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Posted on Apr 17, 2009, www.truthdig.com
|AP photo / Ahn Young-joon|
By Scott Ritter
Six minutes before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, on Jan. 23, a 173-foot-tall, two-stage rocket lifted off from Northeast Asia. Capable of carrying a giant 33,000-pound payload, the rocket’s liquid-fuel engine, supplemented by two solid-fuel strap-on booster rockets, generated nearly half a million pounds of thrust before giving way to the second stage, likewise powered by a liquid-fuel engine. After reaching a height of nearly 430 miles, the rocket released into orbit a 3,850-pound satellite, along with seven smaller probes. Other than the small community of scientists interested in the data expected to be collected from the “Ibuki” Greenhouse Gases Observatory Satellite (GOSAT), the rocket’s main payload, very few people around the world took notice of the launch. The United Nations Security Council did not meet in an emergency session to denounce the launch, nor did it craft a package of punitive economic sanctions in response.
The reason? The rocket in question, the H-2A, was launched by Japan, at its Tanegashima Space Launch Facility. Deemed an exclusively civilian program, the H-2A has been launched 15 times since its inaugural mission on Aug. 29, 2001. Four of these launches have been in support of exclusively military missions, delivering spy satellites into orbit over North Korea. Although capable of delivering a modern nuclear warhead to intercontinental ranges, the H-2A is seen as a “non-threatening” system since its liquid-fueled engines require a lengthy fueling process prior to launching, precluding any quick-launch capability deemed essential for a military application.
In contrast, on April 5, at 11:30 in the morning, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket called “Unha,” or “Milky Way,” which it claimed was carrying a single small communications satellite weighing a few hundred pounds. Like the H-2A, the “Unha,” better known in the West as the Taepodong-2, is liquid-fueled, requiring weeks of preliminary preparation before launch. Although North Korea declared the vehicle to be intended for launching a satellite, the launch was condemned even before it occurred as “dangerous” and “provocative,” unlike Japan’s similar efforts.
The Taepodong-2 launch was the second attempt by the North Koreans to get this particular design airborne. In 2006, the first effort ended in failure when the rocket exploded some 40 seconds after liftoff. The second launch, by all accounts (except North Korea’s, which announced that its satellite was successfully orbiting the Earth, broadcasting patriotic music), was likewise a failure. The first stage, based on a Chinese design derived from the CSS-2 missile, seemed to function as intended, given the fact that it splashed down in the Sea of Japan in the area expected. However, the second stage, together with the smaller solid-fuel third stage designed to boost the satellite into orbit, fell several hundred miles short of its anticipated impact area, indicating a failure of the second stage to perform properly and, ultimately, launch the satellite. Western hysteria, which labeled the North Korean rocket a direct threat to the western United States, prompting calls for the missile to be shot down, proved unfounded.
In October 2006, in response to North Korea’s announcement that it had conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon, the Security Council of the United Nations passed Resolution 1718. This resolution, passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, condemned the North Korean nuclear weapon test and called for the imposition of economic sanctions until North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was dismantled and its nuclear program as a whole reintegrated into the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It also singled out North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, demanding that Pyongyang “not conduct any further … launch of a ballistic missile” and “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching” and “abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
The April 5 launch was widely condemned by the United States and others (including Japan, which assumed a leading role in framing the North Korean test as “destabilizing” and “dangerous”). President Barack Obama characterized the North Korean launch as a violation of Security Council resolutions and pushed for the council to punish Pyongyang. However, not everyone shared the sentiments of the United States and Japan. Both Russia and China questioned whether the launch was in fact a violation of Resolution 1718, noting that North Korea had every right to launch satellites. The best the United States and Japan could get from the U.N. Security Council was a statement issued by the council president condemning the launch as a “contravention” of Security Council Resolution 1718 and demanding that North Korea “comply fully” with its obligations under the resolution. The statement also demanded that North Korea not shoot off any more rockets or missiles.
Thus it appears that the United Nations Security Council, and not North Korea, is acting in a manner inconsistent with international law. On March 5, 2009, North Korea notified Russia that it was joining the 1966 Outer Space Treaty. Russia is one of three depository states for that treaty (the other two being the United States and the United Kingdom), and North Korea’s announcement made the commitment binding. At the same time, North Korea informed the U.N. secretary-general that it was joining the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched Into Outer Space. The Outer Space Treaty proclaims “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind,” and that “outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States.” North Korea’s joining the 1974 convention, while not mandatory, put it in compliance with the established practices of other nations having space launch programs, including Iran, which signed the treaty back in 1967, and which on Feb. 2, 2008, successfully launched a satellite on board its two-stage Safir-2 (“Ambassador”) vehicle. While the United States and others strongly criticized the Iranian action, Russia noted that Iran had not violated international law. The same holds true of the North Korean launch.
A major problem confronting President Obama and others who fear that North Korean and Iranian launches are merely a cover for the development of technologies useful for military ballistic missile programs is that, unlike in the nuclear field, where the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) seeks to control nuclear weapon technologies and activities within a framework of binding international law, there is no corresponding treaty vehicle concerning ballistic missiles. In 1991, the U.N. Security Council did impose restrictions on ballistic missile technology for Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, but this was a case-specific action which, in defining its mandate, had to turn not to an existing body of binding international law-based definitions, but rather to a voluntary arrangement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime [MTCR], brought into being in 1987. Today the MTCR consists of 34 members, all of which have agreed to abide by a regime that controls the availability of missile-related technology to nonmember states. But the MTCR does not carry with it the force of law, and has become politicized over the years through the inconsistent application of its mandate to the point that it is viewed by many nonsignatory nations as sustaining the military advantage of the member nations.
While both North Korea and Iran have come under strong international criticism and sanctions for their respective nuclear and missile activities, it should be noted that neither nation has acted in a manner which violates international law. North Korea withdrew from the NPT prior to testing its nuclear weapon, and Iran’s nuclear enrichment program operates with full transparency and in keeping with its obligations under the NPT. As signatories to the 1966 Outer Space Treaty, both nations are legally permitted to pursue space launch activity, and the MTCR does not ban ballistic missile development, but rather merely prevents signatory nations from providing such technology to nonsignatory nations. But the lack of international outrage and demands for sanctions against nations such as Israel, Pakistan and India (all of which possess nuclear weapons programs operating outside the NPT, as well as military ballistic missile programs designed to deliver these nuclear weapons) undermines the legitimacy of the current attention on North Korea and Iran.
On the day North Korea launched its “Unha” vehicle, President Obama delivered a speech in Prague, the Czech Republic, which was hastily redrafted to take the North Korean action into account. “North Korea broke the rules,” Obama said. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” These bold statements were made at the same time the president was calling for a global abolition of nuclear weapons and a strengthened NPT as “a basis for cooperation,” one which would require “more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections” and deliver “real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the treaty without cause.” The president outlined a valid (if vague) course of action concerning nuclear weapons, but having linked nuclear weapons with ballistic missile delivery vehicles, he remained conspicuously mute on how he envisioned containing and controlling that threat.
Expansion of the MTCR is not a viable option, although in its most recent plenary session the MTCR underscored the importance of the regime working closely with the United Nations to follow through on measures put in place under Security Council Resolution 1540, passed in 2004 under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. Those measures require all states to “establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and means of delivery, in particular for terrorist purposes, including by establishing appropriate controls over related materials, and adopt legislative measures in that respect.” The resolution specifically said that none of its obligations should be interpreted “so as to conflict with or alter the rights and obligations of State parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention or alter the responsibilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).” This reflects the reality that there is established, binding international agreement on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. There is no such agreement on ballistic missiles.
This is the missing link in Obama’s call for a nuclear-free world. It will be difficult enough to convince entrenched domestic special interests, both economic and political, that we would be safer without nuclear weapons. It will be impossible to sell such a program internationally unless it is coupled with a similar undertaking involving the very missiles and related technology the MTCR seeks to restrict. Such a restriction cannot be limited to those nations which do not currently possess such technology, but rather must be binding on all nations. While the world was focused on the launch of the North Korean missile, almost unmentioned was the testing of an SS-25 intercontinental missile by Russia on April 10. This missile, designed and equipped to deliver a single 500-kiloton nuclear warhead, flew 6,000 miles before hitting its designated target area (the warhead used was a dummy). And what about February’s test launch of a U.S. Navy D-5 ballistic missile from a Trident submarine? This missile flew some 4,000 miles and was equipped with multiple warheads. There was hardly any mention of the test of a U.S. Minuteman III missile in July 2006, made six days after the U.S. orchestrated Security Council condemnation of North Korea’s failed launch of a Taepodong-2 space launch vehicle. India, Pakistan and Israel have all conducted recent tests of their respective nuclear-capable ballistic missile arsenals. If the world is going to be serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons, then it must also address the issue of eliminating those delivery vehicles which provide the most viable vector for nuclear attack—ballistic missiles.
Combining the goals and intent of the MTCR with the 1966 Outer Space Treaty would be a good place to start. Banning ballistic missiles yet maintaining space launch capability are not mutually exclusive objectives. The technologies might be similar, but the employment methodologies are not. Military ballistic missiles are deployed in secrecy and rapidly prepared for launch. Space launch vehicles are operated in full transparency, on declared schedules with announced objectives. If the list of technologies currently controlled by the MTCR was expanded to include all technologies associated with missile launch activity, and access to such technologies made conditional on their use in declared, carefully monitored space launchings controlled by a binding international treaty, it would be possible to rid the world of the scourge of global nuclear attack by not only removing the nuclear weapons but also the most effective means of their delivery. Obama and others who criticize North Korea and Iran would do well to reflect on such a possibility the next time they embark on the ineffective and hypocritical path of assailing those who simply seek to acquire what we already have—whether it be nuclear weapons, nuclear technology, ballistic missiles or space launch capability.
Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and a U.S. Marine intelligence officer. He is author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and the forthcoming “On Dangerous Ground: Following the Path of America’s Failed Arms Control Policy,” also published by Nation Books.
A Choice Between Peace and Peril February 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, ahmadinejad, aipac, Bush, chris hedges, Clinton, dennis ross, enriched uranium, europe, hamas, hezbollah, hillary, intelligence, Iran, iranian missiles, iranian nuclear scientists, Iraq, israel, jundullah, kurdistan, lebanon, Middle East, military, mossad, mujahedin, netanyahu, nuclear, nuclear reactor, Obama, pakistan, peace, politics, revolutionary guards, roger hollander, russia, security, shiite, shimon peres, sunni, Syria, Taliban, United Nations, uranium, war
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Posted on Feb 23, 2009, www.truthout.com
|AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian|
By Chris Hedges
Bibi Netanyahu’s assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.
Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.
Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel’s main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.
“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ official residence. “The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. “For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges.”
Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel’s air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran’s Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.
Netanyahu’s resolve to strike Iran means that we will soon hear a lot about the danger posed by Iran—full-page ads in American newspapers from Israel lobby groups have appeared in the past few days. Allowing this rhetoric to cloud reality, as we did during the buildup to the war with Iraq, would shut down the best chance for stability in the Middle East—a negotiated settlement with Iran. This may not finally stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but a stable relationship with Iran would do more to protect Israel and our interests in the Middle East than massive airstrikes and a war that would bleed into Iraq and Lebanon and see Iranian missiles launched against Israeli cities.
“If you go into a problem with a mistaken assumption, you come out with a bad policy,” said Sam Gardner, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College, and who opposes the Israeli campaign to strike Iran.
Iran’s nuclear program is currently monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January, according to the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations. To produce the 55 pounds of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead, Iran would need 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium. It apparently has this amount—which is why Netanyahu refers to Iran as “an existential threat” to the Israeli state. But Iran has made no move to enrich the uranium and until it does cannot be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. Iran also does not have enough high-speed centrifuges at its facility in Natanz to further refine the uranium, according to the United Nations.
Iran has turned to its old nemesis Russia for assistance as Israel has become more strident. The work on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be assisted by 3,000 Russian technicians. And Russia has promised to sell the S-300 missile to Iran to boost that nation’s air defense systems. The Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council’s new national security strategy statement says that the primary focus of the struggle over the next decade will be on hydrocarbons. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. And, while the document does not mention the United States, there is no other rival military force in the region that can match the Russian machine. The more we push Iran the more Iran flees into the arms of the Russians and the closer we come to a new Cold War struggle for control of diminishing natural resources. Iranian officials have barred inspections of facilities producing centrifuge parts, a move which worries arms control specialists. Iran may be planning to build an undeclared centrifuge facility separate from Natanz. Iran has also barred inspectors from its heavy-water reactor near Arak, an action that has concerned inspectors who hope to examine the site for possible telltale “clandestine” features that could be used in a weapons program. These signs would indicate that Iran could begin a nuclear weapons program. But as of now there is no such program. We should stop speaking as if one exists.
The destruction of Iraq as a unified state has left Iran the power broker in the Middle East. This was the result of our handiwork and the misguided militarism of Israeli politicians such as Netanyahu. Iran, like it or not, holds the power to decide the outcome of several conflicts that are vital to American security. It has enormous influence with Hamas and Hezbollah and can accelerate or diminish the conflict between Israel and these groups. It and the U.S. are now the major outside forces in Iraq. The Shiite-led Baghdad government consults closely with Iran and for this reason has told the Iranian resistance group the MEK that it has 60 days to leave Iraqi territory and may see its leaders arrested and tried for war crimes. Once American forces leave Iraq, it is Iran, more than any other nation, that will determine the future of any Iraqi government. And, finally, Iran has for centuries been embroiled in the affairs of Afghanistan. It alone has the influence to stabilize the conflict, one that increasingly threatens to spill over into Pakistan. Afghan politicians have sharply criticized the Iranian government for deporting more than 30,000 Afghans who had fled to Iran since October. Many, unable to find work or return to their villages, have signed up to fight for the Taliban, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions. Iran has coped with nearly three decades of sanctions imposed by Washington. The U.S. support for the militant groups and the sanctions, meant to help change the regime in Tehran, have failed.
There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross, a former official of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, we will be in deep trouble. Ross, who is expected to be placed in charge of the Iranian portfolio this week, is a vocal supporter of Israel’s call for increased pressure on Iran. He is distrusted, even despised, in the Muslim world and especially in Tehran. With good reason, he is not viewed as an impartial broker.
Ross has called for more draconian sanctions against Iran, something Russia or the five companies that provide Iran’s refined petroleum products are not likely to support. (The companies include the Swiss firm Vitol, the French giant Total and the Indian firm Reliance.) Ross backs the covert support for proxy groups and, I would assume, the alleged clandestine campaign by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Mossad is rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli ‘hits,’ intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts,” the paper reported.
It remains unmentioned that Israel, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—signed by Iran—is in possession of 200 to 300 nuclear warheads, perhaps the single most important factor in the Middle East nuclear arms race.
“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”
Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.
Israel at 60: Zionism’s Fatal Flaw January 4, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: diaspora, hamas, ira chernus, israel, israeli-arab wars, jewish homeland, jewish nationalism, judiasm, martin buber, Palestine, palestinian arabs, Palestinians, roger hollander, security, theodore herzl, war, zionism, zionist
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How do you evaluate a whole nation when it turns 60? Even a nation as small as Israel is far too complicated for any simple evaluation.
Do you judge it by its vibrant democracy and independent judiciary, which tells even the highest officials and their families that they are not above the law? Or by its four decades as an occupying army, whose soldiers are now confessing that they routinely and brutally violate civilians’ human rights? Do you judge it by its world-class universities and world-class science and technology? Or by its growing gap between rich and poor, as the utopian socialism of the kibbutz experiment collapses before the juggernaut of neoliberal corporate capitalism? Do you judge it by its vibrant avant-garde cultural scene, or by the way it marginalizes its Arab citizens and its growing population of Asian “guest workers”?
Perhaps the only fair way to judge any nation is by its own ideals. Israel makes that task easier for us as it was built upon explicit and well-documented ideals. While many nations have grown up organically, or even accidentally, Israel was a conscious project, a product of half a century of very intentional thinking and planning. Israel’s elderly founding fathers had been Zionists since the movement’s beginning. They imbibed their ideals from the movement’s founders, whose ideals were set forth at great length—there is no mystery about what the Jewish state was meant to achieve and signify.
In the first generation of Zionists, a large majority shared one overriding goal: They wanted to live as “normal” people in a “normal” nation. The Zionist project began when they asked why Jewish life in the centuries-long Diaspora had become so abnormal. Their answer was built into the question. As children of the mid-nineteenth century, the great age of European nationalism, they assumed that a normal nation has its own territory, is governed by its own people and institutions, speaks its own language, and thus shapes its own destiny. So the very fact of being in Diaspora was, by definition, an abnormal condition.
But their complaint was not merely that the Jews lacked a nation. The deeper problem, as they saw it, was that the Jews lacked nationalism. They had no movement, nor even any will, to become a nation. And the reason was plain enough to see: Centuries ago, under the pressures of Diaspora, the Jews had come to define themselves primarily by religion rather than national bonds. Torah (denoting in the broadest sense all of Jewish thought and practice) had come to take precedence over Israel, the national consciousness.
In fact for many of these first Zionists—most of them modernized, secular intellectuals—Jewish religion had become a burden. Seeing no other way to be Jewish except the religious, most might well have assimilated completely into their European environment. The first great leader of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl (himself a highly assimilated Jew), wrote in his classic pamphlet The Jewish State: “If only we were left in peace…” The ellipsis spoke more eloquently than words of the seemingly impossible dream of assimilation. Herzl immediately followed with the bitter premise of Zionism: “But we shall not be left in peace.” Anti-semitism, he argued, was a permanent fact of life for the Diasporic Jew.
Herzl’s close associate, Max Nordau, summed up their assessment for the First Zionist Congress: “The emancipated Jew… has abandoned his specific Jewish character [i.e., rejected traditional Jewish religion], yet the nations do not accept him as part of their national communities.” Further, Nordau implied, the nations would never accept him. Craving a normal life with a normal modern national identity, he had no choice but to create a secular nation of his own.
Thus the mainstream of Zionism assumed from the start that their “normalization” demanded not only independence and self-governing institutions, but a transformation of Jewish identity from a religious to a secular nationalist basis. As the famed Zionist writer Micah Berdichevski proclaimed: “Israel must precede the Torah, the human being before the religion.” This view was enshrined in 1948, when Israel’s Independence Proclamation promised to safeguard freedom of religion, and from religion, for every citizen.
These were the ideas and ideals that brought most of the early Zionists to Zionism—but not all. There was always a dissenting minority who saw Zionism as a way to not merely save Jews but, more importantly, Judaism. They expected the Jewish homeland (not necessarily a political state, but necessarily in Palestine) to be a platform from which Jewish renewal would be launched.
Proponents of a “spiritual Zionism,” like Ahad Ha’am and Martin Buber, hoped for a new kind of Judaism, maintaining those aspects of the tradition that could best be fused with the highest modern values. At the other end of the spectrum, “religious (i.e., orthodox Jewish) Zionists” hoped for a state that would establish halakhah—traditional laws for eating, praying, working, etc.—as the law of the land.
Both of these dissident wings agreed on one proposition: the Jews were a chosen people. God had chosen them not for special privilege but for a special responsibility to live up to a higher moral and spiritual standard than the rest of humanity. A Jewish homeland would give Jews a better chance to attain that higher standard. So “normalization,” far from undergirding the Zionist project, would undermine it. Martin Buber said bluntly: “If we want to be nothing but normal, we shall soon cease to be at all.” The great orthodox Zionist thinker Rav Kook said much the same thing.
From the beginning the secularists were clearly the majority. They remain so today. Judged against the ideal of transforming Jewish identity from a religious to a national basis, the state of Israel has been a smashing success. Certainly not all Jews understand their identity in nationalistic terms, but the idea that the Jews are a nation, and that one can be a “good Jew” without being religious or spiritual in any way, has now taken deep root throughout most of the Jewish community. Many in the orthodox minority may demur, but most orthodox Jews now embrace some modern nationalist values, even if they are not comfortable admitting it.
The logic underlying Zionism, however, has failed to play out as expected. A Jewish nationalism strong enough to overshadow religious identity has not made Jews in their own state feel fully normal. If anything, Israel has become an institutionalized mechanism for perpetuating a sense of abnormality. Why? Because the early Zionists, and most of their followers to the present day, overlooked the fatal flaw in their reasoning.
Zionism was born from the premise that anti-semitism is a permanent fact of life in the Diaspora—that in every land, sooner or later, gentiles will turn against the Jews living in their midst. Only in a country with a majority Jewish population could this fate be avoided. By this logic, the gentiles in the countries neighboring Israel had to be anti-semitic too. The neighbors did not have to demonstrate anti-semitic behavior to prove it, nor could they ever disprove it. Evidence was irrelevant. The neighbors’ anti-semitism had to be an unquestionable axiom—without it the whole Zionist enterprise would be called into question.
When Palestinians and other Arabs resisted the emerging Jewish state, most Jews viewed the conflict through the lens of Zionist thinking. They could not see opposition to Israel as the predictable result of political, economic, social, and cultural friction; but only as irrational anti-semitic hatred, which Jews had done nothing to stir up. So, the (sometimes unconscious) reasoning went, there was nothing Jews could do to remove or mitigate Arab antagonism.
All the Jews could do was to build up an invincible army and subordinate every other value to the overriding demands of Israel’s security. In the Jewish state all could be justified by the magic words bishvil bitachon (“for the sake of security”). Although it would take more than half a century for Israel to begin building a physical wall along its border (as determined by Israel itself), from the very start it had a psychological barrier separating it from its neighboring lands, a barrier symbolized by the ever-present military establishment.
If Israeli Jews truly believed that their military would keep them perfectly secure behind its barrier, perhaps they would have taken the risks and made the compromises necessary for peace. But, while they hoped for the best, most continued to fear the worst, just as their ancestors had in Diaspora. Six Israeli-Arab wars and two intifadas have proven that the state of Israel is secure against every plausible threat, yet the old myth of national insecurity still triumphs over present reality.
The early Zionists, filled with understandable fears of eternal anti-semitism, could not imagine a Jewish state with such predominant power that its existence would be absolutely assured. Most Israeli Jews today, haunted by the same fear of powerlessness, still cannot believe in that assurance.
People who are so preoccupied with their security—constantly on the alert for attackers, always fearing they might be “pushed into the sea,” feeling that their country is and must remain a psychological fortress—can hardly live a really normal life. Therefore, when judged by its own standards, the Jewish state fails to achieve its ultimate raison d’etre because it lives without “normalization.” So Israeli life remains trapped in a frustrating sense of failure; a failure compounded by the inability for most of its citizens and champions to understand how its own nationalist ideology has been largely responsible for it.
Yet the trap and the frustration run even deeper. Years ago, I heard one of the world’s most distinguished Jewish theologians say that, unfortunately, Israel had to maintain its huge military to fulfill the promise of “never again.” Someone in the audience was skeptical: Could Israelis really be sure that their soldiers would safeguard them against every threat? No, the famed speaker admitted.
But, he added, they could be sure of the most important thing: There would never be another Nazi-like holocaust, because the next time the Jews would go down fighting. The essential value was not security but nationalism and especially national pride, acted out in the willingness to die—and kill—for one’s nation. After all, in the modern world that’s what normal nations expect. So acts of military might would prove that Israel is indeed quite normal.
Surely not all Israeli Jews seek a sense of security and normality through the exercise of power. There is, in fact, a sizable peace movement in Israel which is deeply critical of its own militarism. But the majority of Israelis today, who do tilt toward power, block the path to peace. They see any genuinely conciliatory step by their government as a surrender, a return to political powerlessness, and thus a fatal blow to their sense of self-worth. So they want their government to continue on the path of confrontation as evidence of “normalization.”
Every exercise of Israeli power naturally evokes more Palestinian opposition and further enmity. Yet even when Palestinians offer clear evidence of change, like the recent announcement from Hamas that it is ready to accept a two-state solution, the Israelis reject it. Their axiom of eternal anti-semitism tells them that the Palestinians are and must always be their implacable enemy. The insecurity and violence tragically spiral on, deepening the sense that Israel is not yet normal.
Indeed, large numbers of Israelis seem convinced that the original goal of “normalization” is permanently beyond reach, or else a distant eschatological goal at best. Decades of war and occupation have forced them to confront the moral compromises they make to defeat their enemies. To ease their consciences, most reaffirm their conviction that none of this is due to Israeli policy; it is all forced upon them by irrational hatred from the other side of the border(s). Therefore, this thinking goes, they can do nothing to alter the sad situation. Ain breirah, they tell each other over and over again. “There is no choice.” Thus they convince themselves that they can never do anything to bring their nation closer to “normalization.”
Perhaps Israel would have been better off had all its people listened to dissidents like Ahad Ha’am and Buber, who rejected the whole idea of “normalization” because they wanted Zionists to live up to a higher moral standard. As early as 1892, Ahad Ha’am saw Jews committing violence against Arabs and warned that there would be terrible repercussions. In 1920, Buber told the Zionist Congress that Jews were far from powerless. Arabs would respond to the choices Jews made. “It depends entirely on us,” he declared, whether Zionists are greeted by Palestinian Arabs as hated conquerors or beloved friends.
There have always been Jews in Israel who recognized the prophetic wisdom in such words. Now they are being joined by growing numbers of Jews in the US and around the world, who are acting on the principle that it is never too late to change a nation’s goals, to put ethical striving above “normalization.”
Yet another wing of this Jewish peace movement argues that “normalization” is still a worthy goal. But 60 years of conflict shows that Israel has been pursuing the goal in self-defeating ways. Acknowledging Palestinian (including Hamas’) gestures of conciliation, and responding with conciliatory moves by Israel, is the only way to bring peace and security for Jews, and thus escape the trap of abnormality.
The one thing all sides do agree on is the uncertainty of the future. Israel at 60 is still a fledgling nation, a set of experiments, and a debating arena wherein many diverse voices insist that they know best how the next experiments should be carried out. Up until now, the majority’s experiments have led only to an abnormal situation marked by an endless round of violence and killing—the vast majority of it on the Palestinian side of the border.
The good news is that a growing awareness of futility is, slowly and painfully, pushing both sides to take more radical experimental steps toward peace. Only by traveling a new path of peace and reconciliation can Israel some day achieve its original goal: a homeland where Jews can feel like normal people leading normal lives.
Foreign journalists demand Gaza access December 30, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
Tags: al-jazeera, bombing, foreign press association, gaza, hamas, israel, jerusalem, journalists, Palestine, roger hollander, rory mccarthy, security, supreme court
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Israel’s supreme court will hear a petition tomorrow brought by the Foreign Press Association, which represents around 400 foreign journalists, demanding that Israel allow reporters into Gaza to cover the latest conflict.
The sole pedestrian crossing from Israel into Gaza, at Erez, has remained closed to journalists since Israel’s bombing campaign began on Saturday.
Two years ago, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Israeli authorities stopped all Israeli journalists and Palestinian journalists with Israeli identity cards crossing into Gaza, saying it was too dangerous.
Last month, as the last ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militant groups began to collapse, the Israeli defence ministry closed the Erez crossing to all foreign journalists as well, citing “security” reasons.
Egypt has largely kept its one crossing into Gaza, at Rafah, closed except for in rare medical emergencies, and it too does not allow journalists to cross. The only reporters in Gaza now are Palestinians who live there and work for news agencies or for Palestinian and Arab satellite channels, including al-Jazeera.
In an open letter, the Foreign Press Association said this week that the closure of the Erez crossing to journalists marked “an unprecedented restriction of press freedom. As a result the world’s media is unable to accurately report on events inside Gaza at this critical time,” it said.
“Despite our protests the Israelis authorities have refused to let journalists in … Never before have journalists been prevented from doing their work in this way. We believe it is vital that journalists be allowed to find out for themselves what is going on in Gaza. Israel controls access to Gaza. Israel must allow professional journalists access to this important story.”
Previous hearings have been held on the issue at the supreme court without any clear resolution of the case.