Archive for the Life in the Holy Land Category

The Wages of Hubris and Vengeance

Posted in Global Order, Life in the Holy Land on June 8, 2009 by CjH

The Future of Israel and the Decline of the American Empire

By Arno J. Mayer

Israel is in the grip of a kind of collective schizophrenia. Not only its governors but the majority of its Jewish population have delusions of both grandeur and persecution, making for a distortion of reality and inconsistent behavior. Israeli Jews see and represent themselves as a chosen people and part of a superior Western civilization. They consider themselves more cerebral, reasonable, moral, and dynamic than Arabs and Muslims generally, and Palestinians in particular. At the same time they feel themselves to be the ultimate incarnation of the Jewish people’s unique suffering through the ages, still subject to constant insecurity and defenselessness in the face of ever-threatening extreme and unmerited punishment.

Such a psyche leads to hubris and vengefulness, the latter a response to the perpetual Jewish torment said to have culminated, as if by a directive purpose, in the Holocaust. Remembering the Shoah is Israel’s Eleventh Commandment and central to the nation’s civil religion and Weltanschauung. Family, school, synagogue, and official culture propagate its prescriptive narrative, decontextualized and surfeited with ethnocentrism. The re-memorizing of victimization is ritualized on Yom Ha Shoah and institutionalized by Yad Vashem.

Israel uses the Holocaust to conjure the specter of a timeless existential peril, in turn used to justify its warfare state and unbending diplomacy. Forever posing as the impossibly vulnerable Biblical David braving the Islamic Goliath, Israel insists all its cross-border wars and punitive operations are strictly defensive, preventive, or preemptive. Yet its leaders, many of them retired senior officers of the armed forces and intelligence services, attribute the exploits of the military to the advanced weapons, exemplary strategists, and uniquely principled citizen soldiers of the country’s formidable “Defense Forces,” one of the world’s mightiest fighting machines.

This self-congratulation passes over the powerlessness of the enemy “other” while it vastly exaggerates Israel’s innate strength to the point of impairing judgment and action. Without the enormous and practically unconditional financial, military, and diplomatic support of the United States and European Union, Israel would be an unexceptional small Middle Eastern nation-state, not an anomalous regional superpower. Even with this truly uncommon foreign backing (not to mention that of the global diaspora), the Jewish state scores only pyrrhic victories, judging by its failure to significantly enhance its strategic and political position in the Greater Middle East—except for the time gained to further consolidate and expand its fiercely contested “facts on the ground” in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan.

Although its leaders avoid saying so in public, Israel does not want peace, or a permanent comprehensive settlement, except on its own terms. They do not dare spell these out publicly, as they presume the enemy’s unconditional surrender, even enduring submission. Instead the Palestinians continue to be blamed for a chronic state of war that entails Israel’s continuing self-endangerment and militarization. This policy’s underlying strategic premise is the need to prevent any significant change in the West Asian balance of power.

But there is possibly another less delusional reason for their spurning accommodation and negotiation: because of their history of exile and want of political self-rule, Jews and their sages may well be insufficiently mindful of the theory and practice of sovereign statecraft. Admittedly, after 1945 the leaders of many of the new states of the post-colonial worlds were equally benighted. Unlike most of them, however, Israel’s political class and thinkers prize their deep connection with the West, including its philosophic and intellectual heritage, to the point of putting admission to the European Union ahead of rapprochement with the Arab/Muslim world. Yet they seem not to be conversant with the fundamental ideas of the likes of Machiavelli and Clausewitz. Respectively theorists of politics and war, both emphatically propound moderation over unrestraint. Machiavelli puts virtù at the center of his formula for the use of power and force. He does not, however, construe it as a moral principle—as virtue—but as a prescript for prudence, flexibility, and a sense of sober limits in power politics.

Clausewitz theorizes limited war for well-defined and negotiable objectives, the disposition for compromise varying in inverse ratio to the victor’s aims and demands. He cautions above all against “absolute” war in which intellect, reason, and judgment are cast aside. Although he and Machiavelli take account of the interpenetration of domestic and international politics, both conceive them as two distinct spheres. In Israel, domestic politics prevails, with little concern for the reason of international politics.

These insights are particularly relevant for small states. But blinded by their successful defiance of limits and laws, the leaders of Israel take their country of seven million people (over 20 percent of them non-Jewish, mostly Arabs) to be a great power by dint of its outsized armed forces and arms industry. They deceive themselves by assuming the Western world’s support for its military hypertrophy is irreversible. Perverting virtù they launch nearly absolute military expeditions against the radical Palestinian resistance. They also envisage striking resurgent Iran with the most modern American-made and -financed aircraft operated by American-certified Israeli pilots. Nor does Tel Aviv hesitate to send military, technical, and covert “intelligence” missions, as well as weapons, to scores of nations in the Middle East, ex-Soviet sphere, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, not infrequently in concert with Washington.

State terror is all but integral to the latest weapons and tactics with which Israel’s forces engage the Palestinian resistance fighters. Of course the latter also resort to terror, the hallmark of asymmetrical warfare. But it is Israel that sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind. A vicious, endless cycle of vengeance, driven by the clashes of Israel’s overconfident, sophisticated, and regular military forces with crude and irregular paramilitary forces, further intensifies the distrust between Israelis and Palestinians, including Israeli Arabs, most of them Muslim. Though intended to break the will of the armed militias by inflicting unbearable pain on the host society, as in Lebanon and Gaza, the collateral damage of Israel’s campaigns of “shock and awe” only serve to fire the avenging fury of the powerless.

Since Israel’s foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation has been Zionism’s “great sin of omission” (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.

Despite the recent ingloriousness of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Israel’s ruling and governing class continues to stand imperious. Yet evidence that the country’s military is increasingly ill-adapted to fight today’s decentralized irregular warfare mounts, while its foreign policy is increasingly incoherent and hostage to the hidebound partisan politics of competing intransigence. Geopolitically unsteady, its relation to Washington is battered by the same heavy winds now buffeting the center and periphery of the American empire.

Even so, emboldened by cutting-edge conventional and unconventional weapons, the governors of Israel, contemptuous of the minuscule and comatose left opposition in the Knesset and the country at large, vow to hold on to most of the archipelago of settlements and all of Jerusalem. They pay lip service to the two-state solution, but all they are prepared to concede to the Palestinians is a cramped pseudo-state with minimal sovereignty, with Gaza severed from the West Bank. If pressed they might agree to a 30-mile tunnel under sovereign Israeli land to establish an artificial contiguity between fragmented West Bank and fenced-in Gaza Strip. Yet they mean to control all land and maritime borders as well as the airspace and electromagnetic frequencies.

Meanwhile Israel continues to play on the internecine divisions of the Palestinian nation and the discords in the Arab-Muslim world. Its leaders dread nothing more than a reconciliation of the two principal Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah; a Palestinian unity government; and an entente cordiale of the Arab states whose peace proposal, initiated by Saudi Arabia in 2002, they consider fraught with doom. The latest spirit of darkness is non-Arab Shi’ite Iran. Should Tehran’s political power and ideological sway strike fear into the so-called moderate Arab states, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, these might all rally around the treacherous Arab peace overture. Such a turn would most likely drive Iran to step up its support of radical political Islam throughout the Greater Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas throughout Palestine, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Israel responds only with the usual truculence, it will continue to navigate dangerously between the ever more insecure and disoriented anciens régimes of the Arab/Muslim world and an intensifying political unrest whose impulses are both secular and religious.

While the country is fixated on national security—Iran being decried as the latest, and imminent, existential threat—elsewhere Israel is widely perceived to be rapidly eroding what remains of its singular moral capital and international prestige. There are more and more calls for boycotts, embargoes, divestments, sanctions, and prosecutions, while the media are finally giving more space and time to analytic and critical voices. To dismiss or denounce this growing censure of Israel’s policies as an expression of resurgent age-old anti-Semitism—allegedly encouraged and legitimated by the ravings of self-hating Jews—is not to see the forest for the trees. The same holds for Israel’s leaders’ disposition to stigmatize major foreign adversary leaders—Nasser, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad—as Hitler redivivus.

But the old reflexes remain, and the prospect of a nuclear and Islamist Iran said to be bent on regional hegemony keeps them quick. With a population of 70 million and some 15 percent of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves, Iran is, indeed, a state to reckon with: it has a long history, a strong national consciousness, and a swelling educated middle class. Its two-stage, solid-fueled missiles are capable of carrying conventional and nonconventional warheads a distance of between 930 and 1,200 miles.

Instead of joining those who seek diplomatic ways to refigure the balance of regional power, Israel advocates an all-out economic embargo of Iran backed by the threat of air strikes. The hardliners’ aim: to trigger a regime change by way of a color revolution covertly fomented by the U.S. and Israel. They warn that Tel Aviv will make good on this threat of aerial assaults on Iran’s nuclear sites to delay or prevent it from developing the ultimate weapon. Even respected politicians and public intellectuals swear that in extremis Israel will strike without approval from Washington, confident the U.S. will have no alternative but to provide military and diplomatic cover, all the more so now that Israel can use America’s five military bases in the Holy Land as blackmail.

In March 2009, Barack Obama and Shimon Peres saluted the Iranian people and government on the occasion of Noruz, the start of the Persian new year. Obama stressed the “common humanity that binds us together” and insisted it was in the interest of both countries that “Iran should take its rightful place in the community of nations.” Peres struck a radically different note. He urged Iranians to reclaim their “worthy place among the nations of the enlightened world” as he laid out the conditions in their country: “There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and general discontent. You cannot feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant.” Iran’s children suffer only because “a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path.” Rather than heed President Ahmadinejad, who in 2006 questioned the Holocaust, the citizenry should “topple these leaders…who do not serve the people.” Besides, while “they are destroying their [own] people, they won’t destroy us.”

The accusations are rich. Even now the independence of the Israeli judiciary is compromised, secularism is losing ground, xenophobia is rampant, and, still and always, the Palestinian minority is reduced to second-class citizenship. In brandishing the Iranian threat, Israel’s faction-ridden but consensual political class merely perpetuates its rule by fear, which, according to Montesquieu, sows the seeds of despotism.

Israelis must ask themselves whether there is a point beyond which the Zionist quest becomes self-defeatingly perilous, corrupting, and degrading. Although the Judeocide marks the nadir of the history of the Jewish people, it is not its defining moment and experience. The mythologized millennial exile of the Jewish people was anything but an unrelenting dark age: there was a vital Jewish life before the Shoah, and it resumed full force after 1945, in both Israel and the diaspora. It is neither to profane the Holocaust nor to desecrate the memory of its 5 to 6 million victims to recall their membership in a vast confederation of over 70 million killed during World War Two, some 45 million of them civilians. It is simply to point up that the Jewish catastrophe was inextricably tied into the most murderous and cruel war in the history of humanity, a war uniquely ferocious because of its crusading furies, and not because of a divine narrative about the Jews.

The Greater Middle East is a seething cauldron of domestic and international conflicts. All the nations of this perennially contested geopolitical space will have to adjust to the emergence of a multipolar world system and the attendant waning of the American empire. This great and accelerating change in international politics coincides with the breakneck globalization of economics, finance, and science, which subverts national economies while simultaneously fostering a new mercantilism whose terms are set by a new concert of Great Powers.

Israel’s leaders are at a crossroads: either they stick to their guns and are forced into a reconfigured geopolitical reality they cannot outwit or overmaster, or they decide of their own accord to temper their hubris and rein in their propensity to vengeance. What should they choose at a moment when Israeli society is facing a decline in Jewish immigration, a rise in Jewish and Israeli emigration, and an upturn in draft dodging  (to say nothing of how this disenchantment may be affecting the steep rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the diaspora)?

To begin, Israel’s governors and public intellectuals should rethink the fundamental premises, objectives, and strategies of the policies followed since 1948. They might do well to recall one of Theodor Herzl’s earliest ideas: in exchange for a Jewish commonwealth serving as “an outpost of civilization against barbarism” in Palestine, which was considered a link in Europe’s “rampart against Asia,” the Great Powers would guarantee its existence “as a neutral state.” To be sure, even for most Israeli Jews the crass orientalism of this vision is out of season. But the notion of a neutral state ought not to be dismissed lightly. The present garrison state is not about to become, as Herzl envisioned, “a light unto the nations”—let alone the diaspora.

Next, they might admit to themselves that small nations do not have the prerogative to speak loudly and carry a big stick, and that they keep tempting fate by stubbornly staying Israel’s nuclear course. This defiance cannot help but increase the perils of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and Central Asia from which Israel will not be immune. Betting a tiny country’s security and survival on a momentary regional head start in state-of-the-art warheads, aircraft, missiles, unmanned drones, cluster bombs, and cyber weapons is, again, delusional. Inevitably Iran and other states will challenge its imperiousness, in the process exposing the entire region to the unthinkable doctrine of mutually assured destruction premised on both attacker and defender having a fail-safe deterrent in the form of a second-strike nuclear or chemical-biological capability. Although Tehran may still lack an effective missile air defense system, it has test-fired high-speed missiles whose range puts it within striking distance of Israel. But Iran has two additional trumps: a foothold near the northern entrance to the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the world’s single most vital energy chokepoint; and a critical geopolitical proximity to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Rather than lead the regional nuclear and biological charge, Israel should issue a call for a nuclear-free Middle East along with the announcement of a significant reduction of its own outsized atomic arsenal and armaments industry, which are both counterproductive and provocative. Tangible and symbolic, such a military cutback could be paired with a signal that Israel is prepared to seriously discuss the Palestinian refugee issue. This might take the form of expressing remorse and assuming partial moral responsibility for the exodus of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and of mounting an international effort to make amends in the form of reparations in line with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (Article 11).

In the aftermath of the bloody and destructive invasion a donors’ conference raised some $4.5 billion for the relief and reconstruction of Gaza. While the bulk of the aid was pledged by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, the U. S. committed $900 million for the Palestinian Authority and $300 million for relief in Gaza. What if these monies had been raised earlier? Had they gone to reparations, deployed as a confidence-building measure, the region might have been spared the politically toxic and humanly lethal Lebanon and Gaza incursions.

Overtures of this nature, seconded by other nations, might be preliminary steps to Israel’s at long last specifying base lines for a negotiated agreement on security, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, holy places, and water resources. Such a turnaround and agenda would spell the renunciation of the secular and religious diehards’ inveterate reach for the Jordan River and reliance on the strategy of the Iron Wall. To seek a conciliation and accommodation with the restive Palestinian political class, edgy Arab regimes, and turbulent Islamic world is to forsake the Joshua-like martial and closed Zionism of Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Begin, Netanyahu, and Barak. It would call for and make possible a recovery of the repressed Isaiah-like humanist and open Zionism of Ahad Haam, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Ernst Simon, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz for either two demilitarized states or a single bi-national state for two peoples with open borders, the separation of state and religion, universal civil and social rights, and ecumenically informed cultural reciprocity.

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at dusk for political actors as well as philosophers. Israel’s leaders, reflecting more critically on Herzl’s belief in the need for an imperial patron, must grasp the implications of the incipient decline of the American empire for Israel’s future. Paradoxically the waning of Washington’s hegemony in the Greater Middle East is likely to chasten Israel’s pride and give enlightened and cosmopolitan Zionism a new if difficult lease on life. But insofar as the U.S. fights its decline tooth and nail, Israel’s power elite is also more likely to remain implacable, at all risks and hazards for their own country and the diaspora.


Boycott Begins to Bite at Companies Supporting Israel’s Military Occupation of Palestine

Posted in Life in the Holy Land, Welcome to The Machine on May 4, 2009 by CjH

By Nadia Hijab, CounterPunch

On May 4, protesters will greet Motorola shareholders, already disgruntled by the company’s losses, as they arrive for their annual meeting at the Rosemont Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

The protest, organized by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, is part of a drive to “Hang Up On Motorola” until it ends sales of communications and other products that support Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land.

Inside the meeting, the Presbyterian, United Methodist and other churches will urge shareholders to support their resolution, which calls for corporate standards grounded in international law. Doing the right thing could also reduce the risk of “consumer boycotts, divestment campaigns and lawsuits.”

Although Motorola executives deny it, such risks must have played a part in their decision to sell the department making bomb fuses shortly after Human Rights Watch teams found shrapnel with Motorola serial numbers at some of the civilian sites bombed by Israel in its December-January assault on Gaza.

 The US protests are part of a growing global movement that has taken international law into its own hands because governments have not. And, especially since the attacks on Gaza, the boycotts have been biting. There are three reasons why.

First, boycotts enable ordinary citizens to take direct action. For instance, the New York group Adalah decided to target diamond merchant Lev Leviev, whose profits are plowed into colonizing the West Bank. During the Christmas season, they sing carols with the words creatively altered to urge shoppers to boycott his Madison Avenue store.

The British group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine teamed up with Adalah NY and others to exert public pressure on the British government regarding Leviev. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv recently cancelled plans to rent premises from Leviev’s company Africa-Israel.

There are other results. Activists in Britain have targeted the supermarket chain Tesco to stop the sales of Israeli goods produced in settlements. In a video of one such action — over 38,000 YouTube views to date — Welsh activists load up a trolley with settlement products and push it out of the shop without paying.

All the while, they calmly explain to the camera just what they are doing and why. They talk away as they pour red paint over the produce, and as British Bobbies quietly lead them away to a police van.

The result of such consumer boycotts? A fifth of Israeli producers have reported a drop in demand since the assault on Gaza, particularly in Britain and Scandinavia.

The second reason boycotts are more effective is the visible role of Jewish human rights advocates, making it harder for Israel to argue that these actions are anti-Semitic.

For example, British architect Abe Hayeem, an Iraqi Jew, describes in a passionate column in The Guardian exactly how Leviev tramples on Palestinian rights, and warns Israeli architects involved in settlements that they will be held to account by their international peers.

In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace has led an ongoing campaign to stop Caterpillar from selling bulldozers to Israel, which militarizes them and uses them in home demolitions and building the separation wall.

The third, key, reason for the growing success of this global movement is the determined leadership of Palestinian civil society. The spark was lit at the world conference against racism in Durban in 2001. In 2004, Palestinian civil society launched an academic and cultural boycott that is having an impact.

In 2005, over 170 Palestinian civil society coalitions, organizations, and unions, from the occupied territories, within Israel, and in exile issued a formal call for an international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) until Israel abides by international law. The call sets out clear goals for the movement and provides a framework for action.

In November 2008, Palestinian NGOs helped convene an international BDS conference in Bilbao, Spain, to adopt common actions. This launched a “Derail Veolia” campaign. That French multinational corporation, together with another French company, Alstom, is building a light railway linking East Jerusalem to illegal settlements.

The light rail project was cited by the Swedish national pension fund in its decision to exclude Alstom from its $15 billion portfolio, and by the Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council in its decision not to consider further Veolia’s bid for a $1.9 billion waste improvement plan. There were active grassroots campaigns in both areas.

Other hits: Veolia lost the contract to operate the city of Stockholm subway and an urban network in Bordeaux. Although these were reportedly “business decisions” there were also activist campaigns in both places. The Galway city council in Ireland decided to follow Stockholm’s example. Meanwhile, Connex, the company that is supposed to operate the light rail, is being targeted by activists in Australia.

The “Derail Veolia” campaign has been the movement’s biggest success to date. Veolia and its subsidiaries are estimated to have lost as much as $7.5 billion. As one of the BDS movement leaders, Omar Barghouti, put it, “When companies start to lose money, then they listen.” Perhaps governments will too.

Empire and Agency

Posted in Life in the Holy Land, Welcome to The Machine on April 14, 2009 by CjH

A review of Patrick Tyler’s A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East.

By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Dissident Voice

United States Middle East policy has been defined since World War II by the tension between two competing concerns: the strategic interests which require good relations with Arab-Muslim states, and domestic political imperatives which demand unquestioning allegiance to Israel. That the US interest in the region’s energy resources has remained consistent, as well as its support for Israel, leads some to conclude that somehow the two are complementary. They aren’t. US President Harry S. Truman recognized the state of Israel the day of its founding over the strenuous objections of his State Department in order to court the Jewish vote and, more significantly, Jewish money for his re-election campaign. Every president since – with the exception of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, who saw no cause to feign balance – has sought to address this tension with attempts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. All these efforts have so far failed. A study of US policy in the region over the decades, then, is inevitably a study of the causes of these failures. While nowhere in his invaluable diplomatic history of eight presidencies, A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East, does Patrick E. Tyler use the phrase “the Israel lobby,” it nevertheless looms largest among the reasons why all these efforts have foundered. With the US Congress long since claimed by the lobby, the executive branch is where most of these battles have played out.

The coherence and continuity imputed to US policy in the region by analysts owes more to broad-brush theorizing than to a careful appraisal of the contingent realities that have shaped it. The structural determinism of these accounts overlooks the ad hoc nature of the policies and brushes over the discernible personal stamps of key individuals. Tyler’s indispensable corrective begins with Dwight D. Eisenhower, among whose priorities the Middle East never ranked high until the Suez crisis in 1956. Like Truman he resented Zionist influence on the US government, but whereas the former had opted for a politically expedient accommodation, Eisenhower refused to compromise. Both Eisenhower and his CIA Director Allan Dulles liked Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who they saw as an anti-communist modernizer. They aided his consolidation of power. The Israeli government resented this and even resorted to terrorism at one point to wean away the US.

But where violence failed, influence proved decisive. The Israel lobby, along with the anti-China and cotton lobbies, blocked promised funding for the Aswan Dam, and the administration’s subsequent refusal to sell arms to Egypt led Nasser to turn to the Soviets for assistance. Nevertheless when Israel, Britain and France launched their invasion in 1956, Eisenhower considered intervening militarily to defend Egypt. He feared this unilateral act of aggression would render irrelevant the new UN-led world order which the US was promulgating. When his proposal to discipline Israel met with resistance in Congress he took the case directly to the American public, thereby neutralizing the lobby’s pressure.

There was a marked change in US policy with the ascension of Lyndon Johnson who ushered in a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. A convert to Zionism out of political expedience, Johnson was quick to revoke the restrictions Kennedy had been trying to impose on Israel’s nuclear program. Kennedy had kept Israel at a wary distance and opted for conciliation with Arabs. In contrast, writes Tyler, Johnson “had put himself in the service of Israel like no other previous president,” deferring judgment on key occasions to his coterie of informal Jewish advisers which included among others a former member of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun. Unlike Eisenhower, Johnson would accept Israel’s conquests during the 1967 war, ignoring the judgment of his own cabinet, and would thereby permanently undermine the UN charter.

It was not until Richard Nixon’s presidency however that the US emphatically committed itself to arming Israel. It was as much a cynical ploy on Nixon’s part to deflect pressure from the Watergate investigations as it was a result of his National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s machinations which on occasion bordered on the treasonous. Kissinger had advanced his career by undercutting a nascent peace plan by Secretary of State William Rogers who, like Nixon, worried that Israeli intransigence was undermining US oil security. During the 1973 war when Nixon and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger argued that the US should only be obliged to defend Israel, not its conquests, Kissinger dismissed the distinction as irrelevant “fine tuning” and went on to do things which, as Tyler euphemistically puts it, raise “constitutional questions.” First, Kissinger whose commitment to the Zionist cause formed “the bedrock of [his] view of the Middle East,” raised a false alarm that other Arab armies were about to join the war against Israel. He then fomented a confrontation with the Soviets in order to buy Israel more time; he contravened Nixon’s orders for engaging the Soviets in a joint ceasefire proposal; he travelled to Israel and encouraged the Israelis to resist Nixon’s pressure and breach the ceasefire in order to finish off Egypt’s encircled Third Army; finally, he lied to Nixon about Soviet intentions and about the extent of domestic pressure in order to secure arms shipments to Israel as a response to this “Russian treachery.” Tyler concludes that Kissinger maneuvered “as if he were a partisan for Israel’s war aims” and “his actions throughout the crisis added up to a focused advocacy more for Israel’s strategic goals than for those of the United States.”

Tyler skips over the Ford administration which was uneventful except for the proposal to “reassess” the US relationship with Israel. Ford climbed down after receiving a letter drafted by the Israeli lobby group AIPAC to which 76 senators had signed their names. Jimmy Carter was likewise challenged by the lobby when he became the first US president to broach the idea of a Palestinian “homeland.” However, he proved a more formidable adversary. Though he occasionally ceded ground, through sheer tenacity he also managed to extract concessions from the Israelis. The conviction with which Carter threatened to cut funding in response to Israel’s 1978 invasion of Lebanon led Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to exclaim “It’s over” before ordering a withdrawal. In stormy sessions with Begin, according to Moshe Dayan, Carter delivered his indictments which “could not have been expressed in a more hostile form.” (So “disgusted” was Carter with Begin’s tactics that he said he would have asked Begin to “get the hell out” had he not been a guest.) It was this same tenacity that would eventually allow him to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied Egyptian Sinai peninsula, despite Begin’s reluctance and the opposition of the lobby. Carter’s wish for a comprehensive Middle East peace would not come to fruition as a result of his failure to win re-election in 1980.

Ronald Reagan began his presidency on a firmly pro-Israel footing, but he found his attempts at strategic cooperation with Israel repeatedly frustrated by an intransigent Begin who he felt always ignored the US national interest. This tension was exploited by Reagan’s secretary of state Alexander Haig who would frequently leverage Israeli power in his bureaucratic struggle against the president and the administration Realists (Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, and National Security Advisor William Clark). Haig blocked Weinberger and Bush’s attempts to penalize Israel for its attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor. He also gave the green light to Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for his plan to reshape the Middle East by invading Lebanon. Reagan ignored the Realists’ advice to sanction Israel and sided with the neoconservatives who argued that the invasion benefited the US by sending a message to the “Soviet-backed radical Arab front.” The Realists on the other hand maintained that “Israeli militarism with American arms … was hurting America’s image in the Middle East” making it harder “to build a strong anti-Soviet alliance.”

The US engagement in Lebanon ended in carnage with the retaliatory bombings of its embassy and Marines barracks in Beirut after its forces openly joined the conflict on the rightist Phalange’s side. To the neocons’ great consternation, Reagan decided to withdraw against their advice. The administration also became the site of contest for the two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Israel, both vying for the status of “strategic asset,” which culminated in the bizarre Iran-Contra affair.

The relationship between the US and Israel reached its nadir under the George H.W. Bush administration, whose secretary of state James Baker riled many of its supporters by telling them bluntly to “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel.” On another occasion, he threatened to expel the Israeli ambassador. In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, Bush and Baker initiated a peace process in Madrid which would end prematurely with Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. Bush’s withholding of loan guarantees in order to force Israel to freeze settlement construction and his decision to appeal directly to the people in the face of lobby pressure would prove to be his epitaph. After claiming credit for a largely Norwegian effort at peacemaking in order to burnish his credentials as a statesman, Clinton did little to hold Israel to its promises. Indeed, he allowed himself to be pushed around by both Israeli prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak (with the former at one point trying to involve Clinton in an assassination conspiracy against Palestinian resistance leaders). His advisers were former lobbyists for Israel who, according to one member of his negotiating team, all too often served as “Israel’s lawyers.” He only returned to the issue with some conviction in the waning days of his administration, and when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat refused the unreasonable Israeli offer that he was trying to impose on him, he would join the Israelis in blaming Arafat. Worse, he made a point to poison the Palestinian well with the incoming George W. Bush administration by blaming all on Arafat, who he called a “goddamn liar.” Before leaving office, Clinton also allowed himself to be what Tyler calls “duped and bribed” by people who were “closely connected to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad” to grant a pardon to the fugitive financier and Mossad asset Marc Rich (Barak intervened personally with Clinton on Richs’s behalf).

While much of the book benefits from extensive primary-source research including declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, there is a discernible decline in quality in the chapter dealing with the George W. Bush presidency. The only interesting new information that Tyler provides, based on eyewitness testimonies, are in the prologue. These include CIA Director George Tenet’s drunken tirade, while swimming in Saudi prince Bandar bin-Sultan’s pool, against the “assholes” in the Pentagon and the “crazies” in the Vice President’s office. “[T]he Jews,” he complained, referring to the administration neoconservatives, were scapegoating him for the war. In another scene we have Bush personally authorizing the torture of detainees by ordering the CIA to “Stick something up their ass!” The rest is a rather unremarkable account of the events leading up to war.

Despite its occasional flaws (mostly to do with Middle East history, which is not the book’s focus), A World of Trouble is the most important contribution to the debate over US foreign policy since professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and Jimmy Carter’s respective interventions. Painstaking research, intelligent analysis, incidental detail and a novelist’s eye for irony and narrative make it immensely readable despite its considerable length and grim subject matter. No student of US foreign policy or Middle East conflicts can afford to ignore the wealth of new information Tyler presents. The book is likely to prove an invaluable resource for those seeking to steer US policy in a less destructive direction. Unfortunately, many putative supporters of the Palestinian people have accepted the dubious proposition that Israel serves as a “strategic asset” for the US, or, as it were, its “aircraft carrier.” Tyler’s greatest contribution is to debunk this myth with copious evidence that proves this claim to be a minority view in the US establishment (propagated mostly by Likudniks such as Kissinger, Kirkpatrick and Haig). Indeed, policy makers have long seen the US Sixth Fleet as Israel’s “ultimate security guarantor.” Israel is a liability, and to continue to insist otherwise – whether it is out of the fear of the lobby’s reprisals, or to sustain materialist dogma – is to do the Palestinians a great disservice. Fortunately, as Tyler’s evidence if not his conclusions confirm, the political-strategic case for breaking with Israel is just as compelling as the moral one.

Israeli Military Doubles 60-Tonne Robot Bulldozer Force

Posted in Life in the Holy Land, Welcome to The Machine on April 14, 2009 by CjH

Jerusalem Post

The IDF Ground Forces Command plans to double the number of unmanned D9 armored bulldozers in the Engineering Corps arsenal after the vehicle provided exceptional results during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in January.

The unmanned version of the D9 bulldozer – called “Black Thunder” – was developed several years ago by the Engineering Corps and was only recently declassified.

“The unmanned D9 performed remarkably during Operation Cast Lead, clearing roads of mines and explosive devices,” explained one officer in the Ground Forces Command. “There was even one vehicle that was damaged, which demonstrates how it did its job since no one was injured.”

The Black Thunder looks like a regular D9 bulldozer but is equipped with a number of cameras that transmit images to the operator, who controls the vehicle with a wireless remote control. The unmanned D9 participated widely in Operation Cast Lead as well as in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

“The unmanned version is important since if there is a concern that an area is loaded with mines it can save lives,” the officer said, adding that in the event of a communications malfunction the vehicle can be turned into a manned vehicle and operated like a regular D9.

To Boycott Israel…or Not?

Posted in Life in the Holy Land on April 3, 2009 by CjH

Naomi Klein and Rabbi Arthur Waskow debate whether divestment will bring peace to the Middle East.

By Joel Bleifuss, In These Times
At the height of the war in Gaza, author Naomi Klein endorsed the campaign known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). A coalition of Palestinian groups founded the BDS movement on July 9, 2005, as a way for the international community to put pressure on Israel to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

In her syndicated column, Klein wrote, “It’s time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.”

Klein, author of the best selling books, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, has taken heat for her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Israel is always more emotionally difficult for me,” she told New Voices, a national Jewish student magazine, “I think mainly it’s because of the force of the reaction and the closeness [of the] reaction. It’s not a stranger that is upset about [what I write], it’s people in my family who write me long letters saying, ‘Oh, I hate you!’ ”

Similar strong feelings are on display at Hampshire College, which has been debating whether it should divest from companies that do business in Israel. Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine wants its college to divest from companies like Caterpillar, General Electric, Motorola and United Technologies. In response, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz has threatened to lead a divestment campaign against Hampshire College if the administration gives in to the students’ demands.

Is BDS the right response? Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a contributing editor of Ramparts and a former fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, says that the BDS campaign will not work. He maintains that significant differences exist between the political situation in apartheid-era South Africa and present-day Israel.

In 1969, Waskow began campaigning for a two-state peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. He is co-author of The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Currently, he is the director of the Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based organization that he describes as “a prophetic voice in Jewish, multi-religious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community.”

Recently, Klein and Waskow spoke with In These Times about the efficacy of the BDS strategy.

Naomi, won’t your BDS proposal strategy simply strengthen the position of Israeli nationalists, who will then be able to turn to moderates and say, “We are under attack!”

Naomi Klein: The hard right seems to be strengthening all on its own, if we judge by the results of the recent Israeli elections.

But I’ve noticed a change within Israel. I got quite a few e-mails from Israelis saying, “I’ve always opposed this, but I feel that it is the only option left.” I think that’s a reflection of the feeling of desperation among progressive Israelis who are watching their country move hard right and seeing the level of violence increase exponentially.

Arthur, you were an anti-apartheid activist who supported a BDS approach to South Africa. Are there similarities between the Bantustans, the small areas of South Africa that were under “independent” black rule, and the Occupied Territories?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow: There are similarities, but the BDS approach is not the way to bring about the change that is absolutely necessary.

The most important, and probably the only effective, change that can be brought about is a serious change in the behavior of the U.S. government. That means we need to engage in serious organizing within the United States.

Naomi has written about the failure of carrots in changing the way Israel has behaved so far, and I agree. One carrot the Israeli government has essentially ignored, with the help of the Bush administration, is the offer of the Arab League, led by a surprisingly creative King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It outlines a general peace treaty between Israel and all the Arab states, on the condition of a peace treaty being negotiated between Israel and a viable, sensible Palestinian state with perhaps some variations on the 1967 boundaries.

But the Israeli government of the last 10 years has been totally uninterested because it thought it could get away with de facto annexing more and more land of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

If the U.S. government had said, “Here’s the deal: the Arab League proposal is what we are after, and we will offer carrots and we will offer sticks, whatever is necessary to bring this about.” Then there would be very serious change, both within the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Real political change within the United States could come through an Abrahamic Alliance, an alliance between big chunks—though, of course, not all—of the Jewish community, the Muslim community, and the Christians.

Boycotts and divestment are not going to do it. I understand that they express a kind of personal purity—”not with my money you don’t”—but they won’t change U.S. policy, which is exactly what needs to be changed.

NK: It is not a question of personal purity. It’s a question of basic solidarity. A call for this tactic has come from coalitions of Palestinian groups representing a very wide spectrum of political parties, labor unions and community groups.

Interestingly, the country which has responded the most seriously to the BDS movement is South Africa, precisely because the parallels are seen most clearly in South Africa.

A lot of this criticism of the BDS movement has been: Why Israel? Why not Sri Lanka? And the point is that, according to basic left principles of solidarity, the tactics should be chosen by the oppressed communities themselves.

In terms of the ultimate solution and what that should be, BDS and Arthur’s calls for an Abrahamic Alliance are not incompatible goals. I think that really what we’re talking about is how you build pressure toward a resolution.

AW: But Naomi, something different is going on inside Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian society than what was going on within white South Africa. Leaving aside the fact that in Israel, about a fifth of the population with some voting power is Israeli Palestinians, within Jewish Israel there is a real internal split.

Even though during the last election Israelis moved to the hard right, a serious body of people is still working for a two-state solution. And the only force in the world that can deliver that is the United States government.

You’re right that many Palestinians have called for divestment, etc., but I disagree that the oppressed automatically get to decide their own tactics. For example, Hamas made a terrible ethical and practical political mistake by responding to the embargo and blockade on Gaza with rocket attacks on civilians in Israel.

I recognize that there had to be resistance, but there were nonviolent alternatives. There were beginning to be “ship-ins,” in the model of sit-ins. Small boats that had been certified as not carrying any weapons, began to cross the Mediterranean carrying medicine and food, especially baby food, to civilians in Gaza. The first couple got through, but then beginning with the massive attack on Gaza, the Israeli navy forced others back.

NK: They rammed one and may have fired shots at another.

AW: Yes. Now, the question is, what would have happened if the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, had said to Europeans and to Americans, “We welcome this vigorous, assertive, nonviolent resistance to the blockade. We beg for doctors and peaceniks and academics and everybody under the sun to start joining in and bringing these boats, and we appeal for pastors and priests and rabbis and imams to start coming in these boats.” In fact, there was a mass public welcome of the first boats that got through.

But Hamas did not choose that response. Rather they shot rockets into civilian neighborhoods, which is both ineffective and unethical.

NK: Let me clarify. I don’t believe any oppressed community deserves blind support for its tactics. But it’s precisely because there has been so much blanket criticism of any Palestinian armed resistance that I think there is an added responsibility to respect calls for nonviolent solidarity actions like BDS, which are the most effective tactics in the nonviolent arsenal.

AW: But the question is, “What will work?” And when you say what the tactics could be, I agree that sanctions are a thousand times better than shooting rockets at civilian neighborhoods, but they don’t work. The nonviolent tactic of the ship-ins was direct, visible, and could’ve become a massive event. It would’ve been as direct a challenge to the blockade as the sit-ins in the restaurants were to American segregation.

The sit-ins in the American South were extraordinary because people didn’t say, “Pass a new law to end segregation.” They said, “We ourselves are going to end segregation. We imagine the future without segregation, we’re going to do it, and then you all are going to have to decide what to do with us. Kill us or change the law.” So that was extraordinarily effective. For me, the question is, “How do you create that kind of change?”

The Presbyterians and a few other Protestant groups broached the question of divestment from Caterpillar, which was producing the bulldozers that were knocking down Palestinian houses. I told the Presbyterians, “This is a waste of time. What would work would be if you all decided that every Presbyterian Church in America was going to bring an Israeli and a Palestinian at the same time to lay out the Geneva Initiative for a two-state peace treaty and the Presbyterian Church was going to commit itself to lobbying for that with the Congress and the president.” That would’ve been incredibly effective, and still would be, if the churches and some Jews and some Muslims got together on this.

NK: I think those are wonderfully complementary strategies. This problem is going to take everything we’ve got. And that’s why I’m so resistant to taking such powerful tactics as BDS off the table at such a crucial moment. The U.S. government was hardly a world leader when it came to sanctions against South Africa. But when universities and municipalities joined the sanctions movement, it eventually forced the federal government to get with the program.

I support the BDS strategy for Israel because it will work again, and it will work because it cuts to the heart of something that is so important to so many Israelis. And that is the idea of normalcy, the idea that Israel is really an honorary adjunct to North America and Europe—even though it happens to be located in the Middle East.

At the moment, it is possible to lead a very comfortable, very secure, very cosmopolitan life in most parts of Israel—despite the fact that Israel is at war with neighbors. I don’t think Israel has a right to simultaneously rain bombs and missiles on Gaza, to attack Lebanon in 2006, to massively expand the settlements, and also have this state of normalcy within its borders. For justice to come, the status quo will have to first become uncomfortable.

When concerts are canceled in Tel Aviv, when tourists don’t come to Israel, then, I believe, many Israelis will start putting pressure on their political leaders to finally negotiate a lasting peace. So I don’t buy the argument that they’ll just feel isolated and become more right wing. The threat of isolation can be a very powerful tool for progressive change in a country like Israel.

Naomi, Helen Suzman, a white South African who was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, who died this past January, argued that economic sanctions against South Africa during apartheid had hurt the entire population, particularly the poor. Would not the same thing happen in the occupied territories?

NK: It is true that in South Africa it did hurt the entire population. And the call for sanctions was consciously made despite that fact. And that is why it is so extraordinary, that there has been such a widespread call from Palestinians despite the fact that they will also suffer under BDS.

But we can’t compare the kind of suffering Gazans are facing under the Israeli blockade and embargo to what Israelis would suffer if a BDS campaign were to get off the ground. We’re talking about people in Gaza lacking life-saving medicine, cooking oil and food, versus Israel losing some foreign investment, and not having concerts and some academic conferences. These are not in the same league.

AW: Naomi, you said you see them as complementary strategies, but in the real world, people have to decide what to put their energies into. Do we think that if the Presbyterian church is trying to put its energies into boycotts this time, not just of Caterpillar but of all Israeli society, that that’s going to be workable alongside of, and at the same time as, mobilizing Israeli and Palestinian voices simultaneously in those churches, and then those churches lobbying Congress on these solutions? I don’t believe it.

NK: That is what happened with South Africa. The BDS strategy personalizes the dispute. You follow the money at your own school, your own shopping habits, your own government, and extraordinarily lively debates ensue that are not just about the boycott strategy but are about why the boycott is happening. That’s happening right now at Hampshire College.

The boycott starts the debate, it brings teeth to it so you’re not just signing yet another statement that can be ignored. Or bringing together like-minded people to listen to another speaker or dialogue.

And that’s the dynamic that BDS promises. Just as in South Africa, where you had a lot of industry saying to the apartheid regime, “We can’t live with this any longer,” we would have that dynamic within Israel.

AW: But there is a huge difference between South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, the U.S. government was not pouring billions of dollars into the country. Whereas, in the case of Israel, the U.S. government is. That support seems to me to be far more the point.

The likelihood of Israelis saying, “Wait a minute, this is a serious problem,” is going to be much greater if the Obama administration says: “Here’s the deal. There’s going to be an emergency peace conference in the Middle East. It’s going to come out with a Palestinian state that’s really independent, not chopped up in little bits, and there will be a peace treaty with all the Arab states.” I can see the possibility of a whole new American outlook making peace in the Middle East.

NK: Once again, the question is how do we get to the point where the Obama administration feels the need to get tough and say, “Here’s the deal.” I don’t believe that mere dialogue will bring us there. I’m arguing that BDS is a fantastic movement-building tool precisely because it is a conversation starter; it ignites the debate. It makes the conflict personal in the same way as the amazing grassroots movement we had in the ’80s against South Africa did in the United States. It is only once those debates are raging that there will be the kind of bottom-up pressure on Obama that could lead to a real shift in U.S. policy.

AW: Yes, there needs to be a real life, day-by-day connection to making change happen. But from my point of view, if you could bring Muslims and Jews and Christians together, meeting each other, talking to each other, getting past the fear and stereotypes about each other, if you could get that happening, that would be a piece of the future the way the sit-ins were a piece of the future.

The way to build the movement in the United States is for the people who are here to build a movement among themselves. A big chunk of the unrepresented Jewish population in the United States—somewhere between half and two-thirds of it—agree that there needs to be a two-state solution. Their institutions either don’t agree or won’t do much about it.

Arthur, during the war on Gaza, J Street, which is a new “pro-peace, pro-Israel” group, posted an editorial on its website stating, “We recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong.”

In response, Noah Pollack, on the Commentary magazine blog, wrote, “It is time that thinking people start calling J Street what it actually is: an anti-Israeli group.” What is it about Israeli politics that makes it so difficult to discuss?

AW: Well of course Commentary would say that. But it’s not difficult to discuss. In fact, J Street has gone right on and continued speaking out.

Much more to the point, and much more upsetting, was that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote an op-ed in Forward condemning J Street, saying that J Street’s “words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive.” He represents, in theory, a million Jews. But it didn’t kill J Street.

You can’t do now what was done in the 1970s to the first American Jewish organization to talk about a two-state solution, Breira, which got killed by attacks from the center as well as the right wing of Jewish institutional life. That’s not working this time.

NK: While I understand that the Jewish community is finding voices that are more diverse, we have to be clear that this is not just a Jewish issue. And maybe it shouldn’t even be Jews who lead this issue. In Europe, it isn’t just Jews who are leading this issue.

AW: Well, the other difference between Europe and the United States is that in Europe, the Jewish community, for reasons of history 75 years ago, doesn’t have much political clout. In the United States, the Jewish community does. So changing the Jewish community, building progressive organizations is both possible and necessary in the American Jewish community.

I don’t attack BDS as unethical. I’m saying it won’t work. But there is one major ethical defect to it, I think, which is that it doesn’t embody the future in the present. The future it does not embody is the one most precious and most legitimate for Israel: peace with all the Arab states.

I agree that a policy of all carrots for Israel and all sticks for the Palestinians is both an ethical and practical disaster. But sticks-only for Israel won’t and shouldn’t work, and that’s what the BDS approach feels like. Sometimes that works anyway—it did in South Africa. But it hasn’t worked (and shouldn’t) when used against Palestine—what stronger BDS could there be than the one against Gaza?—and it hasn’t worked (and shouldn’t be used) against Cuba.

In the United States around civil rights, it was embodying the future in the present that worked. What will and should work now is that One Big Carrot of peace, with sticks right behind it if an Israeli government rejects the carrot.

NK: First of all, Israel has received all carrots all the time, and introducing any sticks at all would represent real progress. Also I think BDS does embody the future, because it says that Palestinian lives matter deeply. There is such an asymmetry of outrage on this issue—the uproar about Israeli universities facing a boycott at the same time as Palestinian schools and universities are being bombed, for instance. When we treat Israeli war crimes as deserving of international sanction, we are rejecting this double standard and embodying the future we want, which is a future of genuine equality.

AW: But what would have happened if Hampshire College had twinned itself with the university in Gaza and a university in Ramallah and had done its best to make real-life connections?

NK: Frankly, not as much as what is going to come of their bold BDS stance. At Hampshire College, there have been plenty of exchanges and dialogues of all kinds, but those don’t change the economic and political dynamics of the conflict, which are what need changing.

AW: I agree that that is what needs changing, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. I don’t think we’re going to agree on which set of tactics are best, but I guess people are going to have to make up their own minds. I do think we have to recognize that nothing is going to happen unless the policy of the United States changes.

NK: I agree with that. We just have a disagreement about how we get there. I think BDS changes the dynamic, because it inserts multiple other economic powers into the equation. It would put grassroots pressure on the Obama administration that could become hard to ignore. And also pressure within Israel. I certainly agree that it will piss off Israelis, but I also think we need to acknowledge that ignoring the call is an active position toward Palestinians, it’s not a passive one.

Israel’s Impunity Must End

Posted in Life in the Holy Land on April 2, 2009 by CjH

Changing the Rules of War


The extent of Israel’s brutality against Palestinian civilians in its 22-day pounding of the Gaza Strip is gradually surfacing. Israeli soldiers are testifying to lax rules of engagement tantamount to a license to kill. One soldier commented: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him.” What is less appreciated is how Israel is also brutalizing international law, in ways that may long outlast the demolition of Gaza. Since 2001, Israeli military lawyers have pushed to re-classify military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the law enforcement model mandated by the law of occupation to one of armed conflict. Under the former, soldiers of an occupying army must arrest, rather than kill, opponents, and generally must use the minimum force necessary to quell disturbances. While in armed conflict, a military is still constrained by the laws of war – including the duty to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and the duty to avoid attacks causing disproportionate harm to civilian persons or objects – the standard permits far greater uses of force. Israel pressed the shift to justify its assassinations of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which clearly violated settled international law. Israel had practiced “targeted killings” since the 1970s – always denying that it did so – but had recently stepped up their frequency, by spectacular means (such as air strikes) that rendered denial futile. President Bill Clinton charged the 2001 Mitchell Committee with investigating the causes of the second Palestinian uprising and recommending how to restore calm in the region. Israeli lawyers pleaded their case to the committee for armed conflict. The committee responded by criticizing the blanket application of the model to the uprising, but did not repudiate it altogether. Today, most observers – including Amnesty International – tacitly accept Israel’s framing of the conflict in Gaza as an armed conflict, as their criticism of Israel’s actions in terms of the duties of distinction and the principle of proportionality betrays. This shift, if accepted, would encourage occupiers to follow Israel’s lead, externalizing military control while shedding all responsibilities to occupied populations. Israel’s campaign to rewrite international law to its advantage is deliberate and knowing. As the former head of Israel’s 20-lawyer International Law Division in the Military Advocate General’s office, Daniel Reisner, recently stated: “If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries … International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds. Eight years later, it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.” In the Gaza fighting, Israel has again tried to transform international law through violations. For example, its military lawyers authorized the bombing of a police cadet graduation ceremony, killing at least 63 young Palestinian men. Under international law, such deliberate killings of civilian police are war crimes. Yet Israel treats all employees of the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip as terrorists, and thus combatants. Secretaries, court clerks, housing officials, judges – all were, in Israeli eyes, legitimate targets for liquidation. Israeli jurists also instructed military commanders that any Palestinian who failed to evacuate a building or area after warnings of an impending bombardment was a “voluntary human shield” and thus a participant in combat, subject to lawful attack. One method of warning employed by Israeli gunners, dubbed “knocking on the roof,” was to fire first at a building’s corner, then, a few minutes later, to strike more structurally vulnerable points. To imagine that Gazan civilians – penned into the tiny Gaza Strip by Israeli troops, and surrounded by the chaos of battle – understood this signal is fanciful at best. Israel has a lengthy history of unpunished abuses of international law – among the most flagrant its decades-long colonization of the West Bank. To its credit, much of the world has refused to ratify Israel’s violations. Unfortunately, our government is an exception, having frequently provided diplomatic cover for Israel’s abuses. Our diplomats have vetoed 42 U.N. Security Council resolutions to shelter Israel from the consequences of its often illegal behavior. We must break that habit now, or see international law perverted in ways that can harm us all. Our government has already been seduced to follow, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Israel’s example of targeted killings. This policy alienates civilians, innocently killed and wounded in these crude strikes, and deepens the determination of enemies to harm us by any means possible. We do not want civilian police in the United States to be bombed, nor to have anyone “knock on our roofs.” For our own sakes and for the world’s, Israel’s impunity must end. George Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle

What Israeli Peace Process

Posted in Life in the Holy Land on March 10, 2009 by CjH

The Settler Question


On March 2, 2009, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now issued a report saying that the Israeli housing ministry plans to build 73,ooo housing units in the West Bank. Peace Now said 15,ooo of these units had already been approved, with another 58,000 awaiting approval. On March 7, 2009, the Guardian reported that a confidential report issued by the EU said Israel continues to annex property in East Jerusalem. It said Israeli housing authorities had submitted plans for 5,500 new housing units (3,000 of which have already been approved) since the Annapolis “peace” conference in November 2007. Readers may recall that the Annapolis conference was supposed to resusitate George W. Bush’s moribund so-called Road Map to Peace. Assuming these housing plans are implemented, and only 2.5 Israelis on average inhabit each new unit, the entire program could add as many as 196,ooo Israelis to the 490,000 Israelis already living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yet as recently as September 30, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Omert said Israel should withdraw from almost all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem in order to achieve peace. Of course, Omert’s profession of normative behaviour would be deemed gatuitious nonsense in an international court of law, because all these settlements are clearly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. So what gives?

Nothing. What you see is what you get — simply business as usual. There is no real peace process, only an illusion of one, but an illusion that has been and continues to be used cynically by the Israelis to ethnicly cleanse the best land for Eretz Israel (“best” by definition includes access to the water in the West Bank aquifers — more on that later) by relentlessly creating irreversible “facts on the ground.”

All one has to do is look at the historical record. For the last 20 years, the U.S government and its wholly owned subsidiaries in the thinktanks, academia, and the media have promoted the soothing vision of an ongoing Arab-Israeli peace process. This process has been centered on the ideal of attaining a two-state solution — namely, establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Dutifully, the mainstream media in the United States (MSM) has innundated the American people with stories describing how the ongoing peace process is a road leading to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But to date, that road has led into the nightmare of the West Bank’s roadblocked cantons and the hellish Gaza Ghetto, and the preponderance of MSM reporting, at least in the United States, leans toward blaming the Palestinians for their fate.

To be sure, the MSM also reported about bumps in the road that can be attributed to Israel, especially question of settlements in the Occupied Territories. But such reporting has been usually in the context of the settlements being temporary impediments to a solution, often couched, for example, in vague visions of Israel eventually abandoning most of its settlements, and doing land swaps for others, once the Palestinians renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist. In this context, there have been very few reports that put the question of settlements into an easily understood long term perspective, even though the information is widely available on the internet.

To be sure, the Israelis did evacuate 6000+ settlers from Gaza in 2003, and occasionally, the Israeli government evacuates a trivial number of settlers from the so-called “outposts” on the West Bank. But these Israeli moves have been anomalies to their long term pattern of settlement, which has been amazingly consistent since the rate of settlement began to accelerate in the mid 1970s. In fact, as demostrated in the chart below, the pattern of settlement has been remarkably untouched by the deliberations of the so-called peace processes. It is based on official data produced by the Israeli government and made available to the public by the courageous Israeli human rights organization B’TSelem.

The so-called peace process, which at first was ad hoc, became institutionalized with great optimism in 1993, when the signing of the Oslo Accords ended the First Intifada. But over the next seven years, the Oslo deliberations did not alleviate the economic hardships afflicting the Palestinians, nor did it even slow down the pace of Israeli settlement, as is shown clearly by the pink shaded area of the figure. Oslo effectively ended in in Sept 2000, when Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (Islam’s third holiest site) incited the Palestinian uprising that became known as the Second Intifada and helped to catapult Sharon into the office of Prime Minister.

A re-institutionalization of the formal peace process rose tepidly from the ashes of Oslo in June 2002, with the so-called Road Map to Peace initiated by President George W. Bush. The aim of Bush’s Roadmap was to establish an independent Palestinian state as early as 2005, and central to achieving that aim was a freeze on settlement expansion by May 2003 (called for in Phase I of the roadmap), as well as a reduction in violence and political reform by the Palestinians. The gray area in the figure spans the time of Bush’s so-called road map, and it is clear that his Roadmap, like Oslo, had absolutely no effect on Israel’s pace of settlement. Israel’s murderous assault on the Gaza Ghetto effectively dumped the detritus of Mr. Bush’s illuson into the lap of incoming President Obama in January 2009.

The assault on the Gaza Ghetto, together with a sense of frustration from not being able to weaken Hamas’s grip on Gaza, also helped to accelerate an ongoing political shift toward the radical right among the Israeli people, as became evident in the stunning results of the recent Parliamentary election. It now seems likely that Binyamin Netanyahu — the former prime minister between 1996 and 1999, who worked so assiduously to trash Oslo and increase settlements — will return to power as prime minister, this time with the neo-fascist Avigdor Lieberman as his foreign minister.

So, based on the history depicted in the chart and Netanyahu’s track record, we can expect the rate of settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to continue and probably increase. True to form, in one of his campaign speeches, Netanyahu promised he would not be not bound by Omert’s empty promise to evacuate the settlements, and any future peace talks would not be about giving up territory, but about achieving an “economic peace” through economic development — whatever that means.

And how has Mr. Obama’s government reacted to date? The most critical comment I have been able to find is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark in Jerusalem that the planned expansion of the settlements cited in the first paragraph would be “unhelpful.”

One thing is certain, we can depend on being put to sleep with more somnolent visions of peace in our time while the Israelis create more facts on the ground.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at