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Tuesday
Dec212010

Europe's alliance with Israel: aiding the occupation

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Europe's alliance with Israel: aiding the occupationAuthor: David Cronin
Paperback:
200 pages
Publisher:
Pluto Press (2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0 7453 3065 5 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Dr Daud Abdullah

Western journalists often shy away from writing on Palestine. They believe that so much has already been written about the century-old conflict that it is hard to find a new twist to excite and grip their readers. David Cronin has managed to do just that in his fascinating book. He makes a watertight case to prove that Europe is, in many ways, complicit in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

In private, commentators and politicians may admit this; but no European author has, before now, summoned the courage to make the case in public. When the American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their book The Israeli lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, it seemed that the taboo was broken; it could be only a matter of time before someone in Europe undertook a similar task, and Cronin is that someone. His book is of this genre and must, therefore, be seen as a ground-breaking publication.

The work embodies a wealth of carefully researched and documented information. The author made extensive use of official contacts and reports emanating from Brussels, the seat of the European Union. In a lucid and attractive manner he has subjected EU statements and policies to rigorous interrogation, and has exposed the often yawning gap between what is said and what is (actually hardly ever) done. The book is scathing in its criticism of European officialdom, which Cronin describes as "lily-livered" [133].

In order to explain the thinking processes in Brussels, the author recalls a statement by Javier Solana made at a conference in October 2009, shortly before he stepped down as the EU's foreign policy chief: "There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union." Solana added, "Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It's a member of all the [EU's] programmes; it participates in all the programmes." [2]

Cronin marshals an array of anecdotal evidence to verify Solana's claim. Other European officials and leaders have made no less sycophantic remarks. He explains that the almost servile attitude of European countries towards the US explains, in part, their legendary blind support for Israel. A Czech diplomat told the author, "It is a case of a friend of our friend has to be our friend too." [49] Such admissions are commonplace with the Czechs, notwithstanding the decisive military support given by Czechoslovakia to the Zionist militias during the 1948 war.

Spouting verbal criticism of Israel is one thing, but taking a principled stand against its aggression, independent of Washington, is quite another. The EU has been outstandingly incapable of doing this on the world stage.

There are several contractual reasons for this. For example, the EU Lisbon Treaty stresses that while EU countries have their own military capabilities, they are ultimately subservient to NATO which provides "collective defence". Given America's de facto role as commander in chief of NATO, and Israel's relentless efforts to become integrated into the alliance, it is self-explanatory why the Europeans have been unable to challenge Israel. The American head of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, Ronald Asmus, supports the status quo because of what he calls, "Israeli exceptionalism". [55]

Speaking of exceptionalism, Cronin highlights the policy of Britain's Tony Blair in the Balkans and his military intervention there. The former Prime Minister justified the use of military force against Serbia because Britain "could not allow in the case of Kosovo ethnic cleansing and genocide to happen right at the doorstep of Europe and do nothing about it." [45] But, for reasons best known to himself, Blair has allowed Israel to get away with flagrant crimes, including ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts, in occupied Palestine.

Another notable case in point is Jack Straw, who succeeded Robin Cook as Britain's Foreign Secretary after the latter had initiated to great fanfare what he termed a new era of "ethical foreign policy" in 1997. The following year, Cook incurred the wrath of Zionist settlers after he decided to listen to aggrieved Palestinians affected by the illegal Israeli settlement in Jabal Abu Ghuneim. Once comfortably ensconced in office, Straw saw fit to oppose a UN recommendation to refer the issue of the Israeli Wall to the International Court of Justice, on the grounds that it would embroil the body in "a heavily political bilateral dispute". [44]

Cronin is under no illusion about the nature and consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. He refers to the origins of the term "genocide", which was coined by a Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who survived the Nazi holocaust. Lemkin said genocide was not simply the immediate destruction of a nation but also included a coordinated plan of action aimed at destroying the foundation of the life of a national group. Lemkin's opinion was later incorporated in the definition of genocide by the UN in 1948 in its Genocide Convention. Cronin berates the Europeans for being quick to urge African states to respect the Convention and to punish any crime of genocide "whether committed in time of peace or in time of war". [29] And yet, when it comes to Israel, European politicians recoil and display an appalling reluctance to uphold the law. Cronin says that Israel may be all things – democratic, industrialised and modern   but it is, nevertheless, engaged in crimes "that fulfil the text book definition of genocide". [33]

Chapter three gives the book its subtitle – "aiding the occupation". Here, Cronin cites the case of the Rafah border control which was "subcontracted" to the Europeans when Israel abandoned and destroyed its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. "Each morning," he notes, "the EU personnel had to report to the Israeli security forces at Karem Shalom [Karim Abu Salam]", another border post located a few kilometres south of Rafah. [69]

When challenged on their policy on Palestine, Europeans leaders are quick to point out that they are the largest donors of aid to the Palestinians. This is true and, as the book confirms, the Palestinians have received proportionately more foreign aid than any other people in the world since the Second World War. But the Palestinian problem is not economic or humanitarian; it is a national issue and, as the former head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), David Shearer, pointed out, "pouring an immense amount of aid into a conflict without either the structure of a peace agreement or a solid analysis of its impact is comparable to speeding along a road at night without headlights". [75]

What is often omitted from the official disclosures concerning aid is the fact that according to UN estimates, 45% of all foreign aid to the Palestinians finds its way back into the Israeli economy. Israel has used the levers of fiscal control, trade regimes and labour mobility to ensure this. The case of the Israeli firm Dor Alon is especially poignant. It has a network of petrol stations and convenience stores in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Yet, it was given €97 million by the European Commission to supply industrial diesel for energy generation in the Gaza Strip. The company, however, works in tandem with the Israeli government to deny supplies to the population under siege in that beleaguered territory. International law has thus been sacrificed to maintain the instruments of a failed peace process.

Another disturbing feature of the European-Israeli alliance which the book addresses adeptly is the transfer of scientific technology and military cooperation. Israel enjoys closer ties to the European Union than even those countries which are poised for membership. It is the main external participant in the Union's "framework programme" for scientific research and Israeli arms companies are eligible for EU funding. Prominent among the main beneficiaries of these grants is Motorola Israel, which participates in an EU financed surveillance project, known as iDetect4All. Motorola has installed a radar system in 47 Israeli settlements in the West Bank over the past five years.

During the last Labour government's first decade in office (1997-2007), British companies exported more than £110 million in military hardware to Israel. Cronin asserts that not only did the flow continue under Blair, but it actually intensified during critical periods, such as during the war against Lebanon in 2006 when Britain allowed US planes transhipping weapons to Israel to refuel on British soil.

Despite the overwhelming mass of evidence, European officials are nowhere near to admitting that they have been facilitating the development of Israeli technology for the abuse of human rights. The most one official was prepared to concede was that they are "complicit with Israel settlements". [100] That in itself is a crime under humanitarian law.

Does the European Union have the means to put pressure on Israel? This book asserts that it does. It notes that two-thirds of all Israeli exports are to the European Union and if the political will existed the EU could use trade sanctions or the threat thereof to pressure the Israelis. Instead, EU officials pass the buck on to consumers; the British government, for example, says that Israeli goods should be labelled so the consumers can make informed choices about what they buy. Cronin says this form of tokenism should not be taken seriously as Israel's denial of Palestinian rights should not be reduced to an issue of consumer choice. "Nobody should have to make a choice about whether or not to support an illegal activity when shopping for groceries." [135]

Europe's alliance with Israel is an indictment of policies which are not simply flawed but duplicitous. All over the continent ministers criticise Israeli settlements from one side of their mouths and woo Israeli companies from the other. Cronin sums up his case in one sentence: "Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is cruel, vindictive and illegal."

Clearly, we are where we are today because of the support Israel receives from the international community. The Europeans are in a unique position to put an end to this epic of human suffering, if only they could muster the moral courage, in spite of American pressure. It can be done by limiting Israel's access to European markets. In the absence of such measures, Cronin believes that the only way forward is to intensify the international campaign.

This book is compelling, illuminative and painful. It is an indispensible pioneering work essential for students, tax-payers, policy- and decision-makers and, most of all, those who aspire to rid our world of the last vestiges of colonial domination and states built on supposed racial superiority.



Monday
May172010

Eyal Weizman on writing 'Hollow Land' 

by Eyal Weizman

In the two years since the book was first published in English and the three years since it was written much has taken place. If you have taken this book into your hands you must surely know the order of events: Hamas winning the Palestinian elections at the beginning of 2006, the War in Lebanon half a year later in the summer of 2006, Hamas taking power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the War on Gaza in 2008/2009.

On the other hand a less spectacular but not less significant process has continued: the Jewish settlements sprawled on, growing in both number and population count, the construction site of the Wall snaked on, almost complete, strangling Palestinian communities like a closing trap. New military checkpoints and outposts have been built, separating cities and villages, the people of Palestine from access to and even vision of their landscape. Almost nothing recognizable is left of the Palestine into which a 42-year-old Palestinian was born. Here the landscape and the built environment are not a panoramic allegory for power relations. This landscape does not only signify or aestheticize power relations, but is the medium of a constituted power. This landscape is not just the site of war, but its very tools.

It is the relation between these two types of transformation – the mediatized punctuating event of spectacular violence – bombing, assassinations, rocket fire, bulldozers (that for most people seem to have appeared from nowhere) – and the more processual and slower events – building, paving, tunneling – not less violent and destructive, that the book seeks to uncover. The crimes of landscape are less obvious and harder to measure. They require a different order of forensic investigation. But the two types of violence are related and they surely interact.

The spatial conflict over Palestine has re-articulated a certain principle: to be governed the territory must be constantly redesigned. This goes beyond a search for a stable and permanent “governable” colonial form, but rather points to the fact that it is through the constant transformation of space that this process of colonization has played out. Unpredictability and the appearance of anarchy are part of this violent logic of disorder. Violence is a kind of performance that does not take place within the fixed grids of space but actually reshapes it.

The nature of the transformation of the built environment includes the complementary acts of strategic form making: construction and destruction. For example, the recent, massive destruction of homes in Gaza could be understood as the reshaping of the built environment. It was indicative that Israeli politicians were speaking about the how of “reconstruction” in Gaza while ordering the murderous bombing to continue on the people least protected in this world. The furious violence of Israel’s attack left 1,400 people dead and 20,000 buildings, about 15% of all buildings in the Gaza Strip, either fully or partially destroyed.

Destruction, so the Israeli government imagined, is to be followed by development attempts that combine welfare and architecture to replace the refugee camp with “housing projects.” One of the aims is to break the historical, spatial and social continuity of the refugee camp and with it the collective political identity of the refugee, which is seen as the biggest threat to the current political order.

If, as the last example demonstrates, politics is registered in the contours of spaces, than formal and topological analysis, such as the one undertaken in this book, are important components to help comprehend political and military processes otherwise hidden because of their slower temporalities. I think of this book as a forensic investigation, but not in the sense that fatalistic terms such as “urbicide” imply - it’s not an autopsy of a dead body – its subject is still very much alive and twisting under enormous pain.

It would be too easy to say that the events that have taken place since the book was written have validated its analysis, but I would like to think that the history of the occupation – told from the point of view of space – holds the key to understanding the complexities of our present but also the possible contours, as blurred as they may be, of a future. In the description of the crimes performed on the environment – the very milieu of physical and cultural life – there is also a disguised love – a love not directed at a state but at a country and its peoples, and even a shameless modicum of unextinguished hope, a hope that the power and beauty of the land would be strong enough to resist the ongoing attempts at its partition and that politics would gradually grow to accept the fundamentals of sharing and equality between two people on a single land.

Eyal Weizman is an architect and director of the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. Since 2007 he is a member of the architectural collective “decolonizing architecture” in Beit Sahour/Palestine. His books include The Lesser Evil [Nottetempo, 2009], Hollow Land [Verso Books, 2007], and A Civilian Occupation [Verso Books, 2003].

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Friday
Sep112009

Facts on the Ground - Nadia Abu El-Haj

Archaeological Practice and Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society

Published 2001  Chicago University Press

REVIEW – 10 June 2009 -  Palestine News -Summer 2009

Abe Hayeem

This fascinating book is like an archaeological exploration itself, impeccably researched with quiet forensic rigour that has divided critics. While winning academic awards, it was nevertheless condemned by pro-Israel detractors, the notorious Campus Watch, in 2007, who tried (unsuccessfully) to have the writer’s academic tenure at Columbia terminated.

Edward Said, professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University until his death in September 2003, wrote of being "indebted" to the book and work of Abu El Haj, in Freud and the Non-European (2003):

"What she provides first of all is a history of systematic colonial archaeological exploration in Palestine, dating back to British work in the mid-nineteenth century. She then continues the story in the period before Israel is established, connecting the actual practice of archaeology with a nascent national ideology - an ideology with plans for the repossession of the land through renaming and resettling, much of it given archeological justification as a schematic extraction of Jewish identity despite the existence of Arab names and traces of other civilizations. This effort, she argues convincingly, epistemologically prepares the way for a fully fledged post-1948 sense of Israeli-Jewish identity based on assembling discrete archaeological particulars -scattered remnants of masonry, tablets, bones, tombs..."

Nadia Abu El- Haj analyses the practice of archaeology as a field science and it’s political use and manipulation by archaeologists, in particular Christian archaeologists in Palestine upto 1948, and thereafter in Israel, and in Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank after 1967. It is an investigation into the methodology used by Israeli archaeologists, and the nature of territorial self-fashioning in Israeli society and identity politics of what she interprets as the ‘colonial –national’ ideology of Zionism. Archaeology has been central to the formation of Israeli identity since the establishment of the state. It has been used to ‘prove’ Jewish continuity and ownership of Palestine since biblical times, “despite the existence of Arab names and traces of other civilizations”, and to justify extending Israel’s sovereignty and occupation, as the pretext for an Israeli return to their sacred land. The existing terra firma of Palestine contained ‘the historic biblical landscapes, battlegrounds, Israelite settlements and sites of worship’  that could be revealed by “digging the soil with our own hands”, as described by Ben Gurion.

The author describes the use of bulldozers in a dig at Jezreel, to get through the strata containing 5,000 years of past histories and all the intervening debris until the deeper levels of the Bronze Age/Canaanite and Iron Age/Israelite are reached – the ones Israeli archaeologists are interested in – which cover the period of the Bible. Immediately after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, bulldozers were also used to demolish the 400-year-old Mughrabi Quarter which contained important Islamic buildings, to clear the space in front of the Western Wall. While generally, the upper layers of Muslim and Ottoman periods were marginalised in digs and museums exhibiting the finds, in excavations around the city wall, an Umayyad Palace complex was retained, as part of monumental history, at the expense of smaller remains.

Anyone visiting the Old City should read Nadia’s book beforehand, to gain a detailed insight into the annexation of the whole of East Jerusalem in June 1967. The entire Old City was declared a site of Antiquity, and all the archives and collections of the Rockefeller Museum (including the Dead Sea Scrolls), and other institutions particularly of Jewish and Israelite relevance, were declared to be the state’s ‘national and cultural’ property, contravening UNESCO’s Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954). This ‘ownership’ is still emphasised today by Israel’s ‘new’ PM Netanyahu who has declared: “United Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours”

The whole area around the old Jewish Quarter was subject to a comprehensive archaeological excavation, before it was expanded to 5 times its original size, with the old Roman Cardo excavated, and reconstruction “fashioned over ruins incorporated into the new structures, so as to appropriate previous historical narratives into the expansion of the Jewish nation State. Past histories – Crusader, Ottoman, Arab are subsumed and de-nationalised or stripped of their significance”. The museums – Burnt House and the Western Heritage Tunnel – the opening up of it by Netanyahu in 1996 under prompting by the Religious Affairs Ministry causing riots – reconstruct only the Herodian history relevant to the original Jewish aspect of the Temple, establishing a ‘priority of right’.

Most controversially, excavations have been allowed to be taken under control by the ultra religious authorities and organisations like Ateret Hacohanim in the Western Heritage Tunnel, and the radical settler movements like Elad in Silwan creating the integration of the sacred, colonial, and national aspects where the tunnels become places of prayer, the Bible becomes history, and the cultural politics of a supposedly modern secular nation are reconfigured. This is now being questioned by professional archaeologists themselves, worried at the dangerous concoction of its use as part of the colonial expansion in the Old City and the ‘Holy Basin”.where religious Elad settlers have taken over all the open spaces, using armed guards backed by the Israeli soldiers, and is tunnelling under houses without concern for the Silwan residents, to try and find evidence, so far lacking, of the biblical City of David, which some Israeli archaeologists doubt actually existed.

The whole irony, in the spirit of El_Haj’s exposition, was commented on by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman, “Archaeology provided not only a pretext for an Israeli return to occupy Palestinian land, but also the ‘footprint’ of historical authenticity that could be developed into built form by Israeli architects. Biblical archaeology was used to validate the claim that vernacular architecture was in fact “Jewish’ at source and allowed ‘Israeliness’ to define itself as a local ‘native culture’ appropriated and altered by the latecomer Palestinians.”

Dr.Nadia Abu El-Haj is assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University, NY.

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Friday
Feb132009

Book review: Un-erasing the erasure of Palestine  

Book review: Un-erasing the erasure of Palestine
Gabriel Ash, The Electronic Intifada, 12 February 2009

I read Jonathan Cook's new book Disappearing Palestine: Israel's experiments in human despair before Israel committed its most recent massacres in Gaza. Israel's massive disregard for Palestinian life and the clearly deliberate destruction of life-sustaining infrastructure shocked many poorly informed observers, but few of those acquainted with the knowledge contained in this book would have been taken by surprise. Cook is a British journalist who made the Palestinian city of Nazareth his home. Over the last six years Cook published a series of highly informative and original articles that broke with the Western tradition of stenographic journalism. Although previously a staff journalist of the liberal British paper The Guardian, few of his recent articles were featured in the mainstream Western press. He knows too much.

This book is in fact two short books for the price of one. The second half comprises a selection drawn from these articles Cook published over the last six years in a variety of websites and newspapers. The first half is an outstanding essay that seeks to distill the so-called "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and to trace within it the overarching principle that guides Israel's policies. Cook's thesis is that "the goal of Israeli policy is to make Palestine and the Palestinians disappear for good."

Proving such a strong thesis is not an easy task. Many historians, and many laypersons with a liberal education, tend to be suspicious of plans and purposes. History, when examined closely enough, often looks like a patchwork of accidents. No doubt chance had a substantial impact on the history of Zionism. Few of the colonizers who laid the ground for the future State of Israel in the 1920s imagined the coming holocaust in Europe, or the massive influx of Jews from Arab countries. The most fateful decisions taken by the state were the result of intense internal debates and can be easily imagined resolving the other way. For example, the decisions to attack Egypt in 1956 and 1967 required the no small feat of isolating a sitting prime minister, Moshe Sharett in 1955 and Levi Eshkol in 1967. Ariel Sharon's provocation that ignited the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 was an election campaign ploy, and so were the recent massacres in Gaza.

However, when a driver has an accident every year, it is not enough to note that each accident was different -- here the street lighting was faulty, there the brakes malfunctioned, one time happened during a snow storm; we are at fault if we ignore the pattern. Cook synthesizes a voluminous array of books relating to both the ideology and practices of the Israeli state, in order to present a compelling and appalling pattern of actions and words leading, planning and driving in one inexorable direction, the disappearance of Palestine and Palestinians. He does this in a lean and matter-of-fact prose, with a style that keeps the inevitable pull of ironic language in check, and with effortless narrative guidance that acquaints the reader along the way with the main historical and geographical signposts. The first chapter covers Zionism's early beginnings and the erasure of Palestinian history, the colonial imagination of the "empty land," the emergence of active plans for getting rid of the inhabitants of Palestinian villages (transfer), followed by the actual massive ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. A battered Palestinian minority remained under Israeli control, mainly in the Galilee and the Negev. Cook then describes and traces the common denominator of the various policies adopted vis-a-vis this minority after 1948, from land confiscations and "judaization" campaigns to explicit calls for transfer, revealing the persistence and consistency of the overarching Israeli purpose: disappearing Palestinians.

The bulk of the main essay is devoted to the history of the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza, from the war of 1967 and the pursuant occupation, through the various strategic phases of the settlements enterprise, up to the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s, the second Palestinian intifada, the building of the apartheid wall and Sharon's "disengagement" from Gaza. It is in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where demographic constraints make Palestinian presence so much more of a threat to Zionism, that the single-minded pursuit of the goal of disappearance assumes its most monstrous forms so far, fully justifying the book's subtitle, "Israel's experiments in human despair." Cook weaves into the historical swipe copious evidence about the planning and thinking behind the settlement project. This thinking appears most clearly in the Kafka-esque legal subterfuges that Israel devised in order to give ethnic cleansing the patina of legality. The chapters about the law is a must-read primer into one of the most chilling aspects of Palestinian life under Israeli rule, chilling precisely because of its seemingly aseptic calm and the invisibility of violence. Political theorist Hannah Arendt's phrase, "the banality of evil," both resonates in and is questioned by this account: the banality of the local commanders and petty bureaucrats who make the occupation happen cannot exist without the sadistic creativity of its lawyers.

The final pages of the essay assess the implications of this story. Cook uses the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling's concept of "politicide" to call attention to the careful ways in which Israel constructs and describes its policies in order to dodge an accusation of genocide, when in fact the accusation is fully merited:

"So long as Israeli outrages can be presented as spontaneous, unsystematic and related to security needs, the international community will turn a blind eye. As long as Israel ensures that politicide -- a subtle incremental, war of attrition against the Palestinian public and private life -- does not look much like the popular notion of genocide (concentration camps and butchery) Israel will be able to continue its policies unchecked. The ultimate goal, however will be the same: the disappearance of a Palestinian nation for good."

Being proven right by events is not conclusive evidence of a thesis, but it is nonetheless a useful reminder that understanding matters. Cook writes in the last paragraph, "Gaza's inmates are staring at a future in which they are supposed to return to the Stone Age, without fuel, electricity, medicines, and even basic foodstuffs." That future is here, making Cook's other dire predictions all the more alarming.

Part of what the essay reveals, although Cook does not make it explicit, is how much the Israeli dependence on constructed historical narratives also translates into an almost "literary" sensitivity to the power of narration that is itself harnessed to the goals of disappearing Palestinians. Not only does Israel seek to erase the Palestinian presence in the land, and with it that historical memory, but its strategies of erasure are constrained by narrative rules, and designed with a view of fragmenting the potential national narrative that emerges from the erasure itself. Israel seeks not only to erase, but, borrowing from the language of architecture, to erase the erasure of Palestine, thus satisfying both internal needs for a clear conscience as well as the demands of Western amnesia to depict every new phase of this genocide as "spontaneous, unsystematic and related to security needs." History and journalism with memory, writing that insists on un-erasing the erasure, defragmenting the accidental and the spontaneous and tracing its patterns back to the bureaucrats, ideologues and politicians behind it and simultaneously to the resistance in front of it, is not just a matter of accuracy and knowledge, but also of survival.

Cook not only seeks to meet this requirement, but also exposes the complicity of those writers for whose consumption Israel tailors its genocide the way it does. This is done in the second half of the book. The reprinted articles are a useful series of "snapshots" from different moments in the war of disappearance. They tackle a variety of topics, from the persecution of Palestinian political leader Azmi Bishara, the rise of the Russian right-winger Avigdor Lieberman, the difference between left and right in Israeli politics, the siege of Gaza and more. An important number deal with analyzing the way various narrators of the events in question play an active role in the erasure of the disappearance of Palestine. Here, Cook takes to task Israeli writers Uri Avnery and David Grossman, as well as the rights organizations B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch for the complicit ways they represent the Palestinian struggle and Israeli actions.

Cook's book is a timely and useful contribution to the urgent work of countering the hegemonic discourse in the West as it seeks to accept and legitimize the disappearance of Palestine. There are however two lacunae in this exposition of Israel to Western audiences. First, Palestinian resistance appears in it only en passant, in a fragmented way. In un-erasing the erasure, Cook reconstructs Israel as a subject carrying out genocide against Palestinians, but leaves Palestinian agency fragmented and to a large extent erased. This fragmentation is no doubt the result of successful Israeli repression, but part of the task of writing the story of this repression is to resist and recover from it. For a Western audience, this lacuna means that the book ultimately sustains a humanitarian appeal more than a demand for solidarity and support for Palestinian resistance.

The second lacuna is the concentration on the surface of Israeli policies. The coherent portrayal of Israel as it perpetrates genocide against Palestinians is not false. Without a doubt Israel is persistent in a slow drive to disappear Palestine. But beneath this coherence lay internal struggles and fractures that matter to the success of the work of stopping and undoing that disappearance. In the late 1980s, a dominant section of Israeli elites was eager, for reasons of self-interest, to move from a colonial to a post-colonial relation with Palestinians. To be sure, that would not have ended the repression, and it would not have meant the end of the Palestinian liberation struggle. However, the results of that failed transformation, doomed by the interplay between the global neo-liberal reaction and the internal fractures of Jewish Israeli society, were fundamental to the reinvigorated genocidal policies adopted by Israel in the '90s and beyond. As vital as it is to reconstruct Palestinian agency in the face of fragmentation, it is also vital to deconstruct Israeli agency to both its local internal components and to the global structures that co-opt and use it. By attributing to Israel a level of coherence that it doesn't actually possess we risk echoing uncritically the false claims of its leadership to represent Jews and Jewish interest, supposedly against Palestinians, a hostile region and a hostile world. Especially today, amidst a collapsing neo-liberal globalization and the inchoate possibilities opened by this collapse, it is crucial to de-exceptionalize the story of Israel and to integrate its analysis within larger frameworks that can facilitate dismantling its genocidal structures before they fulfill their apocalyptic potential. I am well aware that addressing both issues would have required a much beefier volume than Cook intended. It would have been useful however to call attention to the lack and make the reader aware of what is left untold.

Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer. Ash is a core member of IJAN (Inrternational Jewish Anti-Zionist Network). He writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcomes comments at g.a.evildoer A T gmail D O T com.


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  • Sunday
    Nov232008

    Sari Makdisi- Jeff Halper -Jonathan Cook

    Grab every hilltop

    • Last Updated: September 05. 2008

    Arab workers construct new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev in March of this year. AP

    Three new books detail Israel’s undiminished power over Palestinian lives and land. Alan Philps doubts they can upend the entrenched narrative of the conflict that has taken hold in the West.

    1) Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation
    Saree Makdisi
    W W Norton & Co
    Dh105

    2) An Israel in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel
    Jeff Halper
    Pluto Press
    Dh112

    3) Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair
    Jonathan Cook
    Zed Books
    Dh99


    It is easy to forget that not so long ago Israelis and Palestinians used to get together for all kinds of reasons. At the start of the Oslo process in the early 1990s, when peace looked to be on the horizon, Israeli musicians were playing in the night clubs of Ramallah. Palestinian dentists in the border town of Qalqiliya were doing a brisk trade fixing the teeth of visiting Israelis. Mega-markets sprang up on the old Green Line, where Israelis would spend their Saturdays buying cheap food and consumer goods.

    There were some far-sighted souls, led by Edward Said, who saw that all this activity was dust in the eyes. The so-called peace process, he argued, could never lead to justice for the Palestinians because its basic document, the 1993 Oslo Accords, lacked the elements required for success, not least a freeze on Jewish settlements.

    A decade on, we know that Said was right. It is the fate of people whose gaze is fixed on the horizon to have their pockets picked, and that is what happened to the Palestinians. The number of Jewish settlers doubled during the years of the Oslo peace process. While the Israeli jazzmen were blowing their horns in Ramallah, the Palestinians were being quietly robbed of their land.

    The end of Oslo has brought a harsh clarity to the conflict. The three authors of the books under review – an Israeli, a Palestinian and a Briton – have each picked apart the elements of Israel’s 40-year occupation – brutality by the security forces, legal duplicity and foreign PR of eye-watering audacity. Their conclusion is that just as Washington has got around to accepting the idea of a Palestinian state there is no land left to build it on, only a big prison.

    Jeff Halper, a white-bearded anthropology professor who immigrated to Israel after the 1973 Yom Kippur War takes the most personal approach. His life changed, he writes, when he witnessed the demolition of a Palestinian home by the Israeli army in 1998. He instinctively rushed to defend the family, and found himself knocked down into the dirt with Salim Shawamreh, the owner of the destroyed house. Both men were looking up at the barrel of an Israeli gun. At that moment, Halper says, he saw through the “membrane” that surrounds all Jewish Israelis. This is the invisible barrier which keeps life in Israel sharply focused and brightly lit, and turns the Palestinians into dark, inhuman figures in the shadows.

    He struggled to comprehend why, if there was land in the West Bank for half a million Jewish settlers, there was no space for Shawamreh, his wife and children – and the 18,000 other Palestinian families who have had their homes reduced to rubble. His conclusion is that Israel, far from being the only democracy in the Middle East is a Jewish tribal state whose guiding principle, from 1904 until the present day, has been the dispossession of the Palestinians.

    Halper cannot deny his Israeliness after 35 years of residence. He now considers himself a post-Zionist, which puts him at odds with the mainstream peace movement. He believes that Israel can only “redeem itself” – to subvert a favourite phrase of the Zionists – by ending a century of dispossession and sharing the land with the Palestinians.

    The Israelis who think like Halper – including his three sons, all conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the Israeli army – could probably fit around his kitchen table. He left academia to become a full-time activist as the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. At the end of August, he was one of the 44 activists who sailed in small boats from Cyprus to Gaza to defy the Israeli blockade. Upon entering Israel he was arrested, and he spent the night in Ashkelon jail.

    Dispossession began slowly at the start of the last century and reached a military peak in 1947-48 with the ethnic cleansing of most Palestinians from the state of Israel. In the 1967 war it was not possible to expel all the West Bank Palestinians, so more sophisticated means were found to make life impossible for them, in the hope that the rest would depart. The figures speak for themselves. Before 1948, the Palestinians owned – either outright or through customary title – 93 per cent of the land in Mandatory Palestine. After the Nakba, this declined to 25 per cent, and now stands at a mere four per cent.

    The settlers’ red-roofed houses, Halper writes, have “replaced the tank as the smallest fighting unit” in the drive to conquer the land. Under the guise of normal governance – zoning, road building and the creation of “nature reserves” – and “security” concerns, the Israelis have imprisoned the Palestinians in what Halper calls a “matrix of control”: a dynamic network of army bases and settlements, checkpoints and settler-only roads that chokes off all normal life. This is one of the many legacies of Ariel Sharon, who urged the settlers to “grab every hilltop”. The lesson of Israeli manoeuvres in the West Bank is that you do not have to hold all the land – just the right land – to control it.

    To most people the map of the West Bank is impossibly complex. To Halper the matrix of control is crystal-clear. “Imagine a blueprint for a planned prison. Looking at it, it appears as if the prisoners own the place. They have 92 per cent of the territory: the living areas, the work areas, the exercise yard, the cafeteria, the visiting area. All the prison authorities have is a mere eight per cent or less – the prison walls, the cell bars, the keys to iron doors, some glass partitions, surveillance cameras and weapons. Not much in terms of territory, but enough to control the inmates.”

    The final phase of dispossession is now under way in the form of a separation barrier that has encircled Qalqiliya and its dentists with a concrete barrier twice as high as the Berlin Wall.

    Halper sees himself as a teacher, trying to educate people, to “reframe” the conflict not in terms of security, as now, but in terms of rights and international law. He wants to help others see through the “membrane” like he did.

    Jonathan Cook, a freelance writer living in the city of Nazareth, is an altogether angrier personality. Just as Halper is at odds with the mass of Israelis, Cook has distanced himself from the Jerusalem press corps that provides most of the world with news about the conflict. Based in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority, he breaks the first rule of the Jerusalem press corps – “Jews make news” – and the second rule: “No editors are interested in Palestinians.” By stepping off the treadmill of the staff correspondent, he can concentrate on writing what he likes for where he likes, including The National. For Cook, the experience of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is crucial to understanding life on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip and is likely to be a key factor in the unravelling of the Zionist project.

    This perspective gives his book Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair a feel completely different from any other reporter’s work. The Israeli government, which is usually at the heart of a foreign correspondent’s coverage, appears as a distant, threatening force.

    Cook quotes Moshe Dayan, defence minister in 1967, as saying the Palestinians must live “like dogs” so that they leave. This, of course, has not been achieved, though the middle classes have fled, grabbing any chance they can find to make a better life abroad. The Israeli project, Cook says, is “ethnic cleansing not by butchers in uniform but technocrats in suits.”

    The hounding of the diaspora Palestinians who returned to their homeland under the Oslo process, only to be kicked out, is at the heart of Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out. It is clear that Israel wants to decapitate Palestinian society, removing those with capital and economic expertise – the very people who set up mega-markets for Israeli shoppers in the Oslo years. As Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, wrote, the goal of Zionism should be to “spirit a penniless population across the border by … denying it any employment in our own country.”

    Makdisi is the nephew of Edward Said and, like him, a professor of English, though not in New York but at the University of California, Los Angeles. But while he is a smart speaker, the book disappoints. Born in Beirut and living in California, Makdisi is a visitor to Palestine. Every page is packed with facts and statistics, but he fails to take the reader by the hand and lead him through the thicket of numbers and acronyms, as Raja Shehadeh did successfully in Palestinian Walks. His sources are mostly the reports of international organisations and Israeli human rights groups. Depressingly, the Palestinians appear as abject victims.

    All these writers have succeeded in wresting the narrative from Israel’s preferred framework, in which the imperatives of security are the only issues, to one that focuses on the Palestinians and their half-lives as non-citizens with no rights. But the weakness of these books is that the writers all have an academic bent: the audience for these books is a limited one.

    This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of what is probably the most influential book on Israel-Palestine – not an academic tome but Leon Uris’s novel Exodus. This saga of the heroic birth of the Israeli state was wildly popular when it was published in 1958 and instantly turned into a hit film starring Paul Newman. It furnished the mindsets of Western correspondents and commentators as they covered the Six-Day War – making it seem that the conquest of Jerusalem was part of God’s plan.

    Halper devotes an anguished chapter to the legacy of Exodus. It popularised many of the myths on which Israeli propaganda is based: the Jews as underdogs, the Palestinians as brigands and squatters and, most enduringly, the idea that the Palestinian’s defeat in 1948 proved they lacked a true connection to the land they could not defend.

    All these falsehoods have been skewered by Halper, Makdisi, Cook and dozens of other writers. But will their books unseat the Exodus myth and change the way people think about the conflict? Can any book alter the increasingly incompatible narratives that have taken hold among partisans of both sides?

    The Palestinians used to have a national myth made up of armed struggle and steadfastness, one that sought to expunge the victimhood of 1948. The work of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet who died last month, glorified a kind of heroic resistance. But now, thanks to Israel’s military might and its unbreakable bond with America, the Palestinians have been defeated. All that remains of the resistance narrative is the desperate stratagem of suicide bombing, which has only helped the Israelis to win the global propaganda war.

    These three volumes are full of tragic tales – of daily humiliation at checkpoints, of villagers cut off from their land, of children walking to school through frontier-style terminals. There is no heroic new myth here, only cosmic victimhood.


    Alan Philps is associate editor of The National. aphilps@thenational.ae