Israel and Palestine
It’s impossible not to admire a journalist like Tsafi Saar. She speaks with force and clarity and, most importantly, she speaks as an Israeli.
The first step to inaugurating real change is to unmask the illusions that hold the current reality in place. Israel is a democracy for Jews only. Until this truth is exposed justice will always elude us.
We can’t lose a democracy we never had
The illusion of democracy in Israel is just one of the many illusions that we Israelis have been educated to believe.
By Tsafi Saar – Aug. 4, 2013
Many dirges have been heard lately lamenting the death of democracy on account of the governability law that passed its first reading in the Knesset this past week. There is reason to lament; it is indeed a bad and dangerous piece of legislation. But for something to die, it must have once lived. Has there been democracy in Israel before the governability was passed? The answer is no. For Israel’s entire 65-year existence it has not been a democratic state. From its founding until 1966 Israel imposed martial law on the Arab communities in its territory. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 until today, Israel has ruled over millions of Palestinian inhabitants in these territories – an occupied population with its basic freedoms and rights abrogated.
There has been an illusion of democracy here, or alternatively, a democracy for Jews only. This of course is a contradiction in terms. This is just one of the many illusions, which we Israelis have been educated to believe. It isn’t easy to discover how much of life and education here are full of indoctrination, because lightly scratching the surface reveals what is just a cover for an entirely different reality. Some of us discover this at an early age, others later. There are also those who will never discover this, perhaps they would even prefer not to see it.
Among the prominent examples are myths like “making the desert bloom,” or the statement, “A land without a people for a people without a land” – basic concepts in Zionism that express a worldview that ignored the land’s inhabitants. There is “Hebrew labor,” the aspiration that Jews who settled the land would work with their own hands instead of managing others, which is perceived to be something positive until we understand that it means excluding native Arabs from work. Another phenomenon placed on a pedestal is the revival of the Hebrew language. While it was a blessed miracle, it also was enabled by the pushing aside of many other languages as well as other cultures, not infrequently with violence – and this already sounds less heartwarming.
There are also clichés like “our hand is outstretched in peace,” as our politicians are wont to say while they are still polishing up ruins. In other versions, still in use today, there are mantras like “no partner for peace.” And who can forget “the world’s most moral army”? The same army that just recently detained a 5-year-old Palestinian child for investigation, and the state that plans to evict 1,300 Palestinians from their homes in the south Hebron hills to save time and resources, just to mention two examples among countless others.
These are bothersome thoughts. Is it possible that everything we were raised on, or at least most of it, is mistaken? What is the significance of this? And does asking these questions undermine the fact of our existence of here? If our existence here must be based on a strong fist, on pushing out others, on nationalism, chauvinism and militarism, then the answer is yes. But is this really the case?
In the history of Zionism there were other options besides that of Ben-Gurion-style force. For example, the path shown by professors Zvi Ben-Dor Benite and Moshe Behar in their recently published book “Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought: Writings on Identity, Politics, and Culture.” Jewish intellectuals of Middle Eastern origin at the beginning of the 20th century warned against adopting a European arrogance to the land’s inhabitants and called for respectful dialogue with them. But their words fell on deaf ears. The Brit Shalom faction of Hugo Bergmann and Gershom Scholem also proposed another way in the 1930s that was not accepted.
The state established here was not, despite its pretensions, “the sole democracy in the Middle East.” It appears that the first condition for really fixing this situation, if that is still possible, is the recognition that we did not lose democracy now. It never resided here.
Secretary Kerry’s determination to get the Palestinian-Israeli issues finally resolved seems to be making Netanyahu increasingly nervous. President Obama has sent General Martin Dempsey’s to Israel because there are concerns that Israel might be planning a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. General Dempsey is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post once held by Colin Powell. What will Dempsey and Bibi be talking about today?
US Senator John McCain has called General Dempsey’s warning against attack on Syria ‘disingenuous’. (AIPAC, CUFI, Lindsey Graham and the NEOCONs stand in agreement with Senator McCain.) The general public’s attention is solidly fixated on the sexual shenanigans of three American Jews (Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Bob Filner) whose stories are much more titillating than Dempsey’s. Nevertheless, please read the following news report carefully. The highlights are mine.
Top US general visiting Israel amid Iran, Syria worries
Martin Dempsey to meet Israeli leaders from Sunday evening; Netanyahu warns that new Iranian president won’t change policy
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will be the guest of Israel’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, and will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Dempsey’s visit, first reported on by Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth, comes amid concerns that Israel might be planning a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. On Sunday, Iran was inaugurating new president Hasan Rouhani, touted by some as a relative moderate who may attempt to open a window to the West. Netanyahu, however, told his cabinet Sunday morning that the new leader would continue the policies of his hardline predecessor.
With at least some Hezbollah forces tied down in the fighting in Syria, and the organization experiencing political blowback in Lebanon for its support of the Assad regime, the US may be concerned that Israeli leaders believe the cost of an Iran strike — especially in terms of rocket strikes on Israeli cities from across the border — has dropped significantly, according to the report.
In July, Netanyahu told NBC’s “Face the Nation” that Iran was getting “closer and closer to the bomb,” and that “they’re edging up to the red line.”
Netanyahu said, “They haven’t crossed it yet. They’re also building faster centrifuges that would enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate — that is, within a few weeks.”
“I won’t wait until it’s too late,” Netanyahu vowed at the time.
A report by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security last week said that Iran could break out to a nuclear bomb by mid-2014 if it went ahead with a plan to install thousands of new centrifuges. Tehran maintains its program is peaceful.
Last August, Dempsey demonstrated the gap between the Israeli and American sense of urgency over the Iranian nuclear program when he told a press conference in London that an Israeli strike would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program. I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
He said that intelligence was inconclusive when it came to Iran’s intentions. An American-led international sanctions regime “could be undone if [Iran] was attacked prematurely,” he added.
Just hours ahead of Dempsey’s visit, Netanyahu upped his rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear program, citing Rouhani’s anti-Israel oratory as proof of his hawkish views.
“Two days ago, the president of Iran said that ‘Israel is a wound in the Muslim body.’ The president of Iran might have changed, but the regime’s intentions did not,” Netanyahu told the cabinet. “Iran intends to develop nuclear capabilities and nuclear weapons in order to annihilate the State of Israel, and that’s a danger not only for us or the Middle East, but for the whole world. We are all responsible for preventing it.”
Netanyahu’s statement appeared to be reiterating his previously withdrawn criticism of an inaccurate translation of a Friday speech by Rouhani.
According to Iran’s semi-official ISNA and Mehr news agencies and Western wire services, Rouhani had said, “The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.”
Netanyahu’s original response said that Rouhani had “revealed his true face sooner than expected.” It added, “This statement should awaken the world from the illusion some have taken to entertaining since the elections in Iran. The president was replaced but the goal of the regime remained obtaining nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the safety of the world. A country which threatens to destroy Israel must not have weapons of mass destruction.”
But other sources quoted Rouhani differently, and ISNA retracted its original report. “In any case, in our region, a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years, in the shadow of the occupation of the Holy Land of Palestine and the dear Quds. This day is in fact a reminder of the fact that Muslim people will not forgot their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny,” Rouhani said, according to a New York Times translation.
Late Friday, Netanyahu’s office removed tweets criticizing Rouhani’s statement, and told the BBC that the prime minister had been responding to “a Reuters report with an erroneous translation.”
Netanyahu has consistently warned that the new Iranian president was merely putting on a “more hospitable face,” and that he has no power or intention to change the Iranian regime’s nuclear policy. Last month, he called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Last Sunday, Netanyahu charged that Iran was going ahead with its nuclear program: “A month has passed since the elections in Iran, and Iran is going full steam ahead on developing nuclear weapons. Now, more than ever, given Iran’s progress, it’s crucial to strengthen economic sanctions against Iran and to provide a credible military option.”
It is a great encouragement to see Uncle Noam still out there on the front lines, taking his stand alongside so many voiceless Palestinians! He gains nothing but ire and accusations for his tireless work of exposing hypocrisy in high places.
Chomsky is a Jew, of course, which adds to the sting of his critique so far as the Zionist establishment is concerned. Moreover, he is an American Jew, whose harshest criticisms are generally reserved for the leaders of his own country.
At 84 years old one has to wonder how much longer the great man can maintain his global prophetic role. Certainly we will all be a great deal poorer when he leaves the world stage.
US not a neutral party in Mideast talks: Noam Chomsky
He told reporters Friday in Geneva the US-brokered resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians likely will not amount to much, but Europe could change that if it were willing to break from American policies supporting Israel.
Preliminary talks are scheduled to begin in Washington on July 30.
“It’s hard to be optimistic, but Europe could play a role,” said Chomsky. “By and large, Europe has not developed an independent Middle East policy.”
Europe “consistently follows the US stand,” which punishes Palestinians whose land is settled by Israelis, and “there’s no reason why Europe should support illegal settlements,” he noted.
The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts made to establish peace in the Middle East.
A report released in May revealed that the Israeli regime confiscated 1,977 acres of the Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank for its settlement activity during 2012.
The settlements, which cover an area roughly equal to 1,035 soccer fields and twice as big as New York’s Central Park, were approved by “military order,” according to the report by the Israeli daily Haaretz on May 27.
The report said most of the new settlements were located deep in the Palestinian-inhabited West Bank.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds in 1967.
The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in the war of 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.
Below is an excerpt from Uri Avnery’s latest offering – “The Turkey Under the Table”. He highlights beautifully how dismal our hopes are that there might be any positive result from the latest Israel/Palestine peace negotiations.
WHEN YOU have a conflict between two parties, the way to solve it is clear: you put them in the same room, let them thrash out their differences and emerge with a reasonable solution acceptable to both.
For example, a conflict between a wolf and a lamb. Put them in the same room, let them thrash out their differences and emerge with…
Just a moment. The wolf emerges. Now where’s that lamb?
IF YOU have a conflict between two parties who are like a wolf and a lamb, you must have a third party in the room, just to make sure that Party 1 does not have Party 2 for dinner while the talks are going on.
The balance of power between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is like that between a wolf and a lamb. In almost every respect – economic, military, political – Israel has a vast advantage.
This is a fact of life. It is up to the Third Party to balance this somehow.
Can it be done? Will it be done?
I have always liked John Kerry. He radiates an air of honesty, sincerity, that seems real. His dogged efforts command respect. The announcement this week that he has at long last achieved even the first stage of talks between the parties can give some room for optimism.
As Mao said: A march of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
The parties have agreed to a meeting of delegates to work out the preliminary details. It should take place this coming week in Washington. So far so good.
The first question is: who will be the third person? It has been leaked that the leading candidate for this delicate task is Martin Indyk, a veteran former State Department officer.
This is a problematic choice. Indyk is Jewish and very much involved in Jewish and Zionist activity. He was born in England and grew up in Australia. He served twice as US ambassador to Israel.
Right-wing Israelis object to him because he is active in left-wing Israeli institutions. He is a member of the board of the New Israel Fund, which gives financial support to moderate Israeli peace organizations and is demonized by the extreme rightists around Binyamin Netanyahu.
Palestinians may well ask whether among the 300 million US citizens there is not a single non-Jew who can manage this job. For many years now it has been the case that almost all American officials dealing with the Israeli-Arab problem have been Jews. And almost all of them later went on to be officials in Zionist think-tanks and other organizations.
Read more of Uri Avnery’s wisdom on the Gush-Shalom website.
There’s a lot of excitement in the air right now about the apparent resuscitation of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, with new talks scheduled to begin at any moment!
Former US President, Jimmy Carter, and ‘The Elders’ praised John Kerry for his “tireless commitment to bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after five years of stalemate” while Christian Zionists blasted the US President for actions that they see as compromising the safety of the state of Israel!
It seems to me that Amira Hass is one of the few who really grasps the situation, even if hers is a truth that nobody wants to hear. The ‘peace talks’ haven’t got a chance! If they serve any purpose at all it will only be to enhance Netanyahu’s political career by portraying him as a willing negotiator.
After the peace talks fail
A Palestinian generation has come of age that is in no hurry to reach an agreement with the Israelis, because the Israelis aren’t ready for a fair agreement.
By Amira Hass
Don’t worry, in this round of talks with the Palestinians, Israel will again miss the opportunity to change and be changed – just as the Rabin-Peres government and the Barak government missed their opportunities. Discussions over a referendum ignore the essence: Any future worth living for the Jewish community in this part of the Middle East depends on the ability and will of that community to free itself from the ethnocracy (“democracy for Jews only”) that it has built here for nearly seven decades. For this we desperately need the Palestinians.
But military and economic superiority is blinding us. We are sure that they need us and that we have pushed them into such a weak position that we can extricate a yes from them regarding what they have been saying no to for 20 years; that is, much less than the 1967 borders.
The negotiations expected now, with the very non-neutral American participation (if we even get to that after the pre-negotiation phase), will not produce independence for the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition problems can’t be blamed for that. It’s the Israelis who are not yet ready to demand that their leaders work toward a peace agreement, because they’re still enjoying the occupation too much.
It’s not for nothing that we have been blessed with 6,800 weapons exporters, the title of the sixth largest weapons exporter in the world, and first or second place among countries selling unmanned aircraft, which were upgraded by trying them out on the Lebanese and mainly the Gazans. Even if few of our people are involved in the manufacture and export of weapons and in the defense industry in general, that’s a minority with an extensive influence and a great deal of economic power that shapes politics and produces messianic and technocratic rationalizations.
The European Union’s directives on noncooperation with the settlements and companies linked to them have come at least 15 years late. As early as the 1990s it was clear to Europe that the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza contradicted its interpretation of the Oslo Accords, but that didn’t prevent it from spoiling Israel with favorable trade agreements. Neither these agreements nor massive support for the Palestinian Authority (that is, compensation for damage done by Israeli rule and its restrictions on movement), gave Europe real political clout in Israel’s eyes and in the corridors of the negotiations. And then a determined first step by Europe rehabilitated its political standing.
The Palestinians have made clear that if the Europeans back down on these directives, as Israel has demanded and the United States wants, they will stop the talks (when they start). But the directives’ main psychological impact will dissipate without quick implementation. When and if implemented, the results will not be felt immediately in Israel, and even then, they will be felt only gradually. That is, it will take time before more and more Israelis realize that the occupation isn’t worth it. That will be enough time for us to continue feeling that we’re stronger than the Palestinians.
But depending on the Palestinians’ weakness is an optical illusion of the arrogant. True, the PLO’s leadership is fossilized and controlled by one individual who rarely consults and rarely takes his people’s opinions into consideration. But even he can’t accept what the Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid government plans to offer. True, Palestinian society is more fractured geographically and politically than it was 20 years ago, but it has great stamina, which the Israelis lack.
The PA and the Hamas government are groaning under the financial burdens of economies under siege. The social and economic rifts have deepened and an atmosphere of depoliticization has taken over. But beneath the surface there are new developments. Initiatives are afoot to turn the Palestinian people – in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the diaspora – into one deciding body. Ideas are being seriously discussed for methods of struggle outside negotiations. A generation has come of age that is in no hurry to reach an agreement with the Israelis, because the Israelis aren’t ready for a fair agreement. And when we, the Israelis, wake up and beg for an agreement, it might be too late.