At a West Bank University, in a class on the writings of Michel Foucault, one student said that every time she goes through checkpoints, she presents her identity card to the soldiers upside down. She makes use of the little space she can to make the sovereign decision not to be the automaton that the soldier, and the system, expect her to be.
Perhaps it’s an unusual example, but she is a reminder that the Israeli control of the Palestinian people always prompts reactions and creates a constant state of awareness and alertness. Even obedience is a response. Obedience and attempts to disrupt Israeli activity, as the entity that revokes their freedom and independence, are always on the minds of the Palestinian people.
The ethos of mass opposition remains a frame of reference for those who are not active, or are no longer active.
A culture of resistance is not just an empty slogan in Palestinian society; it’s assumed, and apologies must be made when one does not stick to it. Currently, it seems there are more people apologizing than resisting.
The most prominent apologizers are senior PLO and Palestinian authority bureaucrats as well as the urban middle class. In the villages, and the refugee camps, no one needs to apologize: their very existence is constant resistance.
But both the activists and the apologizers can take comfort in the fact that like in the past, at some point, a moment will come where “people can’t take it anymore,” and join in.
But what is that point? People who think in terms of struggle, and people who want to take advantage of the situation to make a name or a career for themselves, are in a race against time. At some point, the bubble of normality under occupation will burst – that’s a basic assumption that we hear all the time.
The question is whether the bubble will burst before enough of a foundation has been laid to deal with a new conflict, in the form of a grassroots uprising, against the Israeli occupation, Even the PA people feel the way of negotiation, which has been followed for 20 months, is bankrupt.
The American tendency today to artificially engineer an agreement reminds one of its insistence on holding the Camp David summit in 2000. The newspaper al-Ayyam hinted on Friday that the proposed American framework agreement does not designate East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state; it also ignores the refugees. The American effort to force an agreement (or punish the Palestinians for refusing it) could be the breaking point. That would be bad for advocates of unarmed resistance.
In recent years, various popular-resistance committees were formed, and they are trying to improve coordination among themselves. After years of isolated responses to the separation barrier in various villages and Hebron, the committees decided that the time has come to take the initiative. Blocking major roads, erecting tent encampments like Bab a-Shams and volunteering in villages, are only some of the initiatives that can be seen as preparation for more comprehensive efforts.
The boycott movement continues to spark imaginations. Its establishment in the West Bank roughly ten years ago forced the Palestinian Authority to declare a boycott on products manufactured in the West Bank. Enforcement of the boycott was spotty but now, informal organizations are considering boycotting goods from the other side of the Green Line as well.
“Boycotting 10% of Israeli goods is likely to increase Palestinian production by 10% and create tens of thousands of jobs,” said one activist. “When we call for boycott, we think not only of nationalist concerns, but also for the personal benefit of many unemployed people.”
Activists are in touch with other thinkers too: Palestinians elsewhere in the world and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are also part of the unarmed resistance. One demand that arose out of the blue in the past – to dismantle the PA – is gradually ceding to thoughts about morphing the PA from a “contractor” of the Israeli occupation into a resistance authority. That would begin, says the activist, with canceling cooperation on security, as – “the police and top officials are also under occupation.”
Also, human rights organizations are pushing to take advantage of the opportunities created when Palestine was defined a non-member observer state by the UN. Popular resistance, as discussed by the activists, would include all of these things.
One activist points out that Palestinian society is very young: roughly 50% are under 18, and 75% under 35. Activists are placing their hopes on the youth, not the older generations.
South African President Nelson Mandela, in his address for International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People on December 4, 1997, said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Mandela’s death: “Nelson Mandela was among the greatest figures of our time … a man of vision and … a moral leader of the highest order.”
The sharp-eyed surely noticed the picture in the background when Netanyahu delivered his statement: an Israeli flag and the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. There he was, eulogizing the “moral leader” against the background of the occupied city, whose Palestinian residents are oppressed and dispossessed. It’s a city where a separation regime prevails – an example of Israeli apartheid, even if it’s not the worst example. The sharp-eared must have noticed how false his flowery words sounded.
President Shimon Peres also offered high praise for the “leader of immense stature,” and his words were no less hypocritical. The man who was involved up to his neck in the disgraceful cooperation between Israel and apartheid South Africa, who hosted its prime ministers with pomp and circumstance while Mandela languished in prison, is suddenly admiring the man who symbolized the struggle with that regime.
Neither Peres nor Netanyahu have any right to eulogize Mandela; both are responsible, more than any other statesmen in the free world, for undermining his legacy and establishing the (nonidentical) twin of the regime he battled. They’re eulogizing him? Mandela will turn in his grave and history will laugh bitterly.
Israeli public opinion tolerates everything, even intolerable, two-faced eulogies. But Israeli cooperation with the apartheid regime, and the continuation of its legacy in the occupied territories, cry out beyond the gloomy skies of a grieving South Africa.
The world’s mourning should inspire some pointed questions here as well. Why was Israel virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime? Why are so many good people convinced that Israel is an apartheid state? While it may not pay to dwell on past shame – even Mandela forgave Israel – questions about the present should disturb us greatly.
In April I visited the new South Africa that Mandela had forged as a guest of its Foreign Ministry. The visit was etched deeply in my heart, as comparisons to the Israeli occupation regime cried out from every stone, and with them also hope for change.
For example, there was the Supreme Court in Johannesburg, built on the ruins of the prison where blacks were thrown when they dared enter forbidden areas to find work. And in Soweto I visited Mandela’s home, where you can still see the bullet holes of a failed attempt at a “targeted killing.”
The comparisons echoed, as did the lessons. Roelf Meyer – a defense minister, constitution minister and deputy minister of law and order during apartheid, and later chief negotiator with the African National Congress – told me: “If we had started a few years earlier, we could have prevented a lot of bloodshed and gotten a better deal.” After beating his breast over many sins, Meyer is now part of the new regime, like many whites.
An unjust state becomes a just state; discrimination and dispossession are replaced by equality and democracy. The scowling faces tell of South Africa’s backwardness and rising crime, which are serious problems. But they don’t reduce the enormity of the historic achievement and its lesson for Israel: When a country turns from unjust to just, everything else is dwarfed in comparison.
Mandela proved that the dream is realistic, that what seemed like a fantasy only 20 years ago is achievable, and without much bloodshed. He showed that enemies of the past can live together in one country and even have equality; that a new chapter can be opened against all odds.
Mandela said he was not liberated as long as the Palestinians were not free. Those in Israel who seek to eulogize him can’t continue to ignore this.
Amira Hass is a leading journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Two recent columns show the direct and daily assault on Palestinian lives that too rarely appears in the Western press.
And this month’s George Orwell Prize for excellence in misleading language, for rose-colored ink and for doing a hell of a job on sugarcoating lies, goes to…
Yes, clap your hands for the happy winner, the planning and licensing subcommittee of the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council. Its excellence was revealed in full in its decision dated October 24, 2013, which relates to the request for approval of a master plan for construction filed by the Arab village, er, assemblage of Susya.
The West Bank village, which has a population of 300 (dispersed over 40 households), filed five different versions of the master plan, and the prize-winning committee rejected each of them. It wrote that for the sake of the rights of Palestinian children and the expansion of their horizons, and for the sake of the rights of Palestinian women and their salvation from lives of poverty, in order to prevent a rift in society and out of consideration for the limited abilities of the Palestinian Authority, these Arab residents of Susya should move to the nearby city of Yatta, which will provide them with the infrastructure necessary for their development.
With this decision, the subcommittee has devised an innovative, refreshing take on one of the Ten Commandments: Jews to Area C, Arabs to Area A.
Israel the persecuted has for years been fending off anti-Semitic attacks against it. One particularly wicked accusation is the claim that we are a colonialist entity that has stolen and continues to steal land from the Arabs, for the good of the Jews. This decision provides brilliant linguistic tools in the heroic struggle of our country to expel the Arabs and settle Jews in their place, by framing it publicly as an act of enlightenment, love of the people, and the adoration of order and modern planning. Our warm recommendation is to make use of this text in discussions on building the Jewish town of Hiran on the ruins of Umm al-Hiran and on building a national park on the lands of Isawiyah.
Anyone who has worn a uniform past or in present, whether speaking on the record or off, immediately “knows” that the latest terror attack and what looks to soldiers as the latest attempted terror attack does not signify the beginning of a third Intifada. Or, they “know” it does signify such a beginning, and it’s all because of the peace negotiations or because of Palestinian incitement, or both. Relying on the knowledgeable military brass is a fixed Israeli reflex; it is part of the balance of power and part of how the Israelis exert control over their subjects.
Whoever said 100,000 Palestinians have unfinished business with the Israel Defense Forces took it a step further creating the impression that he really knows and thinks, and does more than calculate tallies. But the starting point for calculation is somewhere else completely: There is no Palestinian whose score with the State of Israel is settled – whether he lives in forced exile or whether he lives within the borders of Israel, or in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There is no Palestinian without a personal and familial history of injustice that was caused by, and is still caused by Israel. Just because the Israeli media does not report on all the injustices Israel causes day in and day out – even if only because they so numerous – does not mean they go away and neither does the anger they cause. Therefore, according to the correct calculation, the number of attacks by Palestinian individuals is relatively microscopic. This small number shows that for the vast majority of Palestinians – passing, murderous and hopeless revenge is not an option.
My weekly Guardian column is published today:
The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a thriving Palestinian-led initiative that attacks institutional links to Israel’s illegal settlements, has been gaining in popularity. In Australia, the movement has been slowly growing as Israel continues to defy international law – and it now faces one of its greatest opportunities in the court of public opinion.
Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center is an Israel-based organisation that claims to be a civil group “fighting for rights of hundreds of terror victims”. It is currently taking Jake Lynch, head of Sydney University’sCentre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), to the Australian federal court. They assert that Lynch has allegedly breached the 1975 racial discrimination act by refusing to sponsor a fellowship application by Israeli academic Dan Avnon. Lynch and CPACS support BDS, and since Avnon works at Hebrew University – a key intellectual hub which is targeted by boycotters for allegedly being complicit in the establishment of illegal settlements – Lynch declined to be named as a reference.
The story has been largely ignored. Fairfax Media has not touched it, and ABC TV’s 7.30 only briefly addressed it last week. Instead, it is Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian which has been driving the debate on the issue, publishing countless stories that deliberately conflates antisemitism and support for the BDS movement.
Just last week, after the horrific bashing of Jewish men in Sydney, the paper featured a Holocaust survivor on its front page condemning the attack. Within the article was the rhetorical device of inserting comment about BDS – as if physically assaulting Jewish people was on the same spectrum as a peaceful, non-violent attempt to force Israel to abide by international law. Bizarrely, an op-ed published by Newscorp’s The Telegraph also said that the best response to the assaults was to support Max Brenner – the chocolate shop whose parent company, the Strauss Group, has been a target of BDS protestors for supporting the Israeli Defence Force.
Countless letters have since been published in The Australian reinforcing a correlation between antisemitism and the boycott – following this logic, Lynch and his backers are a threat to public order. This also ignores the nearly 2,000 signatories of a public petition backing Lynch (which a number of academics, including the co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Peter Slezak, signed).
Last week, The Australian ran an editorial which implied that Lynch blocked Avnon’s academic credentials simply because he was an Israeli. Another front page story in the paper last week claimed that Hebrew University is a bastion of Jewish and Arab co-operation, yet ignored an example of the institution repressing Palestinian rights through its connections to the arms industry.
Lynch tells me that Shurat HaDin have deliberately skewed his BDS stance. He denies, despite what the group’s Australian lawyer Andrew Hamilton said on ABC TV last week, having “admitted” that he boycotted Avnon because he was Israeli. He told me:
“I have made it abundantly clear from the start that the policy is aimed at institutional links. If the Hebrew University is anything like the University of Sydney, then it probably employs academics from various backgrounds in terms of religious affiliation and country of origin. It would not make any difference to my or the CPACS’ policy if the applicant was originally from Belgium, Botswana or Bolivia – I believe the University of Sydney should revoke its part in the Sir Zelman Cowen and Technion fellowship schemes, and I reserve my right not to collaborate with them. Andrew Hamilton has clearly not paid serious attention to our policy, or to what I have actually done in pursuit of it.”
It’s worth noting that Avnon, endlessly praised in the Australian media as a humanist who believes in co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians, sits on Israeli group Metzilah’s General Assembly. This is a group that put out a report explicitly rejecting the Palestinian right of return to lands stolen by Israel, and claims that a Jewish state discriminating against equal rights for Palestinians is not problematic. It is worth noting that the Palestinian right of return is a requirement in international law.
Largely missing from the ferocious media coverage has been any information about the real agenda of Shurat HaDin. The organisation, according to Wikileaks documents, has strong links to Israeli intelligence and Mossad, just one of the many groups that now prosecutes Israel’s argument for the Jewish state. The law firm tried to sue Twitter for daring to host Hizbollah tweets, former US President Jimmy Carter for criticising Israel and Stephen Hawking for damning the Israeli occupation. Even the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a leading Zionist lobby, refuses to endorse Shurat HaDin’s case against Lynch, pointing out that attempts to suppress the campaign through litigation are inappropriate.
Also absent from the debate is the reason BDS exists. It is growing due to a complete lack of faith in US-led peace talks. American journalist Max Blumenthal recently published a book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which shows in forensic detail the reality of the Israeli mainstream’s embrace of blatant racism against Arabs and Africans. This isn’t what the Israel Shurat HaDin and its fellow travellers want the world to see. Indeed, Australian Israel lobby AIJAC responded to the latest BDS case against Lynch by completely ignoring illegal settlements altogether. This week Dean Sherr, a young lobbyist, wrote an entire column in The Australian about BDS without mentioning their existence.
The fear of BDS is reflected in the massive amount of money and resources Israel is spending to stop it. Instead of moving towards a democratic state for all its citizens, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to demolish Palestinian homes and build illegal colonies on Palestinian land.
Shurat HaDin’s Australian lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, told Haaretz last week that BDS “does nothing to help Palestinians and indeed harms them. It is merely an excuse for the vilest public antisemitic campaign the western world has seen since the Holocaust.” With such a statement, which essentially compares Jake Lynch to a Nazi, it’s no wonder Zionist advocates are losing the public relations battle globally.
For some of us on the left, using the racial discrimination act as a tool to silence views we find distasteful is deeply worrying – I write this as somebody who opposed the legal case against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt in 2011. A real democracy is a place where any individual has the right to vehemently oppose colluding with an overseas university institution that disputes equal rights for Jews and Arabs.
I look forward to Australia’s leading public backers of free speech, such as Bolt, Miranda Devine and the Institute of Public Affairs, loudly backing Lynch. Somehow I think I’ll be waiting a while for these brave advocates to find their voice.
As the Israeli occupation of Palestine worsens and Zionist racism against Arabs in general becomes far more known globally (examples here and here), Israeli groups are trying to stamp out dissent through dodgy legal means. One Israeli group, Shurat HaDin, is going around the world attempting to silence critics of Israel. In Australia, two academics from Sydney University, Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees, both friends and colleagues, are under attack for daring to back BDS. Al Jazeera and Haaretz have covered the story.
There is growing realization amongst hardline Zionist groups that critics of Israel and its brutal occupation are winning over the public across the world … [so] groups such as Shurat HaDin dare to pursue legitimate advocates of Palestinian justice. In Australia, with barely any public support … the tiny organization is attempting to shut down the few outspoken backers of BDS through tribunals and the courts. Public opinion polls now show in Australia that a majority of the population supports Palestine so Shurat HaDin are fighting a losing battle.
Welcome to “democratic” Israel.
Last night here in Sydney distinguished international lawyer and UN expert Richard Falk explained how growing numbers of people globally are recognising the justice of the Palestinian cause and Israel’s continued belligerence. But we still a way away from holding the Jewish state to account.
Here are two stories that highlight the moral bankruptcy of maintaining the status-quo.
Phil Weiss from Mondoweiss visits a West Bank settlement:
There was already a Palestinian state, the settler said, past that mountain where Moses died, on the Moab. Jordan. Palestinians should have citizenship in that state. Even Palestinians inside Israel should have citizenship in that state. You could not have two Palestinian states on the Jordan River. That was a death warrant for Israel.
Really he did not see why anything should change. Palestinian workers came into the settlements to build houses at better wages than they could get in the villages. Palestinians had moved into this area as the settlers developed it. Let’s build together, he declared. I want them to do well too. The Palestinians had had the opportunity to build a state under Oslo, but they hadn’t. Look at Gaza. Look– if they joined with him to build a common future, everyone would do well.
The only problem was their not having any political rights, he conceded. Of course that was a concern. It got a lot of attention from leftwingers– like yourself. But if you lived out here, what was wrong with the status quo? It had worked for decades. It was better than the alternative: the Arab dictatorships and civil wars. The Palestinians here accepted the status quo, most of them. Yes, they should have greater freedom of movement. But Israelis had to go through checkpoints too. It slowed down their lives too.
It got cool and we went inside and sat on the overstuffed lumpy furniture. His children came in from working the sukkot and had some of the bottled ice tea and paid me no mind. The famous Israeli informality.
What if this settlement ended up being in a Palestinian state? he asked. Well, if the Palestinians let him stay, he would stay. So long as he had equal rights as a minority.
I felt I had caught him out. “Why isn’t that a model for the whole of Israel and Palestine? Everyone has equal rights, minority or not.”
He shook his head confidently. The Jewish people need a state. We have demonstrated that, with out incredible achievements. This is the Jewish state. We have one sliver of land. There are 350 million Arabs around us and we are just 7 million.
His view is what you always get to in Israel: This is Jewish land. All the liberal talk is just a charade, a Mizrahi friend has said to me; to be Israeli is to be rightwing.
In Haaretz a report that outlines the inherent racism of the Jewish state. Can you imagine a Western leader proudly talking about needing to maintain a Christian majority because the threat of non-Jesus loving babies is too great?
Israel’s growing demographic problem is not because of Palestinians, but of Israeli Arabs, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.
Speaking at the Herzliya Conference on security, Netanyahu said Israel had already freed itself from control of almost all Palestinian Arabs. He said he could not foresee a future in which “any sane Israeli” could try to make Palestinians either Israeli citizens or “enslaved subjects.” The Palestinians would under all circumstances rule themselves and administer their own affairs, he said.
“If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens,” he said. The Declaration of Independence said Israel should be a Jewish and democratic state, but to ensure the Jewish character was not engulfed by demography, it was necessary to ensure a Jewish majority, he said.
If Israel’s Arabs become well integrated and reach 35-40 percent of the population, there will no longer be a Jewish state but a bi-national one, he said. If Arabs remain at 20 percent but relations are tense and violent, this will also harm the state’s democratic fabric. “Therefore a policy is needed that will balance the two.”
The economy is the single most important factor that will lead to Jews immigrating to Israel, he said. “I go mad when I see that because of low taxation in Moscow, there is now a capital flow there. If we want Jews to come here, we need a flourishing and dynamic economy. If we want Israeli Arabs to integrate, we need a flourishing and dynamic economy.”
He said it was necessary to improve education standards, especially for Arab citizens. Netanyahu said that the “separation fence” would also help to prevent a “demographic spillover” of Palestinians from the territories.
Reactions to the speech were not slow in coming from Arab Knesset members and others. “Netnayahu’s demographic time bomb is a stink bomb and a racist one,” said Ahmed Tibi (Hadash). “The day is not far off when Netnayahu and his followers will set up roadblocks at the entrance to Arab villages to tie Arab women’s tubes and spray them with anti-spermicide.”
Azmi Bishara, of Balad (National Democratic Alliance) said: “Describing the original residents of this land as a demographic problem would be considered racism in any normal, or even abnormal, country.”
Makhoul Issam Makhoul (Hadash) said: “A leader who considers 20 percent of the population of Israel to be a demographic threat and treats them as an existential problem, is himself a racist threat to democracy, sanity, and the rule of law – and he should be disposed of immediately for the good of both peoples.”
Talab a-Sana (United Arab List) said: “How would Netanyahu react if someone in the West or the U.S. said that the reproduction rate of Haredi Jews was a demographic problem? Netnayahu has double standards.”
Labor whip Dalia Itzik described Netanyahu as “a serial pyromaniac.” She said: “He has already lit the flames between rich and poor, and now he is trying to do the same between Jews and Arabs.”
Yossi Sarid, MK (Meretz), said: “It is amazing to see how great leaders can instantly be revealed as small racists. The Palestinian problem has not yet been solved in the territories and they are already trying to create another problem with Israeli Arabs… A thousand firemen will not be enough to put out the flames one frivolous man set alight.”
Interesting and necessary editorial in Haaretz:
The flyby over the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by three Israel Air Force planes 10 years ago was a significant event for the service. The air force’s commander, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, still keeps the flight’s documentation close by in his office.
Four air force commanders at different times were involved in preparing and carrying out the flyby – Dan Halutz, Eliezer Shkedy, Ido Nehushtan and Eshel, who led it. It was no simple operation, among other things due to the Polish government’s objection to letting Israeli war planes into its airspace.
Senior air force officers, whose hands were full of planning and conducting operative missions, insisted on carrying out the flyby and planned it meticulously. They testified that it constituted a demonstration of Israeli might where a Jewish tragedy had taken place 60 years earlier, when no international aircraft came to the rescue of the massacred.
The great value that senior air force officers attribute to the Auschwitz flyby – whose photographs were distributed to every air force squadron commander and base commander – points to the Gordian knot between the Holocaust trauma and the perception of security and army in Israel. This knot has been preserved to this day. The people in charge of the attacks in Syria and Lebanon (according to foreign sources) and of preparing the air force for a future attack in Iran, see the September 2003 flyby as one of the most important flights of their lives.
This means that the awareness of the Holocaust and the dread of its recurrence are consciously and deliberately blended into the air force’s policy, and into the IDF and defense establishment’s policy in general. At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently compares the Iranian nuclear threat to the murderous outcome of the Nazis’ rule, and warns time and again that the Jewish people can trust no one but themselves to prevent another tragedy of the Holocaust’s proportions.
Journalist Thomas Friedman wrote years ago that “Israel is Yad Vashem with an air force.” Not only is this provocative statement not denied by Israel’s policy makers and military top brass, it is defiantly adopted by them.
Israel today is a strong, independent entity that has been accepted by the international community. The Holocaust’s memory is a historical obligation, a monument to human brutality that must not be forgotten. But it cannot constitute a strategic or security consideration that statesmen and army chiefs must deal with today. They must outline Israel’s strategy and its diplomatic and military way, while focusing on its future and on the needs of its people, who want to live not as captives of past traumas.
The idea that the Western powers want freedom and democracy in the Middle East is a joke that’s not lost on the Arabs living there.
Adam Shatz, writing in the London Review of Books, outlines brilliantly today’s messy region:
One evening in January at a hotel bar in Manhattan, I tried to ingratiate myself with an officer from Bahrain’s mission to the United Nations. Munira (not her real name) was a former student of a friend of mine. She was also a regime insider, close to Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, one of the royal family’s more reform-minded figures. I thought she might help me land a visa to Bahrain, which had all but shut out Western journalists since the crackdown at the Pearl Roundabout in February 2011. I can’t have been very persuasive. She promised to ‘assist your quest in any way’, but soon stopped replying to my emails. My visa application was never answered.
The protesters at the Pearl Roundabout, Munira told me that evening, were not fighting for constitutional reform or democracy; they were agents of Iran and Hizbullah. When they called for a republic, they meant an Islamic republic along Iranian lines where drinking would be banned and modern women like her would be forced to cover themselves. Fortunately, she had been rescued by troops from a country where drinking is already banned and women like her are forced to cover themselves. For Munira, the arrival in March 2011 of more than a thousand soldiers from Saudi Arabia, via the King Fahd Causeway between the Eastern Province and Bahrain, was a humanitarian intervention. Thanks to the support of its neighbours – and the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain – her tolerant, cosmopolitan, pro-Western kingdom had narrowly foiled a plot hatched in Tehran and Beirut’s southern suburbs.
I mentioned that the government-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, in its report to King Hamad, had explicitly rejected claims of Iranian involvement in the protest movement. Whether or not they were directed from Tehran, Munira replied, the protests represented a Shia bid for power, and therefore a threat to the Sunni-led kingdom. Now that she had seen ‘terror’ in Manama – her word for the largely non-violent campaign of civil disobedience – she understood Israel’s need for stern measures. She had outgrown her youthful infatuation with the Palestinian cause, especially since Israel had proved itself a friend of Bahrain: ‘Our relations with Mossad are very good.’ Together, Israel and the Gulf monarchies were defending the region not only against Iran, but against the no less insidious influences of the Arab Spring.
Munira may have been overstating things for my benefit: what better way to win over an American Jewish journalist than to praise the Jewish state? Still, recent developments in the region – from the fall of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt to the impending strike against Syria – have confirmed that she was saying openly what many leaders in the Gulf privately believe.
Israel and the Gulf states do not have official diplomatic relations, but they have been developing closer ties over the last two decades. After the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, the Gulf states lifted their boycott of countries that traded with Israel; a few years later, Israel opened trade missions in Qatar and Oman. The two top exports from Israel to the Gulf – sold through third parties and shell companies – are security equipment and technology. When Aluf Benn published a report in Haaretz of Israeli arms sales to Arab and Muslim countries earlier this year, there were ferocious denials from Egypt and Pakistan, but not a word from the United Arab Emirates over its buying of drone technology.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative, which proposed a two-state settlement based on Israel’s 1967 borders, in return for full economic and diplomatic normalisation. This spring, Riyadh reaffirmed the 2002 proposal, even accepting the need for land swaps, a further concession to Tel Aviv. Israel has never responded to the proposal. Nor did it show much sensitivity to the amour propre of its friends in the UAE when Mossad assassinated Hamas’s security chief in a Dubai hotel room in 2010. But Israel has relaxed its opposition to arms sales from Washington to the Gulf states, and shared intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities – the concern which, along with the insurgent force of Arab populism, has sealed their alliance.
That alliance has deepened since the fall of Mubarak. No one was more furious at Obama’s betrayal of a loyal client than the Israelis – well, no one except the Saudis. Not only had Mubarak been a redoubtable ally against Iran and Hamas; he had protected Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation seen by Riyadh and the UAE as a force of subversion throughout the Gulf. The Saudis are religious but they are not sentimental. Given a choice between a dependable secular autocrat like Mubarak and an Islamic populist movement with regional ambitions that might challenge their own, they have always chosen the former. Since the fall of Ben-Ali in Tunisia, the Saudis have fought the wave of insurrectionary movements by supporting conservative religious forces, particularly Salafi groups, and by stirring up sectarian tension.
Israel, too, prefers autocratic neighbours: countering Arab populism has been a pillar of its foreign policy since 1948. It has also tried to stoke sectarian tension in the Arab and Muslim world, supporting Maronite influence in Lebanon and encouraging irredentist groups in Iran and Iraq. But Israel’s ability to influence the domestic politics of Arab countries is limited. It cheered on General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi when he threw out Morsi, suspended the constitution and accused Hamas of trying to destabilise Egypt – as the Americans discovered when they tried in vain to restrain the Egyptian army, the generals and Israel were in constant contact during the coup – but couldn’t offer much in the way of material support. It was left to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to step in with extravagant offers of assistance, while urging Sisi to show the Brothers no mercy. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, pro-Israel lobbyists fought any attempt to suspend military aid to the Egyptian generals. One former American official with excellent ties to the Saudis called it a ‘game of charades, with communication between the players by mime’.
The Israelis and Saudis played the game well – much better than Obama, whose grudging acceptance of the coup has not prevented him from being vilified in Cairo by the military regime’s supporters. (The posters in Cairo of Obama with a jihadi beard look much like the racist caricatures of ‘Barack Hussein Obama’ that used to run in right-wing Israeli tabloids.) Indeed, one could argue that Israel and Saudi Arabia are now closer to each other in their views of the region than either of them is to the United States. The Saudi-Israeli support for the coup in Egypt challenges a central tenet of American policy in the Middle East: that stable government and peace depend on democracy. US support for democratisation is of course limited, and contingent on alignment with American objectives, but in principle the US has supported the integration of Islamist parties. The Americans were not in cahoots with the Brothers, contrary to the rumours in Cairo, but they fear that Sisi’s crackdown will drive Egypt’s Islamists toward violence, and that America might become a target. It is not an unreasonable fear.
Australia has a federal election on 7 September. We’re looking at a change of government to Liberal leader Tony Abbott; a period of neo-conservatism awaits us. I agree with Wikileaks head Julian Assange who argues that one of the key issues is liberating ourselves from genuflecting towards Washington on every issue.
Israel/Palestine has barely featured in the campaign though the Zionist lobby is upset the ruling Labor party talks about West Bank colonies as “illegal”. They want obedience to the Likud line, that Palestinians are a) evil b) violent and c) anti-Semitic. A sign of the paranoia and ignorance of the lobby came this week when Zionist lobbyist Albert Dadon (a man with a background of embracing Israeli apartheid) banned a film critical of Israel from the Israeli Film Festival. Comical, tragic and pathetic.
Here’s a feature in Haaretz by Dan Goldberg which reflects the constipation, ignorance and racism amongst the Zionist elites. Here’s hoping younger Jews are far more enlightened:
Jewish community leaders in Australia have virtually abandoned support for the governing Labor Party, with most privately hoping the conservative Liberal Party wins the federal election next weekend.
The near consensus in favor of Tony Abbott to replace Kevin Rudd as the nation’s next PM comes as the Liberal Party reportedly plans to upgrade relations with Jerusalem, make visa applications easier for Israelis, ban more terror groups and stop financial support to any organization that supports the boycott Israel campaign.
According to a report in The Australian newspaper on Monday, an Abbott-led government would add Israel to the growing list of countries that can access fast-track visas for short-term visits to Australia.
The latest polls predict the Liberal Party will win the September 7 election by 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent. Voting is mandatory and Orthodox Jews have started to pre-poll because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.
If the polls are accurate, it would spell the end of a bitter battle between Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Jewish leaders, who were infuriated in January when he joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague in stating that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”
Carr, a founder of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, reignited Jewish angst last month in a speech outside Australia’s largest mosque. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said. “That is the position of Kevin Rudd, the position of the federal Labor government, and we don’t make apologies for it.”
It prompted fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby to take out a full-page advertisement in last week’s Australian Jewish News reminding Carr of Labor’s “carefully calibrated even-handed policy on peace.”
Danby, one of federal parliament’s most vocal advocates for Israel, added: “Foreign ministers have come and gone but Australia and our Australian Jewish community’s bond with Israel is as solid as Jerusalem stone.”
But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, who first took Rudd to Israel a decade ago, told Haaretz: “An old tradition in Australian politics was bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel.
“Unfortunately it is evident that it’s Labor that broke with that tradition and attempted to use Israel as a political football,” said Dadon.
Another senior leader said there is “no question” the leadership of the Jewish community favors the Liberal Party.
He claimed some Jewish leaders felt “betrayed” by the Labor Party after Julia Gillard, who he described as “an unwavering friend of Israel,” was dramatically deposed as prime minister at the end of June.
During Rudd’s first stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 he led a successful campaign for Australia to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, but was accused of sacrificing support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.
Gillard wanted to oppose the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN last year but was thwarted by a campaign reportedly led by Carr, who preferred to abstain.
The Jewish vote in Australia is neither uniform nor influential given its relatively small size, and most Jews generally vote primarily on economic and social issues, and not based on the party’s Middle East policy.
But the Liberal Party’s strong economic credentials, coupled with its unapologetic support for Israel, are understood to have attracted increased Jewish support in the last decade.
One Jewish leader said Labor’s wavering posture on Israel would affect some Jewish voters. “I know there are a lot of Jewish people who feel strongly about it,” he said.
Abbott, a London native who once enrolled at a Catholic seminary before abandoning plans for the priesthood, has wooed Jewish voters since his first public speech soon after being elected leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009.
“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us,” he told Dadon’s Leadership Forum in Melbourne.
Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told Haaretz: “It is not uncritical support that we seek; it is the support of a friend who understands that Israel is a moral entity that behaves morally and with that understanding is more likely in the first instance to assume that Israel is correct rather than incorrect.”
In an apparent swipe at Carr, he added: “We seek the support of a friend who understands the complexities of the Middle East and the fact that the obstacle to peace is not the legality of settlements but rather Palestinian intransigence and Palestinian unwillingness to accept a two-states-for-two-peoples solution.”
But some Jewish leaders fear a Liberal government could “open the door to Holocaust denial” by amending the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott has mooted the possibility of diluting section 18c of the RDA, which makes it illegal to commit an act that could “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people … because of their race, color or national or ethnic origin.”
It was precisely this section that was cited by Federal Court judge Catherine Branson in 2002 when she ruled that Adelaide’s Dr Fredrick Toben must stop publishing Holocaust denial material on the Internet in a landmark case brought by Jewish community leaders.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, another Jewish MP alongside Danby in the Labor government, argued in an open letter to Abbott recently that his preference to limit section 18c to acts of “intimidation or harassment” is inconsistent with his support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.
“Section 18c is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact,” Dreyfus wrote.
The best outcome for the Australian Jewish community would be a narrow victory for the Liberal Party, added one senior Jewish leader.
“That would mean Australia would revert to its historic position regarding Israel but they will not be able to ram through badly thought-out amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.”
A stunning piece by Gideon Levy in Haaretz that imagines a Jewish state that completely challenges its history and institutional racism:
In my dream I see Benjamin Netanyahu giving the speech of his life, which is the speech of our lives: thanking Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his willingness, Netanyahu announces the shuffling of the Israeli deck of cards, launching a completely new approach, a new Netanyahu, and even more than all that, a new Israel.
The new Israeli will immediately carry out, without any preconditions, a series of generous, trust-building steps. The new Israel will announce in advance, yes, in advance, all the steps it would be willing to take at the end of the negotiations. This unexpected change will catch the Palestinians and the international community off-guard: What happened to the Israeli tradition of refusal? Where has Israel’s petty bargaining gone? This new breeze will change the atmosphere in the region like magic, immediately enhancing Israel’s standing, which will now be irresistible.
In his speech Netanyahu will begin by declaring the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. The declaration won’t be forced from him against his will − the result of the kidnapping of a soldier, or American pressure − but will be part of a new Israeli initiative that comprehends that the path to peace always passes through the prison gates. Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, some held without trial, and others, murderers who have been imprisoned for decades, will now go free, with Israeli blessing. This would symbolize the revolution Israel wishes to promote. This is what unjust regimes do, as they begin to try to redeem themselves.
Israel will then open its gates to Arab workers, to family visits, to Palestinian trade and tourism. Last year’s pilot proved itself, when tens of thousands of Palestinians received a single-use permit, and enjoyed several hours of freedom, fun and happiness, without harming a single Israeli. Just as the removal of checkpoints in the West Bank did not harm Israel’s security, a controlled opening of the gates would serve the same, positive, purpose. The separation fence will be demolished, or rebuilt on the Green Line. The new Israel will also announce the liberation of the Gaza sea, including the construction of a sea port, open to imports and exports, under international supervision. The West Bank and Gaza Strip will be re-unified, with the safe passage that was long promised but never implemented as it should have been. This should be the new Palestinian life routine − as free men and women, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This will have positive effects on both Palestinians and Israelis.
And now we approach the peak of this summer illusion. The new Israel will announce its willingness to discuss with the Palestinians, from equal footing, the guidelines for the final status: two states according to the 1967 borders, with agreed-upon border changes; or full civil rights for all in a bi-national state − whatever comes first, whatever will be agreed upon by the leaders of both peoples. Two states without the settlements, or one state with them. This will halt the endless discussion focusing on the minute details, recognition or non-recognition, demilitarization or what-not, the details that never fail to evoke the devil. The details will be dealt with only after the groundbreaking peace agreement, not before.
Israel will go one step further, taking the crucial step of recognizing the historical injustice it has − and continues − to cause the Palestinian nation, and apologize for it. This recognition and apology can play a crucial role in the process, as it did in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that enabled the republic to forge a new path of justice.
The Palestinians, in return, will apologize for their murderous terror. The right of return will be recognized; its implementation will be controlled and agreed upon, in order not to create new refugees, Israelis this time. There will be no limits on return of refugees to the Palestinian state, if that be deemed the correct solution; or to the bi-national state, in an agreed-upon ratio with regard to expected Jewish immigrants. This too, might turn out to be far less dangerous than the old Israel ever imagined.
This speech could be a game changer: trading intimidation for promises, risks for chances, and threats for hope. This can only happen in one fell swoop, in a move by statesmen of historical standing. This change will surprise everyone − Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. At this point, it all seems no more than summer illusions. The days are as hot as ever and Kerry managed to produce another photo opportunity, derailing many minds. But is there any other possibility that could re-introduce hope?
Today’s Haaretz editorial displays the reality of Israel’s situation; an illusion of stability amidst growing international criticism of its apartheid against the Palestinians:
Concern over a possible international economic boycott of Israel has been growing. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians. At the beginning of the month she warned that if there was no progress in diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the European boycott of Israeli products would not be limited to goods produced in West Bank settlements, but that it would be applied to Israel proper as well.
At a speech in Eilat, Livni said that when it comes to economic issues, the discourse in Europe had also taken on an ideological turn, spawning increasing calls for a boycott of Israel. “It’s true,” she stated, “that it will begin with the settlements. But their problem is with Israel, which is perceived as a colonialist country, so it won’t stop with the settlements and will reach all of Israel.”
In Friday’s Haaretz, Yossi Verter reported that the relevant government ministries had recently received disturbing news. Major banks in Europe with operations around the world have been exploring the possibility of barring loans to Israeli companies that have a business or economic link with the occupied territories. According to the information received, these banks’ investment committees have been considering recommending barring their institutions from providing loans, or any other assistance, to Israeli companies that manufacture, build or conduct commerce in the territories, or to banks that provide mortgage lending or loans to builders or buyers of housing in the territories.
Although the recommendations have been rejected for the time being − after an Israeli lobbying campaign that came against the backdrop of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic initiative in the region − the proposal will continue to hover over Israel.
The magnitude of the danger this poses to the Israeli economy is hard to overstate. A European economic boycott of those with any connection to the occupied territories would be very broad. And Livni is warning that it would spread way beyond that. Even at this point, the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) has chalked up a not-inconsiderable number of achievements.
As a result, Israel is facing its moment of truth. Is it prepared to pay a steep economic price for its continued occupation of the West Bank and for its diplomatic inaction? Is it ready to pay the price of the government’s refusal to work for the establishment of a Palestinian state, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed back in 2009, with the economic implications that such a boycott entails?
The need for new, courageous and steadfast policy does not stem solely from the threatened economic damage. The diplomatic and moral price that Israel is paying for the continued occupation is high enough, but now − with Europe talking about stiffening its economic stance − the price that Israel is due to pay becomes substantial and tangible. Israel has only one conclusion to draw from this: To exercise a genuine readiness to end the occupation and reach an agreement, before this major threat becomes a reality.
UPDATE: Haaretz writer Gideon Levy today also calls for a boycott of his country:
Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.
A contradiction in terms? We have considered the alternatives. A boycott is the least of all evils, and it could produce historic benefits. It is the least violent of the options and the one least likely to result in bloodshed. It would be painful like the others, but the others would be worse.
On the assumption that the current status quo cannot continue forever, it is the most reasonable option to convince Israel to change. Its effectiveness has already been proven. More and more Israelis have become concerned recently about the threat of the boycott. When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warns about it spreading and calls as a result for the diplomatic deadlock to be broken, she provides proof of the need for a boycott. She and others are therefore joining the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. Welcome to the club.
The change won’t come from within. That has been clear for a long time. As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation, or at least don’t make the connection between cause and effect, they have no incentive to bring it to an end. And why should the average resident of Tel Aviv be bothered by what is happening in the West Bank city of Jenin or Rafah in the Gaza Strip? Those places are far away and not particularly interesting. As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing.
It’s anti-Semitism, we say. The whole world’s against us and we are not the ones responsible for its attitude toward us. And besides that, despite everything, the English singer Cliff Richard came to perform here. Most Israeli public opinion is divorced from reality − the reality in the territories and abroad. And there are those who are seeing to it that this dangerous disconnect is maintained. Along with the dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinians and the Arabs, people here are too brainwashed with nationalism to come to their senses.
Change will only come from the outside. No one − this writer included, of course − wants another cycle of bloodshed. A non-violent popular Palestinian uprising is one option, but it is doubtful that will happen anytime soon. And then there’s American diplomatic pressure and the European economic boycott. But the United States won’t apply pressure. If the Obama administration hasn’t done it, no American administration will. And then there’s Europe. Justice Minister Livni said that the discourse in Europe has become ideological. She knows what she’s talking about. She also said that a European boycott would not stop at products made in West Bank settlements.
There’s no reason it should. The distinction between products from the occupation and Israeli products is an artificial creation. It’s not the settlers who are the primary culprits but rather those who cultivate their existence. All of Israel is immersed in the settlement enterprise, so all of Israel must take responsibility for it and pay the price for it. There is no one unaffected by the occupation, including those who fancy looking the other way and steering clear of it. We are all settlers.
Economic boycott was proven effective in South Africa. When the apartheid regime’s business community approached the country’s leadership saying that the prevailing circumstances could not continue, the die was cast. The uprising, the stature of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk, the boycott of South African sports and the country’s diplomatic isolation also contributed of course to the fall of the odious regime. But the tone was set by the business community.
And it can happen here too. Israel’s economy will not withstand a boycott. It is true that at the beginning it will enhance the sense of victimhood, isolationism and nationalism, but not in the long run. It could result in a major change in attitude. When the business community approaches the government, the government will listen and also perhaps act. When the damage is to every citizen’s pocketbook, more Israelis will ask themselves, maybe for the first time, what it’s all about and why it’s happening.
It’s difficult and painful, almost impossibly so, for an Israeli who has lived his whole life here, who has not boycotted it, who has never considered emigrating and feels connected to this country with all his being, to call for such a boycott. I have never done so. I have understood what motivated the boycott and was able to provide justification for such motives. But I never preached for others to take such a step. However, with Israel getting itself into another round of deep stalemate, both diplomatic and ideological, the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.
One day the Palestinian people will rise up against their occupiers. I hope this day comes soon.
It’s true that this scenario seems unrealistic right now. The Palestinians are still bleeding from the second intifada, which only brought disaster upon them (and the Israelis). They are divided and torn, with no real leadership and lacking a fighting spirit, and the world has tired of their distress. The Israeli occupation seems as strong and established as ever, the settlements are growing, and the military is in complete control, with all the world’s governments silent and indifferent.
On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that this scenario will not materialize. To our south, the Egyptian people are struggling over the nature of their regime, in a way that can only inspire awe. To the north, the Syrian people are also doing this, albeit in a much crueler fashion. Could it be that only the Palestinian people will forever bow their heads, submissively and obediently, to the Israeli jackboot? Don’t make the minister of history laugh.
The regimes against which most of the Arab nations are rebelling were generally less brutal than the regime of the Israeli occupation. They were also less corrupt, in the broad sense of the word. Most did not take over the lives of their subjects day and night, did not so drastically restrict their movement and freedom, did not systematically abuse and humiliate them in the manner of the Israeli regime. Moreover, they were not foreign regimes.
Therefore, the events at Tahrir Square will surely be replicated one day in Ramallah’s Manara Square. The masses will flood the Unknown Soldier’s Square in Gaza, push into Police Square in Hebron and storm all the checkpoints along their way. It is hard now to imagine it happening, but it is even more difficult to imagine that it will not.
From Jenin to Rafah, they are enviously watching the wonders of Tahrir Square. Can anyone seriously think these scenes and this spirit will not affect Balata? Not sweep through Jabalya? The first is under Israeli rule, while the other is supposedly controlled by Hamas, and yet residents of the two places cannot even meet with each other. How much longer will they accept this?
Yes, it will happen one day. The masses will rise up against the settlements and checkpoints, against the army barracks and the prisons. And at that point, the Israeli Arabs will no longer stand idly by. They are also watching what’s happening at Tahrir Square and also realize they deserve a different regime and a different country.
It seems to happen when you least expect it. No Military Intelligence report will predict it, and no Shin Bet field coordinator will warn about it. The defense minister will act shocked, the prime minister will convene urgent consultations, and the finance minister will post something on Facebook. The president of the United States will call for calm, and who knows, maybe will send a special envoy. The world’s most powerful and especially most moral military will try to restore order, but the new order will assert its control over the army as well.
As with other unjust and evil regimes, which are always destined to fall, this regime also will fall – it’s just not clear when and how. Sometimes these regimes fall in the wake of terrible bloodshed, as in Syria, and sometimes they fall on their own, like a tall tree whose trunk has rotted, as happened in the Soviet Union, South Africa and Eastern Europe. One day it will happen here, too; there is no other way.
It would be best that this day come soon; too bad it hasn’t come yet. The Israeli public, which didn’t know how to end its occupation regime on its own, will also act surprised, and offended. Again they will say that “there’s no partner,” that “they’re like animals,” but no one will take these statements seriously. Israel will again play the victim, but few will be able to identify with it anymore.
Why is it best that this happens soon? Because as time passes, the damage and rage accumulate. Because there is no chance that Israel will end the occupation voluntarily. Because justice cries out for it to happen. Because whether the solution is one state or two, an Israel that isn’t an occupier, that is just and egalitarian, will be a different and infinitely better place to live.