On November 23, 2006, Jeff Halper, founder of the Israel Committee Against House Demolition, published an insightful historical article about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled, The Problem with Israel. It was posted on Daily Kos and a few other left wing sites. Just a month later, on December 30, 2006, Victoria Buch, an Israeli academic and anti-occupation activist, and member of the Dept. of Chemistry at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, published this similar article, Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories: what should one call it? in Occupation Magazine. All you ever need to know about Israel’s perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is here reduced to this one article. It helps to understand and distinguish propaganda from the current reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine.
The State of Israel calls it “fight for existence” or “fight against terror”. Its detractors call it “colonization”, “apartheid”, or “ethnic cleansing”. Baruch Kimmerling coined the term “politicide of Palestinians”. Edward Said spoke of slow bleeding. Recently, even words such as “genocide” have been used. Let us try to define the Israeli policy, and then grapple with the question of proper naming.
It should be stated in advance, that by policy I mean consistent long term developments pursued by the different Israeli governments in the Occupied Territories . Its major element has been massive settlement construction in conjunction with land grab. By now the number of Israeli Jewish citizens residing beyond Israel’s 1967 border nears 0.44 million (including Jerusalem ). The built-up area of the settlements consists of less than 3% of the area of the West Bank, but the area which they officially dominate (municipal jurisdiction) constitutes over 40%. Presently, more than 1/3 of the West Bank is out of reach for most Palestinians. A second element has been confinement of West Bank Palestinians to disconnected enclaves, and attrition of the enclaves by military invasions and economic blockade.
On the other hand, I shall attach little significance to the recent Olmert-Abbas meeting, and to recent declarations by PM Olmert of forthcoming goodwill gestures towards Palestinians. Similar declarations by Israeli leaders were made periodically in the past, and have thus been an integral part of the Israeli policy. However, the goodwill gestures were never carried through to any significant extent, for any significant length of time. Not a dent was made in the large-scale settlement and expropriation projects noted above. Thus, the obvious significance of such declarations is a publicity gimmick designed to make Israel look good in the eyes of the public, which is ignorant of the reality on the ground, and mistakes the declarations for reality. Also, as noted astutely by D. Breslau, such declarations often serve as a prelude for a major military invasion to the Occupied Territories.
To assess the Israeli policy one needs to face squarely the grim reality in the Occupied Territories , and to look through periodic publicity exercises. One aspect of this reality transpires through the following translation of a letter from a soldier, received by Yesh Gvul – an organization of Israeli men who refuse military service in the Occupied Territories. I quote such an ugly letter, since in my view, it is indicative of the strong current inside the IDF.
Hello, as written above, my name is Ofir and all I have to say is that for 3 years I have committed `war crimes` as you guys define it. I have beaten and shot Palestinians and their belongings. I even have plenty of pictures. I really enjoyed it and I was even a commander, a Platoon Sergeant, and later a Sergeant-Major of a company. The entire company did similar things. I must admit that I am proud of what I did there. I don’t give a damn about those beasts you call Palestinians, and don’t give a damn about you guys. I think you should all be sent to camps, you and your friends across the border. OK, I am sure you are nothing but a bunch of old ladies who came up with this temporary solution to your boredom, to pass time between retirement and death… I am sure you won’t bother to read this but just in case, you should know that I am quite smart (engineering major), young (23), secular, not some settler loony from the OT, and yet, I think you shouldn’t be living with us. I wish you all get the worst disease there is, you and your kids. Die. Nazi assholes.
The adjectives applied by the author of the letter to Yesh Gvul activists are not of much interest beyond evoking an old Jewish saying: `A condemner condemns himself’ (Ha-posel be mumo posel). Of much greater interest is this man’s self image: he views himself as just a regular guy. Most regular people acquire their value systems from the surroundings. It appears that the army leaders want the soldiers to view Arabs as those beasts. The army leaders seem to view them likewise.
And if you do not believe me observe the current policy in Gaza, the West Bank, and, last summer, in Lebanon. The principle is simple: the more damage to the Arabs, the better. Otherwise, how can you explain spreading of millions of cluster bombs all over South Lebanon just before the retreat from Lebanon? In view of the commanders, the act must have been equivalent to spraying pesticide before leaving a room. And what is the point of systematic demolition of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army since the beginning of the Second Intifada? You cannot seriously believe that the objective is to stop the Qassams. In fact, there were no Qassam rockets well into the second year of the Intifada, by which time the piece-meal destruction campaign of Gaza by military invasions was well under way. Keeping one and a half million traumatized people imprisoned under hellish conditions, and denying them any chance of normal life will mathematically feed the ranks of extremists, and thus bring more Qassams. Any sensible person understands that the Qassams will keep coming.
A second pertinent quotation follows, this time by a public figure: Arnon Sofer, Professor of Geography at Haifa University, father of Sharon’s `separation plan` (quotation from the Jerusalem Post weekend supplement Up Front, May 21, 2004, p.9):
When 1.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day. If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist. The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.
There was no public uproar in Israel after the above pronouncement. The author of the above quotation remains a respectable professor in one of the major Israeli academic institutions. You can hear him on public radio. He is a recognized specialist on demographic problems. Note the kind of ideas which are currently accepted or tolerated – by the brain-washed Israeli mainstream.
I do not wish to convey by this that most Jewish Israelis are blood-thirsty monsters craving Arab blood. In fact most are quite oblivious to the existence of Palestinians and their plight. The majority of Israelis simply don’t care. For myself, a 1968 immigrant from Poland, Palestinians used to be an abstract entity. I became very disturbed and embarrassed by what is done to them by my State only in the nineties, after becoming personally acquainted with some of them. Most Israelis do not have Arab friends. Most Israelis view themselves as peace loving people, regretfully forced to protect themselves from these Palestinian barbarians by military force. The Israelis are desensitized to the humanity of Palestinians by daily propaganda dispensed copiously by the media (Arabs only want to throw us to the sea, this is our fight for existence, we have to overcome terror before negotiating, and the remaining worn-out mantras, which are literally believed.) However, I think that if offered a different version of reality (we have to seek a compromise with Palestinians to survive) the majority of Israeli Jews would believe that too. The potential for peaceful coexistence still exists. You can still see Israeli Jews and Arabs coexisting and cooperating under normal everyday conditions (although the opportunities for such cooperation are being reduced).
However, the people in power in Israel are not interested in dispensing the other version of reality, except as a part of occasional propaganda stints noted above. The Israeli Jewish citizens have been harnessed by their leaders to service a Machine for Gradual Piece-Meal Demolition and Expropriation of Palestinians. The majority of the Israeli citizens are wonderfully unaware of what it is that they are servicing; they are being told and believe that they are serving the State Security. This is despite the evidence of massive settlement construction in the West Bank, the inefficacy of military means to bring security, and the pauperization of the Israeli society, as the Occupation keeps draining the resources. Discarding the media spin and grasping the big picture seems to be beyond the capacity of an average citizen of our country. In this respect, Israelis are not very different from any other nation.
Let us summarize the principles governing the Israeli government policy:
Principle (1) was already noted: The more damage to Arabs, the better. It was not always like that, at least not entirely. Well into the PM Barak’s tenure, a notion was floating among Israeli politicians and military, that making Palestinian life bearable and keeping them gainfully employed is in the interests of the State of Israel. No more. This notion was effectively eradicated by that terrible old man, the epitome of Israeli colonialism, presently lingering in the Hadassah Hospital. Since the beginning of the Occupation, Sharon was perhaps the most important and talented of the developers and promoters of the Machine (though by far not the only one). The Machine was greatly empowered and fine-tuned during Sharon’s tenure as the Prime Minister. Here is just a fraction of the methods: Palestinian home and property demolitions. Unleashing hilltop boys from settlements to scare off farmers from their fields, and to destroy crops. Denying Palestinian access to water. Delaying access of Palestinian produce to markets until it rots, while pushing Israeli products to Palestinian shops. Blocking economic investment, confiscating money. Making Palestinian travel to any place outside one’s own town or village a humiliating, lengthy and often impossible undertaking. Evicting foreign citizens married to Palestinians. Evicting sympathetic foreigners. Widespread arrests. Imprisonment in disconnected enclaves, where work is scarce and life miserable. Subjecting the enclaves to endless military incursions. All this concurrently with a large-scale land grab and settlement construction.
Principle (2) of the Israeli policy: Keep the violence rolling; dodge peace initiatives. This policy is carried out in broad daylight, unnoticed by the brainwashed Israeli public. Among the past examples, note the scorned peace overtures of Abu-Mazen, and those of the Saudis. Perhaps the most striking example is the Israeli treatment of the Hamas government. The Israeli establishment must have sighed in relief when Abu-Mazen, with his Western face and uncomfortable peace overtures finally lost power to Hamas. But Hanieh did not deliver! He behaved like a respectable statesman rather than a terrorist! The political wing of Hamas which came to power expressed interest in negotiating a settled solution based on that anathema to the Israeli establishment: 1967 international borders! Even worse, Hamas demonstrated the ability to maintain a ceasefire throughout the year preceding the elections, at the time that Israel did not maintain any ceasefire. This could not be permitted. A frantic string of Israeli provocations followed in the form of assassinations of Palestinian leaders, which finally bore fruit the attack on Israeli military post, in which a soldier was taken prisoner. The poor soldier Shalit provided the military leaders with a pretext for a large scale invasion of Gaza, for which they have been drooling since the disengagement from Gaza. Much of the Hamas political wing was carted off to jail, impairing their ability to rule, and leaving the Palestinian street to gunmen. The latter are unlikely to make any uncomfortable peace overtures, and can be trusted to deliver the Qassams. The latter could be stopped simply by negotiating with Hamas. But the Qassam salvos are convenient prerequisites for the militaristic policy.
[Do not get confused by the recent Olmert/Abu-Mazen meeting. Support for Abu-Mazen could have been considered an effective step towards negotiated compromise a couple of years ago, when Abu-Mazen came to power and enjoyed support of most of the Palestinian public. At that time Israeli government did everything in its means to pull the rung from under his feet. The present show of support for the discredited Palestinian leader who lost the elections can only be interpreted as an effort towards further destabilization of the Palestinian society.]
Principle (3): Bully anybody who dares to criticize Israel. One may note the shameless use of the Holocaust, and the accusations of anti-Semitism directed against decent people (some Jewish!) who oppose the Israeli government. So what should we call the above Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories? It certainly does not answer the definition of `fight against terror`, as claimed by the government, since one of its outcomes is empowerment of the violent elements within the Palestinian political system. On the other hand, the term `genocide` in its simple meaning does not sound appropriate, since wholesale murder does not take place (however the extended definition adopted by the UN does include elements of the OT reality). `Colonial expansion` seems to cover much, but not all, of this reality. Apartheid appears to be a fair approximation. In fact, many of the discriminatory rulings against the Palestinians parallel the ones employed in the past against the non-whites in South Africa. One can only marvel, what is the point of imitating measures such as the infamous Pass Laws and confinement to Bantustans, after these measures failed so spectacularly in South Africa! However, there is one significant difference with respect to the SA apartheid. The whites in SA viewed the rest of the society as inferiors, designated servants and laborers, but did not propose to exclude them totally from the society. The people in power in Israel have a dream, a dream of Palestinians disappearing from sight, and pursue this dream relentlessly. If you do not believe me, just look around. For example, note that most West Bank and Gaza Palestinians were expelled from the Israeli labor market, and laborers from Thailand, Romania, and other remote lands were imported in their stead. Or drive along No 6 freeway and note the grey walls of the Qalqilya ghetto. There is not one road-sign pointing towards Qalqilya along the freeway. And trees are being planted along the walls, which will eventually hide the ugly sight from the drivers. There are numerous other examples, big and small.
Summarizing, I think that ethnic cleansing is the most adequate description of the Israeli policy, meaning: 1) `Forceful dispossession of one ethnic group (Palestinians) on behalf of another (Israeli Jews), which considers itself superior. (2) Gradual destruction of the dispossessed society`.
So what next? Evidently, the Israeli establishment believes that the policy of imprisonment of Palestinians in ghettoes, their disconnection from the rest of the world, and piece-meal destruction by attrition can continue indefinitely. The hope seems to be that the Palestinian society will implode, and the in-fighting will finish the job. However the number of Palestinians living under Israeli rule is close to that of Israeli Jews. In the not-so-long-run, making normal life impossible for Palestinians will result in large scale escalation of violence, unlikely to remain confined within the walls of the ghettoes. Are the Israeli military and militaristic leaders unable to see it? The answer may be yes, as short-sightedness of military men is a well documented phenomenon in history. But it is also possible that some of them foresee the forthcoming paroxysm of violence and look forward to it – their ilk thrives on bloodshed. They may consider it an opportunity for large scale expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank, in the 1948 fashion. Perhaps Gaza is a designated mega-refugee camp and a destination for such mass expulsion.
Will the above succeed? Ethnic cleansing projects have been known to succeed in the distant and not-so-distant past. The Israeli government is riding the wave of newly fashionable and acceptable Western colonialism (renamed conveniently fight against terror). Also, by now everyone in the US Congress and Senate knows that saying a good word for Palestinians is equivalent to a political suicide. Even supposedly progressive people such as Nancy Pelosi grovel in front of AIPAC. But once-upon-a-time South African apartheid also seemed invincible, enjoying support of Reagan and Thatcher. And then it crumbled. And the Israeli Machine does display signs of wear. Sharon, the evil genius who contributed more than anybody to its launching, is out of political circulation. The people who replaced him in power appear narrow-minded and predictable, by far below his league. Israeli citizens continue to serve the Machine, but without the erstwhile ideological zeal. During the last elections, remarkably low percentage went to the polls; and out of those, surprisingly many chose to vote for a Pensioners Party.
I once attended a tour to the Wall (Separation Fence) in the Jerusalem area. Our guide, a well known lawyer Danny Seideman described preposterous resources spent on erecting the Wall, and equally preposterous manpower resources needed to maintain it in future. The thing will collapse under its own weight, like the South African apartheid system, he prophesized. In my view, the same will happen to the whole Machine. Let us only hope that the two hapless nations will not end up buried under its ruins.
Reproduced through Occupation Magazine resource policy. References were deleted for space considerations, but they may be viewed at the link.