Tag Archive for Palestine

45 years of occupation with no end in sight

The Israeli attack on Egypt that began the Six-Day War occurred 45 years ago on June 5, 1967. This attack was followed by an Israeli attack on Syria and fighting with Jordan. As a result of its attack, Israel took control of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, part of the Golan Heights in Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Some supporters of Israel claim that the attack was necessary. However, leading Israeli leaders clearly reject that claim. For example, former Israeli Prime Minister Begin admitted: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

In 1968, Yitzak Rabin, chief of staff of the Israeli military in 1967, said: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai in May [1967] would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”

In a 1972 interview, Mordechai Bentov, a former member of the Israeli ruling coalition during the June war, said: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived and then elaborated on afterwards to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”

As a price for peace with Egypt, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula. However, Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights continues to this day. Some may claim that Gaza is no longer occupied, but the U.N. and the U.S. still recognize Gaza as being an occupied territory.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has increased in brutality and harshness over time. Palestinians rights are constantly violated. Living conditions in the West Bank are horrible and are even worse in Gaza, particularly due to the ongoing siege by Israel. For more on this siege, see http://imeu.net/news/article0019152.shtml.

Israel continues its theft of Palestinian lands and places illegal settlements throughout the West Bank including East Jerusalem. As of December 2010, there were an estimated 520,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Israeli expansion and construction of settlements has essentially eliminated the two-state option for a just peace. Israel must now choose between apartheid and democracy.

Palestine is still occupied

Recent news coming out of the Middle East has dealt with the ongoing killings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and the upcoming election in Egypt. There is also lots of superficial coverage about the threat of an Israeli and/or U.S. military attack on Iran, allegedly over the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons sometime in the future. And then there is the continuing catastrophe in Afghanistan.

Partially as a result of all these crises, other uncomfortable situations such as the disasters in Libya and Iraq are on the media’s back burner. Results of our illegal attacks on these formerly prosperous nations include driving their people into poverty and ongoing violence and the destruction of these countries. Despite their war crimes, our leaders apparently feel no responsibility for their actions or for helping the people recover from these disasters. The U.S. corporate-dominated media downplays both these situations.

Another issue that has dropped from the media’s radar is Israel’s 45-year long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Note that one result of the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran is that Israel essentially now has a free hand in the West Bank. President Obama is no longer putting any pressure on Israel to reach a resolution with the Palestinians. Instead Obama is focused on the Israeli threat to attack Iran.

Israel can now forge ahead with the relentless expansion of its illegal settlements without any more impotent protests from Western nations. In addition, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes continues, the uprooting of olive trees goes on, and more Palestinian irrigation systems are destroyed. Israel’s military still invades Palestinian towns, terrorizing civilians and arresting peaceful protestors. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks between Palestinian towns continue to hamper Palestinian commerce. Israel’s control of the aquifers means that Palestinians are deprived of adequate levels of water. Moreover, Israel still bombs and kills in Gaza with impunity.

Besides the Israeli military’s actions, Israeli settlers also attack Palestinians. For example, in November 2011, Israeli Brigadier General Nitzan Alon criticized “acts of terror” by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.

Clearly Israel is satisfied with the current situation. Therefore the U.S. must pressure Israel in order to reach a just resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. A just resolution of this issue would help to defuse the Iranian situation and also improve the U.S. credibility in dealing with these other crises.

Rely on facts, not feelings

Could we please rely on facts, not uninformed feelings, when we talk about Israel? Israel does not face any military danger. It has one of the 10 strongest armies in the world. All of Israel’s neighbors are weaker militarily. The Palestinians have no army at all. Israel is not “protecting itself,” because it faces no threat to its existence, as its own Defense Minister recently said.

There are no “radical” governments ruling in any of Israel’s neighboring countries. Both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have moderated their views after coming to power (as most political parties do). Hamas and Fatah leaders have been saying for years that they are prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, living in peace alongside Israel. A majority of Palestinians share that view. They recognize Israel as a nation that will continue to exist, because no one seriously threatens its existence.

Yes, Palestinians are angry. We would be angry too if another nation’s soldiers ruled our streets and our lives. Yes, there are some radicals and anti-Semites among Arab people, just as there are some among Americans and in most other nations. But anyone who takes that minority to represent all Arab people merely helps to prevent what most Arabs and Israelis want: peace. It’s the false stereotypes, like “Israel is protecting itself against radicals and anti-Semites” that block the path to peace.

The real danger to Israel (as many Israelis will tell you) is diplomatic isolation. Countries around the world reject Israel because its right-wing government betrays Israel’s democratic ideals to expand settlements in the West Bank and perpetuate military occupation there, rather than respond to the Palestinians’ compromises for the sake of peace.

Israel and the Palestinians Through the Looking Glass

The Myths That Underpin the Failure of American Policy in the Middle East

Tuches aufn tish: Buttocks on the table. That’s the colorful way my Yiddish-speaking ancestors said, “Let’s cut the BS and talk about honest truth.” It seems like a particularly apt expression after a week watching the shadow-boxing between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that brought no tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The truth, like the table, is usually hard and uncomfortable. President Obama’s carefully hedged public call for a two-state solution along Israel’s 1967 borders may indeed represent a new step. Maybe it will even prove part of some long-range game plan that will eventually pay off. But here’s the problem: as of now, Obama shows no inclination to back his words with the power the U.S. government could wield. Until he does, those words won’t provoke any change in Israel’s domination of the Palestinians.

And there’s a deeper issue. The influential Israeli columnist Sever Plocker pointed to the heart of the matter: the American president has “unequivocally adopted the essence of the Israeli-Zionist narrative.” Plocker might have said the same about all top American political leaders and the U.S. media as well. The American conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by the story that most Israelis tell.

Ass-Backward Realities

Tuches aufn tish. Let’s be honest. The Israeli story doesn’t merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards. Eerily enough, its basic claims about the Palestinians more accurately describe the Israelis themselves.

The Israelis might as well be looking in the mirror and talking about themselves when they say things like “They are the aggressors; we’re the victims just defending ourselves.” That’s part of an Israeli-generated myth of insecurity whose premise is that Israel bears all the risk in the conflict with the Palestinians. Obama fed into that myth in his recent “Arab Spring” speech when he called, in effect, for an even swap: the Palestinians would get a state and the Israelis would get security, as if the massively stronger Israelis are the main ones suffering from insecurity.

In the process, he repeated a familiar mantra, “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable,” and offered a vague warning that “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.” Perhaps that was a coded way of hinting that someday some other Mideast nation might have a handful of nuclear weapons — as if any of them could threaten Israel, which already has as many as 200 nukes and can surely build more.

Obama did make one reference to what he called “the assumption of Palestinian security.” That’s how the Israelis typically phrase their long-standing hope that the Palestinian police will become what Netanyahu once called Israel’s “sub-contractors,” taking over from Israeli soldiers the job of quashing resistance to Israel and its policies. Again, the premise is that Israel bears all the risk.

Yet the Palestinians are far more insecure than the Israelis. Like any victims of colonial military occupation, they’re constantly subject to the threat of death and destruction without notice, at the whim of the Israeli military, and increasingly from Israeli settlers as well. Over the last quarter-century, the conflict has killed roughly eleven Palestinians for every Israeli who died. And yet you’ll never find this line in the speech of an American politician: “Our commitment to Palestine’s security is unshakeable.”

Obama did declare that “every state has the right to self-defense.” In the next breath, however, he demanded that a new Palestinian state must have no army. Would any sovereign nation accept such a demand, especially if its closest neighbor had dominated and pummeled its people for years and possessed by far the most powerful military in the region? Yet the idea of a “demilitarized” Palestinian state is a given in the U.S. and Israel, as if the only conceivable future threat could come from those occupied, not from the former occupier.

The staggering power imbalance between occupier and occupied points to another looking-glass-style distortion that dominates America’s conversation about the issue: the absurd idea that the two parties could negotiate as equals, that the weaker of the two, which has already given up approximately 78% of its territory, must be the one to make the major compromises, and then operate as a nation from a position of utter weakness.

Obama told a meeting of Jewish leaders in private that he knows the truth of the situation: “Israel is the stronger party here… And Israel needs to create the context for [peace] to happen.” But as long as his public words reinforce the myth of Israel’s insecurity, the Israelis can safely resist any demands for change.

Staring into the Mirror

The Israelis justify their intransigence with yet another looking-glass claim: “We want peace more than anything, but they have no interest in peace.” Israelis love to repeat a phrase coined decades ago by their foreign minister Abba Eban, speaking about Arab leaders: “They never miss a chance to miss a chance for peace.”

In reality, it’s the Palestinians who should lodge that complaint against Israel. “Israel’s right needs perpetual war” is the way the eminent Israeli intellectual Zeev Sternhell sums up the situation. Netanyahu, like all right-wing Israeli leaders, has in fact built his career on his image as the toughest of hawks when it comes to the Palestinians. With the Israeli electorate shifting steadily rightward in the twenty-first century, that image serves him better than ever. So, even as he pleads his devotion to peace, he shows no interest in actually ending the conflict — and the creeping Israeli program of ongoing settlement-building in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank only guarantees that the conflict will continue.

As it happens, however, the need for an enemy, and so for an ongoing conflict, isn’t restricted to the political right or the settlers. “Our enemies have made us one, and, thus united, we suddenly discover our strength” Theodore Herzl wrote in Zionism’s founding tract, “The Jews’ State.” And perceptive Israeli commentators have been asking for years what would hold Israeli Jews together if they had no common Arab or Palestinian enemy. That is still “the defining question” for all Israelis, according to Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset: “Can we continue to exist without a perennial adversary, without being victims of persecution?”

Sadly, the answer for most Israelis seems to be: no. A prominent Jewish columnist in the Jerusalem Post said it best: “Israelis get mad when you tell them we don’t have to keep going to war, that we’re strong enough to deter our enemies… People don’t want to hear anything about possibilities for peace… All they want to hear is ein breira, we have no choice, it’s either fight or die.”

Israeli political life suffers from “a real obsession,” according to the editors of Israel’s most respected newspaper, Haaretz, “a sense that we are constantly under attack.. an insanity of persecution.”

That’s an old story, of course. “Israel’s position today is similar to its position after the wars of 1948 and of 1967,” an editorial in Haaretz noted: “The potential for negotiations was there, but the [political] cost was considered too high. Now, too, maintaining the status quo appears to be preferable to making changes that Israelis perceive as threatening, even if they do not necessarily pose a genuine danger.”

The recent Hamas-Fatah reconciliation gave Israelis a new imaginary danger to worry about. The news of Palestinian unity launched a verbal tsunami in Israel, a flood of warnings that a far-right theocratic ideology might easily take control of a Palestinian state. President Obama fed that fear when he said “Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror; that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process.”

“Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” Netanyahu responded.

It’s just another case of Israelis staring into that mirror. Hamas has, in fact, been moving steadily toward a form of secular nationalism and greater political moderation. Its government in Gaza is busy fending off threats from the true theocrats of the Muslim right, who despise Hamas. The rare volleys of Hamas rockets that now come into Israel are triggered by and responses to Israeli attacks.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has been saying for years that he and his party are absolutely willing to accept a two-state solution — implicitly accepting the permanent existence of Israel — as long as a majority of Palestinians approve it. Meshaal now speaks of “peace” rather than merely “truce” and views the infamous Hamas charter, calling for the destruction of Israel, as no longer relevant.

When it comes to the all-important question of recognition, it’s Israel that refuses to recognize Hamas as a legitimate party or the Palestinians’ right to be a democratic state and choose their own government. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been doing exactly what it accuses Hamas of doing — opening the door to increasingly reactionary, racist, and theocratic laws. “Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews’ opinion of Arabs,” as Haaretz has noted, so “it’s no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process.”

Israel is fast coming under the sway of far-right theocrats, and “ever more Israelis are infected by the symptoms of Messianic thinking: ‘We are right, and the whole world is wrong; hence we must no longer listen to anybody,'” as one Israeli Jewish columnist observed.

Then there’s the upcoming vote in the U.N. General Assembly in September, when Palestine is expected to be granted full status as a nation. In his speech, Obama echoed the Israeli line that the Palestinian push for recognition there will harm chances for peace. In fact the vote would promote the peace process by pushing a nay-saying Israel closer to what it now fears most: finally being forced by irresistible world opinion to negotiate peace rather than become a pariah state.

There’s one last point that Obama and American public discourse get absolutely backwards: the idea that being a friend of Israel’s means endorsing its popular narrative, which offers no more truth than Alice’s looking-glass. Real friends don’t enable their friends to engage in self-destructive behavior. Real friends wouldn’t let them get so drunk on a delusional story that they have no compunctions about driving what might otherwise be a peace process off a cliff.

The U.S. has the power to push the Israelis away from that cliff and head them in a new direction. There’s real truth in the common Israeli joke that the U.S. is “the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes.”

Yes, Obama can put his tuches anywhere he wants. If he ever feels politically safe enough, he just might put it on the table. Then, Israel might have to leave the looking-glass world and agree to start genuine peace negotiations.

Ira Chernus is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity. Read more of his writing about Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. on his blog.

This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com.
Copyright 2011 Ira Chernus
Republished with the author’s permission.