Tag Archives: Israel

Israel-Palestine: Beyond The Liberal Imaginary

19 Jun

 

Prefatory Note: What follows is a letter to the NY Times responding to their editorial of June 6, 2014, which was not accepted for publication. I publish it here as a post because I believe it identifies some of the continuing ways in which public opinion on the relationship between Israel and Palestine continues to be distorted on Israel’s behalf in American media sources that have the undeserved reputation of being objective and trustworthy. The New York Times has long ranked high on this list, if not at its top!

This letter is particularly concerned with the misleading characterizations of Hamas, and the failure to pass judgment on the Netanyahu leadership as ‘extremist.’ Israeli security forces were guilty of extreme abuse of Hamas supporters in the aftermath of the June 2014 abduction of three settler teenagers in the vicinity of Hebron.

 

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To the Editor:

 

            Re “Israeli-Palestinian Collision Course” (editorial, June 6, text reproduced below):

 

            You are correct that this is an opportune time to take account of Israel-Palestine peace prospects in light of failed direct negotiations and subsequent developments. It is misleading, however, to equate Israel’s accelerated expansion of settlements with the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government. Israeli action continues a pattern of flagrant violation of the 4th Geneva Convention while the Palestinian action is a constructive move that could finally make diplomacy on behalf of all Palestinians legitimate and effective.

 

            Even more regrettable is the editorial treatment of Hamas as “a violent, extremist organization committed to Israel’s destruction” and responsible for the violence on the border because “militants regularly fire rockets into Israel; in 2012 Hamas fought an eight-day war with Israel.” This kind of unqualified language distorts the realities of the last several years, and irresponsibly blocks any path to peace.

 

            It is prudent to be wary of Hamas, but not without some recognition that the situation is more nuanced. It is worth remembering that it was the United States that urged Hamas to compete politically in the 2006 elections, and when it unexpectedly won, reverted immediately to treating Hamas as a terrorist organization. Its administration of Gaza since 2007 has been orderly, despite intense difficulties caused by the Israeli blockade, an illegal form of collective punishment. During this period Israel itself negotiated several ceasefire arrangements with Hamas, relying on the good offices of Egypt, that reduced violence almost to zero; these ceasefires were broken by Israel. Let us recall that the Israeli attack on Gaza in November 2012 was initiated by the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jaberi, who was at that moment in the process of delivering a truce agreement to an Israeli interlocutor and had been the Hamas official leading the effort to suppress non-Hamas militias operating in Gaza that were firing many of the rockets into Israeli territory.

 

            In every conflict of this kind, when the dominant side is interested in peace it signals such an intention by abandoning its earlier refusal to deal with ‘terrorists’ and accepts its adversary as a political actor with genuine grievances and goals. This was true in Ireland in relation to the IRA, and indeed earlier when Israel decided to talk with Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was true also in South Africa when the apartheid government released Nelson Mandela, whom we should remember was at the time a convicted and imprisoned terrorist leader.

 

            It is not necessary to overlook Hamas’ past, but to move forward it would certainly be more responsible to take account of its leaders recent statements that call for long-term coexistence with Israel within its 1967 borders, up to 50 years rather than repeating sterile condemnations. Surely there are better diplomatic alternatives than for both sides to engage in the demonization of their opponent.

 

Richard Falk

June 9, 2014

 

The author served as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council, 2008-1014

 

 

 

 

Israeli-Palestinian Collision Course

By THE EDITORIAL BOARDJUNE 6, 2014

The recent collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has sharpened tensions and put the two sides on a collision course. The feuding Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, formed a government this week, prompting Israel to retaliate with plans for hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians threatened unspecified countermeasures. It is clearly time for all sides to think hard about where this is headed.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has condemned the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, at one point accusing the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of saying “yes to terrorism and no to peace” and insisting that Israel will never negotiate with a government backed by Hamas.

 

Mr. Netanyahu is correct that Hamas, the Iran-backed group that took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, is a violent, extremist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. Gaza militants regularly fire rockets into Israel; in 2012, Hamas fought an eight-day war with Israel.

It is also true that Fatah has renounced violence, recognized Israel and cooperated for years in administering the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas has promised that the new government will abide by those principles, set out in 2006 by the United States and other major powers. To make it more palatable to Israel and the West, the new government, which is supposed to organize elections within six months, is composed of technocrats not affiliated with Hamas or other partisans.

 

Mr. Netanyahu has scoffed at that distinction — and some skepticism is warranted. While Hamas cannot simply be wished away, the United States and other countries that consider Hamas a terrorist group may find it impossible to continue aiding the Palestinians if Hamas plays a more pronounced role.

 

The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is risky for Fatah, but Mr. Abbas apparently felt he had nothing to lose. Nine months of American-mediated peace talks with Israel produced no progress. Nearing retirement, at age 79, he saw value in trying to reunite the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after seven years of bitter division.

 

This is a long shot, since previous reconciliation efforts have quickly collapsed, and there are the inescapable facts of Hamas’s hatred of Israel and its heavily armed militia. Given that Mr. Abbas’s call for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza within six months could bring Hamas to power, this new government could also be Mr. Abbas’s way to make trouble for Mr. Netanyahu.

Israel’s position is not so clear-cut. Even as Mr. Netanyahu demanded that the United States cut off aid to the new government, Israel continued to send tax remittances to the Palestinian Authority. And Mr. Netanyahu is not above negotiating with Hamas himself. In 2011, he traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas for five years. In 2012, working through the United States and Egypt, he negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas that ended a brief war.

Mr. Netanyahu’s failure to persuade the international community not to recognize the new government reflects a growing breach between Israel and its most important allies. On Monday, the United States announced plans to work with and fund the unity government; it typically gives the Palestinians about $500 million annually. The European Union, another major donor, and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, also declared their support. China, India and Russia welcomed the unity government, despite Israel’s efforts to build closer ties with all three.

Many experts say that if there is ever to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, admittedly a distant dream at this point, the Palestinians must be united. But the United States has to be careful to somehow distinguish between its support for the new government and an endorsement of Hamas and its violent, hateful behavior. To have some hope of doing that, the United States and Europe must continue to insist that Mr. Abbas stick to his promises and not allow Hamas to get the upper hand.

 

Preparing the Path to a Just Peace for Palestine/Israel

14 Jun

 

 

After several past failures to reconcile Fatah and Hamas under the single Palestinian umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a unity government was formed and its ministers sworn in on June 2nd in Ramallah. This supposedly interim government of ‘technocrats’ without party affiliations will be presided over by the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah.. Hamas was reported unhappy until with the composition of the government, withholding its approval until the last minute, but in the end went along. Additional to the diplomatic and long-term benefits of Palestinian unity, the people of Gaza could stand to gain in the short-term, especially if Egypt can now be persuaded to open its border for the passage of fuel and other necessities. Cairo’s aversion to Hamas’ Brotherhood past would be diluted in view of the PA, not Hamas, having become the legitimated governing authority for all Palestinians, including those living in Gaza. The urgent needs of the Gazans may help explain why the two Palestinian factions finally set aside the bitterness of the past, at least for now.

It is too soon to assess the wider implications of this political move that angers the Israeli government and has been greeted with hostile caution in Washington and Europe. For the first time since Hamas won the Gaza elections in 2006, and forcibly displacing a corrupt and abusive Fatah from its governing role a year later, the Palestinians are represented by a leadership that is inclusive of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The governmental machinery is presently presided over by Mahmoud Abbas who is Chair of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority, which has promised elections of a new leadership within six months. Many Palestinians hope that the stage is now set to reduce the ‘leadership deficit’ that has hampered diplomacy at least since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. Arafat in the years leading up to his death lost the respect of many Palestinians, partly because he seemed too ready to please Washington in his search for a solution and partly because he lost his grip on corrupting elements within his own entourage. Unfortunately, the only Palestinian that has both the stature and a political appeal that stretches from one end of the spectrum of political opinion to the other is Marwan Barghouti, and he is serving a long-term prison sentence in an Israeli jail.

 

Israel’s Response

 

For the moment Palestinian diplomatic unity has been achieved, and seems to be unnerving Israel. Its highest officials and main media have not questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu truculent insistence that Israel will never negotiate with any Palestinian government that is “backed by Hamas,” and threatens a variety of hostile reactions ranging from accelerating the expansion of settlements to withholding customs transfer payments that the PA needs to meet its big public sector employment payroll of 150,000. Perversely, disavowing as illegitimate any Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas endows the organization with a ‘make or break’ political influence, or put differently, gives Israel a foolproof pretext for doing whatever it wants in occupied Palestine without encountering much adverse reaction. Such an unconditional posture confirms for me Israel’s disinterest in a diplomatic approach to real peace, and serves as an excuse for going forward with settlement expansion, ethnic consolidation of East Jerusalem, and continuing the punitive blockade and isolation of Gaza. This pattern was already present a few years ago when Al Jazeera published a series of documents associated with secret negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in which the PA offered major concessions, and Israel reacted with disinterest and the absence of any counter-offers. [See Clayton Swisher, ed., The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road (Chatham, UK, 2011)]

 

The Israeli rejection of this move toward Palestinian reconciliation is rationalized by the contention that Hamas was and remains a terrorist organization, and is unacceptable as a political actor because it refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and renounce violence as a tactic of struggle. The United States and the EU share this assessment as a formal matter, but in a slightly more nuanced way although it continues to view Hamas as a terrorist organization, and hence an illegitimate interlocutor. Yet, to the openly declared disgust of Tel Aviv, the White House has announced that it will for the present continue to work with the PA, including keeping the aid flowing. It announced that it intends to closely monitor the role of Hamas in the unity government as the aid to the PA (worth $440 million this year) has been conditioned by the U.S. Congress on the absence of ‘undue influence’ on the part of Hamas. What constitutes undue influence is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Israel can be counted on do its part, exerting pressure via its lobbying allies on Israel’s many Congressional friends in Washington, to show that Hamas is indeed influencing PA policies at this point despite the absence of any Hamas officials in the formal leadership of the new PA government announced in Ramallah. If Israeli lobbying succeeds it could trigger a break in the flow of aid, and cause fiscal troubles for the PA, but maybe with political side benefits by providing Palestinians with badly needed increased room for diplomatic maneuver free from an overall subservience to the partisan wishes of Washington.

 

Whether this will happen is uncertain. There is sure to be a pushback in the United States by Republicans always eager to score points against the Obama presidency by claiming that Israel is not being supported in the manner that such a key ally deserves. As well, playing the anti-terrorist card still seems to be effective in agitating the American public. Even if Congress does force Obama’s hand, the effects are uncertain. For one thing, the Arab League has pledged $100 million per month to the PA to offset any shortfall arising from a suspension of aid, and several Arab governments have expressed their willingness to provide Ramallah with the equivalent of any funds withheld by Israel and the United States. If such a pledge is fulfilled, no sure thing given Arab past failures to deliver on similar pledges, it means that if aid is cut to the PA, the main effect will be political rather than economic. In this event, Tel Aviv and Washington would likely lose influence, while Cairo, Riyadh, and possibly Tehran seem poised to gain leverage not only with the Palestinians but throughout the Middle East.

 

 

Tentative Assessment

 

It is only possible at this stage to reach tentative conclusions. The move to unity comes after utter failure of the direct negotiations that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed so hard to get started last year. For most observers, especially in light of the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, there seems no longer any credible prospect of a two-state solution in a form acceptable to the people of Palestine or with the possibility of creating a viable and fully sovereign Palestinian state. Beyond this, Palestine has started to act more and more as a state, a status dramatically affirmed by Pope Francis in his recent visit to the holy land. In this regard, it should be appreciated that Israel broke off negotiating with Palestine prior to the formation of the unity government, and not because of Hamas. The break occurred because the governing authority in Ramallah decided to sign 15 international conventions as a state party, a seemingly responsible step for Palestine to take if it wanted to be perceived as a state. Such an effort by the PA to confirm Palestine as a state without the endorsement of Israel and Washington is a direct result of the disillusionment by the PA with the ridiculous inter-governmental diplomacy that is still being championed by the U.S. Government as the only path to peace. The Palestinians have been living without rights under Israeli occupation for more than four and a half decades, and many Palestinian families have been languishing in refugee camps in and around Palestine ever since 1948. Besides this, the deferral of a resolution of Palestinian claims is not a neutral reality. It helps Israel expand, while diminishing Palestinian expectations in relation to their own territorial and national destiny.

 

I believe the bottom line importance of the unity government is the Palestinian realization that no solution to the overall conflict is even conceivable without the participation of Hamas. Beyond this, allowing Hamas to become an active part of the political equation strikes a body blow against Israel’s strategy of keeping the Palestinians as divided and subdued as possible. Hamas has taken a series of important steps to be accepted as a political actor, and thereby overcome its reputation as a terrorist organization associated with its earlier embrace of indiscriminate political violence, especially extensive suicide bombing directed at civilian targets within Israel. After entering and winning Gaza elections in 2006, Hamas went on to exercise effective governing authority in the Gaza Strip since 2007. It has been governing under extremely difficult circumstances arising from Israeli blockade and hostility. It has managed to negotiate and comply with ceasefire agreements via Egypt. Most relevantly, by way of statements of and interviews with its leaders indicating a readiness to enter into long-term co-existence agreements with Israel for up to 50 years if Israel withdraws to the 1967 ‘green line’ borders and ends its blockade of Gaza. The firing of rockets that can be directly attributed to Hamas in this period are almost always launched in a retaliatory mode after an unlawful Israeli violent provocation; most of the rockets launched are primitive in design and capability, and have caused little damage on the Israeli side of the border and often seem to be the work of extremist militias in Gaza that act independently and in violation of Hamas. Despite the low number of Israeli casualties, the threats posed by these rockets should not be minimized as they do induce fear in Israeli communities with their range. It should be recognized, also, that Hamas is known to possess more sophisticated rockets that could cause serious casualties and damage, yet has refrained from using them except in the course of defending Gaza in response to the massive attack launched by Israel in November 2012.

 

This profile of Hamas in recent years appears to represent a dramatic departure from its earlier positions calling for the destruction of the Israeli state in its entirety. It is fair to ask whether this more moderate line can be trusted, which cannot be fully known until it is tested by a positive engagement by Israel and the United States. So far Israel has made no reciprocal gestures even to the extent of taking some cautious note of these changes in Hamas’ approach. Israel has continued to repeat its demands that Hamas unilaterally renounce political violence, recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and indicate its acceptance of all past agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Even if Hamas were to take these steps it seems highly doubtful that Israel would alter its defiant position, continue to claim that such acts could not be trusted until further evidence of good faith are available, including amending the Hamas Charter. Doubts about Hamas’ trustworthiness seem a typically misleading distraction put forward by Tel Aviv. As whatever Hamas were to do, or even the PA, Israel would be sure to make its future security depend on its military capabilities, and place no reliance whatsoever on whether Palestinian political actors were true to their word. In the abstract, it does seem unreasonable to expect the Hamas to make these unilateral commitments demanded by Israel so long as the unlawful collective punishment of the people of Gaza in the form of the blockade continues.

At this point Hamas could and probably should do more to establish the bona fides of its abandonment of terror as a mode of armed struggle and its readiness to have peaceful relations with Israel for long periods of time. It could and should revise the Hamas Charter of 1987 by removing those passages that suggest that the Jews as a people are evil and provide jihadists with suitable targets that deserve to be stuck dead. It could also draft a new charter taking account of intervening developments and its current thinking on how best to wage the Palestinian liberation struggle. It may also be time for Hamas to make explicit a qualified commitment to a nonviolent path in pursuit of a just peace. In circumstances of prolonged occupation and state terrorism, Hamas is entitled to claim rights of resistance, although their precise contours are not clearly established by international law. Hamas is certainly entitled to act in self-defense within the constraints of international humanitarian law, and hence can condition any tactical renunciation of armed struggle by reserving these rights.

 

The one side of the Israeli rigidity that is rooted in psychological plausibility is the reality of fear, and Hamas if it wants to make progress toward a sustainable and just peace, would be well advised to do its best to recognize this obstacle. Ari Shavit starts his important, although not entirely persuasive book, in a revealing way: “For as long as I can remember, I remember fear. Existential fear…I always felt that beyond the well-to-do houses and upper-middle-class lawns of my hometown lay a dark ocean. One day, I dreaded, that dark ocean would rise and drown us all. A mythological tsunami would strike our shores and sweep my Israel away.” (My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013), ix.

 

I am not intending to suggest that such feelings in any way mitigate the injustices imposed on the Palestinian people for almost a century. I am saying that these feelings among Israeli are real and widespread among the Jewish population living in Israel, and that the process of inducing more Israelis to seek a genuine peace depend on sensitivity by Hamas to this reality. Such a call does not mean at all that Israel should not have done more in this period, especially to allay the strong suspicion that the excessive demands of the Israeli government issued in the name of security and the invocation of fear and loathing, whether toward Hamas or Iran, is not being manipulated by a cynical leadership in Tel Aviv with not the slightest interest in peace and accommodation on reasonable terms, but is primarily seeking to proceed toward the control of virtually the whole of historic Palestine and the exploitation of all its resources. In other words Israeli ‘fears’ are at once authentic and offer a useful dilatory tactic. I would also emphasize the relevance of the situation on the ground: Israel as a prosperous powerhouse and fully sovereign state as contrasted to Hamas, which is the governing authority of the tiny, blockaded, and totally vulnerable Gaza Strip whose impoverished population has been deliberately kept by Israel at a subsistence level and continuously subjected to Israeli state terror at least since 1967.

 

A salient issue in this context is whether it is reasonable and desirable to insist that Hamas adopt a new covenant as a precondition to its acceptance as a legitimate political actor. On the one side, as mentioned above, Israel if so motivated, could explore accommodation options without taking additional security risks because of its total military dominance, and thus without either trusting Hamas or making a renunciation of the 1987 Hamas Charter a precondition. On the other side, the fact that Hamas would be willing to amend its Charter or adopt a new one that would provide some tangible indication that it no longer is calling for the killing of Jews (Article 7) and the insistence that a sacred and violent struggle is mandated by Islam to persist until every inch of Palestine falls under Muslim rule (Articles 13 & 14). If the public declarations by Hamas leaders in the last several years are to be taken seriously, then Hamas owes it to itself and those acting in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to clarify its current political vision of peace and justice. Such clarification is consistent with reaffirming the responsibility of Israel and the Zionist movement for past injustices and the accompanying denial of fundamental and inalienable rights to the Palestinian people, above all, the right of self-determination.

 

From the positions set forth here, it seems clear that at this point the officialIsraeli leadership is not inclined to seek a diplomatic outcome to the struggle that includes addressing legitimate Palestinian grievances. For this reason alone, it is fair to conclude that the 1993 Oslo framing of diplomacy, as most recently exhibited in the Kerry negotiations, is a snare and delusion so far as Palestinians are concerned. It not only freezes the status quo, it shifts the realities on the ground in the direction of Israeli expansionism via annexation, and moves toward the final stage of Zionist thinking, incorporating Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) into an Israeli version of the one-state solution. These moves, in effect, normalize the apartheid structure of relations between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents, and shed the pretense of agreeing to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Against such a background, the incentive to change the Hamas Charter it should be understood is not to appease the Israeli government, but to manifest its own altered vision and strategy and to exert some influence upon the Israeli citizenry and world public opinion. It needs to be appreciated that whatever Hamas were to do to please Israel, it would make no essential difference. What is relevant to the present stage of the Palestinian national movement is to mobilize nonviolent militant resistance and solidarity support. It is on this symbolic battlefield of legitimacy that Palestinian hopes now rest.

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.

2014: International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

31 Dec

  

In a little noted initiative the General Assembly on November 26, 2013 voted to proclaim 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was requested to organize relevant activities in cooperation with governments, the UN system, intergovernmental organizations, and significantly, civil society. The vote was 110-7, with 56 abstentions, which is more or less reflective of the sentiments now present in international society.  Among the seven opponents of the initiative, in addition to Israel, were unsurprisingly its three staunchest supporters, each once a British colony: the United States, Canada, Australia, with the addition of such international heavyweight states as Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Europe and assorted states around the world were among the 56 abstentions, with virtually the entire non-West solidly behind the idea of highlighting solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for peace with justice based on rights under international law.

 

Three initial observations: those governments that are willing to stand unabashedly with Israel in opposition to the tide of world public opinion are increasingly isolated, and these governments are under mounting public pressure from their own civil societies that seeks a balanced approach that is rights based rather than power dominated; the West, in general, is dominated by the abstaining governments that seek the lowest possible profile of being seen as neither for or against, and in those countries where civil society should now be capable of mobilizing more support for the Palestinian struggle; and the non-West that is, as has long been the case, rhetorically in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but have yet to match their words with deeds, and seem ready to be pushed.  

 

What is also revealing is the argumentation of UN Watch, and others, that denounce this latest UN initiative because it unfairly singles out Israel and ignores those countries that have worse human rights records.  Always forgotten here are two elements of the Israel/Palestine conflict that justify singling it out among others: Israel owes its existence, to a significant degree, to the organized international community, starting with the League of Nations, continuing throughout the British Mandate, and culminating with the Partition Plan of 1947, as set forth in GA Res. 181. The latter overrode the decolonizing principle of self-determination with a solution devised and imposed from without; such antecedents to the current Israel/Palestine situation also expose the colonialist foundations of the current struggle as well as call attention to the settler colonial elements that are associated with Israel’s continuous expansion of territorial, resource, and ethnocratic claims far beyond what the Western dominated international community had proposed, and then approved of,  after the end of World War II.

 

To be sure there were delicate and complex issues all along that make this problematic role of the international community somewhat more understandable. Up to 1945 there was a generalized acceptance of European colonial administration, although in the Middle East, colonial legitimacy was balanced for the first time against an obligation by the colonial powers to prepare a dependent people to stand eventually on its own, an ambivalent acknowledgement of the ethos of self-determination if not yet in the form of a legal norm. This affirmation of self-determination, as an alternative to colonial rule, was the special project of the American president, Woodrow Wilson, who insisted that such an approach was a moral imperative, especially in dealing with the regional aftermath of the Ottoman Empire that had long ruled over many diverse ethnicities.

 

Beyond this, the Jewish experience during the reign of fascist regimes throughout Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, created a strong empathetic urge in Europe to endorse the Zionist project for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.  As is known, this empathy although genuine in many quarters,  also exhibited a deferred sense of guilt on the part of the Western liberal democracies that had done so little to challenge the genocidal policies of Hitler and the Nazis, refusing to act at all until their national interests were directly engaged by German aggression. European support was also forthcoming because the Zionist proposed solution for the Jewish Problem, which has long been present in Europe, could be enacted elsewhere, that is, at the expense of non-Europeans. This elsewhere was far from empty and was coveted by others for various reasons. Palestine was a land long lived in mainly by Arabs, but also by some Jews and Christians, and associated centrally with the sacred traditions of all three monotheistic religions. Normally in the modern world, the demographics of residence trump biblical or other claims based on claims of national tradition, ethnic identity, and ancient historical presence. Yet despite these factors, there were ethical reasons in the aftermath of such extreme victimization of the Jewish people to lend support to a reasonable version of the Zionist project as it had evolved in the years since the Balfour Declaration, even if from a variety of other perspectives it was deeply unfair to others and disruptive of peaceful relations, and throughout its implementation, produced an unfolding catastrophe for most non-Jewish Palestinians.

 

Taking account of this historical and moral complexity what seems evident is the failure of the UN to carry out its responsibility in a manner that was effective and responsive to the human circumstances prevailing in Palestine. The UN overall record is quite disappointing if considered from the perspective of accommodating these contradictory clusters of consideration in a manner that was reflective of international law and global justice. The military prowess of Zionist forces in Israel inflicted a major defeat on the Palestinian people and neighboring Arab governments, and in the process expanded the territorial dominion of Israel from the 55% decreed by the UN in its partition plan to 78% where the green line established an armistice arrangement in 1948. Such an outcome was gradually endorsed by a geopolitical consensus, exhibited through the admission of Israel to the UN without any solution to the underlying conflict, leaving the Palestinians out in the cold and allowing Israel to constitute itself within borders much larger than what the UN had a mere year earlier decreed as fair.

 

This situation was further aggravated by the 1967 War in which Israel occupied all of the remaining territory of historic Palestine, purporting even to annex East Jerusalem while greatly enlarging the area of municipal Jerusalem by incorporating land belonging to the West Bank. Since 1967 this Palestinian territorial remnant has been further decreased by the massive settlement phenomenon, including its network of settler only roads, carried out in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, by the separation wall constructed and maintained in defiance of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, and by a variety of moves to change the demography of East Jerusalem. In other words, Israeli forces on the ground in what had been Palestine have undermined the vision set forth in the partition plan which was itself a controversial UN solution to the conflict that was rejected by Palestinians and by neighboring countries.

 

Despite much propaganda to the contrary, the Palestinian leadership has over most of the period of their struggle, shown an unusual readiness to abandon maximal goals, and put forward forthcoming proposals in recognition of the realities of a situation that had become unfavorable for the realization of their earlier hopes. Palestinian willingness, expressed formally since 1988, to accept Israel as a legitimate state within the green line borders of 1967 remains more than twenty-five years after its articulation an unacknowledged and unreciprocated major initiative for peace. That such a proposal has been ignored and continuously undermined by Israel with de facto Western acquiescence, and in the face of feeble UN rhetorical objections, displays the inability of the UN to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of Palestine.

 

As might be expected, Palestinians have long become disillusioned about the benefits of having UN authority and international law on their side. Over the years the backing of international authority has failed to bring about an improvement in the life circumstances and political position of the Palestinian people. The UN is helpless, and designed to be helpless, whenever a UN position is effectively resisted by a combination of military force and geopolitical alignment. Israel’s military capabilities and American geopolitical leverage have completely nullified the expressed will of the United Nations, but have not overcome the sense of frustration or excused the Organization from its failure to act responsibly toward the Palestinian people.

 

In light of this background, the wonder is that the UN has done so little to repair the damage, not that it has done so much, or more than it should in relation to Israel/Palestine. Arguably, yes, there are a variety of other situations in which the abuse of human rights has been worse than what is being attributed to Israel, but the rationale for focusing on Palestine is not only a question of the denial of rights, it is also an issue of fundamental justice, of the seemingly permanent subjugation of a people, partly due to arrangements that were devised and endorsed over a long period of time by the organized international community.  Yet, witnessing the dire current emergency plight of the people of Gaza, makes it perverse to contend that the human rights challenges facing this large and vulnerable Palestinian community is not among the worst human rights abuses in the entire world, and makes us wonder anew why the UN seems unwilling and unable to do more!

 

We can hope at the dawn of 2014 that the UN will be vigorous in giving the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People a political meaning that goes beyond words of empathy and support. There is an opportunity to do more. The UN resolution calls for working with civil society. Recent moves in America to join boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and in Europe to hold corporations responsible under international law for dealing commercially with Israeli settlements are major successes of civil society activism, being led by the BDS Campaign that has the important legitimating virtue of Palestinian leadership and backing. The UN can help build a momentum in the global solidarity movement that encourages nonviolent militant forms of coercive action that alone will give ‘solidarity’ a good name.

 

Palestinians are starting to win the Legitimacy War that is being waged against unlawful Israeli policies and on behalf of the attainment of Palestinian rights. The turning point in world public opinion can probably be traced back to the way Israel waged the Lebanon War of 2006, especially the avowed reliance on disproportionate force directed at residential neighborhoods, especially in south Beirut, a tactic that became known as the Dahiya Doctrine. The tipping point in shifting the Israeli collective identity from that of victims and heroic underdogs to that lawless perpetrators of oppressive warfare against a totally vulnerable people came in Operation Cast Lead, the sustained assault with high technology weaponry on the people of Gaza for three weeks at the end of 2008. After these developments, the Palestinians were understood more widely to be a victimized people, engaged in a just struggle to gain their rights under international law, and needing and deserving an international movement of support to offset the Israeli hard power and geopolitical dominance.

 

Israeli leaders and think tanks try their hardest to discredit this Palestinian Legitimacy War by falsely claiming that it is directed against the legitimacy of Israel as a state rather than is the case, against the unlawful policies of the Israeli state. This is a crucial difference, and the distinction seems deliberately obscured by Israeli propaganda that inflated what Palestinians are seeking so as to make their activism appear hyperbolic, with unreasonable and unacceptable demands, which makes it easier to dismiss than by addressing critically the Palestinian grievances in their actual form. It is to be hoped that the International Year of Solidarity in its work clarifies this distinction between Israel as a state and Israeli policies. Within such a framework the UN will deserve credit for contributing to victories throughout the world that advance the agenda of the Legitimacy War being waged by and on behalf of the Palestinian people, and by so doing, move the debate somewhat closer to the realization of a just and sustainable peace for both peoples.

  

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.

 

Nelson Mandela’s Inspiration (Revised)

9 Dec

Prefatory Note: Thanks to my friend Nader Hashemi, I have added this important comment on the role of violence in emancipatory struggles for freedom that Nelson Mandela articulated after his release from prison in 1993; it is highly relevant to the demands by Israel that Palestinians renounce violence while Israel sustains a structure of occupation and oppression that includes nakba as process, that is, continuous dynamics of dispossession and dispersal of the oppressed and encroachment on their remaining rights via unlawful settlement, ethnic cleansing, discriminatory policies. What follows is an excerpt from an appearance by Mandela on Charlie Rose’s interview program:

Rose:              You have, at this moment, no reservation or indecision – along with the counsel that you’ve taken with your colleagues – that the decisions made by you and them are right for South Africa – the sacrifices, the toll, the price you’ve paid, the blood that’s been spilled was necessary, painful, but necessary?

Mandela:      nods

Rose:              Yes.

Mandela:      Absolutely. We are an organization which, from its foundation, committed itself to building a nation through peaceful, nonviolent, and disciplined struggle. We were forced to resort to arms by the regime, and the lesson of history is that for the masses of the people, the methods of political action which they use are determined by the oppressor himself. If the oppressor uses peaceful means, the oppressed would never resort to violence. It is when the oppressor – in addition to his repressive policies – uses violence, that the oppressed have no alternative but to retaliate by similar forms of action. And, therefore, the pains, the blood that was spilled, and the responsibility for that lies squarely on the shoulders of the regime.

Source: Interview with Charlie Rose, September 30, 1993

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Fifteen years ago I had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting Nelson Mandela in Cape Town while he was serving as President of South Africa. It was an odd occasion. I was a member of the International Commission on the Future of the Oceans, which was holding a meeting in South Africa. It happened that one of the vice chairs of the Commission was Kader Asmal, a cherished friend and a member of the first Mandela cabinet who himself played a major role in the writing of the South African Constition. Kader had arranged for Mandela to welcome the Commission to his country, and asked me if I would prepare some remarks on his behalf, which was for me an awesome assignment, but one that I undertook with trepidation, not at all confident that I could find the words to be of some slight help to this great man. Compounding my personal challenge, the Brazilian Vice Chair of our oceans commission who was supposed to give a response on behalf of the Commission became ill, and I was asked by our chair to respond to Mandela on behalf of the commission. I did have the thrill of hearing 90% of my text delivered by Mandela, which years later I remember much better than my eminently forgettable words of response to the President.

What moved me most, and has led me to make this rather narcissistic introduction, is the conversation after the event. Mandela thanked me for my efforts and proceeded then to talk with each of our 40 commission members, making a specific reference to circumstances of relevance and concern in each of their particular countries. He went from person to person with such grace and composure as I had never encountered before on the part of a public figure of renown. It was above all Mandela’s spiritual presence that created such a strong impression of moral radiance on the part of all of us fortunate enough to be in the room. I was reinforced in my guiding belief that political greatness presupposes a spiritual orientation toward the meaning of life, not necessarily expressed by way of a formal religious commitment, yet always implies living with an unconditional dedication to values and faith that transcend the practical, the immediate, and the material.

The political imaginary that accompanies such a life also has an integrity that challenges the proprieties and associated boundaries of conventional liberal thought. It is easy for almost everyone now to celebrate Mandela for his long struggle against South African apartheid that included 27 years in jail. It is less common to recall that as late as the 1980s leaders in Britain and the United States were condemning Mandela as ‘terrorist’ and ‘revolutionary’ who deserved to be indefinitely jailed, if not worse. It is even less often remembered that Mandela rejected early offers to obtain his release from prison if he would ‘renounce violence’ and call for an end to ‘armed struggle.’ Although Mandela is justly honored for his role in achieving a non-violent transition to multi-racial constitutionalism in South Africa, he was never willing to say that those who were oppressed must renounce whatever means was available to them to gain their freedom. Indeed, Mandela as leader of the African National Congress, endorsed the creation of its military wing, and at one stage was supportive of armed resistance to obtain liberation and overcome the racist crimes being committed by the apartheid regime on a massive and systematic basis.

The Palestinian people, in the midst of their seemingly endless ordeal, have particular reason to esteem the exemplary life and solidarity exhibited by Nelson Mandela for their cause. Mandela’s words reflected a deep intuition that what the Palestinians were seeking had a deep affinity with his own struggle: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

In Israel’s apartheid there exist a network of separated roads for Israeli settlers and the Palestinians, as well as a discriminatory dual legal administrative structure.

Mandela regarded Yasser Arafat as a ‘comrade in arms,’ identifying him as “one of the outstanding freedom fighters of his generation,” adding that “it is with great sadness that his and his people’s dream of a Palestinian state has not been realized.” By affirmations of Arafat, Castro, and even Qaddafi, Mandela made plain to the West in reaction to criticism, “Our enemies are not your enemies.” Such a voice of peace and justice that never submitted to Western liberal notions of good behavior was fully appreciated by Indian followers of Gandhi who regarded Mandela as a natural political heir to their national hero despite his more contextual views on the role of political violence. Like Gandhi, Mandela stood so firmly for dignity, independence, human development, and the end of colonial domination in all its manifold forms wherever it was to be found in the world.

It is also notable that Marwan Barghouti confined to an Israeli jail for five consecutive life sentences looked to Mandela for inspiration, writing an open letter from his prison cell not long ago. He wrote, “And from within my prison, I tell you that our freedom seems possible because you reached yours.”  Beyond this he hailed Mandela whose torch of freedom burned so brightly as to cast universal light: “You carried a promise far beyond the limits of your country’s borders, a promise that oppression and injustice will be vanquished, paving the way to freedom and peace..All sacrifices become bearable by the sole prospect that one day the Palestinian people will also be able to enjoy freedom.” Barghouti is for Palestinians their strongest symbol of collective identity in resistance and struggle, and a comparison to Mandela’s lifelong journey is inevitable, including Barghouti’s clear turn toward the embrace of militant forms of nonviolent resistance.

I believe that when Israel is ready for a sustainable and just peace it will signal this to itself, to the Palestinians, and to the world by releasing Barghouti from prison and by treating Hamas as a political actor with genuine grievances and aspirations that needs to be included in any diplomacy of accommodation that deserves the label of ‘peace process.’ Until that most welcome moment arrives, the Palestinian march toward victory in the ongoing Legitimacy War must be continued with renewed vitality and dedication.

Mandela’s journey, like that of Gandhi, was not without its major disappointments. To gain the political end of apartheid, Mandela deferred challenges to social and economic apartheid. Part of his legacy to South Africa is to carry forward this mission to free the great majority of the country from the many disadvantages and burdens of their still segregated, subordinated, and humiliating reality.

Clashing Views of Political Reality: Chomsky versus Dershowitz

2 Dec

 

 

            My friend and former collaborator, Howard Friel, has written an intriguing book contrasting the worldviews and polemical styles of two Jewish American intellectuals with world class reputations, Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz (Friel, Chomsky and Dershowitz: On Endless War and the End of Civil Liberties, Olive Branch Press, 2014). The book is much more than a comparison of two influential voices, one critical the other apologetic, with respect to the Israel/Palestine struggle and the subordination of private liberties to the purveyors of state-led security at home and abroad . Friel convincingly favors Chomsky’s approach both with respect to the substance of their fundamental disagreements and in relation to sharply contrasting styles of argument.

 

            Chomsky is depicted, accurately I believe, as someone consistently dedicated to evidenced based reasoning reinforced by an abiding respect for the relevance and authority of international law and morality. Chomsky has also been a tireless opponent of American imperialism and military intervention, and of oppressive regimes anywhere on the planet. He is also shown by Friel to be strongly supportive of endowing individuals whether citizens or not with maximal freedom from interference by the state. From such perspectives, the behavior of Israel and the United States are assessed by Chomsky to be betrayals of humane values and of the virtues of a constitutional democracy.

 

            In contrast, Dershowitz is presented, again accurately and on the basis of abundant documentation, as a dirty fighter with a readiness to twist the truth to serve his Zionist predilections, which include support for the post-9/11 drift toward authoritarian governance, and an outrageous willingness to play the anti-Semitic card even against someone of Chomsky’s extraordinary academic achievements in the field of linguistics and of global stature as the world’s leading public intellectual, who has an impeccable lifelong record of moral courage and fidelity to the truth. Dershowitz has devoted his destructive energies to derailing tenure appointments for critics of Israel and for using his leverage to badger publishers to refrain from taking on books, however meritorious, if they present either himself or Israel in what he views to be a negative light. 

 

            Friel illustrates the contrast between these talented and titanic antagonists by reference to the much publicized debate about Robert Faurisson, the French Holocaust denier. Chomsky signed a petition in 1979 that defended Faurisson’s freedom of expression, an act consistent with his overall long record of support for unrestricted academic freedom. Dershowitz abandons his own earlier allegiance to a similar approach, not only refusing to allow free speech to protect Faurisson, but lashing out to condemn Chomsky for his supposed show of support for Holocaust denial because he had the temerity to defend Faurisson’s right to say what he said. This is a typical tactic employed by Dershowitz, deliberately confusing a principled support for the right to hold and espouse ethically unacceptable views with an alleged identification and sympathy with the substance of the views being expressed. To contend that Chomsky is tacitly embracing Holocaust denial by supporting Faurisson was, as Friel conclusively shows, clearly defamatory, ignoring numerous occasions on which Chomsky has denounced the Nazi experience culminating in the Holocaust as a predominant historical instance of pure evil.  For Dershowitz to overlook such plain facts in relation to Chomsky on such an inflammatory matter is to show his true colors as a dirty fighter who has no inhibitions about smearing his opponents, however distinguished and honorable they happen to be, and no matter how clearly he must know better. Dershowitz must be assumed to realize that Chomsky’s entire life displays an abiding concern for the ethical treatment of ‘the other,’ and to allege that somehow Chomsky is himself flirting with Holocaust denial is the most irresponsible slander and ironically, an unforgiveable abuse by Dershowitz of the freedom of expression, which transgresses civility if not the law. Civil discourse and public reason in a democratic society depend on the overall willingness of individuals to show self-discipline, and avoid exploiting the opportunities for defamation that the law allows in commentary on so-called public figures.

 

            Dershowitz is primarily known, aside from his controversial notoriety as a trial lawyer in high profile criminal cases, as an unconditional defender of Israel against a wide range of responsible critics. He wrote a number of books and numerous articles with vicious attacks on such moral authority figures as Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, including his notorious tract The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace (2008). Even such mainstream and widely respected experts on world affairs as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer become targets of Dershowitz’s calumny because of their daring to write critically and persuasively about the destructive influence of the Israeli Lobby in relation to the prudent and rational pursuit of American national interests in the conduct of foreign policy in their book, The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007).

 

            At this point, I should acknowledge that I am far from being a neutral observer. I have been accused on several occasions of being an ‘anti-Semite’ and ‘bigot’ by Dershowitz, primarily in relation to my role as UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine, but even in response to my endorsing blurb of Gilad Atzmon’s seminal challenge directed at liberal Zionist and Jewish thought in The Wandering Who? (2011). Similar insults were directed by Dershowitz at my predecessor as Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, a distinguished jurist from South Africa and as unbiased and balanced a champion of human rights and international law as I have ever known. Attacking the critics of Israel, especially those possessing strong academic and ethical credentials, is a nasty illustration of what I have called ‘the politics of deflection,’ that is, avoiding the substance of criticisms by denouncing the critics and their auspices with the intention of shifting the conversation. Such attacks are clearly intended to shut down criticism of Israel by subjecting to withering abuse anyone who dares to violate the Zionist taboo.

 

            Perhaps, the most important part of Friel’s engaging book is his depiction of Dershowitz’s advocacy of the ‘preventive state’ as overcoming an earlier essential postulate of liberal democracy, the presumption of innocence. In the preventive state that Dershowitz posits as necessary and hence desirable, we all become for the government legitimate objects of suspicion, and the higher goals of counter-terrorism. Such a line of analysis mandates the state to act preventively rather than reactively, and hence to employ the full coercive apparatus of the state to identify potential enemies of the state before they have the opportunity to act. For a more challenging rendition of this argument than offered by Dershowitz I strongly recommend reading Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century (2008). This reinterpretation of the balance between security and freedom reverses the traditional emphasis of the rule of law upon reactive forms of security, its logic being used to rationalize torture, as well as preventive detention of individuals and preventive warfare against states, non-state actors, and even individuals, perceived to pose future threats. Such rationalizations undermine the unconditional criminalization of torture and completely upend the UN Charter effort to confine the role of force in international relations by limiting its legal invocation to situations of self-defense against a prior armed attack by a state. The launching of the disastrous war against Iraq in 2003 was a clear international example of the preventive state in action as are the kill lists compiled weekly for drone attacks on individuals resident in foreign countries. Another facet of such a posture is embodied in the indefinite detention of numerous individuals in Guantanamo for years without charges and absent credible incriminating evidence.

 

            Of course, rigid legalism is not the alternative to a rejection of the preventive state, but an exaggeration of the terrorist threat is tantamount to willing the end of political democracy as it has evolved over the centuries. We have seen that even a supposedly liberal president, Barack Obama, has endorsed an authoritarian approach in numerous areas of governance including reliance on drone warfare and support for virtually limitless global networks of surveillance. The treatment of such whistleblowers as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is also emblematic of the preventive state, directing public attention to the unlawful release of information while declining to acknowledge or remedy the crimes of state being exposed. Needless to say, Chomsky is acutely alert to these dangers, and has long stood for the maintenance, even the enhancement, of traditional liberties of the individual despite alleged security claims to the contrary.

 

            Friel has given us a brilliantly analyzed comparison of two vivid engaged and intelligent activists who personify the alternative scenarios available to the United States, the choice of which is of great consequence for the rest of the world. Only a determined advocate of unfreedom and injustice could fail to side with Chomsky in this debate about the political future of the planet. In this larger view, the Dershowitz defense of Israel against the most responsible of critics, is but an illustration of his broader alignment with repressive tendencies at home and abroad despite his feeble pretensions to the contrary.  Clearly Chomsky is the winner in this contest if fairly umpired, both in terms of coherence and acceptability of worldview, as well as the ethics of public discourse. Dershowitz, apparently propelled by the awkwardness of his convictions, seems always ready to adopt the Darth Vader tactics that Dick Cheney unabashedly favored, coyly acknowledging that it meant going to ‘the dark side.’

 

            Let me observe finally, and with due allowance made for my own stake in this effort to assess the comparative merits of style and substance on the part of these antagonistic titans, that Howard Friel has once again contributed a necessary book for all those dedicated to the pursuit of justice in relation to Israel/Palestine and more generally in international life.* A cardinal virtue of Friel’s approach is to recognize and explain the role of international law with respect to sustaining world peace and attaining global justice.  

 

* In this spirit I highly recommend Friel’s earlier expose of the Danish climate skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg, in his book The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming (2010) and of the mighty New York Times in The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misrepresents U.S. Foreign Policy (2004), of which I was the proud co-author.

GAZA: The Unfolding Tragedy

30 Nov

GAZA: The Unfolding Humanitarian Catastrophe

This material below was distributed by John Whitbeck, distinguished American lawyer and author, living in Paris,and doing his best to keep a group concerned with world affairs informed about latest developments, especially inthe Middle East. I also add a slightly edited text of a message sent by Robert Stiver from Hawaii, who has exhibited consistent empathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people.My press release below, although far less emotional than the cri de coeur that Robert Stiver wrote, issues from the same place of urgent concern for the brave and resolute people of Gaza. I hope that Robert is wrong however when he ends with self-tormenting words of despair: “What to do, in the name of common justice?  I know not; it seems useless, all useless.” Such feelings of futility are quite understandable, but let us do all within our power to make sure that this unfolding catastrophe ENDS before its full tragic character is totally realized.

It hardly needs to be observed that the silence of the United Nations and the global media is a continuing disgrace, particularly given the pomp and circumstance of those mighty statesmen who self-righteously proclaim a new doctrine: ‘the responsibility to protect’ (R2P) those whose survival and dignity is at stake due to crimes of state or as a result of natural catastrophe.

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Cutting edge Middle East news analysis edited by Oliver Miles
 Web Arab News Digest
Gaza: a disgraceAccording to a BBC report military action in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has been limited since the serious fighting a year ago in which about 170 Palestinians and six Israelis died. But tension remains high, as also between Hamas and Egypt where northern Sinai has been the scene of much fighting. Meanwhile living conditions for 1.7 million Gazans remain atrocious.

Reuters reports that Turkey has pledged $850,000, $200,000 of which have already reached Gaza, to alleviate the fuel crisis which has closed Gaza’s only power station and a major sewage treatment plant, so that raw sewage is running in the streets. Fuel deliveries by the UN have started, and are reported to be promised by Qatar. The immediate cause of the fuel crisis is the destruction by Egypt of cross-border tunnels, and the longer term cause the Israeli blockade.

We thank John Whitbeck for an “Action Alert” from the Friends of Al-Aqsa (a UK NGO) drawing attention to the first item below, a UN report on action needed to avert a humanitarian crisis. He comments that the Action Alert refers to the “smuggling” of fuel and other basic necessities into Gaza through tunnels on the border between Egypt and Palestine. ‘This terminology is standard media usage in Israel and the West, intended to semantically criminalize the victims, but, as a matter of both law and common sense, I believe that the use of the word “smuggle” is totally inappropriate in these circumstances. “Smuggling” is an illegal activity, usually involving a violation of the laws of the importing state. Under whose applicable laws is importing basic necessities into Gaza illegal? Certainly not the laws of the importing state, Palestine, or the current de facto government of Gaza, as to which Israel insists that it has not been the occupying power (and, accordingly, has had no responsibilities or obligations) since it withdrew its illegal settlers, locked the gates and, effectively, threw away the keys. If there is an Egyptian law banning the export of basic necessities from Egypt, I am not aware of it. The provisioning of Gaza with the basic necessities of life should be characterized as humanitarian relief, those who prevent Gazans from receiving the basic necessities of life should be characterized as criminals and those who are aware of the situation and fail to speak out should be characterized as moral bankrupts.’

The second item below is a report published by Al Jazeera on the impact of Israeli drones over Gaza, particularly on children. The author is a British journalist resident in Nazareth, Israel.

Gaza fuel crisis: UN expert calls for urgent action to avert a humanitarian catastrophe

GENEVA (26 November 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk today called for urgent action to address the power shortage in occupied Palestine  that has left 1.7 million residents of the Gaza Strip in a dire situation. More than three weeks after the only power plant shut down due to a critical fuel shortage, power supply has been limited to six hours a day.

“The situation in Gaza is at a point of near catastrophe,” warned the independent expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

“The fuel shortage and power cuts have undermined an already precarious infrastructure, severely disrupting the provision of basic services, including health, water and sanitation,” he said. “The onset of winter is certain to make things even worse.”

Less than half of Gaza’s total power needs are being met and disruptions to specialized health services, such as kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units and incubators are putting the lives of vulnerable patients in Gaza at risk.

Mr. Falk highlighted the plight of patients in Gaza unable to seek affordable specialized medical treatment in Egypt as a result of Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing in recent weeks. “The Israeli authorities have been more forthcoming in issuing permits to Gazans in need of urgent specialized treatment, but the high cost of medical treatment in Israel places it beyond the reach of most Gazans,” he noted.

For the past two weeks, approximately 3000 residents, including children, living in or near the Gazan neighbourhood of Az Zeitoun have been wading through raw sewage on the streets after the largest sewage treatment facility in area overflowed due to a power failure.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that other sewage treatment stations may soon also run out of petrol to fuel generators and result in more sewage overflowing onto the streets of Gaza. Medical experts have warned of the serious risk of disease, and even an epidemic

“Up to 40 per cent of Gaza’s population receives water only once every three days,” he noted. “In this situation of dire necessity those who can afford to do so, are shockingly buying unsafe water from unregulated water vendors and distributors.”

The human rights expert believes that the main trigger for the latest crisis is Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on the vast network of tunnels and fuel tanks near the southern border of Gaza, which allowed Gaza to avoid some of the hardships associated with the Israeli blockade maintained since 2007.

“We mustn’t forget that the underlying cause of a lack of adequate medical facilities and specialized care in Gaza is a consequence of Israel’s illegal blockade,” Mr. Falk said.

The Special Rapporteur explained that, under present conditions, Israel has a special responsibility under international humanitarian law to take whatever measures are necessary to protect the civilian population of Gaza against this mounting threat to their wellbeing. “The failure to do so would be an aggravated instance of collective punishment, which is unconditionally prohibited by the 4th Geneva Convention,” Mr. Falk cautioned.

He also urged the governing authorities in Gaza to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in a joint effort to ensure that desperately needed fuel becomes available to the residents of Gaza at the earliest hour.

“Israel must end its illegal blockade and exercise its core responsibility as the occupying Power to protect the civilian population,” the expert said.

Last Tuesday, an aid convoy carrying medicine, medical equipment and canned food was reportedly permitted to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing for first time since June this year.

“Under these conditions of humanitarian emergency, the international community also has a responsibility to take special measures to safeguard the acutely vulnerable people of Gaza from impending tragedy,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Gaza: Life and death under Israel’s drones

Drones buzzing overhead are a source of daily trauma for Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Jonathan Cook: 28 Nov 2013

Jerusalem – There are many things to fear in Gaza: Attacks from Israel’s Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, the coastal enclave’s growing isolation, the regular blackouts from power shortages, increasingly polluted drinking water and rivers of sewage flooding the streets.

Meanwhile, for most Palestinians in Gaza the anxiety-inducing soundtrack to their lives is the constant buzz of the remotely piloted aircraft – better known as “drones” – that hover in the skies above.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveillance and extra-judicial execution in parts of the Middle East, especially by the US, but in nowhere more than Gaza has the drone become a permanent fixture of life. More than 1.7 million Palestinians, confined by Israel to a small territory in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are subject to near continual surveillance and intermittent death raining down from the sky.

There is little hope of escaping the zenana – an Arabic word referring to a wife’s relentless nagging that Gazans have adopted to describe the drone’s oppressive noise and their feelings about it. According to statistics compiled by human rights groups in Gaza, civilians are the chief casualties of what Israel refers to as “surgical” strikes from drones.

“When you hear the drones, you feel naked and vulnerable,” said Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza City. “The buzz is the sound of death. There is no escape, nowhere is private. It is a reminder that, whatever Israel and the international community assert, the occupation has not ended. We are still living completely under Israeli control. They control the borders and the sea and they decide our fates from their position in the sky,” said Shaqura.

The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

Suffer the children

The sense of permanent exposure, coupled with the fear of being mistakenly targeted, has inflicted deep psychological scars on civilians, especially children, according to experts.

“There is a great sense of insecurity. Nowhere feels safe for the children, and they feel no one can offer them protection, not even their parents,” said Ahmed Tawahina, a psychologist running clinics in Gaza as part of the Community Mental Health Programme. “That traumatises both the children and parents, who feel they are failing in their most basic responsibility.”

Shaqura observed: “From a political perspective, there is a deep paradox. Israel says it needs security, but it demands it at the cost of our constant insecurity.”

There are no statistics that detail the effect of the drones on Palestinians in Gaza. Doctors admit it is impossible to separate the psychological toll inflicted by drones from other sources of damage to mental health, such as air strikes by F-16s, severe restrictions on movement and the economic insecurity caused by Israel’s blockade.

But field researchers working for Palestinian rights groups point out that the use of drones is intimately tied to these other sources of fear and anxiety. Drones fire missiles themselves, they guide attacks by F-16s or helicopters, and they patrol and oversee the borders.

A survey in medical journal The Lancet following Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, found large percentages of children suffered from symptoms of psychological trauma: Fifty-eight percent permanently feared the dark; 43 percent reported regular nightmares; 37 percent wet the bed and 42 percent had crying attacks.

Tawahina described the sense of being constantly observed as a “form of psychological torture, which exhausts people’s mental and emotional resources. Among children at school, this can be seen in poor concentration and unruly behaviour.” The trauma for children is compounded by the fact that the drones also disrupt what should be their safest activity – watching TV at home. When a drone is operating nearby, it invariably interferes with satellite reception.

“”It doesn’t make headlines, but it is another example of how there is no escape from the drones. Parents want their children indoors, where it feels safer and where they’re less likely to hear the drones, but still the drone finds a way into their home. The children cannot even switch off from the traumas around them by watching TV because of the drones.”

Israel’s ‘major advantage’

Israel developed its first drones in the early 1980s, during its long occupation of south Lebanon, to gather aerial intelligence without exposing Israeli pilots to anti-aircraft missiles. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, said drones help in situations where good, on-the-ground intelligence is lacking. “What the UAV gives you is eyes on the other side of the hill or over the border,” he said. “That provides Israel with a major advantage over its enemies.”

Other Israeli analysts have claimed that the use of drones, with their detailed intelligence-collecting abilities, is justified because they reduce the chances of errors and the likelihood of “collateral damage” – civilian deaths – during attacks.

But, according to Inbar, the drone is no better equipped than other aircraft for gathering intelligence or carrying out an execution.

“The advantage from Israel’s point of view is that using a drone for these tasks reduces the risk of endangering a pilot’s life or losing an expensive plane. That is why we are moving towards much greater use of these kinds of robots on the battlefield,” he said.

‘Mistakes can happen’

According to Gaza human rights group al-Mezan, Israel started using drones over the territory from the start of the second intifada in 2000, but only for surveillance.

Israel’s first extra-judicial executions using drones occurred in 2004, when two Palestinians were killed. But these operations greatly expanded after 2006, in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza and the rise to power of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

Drones, the front-line weapon in Israel’s surveillance operations and efforts to foil rocket attacks, killed more than 90 Palestinians in each of the years 2006 and 2007, according to al-Mezan. The figures soared during Operation Cast Lead and in its aftermath, with 461 Palestinians killed by drones in 2009. The number peaked again with 199 deaths in 2012, the year when Israel launched the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defence against Gaza.

Despite Israeli claims that the intelligence provided by drones makes it easier to target those Palestinians it has defined as “terrorists”, research shows civilians are the main victims. In the 2012 Pillar of Defence operation, 36 of the 162 Palestinians killed were a result of drone strikes, and a further 100 were injured by drones. Of those 36 killed, two-thirds were civilians.

Also revealing was a finding that, although drones were used in only five percent of air strikes, they accounted for 23 percent of the total deaths during Pillar of Defence. According to the Economist magazine, the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, which triggered that operation, was carried out using a Hermes 450 drone.

Palestinian fighters report that they have responded to the constant surveillance by living in hiding, rarely going outdoors and avoiding using phones or cars. It is a way of life not possible for most people in Gaza.

Gaza’s armed groups are reported to be trying to find a way to jam the drones’ navigation systems. In the meantime, Hamas has claimed it has shot down three drones, the latest this month, though Israel says all three crashed due to malfunctions.

Last week, on the anniversary of the launch of Pillar of Defence, an Israeli commander whose soldiers control the drones over Gaza from a base south of Tel Aviv told the Haaretz newspaper that “many” air strikes during the operation had involved drones. “Lt Col Shay” was quoted saying: “Ultimately, we are at war. As much as the IDF strives to carry out the most precise surgical strikes, mistakes can happen in the air or on the ground.”

Random death by drone

It is for this reason that drones have become increasingly associated with random death from the sky, said Samir Zaqout, a senior field researcher for Al-Mezan.

“We know from the footage taken by drones that Israel can see what is happening below in the finest detail. And yet women and children keep being killed in drone attacks. Why the continual mistakes? The answer, I think, is that these aren’t mistakes. The message Israel wants to send us is that there is no protection whether you are a civilian or fighter. They want us afraid and to make us turn on the resistance [Palestinian fighters].”

Zaqout also points to a more recent use of drones – what has come to be known as “roof-knocking”. This is when a drone fires small missiles at the roof of a building to warn the inhabitants to evacuate – a practice Israel developed during Operation Cast Lead three years earlier, to allay international concerns about its repeated levellings of buildings with civilians inside.

In Pillar of Defence in 2012, 33 buildings were targeted by roof-knocking.

Israel says it provides 10 minutes’ warning from a roof-knock to an air strike, but, in practice, families find they often have much less time. This, said Zaqout, puts large families in great danger as they usually send their members out in small groups to be sure they will not be attacked as they move onto the streets.

One notorious case occurred during Cast Lead, when six members of the Salha family, all women and children, were killed when their home was shelled moments after a roof-knocking. The father, Fayez Salha, who survived, lost a case for damages in Israel’s Supreme Court last February and was ordered to pay costs after the judges ruled that the attack was legitimate because it occurred as part of a military operation.

A US citizen who has lived long-term in Gaza, who wished not be named for fear of reprisals from Israel, said she often heard the drones at night when the street noise dies down, or as they hover above her while out walking. “The sound is like the buzz of a mosquito, although there is one type of drone that sometimes comes into view that is silent,” she said.

She added that she knew of families that, before moving into a new apartment building, checked to see whether it housed a fighter or a relative of a fighter, for fear that the building may be attacked by Israel.

Shaqura said the drones inevitably affect one’s day-to-day behaviour. He said he was jogging early one morning while a drone hovered overhead.

“I got 100 metres from my front door when I started to feel overwhelmed with fear. I realised that my tracksuit was black, the same colour as many of the fighters’ uniforms. I read in my work too many reports of civilians being killed by drones not to see the danger. So I hurried back home.”

 

 

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Robert Stiver’s message:

“I seethe with helpless indignation and rage at the despicable members of the “human” race, including me, who (i) perpetrate and (ii) allow this unspeakable tragedy to continue, always worsening, most often vindictive, all too often indifferent to the hapless-victims aspects of it.  And I must admit that I am as outraged at the God who, via the vaunted “free will” He is credited with giving us, has not yet found “His time” to intervene and put paid to this unending stain on humanity — a stain that, in my 20th-21st Century view, begins and ends with militant/political Zionism and its ever-present worldwide practitioners.

Sadly – how sadly – the Palestinian Authority and the quisling Fateh are in lockstep, fellow travelers with this miasma of shame and inhumanity.  Hamas and Fateh must overcome the USraeli “divide and rule” tactics and link arms as a solid force of resistance to the illegal occupation of their homeland.  Today, that must be the number one priority!

……..

And thanks to Turkey and Qatar for having the scruples to toss a few coins to the suffering masses, perhaps alleviating but by no means solving their torment…as I am mystified that they don’t join hands, trek to Geneva or NYCity and demand a white-hot emergency meeting of the UNSC in demand that international law and countless supportive UNSC resolutions be enforced.  Failing any action there, a certainty because of the US’ enabling of pure evil, the Turkish-Qatari reps should trek to the UNGA and orchestrate a (I’ve forgotten the term…”Uniting for Peace”) proper response and accompanying action.  The “response” would be overwhelming – on the order of 150 pro, 5 opposed.  Why cannot this scenario take place?

Let us pity – we have nothing else to offer – the brave, beleaguered residents of Gaza.  Our pity should be informed by mental images of the children there, slogging through a toxic mix of urine and feces, facing epidemics of pestilence ready to strike at any moment, lacking hope for any surcease of their everyday misery and for a future of human rights, normality and dignity — victims of a deliberately vicious, internationally illegal collective persecution (not “mere” punishment…persecution) of them and their families.

Today/29th is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  Where is the solidarity?

What to do, in the name of common justice?  I know not; it seems useless, all useless…”

Invisible Horizons of a Just Palestine/Israel Future

4 Nov

I spent last week at the United Nations, meeting with ambassadors of countries in the Middle East and presenting my final report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly as my term as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine comes to an end. My report emphasized issues relating to corporate responsibility of those companies and banks that are engaged in business relationships with the settlements. Such an emphasis seemed to strike a responsive note with many delegations as a tangible way of expressing displeasure with Israel’s continuing defiance of its international law obligations, especially in relation to the unlawful settlements being provocatively expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the very moment that the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestine Authority and the Government of Israel is being heralded as a promising development.

There are two reasons why the corporate responsibility issue seems to be an important tactic of consciousness raising and norm implementation at this stage: (1) it is a start down the slippery slope of enforcement after decades of UN initiatives confined to seemingly futile rhetorical affirmations of Israeli obligations under international law, accompanied by the hope that an enforcement momentum with UN backing is underway; (2) it is an expression of tacit support for the growing global movement of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just and sustainable peace agreement, and specifically, it reinforces the claims of the robust BDS Campaign that has itself scored several notable victories in recent months.

My intention in this post is to put aside these issues and report upon my sense of the diplomatic mood at the UN in relation to the future of Israel/Palestine relations. There is a sharp disconnect between the public profession of support for the resumed peace negotiations as a positive development with a privately acknowledged skepticism as to what to expect. In this regard, there is a widespread realization that conditions are not ripe for productive diplomacy for the following reasons: the apparent refusal of Israel’s political leadership to endorse a political outcome that is capable of satisfying even minimal Palestinian aspirations; the settlement phenomenon as dooming any viable form of a ‘two-state’ solution; the lack of Palestinian unity as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas undermining its representational and legitimacy status.

The most serious concern on the Palestinian side is whether protecting the interests and rights of the totality of the Palestinian people in a peace process can be achieved within the present diplomatic framework. We need to be constantly reminded that ‘the Palestinian people’ cannot be confined to those Palestinian living under Israeli occupation: refugees in neighboring countries; refugees confined within occupied Palestine, but demanding a right of return to their residence at the time of dispossession; the Palestinian minority living in Israel; and 4-5 million Palestinians who constitute the Palestinian diaspora and its underlying reality of enforced exile.

It was also clear that the Palestinian Authority is confronted by a severe dilemma: either to accept the inadequate proposals put forward by Israel and the United States or reject these proposals and be blamed once again by Tel Aviv and Washington for rejecting a peace offer. Only some Israeli anxiety that the Palestinians might actually accept the U.S. proposals might induce Israel to refuse, on its side, to accept what Washington proposes, and spare the Palestinians the embarrassment posed by the dilemma of swallowing or spitting. That is, Israel when forced to show its hand may actually be unwilling to allow any solution to the conflict based on Palestinian self-determination, even if heavily weighted in Israel’s facvor. In effect, within the diplomatic setting there strong doubts exist as to whether the present Israeli leadership would accept even a Palestinian statelet even if it were endowed with only nominal sovereignty. In effect, from a Palestinian perspective it seems inconceivable that anything positive could emerge from the present direct negotiations, and it is widely appreciated that the PA agreed take part only after being subjected to severe pressure from the White House and Secretary Kerry. In this sense, the best that Ramallah can hope for is damage control.

There were three attitudes present among the more thoughtful diplomats at the UN who have been dealing with the Palestinian situation for years, if not decades: the first attitude was to believe somehow that ‘miracles’ happen in politics, and that a two state solution was still possible; usually this outlook avoided the home of the devil, that is the place where details reside, and if pressed could not offer a scenario that explained how the settlements could be shrunk sufficiently to enable a genuine two-state solution to emerge from the current round of talks; the second attitude again opted to support the resumption of the direct talks because it was ‘doing something,’ which seemed preferable to ‘doing nothing,’ bolstering this rather vapid view with the sentiment ‘at least they are doing something’; the third attitude, more privately and confidentially conveyed, fancies itself to be the voice of realism in world politics, which is contemptuous of the advocacy of rights and justice in relation to Palestine; this view has concluded that Israel has prevailed, it has won, and all that the Palestinians can do is to accommodate an adverse outcome, acknowledging defeat, and hope that the Israelis will not push their advantage toward a third cycle of dispossession (the first two being 1948, 1967) in the form of ‘population transfer’ so as to address their one remaining serious anxiety—the fertility gap leading to a feared tension between professing democracy and retaining the primary Zionist claim of being a Jewish state, the so-called ‘demographic bomb.’

As I reject all three of these postures, I will not leave my position as Special Rapporteur with a sense that inter-governmental diplomacy and its imaginative horizons have much to offer the Palestinian people even by way of understanding evolving trends in the conflict, much less realizing their rights, above all, the right of self-determination. At the same time, despite this, I have increased my belief that the UN has a crucial role to play in relation to a positive future for the Palestinian people—reinforcing the legitimacy of seeking a rights based solution rather than settling for a power based outcome that is called peace in an elaborate international ceremony of deception, in all likelihood on the lawn of the White House. In this period the UN has been playing an important part in legitimating Palestinian grievances by continuously referencing international law, human rights, and international morality.

The Israelis (and officialdom in the United States) indicate their awareness of this UN role by repeatedly stressing their unconditional opposition to what is labeled to be ‘the delegitimation project,’ which is a subtle propagandistic shift from the actual demand to uphold Palestinian rights to the misleading and diversionary claim that Israel’s critics are trying to challenge Israel’s right to exist as a state sovereign state. To be sure, the Palestinians are waging, with success a Legitimacy War against Israel for control of the legal and moral high ground, but they are not at this stage questioning Israeli statehood, but only its refusal to respect international law as it relates to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Let us acknowledge a double reality. The UN is a geopolitical actor that is behaviorally manipulated by money and hard power on many fundamental issues, including Palestine/Israel; this stark acknowledgement severely restricts the effectiveness of the UN with regard to questions of justice. Fortunately, this is not the whole story. The UN is also a normative actor that articulates the grievances of peoples and governments, influences public discourse with respect to the global policy agenda, and has great and distinctive symbolic leverage in establishing the legitimacy of claims. In other words, the UN can say what is right, without being necessarily able to do what is right. This distinction summarizes the narratives of articulating the Palestinian claims and the justice of the Palestinian struggle without being able to overcome behavioral obstacles in the geopolitical domain that block their fulfillment.

What such a gap also emphasizes is that the political climate is not yet right for constructive inter-governmental negotiations, which would require both Israel and the United States to recalculate their priorities and to contemplate alternative future scenarios in a manner that is far more congruent with upholding the panoply of Palestinian rights. Such shifts in the political climate are underway, and are not just a matter of changing public opinion, but also mobilizing popular regional and global support for nonviolent tactics of opposition and resistance to the evolving status quo. The Arab Spring of 2011 initially raised expectations that such a mobilization would surge, but counter-revolutionary developments, political unrest, and economic panic have temporarily, at least, dampened such prospects, and have lowered the profile of the Palestinian struggle.

Despite such adverse developments in the Middle East from a Palestinian perspective, it remains possible to launch within the UN a broad campaign to promote corporate responsibility in relation to the settlements, which could gradually be extended to other unlawful Israeli activities (e.g. separation wall, blockade of Gaza, prison and arrest abuses, house demolitions). Such a course of action links efforts within the UN to implement international law with activism that is already well established within global civil society, being guided by Palestinian architects of 21st century nonviolent resistance. In effect, two disillusionments (armed struggle and international diplomacy) are coupled with a revised post-Oslo strategy giving the Palestinian struggle a new identity (nonviolent resistance, global solidarity campaign, and legitimacy warfare) with an increasing emancipatory potential.

Such an affirmation is the inverse of the ultra realist view mentioned above that the struggle is essentially over, and all that is left is for the Palestinians to admit defeat and for the Israelis to dictate the terms of ‘the peace treaty.’ While admitting that such a visionary worldview may be based on wishful thinking, it is also appropriate to point out that most political conflicts since the end of World War II have reflected the outcome of legitimacy wars more than the balance of hard power. Military superiority and geopolitical leverage were consistently frustrated during the era of colonial wars in the 1960s and 1970s. In this regard, it should be understood that the settler colonial enterprise being pursued by Israel is on the wrong side of history, and so contrary to appearances, there is reason to be hopeful about the Palestinian future and historical grounds not succumb to the dreary imaginings of those who claim the mantle of realism.

Israel’s Politics of Fragmentation

10 Oct

 

Background

 

If the politics of deflection exhibit the outward reach of Israel’s grand strategy of territorial expansionism and regional hegemony, the politics of fragmentation serves Israel’s inward moves designed to weaken Palestinian resistance, induce despair, and de facto surrender. In fundamental respects deflection is an unwitting enabler of fragmentation, but it is also its twin or complement.

 

The British were particularly adept in facilitating their colonial project all over the world by a variety of divide and rule tactics, which almost everywhere haunted anti-colonial movements, frequently producing lethal forms of post-colonial partition as in India, Cyprus, Ireland, Malaya, and of course, Palestine, and deadly ethnic strife elsewhere as in Nigeria, Kenya, Myanmar, Rwanda. Each of these national partitions and post-colonial traumas has produced severe tension and long lasting hostility and struggle, although each takes a distinctive form due to variations from country to country of power, vision, geography, resources, history, geopolitics, leadership.

 

An additional British colonial practice and legacy was embodied in a series of vicious settler colonial movements that succeeded in effectively eliminating or marginalizing resistance by indigenous populations as in Australia, Canada, the United States, and somewhat less so in New Zealand, and eventually failing politically in South Africa and Namibia, but only after decades of barbarous racism.

 

In Palestine the key move was the Balfour Declaration, which was a colonialist gesture of formal approval given to the Zionist Project in 1917 tendered at the end of Ottoman rule over Palestine. This was surely gross interference with the dynamics of Palestinian self-determination (at the time the estimated Arab population of Palestine was 747,685, 92.1% of the total, while the Jewish population was an estimate 58,728, which amounted to 7.9%) and a decisive stimulus for the Zionist undertaking to achieve supremacy over the land embraced by the British mandate to administer Palestine in accordance with a framework agreement with the League of Nation. The agreement repeated the language of the Balfour Declaration in its preamble: “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”(emphasis added) To describe this encouragement of Zionism as merely ‘interference’ is a terribly misleading understatement of the British role in creating a situation of enduring tension in Palestine, which was supposedly being administered on the basis of the wellbeing of the existing indigenous population, what was called “a sacred trust of civilization” in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, established for the “well-being and development” of peoples ”not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.”  The relevance of the politics of fragmentation refers to a bundle of practices and overall approach that assumed the form of inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife during the almost three decades that the mandate arrangements were in effect.*

 

At the same time, the British was not the whole story by any means: the fanatical and effective exploitation of the opportunity to establish a Jewish homeland of unspecified dimensions manifested the dedication, skill, and great ambition of the Zionist movement; the lack of comparable sustained and competent resistance by the indigenous population abetted the transformation of historic Palestine; and then these  developments were strongly reinforced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the early complicity of the liberal democracies with Naziism that led the West to lend its support to the settler colonial reality that Zionism had become well before the 1948 War. The result was the tragic combination of statehood and UN membership for Israel and the nakba involving massive dispossession creating forced refugee and exile for most Palestinians, and leading after 1967 to occupation, discrimination, and oppression of those Palestinians who remained either in Israel or in the 22% of original Palestine.

 

It should be recalled that the UN solution of 1947, embodied in GA Resolution 181, after the British gave up their mandatory role was no more in keeping with the ethos of self-determination than the Balfour Declaration, decreeing partition and allocating 55% of Palestine to the Jewish population, 45% to the Palestinians without the slightest effort to assess the wishes of the population resident in Palestine at the time or to allocate the land in proportion to the demographic realities at the time. The UN solution was a new rendition of Western paternalism, opposed at the time by the Islamic and Middle Eastern members of the UN. Such a solution was not as overbearing as the mandates system that was devised to vest quasi-colonial rule in the victorious European powers after World War I, yet it was still an Orientalist initiative aimed at the control and exploitation of the destiny of an ethnic, political, and economic entity long governed by the Ottoman Empire.

 

The Palestinians (and their Arab neighbors) are often told in patronizing tones by latter day Zionists and their apologists that the Palestinians had their chance to become a state, squandered their opportunity, thereby forfeiting their rights to a state of their own by rejecting the UN partition plan. In effect, the Israeli contention is that Palestinians effectively relinquished their statehood claims by this refusal to accept what the UN had decreed, while Israel by nominally accepting the UN proposals validated their sovereign status, which was further confirmed by its early admission to full membership in the UN. Ever since, Israel has taken advantage of the fluidity of the legal situation by at once pretending to accept the UN approach of seeking a compromise by way of mutual agreement with the  Palestinians while doing everything in its power to prevent such an outcome by projecting its force throughout the entirety of Palestine, by establishing and expanding settlements, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and by advancing an array of maximalist security claims that have diminished Palestinian prospects.  That is, Israel has publicly endorsed conflict-resolving diplomacy but operationally has been constantly moving the goal posts by unlawfully creating facts on the ground, and then successfully insisting on their acceptance as valid points of departure. In effect, and with American help, Israel has seemingly given the Palestinians a hard choice, which is tacitly endorsed by the United States and Europe: accept the Bantustan destiny we offer or remain forever refugees and victims of annexation, exile, discrimination, statelessness.

 

Israel has used its media leverage and geopolitical clout to create an asymmetric understanding of identity politics as between Jews and Palestinians. Jews being defined as a people without borders who can gain Israeli nationality no matter where they live on the planet, while Palestinians are excluded from Israeli nationality regardless of how deep their indigenous roots in Palestine itself. This distinction between the two peoples exhibits the tangible significance of Israel as a ‘Jewish State,’ and why such a designation is morally and legally unacceptable in the 21st century even as it so zealously claimed by recent Israeli leaders, none more than Benyamin Netanyahu.  

 

 

 

Modalities of Fragmentation

 

The logic of fragmentation is to weaken, if not destroy, a political opposition configuration by destroying its unity of purpose and strategy, and fomenting to the extent possible conflicts between different tendencies within the adversary movement. It is an evolving strategy that is interactive, and by its nature becomes an important theme of conflict. The Palestinians in public constantly stress the essential role of unity, along with reconciliation to moderate the relevance of internal differences. In contrast, the Israelis fan the flames of disunity, stigmatizing elements of the Palestinian reality that are relevantly submissive, and accept the agenda and frameworks that are devised by Tel Aviv refusing priorities set by Palestinian leaders. Over the course of the conflict from 1948 to the present, there have been ebbs and flows in the course of Palestinian unity, with maximum unity achieved during the time when Yasir Arafat was the resistance leader and maximum fragmentation evident since Hamas was successful in the 2006 Gaza elections, and managed to seize governmental control from Fatah in Gaza a year later. Another way that Israel has promoted Palestinian disunity is to favor the so-called moderates operating under the governance of the Palestinian Authority while imposing inflicting various punishments on Palestinians adhering to Hamas.

 

Zionism, the Jewish State, and the Palestinian Minority. Perhaps, the most fundamental form of fragmentation is between Jews and Palestinians living within the state of Israel. This type of fragmentation has two principal dimensions: pervasive discrimination against the 20% Palestinian minority (about 1.5 million) affecting legal, social, political, cultural, and economic rights, and creating a Palestinian subjectivity of marginality, subordination, vulnerability. Although Palestinians in Israel are citizens they are excluded from many benefits and opportunities because they do not possess Jewish nationality. Israel may be the only state in the world that privileges nationality over citizenship in a series of contexts, including family reunification and access to residence. It is also worth observing that if demographic projections prove to be reliable Palestinians could be a majority in Israel as early as 2035, and would almost certainly outnumber Jews in the country by 2048. Not only does this pose the familiar choice for Israel between remaining an electoral democracy and retaining its self-proclaimed Jewish character, but it also shows how hegemonic it is to insist that the Palestinians and the international community accept Israel as a Jewish state.

 

This Palestinian entitlement, validated by the international law relating to fundamental human rights prohibiting all forms of discrimination, and especially structural forms embedded in law that discriminate on the basis of race and religion. The government of Israel, reinforced by its Supreme Court, endorses the view that only Jews can possess Israeli nationality that is the basis of a range of crucial rights under Israeli law. What is more Jews have Israeli nationality even if lacking any link to Israel and wherever they are located, while Palestinians (and other religious and ethnic minorities) are denied Israeli nationality (although given Israeli citizenship) even if indigenous to historic Palestine and to the territory under the sovereign control of the state of Israel.  

 

A secondary form of fragmentation is between this minority in Israel and the rest of the Palestinian corpus. The dominant international subjectivity relating to the conflict has so far erased this minority from its imaginary of peace for the two peoples, or from any sense that Palestinian human rights in Israel should be internationally implemented in whatever arrangements are eventually negotiated or emerges via struggle. As matters now stand, the Palestinian minority in Israel is unrepresented at the diplomatic level and lacks any vehicle for the expression of its grievances.

 

Occupied Palestine and the Palestinian Diaspora (refugees and enforced exile). Among the most debilitating forms of fragmentation is the effort by Israel and its supporters to deny Palestinian refugees and Palestinians living in the diaspora) their right of return as confirmed by GA Resolution 184? There are between 4.5 million and 5.5 million Palestinians who are either refugees or living in the diaspora, as well as about 1.4 million resident in the West Bank and 1.6 million in Gaza.

 

The diplomatic discourse has been long shaped by reference to the two state mantra. This includes the reductive belief that the essence of a peaceful future for the two peoples depends on working out the intricacies of ‘land for peace.’ In other words, the dispute is false categorized as almost exclusively about territory and borders (along with the future of Jerusalem), and not about people. There is a tacit understanding that seems to include the officials of the Palestinian Authority to the effect that Palestinians refugee rights will be ‘handled’ via compensation and the right of return, not to the place of original dispossession, but to territory eventually placed under Palestinian sovereignty.

 

Again the same disparity as between the two sides is encoded in the diplomacy of ‘the peace process,’ ever more so during the twenty years shaped by the Oslo framework. The Israel propaganda campaign was designed to make it appear to be a deal breaker for the Palestinian to insist on full rights of repatriation as it would allegedly entail the end of the promise of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Yet such a posture toward refugees and the Palestinian diaspora cruelly consigns several million Palestinians to a permanent limbo, in effect repudiating the idea that the Palestinians are a genuine ‘people’ while absolutizing the Jews as a people of global scope. Such a dismissal of the claims of Palestinian refugees also flies in the face of the right of return specifically affirmed in relation to Palestine by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 194, and more generally supported by Article 13 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

The Two Warring Realms of the Occupation of Palestine: the Palestine Authority versus Hamas. Again Israel and its supporters have been able to drive an ideological wedge between the Palestinians enduring occupation since 1967. With an initial effort to discredit the Palestine Liberation Organzation that had achieved control over a unified and robust Palestine national movement, Israel actually encouraged the initial emergence of Hamas as a radical and fragmenting alternative to the PLO when it was founded in the course of the First Intifada. Israel of course later strongly repudiated Hamas when it began to carry armed struggle to pre-1967 Israel, most notoriously engaging in suicide bombings in Israel that involved indiscriminate attacks on civilians, a tactic repudiated in recent years.

 

Despite Hamas entering into the political life of occupied Palestine with American, and winning an internationally supervised election in 2006, and taking control of Gaza in 2007, it has continued to be categorized as ‘a terrorist organization’ that is given no international status. This terrorist designation is also relied upon to impose a blockade on Gaza that is a flagrant form of collective punishment in direct violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Palestine Authority centered in Ramallah has also, despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, refused to treat Hamas as a legitimate governing authority or to allow Hamas to operate as a legitimate political presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem or to insist on the inclusion of Hamas in international negotiations addressing the future of the Palestinian people. This refusal has persisted despite the more conciliatory tone of Hamas since 2009 when its leader, Khaled Meshaal, announced a shift in the organization’s goals: an acceptance of Israel as a state beside Palestine as a state provided a full withdrawal to 1967 borders and implementation of the right of return for refugees, and a discontinuation by Hamas of a movement based on armed struggle. Mashel also gave further reassurances of moderation by an indication that earlier goals of liberating the whole of historic Palestine, as proclaimed in its Charter, were a matter of history that was no longer descriptive of its political program.

 

In effect, the territorial fragmentation of occupied Palestine is reinforced by ideological fragmentation, seeking to somewhat authenticate and privilege the secular and accommodating leadership provided by the PA while repudiating the Islamic orientation of Hamas. In this regard, the polarization in such countries as Turkey and Egypt is cynically reproduced in Palestine as part of Israel’s overall occupation strategy. This includes a concerted effort by Israel to make it appear that material living conditions for Palestinians are much better if the Palestinian leadership cooperates with the Israeli occupiers than if it continues to rely on a national movement of liberation and refuses to play the Oslo game.

 

The Israeli propaganda position on Hamas has emphasized the rocket attacks on Israel launched from within Gaza. There is much ambiguity and manipulation of the timeline relating to the rockets in interaction with various forms of Israeli violent intrusion. We do know that the casualties during the period of Hamas control of Gaza have been exceedingly one-sided, with Israel doing most of the killing, and Palestinians almost all of the dying. We also know that when ceasefires have been established between Israel and Gaza, there was a good record of compliance on the Hamas side, and that it was Israel that provocatively broke the truce, and then launched major military operations in 2008-09 and 2012 on a defenseless and completely vulnerable population.

 

Cantonization and the Separation Wall: Fragmenting the West Bank. A further Israeli tactic of fragmentation is to make it difficult for Palestinians to sustain a normal and coherent life. The several hundred check points throughout the West Bank serious disrupt mobility for the Palestinians, and make it far easier for Palestinians to avoid delay and humiliation. It is better for them to remain contained within their villages, a restrictive life reinforced by periodic closures and curfews that are extremely disruptive. Vulnerability is accentuated by nighttime arrests, especially of young male Palestinians, 60% of whom have been detained in prisons before they reach the age of 25, and the sense that Israeli violence, whether issuing from the IDF or the settlers enjoys impunity, and often is jointly carried out.

 

The Oslo framework not only delegated to the PA the role of maintaining ‘security’ in Palestinian towns and cities, but bisected the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, with Israeli retaining a residual security right throughout occupied Palestine. Area C, where most of the settlements are located, is over 60% of the West Bank, and is under exclusive control of Israel.

This fragmentation at the core of the Oslo framework has been a key element

in perpetuating Palestinian misery.

 

The fragmentation in administration is rigid and discriminatory, allowing Israeli settlers the benefits of Israel’s rule of law, while subjecting Palestinians to military administration with extremely limited rights, and even the denial of a right to enjoy the benefit of rights. Israel also insists that since it views the West Bank as disputed territory rather than ‘occupied’ it is not legally obliged to respect international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. This fragmentation between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents is so severe that it has been increasingly understood in international circles as a form of apartheid, which the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court denominates as one type of ‘crime against humanity.’ 

The Separation Wall is an obvious means of separating Palestinians from each other and from their land. It was declared in 2004 to be a violation of international law by a super majority of 14-1 in the International Court of Justice, but to no avail, as Israel has defied this near unanimous reading of international law by the highest judicial body in the UN, and yet suffered no adverse consequences. In some West Bank communities Palestinians are surrounded by the wall and in others Palestinian farmers can only gain access to and from their land at appointed times when wall gates are opened.

 

 

Fragmentation and Self-Determination

 

The pervasiveness of fragmentation is one reason why there is so little belief that the recently revived peace process is anything more than one more turn of the wheel, allowing Israel to proceed with its policies designed to take as much of what remains of Palestine as it wants so as to realize its own conception of Jewish self-determination. Just as Israel refuses to restrict the Jewish right of return, so it also refuses to delimit its boundaries. When it negotiates internationally it insists on even more prerogatives under the banner of security and anti-terrorism. Israel approach such negotiations as a zero-sum dynamic of gain for itself, loss for Palestine, a process hidden from view by the politics of deflection and undermining the Palestinian capacity for coherent resistance by the politics of fragmentation.

 


* There are two issues posed, beyond the scope of this post, that bear on Palestinian self-determination emanating from the Balfour Declaration and the ensuing British mandatory role in Palestine: (1) to what extent does “a national home for the Jewish people” imply a valid right of self-determination, as implemented by the establishment of the state of Israel? Does the idea of ‘a national home’ encompass statehood? (2) to what extent does the colonialist nature of the Balfour Declaration and the League mandate system invalidate any actions taken?

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