Category Archives: Settler Colonization

Genuine Progress Index Be Damned! Grow, Displace, Submit!!

Rapacious. “They got theirs, so I better get mine. Yes, things change, and, sure this sleepy town is about to boom but that’s the way of the world…. Might as well be part of the winning team – that money making side of things. That’s all you can do.”

I just finished talking to white guy in his late forties, gassing up excavators and huge dump trucks. We’re near the Estacada High School, and he tells me the scrapping is to make room for more ball fields. The school already has fields and a football stadium. This is a town with 3,000.

The day before on the very same spot I was walking with Canada geese lighting on the marshy part of the tract of land. I was with flickers, robins, raptors, and bee catches and swallows and maybe 15 other species of birds, including hummers.

The crows were squawking their disapproval of all the rumbling trucks and blades sawing up plywood and siding for the new crop of homes coming to fruition near the spit of land. These few acres with a creek running through them were their paradise, their wintering quarters.

Foreboding, those corvids rallying their ranks in the sunny bluster, really, for me, living in a county with no native American signs, tributes, museums, nothing, left on the surface, just the name, Clackamas River in Clackamas County. There are 99 percent whites here, and many cruise with American flags and Confederate ones as big as trampolines fluttering behind their jacked up Jeeps and pick-ups.

The California invasion is lamented daily, with now sputtering-to-a-stop superhighway commutes, and the constant building and the housing and rental stock vanished into thin banker’s air.

I’ve had someone recently tell me to stop whining about the cost of housing in Portland . . . . “Try San Francisco out, buddy boy.” Yep, I never whine, and the “buddy boy” is to me like a Harvey Weinstein glowering at his secretary.

In calm terms, the stupidity of his statement is torn apart. First, I am with clients as a social worker who are straddled because of the long-arm of injustice pinching them for Driving While Black or Dealing While Latino or Walking While Young. My client load is trying to do something with their lives and get off the endless hamster wheel and rat pipe of addiction, and many are old, and some are very young.

The young are told to go to community college or rip-off trade schools; go get some shitty warehouse job for $12 an hour; and then admonished to find a dozen other Homies and get a two-bedroom crib for the lot of them, anywhere, somewhere and shut the fuck up.

Mr. and Mrs. California, oh, baby, many are leaving their Orange County haunts because they HATE the brown people, the crowds, the traffic, and the cost of living there. Again, the white hoards are the destroyers of entire civilizations (Spain and Inca and Aztec), or the slavers of Puritanical Puerile needs, the entire project of White Hegemony, the white hope for the rest of human kind five hundred years ago, 300, 30 and now.

“Try the roads in LA. You want to see real bad traffic!”

These are cancerous times in a deadening world of people that see barely an inch beyond their noses. I have a graduate degree in urban planning and there is no way in hell I could get a job in that field, one that really doesn’t mean much in the scheme of radical planning, radical design, regional and biological planning. Each entity is vying for those workers, those big ass companies to site in their municipalities or counties, those tax dodgers like Nike, Intel, Apple, Uber, Amazon, you name ‘em, the next big half empty convention center, or how about a casino on every corner . . . . Towns are haphazard, and draining our lives with the noise, the traffic, the same-same sameness.

Back to Estacada and my mind-clearing walk, near a blackberry-plagued stretch of land adjacent to the tract home I live in, in the planned development, HOA included, in a town named after a place in Texas, Spanish of all things, in a county that hosts lots of immigrants from Mexico pounding nails, landscaping and flipping gorditas, but a county where many in the white population support sending “all of ’em” back a la Trump-Obama ICE expressway.

Llano Estacado (staked plain or palisaded plain) is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. This ain’t the Southwest, where I spent many years cutting my teeth as reporter, college teacher, writer, and itinerant environmentalist and novelist.

The old acreage to my north is now graded-over for a whopping 350 homes – times 2.5 people per house and you have 875 people, and, well, that’s 875 more vehicles, plus the motor-homes, ATV’s, boats, and 4×4’s.

The white guys grading and paving and setting it up for the next phase of wasps coming in for the footings and framing – Mexicans mostly – they seem slap happy gleeful. One side of mouth, “I hate those Cally-forn-i-cation-ers,” and then other side of mouth, “Man oh man, keep on coming and show me the money.”

My mind clearing is tied to the fascism of our times – I just got sacked (yet again) for my mouth, but this time it was nothing, really, but again, non-profits are all living hell these days, and social workers like myself (former teacher, real journalist and urban planner of sorts) are in high demand but with low regard, and the turnover rates are terrible. Read here, and here about that part of my life.

I’m trying to collect unemployment, and I am busy applying for jobs – employment opportunities all over the map: executive director for a non-profit giving free med services to pets; development director for a street newspaper; tutor at the local community college; and plenty of social worker jobs, too. Even a job with the Center for Biological Diversity on a renewable energy campaign tied to population and sustainability. My chances are a snowball’s chance in the Arctic . . . Hell!

Hitting the streets at 60 years of age is both surreal and bile-drenching – my grandparents from Scotland and Germany never would have thought this great country (neither sets of grandparents really thought of USA as a great country, but we’ll pretend . . . .) would dish it out this hard to one of its own.

No retirement, man, as each billionaire laughs harder and harder at the idea of retirement for the masses at age 65, let alone 70. Health care cut off at the knees three days after getting the AX.

I talk to this fellow grading the land, and he’s paunchy in his forties, the tell-tale signs of engorging beer and whiskey sessions on his face. The big fellow running the excavator is fifty and has a belly and shirt size that could tarp a family of 12 in Haiti. The 25-year-old pushing the gearshift of the huge dump truck is surly looking. These are big times for these fellows — $35 to $75 an hour, easy. They have blood relatives and high school friends and in-laws working with them in this locked-up market.

Sitting on their fat asses (except for the young guy grinding gears) making twice as much an hour or more than that over what I was making running ragged helping homeless and addicts find some pathway out of that shit (many of my homeless addicts were once in the trades, in construction, welding and excavation!) is one aspect of the insanity of wage inequity, wage unfairness, and what the market should bear!

Here, a little ditty on Estacada from some web site:

Estacada’s History has been a wild road of ups and downs some might say is a reflection of the roaring rapids of the adjacent Clackamas River. In the mid 1800’s small communities of pioneers popped up in the foothills of Mount Hood wiping out the Native Clackamas Indians with disease. Then railroad tracks serving the dam builders of the early 20th century pushed through the foot hills up the mountain creating dams that still power Portland to this day. As the building slowed, the workers left and the work camps turned in to a small tourism community that became Portland’s play ground known as Estacada Oregon.

Imagine, “settlers popping up wiping out the Native Clackamas Indians with disease” as the one liner in America’s great forgetting, great amnesia. We walk the land in a daily forgetting!

Imagine, this anti-Mexican-Muslim-Person of Color hysteria stoked up in the flames of the dying white race, the dying capitalist race, and then think hard about the constant lies the youth and the old hold about the land of theft, US of America/Israel. Genocide!

Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.
– California Governor Peter H. Burnett, 1851

In 1949, however, the U.S. government took a step back towards 19th century bigotry, as the Hoover Commission urged the assimilation of the Natives, “The basis for historic Indian culture has been swept away. Traditional tribal organization was smashed a generation ago .… Assimilation must be the dominant goal of public policy.”

I talk with the manager of the True Value Hardware store, and his store’s been at it for more than 30 years here, but the council and chamber and economic developers approve of a National Dollar General Store opening up right in the middle of downtown.

The anchor now of the town that was trying to look funky, post logging years. Out in the bushes and the hills there were once progressive back-to-earthers, hippies, and a few shops in town sell artisan stuff, but now the Dollar General is the cancer in downtown Estacada.

The planners and the tax men and the elected officials, again, incapable of looking beyond their noses. True Value Hardware, locally owned, now looking to compete with a shit store with a shit CEO with shit values and shit for brains and shit worker rights and shit locales to store offshore profits.

In the old days, no out-of-towner with Tennessee and NASCAR roots would ever have been accepted, but hell, just hitting Wikipedia, here, the low hanging goods on the company trading $80.50 on NYSE:

Financial irregularities

On April 30, 2001, Dollar General Corp was liable for making false statements or failing to disclose adverse facts about the company’s financial results, and paid $162 million for settlement.

On April 30, 2001, Dollar General announced to restate its earnings for the past three fiscal years, due to accounting irregularities including allegations of fraudulent behavior.

On March 3, 2005, Dollar General announced to restate its results for 2000 through 2003, due to a clarification of lease-accounting matters issued by the SEC.

OSHA 2014 and 2016 fines

In November 2014, Dollar General was fined $51,700 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following an inspection of a Brooklyn, MS branch of the store. The statement from OSHA notes that Dollar General has had repeated health and safety violations: “Since 2009, OSHA has conducted 72 inspections of Dollar General nationwide. Of those inspections, 39 have resulted in citations.” In April 2016, OSHA reported that further citations had been given to the store for exposing employees to the risk of electrical hazards due to missing face plates on electrical outlets. The store was fined $107,620.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, unlike many tribes does not have a central reservation, but consists of eight tribal communities in Mississippi. Those communities are on land held in trust by the U.S. Government for the benefit of the tribe.

Beginning in 2000, Dollar General has had a lease from the tribe to operate a store on tribal land, and obtained a business license from the tribe. In 2003, a 13-year-old tribal member, identified as John Doe in court documents, was working at the store as part of a joint tribal-Dollar General internship program. Doe alleged that the store manager sexually abused him in 2003[5] causing “severe mental trauma.” The tribe took action to legally exclude the manager from tribal lands, but the United States Attorney did not criminally prosecute him.

Tribal and District Courts

In 2005, Doe sued the store manager and Dollar General in the tribal court. The defendants tried to get the case dismissed, claiming that the tribal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over non-Indians. The tribal court refused to dismiss the lawsuit, and the Choctaw Supreme Court affirmed, noting the case of Montana v. United States allowed tribes to exercise civil, as opposed to criminal, jurisdiction over non-Indians on tribal land when the non-Indians had entered into a voluntary relationship with the tribe.

The store manager and Dollar General then sued the Tribe in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeking to stop the suit in tribal court. The manager was dropped from the case by the district court but Dollar General was held to have been in a consensual relationship and subject to the tribe’s jurisdiction.

Court of Appeals

The defendants then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which affirmed the decision of the district court. The case was heard by a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Jerry Edwin Smith, Catharina Haynes, and James E. Graves Jr. Judge Graves delivered the opinion of the Court, finding that the facts in the case met the first exception noted in Montana, allowing the tribal court to exercise jurisdiction of Dollar General.

“Unexpected/untamed/unforgettable” is the City of Estacada’s motto, 2017, and the state of the world is in a microcosm, anywhere I go. I have been able to peddle my theses easily since the entire mess of capitalism is tied to the leech, the tick, the parasites, the slimy octopus of hostile takeovers and forced arbitration and tax havens and lobbying.

Could have been a Walmart or Costco — Amazon Fresh — Anything to make a city or township beholding to the transnationals, their blood soaked dollars yanked from the bellies of the rest of us. A town that gets this big cancer in downtown, one giant footprint, and you have to wonder at the lack of creativity, thinking and slight understanding of the history of bad economics. Box Stores. The whole nine yards.

The California Land Rush has been on for a decade up here, reaching into Hillsboro, Estacada, Gresham, Hood River, Wilsonville, Beaverton, up to Vancouver and Longview, WA. They come in with hard real estate cash, and buy up homes – three or four to a family. They do their house flipping and rental hording. These people are California, in every way.

Trucks in a constant black smoke snake, in a Valley already deemed ripe for the taking; and the mythology states that the native tribes called this the Valley of Death, Willamette, but indeed, now, maybe, the “death valley” was meant for when the white man and woman came in with diseases, diseased values, diseased honor, diseased treaties:

In remembrance of the Kalapuyan and Clackamas (lower Columbia Chinook) indians who lived and died here, and in honor of those who still live here; please stop saying “no one lived here.” Please stop saying that Willamette means “the valley of sickness and death.” Please know that if the natives later referred to this valley as one of “sickness and death,” it came from the biological genocide inflicted on the natives by this civilization. Please go to the library, or better yet find a living native, and learn the real history of this place.

This sorry thing called unlimited growth, this Diaspora of whites going back and forth looking for some place to set down roots, this constant fear the white race has of the wild, of undammed rivers, of grizzlies and open plains, and trees and forest fires.

The microcosm I see in El Paso and in Las Cruces, Albuquerque, in Tucson in Phoenix in Spokane in Seattle in Vancouver — every place now that the roiling white race in a constant flurry away from something, away from any place while landing in a new land where the same leeching machines and excavators roam the land like monster metal ungulates.

Earth movers, earth eaters, earth desiccators.

Imagine a city council and rotary club and an American Legion and school board and citizens groups and county agencies and big-players like OHSU and Nike throwing in — those scraped and raped acres turned into some of the most sustainable and strong growing fields. Food . . . . And young and old learning how to grow it and sell it and package it. Imagine a town investing in deep ecology and permacultue. Imagine this little town turning all those old farmsteads and hay operations and wolf-grass filled plots of land into interconnected mushroom farms, cat-fish farms, bonsai centers, kale-broccoli-bean fields. Imagine a city that brings native healers and native educators to their land — cultural centers, and places of social concern. Imagine this town named after the Spanish “stake plain” turned into a going concern, where people come to study real rural and small-town design. Imagine sustainable low impact centers for aging, centers for teaching youth with autism how to live. Among those gardens and fields, all those flickers and stellar jays and black-black crows, alive, yappy, the angels of Native cultures past, a chorus singing about Homo Sapiens  finally doing something right for the now, for the future, for the past.

Imagine.

Postscript: Vortex I was held in Estacada at the state’s expense, where in 1970 100,000 came to a rock concert after the Governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, believed the lies of the FBI saying 50,000 anti-war activists were going to march against the American Legion’s supposed 25,000 attending their convocation in downtown Portland.

Note: Ecological FootprintEcosocialism;   Carrying Capacity; Radical Urban Planning; Marxist Urban Planning;  Redefining Progress

“Creeping Annexation”: Why Israel Shelved the “Greater Jerusalem Law”

The postponing of an Israeli Knesset Bill that would have annexed major illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to the Jerusalem municipality is the result of behind-the-scenes US and, possibly, European pressure. But the story of the so-called ‘Greater Jerusalem law’ does not end there.

Israel wants to maintain an absolute demographic Jewish majority in Jerusalem, including in occupied, and illegally annexed, Palestinian East Jerusalem. There is enough support in the Knesset and among the public to ensure that coveted Jewish dominance. But the political balances, and possible drawbacks, are just too delicate and great for Israel to get exactly what it wants, even if there is a clear consensus among Israeli Jewish politicians and the public to permanently change the status of the city.

One of the factors that the Israeli government is considering is the support of the Donald Trump administration. How far will Trump go to support Israeli transgressions, while continuing to advocate an ‘ultimate deal‘ – his own version of finding a political resolution to the conflict resulting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine?

True, the Trump administration has done its utmost to reassure Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of its undying loyalty. Trump’s last visit to Israel was a major step in that direction, where US commitment to Israel’s security and future were made abundantly and repeatedly clear. Moreover, the joint US-Israel push against the United Nations and its smaller institutions – like UNESCO and UNHRC – led by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, aims to torpedo future international initiatives that are critical of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.

Yet, on the other hand, using back channels and without much fanfare, Trump has been promoting his own plan for ‘regional peace’, marks of which are still unclear.

While Israel is routinely allowed to slowly alter the landscape of occupied Palestinian areas, construct walls and expand its illegal settlements, an explicit, major plan to annex large regions of the West Bank would have ignited the kind of backlash that could likely bring an end to Trump’s Middle East politicking and complicate his relations with various Arab governments.

The ‘Greater Jerusalem law’ would have done just that.

According to Israeli commentator, Shlomo Elder, the idea of expanding Jerusalem’s municipal borders “to increase the city’s population and to ensure its Jewish majority” was proposed by hardline Likud party member, Yisrael Katz, in 2007. It was deferred then, due to the fear of a strong international reaction.

The idea did not die. It morphed into a movement and politicians from all ideological background joined in, fearing that, in the future, Israel will lose the ‘demographic war’ in Jerusalem, as well as in the rest of historic Palestine.

Save Jewish Jerusalem” was launched in 2016 and quickly enlisted the support of politicians, academicians and other well-regarded Israelis, all united by their fear that they “would wake up with a Palestinian mayor in Jerusalem.”

So, when the ‘Greater Jerusalem law’ was introduced earlier this year, it seemed like the logical evolution of a current that has been on the rise for years.

The Bill proposed to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include major illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Ma’aleh Adumim and the Gush Etzion settlement cluster. Moreover, it endeavored to bring 150,000 Jewish settlers into Jerusalem as eligible voters, who would have naturally tipped the political scene more to the right. Concurrently, the law would have further demoted the status of 100,000 Palestinians, who would find themselves in a political gray area.

The authors of the Bill were hardly discrete about its intentions. One of the two authors is Katz himself, who is now a minister in Netanyahu’s right wing government. Explaining the motives behind the Bill, Katz blatantly said: The Bill aims to “ensure a Jewish majority in the united city.”

Israelis agree. According to a national poll published on November 3, 72% of Israeli Jews want Israel to maintain control over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem; 68% want Jews to be able to pray in these holy sites; and 58% support Katz’s initiative to expand the Jerusalem municipal boundaries and merge major illegal Jewish settlements under one municipality.

While members of the Israeli government (and majority in the Knesset) work towards the same goal of expanding illegal settlements, ensuring Israel’s uncontested control over Jerusalem and thwarting Palestinian aspirations for an independent state, their political approaches are not always the same.

Netanyahu’s style is different from Katz.

While paying lip service to peace, Netanyahu has no intentions of allowing a Palestinian state to ever take shape, and is tactically working to ensure a complete physical partition between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while, simultaneously linking major settlement blocs to Jerusalem.

One of such efforts includes the recent decision to completely destroy two Palestinian villages of Khan Al-Ahmar (located in the E-1 corridor which connects Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim) and Susya. The ethnic cleansing plan was described by Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, as “virtually unprecedented.”

But Netanyahu had to temporarily flout his own method of ‘creeping annexation’ of Palestinian land to join the burgeoning movement championed by Katz and others, who call for wholesale annexation and dramatic steps to ensure Jewish dominance.

By doing so, he was prepared to deal with another popular Palestinian revolt, similar to the one that culminated last July in protest of Israel’s closure of al-Haram al-Sharif/al-Aqsa compound.

However, pressure emanating in Washington, which reportedly took place just as the Knesset’s ministerial committee on legislation was preparing to approve the Bill on October 29, ended the Israeli maneuver for now.

It was Netanyahu’s office that postponed the Bill again, fearing to upset the special relationship he has managed to espouse under the Trump presidency.

So, at least for now, Israel will resume its ‘creeping annexation’ tactics, paying no heed to international protests, and oblivious to the injustice inflicted on Palestinians. But, of course, the battle in the Israeli Knesset is not over, and more aggressive efforts at driving Palestinians out, while slowly annexing their land, are likely to follow.

Britain Still Proud of its Shameful Role as Patron of Israel’s Occupation

The oldest physical footprint left by the 100-year-old Balfour Declaration in what is today Israel is visible from my home in Nazareth. From my vantage point on a ridge above the Jezreel Valley, Balfouriya appears like a dark smudge below in the middle of the vast agricultural plain.

The small, exclusively Jewish farming community was established in 1922, five years after Britain’s foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, signed a letter pledging help to create “a national home for the Jewish people” in what was then Palestine.

Named in Balfour’s honour, Balfouriya was the first Jewish community to be founded in Palestine after the declaration was issued. Today, its 500 residents live in one of more than a dozen communities set up to “Judaise” a swath of land in the Lower Galilee, known in Arabic as Marj Ibn Amer, that Palestinians once farmed.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the vast majority of Jews in Europe and the United States viewed the Zionists heading to Palestine, like those who founded Balfouriya, as something akin to a cult. But in truth, they were more like political opportunists, piggy-backing on the ambitions of the British empire as it sought to consolidate its colonial hold over the Middle East.

The major European powers were jostling for pre-eminence in the region, as the First World war neared its end and the Ottoman empire was crumbling. Balfour’s letter was, in part, intended to pre-empt the potential threat of France making a similar overture to the Zionists.

Britain was especially keen to cultivate support from the Zionist movement as a way to secure its imperial interests. Not least, Palestine offered control over the Suez Canal, the gateway to India and Britain’s other colonies, and access to the Persian Gulf, with its plentiful oil.

The British cabinet, imbued with a potent mix of Christian Zionism and anti-semitic assumptions about the global power of Jews, believed that the Zionists ought to be restored to their “ancient homeland”. But more immediately, Britain hoped to leverage pressure on the US and Russia from their respective Jewish communities to help in the fight against Germany and its Ottoman ally.

Palestine not for sale

Whatever Britain’s intention in issuing the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists seized the opportunity it presented to realise their goal of statehood.

These self-styled pioneers, however, faced a significant obstacle. As a Zionist fact-finding mission of the period reputedly concluded of Palestine: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” At the time, 90 percent of the local population were Palestinian Arabs.

The Zionist movement hoped the natives could be bribed to hand over the bride. On a small portion of Palestine, this approach worked. Much of the Jezreel Valley was purchased from absentee landlords in Lebanon. Balfouriya’s inhabitants, who enjoyed the support of wealthy investors in the United States, were soon nicknamed “the millionaires” for their ostentatious homes.

In a policy of “Hebrew labour”, Balfouriya and other Jewish communities denied Palestinians the opportunity to work the lands that had recently been acquired. The goal was, in the words of Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement, to “spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country [Palestine]. … The process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.”

But as quickly became evident most of Palestine was not for sale, and the natives were not about to leave quietly. A different approach was needed – one that would inevitably depend on the use of force.

Some 31 years after the Balfour Declaration, and under cover of war, Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion, unleashed a military operation, Plan Dalet, to expel Palestinians en masse. In 1948, Israeli soldiers forced 750,000 Palestinians out of their homes, transforming most of historic Palestine into the Jewish state of Israel – and the vast majority of Palestinians into refugees.

The small number who clung on to their lands became a Palestinian minority in Israel – a large and increasingly unwelcome one as their higher birth rates nullified the effects of waves of Jewish immigration. Nazareth was the only Palestinian city to survive the war relatively unscathed.

Britain, the main patron

The events of 1948, known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, were only one front – the most visible – in the Zionist movement’s efforts to colonise Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was evidence of a parallel and related strategy – one the Zionists would rely on over the next century.

In 1923, as Balfouriya’s settlers began tilling the soil, Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement, the intellectual spirit behind the modern Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, wrote an influential essay called “The Iron Wall”. He argued that the native Palestinians needed to be forced into submission – and that could be achieved only with an “iron wall of Jewish bayonets” and “British bayonets”.

The significance of the Balfour Declaration, he concluded, was that Britain had “committed itself to create such security conditions that the local population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts” to seize control of Palestine.

In setting out the necessary conditions for the Zionists to achieve statehood, Jabotinsky was conceding that the project depended not just on violence but on a colonial sponsor.

Under British patronage, the Zionists began building the institutions of a state, including a government-in-waiting, the Jewish Agency; a fund-raising arm, the Jewish National Fund, to buy land and colonise Palestine; and a proto-army known as the Haganah.

Communist backing

That lesson was not lost on subsequent generations. Israel’s success has depended on its close alliances with superpower patrons, persuading them that Israel can usefully advance their interests – or that its opposition could prove damaging.

During much of the Mandate period, Britain fulfilled the main patron role, facilitating mass Jewish immigration to erode Palestine’s native majority and create the footsoldiers for the coming ethnic cleansing campaign.

But Israel has proved unusually fickle in its attachments, and more than ready to cultivate multiple sponsors.

While the Zionist movement was pressuring Britain to increase Jewish immigration, the recent arrivals from East Europe – the pioneers of agricultural communities like Balfouriya – sought to impress the Soviet Union with their collectivism. A Jewish state of farming communes opposed to private property and with ties to Jewish communities in Europe and the US promised a potent propaganda weapon for Soviet-style communism.

That helps to explain why the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia began shipping arms to the Zionists in Palestine in 1947, as Britain prepared to depart. This weapons smuggling was pivotal in turning the tide of war in Israel’s favour a year later: the Czechs helped the fledgling Israeli army by violating an international arms embargo. The shipments, according to Ben Gurion, proved decisive in defeating the Palestinians.

First nuclear bomb

Israel was soon colluding again with Britain and France, in a last-gasp effort by these two fading European powers to re-assert themselves in the Middle East. Israel invaded Sinai in 1956 to provide Britain and France with a pretext for military intervention to regain control of the Suez Canal and overthrow Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Despite the failure of Suez – under joint pressure from the US and Russia, the three parties were forced to withdraw – Britain and France repaid their debt by supplying Israel with the technology to build a nuclear reactor. As a result, Israel would soon go on to develop its first nuclear bomb.

In 1967, Israel made headlines triumphing against its Arab neighbours in six days of war that initiated an occupation that has so far lasted five decades. But in a not-unrelated development, the same year also marked the moment Israel developed its first rudimentary nuclear warhead, over longstanding US objections.

These successes forced Washington’s hand into decisively assuming the role of Israel’s new patron-in-chief. The US was not willing to test whether it should take seriously Israeli threats to invoke the Samson option – resorting to its nuclear arsenal – should it find itself cornered by its Arab neighbours, or required to return the Palestinian territories now under occupation.

Washington has remained the dishonest broker of a supposed Middle East peace process ever since. Its billions of dollars annually of military aid have turned Israel into the pre-eminent regional military power, and alleviated it of any need to concede a Palestinian state.

Western diplomatic support

US dominance over Europe, and especially Britain, has secured for Israel a solid Western bloc of diplomatic support, allowing the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to entrench and the settlements to flourish. It is for this reason primarily that Britain and other leading European states continue to indulge Israel and pay only lip service to Palestinian statehood.

That has put them increasingly at odds with ever larger sections of their voting publics, outraged by the repeated attacks on the trapped population of Gaza and exasperated by Netanyahu’s arrogant refusal to engage with a peace process.

That tension has become politically toxic in Britain – as has been underscored by this week’s Balfour Declaration centenary.

In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas used his speech at the United Nations General Assembly to call on Britain to apologise very belatedly for the declaration. His answer came on Sunday when British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the latest inheritor of Balfour’s title, wrote a commentary in the Telegraph newspaper stating that he was “proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel”.

In a master-class of understatement, Johnson conceded, however, that Britain’s promise to do nothing to “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” had, in his words, “not been fully realised.”

A sensitive issue

That short observation was presumably intended to refer both to five decades of Israel’s belligerent occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and to the severely degraded form of citizenship imposed on Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

In fact, Balfour did much worse. He failed to recognise the “existing non-Jewish communities” as the native Palestinian population and he denied them, but not recent Jewish arrivals from Europe, any national and political rights in their own homeland.

A flood of events across Britain criticising the Balfour Declaration and its legacy have proved discomfiting to Britain’s ruling elite. Despite British Prime Minister Theresa May’s protestations that Britain would mark the anniversary with “pride”, official events have intentionally been more low-key than celebratory.

May will host Netanyahu this week in London at a “private dinner” in the home of the current Lord Rothschild, heir to the recipient of Balfour’s letter. No media are invited. A small reception last week at the British ambassador’s home in Tel Aviv was similarly sequestered.

So sensitive is the issue that evidence of Britain’s ignoble role in Palestine has been kept out of public view on the capital’s underground trains and its buses. Transport for London censored an advertising campaign, Make It Right, that offered visual evidence of the ways Britain betrayed even the declaration’s paltry promise to protect the Palestinians’ “civil and religious rights”.

The repression of dissent on the Israel and Palestine issue has been even more evident in recent attempts to crack down in Britain (as well as the rest of Europe and the US) on the increasingly popular international boycott movement, known as BDS.

Europe’s practical expressions of displeasure with Netanyahu’s intransigence have amounted to nothing more than a pitiful intention to label the produce Israel exports to European markets from its illegal West Bank settlements.

Cheerleader for Israel

The increasingly difficult atmosphere for British governments in continuing to act as a cheerleader for Israel was evident in the decision of May’s predecessor, David Cameron, to resign from the post of patron of the Jewish National Fund’s UK branch in 2011. May, despite her fervent professions of support for Israel, has preferred not to become a patron, ending a tradition upheld by all recent prime ministers.

These tensions are growing apace. For the first time in modern British history, there is now a credible candidate for prime minister – the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn – who places the much-abused rights of the Palestinians well above Israel’s right to entrench its occupation. Corbyn has refused to attend the Balfour dinner with May and Netanyahu.

The backlash against Corbyn from Britain’s pro-Israel lobbyists has been truly savage. The party and his allies within it, including prominent Jewish anti-Zionist members, have faced a relentless campaign of accusations of anti-semitism, designed to discredit them and silence their – and Corbyn’s – criticism of Israel.

Notably, however, at last month’s Labour party conference, delegates reserved possibly their biggest applause for Corbyn’s statement in support of the Palestinians. He told them: “Let’s give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution.”

Change the discourse

Israel, like the Zionist movement 100 years ago, still depends on the patronage of big states. That is its current strength, but also a potential Achilles’ heel in the future. The withdrawal of support from its sponsors, or even the threat of it, could force a substantial and rapid change in Israeli attitudes and policy towards the Palestinians.

The British government is today far less influential than it was in Balfour’s day. Nonetheless, it could still do much, in addition to issuing an apology, to begin changing the discourse about Israel and the Palestinians – relics of the colonial language employed by Balfour.

The Palestinians are not simply “non-Jewish communities” and they deserve far more than simple protection of their “civil and religious rights”. They are a people and must enjoy the right to determine their own fate in their own land.

Britain could also remember its commitment, as a democracy, to freedom of speech and organisation – and use its voice to remind the US and other European states of their similar commitments. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is legitimate political activism, just as was the campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Economic sanctions

Finally, Britain could use its weight to push its allies to impose meaningful penalties against Israel for refusing to respect Palestinian rights.

Britain could start by campaigning to revoke the European Association Agreement, which gives Israel special trading privileges with Europe and is economically crucial. Israel is already clearly in breach of the agreement’s terms, which require that relations between the EU and Israel be “based on respect for human rights and democratic principles”.

Additionally, Britain could press for an embargo on the arms and technology supplied to Israel for use in the repression of the Palestinian people. Innumerable western firms are profiting from Israel’s occupation industry.

Israel, in turn, is selling western states refinements in the weapons of war and the tools of oppression – developments it has achieved by testing them in “battlefield conditions” on Palestinians.

Admittedly, even proposing such punishments of Israel seems wildly naïve about the nature of Western power-politics. But that tells us only how little Britain – and the rest of Europe – have moved on from their shameful colonial pasts.

• First published in Middle Eastern Eye

Balfour Declaration: How Britain broke its Feeble Promise to the Palestinians

There is more than a little irony in Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to attend a “celebration” dinner this week in London with his British counterpart, Theresa May, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

Palestinian objections to the 1917 document are well-known. Britain’s Lord Balfour had no right to promise a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, on the land of another people.

But Israelis have been taught a different history in which they, not the Palestinians, were betrayed.

In 1939, Britain appeared to revoke its pledge, stating “unequivocally” that it would not establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Limits on Jewish immigration were imposed, at a time when Europe’s Jews were fleeing the Nazi Holocaust.

It was for this reason that nearly a quarter of a century ago, in his book A Place Among the Nations, Mr Netanyahu accused Britain of perfidy.

One can understand the reluctance of Israelis today to concede the pivotal role provided by Britain. The Balfour Declaration is an embarrassing reminder that a Jewish state was the fruit of a transparently colonial project.

In fact, Britain assisted the Zionists as best it could, given the need to weigh its imperial interests. Restrictions on immigration were introduced under the severe strain of a three-year armed uprising by Palestinians, determined to prevent their country being given away.

Historian Rashid Khalidi has noted that the Palestinian revolt of the late 1930s included possibly the longest-ever anti-colonial general strike. It posed such a threat that Britain committed thousands of extra soldiers to repress the insurgency, even as war loomed in Europe.

By the time Britain departed Palestine in 1948, it had overseen three decades in which the Zionists were allowed to develop the institutions of statehood: a government-in-waiting, the Jewish Agency; a proto-army in the Haganah; and a land and settlement division known as the Jewish National Fund.

By contrast, any signs of Palestinian nationalism, let alone nation-building, were ruthlessly crushed. By the end of the Arab revolt, less than a decade before the Palestinians would face a Zionist campaign of ethnic cleansing, Palestinian society lay in ruins.

Israel learnt two lessons from Britain that guided its subsequent struggle to quash Palestinian attempts at liberation.

First, Israel continued the draconian measures of British colonial rule. In the early 1950s, Menachem Begin, leader of the pre-state Irgun militia and a future Israeli prime minister, had famously called Britain’s emergency regulations “Nazi laws”.

Nonetheless, they were incorporated into the military orders Israel uses against Palestinians under occupation. Significantly, the regulations are also still in force inside Israel against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens, one in five of the population. Israel has yet to end its seven-decade state of emergency.

The other lesson derives from the wording of the Balfour Declaration. It referred to the native Palestinians – then 90 per cent of Palestine’s inhabitants – as “existing non-Jewish communities”. It promised only to protect their “civil and religious rights”, denying them recognition as a nation deserving of political and social rights.

Israel followed suit. Palestinians in Israel were characterised as “the minorities”, or generic “Israeli Arabs”, rather than Palestinians. Israel’s perverse nationality laws assign them largely religious classifications as Druze, Arameans (Christians) and Arabs (increasingly synonymous with Muslims).

In occupied East Jersualem, Palestinians are denied all national and institutional representation. And in the West Bank, the powers of the Palestinian Authority – supposedly the Palestinians’ fledgling government – extend no further than acting as a security contractor for Israel and carrying out municipal services like garbage collection. In practice, the PA’s severely circumscribed authority is confined to a tiny fraction of the West Bank.

As a result, the Palestinians’ national ambitions have shrunk precipitously: from Yasser Arafat’s struggle for one secular democratic state in all Palestine, to today’s enclaves in Gaza and slivers of the West Bank.

Israel has consistently rejected for Palestinians the very self-determination it once demanded from the British.

Mr Netanyahu’s government is preparing this week to nullify any lingering hopes of Palestinian statehood with the most significant move towards annexation of Palestinian territory in 40 years, when Jerusalem was annexed. The plan is to greatly expand Jerusalem’s boundaries to include large Jewish settlements in the West Bank like Maale Adumim.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu has reportedly promised $230 million to build five highways in the West Bank, aiding movement between Israel and the settlements.

Is there an opposition? Avi Gabbay, new leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, sounds no different from the far-right. This month he stated: “I believe all of the Land of Israel [historic Palestine] is ours.” No West Bank settlement would be evacuated, even for the sake of peace, he added.

Britain fulfilled its promise to the Zionists in full, but broke even its feeble commitment to the Palestinians to protect their civil and religious rights. An apology from Britain is long overdue, as are efforts to repair the damage it initiated 100 years ago.

First published in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Will Netanyahu risk exposing Israel’s Ugliest Secret?

As Israeli legislators returned to parliament this week, ending the long summer recess, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced a packed agenda of reforms designed to push Israel yet further to the right.

Legislative proposals include weakening the supreme court’s powers of judicial review, cracking down on left-wing civil-society organisations, expanding Jerusalem’s boundaries to include more Jewish settlements, and allowing the forcible deportation of mainly African asylum seekers.

But none is likely to prove as controversial – or gain as much attention – as a measure concerning Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

This long-gestating bill is intended to join 11 existing Basic Laws, Israel’s equivalent of a constitution. Netanyahu appears to be basing his wider legislative assault on the success of the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people.

Its purpose is to give a constitutional-like standing to Israel’s definition as a state that belongs not to its citizens – as is the case in a liberal democracy – but to all Jews around the world, including those with no connection to Israel.

Additionally, the bill is expected to downgrade the status of Arabic, the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel’s population. It will also require the Israeli courts to give due weight in their rulings to Jewish religious law and Jewish heritage.

The legislation’s opponents

Basic Laws are much harder to reverse than ordinary legislation. Various versions of the Jewish nation-state bill have been under consideration since a first draft was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police.

But after eight years as prime minister, Netanyahu appears impatient for progress. He insisted in May that the legislation must pass as soon as possible. A special committee has been hastily drafting a final version in the past few weeks.

Opposition to the bill comes from three quarters in parliament, each with very different concerns.

The first is the Joint List, a coalition of parties representing Israel’s large minority of Palestinian citizens – one in five of the population – who are the chief targets of the proposed legislation. However, their voice carries no weight in either the parliament or the government.

The second group are the small hardline religious parties in the coalition government, who have always had an ambivalent, if not hostile, attitude toward Israel as a state. They believe that Jews can be sovereign only when the Messiah reveals himself. In practice, however, if the legislation is carefully phrased, these parties may not put up much resistance.

Most troublesome for Netanyahu is likely to be the antipathy from the centre-left parties on the opposition benches, especially the former Labour party, now rebranded as Zionist Union. Most of its legislators reject the proposed Basic Law – but not necessarily because they disagree with its provisions.

A long-standing deception revealed

The Zionist Union’s attitudes towards the Jewish nation-state bill are complex. They are rooted in the party’s role in founding Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland.

According to Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, Labour’s leaders, especially the nation’s father, David Ben Gurion, carefully crafted Israel’s image in a way that would hoodwink most outside observers into believing it was a western-style liberal democracy.

“The goal of the state’s founders was to conceal the structural discrimination,” he told Middle East Eye. “The mistake was to believe that a Jewish state can be a democratic one, and that it can uphold universal values and rights.”

In the centre-left’s view, Netanyahu’s Basic Law risks pulling the veil off that immensely successful deception.

In fact, tellingly, the chief objections from the centre-left to Netanyahu’s Basic Law are not that the measure is immoral or undemocratic in denying Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinians equal status with Jewish citizens but rather that it is “unnecessary”, “superfluous” or “gratuitous”.
Who does Israel belong to?

In 2014, when a draft of the legislation was brought before the parliament, the then-leader of Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, observed: “Only a prime minister lacking in self-confidence, without a vision and a plan, needs laws that deal with the obvious, that will not improve any Israeli citizens’ lives.”

Similarly, Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper has called the legislation “completely redundant”. Abraham Foxman, as head of the New York-based Israel lobby group the Anti-Defamation League, labelled it “well-meaning but unnecessary”.

In other words, the ideological successors to Israel’s founding generation reject the Basic Law not because it will fundamentally alter Israel’s character, but because it risks dragging its ugliest secret – well-concealed for nearly seven decades – into the bright light of day.

They fear that the Israeli far-right will show Israel’s hand by clearly codifying its status as a state belonging to, and privileging, Jews around the world rather than to its own citizenry, which includes a large proportion of Palestinians.

One law for Jews, another for Arabs

It is important to understand how Israel’s founders deliberately obfuscated the apartheid-like legal and administrative structures they created to appreciate why so much is at stake for today’s centre-left.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, published at the state’s creation in May 1948, was effectively a sophisticated exercise in public relations. It famously promised to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

But, Zeidan said, for many decades Israel has avoided enshrining the principle of equality in any of the Basic Laws. Instead, it has embedded inequality at a foundational level – in Israel’s citizenship legislation.

What is most noticeable is that Israel has two citizenship laws. These confer different rights, based on whether a citizen is Jewish or not. In the United States in the mid-1950s, in the midst of the civil rights struggle, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that “separate is inherently unequal” – and so it has proved in Israel too.

Israel’s Law of Return of 1950 opened the door to all Jews around the world, allowing mass Jewish immigration. Any Jew who landed in Israel could instantly receive citizenship, as many hundreds of thousands of Jews did during the next seven decades.

Perpetual Jewish majority

But Israel wanted exactly the opposite outcome for Palestinians. The result? It created a separate law, the Citizenship Law of 1952, for non-Jews. Its primary purpose was to strip the right to return home from the 750,000 Palestinians expelled by Israel four years earlier, during the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe”.

Longer term, however, the Citizenship Law was designed to guarantee a large perpetual Jewish majority by blocking access to citizenship for non-Jews.

Today, there is only one path by which a non-Jew can gain citizenship in Israel – by marriage to an Israeli citizen. This exception is allowed because only a few dozen non-Jews qualify each year, thereby posing no threat to Israel’s Jewishness.

Under legal challenge, Israel passed an amendment to the Citizenship Law in 2003 to ensure that the vast majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and Arabs from many neighbouring states, cannot qualify for Israeli residency or citizenship under the marriage provision.

The Law of Return and the Citizenship Law are two of nearly 70 Israeli laws – the number is growing – that explicitly discriminate based on whether a citizen is Jewish or Palestinian. A legal group, Adalah, representing Israel’s Palestinian citizens, has compiled a database of such measures.

State-sanctioned racism

But Netanyahu’s Basic Law threatens to expose the deeper significance of this bifurcated citizenship structure.

Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens, observed Zeidan, are discriminated against in a way that goes beyond that practiced against minorities in democratic states: that is, by the arbitrary, informal or unregulated decisions of officials and state bodies. In such democracies, officials are usually breaking the law when they discriminate against minority groups.

But in Israel, Zeidan pointed out, “officials are often breaking the law if they do not discriminate. It is their job to discriminate.”

This state-sanctioned racism is achieved by establishing “nationalities” separate from citizenship. The primary nationalities in Israel are “Jew” and “Arab”. The state has refused to recognise an “Israeli nationality”, a position supported by the Israeli supreme court, precisely to sanction a hierarchy of rights.

Individual rights are enjoyed by all citizens by virtue of their citizenship, whether they are Jews or Palestinians. In this regard, Israel looks like a liberal democracy. But Israel also recognises “national rights”, and reserves them almost exclusively for the Jewish population.

National rights are treated as superior to individual citizenship rights. So if there is a conflict between the two, the Jewish national right will invariably be given priority by officials and the courts.

National rights trump citizenship

How this hierarchy of rights works in practice is neatly illustrated by Israel’s citizenship structure. The Law of Return establishes a national right for all Jews to gain instant citizenship – as well as the many other rights that derive from citizenship.

The Citizenship Law, on the other hand, creates only an individual citizenship right for non-Jews. Israel’s Palestinian minority can pass their citizenship “downwards” to offspring but cannot extend it “outwards”, as a Jew can, to members of their extended family – in this case, the millions of Palestinians who were made refugees by Israel in 1948 and their descendants.

This privileging of Jewish national rights is equally clear in the way Israel treats its most precious material resources: land and water.

The commercial exploitation of these key resources is treated effectively as a national right, reserved for Jews only. In practice, noted Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, access to these resources is restricted to Jews through hundreds of rural communities across Israel, including the best-known – the kibbutz.

These rural communities are the places where Israel has made available vast swaths of land and offers subsidised water. As a result, almost all commercial agriculture and much industry is located in these communities.

Arabs ‘socially unsuitable’

But these resources can be exploited only by the Jewish population because each community is governed by an Admissions Committee, which blocks entry to Israel’s Palestinian citizens on the grounds that they are “socially unsuitable”.

“The committees govern entry to 550 communities in Israel, ensuring that the resources they control are available only to their Jewish populations,” Zaher told MEE. “These committees are one link in a chain of racist policies, segregation and exclusion by the state towards Palestinian citizens.”

The primary purpose of these rural communities is to enforce Israel’s “nationalisation” of 93 percent of its territory. This land is “nationalised” not for Israeli citizens – as no Israeli nationality is recognised – but for a global Jewish nation.

Meanwhile, the fifth of the population who are Palestinian are confined to less than three percent of Israeli territory, after most of their lands were confiscated by the state and are now held in trust for Jews around the world.

No new Palestinian community has been built since Israel’s creation 70 years ago, while dozens of Palestinian villages have been “unrecognised” by a 1965 Planning and Building Law. The 120,000 inhabitants of these villages, criminalised by this planning law, cannot build a home legally and are denied public services.

‘Landlords’ of Israel

Observers say that Netanyahu’s Basic Law risks exploding a seven-decade-old myth about Israel: that it is a liberal democracy where Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians alike, enjoy equal rights.

The combination of the Law of Return, which entitles all Jews around the world to instant Israeli citizenship, and Israel’s land laws, which reserve ultimate ownership to Jews as a global nation, has emptied citizenship of its accepted meaning.

Instead, according to Israel’s existing legal structure, the state belongs to Jews collectively around the world rather than to the country’s citizenry. The Jewish state is “owned” by world Jewry, even if many individual Jews have failed to actualise their citizenship by coming to live in Israel.

As Israeli scholars have noted, Israel should be classified not as a liberal democracy but as a fundamentally non-democratic state called an ethnocracy.

Ariel Sharon, a famous general and later a prime minister, once described world Jewry as the “landlords” of Israel. That leaves Palestinian citizens, one in five of the population, as little more than resident aliens or temporary guest workers, on licence so long as they do not threaten the state’s Jewishness.

Real danger of the Basic Law

Israel’s modern centre-left, Ben Gurion’s heirs, rightly fear that Netanyahu and the far-right are about to air Israel’s very dirtiest secret in public. Their Basic Law will reduce a complex and opaque system of laws and practices to one simple and easily intelligible Basic Law that may evoke comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa.

Or as Zaher observed, if Netanyahu’s Basic Law is passed, it will “send a clear and dangerous political message to Palestinian citizens of Israel that you are not wanted, that you are not equal citizens, that, in fact, the state is not yours”.

Today’s far-right cares much less about world opinion than Israel’s founders did. In their zealotry, they wish to eradicate the last hold-outs among the liberal Jewish establishment – such as the supreme court, civil society and parts of the media – so that they can advance their more aggressive brand of Zionism, launch a new wave of anti-democratic legislation and intensify the settlement project.

The real danger of Netanyahu’s Basic Law is not that it will change what Israel is, warned Zeidan. “What it does instead is provide a much more solid platform for what the far-right in Israel intends to come next.”

• First published in Middle Eastern Eye

Balfour Merrymaking a Potential PR Disaster for the British Government

The extraordinary programme of centenary celebrations in the UK to honour Lord Balfour and his lunatic Declaration — and the British Government’s continuing part in it — is an affront to citizens here and to countless millions abroad. And many a sharp pin is waiting to burst the pretty Balfour balloon being desperately inflated by Israel-firsters at Westminster.

Balfour’s 1917 pledge and its consequences, played out over the last 70 years, ride roughshod over Christian values and humanitarian law. Rothschild replied to Balfour’s letter saying that “the British Government has opened up, by their message, a prospect of safety and comfort to large masses of people who are in need of it.” Well, it also opened up the prospect — and the reality — of a lifetime of abject misery for millions of Palestinians who had no need of it and certainly didn’t deserve it. It also helped to plant in the most sacred part of the Middle East an evil regime that shows contempt for human rights and international law and is bent on creating instability all around and confiscating every acre of land and every natural resource to aid its expansion.

The daft thing is, Balfour didn’t even write the Declaration. He was simply the upper-class twit who signed it and did so without even bothering to consult the people whose homeland he intended giving away. The carefully worded letter to Rothschild (the so-called Declaration) was the work of Leopold Amery, political secretary to the War Cabinet at the time, who cleverly kept hidden his Jewish ancestry throughout his quite impressive career. He was also largely responsible for forming the Jewish Legion battalions which were the forerunners of the hated Israeli Defence Force, which Israeli Miko Peled describes as “one of the best trained and best equipped and best fed terrorist organisations in the world”.

Amery was an eager Zionist and had a supervisory role in the British mandate government in Palestine during the 1920s, actively preparing it for eventual Jewish takeover. He operated within a government the upper echelons of which were stuffed with Zionist sympathisers such as Churchill and Lloyd George.

In response to the avalanche of pro-Balfour celebratory tosh the Palestine Mission to the UK commissioned a ‘Make It Right’ campaign featuring contrasting images of Palestinian life before and after 1948, when Israel declared statehood on land it had overrun and ethnically cleansed. The campaign message, of course, objects to the Balfour declaration which promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Posters were supposed to appear on buses and in Underground rail stations but London’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), has banned the advertisements on the grounds that they “did not comply fully with our guidelines”. It seems TfL don’t like  “images or messages which relate to matters of public controversy or sensitivity” or causes that are “party political”.

Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian accuses TfL of censorship saying:

Palestinian history is a censored history. There has been a 100-year-long cover-up of the British government’s broken promise, in the Balfour declaration, to safeguard the rights of the Palestinians when it gave away their country to another people. TfL’s decision is not surprising as it is, at best, susceptible to or, at worst, complicit with, all the institutional forces and active lobby groups which continuously work to silence the Palestinian narrative. There may be free speech in Britain on every issue under the sun but not on Palestine.

Prime Minister Theresa May has invited her Israeli counterpart ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu to the London celebrations. It is unthinkable in Government circles for an honoured guest to be confronted with a London plastered with such inconvenient messages. Nevertheless, they’ll appear on 52 London black cabs, which aren’t under TfL’s control, so our PM’s loathsome visitor may not entirely escape embarrassment, assuming he’s capable of feeling it.

Conflating justice and tolerance with anti-Semitism

Speaking of declarations I’m reminded of a far more sensible one by Shimon Tzabar, who had been a member of Jewish terrorist organisations in Palestine during the British Mandate including the Stern Gang, Irgun and Haganah. After 1948 and the establishment of the Israeli state he fought in its 1948-50, 1956, and 1967 wars but spoke out against the annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He even began calling  himself a “Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. Tzabar and others eventually felt moved to publish the following declaration:

Occupation entails foreign rule. Foreign rule entails resistance. Resistance entails repression. Repression entails terror and counter-terror. The victims of terror are mostly innocent people. Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. Let us get out of the occupied territories immediately.

Wouldn’t Mrs May prefer to celebrate Tzabar’s Declaration? He moved to England where he famously published the MUCH BETTER THAN THE OFFICIAL MICHELIN Guide to Israeli prisons, Jails, Concentration Camps and Torture Chambers. The best and safest way to begin a tour of these horrible establishments, it said, was to look like a Palestinian Arab and get yourself arrested .”Once you look like a Palestinian you have a good chance of being arrested. Your chance is actually so good, that you don’t have to do anything in particular.”

That other Israeli straight-talker Miko Peled, mentioned above, put the cat among the pigeons at the Labour Party conference last month when he told activists that Israel is “terrified” of Jeremy Corbyn becoming British prime minister and will do everything they can to stop him. “They are going to pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn from being prime minister. It’s up to Labour, it’s up to you [to ensure] that they don’t have the ability to do that…. Jeremy Corbyn is an opportunity for Britain that, if it gets lost, won’t come back for a very long time.

“The reason anti-Semitism is used is because they [the Israelis] have no argument, there is nothing to say,” said Peled. “How can a call for justice and tolerance be conflated with anti-Semitism? I don’t know if they realise this but they are pitting Judaism against everything good and just.”

Peled is an Israeli Jew, the son of an Israeli general, and a former soldier in the Israeli army. You couldn’t find a more authentic insider source. Here’s a flavour of his message:

The name of the game: erasing Palestine, getting rid of the people and de-Arabizing the country…

By 1993 the Israelis had achieved their mission to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible. By 1993 the Israeli government knew for certain that a Palestinian state could not be established in the West Bank – the settlements were there, $ billions were invested, the entire Jordan River valley was settled… there was no place any more for a Palestinian state to be established. That is when Israel said, OK, we’ll begin negotiations…

When people talk about the possibility of Israel somehow giving up the West Bank for a Palestinian state, if it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the objective of Zionism and the Zionist state.

Meanwhile Netanyahu has just announced a temporary easing of the fishing limits imposed on Gaza’s fishermen. For two months, in the southern half of Gaza, they will be able to sail out 9 miles after which the limit reverts back to 6. Sounds generous? No, it’s ridiculously cruel. And restrictions remain even tighter in the northern half. Under the Oslo Agreements (1993) Israel is supposed to allow the Palestinians to fish up to 12 miles out, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but, as with so many other agreements, the Zionist regime has never honoured its obligation. Furthermore Israel’s 10-year blockade on Gaza has made it impossible for many fishermen to buy parts to maintain their vessels, so the once flourishing fishing industry has been crippled.

And Netanyahu recently locked up the Palestinians for 11 days while Israelis enjoyed festive holidays. Marilyn Garson, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported:

Netanyahu seals the gates of the West Bank and Gaza for eleven days, to enjoy Sukkot. How flagrant, to confine millions of people in the name of a holiday that celebrates the flimsy, temporary nature of our walls. If Jews were herded behind concrete walls and locked away for eleven days, so that someone else might enjoy a Jew-free holiday, would we shrug that off?

Haaretz is a relatively honest source and to print such a thing in Israel is quite daring.

On the same subject the Jewish Chronicle had this to say:  “Border closures over the High Holidays and other Jewish festivals are routine, but are usually much shorter. The original decision stoked complaints within the Israeli security establishment that it was principally “grandstanding” by ministers eager to burnish their right-wing credentials.” The JC went on the explain that the 11-day closure had been demanded by Israeli police and the Internal Security minister, and was initially opposed by the Israeli military and senior Defence Ministry officials who said that it would be an unnecessary punishment to tens of thousands of law-abiding Palestinian workers.

However, both Israeli papers omitted to say that, thanks to Balfour’s legacy, there has been no freedom of movement for Palestinians since the closure of Gaza and the West Bank by Israel 26 years ago. Closure is the normal state of affairs and not to be confused with foolish ideas that crossings are usually open.

Contradictory Promises

The Balfour Project, which promotes justice, security and peace for both Jews and Arabs, has made available a wealth of information. One of its publications sums up the problem very neatly:

The Declaration pledges Britain’s support for a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jewish people on the understanding that the rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ would not tbe prejudiced. The failure to uphold this second clause, for which Britain bears much responsibility, has caused conflict between Palestinians and Israelis ever since.

This was just one of Britain’s contradictory promises during the First World War. After the war we secured a mandate from the League of Nations which included a ‘sacred trust’ to prepare the people of Palestine for independence. But in the end Britain walked away.

Yes, in 1948 we abandoned the mess we had created. As the last British soldiers marched away Jewish leaders declared statehood without borders, pushing far beyond the boundaries set out in the UN Partition Plan the year before, their terror militia putting to flight hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, massacring many more and stealing their homes and farms.

What Britain caused to happen in the Holy Land was contrary to all decency and justice. History will not judge kindly the British Government’s decision to celebrating Balfour “with pride” while refusing to apologise and make amends. There’s a fair chance the whole sorry spectacle will backfire on Theresa May and teach her unpleasant associates a sharp lesson.

A colleague wrote only yesterday to one of our government ministers and what she said is worth repeating here:

Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, should reflect with humility that but for that disastrous decision by their predecessors 100 years ago, the Holy Land might still be a land of peace where all the faiths lived in harmony together.

This Is Not National Unity

The reconciliation agreement signed between rival Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, in Cairo on October 12 was not a national unity accord – at least, not yet. For the latter to be achieved, the agreement would have to make the interests of the Palestinian people a priority, above factional agendas.

The leadership crisis in Palestine is not new. It precedes Fatah and Hamas by decades.

Since the destruction of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948 – and even further back – Palestinians found themselves beholden to international and regional power play, beyond their ability to control or even influence.

The greatest achievement of Yasser Arafat, the late and iconic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was his ability to foster an independent Palestinian political identity and a national movement that, although receiving Arab support, was not entirely appropriated by any particular Arab country.

The Oslo Accords, however, was the demise of that movement. Historians may quarrel on whether Arafat, the PLO and its largest political party, Fatah, had any other option but to engage in the so-called ‘peace process’. However, in retrospect, we can surely argue that Oslo was the abrupt cancellation of every Palestinian political achievement, at least since the war of 1967.

Despite the resounding defeat of Arab countries by Israel and its powerful western allies in that war, hope for a new beginning was born. Israel reclaimed East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but, unwittingly unified Palestinians as one nation, although one that is oppressed and occupied.

Moreover, the deep wounds suffered by Arab countries as a result of the disastrous war, gave Arafat and Fatah the opportunity to utilize the new margins that opened up as a result of the Arab retreat.

The PLO, which was originally managed by the late Egyptian President, Jamal Abdul Nasser, became an exclusively Palestinian platform. Fatah, which was established a few years prior to the war, was the party in charge.

When Israel occupied Lebanon in 1982, its aim was the annihilation of the Palestinian national movement, especially since Arafat was opening up new channels of dialogue, not only with Arab and Muslim countries, but internationally as well. The United Nations, among other global institutions, began recognizing Palestinians, not as hapless refugees needing handouts, but as a serious national movement deserving to be heard and respected.

At the time, Israel was obsessed with preventing Arafat from rebranding the PLO into a budding government. In the short term, Israel achieved its main objective: Arafat was driven to Tunisia with his party’s leadership, and the rest of the PLO’s fighters were scattered across the Middle East, once more falling hostage to Arab whims and priorities.

Between 1982 and the signing of Oslo in 1993, Arafat fought for relevance. The PLO’s exile became particularly evident as Palestinians launched their First Intifada (the uprising of 1987). A whole new generation of Palestinian leaders began to emerge; a different identity that was incepted in Israeli prisons and nurtured in the streets of Gaza and Nablus was sculpted. The greater the sacrifices and the higher the Palestinian death toll rose, the more heightened that sense of collective identity grew.

The PLO’s attempt to hijack the Intifada was one of the main reasons why the uprising eventually faltered. The Madrid talks in 1991 was the first time that true representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories would take on an international platform to speak on behalf of Palestinians at home.

That endeavor was short-lived. Eventually, Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (today’s head of the Palestinian Authority – PA) negotiated an alternative agreement secretly in Oslo. The agreement largely sidelined the United Nations and allowed the United States to claim its position as a self-proclaimed ‘honest broker’ in a US-sponsored ‘peace process.’

While Arafat and his Tunisian faction were allowed back to rule over occupied Palestinians with a limited mandate provided by the Israeli government and military, Palestinian society fell into one of its most painful dilemmas in many years.

With the PLO, which represented all Palestinians, cast aside to make room for the PA – which merely represented the interests of a branch within Fatah in a limited autonomous region – Palestinians became divided into groups.

In fact, 1994, which witnessed the official formation of the PA, was the year in which the current Palestinian strife was actually born. The PA, under pressure from Israel and the US, cracked down on Palestinians who opposed Oslo and justifiably rejected the ‘peace process.’

The crackdowns reached many Palestinians who took leadership positions during the First Intifada. The Israeli gambit worked to perfection: The Palestinian leadership in exile was brought back to crack down on the leadership of the Intifada, while Israel stood aside and watched the sad spectacle.

Hamas, which itself was an early outcome of the First Intifada, found itself in direct confrontation with Arafat and his authority. For years, Hamas positioned itself as a leader of the opposition that rejected normalization with the Israeli occupation. That won Hamas massive popularity among Palestinians, especially as it became clear that Oslo was a ruse and that the ‘peace process’ was moving towards a dead-end.

When Arafat died, after spending years under Israeli army siege in Ramallah, Abbas took over. Considering that Abbas was the brain behind Oslo, and the man’s lack of charisma and leadership skills, Hamas took the first step in a political maneuver that proved costly: it ran for the PA’s legislative elections in 2006. Worse, it won.

By emerging as the top political party in an election that was itself an outcome of a political process that Hamas had vehemently rejected for years, Hamas became a victim of its own success.

Expectedly, Israel moved to punish Palestinians. As a result of US urgings and pressures, Europe followed suit. The Hamas government was boycotted, Gaza came under constant Israeli bombardment and Palestinian coffers began drying up.

A Hamas-Fatah brief civil-war ensued in the summer of 2007, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the political and administrative split of Gaza from the West Bank.

Officially, Palestinians had two governments, but no state. It was a mockery, that a promising national liberation project abandoned liberation and focused mostly on settling factional scores, while millions of Palestinians suffered siege and military occupation, and millions more suffered the anguish and humiliation of ‘shattat’ – the exile of the refugees abroad.

Many attempts were made, and failed to reconcile between the two groups in the last 10 years. They failed mostly because, once more, the Palestinian leaderships leased their decision-making to regional and international powers. The golden age of the PLO was replaced with the dark ages of factional divisions.

However, the recent reconciliation agreement in Cairo is not an outcome of a new commitment to a Palestinian national project. Both Hamas and Fatah are out of options. Their regional politicking was a failure, and their political program ceased to impress Palestinians who are feeling orphaned and abandoned.

For the Hamas-Fatah unity to become a true national unity, priorities would have to change entirely, where the interest of the Palestinian people – all of them, everywhere – would, once more, become paramount, above the interests of a faction or two, seeking limited legitimacy, fake sovereignty and American handouts.

Guardian Sells False Image of an Open Jerusalem

A Guardian essay on a new Israeli open-rooftops project in Jerusalem, part of a Season of Culture, sadly falls into a standard trap for feelgood articles of this kind. It fails to provide the main context for Jerusalem: that the native Palestinians live under a belligerent Israeli occupation that is ultimately trying to evict them from the city.

Ignoring that context when reporting on life for Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem is gravely irresponsible journalism.

Does this misrepresentation simply reflect author Hannah Ellis-Petersen’s ignorance? Or is it a consequence of who is footing the bill: the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the article.

Note these infuriatingly misleading introductory paragraphs:

For its Season of Culture, the ancient capital has thrown open its rooftops to encourage residents to see beyond their blinkered boundaries. But the reality is a city where the divides are growing deeper.

The standfirst sets the mendacious “balanced” tone, as though Palestinians could ever afford the luxury of choosing to be “blinkered” in a city where the Israeli-run, occupation municipality is openly hostile to them, and where their homes can be demolished for the smallest infraction of opaque, Israeli-imposed planning rules.

The city’s divides are not “growing deeper”. They were always deep in a city where the occupying power has sought for five decades to colonise Palestinian East Jerusalem with Jewish settlers. There are now more than 200,000 of these settlers gradually displacing the native Palestinian population.

Living side by side in Jerusalem are communities who exist with no interaction with one another – kept apart by fear, nationalism and religion.

No, that is not what keeps them apart. Just imagine an article on apartheid South Africa stating that whites and blacks had no interaction because they were “kept apart by fear, nationalism and religion”. In reality, the two populations were kept apart by the colour of their skin. For blacks under apartheid, and today for Palestinians under occupation, their inferior status is dictated to them. They have no say in the matter.

Palestinians and Israelis are kept apart by the structural violence of occupation, which confers on them entirely different rights and life choices. Jews in Jerusalem have Israeli citizenship; Palestinians have a residency that Israel can easily revoke. Potentially, Jews can live almost anywhere in the city; Palestinians are confined to ghettoes, where they are being suffocated of space and services to encourage them to leave.

Israel has even built a wall cutting some Palestinian neighbourhoods off from the rest of East Jerusalem and the services they pay for through their municipal taxes. They do not live apart because of fear, nationalism or religion. They have been cut off from family, friends and services by concrete walls and armed checkpoints.

While Israelis typically live in the west and Palestinians in the east of Jerusalem, mixed neighbourhoods do exist. In the winding alleys of the old city and the streets of downtown, the diverse inhabitants peacefully cross paths every day.

“Mixed neighbourhoods”? Is the author referring to Jewish settlers who have forcibly taken over Palestinian properties in areas of occupied East Jerusalem like the Old City, Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah in violation of international law and have then turned their apartment blocs into armed compounds? Is that her idea of “paths crossing peacefully” – that Palestinians must live submissively, in terror of armed Jewish interlopers?

What’s more, the only rooftops of Palestinians that were made accessible are in the old city; there are none in east Jerusalem. … The project traces a line across a divided city via its rooftops. And the stories of the volunteers who have opened their homes to strangers, regardless of ethnicity or creed, speak to a multi-layered Jerusalem, one rarely seen in a conflict-obsessed news cycle: a colourful, fractious and potent city.

Is it really a failure of the news cycle that it wishes to highlight “conflict” rather than accentuate the supposed rough-and-tumble co-existence proposed by this article, and achieved after Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem?

Israel professes to have created an “eternal, united capital” of Jerusalem, but nothing could be further from the truth. We don’t need from the media less of an obsession with “conflict”. We need greater honesty from them about Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and the harsh reality of a Jewish settler colonial society slowly disappearing the natives.

Only the gullible or dishonest could believe that opening rooftops in the privileged, Jewish side of the city challenges or mitigates the ugliness of what is going on on the other side of Jerusalem, for Palestinians.

“The Agreement of the Century”

According to a report circulating unofficially in Arabic, the latest in a sixty-nine year history of proposals to resolve the western Zionist invasion of Palestine (AKA the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict”) is about to see the light of day. It claims Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu originated the proposal and that secret deliberations have been underway for more than five months.

Netanyahu has now presented the proposal to the US, which made some changes and agreed to promote it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will carry the plan, called “the Agreement of the Century” to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait for review and discussion.

The provisions

The proposal has 21 points, but the main provisions are that the West Bank will be federated (or re-federated) with Jordan, and the Gaza Strip with Egypt. Together, they will be known as the Palestinian Confederation, ostensibly converting the Palestinian “Authority” into a national government, although it is already widely recognized as such and although it will not have any of the authority or sovereignty that nation states are deemed to have under international law.

Israel will govern Jewish settlements directly and Jerusalem is excluded from the proposal, for resolution at a later time. The primary function of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, therefore, will be to take over the security functions currently administered by the Israeli armed forces; i.e., to protect Israel and repress Palestinians. As they say in Israel, “When you have a dirty job, give it to an Arab.”

Other provisions concern development of infrastructure, international guarantees, and conversion of Hamas into a purely political party while integrating its military wing into the Palestinian security forces. The borders will be based on the armistice lines as of June 4th, 1967, with some territorial swaps. Refugees will be permitted to “return” to the West Bank and Gaza, even if it is not the home from which they were displaced. This is not going to be accepted by expatriate refugees in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, but they have always been disenfranchised in all proposals, and this one is no exception.

Unanswered questions

The biggest unanswered question is the status of Jerusalem. Will the Arab leaders accept an agreement that has no assurances at all with respect to Jerusalem? This is hard to imagine, and it was, in fact, the major stumbling block to an agreement at the Camp David Summit in 2000.

Another major unknown is what happens to the West Bank areas designated A, B and C in the Oslo agreement. Area A is the only one of the three where Oslo grants full administrative and security control to the Palestinian Authority, and it comprises less than 15% of the total area of the West Bank, itself only 18% of historic Palestine. Israel is unlikely to hand B and C over to Palestinian authority and limit the settlements to their current footprints, without prospect of outward expansion or new settlements. More likely, they will insist upon continuing the current arrangement, allowing Israel to continue expanding the settlements indefinitely. This is also unlikely to be acceptable to the Arabs and to the Palestinian people.

Analysis

What do the parties to the agreement expect to gain from it?

Israel wants to rid itself of the Palestinians. It wants the land but not the people. It also wants to stop being considered an occupier of someone else’s land. In 1948 it achieved this by massive ethnic cleansing and genocide. In 1967 it used the same methods but was somewhat less successful except on the Golan Heights, where it expelled 94% of the population. Since then, expulsions have been gradual and slower, except for the 2006 expulsion of a million people in south Lebanon, which was subsequently reversed by the victory of the Hezbollah resistance.

If the above assumptions about areas A, B and C are correct, a signed agreement means that Israel concedes nothing at all and will be able to continue with its territorial ambitions. However, it will rid itself of the Palestinians by farming out the occupation to Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement also removes the teeth (such as they are) of Hamas, and makes Israel appear to be a “peacemaker” with a “generous proposal”.

Mahmoud Abbas’s interest is to become the president of a “real” (though not sovereign) country, recognized universally, even by Israel. He also gets Gaza in the bargain, as well as some handsome development funds that will improve the economy, at least in the short run. The recently announced “unity government” between Hamas and Fatah can be seen as a prelude to such an agreement, and a means of strengthening Abbas’s hand in the negotiations (which is why Israel is not very happy about it).

Hamas gains the least of any of the parties, but Israel’s decade-long siege on Gaza is now so debilitating that they are possibly loathe to dash the hopes of their people for relieving their isolation. They are under tremendous pressure to improve the intolerable living conditions, and may not wish to be seen as spoilers.

The Arab monarchies and Egypt want to be rid of the problem and to get on with other concerns, chiefly their rivalry and potential conflict with Iran. In this case they would like to be able to collaborate and ally themselves more openly with a powerful Israel, which the agreement will legitimate. Iraq and Syria, who are friendly to Iran, are not currently on Abbas’s itinerary, which underscores that their views are not likely to be given consideration.

The US also gets a Middle East peace agreement that has eluded eleven administrations since 1948, and which Trump desperately needs to bolster his flagging image on the domestic front. The agreement would also strengthen the hand of both the US and Israel to undertake aggressive action against Iran and destroy it as a regional power, which is an ambition of both countries and the conservative Arab regimes.

All of this assumes that the agreement will be approved. That is still a very big “if”. But Israel is also prepared for failure, which also works to their advantage. In that case Israel will do what it has always done: blame the Palestinians for refusing to be complicit in their own demise. They will then give their military a free hand to commit another pogrom, known in Israel as “mowing the grass”.

In fact, Israel may pull another plan off the shelf, one using a more direct means of ridding themselves of the Palestinians. They learned in Lebanon that they could create a million refugees in ten days, and thereby clear the land of its inhabitants. Instead of “mowing the grass”, this would be more akin to “scorching the earth”, which is also a definition of the term “holocaust”.

The Real Reasons Trump is Quitting Unesco

At first glance, the decision last week by the Trump administration, followed immediately by Israel, to quit the United Nation’s cultural agency seems strange. Why penalise a body that promotes clean water, literacy, heritage preservation and women’s rights?

Washington’s claim that the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is biased against Israel obscures the real crimes the agency has committed in US eyes.

The first is that in 2011 Unesco became the first UN agency to accept Palestine as a member. That set the Palestinians on the path to upgrading their status at the General Assembly a year later.

It should be recalled that in 1993, as Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, the watching world assumed the aim was to create a Palestinian state.

But it seems most US politicians never received that memo. Under pressure from Israel’s powerful lobbyists, the US Congress hurriedly passed legislation to pre-empt the peace process. One such law compels the United States to cancel funding to any UN body that admits the Palestinians.

Six years on, the US is $550 million in arrears and without voting rights at Unesco. Its departure is little more than a formality.

The agency’s second crime relates to its role selecting world heritage sites. That power has proved more than an irritant to Israel and the US.

The occupied territories, supposedly the locus of a future Palestinian state, are packed with such sites. Hellenistic, Roman, Jewish, Christian and Muslim relics promise not only the economic rewards of tourism but also the chance to control the historic narrative.

Israeli archaeologists, effectively the occupation’s scientific wing, are chiefly interested in excavating, preserving and highlighting Jewish layers of the Holy Land’s past. Those ties have then been used to justify driving out Palestinians and building Jewish settlements.

Unesco, by contrast, values all of the region’s heritage, and aims to protect the rights of living Palestinians, not just the ruins of long-dead civilisations.

Nowhere has the difference in agendas proved starker than in occupied Hebron, where tens of thousands of Palestinians live under the boot of a few hundred Jewish settlers and the soldiers who watch over them. In July, Unesco enraged Israel and the US by listing Hebron as one of a handful of world heritage sites “in danger”. Israel called the resolution “fake history”.

The third crime is the priority Unesco gives to the Palestinian names of heritage sites under belligerent occupation.

Much hangs on how sites are identified, as Israel understands. Names influence the collective memory, giving meaning and significance to places.

The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has coined the term “memoricide” for Israel’s erasure of most traces of the Palestinians’ past after it dispossessed them of four-fifths of their homeland in 1948 – what Palestinians term their Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Israel did more than just raze 500 Palestinian towns and villages. In their place it planted new Jewish communities with Hebracaised names intended to usurp the former Arabic names. Saffuriya became Tzipori; Hittin was supplanted by Hittim; Muyjadil was transformed into Migdal.

A similar process of what Israel calls “Judaisation” is under way in the occupied territories. The settlers of Beitar Ilit threaten the Palestinians of Battir. Nearby, the Palestinians of Sussiya have been dislodged by a Jewish settlement of exactly the same name.

The stakes are highest in Jerusalem. The vast Western Wall plaza below Al Aqsa mosque was created in 1967 after more than 1,000 Palestinians were evicted and their quarter demolished. Millions of visitors each year amble across the plaza, oblivious to this act of ethnic cleansing.

Settlers, aided by the Israeli state, continue to encircle Christian and Muslim sites in the hope of taking them over.

That is the context for recent Unesco reports highlighting the threats to Jerusalem’s Old City, including Israel’s denial for most Palestinians of the right to worship at Al Aqsa.

Israel has lobbied to have Jerusalem removed from the list of endangered heritage sites. Alongside the US, it has whipped up a frenzy of moral outrage, berating Unesco for failing to prioritise the Hebrew names used by the occupation authorities.

Unesco’s responsibility, however, is not to safeguard the occupation or bolster Israel’s efforts at Judaisation. It is there to uphold international law and prevent Palestinians from being disappeared by Israel.

Trump’s decision to quit Unesco is far from his alone. His predecessors have been scuffling with the agency since the 1970s, often over its refusal to cave in to Israeli pressure.

Now, Washington has a pressing additional reason to punish Unesco for allowing Palestine to become a member. It needs to make an example of the cultural body to dissuade other agencies from following suit.

Trump’s confected indignation at Unesco, and his shrugging off of its vital global programmes, serve as a reminder that the US is not an “honest broker” of a Middle East peace. Rather it is the biggest obstacle to its realisation.

• First published in The National, Abu Dhabi.