Tag Archives: Palestine

OMAR: Uncovering Occupied Palestine

4 Feb

 

            OMAR is the second film directed by Hany Abu-Assad to be a finalist among foreign language films nominated to receive an Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards ceremony on March 2nd. The earlier film, PARADISE NOW (2005), brought to life the preoccupation at the time with suicide bombing as the principle tactic of Palestinian resistance by exposing the deep inner conflicts of those who partake, the tragic effects of such terror on its Israeli targets, and the hardened manipulative mentality of the leaders who prepare the perpetrators. Abu-Assad born in 1961 in Nazareth, emigrated to the Netherlands in 1980, writes the screen plays for his movies as well as directs. He has a profound gift for story telling that keeps an audience engaged with the human drama affecting the principal Palestinian characters while illuminating broader issues of profound moral and political concern without stooping to didactic means of conveying ‘the message.’ So understood, Abu-Assad’s achievement is artistic in the primary sense, yet attunes us to the dilemmas of oppression and servitude.

 

            In these respects OMAR is superior even to PARADISE NOW, telling the story of what life under Israeli occupation means for the way Palestinian lives are lived, the normalcy’s of romantic attraction contrasting with the abnormalities of humiliating lives lived behind prison walls. The film opens with Omar climbing the high domineering security wall to overcome the separation of Arab families living on either side, being detected by the Israeli guards who sound sirens and fire a shot. Omar manages to clamor back down and leap to safety. Israeli police on foot and in cars pursue Omar through the alleyways and streets of an impoverished Palestinian neighborhood. The underlying poignancy of Omar’s situation is to be at once ‘a freedom fighter’ and a sensitive young man deeply in love with Nadia, the younger sister of Tarek, his militia commander. In an unspoken realism, Omar is unconditionally bound to both causes, jeopardizing his chance to live a shadow life of acquiescence to the realities of occupation by his choice to dedicate himself at great risk and little hope to the liberation of the Palestinian people and their land.

 

            The wall reinforced by the Israeli security forces, portrayed as cunning and unscrupulous, with an occupiers’ fear and loathing for those who cower under the rigors of occupation, provides an unforgettable visual metaphor that captures the daily ordeal of the Palestinian people. In a subtle touch, the rope used by Omar throughout the film to avoid the checkpoints and overcome the separation of his home from that of Tarek and Nadia also conveys an understanding that the wall is much more about humiliation and land than it is about security. The rope remains untouched during the entirety of the film, although its presence and illegal use must have been obvious to the Israeli occupation forces that never bother to remove it.

 

            What emerges most vividly as the story unfolds is the dehumanizing effects of prolonged occupation. Omar and Nadia have charm and humor to give their love for another an unforgettable credibility that is brought to life by their awareness of what it means to live without the right to travel beyond the wall. They talk in the language of fantasy about where to go on their honeymoon: he proposes Mozambique, she counters with Bangla Desh, and then more truly, admits that Paris is her dream, while they both fully realize that they will never get the opportunity to get beyond the dingy confines of the West Bank. Nadia’s biggest trip outside of her immediate neighborhood was a visit to Hebron, the tensest, most humiliated city in occupied Palestine, notorious for daily settler violence against the large residentPalestinian community.

 

            The film conveys better than any book the interactive intimacies of occupier and occupied. The Israeli lead security agent, Rami, calls his mother to ask her to pick up his daughter from school, and when she asks why he can’t do it, he responds “I am stuck in the middle of the fucking West Bank.” Yet the most abiding realization is the horrible dehumanizing effects of this mixture of fear and hatred in contexts of unspeakable inequality, with total control seemingly on one side, and complete vulnerability on the other side. The torture scenes, like the wall, are both horrible in their own enactment, but also metaphors of what it means to live your entire life within master/slave structures of relationship.

 

            The reality of Palestinian violent resistance has two important consequences even though it seems currently futile from the perspective of challenging the occupation in any way that promises to liberation: it gives dignity to Palestinians who seem united in their will to live-unto-death despite their defenselessness and it makes Israelis vulnerable despite their seeming total control of the situation as a result of their weaponry, police, surveillance technology, and arrogant sense of racial superiority. In effect, the desperate slave when life is deprived of all personal meaning can sacrifice himself in a symbolic act of vengeance, and inflict pain and loss on the master. Seen from an Israeli perspective, there is no way to achieve total security (this side of total genocide) no matter how clever, sophisticated, and oppressive the systems of control put in place. Technology is incapable of doing the whole job, and for this reason, human fallibility always produces some sort of payback from the incompletely vanquished subjugated population.

 

            For this reason, from the Palestinian side, nothing is worse that becoming a collaborator, and yet only a hero among heroes, would have the super-human capacity to avoid such a fate given the brutality used by Israelis to acquire the information they need to enforce their will on a hostile population. For the occupier recruiting collaborators is a vital part of improving security; for the occupied, it is the final humiliation, making the fate of the traitor far worse than that of the slave. Omar is portrayed in a fascinating manner because he succumbs, and yet in the end he doesn’t succumb. Amjad, his friend collaborates with the Israelis to steal Omar away from Nadia, with the biopolitical insight that romantic longings may take lethal precedence over political loyalty and lifelong friendship. In this respect, the power of love is greater than the power of power. The film also is faithful to the traditional social norms that bind Palestinians to family relations in ways that also enslave, including the total disempowerment of women. Nadia is portrayed as strong in her dual attachments to love and resistance, and yet is deprived by Palestinian norms of freedom in relation to her body and choice of partner. In this sense, Nadia is doubly occupied.

 

            OMAR makes no effort to depict the larger issues of resistance tactics, to portray some vision of a realizable peace, or to bring into play the behavior of politicians, the UN, the international community. Such considerations are ignored, and seem irrelevant to the forces that impact daily on Palestinian lives. It takes the present as a seemingly permanent given, in effect, a society of prisoners sentenced for life with no hope for parole or escape. So understood, the actual Israeli prison that is depicted in the film is a prison within a prison, that is, a walled enclave that exists within a walled country.

 

            The great achievement of Hany Abu-Assad in this film is to make you feel and think, and maybe hopefully act. I left the theater with the overriding sense that the continuation of this occupation is intolerable for both sides, that it dehumanizes Israelis as much as it does Palestinians, two peoples caught in a vicious circle of subjugation and resistance. But not equally so caught as the masters live life in more satisfying ways than the slaves, at least for now, at least until the walls come tumbling down.

 

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.

  

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?

Israel’s Politics of Deflection

30 Sep

 

Israel’s Politics of Deflection: Theory and Practice

 

General Observations

 

During my period as the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council I have been struck by the persistent efforts of Israel and its strong civil society adjuncts to divert attention from the substance of Palestinian grievances or the consideration of the respective rights of Israel and Palestine under international law. I have also observed that many, but by not means all of those who represent the Palestinians seem strangely reluctant to focus on substance or to take full advantage of opportunities to use UN mechanisms to challenge Israel on the terrain of international law and morality.

 

            This Palestinian reluctance is more baffling than are the Israeli diversionary tactics. It seems clear that international law supports Palestinian claims on the major issues in contention: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, resources (water, land), statehood, and human rights. Then why not insist on resolving the conflict by reference to international law with such modifications as seem mutually beneficial? Of course, those representing the Palestinians in international venues are aware of these opportunities, and are acting on the basis of considerations that in their view deserve priority.  It is disturbing that this passivity on the Palestinian side persists year after year, decade after decade. There are partial exceptions: support for recourse to the International Court of Justice to contest the construction of the separation wall, encouragement of the establishment of the Goldstone Fact-finding Inquiry investigating Israeli crimes after the 2008-09 attacks on Gaza, and the Human Rights Council’ Independent International Fact-finding Mission on  Isreali settlement expansion (report 22 March 2012). But even here, Palestinian officialdom will not push hard to have these symbolic victories implemented in ways that alter the behavioral realities on the ground, and maybe even if they did do their best, nothing would change.

 

             On the Israeli side, diversion and the muting of legal and legitimacy claims, is fully understandable as a way to blunt challenges from adversary sources: seeking to have the normative weakness of the Israeli side offset by an insistence that if there is to be a solution it must be based on the facts on the ground, whether these are lawful or not, and upon comparative diplomatic leverage and negotiating skill in a framework that is structurally biased in favor of Israel. The recently exhumed direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel exemplify this approach: proceeding despite the absence of preconditions as to compliance with international law even during the negotiations, reliance on the United States as the convening intermediary, and the appointment by President Obama of an AIPAC anointed Special Envoy (Martin Indyk), the latter underscoring the absurd one-sidedness of the diplomatic framework. It would seem that the Palestinians are too weak and infirm to cry ‘foul,’ but merely play along as if good natured, obedient, and frightened schoolchildren while the bullies rule the schoolyard.

 

           Such a pattern is discouraging for many reasons: it weights the diplomatic process hopelessly in favor of the materially stronger side that has taken full advantage of the failure to resolve the conflict by grabbing more and more land and resources; it makes it virtually impossible to imagine a just and sustainable peace emerging out of such a process at this stage; it plays a cruel game in which the weaker side is almost certain to be made to seem unreasonable because it will not accept what the stronger side is prepared to offer, which is insultingly little; and it allows the stronger side to use the process and time interval of the negotiations as an opportunity to consolidate its unlawful claims,  benefitting from the diversion of attention.

 

          There are two interwoven concerns present: the pernicious impacts of the politics of deflection as an aspect of conflictual behavior in many settings, especially where there are gross disparities in hard power and material position; the specific politics of deflection as a set of strategies devised and deployed with great effectiveness by Israel in its effort to attain goals with respect to historic Palestine that far exceed what the UN and the international community had conferred. The section that follows deals with the politics of deflection only in the Israel/Palestine context

 

 

The Specific Dynamics of the Politics of Deflection

 

            –anti-Semitism: undoubtedly the most disturbing behavior by Israel and its supporters is to deflect attention from substance in the conflict and the abuses of the occupation is to dismiss criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism or to defame the critic as an anti-Semite. This is pernicious for two reasons: first, because it exerts a huge influence because anti-Semitism has been so totally discredited, even criminalized, in the aftermath of World War II that featured the exposure and repudiation of the Holocaust; secondly, because by extending the reach of anti-Semitism to address hostile commentary on Israel a shift of attention occurs—away from the core evil of ethnic and racial hatred to encompass the quite reasonable highly critical appraisal of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinian people by reference to overarching norms of law and morality.

 

              This misuse of language to attack Jewish critics of Israel by  irresponsible characterizations of critics as  ‘self-hating Jews.’ Such persons might exist, but to infer their existence because of their criticisms of Israel or opposition to the Zionist Project functions as a means to move inhibit open discussion and debate, and to avoid substantive issues. It tends to be effective as a tactic as few people are prepared to take the time and trouble to investigate the fairness and accuracy of such allegations, and so once the shadow is cast, many stay clear of the conflict or come to believe that  criticism of Israel is of less interest than are the pros and cons of the personal accusations.  Strong Zionist credentials will not insulate a Jew from such allegations as Richard Goldstone discovered when he was vilified by the top  tier of Israeli leadership after chairing a fact-finding inquiry that confirmed allegations of Israeli war crimes in the course of Operation Cast Lead. Even the much publicized subsequent Goldstone ‘retraction’ did little to rehabilitate the reputation of the man in Israeli eyes, although his change of heart as to the main allegation of his own report (a change rejected by the other three members of the inquiry group), was successfully used by Israeli apologists to discredit and bury the report, again illustrating a preference for deflection as opposed to substance.

 

            Even such global moral authority figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have been called anti-Semites because they dared to raise their voices about the wrongs that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people, specifically identifying the discriminatory legal structures of the occupation as an incipient form of apartheid.

 

            In the unpleasant course of being myself a frequent target of such vilifying techniques, I have discovered that it is difficult to make reasoned responses that do not have the effect of accentuating my plight. To fail to respond leaves an impression among some bystanders that there must be something to the accusations or else there would be forthcoming a reasoned and well-evidenced response. To answer such charges is to encourage continuing attention to the allegations, provides the accusing side with another occasion to repeat the charges by again cherry picking the evidence. NGOs such as UN Watch and UN Monitor specialize in managing such hatchet jobs.

 

            What is more disturbing than the attacks themselves than their resonance among those holding responsible positions in government and international institutions, as well as widely respected liberal organizations. In my case, the UN Secretary General, the U.S. ambassadors at the UN in New York and Geneva, the British Prime Minister, and the Canadian Foreign Minister. Not one of these individuals bothered to check with me as to my response to the defamatory allegations or apparently took the trouble to check on whether there was a credible basis for such damaging personal attacks. Even the liberal mainstream human rights powerhouse, Human Rights Watch, buckled under when pressured by UN Watch, invoking a long neglected technical rule to obtain my immediate removal from a committee, and then lacked the decency to explain that my removal was not ‘a dismissal’ when

UN Watch claimed ‘victory,’ and proceeded to tell the UN and other bodies that if Human Rights Watch had expelled me, surely I should be expelled elsewhere. I learned, somewhat bitterly, that HRW has feet of clay when it came to standing on principle in relation to someone like myself who has

been the victim of repeated calumnies because of an effort to report honestly and accurately on Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

 

            –Auspices/Messenger: A favorite tactic of those practicing the politics of deflection is to contend that the auspices are biased, and thus whatever substantive criticisms might issue from such an organization should be disregarded. Israel and the United States frequently use this tactic to deflect criticism of Israel that is made in the UN System, especially if it emanates from the Human Rights Council in Geneva or the General Assembly. The argument is reinforced by the similarly diversionary claim that Israeli violations are given a disproportionately large share of attention compared to worse abuses in other countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. Also, there is the complementary complaint that some of the members of the Human Rights Council themselves have appalling human rights records that disqualify them from passing judgment, thereby exhibiting the hypocrisy of criticisms directed at Israel.

 

            It is tiresome to respond to such lines of attack, but important to do so.

First of all, in my experience, the UN has always made fact-based criticisms of Israeli policies and practices, appointed individuals with strong professional credentials and personal integrity, and painstakingly reviewed written material prior to publication to avoid inflammatory or inaccurate criticisms. Beyond this, Israel is almost always given an opportunity to review material critical of its behavior before it is released, and almost never avails itself of this chance to object substantively. In my experience, the UN, including the Human Rights Council, leans over backwards to be fair to Israel, and to take account of Israeli arguments even when Israel declines to make a case on its own behalf.

 

            Further, the heightened attention given to Palestinian grievances is a justified result of the background of the conflict. It needs to be remembered that it was the UN that took over historic Palestine from the United Kingdom after World War II, decreeing a partition solution in GA Resolution 181 without ever consulting the indigenous population, much less obtaining their consent. The UN approach in 1947 failed to solve the problem, consigning Palestinians to decades of misery due to the deprivation of their fundamental rights as of 1948, the year of the nakba, a national experience of catastrophic dispossession. Through the years the UN has provided guidelines for behavior and a peaceful solution of the conflict, most notably Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which have not been implemented. The UN has for more than a decade participated in The Quartet tasked with implementing ‘the roadmap’ designed to achieve peace, but not followed, allowing Israel to encroach more and more on the remnant of Palestinian rights via settlement expansions, wall construction, residence manipulations, apartheid administrative structures, land confiscations, house demolitions. The UN has been consistently frustrated in relation to Palestine in a manner that is unique in UN experience, making the issue a litmus test of UN credibility to promote global justice and overcome the suffering of a dispossessed and occupied people.

 

            Usually, the attack on the sponsorship of a critical initiative is reinforced by scathing screed directed at anyone prominently associated with the undertaking. The attacks on the legendary Edward Said, the one Palestinian voice in America that could not be ignored, were rather vicious, often characterizing this most humanist among public intellectuals, as the ‘Professor of Terror.’ The most dogmatic defenders of Israel never tired of trying to make this label stick by showing a misleadingly presented picture of Said harmlessly throwing a stone at an abandoned guard house during a visit to southern Lebanon not long before his death as if a heinous act of violence against a vulnerable Israeli soldier. This effort to find something, however dubious, that could be used to discredit an influential critic disregard the ethics of fairness and decency. In my case, an accidentally posted cartoon, with

an anti-Semitic angle has been endlessly relied upon by my most mean-spirited detractors, although any fair reading of my past and present scholarship, together with the blog psot in which it appeared in which Israel is not even mentioned, would conclude that its sole purpose of highlighting the cartoon was to defame, and by so doing, deflect.

 

            In like manner, the use of the label ‘terrorist’ has been successfully manipulated by Israel in relation to Hamas to avoid dealing with its presence as the elected governing authority in Gaza or in responding to its offers of long-term coexistence provided the blockade of Gaza is ended and Israeli forces withdraw to 1967 borders. The Hamas demands are really nothing more than a call for the implementation of international law and UNSC resolutions, and thus highly reasonable from the perspective of fairness to both sides, but Israel is not interested in such fairness, and hence avoids responding to the substance of the Hamas proposals by insisting that it is unwilling to respond to a terrorist organization. Such a stubborn position is maintained, and supported by the United States and EU, despite Hamas’ successful participation in an electoral process, its virtual abandonment of violent resistance, and its declared readiness for diplomatic accommodations with Israel and the United States.

 

            If the messenger delivering the unwelcome message lacks prominence or the campaign of vilification does not altogether succeed, then at governmental levels, Israel, and the United States as well, will do its best to show contempt for criticism for the whole process by boycotting proceedings at which the material  is presented. This has been my

experience at recent meetings of the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly where my reports are presented on a semi-annual basis and Israel and the United States make it a point to be absent. There is an allocation of the work of deflection: at the governmental end substance is often evaded by pretending not to notice, while pro-Israeli NGOs pound away, shamelessly repeating over and over the same quarter truths, which often are not even related to their main contention of biased reporting. In my case, UN Watch harps on my supposed membership in the ranks of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, an allegation that I have constantly explained to be contrary to my frequently articulated views on the 9/11 attacks. It makes no difference what I say or what are the facts of my position

once the defamatory attack has been launched.

 

            Diplomatic Deflection: The entire Oslo peace process, with its periodically revived negotiations, has served as an essential instrument of deflection for the past twenty years. It diverts the media from any consideration of Israel’s expansionist practices during the period that the parties are futilely negotiating, and succeeds in making critics and criticism of Israel’s occupation policies seem obstructive of the overarching goal of ending the conflict and bringing peace to the two peoples.

 

            Geopolitical Deflection: Although not solely motivated by the goals of deflection, the bellicose focus by Israel on Iran’s nuclear program, has seemed so dangerous for the region and the world that it has made Palestinian grievances appear trivial by comparison. It has also led outside political actors to believe that it would be provocative to antagonize Israeli leadership in relation to Palestine at a time when there were such strong worries that Israel might attack Iran or push the United States in such a direction. To a lesser extent the preoccupations with the effects of the Arab upheavals, especially in Syria and Egypt, have had the incidental benefit for Israel of diminishing still further regional and global pressures relating to Palestinian grievances and rights. This distraction, a kind of spontaneous deflection, has given Israel more time to consolidate their annexationist plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which makes the still lingering peace image of a two-state solution a convenient mirage, no more, no less.

 

 

A Concluding Comment: Overall, the politics of deflection is a repertoire of techniques used to shift the gaze away from the merits of a dispute. Israel has relied on these techniques with devastating effects for the Palestinians. The purpose of my analysis is to encourage Palestinians in all settings to do their best to keep the focus on substance and respective rights. Perhaps, it is time for all of us to learn from the brave Palestinian hunger strikers whose nonviolent defiance of Israeli detention abuse operated with laser like intensity to call attention to prison and administrative injustice. Unfortunately, the media of the world was silent, including those self-righteous liberal pundits who had for years urged the Palestinians to confront Israel nonviolently, and then sit back, and find satisfaction in the response from Tel Aviv. Waiting for Godot is not a matter of patience, but of ignorance!

 

 

  

On Political Preconditions

15 May

 

 

            To the extent that diplomacy solves international problems it depends on the satisfaction of the political preconditions that must be met for negotiations betweensovereign states to reach sustainable and benevolent results. To clarify the point, in situations where there is a clear winner and loser, political preconditions are irrelevant, as the winner can dictate the terms, either imposing them as was done after World War II in response to the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, or offering proposals on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. This is what Israel has attempted to do over the course of the twenty years that the Oslo Framework, the Roadmap, and the Quartet, have provided the ground rules for diplomacy with respect to Israel/Palestine negotiations. Israel has performed as if the winner, and expected Palestine to act as if the loser, but so far this scenario has not produced the desired outcome, a ‘peace’ essentially framed in accordance with Israel’s priorities (retaining settlements by critical land swaps, annexing the whole of Jerusalem, maintaining access to West Bank aquifers, ignoring refugees, de-linking Gaza). Palestine although occupied, without a sympathetic intermediary, and despite many of its people living as refugees or in exile, has not given up the struggle for a fair outcome as defined by international law and international morality.

 

            My point here is conceptual in large part. It applies to various forms of advocacy, including the abolition of nuclear weapons or the establishment of world government. In neither instance, are the political conditions present for the realization of such goals, assuming that in some form such outcomes would be desirable. In relation to nuclear weapons, leading state actors are not willing to part with such weaponry, especially as its retention is strongly supported by entrenched bureaucratic and private sector interests, as well as being ideologically grounded in political realism, which continues to shape the worldview of most national elites. With respect to world government, there is no climate of opinion that is strong enough to challenge the nationalist orientation of every government and citizenry that exists in the world. Besides, trying to consolidate governmental authority in the presence of the degree of radical inequality that presently exists is more likely to produce global totalitarianism than a benevolent form of centralized humane global governance.

 

            The reason for addressing this subject at this time is the feverish efforts by the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, to stimulate the resumption of direct peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. On neither side are the political preconditions present. The Netanyahu led government is clearly committed to achieving the political embodiment of Greater Israel, and would not settle for anything less. It is seeking as much legitimation as possible for this expansionist objective, hopeful that adroit diplomacy with American help can yield such a result. For Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority, there is a lack of representational coherence and political unity, as the elected governing authorities of Gaza are not represented, nor is the wider Palestinian community of refugee communities in neighboring countries. Even if Palestinian negotiators were to accept under pressure some version of Israel’s Plan A, it is almost certain that it would not be accepted by the Palestinian people. Given this setting, political preconditions for direct negotiations do not exist, and any resumption of direct negotiations appears to be worth less than nothing.

 

            Why worse than nothing? If past efforts are any indication, the side with the weaker standing in the international community and the media, is likely to receive most of the blame for the almost certain breakdown at the site of negotiations, and this has been Palestine’s previous experience. Beyond this, both sides will probably react to diplomatic failure by pursuing with renewed unilateral vigor their respective conception of Plan B: Israel will complain about the absence of a partner for peace and proceed with accelerated expansion of settlements and related road construction, as well as continuing with its promotion of the unification of the city of Jerusalem; Palestine, on its side, will seek to intensify resistance, possibly emphasizing more its confidence in the global solidarity movement building around the BDS campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, highlighted recently by Stephen Hawking’s much heralded boycott of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ fifth annual conference of global notables on the theme of Facing Tomorrow.

 

            Time is not neutral in situations of gross disparity. The side with hard power control can encroach further on the prospects of the weaker side. If we look back at the developments of the past twenty years, we take note of the extraordinary growth in the number of Israeli settlers and the ethnographic and infrastructural changes in the city of Jerusalem, making it difficult to continue to lend credence to Palestinian self-determination being realized by a ‘two-state’ solution, which remains the American oft-repeated mantra. What might have seemed like a viable Palestinian state in 1967 when Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted, became less so, when the Oslo Framework was accepted on the White House lawn in 1993, and by 2013 it is a delusionary goal.

 

            Understanding the relevance of political preconditions is crucial to rational behavior in seeking solutions to long festering problems. Also where there are gross disparities of power and expectations a conflict is almost never ripe for resolution. Of course, the opposite is also true. When political conditions exist for a fair solution, then it is imperative to move forward, flexibly and with an eye on a win/win outcome. Given the perspectives of the two sides, if win/win does not seem realistic, then patience is preferable to a demoralizing charade of false consciousness.  

Divestment at UCSB

16 Apr

Moving Toward Divestment from Corporations Profiting from Israeli Militarism, Occupation, and Settlments

 

A few days ago I spoke to a student audience in support of a divestment resolution that was to be submitted for adoption at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The resolution was narrowly defeated the next day in the UCSB Student Senate, but this series of student initiated efforts to urge several campuses of the University of California to divest from corporations doing a profitable business selling military equipment to Israel represents an encouraging awakening on the part of American youth to the severe victimization of the Palestinian people by way of occupation, discrimination, refugee misery, and exile, a worsening set of circumstances that has lasted in its various forms for several decades, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

 

Ever since the nakba of 1948, either traditional diplomacy, nor the United Nations, nor armed struggle have been able to secure Palestinian rights, and as time has passed, Palestinian prospects are being steadily diminished by deliberate Israeli policies: establishment and expansion of unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, construction of a separation wall that the World Court found in 2004 was being unlawfully built on Palestinian territory, a network of Israeli only road, a dualistic system of laws that have an apartheid character, widespread abuse of Palestinian prisoners, systematic discrimination of the Palestinian minority living in pre-1967 Israel.

 

Israel has been consistently defiant in relation to relation to international law and the UN, and has refused to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. Given this set of circumstances that combine the failures of diplomacy to achieve a fair peaceful resolution of the conflict and the unwillingness of Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law, the only viable option consistent with the imperatives of global justice are a blend of continuing Palestinian resistance and a militant global solidarity campaign that is nonviolent, yet coercive.

 

The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has become the great international moral issue of our time, a successor to the struggle in South Africa a generation ago against its form of institutionalized racism, the original basis of the international crime of apartheid. It is notable that the Statute of the International Criminal Court designates apartheid as one type of Crime Against Humanity, and associates it with any structure of discrimination that is based on ethnicity or religion, and not necessarily a structure exhibiting the same characteristics as present in South Africa. Increasingly, independent inquiry has concluded that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is accurately considered to be a version of apartheid, and hence an ongoing Crime Against Humanity.

 

It is against this background that divestment initiatives and the wider BDS Campaign take on such importance at this time, especially here in America where the governing authorities turn a blind eye to Israel’s wrongdoing and yet continue to insist on their capacity to provide a trustworthy intermediary perspective that is alleged to be the only path to peace, a claim that goes back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, and more definitively linked to the brokered famous handshake on the White House lawn affirming the 1993 Oslo Framework as the authoritative foundation for the resolution of the conflict. It has turned out that Oslo has been a horrible failure from the perspective of achieving Palestinian rights and yet a huge success from the standpoint of the Israeli expansionist blueprint, which included the annexation of the most fertile and desirable land in the West Bank and the consolidation of unified control over the sacred city of Jerusalem.

 

Against this background, there is only a single way forward: the mobilization of transnational civil society to join the struggle mounted by the Palestinians for an end to occupation in a manner that produces a just solution, including respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees. If this solidarity surge happens on a sufficient scale it will weaken Israel internally and internationally, and hopefully, would lead to an altered political climate in Israel and the United States that would

at long last become receptive to an outcome consistent with international law and morality. Such a posture would be in contrast with what these two governments have for so long insisted upon– a ‘solution’ that translated Israel’s hard power dominance, including the ‘facts on the ground’ that it has steadily created, into arrangements falsely called ‘peace.’

 

After I presented this argument supporting the divestment resolution several important questions asked by members of a generally appreciative student audience:

–“some people object to this divestment effort as unfairly singling out Israel when there are so many other situations in the world where unlawful behavior and oppressive policies have resulted in more extreme forms of victimization than that experienced by the Palestinians. Why single out the Israelis for this kind of hostile maneuver?”

>there are several ways to respond: the American support of Israel is itself reason enough to justify the current level of attention. Despite Israel’s relative affluence American taxpayers foot the bill for $3 billion + per year, more than is given to the whole of Africa and Latin America, which amounts to $8.7 million per day; additional to the financial contribution is the extraordinary level of diplomatic support that privileges Israel above any other allied country, and extends to pushing policies that reflect Israeli priorities even when adverse to American national interests. This is the case with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. The most stabilizing move would be to propose a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, but the United States will not even mention such an option for fear of occasioning some kind of backlash orchestrated by an irate leadership in Tel Aviv.

>the world community as a whole, particularly the UN, undertook a major responsibility for the future of Palestine when it adopted GA Resolution 181 proposing the partition of historic Palestine, giving 55% for a Jewish homeland and 45% to the Palestinians; even since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the wishes of the indigenous population of Palestine have been disregarded in favor of colonialist ambitions; Palestine remains the last and most unfortunate instance of an ongoing

example of settler colonialism, exemplified by the dispossession and subjugation of the indigenous population as a result of violent suppression. The settlers in this usage are all those that displace the indigenous population, depriving such people of their right of self-determination, and should not be confused with ‘settlers’ from Israel that establish enclaves of domination within occupied Palestine.

 

–“some persons have said that we should not push for divestment because it makes Jewish students on the campus uncomfortable. Is there some basis for taking such sensitivities into account?

>It is important not to allow Zionist propaganda to make us believe that being critical of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism, and hostility to Jews as a religious and ethnic minority in this country and elsewhere. Because anti-semitism did produce such horrible historical abuses of Jews it is a cruel and opportunistic tactic to mislead public opinion in this manner. Not only Jews, but all of us must learn, that we are human  before we are Jews, or any other ethnicity. I am Jewish, but it is more important to privilege human interests, and to avoid the narrow partisanship of tribal loyalties. If we are to survive on this crowded planet we must learn, in the words of W.H. Auden, “to love another or die.” It would be odd if as citizens of the United States we were to refrain criticizing the government in Washington because we didn’t want to make Americans feel uncomfortable. At this stage, we have an obligation to make those who shield Israel from criticism to feel uncomfortable not because they are Jewish but because they are being complicit in the commission of crimes against a vulnerable people that have long endured unimaginable levels of abuse.

 

–“Is there any reason to believe that the Israeli government will change its policies as a result of the pressures mounted by divestment measures of this kind even if implemented, which seems highly unlikely?”

>The importance of this divestment campaign is partly symbolic and partly substantive. Such initiatives are only undertaken after a prolonged failure of traditional means of overcoming international situations of extreme injustice. As such, it sends a message of distress as well as seeks to discourage corporations from making profits from transactions relating to unlawful activities in Israel, especially relating to uses of force against the Palestinian civilian population. Beyond this, we never know whether a combination of factors produces such pressure that those responsible for policy recalculate their interests and make a drastic change that could not have been anticipated. This happened to the white leadership in South Africa, leading to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, and a reconciliation process that allowed the oppressed black majority to assume leadership of the country on the basis of a constitutionally mandated inclusive democracy. No one now expects an analogous transformation in Israel, but it will surely not come about without making the status quo increasingly unsustainable for the oppressor as it has long been for the oppressed.

Open Letter to Blog Faithful

31 Mar

To the Blog Faithful:

I have had a recurrent struggle to set boundaries on the comments section of this blog. At first, I was determined to have an open forum welcoming critical commentary on any issue, excluding only those comments that seemed struck me as clear instances of hate speech. This approach seemed to work okay except with respect to Israel/Palestine, which increasingly attracted either long argumentative comments posing a list of rhetorical questions or angry serial comment contributors that insulted me as well as others who had submitted comments that were interpreted by them as being pro-Palestinian or hostile to Israel and Zionism. There was no symmetry in the sense the blog received no serial or long provocative comments written by those who more or less supportive of the Palestinian struggle for justice. From blog readers I received mixed reactions, but I was most persuaded by those who expressed dismay about the tendency to fill the comments section with insults and counter-insults or with argumentative views that did not invite serious dialogue.

In reaction after some months, I reached the conclusion that it was preferable, on balance, to limit the comment space of my blog to likeminded views on Israel/Palestine. This meant excluding those annoying serial comments and those pro-Israeli comments that struck me as merely argumentative or dismissive of pro-Palestinian positions. In my view, this more restrictive approach did succeed in raising the quality of interaction between my posts and the authors of comments, as well as enhanced the dialogue among comment writers.

At the same time, as might have been predicted, such selective monitoring provoked angry reactions from those whose comments were being excluded.[see David Singer, “Palestine-UN Special Rapporteur Bans Free Speech,” Canada Free Press, http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/print-friendly/54172] It was claimed that I was violating canons of free speech, and that this was especially wrong, given my position as Special Rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council. I am not persuaded by these objections. A blog is not necessarily an arena that should observe standards that are respectful free speech or necessarily exhibit openness to all sincerely held viewpoints.

The media governs access to its arenas of expression by its editorial policies, and no one insists that it has no constitutional right to do this, although a newspaper or TV channel is more of a public entity than is a personal blog. If you do not like the editorial approach of say, the Wall Street Journal or Fox TV, you can in a democracy go elsewhere, or find ways to encourage the establishment of more congenial media. Public radio and TV makes a greater effort, partly because of tax policy and funding sources, to be ‘objective,’ that is, to present opposing responsible viewpoints without taking sides. Many of us, however, feel that what CNN views as impartial and objective, seems unduly reflective of the mainstream consensus, and is unreceptive to progressive critical viewpoints, especially those associated with the anti-militarist, anti-capitalist portions of the political spectrum.

As far as my UN role is concerned, it seems irrelevant in relation to a private blog that makes no claim to be associated with my formal position, which is essentially voluntary and unpaid. I retain my right as a private citizen to express personal views on a range of public issues, including those that pertain to Israel & Palestine. My reports to the UN are based, to the best of my ability, on an objective assessment of evidence and procedures of impartial interpretation. My efforts along these lines have been obstructed from the outset by Israel’s refusal to cooperate with this undertaking to gather facts even to the minimal extent of granting me access to the Occupied Palestine Territories; in fact, I was expelled from Israel on December 14, 2008 when I tried to carry out a UN mission to examine conditions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and was detained for some hours in a prison located near to the Ben Gurion Airport. Israel has been able to sustain this position throughout my tenure as Special Rapporteur, despite numerous attempts to request reconsideration and Israel’s treaty obligation as a member of the UN to cooperate with its official undertakings. As in other sectors of Israel’s behavior, the realities of impunity shield its officials and government from accountability.

As before, I welcome, and have learned from, a wide range of thoughtful and gracious comments, some critical, some supportive, some inbetween. I have tried to be responsive to well intentioned criticism, learn from my mistakes, and express gratitude to all those who have used the comment section in a constructive spirit. I welcome further discussion on this theme, a continuing struggle to find the right balance for a blog with an avowedly emancipatory political agenda. I offer no apology for this posture of dedication to the pursuit of global justice.

I am most grateful to all those that have given me feedback and support, and made me feel that despite the overcrowded blogosphere, these posts of mine are not completely superfluous wilderness whimperings, and reach a community of co-believers that shares with me the vision that our lives on this planet are spiritual journeys, really pilgrimages.

You make a reasonable case against my blog policy that I have adopted reluctantly. My main disagreement with you is that I do not consider a blog to be a venue for free speech, but rather for civil discourse. I had many complaints about allowing recurrent email that took issue repeatedly and consistently with my views. This blog has nothing to do with my role as a UN Special Rapporteur, which in any event is a burdensome unpaid position that I do as conscientiously as possible. I consider the blog, a birthday gift from my daughter, to be a semi-private way of communicating with likeminded persons, not that all the comments, such as the one you refer to, are to my liking. I do not expect you to understand or accept my view on this issue, but at least I thought it worthwhile to offer this response, and it leads me to think that I should address the issue briefly in a future post.

An Indispensable Book on Palestine/Israel

8 Feb

Responding to Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland by Pamela Olson (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press)

 

I realize that without knowing it, I have long waited for this book, although I could not have imagined its lyric magic in advance of reading. It is a triumph of what I would call ‘intelligent innocence,’ the great benefits of a clear mind, an open and warm heart, and a trustworthy moral compass that draws sharp lines between good and evil while remaining ever sensitive to the contradictory vagaries of lives and geographic destinies. Pamela Olson exhibits an endearing combination of humility and overall emotional composure that makes her engaged witnessing of the Palestinian ordeal so valuable for me as I believe and hope it will be for others.

 

Early on, she acknowledges her lack of background with refreshing honesty: “Green and wide-eyed, I wandered into the Holy Land, an empty vessel.” But don’t be fooled. Olson, who had recently graduated from Stanford, almost immediately dives deeply into the daily experience of Palestine and Palestinians, with luminous insight and a sensibility honed on an anvil of tenderness, truthfulness, and a readiness for adventure and romance. Upon crossing the border that separates Israel from the West Bank, enduring routine yet frightening difficulties at the checkpoint, she find herself in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, not far from the Palestinian city of Jenin. Her first surprise is the welcoming warmth of the villagers whose hospitality makes her feel almost as if she is on a homecoming visit to Stigler, the small town in eastern Oklahoma where she grew up. Almost at once Olson finds herself in the midst of a social circle in Jayyous that harvests olives during the day and sits together on porches in the evening puffing on a nargila (water pipe) and conversing about the world.

 

Olson’s authenticity pervades the book, whether it is a matter of adoring the cuisine or acknowledging her infatuation with a Palestinian young man who crosses her path. She learns to speak a bit of Arabic, reads up on the struggle, and stays alert. The style of the book is an enchanting mixture of personal journal, travelogue, political primer on the conflict, and coming of age memoir. She writes with clarity, humor, and self-scrutiny (in a tone of almost asking herself, ‘Who is this girl from rural Oklahoma who is experiencing this extraordinary encounter with people and the sad conditions of their lives?’).

 

As the title implies, it is primarily a book about Palestine and what occupation means for Palestinians trapped under Israeli military rule for more than 45 years, and how their extraordinary qualities of humane coping make Jayyous and Ramallah so inspirational for her.  It instills an intense longing to return and share the dangers and deprivations, which are more powerfully satisfying than the pleasures of ‘freedom.’ (I am reminded of a friend from Gaza, a leading human rights activist, whose family has been living in Cairo in recent years. He tells me that when he plans a vacation, his university age children who are studying abroad insist on going to Gaza rather than Paris or London.)

 

Yet the book is sensitive to the tragic experiences of both peoples. Through the whole of her experience, Olson remains open to her Israeli friend, Dan, as well as to a Christian appreciation of the Holy Land, not as a believer but as someone whose identity was formed in a religiously Christian community. Early on in the book, when she tells Dan how disturbed she is by the occupation, he reminds her of Israeli grief and distress. Dan’s words: “Last year there was a suicide bombing practically every week, it was… unbelievable. The mall we went to yesterday was bombed last year. Three weeks ago a suicide bomber killed twenty people in a restaurant in Haifa. Just innocent people having a meal.” Olson’s response is characteristically empathetic: “I sighed and looked out over the water. What I had seen in the West Bank was terrible, but there was another side to the story, after all. I tried to imagine the horror of people sitting around having a meal, and then all of a sudden—” But in the end it becomes clear that Israel’s human rights violations have, if anything, a negative impact on Israeli security.

 

One of the most moving chapters is a description of a visit by Olson’s mother and stepfather. She pressured them to come so that “they would never have to wonder whether I had exaggerated either the beauty or the horror.” Because this was her mother’s first trip outside of America, she saw what was to be seen with fresh eyes. This experience produced joy and wonder along with tearful reactions at checkpoints, such as: “Good Lord… How can this be happening over here and no one in America even knows or cares?” Is this not the question we should all have been asking for decades? During the visit, they also spend time touring the Christian sites in and around Jerusalem and the Galilee that are particularly meaningful to her religious mother.

 

The timeline of the book covers 2003-2005. But the essentials of the occupation emerge, especially the encroachment of the separation wall, the settlements, and checkpoints, and what it means for a Palestinian to live day by day under systematic violations of human rights that show no sign of ending in the foreseeable future. When Olson inserts information about history, Israeli and Palestinian politics, international law and elementary morality, she is accurate, concise, and perceptive. She also is honest enough not to suppress her emotional responses to some extreme situations.

 

In the end what gives the book its special value is the compelling credibility of her “love affair with a homeless homeland,” a sub-title that says it all! It is one thing to lament the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians or to condemn the cruelty and harshness of the Israeli occupation. It is quite another to be able to observe these defining realities and yet see beyond to a proud and gracious people with a generous sense of humor who manage to live as vibrantly as possible even under almost unimaginable circumstances of oppression. It is this combination of feeling the Palestinian hurt while celebrating the warmth and genuineness of the Palestinian embrace that allows a reader to achieve what I had previously thought impossible without an immersion in the place itself. Olson is a twenty-first century example of how a reassuringly normal American woman might best visit the Arab world. She is intensely curious, with a gift for observation and dialogue and a sensibility that is not afraid of danger or to acknowledge shades of gray or to register her disappointments with others, and above all with herself. Her own evolution is also relevant, from a ‘Bible-centric’ youth in Oklahoma to a scientifically oriented skepticism to a wonderfully caring person who managed to have this incredible ‘love affair’ with occupied Palestine, amid the ruins. In her words, “I couldn’t imagine a better university of human nature.”

 

Obviously Pamela Olson is blessed with talent. A girl from rural Oklahoma who had to struggle to find the funds to attend college does not make it to the likes of Stanford very often, where she majors in physics and political science, nor does the typical graduate defer entering the job market and go about exploring the world to find out what it is like, and how best to live her life. It is thus not entirely surprising that after her experiences in Palestine, Olson returned to work for a ‘Defense Department think tank’ to try to understand why American foreign policy was so dysfunctional, and found it ‘educational but disillusioning.’ She lasted less than two years before deciding to write Fast Times in Palestine, her attempt to bring what she learned in Palestine directly to the American people.

 

I have the following daydream: If everyone in America could just sit down quietly and read this book, there would be such an upsurge of outrage and empathy that the climate of opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict would finally change for the better—even in the polluted air that now prevails within the Beltway. At the very least, as many people as possible should read the book, and if your reaction is similar to mine, give a copy to friends and encourage them to spread the word. We in America should stop subsidizing and facilitating the systematic creation of ‘a homeless homeland.’ As a close friend in Jayyous named Rania tells Pamela, “Imagine if there was no occupation! Palestine would be like paradise.”

 

The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon. It will be available in mid-March. 
http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Times-Palestine-Homeless-Homeland/dp/158005482X

I urge you to do so!

 

What Dani Dayan Says and Why It Is Interesting

27 Jul

 

 [Note: I have revised the first paragraph of this post to take some note of comments addressed to the original version, and in light of my own further thoughts]

            Dani Dayan’s article, “Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay,” was published by the NY Times on July 26, 2012. Dayan is the chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities, and has been long known as a leading spokesperson of the settler movement. An obvious response to such a settler screed might be to dismiss it out of hand as an extremist expression of Israeli views, which it certainly is, but it would seem a mistake to do this before taking some account of its content and timing. The moral and legal premises that underlie Dayan’s insistence that the settlers will never leave the West Bank are without substance, but the political arguments he puts forward are so strong as to be virtually irrefutable. It may also be worthwhile to speculate as to why Dayan decided to drop this bombshell into the midst of the American electoral maelstrom as a  kind of trial baloon at this time and why the NY Times, so normally careful about such matters, opened up its opinion page to views so at odd with mainstream thinking that has prevailed for decades about how to resolve the conflict. How Netanyahu stands on these issues is a bit of a mystery. Although he has backed the creation of a Palestinian state in recent years, he has also generally supported the settler movement and has not yet repudiated the recent Levy Report that reached conclusions that I would imagine that Dayan welcomes.

 

            Dayan’s first premise contends that the settler movement is entitled to the territory obtained in 1967 because it was the Palestinians who at the time were threatening Israel with the prospect of annihilation and it was Israel that acted in self-defense whereby it came into the possession of the West Bank and the whole of Jerusalem. This is a position lacking traction among almost all international law specialists, increasingly contested by diplomatic historians as to the actual sequence of events in 1967, and politically rejected shortly after the fact by the entire international community, including the United States. This rejection was expressed in the authoritative and unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 242 passed in 1967 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories that had been occupied in the Six Day War. No Israeli leader, including even the rejectionist Netanyahu, has openly challenged this line of interpretation, although the settler movement from its origins has fed off Israeli ambivalence as to whether a peace agreement was really in Israel’s interest if it meant the substantial return of the territories occupied in 1967. The Israeli de facto compromise was to endorse the two state consensus by incremental stages, but simultaneously to engage in a concerted variety of actions that made its implementation increasingly implausible from the perspective of practical politics.

 

            It is astonishing that most governments in the world and the highest officials at the UN have chosen to disregard this implausibility up to this very moment. What Dayan is in effect telling the world is that the realities of the situation make it hypocritical and useless to keep pretending that a negotiated peace between the parties is, or ever was, a political option. In his opinion, there are now too many settlers with no intention to leave ever, and most not apparently not susceptible to bribes having forgone profitable opportunities to sell their settlement property in the past. Dayan tellingly points out that it was nearly impossible for the pro-settler Sharon government to get 8,000 settlers to leave Gaza in 2005, making the idea of removing the 350,000 settlers now living in the West Bank (expected to rise to 400,000 by 2014), 160,000 of whom are outside the settlement blocs, a misguided pipedream, or in Dayan’s words, “exponentially more difficult” and hence their presence “in all of Judea and Samaria..is an irreversible fact.” Can any responsible person doubt the force of Dayan’s reasoning on this central issue?

 

            Dayan develops his argument by invoking a combination of “inalienable rights” and a “realpolitik” favorable to settler claims . I find Dayan convincing from a realpolitik perspective, given the realities of the current balance of forces in Israel/Palestine, in the region, and in the world, although this could prove to be short lived. In contrast, Dayan is totally self-serving and one-sided when he also claims that inalienable rights support his conception of Greater israel. Such a claim overlooks the relevance of the generally accepted reading of Article 49(6) of Geneva Convention IV that prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to an occupied territory or altering the character of an occupied society.  Dayan’s views also seem blind to the immorality of displacing the Palestinian people who have lived on these lands for centuries even if one grants the underlying Zionist claim to a homeland in historic Palestine. The fact that the Palestinian leaders and the neighboring Arab governments rejected the UN endorsed partition plan back in 1948 does not mean that the Palestinian people implicitly waived or lost their right to self-determination, which is genuinely inalienable. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Palestinians can be doomed to live indefinitely under apartheid conditions as a rightless, subjugated minority (that might soon be a majority), remembering that apartheid is enumerated as one instance of crimes against humanity in the statute of the International Criminal Court. There are, to be sure, inalienable rights, but they belong to the Palestinians, and certainly not to the settlers.

 

            Dayan refers to the West Bank throughout as “Judea and Samaria,” their biblical names in Jewish tradition, apparently as a way of signaling his defiance of world public opinion as to the status of the territories. Again we can at least welcome this brazen expression of honesty, not hiding behind evasions and linguistic ambiguities as Israeli diplomats have tended to do over the years when it comes to acknowledging the significance of continuously expanding the settlements, creating a network of expensive settler roads, and building the separation wall while still affirming their readiness to negotiate the formation of an independent Palestinian state. Dayan minces no words, insisting that a Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel would always have been an unsustainable security disaster for Israel. Such a Palestinian state would quickly fall under the control of Hamas as it became a place of refuge for hundred of thousands of embittered Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps for almost 65 years. According to Dayan, such a Palestinian state would be a crucible of anti-Israeli extremism that would inevitably prompt Israeli military reoccupation. This makes some sense once more from an Israeli realpolitik viewpoint, but its implications for the Palestinians is so manifestly unacceptable as to make its a declaration of total and permanent war against Palestinian hopes, aspirations, and rights. Maybe for this reason such a logic as espoused by Dayan has rarely been articulated outside of Israel.

 

            To be fair, Dayan does not entirely brush aside considerations bearing on Palestinian wellbeing. To his credit, he does not even discuss, much less support, ethnic cleansing, to ensure the maintenance of Jewish identity in a democratic polity. Dayan seems content to endure an eventual Palestinian majority population so long as the Israelis are in control, that is, Israeli domination is apparently sufficient for security, and this outweighs the search for democratic legitimacy. Without raising the question of Palestinian rights, Dayan claims that the Palestinian Authority is not dissatisfied with the status quo, and that Palestinian economic development is proceeding in areas under their control, especially in and around Ramallah. Furthermore, if Palestinians would only give up their futile resistance, Dayan says that most checkpoints could be removed. His ‘solution’ for the refugee problem is to improve the conditions in the camps, which he acknowledges as wretched. To think that this is morally, legally, or politically adequate is to understand how far from accepted ideas of justice Dayan strays while seeking to convince readers that not only is the occupation over but that all can be made to be okay even for the Palestinians.

 

            Why should not this assault of human dignity be merely refuted and cast aside as confirmation of just how extremist and bold the settler movement has become? There are several reasons for a more reflective response. Most importantly, Dayan’s analysis demolishes the existing unquestioned diplomatic framework that has locked Palestinian dreams into an endless nightmare of oppression and futility. By doing this, he opens the way to a necessary dialogue as to what kind of solution can be plausibly put in place of the two-state consensus? Less significantly, he lends credibility to arguments from critics, such as myself, of the peace process as foisting a cruel deception on the Palestinians and public opinion, while the settlement time bomb is allowed keep on ticking without being defused.

 

            Also, perhaps, whether deliberately or not, the NY Times by highlighting Dayan’s views so outrageously at odds with its consistent editorial position over the years, has decided belatedly to acknowledge that a new set of realities pertains to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Maybe this august newspaper that never strays too far from the Pentagon/State Department line on Middle East foreign policy received a midnight signal from Washington that it was time to start a new debate on how to depict the conflict or even to begin the difficult task of envisioning the shape and auspices of a new peace process. Of course, to dump such a smoke bomb into the midst of an already confusing presidential electoral campaign seems so strange as to make one wonder whether the NY Times opinion gatekeepers, normally so vigilant, may have on this occasion been caught sleeping, allowing Dayan’s radical dissent from the liberal conventional wisdom of the newspaper to slip by unnoticed.  

 

 

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