Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza: the logic of colonial power

As so often, the term 'terrorism' has proved a rhetorical smokescreen under cover of which the strong crush the weak

Nir Rosen guardian.co.uk
Monday 29 December 2008 08.00 GMT

I have spent most of the Bush administration's tenure reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and other conflicts. I have been published by most major publications. I have been interviewed by most major networks and I have even testified before the senate foreign relations committee. The Bush administration began its tenure with Palestinians being massacred and it ends with Israel committing one of its largest massacres yet in a 60-year history of occupying Palestinian land. Bush's final visit to the country he chose to occupy ended with an educated secular Shiite Iraqi throwing his shoes at him, expressing the feelings of the entire Arab world save its dictators who have imprudently attached themselves to a hated American regime.

Once again, the Israelis bomb the starving and imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the plight of 1.5 million Gazans live on TV and online; the western media largely justify the Israeli action. Even some Arab outlets try to equate the Palestinian resistance with the might of the Israeli military machine. And none of this is a surprise. The Israelis just concluded a round-the-world public relations campaign to gather support for their assault, even gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt.

The international community is directly guilty for this latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath of a desperate people? So far, there have been large demonstrations in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The people of the Arab world will not forget. The Palestinians will not forget. "All that you have done to our people is registered in our notebooks," as the poet Mahmoud Darwish said.

I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-makers and those stuck with implementing those policies for my advice on what I think America should do to promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. It too often feels futile, because such a revolution in American policy would be required that only a true revolution in the American government could bring about the needed changes. An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful ˆ whether Israel, America, Russia or China ˆ will always describe their victims' struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan ˆ with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed ∑ these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations. Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in this excessive use of legality actually undermines legality, diminishing the credibility of international institutions such as the United Nations. It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and basic method of resistance when confronting overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of Palestine is being stolen day after day; the Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day. As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim land and dispossess the native population, be they Indians in North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. When the native population sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is taking away their land and identity with the support of an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort to whatever methods of resistance they can.

Not long ago, 19-year-old Qassem al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian man from Jerusalem drove his car into a group of soldiers at an intersection. "The terrorist", as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called him, was shot and killed. In two separate incidents last July, Palestinians from Jerusalem also used vehicles to attack Israelis. The attackers were not part of an organisation. Although those Palestinian men were also killed, senior Israeli officials called for their homes to be demolished. In a separate incident, Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid n his face. "The terrorist was arrested by security forces," the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?

In September, Bush spoke at the United Nations. No cause could justify the deliberate taking of human life, he said. Yet the US has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes on populated areas. When you drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be some "collateral" civilian damage, but accepting it as worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose sanctions, as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you are deliberately killing people for a political goal. When you seek to "shock and awe", as president Bush did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in terrorism.

Just as the traditional American cowboy film presented white Americans under siege, with Indians as the aggressors, which was the opposite of reality, so, too, have Palestinians become the aggressors and not the victims. Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and their land was settled by colonists, who went on to deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they have the right to use any means necessary, it is because they are weak. The weak have much less power than the strong, and can do much less damage. The Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It is only in the current context that their actions are justified, and there are obvious limits.

It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power. And there are other questions I have trouble answering. Can an Iraqi be justified in attacking the United States? After all, his country was attacked without provocation, and destroyed, with millions of refugees created, hundreds of thousands of dead. And this, after 12 years of bombings and sanctions, which killed many and destroyed the lives of many others.

I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from their country's exploits without having to pay the price, and that, in today's world, the imperial machine is not merely the military but a military-civilian network. And I could also say that Americans elected the Bush administration twice and elected representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and the American people themselves did nothing. From the perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is legitimate. It's merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.

Israel and its allies in the west and in Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have managed to corrupt the PLO leadership, to suborn them with the promise of power at the expense of liberty for their people, creating a first ˆ a liberation movement that collaborated with the occupier. Israeli elections are coming up and, as usual, these elections are accompanied by war to bolster the candidates. You cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab blood on your hands. An Israeli general has threatened to set Gaza back decades, just as they threatened to set Lebanon back decades in 2006. As if strangling Gaza and denying its people fuel, power or food had not set it back decades already.

The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas's military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces? What do the Israelis expect to happen when forces more radical than Hamas gain power?

A Zionist Israel is not a viable long-term project and Israeli settlements, land expropriation and separation barriers have long since made a two state solution impossible. There can be only one state in historic Palestine. In coming decades, Israelis will be confronted with two options. Will they peacefully transition towards an equal society, where Palestinians are given the same rights, à la post-apartheid South Africa? Or will they continue to view democracy as a threat? If so, one of the peoples will be forced to leave. Colonialism has only worked when most of the natives have been exterminated. But often, as in occupied Algeria, it is the settlers who flee. Eventually, the Palestinians will not be willing to compromise and seek one state for both people. Does the world want to further radicalise them?

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine problem is the main motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as additional grievances. America has lost its influence on the Arab masses, even if it can still apply pressure on Arab regimes. But reformists and elites in the Arab world want nothing to do with America.

A failed American administration departs, the promise of a Palestinian state a lie, as more Palestinians are murdered. A new president comes to power, but the people of the Middle East have too much bitter experience of US administrations to have any hope for change. President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden and incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton have not demonstrated that their view of the Middle East is at all different from previous administrations. As the world prepares to celebrate a new year, how long before it is once again made to feel the pain of those whose oppression it either ignores or supports?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Israeli blockade 'forces Palestinians to search rubbish dumps for food'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/21/israel-gaza-strip-middle-east

UN fears irreversible damage is being done in Gaza as new statistics reveal the level of deprivation

* Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
* The Observer, Sunday 21 December 2008
* Article history

Impoverished Palestinians on the Gaza Strip are being forced to scavenge for food on rubbish dumps to survive as Israel's economic blockade risks causing irreversible damage, according to international observers.

Figures released last week by the UN Relief and Works Agency reveal that the economic blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza in July last year has had a devastating impact on the local population. Large numbers of Palestinians are unable to afford the high prices of food being smuggled through the Hamas-controlled tunnels to the Strip from Egypt and last week were confronted with the suspension of UN food and cash distribution as a result of the siege.

The figures collected by the UN agency show that 51.8% - an "unprecedentedly high" number of Gaza's 1.5 million population - are now living below the poverty line. The agency announced last week that it had been forced to stop distributing food rations to the 750,000 people in need and had also suspended cash distributions to 94,000 of the most disadvantaged who were unable to afford the high prices being asked for smuggled food.

"Things have been getting worse and worse," said Chris Gunness of the agency yesterday. "It is the first time we have been seeing people picking through the rubbish like this looking for things to eat. Things are particularly bad in Gaza City where the population is most dense.

"Because Gaza is now operating as a 'tunnel economy' and there is so little coming through via Israeli crossings, it is hitting the most disadvantaged worst."

Gunness also expressed concern about the state of Gaza's infrastructure, including its water and sewerage systems, which have not been maintained properly since Israel began blocking shipments of concrete into Gaza, warning of the risk of the spread of communicable diseases both inside and outside of Gaza.

"This is not a humanitarian crisis," he said. "This is a political crisis of choice with dire humanitarian consequences."

The revelations over the escalating difficulties inside Gaza were delivered a day after the end of the six-month ceasefire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, which had been brokered by Egypt in June, and follow warnings from the World Bank at the beginning of December that Gaza faced "irreversible" economic collapse.

The deteriorating conditions inside Gaza emerged as Tony Blair, Middle East envoy for the Quartet - US, Russia, the UN and the EU - warned explicitly yesterday that Israel's policy of economic blockade, which had been imposed a year and a half ago when Hamas took power on the Gaza Strip, was reinforcing rather than undermining the party's hold on power. In an interview in the Israeli newspaper Haartez, Blair warned that the collapse of Gaza's legitimate economy under the impact of the blockade, while harming Gaza's businessmen and ordinary people, had allowed the emergence of an alternative system based on smuggling through the Hamas-controlled tunnels. Hamas "taxed" the goods smuggled through the tunnels.

It was because of this that Blair wrote to Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, earlier this month demanding that Israel permit the transfer of cash into Gaza from the West Bank to prop up the legitimate economy.

"The present situation is not harming Hamas in Gaza but it is harming the people," Blair said yesterday. Calling for a change in policy over Gaza, he added: "I don't think that the current situation is sustainable; I think most people who would analyse it think the same."

Blair's comments came as an Israeli air strike against a rocket squad killed a Palestinian militant yesterday, the first Gaza death since Hamas formally declared an end to a six-month truce with Israel.

Also yesterday, a boat carrying a Qatari delegation, Lebanese activists and journalists from Israel and Lebanon sailed into Gaza City's small port in defiance of a border blockade. It was the fifth such boat trip since the summer. The two Qatari citizens aboard the Dignity are from the government-funded Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities.

"We are here to represent the Qatar government and people," said delegation member Aed al-Kahtani. "We will look into the needs of our brothers in Gaza, and find out what is the most appropriate way to bring in aid."

The arrival of the delegation reflects the growing anger in the Arab world over the Gaza siege, directed at Israel but also at Egypt, which has allowed the border crossings at the southern end of the Strip to remain sealed.

On Friday, thousands of people joined a rally in Beirut organised by Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement against Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Addressing the Beirut crowd, Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem called on Arab and Islamic governments to act to help lift the Gaza blockade, and urged Egypt to take an "historic stance" by opening its border crossing with Gaza.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shoes Thrown in Iraq

by Najlaa A. Al-Nashi, with Noah Baker Merrill

It was only a few seconds -- the shoes were flying toward President Bush, and with them a huge insult in Iraqi tradition.

You may have heard the news that an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the American president, but as an Iraqi I'd like to share with you a few details about the journalist, and why he did that.

Muntather Al-Zaidi, the journalist mentioned in the reports, is 28 years old. He is from the Southern city of Nasiriyah, and lives in Baghdad. He works for the Egyptian-owned Al-Baghdadiya channel, but he is Iraqi.

Muntather is well-known among those who know him as being against the occupation. Several months ago, he promised his brother that, if he was ever selected to interview President Bush, he would throw his shoes at him as a sign of his outrage and opposition to Bush's role in the suffering of his people and the destruction of his country. At the time, his brother thought it was nothing more than words spoken in an angry moment.

Muntather's last reporting assignment, which ran last month, was an investigation of the conditions for Iraqi widows and orphans. As a result of three wars, the rule of a dictator, devastating sanctions, and a disastrous occupation, it is estimated that 5 million children are without at least one of their parents and there are 1.5 million widows. As he prepared this report, he was deeply impacted by what he saw, and he can be seen crying in the film that was broadcast in Iraq.

Now let's have a look at what's going on in Iraq, and how these events are viewed among Iraqis:
At Baghdad University and Al Mustansiriya University, students have refused to study or attend classes. Instead, they are protesting and asking for the release of Muntather by Iraqi security forces.

From all over the world, Iraqis are sending messages thanking Muntather and his family for their son's message. In TV interviews and with phone calls, Iraqis are expressing their support of his actions.

Many Iraqis inside and outside their country are saying that "for each action there is a reaction". Bush hurt everyone, they say, and so why is he surprised when he is met with an angry and insulting response on behalf of the people of Iraq?

In Iraq, the traditional community is deeply rooted in tribal relationships. Whether Sunni or Shi'ite (and some tribes contain members of both sects), in Iraqi tradition if a member of a tribe takes an action or is in trouble, members of his tribe will represent him and will be responsible for supporting him. But in Muntather's case, tribal leaders from throughout Iraq, from the North to South and from East to West, have claimed him as their son. They have said that they want him released safe and sound, offering to pay whatever fine the government will set for him.

Muntather's actions have, for these days, united Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. It united Iraqis as Iraqis. And it only took a few seconds. Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders have publicly asked that Muntather not be referred to using his tribal affiliation (Muntather Al-Zaidi), because they believe his tribal affiliation now encompasses all the tribes of Iraq: They've asked for him to be referred to as "Muntather Al-Iraqi" (Muntather the Iraqi). At the same time, the tribal leaders have said that they hope it is now clear that they have only one enemy -- the occupation of Iraq.

The Iraqi response shows clearly that Muntather's actions have triggered a deep release in Iraqi society. It gives an indication to the outside world how much so many Iraqis oppose the occupation and the ongoing presence of foreign troops in their country, but have been without a voice that cut through the walls of silence and the filtered mainstream media.

It is important to be clear that this action by a single man does not arise from his role as a journalist, or from some specific incident or time in his life. It comes from an Iraqi man who, like all of his people, has suffered greatly from occupation, from the actions of mercenaries like those employed by Blackwater Worldwide, from the torture of Iraqis by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, and from the sectarian violence that the occupation has cultivated, fueled, and allowed to thrive. Muntather himself was kidnapped a few months ago, though thankfully he was released alive.

Now let's stop to analyze the situation. Why do so many Iraqis consider Muntather "their son", and why are they calling him a hero? Why are people printing his photo and distributing it in many parts of Iraq as a symbol to promote Iraqi courage and freedom?

His actions expressed the same anger and pain they feel. But his actions gave it a voice, and in that one small action he lit a spark in them that reminds them of their history and their dignity. His symbolic act of protest told the whole story, cutting through the carefully constructed image that has been built by Bush and his supporters since they defied the UN and the world to invade and occupy Iraq.

Getting back to responses:
More than 200 Iraqi and Arab lawyers have volunteered to defend him in Iraqi courts, if they are given that opportunity.

One Iraqi businessman signed a blank check and called on Munthather to make it out for any amount, as long as the businessman could receive the shoes that Muthather threw. Another man from Saudi Arabia offered 10 million dollars for the shoes.

Muntather's nephew is about 6 years old. He was shown on video carrying another pair of his uncle's shoes, and he told Al-Baghdadiya Channel that he was prepared to throw this second pair of shoes, too, if they wouldn't release his uncle.

In Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, there have been strong expressions of support, including protests and celebrations.

Many Iraqis are saying that the situation in Iraq now is like it was before the revolution in 1920, which threw out the British occupying forces. They're saying that Muntather might be a spark for a new revolution in his country. In recent days, there have been protests all over Iraq asking for Muntather's release. Crowds in Najaf threw shoes at occupying forces. The streets of Iraq are filled with anger as people learn that Muntather has been beaten and tortured while in the custody of US-supported Iraqi forces.

Yesterday in Jordan, a good Iraqi friend of mine got into a taxi cab. For Iraqi refugees in Jordan, riding in a cab often means insults, scorn, and disdain from Jordanians and Palestinians unhappy to have so many Iraqis seeking refuge in their country. But this time, it was different. The cab driver treated her with respect. Recognizing her Iraqi accent, he said he'd take her anywhere she wanted to go, and he would do it with pleasure, because she was one of the "shoe throwers".

His case is not just a personal case -- it is a national concern. Yesterday parliament had a meeting to help in releasing him. The news yesterday was that within two days he would likely be released, after having paid the fine for his actions under Iraqi law -- 200 Iraqi dinars, or, after the catastrophic collapse of the Iraqi economy in recent years, less than twenty US cents.

Today, though, the situation remains tense, and has worsened. The Iraqi government says he will likely have to serve 7-15 years in jail, with no possibility of paying a fine to be released. But in spite of this news, it does seem as if they will have to release him soon. If they don't, they risk losing the tenuous control they have in many parts of Iraq. Muntather's actions could serve as a spark bringing Iraqis to unite to oppose the occupation and the US-supported government. Anyone who knows Iraqi history knows very well what the anger of the tribes can do.

Before the British were thrown out of Iraq in 1920, there was a recently-signed agreement on the status of occupying forces in the country. Under the pressure of a sustained national uprising opposing foreign occupation, the troops left far sooner than the British occupiers had hoped. It may well be that the agreement that Bush and Nouri Al-Maliki signed just before the "moment of the shoes" will fail before 2011, following the same course. Many Iraqis today hope so.

Meanwhile, Muntather is still in jail, where he has suffered serious injuries, including what are likely a broken hand and arm, an injury to his eye, and possibly to his legs. Today there were protests in many of Iraq's governorates demanding his release.

I remember, in the early days of 2003, it was said that invading US troops would be "greeted with flowers". No one said anything about how Iraqis would say farewell to Bush and his occupation.

Please take a moment to sign this petition demanding Muntather's immediate release from Iraqi security forces:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/montather/?e

Thank you!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Leftist U.S. Jewish group backs Israelis who shun IDF enlistment

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1047644.html

By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent

Presumably this initiative will not be welcomed with open arms in Israel, but a group of American Jews has launched a campaign in support of conscientious objectors who refuse mandatory conscription into the Israel Defense Forces.

Supporters of the refuseniks plan on staging a protest near the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, where they hope to deliver 20,000 letters from Diaspora Jews backing the initiative to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Some of the letters were written from supporters of the left-wing group "Jewish Voice for Peace," who contributed video testimony from some of the conscientious objectors who explained the reason for their positions in English.

Although most American Jews are politically aligned with the liberal left, IDF service is generally viewed as an unassailable duty. Thus, officially there has never been a concentrated effort to lobby Israelis to evade conscription.

The Jewish Voice for Peace has recruited actor Ed Asner, historian and author Howard Zinn, and folk singer Ronnie Gilbert to the cause.

"The recent election of anti-war candidate Barack Obama , who by the way received some 80% of the Jewish vote, was evidence of the American people's disenchantment with war and occupation," said Cecilie Surasky, the communications director for Jewish Voice for Peace. "Seven years and untold lives and dollars later, there is almost total agreement in the US that our venture in Iraq has been an unqualified disaster."

"I am an old-time peace activist," Gilbert said. "I have marched and pleaded against the cruel occupation for years. The presence of the Shministim (the Hebrew term for Israeli youths who refuse IDF enlistment) makes me ashamed of sometimes feeling that Israel will never change. You are the change."

"I've been thinking a lot about courage," Zinn, the controversial scholar, wrote in his letter. "Right now, while I'm snug and fed this Thanksgiving holiday in the comfort of my home, halfway around the world a group of teenagers is sitting in a jail cell today, demonstrating the very definition of courage and sacrifice. It's frustrating. Humbling. And I'm damn glad to have the chance to do something big about it."


----

Hebrew: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1047949.html [the Hebrew contains more than the information furnished by the English report; the Hebrew appears to be a later version, and includes a picture of this evening's demonstration.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The emerging bi-national reality

Encountering Peace: The emerging bi-national reality
Dec. 15, 2008 Gershon Baskin

THE JERUSALEM POST

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellitecid=1228728209241&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

Palestinian affairs expert and longtime journalist Danny Rubenstein came to visit me a couple of evenings ago. He was researching the issue of the transfer of cash to Gaza that Defense Minister Barak had allowed. After clarifying this issue our conversation went on to discuss what Danny called the emerging "bi-national reality" that has developed in the West Bank and has become more entrenched, perhaps beyond the point of no return. Danny is one of the real experts. He's been covering Palestinian affairs since 1967, has written several highly respected books on Palestinians, their national movement and leaders. He has contacts in every part of Palestine, with all sectors of the society. His conclusion concerning the "bi- national reality" is drawn from observations over the past months after traveling north, south, east and west - all throughout the West Bank, spending hours listening to people and observing the reality on the ground.

I told Danny that I am not ready to give up the hope that our leaders will find the wisdom and the courage to implement the "two-state solution" before it is too late. In my heart, I had to wonder if Danny wasn't right. Perhaps it is already too late. Perhaps the events of Hebron, of the forced removal of the settlers from the building that they claim and the riots that broke out afterwards when they went on the rampage against Palestinians in Hebron demonstrates in the most bloody terms that these two communities might be too locked into a entanglement that is already beyond the possibility to untangle.

IT IS not only Hebron that might be impossible to disembroil. The settlement enterprise has implanted about 500,000 Israeli Jews (including greater Jerusalem) beyond the Green Line in the occupied territories. Along with those settlers in their segregated communities comes a whole system of infrastructure, roads, public transportation, water, sewage, post offices, police and more. Although the entire area is essentially controlled by Israel, there are two entirely separate systems of governance and the provision of services, but in reality, Israel controls it all. The Palestinian Authority is little more than a "puppet" government and President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are essentially little more than mayors. In principle it might be possible to separate the two systems; in reality it may actually be impossible. When one wanders around the West Bank the question of how Israel will ever withdraw itself from all of those settlements is a natural one to ask. Any acceptable future border between a State of Palestine and the State of Israel with the Palestinians accepting the principle of a minor land swap of about 3 percent of the West Bank will mean that Israel will have to remove about 100 settlements with at least 80,000 settlers. Part of the solution could be in the proposed legislation for voluntary resettlement and compensation. Some of the settlers might agree to move from their settlement to another settlement within the Israeli annexed areas that will remain in "Judea and Samaria." A large number of settlers will not cooperate at all.

The Gaza disengagement provides one model whereby the Israeli police and army physically removed the settlers from their homes. In principle, that could work, but will the settlers resort only to non-violent resistance? What would happen if the settlers took up arms against those coming to remove them? What would happen if there was more wide-spread refusal on the part of soldiers to remove them? Even before the stage when the government has to remove the settlers, what if there is simply no Israeli leader or a parliamentary majority willing to make the territorial compromise necessary for peace with the Palestinians? Tzipi Livni negotiated with the Palestinians for a whole year. She was unsuccessful at reaching an agreement, and she had the political will to do it. What will happen if it is Binyamin Netanyahu is on the Israeli side of the table "negotiating" with the Palestinians? Will he have the political will to reach a peace agreement based on real territorial concessions? Will he be able to enable the Palestinians to establish their capital in East Jerusalem? Without this there is no peace agreement.

The Palestinians negotiated with Livni because they honestly believed that it might be possible to reach an agreement with her. There is absolutely no belief on the Palestinian side that Netanyahu, with a right-wing religious parties-backed coalition will be able or willing to negotiate anything of substance with them. Netanyahu's "economy first" plan is a non-starter for the Palestinians. They have lost hope with false promises. They know from experience of years that there can be no real Palestinian economy that is under occupation. The needs of the occupier will always come before the needs of the Palestinian population and the Palestinian economy will always be subservient to perceived Israeli economic interests and to Israeli security prerogatives. Palestinians are not going to give up their national struggle so that they can have a few more dollars, euros or shekels in their pockets. You cannot buy people's personal or national dignity. The Zionist movement in pre-State days would have never given in to some British ploy to improve our economic lot in lieu of our national rights for independence and sovereignty. The Palestinians are no different from us in that respect. They will not give up their freedom for money. They will not end their struggle because Netanyahu tells them that they should build their economy before they get their national rights. If there is no real peace, there will be real violence.

THE PALESTINIAN desire for independence and sovereignty will not be broken, but it will evolve. There are two separate and clear evolutions of the Palestinian national movement taking place. One is Gaza. Islamic fundamentalism is a clear direction of evolution of the Palestinian national dream. The hope for a better reality is transformed into the hope of a better future, even if it means in the afterlife. The bottom line is not to give into Israel or to the West, to maintain hard-line firm positions cushioned by blind faith in an omnipotent Allah whose plan we cannot understand but we know that he is on own side.

The other evolution is the secular answer of the Palestinian intellectuals. They say: "The two-state solution is no longer viable - not by our choice, but by the choice of the 'Zionists' who chose settlement and occupation over logic." Palestinian intellectuals, including the very same people who led the Palestinian national movement to support the two state solution, have now turned back to the bi-national plan. They are not naïve enough to believe that Israel will accept the bi-national reality that it has created. They know that Israel will continue to hold onto the occupation and to keep the local Palestinian population under its guns and control. They know that the price of accepting the bi-national option is continued struggle which will more than likely be much bloodier than anything we have seen until now.

IT IS hard to imagine that there are Israelis who actually believe that this totally unequal reality is sustainable. But there are. There are perhaps millions of them in Israel today, and they are probably going to vote for the Likud. With Netanyahu at the helm and without a course to steer that leads towards sincere negotiations with the Palestinians on all of the core issues, including Jerusalem, the chances for reaching a two-state solution will rapidly fade away and in its face will come, without a doubt, the bi-national reality, either in its secular form or in its Hamas form.

The international community will respond quickly. It may take the US longer because the hope for the two-state solution will linger longer across the ocean, even with a president who should be super sensitive to blatant discrimination. The bi-national reality will be brutal because by accepting it the Palestinians will not be acquiescing to the status quo. There is nothing about the status quo that will be acceptable or that can be acceptable. If the secular evolution endures, the Palestinians will launch and international struggle for full democracy - one person one vote for everyone living between the river and the sea. Once the two-state solution is no longer viable, and with the election of Netanyahu we will rapidly approach that moment, the dream of a democratic Jewish state will be lost. The international community, even Israel's best friends, will not be able to accept the bi-national reality where the Jewish people completely control the lives of millions of Palestinians who no longer want independence in their own state. The Palestinians will demand democracy, civil rights, the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right for representation, the right to change the character of the bi-national state. They will never agree to some form of counterfeit freedom called "economic peace" or "autonomy." Netanyahu and Feiglin and their friends can dream on.

If the secular evolution does not endure, Hamas will rise and then the security of the entire region, even east of the Jordan River and to our south across Sinai into Egypt, will be threatened.

The end of Zionism is in sight brought to us by the very hands that created the bi-national reality on the ground in the name of Zionism. This does not have to be the course that we take. But that decision will be made by us on February 10, 2009.

The writer is Co-CEO of IPCRI - the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

McKinney (Green Party candidate) and Palestine

Statement by Cynthia McKinney:
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/11/24/18552721.php

Today, November 23rd, I was slated to give remarks in Damascus, Syria at a Conference being held to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, sadly, the 60th year that the Palestinian people have been denied their Right of Return enshrined in that Universal Declaration. But a funny thing happened to me while at the Atlanta airport on my way to the Conference: I was not allowed to exit the country.

I do believe that it was just a misunderstanding. But the insecurity experienced on a daily basis by innocent Palestinians is not. Innocent Palestinians are trapped in a violent, stateless twilight zone imposed on them by an international order that favors a country reported to have completed its nuclear triad as many as eight years ago, although Israel has remained ambiguous on the subject. President Jimmy Carter informed us that Israel had as many as 150 nuclear weapons, and Israel's allies are among the most militarily sophisticated on the planet. Military engagement, then, is untenable. Therefore the exigency of diplomacy and international law.

The Palestinians should at least be able to count on the protections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What is happening to Palestinians in Gaza right now, subjected to an Israeli-imposed blockade, has drawn the attention of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who noted that over half of the civilians in Gaza are children. Even The Los Angeles Times criticized Israel's lockdown of Gaza that is keeping food, fuel, and medicine from civilians. Even so, Israel stood fast by its decision to seal Gaza's openings. But where are the voices of concern coming from the corridors of power inside the United States? Is the subject of Palestinian human rights taboo inside the United States Government and its government-to-be? I hope not. Following is the speech I would have given today had I been able to attend the Damascus Conference.

Cynthia McKinney
Right of Return Congregation
Damascus, Syria
November 23, 2008

Thank you to our hosts for inviting me to participate in this most important and timely First Arab-International Congregation for the Right of Return. Words are an insufficient expression of my appreciation for being remembered as one willing to stand for justice in Washington, D.C., even in the face of tremendously difficult pressures.

Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir, thank you for including me in the Malaysian Peace Organisation's monumental effort to criminalize war, to show the horrors of the treatment of innocent individuals during the war against and occupation of Iraq by the militaries and their corporate contractors of Britain, Israel, and the United States. Thank you for standing up to huge international economic forces trying to dominate your country and showing an impressionable woman like me that it is possible to stand up to "the big boys" and win. And thank you for your efforts to bring war criminal, torturer, decimator of the United States Constitution, the George W. Bush Administration, to justice in international litigation.

Delegates and participants, I must declare that at a time when scientists agree that the climate of the earth is changing in unpredictable and possibly calamitous ways, such that the future of humankind hangs in the balance, it is unconscionable that we have to dedicate this time to and focus our energies on policies that represent a blatant and utter disregard for human rights and self-determination and that represent in many respects, a denial of human life, itself.

In the same year as Palestinians endured a series of massacres and expulsions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became international law. And while the United Nations is proud that the Declaration was flown into Outer Space just a few days ago on the Space Shuttle, if one were to read it and then land in the Middle East, I think it would be clear that Palestine is the place that the Universal Declaration forgot.

Sadly, both the spirit of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the noblest ideals of the United Nations are broken. This has occurred in large measure due to policies that emanate from Washington, D.C. If we want to change those policies, and I do believe that we can, then we have to change the underlying values of those who become Washington's policy makers. In other words, we must launch the necessary movement that puts people in office who share our values.

We need to do this now more than ever because, sadly, Palestine is not Washington's only victim. Enshrined in the Universal Declaration is the dignity of humankind and the responsibility of states to protect that dignity. Yet, the underlying contradictions between its words and what has become standard international practice lay exposed to the world this year when then-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour proclaimed:

"In the course of this year, unprecedented efforts must be made to ensure that every person in the world can rely on just laws for his or her protection. In advancing all human rights for all, we will move towards the greatest fulfillment of human potential, a promise which is at the heart of the Universal Declaration."

How insulting it was to hear those words coming from her, for those of us who know, because it was she who, as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, willfully participated in the cover-up of an act of terror that resulted in the assassination of two democratically-elected Presidents and that unleashed a torrent of murder and bloodletting in which one million souls were vanquished. That sad episode in human history has become known as the Rwanda Genocide. And shockingly, after the cover-up, Louise Arbour was rewarded with the highest position on the planet, in charge of Human Rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that justice delayed is justice denied. And 60 years is too long to wait for justice.
The Palestinian people deserve respected self-determination, protected human rights, justice, and above all, peace.

On the night before his murder, Dr. King announced that he was happy to be living at the end of the 20th Century where, all over the world, men and women were struggling to be free.

Today, we can touch and feel the results of those cries, on the African Continent where apartheid no longer exists as a fact of law. A concerted, uncompromising domestic and international effort led to its demise.

And in Latin America, the shackles of U.S. domination have been broken. In a series of unprecedented peaceful, people-powered revolutions, voters in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and most recently Paraguay used the power of the political process to materially change their countries' leadership and policy orientation toward the United States. Americans, accustomed to the Monroe Doctrine which proclaimed U.S. suzerainty over all politics in the Western Hemisphere, must now think the unthinkable given what has occurred in the last decade.

Voters in Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, Spain, and India also took matters clearly in their hands to make "a clean break" from policies that were an affront to the interests of the majority of the people in those countries.

In country after country, against tremendous odds, people stood up and took their fates in their hands. They did what Mario Savio, in the 1960s, asked people in the United States to do. These people-powered, peaceful revolutions saw individuals put their bodies against the levers and the gears and the wheels of the U.S. imperial machine and they said to the owners if you don't stop it, we will. And I know that people of conscience inside my country can do it, too: especially now that the engines of imperial oppression are running out of gas.

Even though the Democratic Party, at the Convention that nominated Barack Obama, denied its microphone to Former President Jimmy Carter because of his views on Palestine, let me make it clear that Former President Carter is not the only person inside the United States who believes that peace with justice is possible in Palestine.

Inside the United States, millions who are not of Arab descent, disagree vehemently with the policy of our government to provide the military and civilian hardware that snuffs out innocent human life that is also Arab.

Millions of Americans do not pray to Allah, but recognize that it is an inalienable right of those who do to live and pray in peace wherever they are--including inside the United States.

Even though their opportunities are severely limited, there are millions of people inside the United States struggling to express themselves on all of these issues, but whose efforts are stymied by a political process that robs them of any opportunity to be heard.

And then there are the former elected officials who spoke out for what was right, for universal application of the Universal Declaration, and who were roundly condemned and put out of office as a result. My father is one such politician, punished—kicked out of office--because of the views of his daughter.

In my case, I dared to raise my voice in support of the World Conference Against Racism and against the sieges of Ramallah, Jenin, and the Church of the Nativity. I raised my voice against the religious profiling in my country that targets innocent Muslims and Arabs for harassment, imprisonment, financial ruin, or worse. Yes, I have felt the sting of the special interests since my entry onto the national stage when, in my very first Congressional campaign, I refused to sign a pledge committing that I would vote to maintain the military superiority of Israel over its neighbors, and that Jerusalem should be its capital city.
Other commitments were on that pledge as well, like continued financial assistance to Israel at agreed upon levels.

As a result of my refusal to make such a commitment, and just like the old slave woman, Sojourner Truth, who bared her back and showed the scars from the lashes meted out to her by her slave master, I too, bear scars from the lashes of public humiliation meted out to me by the special interests in Washington, D.C. because of my refusal to tow the line on Israel policy. This "line" is the policy accepted by both the Democratic and Republican Party leadership and why they could cooperate so well to coordinate my ouster from Congress. But I have survived because I come from the strongest stock of Africans, stolen then enslaved, and yet my people survived. I know how to never give up, give in, or give out. And I also know how to learn a good political lesson. And one lesson I've learned is that the treatment accorded to me pales in comparison to what Palestinian victims still living in refugee camps face every day of their lives.

The treatment accorded to me pales in comparison to the fact that human life is at stake if the just-released International Atomic Energy Agency report is true when it writes that "The only explanation for the presence of these modified uranium particles is that they were contained in the missiles dropped from the Israeli planes." What are the health effects of these weapons, what role did the U.S. military play in providing them or the technology that underlies them, why is there such silence on this, and most fundamentally, what is going on in this part of the world that international law has forgotten?

Clearly, not only the faces of U.S. politicians must change; we must change their values, too. We, in the United States, must utilize our votes to effect the same kind of people-powered change in the United States as has been done in all those other countries. And now, with more people than ever inside the United States actually paying attention to politics, this is our moment; we must seize this time. We must become the leaders we are looking for and get people who share our values elected to Congress and the White House.

Now, I hope you believe me when I say to you that this is not rocket science. I have learned politics from its best players. And I say to you that even with the failabilities of the U.S. system, it is possible for us to do more than vote for a slogan of change, we can actually have it. But if we fail to seize this moment, we will continue to get what we've always been given: handpicked leaders who don't truly represent us.

With the kind of U.S. weapons that are being used in this part of the world, from white phosphorus to depleted uranium, from cluster bombs to bunker busting bombs, nothing less than the soul of my country is at stake. But for the world, it is the fate of humankind that is at stake.

The people in my country just invested their hopes for a better world and a better government in their votes for President-elect Obama. However, during an unprecedented two year Presidential campaign, the exact kind of change we are to get was never fully defined. Therefore, we the people of the United States must act now with boldness and confidence. We can set the stage for the kind of change that reflects our values.

Now is not the time for timidity. The U.S. economy is in shambles, unemployment and health insecurity are soaring, half of our young people do not even graduate from high school; college is unaffordable. The middle class that was invested in the stock market is seeing their life savings stripped from them by the hour. What we are witnessing is the pauperization of a country, in much the same way that Russia was pauperized after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are clear winners and the losers all know who they are. The attentive public in the United States is growing because of these conditions. Now is the time for our values to rise because people in the United States are now willing to listen.

So the question really is, "Which way, America?"

Today we uplift the humanity of the Palestinian people. And what I am recommending is the creation of a political movement inside my country that will constitute a surgical strike for global justice. This gathering is the equivalent of us stepping to the microphone to be heard.

We don't have to lose because we have commitment to the people.

And we don't have to lose because we refuse to compromise our core values.

We don't have to lose because we seek peace with justice and diplomacy over war.

We don't have to lose.

By committing to do some things we've never done before I'm certain that we can also have some things we've never had before.

I return to the U.S. committed to do my part to make our dream come true.

Thank you.

For more information on Cynthia McKinney please visit http://www.allthingscynthiamckinney.com.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Bone in America's Throat

http://www.counterpunch.org/halper11102008.html

The Fates of Americans and Palestinians are Deeply Intertwined
A Bone in America's Throat
By JEFF HALPER, Counter Punch, November 10, 2008

Even before the voting began, Israeli politicians and pundits were asking: Will an Obama Administration be good for Israel? "Be good for Israel" is our code for "Will the US allow us to keep our settlements and continue to support our efforts to prevent negotiations with the Palestinians from ever bearing fruit?" For Americans the question should be: Will the Obama Administration understand that without addressing Palestinian needs it will not be able to disentangle itself from its broader Middle Eastern imbroglios, rejoin the community of nations and rescue its economy?

The Israel-Palestine conflict should be of central concern to Americans, near the top of the new Administration's agenda. It may not be the bloodiest conflict in the world - its minor when compared to Iraq - but it is emblematic to Muslims and to peoples the world over of American hostility and belligerence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not merely a localized one between two squabbling tribes. It lies at the epicenter of global instability. Go where you may in the world and you will encounter the same phenomenon: a sense that the suffering of the Palestinians represents all that is wrong in an American-dominated world.

As Obama comes into office, he will encounter a global reality very different from that of eight years before: a multilateral one in which a weakened and isolated US must find its place. He will discover that much of America's isolation comes from the view that the Occupation of the Palestinian territories is, in fact, an American-Israeli Occupation. If restoring a weakened American economy depends on repairing relations with the rest of the world, he will learn that without resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict he will not create those conditions in which the US will be accepted once more into the wider global community.

To be more specific, the Israel-Palestine conflict directly affects Americans in at least five ways:

. It isolates the US from major global markets, forcing it to embark on aggressive measures to secure markets rather than peaceful accommodation;

. It thereby diverts the American economy into non-productive production (tanks not roads), making it dependent upon deficit spending which only increases dependency upon foreign financing while diverting resources into the military rather than into education, health and investment;

. Support for the Israeli military costs US taxpayers more than $3 billion annually at a time of deepening recession and crumbling national infrastructure;

. It leads to an American involvement in the world that is mainly military, thus begetting hostility and resistance which produce the threats to security Americans so greatly fear; and

. It ends up threatening American civil liberties by encouraging such legislation as the Patriot Act and by introducing Israeli "counterinsurgency" tactics and weaponry developed in the West Bank and Gaza into American police forces.

For many peoples of the world, the Palestinians represent the plight of the majority. They are the tiny grains of sand resisting what most Americans and privileged people of the West do not see. They are a people who are denied the most fundamental right: to a state of their own, even on the 22% of historic Palestine that Israel has occupied since 1967. For the majority of humanity that lives in economic and political conditions unimaginable in the West, the suffering caused by Israel's occupation - impoverishment and a total denial of freedom that can only be sustained by total American support - is emblematic of their own continued suffering. Israel's oppression of the Palestinians with the active backing of the US shows demonstrably the existence of a global system of Western domination that prevents others from achieving their own dreams of political and economic well-being.

Like a bone in the throat, the issue of Israel's occupation can be neither ignored nor by-passed. If it is not addressed, the US - even under Obama - will remain mired in conflicts with Muslim peoples, will continue to be reviled by peoples seeking genuine freedom and will not find the security and even the prosperity it so craves. We live in a global reality, not a Pax Americana. The logic of the Bush Administration has run its course. No longer can the US throw its weight around in a War Against Terror. No longer can its involvement be purely military. The new logic that will accompany Obama into office can be summarized in one word: accommodation. And the US will not get to first base until it achieves accommodation with the Muslim world, which means ending the Israeli Occupation. What happens to the Palestinians takes on a global significance. Clearing the bone in the throat - that is, ending the Israeli Occupation and allowing the Palestinians a state and a future of their own - should be a top priority of the next American administration. Indeed, America's attempt to restore its standing in the world depends on it. In the global reality in which we live, the fate of Americans and Palestinians, it turns out, are closely intertwined.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at jeff@icahd.org.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oct. 28 Free Gaza Boat Trip

For Immediate Release
October 24, 2008

On October 28, 2008, the http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=2ob64TK%2FPeHINqkSTaJd7ymM8hzhjK9i Free Gaza Movement will set sail again for Gaza. On board will be a Nobel Peace Prize winner, five physicians, a member of the Israeli Knesset, and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The boat will again carry 26 passengers and crew to the port of Gaza.

"We've spent the past month making sure our boat is better and stronger, because the weather is getting more severe. Since we promised the people of Gaza we'd return, we wanted to make sure we would return safely," said Derek Graham, first mate on board the boat. Mairead Maguire, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work for peace in Northern Ireland and one of the passengers on board stated, "We sail to Gaza to show the people we love and care for them. What less can we do whilst our governments remain silent and inactive in face of such preventable suffering of the women and children of Gaza and Palestine."

Also on board is Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Israeli Knesset. Both Palestinians are determined to forge alliances with their countrymen in Gaza, something they have not been able to do, because Israel has closed all land borders to this besieged people.

On this occasion the siege-breakers will deliver 6 cubic metres of medicine as a gift from the European Campaign to End the on Siege on Gaza. Dr Arafat Shoukri, head of the campaign stated, "This is just the first consignment of medical supplies we hope to deliver. Our choice of medicines has been in response to a specific request from the health authorities in Gaza. Many basic items such as cough syrup for children are non-existent in the territory and we are happy to make them available. Our campaign will also dispatch a number of medical specialists to Gaza to assist in the worsening humanitarian crisis brought on by the siege."

Greta Berlin, one of the organizers, reiterated the goals of the Free Gaza Movement: "We intend to break Israel's blockade as often as we can. This second trip is just one of many we intend to organize over the next year. We have lawyers, members of Parliament and other professionals already on our passenger lists for upcoming voyages."

The staff at the Council for the National Interest strongly support the efforts of the Free Gaza Movement to bring global attention to the plight of the population of the Gaza Strip.

To support the on-going campaign to break the siege of Gaza, please visit www.freegaza.org and donate today! Together, we can make a difference in the lives of the 1.5 million residents suffering as a result of collective punishment policies.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shattering a 'national mythology

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/966952.html

Shattering a 'national mythology' By Ofri Ilani

Unlike other "new historians" who have tried to undermine the assumptions of Zionist historiography, Sand does not content himself with going back to 1948 or to the beginnings of Zionism, but rather goes back thousands of years. He tries to prove that the Jewish people never existed as a "nation-race" with a common origin, but rather is a colorful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion. He argues that for a number of Zionist ideologues, the mythical perception of the Jews as an ancient people led to truly racist thinking: "There were times when if anyone argued that the Jews belong to a people that has gentile origins, he would be classified as an anti-Semite on the spot. Today, if anyone dares to suggest that those who are considered Jews in the world ... have never constituted and still do not constitute a people or a nation - he is immediately condemned as a hater of Israel."

According to Sand, the description of the Jews as a wandering and self-isolating nation of exiles, "who wandered across seas and continents, reached the ends of the earth and finally, with the advent of Zionism, made a U-turn and returned en masse to their orphaned homeland," is nothing but "national mythology." Like other national movements in Europe, which sought out a splendid Golden Age, through which they invented a heroic past - for example, classical Greece or the Teutonic tribes - to prove they have existed since the beginnings of history, "so, too, the first buds of Jewish nationalism blossomed in the direction of the strong light that has its source in the mythical Kingdom of David."

So when, in fact, was the Jewish people invented, in Sand's view? At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people "retrospectively," out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people. From historian Heinrich Graetz on, Jewish historians began to draw the history of Judaism as the history of a nation that had been a kingdom, became a wandering people and ultimately turned around and went back to its birthplace.

Actually, most of your book does not deal with the invention of the Jewish people by modern Jewish nationalism, but rather with the question of where the Jews come from.

Sand: "My initial intention was to take certain kinds of modern historiographic materials and examine how they invented the 'figment' of the Jewish people. But when I began to confront the historiographic sources, I suddenly found contradictions. And then that urged me on: I started to work, without knowing where I would end up. I took primary sources and I tried to examine authors' references in the ancient period - what they wrote about conversion."

Sand, an expert on 20th-century history, has until now researched the intellectual history of modern France (in "Ha'intelektual, ha'emet vehakoah: miparashat dreyfus ve'ad milhemet hamifrats" - "Intellectuals, Truth and Power, From the Dreyfus Affair to the Gulf War"; Am Oved, in Hebrew). Unusually, for a professional historian, in his new book he deals with periods that he had never researched before, usually relying on studies that present unorthodox views of the origins of the Jews.

Experts on the history of the Jewish people say you are dealing with subjects about which you have no understanding and are basing yourself on works that you can't read in the original.

"It is true that I am an historian of France and Europe, and not of the ancient period. I knew that the moment I would start dealing with early periods like these, I would be exposed to scathing criticism by historians who specialize in those areas. But I said to myself that I can't stay just with modern historiographic material without examining the facts it describes. Had I not done this myself, it would have been necessary to have waited for an entire generation. Had I continued to deal with France, perhaps I would have been given chairs at the university and provincial glory. But I decided to relinquish the glory."

Inventing the Diaspora

"After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people remained faithful to it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom" - thus states the preamble to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. This is also the quotation that opens the third chapter of Sand's book, entitled "The Invention of the Diaspora." Sand argues that the Jewish people's exile from its land never happened.

"The supreme paradigm of exile was needed in order to construct a long-range memory in which an imagined and exiled nation-race was posited as the direct continuation of 'the people of the Bible' that preceded it," Sand explains. Under the influence of other historians who have dealt with the same issue in recent years, he argues that the exile of the Jewish people is originally a Christian myth that depicted that event as divine punishment imposed on the Jews for having rejected the Christian gospel.

"I started looking in research studies about the exile from the land - a constitutive event in Jewish history, almost like the Holocaust. But to my astonishment I discovered that it has no literature. The reason is that no one exiled the people of the country. The Romans did not exile peoples and they could not have done so even if they had wanted to. They did not have trains and trucks to deport entire populations. That kind of logistics did not exist until the 20th century. From this, in effect, the whole book was born: in the realization that Judaic society was not dispersed and was not exiled."

If the people was not exiled, are you saying that in fact the real descendants of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah are the Palestinians?

"No population remains pure over a period of thousands of years. But the chances that the Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Judaic people are much greater than the chances that you or I are its descendents. The first Zionists, up until the Arab Revolt [1936-9], knew that there had been no exiling, and that the Palestinians were descended from the inhabitants of the land. They knew that farmers don't leave until they are expelled. Even Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel, wrote in 1929 that, 'the vast majority of the peasant farmers do not have their origins in the Arab conquerors, but rather, before then, in the Jewish farmers who were numerous and a majority in the building of the land.'"

And how did millions of Jews appear around the Mediterranean Sea?

"The people did not spread, but the Jewish religion spread. Judaism was a converting religion. Contrary to popular opinion, in early Judaism there was a great thirst to convert others. The Hasmoneans were the first to begin to produce large numbers of Jews through mass conversion, under the influence of Hellenism. The conversions between the Hasmonean Revolt and Bar Kochba's rebellion are what prepared the ground for the subsequent, wide-spread dissemination of Christianity. After the victory of Christianity in the fourth century, the momentum of conversion was stopped in the Christian world, and there was a steep drop in the number of Jews. Presumably many of the Jews who appeared around the Mediterranean became Christians. But then Judaism started to permeate other regions - pagan regions, for example, such as Yemen and North Africa. Had Judaism not continued to advance at that stage and had it not continued to convert people in the pagan world, we would have remained a completely marginal religion, if we survived at all."

How did you come to the conclusion that the Jews of North Africa were originally Berbers who converted?

"I asked myself how such large Jewish communities appeared in Spain. And then I saw that Tariq ibn Ziyad, the supreme commander of the Muslims who conquered Spain, was a Berber, and most of his soldiers were Berbers. Dahia al-Kahina's Jewish Berber kingdom had been defeated only 15 years earlier. And the truth is there are a number of Christian sources that say many of the conquerors of Spain were Jewish converts. The deep-rooted source of the large Jewish community in Spain was those Berber soldiers who converted to Judaism."

Sand argues that the most crucial demographic addition to the Jewish population of the world came in the wake of the conversion of the kingdom of Khazaria - a huge empire that arose in the Middle Ages on the steppes along the Volga River, which at its height ruled over an area that stretched from the Georgia of today to Kiev. In the eighth century, the kings of the Khazars adopted the Jewish religion and made Hebrew the written language of the kingdom. From the 10th century the kingdom weakened; in the 13th century is was utterly defeated by Mongol invaders, and the fate of its Jewish inhabitants remains unclear.

Sand revives the hypothesis, which was already suggested by historians in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to which the Judaized Khazars constituted the main origins of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

"At the beginning of the 20th century there is a tremendous concentration of Jews in Eastern Europe - three million Jews in Poland alone," he says. "The Zionist historiography claims that their origins are in the earlier Jewish community in Germany, but they do not succeed in explaining how a small number of Jews who came from Mainz and Worms could have founded the Yiddish people of Eastern Europe. The Jews of Eastern Europe are a mixture of Khazars and Slavs who were pushed eastward."

'Degree of perversion'

If the Jews of Eastern Europe did not come from Germany, why did they speak Yiddish, which is a Germanic language?

"The Jews were a class of people dependent on the German bourgeoisie in the East, and thus they adopted German words. Here I base myself on the research of linguist Paul Wechsler of Tel Aviv University, who has demonstrated that there is no etymological connection between the German Jewish language of the Middle Ages and Yiddish. As far back as 1828, the Ribal (Rabbi Isaac Ber Levinson) said that the ancient language of the Jews was not Yiddish. Even Ben Zion Dinur, the father of Israeli historiography, was not hesitant about describing the Khazars as the origin of the Jews in Eastern Europe, and describes Khazaria as 'the mother of the diasporas' in Eastern Europe. But more or less since 1967, anyone who talks about the Khazars as the ancestors of the Jews of Eastern Europe is considered naive and moonstruck."

Why do you think the idea of the Khazar origins is so threatening?

"It is clear that the fear is of an undermining of the historic right to the land. The revelation that the Jews are not from Judea would ostensibly knock the legitimacy for our being here out from under us. Since the beginning of the period of decolonization, settlers have no longer been able to say simply: 'We came, we won and now we are here' the way the Americans, the whites in South Africa and the Australians said. There is a very deep fear that doubt will be cast on our right to exist."

Is there no justification for this fear?

"No. I don't think that the historical myth of the exile and the wanderings is the source of the legitimization for me being here, and therefore I don't mind believing that I am Khazar in my origins. I am not afraid of the undermining of our existence, because I think that the character of the State of Israel undermines it in a much more serious way. What would constitute the basis for our existence here is not mythological historical right, but rather would be for us to start to establish an open society here of all Israeli citizens."

In effect you are saying that there is no such thing as a Jewish people.

"I don't recognize an international people. I recognize 'the Yiddish people' that existed in Eastern Europe, which though it is not a nation can be seen as a Yiddishist civilization with a modern popular culture. I think that Jewish nationalism grew up in the context of this 'Yiddish people.' I also recognize the existence of an Israeli people, and do not deny its right to sovereignty. But Zionism and also Arab nationalism over the years are not prepared to recognize it.

"From the perspective of Zionism, this country does not belong to its citizens, but rather to the Jewish people. I recognize one definition of a nation: a group of people that wants to live in sovereignty over itself. But most of the Jews in the world have no desire to live in the State of Israel, even though nothing is preventing them from doing so. Therefore, they cannot be seen as a nation."

What is so dangerous about Jews imagining that they belong to one people? Why is this bad?

"In the Israeli discourse about roots there is a degree of perversion. This is an ethnocentric, biological, genetic discourse. But Israel has no existence as a Jewish state: If Israel does not develop and become an open, multicultural society we will have a Kosovo in the Galilee. The consciousness concerning the right to this place must be more flexible and varied, and if I have contributed with my book to the likelihood that I and my children will be able to live with the others here in this country in a more egalitarian situation - I will have done my bit.

"We must begin to work hard to transform our place into an Israeli republic where ethnic origin, as well as faith, will not be relevant in the eyes of the law. Anyone who is acquainted with the young elites of the Israeli Arab community can see that they will not agree to live in a country that declares it is not theirs. If I were a Palestinian I would rebel against a state like that, but even as an Israeli I am rebelling against it."

The question is whether for those conclusions you had to go as far as the Kingdom of the Khazars.

"I am not hiding the fact that it is very distressing for me to live in a society in which the nationalist principles that guide it are dangerous, and that this distress has served as a motive in my work. I am a citizen of this country, but I am also a historian and as a historian it is my duty to write history and examine texts. This is what I have done."

If the myth of Zionism is one of the Jewish people that returned to its land from exile, what will be the myth of the country you envision?

"To my mind, a myth about the future is better than introverted mythologies of the past. For the Americans, and today for the Europeans as well, what justifies the existence of the nation is a future promise of an open, progressive and prosperous society. The Israeli materials do exist, but it is necessary to add, for example, pan-Israeli holidays. To decrease the number of memorial days a bit and to add days that are dedicated to the future. But also, for example, to add an hour in memory of the Nakba [literally, the "catastrophe" - the Palestinian term for what happened when Israel was established], between Memorial Day and Independence Day."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

An Israeli Jew in Gaza

By Jeff Halper Ma`an 05 / 08 / 2008

http://www.maannews.net/en/index.php?opr=ShowDetails&ID=31095

In another few days, I will sail on one of the Free Gaza movement boats from Cyprus to Gaza. The mission is to break the Israeli siege, an absolutely illegal siege which has plunged a million and a half Palestinians into wretched conditions: imprisoned in their own homes, exposed to extreme military violence, deprived of the basic necessities of life, stripped of their most fundamental human rights and dignity. The siege violates the most fundamental principle of international law: the inadmissibility of harming civilian populations.

Our voyage also exposes Israel`s attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for what is happening in Gaza. Israel`s claim that there is no Occupation, or that the Occupation ended with `disengagement,` is patently false. Occupation is defined in international law as having effective control over a territory. If Israel intercepts our boats, it is clear that it is the Occupying Power exercising effective control over Gaza. Nor has the siege anything to do with `security.` Like other elements of the Occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Israel has also besieged cities, towns, villages and whole regions, the siege on Gaza is fundamentally political. It is intended to isolate the democratically-elected government of Palestine and break its power to resist Israeli attempts to impose an apartheid regime over the entire country.

This is why I, an Israeli Jew, felt compelled to join this voyage to break the siege. As a person who seeks a just peace with the Palestinians, who understands (despite what our politicians tell us) that they are not our enemies but rather people seeking precisely what we sought and fought for - national self-determination I cannot stand idly aside. I can no more passively witness my government`s destruction of another people than I can watch the Occupation destroy the moral fabric of my own country. To do so would violate my commitment to human rights, the very essence of prophetic Jewish religion, culture and morals, without which Israel is no longer Jewish but an empty, if powerful, Sparta.

Israel has, of course, legitimate security concerns, and Palestinian attacks against civilian populations in Sderot and other Israeli communities bordering on Gaza cannot be condoned. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as an Occupying Power, has the right to monitor the movement of arms to Gaza as a matter of `immediate military necessity.` As activists committed to resisting the siege non-violently, I have no objection to the Israeli navy boarding our boats and searching for weapons. But only that. Because Israel has no right to besiege a civilian population, it has no legal right to prevent us, private persons sailing solely in international and Palestinian waters, from reaching Gaza - particularly since Israel has declared that it no longer occupies it. Once the Israeli navy is convinced we pose no security threat, then, we thoroughly expect it to permit us to continue our peaceful and lawful journey into Gaza port.

Ordinary people have often played key roles in history, particularly in situations like this where governments shirk their responsibilities. My voyage to Gaza is a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people in their time of suffering, but it also conveys a message to my fellow citizens.

First, despite what our political leaders say, there is a political solution to the conflict, there are partners for peace. The very fact that I, an Israeli Jew, will be welcomed by Palestinian Gazans makes that very point. My presence in Gaza also affirms that any resolution of the conflict must include all the peoples of the country, Palestinian and Israeli alike. I am therefore using whatever credibility my actions lend me to call on my government to renew genuine peace negotiations based on the Prisoners Document accepted by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. The release of all political prisoners held by Israel, including Hamas government ministers and parliamentary members, in return for the repatriation of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, would dramatically transform the political landscape by providing the trust and good-will essential to any peace process.

Second, the Palestinians are not our enemies. In fact, I urge my fellow Israeli Jews to disassociate from the dead-end politics of our failed political leaders by declaring, in concert with Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers: We refuse to be enemies. Only that assertion of popular will can signal our government that we are fed up with being manipulated by those profiting from the Occupation.

And third, as the infinitely stronger party in the conflict and the only Occupying Power, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies. Only we can end the conflict.

In the Israeli conception, Zionism was intended to return to the Jews control over their own destiny. Do not let us be held hostage to politicians who endanger the future of our society. Join with us end the siege of Gaza, and with it the Occupation in its entirety. Let us, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, declare to our leaders: we demand a just and lasting peace in this tortured Holy Land.
-------------

Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was a nominee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Neocon Flap Highlights Jewish Divide

http://www.antiwar.com/ips/lubanlobe.php?articleid=13232

July 31, 2008

Neocon Flap Highlights Jewish Divide

by Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe

A mushrooming media controversy pitting neoconservatives against a prominent Jewish-American political commentator could mark a new stage in the growing battle over who speaks for the US Jewish community on foreign policy issues, particularly regarding the Middle East.

Time columnist Joe Klein's accusations that Jewish neoconservatives, who played a particularly visible role in the drive to war in Iraq and have since pushed for military confrontation in Iran, sacrificed "US lives and money...to make the world safe for Israel," have spurred angry charges of anti-Semitism and personal attacks from critics at such neoconservative strongholds as the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Commentary.

But the fierceness of the controversy surrounding Klein, generally considered a political centrist, highlights the growing antagonism between neoconservative hardliners and prominent US Jews whose more moderate views are aligned more closely with those of the foreign policy establishment.

The controversy began Jun. 24, when Klein argued in a Time blog post that the "fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives ˆ people like [independent Democrat Sen.] Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary ˆ plumped for this war [in Iraq], and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties."

Within a day, Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Klein of espousing ,"age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government."

The reaction from the right-wing press was even harsher. Commentary editor John Podhoretz reiterated the accusation of "anti-Semitic canards," and called Klein "manifestly intellectually unstable."

Writing in National Review, former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner called Klein "a man who cannot control his anger and even hatred."

But Klein has refused to back down, accusing his attackers of using charges of anti-Semitism to silence criticism of neoconservative policies.

"When [Commentary writer] Jennifer Rubin or Abe Foxman calls me anti-Semitic, they're wrong," he said in an interview. "I am anti-neoconservative."

In its broad contours, the controversy is a familiar one, as critics accuse neoconservatives of exercizing pernicious influence on US Middle East policy and neoconservatives reply with charges of anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering.

What distinguishes the recent furor over Klein, however, is that it involves someone who is widely regarded as an exemplar of the centrist political establishment.

Klein is best known for his 1996 novel Primary Colors a thinly-veiled and largely unflattering portrait of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign that was originally published anonymously and subsequently made into a Hollywood movie. A frequent critic of Clinton, Klein has at times expressed admiration for George W. Bush.

He also endorsed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (although he has since expressed regret for his support) and describes himself as "a strong supporter of Israel."

The Klein dust-up is the latest in a series of events over the last several years that have placed neoconservatives both in the spotlight and on the defensive.

Neoconservatism, a predominantly ˆ but by no means exclusively ˆ Jewish movement, got its start in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a small but influential group of Democrats began distancing themselves from the party which, in their view, had become too dovish toward the Soviet Union and too sympathetic toward Arab demands against Israel.

By 1980, most had become strong supporters of Ronald Reagan. A number of prominent neoconservatives joined his administration, including many who would later play key roles in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

Consigned to the political wilderness under President George H.W. Bush, the neoconservatives became increasingly identified in the 1990s with Israel's right-wing Likud Party. It was also during the same period that they began agitating for "regime change" in Iraq, arguing that such a move would transform the balance of power in the Middle East decisively in favor of both Israel and the US.

They experienced a rebirth with the election of Bush's son in 2000, and particularly after the 9/11 attacks, when they played a major role, both inside the administration and in the media, in rallying the public and Congress behind war in Iraq.

But with the deterioration of the situation in Iraq, the influence of neoconservatives inside and outside the administration began to wane, and critics began charging that they had led the US astray.

A series of incidents also focused critical scrutiny on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful lobbying group whose hawkish right-wing leadership has often defied both the views of the broader US Jewish community and the policies of Israeli governments.

In 2004, the Justice Department charged Pentagon staffer Lawrence Franklin with passing classified US government documents to two AIPAC lobbyists, who had then given the documents to an Israeli Embassy official. In January 2006, Franklin was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison, while the AIPAC staffers are still awaiting trial.

In March 2006, the well-respected and staunchly realist international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published the article "The Israel Lobby" in the London Review of Books. That article, which charged that the lobby had for decades skewed US policy towards Israel in a direction detrimental to US interests, became the basis for their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.

Mearsheimer and Walt's thesis was instantly controversial. Like Klein, they were accused by critics, including the ADL and Commentary, of anti-Semitism and of perpetrating stereotypes about shadowy Jewish conspiracies.

But as a result of their stature, the two authors' work clearly created political space for those, both within the foreign policy establishment and within the US Jewish community, who had been long privately critical of the neoconservatives but had been worried about the consequences of going public with their misgivings.

More recently, AIPAC has come under fire for its close alliance with right-wing Christian Zionists, particularly controversial pastor John Hagee and his organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

Hagee views an undivided Israel as a precondition for precipitating the Armageddon, and his group has accordingly pushed for hawkish US policies in the Middle East that have been consistent with the neoconservatives' own preferences.

Matters came to a head earlier this year, when Republican presidential candidate John McCain was compelled to repudiate Hagee's endorsement after comments came to light in which the pastor suggested that the Holocaust was biblically ordained in order to force Jews to resettle in Israel.

Nonetheless, Hagee and CUFI have maintained close ties with the neoconservatives, and a collection of prominent Israel hawks, including Senator Lieberman, spoke at CUFI's summit in Washington earlier this month.

The belief that AIPAC has failed to accurately represent the views of the US Jewish community led to the foundation earlier this year of J Street, a Jewish lobbying group that aims to push for a more moderate stance on Middle East issues.

In the wake of these developments, many observers have taken Klein's comments ˆ and particularly his refusal to back down in the face of withering criticism from neoconservatives ˆ as a sign that new political space is being created for the public airing of more moderate views on Middle East policy.

M.J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer now associated with the moderate Israel Policy Forum, expressed the hope that commentators would stop equating neoconservatism with Judaism and start treating it as a political movement subject to political criticism.

"Although most neocons are Jews, few Jews are neocons," he wrote Wednesday. By equating the two groups, "[the neocons] want Americans not to follow the trail of war-mongering that leads not to Jews but to them."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

support in ending the stalemate

My name is Simcha Levental. I am a 26-year-old Israeli whose army service took me to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ask me about my politics and I'd say I am a moderate who loves his country and who sees his future here. But I have also seen how Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has led to daily humiliations and harassment of ordinary Palestinians. And I have learned that being an occupier, even one without malicious intent, means doing shameful, regrettable, and often self-defeating things.

I am writing to enlist your support in ending the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians. I will not dwell on the lethal violence that regularly takes lives on both sides. That violence is well-known. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the silent injustices and arbitrary acts of brutality that take place day after day. We must confront the fact that, in the West Bank, injustice has become routine, mundane, banal. It has become the fabric of the occupation, and it threatens Israeli society.

Many despair in the face of this reality, but there is a path out of the occupation. Negotiations to create a two-state solution can provide Israel with security and Palestinians with lasting freedom.

In November 2000, I entered the Israeli military with a great deal of enthusiasm. In a democracy like Israel's, it is the responsibility of every citizen-soldier to contribute, and I looked forward to doing my part to defend my country.

At that point in my life, I knew nothing of substance about the Palestinians. The truth is that I hardly even thought about them. And when I did, I could only conjure up stereotypes: a bunch of Arab anti-Semites or terrorists.

Support the work of Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now.

Despite my training as an artillery specialist, my active service took place almost exclusively at West Bank checkpoints with no cannons in sight. The location would change, but the work was always the same: I would stand guard and decide which Palestinians would pass and which would not.

On some days, of course, we enforced a full "closure," meaning that no Palestinians could pass at all. It didn't matter if you were a teacher or a student trying to get to the school right on the other side of the checkpoint. Nobody got through.

Every day at lunch, we closed the checkpoint down until we were done. Queues would form, but we would pay them no mind. If a Palestinian got impatient and started approaching, we knew what to do: One of us would get up and point a rifle at him. He would quickly turn back. If not, we would make sure that he spent many good hours waiting at the checkpoint.

Of course, if a settler came by the checkpoint -- during lunch or at any other time -- he'd just smile at us, wave hello, and walk by. Today, I am filled with rage at that double standard. I know that acts like these corrode the moral fabric of Israeli society. But back then, at the checkpoint, that was how things were.

We held so much power. We ruled over people the age of my grandparents. And we quickly learned that nobody would stop us if we took advantage of it. In those three years, there was no shortage of cigarettes in my unit. We just took them from the Palestinians at the checkpoints. What were they going to do about it?

These were the day-in, day-out realities of my time in the IDF. And there were, of course, examples of more extreme behavior. Like the day my unit set up a surprise checkpoint at the outskirts of a Palestinian village. A local farmer trying to pass through the area had raised a bit of a fuss. He wanted to transport some chickens, but a soldier refused him. Our commander decided to show the Palestinian who was boss. He lifted his rifle, aimed, and shot one of the chickens. End of argument.

It is because of my experience in the West Bank that I am an activist with Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Israel's largest pro-peace organization, and I support its partner in the United States, Americans for Peace Now (APN). The mission of both groups is to enhance Israeli security by promoting peace negotiations that would end the occupation and create a viable Palestinian state.

During my service at the checkpoints I began to ask questions that have no simple answers: Does Israel need to interfere in the daily routine of Palestinian life? Does defending settlements scattered across the West Bank justify the orders I carried out? Are these actions leading Israel to a more secure and prosperous future?

I still struggle with these questions. But I know that much of what I did as a soldier -- much of what the Israel Defense Forces still does in the West Bank -- has nothing to do with making Israel safe.

a.. Consider a poll conducted by the Israeli military that was leaked to the press last December: 25 percent of Israeli combat soldiers who serve in the West Bank testified that they had either taken part in or witnessed abuse by soldiers at checkpoints. Among the abuses reported were: bribe-taking, humiliation of travelers, and gratuitous delays.

b.. Polling numbers can be abstract, so here's something more tangible: Israeli settlers routinely harass Palestinians during the autumn olive harvest, an important source of livelihood for Palestinians in the West Bank. There have been cases of olive groves torched or chopped down. But it's not only the settlers. The Israeli military has often been turned into a collaborator in these crimes, despite Israeli Supreme Court rulings that oblige the military to facilitate the olive harvest. For example, Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, reported that during the 2006 harvest, an IDF division commander prevented the residents of one Palestinian village from reaching their fields as collective punishment after firebombs were thrown on a road near the village.

c.. One more example: Amnesty International reported in March that two human rights activists -- Art Arbour of Canada and Janet Benvie from the United Kingdom -- were attacked by Jewish boys in the West Bank, while a soldier stood by and watched. One of the boys spat at Benvie while another kicked her leg. Arbour was hit on his ear by a rock, causing him to bleed heavily. Following the incident, the two asked the soldier why he had not intervened. He reportedly responded that it was not his job. Such incidents are inevitable in an occupation that has become institutionalized. Every day is volatile, fraught with suspicion and paranoia. A soldier who sees settlers use violence has orders not to interfere. There's a division of labor whereby the police deal with Israeli civilians (i.e. the settlers) and the soldiers deal with Palestinians. And since the police are never around (that at least is my experience) the soldier absurdly ends up an accomplice to violence.

Allow me to say something else, something that will be hard for many supporters of Israel to hear: I believe that harassment, intimidation and injustice are unavoidable byproducts of the occupation. The most moral soldiers, the best commanders, will not be able to bend Palestinians to life under the Israeli thumb without resorting to intimidation tactics. That is the ugly reality, and that is why it is so important that we find a path out of the madness, a path towards peace.

It pains me to write about this. I know we Israelis are better than this. So I am speaking out -- not to clear my conscience, but to solicit your help. We need to end the IDF's role as an army of occupation and an enabler of settler violence. We need negotiations. Israel would be much better off if its soldiers could spend their time learning how to defend its borders, not subjugating a hostile population.

The moral case for ending the occupation is clear. And so is the case ending the occupation to improve Israeli security, especially in the wake of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. Testifying about the IDF's performance during that war, Israel's former Chief of Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Malka, said that the IDF "atrophied" as a result of its almost exclusive focus on enforcing the occupation. "What I can say unequivocally is that the army atrophied for 4-5 years with regard to its fitness. It atrophied," Malka said. "Excessive attention was given to one thing only, the Palestinian issue, [while] other matters were neglected, resources were directed to purposes that do not allow units to reach a reasonable level of readiness," he explained.

Israel and the Palestinians need to negotiate an end to the conflict, to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. We need vigorous, unblinking American participation in the negotiations. And our need is urgent. Time entrenches the status quo.

Negotiations are the only way out of the conflict. That has been APN and Peace Now's position from the start. That's why I ask you to support their work.

a.. It is Americans for Peace Now that argues for negotiations to end the occupation.

b.. It is APN that makes its tough, rational message heard in Congress, in the campaign for the White House, on college campuses, and in the American Jewish community.

c.. It is APN that provides the best resources for the pro-peace community through its website peacenow.org, newsletters, opinion articles, and newspaper ads.

d.. In Israel, Peace Now is the one organization that brings Israelis out to the streets to fight the status quo.

e.. It is Peace Now's Settlement Watch project that monitors the construction of settlements and outposts, providing vital information to the media, diplomats, Israeli officials, and the general public.

f.. It is Peace Now that hosts seminars where young Israelis and Palestinians talk to one another and plan joint political action.

g.. It is Peace Now's attorneys who, again and again, force the Israeli government to address the takeover of Palestinianowned land by settlers. Numerous times, Peace Now's petitions have gone all the way to Israel's High Court of Justice, with significant success.

h.. And it is the activists behind Peace Now that give me hope that Israel can have a future free of the burdens of occupation. As the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now, APN provides 60 to 90 percent of the funds that Peace Now uses for its activities. APN is the gathering place for Americans who believe that Israel deserves better than unthinking support for its military actions, coupled with a blind eye to the reality in the West Bank. Israel needs to live free from the terrible fatalism of simply waiting for the next war.

I am often asked if I regret my service in a combat unit in the West Bank. I always answer no. My experience made me who I am today, and it gave me an intimate understanding of the political and moral quandaries facing my country.

At the same time, my experience opened my eyes to a terrible reality. It shattered my pre-conceived notions about "good guys" and "bad guys." It makes me terribly concerned about the future of Israeli society. It drives me to be a political activist, to fight for change.

If you believe as I do that justice demands an end of the occupation through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, then please join APN. Help end the occupation. Create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. Make a generous contribution to support the work of Peace Now and Americans for Peace Now.

Our future depends on it.

Simcha Levental Jerusalem

Support the work of Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now.
http://www.peacenow.org/