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When BBC Calls, Don’t Answer

25 Jul

When BBC Calls, Don’t Answer..

 

That is, don’t answer, if you are a certified critic of Israeli policies and practices.

 

The siren lure of big time media is partly a romancing of the ego, partly a rare moment to intrude a moment or two of truthfulness into the endless spinning of the Israel’s narrative that stresses its extravagantly humane response to Hamas flurries of rockets and alleged human shield tactics.

 

Four times in the past week I have received invitations to be a guest on BBC programs dealing with Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Each time the female producer, with charming British intonation, expressed her strong interest in arranging my participation at such and such a time. And each time I agreed, although my presence in a Turkish village with limited Internet access made

it logistically awkward to do so, yet far from impossible to make the necessary arrangements, usually with the kind cooperation of a neighbor with superior digital facilities.

 

Each time I was ready at the appointed hour, and each time I was given a last minute explanation for why my appearance was cancelled—a couple of times I was told that I was a casualty of ‘breaking news,’ and the other two times, there was no embellishment, merely “we apologize, but we have to cancel today’s appearance.” And on each occasion, as if part of how producers are trained, I was told that those in charge of planning the program were eager to have me appear as soon as possible, and that I would hear in a day or so. On the basis of my past experience on the few occasions when such last minute news altered programming, I was shifted to later in the program or rescheduled for the next day. My BBC experience in this respect was ‘terminal’ as in disease.

 

Needless to say, the phone lines have been quiet since each of these ‘dumping’ incidents. I wonder why this pattern of invitation and cancellation. I am quite sure that these were quite separate programming for each of the invitations with no coordination among them. Was there some master censor at the BBC that reviewed the guest list just prior to the scheduled broadcast, somewhat in the manner that the way an ethical submarine commander might review the manifest of an enemy passenger ship in time of war? Perhaps, BBC was rightly concerned that there might be a faint and ugly stain of balance that would tarnish their unsullied reputation of pro-Israeli partisanship. I will probably be forever reliant on such conjectures.

 

I feel self-conscious relating this little saga at a time when so many in Gaza are dying and bleeding, and all are grieving. As I write I feel humble, not arrogant. It seems that somewhere buried in these trivial rejections there is occasion for concern that the media claim of objectivity in liberal societies is above all else a sham. That even powerful players such as BBC are secretly captive, and its reportage and commentary qualifies less as news than as Hasbara, at least when it comes to Israel-Palestine.

 

In any event, my advice to the media savvy, is that if you have caller ID, and you can tell that it is BBC calling, don’t bother answering. I hope I have the good sense to follow my own advice should the phone ever ring again!

Gaza Interview- Truthout

24 Jul

 

[Prefatory note: This is an interview with a knowledgeable Greek journalist covering a range of issues associated with the Gaza ordeal]

 

“Blood on American Hands”: Richard Falk on Palestine

Monday, 21 July 2014 13:03

By CJ Polychroniou, Truthout | Interview

 

A man holds the body of a child during a burial for a family of seven people killed yesterday in an Israeli attack in the Shajaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, July 21, 2014. As the bloody conflict entered its 14th day amid diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire, the Palestinian death toll reached 500, and thousands of people streamed toward Gaza City from the north Monday. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

For over 20 years, Israel and the United States have been working to separate Gaza from the West Bank, in violation of the Oslo Accords they had just signed declaring them to be an indivisible territorial unity. The latest carnage in Gaza is part of an ongoing Israeli imperial policy which, as Noam Chomsky wrote to me just a couple of days ago, seeks “to take over what’s of value ‘in the land of Israel,’ reduce the population to marginal existence (with the usual neocolonial exception: an enclave for the rich and Westernized sectors in Ramallah), and if they leave, so much the better.” But, as Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, former UN special rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, and author of the forthcoming book Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope, which will be published in October by Just World Books, underscores in this exclusive interview, Israel always claims that its attacks against Palestinians are provoked by the Palestinians themselves.

  1. J. Polychroniou: Professor Falk, here we go again: Israel, one of the world’s mightiest military powers, has launched yet another ground offensive into the Gaza Strip on the rather bogus proposition that Hamas provoked Israel to attack Gaza. What is Israel’s real purpose in attacking Gaza this time around?

Richard Falk: I believe that Israel periodically “mows the grass” in Gaza as one right-wing Israeli advisor to Sharon distastefully expressed the goal of Israel policy toward Gaza several years ago. There were factors present in the context of this Israeli attack that help explain why now. The main two factors in my view were the unwelcome establishment of an interim “unity government” on June 2 by the leadership of Fatah and Hamas, which undermined the Israeli approach of keeping the governing authorities in the West Bank and Gaza as divided as possible. The second element was Israel’s strong incentive to weaken Hamas in the West Bank so that Israel could justify its moves in April to end direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and move ever closer to incorporating the West Bank, or most of it into Israel, and fulfill the expansionist Zionist dream to move beyond the 1967 borders.

The June 12 kidnapping incident involving the three teenage settler children from the Gush Etzion settlement near Jerusalem provided the Netanyahu government with the pretext it needed to mount an anti-Hamas campaign that started as a supposed hunt for the perpetrators, detaining up to 500 suspected of a Hamas connection and generally imposing a variety of oppressive measures, including house demolition, lockdowns of Palestinian towns, and random violence that led to six Palestinian deaths. As has been shown, the incident was manipulated in a most cynical fashion by the government pretending to search for the kidnapped youth, while knowing that they were already dead, using public anxiety and anger to incite the Israeli citizenry to justify the oppressive tactics of the government and to create an atmosphere of vigilante vengeance.

Having denied any involvement in the kidnapping incident, it is hardly surprising that in retaliation for Israel’s provocations that Hamas in retaliation began firing rockets at Israeli towns. Israel used its formidable propaganda machine to tell the world that its third major military assault on defenseless Gaza in the last five years (2008-09, 2012, 2014) was a defensive response to unprovoked rocket attacks. With mock innocence, Netanyahu told the world that Israel needed to act to protect its citizens from the rockets, without any mention, of course, of the prior anti-Hamas rampage that included ugly Israeli racist slurs directed at the Palestinians and revenge attacks on Palestinian children.

Why did the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo fail?

The ceasefire failed for several reasons. Hamas was excluded from the process leading up to the proposed ceasefire, and was informed only by the public media. Beyond this, the previously announced Hamas conditions for agreeing to a ceasefire were ignored: release of Palestinians who had been part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange three years ago (in which a single captured IDF soldier was released in exchange for the agreed Israeli release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners) and were rearrested in recent weeks as part of the crackdown on Hamas; lifting the blockade and opening the crossings; cease interference with the unity government; restore the 2012 ceasefire. Also, Sisi’s Egypt is hardly a suitable or trustworthy intermediary from Hamas’ perspective. Not far in the background is the brutal repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and related hostility to Hamas, which is regarded by the Sisi government as an offshoot.

Would Israel have launched an attack if the new Egyptian government was not also bent on seeing Hamas destroyed?

This is a very speculative issue. Israel did initiate a major attack on Gaza in November 2012 while Mohamed Morsi was president despite his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and did then accept a ceasefire arranged under Cairo’s diplomatic auspices. Having General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president of Egypt is certainly a favorable development from Israel’s perspective. Sisi has substantially destroyed the extensive tunnel network on which Hamas depended to receive needed supplies as well as to collect tax revenues required to administer Gaza. Egypt in recent months has been cooperating with Israel and the United States, including in relation to control of the passage through the Rafah crossing to Egypt, which is the only escape route available to the people of Gaza, including those needing medical attention only available in Cairo. I believe that the Israeli attack occurred at this time principally for reasons of Israeli state policy, and would have taken place without regard to the attitudes of the leadership in Cairo.

With 1.8 million people trapped in an overcrowded war zone, it should be obvious that the Israeli jets’ attacks constitute a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Yet, once again, Israel is allowed to get away with murder because it enjoys US diplomatic backing as well as US military and financial support. As such, doesn’t this make the United States just as complicit in crimes against humanity as Israel itself?

I do agree that the United States for the reasons you give is definitely complicit in relation to the criminal nature of the Israeli attack. Whether this kind of complicity involves legal culpability, as well as moral and political complicity is an open question. The United States is not, so far as is known, directly involved in planning and carrying out this “aggression” against Gaza and “collective punishment” against its people. Giving military assistance or providing military equipment to a foreign government does not by itself constitute a sufficient connection with the attack as to satisfy legal tests of complicity.

What is clear is that the continuing and unconditional diplomatic support given by the US to Israel, including shielding Israel from formal censure at the UN, and the failure to discourage war crimes being committed, results in much blood on American hands. Activist opponents of this American policy are now more committed to calling upon churches and universities to divest from corporations doing business with the settlements or facilitating Israeli militarism, and there are increasing national and international calls for an arms embargo on Israel, which would be of mainly symbolic force, given Israel’s robust arms industry, which is supplying weapons to many countries, with the grotesque selling point that they have been “field-tested,” that is, used, in Gaza.

Hamas has been faced with a similar situation before, yet, every time it gets into a military confrontation with Israel, it seems to be emerging stronger than before. Should we expect things to be any different this time around?

It is difficult at this point to say. What the encounter did reveal was that Hamas and other militias in Gaza have a considerable supply of longer-range missiles able to strike any city in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It also seems that Israel’s reliance on air attacks and naval shelling was not able to curtail the numbers of rockets being fired. True, despite firing more than 1,000 rockets, no Israeli has yet been killed by a Palestinian rocket (apparently the only Israeli so far killed died from a mortar shell fired from Gaza while he was rushing to a shelter, an option Gazans do not have) [as of interview conducted on July 19]. At the same time, the psychological and political effects of being unable to stop the launch of rockets has damaged Israeli prestige, and may push it to pursue more ambitious goals than destroying tunnels into Israel from Gaza, the stated objective of Operation Protective Edge, the code name Israel has given for its military operation. The high proportion of civilians among the Palestinian casualties (75 to 80 percent) also suggests that Hamas has become more sophisticated in protecting its militants from Israeli firepower as compared to the results of the two earlier attacks.

Of course, to the extent that Israel is politically weaker, Hamas emerges stronger, withstanding the mighty Israeli military onslaught, demonstrating resilience under the most difficult circumstance, and mounting stubborn resistance that frustrates Israel’s announced war goals.

Has Israel become a “fundamentalist” state, betraying all dreams and aspirations that led to its original founding?

I think Israel has definitely moved gradually in the direction of a maximalist understanding of the Zionist project, which is now quite clearly intended to exercise permanent sovereign control over “Judea and Samaria,” what the world knows as “the West Bank.” The new president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, due to take over very soon from Shimon Peres, belongs to the right wing of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. He is an undisguised advocate of an enlarged Israel that claims the whole of biblical Palestine and repudiates all diplomacy associated with establishing peace on the basis of a Palestinian state, in effect, a one-state approach with Palestinians as permanent minority. Additionally, the Israel of today has moved far to the right; many Israelis have developed a consumerist mentality, and the conflict with Palestine, except during crises as at present, has posed serious threats in recent years to the stability and serenity of the country. Also, due to high fertility rates and the importance of the settler movement, religious Judaism has been playing a larger role, and injects a certain measure of religious extremism and ethnic intolerance into Israeli political and social life.

The two-state solution, long proposed by supporters of the Palestinian cause, including the late Edward Said, seems to be a dead end – at least in my own eyes. Do you agree with this assessment, and, if so, what is the alternative for securing lasting peace among Israelis and Palestinians?

To clarify Edward Said’s position: He did favor for a time in the late 1980s, as did the PLO, the two-state solution, but in the last years of his life he strongly endorsed a single, secular bi-national state as the only workable arrangement allowing the two peoples to live together in peace and dignity. Said rejected the idea of an ethnic state for either people, and believed that Zionist claims to have a Jewish state in historic Palestine would never result in a just and sustainable peace that acknowledged Palestinian rights under international law, including the right of return and equality for the Palestinian minority living in Israel.

I share Said’s latter assessment, and believe that the scale and resolve of the settlers is such as to make their removal politically impossible. For this reason, I have opposed the sort of direct negotiations that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, pushed so hard a year ago as creating false expectations and artificial pressures. The political preconditions for two states with equal sovereign rights living side by side definitely do not presently exist, and may never have existed. To negotiate with that awareness of futility is to play Israel’s game of endless talks, while the building cranes in the settlements continue their unlawful work at an accelerated pace. Time has never been kind to the Palestinians. Their territorial prospects have been continuously diminished and have now reached the point of a virtual zero. Recall that the UN partition plan in 1947 seemed unfair to the Palestinians when it offered them only 45 percent of Palestine, which then was reduced to 22 percent by the outcome of the 1948 war, and related expulsion of the Palestinians, and still further by “the facts on the ground” (settlements, wall, settler only roads) steadily created since 1967.

The best hope of the Palestine national movement at this time is to proceed via a unity government, also engaging the refugee and exile community of 7 million, by working together with the global solidarity movement that is growing rapidly. In other words Palestinian prospects in the future will depend on the continued mobilization of global civil society to support nonviolent coercive action on a worldwide scale. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign has been growing at a rapid rate recently, with analogies to the anti-apartheid struggle that toppled a racist regime in South Africa against all odds and expectations becoming more relevant. This shift in Palestinian tactics in the direction of what I have called “waging a legitimacy war” seems reinforced in its plausibility by the growing global outrage in response to Israel tactics, especially in callous disregard of Palestinian civilian innocence.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

 

CJ POLYCHRONIOU

C.J. Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a columnist for a Greek daily national newspaper. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He has taught for many years at universities in the United States and Europe and is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Levy Economics Institute or those of its board members.

 

Palestinian Recourse to the International Criminal Court: The Time has Come

21 Jul

[Prefatory Note: "Palestine’s Dilemma: To Go or Not to Go to the International Criminal Court" was published on July 13, 2014 on the website of Middle East Eye, a site I strong recommend to all those with an interest in Middle East issues; this post represents a somewhat revised text, but within the framework of the original; the political plausibility of invoking the Inteernational Criminal Court to investigate allegations of criminality directed at Israel increases with each passing day.)

 

 

 

Ever since this latest Israeli major military operation against Gaza started on July 8, there have been frequent suggestions that Israel is guilty of war crimes, and that Palestine should do its best to activate the International Criminal Court (ICC) on its behalf. The evidence overwhelmingly supports basic Palestinian allegations—Israel is guilty either of aggression in violation of the UN Charter or is in flagrant violation of its obligations as the Occupying Power under the Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population of an Occupied People; Israel seems guilty of using excessive and disproportionate force against a defenseless society in the Gaza Strip; and Israel, among an array of other offenses, seems guilty of committing Crimes Against Humanity in the form of imposing an apartheid regime in the West Bank and through the transfer of population to an occupied territory as it has proceeded with its massive settlement project.

 

Considering this background of apparent Israeli criminality it would seem a no brainer for the Palestinian Authority to seek the help of the ICC in waging its struggle to win over world public opinion to their struggle. After all, the Palestinians are without military or diplomatic capabilities to oppose Israel, and it is on law and global solidarity must rest their hopes for eventually realizing their rights, particularly the right of self-determination and the right of return. Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank are demanding that their leaders in the Palestinian Authority adhere to the Rome Statute, and become members of the ICC without further delay. It has become part of the message of Palestinian street politics that the Palestinians are being criminally victimized, and that the Palestinian Authority if it wants to retain the slightest shred of respect as representatives of the Palestinian people must join in this understanding of the Palestinian plight and stop ‘playing nice’ with Israeli authorities.

 

Such reasoning from a Palestinian perspective is reinforced by the May 8th letter sent by 17 respected human rights NGOs to President Mahmoud Abbas urging Palestine to become a member of the ICC, and act to end Israel’s impunity. This was not a grandstanding gesture dreamed up on the irresponsible political margins of liberal Western society. Among the signatories were such human rights stalwarts as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Haq, and the International Commission of Jurists, entities known for their temporizing prudence in relation to the powers that be.

 

Adding further credence to the idea that the ICC option should be explored was the intense opposition by Israel and United States, ominously threatening the PA with dire consequences if it tried to join the ICC, much less to seek justice through its activating its investigative procedures. The American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, herself long ago prominent as a human rights advocate, revealed Washington’s nervous hand when she confessed that the ICC “is something that really poses a profound threat to Israel.” I am not sure that Power would like to live with the idea that because Israel is so vulnerable to mounting a legal challenge that its impunity must be upheld whatever the embarrassment to Washington of doing so. France and Germany have been more circumspect, saying absurdly that recourse to the ICC by Palestine should be avoided because it would disrupt ‘the final status negotiations,’ as if this pseudo-diplomacy was ever of any of value, a chimera if there ever was one, in the elusive quest for a just peace.

 

In a better world, the PA would not hesitate to invoke the authority of the ICC, but in the world as it is, the decision is not so simple. To begin with, is the question of access, which is limited to states. Back in 2009, the PA tried to adhere to the Rome Statute, which is the treaty governing the ICC, and was rebuffed by the prosecutor who turned the issue over to the Security Council, claiming a lack of authority to determined whether the PA represented a ‘state.’ Subsequently, on November 29th the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as ‘a nonmember observer state.’ Luis Moreno–Ocampo who had acted in 2009 for the ICC, and now speaking as the former prosecutor, asserted that in his opinion Palestine would now in view of the General Assembly action qualify as a state enjoying the option of becoming an ICC member. Normally, ICC jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed after the state becomes a member, but there is a provision that enables a declaration to be made accepting jurisdiction for crimes committed at any date in its territory so long as it is after the ICC itself was established in 2002.

 

Is this enough? Israel has never become a party to the Rome Statute setting up the ICC, and would certainly refuse to cooperate with a prosecutor who sought to investigate war crimes charges with the possible intention of prosecution. In this regard, recourse to ICC might appear to be futile as even if arrest warrants were to be issued by the court, as was done in relation to Qaddafi and his son in 2011, there would be no prospect that the accused Israeli political and military figures would be handed over, and without the presence of such defendants in the court at The Hague, a criminal trial cannot go forward. This illustrates a basic problem with the enforcement of international criminal law. It has been effective only against the losers in wars fought against the interests of the West and, to some extent, against those whose crimes are in countries located in sub-Saharan Africa. This biased form of international criminal law implementation has been the pattern since the first major effort was made after World War II at Nuremberg and Tokyo. Surviving German and Japanese leaders were prosecuted for their crimes while exempting the winners, despite Allied responsibility for the systematic bombing of civilian populations by way of strategic bombing and the American responsibility for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Unfortunately, up to this time the ICC has not been able to get rid of this legacy of ‘victors’ justice,’ which has harmed its credibility and reputation. All ICC cases so far have involved accused from sub-Saharan African countries. The refusal of the ICC to investigate allegations of war crimes of the aggressors in relation the Iraq War of 2003 is a dramatic confirmation that leading states, especially the United States, possess a geopolitical veto over what the ICC can do. The ICC failure to investigate the crimes of Bush and Blair, as well as their entourage of complicit top officials, vividly shows the operations of double standards. Perhaps, the climate of opinion has evolved to the point where there would be an impulse to investigate the charges against Israel even if procedural obstacles preventing the case from being carried to completion. Any serious attempt to investigate the criminal accountability of Israeli political and military leaders would add legitimacy to the Palestinian struggle, and might have a positive spillover effect on the global solidarity movement and the intensifying BDS campaign.

 

Yet there are other roadblocks. First of all, the PA would definitely have to be prepared to deal with the wrath of Israel, undoubtedly supported by the United States and more blandly by several European countries. The push back could go in either of two directions: Israel formally annexing most or all of the West Bank, which it seems determined to do in any event, or more likely in the short run, withholding the transfer of funds needed by the PA to support its governmental operations. The U.S. Congress would be certain to follow the lead of Tel Aviv even if the Obama presidency might be more inclined to limit its opposition to a diplomatic slap on the PA wrist as it did recently in reacting to the June formation of the interim unity government, an important step toward reconciling Fatah and Hamas, and overcoming the fragmentation that has hampered Palestinian representation in international venues in recent years.

 

A second potential obstacle concerns the jurisdictional authority of the ICC, which extends to all war crimes committed on the territory of a treaty member, which means that leaders of Hamas would also likely be investigated and indicted for their reliance on indiscriminate rockets aimed in the direction of Israeli civilian targets.There is even speculation that given the politics of the ICC such that crimes alleged against Hamas might be exclusively pursued.

 

If we assume that these obstacles have been considered, and Palestine still wants to go ahead with efforts to activate the investigation of war crimes in Gaza, but also in the rest of occupied Palestine, what then? And assume further, that the ICC reacts responsibly, and gives the bulk of its attention to the allegations directed against Israel, the political actor that controls most aspects of the relationship. There are several major crimes against humanity enumerated in Articles 5-9 of the Rome Statute for which there exists abundant evidence as to make indictment and conviction of Israeli leaders all but inevitable if Palestine uses its privilege to activate an investigation and somehow is able to produce the defendants to face trial: reliance on excessive force, imposing an apartheid regime, collective punishment, population transfers in relations to settlements, maintenance of the separation wall in Palestine.

 

The underlying criminality of the recent aggression associated with Protective Edge (Israel’s name for its 2014 attack on Gaza) cannot be investigated at this point by the ICC, and this seriously limits its authority. It was only in 2010 that an amendment was adopted by the required 2/3 majority of the 122 treaty members on an agreed definition of aggression, but it will not become operative until 2017. In this respect, there is a big hole in the coverage of war crimes currently under the authority of the ICC.

 

Despite all these problems, recourse to the ICC remains a valuable trump card in the PA thin deck, and playing it might begin to change the balance of forces bearing on the conflict that has for decades now denied the Palestinian people their basic rights under international law. If this should happen, it would also be a great challenge to and opportunity for the ICC finally to override the geopolitical veto that has so far kept criminal accountability within the tight circle of ‘victors’ justice’ and hence only accorded the peoples of the world a very power-laden and biased experience of justice.

No Exit from Gaza: A New War Crime?

16 Jul

 

(Prefatory Note: this is a modified version of a post published online, July 15, 2014, at the recently established very informative website, Middle East Eye; as the casualty totals continue to mount while the world looks on in stupefied inaction, the attacks go on; at the very least, from a humanitarian perspective,there should be a global outcry demanding that children, mothers, and those sick and disabled be allowed to leave the Gaza Strip until current hostilities end. Yet this is a gap in international humanitarian law, refugee law, and the moral sensibilities of the combatant states.)

 

 

As the hideous Israeli assault on Gaza, named Operation Protective Edge, by the IDF enters its second week, overdue international appeals for a ceasefire fall on deaf ears. The short lived July 15th ceasefire arranged by Sisi’s Egypt had many accompanying signs of bad faith from its inception, including the failure to allow Hamas to participate in the process, insultingly conveying the proposed terms of the ceasefire through public media. The vague terms depicted, alongside the failure to take any account of Hamas’ previously announced conditions, suggest that this initiative was not a serious effort to end the violence, but rather a clever ploy to regain moral credibility for Israel thereby facilitating the continuation and even intensification of its violent military campaign that was never defensive in conception or execution. Rather than being a real effort to end the violence, such a ‘ceasefire’ seems best understood as a sophisticated for form of escalation produced by a descent into the lower depths of Israeli hasbara. Such an Israeli tactic was facilitated by the active complicity of the Egyptian government that shares with Israel an undisguised wish to destroy Hamas. Cairo regards Hamas as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has been criminalized and viciously repressed, and has collaborated with Tel Aviv ever since Sisi took over control of the Egyptian government.

 

Throughout Protective Edge Bibi Netanyahu has been telling the world that no outside pressure will alter Israel’s resolve to reach its military and political goals to disable Hamas for the indefinite future. The main official justification for such aggression is to make sure this time that Israelis will never again have to seek shelter from Hamas rockets, an elusive result that Netanyahu acknowledges could require a prolonged military campaign combining ground forces with a continuing air and naval assault. Others claim on Israel’s behalf that this attack on Hamas is a just response to its involvement in the kidnapping incident a month ago in which three Israeli settler teenagers were seized by two Palestinians, and soon afterwards brutally executed. Such a rationale would still be a hyperbolic form of collective punishment directed at the entire civilian population of Gaza, even if there had been a Hamas connection to the earlier crime, an involvement alleged from the very first moment, and yet up to now not substantiated by evidence even in the face of Hamas’ denial of any involvement. The internationally respected human rights and international law specialist resident in Gaza, Raji Sourani, has written that the scale and ferocity of Protective Edge is an application of what he labels the ‘Gaza Doctrine,’ a deliberate reliance on disproportionate force in any encounter in Gaza. The Gaza Doctrine is a renewal of what was originally known as the ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ after the destruction of the Dahiya residential neighborhood in south Beirut, where many of Hezbollah’s faithful were living, during the 2006 Lebanon War. The inability of Hamas to mount any sort of defense for the people of Gaza or even to provide protection via shelters and the like, epitomizes the criminal nature of Protective Edge, and more generally, of totally one-sided warfare.

 

Leaving aside the debate on causes and justifications, the civilian population of Gaza, estimated to be about 1.8 million with women and children comprising 75% of the total, are trapped in an overcrowded war zone with no shelters and no apparent exit from terrifying danger. Even if families are lucky enough to avoid direct physical injury, the experience of screaming jet fighters attacking through the night, targeting, attack, and surveillance drones flying overhead 24 hours a day, sustained naval artillery barrages, not to mention the threats and warnings of an imminent ground invasion combine to create a nonstop horror show. It has been convincingly confirmed by mental health specialists that these realities result in a trauma inducing phenomenon on a massive scale with prospects of lasting and irreversible psychological damage, especially to children.

 

With these elements in mind, the idea of fulfilling the basic objective of international humanitarian law to protect civilians caught in a war zoneis being violated by Israel, although not altogether. Israeli officials claim that leaflets dropped on some intended targets, otherwise forbidden, that give residents a few minutes to vacate their homes before their living space is reduced to rubble, exhibits a humane intent and satisfies the requirements of international humanitarian law. Such a self-sanitizing gesture fails to discharge the obligations of an Occupying Power under international humanitarian law.

 

In a further escalation of the attacks, perhaps the prelude to a ground invasion, residents of northern Gaza are being told to flee the area, and tens of thousands have apparently done so. Hamas apparently urged these same people not to leave their homes dismissing Israeli threats as intimidating propaganda. Cynically interpreted, Hamas appears to be informing Israel that if they go ahead and invade, there will be responsible for causing many Palestinian civilian casualties, and the shock caused by such carnage will help eventually swing the international balance of opinion strongly in their favor.

 

The entrapment of the Gazan population within closed borders is part of a deliberate Israeli pattern of prolonged collective punishment that has for the past several years been imposed on Gaza. This amounts to a grave breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and as such qualifies as a potential Crime Against Humanity. The morbid clarity of criminal intent is further disclosed by Israel’s willingness to allow 800 or so Gazans who have dual citizenship and hold a foreign passport to leave Gaza by entering Israel at the Erez Crossing, including 150 with American passports. No other Palestinian residents of Gaza have the option of leaving even if disabled, sick, elderly, or young. The civilian population of Gaza is denied the option of seeking refugee status by fleeing Gaza during this time of intense warfare, and there is no space available within Gaza that might allow Palestinian civilians to become internally displaced until Protective Edge completes its dirty work.

 

In countries such as Iraq and Syria we grieve appropriately for the millions becoming refugees or ‘internally displaced,’ compelled by the dangers of the raging conflict to seek refuge somewhere in the country that is removed from the immediate dangers of inhabiting the war zone. We can sense the extremity of the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza by realizing that these people whose lives are being acutely jeopardized, have no place to hide from the brutalities of war. There is no doubt that the whole of the Gaza Strip is a war zone. Gazans who have endured many mortal threats and a siege since 2007, currently find themselves in situations of extreme hazard, and yet have no possibility of seeking temporary safety as refugees by crossing an international border. The idea of internal refuge is almost inapplicable given the ferocious nature of Protective Edge that has spared not one corner of the tiny and overcrowded Gaza Strip. To be sure, in response to Israeli warnings to abandon their homes tens of thousands of Palestinians are fleeing south from north Gaza. At present writing , an estimated 17 thousand Palestinians have obtained refuge in the 20 UN-run schools situated throughout Gaza. UNRWA is doing its heroic best to handle these desperate people but its buildings have limited space and lack the facilities to handle properly this kind humanitarian emergency–insufficient bathrooms, no beds, and not enough space to meet the demands.

 

This is not the first time that this exit challenge has been posed in Gaza. Back in 2008-09 and 2012, Israeli launched major military operations in Gaza, and the issue of the entrapped civilian population was brought to the attention of the UN and the international community, a challenge met as now with scandalous silence. The encirclement of Gaza by Israeli controlled crossings and fences, even worse than in the past due to an Egyptian political leadership that makes no secret of its hostility to Hamas. The overall humanitarian crisis is catastrophic in the risk it poses to the totally vulnerable Gazan social reality.

 

For some perspective, it is useful to recall that just prior to the Kosovo War in 1999, up to a million Kosovars crossed into Macedonia to escape anticipated NATO air strikes and because of a credible fear of an imminent ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Serbian forces then controlling the country. As soon as the war was over and Serbia abandoned Kosovo, these refugees returned, having safely navigated the dangers of the war.

 

In Libya, too, the international community meaningfully responded in 2011 to the urgent crisis of an entrapped civilian population. In the Libyan crisis Security Council members talked piously about relying on the emergent norm of international law known as the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, that validated intruding on Libyan sovereignty by way of a No Fly Zone that was established to protect the civilian population of Benghazi facing the vengeance of Qaddafi’s forces. This 2011 intervention has been much criticized because the humanitarian justification on which authorization for the undertaking was transformed immediately into a controversial regime-changing intervention that raised many objections. What is most relevant here is that the UN and the member governments of the Security Council acknowledged their responsibility to do something to protect a civilian population unable to remove itself from a combat zone. It should not be forgotten in comparing Libya with Gaza that humanitarian appeals seem much more effective when the country in question is perceived to have strategic value, especially large oil deposits.

 

The UN , aside from the admirable field efforts of UNRWA noted above, and the international refusal to adopt measures protective of the people of Gaza is unforgiveable, particularly as Gazans are being subjected to severe forms of violence that are approaching genocidal thresholds. Even so the UN and its leading member governments turn their heads and look away. Some do wors by actually endorsing Israel’s aggression. This pattern of behavior exhibits either a sense of helplessness in the face of Israel’s military juggernaut or even more disturbingly, a silence that can be construed as tacitly blessing this infernal entrapment of innocent and a long victimized people.

 

International law has little to say. International refugee law avoids issues associated with any right to escape from a war zone and does impose a duty on belligerent parties to provide civilians with an exit and/or a temporary place of sanctuary. International humanitarian law offers little more by way of protection to an entrapped people, despite the seeming relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention devoted to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. There is accorded to foreign nationals a right of departure with the onset of war, including even repatriation to an enemy country, but no right of nationals to leave their own country if under attack. And the generalized obligation of an Occupying Power to protect the civilian population is legally subordinated to its security needs, including military necessity, and so is generally of little practical use during an ongoing military operation.

 

What is evident in relation to the entrapped civilian population of Gaza is that no legal obligation exists to provide for safe havens either within the country experiencing the warfare or beyond its borders. At minimum, this horrible cauldron of violence and vulnerability reveals serious gaps in international humanitarian law, as well as the absence of self-imposed moral constraints that might limit belligerent violence. Such unattended vulnerability to atrocity urgently calls for a supplemental international agreement, perhaps taking the form of a treaty protocol to the Geneva Convention conferring an unconditional right of exit on civilians entrapped in a war zone. There is also a need to make any denial of the right of exit a species of war crime within the purview of the International Criminal Court. It should also be considered whether there should be conferred a right of internal displacement, imposing an obligation upon the Occupying Power, a territorial government, and insurgent actor to establish and respect enclaves set aside for displaced persons and to allow unimpeded civilian departure from war zones so as to take advantage of internal displacement. There are further complications that need to be addressed including whether the territorial government or Occupying Power can invoke security considerations to deny exit and displacement rights to those it has reason to believe are entitled to respect as civilians.

 

For the present it is enough to observe that the civilian population of Gaza finds itself totally entrapped in a terrifying war zone, and that Israel, the UN, and neighboring governments have refused to accept responsibility to offer some form of humane protection. It is one aspect of the unacceptability of the Israeli military operation from a moral/legal perspective and the related failure of international humanitarian law to lay down suitable rules and procedures that respect the human dignity of civilian innocence so entrapped. Yet, as almost always in such situations, it is the presence or absence of political will on the part of leading geopolitical actors that is the decisive factor in determining whether victimized people will be protected or not.And so it is with Gaza.

Tormenting Gaza

15 Jul

(Prefatory Note: the Israeli military operation, code name Operation Protective Edge by Israel, being carried out in the Gaza Strip continues, and seems poised to mount a ground attack that will further intensify the suffering of the Palestinian people, and lend additional credibility to the accusation of ‘collective punishment,’ both a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a crime against humanity. The post below is a somewhat edited republication of an opinion piece published in AlJazeera English several days ago at the start of Operation Protective Edge.]

 

For the third time in the last six years Israel has cruelly unleashed the full fury of its military machine against the defenseless 1.7 million people of Gaza, inflicting heavy civilian casualties and further devastation on the long besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip. With cynical disregard of the realities of this latest one-sided confrontation between Israel and Palestine, instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as ‘aggression’ that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of Western diplomats and mainstream media has so far perversely sided with Israel, citing the bland rationalization repeatedly stressed by Netanyahu that ‘every nation has the right to defend itself.’ And so it does, but not by way of aggression! From the UN Secretary General to the President of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas stop must all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show “maximum restraint.”

 

Up to now, the Israeli attacks have caused some two hundred deaths (more than half of whom are women and children; 80% civilians) and more than a thousand physical injuries (plus countless more injuries to mental health). In this period hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, but have yet to cause a single death. The only reported serious injury to Israelis has been suffered by a person on his way to a shelter, making one aware that there are no shelters for Gazans subjected to much more lethal forms of firepower. Granted that such rocket attacks, indiscriminate in nature, are unlawful forms of resistance, to single out this lesser type of violence out and overlook the greater violence distorts the context in biased and unacceptable ways, and helps explain the distorted discourse in Western diplomacy. Surely, the greater occasion of terror is that being inflicted on the hapless Gazans as disclosed by comparing the casualty disparity, and surely the political condemnation by responsible governments and even more so by the UN should be directed at the aggressor, who also happens to be the only political actor with the means to end the escalating violence, yet defiantly lacks the will. This international reaction to this latest crisis confirms for all with eyes to see that geopolitical alignments, not law or justice, dominates the diplomacy of leading Western states and the UN, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially if it concerns Israel-Palestine, and never more so than in relation to Gaza.

 

After several days of the Israel attack, self-servingly code-named Protective Edge by Israel, President Obama made a low profile offer to mediate a return to the 2012 ceasefire that had been arranged through the good offices of Egypt after this earlier onslaught on Gaza. Whether the U.S. Government, the undisguised patron and unconditional supporter of Israel, has the credibility to play such a mediating role rather doubtful, but in any event, Israel showed no interest. It is possible that Hamas, weakened by developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, and facing the desperation of a terrorized and totally vulnerable people entrapped in the Gaza Strip, with a health system on the verge of collapse, might accept such a move even if excluded from participating directly in the negotiations, which would mean depending on the Palestinian Authority to represent Gaza’s interests. After all, Hamas, although prevailing in fair elections back in 2006, remains ‘a terrorist organization’ according to the Western diplomatic establishment, even though it has been in recent years mostly on the receiving end of Israeli state terrorism, and should be allowed to act diplomatically on behalf of Gaza and enhance its credentials as a political actor. At present, the issue may be moot as Netanyahu belligerently insists that no amount of international pressure will lead Israel to stop its attack until the ambitious political goals of the military operation have been attained. These goals include as a priority the elimination of Hamas influence in the West Bank, which is the prize that the current Israeli leadership covets in its quest to complete the Likud maximalist version of the Zionist Project.

 

An aspect of the distorted approach to responsibility for the violence in Gaza is the refusal of the West to take note of the connection between Protective Edge and the June 12th kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli settler teenage children and the surge of public and private sector revenge violence culminating in the grisly murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 17 year old Arab boy a few days later in the Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem. Without ever disclosing evidence linking Hamas to such an atrocious crime the Netanyahu government and Israeli media reacted hysterically, immediately inciting a vicious campaign against suspected Hamas militants throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including air strikes in Gaza. In this atmosphere many Israeli officials and media stalwarts were provocatively calling upon the Israeli citizenry to strike back at the Palestinians. It was in this inflamed atmosphere that the Israeli government undertook a massive campaign of collective punishment, itself a war crime: hundreds of Palestinians thought to be associated with Hamas were arrested and detained; house demolitions of the homes of suspects; killings of at least six Palestinians; lockdowns of entire cities; air strikes against Gaza.

 

All this was done despite the mounting belief of independent observers that the crime against the Israeli youths was carried out by two Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas, perhaps with an initial plan to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an exchange. Never has it been asserted in high profile diplomatic circles of the West that the horrible crime provided Netanyahu with a pretext for unleashing an anti-Hamas campaign to complete the process of de facto annexation of most of the West Bank. This campaign seems far less motivated by a response to the kidnapping/murder than by the political objective of punishing the Palestinians leadership for defying the Netanyahu government for recently achieving a measure of reconciliation as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Further in the background, but part of the context, is the Israeli interest in shifting responsibility away from themselves for the failure of the Kerry direct negotiations that collapsed at the end of April. And in the foreground, are the settlers and the settlements with their avowed intention of incorporating Samaria and Judea into the state of Israel once and for all, whatever the consequences.

 

So far, Israel has met calls for restraint and a ceasefire with contempt. Rumors of Hamas’s receptivity to a ceasefire have not been tested. Israel’s leaders have responded defiantly, suggesting that Protective Edge will not cease until the Hamas’ infrastructure is destroyed, whatever it takes, supposedly to ensure that no rockets will ever again be fired from Gaza, which would imply that Gaza was totally subjugated and completely helpless. When Palestinian civilians are killed and terrorized in the process of pursuing such an elusive goal, this is rationalized by Israeli officials as a regrettable side effect of what Israeli leaders are claiming to be a legitimate military undertaking. In a characteristic warped statement Netanyahu declared: “We are not eager for battle, but the security of our citizens and children takes precedence over all else.” Some Israeli top officials were clearer about Israel’s objectives than was the prime minister. The Defense Minister, Moshe Yalon, called for the total destruction of Hamas, which is tantamount to seeking a genocidal hunting license in relation to the entrapped people of Gaza and the oppressed population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Deputy Minister of Defense, Danny Dayon, publically urged Israel to cut off fuel and electricity to Gaza. If such a policy is implemented it would virtually guaranty a grotesque humanitarian crisis; he was later dismissed by Netanyahu for publicly declaring that Israel was humiliated because it allowed Hamas to set the terms for a ceasefire, an allegation that is obviously false as Hamas, so far as we know was excluded from the negotiations that led to the announcement that Israel had accepted a ceasefire. As it turned out, this unilateral ceasefire, rejected by Hamas, only lasted for six hours, and has been followed by intensified Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially targeting the residences of Hamas leaders. 

 

While Gaza burns, the fiddlers at the UN content themselves by worrying about the text of a proposed Security Council resolution, which never materialized. Israel and the United States were reported to be using all the leverage at their disposal to avoid condemnations of the Israeli air strikes on civilian targets in Gaza and even hoping that the final text of a resolution, if any, will include their preferred language about every sovereign state having a right to protect itself. It now seems that there will be no resolution as the United States is refusing to accept the language of the drafters, and only a rather innocuous non-binding Security Council ‘statement.’

 

On the basis of this disillusioning global response to Israeli aggression, it should become clear that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice needs to be waged worldwide primarily at the grassroots level. It has never seemed more reasonable and morally necessary for persons of good will to lend maximum support to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign that has been in any event growing rapidly. It is also time to demand that governments adopt sanctions seeking Israeli withdrawal from the occupation of Palestine. An appropriate furtheresponse would be for the UN General Assembly to recommend imposing an arms embargo on Israel, as well as a boycott on Israel’s arms exports. This would be, at first, a largely symbolic gesture as Israel has become a major weapons maker, exporting arms to many countries with a tasteless sales pitch that stress the benefits of Israeli weaponry because it is ‘field-tested.’ There is a special challenge to American governmental institutions and its taxpaying citizenry that have been providing more than $3 billion of military assistance aid, coupled with special arrangements beneficial to Israel, for many years.

 

It is painfully evident that state-to-state diplomacy and the UN have failed to produce a just peace despite decades of fruitless talks. It is time acknowledge that these talks have been carried on in bad faith: while the diplomats sat around the table, Israeli settlements relentlessly expanded, apartheid structures deepened their hold on the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Gaza was cordoned off as a hostage enclave to be attacked by Israel at will whenever a bloody sacrifice seemed useful from the perspective of national interests.

 

At least, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil ElAraby, condemned the “dangerous Israeli escalation,” urged the Security Council to “adopt measures to stop Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip,” and warned of the humanitarian consequences. Turkish and Iranian issued official statements along similar lines. There is so much regional turbulence at present that it is unlikely to hope for anything more than scattered verbal denunciations from authorities in the region preoccupied with other concerns, but given the gravity of the situation, attention needs to be refocused on the Palestinian ordeal. Pressure on Israel is urgently needed to protect the Palestinian people from further tragedy, and the Arab neighbors of Israel and the European states that long held sway in the region, are challenged as never before to do the right thing, but it is doubtful that any constructive action will be taken unless regional and global public opinion becomes sufficiently enraged to exert real pressure on these governments, and hence on Israel itself. To pursue this goal now should be made a top priority of the Palestinian global solidarity movement.

 

Pope Francis Visit to Palestine

26 May

 

 

            Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land raises one overwhelming question: ‘what is the nature of religious power in our world of the 21st century?’ ‘can it have transformative effects’?

 

            Media pundits and most liberal voices from the secular realm approve of this effort by Francis to seek peace through the encouragement of reconciliation, while dutifully reminding us that his impact is only ‘ceremonial’ and ‘symbolic’ and will not, and presumably should not, have any political consequences beyond a temporary cleansing of the political atmosphere.

 

            The June 6th prospect of Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres praying together in the Vatican as a step toward a peaceful end of the long struggle is, I fear, an ambiguous sideshow. For one thing, Peres as President of Israel is about to leave the office, and in any event, his position exerts no discernible influence on the head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the approach taken by Israel in addressing Palestinian concerns. It has long been appreciated that Peres is less than he seems, and beneath his velvet globe is a steel fist. Also, Abbas, although the formal leader of the Palestinian Authority and Chair of the PLO, is a weak and controversial leader who has yet to establish a unity government that includes Hamas, and finally provides political representation for the long suffering population of the Gaza Strip within global venues.

 

            Yet it would be a mistake to ignore the significance, symbolically and materially, of what Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine heralds. To begin with, just below the surface of what is avowed by words and style, is the contrast between the humility and sincerity of this religiously oriented initiative and the recently acknowledged breakdown of direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that was the ill-advised and contrived initiative of the U.S. Government, and became the personal project of the American Secretary of State John Kerry. In effect, the Pope epitomizes the moral and spiritual dimensions of the unresolved situation in Palestine while Kerry’s muscular diplomacy called partisan Alpha attention to the political dimensions.

 

            Undoubtedly more relevant is the degree to which Francis lent his weight to fundamental Palestinian grievances. By referring to the territory under occupation since 1967 as ‘Palestine,’ Francis affirmed the status conferred by the UN General Assembly in 2012, and since then angrily rejected by Tel Aviv and Washington. In doing so, Palestinian statehood was affirmed as a moral reality that should be endorsed by people and governments of good will everywhere, thereby strengthening the call of global solidarity.

 

            Most dramatically of all, by praying at the apartheid wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and bowing his head prayer while touching with his hand that hated metaphor of Israeli cruelty, illegality, and oppressiveness, Pope Francis has made an indelible contribution to the Legitimacy War of nonviolent resistance and emancipation that the Palestinian National Movement has waged with increasing militancy, and is being embraced throughout the world.

 

            Such moments of moral epiphany are rare in our experience of the torments afflicting the world. We need to remind ourselves that this pope has imparted a spirit of justice and spirituality. We are responding to his call because of who he is as well as what he is: his warmth, sympathy for the poor and oppressed, and identification with those brutally victimized by war. We are responding to the concreteness of his commitments and the actualities of his performances whether he points to the atrocities of war in Syria or the ordeal that has so long confronted the Palestinian people.

 

            The Pope challenges all of us to act as citizen pilgrims, having a personal responsibility to act as best we can against bastions of flagrant injustice. The Pope, the most universally acclaimed moral and spiritual authority figure on the planet has spoken by word and deed, and now it becomes our privilege to act responsively. By this means alone can we discover the ecumenical nature of religious authority in our times.

Beholding 2014

3 Jan

 

2013 was not a happy year in the chronicles of human history, yet there were a few moves in the directions of peace and justice. What follows are some notes that respond to the mingling of light and shadows that are flickering on the global stage, with a spotlight placed on the main war zone of the 21st century—the Middle East, recalling that Europe had this negative honor for most of the modern era except for the long 19th century, and that the several killing fields of sub-Saharan Africa are located at the periphery of political vision, and thus their reality remains blurred for distant observers. Also relevant are the flaring tensions in the waters around China in relation to territorial disputes about island ownership, especially Diaoyu/Senkaku  pitting China against Japan, and reminding us that some old wounds remain unhealed.

 

Many persons in many places suffered greatly, and often with no better prospects in 2014, although our capacity to project a dismal present into the future is so modest as to make dramatic changes in direction quite plausible.

While highlighting some particularly troubled countries, we should not overlook those tens of millions throughout the world living in dire poverty, without healthy drinking water, sufficient food, adequate medical facilities, lacking proper housing, and deprived of education and employment opportunities. These chronic conditions of acute suffering generate migration flows, and underscore the terrible ordeal worldwide of economic migrants and refugees, always at risk, often living ‘unlawful’ lives of unbearable vulnerability. Such a general reflection on the human condition is meant to encourage serious reflections and commentary about whether the current state-centric structures of global governance deserve to be considered legitimate, and if not, what sorts of alternative arrangements can be envisioned to raise hopes for a better future.

 

What follows is a brief look at some of those situations of conflict that generate particular concern at this time:

 

            –the Syrian plight has been situated in the realm of the unspeakable for almost three years, and although punitive bombing was avoided in 2013 and chemical weapons arsenals destroyed, the killing (now far in excess of 100,000; some speculate 73,000 in 2013 alone), refugee exodus (2.3 million out of a population of 22.4 million), massive internal displacement (with estimates running as high as 6.3 million), and extreme material hardships are increasingly prevalent (with latest estimates that basic needs are unmet for as many as 9.6 million); what is also illuminating in a negative way is the incapacity of the UN and external actors to bring the political violence to an end, much less to find a solution to the conflict that protects minorities and enhances more generally the lives of the Syrian people; perhaps proxy antagonist states will act less irresponsibly in 2014, perhaps international relief efforts will increase; perhaps, the prospects of some kind of accountability for endless crimes against humanity will have some bearing on how the various participants work toward a just peace; at least, we must not avert our gaze from the slaughterhouse that Syria has become, and at least do what can be done to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold there and inhibit its already disastrous spillover effects in such countries as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey;

 

            –the Palestinian plight persists in Gaza most disturbingly where underlying political and environmental challenges of viability involving water, food, and medical supplies have been cruelly aggravated by disastrous storms, polluted waters, fuel shortages, power failures, political antagonisms creating a humanitarian emergency that persists virtually unnoticed, and threatens to become even more horrendous; Palestinians throughout Palestine are also enduring a continuous  process of encroachment upon their most basic rights in relation to land, residence, water, settlements, wall, Jerusalem, refugees; the persistence of belligerent occupation for more than 45 years should not be tolerated, especially if the wellbeing of the civilian population is being continuously undermined, but under present circumstances this unfortunate set conditions cannot be effectively challenged directly; more promising is the widening Legitimacy War being waged to mobilize civil society and win the battle to sway the public mind by the imagery of Palestinian victimization and peaceful struggle, as well as the degree to which both sides fare in the underlying debate about who is right and who is wrong; it is important that in a Legitimacy War the target is definitely not the state of israel, but rather the policies and practices of the Israeli government; the end sought in this Legitimacy War is a just, inclusive, and sustainable peace for both peoples, but with the contours of peace fixed more by rights than by interplay of hard power capabilities;

 

            –the Egyptian people who had so illuminated the darkness three years ago by their remarkable rising in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, now face a darker future than even during the bleak Mubarak years. As grim as this unfinished revolutionary process is in Egypt, not less discouraging has been the silence, or worse, of neighboring governments who poured in funds after a military coup, undeterred by subsequent bloody massacres that exhibit the features of crimes against humanity, and have now been outrageously extended by declaring a civic organization that fairly won democratic elections to be ‘a terrorist organization’ despite its long sustained pledge of nonviolent political engagement, implying that mere membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is itself a serious form of criminality; that such extreme behavior by the el-Sisi post-coup leadership can pass beneath the geopolitical radar screen of the liberal democracies in Europe and North America is also cause for lament, and further proof that 21st century global governance is afflicted with double standards, hypocritical condemnations, malign neglect, and a multitude of unholy alliances;

 

            –the Arab Spring that brought such hope and joy three years ago to many peoples entrapped in the cramped political space provided by authoritarian regimes now seems entrapped anew, whether in atrocity-laden  civil strife as in Syria or in militia-dominated chaos as in Libya or in reworking

of the non-accountable oppressive state as in Egypt or in the sectarian strife that still daily torments the people of Iraq; these regional patterns are not yet firm, and there remains a plausible basis for not renouncing all hopes that made the upheavals so promising in 2011;

 

            –the Turkish domestic downward spiral is also a cause for deep concern as 2013 draws to a close: the lethal dynamics of polarization took an unexpected turn, swerving from the apparent confrontations of the summer in Gezi Park that pitted the forces of a severely alienated secularist opposition, including new youth elements, against the entrenched AKP establishment that reacted with excessive force and political insensitivity; now attention has turned to the split between two leading forces previously united but newly warring: the Fetullah Gulen hizmet movement versus the Erdogan-led AKP now fighting it out in relation to corruption charges, but also each seeking to gain the upper hand in a nasty struggle to sway public opinion to their side; the Kemalist old order embodied in the CHP is presently sidelined, but likely waiting in a mood of excited anticipation for the principal gladiators to exhaust themselves on the field of battle, creating a political vacuum that could then be filled. In the background is the ‘zero problems’ approach to foreign policy so ingeniously constructed a few years ago by the energy and brilliance of Ahmet Davutoglu, the great Turkish Foreign Minister, which showed the world how soft power can gain ascendancy, then moved into a shadowland of disillusionment after a series of Syrian miscalculations, and now seems to be reemerging in more selective and principled form in improving relations with Iran, Iraq, Israel, and the United States, although the situation remains precarious so long as the Turkish currency sinks to new lows against the dollar and the domestic confrontation remains far from resolved;

 

            –Europe should not be forgotten. The economic downturn of recent years as well as the uneven recovery of the various EU members has exposed the follies of premature enlargement after the end of the Cold War and the problems associated with proceeding too quickly on the economic track of integration and too slowly on the political track; also, at risk, is the European reorientation of its global engagement by way of soft power geopolitics; despite the difficulties, the EU undertaking remains the most ambitious world order innovation since the birth of the modern state system in the middle of the 17th century, and its success in establishing ‘a culture of peace’ in Europe that had been for centuries the cockpit of warring states is an extraordinary achievement; at the same time, without a renewed commitment to going forward, risks of regression, even collapse, remain cause for worry;

 

            –and then there is the United States, which has had a somewhat mixed year, finally ending its combat relationship to Iraq, overriding the Israel’s objections to  dealing constructively with the new leadership and mood in Iran through interim arrangements relating to Iran’s nuclear program, and winding down its military operations in Afghanistan; but there were many problematic sides of America’s global role: drones; chasing Snowden; abusing Chelsea Manning, threatening Assange, and not facing up to the foreboding consequences of totalizing the global security state in the 12 years since 9/11—the new formula for democracy in the United States: making the lives of the citizenry as transparent as possible while keeping key government operations and policies shrouded in layers of secrecy. This is why the ‘crimes’ of WikiLeaks, Snowden, and Manning are seen as so subversive of public order by the new security entrepreneurs that unfortunately seem to include the top elected leaders. We the people are asked to throw caution aside, and despite acknowledged governmental lying and doctrines of deniability, put our trust in governmental prudence, integrity, and self-restraint. At the same time, the leaders, starting with Barack Obama, act as if this new dystopia of drones and the NSA panopticon is nothing other than business as usual, branding those who express doubts as suspicious characters, forcing brave journalists to behave like spies or Mafia operatives to get the truth out, as in the case of Glenn Greenwald.  There is also the disappointing abandonment by the supposedly less constrained second term Obama presidency of the first term visionary commitments to work toward a world without nuclear weaponry and to turn a new page toward reconciliation in addressing the grievances of the Muslim world, with especial attention to the Palestinian struggle to achieve self-determination and end the cardinal ordeal of prolonged occupation.

 

Looking ahead, there are several salient, although contradictory, realities that should help direct political energies and shape hopes for the future:

            –the inability of existing problem-solving mechanisms to find satisfactory responses to collective action challenges: climate change, nuclear weaponry, drone warfare, economic migration;

            –the failures of military intervention as a protective approach to

humanitarian catastrophe in tension with the futility of relying on diplomacy;

            –the growing importance of global civil society activism in promoting global justice, nonviolence, and sustainable development;

            –the increasing promise of soft power geopolitics in overcoming realist skepticism about compliance with international law and reliance on international cooperation.     

Samer Issawi, Hunger Strikes, and the Palestinian Struggle

28 Dec

 

 

            For the last three years Palestinian prisoners, mainly unlawfully detained in Israeli jails, have been engaged in a series of life threatening hunger strikes to protest administrative detention imprisonment (that is,without indictment, charges, and access to allegedly incriminating evidence), abusive arrest procedures (including nighttime arrests involving brutality in the presence of family members, detention for prolonged interrogations violating international standards, e.g. 22 hours at a time, sleep deprivation), and deplorable prison conditions (including unlawful transfer to Israeli prisons, denial of family visits, solitary confinement for prolonged periods).

 

            No recent Palestinian prisoner has received more attention among the Palestinian than Samer Issawi, released a few days ago after reaching an extraordinary bargain with prison officials last April. He agreed then to stop his hunger strike, which had lasted an incredible 266 days, either partially or completely, in exchange for an Israeli pledge to release him in eight months at the end of 2013. Notably, Issawi had rejected Israeli earlier offers to release him provided he would agree to a ten year deportation order to either Gaza or some distant country. Issawi refused this arrangement, a form of punitive release, which Israel had imposed on other hunger strikers, including Hana Shalabi. In Issawi’s words, “I do not accept to be deported out of my homeland.”

 

            In the background also is the apparent Israeli effort to avoid having hunger strikers die, either because of their memory of the strong impact of Bobby Sands’ death on public opinion in Northern Ireland back in 1981 or as an aspect of the Israeli brand of ‘subsistence humanitarianism’ that has been explicitly most implemented in Gaza for the past decade. It involves a grouping of policies that seeks to make life extremely difficult for Palestinians but short of the point of death or epidemic, an extreme austerity reinforced periodically by what some Israelis referred to as ‘mowing the lawn,’ that is, relying on military incursion to ensure that the average collective material circumstances of Gazans don’t rise above subsistence levels. Such an articulated cruelty, proclaimed to be the rationale for an occupation policy, is bound to sow seeds of hatred, resentment, and give rise to feelings of revenge among even the most moderate of Palestinians. I have encountered such responses to Israeli practices and policies among the gentlest of Gazans with whom I have met in recent years.

 

            Issawi’s case stands out for several reasons aside from taking note of the length of his hunger strike. His expressed motivation was an understandable reaction to being rearrested in July 7, 2012 after having been released the prior year as part of the arrangement in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were given their freedom in exchange for the return of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. Issawi was rearrested at the Juba checkpoint, accused of violating the terms of his release that restricted him to Jerusalem, his place of residence. He was apparently still within the municipal limits of Jerusalem, but in an area treated as the West Bank by the Occupation authorities, and even so was claiming only to be seeking a shop for the repair of his car. For this possible technical violation of the release agreement, he was sentenced to eight months in prison, but then additional to this, a special committee, acting under Military Order 1651, Article 186, used its authority to rule that someone rearrested in this way could be returned, on the basis of a secret file, to prison for the completion of his original sentence, which in Issawi’s case meant twenty years. There was no right to challenge such a seemingly outrageous ruling. Even Issawi’s lawyer was denied access to the file that contained the supposedly incriminating information. It was against this background that Issawi was unwilling to accept a reversal of his release from jail. He declared that a hunger strike was the only weapon available to him to protest such treatment, implying that he would either win his freedom in that way or die in prison.

 

            Issawi’s family history is emblematic of what it has meant to live for most Palestinians decade after decade under military occupation. Samer’s brother, Fadi, was killed in 1994 by Israeli security forces, and a second brother, Medhat has spent the last 19 years in prison, while his sister Shireen was detained during 2010. The family lives in the village of Issawiyeh, a suburb of Jerusalem, and a site of protest in recent years, especially in reaction to the confiscation of village land to create a ‘national park’ and to establish a waste dump. In other words, the context of occupation, annexation, expropriation of resources, and suppression are all part of the Issawi story. Indicatively, Israel banned any celebration of Issawi’s release in Issawiyeh, an order somewhat ignored by a warm welcoming crowd joyful about his release.

 

            Even before his rearrest for violating the terms of his release, the Palestinian NGO that monitors Israeli prisons and policies, Addameer, indicated that Issawi was subjected to constant harassment by security forces. He was questioned at length several times a week, and was denied the opportunity to live a normal life. The daily ordeal of Palestinians living under occupation is a Kafka tale of lawless law, where those in charge decide   

whatever they wish, hide behind veils of secrecy, and impose their authority by relying on excessive force and a variety of humiliating obstacles to normalcy. Issawi made clear that his struggle would not end with his release from prison: “It is our obligation as freedom fighters to free all Palestinian political prisoners.” Also, that there was a link between his kind of resistance by Palestinians and the broader international solidarity movement: “I draw my strength from all the free people in the world who want an end to the Israeli occupation.” Of course, there is mutuality present as those who support the Palestinian struggle from outside are inspired by the courage and resilience of individuals such as Samer Issawi, and should know these stories of nonviolent Palestinian defiance.

 

            The Issawi story is more than the struggle of an individual or the sad saga of a family active in resistance or a village confronting the daily realities of an occupation that is also a scenario of resource confiscation and oppressive living conditions. It represents a metaphoric summary of the Palestinian reality, epitomized by pervasive vulnerability, violent oppression, and the steady encroachment on the integrity of the Palestinian habitat, but also by the dynamics of resistance, struggle, and hope for a better, decent future. It is a reality we should all reflect upon at the turning of the year, wishing and acting for a better 2014 for Palestinians and for all of us.

 

Northern Ireland and the Israel/Palestine ‘Peace Process’

22 Dec

Richard HaassUnknown-1UK flagIrish flag

            I visited Belfast the last few days during some negotiations about unresolved problems between Unionist and Republican (or Nationalist) political parties, I was struck by the absolute dependence for any kind of credibility of this process upon the unblemished perceived neutrality of the mediating third party. It would have been so totally unacceptable to rely on Ireland or Britain to play such a role, and the mere suggestion of such a partisan intermediary would have occasioned ridicule by the opposing party, confirming suspicions that its intention must have been to scuttle the proposed negotiations. In the background of such a reflection is the constructive role played by the United States more than a decade ago when it actively encouraged a process of reconciliation through a historic abandonment of violence by the antagonists. That peace process was based on the justly celebrated Good Friday Agreement that brought the people of Northern Ireland a welcome measure of relief from the so-called ‘Time of Troubles’ even if the underlying antagonisms remain poignantly alive in the everyday realities of Belfast, as well as some lingering inclination toward violence among those extremist remnants of the struggle on both sides that reject all moves toward accommodation. The underlying tension remains as Republican sentiments favor a united Ireland while the Unionists Having continue to be British loyalists, deeply opposed to any moves toward a merger with the Republic of Ireland.

 Indyk Kerryimages

            The current round of negotiations going on in Belfast involve seemingly trivial issues: whether the flag of the United Kingdom will be flown from the Parliament and other government buildings on 18 official holidays or everyday and whether the Irish tricolor will be flown when leaders from the Republic of Ireland are visiting Belfast; the degree to which annual Unionist parades passing through Republican neighborhoods of the city will be regulated to avoid provocations; and how might the past be addressed so as to bring belated solace to those who have grievances, especially associated with deaths of family members that were never properly addressed by those in authority at the time.  Apparently, in recollection of the achievements attributed to George Mitchell, the distinguished American political figure who was principally associated with developing the proposals that produced the Good Friday Agreement, the present phase of an evolving accommodation process is being presided over by another notable American, Richard Haass. Haass is a former State Department official and current President of the Council on Foreign Relations, the influential establishment NGO in the foreign policy domain. In this setting the United States Government (as well as its leading citizens) is seen as an honest broker, and although the government is not now directly involved, an individual closely associated with the established order has been chosen and seems acceptable to the five Northern Ireland political parties participating in the negotiations. This effort to ensure the continuation of stability in Northern Ireland seems responsive to the natural order: that negotiations in circumstances of deep conflict do benefit from third-party mediation provided it is perceived to be non-partisan, neutral, and competent, and acts credibly and diligently as a check on the gridlock of partisanship.

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            The contrast of this experience in Northern Ireland with what has emerged during the past twenty years in the effort to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict could not be more striking. The negotiating process between Israel and Palestine is generated by an avowedly partisan third party, the United States, which makes no effort to hide its commitment to safeguard Israeli state interests even if at the expense of Palestinian concerns. This critical assessment has been carefully documented in Rashid Khalidi’s authoritative Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013). Beyond this taint, sand is repeatedly thrown in Palestinian eyes by White House gall in designating AIPAC related Special Envoys to oversee the negotiations as if it is primarily Israel that needs reassurances that its national interests will be protected in the process while Palestinian greater concerns do not require any such indication of protective sensitivity.

 

            How can we explain these contrasting American approaches in these two major conflict-resolving undertakings? Of course, the first line of explanation would be domestic politics in the United States. Although Irish Americans by and large have republican sympathies, Washington’s multiple bonds with the United Kingdom ensure a posture of impartiality would be struck from the perspective of national interests. The United States had most to gain in Ireland by being seen to help the parties move from a violent encounter to a political process in pursuing their rival goals. Such would also seem to be the case in Israel/Palestine but for the intrusion of domestic politics, especially in the form of the AIPAC lobbying leverage. Can anyone doubt that if the Palestinians had countervailing lobbying capabilities either the United States would be excluded as the diplomatic arbiter or it would do its best to appear impartial?

 

            There are other secondary explanatory factors. Especially since the 1967 War, it has been a matter of agreement with American policymaking circles, that Israel is a reliable strategic ally in the Middle East. Of course, interests my diverge from time to time, as seems recently to be the case in relation to interim agreement involving Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but overall the alliance patterns in the region put the United States and Israel on the same side: counter-terrorist operations and tactics, counter-proliferation, containment of Iran’s influence, opposition to the spread of political Islam, support for Saudi Arabia and conservative governments in the Gulf. Since 9/11, in particular, Israel has been a counter-terrorist mentor to the United States, and to others in the world, offering expert training and what it calls ‘combat-tested weaponry,’ which means tactics and weapons used by Israel in controlling over many years the hostile Palestinian population, especially Gaza.

 

            A third, weaker explanation is purported ideological affinity. Israel promotes itself, and this is endorsed by the United States, as the ‘sole democracy’ or ‘only genuine democracy’ in the Middle East. Despite the many contradictions associated with such an assertion, ranging from eyes closed when it comes to Saudi Arabia or the Egyptian coup to a wide-eyed refusal to notice the Israeli legalized pattern of discrimination against its 20% Palestinian minority. It has been persuasively suggested that part of the reason that Arab governments are reluctant to support the Palestinian struggle is the fear that its success would destabilize authoritarian regimes in the region. In this regard, it was the first intifada, back in 1987, that seems in retrospect to have been the most important antecedent cause of the 2011 Arab Spring. It is also notable that despite the profession of democratic values in the Middle East, Israel showed no regrets when the elected government in Egypt was overthrown by a military coup whose leadership then proceeded to criminalize those who had been chosen only a year earlier by the national electorate to run the country.

 

            These are weighty reasons when considered together, help us understand why the Oslo Framework and its Roadmap sequel, and the various negotiating sessions, have not produced an outcome that remotely resembles what might be fairly described as ‘a just and sustainable peace’ from a Palestinian perspective. Israel has evidently not perceived such a conflict-resolving outcome as being in its national interest, and has not been given any sufficient incentive by the United States or the UN to scale back its ambitions, which include continuous settlement expansion, control over the whole of Jerusalem, denial of Palestinian rights of return, appropriation of water and land resources, intrusive, one-sided, and excessive security demands, and an associated posture that opposes a viable Palestinian state ever coming into existence, and is even more opposed to give any credence to proposals for a single secular bi-national state. What is more, despite this unreasonable diplomatic posture, which attains plausibility only because of Israel’s disproportionate influence on the intermediary mechanisms and its own media savvy in projecting its priorities, Palestine and its leadership is mainly blamed for the failures of the ‘peace process’ to end the conflict by a mutually agreed solution. This is a particularly perverse perception given Israel’s extreme unreasonableness in relation to resolution of the conflict, the U.S. partisanship, and Palestine’s passivity in asserting its claims, grievances, and interests.

 

            Finally, we must ask why Palestinian leaders have been willing to give credibility for so long to a diplomatic process that seems to offer their national movement so little. The most direct answer is the lack of the power to say ‘no.’ This can be further elaborated by pointing to the lack of a preferable alternative. A further indication of Palestinian diplomatic dependence, is the degree to which the United States exerts pressure on Ramallah because it finds the management of this bridge to nowhere of the peace process to be useful, despite its many frustrations and failures, allows Washington to exhibit both a commitment to peace and to Israel. The American Secretary of State, John Kerry, has in recent months pressured the parties to resume peace talks, talking often of ‘painful concessions’ that both sides would have to make if the negotiations are to succeed. This misleading appeal to symmetry overlooks the gross disparity in position and capabilities of the two sides. Whether such a disparity is so great as to make it dubious to use the language of conflict is itself an open question. Would it not be more forthright and revealing to ask due to the degree of inequality, whether Palestine has any capability to say anything about the terms of a resolution other than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what Israel is prepared at any time to offer? In this sense it more closely resembles the end of a war in which there is a winner and loser except that here the loser at least retains the sovereign right to say ‘no.’ Also it needs to be observed, that this perception is deeply misleading because it overlooks what might be called ‘the other war,’ that is, the Legitimacy War that the Palestinians are winning, and given the history of decolonization, seems to have a good chance of controlling the political outcome of the struggle.

 

             Returning to the inter-governmental approach, it should also be noticed that the diplomacy does not take account of the historical background. Did not Palestine concede more than enough before the negotiations even began, accepting a frame for territorial proposals that seems content with 22% of historic Palestine, although this territory is less than half of what the UN partition plan proposed in 1947, and seemed then to be unfair given the ethnic demographics at the time? We should also take account of the relevance of the supposed basic UN policy against the acquisition of territory by the use of force, which would seem to mandate a rollback of Israeli territory at least to the 1947 UN proposals contained in General Assembly Resolution 181. The implication of Kerry’s painful concession rhetoric is that Israel would only be expected to remove some isolated settlements and outposts in the West Bank even though they were unlawful ever since established, and could retain the valuable land it has appropriated for the settlement blocs established since 1967 despite their existence being in flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In other words, Palestine is expected to give up fundamental rights while Israel is supposed to abandon some relatively minor unlawful aspects of its prolonged occupation of the West Bank and retain most of the ill-gotten gains.

 

            What do we learn from such an analysis?

(1)  Third-party intermediation only works if it is perceived to be non-partisan by both sides;

(2)   Partisan intermediation can only succeed if the stronger side is able to impose its vision of the future on the weaker side;

(3)   Analyzing the Palestine/Israel diplomacy underscores the relevance of (2), and should not be confused with its claimed character as an instance of (1);

(4)   Perhaps in the aftermath of a Palestinian victory in the Legitimacy War the sort of framework for constructive diplomacy achieved in Northern Ireland could be devised, but its credibility would depend on non-partisan intermediation.

             

The Palestinian National Movement Advances

19 Dec

             The advocacy of a Legitimacy War approach to the Palestinian National Movement for self-determination and a just peace is basically committed to Hegelian categories of conflict, shifting its energies away from Marxist forms of encounter based on material assessments of the balance of forces. Put less obscurely, the Palestinian shift toward Legitimacy Wars is a recognition that in this kind of conflict the decisive battles are generally not won by the side with the superior weaponry and technology but rather by the side that prevails in the realm of ideas and symbols of just cause, especially those bearing on nationalist claims of rights based on international law and universal standards of morality. Since the outcome of the colonial wars, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the failure of Western interventions, the tide of history is flowing favorably for indigenous forces able to win control over these normative heights. This does not imply a renunciation of violence or a guaranty of victory, but it does signify a massive shift in the balance of forces in favor of the side that most successfully uses soft power instruments in conflict situations.

 

            Such a Hegelian view of historical process intends only to claim an altered emphasis, and does not imply a disregard of material circumstances. When Marx was active, his insights into the political economy of the day were brilliantly conceived, calling attention to the revolutionary vulnerabilities of industrial capitalism to a mobilized working class. Both Hegel and Marx, responsive to the alleged truth claims of science, purported to have discovered the laws governing change in the human condition, but only truly identified at most what were historical dispositions, and their claims of ‘determinism’ exaggerated what we are able to discern in the present about what will happen in the future. In the context of the Palestinian Legitimacy War there is only a sense that victory is likely to produce positive political results, but not a guaranty. The political outcome depends on many unknowable features of context, especially how the side losing a Legitimacy War responds.

 

            The battlefields of a Legitimacy War are mainly symbolic and non-territorial. Their relation of forces cannot be measured, but should not be understood only as a battle of ideas. It is rather the conversion of ideas into people power in various forms along with a downplaying of relative technological proficiency. In relation to the Palestinian struggle such soft power militancy is exhibited by such developments as the growth of the BDS Campaign, the decision by the Swarthmore Chapter of Hillel to defy institutional guidelines of its central body by allowing a forum to speakers critical of Israel, the decision of prominent Dutch companies to cut commercial ties with Israeli settlements because such relationships are understood to be problematic under international law, the decisions by the Association of Asian-American Studies and the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions. In effect, a cascade of societal expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian quest for fundamental rights.           

 

           This surge of support for peace with justice has evoked a variety of dysfunctional Israeli responses, including vituperative dismissals and a variety of efforts to change the subject. Nothing is more suggestive of Israel’s loss of composure in this new atmosphere than the decision of its leaders, Netanyahu and Peres, to boycott the funeral of the globally sanctified figure of Nelson Mandela, presumably in retaliation for his frequent statements of support for the Palestinian struggle, and maybe for fear that Israel’s long record of collaboration with apartheid South Africa might finally be scrutinized in a transparent manner if they had showed up. Yet the symbolic impact of this deliberate disaffiliation from such a universal show of reverence for this beloved man has been lodged in the moral consciousness of humanity.

 

            Israel’s more calculated responses to these various developments in the Legitimacy War are revealing. For instance, a Foreign Ministry representative, Yigal Palmor, complains that the ASA endorsement of the boycott of Israel’s academic institutions is part of a campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state of Israel and that it is morally misdirected as it fails to target states with the world’s most horrendous human rights records. The first response is significantly deceptive: the ASA boycott, and indeed all related initiatives, have been directed at Israel’s policies, and do not question the legitimacy of the Israeli state, although elsewhere there are serious questions raised about the insistence by Israeli leaders that others acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. Such a demand is oblivious to the human rights of the Palestinian minority that consists of more than 1.6 million persons who have been living in a societal environment that includes numerous discriminatory laws regulating their behavior.

 

            As for the contention that there is no idea of boycotting other states with horrendous human rights records, such an argument incorporates two kinds of misleading contentions—first, it deftly avoids the substantive accusations as to whether Israel’s treatment of Palestinians within the academic environment is as prejudicial as claimed by boycott advocates and whether the closeness of Israeli academicians and institutions to the military and political activities of the state is not sufficient grounds for singling out Israel. Add to this the failure of Israeli apologists to address the central ASA contention that singling out Israel is justified because of the existence of ‘significant’ American links to Israeli policies long violating fundamental Palestinian rights and contributing to violations of international law.

 

            Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, weighed in with a familiar riposte, ‘why Israel?’ Dermer advanced the familiar claim that Israel is the only democracy in the region: why should the ASA “as its first boycott choose to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want.” (NYT, Dec. 17, 2013) Such an argument is questionable and unconvincing for many reasons, including the increasingly dubious claim of Israel to deserve the mantle of democracy considering its own chosen identity as an ‘ethnocracy’ (to borrow the label recently affixed by the respected Jewish leader, Henry Seigman’s). Also, acknowledging the existence of scholarly freedoms in Israel is besides the point. It does not even attempt to respond to the ASA main contention of prejudicial treatment of Palestinians in its educational system and the degree of collaboration of Israeli academic institutions with the state in relation to unlawful occupation policies and activities and the formulation of military strategy.

 

            Harsh Israeli critique is combined with a dismissive attitude, claiming that the ASA boycott resolution, and indeed the wider BDS campaign, has had and will have no practical impact on Israel’s economic wellbeing and political stability, and that the resolution has no binding effect on even the members of the American Studies Association. What is at stake in such a debate is the meaning of ‘practical.’ Similar arguments were made in the context of the comparable campaign against apartheid South Africa and against those of us who favored boycott and sanctions in response to the barbarous policies of Pinochet’s Chile. In relation to both South Africa and Chile, the argument was also made that such acts of hostility only hurt the most vulnerable people in the targeted society rather than weaken its regime, although in both instances the most credible representatives of the people were unreservedly supporting maximum pressures deriving from external initiative of this character.

 

            I remember being told in the late 1970s in a private meeting of a small group with the then president of the World Bank. Robert McNamara, that loans to the Pinochet regime were justifiable as denying funds to Chile would adversely affect the poor without harming the government. McNamara was claiming to be deeply opposed to the behavior of the Pinochet policies, and upholding the continuity of the World Bank relationship to Chile solely on humanitarian grounds. This interpretation by McNamara did not seem credible at the time. It was directly contrary to what we were being told by several leading diplomats and economists who were prominent in the Allende government, and led us to arrange this private meeting with the objective of persuading the World Bank to suspend financial assistance to Chile given the horrendous behavior of the Pinochet government.

 

            The larger point here is not about the material impacts of such moves of disaffiliation and disapproval. We had no illusions that if the World Bank withheld a loan from Chile it would precipitate the collapse of the Pinochet regime. What we did believe, however, that such a step would strengthen the perception of delegitimacy, possibly influencing American foreign policy and certainly encouraging to the mounting opposition in Chile, but mainly important as a symbolic move. In a similar vein, we can reflect on why it is proper to celebrate the endorsement of this ASA resolution goes back to the essentially Hegelian nature of a Legitimacy War. A symbolic victory is not merely symbolic, although symbols should not be underestimated. The ASA outcome is part of a campaign to construct a new subjectivity surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is the sort of act that lends credibility to claims that a momentum is transforming the climate of opinion surrounding a conflict situation. Such a momentum is capable of breaking down a structure of oppression at any moment. Unlike a hard power encounter between arrayed military forces, the course of a Legitimacy War cannot be assessed in advance, partly because the defeats endured by the established order are intangible, will be denied up until an abrupt change of course. As Thoreau observed long ago, “It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  Hard power realists who rule over the peoples of the world, imperiling our destiny, tend to be dangerously shortsighted when it comes to seeing the course and effects of Legitimacy Wars.

 

            Such a concealment of elite reassessment in South Africa seems relevant to notice. The transformative reassessment was kept secret until revealed in the startling announcement to the South African public of Nelson Mandela’s totally unexpected release from his Robben Island prison cell. It was a stunning reversal of strategy by the South African leadership. It seems appropriate in this context to recall Gandhi’s familiar comment about the cycle of struggle: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

             Of course, this is not a time for optimism about reaching a just end to the long Palestinian quest for realization of their fundamental rights. It is a time when genuine hope becomes plausible thanks to Palestinian successes in waging a multi-front Legitimacy War. The eventual political outcome remains obscure, and depends heavily on whether and how interests are reassessed in Washington and Tel Aviv. Such a process of reassessment is certain to be shrouded in secrecy until it is crosses a threshold of decision, and only then will it be revealed. This will occasion many expert explanations of why it had to happen! Pundits are far more convincing when operating in a retrospective mode than when attempting to predict or prescribe.

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