How occupation has corrupted Israel’s soul

My following book review appears in today’s edition of Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper:

Israel and the Clash of Civilisations
Jonathan Cook
(Pluto Press, $42.95)

The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington caused the Western media and political elite to seriously examine their behaviour in the Middle East. Most concluded that maintaining client states was the only viable way forward; the desperate need for oil supplies supplanted most other considerations.

The US-led invasion of Iraq was a radical form of shock treatment designed to unseat a once friendly Washington-friendly dictator. The nationalist insurgency crushed those plans, leaving the world’s sole super-power battling a relatively small number of fighters whose sole goal was the removal of an unforgiving occupation.

One country that has received relatively little scrutiny in the years since September 11 has been Israel.

The Jewish state has the most powerful military in the region, with an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, and an arsenal of cluster bombs that it used against civilians in Lebanon in the final days of its botched 2006 campaign against Hizbollah.

During the recent Australian parliamentary motion to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the country as a “custodian of freedom” amongst dictatorships. In his compelling new book, Jonathan Cook, former Guardian journalist and current resident of Nazareth, challenges this perception and concludes that, like the Bush administration, Israel actively pursue policies that lead to civil war and partition. Cook bravely skewers the mainstream narrative of a Jewish state constantly striving for peace with the Palestinians.

Israel’s security establishment developed ideas in the 1980s that advocated dissolving many of the Middle East nations, leaving Israel, like the Ottomans in centuries past, to be the local imperial power. “In this way, hoped Israel and the [predominantly Zionist] neo-cons”, Cook writes, “large and potentially powerful states such as Iraq and Iran could be partitioned between their ethnic rivalries and sectarian communities.”

Aid agencies reported in 2007 that eight million Iraqis, nearly a third of the population, required emergency aid and millions were both internally and externally displaced. Was this the intended goal?

The similarities between the Israeli occupation of Gaza and West Bank and America’s plans in Iraq are meticulously examined. Cook argues that Washington found an invaluable template for its own occupation after carefully studying the Jewish state’s record in dividing and conquering the indigenous population.

Cook approvingly quotes Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi who has written of a “Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism and co-opted collaborationists.”

David Rose, in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, reported on Bush administration plans to trigger a civil war between Hamas and Fatah after the former won a free and fair election in the Palestinian territories in 2006. The “wrong” party had won. Nabulsi’s nightmare had come true.

“As far as the neocons were concerned, whatever Israel wanted, it should get”, writes Cook, whose summary of the last eight years is reflected in the public utterances of Washington’s leading power-brokers. After Israel’s futile war against Lebanon in 2006 – with over 1000 Lebanese civilians killed – leading neocon Meyrav Wurmser, whose husband was a former senior advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, lamented Israel’s performance. “The anger [in the White House] is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians”, she said. “The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space [before the UN resolution ended the conflict.]”

These noble ideas were clearly what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had in mind when she talked during the war about “birth pangs” of a new Middle East. Cook explains that there are times when Washington tries to push Israel into actions it would not rather not do itself and other times when the Jewish state acts recklessly, such as the ever-growing expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and America remains mute. It’s a relationship that is widely accepted by the foreign policy elite and the vast majority of the establishment media.

Challenging its integrity guarantees charges of anti-Semitism or disloyalty by the Zionist lobby.

This book, while not containing a great deal of original research, is an important contribution to understanding why “Israel’s role [is] to dictate and terrify other states in the region with threats of punishment so that they dare not step out of line.”

The result, while temporarily successful on military grounds, has left the Jewish state isolated internationally and reviled across the Arab world. If Israel is to survive for another 60 years, it will need to understand that the ongoing occupation has corrupted its soul. The current signs are that its leadership doesn’t grasp this basic fact.

  • Henry di Suvero

    Although I agree that Israel has followed a policy of talking peace but perpetuating war throughout its sixty year history, I disagree that it has been isolated internationally.

    Israel independently, but also as an ally of the United States, has served United States imperial interests by destabilizing Arab regimes in the area. It is the old divide and rule, not only amongst Arab states, but also within them, with their tribal, religious and ethnic divides.

    Internationally Israel enjoys wide acceptance as an ally of the USA. The EU continues its economic support in granting Israel quasi association status. Germany is in the forefront of the EU’s policy, witness Chancellor Merkel’s grand speech recently to the Knesset. The Government and Opposition in Australia toe the USA’s line, witness the recent 60th anniversary motion, sponsored by Rudd and passed with the Opposition’s support in the Parliament.

    The Arab nations of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait— as well as the Maliki government of Iraq are totally dependent on the military might of the USA. Their support of the Palestinian cause is minimal at best. Witness the Egyptian buckling in to Israel on re-establishing their peace treaty’s border regime after the Hamas led breach of the border wall.

    The Arab regimes are corrupt, feudal and anti-democratic and often referred to kindly as “client states” of the USA.

    As autocratic as the Syrian regime might be, it is the only Arab country providing some support to the Palestinians. Fractured Lebanon only counts as a supporter of the Palestinians to the extent that support comes from Hezbollah. Lybia’s Gaddafi makes noise, but does not do much else.

    The Turks continue to enjoy their fruitful economic relationship with Israel.

    The Arab street may “revile” Israel, but not their Arab governments.

    Unfortunately, it is the Palestinians that are isolated internationally.

    Henry di Suvero 29 March 08

  • mike rubbo

    Naomi Klein (The shock Doctrine) argues that Israel missed it's greatest opportunity for peace in the early nineties.

    The courty was fatigued by war, a borderless world beckoned as the IT revolution took off. Dan Gillerman, then President of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, predicted that by making peace with the Palestinians, and in turn getting Arab boycotts lifted, Israel could become the Singapore of the Middle East, a free trade hub where major corporations had their headquarters.

    Shimon Peres, also on board with this vision, talked of a peace "not of flags but of markets," a realpolitic peace based on everyone's self interest. Right on track to make this possible, Rabin and Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn and signed the Olso accords.

    Many explanations are given as to what went wrong, how the chance was thrown away. Naomi Klein brings in two new factors, not talked about hitherto.

    First the influx to Israel of Russian Jews, driven out of Russia in part by the trashing of th Russian economy by what she she calls the Shock doctrine which had been applied by advisors of the Milton Friedman school of economics. .

    The new immigrants replaced the Palestinians as cheap labor and the borders to the territories were soon sealed. An Israel which had been opening up, closed down.

    Secondly, the economy which could have gone in the free trade Singapore direction, took another, one that actually profited by making people angry and denyingn them rights.

    This was the state and home security industry. If people don't like you, make sure they can't get at you, blow up your planes etc. Israel became a world leader right through the nineties in this new denialist industry and so continues till today with thus little economic interest in peace and open borders.

    How sad it all is.

  • Richard

    Israel is between a rock and a hard place entirely of its own making has 4 choices
    1) Continue the current occupation and siege of Gaza and the West Bank and with them the continual breeding of Israeli prejudice that feeds Palestinian animosity and hatred. This is a process of creeping ethnic cleansing.
    2) Formalise and admit to their overtly racist apartheid policies and try to ensure it does not blow up in their faces. History and the rest of the world will of course be against this.
    3) Carry out a second "war of Independence" and sweep the remaining Palestinians into the Sea or worses. This rapid process of ethnic cleansing will be too much for even the most blinkered to deny convincingly. Further, there will be no hostages left in the country.
    4) Recognise their own xenophobia and prejudices, the lessons of history and reach a just accord with True equal Rights for all.

    I don't think the current administration is wise enough to know what to do..

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