Saturday, June 27, 2009
Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 23 June 2009
The international movement to boycott Israel has gained irrepressible momentum. (Mushir Abdelrahman/MaanImages)
If there is anything new in the never-ending sad story of Palestine it is the clear shift in public opinion in the UK. I remember coming to these isles in 1980 when supporting the Palestinian cause was confined to the left and in it to a very particular section and ideological stream. The post-Holocaust trauma and guilt complex, military and economic interests and the charade of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East all played a role in providing immunity for the State of Israel. Very few were moved, so it seems, by a state that had dispossessed half of Palestine's native population, demolished half of their villages and towns, discriminated against the minority among them who lived within its borders through an apartheid system and divided into enclaves two million and a half of them in a harsh and oppressive military occupation.
Almost 30 years later it seems that all these filters and cataracts have been removed. The magnitude of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 is well known, the suffering of the people in the occupied territories recorded and described even by the US president as unbearable and inhuman. In a similar way, the destruction and depopulation of the greater Jerusalem area is noted daily and the racist nature of the policies towards the Palestinians in Israel are frequently rebuked and condemned.
The reality today in 2009 is described by the UN as "a human catastrophe." The conscious and conscientious sections of British society know very well who caused and who produced this catastrophe. This is not related any more to elusive circumstances, or to the "conflict" -- it is seen clearly as the outcome of Israeli policies throughout the years. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was asked for his reaction to what he saw in the occupied territories, he noted sadly that it was worse than apartheid. He should know.
As in the case of South Africa, these decent people, either as individuals or as members of organizations, voice their outrage against the continued oppression, colonization, ethnic cleansing and starvation in Palestine. They are looking for ways of showing their protest and some even hope convince their government to change its old policy of indifference and inaction in the face of the continued destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians. Many among them are Jews, as these atrocities are done in their name according to the logic of the Zionist ideology, and quite a few among them are veterans of previous civil struggles in this country for similar causes all over the world. They are not confined any more to one political party and they come from all walks of life.
So far the British government is not moved. It was also passive when the anti-apartheid movement in this country demanded of it to impose sanctions on South Africa. It took several decades for that activism from below to reach the political top. It takes longer in the case of Palestine: guilt about the Holocaust, distorted historical narratives and contemporary misrepresentation of Israel as a democracy seeking peace and the Palestinians as eternal Islamic terrorists blocked the flow of the popular impulse. But it is beginning to find its way and presence, despite the continued accusation of any such demand as being anti-Semitic and the demonization of Islam and Arabs. The third sector, that important link between civilians and government agencies, has shown us the way. One trade union after the other, one professional group after the other, have all sent recently a clear message: enough is enough. It is done in the name of decency, human morality and basic civil commitment not to remain idle in the face of atrocities of the kind Israel has and still is committing against the Palestinian people.
In the last eight years the Israeli criminal policy escalated, and the Palestinian activists were seeking new means to confront it. They have tried it all, armed struggle, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and diplomacy: nothing worked. And yet they are not giving up and now they are proposing a nonviolent strategy -- that of boycott, sanctions and divestment. With these means they wish to persuade Western governments to save not only them, but ironically also the Jews in Israel from an imminent catastrophe and bloodshed. This strategy bred the call for cultural boycott of Israel. This demand is voiced by every part of the Palestinian existence: by the civil society under occupation and by Palestinians in Israel. It is supported by the Palestinian refugees and is led by members of the Palestinian exile communities. It came in the right moment and gave individuals and organizations in the UK a way to express their disgust at the Israeli policies and at the same time an avenue for participating in the overall pressure on the government to change its policy of providing immunity for the impunity on the ground.
It is bewildering that this shift of public opinion has had no impact so far on policy; but again we are reminded of the tortuous way the campaign against apartheid had to go before it became a policy. It is also worth remembering that two brave women in Dublin, toiling on the cashiers in a local supermarket, were the ones who began a huge movement of change by refusing to sell South African goods. Twenty-nine years later, Britain joined others in imposing sanctions on apartheid. So while governments hesitate for cynical reasons, out of fear of being accused of anti-Semitism or maybe due to Islamophobic inhibitions, citizens and activists do their utmost, symbolically and physically, to inform, protest and demand. They have a more organized campaign, that of the cultural boycott, or they can join their unions in the coordinated policy of pressure. They can also use their name or fame for indicating to us all, that decent people in this world cannot support what Israel does and what it stands for. They do not know whether their action will make an immediate change or they would be so lucky as to see change in their lifetime. But in their own personal book of who they are and what they did in life and in the harsh eye of historical assessment they would be counted in with all those who did not remain indifferent when inhumanity raged under the guise of democracy in their own countries or elsewhere.
On the other hand, citizens in this country, especially famous ones, who continue to broadcast, quite often out of ignorance or out of more sinister reasons, the fable of Israel as a cultured Western society or as the "only democracy in the Middle East" are not only wrong factually. They provide immunity for one of the greatest atrocities in our time. Some of them demand we should leave culture out of our political actions. This approach to Israeli culture and academia as separate entities from the army, the occupation and the destruction is morally corrupt and logically defunct. Eventually, one day the outrage from below, including in Israel itself, will produce a new policy -- the present US administration is already showing early signs of it. History did not look kindly at those filmmakers who collaborated with US Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s or endorsed apartheid. It would adopt a similar attitude to those who are silent about Palestine now.
A good case in point unfolded last month in Edinburgh. Filmmaker Ken Loach led a campaign against the official and financial connections the city's film festival had with the Israeli embassy. Such a stance was meant to send a message that this embassy represents not only the filmmakers of Israel but also its generals who massacred the people of Gaza, its tormentors who torture Palestinians in jails, its judges who sent 10,000 Palestinians -- half of them children -- without trial to prison, its racist mayors who want to expel Arabs from their cities, its architects who built walls and fences to enclave people and prevent them from reaching their fields, schools, cinemas and offices and its politicians who strategize yet again how to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestine they began in 1948. Ken Loach felt that only a call for boycotting the festival as whole would bring its directors into a moral sense and perspective. He was right; it did, because the case is so clear-cut and the action so simple and pure.
It is not surprising that a counter voice was heard. This is an ongoing struggle and would not be won easily. As I write these words, we commemorate the 42nd year of the Israeli occupation -- the longest, and one of the cruelest in modern times. But time has also produced the lucidity needed for such decisions. This is why Ken's action was immediately effective; next time even this would not be necessary. One of his critics tried to point to the fact that people in Israel like Ken's films, so this was a kind of ingratitude. I can assure this critic that those of us in Israel who watch Ken's movies are also those who salute him for his bravery and unlike this critic we do not think of this an act similar to a call for Israel's destruction, but rather the only way of saving Jews and Arabs living there. But it is difficult anyway to take such criticism seriously when it is accompanied by description of the Palestinians as a terrorist entity and Israel as a democracy like Britain. Most of us in the UK have moved far away from this propagandist silliness and are ready for change. We are now waiting for the government of these isles to follow suit.
Ilan Pappe is chair in the Department of History at the University of Exeter. This essay was originally published by pulsemedia.org and is republished with the author's permission.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Fictions on the Ground
I am old enough to remember when Israeli kibbutzim looked like settlements (“a small village or collection of houses” or “the act of peopling or colonizing a new country,” Oxford English Dictionary).
In the early 1960s, I spent time on Kibbutz Hakuk, a small community founded by the Palmah unit of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish militia. Begun in 1945, Hakuk was just 18 years old when I first saw it, and was still raw at the edges. The few dozen families living there had built themselves a dining hall, farm sheds, homes and a “baby house” where the children were cared for during the workday. But where the residential buildings ended there were nothing but rock-covered hillsides and half-cleared fields.
The community’s members still dressed in blue work shirts, khaki shorts and triangular hats, consciously cultivating a pioneering image and ethos already at odds with the hectic urban atmosphere of Tel Aviv. Ours, they seemed to say to bright-eyed visitors and volunteers, is the real Israel; come and help us clear the boulders and grow bananas — and tell your friends in Europe and America to do likewise.
Hakuk is still there. But today it relies on a plastics factory and the tourists who flock to the nearby Sea of Galilee. The original farm, built around a fort, has been turned into a tourist attraction. To speak of this kibbutz as a settlement would be bizarre.
However, Israel needs “settlements.” They are intrinsic to the image it has long sought to convey to overseas admirers and fund-raisers: a struggling little country securing its rightful place in a hostile environment by the hard moral work of land clearance, irrigation, agrarian self-sufficiency, industrious productivity, legitimate self-defense and the building of Jewish communities. But this neo-collectivist frontier narrative rings false in modern, high-tech Israel. And so the settler myth has been transposed somewhere else — to the Palestinian lands seized in war in 1967 and occupied illegally ever since.
It is thus not by chance that the international press is encouraged to speak and write of Jewish “settlers” and “settlements” in the West Bank. But this image is profoundly misleading. The largest of these controversial communities in geographic terms is Maale Adumim. It has a population in excess of 35,000, demographically comparable to Montclair, N.J., or Winchester, England. What is most striking, however, about Maale Adumim is its territorial extent. This “settlement” comprises more than 30 square miles — making it one and a half times the size of Manhattan and nearly half as big as the borough and city of Manchester, England. Some “settlement.”
There are about 120 official Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. In addition, there are “unofficial” settlements whose number is estimated variously from 80 to 100. Under international law, there is no difference between these two categories; both are contraventions of Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the annexation of land consequent to the use of force, a principle re-stated in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.
Thus the distinction so often made in Israeli pronouncements between “authorized” and “unauthorized” settlements is specious — all are illegal, whether or not they have been officially approved and whether or not their expansion has been “frozen” or continues apace. (It is a matter of note that Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, belongs to the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, established in 1982 and illegally expanded since.)
The blatant cynicism of the present Israeli government should not blind us to the responsibility of its more respectable-looking predecessors. The settler population has grown consistently at a rate of 5 percent annually over the past two decades, three times the rate of increase of the Israeli population as a whole. Together with the Jewish population of East Jerusalem (itself illegally annexed to Israel), the settlers today number more than half a million people: just over 10 percent of the Jewish population of so-called Greater Israel. This is one reason why settlers count for so much in Israeli elections, where proportional representation gives undue political leverage to even the smallest constituency.
But the settlers are no mere marginal interest group. To appreciate their significance, spread as they are over a dispersed archipelago of urban installations protected from Arab intrusion by 600 checkpoints and barriers, consider the following: taken together, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights constitute a homogenous demographic bloc nearly the size of the District of Columbia. It exceeds the population of Tel Aviv itself by almost one third. Some “settlement.”
If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler. Were Israel not the leading beneficiary of American foreign aid — averaging $2.8 billion a year from 2003 to 2007, and scheduled to reach $3.1 billion by 2013 — houses in West Bank settlements would not be so cheap: often less than half the price of equivalent homes in Israel proper.
Many of the people who move to these houses don’t even think of themselves as settlers. Newly arrived from Russia and elsewhere, they simply take up the offer of subsidized accommodation, move into the occupied areas and become — like peasants in southern Italy freshly supplied with roads and electricity — the grateful clients of their political patrons. Like American settlers heading west, Israeli colonists in the West Bank are the beneficiaries of their very own Homestead Act, and they will be equally difficult to uproot.
Despite all the diplomatic talk of disbanding the settlements as a condition for peace, no one seriously believes that these communities — with their half a million residents, their urban installations, their privileged access to fertile land and water — will ever be removed. The Israeli authorities, whether left, right or center, have no intention of removing them, and neither Palestinians nor informed Americans harbor illusions on this score.
To be sure, it suits almost everyone to pretend otherwise — to point to the 2003 “road map” and speak of a final accord based on the 1967 frontiers. But such feigned obliviousness is the small change of political hypocrisy, the lubricant of diplomatic exchange that facilitates communication and compromise.
There are occasions, however, when political hypocrisy is its own nemesis, and this is one of them. Because the settlements will never go, and yet almost everyone likes to pretend otherwise, we have resolutely ignored the implications of what Israelis have long been proud to call “the facts on the ground.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, knows this better than most. On June 14 he gave a much-anticipated speech in which he artfully blew smoke in the eyes of his American interlocutors. While offering to acknowledge the hypothetical existence of an eventual Palestinian state — on the explicit understanding that it exercise no control over its airspace and have no means of defending itself against aggression — he reiterated the only Israeli position that really matters: we won’t build illegal settlements but we reserve the right to expand “legal” ones according to their natural rate of growth. (It is not by chance that he chose to deliver this speech at Bar-Ilan University, the heartland of rabbinical intransigence where Yigal Amir learned to hate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before heading off to assassinate him in 1995.)
THE reassurances Mr. Netanyahu offered the settlers and their political constituency were as well received as ever, despite being couched in honeyed clichés directed at nervous American listeners. And the American news media, predictably, took the bait — uniformly emphasizing Mr. Netanyahu’s “support” for a Palestinian state and playing down everything else.
However, the real question now is whether President Obama will respond in a similar vein. He surely wants to. Nothing could better please the American president and his advisors than to be able to assert that, in the wake of his Cairo speech, even Mr. Netanyahu had shifted ground and was open to compromise. Thus Washington avoids a confrontation, for now, with its closest ally. But the uncomfortable reality is that the prime minister restated the unvarnished truth: His government has no intention of recognizing international law or opinion with respect to Israel’s land-grab in “Judea and Samaria.”
Thus President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond.
Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing.
But if I am right, and there is no realistic prospect of removing Israel’s settlements, then for the American government to agree that the mere nonexpansion of “authorized” settlements is a genuine step toward peace would be the worst possible outcome of the present diplomatic dance. No one else in the world believes this fairy tale; why should we? Israel’s political elite would breathe an unmerited sigh of relief, having once again pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster. The United States would be humiliated in the eyes of its friends, not to speak of its foes. If America cannot stand up for its own interests in the region, at least let it not be played yet again for a patsy.
Tony Judt is the director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and the author of “Postwar” and “Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 22, 2009
An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 2005. He was assassinated in 1995.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Hold Your Applause
by Chris Hedges
Did they play Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world in the prison corridors of Abu Ghraib, Bagram air base, Guantanamo or the dozens of secret sites where we hold thousands of Muslims around the world? Did it echo off the walls of the crowded morgues filled with the mutilated bodies of the Muslim dead in Baghdad or Kabul? Was it broadcast from the tops of minarets in the villages and towns decimated by U.S. iron fragmentation bombs? Was it heard in the squalid refugee camps of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live in the world's largest ghetto?
What do words of peace and cooperation mean from us when we torture-yes, we still torture-only Muslims? What do these words mean when we sanction Israel's brutal air assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, assaults that demolished thousands of homes and left hundreds dead and injured? How does it look for Obama to call for democracy and human rights from Egypt, where we lavishly fund and support the despotic regime of Hosni Mubarak, one of the longest-reigning dictators in the Middle East?
We may thrill to Obama's rhetoric, but very few of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world are as deluded. They grasp that nothing so far has changed for Muslims in the Middle East under the Obama administration. The wars of occupation go on or have been expanded. Israel continues to flout international law, gobbling up more Palestinian land and carrying out egregious war crimes in Gaza. Calcified, repressive regimes in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are feted in Washington as allies.
The speech at Cairo University, which usually has trucks filled with riot police outside the university gates and a heavy security presence on campus to control the student body, is an example of the facade. Student political groups, as everyone who joined in the standing ovation for the president knew, are prohibited. Faculty deans are chosen by the administration, rather than elected by professors, "as a way to combat Islamist influence on campus," according to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report. And, as The Washington Post pointed out, students who use the Internet "as an outlet for their political or social views are on notice: One Cairo University student blogger was jailed for two months last summer for ‘public agitation,' and another was kicked out of university housing for criticizing the government."
The expanding imperial projects and tightening screws of repression lurch forward under Obama. We are not trying to end terror or promote democracy. We are ensuring that our corporate state has a steady supply of the cheap oil to which it is addicted. And the scarcer oil becomes, the more aggressive we become. This is the game playing out in the Muslim world.
The Bush White House openly tortured. The Obama White House tortures and pretends not to. Obama may have banned waterboarding, but as Luke Mitchell points out in next month's issue of Harper's magazine, torture, including isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation and force-feeding, continues to be used to break detainees. The president has promised to close Guantanamo, where only 1 percent of the prisoners held offshore by the United States are kept. And the Obama administration has sought to obscure the fate and condition of thousands of Muslims held in black holes around the globe. As Mitchell notes, the Obama White House "has sought to prevent detainees at Bagram prison in Afghanistan from gaining access to courts where they may reveal the circumstances of their imprisonment. It has sought to continue the practice of rendering prisoners to unknown and unknowable locations outside the United States, and sought to keep secret many (though not all) of the records regarding our treatment of those detainees."
Muslim rage is stoked because we station tens of thousands of American troops on Muslim soil, occupy two Muslim nations, make possible the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, support repressive Arab regimes and torture thousands of Muslims in offshore penal colonies where prisoners are stripped of their rights. We now have 22 times as many military personnel in the Muslim world as were deployed during the crusades in the 12th century. The rage comes because we have constructed massive military bases, some the size of small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, and established basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The rage comes because we have expanded our military empire into neighboring Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It comes because we station troops and special forces in Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. And this vast network of bases and military outposts looks suspiciously permanent.
The Muslim world fears, correctly, that we intend to dominate Middle East oil supplies and any Caspian Sea oil infrastructure. And it is interested not in our protestations of good will but in the elemental right of justice and freedom from foreign occupation. We would react, should the situation be reversed, no differently.
The brutal reality of expanding foreign occupation and harsher and harsher forms of control are the tinder of Islamic fundamentalism, insurgences and terrorism. We can blame the violence on a clash of civilizations. We can naively tell ourselves we are envied for our freedoms. We can point to the Koran. But these are fantasies that divert us from facing the central dispute between us and the Muslim world, from facing our own responsibility for the virus of chaos and violence spreading throughout the Middle East. We can have peace when we shut down our bases, stay the hand of the Israelis to create a Palestinian state, and go home, or we can have long, costly and ultimately futile regional war. We cannot have both.
Obama, whose embrace of American imperialism is as naive and destructive as that of George W. Bush, is the newest brand used to peddle the poison of permanent war. We may not see it. But those who bury the dead do.
© 2009 TruthDig.com
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com . Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning , What Every Person Should Know About War , and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle , will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Nehad Awad introduced himself: ìMinnesota is my home. I studied at Hamline and the U of M. Thank God I came to the Twin Cities. One of the first people I met was Nick Boswell, a Native American man who converted to Islam. A Native American Muslim.î
Awad spoke about growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan where he watched black and white American movies. He noticed that the Indians were portrayed as scary, dangerous bad guys. When he came to the U.S. he realized that as a Palestinian he was considered scary and dangerous in the same way, while the whole time growing up he had understood himself and his people to be victims. He was shocked to see Palestinians portrayed as violent.
ìWhat brings us together?î he asked and then answered, ìOppression.îHe explained the recipe for oppression: S-K-L.: Steal the land, Kill the people, Lie about it.
Watching the movies he knew something was wrong. The way of portraying American Indians in Hollywood movies was very effective and it took him years to undo the stereotypes. The heroes were the god- fearing, good people with guns. The villains, who threatened the safety of the white people, had to be killed. Killing these people was always justified.
ìMy knowledge of Native Americans was that they have no feelings and they donít speak. The victims were dehumanized. They had been victims of genocide for over 500 years,î he said.
Awad said he ìunderstands that fear and suffering led Jews to establish a political state.î Everyone acknowledges and empathizes with the suffering Jews have endured throughout history. But the conflict between Jews and Palestinians has to do with America and its Weapons of Mass Deception, he said. He nevertheless ultimately has great hopes for working together; he has faith in peace, faith in justice.
About Gaza, he said it was the first time in history that civilians were not able to flee; it was ìlike bombing people in a cage. The press and humanitarian aid were not allowed into the area.î
ìWe know thereís injustice. Our tax money supports Israel. We give them political support and weapons and we donít speak up about the injustice. It hurts me as a U.S. citizen that these things are done in my name. The majority of America is decent. How come this is done in our name?î
He emphasized, ìSpeaking against Israelís actions is not anti- Semitism. Everyone needs to speak up. I ask my government to be fair, to hold people accountable, to hold Israel accountable to international laws. Obama promised change, letís ask him for that.î