My following article appears in today’s Crikey newsletter:
Soon after Israel’s August 2005 evacuation of its Gaza settlements, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced the withdrawal “essential for Israel.” The Palestinians were suffering, he said: “We cannot hold onto Gaza forever, more than a million Palestinians live there…crowded in refugee camps, poverty and hotbeds of hatred with no hope on the horizon.”
More than one year later, the reality of Israel’s manoeuvre is clear. The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn wrote in September that, “Gaza is dying. The Israeli siege of the Palestinian enclave is so tight that its people are on the edge of starvation… There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fishermen to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets.”
Israeli linguist and Middle East expert Tanya Reinhart is currently touring Australia. Over a long career, she has comprehensively debunked the various myths about Israel and its alleged strivings for peace. During an interview on ABC Radio’s PM last Friday, host Mark Colvin seemed incapable of accepting Reinhart’s assertion that the Israeli establishment was the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East conflict.
During a packed lecture at Macquarie University yesterday – organised by the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, on whose board I am a member – Reinhart explained the forgotten war against Gaza and explained how the removal of Jewish settlements did not end the Israeli occupation of the tiny strip. Israel retained control of the air, sea and land borders and all crossings out of the territory, she said.
She reminded the audience that even during the Oslo “peace years”, the numbers of Israeli settlements doubled. Although the US pressured Israel to withdraw from Gaza – not for moral or legal grounds, but rather political and strategic reasons – Washington has given free rein for Israel to undermine the Hamas government and impose an economic and military siege on Gaza and the West Bank.
Reinhart said that the majority of Israelis wanted to end the occupation, but the political and military elite had too much to lose by doing so. “Israel is ruled by the military”, she stated.
She even believed that the construction of the wall could be justified, so long as it was built on Israeli land and not across Palestinian territory.
When I spent time with Reinhart in Israel last year during research for my book, My Israel Question, I asked her whether she would ever leave the country due to the extreme political situation. At the time, she said she was grimly hanging on in the hope that things would improve. Yesterday, however, she acknowledged that it was time to leave her homeland “because I no longer believe that change will come from within.”
She will spend six months teaching in Holland and six months at NYU.
POSTSCRIPT: The Melbourne-based Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) is a limp Zionist lobby with no real political power. It was once at the forefront of fighting racism and far-right thugs in Australia, but in the last years has become yet another Israel right-or-wrong organisation, comfortable in its belief that Islam is the problem, Israel is blameless for the Middle East conflict and Jews are victims. In this noble tradition, it released the following statement today regarding Tanya Reinhart (try not to laugh while reading it):
The B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) utterly condemns Professor Tanya Reinhart’s outrageous and extreme comments regarding Israel. Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Media Studies from Tel Aviv University, Professor Reinhart is currently on a lecture tour in Australia.
Professor Reinhart claims that Israel is:
– practising ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians;
– engaging in the genocide of the Palestinian people by the “systematic destruction of the Palestinian economy” which drives the Palestinians out of their lands;
– an “open air prison” and a “hissing serpent”;
– motivated by greed and control of water resources rather than security vis-à-vis the Security Barrier;
– justifiably targeted for terrorist attacks by Palestinians because they are a legitimate response to the fear Palestinians have of Israel.
On the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Professor Reinhart claims that:
– Israel’s real aim in Lebanon was to extend its territory to the Litani River and to annex Lebanon into Israeli territory;
– Israel was sacrificing the lives of Israeli residents in the north of Israel for the wider goal of territorial expansion;
– Hezbollah’s only intention was to protect Lebanon from Israel;
– the “Israeli army is hungry for war”. She believes that Israel had planned the war in Lebanon and used the kidnappings merely as an excuse to do so.
ADC executive officer Mr Manny Waks commented: “Professor Reinhart’s claims are preposterous and extreme. Her comments should be condemned by every reasonable person as being counterproductive to achieving a realistic resolution to the conflict. Like her mentor Noam Chomsky, it would be better if Tanya Reinhart stuck to her field of linguistics and left the Middle East to others”.