Posts Tagged conflict in Israel
Telling Truths about Israel, Palestine
On Oct. 16, the Israeli organization Yazkern hosted dozens of veterans of Israel’s 1948 “War of Independence” for a look at what that struggle really entailed. The veterans testified to what can only be called a conscious effort at ethnic cleansing – the systematic destruction of entire Palestinian villages and numerous massacres.In 1948, some Palestinians, uprooted by Israel’s claims to their lands, relocated to the Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria
The aim of Yazkern’s effort at truth-telling was to break through the sanitized “mainstream nationalistic narrative” of 1948 and the accompanying denial of any legitimate Palestinian counter-narrative.
A documentary film by Israeli-Russian journalist Lia Tarachansky, dealing with this same subject, the Palestinian “Nakba” or catastrophe, is nearing completion. It too has the testimony of Israeli soldiers of the 1948 war.
These latest revelations lend credence to the claims of Israel’s “new historians,” such as Ilan Pappe, who have written books based on evidence gleamed from government archives showing that, even before the outbreak of hostilities leading to the creation of the State of Israel, the Zionist authorities planned to ethnically cleanse as much of Palestine as possible of non-Jews.
OK, you might say, the Israelis behaved savagely in 1948 – and only a small minority will admit it – but what about after “the War of Independence”? As it turns out, the ethnic cleansing never stopped. Conveniently, the longstanding denial that it ever started has helped to hide the fact that it’s ongoing.
Just this week, we received the news that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given the order to demolish eight Palestinian villages with some 1,500 residents in the south Hebron hills. The excuse offered by Barak is that the land is needed for military training exercises.
According to the “new historians,” this is a standard Israeli government cover for ethnic cleansing. Sure, for a couple of years the Israeli army will use the land that held the demolished villages. Then, almost inevitably, the area becomes the site of a new Israeli Jewish settlement.
On Oct. 20, Al-Jazeera reported on Israeli documents showing that between 2008 and 2010 the Israeli army allowed food supplies into the Gaza Strip based on a daily calorie count that held the basic diet of a 1.5 million people to a point just short of malnutrition.
According to the Israeli human rights organization Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, “the official goal of the policy was to wage economic warfare which would paralyze Gaza’s economy and, according to the Defense Ministry, create pressure on the Hamas government.” Actually, this bit of savagery predates 2008.
Back in 2006, Dov Weissglass, then an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, stated that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Of course, precedents for this can be found in the treatment of European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. One assumes that Mr. Weissglass was aware of this.
However, just as with the barbarism practiced in the “War of Independence,” in this case too there is a well-practiced capacity for national denial. According to Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz, “the country has plenty of ways … of burying skeletons deep in the closet so that Israelis shouldn’t be overly disturbed.”
The military authors of the document that turned Weissglass’s hideous “idea” into savage practice, operated in a country afflicted with blindness. Just so the present Israeli government does not worry about public unease over the fact that it is slowly but surely destroying the Gaza sewage system and rendering its water supply undrinkable.
Then there are the petty acts of cruelty that can be considered telltale signs of an underlying savagery. For instance, the fact that Israeli customs officials held back the the exam sheets for the October 2012 College Board tests bound for the West Bank graduating high school seniors.
AMIDEAST, the organization that serves as the testing agency for the Palestinian territories, had made sure the Israeli authorities had the tests in their hands weeks in advance. Nonetheless, in an apparent act of vindictiveness, the customs officials held on to them until AMIDEAST had to cancel the exam.
One observer has asked the question, “what has the SAT [tests] have to do with Israeli security?” Well it might be that, in the mind of a cruel customs official, the more college-bound Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, the more articulate witnesses to Israeli oppression.
On the Gaza side of the equation, the U.S. was forced to cancel a small scholarship program for Gaza college students because the Israelis refused to let the students leave their open-air prison, even if only to go to a West Bank school. (For anyone who might want to follow the grim procession of Israeli oppressive acts on a day-to-day basis, I recommend the web site Today In Palestine.)
Challenge and Denial
In the face of this behavior on the part of Israel, that country’s public support in the United States has finally begun to slip.
Most recently, 15 prominent church leaders, representing major Christian denominations, wrote an open letter to Congress calling for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations. … We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”
So far, Congress has turned a deaf-ear to this request, but the Zionist reaction was loud and clear. Leading the way in this effort was the head of the misnamed Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman. Charging the Christian leaders with a “blatant lack of sensitivity” (one might ask just how sensitive one is suppose to be to an oppressor?) Foxman decided to punish the offending clergy by refusing to engage in ongoing “interfaith dialogue.”
Having “big brains” is a two-edge sword for human beings. It means we can think all manner of creative thoughts and even exercise some self-control over our own inappropriate impulses if we care to try. However, it also means that we can be manipulated into thinking that we need not try – that we are the victims even as we are oppressing others and that any criticism of our actions is just another example of our victimization.
Israeli culture – and indeed the culture of Zionism generally – is one ongoing project of self-manipulation to achieve just such a state of mind. And, to a great extent, it has succeeded. A recent poll taken in Israel shows that “a majority of the [Israeli Jewish] public wants the state to discriminate against Palestinians … revealing a deeply rooted racism in Israeli society.”
The Zionists are not the only experts in denial. The United States, Israel’s chief ally, has always been good at this gambit as well. After the 9/11 attacks, any consideration of the possibility that United States foreign policy in the Middle East might have helped motivate the terrorism was anathema – and it still is over a decade later.
Instead of taking a hard look at our own behavior, we are simply expanding our capacity to kill outright anyone who would challenge our policies in a violent fashion. Our answer is targeted killings by drone or otherwise, a bit of savagery we copied from the Israelis.
Machiavelli, who can always be relied upon to see the darker side of things, once said, “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”
But is it really inevitable?
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.
Even as I write this, the bulldozers have been busy throughout that one indivisible country known by the bifurcated term Israel/Palestine. Palestinian homes, community centers, livestock pens and other “structures” (as the Israel authorities dispassionately call them) have been demolished in the Old City, Silwan and various parts of “Area C” in the West Bank, as well among the Bedouin – Israeli citizens – in the Negev/Nakab. This is merely mopping up, herding the last of the Arabs into their prison cells where, forever, they will cease to be heard or heard from, a non-issue in Israel and, eventually, in the wider world distracted from bigger, more pressing matters.
An as-yet confidential report submitted by the European consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah raises urgent concerns over the “forced expulsion” of Palestinians – a particularly strong term for European diplomats to use –from Area C of the West Bank (the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control but which today contains less than 5% of the Palestinian population). Focusing particularly on the rise in house demolitions by the Israeli authorities and the growing economic distress of the Palestinians living in Area C, the report mentions the fertile and strategic Jordan Valley (where the Palestinian population has declined from 250,000 to 50,000 since the start of the Occupation), plans to relocate 3000 Jahalin Bedouins to a barren hilltop above the Jerusalem garbage dump and the ongoing but accelerated demolition of Palestinian homes (500 in 2011).
At the same time the “judaization” of Jerusalem continues apace, a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem steadily isolating the Palestinian parts of the city from the rest of Palestinian society while ghettoizing their inhabitants, more than 100,000 of which now live beyond the Wall. Some 120 homes were demolished in East Jerusalem in 2011; over the same period the Israeli government announced the construction of close to 7000 housing units for Jews in East and “Greater” Jerusalem. “If current trends are not stopped and reversed,” said a previous EU report, “the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders seems more remote than ever. The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing….”
In fact, it closed long ago. In terms of settlers and Palestinians, the Israeli government treats the whole country as one. Last year it demolished three times more homes ofIsraeli citizens (Arabs, of course) than it did in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The demolition of Bedouin homes in the Negev/Nakab is part of a plan approved by the government to remove 30,000 citizens from their homes and confine them to townships.
None of this concerns “typical” Israelis even if they have heard of it (little appears in the news). For them, the Israeli-Arab conflict was won and forgotten years ago, somewhere around 2004 when Bush informed Sharon that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, thus effectively ending the “two-state solution,” and Arafat “mysteriously” died.
Since then, despite occasional protests from Europe, the “situation” has been normalized. Israelis enjoy peace and quiet, personal security and a booming economy (with the usual neoliberal problems of fair allocation). The unshakable, bi-partisan support of the American government and Congress effectively shields it from any kind of international sanctions. Above all, Israeli Jews have faith that those pesky Arabs living somewhere “over there” beyond the Walls and barbed-wire barriers have been pacified and brought under control by the IDF. A recent poll found that “security,” the term Israelis use instead of “occupation” or “peace,” was ranked eleventh among the concerns of the Israeli public, trailing well behind employment, crime, corruption, religious-secular differences, housing and other more pressing issues.
A for the international community, the “Quartet” representing the US, the EU, Russia and the UN in the non-existent “peace process” has gone completely silent. (Israel refused to table its position on borders and other key negotiating issues by the January 26th “deadline” laid down by the Quartet, and no new meetings are scheduled). The US has abandoned any pretense of an “honest broker.” Months ago, when the US entered its interminable election “season,” Israel received a green light from both the Democrats and Republicans to do whatever it sees fit in the Occupied Territory. Last May the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress and send a clear message to Obama: hands off Israel. That same week, Obama, not to be out-done, addressed an AIPAC convention and reaffirmed Bush’s promise that Israel will not have to return to the 1967 borders or relinquish its major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He also took the occasion to promise an American veto should the Palestinians request membership in the UN – though that would merely amount to an official acceptance of the two-state treaty that the US claims it has been fostering all these years. No, as far as Israel and Israeli Jews are concerned, the conflict and even the need for pretense is over. The only thing remaining is to divert attention to more “urgent” global matters so that the Palestinian issue completely disappears. Voila Iran.
Oh, but what about the “demographic threat,” that “war of the womb” that will eventually force a solution? Well, as long as Israel has the Palestinian Authority to self-segregate its people, it has nothing to worry about. While the Palestinian Authority plays the “two-state solution” game, Israel can simply herd the Palestinians into the 70 tiny islands of Areas A and B, lock the gates and let the international community feed them – and go about placidly building a Greater Land of Israel with American and European complicity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates self-segregation more than Prime Minister Salem Fayyad’s neoliberal scheme of building a Palestinian …something… “from the ground up.” By building for the well-to-do in new private-sector cities like Rawabi, located safely in Area A, by building new highways (with Japanese and USAID assistance) that respect Israeli “Greater” Jerusalem and channel Palestinian traffic from Ramallah to Bethlehem through far-away Jericho, by expressing a willingness to accept Israeli territorial expansion in exchange for the ability to “do business,” Fayyad has invented yet a new form of neoliberal oppression-by-consent: viable apartheid (viable, at least, for the Palestinian business class). And as in the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian Authority maintains a repressive internal order through its own American-trained/Israeli-approved militia, a second layer of occupation. (During the 2008 assault on Gaza, one of the few places in the world in which there were no demonstrations was the West Bank, where they were forbidden by the Palestinian Authority. Then-Prime Minister Olmert crowed that this was evidence of how effectively the Palestinians had been pacified.)
Indeed, by clinging to the two-state solution and continuing to participate in “negotiations” years after they have proven themselves a trap, the Palestinian leadership plays a central role in its own people’s warehousing. The reality – even the fact – of occupation gets buried under the diversions set up by the fraudulent yet unending “peace process.” This only enables Israel not only to imprison the Palestinians in tiny cells; witness today’s mini-ethnic cleansing, just one of thousands of micro-events that have the cumulative effect of displacement, expulsion, segregation and incarceration. It also enables Israel to then blame the victims for causing their own oppression! When a Palestinian leadership assumes the prerogative to negotiate a political resolution yet lacks any genuine authority or leverage to do so, and when, in addition, it fails to abandon negotiations even after they have been exposed as a trap, it comes dangerously close to being collaborationist. For its part, Israel is off the hook. Instead of going through the motions of establishing an apartheid regime, it simply exploits the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate the illusion of negotiations as a smokescreen covering its virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian “inmates.” Once the current mopping up operations are completed, the process of incarceration will be complete.
Today the only alternative agency to the Palestinian Authority is segments of the international civil society. The Arab and Muslims peoples for whom Palestinian liberation is an integral part of the Arab Spring, stand alongside thousands of political and human rights groups, critical activists, churches, trade unions and intellectuals throughout the world. Crucial as it is for keeping the issue alive and building grassroots support for the Palestinian cause that will steadily “trickle up” and affect governments’ policies, however, civil society advocacy is a stop-gap form of agency, ultimately unable to achieve a just peace by itself. We, too, are trapped in the dead-end personified by the two-state solution, reference to a “peace process” and their attendant “negotiations.” There is no way forward in the current paradigm. We must break out into a world of new possibilities foreclosed by the present options: a “two-state” apartheid regime or warehousing.
In my view, while advocacy and grassroots mobilization remain relevant, several tasks stand before us. First, we must endeavor to hasten the collapse of the present situation and subsequently, when new paradigms of genuine justice emerge from the chaos, be primed to push forward an entirely different solution that is currently impossible or inconceivable, be that a single democratic state over the entire country, a bi-national state, a regional confederation or some other alternative yet to be formulated. The Palestinians themselves must create a genuine, inclusive agency of their own that, following the collapse, can effectively seize the moment. Formulating a clear program and strategy, they will then be equipped to lead their people to liberation and a just peace, with the support of activists and others the world over.
A necessary and urgent first step towards collapsing the otherwise permanent regime of oppression in Israel/Palestine is that we stop talking about a two-state solution. It’s dead and gone as a political option – if, indeed, it ever really existed. It should be banned from the discourse because reference to an irrelevant “solution” only serves to confuse the discussion. Granted, this will be hard for liberals to do; everyone else, however, has given up on it. Most Palestinians, having once supported it, now realize that Israel will simply not withdraw to a point where a truly viable and sovereign state can emerge. The Israeli government, backed by the Bush-Obama policies on the settlement blocs, doesn’t even make pretence of pursuing it anymore, and the Israeli public is fine with the status quo. Nor does the permanent warehousing of the Palestinians seem to faze the American or European governments, or the Arab League. Even AIPAC has moved on to the “Iranian threat.”
Behind the insistence of the liberal Zionists of J Street, Peace Now, the Peace NGOs Forum run out of the Peres Center for Peace and others to hang on to a two-state solution at any cost is a not-so-hidden agenda. They seek to preserve Israel as a Jewish state even at the cost of enforcing institutional discrimination against Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. The real meaning of a “Jewish democracy” is living with apartheid and warehousing while protesting them. No, the liberals will be the hardest to wean away from the two-state snare. Yet if they don’t abandon it, they run the risk of promoting de facto their own worst nightmare of warehousing while providing the fig-leaf of legitimacy to cover the policies of Israel’s extreme right – all in the name of “peace.” This is what happens when one’s ideology places restrictions on one’s ability to perceive evil or to draw necessary if difficult conclusions. When wishful thinking becomes policy, it not only destroys your effectiveness as a political actor but leads you into positions, policies and alliances that, in the end, are inimical to your own goals and values. Jettisoning all talk of a “two-state solution” removes the major obstacle to clear analysis and the ability to move forward.
The obfuscation created by the “two-state solution” now out of the way, what emerges as clear as day is naked occupation, an apartheid regime extending across all of historic Palestine/Israel and the spectre of warehousing. Since none of these forms of oppression can ever be legitimized or transformed into something just, the task before us becomes clear: to cause their collapse by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, just as the ANC did. Already Palestinian, Israel and international activists engage in internal resistance, together with international challenges to occupation represented by the Gaza flotillas and attempts to “crash” Israeli borders. Many civil society actors the world over have mobilized, some around campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), others around direct actions, still others engaged in lobbying the UN and governments through such instruments as the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and international courts. There have been campaigns to reconvene the Tribunal that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, has the authority and duty to sanction Israel for its gross violations. Dozens of groups and individuals alike engage in public speaking, mounting Israel Apartheid Weeks on university campuses and working through the media. And much more.
And here is where Palestinian civil society plays a crucial role, a role that cannot be played by non-Palestinians. If it is agreed that the Palestinian Authority must go if we are to get beyond the two-state trap – indeed, the dismantling of the PA being a major part of the collapse of the present system – then this call must originate from within the Palestinian community. Non-Palestinians must join in, of course, but the issue of who represents the Palestinians is their call exclusively.
Non-Palestinians can lso suggest various end-games. I’ve written, for example, about a Middle East economic confederation, believing that a regional approach is necessary to address the core issues. The Palestinian organization PASSIA published a collection of twelve possible outcomes. It is obvious, though, that it is the sole prerogative of the Palestinian people to decide what solution, or range of solutions, is acceptable. For this, and to organize effectively so as to bring about a desired outcome, the Palestinians need a new truly representative agency, one that replaces the PA and gives leadership and direction to broad-based civil society agency, one that has the authority to negotiate a settlement and actually move on to the implementation of a just peace.
As of now, it appears there is only one agency that possesses that legitimacy and mandate: the Palestinian National Council of the PLO (although Hamas and the other Islamic parties are not (yet) part of the PLO). Reconstituting the PNC through new elections would seem the most urgent item on the Palestinian agenda today – without which, in the absence of effective agency, we are all stuck in rearguard protest actions and Israel prevails. Our current situation, caught in the limbo between seeking the collapse of the oppressive system we have, and having a Palestinian agency that can effectively lead us towards a just resolution, is one of the most perilous we’ve faced. One person’s limbo is another person’s window of opportunity. Say what you will about Israel, it knows how to hustle and exploit even the smallest of opportunities to nail down its control permanently.
“Collapse with agency,” I suggest, could be a title of our refocused efforts to weather the limbo in the political process. Until a reinvigorated PNC or other representative agency can be constituted, a daunting but truly urgent task, Palestinian civil society might coalesce enough to create a kind of interim leadership bureau. This itself might be a daunting task. Most Palestinian leaders have either been killed by Israel or are languishing in Israeli prisons, while Palestinian civil society has been shattered into tiny disconnected and often antagonistic pieces. At home major divisions have been sown between “’48” and “’67” Palestinians; Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank have been effectively severed; and within the West Bank restrictions on movement among a bewildering array of “areas” – A, B, C, C-Restricted, H-1, H-2, nature reserves, closed military areas – have resulted in virtual, largely disconnected Palestinian mini-societies. Political divisions, especially among secular/traditional and Islamic factions, have been nurtured, not least by Israel. Overall, the Palestinian population, exhausted by years of sacrifice and resistance, impoverished and preoccupied with mere survival, has been left largely rudderless as many of its most educated and skilled potential leaders have left or are forbidden by Israel to return.
For its part, the Palestinian leadership has done little to bridge the wider divisions amongst those falling under PA rule, Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of the refugee camps and the world-wide Diaspora, divisions that have grown even wider since the PLO and the PNC fell moribund. Indeed, major portions of the Palestinian Diaspora (and one may single out especially but not exclusively the large and prosperous communities of Latin America), have disconnected from the national struggle completely. The Palestinian possess some extremely articulate spokespeople and activists, but they tend to be either a collection of individual voices only tenuously tied to grassroots organizations, or grassroots resistance groups such as the Popular Committees that enjoy little political backing or strategic direction.
Ever aware that the struggle for liberation must be led by Palestinians, our collective task at the moment, in my view, is to bring about the collapse of the present situation in Palestine in order to exploit its fundamental unsustainabilty. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority is one way to precipitate that collapse. It would likely require Israel to physically reoccupy the Palestinian cities and probably Gaza as well (as if they have ever been de-occupied), bringing the reality of raw occupation back to the center of attention. Such a development would likely inflame Arab and Muslim public opinion, not to mention that of much of the rest of the world, and would create an untenable situation, forcing the hand of the international community. Israel would be put in an indefensible position, thus paving the way for new post-collapse possibilities – this time with an effective and representative Palestinian agency in place and a global movement primed to follow its lead.
But given the underlying unsustainability of the Occupation and the repressive system existing throughout historic Palestine – the massive violations of human rights and international law, the disruptive role the conflict plays in the international system and its overt brutality – collapse could come from a variety of places, some of them unsuspected and unrelated to Israel/Palestine. An attack on Iran could reshuffle the cards in the Middle East, and the Arab Spring is still a work in progress. Major disruptions in the flow of oil to the West due an attack on Iran, internal changes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, instability in Russia and even the fact that China has no oil of its own could cause major financial crises worldwide. Sino-American tensions, environmental disasters or Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban with unpredictable Indian reactions may all play an indirect yet forceful role. Who knows? Ron Paul, President Gingrich’s newly appointed Secretary of State, might end all military, economic and political support for Israel, in which case the Occupation (and more) would fall within a month.
Whatever the cause of the collapse – and we must play an active role in bring it about – it is incumbent upon us to be ready, mobilized and organized if we are to seize that historic moment, which might be coming sooner than we expect. Effective and broadly representative Palestinian agency will be critical. Collapse with agency is the only way to get “there” from “here.”
Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
- Published 10:33 19.12.11
Jewish leaders mustn’t be afraid to reject unethical policies
Disheartening as it must be for those still committed to the organization, maybe Morrison’s letter will serve as a flaming baton of change — if others are ready to grasp it and run with it.
I didn’t know Seth Morrison before last week, but now when I attend board and committee meetings, it’s Seth that I think about.
In an article in The Forward, Morrison announced his decision to step down from the board of directors of the Washington metropolitan area’s Jewish National Fund.
His action was meant to protest the JNF-KKL’s widely-publicized move to expel the Sumarin family from their home in East Jerusalem.
It wasn’t the first time Morrison had publicly criticized JNF policy. In a January 2011 op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, Morrison was measured in his criticism of the organization, at that time around the issue of Bedouin land claims.
“The JNF’s reputation and ability to effect positive change would be enhanced by a decision not to plant trees on lands that are in dispute with the Bedouin,” he wrote. But almost a year later, Morrison clearly felt that the organization had pursued actions that required a much harsher response than a gently-chiding op-ed.
In an interview over the weekend, I asked Morrison how he came to his decision to resign from the board.
“I felt three things,” he told me. “I did not have the power to change it from within; this was just more egregious than I could tolerate, and as someone who works in media and marketing…I felt that by going public with the resignation I could do more to stop these evictions than I could by staying and advocating against them.”
Whether to pull a seat up to the table and evoke change from within, or whether to protest and try to bring about change from the outside, is something we should all regularly be asking ourselves in whatever capacities we operate communally. It is also a question with which I personally and frequently grapple.
As a political scientist as well as a blogger, columnist and public commentator, I have been trained to analyze and critique. Most public commentators and intellectuals hope our words — about why, how, and what shall be — will eventually have an impact.
But I am not only an arms-length commentator. I am also active in Jewish communal leadership on various issues and in various organizations. Like Seth, I consider myself to be a progressive. And like Seth, I am drawn to getting involved in the mainstream as well. I like to see if I can invest these organizations with the change ethic that I hold dear.
Two years ago, my community sponsored Brigitte Gabriel, a noted Islamophobe, to speak. I wasn’t on the committee that made the unfortunate selection of speaker, but I was invited to captain a table for the event. After unsuccessfully trying to get the committee to reconsider its choice of speaker, I grudgingly accepted the task. In the end, the event was even more disturbing, and Gabriel’s remarks more hateful, than I had feared.
A few days later, I ran into an acquaintance at my neighborhood cafe and recounted the events to her. “What do you expect?” she said. “You hang out with those people, you’re gonna get what you got.” Her cynical response helped spur me to actually redouble my efforts to stay involved. Because once cynicism sets in, the game is over.
With the tireless help of others, I ultimately achieved what initially seemed an unlikely outcome: the issuing of a community-wide letter from the head of the organization distancing it from Gabriel’s hateful views.
Fast-forward to these past few weeks: like many others, I had been following the Sumarin family eviction issue with great concern. I had attempted to share the controversial JNF issues with another friend who is a highly committed JNF supporter. But it was only when Morrison’s open letter was published in The Forward that I felt I finally had an appropriate instrument, one that struck the right note, one that was written by an insider.
Disheartening as it must be for those still committed to the organization, maybe Morrison’s letter will serve as a flaming baton of change — if others are ready to grasp it and run with it.
Morrison is now putting his efforts towards running for one of the vacant positions on the J Street board. And while he made clear to me that quitting one board and running for another were “totally parallel and unrelated,” (in fact he had applied to the J Street board weeks before coverage appeared about the eviction) to me they tell a story of the inherent tension between being committed to big-tent politics and progressive values. How big can the tent actually be before it collapses?
It’s never easy to stand apart from a group to which one has committed resources and through which one has no doubt developed relationships. But if it’s never an option; if our organizational energies are meant to be unconditional love — like that between parents and children, we forfeit the ultimate tools of democratic and civil change. No one said change is always easy, and no one said it’s never a little messy along the way.
Destruction of Waqf: The Grave Offences of the Israeli State
By: Mya Guarnieri
Published Monday, December 19, 2011
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the recent rash of desecration and vandalism of mosques and Muslim cemeteries. But the destruction of Muslim religious properties in Israel is in fact institutionalized and has a long history.
Jewish settlers torched a mosque near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on December 15.
Earlier that week, Jewish rightists set fire to a mosque in Jerusalem. They scrawled graffiti on the walls reading “Mohammed is a pig,” and “A good Arab is a dead Arab.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the desecration of the religious site. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the same in October when a mosque was burned in the north of the country.
“The images are shocking and do not belong in the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
When Muslim and Christian cemeteries were vandalized that same month, Netanyahu spoke out again—remarking that Israel would not “tolerate vandalism, especially not the kind that would offend religious sensibilities.”
But such statements belie the Israeli government’s long-standing attitude towards Muslim religious properties or waqf. Meaning literally endowment, waqf and income from waqf serves a charitable purpose for one’s family or community. Under Ottoman rule, waqf properties were exempt from taxes.
Following the 1947-1948 nakba, which saw some 700,000 Palestinians driven from their homes, Israel used its newly created Absentees’ Property Law to seize, among other things, waqf.
In Jaffa, alone, “There was a huge amount of waqf,” says Sami Abu Shehadeh, head of Jaffa’s Popular Committee against Home Demolitions and a PhD candidate in history. “I’m talking about hundreds of shops; I’m talking about tens of thousands of dunams of land; I’m talking about all the mosques…and there were all the cemeteries, too.”
Jaffa was renamed Yafo in 1948 and was annexed by the Tel Aviv municipality between 1948 and 1949. Most of the mosques were closed and several later became Jewish-owned art galleries.
In 2007, attorney Hisham Shabaita, three other Palestinian residents of Jaffa, and a local human rights organization, filed a lawsuit against the state of Israel, the Custodian of Absentee Property, and the Jewish Israeli trustees responsible for administering Tel Aviv-Yafo’s waqf holdings. The plaintiffs didn’t ask for the land back. Nor did they request compensation. They simply wanted to know what had happened to the properties, what their estimated earnings were, and where the money was going or had gone.
The court’s response? The information cannot be released because it apparently would embarrass the state, harming its reputation in the international community. The plaintiffs have filed an appeal and the case is expected to reach the Israeli Supreme Court.
But it’s not hard to guess what happened to the waqf properties, in part because the state admitted that all of the land had been sold. There are other clues: in the 1950s alone, the state demolished 1200 mosques. Later, the Hilton hotel, which stands in an area now known as north Tel Aviv, was built on a Muslim cemetery. Bodies were unearthed and relocated, stacked upon each other in a tiny corner of what was once a large graveyard.
Another Muslim cemetery became a parking lot for Tel Aviv University.
There are also the forgotten corners, properties the state appropriated and then neglected. The Sheikh Murad cemetery, which dates back to at least the 1800s, stands between the South Tel Aviv neighborhoods of Shapira and Kiryat Shalom. Its headstones were smashed by vandals years ago. Bits of marble have been pried off the graves, presumably for use or sale.
Locals have dumped garbage on the grounds and, the last time I checked in on the cemetery—not long after Muslim and Christian graves were vandalized in Yafo—two men were shooting heroin under the shade of a pomegranate tree. Fruit rotted on the ground.
Abu Shehadeh says that the local Islamic committee is building a fence around the cemetery in hopes of protecting it from further misuse. He adds that only Palestinian collaborators with Israel, who are often relocated to South Tel Aviv, have been buried in the graveyard since 1948.
The Jewish neighborhoods Kiryat Shalom and Kfar Shalem both stand on the land of the Palestinian village Salame, which was established before the 1596 Ottoman census. According to Abu Shehadeh, a number of Muslim cemeteries were destroyed to make way to house the country’s new occupants.
And then there’s Jerusalem.
With the approval of the Jerusalem municipality, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is building a “Museum of Tolerance” on a Muslim graveyard. Excavations are taking place at the site, which has served as a parking lot for several decades now, and skeletons are being exhumed so that the Los Angeles-headquartered, “global Jewish human rights” organization can teach tourists a thing or two about co-existence.
Sergio Yahni of the Alternative Information Center, an Israeli-Palestinian non-governmental organization, explained that much of Jewish West Jerusalem is built on waqf.
“One of the most striking demolitions [on land designated as waqf],” he continues, “was made [in the Old City] during the 1967 war. [Israeli forces] didn’t take care [to see] if people were out of the houses…[in some cases] they brought the buildings down on people.”
Several Palestinians who disappeared from the Old City during the war were believed to be killed during the demolitions.
This occurred in the area adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Some eighty percent of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter is built on waqf.
Jewish Israeli leaders and journalists have expressed alarm at the recent rash of vandalism and arson. In light of the fact that the government itself has perpetrated such violence against Muslim properties for over 60 years, the surprise is misplaced, at best. At worst, it is a disingenuous attempt to relieve the state of its responsibility by pointing the finger at “extremists.”
The Real Story of How Israel Was Created
By Alison Weir
October 11, 2011 “Information Clearing House” –
To better understand the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations, it is important to understand the original 1947 U.N. action on Israel-Palestine.
The common representation of Israel’s birth is that the U.N. created Israel, that the world was in favor of this move, and that the U.S. governmental establishment supported it. All these assumptions are demonstrably incorrect.
In reality, while the U.N. General Assembly recommended the creation of a Jewish state in part of Palestine, that recommendation was non-binding and never implemented by the Security Council.
Second, the General Assembly passed that recommendation only after Israel proponents threatened and bribed numerous countries in order to gain a required two-thirds of votes.
Third, the U.S. administration supported the recommendation out of domestic electoral considerations and took this position over the strenuous objections of the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon.
The passage of the General Assembly recommendation sparked increased violence in the region. Over the following months the armed wing of the pro-Israel movement, which had long been preparing for war, perpetrated a series of massacres and expulsions throughout Palestine, implementing a plan to clear the way for a majority-Jewish state.
It was this armed aggression, and the ethnic cleansing of at least three-quarters of a million indigenous Palestinians, that created the Jewish state on land that had been 95 percent non-Jewish prior to Zionist immigration and that even after years of immigration remained 70 percent non-Jewish. And despite the shallow patina of legality its partisans extracted from the General Assembly, Israel was born over the opposition of American experts and of governments around the world, who opposed it on both pragmatic and moral grounds.
Let us look at the specifics.
Background of the U.N. Partition Recommendation
In 1947 the U.N. took up the question of Palestine, a territory that was then administered by the British.
Approximately 50 years before, a movement called political Zionism had begun in Europe. Its intention was to create a Jewish state in Palestine through pushing out the Christian and Muslim inhabitants who made up over 95 percent of its population and replacing them with Jewish immigrants.
As this colonial project grew through subsequent years, the indigenous Palestinians reacted with occasional bouts of violence; Zionists had anticipated this since people usually resist being expelled from their land. In various written documents cited by numerous Palestinian and Israeli historians, they discussed their strategy: They would either buy up the land until all the previous inhabitants had emigrated or, failing this, use violence to force them out.
When the buy-out effort was able to obtain only a few percent of the land, Zionists created a number of terrorist groups to fight against both the Palestinians and the British. Terrorist and future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin later bragged that Zionists had brought terrorism both to the Middle East and to the world at large.
Finally, in 1947 the British announced that they would be ending their control of Palestine, which had been created through the League of Nations following World War I, and turned the question of Palestine over to the United Nations.
Since a founding principle of the U.N. was “self-determination of peoples,” one would have expected to the U.N. to support fair, democratic elections in which inhabitants could create their own independent country.
Instead, Zionists pushed for a General Assembly resolution in which they would be given a disproportionate 55 percent of Palestine. (While they rarely announced this publicly, their stated plan was to later take the rest of Palestine.)
U.S. Officials Oppose Partition Plan
The U.S. State Department opposed this partition plan strenuously, considering Zionism contrary to both fundamental American principles and U.S. interests.
Author Donald Neff reports that Loy Henderson, Director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, wrote a memo to the secretary of state warning:
[S]upport by the Government of the United States of a policy favoring the setting up of a Jewish State in Palestine would be contrary to the wishes of a large majority of the local inhabitants with respect to their form of government. Furthermore, it would have a strongly adverse effect upon American interests throughout the Near and Middle East ….” [Citations.]
Henderson went on to emphasize:
At the present time the United States has a moral prestige in the Near and Middle East unequaled by that of any other great power. We would lose that prestige and would be likely for many years to be considered as a betrayer of the high principles which we ourselves have enunciated during the period of the war.
When Zionists began pushing for a partition plan through the U.N., Henderson recommended strongly against supporting their proposal. He warned that such a partition would have to be implemented by force and emphasized that it was “not based on any principle.” He went on to write:
[Partition] would guarantee that the Palestine problem would be permanent and still more complicated in the future ….
Henderson went on to emphasize:
[proposals for partition] are in definite contravention to various principles laid down in the [U.N.] Charter as well as to principles on which American concepts of Government are based. These proposals, for instance, ignore such principles as self-determination and majority rule. They recognize the principle of a theocratic racial state and even go so far in several instances as to discriminate on grounds of religion and race ….
Henderson was far from alone in making his recommendations. He wrote that his views were not only those of the entire Near East Division but were shared by “nearly every member of the Foreign Service or of the Department who has worked to any appreciable extent on Near Eastern problems.”
Henderson wasn’t exaggerating. Official after official and agency after agency opposed Zionism.
In 1947 the CIA reported that Zionist leadership was pursuing objectives that would endanger both Jews and “the strategic interests of the Western powers in the Near and Middle East.”
Truman Accedes to Pro-Israel Lobby
President Harry Truman, however, ignored this advice. Truman’s political adviser, Clark Clifford, believed that the Jewish vote and contributions were essential to winning the upcoming presidential election and that supporting the partition plan would garner that support. (Truman’s opponent, Dewey, took similar stands for similar reasons.)
Secretary of State George Marshall, the renowned World War II general and author of the Marshall Plan, was furious to see electoral considerations taking precedence over policies based on national interest. He condemned what he called a “transparent dodge to win a few votes,” which would cause “[t]he great dignity of the office of president [to be] seriously diminished.”
Marshall wrote that the counsel offered by Clifford “was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem which confronted us was international. I said bluntly that if the president were to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice and if in the elections I were to vote, I would vote against the president ….”
Henry F. Grady, who has been called “America’s top diplomatic soldier for a critical period of the Cold War,” headed a 1946 commission aimed at coming up with a solution for Palestine. Grady later wrote about the Zionist lobby and its damaging effect on U.S. national interests.
Grady argued that without Zionist pressure, the U.S. would not have had “the ill-will with the Arab states, which are of such strategic importance in our ‘cold war’ with the Soviets.” He also described the decisive power of the lobby:
I have had a good deal of experience with lobbies but this group started where those of my experience had ended …. I have headed a number of government missions but in no other have I ever experienced so much disloyalty …. [I]n the United States, since there is no political force to counterbalance Zionism, its campaigns are apt to be decisive.
Former Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson also opposed Zionism. Acheson’s biographer writes that Acheson “worried that the West would pay a high price for Israel.” Another Author, John Mulhall, records Acheson’s warning:
[T]o transform [Palestine] into a Jewish State capable of receiving a million or more immigrants would vastly exacerbate the political problem and imperil not only American but all Western interests in the Near East.
Secretary of Defense James Forrestal also tried, unsuccessfully, to oppose the Zionists. He was outraged that Truman’s Mideast policy was based on what he called “squalid political purposes,” asserting that “United States policy should be based on United States national interests and not on domestic political considerations.”
Forrestal represented the general Pentagon view when he said that “no group in this country should be permitted to influence our policy to the point where it could endanger our national security.”
A report by the National Security Council warned that the Palestine turmoil was acutely endangering the security of the United States. A CIA report stressed the strategic importance of the Middle East and its oil resources.
Similarly, George F. Kennan, the State Department’s director of policy planning, issued a top-secret document on Jan. 19, 1947, that outlined the enormous damage done to the U.S. by the partition plan (“Report by the Policy Planning Staff on Position of the United States with Respect to Palestine”).
Kennan cautioned that “important U.S. oil concessions and air base rights” could be lost through U.S. support for partition and warned that the USSR stood to gain by the partition plan.
Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s nephew and a legendary intelligence agent, was another who was deeply disturbed by events. He noted:
The process by which Zionist Jews have been able to promote American support for the partition of Palestine demonstrates the vital need of a foreign policy based on national rather than partisan interests …. Only when the national interests of the United States, in their highest terms, take precedence over all other considerations, can a logical, farseeing foreign policy be evolved. No American political leader has the right to compromise American interests to gain partisan votes ….
He went on:
The present course of world crisis will increasingly force upon Americans the realization that their national interests and those of the proposed Jewish state in Palestine are going to conflict. It is to be hoped that American Zionists and non-Zionists alike will come to grips with the realities of the problem.
The head of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs, Gordon P. Merriam, warned against the partition plan on moral grounds:
U.S. support for partition of Palestine as a solution to that problem can be justified only on the basis of Arab and Jewish consent. Otherwise we should violate the principle of self-determination which has been written into the Atlantic Charter, the declaration of the United Nations, and the United Nations Charter — a principle that is deeply embedded in our foreign policy. Even a United Nations determination in favor of partition would be, in the absence of such consent, a stultification and violation of U.N.’s own charter.
Merriam added that without consent, “bloodshed and chaos” would follow, a tragically accurate prediction.
An internal State Department memorandum accurately predicted how Israel would be born through armed aggression masked as defense:
[T]he Jews will be the actual aggressors against the Arabs. However, the Jews will claim that they are merely defending the boundaries of a state which were traced by the U.N. …. In the event of such Arab outside aid the Jews will come running to the Security Council with the claim that their state is the object of armed aggression and will use every means to obscure the fact that it is their own armed aggression against the Arabs inside which is the cause of Arab counter-attack.
And American Vice Consul William J. Porter foresaw another outcome of the partition plan: that no Arab State would actually ever come to be in Palestine.
Pro-Israel Pressure on General Assembly Members
When it was clear that the partition recommendation did not have the required two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly to pass, Zionists pushed through a delay in the vote. They then used this period to pressure numerous nations into voting for the recommendation. A number of people later described this campaign.
Robert Nathan, a Zionist who had worked for the U.S. government and who was particularly active in the Jewish Agency, wrote afterward, “We used any tools at hand,” such as telling certain delegations that the Zionists would use their influence to block economic aid to any countries that did not vote the right way.
Another Zionist proudly stated, “Every clue was meticulously checked and pursued. Not the smallest or the remotest of nations, but was contacted and wooed. Nothing was left to chance.”
Financier and longtime presidential adviser Bernard Baruch told France it would lose U.S. aid if it voted against partition. Top White House executive assistant David Niles organized pressure on Liberia through rubber magnate Harvey Firestone, who told the Liberian president that if Liberia did not vote in favor of partition, Firestone would revoke his planned expansion in the country. Liberia voted yes.
Latin American delegates were told that the pan-American highway construction project would be more likely if they voted yes. Delegates’ wives received mink coats (the wife of the Cuban delegate returned hers); Costa Rica’s President Jose Figueres reportedly received a blank checkbook. Haiti was promised economic aid if it would change its original vote opposing partition.
Longtime Zionist Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, along with 10 senators and Truman domestic adviser Clark Clifford, threatened the Philippines (seven bills were pending on the Philippines in Congress).
Before the vote on the plan, the Philippine delegate had given a passionate speech against partition, defending the inviolable “primordial rights of a people to determine their political future and to preserve the territorial integrity of their native land.”
He went on to say that he could not believe that the General Assembly would sanction a move that would place the world “back on the road to the dangerous principles of racial exclusiveness and to the archaic documents of theocratic governments.”
Twenty-four hours later, after intense Zionist pressure, the delegate voted in favor of partition.
The U.S. delegation to the U.N. was so outraged when Truman insisted that they support partition that the State Department director of U.N. affairs was sent to New York to prevent the delegates from resigning en masse.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the partition resolution, 181, passed. While this resolution is frequently cited, it was of limited (if any) legal impact. General Assembly resolutions, unlike Security Council resolutions, are not binding on member states. For this reason, the resolution requested that “[t]he Security Council take the necessary measures as provided for in the plan for its implementation,” which the Security Council never did. Legally, the General Assembly Resolution was a “recommendation” and did not create any states.
What it did do, however, was increase the fighting in Palestine. Within months (and before Israel dates the beginning of its founding war) the Zionists had forced out 413,794 people. Zionist military units had stealthily been preparing for war before the U.N. vote and had acquired massive weaponry, some of it through a widespread network of illicit gunrunning operations in the U.S. under a number of front groups.
The U.N. eventually managed to create a temporary and very partial cease-fire. A Swedish U.N. mediator who had previously rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis was dispatched to negotiate an end to the violence. Israeli assassins killed him, and Israel continued what it was to call its “war of independence.”
At the end of this war, through a larger military force than that of its adversaries and the ruthless implementation of plans to push out as many non-Jews as possible, Israel came into existence on 78 percent of Palestine.
At least 33 massacres of Palestinian civilians were perpetrated, half of them before a single Arab army had entered the conflict, hundreds of villages were depopulated and razed, and a team of cartographers was sent out to give every town, village, river, and hillock a new Hebrew name. All vestiges of Palestinian habitation, history, and culture were to be erased from history, an effort that almost succeeded.
Israel, which claims to be the “only democracy in the Middle East,” decided not to declare official borders or to write a constitution, a situation which continues to this day. In 1967 it took still more Palestinian and Syrian land, which is now illegally occupied territory, since the annexation of land through military conquest is outlawed by modern international law. It has continued this campaign of growth through armed acquisition and illegal confiscation of land ever since.
Individual Israelis, like Palestinians and all people, are legally and morally entitled to an array of human rights.
On the other hand, the state of Israel’s vaunted “right to exist” is based on an alleged “right” derived from might, an outmoded concept that international legal conventions do not recognize and in fact specifically prohibit.
[Detailed citations for the above information are available at “The History of Israel-U.S. Relations, Part One.”]
Musings of a self-hating Jew
By Saul Landau
Sixty-three years ago most Jews rejoiced over the birth of Israel. Some thought it would become the place where a new vision of socialism with justice and equality would arise. Clearly, not all Jews believed that – or in those values.
Six plus decades later, the idea that Palestinians also deserve their own nation with UN recognized boundaries has caused a panic reaction from the Israeli government and its supporters throughout the world – including the President of the United States as he opposed the idea at the UN last month.
Why the panic? Look at comparative maps of Palestinian territory as outlined by the UN in 1948, with what’s left of that land today. The maps show Israel has stolen most of it – to build settlements for Jews only.
Jews, like my friends and I throughout the western world, do not want to migrate to the Promised Land (Zion now equals much of Palestinian territory). We don’t want to live amidst Israeli settlers, many of them self-righteous and very superior (chosen by God?) and oblivious to or even proud of what they’ve done to Palestinians.
Decades of Israeli sponsored ethnic cleansing – forcing Palestinians from their homes, villages and land – opened the way to the vast Jewish-only housing developments on Palestinian land. Those who denounce those illegal land grabs get denounced as “anti-Semites.”
Israel, once a land of egalitarian Kibbutzes, has turned into an aggressive and right wing nation run by religious Orthodoxy and desires for ever more territory. Look at the map.
Friends abroad wonder how a right wing Israeli government and its U.S. fan club (the Israeli lobby, American Israel Political Action Committee and its offshoots) has converted the U.S. Congress into blind supporters and the President into an obedient servant.
President Obama disgraced himself and his office when he bowed to the patrons of Israel by threatening a veto of Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council. His world status shrank. The Arab world especially witnessed the once all-powerful United States following Israeli demands – a far cry from impartial leadership in a no-fabled peace process.
How can Obama expect anyone to believe he will promote a peace plan? Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to use those words as he expands settlements into Palestinian territory. Obama’s plan seems akin to continuing his obedience to the demands of a widely condemned (by the UN) nation.
Indeed, in September Washington sent bunker-busting bombs to Israel. Washington continues to insist on curbing Iran’s non-existent nuclear threat while ignoring Israel’s real potential to do immeasurable damage to the region and the world.
After decades of Palestinian struggle, Obama has implied those people are not yet ready for, or do not merit, their own state. Is he implying they are inferior to Jews? Does it mean Washington recognizes the stolen (occupied) territory as officially Israeli property? Does he justify the second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the colonial condition of those in the occupied territories? The implication is clearly yes.
Thanks to his servility to Israel, combined with events in the Arab world, Obama has presided over the end of U.S. dominance of that region. The kiss-ass Arabs (Mubarak and Ali of Tunisia) have gone into the garbage pile of history. The King of Jordan and the oily Saudis and Kuwaitis can no longer obey Washington’s dictates and hope to retain the tiniest modicum of respect from their people.
Phrases etched into journalese like “peace process,” “Camp David” and “Oslo Accords” will become forgotten or turned into sick jokes.
What Israel and apparently Washington fear is a state that looks like Swiss cheese, pieces of land cut off by large Israeli settlements, patrolled by Israeli soldiers and without independent access to its own water, military establishment or even airports.
Does Israel have a right to exist? It exists. It has 200 nuclear weapons. The question is: can the majority of people and nations force Israel (and the U.S.) to allow for the existence of Palestine.
To such a question the Israeli government and its fan club scream “anti Semitism” a response to all criticism of Israel. This has earned me, and thousands of others, the title of “self hating Jew.” On the list you’ll fnd Noam Chomsky and Woody Allen. (http://www.masada2000.org/list-L.html)
One trait that helped Jews survive so many centuries of persecution was their ability to laugh at themselves. Israeli expansionists of course can still make sick jokes about occupying Palestinian territories.
Saul Landau’s new film WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP
Saul Landau is an internationally known scholar, author, commentator, and filmmaker on foreign and domestic policy issues. He has been a fellow at IPS since 1972 and at the Transnational Institute since 1974. He has written 13 books, thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and reviews, and made more than 40 films and TV programs on social, political, economic and historical issues.
|The More Enemies, The More Honor|
|08/10/11AN OLD photo from World War I shows a company of German soldiers getting on the train on their way to the front. On the wall of the car somebody had scribbled: “viel Feind, viel Ehr’” (“The more enemies, the more Honor”.)|
In those days, at the very start of what was to be the First World War, country after country was declaring war on Germany. The spirit of the graffito reflected the hubris of the supreme commander, Kaiser Wilhelm, who relied on the war plan of the legendary German General Staff. It was indeed an excellent war plan, and as excellent war plans are apt to do, it started going awry right from the beginning.
The foolish Kaiser now has the heirs he deserves. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, a former army Chief of Staff whose intelligence is below the average even of that rank, has announced that Israel could not possibly apologize to Turkey, even though its national interests may demand it, because it would hurt our “prestige”.
Many enemies, much prestige.
It seems that we shall soon run out of friends whom we can turn into enemies to gather even more prestige.
LAST WEEK a black cat came between Israel and its second best friend: Germany.
High-ranking German officials confided to their Israeli colleagues that their Kanzlerin, Angela Merkel, was “furious” when she heard that the Israeli government had approved the building of 1100 housing units in Gilo, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. Just a few days earlier, the Quartet had invited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to restart negotiations and abstain from “provocations”. If this is not a provocation, what is?
Merkel, generally a woman of placid equanimity, did not keep her rage to herself. She called Binyamin Netanyahu and gave him a severe dressing-down, something that had never happened before.
Until now, Germany has kept to a strict code of behavior towards Israel: after the unspeakable crimes committed by the Nazis against the Jews, there could be no criticism of any Israeli act, Germany would pay for a crucial component of Israel’s armaments, Germany would suspend all moral criteria as far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned.
Not any more, it seems. We may be losing our only second-best friend.
THE CLASSIC example of “How to lose Friends and Alienate People” is, of course, our affair with Turkey.
David Ben-Gurion, the arch-architect of Israel, believed that peace with the Arabs was neither possible nor desirable. He devised an alternative: a ring to encircle the Arab world – an alliance of non-Arab allies. These included Iran (under the Shah), Ethiopia (under Haile Selassie), several other African states and, of course, Turkey (under the legacy of Kemal Ataturk).
Our relations with Turkey developed over the years into a very close marriage, especially cozy between the armed forces. Joint exercises, sales of lots of arms, intelligence sharing. While Israel was helping the Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein, it helped Ankara to oppress the Turkish Kurds. Jerusalem seriously considered laying a pipeline under the sea from Turkey to bring in water, which Turkey has in abundance and Israel sorely needs.
Suddenly everything changed. Turkish-Israeli relations foundered like a ship hit squarely by a torpedo.
It started when the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, abruptly got up and left a public dialogue with Shimon Peres in Davos. Israelis could understand that: not everybody can stand Peres.
But Avigdor Lieberman’s Foreign Office decided to retaliate. His deputy, a genius by the name of Danny Ayalon, summoned the Turkish ambassador to his office for a rebuke and had him sit on a low sofa while towering above him on a high chair. The ambassador did not notice, but little Danny proudly explained his ploy to the assembled Israeli journalists. The Ambassador took his leave and went home.
Turkey reacted unofficially by sending the Mave Marmara to break the Gaza blockade. Nine Turks were killed. Turkey was in uproar. Erdogan demanded an apology. That’s where the prestige came in.
One can argue, of course, that the whole business was a premeditated tactic of Erdogan’s to change course and dump Israel for other allies. If so, it was even more stupid of our government to play into his hand.
WHEN THE Arab Spring broke out, Turkey jumped on the bandwagon and proposed a Turkish-Egyptian axis, reminiscent of the good old days of the Ottoman empire. Israel, on the other hand, stuck to its customary line.
Instead of realizing what was happening, our government clung to the shattered dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. If it had come out immediately and wholeheartedly in favor of the revolution, it could, perhaps, have gained a foothold in Egyptian public opinion, which had come to detest Mubarak as a well paid American lackey who helped Israel in starving a million and a half Arab brothers in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli intelligence did not realize that we were facing a historic earthquake that would change the region. Actually, it never foresees or understands events in the Arab world, being blinded by its contempt for Arabs.
The result was that Egyptian crowds attacked the Israeli embassy, forcing the ambassador and his staff to flee the country, and that saboteurs repeatedly blew up the pipeline that transports Egyptian gas to Israel at very low prices (probably negotiated after due bribes were paid to the right people.)
People here are now saying that the Egyptian public has always been against the peace with Israel, through no fault of ours. That is quite untrue. I was in Cairo a few days after Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and found the Egyptian capital delirious with joy. Countless Israelis have visited Egypt since then and have been received always and everywhere with utmost friendliness. It was only when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories became more and more oppressive that Egyptians started to feel betrayed.
Lieberman and Co. have lost Turkey and are losing Egypt, our two stalwart allies in the region, and have insulted, humiliated and trodden on the toes of a dozen other nations. But they have undoubtedly gained much prestige.
PEOPLE WHO look for logic in politics often arrive at conspiracy theories.
When the present government coalition was set up, Lieberman asked for the ministries of immigrants’ absorption, justice, interior security (police) and foreign affairs.
Immigrants – that was natural. His voters are mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Justice and police – also natural. The police are conducting an endless investigation against him concerning mysterious funds that he and his very young daughter have received from Eastern European sources.
But the foreign office? What for? Why not the far more prestigious Ministry of Defense or the immensely powerful finance ministry?
One of my acquaintances has come up with a theory: what if the Russians…
Lieberman spends a lot of his time in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and his native Moldova. Who else but Russia has an interest in destroying the international standing of Israel, one of the closest allies of the United States? Wouldn’t it have been rational for Vladimir Putin to…
But that is, of course, a joke. Not only is Lieberman known as an upright Israeli patriot, so patriotic that no one can stand next to him, but no handler in Moscow would accept as his agent a man with shifty eyes, who speaks with a thick Russian accent.
No, there must be another reason. But which?
A FOREIGN journalist asked me the other day: “but what do they think?”
“They” – Netanyahu, Lieberman et al – are losing all our remaining friends, humiliating Barack Obama on the way. They sabotage the resumption of peace negotiations. They sprinkle settlements everywhere.
If the Two-State solution is finally made impossible, what remains? A unified state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan? What kind of state would that be? They are dead set against a bi-national state, which would be the total negation of Zionism. An apartheid state? How long could that last?
The only “rational” alternative would be total ethnic cleansing, the driving out of 5.5 million Palestinians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel proper. Is that possible? Would the world tolerate it, unless it is distracted by an invasion from Mars?
The answer is: “they” just don’t think very much at all. Israelis have been conditioned by their experience to think in the very short term. As the Americans say: “A statesman thinks about the next generation, a politician thinks about the next election.” Or as the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann used to say: “The future will come and care for the future”.
There is no national debate, only a vague desire to keep everything. Rightist Zionists want to hold on to all of historical Palestine, leftist Zionists want to hold on to as much of it as possible. That’s as far as the thinking goes.
The ancient Hebrew sages said: “Who is the bravest hero? He who turns his enemy into a friend.” The modern sages who govern us have turned this around: “Who has the most prestige? He who turns his friend into an enemy.”