Category Archives: ethnic cleansing

How Israel helped to revive Europe’s Ugly Ethnic Nationalism

Polarisation within western societies on issues relating to migration and human rights has been intensifying over recent weeks and months. To many observers, it looks suspiciously as if an international order in place since the end of the second world war – one that emphasised universal rights as a way to prevent dehumanisation and conflict – is rapidly unravelling in Europe and the United States.

In the past few weeks in Donald Trump’s America, it has emerged that thousands of migrant children have been snatched from their parents while trying to enter at the southern border, with some held in cages; the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of border officials to bar entry to Muslims from proscribed countries; and the Trump administration has quit the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, a key institution for monitoring human rights violations.

Meanwhile, far-right parties across Europe have ridden to electoral success on the back of mounting fears at a wave of migrants displaced from North Africa and the Middle East by wars and famines. Joining the trenchant anti-immigration stances of governments in Hungary and Poland, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has turned away boatloads of migrants from his country’s ports. He called last month for the European Union to “defend its border” and deny access to human rights groups, while also threatening to cut his country’s budget to Europe unless action was taken against migrants. Salvini is among the Italian politicians demanding the expulsion of the Roma minority.

Other European governments led by Germany, fearful of internal political instability that might undermine their continuing rule, called a hasty summit to consider options for dealing with the “migrant crisis”.

And casting a long shadow over the proceedings is Britain’s efforts to negotiate its exit from the EU, a blow that might eventually lead to the whole edifice of the European project crumbling.

Two ideas of citizenship

These are not random events. They are part of a quickening trend, and one that signals how an international order built up over the past 70 years and represented by pan-national institutions like the United Nations and the EU is gradually breaking down.

While the evidence suggests that there is no particular migration crisis at the moment, there are long-term factors that readily provoke populist fears and can be readily exploited, especially over the depletion of key global resources like oil, and environmental changes caused by climate breakdown. Together they have stoked resource conflicts and begun to shrink world economies. The effects are ideological and political shockwaves that have put a system of long-standing international agreements and norms under unprecedented strain.

The emerging struggle faced today is one that was fought out a century ago in western Europe, and relates to differing conceptions of citizenship. In the early 20th century, Europe was riven by ethnic nationalisms: each state was seen as representing a separate biological people – or in the terminology of the time, a race or Volk. And each believed it needed territory in which to express its distinct heritage, identity, language and culture. In the space of a few decades, these antagonistic nationalisms tore Europe apart in two “world wars”.

At the time, ethnic nationalism was pitted against an alternative vision of citizenship: civic nationalism. It is worth briefly outlining how the two differed.

Civic nationalists draw on long-standing liberal ideas that prioritise a shared political identity based on citizenship inside the stable territorial unit of a democratic state. The state should aspire – at least in theory – to be neutral towards ethnic minorities, and their languages and cultures.

Civic nationalism is premised on individual rights, social equality and tolerance. Its downside is an inherent tendency to atomise societies into individuals, and cultivate consumption over other social values. That has made it easier for powerful corporations to capture the political system, leading to the emergence of neoliberal capitalist economies.

Minorities scapegoated

Ethnic nationalists, by contrast, believe in distinct peoples, with a shared heritage and ancestry. Such nationalists not only resist the idea that other groups can integrate or assimilate, but fear that they might weaken or dissolve the ties binding the nation together.

Ethnic nationalists therefore accentuate an imagined collective will belonging to the dominant ethnic group that guides its destiny; emphasise threats from external enemies and subversion from within by those opposed to the values of the core group; encourage the militarisation of the society to cope with such threats; and anxiously guard existing territory and aggressively seek to expand borders to increase the nation’s resilience.

Even before Europe’s two great wars, most western states were a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalist impulses. But in a political climate of competition over resources and paranoid vigilance against rivals that prevailed before the second world war, especially fears among western elites about how best to counter the growing threat of Soviet Communism, ideas associated with ethnic nationalism tended to dominate.

It was for this reason that ethnic minorities – especially those such as Jews and Roma whose loyalties to the core nation were considered suspect – found themselves scapegoated and faced rampant discrimination. This took different forms.

In Britain, ethnic nationalism contributed to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a document proposing that British Jews be transplanted to the Middle East. In part this was a colonial project to create an outpost of Jews in the Middle East dependent on British favour for their security. But as noted by Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the British cabinet at the time, the Balfour Declaration had strong anti-semitic overtones, reinforcing the idea that Jews did not belong and should be relocated elsewhere.

Ethnic nationalism in France was evidenced by the notorious Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish captain in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason in 1894 for leaking military secrets to Germany. In fact, as it later emerged, another French officer was responsible for the leak, but the military preferred to falsify documents to ensure that blame rested with Dreyfus.

And in Germany, racism towards minorities like Jews and Roma culminated in the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s and a short time later a policy of mass extermination that claimed the lives of many millions.

Rebuilding a post-war Europe

After the devastation of the second world war, western Europe had to be rebuilt, both physically and ideologically. With the dangers of ethnic nationalisms now apparent, greater emphasis was placed on civic nationalism.

This trend was encouraged by the US through its Marshall Plan, an economic recovery programme to reconstruct western Europe. The US wanted a united, peaceful Europe – its ethnic antagonisms a thing of the past – so that a culture of individualism and consumerism could be fostered, guaranteeing an export market for American goods. A US-dependent Europe could also be relied on as a bulwark against Washington’s chief ideological rival, Soviet communism.

By the end of the 20th century, these developments would lead to the emergence of a common market, later the European Union, a single currency and the dropping of border controls.

At the same time, in the immediate post-war period, it was decided to put safeguards in place against the recent slaughter. The Nuremberg Trials helped to define the rules of war, and classed their violations as war crimes, while the UN’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions began the process of formalising international law and the concept of universal human rights.

All of that post-war order is now unravelling.

Bucking the trend

Israel was established in 1948, the year of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, which was itself intended to prevent any return to the horrors of the Holocaust. Israel was presented as a sanctuary for Jews from a depraved Europe that had been overrun by aggressive racial ideologies. And Israel was extolled as a “light unto the nations”, the political fruit of the new international legal order to promote the rights of minorities.

But paradoxically, the “western” state that most visibly bucked the trend towards civic nationalism in the post-war period was Israel. It stuck rigidly with a political model of ethnic nationalism that had just been discredited in Europe. Today Israel embodies a political alternative to civic nationalism – one that is slowly and increasingly helping to rehabilitate ethnic nationalism.

From the outset, Israel was not what it appeared to most outsiders. It had been sponsored as a colonial settler project by western patrons that variously included Britain, the Soviet Union, France and, latterly, the US. Set up to be an explicitly “Jewish state”, it was built on the ruins of the native Palestinian people’s homeland after a campaign of expulsions historians have characterised as “ethnic cleansing”.

Israel was not the liberal democracy claimed in its campaigns of self-promotion, known as hasbara. In fact, far from being an antidote to ethnic nationalism, Israel was decisively a product – or more specifically, a mirroring – of this form of nationalism.

Israel’s tribal ideology

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

Making racism respectable

Israel preserved the model of ethnic nationalism and is now seeking to help make it respectable again among sections of western public opinion.

Just as historically there were different varieties of ethnic nationalisms in Europe, so there are among the popular and political movements in Israel.

At the most disturbing extreme of the spectrum are the religious settlers who have actively taken up the task of once again uprooting the native Palestinian population, this time in the occupied territories. Such settlers now dominate the middle ranks of the Israeli army.

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

The ‘danger’ of intermarriage

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.”

An ethnic fortress

But the problem is not restricted to the prejudices of individuals and communities. It has state sanction, just as in Europe a century ago.

That can be seen not only in rampant institutional racism in Israel – some 70 laws that explicitly discriminate based on ethnic belonging – but in Israel’s obsession with wall-building. There are walls sealing off Gaza, and the densely Palestinian-populated parts of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In another indication of the ethnic fortress mentality, Israel has built a wall to block the entry of African asylum seekers through the Sinai peninsula as they flee wars. Israel has been deporting these refugees back to Africa – in violation of international conventions it has ratified – putting their lives in danger.

And while western liberals have grown exercised at the separation of children from their parents by the Trump administration, they have ignored decades of similarly brutal Israeli policies. In that time, thousands of Palestinian children have been seized from their homes, often in night-time raids, and jailed in trials with a near-100 per cent conviction rate.

Extrajudicial violence

Throughout its history, Israel has glorified in its military prowess and brazenly celebrated a tradition of extrajudicial violence against opponents. That has included practices such as torture and political assassinations that international law seeks to prohibit. The sophistry used by Israel to defend these actions has been enthusiastically taken up in Washington – in particular, when the US began its own programmes of torture and extrajudicial murder after the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Israel has ready-made rationalisations and specious soundbites that have made it much easier to sell to western publics the dismantling of international norms.

The upending of international law – and, with it, a reversal of the trend towards civic nationalism – has intensified with Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza over the past decade. Israel has subverted the key principles of international law – proportionality, distinction and necessity – by hugely widening the circle of potential targets of military action to include swaths of civilians, and using massive force beyond any possible justification.

That has been graphically illustrated of late in its maiming and killing of thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters for being supposedly too close to the perimeter fence Israel has built to encage Gaza. That fence simply delimits the Palestinian land occupied by Israel. But in another success for Israeli hasbara, western reporting has almost universally suggested that the fence is a border Israel is entitled to defend.

Israeli expertise in demand

Israel’s expertise is increasingly in demand in a west where ethnic nationalisms are again taking root. Israel’s weapons have been tested on the battlefield, against Palestinians. Its homeland security systems have proven they can surveill and control Palestinian populations, just as western elites think about their own protection inside gated communities.

Israel’s paramilitary police train and militarise western police forces needed to repress internal dissent. Israel has developed sophisticated cyberwarfare techniques based on its efforts to remain a regional superpower that now satisfy the west’s politically paranoid atmosphere.

With an abiding aversion to the Communist ideology of their former Soviet rulers, central and east European states have led the move towards a renewal of ethnic nationalism. Civic nationalism, by contrast, is seen as dangerously exposing the nation to outside influences.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader, who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

For leaders like Orban, Israel has led the way. It has shown that ethnic politics is not discredited after all, that it can work. For Europe and America’s new ethnic nationalists, Israel has proven that some peoples are destined for greatness, if they are allowed to triumph over those who stand in their way.

It will be a darker, far more divided and frightening world if this logic prevails. It is time to recognise what Israel represents, and how it does not offer solutions – only far greater problems.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Israel is bulldozing Khan Al Ahmar and with it the Two-state Solution

Israel finally built an access road to the West Bank village of Khan Al Ahmar last week, after half a century of delays. But the only vehicles allowed along it are the bulldozers scheduled to sweep away its 200 inhabitants’ homes.

If one community has come to symbolise the demise of the two-state solution, it is Khan Al Ahmar.

It was for that reason that a posse of European diplomats left their air-conditioned offices late last week to trudge through the hot, dusty hills outside Jerusalem and witness for themselves the preparations for the village’s destruction. That included the Israeli police viciously beating residents and supporters as they tried to block the advance of heavy machinery.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have submitted a formal protest. Their denunciations echoed those of more than 70 Democratic lawmakers in Washington in May – a rare example of US politicians showing solidarity with Palestinians.

It would be gratifying to believe that Western governments care about the inhabitants of Khan Al Ahmar – or the thousands of other Palestinians who are being incrementally cleansed by Israel from nearby lands but whose plight has drawn far less attention.

After all, the razing of Khan Al Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population are war crimes.

But in truth Western politicians are more concerned about propping up the illusion of a peace process that expired many years ago than the long-running abuse of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Western capitals understand what is at stake. Israel wants Khan Al Ahmar gone so that Jewish settlements can be built in its place, on land it has designated as “E1”.

That would put the final piece in place for Israel to build a substantial bloc of new settler homes to sever the West Bank in two. Those same settlements would also seal off West Bank Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a future Palestinian state, making a mockery of any peace agreement.

The erasure of Khan Al Ahmar has not arrived out of nowhere. Israel has trampled on international law for decades, conducting a form of creeping annexation that has provoked little more than uncomfortable shifting in chairs from Western politicians.

Khan Al Ahmar’s Bedouin inhabitants, from the Jahalin tribe, have been ethnically cleansed twice before by Israel, but these war crimes went unnoticed.

The first time was in the 1950s, a few years after Israel’s creation, when 80 per cent of Palestinians had been driven from their homes to clear the path for the creation of a Jewish state.

Although they should have enjoyed the protection of Israeli citizenship, the Jahalin were forced out of the Negev and into the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan, to make way for new Jewish immigrants.

A generation later in 1967, when they had barely re-established themselves, the Jahalin were again under attack from Israeli soldiers occupying the West Bank. The grazing lands the Jahalin had relocated to with their goats and sheep were seized to build a settlement for Jews only, Kfar Adumim, in violation of the laws of war.

Ever since, the Jahalin have dwelt in a twilight zone of Israeli-defined “illegality”. Like other Palestinians in the 60 per cent of the West Bank declared under Israeli control by the Oslo peace process, they have been denied building permits, forcing three generations to live in tin shacks and tents.

Israel has also refused to connect the village to the water, electricity and sewage grids, in an attempt to make life so unbearable the Jahalin would opt to leave.

When an Italian charity helped in 2009 to establish Khan Al Ahmar’s first school – made from mud and tyres – Israel stepped up its legal battle to demolish the village.

Now, the Jahalin are about to be driven from their lands again. This time they are to be forcibly re-settled next to a waste dump by the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, hemmed in on all sides by Israeli walls and settlements.

In the new location they will be forced to abandon their pastoral way of life. As resident Ibrahim Abu Dawoud observed: “For us, leaving the desert is death.”

In another indication of the Palestinians’ dire predicament, the Trump administration is expected to propose in its long-awaited peace plan that the slum-like Abu Dis, rather than East Jerusalem, serve as the capital of a future pseudo-Palestinian state – if Israel ever chooses to recognise one.

Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction would be the first demolition of a complete Palestinian community since the 1990s, when Israel ostensibly committed to the Oslo process.

Now emboldened by Washington’s unstinting support, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is racing ahead to realise its vision of a Greater Israel. It wants to annex the lands on which villages like Khan Al Ahmar stand and remove their Palestinian populations.

There is a minor hurdle. Last Thursday, the Israeli supreme court tried to calm the storm clouds gathering in Europe by issuing a temporary injunction on the demolition works.

The reprieve is likely to be short-lived. A few weeks ago the same court – in a panel dominated by judges identified with the settler movement – backed Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction.

The Supreme Court has also been moving towards accepting the Israeli government’s argument that decades of land grabs by settlers should be retroactively sanctioned – even though they violate Israeli and international law – if carried out in “good faith”.

Whatever the judges believe, there is nothing “good faith” about the behaviour of either the settlers or Israel’s government towards communities like Khan Al Ahmar.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ veteran peace negotiator, recently warned that Israel and the US were close to “liquidating” the project of Palestinian statehood.

Sounding more desperate than usual, the Europe Union reaffirmed this month its commitment to a two-state solution, while urging that the “obstacles” to its realisation be more clearly identifed.

The elephant in the room is Israel itself – and its enduring bad faith. As Khan Al Ahmar demonstrates all too clearly, there will be no end to the slow-motion erasure of Palestinian communities until western governments find the nerve to impose biting sanctions on Israel.

• First published in The National

Sisi holds Key to Trump’s Sinai Plan for Palestinians

Israel and the US are in a race against time with Gaza. The conundrum is stark: how to continue isolating the tiny coastal enclave from the outside world and from the West Bank – to sabotage any danger of a Palestinian state emerging – without stoking a mass revolt from Gaza’s two million Palestinians?

In Gaza, Israel does not have the luxury of time it enjoys in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the two additional Palestinian territories it occupies. In those areas, it can keep chipping away at the Palestinian presence, using the Israeli army, Jewish settlers and tight restrictions on Palestinian movement to take over key resources like land and water.

Gaza: A death camp

While Israel is engaged in a war of attrition with the West Bank’s population, a similar, gradualist approach in Gaza is rapidly becoming untenable. The United Nations has warned that the enclave may be only two years away from becoming “uninhabitable”, its economy in ruins and its water supplies unpotable.

More than a decade of a severe Israeli blockade as well as a series of military assaults have plunged much of Gaza into the dark ages. Israel desperately needs a solution, before Gaza’s prison turns into a death camp. And now, under cover of Donald Trump’s “ultimate peace plan”, Israel appears to be on the brink of an answer.

Recent weeks have been rife with reports in the Israeli and Arab media of moves by Washington and Israel to pressure Egypt into turning over a swath of territory in northern Sinai, next to Gaza, for infrastructure projects designed to alleviate the enclave’s “humanitarian crisis”.

Late last month Hamas, which rules Gaza, sent a delegation to Cairo to discuss the measures. This followed hot on the heels of a visit to Egypt by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law who is overseeing the Middle East peace plan.

Exploiting Egyptian fears

According to reports, Trump hopes soon to unveil a package – associated with his “deal of the century” peace-making – that will commit to the construction of a solar-power grid, desalination plant, seaport and airport in Sinai, as well as a free trade zone with five industrial areas. Most of the financing will come from the oil-rich Gulf states.

Egyptian diplomatic sources appear to have confirmed the reports. The programme has the potential to help relieve the immense suffering in Gaza, where electricity, clean water and freedom of movement are in short supply. Palestinians and Egyptians would jointly work on these projects, providing desperately needed jobs. In Gaza, youth unemployment stands at over 60 per cent.

It has been left unclear whether Palestinians from Gaza would be encouraged to live close to the Sinai projects in migrant workers’ towns. Israel will doubtless hope that Palestinian workers would gradually make Sinai their permanent home.

Egypt, meanwhile, will benefit both from the huge injection of capital in an economy currently in crisis, as well as from new infrastructure that can be used for its own population in the restive Sinai peninsula.

It is worth noting that for two years an Israeli cabinet minister has been proposing similar infrastructure projects for Gaza located on an artificial island to be established in Palestinian territorial waters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly balked at the proposal.

Locating the scheme instead in Egypt, under Cairo’s control, will tie Egyptian security concerns about Gaza to Israel’s, and serve to kill the Palestinian national cause of statehood.

A decade of arm-twisting

It is important to understand that the Sinai plan is not simply evidence of wishful thinking by an inexperienced or deluded Trump administration. All the signs are that it has enjoyed vigorous support from the Washington policy establishment for more than a decade.

In fact, four years ago, when Barack Obama was firmly ensconced in the White House, Middle East Eye charted the course of attempts by Israel and the US to arm-twist a succession of Egyptian leaders into opening Sinai to Gaza’s Palestinians.

This has been a key Israeli ambition since it pulled several thousand settlers out of Gaza in the so-called disengagement of 2005 and claimed afterwards – falsely – that the enclave’s occupation was over.

Washington has reportedly been on board since 2007, when the Islamist faction Hamas took control of Gaza, ousting the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was then that Israel, backed by the US, intensified a blockade that has destroyed Gaza’s economy and prevented key goods from entering.

A Palestinian statelet

The advantages of the Sinai plan are self-evident to Israel and the US. It would:

  • make permanent the territorial division between Gaza and the West Bank, and the ideological split between the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas;
  • downgrade Gaza from a diplomatic issue to a humanitarian one;
  • gradually lead to the establishment of a de facto Palestinian statelet in Sinai and Gaza, mostly outside the borders of historic Palestine;
  • encourage the eventual settlement of potentially millions of Palestinian refugees in Egyptian territory, stripping them of their right in international law to return to their homes, now in Israel;
  • weaken the claims of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, located in the West Bank, to represent the Palestinian cause and undermine their moves to win recognition of statehood at the United Nations;
  • and lift opprobrium from Israel by shifting responsibility for repressing Gaza’s Palestinians to Egypt and the wider Arab world.

‘Greater Gaza’ plan

In summer 2014, Israel’s media reported that, with Washington’s blessing, Israeli officials had been working on a plan dubbed “Greater Gaza” that would attach the enclave to a large slice of northern Sinai. The reports suggested that Israel had made headway with Cairo on the idea.

Egyptian and Palestinians officials publicly responded to the leaks by denouncing the plan as “fabricated”. But, whether Cairo was privately receptive or not, it provided yet further confirmation of a decade-long Israeli strategy in Gaza.

At around the same time, an Arab newspaper interviewed a former anonymous official close to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president ousted in 2011. He said Egypt had come under concerted pressure from 2007 onwards to annex Gaza to northern Sinai, after Hamas took control of the enclave following Palestinian elections.

Five years later, according to the same source, Mohamed Morsi, who led a short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, sent a delegation to Washington where the Americans proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.

And since 2014, it appears, Morsi’s successor, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has faced similar lobbying.

Carrots and sticks

Suspicions that Sisi might have been close to capitulating four years ago were fuelled at that time by Abbas himself. In an interview on Egyptian TV, he said Israel’s Sinai plan had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it.”

Israel’s neoconservative cheerleaders in Washington who reportedly leant on Mubarak in 2007, during George W Bush’s presidency, are now influencing Middle East policy again in the Trump administration.

And although Sisi appears to have stood his ground in 2014, subsequent dramatic changes in the region are likely to have weakened his hand.

Both Abbas and Hamas are more isolated than ever, and the situation in Gaza more desperate. Israel has cultivated much closer ties to the Gulf states as they fashion joint opposition to Iran. And the Trump administration has dropped even the pretence of neutrality in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, Trump’s Middle East team led by Kushner adopted from the outset Israel’s so-called “outside-in” paradigm for arriving at a peace agreement.

The idea is to use a carrot-and-stick approach – a mix of financial inducements and punitive sanctions – to bully Abbas and Hamas into making yet more major concessions to Israel that would void any meaningful moves towards Palestinian statehood. Key to this idea is that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be recruited to help Israel in its efforts to force the Palestinian leadership’s hand.

Egypt, current reports indicate, has come under similar pressure from the Gulf to concede territory in Sinai to help Trump with his long-delayed “deal of the century”.

Muslim Brotherhood threat

Sisi and his generals have good reason to be reluctant to help. After they grabbed power from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, they have done everything possible to crush homegrown Islamist movements, but have faced a backlash in Sinai.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is the sister organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s generals have worried that opening the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and Gaza could bolster Islamist attacks that Egypt has struggled to contain. There are fears too in Cairo that the Sinai option would shift the burden of Gaza onto Egypt’s shoulders.

This is where Trump and Kushner may hope their skills at wheeler-dealing can achieve a breakthrough.

Egypt’s susceptibility to financial inducements from the Gulf were on display last year when Sisi’s government agreed effectively to sell off to Saudi Arabia two strategic Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir. They guard the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez canal.

In return, Egypt received billions of dollars in loans and investments from the kingdom, including large-scale infrastructure projects in Sinai. Israel reportedly approved the deal.

Analysts have suggested that the handover of the islands to Saudi Arabia was intended to strengthen security and intelligence cooperation between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in dealing with Islamic militants in Sinai.

This now looks suspiciously like the prelude to Trump’s reported Sinai plan.

Over the Palestinians’ heads

In March, the White House hosted 19 countries in a conference to consider new ideas for dealing with Gaza’s mounting crisis. As well as Israel, participants included representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Palestinians boycotted the meeting.

Much favoured by the Trump team was a paper delivered by Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli general and key official overseeing Israel’s strategy in the occupied territories. Many of his proposals – for a free trade zone and infrastructure projects in Sinai – are now being advanced.

Last month Kushner visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan to drum up support. According to interviews in the Israel Hayom daily, all four Arab states are on board with the peace plan, even if it means bypassing Abbas.

Jackie Khoury, a Palestinian analyst for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, summed up the plan’s Gaza elements: “Egypt, which has a vital interest in calming Gaza down because of the territory’s impact on Sinai, will play the policeman who restrains Hamas. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and perhaps the United Arab Emirates will pay for the projects, which will be under United Nations auspices.”

Israel’s efforts to secure compliance from Hamas may be indicated by recent threats to invade Gaza and dissect it in two, reported through veteran Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. The US has also moved to deepen the crisis in Gaza by withholding payments to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. A majority of Gaza’s population are refugees dependent on UN handouts.

An advantage for Hamas in agreeing to the Sinai plan is that it would finally be freed of Israeli and Palestinian Authority controls over Gaza. It would be in a better able to sustain its rule, as long as it did not provoke Egyptian ire.

Oslo’s pacification model

Israel and Washington’s plans for Gaza have strong echoes of the “economic pacification” model that was the framework for the Oslo peace process of the late 1990s.

For Israel, Oslo represented a cynical chance to destroy the largely rural economy of the West Bank that Palestinians have depended on for centuries. Israel has long coveted the territory both for its economic potential and its Biblical associations.

Hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank rely on these lands for agriculture, rooting them to historic locations through economic need and tradition. But uprooting the villagers – forcing them into a handful of Palestinian cities, and clearing the land for Jewish settlers – required an alternative economic model.

As part of the the Oslo process, Israel began establishing a series of industrial areas – paid for by international donors – on the so-called “seam zone” between Israel and the West Bank.

Israeli and international companies were to open factories there, employing cheap Palestinian labour with minimal safeguards. Palestinians would be transformed from farmers with a strong attachment to their lands into a casual labour force concentrated in the cities.

An additional advantage for Israel was that it would make the Palestinians the ultimate “precariat”. Should they start demanding a state or even protest for rights, Israel could simply block entry to the industrial areas, allowing hunger to pacify the population.

New prison wardens

There is every reason to believe that is now the goal of an Israeli-Trump initiative to gradually relocate Palestinians to Sinai through investment in infrastructure projects.

With the two countries’ security interests safely aligned, Israel can then rely on Egypt to pacify the Palestinians of Gaza on its behalf. Under such a scheme, Cairo will have many ways to teach its new workforce of migrant labourers a lesson.

It can temporarily shut down the infrastructure projects, laying off the workforce, until there is quiet. It can close off the sole Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai. It can shutter the electricity and desalination plants, depriving Gaza of power and clean water.

This way Gaza can be kept under Israel’s thumb without Israel sharing any blame. Egypt will become Gaza’s visible prison wardens, just as Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have shouldered the burden of serving as jailers in much of the West Bank.

This is Israel’s model for Gaza. We may soon find out whether it is shared by Egypt and the Gulf states.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Did Israel Inspire Trump’s Family Separation Policy?

This past May, the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced the government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy at US border crossings. It was a matter of weeks before the new policy began yielding tragic outcomes. Those attempting to unlawfully cross into the US were subject to federal criminal prosecution, while their children were taken away by federal authorities, which placed them in cage-like facilities.

Expectedly, the policy caused outrage and was eventually reversed. However, many of those who have chastised the administration of President Donald Trump seem willfully ignorant of the fact that Israel has been carrying out far worse practices against Palestinians.

In fact, many within the American ruling classes, whether Republicans or Democrats, have been captivated with the Israeli model for decades. For years, US pundits have praised, not just Israel’s supposed democracy, but also its security apparatus as an example to be emulated. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, a renewed US love affair with Israel’s security tactics blossomed, where Tel Aviv raked billions of American taxpayers’ dollars in the name of helping secure US borders against perceived threats.

A new, even more appalling chapter in the ongoing cooperation was penned soon after newly-elected Trump declared his plan to build a ‘great’ wall at the US-Mexico border. Even before Israeli companies jumped on the chance to build Trump’s wall, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted approvingly of Trump’s “great idea”, claiming that Israel’s own wall has been a “great success” for it “has stopped all illegal immigration.”

‘Birds of a feather flock together,’ is an English proverb. Netanyahu and Trump have flocked together for over a year and a half in perfect harmony. Alas, their personal affinity, opportunistic style of politics and, more alarmingly, ideological meeting points have made matters worse.

In the case of Israel, the word ‘democracy’ is hardly fitting. At best, Israel’s democracy can be described as unique. The Jewish State’s former Supreme Court President, Aharon Barak, was quoted as saying that “Israel is different from other countries. It is not only a democratic state, but also a Jewish state.”

At a Tel Aviv conference earlier this year, Israel’s divisive Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, offered her own version of Barak’s assertion. “Israel is a Jewish state,” she said. “It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.”

In order for Israel to preserve its version of ‘democracy’, it must, in the words of Shaked, “maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”

Israel spins the concept of democracy in whichever direction that would allow it to ensure the dominance of the Jewish majority at the expense of Palestinians, the native inhabitants of the land, whose rising numbers are often seen as a ‘demographic threat’, a ‘bomb’ even.

Israel, to this day, has no formal constitution. It is governed by what it is known as ‘Basic Law‘. Having no moral code or legal foundation according to which the state’s behavior can be judged, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) is, therefore, free to draft and impose laws targeting Palestinian rights without having to wrangle with such notions as these laws being ‘constitutionally’ challenged.

One of the reasons that Trump’s family separation law at the border failed is that, despite flaws in its democratic system, the US has a constitution and a relatively strong civil society that can utilize the country’s moral and legal codes to challenge atrocious state conduct.

In Israel, however, this is not the case. The government invests much energy and funds to ensure Jewish dominance and to establish physical links between illegal Jewish settlements (built on Palestinian land in defiance of international law) and Israel itself. At the same time, it invests equal resources to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their own land, while keeping their communities everywhere separated and fragmented.

The sad truth is that what Americans have witnessed at their southern border in the last couple of months is what Palestinians have experienced as a daily reality at the hands of Israel for the last 70 years.

The kind of separation and segregation that Palestinian communities endure goes even beyond the typical outcomes of war, siege and military occupation. It is something that is enshrined in Israeli law, crafted mainly to weaken, even break down the cohesiveness of Palestinian society.

For example, in 2003, the Knesset voted in favor of the ‘Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law’, which placed severe restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel who were applying for family unification. When rights groups challenged the law, their efforts failed as the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, early 2012, in favor of the government.

In 2007, that same law was amended to include spouses from ‘enemy states’ – namely Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Unsurprisingly, citizens of some of those ‘enemy states’ were included in Trump’s ban on citizens of mostly Muslim countries from entering the US.

It is as if Trump is following an Israeli blueprint, fashioning his decisions around the principles that guided Israeli policies towards the Palestinians for many years.

Even the idea of caging children is an Israeli one, a practice that was exposed by the rights group, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI).

The policy, which has allegedly been discontinued, allowed for the placing of Palestinian detainees, including children in outdoor cages, even during severe winter storms.

The ‘caging’ of Palestinians, however, is an old practice. Today, the Israeli Apartheid wall separates Palestinians from their land and segregates between Arabs and Jews on racial grounds. As for Gaza, the entire Strip, which hosts 2 million people, mostly refugees, has been turned into a massive ‘open air prison‘, of walls and trenches.

While many Americans are relieved by Trump’s decision to end the practice of family separation at the border, US politicians and media are oblivious to the fate of Palestinians who have endured horrific forms of separation for many years. Even more troubling is the fact that many among Republicans and Democrats see Israel, not as a liability to real democracy, but as a shining example to be followed.

Psychopathic

Fadi Hassan Abu Salah, killed by Israeli sniper on May 14, 2018 in Gaza

Psychopathic: (Adjective) Suffering from or constituting a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent behavior.

This is Oxford’s best shot at describing a condition I feel quite comfortable framing within its succinct parameters the State of Israel, the vast majority of its population – if the analysis of Max Blumenthal and Norman Finkelstein mean anything – the disease of Zionism, a highly virulent form of theocratic nationalism, as well as that country’s primary enabler – the greatest purveyor of terror on earth – the United States.

The instantly iconic photograph of Fadi Hassan Abu Salah, a double amputee who lost his legs during an Israeli carpet bombing of the Gaza called Operation Cast Lead in 2008 was murdered by a sniper Monday, May 14th in the context of an Israel now completely unfettered.  From the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 – the forced displacement of Palestinians numbering in the many hundreds of thousands from their homes and homeland marking the genesis of Israel’s blood soaked breech birth – to the present moment, there have been, to be sure, many, many worse slaughters by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and its various precursors, but the non-violent nature of this particular act of Palestinian resistance, The Right of Return, has placed Israel in the untenable absurdity of ascribing kites as lethal weapons of Hamas.

Not that Israel has the least concern for world opinion.  Their psychopathic horrors are salvific in the writ of impunity granted by the United States, an American propaganda machine of stunning homogeneity and the abysmal, ahistoric ignorance of its citizenry – what Henry A. Giroux aptly refers to as a culture of manufactured illiteracy.  Genocide plays well here as it mirrors the white, western European, Christian bedrock of America’s own DNA.  Forget about the living wake of Reaganomics. America is still sheep dipped in the tragic misery of 15th century papal bulls.

How else to explain the spectacle of an indeed feckless heiress cum garmento Ivanka Trump and her ne’er-do-well moron of a husband Jared Kushner partying in Jerusalem on the site of our new embassy at the very moment 60-plus unarmed Palestinian men, women and children were being gassed and mowed down by bunkered IDF snipers less than 40 miles from the festivities.  It would be bad fiction were it not true.

And where in aggregate, exactly, is the hue and cry of the progressive Jewish diaspora outside the confines of Pacifica Radio?  Nowhere.  While I’m of the mind that all organized religion is poison, to the extent there is anything redemptive in the tenets of Judaism I would think gaggles of observant American Jewry would be falling over themselves to point out in ear splitting decibels and in the most public of ways the malign injury beyond reckoning or repair perpetrated by Zionism on one of the earth’s greatest and venerable faiths.  But no.  Fucking crickets.  Jewish Voice for Peace?  Well, bless Rebecca Vilkomerson, the organization’s Executive Director.  She gets high grades for effort but in the end her message strikes me as tepid, like an AA member telling a raging alcoholic they’ll be there when they’re ready.  Where is the bottom for American Jews?

All I do hear is fearful malevolence and psychopathy from the oxygen starved brains of barking chows Nikki Haley at the U.N. and Fox News host turned State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert – a clone of her Obama era predecessors Jen Psaki and Marie Harf.  John Kelly, John Bolton, Fred Fleitz, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman . . . . where do we grow psychopaths of such timeless uniformity, I wonder?  At the finest colleges to be sure.  Only the best and the brightest have brought us to this moment.

When Guatemala and Paraguay are the only countries in a “coalition of the willing” to join the United States in opening embassies in Jerusalem, you know America is alone in the world and absolutely collapsing as a global empire.  All we have left are tech companies that have made the inane ubiquitous, the closely related export of death and an increasingly shaky petro-dollar.

When all one hears is the ceaseless din of an utterly seamless merger of media on the left and the right bloviating preposterous Russophobic bullshit amidst a welter of false flag chemical attacks from Syria to Britain that are debunked as fast as they occur – but not by the voices on the left who should know better – then the writing, as they say, is on the wall.

In the meantime, every day, clearly identified Palestinian healthcare workers armed with cotton balls and saline are targeted like 21 year old paramedic Razan al-Najjar who had her heart blown out through her back 100 yards from an IDF rampart Friday, June 1st, followed by her cousin Ramzi al-Najjar on Monday. Canadian Palestinian Dr. Tarek Loubani, journalists like Ahmed Abu Hussein and Yaser Murtaja continue to be scoped and then murdered or crippled in the largest open air prison on earth with a reckless abandonment by psychotic Zionists at a level of carnage approaching what Hindu nationalists have been perpetrating on Muslims, dalits, tribals and women in general throughout India for decades.  Yet another predominant genocidal theocracy with roots in Nazism and caste given to rape, hacking and immolation that make death by a clean bullet in the Gazan dirt seem like a blessing.  But then, no one but Arundhati Roy is talking about that and it is, admittedly, bad form to compare atrocities.  Most especially when the bullets aren’t clean.

IDF snipers are using what used to be referred to in 1980’s as “cop killers” or “dum-dum” bullets.  These iterations on a grisly theme mushroom and fragment upon impact to maximize the internal carnage, exiting the body through a hole the size of a fist. They’re now referred to as “butterfly bullets”.  Splendid marketing largely under-appreciated by the 123 dead and the amputees among 13,700 injured since March 30th.

The 70 year genocide of Palestinians by the State of Israel is psychopathic.  It is not a conflict.  It is genocide.

The 11 year Israeli blockade of Gaza by air, sea and land is psychopathic.

America’s support of the apartheid State of Israel through our media, billions in military hardware and United Nations obstruction is psychopathic.

Indifference is complicity and, yes, psychopathic.

As language becomes a weaponized virus unhinged from historical precedence and critical thought, precision becomes imperative to call things by their proper name.  We are all of us in the cold embrace of psychopaths.  The prisoners of Gaza and the West Bank know this.  So should we.

Beating the US “Veto”: Palestinians Need Urgent Protection from Israel

What is taking place in Palestine is not a ‘conflict’.  We readily utilize the term but, in fact, the word ‘conflict’ is misleading. It equates between oppressed Palestinians and Israel, a military power that stands in violation of numerous United Nations Resolutions.

It is these ambiguous terminologies that allow the likes of United States UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, to champion Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’, as if the militarily occupied and colonized Palestinians are the ones threatening the security of their occupier and tormentor.

In fact, this is precisely what Haley has done to counter a draft UN Security Council Resolution presented by Kuwait to provide a minimum degree of protection for Palestinians. Haley vetoed the draft, thus continuing a grim legacy of US defense of Israel, despite the latter’s ongoing violence against Palestinians.

It is no surprise that out of the 80 vetoes exercised by the US at the UNSC, the majority were unleashed to protect Israel. The first such veto for Israel’s sake was in September 1972 and the latest, used by Haley, was on June 1.

Before it was put to the vote, the Kuwaiti draft was revised three times in order to ‘water it down’. Initially, it called for the protection of the Palestinian people from Israeli violence.

The final draft merely called for “The consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in the Gaza Strip.”

Still, Haley found the language “grossly one-sided.”

The near consensus in support of the Kuwait draft was met with complete rejection of Haley’s own draft resolution which demanded Palestinian groups cease “all violent provocative actions” in Gaza.

The ‘provocative actions’ being referred to in Haley’s draft is the mass mobilization by tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, who have been peacefully protesting for weeks, hoping that their protests will place the Israeli siege on Gaza back on the UN agenda.

Haley’s counter draft resolution did not garner a single vote in favor, save that of Haley’s own.  But such humiliation at the international stage is hardly of essence to the US, which has wagered its international reputation and foreign policy to protect Israel at any cost, even from unarmed observers whose job is merely to report on what they see on the ground.

The last such ‘force’ was that of 60 – later increased to 90 – members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).

TIPH was established in May 1996 and has filed many reports on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian city, especially in Area H-2, a small part of the city that is controlled by the Israeli army to protect some of the most violent illegal Jewish settlers.

Jan Kristensen, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Norwegian army who headed TIPH had these words to say, following the completion of his one-year mission in Hebron in 2004:

The activity of the settlers and the army in the H-2 area of Hebron is creating an irreversible situation. In a sense, cleansing is being carried out. In other words, if the situation continues for another few years, the result will be that no Palestinians will remain there.

One can only imagine what has befallen Hebron since then. The army and Jewish settlers have become so emboldened to the extent that they execute Palestinians in cold blood with little or no consequence.

One such episode became particularly famous, for it was caught on camera. On March 24, 2015, an Israeli soldier carried out a routine operation by shooting in the head an incapacitated Palestinian.

The execution of Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was filmed by Imad Abushamsiya. The viral video caused Israel massive embarrassment, forcing it to hold a sham trial in which the Israeli soldier who killed al-Sharif received a light sentence; he was later released to a reception fit for heroes.

Abushamsiya, who filmed the murder, however, was harassed by both the Israeli army and police and received numerous death threats.

The Israeli practice of punishing the messenger is not new. The mother of Ahed Tamimi, Nariman, who filmed her teenage daughter confronting armed Israeli soldiers was also detained and sentenced.

Israel has practically punished Palestinians for recording their own subjugation by Israeli troops while, at the same time, empowering these very soldiers to do as they please; it is now in the process of turning this everyday reality into actual law.

A bill at the Israeli Knesset was put forward late May that prohibits “photographing and documenting (Israeli occupation) soldiers”, and criminalizing “anyone who filmed, photographed and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duty.”

The bill, which is supported by Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, demands a five-year imprisonment term for violators.

The bill practically means that any form of monitoring of Israeli soldiers is a criminal act. If this is not a call for perpetual war crimes, what is?

Just to be sure, a second bill is proposing to give immunity to soldiers suspected of criminal activities during military operations.

The bill is promoted by deputy Defense Minister, Eli Ben Dahan, and is garnering support at the Knesset.

“The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant,” wrote Orly Noy in the Israeli 972 Magazine.

Noy cited a recent report by the Israeli human rights organization ‘Yesh Din’ which shows that “soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories enjoy near-full immunity.”

Now, Palestinians are more vulnerable than ever before, and Israel, with the help of its American enablers, is more brazen than ever.

This tragedy cannot continue. The international community and civil society organizations, – independent of the US government and its shameful vetoes – must undertake the legal and moral responsibility to monitor Israeli action and to provide meaningful protection for Palestinians.

Israel should not have free reign to abuse Palestinians at will, and the international community should not stand by and watch the bloody spectacle as it continues to unfold.

Rebuffed Parliamentary Bills Foil Efforts to End Israeli Apartheid

For most of the seven decades after its establishment, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to craft an image of itself as a “light unto the nations”.

It claimed to have “made the desert bloom” by planting forests over the razed houses of 750,000 Palestinians it exiled in 1948. Soldiers in the “most moral army in the world” reputedly cried as they were compelled to shoot Palestinian “infiltrators” trying to return home. And all this occurred in what Israelis claimed was the Middle East’s “only democracy”.

An industry known as hasbara – a euphemism for propaganda – recruited Jews in Israel and abroad to a campaign to persuade the world that the Palestinians’ dispossession was for the good of mankind. Israel’s achievements in science, agriculture and medicine were extolled.

But in a more interconnected world, that propaganda campaign is swiftly unravelling. Phone cameras now record “moral” soldiers executing unarmed Palestinians in Gaza or beating up children in Hebron.

The backlash, including a growing international boycott movement, has driven Israel’s right wing into even greater defiance and self-righteousness. It no longer conceals its goal to aggressively realise a longed-for “Greater Israel”.

A parallel process is overtaking Israel’s traditional left but has been far less noticed. It too is stubbornly committed to its ideological legacy – the creation of a supposed “Jewish and democratic state” after 1948.

And just as the immorality of Israel’s belligerent rule in the occupied territories is under ever greater scrutiny, so too is its claim to be a democracy conferring equal rights on all citizens.

Israel includes a large minority of 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, the remnants of those who survived the expulsions required for its creation. Although Palestinian citizens have the vote, it was an easy generosity after Israel gerrymandered the electoral constituency in 1948 to ensure Palestinians remained a permanent and decisive minority.

In a system of residential apartheid, Palestinian citizens have been confined to ghettos on a tiny fraction of land while Israel has “nationalised” 93 per cent of its territory for Jews around the world.

But after decades of repression, including an initial 20 years living under military rule, the Palestinian minority has gradually grown more confident in highlighting Israel’s political deficiencies.

In recent days, Palestinian legislators have submitted three legislative measures before parliament to explode the illusion that Israel is a western-style liberal democracy.

None stood the faintest chance of being passed in a system rigged to keep Palestinian lawmakers out of any of Israel’s complex but entirely Zionist coalition governments.

The first measure sought to revoke the quasi-governmental status of major international Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Jewish Agency.

Although they are treated like state bodies, these organisations are obligated through their charters to discriminate in allocating state resources and rights to Jews around the world rather than to Israelis. The aim is to exclude Palestinian citizens from major state benefits.

The JNF bans access for non-Jews to most land in Israel and develops new communities exclusively for Jews, while the Jewish Agency restricts immigration and associated perks to Jews alone.

The bill – designed to end decades of explicit discrimination against one fifth of Israel’s citizenry – was defeated when all the Jewish parties voted against it. Zuheir Bahloul, the sole Palestinian legislator in Zionist Union, the centre-left party once called Labour, was furiously denounced by Jewish colleagues for breaking ranks and voting for the bill.

That was no surprise. The party’s previous leader, Isaac Herzog, is the frontrunner to become the next chair of the Jewish Agency. Israel’s left still venerates these organisations that promote ethnic privileges – for Jews – of a sort once familiar from apartheid South Africa.

Mr Bahloul also found himself in the firing line after he submitted a separate bill requiring that for the first time the principle of equality be enshrined in all 11 Basic Laws, Israel’s equivalent of a constitution. The proposal was roundly defeated, including by his own party.

The third measure was a bill demanding that Israel be reformed from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens, representing all equally. In a highly irregular move, a committee dominated by Jewish legislators voted to disqualify the bill last week from even being allowed a hearing on the parliament floor.

The parliament’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, warned that the measure would alter Israel’s character by giving Jewish and Palestinian citizens “equal status”. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the bill “preposterous”. “Any intelligent individual can see it must be blocked immediately,” he said.

Law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, meanwhile, conceded that the bill exposed Israeli democracy as “fundamentally flawed”.

These three bills from Palestinian legislators might have redressed some of the inequities contained in nearly 70 Israeli laws that, according to Adalah, a legal rights group, explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity.

Paradoxically, the number of such laws has grown prolifically in recent years as Adalah and others have challenged Jewish privileges in the courts.

The Israeli left and right have joined forces to shore up these threatened racist practices through new legislation – secure that an intimidated supreme court will not dare revoke the will of parliament.

The reality is that left-wing Israelis – shown beyond doubt that their state is not the liberal democracy they imagined – have hurried to join the right in silencing critics and implementing harsher repression.

Palestinian citizens who peacefully protested against the massacre of demonstrators in Gaza by army snipers were assaulted in police custody last month. One arrested civil society leader had his knee broken. There have been barely any objections, even on the left.

Today, Israelis are hunkering down. Boycott activists from abroad are denied entry. Unarmed Palestinian demonstrators have been gunned down in Gaza. And critics inside Israel are silenced or beaten up.

All these responses have the same end in mind: to block anything that might burst the bubble of illusions and threaten Israelis’ sense of moral superiority.

First published in The National

The Colonization of Palestine: Rethinking the Term ‘Israeli Occupation’

June 5, 2018 marks the 51st anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

But, unlike the massive popular mobilization that preceded the anniversary of the Nakba – the catastrophic destruction of Palestine in 1948 –  on May 15, the anniversary of the Occupation is hardly generating equal mobilization.

The unsurprising death of the ‘peace process’ and the inevitable demise of the ‘two-state solution’ has shifted the focus from ending the Occupation, per se, to the larger and more encompassing problem of Israel’s colonialism throughout Palestine.

The grass-root mobilization in Gaza and the West Bank, and among Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Naqab Desert are, once more, widening the Palestinian people’s sense of national aspirations. Thanks to the limited vision of the Palestinian leadership, those aspirations have, for decades, been confined to Gaza and West Bank.

In some sense, the ‘Israeli Occupation’ is no longer an occupation as per international standards and definitions. It is merely a phase of Zionist colonization of historic Palestine, a process that began over a 100 years ago, and carries on to this date.

“The law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian consideration; it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application,” states the International Committee of the Red Cross website.

It is for practical purposes that we often utilize the term ‘occupation’ with reference to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, occupied after June 5, 1967. The term allows for the constant emphasis on humanitarian rules that are meant to govern Israel’s behavior as the Occupying Power.

However, Israel has already, and repeatedly, violated most conditions of what constitute an ‘Occupation’ from an international law perspective, as articulated in the 1907 Hague Regulations (articles 42-56) and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

According to these definitions, an ‘Occupation’ is a provisional phase, a temporary situation that is meant to end with the implementation of international law regarding that particular situation.

Military occupation’ is not the sovereignty of the Occupier over the Occupied; it cannot include transfer of citizens from the territories of the Occupying Power to Occupied land; it cannot include ethnic cleansing; destruction of properties; collective punishment and annexation.

It is often argued that Israel is an Occupier that has violated the rules of Occupation as stated in international law.

This would have been the case a year, two or five years after the original Occupation had taken place, but not 51 years later. Since then, the Occupation has turned into long-term colonization.

An obvious proof is Israel’s annexation of Occupied land, including the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian East Jerusalem in 1981. That decision had no regard for international law, humanitarian or any other.

Israeli politicians have, for years, openly debated the annexation of the West Bank, especially areas that are populated with illegal Jewish settlements, which are built contrary to international law.

Those hundreds of settlements that Israel has been building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not meant as temporary structures.

Dividing the West Bank into three zones, areas A, B and C, each governed according to different political diktats and military roles, has little precedent in international law.

Israel argues that, contrary to international law, it is no longer an Occupying Power in Gaza; however, an Israel land, maritime and aerial siege has been imposed on the Strip for over 11 years. With successive Israeli wars that have killed thousands, to a hermetic blockade that has pushed the Palestinian population to the brink of starvation, Gaza subsists in isolation.

Gaza is an ‘Occupied Territory’ by name only, without any of the humanitarian rules applied. In the last 10 weeks alone, over 120 unarmed protesters, journalists and medics were killed and13,000 wounded, yet the international community and law remain inept, unable to face or challenge Israeli leaders or to overpower equally cold-hearted American vetoes.

The Palestinian Occupied Territories have, long ago, crossed the line from being Occupied to being colonized. But there are reasons that we are trapped in old definitions, leading amongst them is American political hegemony over the legal and political discourses pertaining to Palestine.

One of the main political and legal achievements of the Israeli war – which was carried out with full US support – on several Arab countries in June 1967 is the redefining of the legal and political language on Palestine.

Prior to that war, the discussion was mostly dominated by such urgent issues as the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees to go back to their homes and properties in historic Palestine.

The June war shifted the balances of power completely, and cemented America’s role as Israel’s main backer on the international stage.

Several UN Security Council resolutions were passed to delegitimize the Israeli Occupation: UNSCR 242, UNSCR 338 and the less talked about but equally significant UNSCR 497.

242 of 1967 demanded “withdrawal of Israel armed forces” from the territories it occupied in the June war. 338, which followed the war of 1973, accentuated and clarified that demand. Resolution 497 of 1981 was a response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It rendered such a move “null and void and without international and legal affect.”

The same applied to the annexation of Jerusalem as to any colonial constructions or any Israeli attempts aimed at changing the legal status of the West Bank.

But Israel is operating with an entirely different mindset.

Considering that anywhere between 600,000 to 750,000 Israeli Jews now live in the ‘Occupied Territories’, and that the largest settlement of Modi’in Illit houses more than 64,000 Israeli Jews, one has to wonder what form of military occupation blue-print Israel is implementing, anyway.

Israel is a settler colonial project, which began when the Zionist movement aspired to build an exclusive homeland for Jews in Palestine, at the expense of the native inhabitants of that land in the late 19th century.

Nothing has changed since. Only facades, legal definitions and political discourses. The truth is that Palestinians continue to suffer the consequences of Zionist colonialism and they will continue to carry that burden until that original sin is boldly confronted and justly remedied.

Fathi Harb burnt himself to death in Gaza: Will the world notice?

Fathi Harb should have had something to live for, not least the imminent arrival of a new baby. But last week the 21-year-old extinguished his life in an inferno of flames in central Gaza.

It is believed to be the first example of a public act of self-immolation in the enclave. Harb doused himself in petrol and set himself alight on a street in Gaza City shortly before dawn prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

In part, Harb was driven to this terrible act of self-destruction out of despair.

After a savage, decade-long Israeli blockade by land, sea and air, Gaza is like a car running on fumes. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that the enclave will be uninhabitable within a few years.

Over that same decade, Israel has intermittently pounded Gaza into ruins, in line with the Israeli army’s Dahiya doctrine. The goal is to decimate the targeted area, turning life back to the Stone Age so that the population is too preoccupied with making ends meet to care about the struggle for freedom.

Both of these kinds of assault have had a devastating impact on inhabitants’ psychological health.

Harb would have barely remembered a time before Gaza was an open-air prison and one where a 1,000kg Israeli bomb might land near his home.

In an enclave where two-thirds of young men are unemployed, he had no hope of finding work. He could not afford a home for his young family and he was about to have another mouth to feed.

Doubtless, all of this contributed to his decision to burn himself to death.

But self-immolation is more than suicide. That can be done quietly, out of sight, less gruesomely. In fact, figures suggest that suicide rates in Gaza have rocketed in recent years.

But public self-immolation is associated with protest.

A Buddhist monk famously turned himself into a human fireball in Vietnam in 1963 in protest at the persecution of his co-religionists. Tibetans have used self-immolation to highlight Chinese oppression, Indians to decry the caste system, and Poles, Ukrainians and Czechs once used it to protest Soviet rule.

But more likely for Harb, the model was Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in late 2010 after officials humiliated him once too often. His public death triggered a wave of protests across the Middle East that became the Arab Spring.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation suggests its power to set our consciences on fire. It is the ultimate act of individual self-sacrifice, one that is entirely non-violent except to the victim himself, performed altruistically in a greater, collective cause.

Who did Harb hope to speak to with his shocking act?

In part, according to his family, he was angry with the Palestinian leadership. His family was trapped in the unresolved feud between Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. That dispute has led the PA to cut the salaries of its workers in Gaza, including Harb’s father.

But Harb undoubtedly had a larger audience in mind too.

Until a few years ago, Hamas regularly fired rockets out of the enclave in a struggle both to end Israel’s continuing colonisation of Palestinian land and to liberate the people of Gaza from their Israeli-made prison.

But the world rejected the Palestinians’ right to resist violently and condemned Hamas as “terrorists”. Israel’s series of military rampages in Gaza to silence Hamas were meekly criticised in the West as “disproportionate”.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where there is still direct contact with Israeli Jews, usually as settlers or soldiers, watched as Gaza’s armed resistance failed to prick the world’s conscience.

So some took up the struggle as individuals, targeting Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints. They grabbed a kitchen knife to attack Israelis or soldiers at checkpoints, or rammed them with a car, bus or bulldozer.

Again, the world sided with Israel. Resistance was not only futile, it was denounced as illegitimate.

Since late March, the struggle for liberation has shifted back to Gaza. Tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians have massed weekly close to Israel’s fence encaging them.

The protests are intended as confrontational civil disobedience, a cry to the world for help and a reminder that Palestinians are being slowly choked to death.

Israel has responded repeatedly by spraying the demonstrators with live ammunition, seriously wounding many thousands and killing more than 100. Yet again, the world has remained largely impassive.

In fact, worse still, the demonstrators have been cast as Hamas stooges. The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, blamed the victims under occupation, saying Israel had a right to “defend its border”, while the British government claimed the protests were “hijacked by terrorists”.

None of this can have passed Harb by.

When Palestinians are told they can “protest peacefully”, western governments mean quietly, in ways that Israel can ignore, in ways that will not trouble consciences or require any action.

In Gaza, the Israeli army is renewing the Dahiya doctrine, this time by shattering thousands of Palestinian bodies rather than infrastructure.

Harb understood only too well the West’s hypocrisy in denying Palestinians any right to meaningfully resist Israel’s campaign of destruction.

The flames that engulfed him were intended also to consume us with guilt and shame. And doubtless more in Gaza will follow his example.

Will Harb be proved right? Can the West be shamed into action?

Or will we continue blaming the victims to excuse our complicity in seven decades of outrages committed against the Palestinian people?

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

May 14th: Just Another Day in a Collapsing Empire

May 14th was quite a day for the empire, the shit show on full display exhibiting lots of swagger in its death throes. The people on the inside are the last to know. They don’t see it but everyone else does. The rest of the world can see the toxic death culture, they see the rationalizations for idiocy and how silly they seem. The US empire has no clothes but wears only a paper thin emotional veneer resembling a child who attempts to lie for the first time after murdering the family dog. This is the modern American mind of empire. Delusional and full of contrived pablum to excuse their wretched actions. Trump is truly the perfect man to represent this country, its true face. A huckster, a gangster, and a liar that says one thing and does the opposite. The actions and the results before us are the real values of empire and not their diseased words, which are devoid of truth.

On May 14th the empire’s best friend Israel continued to show its reverence for death while inhumanely shooting protestors on the Gaza strip. 58 lives lost and 2,700 injured are the current stats, horrors playing out that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around, but tomorrow Palestinians will wake up and know a life that has more suffering than the day before. Many of the injured will look forward to death knowing the Israeli government lacks all basic compassion for fellow humans and the wounded know the path ahead will contain even more hardship. The implications of Israeli actions won’t make headlines for long in the US, and the externalities we’ll never see directly tied to this story will cause sadness and turmoil they will struggle to fight past for years – if Israel lets them live that long. We humans are more fragile than what is put onto our TV screens. Characters undergo one torturous event after another with little repercussions, but in reality our emotions break, especially when all community has been stripped out from under us, especially when people we love are killed or maimed for no good reason.

Six who died were under the age of 18. Does the US care? Nope, they’d sooner blame Palestinians for putting kids in the line of fire of Israeli soldiers than take responsibility for supporting a regime who sadistically fires openly into crowds of unarmed people. The corporate media have short memories, convenient memories. We forget how upset we were at the Syrian gas attack that may have claimed 40 lives and later the incident was filled with controversy over if Assad was actually responsible, I do not know the truth about this but I smell bullshit from somewhere, regardless of my bullshit sniffing abilities that number is less than the 58 killed at the protests on May the 14th. And there will be not a chirp, a squawk, a snort, or whinny of angst directed towards Israel for these actions by our overlords. In fact, quite the opposite.

The ignoble Jared Kushner said at the embassy opening that “Those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” referring to protestors who don’t have guns, didn’t wound one Israeli soldier, they don’t have an air force, tanks, humvees, an organized military, or any of the implements of destruction Israel does, yet Palestinians are somehow provoking violence to such an extent the bully state had to slaughter them? Ok Jared, fuck you. There is no respect for life, zero empathy, and not the smallest hint of a lingering humanity remaining in the logic of the state.

The US operates in a good ole boy league where the fellow goombahs get an automatic pass, they are made men, with made nations, they do as they please. So it would also please them on the day of May 14th to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as nothing more than a provocation to invite targets out for the racist Israeli state to gun down. The ostensible provocateurs are a battered people who are being violently edged off this planet for reasons of insanity from a bully regime and their bully death culture. The provoked are a people crying out for someone in the world to stand up to this machine. Provoked to the point they want the world to witness what those in power will do to people who are of no legitimate threat; To show how vicious and small in character those who wield power are, to show how profound their lack of wisdom. Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than an ant is to an elephant, yet this particular raging elephant’s sense of entitled justice is to seek out the ant population and stamp it out of existence, then boast as if they were doing a great service.

In other news occurring on the day of May 14th 2018, the supreme court of American shysterism decided to give states the power to legalize gambling. With the current predicament of the world and the myriad of issues I quite frankly get tired of speaking to…the warring, the species extinction this, the climate change that, the wealth inequal…..well, you get the point. Any logical mind might say that we shouldn’t take time to further line the pockets of the wealthy by allowing them to own these new con games. Also, it might seem a tad exploitative to further entice the poor to desperately gamble away their rapidly diminishing savings before addressing those much larger issues, but all dissent will go unheard because there’s money to be made, boys, so instead we’ll hear people say some ridiculous drivel about how this is good for economic growth, and we’ll continue to live by the obvious lies of supply side economics.

And of all the issues in the world to address, of all the ideas in dire need of review, the US government’s highest court chooses to address sports gambling and rules in favor of empowering an industry that has been synonymous with organized crime even in areas it’s legalized. From gangster Bugsy Segal who famously had a role in creating the Las Vegas strip, to Sheldon Adelson who was said to have ties to Chinese mafia, and, of course, like flies attracted to shit Donald Trump comes buzzing around the casino business with plenty of allegations mafia associations, of course, his most verifiable organized crime association being the US government itself.

Legalizing sports betting is an apropos move for an empire doing all it can to emulate the Biff Tannen universe that was widely referenced at the start of the Trump presidency. Sports are already a severely overemphasized part of American culture. The athletes are receiving salaries that rival that of some of the most abusive CEOs, but the US populace worships them, they make excuses for the rampant greed out of addictive impulse. Many of these dollars athletes and billionaire owners earn are subsidized from lower class taxpayers where they are forced to pay for stadiums and surrounding infrastructure owned by the billionaires, just so we can watch athletes whose top salaries are quickly approaching 40 million a year play for meaningless things that will quickly be forgotten in time.

The narrative from states and business interests looking to profiteer off gambling will put on their best act to pretend like the abusive capitalist activity of gambling is some form of freedom, and the narrative of Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is that peaceful protestors are a threat to a heavily armed military, and the narrative from corporate media will be that these are just things happening and not signs of empire collapsing amid the ever growing misery of a global population. And the narrative of the people in the empire who are lonely, sad, and separated from connection will tell themselves that democracy and capitalism will somehow purify to the point that they’ll really deliver on the goods this time around. That surely this twisted form of democracy installed by genocidal slavers will avert disaster in the coming elections. The idea is we wait in futility for events that have no chance of curving the murderous gangsterism inset in this disposable dung heap of a society; I don’t mean to insult dung, lots of good things grow out of dung, nothing good grows out of this disease. It must be transformed at a deep level to be fertile space again, and if we are to heal the disease we cannot continue to sow the lies of false narratives.