Herod's mausoleum headlines Israel's most ambitious archaeological show but Palestinians say treasures should stay where they were found
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem 12 February 2013
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.
Herod's mausoleum headlines Israel's most ambitious archaeological show but Palestinians say treasures should stay where they were found
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem 12 February 2013
Submitted by Alice Bach on Mon, 12/10/2012 - 08:26
Having a passport stamped with the names Judea and Samaria reminds me of a trip my family made to Disneyworld, where I got a passport stamped Neverland. That day I met Peter Pan and Wendy. Getting my passport stamped for the West Bank these days, I can hope to stand before the graves of Biblical characters in Samaria and Judea.
What actually can we glean about the area of Samaria from the Hebrew Scriptures? Samaria was a region in the land of Israel with geographical limits that were never clearly defined in the Bible. Originally it was the territory of the tribe of Ephraim and half tribe of Manasseh: its eastern boundary was the Jordan River, the western boundary was the Mediterranean coast. Not surprising since natural boundaries, such as mountains, rivers, deserts, or lakes formed boundaries long before they were hand-drawn by the winners of wars.
After the campaign of Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BC, Samaria became a province of the Assyrians. The Biblical authors understand this loss of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) as God’s punishment of his people for worshipping other deities and breaking the Covenant that had bound them to God. “And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel [Samaria] unto Assyria and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (II Kings 18:11).
The triumphant Assyrians settled some of their subject populations there and in Syria to mingle with the Palestinian people. The Hill Country of Samaria remained a province during the Persian period. Then, Samaria, along with Judea, became the property of the Babylonians, from 539 until 333 BC, and subsequently was ruled by the Hellenistic Greeks, and then the formidable Roman Empire. The land was never owned by the Jewish people, except in minds that were nourished by the Biblical narratives.
Why am I providing such specific historical data for these vague geographical areas? Because there has always been an intertwined narrative between Israel’s religious history and a so-called objective history that must be maintained. To reject the historicity of Israel’s salvation history has been considered an attack on the faith itself. A fundamental basis of Biblical faith is that, unlike other ancient deities living in some faraway realm, the Israelite God acts within history, prodding and protecting his chosen people from the threats and attacks of its enemies. When Israel breaks its Covenant with God, the land and the power revert to their enemies, often for as long as 400 narrative years of repentance. Then God relents. What could reassure Israelis of the historicity of the biblical narratives, and their everlasting bond with God, more than actual physical proof that they earned every hectare of land from righteousness. Stepping right out of the pages of the Bible, today’s faithful can flash that Biblical truth in the form of a current passport stamp. Samaria and Judea.
What better way to prove the veracity of the events narrated in the Bible than by discovering tangible, visible proof embedded on shards, stele, inscriptions and other archeological treasures. So with the Bible in one hand and a shovel in the other, Western and Israeli archeologists began to dig up the Holy Land to prove the land holy. Official versions of a nation’s past are commonplace: think of Columbus discoveringAmerica. But what is different about the attempt to recover the history of ancient Israel is that this history has been shaped in the context of the modern European nation state. It has been translated and interpreted as the history of a united group of people, divided into tribes. There are no other people except for enemies, the generic “Canaanites.”
In the past 25 years, scholars have begun to argue, following the lead of Niels Lemche of the University of Copenhagen, that the gap between the first written fixation of the Biblical texts, beginning some time after the Exile in 587 BC, and the occurrence of these events is too great to accept the tradition as a primary source for the reconstruction of the Israelite past. Why is this statement so central to our continuing study of this land today? Because it frees the Western scholarly “search for ancient Israel” to examine the history of the entire region, including the all-important search for a Palestinian history that has been overshadowed, intentionally erased, by those who ignored the social history of the indigenous people of Syro-Palestine.
In her important book Facts on the Ground (2002), anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj argues that the strong Zionist collective memory has been strengthened by the Eurocentric model that created the cultural construction of Orientalism, the Western depiction of Arab cultures with all its negativity. Since the first-generation of Israeli archeologists came from Europe, they saw through eyes trained by the last generation of scholars of the continental empires. Like all subject peoples, the hope of these Jewish archeologists was to create and privilege their national “ethnic” majority over the indigenous people of Palestine. To create a visible ancient Israel has resulted in dismissing the large Canaanite mounds. In searching for Judea and Samaria, these archeologists have shown little interest in the lowlands, understood to be Canaanite.
Thus, during the British Mandate period, these archeologists set out to create and preserve a solid historical link from the Biblical narratives to the world of the Zionists. A new nation set to work to revive the old Biblical history from every hillside and wadi. By the time of the 1967 War, the continuum between the past and the present, linking the modern state of Israel to the intentional creation of ancient Israelite history, had been forged. Even tourists visiting the State of Israel could visit Rachel’s tomb, breathe the air in the cave of Machpelach, which Abraham had purchased as a tomb for himself and Sarah. I have been shown the very well the Bible says Abraham dug to water his flocks. Not to be a spoil sport, but these Biblical characters survived in story form through a minimum of 800 years of oral transmission before their stories were ever written down. And one can still find a well dug by a mythic patriarch?
Finally the Zionists have their modern state, theirs by means of an ancient tradition superimposed on a Western nation-state model. And the West, lead by the United States, has displayed no inclination to question the eradication of Arabic place names, that the Zionists have replaced with Biblical names. Comfortable with the celebration of Biblical values ascribed to our own national cultures, how could we not have been Israel’s natural allies? Only recently have historians begun to argue in impressive numbers that the problem with the historical model of ancient Israel is that it denies validity to any attempt to produce a history of ancient Palestine. Zionist allies have allowed Israel to play the largest board game in the world. But the roll of the dice is getting more dangerous for Israel.
As Tony Judt argued almost a decade ago, the idea of a Jewish state was already too late in 1948. “The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”
For two weeks we moved around and between a West Bank and Gaza Strip that had not yet been forcibly separated from each other, and carved up by walls, ‘Israeli-only’ roads and hundreds of checkpoints. We visited hospitals where beds were full of young people and children who had been kneecapped and had their bones broken under Defense Secretary Yitzhak Rabin’s policy of “force, might and beatings.” We participated in peaceful marches that were dispersed by huge quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets, bullets with metal cores and sometimes live ammunition. We watched as small children were chased through the alleys of refugee camps by the soldiers they had taunted with fingers held in V-signs and chants of “PLO! PLO!”
We met with representatives of the hundreds of popular committees that had been set up in every village, refugee camp and town to involve the entire community in activities ranging from growing vegetables and raising chickens, to organizing blood donors, being on the watch for soldiers, covering the walls with slogans of struggle at the risk of being shot by rooftop snipers, providing the needy with food and medicine, and finding ways to surmount the crippling impact of curfews that imprisoned villagers in their homes for days and sometimes even weeks at a time. In the Gaza Strip, we heard speculation that Israel was attempting to divide the Palestinian movement by nurturing a new organization called Hamas, whose slogans were left on the walls while those of Fatah and other PLO factions were immediately expunged.
Everywhere we went, we saw evidence of America’s involvement, from the ‘Made in Pennsylvania’ tear gas canisters that were to cause at least 70 deaths and untold miscarriages during the course of the Intifada to the ‘Made in California’ billy clubs used to break demonstrators’ bones.
On the edge of the village of Beita in the West Bank, we met a woman standing behind a heap of stones that had been her house. She spoke bitterly to us of the 25 years it had taken her to build a home and of the few minutes it took the Israeli army to blow it up.
Why, she asked us, do the Americans continue to pay for the Israeli occupation? “When will the Americans see that we Palestinians are people too?”
Her question was personally life-changing. On my return, I knew I had to do more than write a report and do some public speaking about what I had seen.
My determination to undertake long-term work to inform public opinion and change US policy was bolstered soon after when American eyewitnesses reported that an 11-year-old who was shot by the army in the same village of Beita had been left to bleed on the main street for six hours, while soldiers prevented medical teams and his family from approaching him. By the time he was taken to the hospital, he had bled to death.
There needed to be a way in the United States to get incidents like this to the attention of the public and decision makers. The result was the formation of the Middle East Justice Network which I directed over a seven-year period. We coordinated local activist networks around the country to lobby Congress, informed the public through a bimonthly publication, Breaking the Siege, briefing papers and a Congressional report card, and organized delegations to visit the West Bank and Gaza. We also held well-attended annual conferences. Two of them focused on the Apartheid analogy, and the links between what was happening in South Africa and in Israel/Palestine. Speakers from liberation struggles in both regions were featured in “Apartheid’s Arc and the Palestinian Uprising: Making the Connections” (November 11, 1989) and “From Occupation to Apartheid: Israel, South Africa and the ‘New World Order’” (November 15, 1991).
It is interesting now to reflect on how we functioned in the era before e-mails, YouTube videos and widespread Internet use, when our Action Alerts had to be mailed to our thousands of members and information had to be distilled through frequent visits, faxes and phone calls, and daily on-the-ground reports and publications from a range of Israeli and Palestinian sources, and UN and human rights groups that flooded our postal box. I am drawing upon that trove of information in this remembrance of the first Intifada and our fledgling lobbying efforts.
We often hear the question: “Why can’t Palestinians use nonviolence?” The answer is that they have, since the early years of the 20th century, as Mazin Qumsiyeh has documented in his book Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment.
Rarely asked is this: What happens when nonviolence is met with extreme violence, and the world (or the part of it that can make a difference) is not watching? If there had been no TV cameras to disseminate images of the brutal beating of Civil Rights Movement marchers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, how long would it have taken to get Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act?
The American mainstream media had little interest in giving its readers and viewers more than an occasional glimpse of the Intifada – which Israelis insisted was not nonviolent, because many children and young people were armed with slingshots and stones.
The media had little interest in explaining the context out of which the uprising erupted: what it meant to live under some 1290 military orders in the West Bank and nearly 1,000 in the Gaza Strip which governed every aspect of Palestinian life, determining what Palestinians can read, where they can drive, whether they can whitewash their house or repair a window, plant a tomato or pick wild thyme. Only a few of these orders had been translated into Arabic or made accessible to Palestinian lawyers. One of them, Military Order 378, empowered any soldier to arrest a Palestinian without any reason, and hold him or her for up to 18 days without going before a court. Political assemblies and demonstrations were forbidden. Other “illegal” acts included the flying of Palestinian flags and writing of political graffiti – whether or not this could be shown to pose an imminent security threat.
What made the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza arguably unique was its methodical attention to detail and ‘legal’ justifications for blatantly illegal acts, as well as the cumulative weight of its web of bureaucratic regulations, all tending towards a common end – to ensure that Palestinians would never be masters of their own fate, or anything more than transients in their own land.
As the Intifada entered its third year, the West Bank human rights organization Al Haq called it “an expression of collective anger and frustration, a reaction to 20 years of expropriation, denial and oppression. People from all walks of life are involved, participating in a variety of acts of civil disobedience…Our Intifada is an optimistic and unified call for freedom.”
The American media tended not to trust the reports and statistics put forward by Palestinian groups like Al Haq. Conditioned to regard the Israeli occupation as ‘benign’ if it was even on their radar screen, they appeared to be skeptical of the unfolding horror of the repression: the more than a thousand killed by the Israeli army, a quarter of them children, the 115,000 serious injuries – that’s one for every 15 residents; the 40,000 people rendered permanently disabled. According to James Graff’s comprehensive study, Palestinian Children and Israeli State Violence, between December 1987 and December 1989, “one in every 22 children in Gaza has been seriously injured by gunfire, beatings or tear gas. On the West Bank, the ratio is 1:41.” The United States per capita equivalent would be in the order of 1.8 million seriously injured children. An August 1989 bulletin of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights stated that there were increasingly cases in which child leaders were being targeted by sharpshooters from ‘special units’ and instantly killed.
Some 75,000 children 12 years and older were arrested during the first three years of the Intifada for throwing stones, and at least 10,000 of them spent years in prison for stone throwing. The reports of how they were treated make harrowing reading. There appeared to be nothing random about the sadistic tortures used against them to get them to give evidence against friends and older brothers and sisters, the beating which left a boy who was deaf, dumb and mentally retarded, “looking like a steak,” the arrest of a seven-year-old boy in Bethlehem for having a box in his bookbag on which a Palestinian flag had been doodled, the detaining and blindfolding of six and seven-year-olds who were held until their parents could find the ‘child bail’ of up to $800 needed to get them out of custody.
The adults fared little better. One in five Palestinian males between the ages of 15 -55 were arrested in the first three years of the Intifada, with over a thousand women arrested on ‘security grounds.’ Military Order 1281 allowed military commanders to administratively detain a Palestinian without charges or trial for renewable terms of up to one year if the commander has ”reasonable cause to believe that reasons of security of the area or public security require that a particular person be detained.” Some 14,000 Palestinians were placed in administrative detention. According to the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1989, a number “appear to have been detained for nonviolent political activities.” The rate at which Palestinians were imprisoned without charge or trial during the first three years of the Intifada was nearly ten times greater than the rate at which South Africans were detained under the State of Emergency of 1985-7.
With arrest and imprisonment, invariably came torture to extract ‘confessions’ and information, or to destroy the spirit and create a cadre of informers. Some of the techniques used in Israeli jails – long-term hooding and stress positions, confinement in the ‘coffin’ or ‘refrigerator,’ severe beatings, sleep deprivation, verbal abuse and humiliation – became incorporated in the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the US against its ‘war on terror’ captives. The torture meted out to Palestinians had no age limit.
Other techniques in the Israeli arsenal of repression: the expulsion of Intifada leaders; the two-year-long closure of schools and universities as Israel told Palestinians they could not have their Intifada and education too; and curfews that turned every home into a prison, with families of nine and ten children crammed into one or two poorly ventilated rooms in refugee camps, often with no electricity and water supplies. A ‘curfew breaker’ could be shot, beaten, imprisoned for up to five years and fined $15,000.
Then there were sieges, when towns were entirely sealed off by the army to break resistance. During the near total curfew imposed on the village of Kabatiya during five weeks in July-August 1988, soldiers entered nearly every house, terrorizing and beating people, destroying food and furniture, urinating in water tanks and shooting them full of holes, shooting at people caught outside or trying to dry clothes on the roof. Animals starved and died; crops rotted on the ground.
The people of Kabatiya were being punished for killing a collaborator from nearby Camp Fahmeh, a settlement for collaborators established on an Israeli military base. The residents of Beit Sahour received similar treatment during a two month siege that began in August 1989. Their crime? They refused to pay taxes under the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”
Why this ferocious response to an essentially nonviolent uprising?
One answer was given in an interview which the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy conducted with Col. Zvi Poleg, Commander of the Israeli Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to the late Dr. Israel Shahak, we have the translation of this December 8, 1988 Ha’aretz piece and many other revealing articles from the Hebrew press.
“I ask him, ‘How does a march of a few dozen demonstrators bother you?’ ‘A march is a disturbance of the order,’ he responds. ‘You never know when the organizers of a march will lose control and it will become a big event…’ ‘Why does a PLO flag hanging on an electricity pole disturb you?’ I ask. ‘It is part of our ruling,’ he says. ‘To demonstrate that you are the ruler, that you are in charge of the territory, of the population, of everything everyday, you cannot compromise on even the smallest point.’”
Then there was the dehumanizing racism, which, for many, made killing easy. It was during Col. Poleg’s command that this poem was placed on the wall of a senior officer of the Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip
“Yes, it is true that I hate Arabs
I want to take them off the map.
Yes, this is all (my} work.
My life passes pleasurably
One shoots a bullet and a head is flying…
There are beautiful places in the territories
There is sea and sand and many palms
It is a pity that there are Arabs there too.”
(Ha’aretz, June 16, 1989. Translated by Dr. Israel Shahak).
But some of the most haunting descriptions of the repression of the Intfada came from Israeli soldiers who could not stomach what they were being commanded to do.
There was a report of a “Captain A” being sickened by the new policy to “bring calm to the area” which required soldiers to round up and shackle all the men in a village, take them to an orchard, stuff their mouths with flannel and then carry out the orders:
“To break their arms and legs by clubbing the Arabs; To avoid clubbing them on their heads; To remove their bonds after breaking their arms and legs, and to leave them at the site; To leave one local with broken arms but without broken legs so he could make it back to the village on his own and get help. The mission was carried out as ordered. In the course of carrying it out, most of the wooden clubs were broken.”
(Yossi Sarid, “The Night of the Broken Clubs,” Ha’aretz, May 4, 1989. Translated by Dr. Israel Shahak.)
There was this description of a home invasion written by 23-year-old Pvt. Yehuda Maor:
“We stormed a house and nobody understood why this particular house was chosen…The company commander smashed the window glass and ordered three soldiers to smash the windows around the house…The owner of the house and his wife stood in a corner of the room embracing each other, protecting the little children, trembling with fear. And all the time you heard the soldiers shouting and cursing, some of them laughing a wicked, frightening laughter. You could see them beating people, smashing windows, breaking things for no reason, behaving like beasts…
“I stepped aside, into a dark corner, so that the chaps won’t see me. That they could not see the same soldiers changing uniforms, putting this time black uniforms on, with high black boots, shining, polished, and the same soldiers were also smashing, breaking, cursing, beating, outraged like wild beasts in the streets, inside the houses, in the alleys. I told myself it cannot be. I saw, I swear, that night I saw the Nazis again.”
(Davar, October 20, 1990. Translated by Israel Shahak)
The Nazi allusion appears in a wrenching piece by a young reservist, Ari Shavit, about his time guarding the Gaza Strip’s Ansar II detention camp which was full of teenagers arrested for stone throwing:
“N…an unsentimental Likud supporter, tells anyone who is willing to listen, why this place looks like a concentration camp. I’m like that too…when I simply survey my surroundings…the association burst out of their own accord. And like a believer whose faith is cracking, I find myself going over the list of arguments, the list of differences: There there were crematoria and here there are not, I remind myself. There there was no conflict between the peoples, I remind myself. The Germans were in no danger, and so on and so on.
“Until I catch myself understanding that the problem is not one of similarity….The problem is that there is not enough dissimilarity…
“And maybe the fault lies with the detentions done by the Shabak: almost nightly, after interrogating a number of youngsters to the breaking point, the Shabak passes out a list of the youngster’s friends to the paratroopers…And you see them going to the curfew-bound city at night, to arrest the people who endanger the security of the state. And you see them returning with 15 and 16-year-olds, teeth chattering, eyes popping, often already beaten and manacled. Even S…can’t believe his eyes. ‘We’ve come to this?’ he says…’The Shabak run after children like these?’
“Or perhaps the fault lies with the screams...from this moment forth you will have no rest…because other people – wearing the same uniform as you – are doing things to them that make them scream. They are screaming because your Jewish state, your democratic state, in an institutionalized, systematic manner and definitely legally – your state is making them scream…
“After a day or two at the installation, the people caged behind the wire fences are already a natural sight. The interrogation wing is part of the routine…In the three-and-a-half years of the Intifada, thousands of Israeli citizens in uniform have walked around within these fences, have hard these screams…And the country is silent, prosperous…
“And despite the fact that there is no room at all for comparison…you start to understand some of those other guards, who stood in other places, guarding other people behind other fences. Other guards who heard other screams and didn’t hear a thing…
“It has become impossible any longer to ask, as good Israelis love to ask, ‘Is this what we were educated for?’ Because after 40 months of Intifada, after the Lebanon War, the answer is: apparently so.”
(Ha’aretz Weekend Supplement, May 3, 1991)
At the Middle East Justice Network we endeavored to educate not just the public, but also elected officials about the reasons for the Intifada and how it was being brutally suppressed. If they wouldn’t believe what Palestinians were saying, what about these Israeli voices of conscience?
We often encountered disbelief and an unsettling level of ignorance. Several Members of Congress flatly refused to accept that Israel could be destroying Palestinian homes. At a time when members of the Congressional Black Caucus were pushing for an end to the Israel-South Africa arms connection, not all of them could accept the fact that Israel was engaging in Apartheid practices in its treatment of Palestinians. The US State Department seemed to have a better grasp of things when it wrote in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988:
“Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are subject to Israeli law while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military occupation law. Under the dual system of governance applied to Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinians are treated less favorably than Jewish settlers in the same areas on a broad range of issues, such as the right to legal process, rights of residency, freedom of movement, sale of crops and goods, land and water use, and access to health and social services.”
As we built a network of legislative district coordinators around the country, we embarked on efforts to get Congress to take steps (even baby ones) to acknowledge that there was more than one side to the story. We encouraged Members to support the resolution by Rep. Howard Nielson (R-UT) calling on Israel to reopen Palestinian schools. On the day it was passed (July 17, 1989) Israel declared it would open the schools in the West Bank within two weeks.
Next, we helped Rep. Nielson get more than 80 co-sponsors on a concurrent resolution demanding that Palestinian universities be opened. It didn’t have the clout of the European Parliament vote to suspend all scientific cooperation with Israel until the universities were reopened, but it was a small indication, we hoped, of larger things to come.
Those larger opportunities arrived when Senator Bob Dole in a January 16, 1990New York Times Op-Ed recommended a 5% reduction in US aid to Israel (as well as to Egypt, Philippines, Turkey and Pakistan), which the first Bush Administration reportedly regarded as a “trial balloon.” In a January 20th interview on CNN, Senator Dole stated that the total aid we have given Israel “amounts to about $10,000 for every man, woman and child in Israel – which is a fairly substantial amount of aid.”
We took up the role of educating elected officials and the public about how US aid to Israel was in violation of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act prohibiting military and economic assistance to any country engaged in a “consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and the US Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 that stipulated that US allies that break the UN arms embargo on South Africa should not receive US military assistance. We hoped that such a cut would be a signal that American taxpayers would not indefinitely subsidize Israel’s military occupation.
The subsequent battle over Israel’s request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to settle Russia’s Jews opened the door to new lobbying opportunities as it raised the possibility that the Bush (Sr.) Administration would use economic leverage to force Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to abandon his settlement expansion program. With Secretary of State James Baker telling the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on May 22, 1991 that “I don’t think that there is any bigger obstacle to peace than the settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an enhanced pace,” some Members of Congress seemed prepared to go along, no doubt reassured by poll results that showed that the majority (and in one poll 86%) of the American public agreed with the Administration.
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) declared on October 19, 1990: “I did not cast my votes so that Israel could disregard longstanding United States policy on the settlements and use those funds to construct housing in the occupied territories,“ while Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, stated on February 6, 1991: “How much more of our foreign aid budget should the Middle East be allowed to devour? My answer is none, until those dollars are provided in the context of a sweeping re-evaluation of basic policy.”
Can you imagine statements like these coming out of the current Congress?
The campaign to tell Israel that it cannot have loan guarantees and settlement construction too caused the Israeli electorate to abandon Prime Minister Shamir in June 1992. The new prime minister was Yitzhak Rabin, the architect of “force, might and beatings.” Eventually, Israel got its loan guarantees without abandoning its settlement project.
The Intifada ebbed but the killing of protestors continued, as did the mass arrests, house raids and demolitions, and expulsions. Nine desultory rounds of a “peace process” kicked off by the Madrid Conference in October 1991 ended in May1993 with the parties being unable to agree on a statement of principles. Nothing in a draft produced by the US suggested that the Americans were prepared to pressure for Israeli withdrawal from the territories and an end to the occupation.
Then came the Oslo surprise and Yasser Arafat’s announcement to Palestinians on September 16, 1993 that “they have found a valuable friend in the White House.” We at the Middle East Justice Network took a close look at the Declaration of Principles and subsequent agreements and had our doubts. We described what was on offer as “Apartheid with Joint Patrols.”
The situation today could hardly be more bleak. But when I reflect on my first-hand experience of the creative resilience of the first Intifada, I know that if the arc of history does indeed bend toward justice, the Palestinian people shall surely overcome one day.
Here is how the late Mahmoud Darwish described their irrepressible spirit:
They shut me in a dark cell.
My heart glowed with sunny torches.
They wrote my number on the walls.
The walls transformed to green pastures.
They drew the face of my executioner.
The face was soon dispersed
With luminous braids.
I carved your map with my teeth upon the walls
And wrote the song of fleeting night.
I hurled defeat to obscurity
And plunged my hands
Into rays of light.
They conquered nothing.
They only kindled earthquakes.
- "The Reaction," Mahmoud Darwish
Eyal Weizman London Review of Books December 2012
fledgling.typepad.com - 525 × 332
In the course of the eight-day aerial bombardment of Gaza by Israel – using drones, F-16s and Apache helicopters – more than 1350 buildings were hit. They included military depots, which are considered legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. But the police stations, TV stations, a local healthcare centre, ministries, road tunnels and a bridge that were also targeted are legally protected as civilian infrastructure. To justify their destruction, Israel argued that ‘they belong to a terrorist entity.’ This is an argument that would render all public buildings and physical infrastructure in the Strip legitimate targets: it is not accepted by international lawyers outside Israel.
Israel’s attempt to provide any sort of legal defence at all, however tenuous, is a response to the Goldstone Report, which alleged (before Goldstone himself recanted) that both the Israeli military and Hamas had committed war crimes during the 2008-9 conflict, and that Israel might even be guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’. During the Goldstone storm, in a speech delivered at an Israeli security institute, Netanyahu called organisations that claimed to support the principles of human rights and international law the third strategic threat to Israel’s security – third after Iran and Hizbullah. Israeli think-tanks, like some of their Western counterparts, now refer to this ‘third strategic threat’ of legal action against state militaries as ‘lawfare’: the use of international law as a weapon by a non-state party, to make up for its weakness on the field of combat.
Mindful of the danger of further exposure to international legal action, during Operation Pillar of Defence Netanyahu ordered the military to exercise restraint so as to avoid the level of destruction seen in 2008-9. Israeli experts in international humanitarian law were more closely involved than they ever have been before in the planning of the attacks, and the military repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to minimising harm to civilians. The number of casualties was much lower than during Operation Cast Lead, when ten times as many Palestinians were killed, though as the operation approached its end the number of casualties rose: as the list of targets was depleted, the air force had no choice but to drop bombs on more populous neighbourhoods, with a higher risk of collateral damage.
But Israel is no longer content merely asserting that its aerial bombardments are justified under international law. It has begun to experiment with new kinds of bombing. After the 2008-9 attack, human rights advocates undertook an investigation using techniques associated with the new field of ‘forensic architecture’. In so doing they discovered the traces of a new Israeli strategy: small-scale craters caused by impacts on what had been the roofs of destroyed buildings. The Israeli military let it be known that it was using this tactic – known as ‘knock on the roof’ – again during Operation Pillar of Defence. It involves firing low-explosive ‘teaser’ bombs or missiles onto houses designated for destruction, with the intention of making an impact serious enough to scare the inhabitants into fleeing their homes before they are destroyed completely.
Israel makes much of the fact that it always tries to warn civilian inhabitants of impending bombings. The new procedure is a twist on the established ‘knock on the door’ method, which involved telephoning a house – with a recorded message, or using an Arabic-speaking air-force operator – to inform the inhabitants that in a few minutes the building would be destroyed. Sometimes phones that had been disconnected for months because the bill hadn’t been paid were suddenly reactivated in order to relay these warnings. According to the Israeli military, during the last 24 hours of Pillar of Defence, thousands of such calls were made to residents of Gaza, warning them of incoming strikes. (Israel can penetrate Gaza’s communication networks so easily because its telephone networks and internet infrastructure are routed through Israeli servers, which has advantages both for the gathering of intelligence and the delivery of propaganda.)
Of course, many inhabitants of Gaza don’t have a landline or a mobile phone. In these cases, an IDF spokesperson recently explained, the military’s legal experts recommend the use of leaflets to encourage people to leave their houses before they are destroyed. Teaser bombs are just another means of sending a warning. In 2009, an IDF lawyer said: ‘People who go into a house despite a warning do not have to be taken into account in terms of injury to civilians … From the legal point of view, I do not have to show consideration for them.’ To communicate a warning can indeed save a life. But the strategy is also aimed at changing the legal designation of anyone who is killed. According to this interpretation of the law, if a warning has been issued, and not heeded, the victim is no longer a ‘non-combatant’ but a voluntary ‘human shield’. In this and other cases, the laws of war prohibit some things but authorise others. This should give pause to those who have protested against Israel’s attack only in the name of the law.
We will learn more about the way Pillar of Defence was conducted when, over the coming weeks, it becomes possible to start reading the rubble. Some of what we know about the 2008-9 assault comes from an archive – the Book of Destruction – compiled by the Hamas-run Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The archive contains thousands of entries, each documenting a single building that was completely or partly destroyed, recording everything from cracked walls in houses that still stand, to complete ruins. The ministry will no doubt put together a new archive following the latest attack. Its list will be a close parallel to the one contained in a document owned by the Israeli military. This is the Book of Targets in Gaza, a thick blue folder that the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who presided over Operation Cast Lead, passed to his successor in a televised ceremony at the beginning of 2011: ‘I want to hand over something I carry with me all the time,’ he announced.
Now that the bombing is over, evidence will be accumulated (and allegations made and contested), not only by speaking to survivors and witnesses but by using geospatial data, satellite imagery of destroyed buildings and data gathered in on-site investigations. But investigation is difficult: in Gaza ruins are piled on ruins, and it isn’t easy to tell them apart. The wars of 1947-49, the military incursions of the 1950s, the 1956 war, the 1967 war, the 1972 counterinsurgency in the refugee camps, the first intifada of 1987-91, the waves of destruction during the second intifada of the 2000s, and now the two attacks of 2008-9 and 2012, have each piled new layers of rubble on top of those produced by their predecessors.
The visible ruin is an important symbol in the public display of occupation and domination: it demonstrates the presence of the colonial power even when the colonist is nowhere to be seen. Before it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Israel demonstrated its control over the enclave by means of its settlements. (In 1980, Ariel Sharon, then minister in charge of the settlements, said he wanted ‘the Arabs to see Jewish lights every night no more than five hundred metres away’.) After the military relocated to the Strip’s perimeter and bulldozed the settlements, inaugurating this new era of colonialism, the destroyed buildings – standing like monuments, unrepaired, unrepairable – became the most significant visual affirmation of Israel’s domination.
But Israel’s real power over Gaza is invisible. It is the ability of the Israeli air force to maintain a perpetual ‘surveillance and strike’ capability over Gaza – drones can stay in the air around the clock – that made the territorial withdrawal possible. Together with its control of the Gazan subsoil – manifested in the robbing of much of the water from coastal aquifers – and over the airwaves, including the use of electromagnetic jamming technology, all that is left for the inhabitants of Gaza is the thin surface of the earth that is sandwiched between Israeli-controlled zones. No wonder they try to invade the space below and above them with tunnels and rockets.
Eyal Weizman is an architect and director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. His recent books include The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza.
The London Review of Books
Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the LRB and reports from the Middle East for the paper.
23 November Adam Shatz
The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.
Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in theJerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.
Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ‘Egypt is different from yesterday,’ Morsi warned Israel on the first day of the war. ‘We assure them that the price will be high for continued aggression.’ He underscored this point by sending his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza the following day. While refraining from incendiary rhetoric, Morsi made it plain that Israel could not depend on Egyptian support for its attack on Gaza, as it had when Mubarak was in power, and would only have itself to blame if the peace treaty were jeopardised. After all, he has to answer to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organisation, and to the Egyptian people, who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. The Obama administration, keen to preserve relations with Egypt, got the message, and so apparently did Israel. Morsi proved that he could negotiate with Israel without ‘selling out the resistance’, in Meshaal’s words. Internationally, it was his finest hour, though Egyptians may remember it as the prelude to his move a day after the ceasefire to award himself far-reaching executive powers that place him above any law.
That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position. Its relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region and the pillar of its ‘doctrine of the periphery’ (a strategy based on alliances with non-Arab states) have deteriorated with the rise of Erdogan and the AKP. The Jordanian monarchy, the second Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is facing increasingly radical protests. And though Israel may welcome the fall of Assad, an ally of Hizbullah and Iran, it is worried that a post-Assad government, dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brothers, may be no less hostile to the occupying power in the Golan: the occasional rocket fire from inside Syria in recent days has been a reminder for Israel of how quiet that border was under the Assad family. Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.
Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been ‘normalised’ by the Arab uprisings. Since the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey, which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha, while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo. Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising, distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia. It has circumvented the difficulties of the blockade by turning the tunnels into a lucrative source of revenue and worked, with erratic success, to impose discipline on Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in the Strip. The result has been growing regional prestige, and a procession of high-profile visitors, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to Gaza three weeks before the war and promised $400 million dollars to build housing and repair roads. The emir did not make a similar trip to Ramallah.
Hamas’s growing clout has not gone unnoticed in Tel Aviv: cutting Hamas down to size was surely one of its war aims. If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists: such, Hamas has been only too happy to point out, are the rewards for non-violent Palestinian resistance. Operation Pillar of Defence will further undermine Abbas’s already fragile standing in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has never been higher.
Hardly had the ceasefire come into effect than Israel raided the West Bank to round up more than fifty Hamas supporters, while Netanyahu warned that Israel ‘might be compelled to embark’ on ‘a much harsher military operation’. (Avigdor Lieberman, his foreign minister, is said to have pushed for a ground war.) After all, Israel has a right to defend itself. This is what the Israelis say and what the Israel lobby says, along with much of the Western press, including the New York Times. In an editorial headed ‘Hamas’s Illegitimacy’ – a curious phrase, since Hamas only seized power in Gaza after winning a majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections – the Times accused Hamas of attacking Israel because it is ‘consumed with hatred for Israel’. The Times didn’t mention that Hamas’s hatred might have been stoked by a punishing economic blockade. It didn’t mention that between the start of the year and the outbreak of this war, 78 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli fire, as against a single Israeli in all of Hamas’s notorious rocket fire. Or – until the war started – that this had been a relatively peaceful year for the miserable Strip, where nearly three thousand Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2006, as against 47 Israelis by Palestinian fire.
Those who invoke Israel’s right to defend itself are not troubled by this disparity in casualties, because the unspoken corollary is that Palestinians do not have the same right. If they dare to exercise this non-right, they must be taught a lesson. ‘We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza,’ Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post. ‘Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.’ Israel shouldn’t worry about innocent civilians in Gaza, he said, because there are no innocent civilians in Gaza: ‘They elected Hamas … they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.’ Such language would be shocking were it not so familiar: in Israel the rhetoric of righteous victimhood has merged with the belligerent rhetoric – and the racism – of the conqueror. Sharon’s Tarzan allusion is merely a variation on Barak’s description of Israel as a villa in the jungle; his invocation of nuclear war reminds us that in 2008, the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai proposed ‘a bigger holocaust’ if Gaza continued to resist.
But the price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments. During the eight days of Pillar of Defence, Israel put on an impressive and deadly fireworks show, as it always does, lighting up the skies of Gaza and putting out menacing tweets straight from The Sopranos. But the killing of entire families and the destruction of government buildings and police stations, far from encouraging Palestinians to submit, will only fortify their resistance, something Israel might have learned by consulting the pages of recent Jewish history. The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.
23 November 2012