50 years

Jun. 12th, 2017 11:22 pm
smhwpf: (Handala)
There's some good anniversaries to celebrate around now. Like, 50 years since the US Supreme Court struck down all state laws forbidding interracial marriage, in the Loving vs. Virginia case. For 50 years, race has not been a factor in who you can legally marry in the US. Aren't we modern? (Britain had and has plenty of racism. It never had a law forbidding interracial marriage). For about 1 year, gender has not been a factor either.

And some not so good ones. Last week was 50 years since the 6-Day War, when Israel conquered the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights, and thus began the Israeli occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories - those that they had not been mostly expelled from in 1948.

So I'm writing this a bit late, but we had a demo in Cambridge marking it today, so it's as good an occasion as any, and hey, what's a week in 50 years?

But when you get to 50 years, calling it an "Occupation" gets a bit silly. Military occupations are supposed to be temporary things. In international law, and in reality. I mean, everything is temporary, but after enough time, an occupation ceases to be merely an occupation, and becomes something else. An empire. A new border. A new country. Like, if a peace process goes on long enough, without actually leading to peace, you need a new name for it. Nothing complimentary comes to mind.

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories quite quickly stopped being a mere military occupation, when an army of one country temporarily controls another in the aftermath of war: Israel started (illegally, under the Geneva Conventions which Israel signed) moving in civilian settlers in the 1970s, and now there are 800,000 Israeli settlers, including in East Jerusalem, 13% of Israel's population. There are cities. There are industrial zones. There is large-scale agriculture in the Jordan Valley. (Where the Palestinians are denied access to the most fertile land in the region, and the plentiful water resources of the Jordan, and are reduced to a precarious, marginal existence, constantly vulnerable to demolitions and expulsions when the Israelis covet the patches of land on which they temporarily reside). This is way, way, beyond an "Occupation".

What is it then? An annexation? Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem, in a move never recognized by any other country, even the US - though they never gave the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem citizenship. They are "permanent" residents, but this permanency is a fragile thing that can be easily lst by, say, going away to study or work for too long. In the rest of the West Bank, Israel maintains strategic ambiguity. Israel has no defined borders. So where there are Israeli settlements, that is "Israel". If you want to send a letter to an Israeli settler in Ariel, you address it "Israel". But where there are concentrations of Palestinian population that can't easily be ushered away, that is - well, it's not not Israel, but it's not Israel either. Israel has perfected the art of having its cake and eating it.

Apartheid is an apt name in many ways, but apart from the familiar moans of liberals that you can't possibly use that awful word, because it's reserved for South Africa, andSouth Africa is special, (hint: it isn't: there's a legal definition of the "crime of Apartheid" in international law - look it up) - apart from this, Apartheid is just woefully inadequate to encapsulate the horrific conditions to which Palestinians are subjected.

Of course, there is gross economic discrimination. Israeli settlers in the West Bank get 6 times as much water per person as Palestinians, at a fraction of the price (the water coming from the West Bank aquifer). Then there are the separated road networks, the high quality Jews only express highways. While Palestinians who want to move around their country are subjected to a gauntlet of checkpoints and roadblocks, endless humiliations and risk of arrest or being shot; African Americans in parts of the South especially would recognize some of this, only on steroids. Palestinians cannot leave, or reenter, their country without Israeli permission.

In 'Area C' under the 1994 Oslo accords, the less populated areas where Israel exercizes full civil and security control, Palestinians are essentially never granted planning permission, and thus anything they build can be, and frequently is, knocked down at the whim of the Israeli authorities. Or if not demolished for the lack of permits that are rarer than unicorns, the same result can always be obtained on grounds of "security".

Perhaps most egregious is the "justice" system. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to the regular Israeli civilian justice system, with lawyers and due process and a presumption of innocence. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to a military justice system, where they have no such thing. Israeli military courts convict 99.7% of the Palestinian defendants before them. over 400 Palestinians are currently in Administrative Detention, which is detention without charge or trial, where the prisoner has no lawyer and is not allowed to know what they are accused of. Administration is for an initial period of 3-6 months, but can be renewed indefinitely. 800,000 Palestinians have at one time or other been imprisoned by Israel in the past 50 years. At a rough estimate based on demographic statistics, that's somewhere between 20-25% of the entire population of the Palestinian territories aged 15+ that have been alive since 1967. Oh wait, but Israel imprisons children too, so maybe that statistic is misleading.

Palestinians in the West Bank. Have. No. Rights.

What do you call such a set-up? Apartheid is accuate - inhumane acts "...committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them" - but insufficient. It will have to do for now.

As for Gaza, while Israel is still legally the occupying power (and we should not forget it), that has in practice morphed from an occupation to a siege, and a slow-burning humanitarian catastrophe: a UN report a couple of years ago predicted that Gaza will become unliveable by 2020. Water supplies are running short.The sewage system is creaking and cracking. Israel's intent is to choke Gaza while not actually creating a situation where people die in such large numbers that the media notices, but things don't always turn out the way we intend, do they?

The notion of a 2-state solution is dead, if unfortunately not quite buried. The idea that you can shift this huge settler population and all the accompanying industry and infrastructure back across the Green Line, or that Israel would ever agree to it, is absurd. Whatever the legal position, either internationally or in Israel, there is one political entity between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. A just peace in Israel/Palestine now can only mean one thing: equality for all its people, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Hopelessly idealistic. Yes. But the only option. It's the sort of thing that can never happen, until it does. It will only happen with serious external pressure, combined with effective internal resistance. Both are currently lacking, although internally there are encouraging signs, such as the recent mass hunger strke by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which led to significant Israeli concessions (which they will presumably renege on at some point, because that's how Israel generally behaves, but it's something). Externally, the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is growing, and is seriously scaring the Israelis, enough that they are recruiting armies of internet trolls to oppose it, giving Israelis flying out of the country propoaganda materials on how to counter it, while in North America and parts of Europe, Israel's apologists are doing everything they can to condemn the movement as anti-Semitic, and if possible make it illegal. But as yet, it is not enough to cause serious economic harm to Israel, or cause them to consider coming to the negotiating table.

Some day it may. Diaspora Jews are, slowly or rapidly, falling out of love with Israel, especially the younger generations, as the monstrous nature of the Israeli state becomes ever harder to hide between even the best PR and invocations of the Holocaust. It could take decades, or it could happen incredibly suddenly, when no-one is expecting it.

But battles for equality are never easy, and are never finished. Look at the US, or South Africa. Some in the Palestinian cause seem to decry the very idea of negotiations and messy compromises. They seem to imagine that, with enough Palestinian resistance and external pressure from BDS, the State of Israel in its current form will all at once be swept away by the inevitable laws of historical justice and the moral arc of the universe, or some such, the Knesset will dissolve itself and hand over power to a Revolutionary Committee, and a beautiful new secular, non-racial state with equality for all will be ushered in. (I exaggerate a little, perhaps).

No, it will probably come rather more slowly and messily than that, if it come at all. Dismantling this pervasive network of repression and control is a gigantic task, likewise creating a political settlement in Israel/Palestine that gives not only freedom, democracy and equal rights for all, but confidence for all groups that this state of affairs will persist. Absorbing however many of the 7 million or so Palestinian refugees, those expelled by Israel in the war of 1948 and their descendants, in a peaceful and sustainable way is no small task either, though I do not believe an impossible one. As for reducing and ultimately ending ethnic-based economic inequality and discrimination. Well.

But I do think this is the only long-term solution, what the rest of the world, insofar as it cares about the situation, should work for, rather than perpetuating the fiction of a 2-state solution that lies somewhere at the other end of an ephemeral rainbow called the 'peace process'. I believe there is also a moral debt from the west to the Palestinian people. Another anniversary this year is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, whereby the British promised to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, without any thought of consulting the existing population thereof. Britain, and later the US and other leading powers, created and enabled this state of affairs, and still uphold it. So I think we kind of have a responsibility to do something about changing it. Or at the very least, stop actively supporting it.


Mar. 8th, 2015 12:03 am
smhwpf: (Winter is coming)
Following on from my last post, the term "Israeli Apartheid" often generates strong reactions. Aren't you going a bit far? Isn't that a harsh, even hateful term? It can be, I admit, a jarring phrase.

The most common specific objection tends to go something like this:  "Apartheid was unique to South Africa. You shouldn't be comparing things to Apartheid like that. It diminishes the unique horror of it, as well as exaggerating what is going on in Israel/Palestine"

The first thing I'd say is, I think that's confusing Apartheid with the Holocaust. The Holocaust really is unique in so many horrific ways, which is why comparing stuff to the Holocaust is an instant way of making an ass of yourself. (And I really, really wish that some of my friends in the pro-Palestine movement would refrain from comparing Israel's actions to the Holocaust or the Nazis. Aside from Godwin, if you can't see why the comparison is extra insensitive in this case, then you're an idiot.)

As for the uniqueness of the South African situation, this is kind of undermined by the fact that  a string of South Africans who were at the head of the freedom struggle, have made just this comparison, most notably Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

But more specifically, describing Israel as an Apartheid state is not actually a comparison or an analogy with South Africa, it is a description that holds good in its own right regardless of comparisons with South Africa. The crime of Apartheid is specifically defined by the UN Convention of Apartheid, and covers “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them"

One may certainly say, for example, that the Jim Crow system of segregration practices in the US South met the definition of Apartheid, though this was before it was defined.

Israel's laws, policies and practices, especially in the West Bank, but also to a significant degree within Israel proper, meet the definition of Apartheid. The parellel 'criminal justice' systems faced by Jews and Palestinians is one key example, and the use of this system as a means of repression. Others include:

- Massively unequal access to water

- Home demolitions

- Restrictions on movement, checkpoints, roadblocks, Israeli-only roads, with your legal rights and treatment depending on what type of identity card you hold.

- Actuall the whole illegal settlement system, including all the above points.

- Residential screening committees (paywall), which allow Jewish communities, both in Israel and illegal West Bank settlements, to keep Arabs out, and which the Israeli High Court approved as legal last year.

- The ongoing displacement of Bedouin citizens of Israel, as part of plans to Judaize the Negev. Tens of thousands of Bedouins live in "unrecognized villages" - which were often there from before the foundation of the state of Israel, but which the new state chose not to "recognize", and whose inhabitants therefore do not have rights.

One could go on. Personally, I think one could reasonably call the situation within Israel itself as "massive systemic discrimination", depending on how you look at it, although Apartheid there is not unreasonable either; but I do not see how one can fail to call the extreme, brutal, and legally codified system of repression and discrimination in the West Bank by the name of Apartheid.

(One other objection I've heard to the term Apartheid is that it is better to look at the situation in the West Bank as Occupation, rather than Apartheid. All the evils I've described are the result of occupation, and take that away and all those go to. So it is a matter of how you frame it, and the Apartheid framing is not the most helpful.

Well, Occupation is certainly correct, but one does not exclude the other. The thing is, saying that every other evil (within the West Bank at least) is but a consequence of occupation seems to be accepting the notion of the "temporary" nature of the occupation. I mean, I certainly hope it is temporary, but it is increasingly clear that, whatever the theory in the beginning, for Israel the occupation and the settlements are in no way temporary. The Apartheid policies of Israel in the West Bank are not some temporary regrettable side-effect of an extraordinary military situation, they are part and parcel of what Israel intends as a permanent arrangement in "Judea and Samaria". It is an Occupation, and it has imposed an Apartheid system within the Occupied territories.)
smhwpf: (Handala)
Went to a talk in Stockholm today as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (in non-UKian Europe). Two speakers: the second was Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian activist (with the PFLP) and author, who gave a more broad, ideological talk. The first was Charlotte Kates of Samidoun, the solidarity network for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. I will list some of the key points, many of which I was familiar with but which together paint a pretty compelling picture.

- There are over 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons at present (over 7,000 according to another source)

- This includes 200 children from ages 14-16 (who are held in regular adult prisons).

- Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad estimated in 2012 that 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces since 1967, amounting to about 20% of the current Palestinian population of the West Bank & Gaza.

- Over 500 Palestinians are held in Administrative Detention, under which they can be held for 6 months at a time, indefinitely renewable, without charge, trial or legal representation, and without having any idea of the accusations against them.

- Palestinians in the West Bank can be arrested, detained and imprisoned essentially arbitarily, on the whim of officers of the Israeli occupation forces. Offences can relate to particitating in an illegal demonstration, being a member of an illegal organization, having contact with an illegal organization, etc. Since virtually all Palestinian protest and resistance activities, violent or non-violent, are effectively criminalized, this covers a very wide range.

- Another favourite is "stone throwing". Palestinian kids do throw stones some times; but it only takes the word of a soldier to convict them. (On a personal note, I was accused of throwing stones by an Israeli soldier. Of course internationals have rather more legal protection than Palestinians, and they were much more interested in getting me out of the country than putting me in prison, I'm glad to say).

- For example, Palestinian student Lina Khattab, a student leader at Bir Zeir University, was recently sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for "participating in an unlawful demonstration" and "throwing stones". Of course, adding the stone-throwing charge means that she is a wicked, wicked violent activist and not a nice peaceful Gandhian that we can all sympathize with.

- But at least she, like most of the Palestinian prisoners, are not in Administrative Detention - they've at least had due process of law, right?

- Wrong. Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza, if captured by Israeli forces), are subject to a system of military justice, in whcih their rights to a fair trial, including access to evidence against them, legal repreesntation, etc., are severely constrained. These courts have a conviction rate of 99.74%.

- The military courts system does not provide Palestinian prisoners with the right to a fair trial guaranteed them under the Geneva Conventions. That's according to the guy who was running them, back in 2013.

- Incidentally, a lot of these "legal processes" - Administrative Detention, military courts, etc., have simply been preserved and adopted by the Israelis from British Mandate law, which was used to repress Palestinian resistance from 1918-48 (and, later, against Zionist groups).

- The mass incarceration of Palestinians is part of a broader Israeli strategy of terror and repression. Palestinians  are frequently arrested in night raids on family homes, very often as part of an action against an entire village, where their homes are torn apart and their entire family terrorized.

- Taken together, this does not represent any sort of "criminal justice" system - it is a system of repression and control.

- Back to the Apartheid theme: legal mechanisms such as Administrative Detention and military courts, and the accompanying structures of arbitrary arrest and detention, night raids, etc., are strictly for Palestinians only. Jewish settlers in the West Bank are subject to regular Israeli civil law - more or less conforming to Western standards of justice.

- (Except, of course, for the fact that Israeli settlers are virtually never charged, let alone convicted, for the continual acts of violence and property destruction they commit against Palestinians).

- At the risk of belabouring the point, the justice system you face in the West Bank is explicitly dependant on your ethnicity.

- Even Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have considerably more rights than those in the West Bank, if they are charged with a crime that has anything to do with Palestinian resistance - for example, having contact with anything deemed an illegal organization - are subjected to special criminal justice procedures that again restrict their rights of representation and access to evidence. If convicted, they are classed as "security prisoners", and placed in the same highly militarized prisons as Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.

- Palestinian prisoners, like those in Apartheid South Africa, are very much at the center of Palestinian resistance. Like in South Africa, self-education, protest, hunger strikes, sometimes winning hard-fought concessions and improvements in conditions, are a continual feature of Palestinian prisoners' lives. While at the moment Palestinian protest and resistance in the West Bank is relatively quiescent in most respects, campaigns on behalf of Palestinian prisoners are still very much an active thing. The issue of prisoners is one that really, really matters to the Palestinians, although it is not something that grabs the headlines internationally.
smhwpf: (Misbehave)
[livejournal.com profile] mirabehn asks "what's the most bizarre and interesting thing that's happened to you when you've been protesting?"

I am very tired, so I picked an easy one.


Words fail

Jul. 12th, 2013 01:05 am
smhwpf: (Dr Who shell shock)
Israeli soldiers in Hebron detained a 5-year old boy for throwing a stone.

They let the boy and his father go after a senior officer intervened. He criticized his men for doing such a thing in front of cameras.

smhwpf: (Sandman)
Remember how I said that I wouldn't put it past Israel to renege on the deal that ended the mass hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners a few weeks ago?

I thought then, maybe people will think I'm being too harsh, irrationally or excessively anti-Israel, etc. etc.

Well, turns out I wasn't. Israel has already reneged on the deal. In particular they have renewed Administrative Detention orders - imprisonment without charge or trial - for 30 prisoners since the deal, which was one of the things they agreed not to do. They have also not yet allowed visits to prisoners from family in Gaza, which they agreed to do.

As a result, the prisoners are warning of a renewed hunger strike.

Frequently, like Xander Harris, I'm afraid I do like saying "I told you so". Not on this occasion.

Strike out

May. 15th, 2012 01:37 am
smhwpf: (No power)
A deal was reached today to end the mass hunger strike of nearly 2000 Palestinian prisoners, brokered by Egypt.

Israel has agreed to end solitary confinement of 19 prisoners, allow family visits to prisoners from Gaza which had been stopped since the capture of Gilad Shalit by Hamas (released last October); and, on the crucial issue of administrative detention, agreed that once those currently on it have reached the end of their six month sentence (handed down without charge or trial), they will be released unless brought to court.

How this plays out remains to be seen, and I wouldn't put it pass Israel to renege on that or find some way round it. (Or re-arrest people, as they did Hana Shalabi, a previous hunger striker released under the deal that freed Shalit). But it's a fantastic achievement, bought with an almost unimaginable level of sacrifice.

Seems the Palestinians have finally found a weapon Israel doesn't have an answer to.

So now all they have to do is for the entire population of the Occupied Territories to go on hunger strike until Israel agrees to end the occupation. .

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is seeking to evict 12 communities of Palestinian cave-dwelling farmerss from their land near Hebron in the West Bank, which has been designated a military training area. The real motive may be to build illegal Israeli settlements there. (The settlers near Hebron are the most batshit crazy and hate-filled of the lot, doing their level best to make their Palestinian neighbours' life a misery, with violent assaults and, as the article reports, tactics such as poisoning wells.)

Want, take, have. The Zionist way.
smhwpf: (Handala)
First there was Khader Adnan, then there was Hana Shalabi - Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, held under 'Administrative Detention', indefinite detention without charge or trial or any knowledge of the evidence putting you there, who went on hunger strike in protest, and were eventually released at the 11th hour, as they approached the point of death.

Then there were another 29 Palestinian prisoners joining the hunger strike. And then, since mid-April, close to 2000 Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike, demanding an end to the practice of Administrative Detention, and better conditions for Palestinian prisoners in general.

It is an extraordinary act of mass non-violent resistance. (Though apparently, for I could not resist my curiousity on the point, not the biggest mass hunger strike ever; an Oxford historian studying Suffragette and Irish Republican hunger strikes mentions one such strike involving 7800 prisoners, which I presume must have been from the latter group).

Two of the prisoners, who have been on hunger strike for over 70 days, have been moved to hospital and are in imminent danger of death. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected their appeal against Administrative Detention.

This is a potentially game-changing event, but one that is getting very little coverage in the western media. (The BBC is providing some coverage, but generally pretty well buried.)

I guess if a striker dies that will be news.

Various internet actions around, in Britain and the US. Also a petition from Jewish Voice for Peace.
smhwpf: (No power)
Palestinian hunger striker Hana Shalabi, whose case I wrote about last month, has agreed to end her hunger strike after 44 days after a deal that will see her released, but exiled to the Gaza Strip. Her condition had been deteriorating severely when the deal was reached.

According to some reports, there are now 29 other Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, most held, like Hana Shalabi, under Administrative Detention - indefinite detention without charge or trial.

So, there's now a way out for Palestinian prisoners - starve yourself to the very brink of death, and the wonderful humanitarians that are the Israeli government might just release you rather than face the bad publicity your death would cause.

smhwpf: (No power)
Some of you might have heard of the extraordinary case of Khader Adnan - a Palestinian member of Islamic Jihad who was placed under Administrative Detention by Israel; a practice whereby Palestinian suspects may be detained for 6 months at a time - extendible indefinitely - without charge or trial, and without knowing the evidence against them. There are currently over 300 Palestinians in administrative detention. Once upon a time one could say that such a practice was otherwise unthinkable in a country that purports to be a democracy, but what with Guantanamo and the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 I guess that's old hat.

Anyway, so Khader Adnan went on hunger strike to protest his treatment, and refused food for 66 days, after which, under heavy international pressure, Israel agreed to release him and he ended his strike.

Now another Palestinian prisoner under administrative detention, Hana Shalabi is on hunger strike, having refused food now for 14 days.

Hana Shalabi had been in administrative detention before, for over two years, before being released last October under the prisoner exchange deal that freed Israeli solder Gilad Shalit. However, she was re-arrested on February 16th, and placed under an administrative detention order on the 23rd. She was allegedly beaten and maltreated on arrest. Her parents have now joined her in hunger strike in solidarity.

List of people to write to here, to urge for Hana Shalabi to be freed (or charged) and for an end to the practice of administrative detention.

The cases of Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, and their courage in resisting the violation of their human rights in this manner, stand a chance of shining a light on Israel's unjust practice of administrative detention. Who knows, maybe even ending it? In the case of Khader Adnan, Israel obviously learnt from the British experience that allowing prisoners on hunger strike to die does not do you any favours, however much you may crow at the time about standing up to terrorism.

As Uri Avenery has commented, it is ironic that Adnan, who had been openly and undenialy committed to violent resistance (though clearly not in a way that could provide any evidence for Israel to charge him with any significant crime), finally achieved such a victory through non-violent resistance. Though through an unimaginable sacrifice.

I was looking up, out of curiosity, the details of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Turns out 66 days was exactly how long Bobby Sands was on hunger strike before his death. Two of the others who died continued for longer, while one, Laurence McKeown, was taken off hunger strike by his family after 70 days, and is apparently still alive now, and is an author, playright and screenwriter.

While the Irish Republican prisoners were not granted formal political status, as they had demanded, all their practical demands regarding prison conditions were granted either immediately after the ending of the hunger strike, or within a couple of years. The hunger strike set Sinn Fein on their increasingly successful electoral strategy, and thus played a key role in creating the conditions that eventually led to peace in Northern Ireland, though at the time the deaths of the hunger strikers led to an upsurge in violence.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
We were privileged to welcome Dr. Izzeldein Abuelaish to SIPRI today to give a presentation. (and a few of us got to talk to him over lunch beforehand).

Dr. Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor, a gynaecologist. Growing up in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, he was both bright and fortunate enough to get a good education, succeed in all he did, become a doctor, go to Harvard, and become the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital.

Then in September 2008 his wife died of Leukemia, and then, exactly four months later, on January 16th 2009, shells from an Israeli army tank hit his house during Israel's winter assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, killing three of his daughters and a niece, and injuring other members of his family. He himself had left the room moments before the shells hit.

His story was not unusual from this brutal assault that claimed the lives of 1,400 Gazans. What was unusual is that he could tell it on Israeli television. Thanks to his Israeli connections, he had been contacted several times by an Israeli news channel to give an on-the-ground view, and to try to communicate a Palestinian perspective to an Israeli audience - part of a long-lasting goal of seeking to build bridges between the two peoples. So when tragedy struck, he called up his friend the newscaster and, between his tears, told the story live to an Israeli public, for one brief moment brought face to face with the human consequences of the war.

Since then Dr. Abuelaish has dedicated his life to both peace and medicine. He started a foundation, Daughters for Life, which provides scholarships for young women from the Middle East to study in the region or in the west. (He is a particuarly strong believer in promoting the education of women, and in the importance of involving women in building peace). He wrote a book published in 2010 called "I shall not hate", and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He now lives and teaches in Toronto. (I am now the owner of a signed copy).

One thing I was left pondering, not for the first time, is the relationship between seeking peace through political action, negotiations, campaigning, diplomatic pressure etc., and the more individual-led approach that says that peace starts in people's hearts, the refusal to hate, trying to get people from opposing communities to talk to each other and understand each other, etc. Sometimes I get rather cynical about the latter, especially if it's the sole focus. I've heard it said that there's any number of initiatives that seek to bring Palestinians and Israelis together and get them to talk and hug, but it doesn't change the politics of the situation, and most of the people who do those sorts of schemes are the ones who already believe in peace anyway.

It seems to me that working at both ends of the equation are necessary, and they are probably mutually re-inforcing, but I'm not quite sure how.

Like, Northern Ireland was clearly a case of both. There was a political deal between people who really, really did not love or trust each other, but there'd been a heck of a lot of groundwork at community level, with enough people who really believed in peace and enough more whose attitudes had been changed sufficiently to be willing to give it a try. Then you've got Bosnia, where peace came with the two sides still thoroughly hating each other, but where external powers did a bit of bonbing and then banged heads together till an agreement was reached. Except, the two halves of Bosnia are still barely keeping together and seem to have very little in common. (Though there's no sign of a resumption of actual armed conflict any time soon).

So I throw that out there as an unanswered question. But, when I hear a story like Dr. Abuelaish's face to face and see someone who has passed through such an unthinkable horror and come out with such obviously genuine faith, compassion and humanity, my cynicism kind of melts guiltily away.
smhwpf: (No power)
One of the most awesome things to happen in Palestine in a while. On November 15th, Six Palestinian activists, Fadi Quran, Nadeem Al-Sharbate, Badee Dwak, Huwaida Arraf, Basel Al-Araj and Mazin Qumsiyeh, boarded a settler bus in the occupied West Bank travelling to Jerusalem.

Inspired by the Freedom Rides of the US civil rights movement in the US, the activists were challenging the apartheid system operated by Israel in the West Bank in two ways: the bus was running on the many settler roads in the West Bank set aside for the use of Jews only, from which Palestinian vehicles are banned; and they were seeking to travel to Jerusalem, which Palestinians from the West Bank need a permit to enter.

You Tube footage of the event here.

After a while, the bus was stopped and the settlers on board got off, after which soldiers boarded the bus and dragged the Palestinians off, the latter resisting non-violently.

A small action, but with the potential for huge reverberations.

Also of the awesome is Dorli Rainey, 84-year old activist ex-teacher pepper-sprayed at Occupy Seattle.

(Funny how 'occupation' now has two totally opposite connotations).
smhwpf: (Handala)
Liberal defenders of Israel like to claim that, whatever one may say about the occupation, Israel is at least a sstrong democracy within its borders that gives (more or less) equal rights to its Arab citizens.

The treatment of its Bedouin citizens in the Negev desert belies this claim. (There's plenty else belies it, but few things so blatant).

Unless the Knesset does the highly unexpected and goes against the advice of a ministerial committee, the Israeli government will seek to expel 30,000 Bedouins from their homes in the Negev, where they have lived for thousands of years, confiscate their land, and force them into government-designated enclaves.

The Bedouins were there in the Negev, as I say, long before the creation of Israel. But when Israel came to be, they chose not to "recognize" most of the existing Bedouin villages, nor the peoples' claims to land ownership, however long they'd been there. (Not to mention, according to the Guardian article, deporting most of the Bedouin population to Jordan and Gaza.) Now, tens of thousands of Bedouin live in these "unrecognized" villages, and have long faced home demolitions, evictions and dispossession at the hands of the Israeli state.

If this sounds to you a lot like the treatment of Native Americans, well, you're not the only one.

Liberal Zionists might well say they are opposed to such excesses. Haaretz may rail against such things in its editorials. and well, opposition to injustice is always welcome. But it seems to me that such practices spring from the very essence of Zionism: they are features, not bugs.

Zionism elevates the claims of the Jewish people to the land of Israel/Palestine above those of anyone else who might have lived there before Israel was formed. Indeed, its self-justification requires denying or demeaning the presence and the rights of the non-Jewish population of the time. If the existence of a pre-Zionist Arab population is grudgingly acknowledged (for it is pretty much impossible to deny once you actually start looking at the facts), then their identity must be belittled. "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people"; Golda Meier infamously claimed. "There has never been an independent state of Palestine", is a frequent cry of Zionist apologists. Certainly, Zionism cannot admit that the people of Palestine had any sort of right to self-determination, or even any absolute, fundamental right to live where they did, for to do so would be to undermine its very foundations.

Hence, that the Bedouins are not considered to have rights to their homes and land simply by virtue of being there, and of having been there for however long, is part of Israel's ideological DNA: the creation of Israel supercedes any prior claims of non-Jewish peoples there.

There are signs, at least, that the Bedouins are not going to take this lying down, with Arab towns in the region staging strikes in opposition to the plans. A mass non-violent resistance to the dispossession could cause Israel serious embarrassment (if anyone bothers to report on it, I doubt most of the US media will), and could be a spark of something bigger . The Arab Spring is pretty much overdue to reach Palestine.
smhwpf: (Handala)
Rather than repeat myself, I quote below from the email I just sent to my MP: (minus the formalities and requests to pass on to the Foreign Secretary and PM)

In four days time, the UN Security Council will meet and is likely to have a proposal on the table for recognition of Palestine as a sovereign, independent state on the 1967 borders, and a member of the UN. This will be prior to a bid for recognition at the General Assembly in September.

The current process has reached a complete dead end, stymied by complete Israeli intransigence with regard to settlement building and in their refusal to contemplate a viable Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, as is the overwhelming international consensus for a solution. Under such circumstances, and with the US unwilling to exert any meaningful pressure on Israel, the bid for UN recognition of Palestinian independence is one of the most positive ways forward.

While UN recognition would not change facts on the ground, it would create enormous political momentum in favour of a Palestinian state, and would give Palestine the potential to seek redress through forums such as the International Court of Justice. I believe that, combined with other non-violent measures such as mass peaceful protest in the occupied territories and diplomatic and economic pressure from outside, it could make a significant contribution towards an eventual solution to the conflict.

Currently, over 120 states recognize Palestine, but most European states are as yet undecided. European votes could be crucial in both the Security Council and the General Assembly. Even if the US vetoes a resolution at the Security Council, provided that at least nine votes are obtained in favour, the Palestinians could bring a 'Uniting for Peace' resolution to the General Assembly to bypass a deadlocked Security Council. Thus, the UK's vote in this matter is crucial.

In short, yes, I think this does matter, despite the near certainty that the US will veto the resolution in the Security Council. (Ironically it was the US who introduced the 'Uniting for Peace' mechanism to bypass a Russian veto over Korea. They also used it over Suez in 1956 to help get Britain, France and Israel our of Egypt.) While the immediate practical impact will be very little, I think it could be a political watershed.

Avaaz have a petition, mostly aimed at Europe. Codepink have one aimed at the US. Or obviously, writing to elected representatives more useful if one has the time.
smhwpf: (Entry denied)
The past couple of weeks have seen two large-scale attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to reach Palestine. The first was the Freedom Flotilla II, which Israel seems to have succeeded in stopping in port, thanks to their new Greek best friends. The second was a "Flytilla" of several hundred activists who sought to fly in to Ben Gurion airport Tel Aviv and to declare the express intention of visiting families (who had invited them) in the West Bank – unlike the usual practice of such folks (myself included) of declaring ourselves to be “tourists”. This time, the Israelis got European airlines to block over 300 activists by sending them ‘blacklists’, while about 120 activists got as far as Ben Gurion and have been detained. (It will be interesting to see how many will challenge their refusal of entry).

Israel claims it needed to stop the ships sailing to Gaza because they might contain weapons. But they know full well that the cargoes have been thoroughly inspected in port and contain nothing of the kind. They know full well that the last flotilla carried no weapons, for all their attempts to portray the peace activists they murdered as violent thugs. So what exactly are they really afraid of about these ships reaching Gaza?

And what are they afraid of about people visiting Palestinians in the West Bank? The extent of the police and security mobilization around this completely harmless action speaks volumes about the way Israel sees things: that the wish to visit Palestinians, the wish to go to the West Bank (other than, say, as an authorized aid worker or diplomat or the like) is in and of itself a subversive act. But this view is echoed on a daily basis by the way ordinary visitors to Israel may be questioned on their way out about whether they have met Palestinians.

It speaks to a view of Palestinians as a special class of people; people who cannot be allowed the right to mix freely with outsiders, to receive visitors into their towns and into their homes. Perhaps as sub-humans, or perhaps as some sort of especially dangerous superhumans, who must be closely guarded in their cages and not allowed any outside contact. They must possess some really strong powers of contamination and influence, that for westerners to meet them poses an existential threat to the state of Israel. Then again, the Israeli government and its cheerleaders now seem to class any form of criticism as an existential threat, as "deligitimization".

However you interpret it, it speaks of a view of Palestinians that is both paranoid and deeply dehumanizing. That the Israeli government (and at least a significant proportion of the Israeli people) have come to such a view after 44 years of occupation is not surprising. What is hard to make sense of (however much one understands the political mechanics of it) is why European governments appear willing to encourage the Israelis in such a view.

WTF Greece?

Jul. 3rd, 2011 12:53 am
smhwpf: (Entry denied)
The Greek government, despite a formal policy (like virtually all the rest of the world except the US) of opposing the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, has banned all ships from sailing to Gaza from Greek ports, and arrested the Captain of the US ship Audacity of Hope, part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla II, after the ship attempted to sail out of Greek waters.

It is utterly disgraceful that the Greek government should in this way act as a co-enforcer of Israel's illegal[1] and inhuman blockade, and pretty incomprehensible what justification they can have for this decision. It is not illegal to sail to Gaza under Greek or international law. I wonder if this decision can be challenged in the Greek courts, but I expect this will become clear over the coming days.

Of course, it is not remotely surprising that the Greek government, currently held in a firm head-lock by the "international community" should give way to pressure like this, which has no doubt come not just from Israel but certainly the US and probably the EU, who may theoretically oppose the blockade but whose number one policy in relation to Israel/Palestine is not to annoy the Americans too much. The Greek government's action is almost certainly not supported by the vast majority of the Greek people, but then a) right now the Greek government clearly does not remotely represent the people, and b) the Greek people have rather more pressing matters to worry about just now.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air is still causing devastating consequences. Despite a slight easing of the blockade following last year's Freedom Flotilla, and the murder by Israeli forces of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, a report by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Reported in March found only limited improvements, with continuing massive unemployment, over 50% of the population experiencing food insecurity, very slow progress (due to continuing delays) in rebuilding houses and basic infrastructure such as sewage works, 90% of water unfit to drink, and continuing shortages of supplies in health and education. Israeli restrictions continue to severely limit the ability of the territory to obtain necessary supplies.

The shortage of medical supplies is particularly critical, with 178 items' stocks close to zero, leading to operations being cancelled, and severely affecting all areas of care.

Meanwhile, the opening of the Rafah crossing by Egypt has made it somewhat easier for Gazans to travel to and from the strip, but it allows only people through, not goods. Thus, Gaza's ability to receive supplies is still totally controlled by Israel, while exports remain completely forbidden, preventing the territory from gaining any sort of economic self-reliance.

The Freedom Flotilla was bringing with it significant quantities of vital humanitarian supplies, as well as stuff to generally cheer things up a bit round Gaza, such as 500 footballs. Of course, the direct impact of this is relatively small. Yes, the Flotilla is a political act. It is a means of drawing attention to and challenging Israel's policies, and holding a light up to the illegality and inhumanity of the blockade.

The activists on board the Flotilla have not given up - certainly, those on board the Swedish Ship to Gaza who we heard from today by phone at a demo outside the Greek embassy in Stockholm, are not giving up. Most likely, the flotilla will not now be able to set sail, and of course are even less likely to be able to reach Gaza. But if Israel or the US thinks this is going to be the last they'll hear about the blockade, they are sorely mistaken.

[1]The blockade is completely contrary to international law, by the way. Israel claims justification for imposing a blockade on the basis of the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. But a) San Remo only applies in times of armed conflict, and the sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza fall far short of the bar for this and b) San Remo in no way permits the blockading of an entire civilian population. Here is a detailed legal opinion by former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, who was Alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Seaand who helped negotiate the UK's maritime boundaries with France, Germany, Denmark and Ireland. Thus, he knows his stuff when it comes to maritime law.
smhwpf: (Handala)
Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization of ex-soldiers that collects testimonies from fellow ex-soldiers about the realities of what goes on in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

They are currently holding a photo exhibition at the Army Museum in Stockholm, which I went to see today. There were two BTS ex-soldiers there talking to visitors about the photos and their experiences, and those of other BTS witnesses.

Some of the BTS testimonies relate to the most extreme and bloody events in the territories, such as their collection of testimonies about Operation Cast Lead, the attack on Gaza in December 08-January 09. But most of what they were talking about today, and most of the photos, were just the mundane, everyday business of Occupation.

Like there was the snap-happy guy, Cliff the BTS guide told us was his name. Took a camera with him everywhere he went. Like many people, someone who loved to take photos of everything he saw and experienced. So there were all these photos of him standing beside blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. No look of hate or triumph, no V-sign, just a friendly smile on his face. In the text beside it said that he was always filled with adrenaline, looking for action, very proud of himself, but somewhere inside also deeply ashamed. Our guide said that when Cliff looked at these photos years later, he couldn't the person in them. Couldn't recognize who he'd become.

There were other grimmer photos of soldiers photographed with the corpse of a Palestinian fighter and the like.

Then there were the keys. A collection of vehicle keys on display on one wall. Our guide explained that these were confiscated from Palestinians as a form of essentially random punishment; car, van, taxi, tractor keys, whatever. Apparently the left-wing Israeli journalist Gideon Levy had written about this one time and it had been strenuously denied by the IDF. But our guide said that when his unit was moving post in Hebron, they found these two boxes full of confiscated keys. From other BTS testimonies - over 1,000 have spoken to them - they found that this was a pattern across the territories.

One thing our guide described, for which there wasn't a visual, was the "mock arrests". You see, arresting a suspected militant is not always a straightforward operation. They may resist. They may be armed. Not something you want raw recruits to go through unprepared.

So they train them with these mock arrests. That is, they pick a random Palestinian whom they know to be innocent, and they knock down their door and arrest them, have the new recruits go through the whole thing exactly as with a real arrest, same positions, same procedures, everything. Hold the guy for a couple of hours, then let him go.

Yup, you read that right. They practice arrests on people they know to be innocent as a form of training.

Aside from the training aspect, this sort of thing is part of what our guide described as "prevention", or "showing presence". Deterring resistance by creating fear, by showing that the Israeli army is everywhere, that they may come at any time. Nobody expects... and all that.

The point BTS are trying to get across, and which I certainly found succeeded, was just what Occupation means on a daily basis, just how utterly it fucks with the heads of both occupier and occupied. I know it is an overused word, but it is a very accurate one, just how much it dehumanizes. Our guide says that most of the soldiers don't even hate the Palestinians - they just become nothing to them. Not people, not even animals he said, just of no consequence.

The soldiers doing these things are not monsters, not especially wicked people. They are just ordinary people placed in a situation where they have absolute power over people, where they are the law. Whoever they were before, the Occupation creates a new normal often without them even noticing it.

Like other Israeli human rights organizations, Breaking the Silence are under increasing pressure from the current extreme-right wing Israeli government that is steadily making life harder for dissident organizations. As soldiers speaking out against their own side, they are widely regarded as traitors.

Their courage astounds me. Not just in standing up and telling the truth in the face of public opprobrium. To be able to hold up a mirror and look at yourself so honestly and unflinchingly; not many people have that sort of courage.
smhwpf: (Handala)
Pardon me if I rant here. Yes, I am bloody angry. (Though not remotely surprised.)

The United States tonight vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. All other 14 members of the UN Security Council, including the normally slavishly-loyal Great Britain, voted in favour of the resolution.

The US has thus vetoed international law, vetoed even its own stated policy opposing settlements, and stood up firmly as a supporter of oppression and injustice. This is a vote of shame for the United States, and one which will further discredit its standing in the Middle East, in the Islamic world, and amongst anyone who cares about peace and justice.

The West Bank - including East Jerusalem - is Occupied Territory. It is not part of the internationally-recognized territory of Israel, but it is under Israeli military occupation. The 4th Geneva Convention explicitly forbids an occupying power from transferring its own citizens (whether voluntarily or otherwise) to occupied land. The Geneva Conventions are not any old international law. They are the foundation of what is known as International Humanitarian Law, otherwise known as the Laws of War. They are amongst the very few instruments of international law that are 'universal', that is, signed up to by all nations - including Israel. They are binding not merely on all signatories, but even on non-state actors. Violating them is, by definition, a War Crime.

Israeli settlements are not merely technically illegal, they also represent a direct theft from the Palestinian people, and they serve to render practically impossible the 2-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that virtually every country in the UN - including the US - believe to be the only one that is viable.

The US has thus (not for the first time) stood up as the proud defender of war criminals. They are effectively declaring the Geneva Conventions a dead letter.

The US defence, that the UN Security Council is not the appropriate venue for resolving this sort of issue, is pathetic. Dealing with this sort of thing, with acts of aggression, with armed conflict, with violations of international peace and security, is precisely what the UN is for. The US position seems to be that dealing with a war crime should be a matter of negotiation between the criminal and their victim, between the oppressor and the oppressed; as if dealing with a burglary should be a matter not for the police but something to be negotiated between the burglar and the householder. (while the latter is tied up).

The US still likes to pretend that it is on the side of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Newsflash: Arabs are not stupid. They see the way that the US supports the tyrants that have oppressed them when it suits them, up until the very last moment when it is obvious they cannot survive, when suddenly the US has always been on the side of the brave people standing up for their rights. The hypocricy and cynicism of the US is plain for anyone with half an eye to see.

The revolts in the Middle East are revolts against the corrupt and dictatorial regimes certainly, some of whom are friends and some enemies of the US; but many of them - like Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria - are also revolts against US domination, against an order that has been put in place and upheld by the US and her allies for its own selfish reasons. They are a demand for independence for the region against this stupifying, asphyxiating imperial rule.

The US and Israel still believe, just as the rulers of Iran, Libya, Bahrain, etc. still believe, that the old order can be upheld by violence, by guns and tanks and tear gas. They are wrong. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but before long all these vile regimes, yes including the Israeli occupation, will be swept away, not by guns and bombs, but by the irresistible force of hundreds of thousands of unarmed, angry people demanding their rights.

As for Barack fucking Obama and his Administration, one would be hard-pushed to find a more abject and dismal sight, than this of the global superpower, the leader of the free world, kneeling before Binyamin Netanyahu and his AIPAC 5th column, subordinating their own policies and interests to that of its tiny, cruel and arrogant client. Where is your Cairo speech now, Obama? Where is your 'reaching out to the Muslim world'? Where is your demand for Israel to recognize Palestine, for an end to the Occupation? Where is your soaring rhetoric? Where is your Audacity of Hope?

There is no way I am voting again for that lying, pusilannimous creep. I don't care if it means the Republicans get in, even if it means Sarah fucking Palin gets in. I am not going to vote for someone whose policies I hate and despise. If I vote at all it will be for a Green candidate or some other candidate whose policies I half way believe in.

Have to say though, well done to the Palestinian Authority for not caving in to the enormous US pressure to withold the resolution from the UNSC. And well done to the Europeans for finally showing the tiniest shred of independence and principle by voting for it. The statement by the UK Ambassador to the UN, that Britain, France and Germany "hope that an independent state of Palestine will join the United Nations as a new member state by September 2011" is also encouraging, suggesting the EU may be willing to join most of the rest of the world in recognizing Palestine this year.

The US is going to be finding itself in a pretty darned isolated position in the months and years to come. Losing its friendly dictators in the Middle East, and finding itself in a tiny minority in the international community on the Palestine question, abandoned even by its hitherto most loyal allies. For the US, this will mean in the medium term a massive loss of influence in the region and the wider world - and well-deserved at that. Unfortunately it will also mean the continuation of oppression and violence in Palestine for a good many years to come.

Shame on you, Barack Obama. Shame on you, America.
smhwpf: (AbbasSharonLove)
I don't have any words for the ongoing Egyptian revolution that have not already been said. Like pretty much everyone else, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the fall of Mubarak and the sheer awesomeness of the Egyptian people in making it happen. There is clearly a very long way to go there, and military rule, even temporary, is not exactly reassuring, but I find it hard to believe that the military now would be able to just hang on to power and not go through with at least a somewhat democratic transition, as they are promising.

But, one other question that follows fairly naturally from events in Egypt and Tunisia (and now beginning to spread elsewhere in the Arab world) is, to adapt a phrase, "But is it good for the Palestinians?" I think the answer is likely to be yes (and therefore, ultimately IMO, also "good for the Jews"), but there are a lot of dimensions to this.

A pretty good analysis of some of these by Daniel Levy over at Al Jaz.

As Levy says, Israel - who were pretty open about wanting Mubarak to hang on - are not primarily worried that a new Egyptian regime would renounce the peace treaty with Israel and attack them. No Egyptian government woul be that stupid. Any such war would be a disaster for Egypt, who are militarily totally outclassed by Israel. What they are worried about is that a more democratic Egyptian government would be much less co-operative with US and Israeli policies. First, in terms of collaborating in the hermetic seal on Gaza. That would probably be one of the first things to go. Second, in providing diplomatic cover for the farce that is "peace process". Third, in acting as a regional cheerleader against Iran.

Thus, if Egypt starts pursuing a more independent line on Israel/Palestine, it will make Israel's current policies more difficult both practically, in terms of isolating Gaza, and politically in terms of having a strong regional supporter endorsing their approach to things.

There are other potential waves of consequences rippling out. First of all, what happens in the Palestinian territories themselves. Already, Mahmoud Abbas - whose term as Palestinian President expired some time ago, and who is ruling without a parliament and with an unelected government - has already called Presidential and Parliamentary elections for September. It is an interesting move. Hamas have already rejected it, saying elections can't take place without Fatah/Hamas reconciliation, and that therefore they will not allow them to take place in Gaza, and will not accept the results.

The elections call is probably in part a response to the growing regional demands for democratization, an attempt to gain some elective legitimacy. But I wonder if the election call is also partly designed to get this response from Hamas. In that, if a new Egyptian government were to end its part in the siege of Gaza, and be less inclined to follow the US line of isolating Hamas, that might actually create momentum for getting Fatah and Hamas back to the negotiating table and towards reconciliation - something that the US has opposed, but which they migth find themselves having less of a say on. If so, then having elections which Hamas boycott might give Fatah a head start in having a democratic legitimacy that Hamas lack. Whereas if elections take place after reconciliation, Hamas might win them.

Then, the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt might well inspire a third Intifada in the Palestinian territories. Hopefully, like the Tunisian and Egyptian ones, and like the first Palestinian intifada, of the unarmed variety.[1] Question is, who would it be against? Israel, or the Palestinians' respective sub-rulers in the West Bank and Gaza, Fatah and Hamas, both of whom have established severely repressive police states. (The former with the full support of the US, Israel and the west in general). Or, of course, both. But if there were an unarmed uprising on the 1st Intifada model, it would be much more difficult, in the light of the Egyptian uprising that so caught the world's sympathy, to portray it as 'terrorism' or 'mindless violence' and so forth.

This is another ripple. The moral effect, the effect on perceptions in the West. For a start, Israel will soon (insh'allah) no longer be able to claim to be the 'only democracy in the Middle East'. [2] I kind of joked while the Egyptian protests were happening that Israel's new slogan was: "We're the only democracy in the Middle East - and we darned well want to keep it that way". Plus, the widespread racist stereotyping that says that Arabs aren't interested in democracy, can't be trusted with it, that the only language they understand is violence, has taken a pretty severe blow. (No doubt those whose media diet consists mostly of Fox News will still believe it, but otherwise). So this could change the complexion of how the Israel-Palestine conflict is perceived in the west - no longer so easy to make it plucky democratic Israel against mindless Arab terrorists.

Then there is the longer-term, geo-strategic effect, especially if more countries in the region start going down the same route. That the US will no longer be able to rely on compliant dictators to pursue its Middle-Eastern interests. That governments will be more inclined to pursue policies in line with popular will, and therefore be more actively pro-Palestinian, and with more moral authority if they are democracies. This is not a matter of any immediate devastating consequence that the US would face, more that it could re-orient the US's perception of where its interests in the Middle East lie - just as the end of the Cold War changed the US's perceptions of its interests in South Africa, and - with a delay of some years - in Indonesia and East Timor. Likewise for Israel, the assumption that they would continue to be surrounded by corrupt, backwards dictatorships that might, for popular consumption, mouth off about how much they hate Israel but in practice follow American dictats, may no longer hold.

If Israel is sensible, then they might - as Levy suggests - take the current events as an opportunity to pursue really bold strategies for peace, moving towards a real end to the Occupation and addressing the refugee issue, as a last chance for a 2-state solution. However, the current Israeli government is unfortunately one where anything approaching 'sensible' is the least likely option. In the short term therefore, I suspect Israel's reaction will be to hunker down even deeper, continue to place 'security' over all else, and possibly even initiate further attacks on Gaza if it looks like Hamas's isolation might be reduced. As for the USA, again they could take this as the cue to change track now, and start exerting real pressure on Israel, but frankly my level of confidence in Obama to do anything remotely so bold and forward-thinking is less than zero.

In the long-term though, I think this might just be the start of the sort of seismic strategic shift in the region which I've long suspected would be necessary to bring about any real movement in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

[1] I say unarmed rather than non-violent. The Egyptian protestors had no guns, but when they were attacked by the police and Mubarak's thugs, they fought back. And they won. They didn't really have much choice. But their strength was based not on arms, but on their sheer enormous physical presence and determination. Pure non-violence may be an ideal, but it should not be set up in opposition to these sorts of popular uprisings.

[2] (Which it isn't anyway - Lebanon is, albeit a strange one, and Iraq at least has elections, though it's dubious whether one would call it a democracy.)
smhwpf: (AbbasSharonLove)
Bloody hell. This makes Wikileaks look like a teddy bears picnic.

Just starting to get to grips with the Palestine Papers - a collection of 1600 secret documents from the Israel-Palestine peace process over the past 10 years leaked to Al Jazeera. Right now it is covered there and in the Guardian - ah, now the BBC has picked up on some of it.

There is a lot of stuff, and so far I've only seen some of the main points. Probably the biggest 'take-away' as Americans say is that, during the Annapolis process, the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of PM Ehud Olmert and FM Tzipi Livni of Israel, the Palestinian side offered unprecedented concessions, that would have allowed Israel to keep almost all their illegal settlements in and around East Jerusalem, the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount under international control, a demilitarized Palestinian state, and only a token return of Palestinian refugees - concessions that would have been very, very hard for the Palestinian people to swallow - and that the Israelis rejected this, demanding even more settlements, such as Har Homa and Ariel, and offering nothing in return. The PA side even suggested that settlements like Ariel - with its 18,000 population, university and industrial area - need not be dismantled, but could remain within a Palestinian state. But this too was rejected by Israel.

What they were demanding would have left no room for a viable Palestinian state. But the US, as supposed mediators, again and again took the side of the Israelis, the stronger party, and acted with condescension and disdain for the Palestinian side. What they wanted, it seems, is for the Palestinians to agree to a discontiguous, unviable, utterly dependent moth-eaten rag of a state, which everyone would then loudly hail as a coniguous, viable, independent state.

Oh, and this was not the current nasty-ol' right wing government of Netanyahu and Lieberman, this was the supposedly moderate government of Olmert and Livni.

Much else, that I've not yet gone into. such as the role of the US and the UK in building up the PA's apparatus of repression. For those who are not aware, the PA leadership is currently utterly lacking a mandate - President Mahmoud Abbas' term of office has expired, and the government of PM Salaam Fayad is unelected. This will continue so long as there is no reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, something the US continues to veto.

Many people are describing this as the death of the 2-state solution. It may be so. (Those saying so have been proclaiming its death for a long time, mind you). My problem with this notion is that, while those proclaiming it assume that the inevitable alternative is a one-state solution - a single, democratic, binational state of Israel/Palestine with full return of refugees, equal right for all and hugs and puppies all round - in fact the alternative to a 2-state solution at the moment is the continuing worsening of the status quo. Continuing Israeli occupation, repression, settlements, displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians while the US provide the arms and diplomatic cover, and the Europeans stand on the sides and wring their hands.

Yes, maybe in 50 years time, when the 2-state solution is a footnote in history, it may eventually become impossible to continue to rule over a land where over half the population are denied the vote and basic civil rights on account of their ethnicity, but not any time soon, and not before much, much more bloodshed and injustice. The conditions for that to happen are moreover the same as the conditions for a viable 2-state solution - that the international community start putting meaningful pressure on Israel. But it would need a lot more pressure to get to one state than two, as it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish majority state.

What this surely does mark the death of is the current "peace process", the charade of "negotiations" between two vastly unequal parties, as between a prisoner and his jailor.

The best shot now, I think, is the one Abbas, Fayad and negotiator Erekat are following. (Yes, they are in many ways authoritarian bastards, but I agree with one Al Jaz commentator who says they cannot simply be written off as collaborators, but have been desperately trying to negotiate the best they can for their people, in the face of impossible conditions.) That is, the strategy of seeking international recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders. There are now 109 UN member states out of 192 that recognise Palestine. More will likely follow in 2011. If EU states start to recognise Palestine later this year - something for which there would seem to be a lot of potential support building, and not just amongst the "usual suspect" - that could create a momentum that the US would find hard to resist - or might simply find itself outflanked in the General Assembly. (Israel was admitted to the UN by the GA, not the Security Council;, and the US themselves in 1956 overcame the British and French SC vetoes by the "uniting for peace" mechanism at the GA to help force them out of Suez).

Of course, recognizing Palestine would not make it happen. It would however mark a clear line as to where international law and the international community stood, and what would be the future basis for negotiations. But to make it happen would require real pressure on Israel. This will not come any time soon from the US, where both major parties are owned by AIPAC on this question. It could come from Europe through trade mechanisms, but it also needs to come from millions of ordinary people through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

I'm not saying this strategy - international recognition for independence plus BDS has a great chance of succcess - frankly, I think continuing oppression and injustice for 20-50 more years is the more likely outcome. But as far as I can see, it's the only game in town. From those who balk at boycotting Israel (and I can understand why it might be sensitive for some), I'd like to hear an alternative.

Meanwhile it's a pretty simple message to send to one's elected representatives: Recognize Palestine, boycott Israel.


smhwpf: (Default)

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