Monday, February 28, 2005
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin - "I Feel Responsible for the Victims of Zionism"
I was just "enjoying" an article in Israel Insider, condemning the "radical left" scholars at Ben Gurion University, some of whom are excellent resources, kind and thoughtful people, important activists and outstanding analysts. (Lev Grinberg, Jeff Halper, Oren Yiftachel,Michael Dahan, Neve Gordon, just to name a few). I then remembered this very good interview I had read not too long ago, and want to post it here so that others can read it.
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin is a lecturer in Jewish History at the Ben Gurion University, Israel. In this interview with Youssef Hijazi he talks about binationalism, the victims of Zionism as well as about alternatives for the "Zionist myth".
Youssef Hijazi: Prof. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin you were working as a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin) for one year. The name of the project was "Project Group Islamic and Jewish Hermeneutics as Cultural Critique". What was your project about?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: My main project was a study dedicated to the critical analysis of Zionist perception of history. In this book, that I hope to complete soon, I demonstrate the messianic-theological and colonial-orientalistic dimensions inherent in the Zionist myth. I try to show the way the Zionist historical consciousness is based on suppression and the erasure of history: the history of the land, and particularly the Nakba, the transfer of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 – but also the various histories of the Jews.
At the same time I try to demonstrate the way Zionist discourse employed the same European values and concepts that enabled the exclusion of the Jews in order to define a Jewish entity: Jews, who were considered in Europe as "Orientals" came to the Middle East in order to create a European society, based on the negation of the "Orient", of the Arab existence. At the same time I also try to suggest an alternative discourse based on the concept of binationalism, but not necessarily as referring to one state solution, but as a critical position of the present Israeli consciousness. This aspect is more political, and I elaborate on it in a different book, entitled "Exile and Binationalism" that will soon appear in French.
I think that the critique of Zionism remains irrelevant if we do not try to find alternatives. I am writing from an Israeli point of view, and as an Israeli I feel responsible for the victims of Zionism.
The question I ask is how we can define an Israeli-Jewish collectivity which is based on the recognition of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the refugees. I still believe that at least for the moment the two states solution is the only alternative, but it cannot be reached under the principles that continue to direct the peace process, from the Israeli point of view.
The establishment of a Palestinian state can be considered as a reasonable way to solve the question of the occupation, but it leaves many questions unsolved. My main critique is directed against "secular Zionism" and the so-called "secular Zionist myth". Consequently, on the political level my criticism is directed against the perception of the so-called "peace camp" in Israel.
Where are they secular or not? And where is the relevance for the current politics?
Raz-Krakotzkin: You are right. This definition is very problematic. They are called "secular" because they reject or abandon the Halakha, the Jewish law, but the myth that define the so-called national-secular is itself based on an interpretation of the theological myth, according to which the present Jewish existence in Palestine is the return of the Jews to their homeland (considered to be empty!) the fulfillment of Jewish history and of the prayers of the Jews.
Nationalism is not a replacement of the theological myth but an interpretation of the myth. Therefore the very distinction between "secular" and "religious" identities in Israel is problematic. I do not want to undermine the differences, or to ignore the real danger of religious-nationalistic groups.
But I argue that the origins of these radical right-wing groups are not to be found in Jewish religion, but in the secular interpretation of the myth. Therefore, without understanding these aspects, one cannot suggest a real alternative to the ideology of the right-wing settlers.
Also for secular Zionists, the Bible is a source of authority. One can summarize "secular" Zionism as follows: God does not exist but he promised the land to us. It does not mean that Zionism follows traditional Jewish thought.
Israel is not a secular state and not a nation state. It is considered as the "state of the Jewish people" to include citizens of other countries, but through the exclusion of its Arab citizens, and their systematic dispossession.
What are the political significances of this attitude?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: Let me remind you the simple facts: the (second) Intifada started after the killing of seven people in the Mosque, the day after the provocative visit of Ariel Sharon. In the beginning, it was mainly expressed in mass demonstrations, with shooting against settlers – but at this stage there were no terror attacks from the kind we knew later, with the suicide bombers.
The sense of depression and disappointment among the Palestinian people were well known. The peace process provided minimal autonomy to certain parts of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Everybody knew about the massive building in the settlements during Barak administration (much more than Netanyahu), yet they remain silent.The policy of assassination of Palestinian leaders, of settlement and house demolition, of closure and destruction – all these were done by the Israeli left, and thus were accepted by the European governments. Now they continue to support the same groups.
Which role does Europe take? What can and what should Europe do?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: Europe in general accepts this line of the Israeli left, and participates in these virtual negotiations. The problem is that Europe accepted almost uncritically the Israeli version. For the moment, Europe lost its post, and had no significant contribution to the peace process.
In principle, Europe accepts the American policies, although sometimes they express some criticism, without any practical meaning. Europe has no independent policy with respect to the question of Israel/Palestine. They accept the American formulas, like "the roadmap" even if with some criticism.But this direction leads to nowhere. On the contrary, on the practical level, it serves for the legitimation of the occupation, and Israel "right to fight against terror" is interpreted as legitimating the brutal policy of destruction. All Israeli actions, that destroy the infra-structure of the Palestinian society, are accepted without serious criticism, not to say any effective pressure. I think Europe should be aware of its responsibility to the present catastrophe. That is because when they signed the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians could trust that the EU and each of the European countries, will take a more neutral stand, and will support the Palestinian elementary demand for a sovereign state in 22% of Historical Palestine.
It was very clear that the United States would always be on Israel's side. But Europe did not play any significant role, and therefore is responsible for the collapse of the talks, and particularly for the escalation. Violation of fundamental human rights is accepted in a way we couldn't think about five years ago. Everything is justified in the name of the "war against terror", although it brings nothing but the escalation of violence.
Today, Europe continues to support the line of the Israeli left, now in the opposition, to encourage irrelevant "dialogues" and initiatives. But all these initiatives are virtual, and at the same time the oppression of the Palestinians is accepted without any criticism.
Not for the first time, the world is silent.
But what can Europe do in terms of actual political steps?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: The main thing that should be understood is that the very logic of the present negotiations cannot, by definition, bring the end of the conflict. Unless we recognize that this is an illusion, we cannot think of any change. The virtual agreements create the illusion of a possible "solution", as if the only problem is the 'details". For the moment, it is difficult to think about any change without an international intervention, and in that sense European intervention. And I mean an international force that will protect the Palestinians, but will be responsible also to prevent terror attacks (that should be condemned). This is the only way to try to bring an end of the violence, and a step towards the end of occupation.
I am well aware of the difficulties of that idea, but I can't see an alternative. Under the present state of destruction, including the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, a kind of intervention is necessary.
But one can't ask Europe to take responsibility without trying to change Israeli public opinion. As an Israeli, this is still my main responsibility. We have to offer a comprehensive alternative, a new way of thinking. For the long run, this is not only the way to fulfill Palestinian rights, but also to protect the Jewish existence.
How should this be realized?
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin: I am very pessimistic, but we try to advance today new ideas, new perspectives – a new vision that includes both Israeli-Jews and Palestinians. We need a new vision, vision of co-existence to replace the concept of separation. We have to struggle against the state of Apartheid that is gradually established. A binational vision can be realized in different ways, and in several stages. But that is the only option for both peoples.
Interview: Youssef Hijazi, © Qantara.de 2004
Institute for Advanced Studies, Berlin
Sunday, February 27, 2005
IDF soldiers were the victims of the Disco Bombing
Who were the victims? From an updated version of the Jerusalem Post:
The platoon commander, Eran Cohen, told Army Radio,"There were 13 of us there. All the fatalities are from our unit. Many more were wounded."
Eran called the unit's soldiers, "The best of the best. Israel's elite."
"In the past five years of this war, we have carried out virtually every single mission in the territories and underwent nearly every kind of attempted attack. In five years, none of our troops were wounded. It's ironic that we were hit so hard in one explosion on a Friday night inTel Aviv, just before a party," Eran said.
From The Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1109387974746
It was a surprise birthday party that turned into a nightmare.
Close-knit members of a reserve IDF combat unit and their loved ones who gathered Friday night at the Stage nightclub to help one of the reservists celebrate his 30th birthday lost four of their group when a suicide bomber blew himself up.
Among the victims were Yitzhak Buzaglo, 40, of Moshav Mishmar Hayarden in the Upper Galilee who was a father of two, and Yael Orbach, 28, of Rehovot who was three weeks shy of her wedding. Also killed was carpenter Aryeh Nagar, 37, another member of the unit who came for the celebration. The coordinator of the birthday party, Ronen Reuvenov, 28, was the fourth victim. His name was released Sunday morning.
Reuvenov's sister Orley described her brother to Army Radio Sunday morning as, "someone who wasn't afraid of anything. He believed always that everything would be alright."
Buzaglo's wife, Linda, and Orbach's fiancee, Ophir Gonan, are among the seriously wounded.
Orbach, who grew up in Yavne, served in a combat unit and dreamed of becoming a famous actress. She worked in a law office in Tel Aviv and studied drama. She had planned to hand out wedding invitations at the party. As of Saturday night, Gonan had not been told of her death.
On Sunday, Yael Orbach's father, Yisrael, said that he would avenge his daughter's death if Israel does not, Army Radio reported.
"I call on these people and on the army, in tears and with full consciousness, to avenge Yael Orbach. If they do not avenge this righteous person, I will," he said.
Buzaglo was standing in line with his wife to enter the nightclub when the attack occurred. Those who knew him said he was the backbone of his family on the small farming community near the Mahanayim junction and a stalwart member of the combat reserve unit. He, like others in his unit, was in active service during the intifada and survived without even a scratch, including one incident involving another Palestinian suicide bomber.
"I know of at least one case where they escaped unscathed when a suicide bomber tried to blow himself alongside Itzik and other members of the unit when they were on reserve duty in the territories," Mevuot Hermon regional council chairman Beni Ben-Movhar told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
"Itzik and his comrades got through those times only for him to be killed and his wife wounded in what should have been a fun night out for them and their reservist friends in Tel Aviv," he said. "Instead, they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The platoon commander, Eran Cohen, told Army Radio, "There were 13 of us there. All the fatalities are from our unit. Many more were wounded."
Friday, February 25, 2005
Osama Hamdan - Sharm el Sheikh was a failure
In this particular interview, the importance of the release of the Palestinian political prisoners is explained in all of its relevance.
What are your impressions regarding the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh ?
“Sharm el-Sheikh was a failure. We are sincerely convinced that any successful confrontation with Israel requires a real and effectively unified Palestinian front. In Sharm el-Sheikh Abu Mazen has given without receiving anything in exchange. He created among the international public opinion the impression as though it were the Israelis who are the victims being targeted instead of us, the Palestinians. We know that Sharm el-Sheikh had been imposed on him, that he had been pressed to participate at the summit and that he had tried to avoid this as best as he could, but that he had been forced to go along with it by the Americans, the European Union and some Arab states. But he could and should have requested some things, for instance, at Sharm el-Sheikh the Israelis did not commit themselves to anything and Sharon did not modify even one detail of his political conduct. The United States were satisfied because what matters to them, is to offer a determinate picture of the situation, regardless of whether it has anything to do with reality or not. In Iraq, everything is being covered up by the actions of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on the one hand and the elections on the other. In Palestine, the impression they want to create is that of a New Beginning. But in the meanwhile, Palestinian land continues to be grabbed, the Wall continues to be built and violence against Palestinians continues to be committed on a daily basis and there is nowhere even a commitment to recognize the rights of which the Palestinians are being deprived”.
Everybody’s asking up to when the ceasefire will remain in place ?
“It won’t last long, unless precise requests of the Palestinians will be satisfied. I’ll talk about only two of the requests: the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners by Israel and the end of any form of violence on the part of Israel against the Palestinians. Abu Mazen had asked us some weeks ago to accept a phase of quiet and to give him some time in order to at least create hope for something to be given in return. We have granted him thirty days, starting with, if I remember correctly, the end of January. It should be kept in mind that among the nine thousand Palestinian prisoners 485 are minors, 250 women, of whom 15 are pregnant and 300 are suffering from serious diseases. The Israelis can well release 500 prisoners today and arrest 1000 tomorrow. With that method, we will never resolve anything”.
Charity and Utopia
He spoke of the dimensions of the sacred and the secular spheres, carefully and skillfully critiquing the exclusiveness of the project inherent in the extremes of these philosophies. He referred to two dimensions of this dichotomy, the faith vs the political, moral responsibility vs society and ethics vs economy, mentioning that there is a distinction, even if often there is not a complete separation. He made a very convincing critique of the prevarication of one over the other, and opted for the consideration of the sacred aspect (a protected zone) having the capacity to in some way coexist but not override the secular (human) zone. What was especially relevant to me in his discussion was the argument of Utopia. He said that it is not a land of dreams, but that it is a project that aims at completeness. It is a transformation of society itself. It has to aim high and avoid "the practice of the minimum", which sets low goals, because it sees them as pragmatic. It keeps in mind the final reality, the "ultimate reality", as he called it, the transcendent one where one not only responds to one's own conscience, but to supreme values that he nominated in the Seven Precepts of Gandhi.
It was particularly inspiring to hear the final one of Gandhi: "There can be no religion without faith". (Faith as the belief in the higher values of love). Condemning the emptiness of any religion which does not include the concept of compassion or love for the other, because love is all about a relationship between two or more individuals, and it has as its precondition the reciprocity of donation: between myself and the other, there is a common thread. It is about Charity, and that comes from the Greek word Charis, which means "grace". Therefore, one has to recognise the sacred element of love, and that is the spiritual dimension of charity. The requirement of compassion and identification with the other.
But, the most interesting conclusion to this affirmation was that there has to be balance. He didn't define balance as drawing the middle line. "It is not necessarily the point in the middle, quite the contrary". It is the capacity to somehow join together the two diametrical parties. It is contact, not separation. It is understanding what Justice is about. He made a fascinating presentation of the Biblical history of Justice, from the distributive justice of the "eye for an eye" to the Law of Lamech (7 + 70), which turns into a spiral of violence, and which seems to be the way that society has decided to practice Justice and punshiment, as if those who have the secular power are also divine and have the right to mete out justice in a manner far outweighing the "crime". Rage in itself is a sin, (he defined sin as a social fault, an act against the society, against the other) but anger over injustice is turned into a virtue.
One of his sources was Racine. I didn't catch the name of the piece he was quoting (he quoted his French sources in French, his Hebrew ones in Hebrew, his Greek ones in Greek, and so forth... I had all I could do to just stop marvelling at the erudition of this speaker), but the line remains firmly impressed in my mind, and it could relate very well to the situation of the Palestinian people who are seeking justice, whose search for compassion from those who dominate them will someday be rewarded if this project for Utopia can avoid Minimalisation and if it has the courage to Think Big: "This Temple is also my country, for I know no other".
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Ilan Pappe – Israeli denial
Justin Podur’s blog is www.killingtrain.com
Pappe: As a humanist my sympathy is with the victims. If I had written about Jews in Europe, or African Americans under slavery or Jim Crow, I would be accused of being pro-Jewish or pro-African. Since I am writing about modern Palestine, I am accused of being pro-Palestinian. What amazes me is that people who claim to be humanists that don’t come to the same conclusions as I do, people who don’t conclude that Palestinians have been victims of colonization and expulsion, people who don’t have sympathy with them.
Podur: You explained how this can happen last night in your talk. You talked about what you called ‘Mechanisms of Denial’. Can you explain this?
Pappe: The Palestinian case is paradoxical. The people who live there can see the results of 56 years of continuous ethnic cleansing, discrimination, a whole legal and practical apparatus that is the definition of apartheid. And yet within the media, the academy, and even the public consciousness, Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. Nothing of this reality seems to reach journalists, academics, and therefore the public. The reason is that our society is very well protected by these mechanisms of denial. Even very good-hearted Israelis who consider themselves to be part of the peace camp live in denial. There are various mechanisms, going back historically.
One of them is physical and has to do with place names. In the original ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that took place in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled, the names of towns were changed. Towns were physically wiped out and reduced to rubble, and then planted over with European pine trees. The idea was at once to wipe out the past, to make it like it never existed, and simultaneously to change a Mediterrenean, Arab village into a European forest.
Israeli archaeologists were consulted to select names from the Bible that would correspond to the sites. But the names were selected even more deliberately, and even more vindictively, than that. So the Palestinian village of Lubia became the Israeli village of Levi. The names are similar, and they were made that way on purpose. So that children growing up would think only of Levi, but the Palestinians who were expelled would know. They would know, and the name would be close enough to the old name that it would be a reminder.
It was the Jewish National Fund (JNF) that planted these pine trees, to wipe out the memory of the place and Europeanize it. I was bewildered in Toronto, seeing signs for the JNF, asking for support for the JNF as if it was some kind of ecological organization dedicated to protecting whales. It is not. It is a colonialist agency of ethnic cleansing.
And the mechanisms of denial are not only about 1948. They were and are used and re-used to prevent seeing Palestinians. There were Palestinians living in Israel under military rule until 1967. These were the people who experienced the arbitrary rule of the whim of a military officer, whose lives were in the hands of someone who knew or cared nothing about them, long before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. After that, the denial simply extended to the occupied territories.
An even greater paradox is the denial that has gone alongside the exposure of crimes in the past four years. For the past four years things have gotten ever more horrendous. Daily killings of children, demolition of houses, confiscation of land, the denial of the most basic rights and freedoms. How is it possible that Israel succeeded in concealing that from its own society and from the rest of the world?
Podur: It hasn’t been concealed, but even when it is presented there is no impact.
Pappe: There are incredible examples. Here is one. There is a music show that is on Israeli television, called ‘Taverna’. It is Israeli music, which means it is Greek music with Hebrew lyrics. After the Israeli Army committed the massacre in Jenin in April 2002, the producer – another ‘leftist’ from the ‘peace camp’ – wanted to do a music show in order to give some comfort to the troops in this trying time. So the producers set up a stage in the zone of total destruction in Jenin. If you have been to Jenin or seen films about it, you know there was a hole in the middle of the camp – everything had been destroyed and reduced to rubble, people had been killed, people were buried in the rubble. They set up a stage in the midst of that rubble and had their music show. I talked to the producer afterwards, I asked him – ‘don’t you see a problem with having the stage in the middle of the hole’? He said: ‘no, the stage worked fine’ – as if my question had been about the technical aspects of the stage rather than the macabre scene.
A second example: every so often there is a bold crew of Israeli journalists who will film something. One such crew had heard that some of the Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint (Erez is the highly militarized checkpoint which is the sole entry and exit point to the Gaza strip) were playing a game of roulette with the lives of Palestinians. This was a time when a very small number of Palestinians were being allowed to enter Israel through the checkpoint in order to go to work. The gate at the Erez checkpoint is an electric fence, with interlocking ‘teeth’ that make a complete seal, controlled by remote control. The soldiers would play a game to see if they could catch a Palestinian worker in the gate. One worker had died this way. The film crew investigated and filmed the game being played in secret. When the film was broadcast, the studio got hundreds of letters – protesting that the crew should not have filmed this, that it was helping the enemy and sapping the morale of our soldiers when they need support! This is another way of denial, of not facing the barbarization of society. This is very similar to the American public reaction to what happened in Abu Ghraib.
Podur: You use these examples of denial to argue that there is no basis for trying to make a moral case, no basis for dialogue, because denial is so pervasive and the culture in Israel is so far gone, and hence boycotts and sanctions against Israel are necessary. This is something that many, even those who would agree with much of your analysis, would not accept. Can you explain it further?
Pappe: As in South Africa under apartheid, denial and indoctrination is so powerful that it is not natural to expect that a movement within the society (in South Africa’s case the white society, in Israel’s case Jewish society) will arise that is strong enough to stop it. The consequences go beyond even the atrocities suffered by the Palestinians. I believe what Israel is doing will destroy the Jewish people in the near or distant future as well. Even with 250 nuclear weapons and the support of the world’s only superpower. For the sake of Jews and Arabs, the world has to play a role in dismantling apartheid. The world has to help. And the only way short of violence, which I am against, is pressure. To send a message that there is a price tag attached to apartheid. This is important because self-image is important to Israeli culture. It is very true that sanctions are problematic: they make the poorest and the workers suffer disproportionately, while the wealthy and powerful can escape their effects. But any message that Israelis are not part of the ‘civilized world’, that Israel is a pariah because of its behaviour, can be effective, because it will attach a price tag to apartheid and racism.
It is very true that this might not be enough, since it has not been tried. But it must be better than suicide bombings. I can say after 35 years that we have tried the option from within and it has failed, and in many ways the ‘peace camps’ are the worst: they believe in this ‘dialogue’, that they are so generous because they are offering Palestinians a fraction of 20% of their homeland, but cannot go further and hate Palestinians for not giving up more.
by M.J. Rosenberg February 21, 2005
M.J. Rosenberg is is Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC's Near East Report.
The Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a success by almost any reckoning. But let's not get carried away.
Even the complete end to terrorism and reprisals would not signify an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would only free the two sides to start negotiating over the issues which produced the violence in the first place.
This reality was brought home to me during my stint as an official US observer of the January 9th Palestinian election. Our eighty-person National Democratic Institute group was broken into forty teams and then dispatched throughout the West Bank and Gaza. My partner and I were assigned to a dozen polling places in Hebron, the second largest city in the West Bank.
Hebron is a city considered holy by both Jews and Muslims because of the presence there of the Cave of Machpela, traditionally thought to be the burial place of Abraham, the patriarch of both Judaism and Islam. Predominantly Arab, Jews also lived in the city, adjacent to the tomb, until 1929 when a pogrom launched by Arab fanatics resulted in the murder of 69 Jews and the end of the Jewish presence in the city.
In 1967, following the Six Day War -- with Israel now in control of the West Bank, including Hebron -- ultra-religious Jewish nationalists pressured the Israeli government to permit Jewish settlers to reclaim, and move into, properties that had belonged to the Jewish community prior to 1929.
The government refused. It arranged for Jewish worship inside the tomb but not for civilian settlement inside the city, which it considered to be both impractical and provocative. Only a tiny group of extremists (many from outside Israel) had any interest in living inside Hebron and ? in the midst of a city of 160,000 Palestinians ? they would need to be defended by hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers.
The settlers moved in anyway, establishing illegal outposts in the heart of Hebron, which have been tolerated by successive Israeli governments for 36 years. Following the Oslo agreements, the Israeli army withdrew from all Palestinian cities except Hebron, where troops remained to defend the settlers. In 1997, the Israeli army withdrew from 80% of Hebron, remaining only in an area labeled H-2 which includes the Cave of Machpela, the Casbah (Arab market) and the Jewish settlements.
Some 400 settlers live in H-2 in the midst of 30,000 Palestinians.
Last month, I visited H-2 despite being told by an Israeli friend that it is "the worst place in the West Bank." How so? "The settlers there are religious fanatics and dedicate their lives to terrorizing the Palestinians with the goal of driving them all out. The Palestinians can't fight back because the army won't let them. On top of all that, the settlers hate the soldiers almost as much as they hate the Palestinians because the soldiers try to curb their activities. These soldiers are in a situation where they have to defend fanatics who routinely refer to them as Nazis."
But, he added, "so long as the settlers are there, the soldiers must remain as well. Snipers, shooting from the hills, have killed Jews [including a two year old, Shalhevet Pass] and, so the soldiers need to be there, no matter how much they hate it."
I walked into the heart of H-2 following a short inquisition by an IDF soldier. My first stop was the Ibrahami Mosque, which encompasses the Tomb of the Patriarchs. As I walked down the steps toward the mosque, a young Palestinian made the point of informing me that I was following the same route Jewish zealot Baruch Goldstein took when, in February 1994, he burst into the mosque and shot dead 29 Muslims at prayer.
Goldstein is a hero to the Hebron settlers. His burial place (in a tourist park named after Meir Kahane) was turned into a shrine where settlers annually celebrate Goldstein's murder spree with parties and games. (In 2004, police arrested some of them for holding an illegal celebration of both the Goldstein murders and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin). For Palestinians, of course, the Goldstein massacre is a symbol of the ultimate threat.
I left the mosque and walked through the mostly deserted Casbah toward the settlers' neighborhood. There wasn't much to see, just settlers strutting around with rifles and a few Arabs trying to sell their wares in what was once a thriving market and is now mostly abandoned. And there is the graffiti in English and Hebrew promising death to all Palestinians.
But the most striking thing is the steel mesh screens (see photo) that the Arabs have installed just above the heads of pedestrians to protect them from the garbage and excrement routinely dumped by the settlers from their second floor windows. The screens catch all sorts of disgusting stuff and lethal objects like cinder blocks, although liquid debris does make its way to the ground or on the heads of anyone below.
It's an appalling sight. Imagine looking up and seeing and smelling the foulest debris just above your head, stopped only by mesh. But then everything about H-2 is appalling, including the fact that Israeli soldiers are forced to serve there.
Last summer a group of 70 soldiers who had served in Hebron created a photographic and video exhibit at a Tel Aviv college about their experiences there called, "Breaking Silence." The exhibit, which was a huge success, described from the soldiers' point of view, the dehumanizing experience that serving there had on them. Many spoke of the fear they had -- not only of the Arabs or of the Jews -- but of being terribly transformed as human beings by the experience.
One soldier spoke of being frightened by the "rush" he felt from giving Arabs orders. "I was ashamed of myself the day I realized that I simply enjoy the feeling of power. Forget for a moment that I think that all these Jews are nuts and that I believe we should leave the territories. But how dare [a Palestinian] say 'no' to me? I am the Law! I am the Law here!
"Once I was at a checkpoint, a so-called strangulation checkpoint, blocking the entrance to a village. On one side a line of cars wanting to get out, and on the other side a line of cars wanting to get in. I stood there, gesturing 'you to do this,' 'you do that.' You start playing with them, like a computer game. 'You come here, you go there.' You barely move, you make them obey the tip of your finger. It's a mighty feeling."
A second soldier wrote: "The thing that affected me emotionally was when we had just arrived in Hebron. I was on guard duty, when suddenly, from one of the small streets, a settler girl shows up and shouts at me very urgently: 'Soldier, soldier, come quickly, there's an Arab here who's attacking a girl.' I got very alarmed and advanced with my weapon cocked. The scene that unfolded was of an Arab with his two children. He's trying to protect them from another settler girl who's throwing stones at them. I blow my fuse and start screaming at her. She's screaming back that they are Arabs and should be killed and the father, poor guy, says, with helpless eyes, 'We're used to it, we've been here a long time now, it's alright.'"
A third soldier spoke of the day a group from abroad came to visit Hebron for the Jewish holidays. "One morning, a fairly big group arrived, around 15 Jews from France. They were all religious Jews. They were in a good mood, really having a great time, and I spent my entire shift following this gang of Jews around and trying to keep them from destroying the town. They just wandered around, picked up every stone they saw, and started throwing them at Arabs' windows, and overturning whatever they came across. "There's no horror story here: they didn't catch some Arab and kill him or anything like that, but what bothered me is that maybe someone told them that this is one place in the world where a Jew can take all of his rage out on Arab people, and simply do anything. Come to this Palestinian town, and do whatever they want, and the soldiers will always be there to back them up. Because that was my job, to protect them and make sure that nothing happened to them." Note that this soldier said that he had no "horror story" to tell, just an ordinary day for soldiers, not to mention Palestinians, in Hebron. And that is, of course, the greatest horror. That is why Hebron is significant.
In one neighborhood, in one city, on any given day, anyone can experience the occupation at its worst -- terrible for the Palestinians and terrible for the Israelis too.
The Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a start toward a full ceasefire and the end of the Intifada. But it won't change much in Hebron or in the rest of the West Bank either. As for Gaza, Ariel Sharon is getting out. That is if extremists in the Knesset, and settlers very much like their brethren in Hebron, let him. But a start is certainly better than the status quo.
If anyone tells you that the status quo is tolerable, just tell them about Hebron.
One Person, One Vote, One State: The Only Hope for Lasting Peace in Palestine-Israel
By Roger H. Lieberman
04/30/03: (Republished from the archives) NEW JERSEY (PC) - Growing up in New Jersey I have been blessed with the opportunity to interact with men, women, and children of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.The ideal of a democratic, morally conscious society, open to people whose origins span the globe - all Americans, equal before the law - has always been dear to me. The recognition that a state must serve all who have made their homes in territory under its governance - not just members of a particular race or creed or tribe - has become almost universal in my country.
Thus I am mystified at why the United States government, and much of the media and intellectual community, has persistently funded, endorsed, and made alibis for a government that so flagrantly flaunts this principle. I am referring, of course, to America's ubiquitous, one-sided, downright reprehensible backing for the State of Israel, and all its discriminatory policies.
More than any other government in the world today, Israel violates the principle of equal rights for all under its jurisdiction. Instead of representing all the people - Jews, Muslims, and Christians - who presently dwell in historical Palestine, Israel defines itself as a "State of the Jewish People". Under the "Law of Return", Jewish immigrants from anywhere on Earth have, automatically, the privilege of Israeli citizenship. Palestinian Arabs who live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or are refugees outside Palestine, cannot obtain this right. Their presence of many centuries on the land of Palestine, and their cultural, economic, and political attachment to the land, are deemed by Israel irrelevant - for no other reason but that they are not Jewish.
Of course, there are more than 1 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship - inside the state's pre-67 borders - and constitute nearly one-fifth of the country's population. Although they certainly are treated better by Israel than their brethren on the other side of the "Green Line" - they can vote, and have some meager representation in the Knesset -Israeli Arabs still face distinctly unfair treatment. The fact that they do not serve in the Israeli Army denies them many social benefits provided to their Jewish neighbors. Worse, the ethnocentric political climate of Israel makes them a constant target of hostility and racism from hard-core Zionist lawmakers. The Israeli establishment's attitude has always been to view Arabs as a "demographic problem", not as an integral part of their country's human geography.
It is sobering to realize how disgustingly racist it would sound to any sensible American if some politician were to declare the Hispanic population of the United States a "demographic problem". Only the most reactionary elements in our national discourse dare to spout such filth in the year 2002. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, in Israel, views on inter-ethnic relations comparable to those of the American and European far-right are held virtually across the board - Labor and Likud alike- with the exception of courageous dissidents.
Too many Americans seem to accept this double-standard on tolerance, because, I think, they've been brought up to view the Holy Land as somehow on a separate plane of space-time from the rest of the world - governed by a different, supposedly higher, set of rules, for the purpose of fulfilling some Divinely-inspired destiny. Nowhere is this illustrated more starkly than in the utterances of Tom DeLay and Dick Armey in Congress and on "mainstream" television. DeLay actually has said America must unconditionally support Israel because the God promised "Judea and Samaria" to the Jews in the Old Testament. This speaks volumes about American hypocrisy in decrying Islamic fundamentalism - I know of no better match for the Taliban than Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the "700 Club"!
What does all this have to do with the current struggle in Palestine? Everything. The bizarre notion that states must serve particular religious or ethnic communities, and define their borders by their demographics - or, more commonly, force the populations concerned to comply with the concocted borders - has destroyed countless societies worldwide in the past 200 years. The obsession with monoethnic states which swept Europe in the 19th Century led to 2 World Wars, economic catastrophes, and horrible crimes against humanity, culminating in nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust. When partition schemes were forced upon the Third World during the period of "de-colonization", they initiated terrible carnage - massacres, expulsions, and bitter memories which linger on to fuel new conflagrations. This happened simultaneously - in 1947/48 - in two places: the Indian Subcontinent and Palestine. In both cases, the partition was conceived by outside parties seeking to further their political and military influence in the region - "divide and rule", if indirectly. In both cases, the basis for cosmopolitan, pluralistic society was all but shattered in the ensuing upheaval. Today both places remain home to the most dangerous conflicts on Earth.
The international consensus for Israeli-Palestinian peace which calls for "two states for two peoples", although appealing in its sound of cookie-cutter simplicity, fails to address the ethical question at the heart of the struggle. Why should the civil rights of a country's indigenous inhabitants be negotiable? Why should two peoples who share one geographical landscape divorce themselves on such plainly unequal terms?
While there may have been a sound enough basis for a sovereign Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the explosion of Jewish settlement construction, that basis does not exist on the ground today. The nearly 400,000 settlers seem most unlikely to accept relocation, and their potential for political violence is well-documented, to say the least. Economically, the Occupied Territories are in ruins - Gaza, with a per capita income of $625, is on par with Afghanistan.Furthermore, the distribution of natural resources - above all, precious water - render a cold separation ludicrous and dangerous. Jerusalem was not built to be partitioned, but shared by the three great faiths. Finally, the immensity of the Palestinian refugee crisis dwarfs whatever short-term benefit might be derived from a two-state settlement.
In conclusion, I see the best hope for peace between Arabs and Jews in historical Palestine is the creation of a multiethnic democracy governing all the territory, and all its people. Such a community spirit is not without precedent in the region. All educated people know the high degree of peaceful coexistence that prevailed between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the great age of classical Arab civilization - at a time when Europe was far, far from being the "enlightened" continent Eurocentrists boast about. It would also be in keeping with the logic of environmentalism, because cooperation and sharing equally is necessary to maintain the habitability of the Middle East in the 21st Century.
Beyond Palestine-Israel, political and economic unity must also embrace Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and perhaps Turkey and Cyprus as well. In the process, many of the deadly disputes which have embittered neighboring peoples will be resolved justly, and a major step towards a true world community of nations will have been taken.
The struggle to achieve this noble end will not be easy for anyone. It will be necessary for the Palestinian people to adopt, on a vast scale, a new and inspiring strategy: nonviolent civil disobedience. The great mass-movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. provided the moral high-ground upon which oppressive social systems toppled. If Palestinians unite with progressive-minded Jews and other peoples worldwide for one person, one vote, and one state, it will be the most profound statement of human power for good since the great struggle to free South Africa from Apartheid.
It will likely take many years of dedicated, principled dissent, but success will bring to all the peoples of the Middle East the opportunity to be live in peace, and to be brothers and citizens of the Cosmos.
The Islamic State: A Reality or an Illusion?
With the rise of political movements, which are called “revivalist” amongst their followers and “fundamentalist” amongst their rivals, a new idea took root-the “Islamic state.” After the eradication of the Islamic Caliphate by Attaturk in 1924, this idea gave hope to many thinkers. The prescribed model of that state became more of a negativist model (of what not to do) than a positivist one. For example, the argued model is not like the socialist model, as it does not subscribe to the state’s control in expanding the public sector or to the means of production. It also, unlike the capitalist model, does not subscribe to an absolute free market. It is neither. Still, up to this very day, we miss its very foundation and philosophy.
With the beginning of a phase of opposition between political Islam and the existing Arab regimes, and the entrance of the political Islamists onto the pluralist political stage in Morocco, Jordan, and elsewhere, such a movement needs more than ever to stop and rethink the ideas upon which its discourse is constructed. The heart of the matter is the concept of the Islamic state, upon which everything else is founded with either a contemporary analogy or a historical reference point.
That is why Burhan Ghalioun tries-in this debate with Selim El-`Awa on the “Islamic Political System”-to distinguish between both the political system and the concept of the Islamic state. The political system, we are told, means a set of values, principles, and objectives that govern public authority in a given society. Or, in other words, it is the way both the abstract and material resources are allocated and used in any political realm.
As for the idea of the Islamic state, it is an invention that comes about as the direct influence of the modern nation-state project. This idea, statehood, is what gives the state an exceptional position that was never given to it before; a god-like position where the citizens are like its servants. It is this very attempt to push society’s identity to become a replica of the values, principles, and objectives prescribed by the state that make this model “Islamically” invalid. A “state,” per se, in Islam, was given neither an inherently positive value, nor an historical role as we give it nowadays. In fact, this model, in essence, tries to go in the opposite direction; by neutralizing or even marginalizing religion in general for it own sake.
Thus, the dispute between the political Islamists and their opponents is not over finding the essence of Islam and its political theory. Rather, it is a pure (theoretical) conflict of power. This conflict is related to two dimensions: First, the sharing of power, and second, the relation between both the political authority and society.
Islamic movements find in religion a referential legitimacy for power sharing and acting against political monopoly. At the same time, the very use of “religion” as the ultimate reference for social, economic, and political life is fought against by the political rivals and people with other convictions on the political plane
As Ghalioun argues, despite the principles of jurisprudence and Shari`ah, upon which the political Islamists build their arguments, there is still leeway for a “democratic” state to come about in the “deep” sense of the word. Such a trend would reflect the concerns of the majority, which is inclined and committed to Islamic principles, along with other political and social movements that aim to found a democratic base to reach out for all in social justice, equality, and freedom.
Where many thinkers argue that democracy should stay away from any religious affiliation and only stick to the demands of the constituents, Ghalioun believes that on the contrary, attempts to “democratize” Islamic political thought could help the possibility of democratization in the Middle East. This, it is argued, could further bring about more legitimacy to the need to democratize and better chances to make the Arab world a democracy.
Thus, Ghalioun is against the Islamic state for two reasons. First, it is not a legitimate imperative in Islam. Second, it is yet another form of a theocracy, which human history has exceeded in its journey to realizing a better state; that is, a democratic state, which guards law, and justice, and equality on the basis of citizenship.
What is hindering the establishments of democracy in the Middle East is not the intellectual and religious legacy of Islam. Rather, it is the geo-historical dynamics of politics and economics. It is the attempt to work out and deal with the industrial revolution model and its capitalist economy that is being blindly followed.
As for Muhammad Selim El-`Awa, he pleads that there is neither textual evidence in the Qur’an to support the case for the Islamic state which is beyond interpretation and disputation, nor is there explicit proof from the Sunnah. In both cases, the evidence given follows human reasoning in interpreting certain Qur’anic or Prophetic traditions.
Yet, El-`Awa’s adherence to the concept of the “Islamic state,” and in his subsequently constructed discourse, he shows us that the concept of the “Islamic state” is not a sealed-off, solid idea with clear and comprehensive definitions and variables. The Islamic state could, for him, borrow the parliament as an institution in the sharing of power. He keeps the term “the Islamic state,” but keeps it open for deliberation and debate. That is why for him such a state is not a theocratic state, but rather it is a state that works for the implementation of Islamic values and philosophies, chief among these, as he believes, is “work.” That is why Muslims should use any tool that will allow them to reach out for that. Such a state should not be a religious one, a theocracy, it should be a civil one that serves Islamic principles and values.
The same critique applies to El-`Awa’s conception of the multiple-party system. He sees that “there is nothing wrong with an Islamic state if it allows for a multi-party system to flourish. It is allowed to, nay should, oblige the political parties to implement their values and principles; and then leave the parties free to work out the realization of their political and social agendas.”
In that, we see a complete denial of pluralism (or as El-`Awa puts it, “pluralism among ourselves!”). This is the mirror image of the totalitarian regimes that allow a multi-party system only for the parties that adhere to their ideologies and goals. By that, such a model is, in effect, more of a fraud, than a true pluralist one. This brings to the forefront the relevance of the question of plurality in Islamic political consciousness and theory and its ability to accept the Other, and being fairly equal with its rivals.
Dr. Radwan Ziadah is a Syrian researcher and writer.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
The Left and Palestine
gradually, the Left has sold-out on Palestinians
With professional politicians, nothing is left to chance. There is a message in the statements that the leaders of the left make. What is this important message that lies in the shift that the left has consciously made? What point is there for those who consider themselves a part of the left to acknowledge the shift that their leaders have imposed? It is quite clear that mainstream political thought of the left has taken its traditional standard of support for human rights and shifted it to the margins of discourse. Those who sustain human rights unconditionally are lately considered “the radical left”. What is behind the differentiation of the "left" from the "radical left"? The former is of course the left that has the economic and organisational force behind it allowing it to participate in democratic elections, while the radical left is entirely capillary, located in thousands of movements who do not have candidates running for any office, but work on mobilising the masses for demonstrations and organising grass roots activism. The radical left is not focussed on elections, and therefore, its energies are directed the issues more often than the traditional left can possibly be, occupied as it is with political considerations. The radical left is anchored in discourse and action that compel the public to think about issues such as legality, equal rights, democracy. In effect, there is nothing radical at all about them. Their values are basically ones that have long entered into mainstream thought: multiculturalism, ecology, civil liberties, human rights, demilitarisation, the exercise of democracy.
In a certain sense, when the Vatican begins to express the same ideas as the Social Forum, we realise just how grounded in mainstream values the radical left is. It is no longer frightening, nor does it threaten democracy by condoning or approving terrorism. It isn't even a threat to capitalism anymore.
Traditionally, the mainstream left has embraced the causes of the oppressed and of minority groups. It has made these causes part of their platform and core values. And, the closer that these oppressed or minority groups come to mainstream American and European values, the more their cause has been defended. When it comes down to it, we really don't know that much about Asian or Latin American minority groups who are victims of oppression by regimes in power. Our interest in Central African inter-ethnic wars hit its peak in Burundi, but then faded back into oblivion.
The campaign against South African Apartheid has been a little more successful, perhaps because it echoed many of the civil rights battles in the United States, and as such blatant racism, there were few ragged edges to the discourse. The problem was literally black and white. There was no difficulty identifying the oppressor and the victim. Even though it did take many years for the regime to fall, and incredibly enough, there are those who had claimed to always have been opponents to it, despite documentary evidence to the contrary (http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2004/12/lying-about-israel-and-apartheid-by.html/), once it was brought to the attention of the masses beyond that area, there was great activism directed at pressuring South Africa to cease to exist as an Apartheid State.
Women's rights issues have been relatively successful as well, perhaps because they had found fertile terrain in societies where the mainstream consensus was already entrenched in this direction, even in more moderate circles.
In Europe and the United States, the traditional left has always been connected with Jewish organisations and vice versa. Yet, in recent years, this alliance has become less solid. Of course, there is no other reason for this than the clear support that Jewish organisations give to Israel, which is naturally, a watershed issue. Like gun control or abortion in conservative platforms, it is an issue which by itself moves votes and sympathies. Fiamma Nirenstein, in her book "L'Abbandono" (The Abandonment), laments of the traditional left's abandonment of Jewish interests. Her emphasis is not on issues concerning Jewish individuals and their civil liberties, which would be the free exercise of the Jewish faith and the valorisation of Jewish culture. In fact, at least in Italy, and I would venture to guess the rest of the Western world without exception, these are rights which are acquired and are no longer "minority issues" where discrimination can be demonstrated. I don't think there is a single example of the obstruction of an individual to live his Jewish identity in multicultural societies of the West. No, Nirenstein complains that the left has abandoned Jews because it no longer supports Israel the way she believes it should.
To understand the centrality of Israel to Jewish people who are part of organised Jewish communities (In Italy, 22 communities, numbering approximately 30,000 people are represented by the UCEI), it is interesting to read what a site commenting the Fifth Congress had to say about the concluding document:
"The Fifth Congress of the Union of the Jewish Italian Communities (UCEI) was held in Rome from 23 to 25 June 2002. The published document is very heartfelt, very balanced, in the attempt to find a strong bond between the various components of Italian Jewish society, and in particular, between the two majority lists: that of the centre-right "For Israel" (leader Fiamma Nirenstein) and that of the centre-left, "Keillah" (leader Gad Lerner).-Israel represents for us the essence of our Jewish identity that had already taken new and strong motivations with the development of the Zionist Movement, but it had radically changed in 1948, when it became that of an independent people, with its language, its culture, its institutions. A new patrimony that can not be renounced, that has gathered the Diaspora together in a greater way, that has given the will to exist and resist even to Jewish Communities in difficulty or in danger. It is our job to make it so that the public opinion understands that the existence of Israel is not only a value for us Jews, but for the entire civilized world."-
Since a fundamental Jewish issue and the essence of Jewish identity for Italian Jews is the support of Israel, the Italian left, in order to continue to ally itself with the Jewish community, would be obligated to make a positive stand on Israel. In most cases, it has done so. The left would have to (and does) demonstrate commitment to Israel as a Jewish State. Yet, in doing so, it would (and does) alienate those in the left who condemn the war crimes, human rights abuses and the illegality which is part of the Israeli modus operandi, having its origin from the very foundation of Israel and being evident in the most extreme and obscene way in the horrors of the occupation and the human rights violations which are part and parcel of it.
What seems so obviously, patently illegal and immoral to the common man, to those with political savvy, is a non-issue. Without ever entering into the debate as to the legitimacy of Israel, from its foundation throughout its history, seeing as how the creation of this State is a fait accompli and had as its pillar the expulsion of the original population, the left even ignores current events that do not support the image Israel has of itself. The refusal to permit their return of even one refugee is the continuation of this foundational paradigm that is a violation of international conventions such as the IV Geneva and the Convention of Hague. To avoid making a statement on this argument, because doing so would expose the cruel nature of Israel, and open a discourse that would constitute the alienation of the Jewish constituents, if they are indeed remotely similar to those in Italy who accept Israel as their essential point of reference, the mainstream left has adopted the 2S42P Paradigm.
2S42P = "Two States For Two People"
This claim might seem progressive if one looks at it from the perspective of Israel's history. Only recently have they acknowledged that the Palestinians even "are" a people. With the recognition of a national identity, Palestinians are seen to be allowed the self-determination that is guaranteed by international law treaties. Israel, since Oslo, at any rate, has declared that it is interested in accepting, or more correctly, permitting the existence of a sort of Palestinian State alongside a Jewish one. The Palestinian right to self-determination is mutually dependent on that of the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel. It is a result of it, in other words, it is subservient to this preliminary recognition by the Palestinian’s (government and people) of Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish State. It is very difficult to grant legitimacy to something which obviously is not, and therefore, the discourse must never get too near this unavoidable dilemma.
Because of matters of self-determination of populations, most of the mainstream left in Europe and in the United States have accepted the two States principle without any argument. It almost seems logical and fair. Almost.
Yet, behind this principle, another one hides, and that is the principle of the supremacy of group rights. While groups themselves are granted a right to self-determination, (Article I of the Charter of the United Nations and other laws), individuals have rights which are also guaranteed and most jurists, and not exclusively those of the principle of "individualism", consider them to outweigh group rights, otherwise known as "identity rights". In a society where there is a dominant culture, or a dominant identity, laws need to be created to protect minorities from discrimination. Equal rights and human rights are exquisitely individual in nature. When a State, which is the organ whose constitution or laws serve to validate the supremacy of one group over the others, institutionalising the idea of the supremacy of the majority, by the sanctioning of such national laws, we have what can be quite plainly called an Apartheid State. Issues such as freedom of movement, freedom of thought (including political thought - Israel permits no party to run if it does not subscribe to the character of Israel as a Jewish State), access to services, civic and family law concerning such issues as marriage, divorce and residency, military obligations and so forth, are determined in Israel on an ethnic basis. For a secular State, not being Jewish is indeed cause for discrimination. Palestinians in Israel are plainly discriminated. Palestinians under Israeli control in the Occupied Territories are oppressed and discriminated. It’s not a pretty picture, and quite simple to condemn as the evidence is macroscopic.
In the era of South African Apartheid, denouncing the ethnic discrimination was a moral imperative of the left. I don't think there has ever been a progressive conference which presented the views of the pro-Apartheid activists. It just seemed natural that there were serious human rights violations, and as such, they could not be defended, and there was no call for "balance", no imposition of “the pro-Boer” side in debate.
Not so with Israel. If you have a person denouncing targeted assassinations, house demolitions and raids which imprison the entire male population of a town, you are still required to have "equal time" given to the Israeli side of the story. It is simply required. "Of course!" they must have very good reasons to use collective punishment and arbitrary violence. "Why, there are important reasons" to violate international law so brazenly, and to discriminate persons on an ethnic basis. The general public is forced to listen to their reasons. It's not enough that the atrocities rarely find space in public discourse and are denounced with a whisper, hidden on some internal page of the most progressive newspapers, but we have to witness the justification of it, "equal time", as if these actions are legitimate. I find this outrageous.
Apparently, the left doesn't. Apparently, this is called fair and unbiased reporting. At times, some of the left's only voices in the mass media fall so far into the trap that they are dangerous to the very cause they might support.
Some time ago, Michele Santoro, a dovish journalist of the Italian national network RAI whose positions were often at the antipodes to even the mainstream left (he was critical of the NATO bombing of Serbia, for instance), causing him to be distanced from Italian television, discussed Palestine in one of his evening news shows. Representing the Israeli point of view was Fiamma Nirenstein. Representing the Palestinian point of view was...... get ready for it...... a twelve year old boy. Of course, a professional journalist, writer, politician, person well informed of Israeli matters given that she is married to an Israeli colonel, knows all of the tricks of the trade to present a convincing argument. She even demonstrated maternal warmth to the boy, and it was clear that her usually condescending manner was kept well under wraps. She demonstrated that not only was she head, she was also full of heart. The young boy, in a dramatic way, demonstrated his anger, but he couldn’t speak our language, didn’t have the “historical” background to back up his claims and in the end, was merely an emotional representation of his side, an extraneous element hard to relate to. How's that for balance?
There is a big difference between information and communication. What information is supposed to do is present facts and data without veering towards emotion. Since we are human, though, we relate much more intimately and deeply to sentiment. It is through communication that we seek to consolidate consensus, and to be an effective communicator, one makes use of all the tricks in the bag.
When the facts are so obvious, the pure information is so clear and so evidently on the side of the Palestinians, as it is THEIR rights which are systematically violated, and not those of the Jews, the world of communication goes into overdrive.
For some reason, we are expected to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as two equal contenders with equally valid reasons and equally legitimate claims. We are somehow just supposed to accept the violation of UN Resolutions 181, 194 and 242, along with the other seventy-one that Israel continues to violate, unchecked by the powers that be, as if it is acceptable behaviour that will have no consequences. It is evident and natural that there are only consequences when an Arab nation violates even one, such as Iraq and the UN Resolution 1441, but to Israel, this luxury is permitted and more. It is OUR consensus which has given it this right. The double standard doesn’t worry us, but it should.
And here is where the mainstream left comes into play. To avoid a confrontation between its traditional base and the "social base" which is basically the area which has kept issues such as Colombia, Palestine, Afghanistan to name but a few areas, in the public sphere, where it would otherwise return to oblivion (anyone remember East Timor?) it has concentrated it energies in getting activists to start to make requests of the Palestinian people.
We are suggested to encourage them to view "moderate" solutions as progressive and fair, such as the "Geneva Accord" which didn’t guarantee water rights, border rights or defence rights to Palestinians, but had as its central point the sell-out of individual rights, including the Right of Return, in exchange for some nebulous acts of goodwill. We are encouraged to forget that these rights are not arbitrary and are guaranteed by international law. They are inalienable and not subject to exchange for other, lesser rights. Arafat was aware of this, and that is why he could not sign the proposal of Barak, which was given the moniker of “Generous Offer”. As leader of his people and the one signing the accord, he had no mandate to surrender acquired rights, and no one ever will thanks to international law. We are encouraged by the left to convince our Palestinian friends into the endorsement and acceptance of agreements of this sort. The hoopla that the left has made of the Geneva Accord, presenting it as somehow antagonistic to Sharon and the projects of the right was accompanied by a campaign of leaders of the left, together with the ever popular Hollywood contingent, promoting that we suggest that the Palestinians aim for a more "pragmatic solution" to their problem. They are supposed to see that the renunciation of their rights is in their best interests, seeing as how no one will force Israel into obliging to fulfil its duty and obey the law. Even the United States has vetoed a Resolution calling on States to respect international law, so it is at any rate a reasonable political assessment that Israel will never adhere to the UN Resolutions, and therefore, something is still better than nothing. We are encouraged to find moderate voices, ones that encourage "dialogue", where both sides are given equal legitimacy a priori. A settler who destroys Palestinian property, is to be ideally equated with a child who defends his street in the only way he knows how, by throwing a rock at an armoured tank rolling into his village, the very arrival of which promises some terrible destruction we can only imagine. A State that builds a wall on Palestinian property, and forces a man to ask permission (often denied) just to support his own family with his labour and his own crops, is to be equated with political leaders who, when not arrested, must live clandestinely in order to prevent being assassinated together with their families.
The difference is: one group is treated as legitimate, and the other is illegal. And, against all logic, it is the first group that is granted legitimacy. The settlers and all of the infra-structures that their presence in occupied land requires, render the lives of the Palestinians living under occupation a hell on earth. Yet, these illegal (under international law, but not for Israel) residents are considered to have rights to self-defence that the occupied people are denied. A boy who throws an innocuous rock at a tank as it invades Nablus is considered an aggressor. The Israeli State which violates human rights so outrageously with its raids, checkpoints, shooting into crowds of demonstrators and more, is supposed to be equated with small resistance groups whose operations are limited.
It is interesting to see how most progressive Jewish groups handle this dilemma. On the one hand, they place the blame on the settlers themselves and on the area of Israeli administration that has supported these numerous settlements. To them, the core of the problem lies here, and not in the very real discrimination inherent in Israeli society. It is somehow still important for them that Jewish supremacy remains intact, that is, that the State of Israel maintains its Jewish Character despite 20% or more (statistics on the presence of non-Jewish yet non-Arab workers in Israel give no clue as to their numerical basis in Israeli society, as many of them are “illegal”) of the people living there, citizen or not, are not Jewish. A very large majority has to suffer the institutionalised discrimination of Israel. Some of them have chosen to go there to live, but by no means all of them. The families of many of them date back innumerable generations, long before the Jewish Character of the State became law of the land.
On the other hand, the progressive Jewish groups seek a pragmatic solution that can be achieved rapidly. Rapidity to put an end to Palestinian suffering, but also to the image of Israel as a pariah State. If giving up (Palestinian) rights, if renouncing a (Palestinian) national armed force, as well as complete (Palestinian) control of (Palestinian) borders is the means of achieving this, it is seen as a positive development. There is no talk on the table of Israel renouncing any such thing, at least nothing more than the illegal occupation, which has long been seen in Israel as a risky investment. With an accord like the Geneva one, Israel will still call the shots, so there’s little to lose.
On the site of Tikkun, a California Progressive Jewish faith organisation, there is a forum which asks its members to discuss if the Palestinian Right of Return should be in their core platform – the Jewish Right of Return is considered legitimate by them. The Palestinian Right of Return has never has been on the platform of any progressive Jewish organisation, not even Gush Shalom. What an amazing question for a progressive group to ask itself. Aren’t human rights supposed to now have been accepted as a given, an acquisition of progressive activism? It is evident to anyone that human rights are the core issue and not a side issue which can be added or subtracted depending on its convenience.
What conclusions can be made of all of this? If the emotional aspect is indeed the preferred one for Israel supporters, because the presentation of cold, hard facts can't possibly demonstrate favourably for Israel, then, as pro-Palestinian activists, let us start to use that very device ourselves.
What the pro-Israel faction has used for years, and which can also be called manipulation or emotional blackmail, has been the element of guilt that the West has felt for either being responsible for the persecution of the Jews in Europe or for not having done enough to prevent it. This has often been a pretext for associating Israel with something close to a humanitarian enterprise. A mythology has grown out of this and in the minds of the greater part of the Western population, Israel has been an idealised State. One small (the only, they say) democracy stuck in the middle of millions of aggressive Arabs in nearby hostile States that seek to its destruction out of some natural anti-Semitism inherent to them as non-Western nations and peoples. This campaign serves to induce one to feel protective towards Israel, encouraging in this way the massive "aid" which Israel has been getting. Imagine that, a tiny Western Democracy, with a thriving economy that needs more aid than an immense third world nation with ecological, sanitary and humanitarian problems. Israel has enjoyed this privileged status for decades, and it seemed that nothing more could endanger that acquired status.
That is, until the First Intifada, when some cracks in the veneer started to show through. The world for the first time started to see the living conditions of the Arabs living under Jewish control, especially those confined in the refugee camps not far from where these people had lived for generations, and it was a shock to many. It was certainly a public relations blow of the worst sort. Jews have always been regarded as being pacific, and seeing the violence that was no longer defence, but was naked aggression directed against children destroyed that image in a way that remains indelible. What was evident to the entire Arab world and only to a sliver of Western eyes was now apparent to one and all. Efforts to censor it were of course made, but by now, the Palestinian cause had become a mainstream human rights cause mobilising the West.
What was needed was to recoup a virginity and this was the campaign to present Palestinians as dangerous, as a threat to security, and what better emblem than a wall. "They are so dangerous, we have to wall ourselves in" is the message. "We are damaging ourselves for the safety of our citizens". Rather than the outrage that should have been provoked, the West has listened to the reasons behind this aberration which Israel calls a "Security Fence". It has been granted legitimacy. Even progressives such as Uri Avnery have said that it would cease to be a problem if it were within the Israeli side of the Green Line (which of course, it is not even remotely near to, encroaching on Palestinian land at every twist and turn). Legitimacy to the device has been given "in principle" even by friends of the 2S42P faction. Never mind how a viable Palestinian State could now be achieved with the fait accompli of the wall.
If guilt has been effective in keeping the people silent over human rights abuses and war crimes which are part of the illegality of Israel policy, we progressives have the task of manipulating the accessory sentiment to guilt: shame. If the policies of Israel are discriminatory, if they violate the individual rights of anyone especially those whom they are obligated by law to protect, these policies must be exposed for what they are, and it is a just practice to shame Israel until it complies with law and begins to act decently.
It has often been said that Israel is more concerned about its public image than about what it actually does. If this is true, perhaps the only way of affecting change is for the world’s public to vocally withdraw consent and to shame Israel.
Another problem in exposing the misdeeds of Israel, and what prevents otherwise caring people from doing so, is the accusation of anti-Semitism railed against anyone who dares criticise Israel. Some of the arguments progressive pro-Israel supporters use include the accusation that people hold Israel up to higher standards than others. Leaving aside the Israeli notion that it is a “Light unto Nations”, this accusation is frankly ridiculous. People expect that a nation which considers itself to be a democracy to at least act like one. That it is a Jewish State is positively irrelevant, and progressive Jewish groups should stop supporting Israel by turning a blind eye to legitimate criticism or finding justifications based on tribal or ethnic affiliation.
In fact, it is their knee-jerk defence which smacks of racism. If human rights are important, they shouldn’t be applied on a selective basis. If restrictions on the liberties of persons based on religion, race or political affiliation is wrong, the States which systematically violate human rights in this way must be condemned and openly criticised. In essence, Israel must be held accountable and shamed into conforming to standards which are acceptable for a democracy. The progressives should adopt this as their platform without any exceptions.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
International companies plan to “control the liberated lands” in Gaza
An Israeli economical expert revealed that several international companies have plans to control Palestinian lands which Israel plans to withdraw from in the Gaza Strip after implementing the unilateral disengagement plan.
Could this possibly mean Mohammed al-Alabbar, A billionaire from the United Arab Emirates, who has offered to buy the real estate assets of settlements in the Gaza Strip?
Al-Alabbar, the chairman of a huge real estate company, was invited by Israeli Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh (Labor) and the two met with the director general of the Israeli Prime minister office Ilan Cohen, and then paid a short visit to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Al-Alabbar offered to purchase the houses, agricultural infrastructure as well as water wells in the Gush Katif settlements for $56 million. Israel likes this idea, because it means they needn't leave the houses for Palestinians to occupy, (which Israel sees as a demonstration of Palestinian victory, nor must they destroy them. They are in effect, not abandoning stolen lands, they are being paid to evacuate several thousand families from territories which are costly to maintain.
Omar Sha'ban, UNRWA consultant stated that after Sharon announced his withdrawal plan from the Gaza Strip, several huge companies in cooperation with local businessmen started plans of organized control over the properties and lands in the evacuated settlements, while the P.A is busy in the political and security issues.
“Settlements occupy 56 square km, and are placed over artesian wells, there are 12 factories and 2000 homes in the settlements in addition to a huge hotel, tourist beach, advanced telecommunication systems, and agricultural fields estimated by 166000, including 4000 agricultural barracks”, Sha'ban stated.
Also, Sha'ban said that an American governmental organization said that it is currently negotiating with the Israel government to by agricultural barracks in the settlements with an estimated value of 56 million dollars.
“This organization intends to search for international companies in order to guarantee that the products of the settlements are sold to specialized Israeli companies in order to exports their products”
Sha'ban added that the Palestinian Authority does not have a formal position concerning the withdrawal, and lacks a comprehensive plan concerning the properties of the settlements which makes it easier for international companies to cease the opportunity and control these areas.
What is this 'relative calm'?
When Israeli government officials report that there is 'relative calm' in the region, the American media line up to repeat the claim. But the reality, in almost every case where the term has been used, is that there is 'relative calm' only for the Israelis. Attacks by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilians have not ceased, or even decreased, in the periods of so-called 'relative calm'.
Take the week of January 22-29th, for example. Since Friday, the 22nd of January, there have been almost no shots fired or homemade shells launched by Palestinian resistance groups toward the illegal Israeli settlements and Israeli military bases built on their land. But eight Palestinians have been killed this week, only one of whom was identified by Israel to be a resistance fighter.
On Tuesday, an explosive left by the Israeli army went off near two children playing in Ramallah. Marwan Ghaleb Abu Alawi, 13, died of his wounds on Friday the 28th, while Saleh Daoud Abu Alawi, 11, who was also injured in the blast, remains in critical condition.
Rahma Ibrahim Abu Shamas, a three year old toddler, was inside her home with her family in Dair al-Balah in central Gaza on Wednesday January 26th, when a bullet struck her in the head, killing her instantly.
Ibrahim al-Shawas, 36, died on Saturday the 29th after being shot in the head near Khan Yunis a day earlier. Witnesses said he was approaching a border fence near the town when a shot rang out from the Israeli side. al-Shawas was on his way to his farm when he was shot and killed. He was a handicapped man, the second handicapped Palestinian to be killed Friday, and the third this week.
And this was an average week! Children and disabled people killed and maimed, dozens of military invasions and random shooting at civilian areas by the Israeli army -- this is their 'relative calm'?
Just two weeks ago, seven teenagers were torn apart by tank shells in northern Gaza while picking strawberries in their family's field, four brothers, two cousins and their friend. Instead of being outraged at the fact that seven children were needlessly and mindlessly blown apart, Israeli officials seemed more concerned that Palestinian President (then candidate for the Presidency) responded by saying "We are praying for the souls of the martyrs killed by the Zionist enemy." Their concern seems a bit misplaced in light of the fact that Israeli officials also refer to Israel as a "Zionist state." And using the term "enemy" to describe an occupying military force is not unrealistic. So why the outrage about his words, but not about the killing of these seven children?
The heartless response of Israeli officials reflects a policy in which Palestinians are considered less than human. Soldiers with assault rifles and artillery shells play cat-and-mouse with children throwing stones -- and when the children are killed, they are called 'armed combatants' and their deaths are somehow justified!
Since the start of the Palestinian intifada (literally 'shaking-off' -- a term used to refer to the 'shaking-off' of the Israeli occupation of Palestine) in September 2000, 4721 have been killed, including 3666 Palestinians and 981 Israelis. So why, in the US, do we hear mainly about the Israelis who have been killed? The daily killing of Palestinians is considered 'relative calm', while the rather infrequent attacks on Israelis are considered front-page news. Even National Public Radio, which claims to have 'balanced coverage' of the conflict, reports Israeli and Palestinian death at a 1:1 ratio, when in fact the reality is that there have been nearly four times as many Palestinians as Israelis killed in this war. Presenting a 1:1 ratio as 'balanced' gives a distorted picture of what is actually happening on the ground.
And what is actually happening is an ongoing military occupation of a civilian population in which families are walled-in, brutalized, intimidated and humiliated on a daily basis -- unable to travel, unable to go to work, unable to farm their fields......for the last four years nearly 80% of the population of the Gaza Strip (the most crowded place on earth) has been out of work. 400 military checkpoints control every part of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Families are isolated, children are unable to go to school, homes are continually being demolished and the Israeli annexation wall is creating a new de facto border for Israel that annexes half of what's left of the Palestinian area. Children are being killed in their homes and schools, and terrorized by tanks, guns and Apache helicopters wherever they go. UN Resolution after UN Resolution has been passed condemening the Israel government's actions, but the U.S. always vetoes the Resolutions.
The U.S. media is complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians when media corporations refuse to report the reality of Palestinians' lives. By using terms like 'relative calm' when there are no attacks on Israelis, the media is completely trivializing the reality of ongoing Palestinian deaths. This is not a new trend, either -- in 2001, a cease-fire declared by Yassar Arafat led to a period of very few Israeli deaths, but sustained Palestinian deaths-- and the American media repeatedly referred to it as a time of "relative calm"; in 2003, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a study entitled, "Journalists Find 'Calm' When Only Palestinians Die", giving examples of the bias shown in headlines like an Associated Press article stating that "from June 29 to August 19, 2003, 'more than 20 people have been killed on the Israeli and Palestinian sides.', leaving out the fact that of those 'more than 20', at least 21 were Palestinian." And now, with Palestinians dying at the rate of at least one a day, the New York Times and other major U.S. media outlets insist on using the term 'relative calm' to describe a situation that, for Palestinians at least, is anything but 'relatively calm'.