Facebook: ‘Stop the War!'” The voices of past refuseniks and the Shministim made their opposition known.

It is vital to hear these voices of opposition (see “Woman as Reason”). Even more, the war’s regional aspect highlights the importance of all the new forces of revolution rising in the Middle East. There are new militant voices, from striking textile workers in Egypt, many of them women, to the new struggles of workers and women in Iraq represented by groups like the Iraqi Freedom Congress, and the simmering discontent among all sectors of the population in Iran with the oppressive theocracy there.

Mired in corruption and scandal, and hard hit by the 80% collapse in oil prices brought on by capitalist crisis, almost the only “legitimacy” the Iranian regime can cling to is its sponsorship of the “resistance” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Lebanon’s Shi’a and the Palestinians of Gaza have paid a high price for this sponsorship, in having their genuine freedom struggles shackled to Iran’s counter-revolution.[2]

PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION

In addition to the cost in human lives, Israel’s war has deflected attention from the brave new struggles in the region. It has the effect of sucking the oxygen from the very air of thought. Not only in the Middle East. This is a moment when every big imperialist power, the U.S., Russia, China, as well as a regional power like Iran, is confronted with the most serious capitalist crisis in decades.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Iranian regime has intensified repression of late, including closing down Shirin Ebadi’s Center for Defenders of Human Rights and fomenting attacks on her office and home, and closing the newspaper Kargozaran for publishing an article critical of Hamas. What Iran’s rulers really fear is that despite their best efforts the Iranian people will eventually rise up and throw them out as they did the Shah.

In this regard, it is also vital that the new forces of revolution become rooted in a philosophy of revolution that can help them avoid the kind of halfway houses and outright disasters that have destroyed past freedom movements. To this end News and Letters Committees published Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East (2003) containing Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution across the region, in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Dunayevskaya addressed this burning question for Middle Eastern revolutionaries in many ways, as in 1976’s “Lebanon: The test not only of the PLO but the whole Left.” Here she criticized revolutionaries who were pulled into the orbit of reactionary state powers, ushering in decades of civil war and occupation in Lebanon: “This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution.”[3]

Bringing about this unity of philosophy and revolution remains the task. News and Letters Committees has held to this principle since our founding in 1955: “The necessity for a new society is clear from the working people’s opposition to war. That opposition is based upon a vision of a new society in which they, to a man, woman and child, control their own lives. Any opposition to war, which is based on less than this, must end in capitulation to the warmongers.”[4]

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Israel’s war on the people of Gaza is not a local anomaly, it is the expression of the degeneracy of crisis-ridden state-capitalism. The absolute opposite of that is not any narrow nationalism or religion-infused drive for power, but the total uprooting of racist, sexist capitalist society in all countries and the creation of totally new human relations.

NOTES:

1. “What more could [right-wing Zionism] have wished for than that the Israeli opponents of their own rulers–the Israeli Left engaged in class struggles and in fights against their country’s foreign policy, especially to Israel’s non-recognition of the Palestinians as a national entity entitled to self-determination–should suddenly pause in their struggles, with worry over whether at the other end of the spectrum lurks that perennial manifestation of degeneracy, anti-Semitism?” (“The UN resolution on Zionism–and the ideological obfuscation also on the Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, Jan. 24, 1976.)

2. The Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat described this relation: “The problem is still fundamentally the Palestinian question. Just as this confrontation strengthens the reactionary religious factions in Israel and gives them much more power–disproportionate to their actual minor weight in people’s culture and beliefs, it also adds to the lifespan of political Islam…” (Porsesh, A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Society and Culture, Number 3, Winter 2001.)

3. “Lebanon: the test not only of the PLO but the whole Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter, August, 1976 .

4. From the “Preamble” to the News and Letters’ Committees’ Constitution, 1955.

 

ICC starts analysis of Gaza war crimes allegations February 4, 2009

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The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun a “preliminary analysis” of alleged Israeli crimes in Gaza.

ICC courtroom.jpgWith a delicate truce in Gaza, the extent of Israel’s 22-day offensive in Hamas-controlled Gaza last month is becoming increasingly clear. Human rights investigators say they have evidence of war crimes by all parties to the conflict.

The ICC is exploring its power to prosecute Israelis for alleged war crimes. In the past month the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has received over 210 appeals from Palestinians and NGOs to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jurisdiction
When Palestinian human rights groups petitioned the ICC to investigate war crimes reports earlier this month, Mr Ocampo said he was unable to take the case because his court had no jurisdiction over Israel. But now he says he is examining the case for Palestinian jurisdiction.

The ICC can try individuals only if the accused is a citizen of an ICC member state or the crime took place on the territory of such a state. The United Nations Security Council can also request the ICC to open an investigation, a scenario which is highly unlikely.

Mr Ocampo can also start an investigation into the Gaza conflict if a non member state accepts the court’s jurisdiction, which is the road the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is now seeking to take. It has recognised the court’s jurisdiction over the alleged crimes on 22 January.

‘De Facto State’
The Palestinian Authority wants to be able to refer matters to the ICC, but its territories are not recognised as an independent state. Palestinian lawyers, however, argue that the PNA is the ‘de facto’ state in Gaza, citing Israel’s claim that it has no responsibility for Gaza under international law since it withdrew in 2006.

“They are quoting jurisprudence,” Mr Ocampo says. “It’s very complicated. It’s a different kind of analysis I am doing. It may take a long time but I will make a decision according to law.”

Determining jurisdiction is just a first step. Mr Ocampo can only launch an investigation into the reported crimes once it has been decided he has the power to do so.

Mr Ocampo’s office is currently conducting similar preliminary analysis of situations in a number of countries, including Chad, Kenya, Afghanistan, Georgia and Colombia.

War crimes
Amnesty International (AI) researchers say they have found evidence of war crimes by all parties to the conflict, which left hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead, devastated the territory’s infrastructure and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

AI says its delegates have found evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus against Palestinian civilians in densely populated residential areas in Gaza, while indiscriminate rocket attacks on the part of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups killed several Israeli civilians.

 

 

Tags: Gaza, Hamas, ICC, Israel, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Palestinian Authority, war crimes

Ritual murder in Gaza January 26, 2009

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palestinians-homeless(Reuters) 50,800 Palestinians are now homeless and 400,000 are without running water.

By Paul J. Balles, January 25, 2009, www.aljazeera.com  

The United Nations says some 50,800 Palestinians are now homeless and 400,000 are without running water.

 

Israel, in a disgustingly conciliatory mood, says it will allow 143 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid into Gaza, plus 60,000 litres of fuel.

 

Disgustingly conciliatory because they kept aid from getting to the needy long before the latest conflict and all during it. Instead of starving Gaza into submission, Israel decided to slaughter as many as their US-supplied sophisticated armaments could manage.

 

The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports 1,314 Palestinians were killed during the conflict, including more than 400 children. More than 5,000 people were injured, nearly 2,000 of them children.

 

All of 13 Israelis were killed in what Israel consistently calls self-defence. Nine of those were military, four of whom were killed by friendly fire. When Israel called a ceasefire on Saturday [17 January], it brazenly announced it had met its war aims.

 

Hamas declared a “great victory” over Israel when it announced its own truce. Was that Israel’s aim? Or did it include the disappearance of entire neighbourhoods as reported by BBC’s Christian Fraser?

 

“Isn’t it Time for a War Crimes Tribunal?” headlines Robert Fisk, adding: It’s a wrap, a doddle, an Israeli ceasefire just in time for Barack Obama to have a squeaky-clean inauguration with all the world looking at the streets of Washington rather than the rubble of Gaza.”

 

Fisk also points out “history was quite forgotten. The Hamas rockets were the result of the food and fuel siege; Israel broke Hamas’s own truce on 4 and 17 November 2008. Forgotten is the fact Hamas won the 2006 elections, although Israel has killed a clutch of the victors.”

 

Since September 2005, Gaza has been nothing but a refugee camp. Israel simply transferred the Israeli settlers who had been in Gaza to the West Bank. This expanded the Israeli occupation and left the Palestinians isolated in Bantustans.

 

It’s obvious simply from their behaviour that the Israelis want to have Egypt annex and take over the responsibility for controlling Gaza. At the same time, they want to force an exodus of West Bank Palestinians to Jordan.

 

Noam Chomsky has noted: “… Gaza should be turned into a cage, a prison basically, with Israel attacking it at will, and meanwhile in the West Bank we’ll take what we want. There was nothing secret about it.”

 

Chomsky supported his conclusion by referring to a speech by Ehud Olmert in May 2006: “He simply announced to a joint session of Congress and to rousing applause, that the historic right of Jews to the entire land of Israel is beyond question.”

 

How will the Israelis accomplish the ethnic cleansing of Palestine? Chomsky, again, is quite clear: “… they have sufficient military control over the West Bank to terrorize the population into passivity.”

 

Meanwhile, the West and the corrupt minions among Palestinians, like Mahmoud Abbas, talk of ridiculous ideals of a two-state solution. Salah Bardaweel, spokesman for Hamas, reports that “Abbas, the acting Palestinian Authority chief, played a key role in the war and in assassinating Hamas’s senior political leaders, through his spies in the coastal strip”.

 

Despite its propaganda, Israel has never made a serious effort to negotiate toward a Palestinian state. When Israel speaks about Hamas using its ceasefires to rearm itself with its ineffective rockets through tunnels to Egypt, it is projecting. It is Israel which has been stalling serious negotiations in order to further terrorize the Palestinians.

 

“The only thing Israel has proved it can do militarily better than anyone else,” writes Yvonne Ridley, “is kill innocent women and children. And in its genocidal drive to wipe the Palestinian people from existence it has dealt itself a fatal blow.”

 

Chris Hedges reminds the U.S. that the Palestinian reaction to Israeli occupation should be familiar to Israelis:

 

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, says that the Israeli government will have no dealings with Hamas terrorists. But Tzipi Livni’s father was Eitan Livni, the chief operations officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, which fought against the British occupation of Palestine. The underground Jewish group set off a massive bomb in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, a blast in which 91 victims were killed, including four Jews. These Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. Tell me the moral difference between Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Stern gang and Hamas. I fail to see one.

 

It’s not enough that Israel has become the best-armed and largest gang of terrorist thugs in the world. Anyone aware of what happened in the UN with a ceasefire proposal to be voted on must have realized that Israel controls America when Olmert had Bush call off a vote by the U.S., which drafted the proposal.

 

Why? “I [Olmert] spoke with him [Bush]; I told him: You can’t vote for this proposal. He said: listen, I don’t know, I didn’t see, don’t know what it says. I told him: I know, and you can’t vote for it! He then instructed the secretary of state, and she did not vote for it.”

 

Writing in Counterpunch, Brian Cloughley says: “The worst of all the barbarians who are killing children and their mothers and fathers in Gaza are the Israeli pilots who mercilessly bomb houses occupied by terrified families. And they are staunchly supported by the House of Representatives of the United States of America.” The U.S. Senate has also supported the savagery. Cloughley adds:

 

These pilots, these vile little war-gamers of the skies, these latter-day examples of what Tom Wolfe called “The Right Stuff”, can zoom over towns full of traumatized children and happily heave and hurl their bombs and rockets to kill yet more Palestinian kids without the remotest chance of being shot down. How heroic; how truly gladiatorial. How contemptible.

 

Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes, saying its use of white phosphorus in Gaza was indiscriminate and illegal. When a young burn victim in Vietnam was photographed running down a road in flame, Americans protested vigorously. When Israel burns Gaza’s children with phosphorous, the media ignores it.

 

Obama’s unbridled support for Israel doesn’t bode well. He’s been doing everything he can to play both sides of the political spectrum, and the political spectrum in the U.S. is all one-sided when it comes to Israel. The secretary of state is as mesmerized by Israel as is the U.S. Congress and the administration.

 

“During the July 2006 Lebanon war, Barack Obama stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks,” reports the new White House website. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel,” concludes the entry.

 

They defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met. They have called for continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defence systems.

 

It will be interesting to see how long it will take Americans suffering as a result of the financial crisis to object to the continuing Israeli bailout. Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel will surely come under scrutiny as unnecessary financial diversions from needed benefits to Americans.

 

Many people around the world, especially Arabs, have been looking to the Obama administration, hoping that his call for change will extend to fairness for Palestinians. They might as well hope for rain in the middle of the Arabian Desert in July.

 

Alternatively, visit the White House website and respond to the new administration’s invitation to comment, claiming that “President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history”. The address is http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. Let them know that you know that Israel is not the innocent victim that the propaganda makes it out to be.

 

 

— Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see pballes.com. This article appeared in Redress Information & Analysis.

Source: Middle East Online