The Trump administration’s policies and initiatives towards the Arab-Israeli conflict – the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017; the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 2019; the Peace to Prosperity plan in 2020 – have been rightly denounced as premeditated assaults on international law and the international political consensus. Claims that such measures form a radical departure from traditional US policy are less persuasive, however. Since 1967, Washington has systematically aided and abetted Israel’s colonial expansion in the West Bank. Annexation, the ripe fruit of US as much as Israeli policy, is a formalisation rather than transformation of the resulting reality.
‘As time went by the military government became increasingly obsessed with our reading lists,’ Gabi Baramki writes in Peaceful Resistance (2010), his account of the founding of Birzeit University in the early 1970s. ‘Books we ordered from abroad were often permanently confiscated without us even setting our eyes on them.’ Texts on archaeology, history and Arabic literature were all banned.
The Israeli elections turned on the ‘ideological’ question of whether Binyamin Netanyahu should be prime minister or not. Other, less crucial topics – including the occupation of the West Bank, which has entered its second jubilee; the siege of Gaza, which has entered its 13th year; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the status of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; the complete lack of negotiation with the PLO; the growing inequality in Israeli society; the deteriorating health system; the housing crisis and more – were all left largely undiscussed.
On 19 November, Airbnb announced that it had removed from its website around 200 properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The global travel agency explained that it had decided to 'act responsibly' after considering the settlements’ 'disputed' character and their contribution to 'human suffering'.
On a Saturday morning in July I travelled to the South Hebron Hills with a group of Israeli and international activists. Around midday we arrived at a Palestinian area called Bani Naim, near an outpost of the Israeli settlement Pnei Hever. Elderly men with kefiyas and canes were climbing the unpaved road along with younger Palestinians to gather in front of the outpost. The Palestinians who owned the field below had brought a tractor to plough their land as an act of protest against the further expansion of the Israeli settlement. Two children reached up to attach a Palestinian flag to a metal pole. Within moments the Israeli army arrived.
Gaza appears sporadically as front-page news in the context of violence and terrorism, as it has with the murder on Friday, 1 June, of Razan Ashraf al-Najjar, a 21-year-old paramedic who was fatally shot by Israeli snipers as she was treating wounded protesters along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. After a day or two of attention, usually marked by the disproportionate deaths of Palestinians, Gaza recedes from view until the next assault. Israel is part of the story but all too often cast as responding to Hamas aggression, acting in self-defence. Without excusing Hamas for its misdeeds, Gaza's misery, isolation and hopelessness are primarily a product of Israeli policy. The form of occupation may have changed since Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005, but the fact of occupation has not. One result is the dehumanisation of the men, women and children who live in Gaza, the denial of their innocence and the resultant loss of their rights.
Benjamin Netanyahu first met Donald Trump in 1986, when they were introduced by Ronald Lauder, the heir of the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune and a Republican donor. They became friendly, but Netanyahu, who was Israel’s ambassador to the UN at the time, doubted that the real-estate entrepreneur would be very useful to his future political aspirations. He added Trump to his handwritten list of millionaires to whom he might turn for favours, but ‘he was in the lowest category,’ Anshel Pfeffer writes in his new biography of Netanyahu, ‘indicating that he was good for an occasional favour, but not much more.’[*] Like many people, Netanyahu underestimated his new friend.
The residents of the unrecognised Bedouin village Umm Al-Hiram, in the Israeli Negev, have finally accepted defeat. Within a couple of months, they will give up their land and move to a nearby Bedouin town. After their houses are demolished, West Bank settlers will establish a new Jewish-only village in their place. Several houses in Umm Al-Hiran have already been destroyed and a villager was killed by Israeli police during one demolition last year. So the inhabitants understood that the government meant business when it notified them in March that all of their houses would be razed to the ground if they did not relocate by the end of April. After a fifteen-year struggle, the residents grudgingly gave in and signed a relocation agreement similar to the one they had rejected for over a decade.
The recent decision by the Trump administration to drastically cut its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has left the Palestinian refugees in a more precarious position than ever. A conference was recently held in Rome to raise money to allow UNRWA to continue its vital work providing education, health and other social services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Given a projected budget deficit of nearly $500 million in 2018, UNRWA’s funding prospects look dim.
Late yesterday evening, ‘a senior administration official’ confirmed that the United States will today recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Given that the policy is to be announced by Donald Trump, a volatile airhead presiding over a highly fractious government, it’s still far from clear how – or even whether – Washington will put forward a new position. But if, as expected, the US does proceed with this measure, the physical relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be the least of it.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s relation with, control of and attitude to the media is a central component of his career and ongoing success. Through his years as a furniture salesman, ambassador to the UN and prime minister, Netanyahu has mastered the art of public relations. To stay in power, he has realised that he needs, on the one hand, to have as much control as possible over the media, over what they cover and what they don’t cover; while on the other hand, he needs Israelis to believe that the media are biased against him.
David Rubinger died on 1 March at the age of 92. His photograph of three Israeli paratroopers gazing at the Western Wall, taken minutes after Israeli forces seized Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was widely revered as a symbol of Zionism’s triumphant destiny. Rubinger, however, was not particularly fond of the picture: ‘Part of the face is cut off on the right side,’ he said, ‘in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there’s only half a face … photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo.’
‘So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like … I can live with either one,’ Donald Trump said at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister appeared to exult in Trump’s presence, until the president suggested he hold off on building more settlements while Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states worked out a deal – a ‘bigger deal’, rather. The oldest conflict in the modern Middle East – it’s a century since the Balfour declaration – has become a quarrel over real estate.
In the last month Theresa May has given striking evidence of a tilt towards Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel. On 29 December, her spokesman sharply criticised a major speech by John Kerry, who was signing off after years of labouring for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He had told some home truths about the Netanyahu government, describing the current coalition as the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. Asked by the BBC whether he was surprised by May’s reaction, Kerry said: ‘What I expressed in the speech has been the policy of Great Britain for a long period of time … An honest answer is yes.’
It has been a bizarre week for US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On 23 December, the Obama administration narrowly avoided becoming the first since Harry Truman’s to leave office without a single United Nations Security Council resolution censuring Israel to its credit. Washington has spent the past eight years shielding what John Kerry on 28 December called ‘the most right-wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements’ from international scrutiny.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise and needs to be challenged. But the working definition of anti-Semitism that was formally adopted this week by the British government is dangerous. It says that anyone who subjects Israel to 'double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation' is an anti-Semite.
In February, the Israeli prime minister praised the British government for introducing new guidelines prohibiting publicly funded bodies from boycotting Israeli products. ‘I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East,’ Netanyahu said.
Writing in the Guardian in 2011, Shimon Peres, then president of Israel, welcomed the uprisings that were spreading across the Middle East. Israel wanted to see ‘improvements in our neighbours’ lives’, he said, which was the reason it was helping Palestinians in the West Bank develop their own economy, institutions and security forces. ‘Israel was born under the British mandate,’ he went on.
Something happens to retired chiefs of the Israeli internal Security Service, Shin Bet. Once they leave their jobs, they become spokesmen for peace. How come? Shin Bet agents are the only members of the establishment who come into real, direct, daily contact with Palestinians. They interrogate Palestinian suspects, torture them, try to turn them into informers. They collect information, penetrate the most remote parts of Palestinian society. They know more about the Palestinians than anybody else in Israel (and perhaps in Palestine, too).
Uri Avnery on Israel's new police chief and the wave of rejuvenated religion being ridden by Netanyahu: The Israeli Police needed a new commander ... When Binyamin Netanyahu announced his choice, everybody was amazed. Roni Alsheikh? Where the hell did he come from? He does not look like a policeman, except for his mustache. He never had the slightest connection with police work. He was, actually, the secret deputy chief of the Shin Bet....He is the first police chief to wear a kippah. Also the first who was once a settler. So we were all waiting for his first significant utterance. It came this week and concerned mothers mourning their sons. Bereavement, Alsheikh asserted, is really a Jewish feeling. Jewish mothers mourn their children. Arab mothers don't.
Last month Human Rights Watch published Occupation Inc: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s violations of Palestinian Rights. This is the first time a major international NGO has ventured onto ground previously trodden only by smaller, more local and more die-hard groups, such as the Israeli organisation Who Profits, which collates exhaustive data on the economy of the occupation, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. It is certainly the first time an organisation of HRW’s status has directed the spotlight not only at settlement-based businesses that export to Europe, but at businesses headquartered outside the occupied territories which make money in them.
Uri Avnery on 'The Pied Piper of Zion': The Israeli peace camp is in a state of despair.
‘Obviously, we have reason to be worried,’ the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, said last November, three days after the attacks in Paris, ‘because there are so many that are being radicalised. Once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there is not a future.’ Her words were immediately condemned by the Israeli government. But the Israeli ruling coalition had been the first to make the connection. Officials compared the recent ‘wave of anger’ by Palestinians – the random knife attacks that have killed 28 Israelis, while more than 140 Palestinians have been killed in street executions – to the co-ordinated Bataclan massacre; an attempt, and not the first, to tar Palestinians with the Isis brush.
In Munich, Steven Spielberg’s fictionalised account of Israel’s response to the massacre of 11 of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, Makram Khoury plays the writer and PLO spokesman Wael Zuaiter. Unaware he’s the first of the 11 Palestinians targeted for assassination by Mossad, he gives a talk on his Italian translation of the Thousand and One Nights at a café in Rome, does some shopping, and is gunned down in the hall of his apartment block. At the end of the movie, the chief assassin exiles himself to Brooklyn, wondering if he has merely inspired more violence. He is told that he is a small part of a bigger story: Mossad had other teams on the job. The newly completed World Trade Center is visible in the final shot of the New York skyline.
The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end.
On the first day of school last week, children in their first year at primary school in the small city of Ashkelon in southern Israel were excited to learn that Binyamin Netanyahu would be visiting their class. This is what the prime minister had to say to the six-year-olds: The first lesson in first grade is 'Shalom first grade' with the emphasis on shalom [peace]. We educate our children for peace. A few kilometres from here, Hamas teaches its children the opposite of peace and, from time to time, it tries to fire at us, at you. Our policy is clear – zero restraint, zero let-up, zero tolerance for terrorism. We respond to every hostile attack on our territory either by overt or covert action, and we are determined to foil terrorism at every turn, just as we did yesterday in Jenin. I wish a quick recovery to the soldier who was wounded.
A few years ago, an Israeli F16 fighter pilot I know went on a training exercise for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear reactors. When he got back I asked him if such an operation could actually succeed. He said he thought Israel had the capacity to carry it out, but the military leadership was against it. When I asked him why, he explained that even if an airstrike were completely successful, the Iranians would be able to rebuild their reactors within two years. The operation, he said, would only work if sanctions were intensified immediately after the attack, and most sanctioning countries would be unlikely to agree to that.
Uri Avnery on the myths and realities of the 1948 war: According to the Arab version, the Jews came from nowhere, attacked a peace-loving people and drove them out of their country. According to the Zionist version, the Jews had accepted the United Nations compromise plan, but the Arabs had rejected it and started a bloody war, during which they were convinced by the Arab states to leave their homes in order to return with the victorious Arab armies. Both these versions are utter nonsense - a mixture of propaganda, legend and hidden guilt feelings. During the war I was a member of a mobile commando unit that was active all over the southern front. I was an eye-witness to what happened....
I am writing this in the car on the way from Haifa to Ramallah. Cell phones beep as we cross between Israeli and West Bank coverage. The view out the window has changed from the dark green mountains and manicured landscapes of northern Israel to the rocky textures of the West Bank mountains. On 23 May, more than a dozen writers will arrive in Ramallah from different parts of the world to take part in the Palestine Festival of Literature, which I help organise. Every year since 2008, it has put on public literary events with Palestinian and visiting writers in different cities in the evenings. Over the course of the week, it also aims to show the visitors something of Palestinian history and present-day reality. A lot of time is spent on the road, travelling through the geography of occupation: the checkpoints, the walls, the segregated motorways.
Some people call the wall in the West Bank a ‘security fence’; others refer to it as an ‘apartheid wall’. The International Court of Justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion declaring the construction illegal, called it simply ‘the wall’. Media style guides tend to suggest ‘West Bank barrier’ or ‘separation barrier/wall’.
But the wall doesn’t only separate; it segregates. In 1963, Malcolm X gave a speech in which he spelled out the difference: separation is between equals; segregation is forced on the weak by the strong. A segregated community is ‘regulated from the outside by outsiders’.
Yesterday, on the 67th anniversary of the establishment of Israel (Palestinians commemorate the Nakba today), Binyamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister. It’s taken him a while to put together a governing coalition of 61 seats, against 59 in the opposition. It’s worth watching the first minute of Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset. You don’t have to understand Hebrew. ‘Tonight with God’s help,’ he begins, ‘we will create a government in Israel.’ He pauses for a second. ‘We will defend Israeli security.’ Another pause. ‘And we will strive for peace.’ At the word ‘peace’ (‘shalom’) many members of the Knesset couldn’t contain themselves.
Earlier this month Southampton University spiked a conference on International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, organised by an Israeli-born professor of law and philosophy at the university, Oren Ben-Dor. It had promised to explore ‘the creation and the nature of the Jewish state’ and ‘the role international law can play in political struggles’. The idea had got about that Southampton would be throwing a shindig for aspiring jihadis and Zion-deniers, thanks to the Henry Jackson Society, Eric Pickles and the Daily Express, who demanded that the event be squelched.
Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on 'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict', accuses Hamas and others of carrying out 'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.' The report reiterates a formal symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians (previous reports have accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge), asking both parties to take all precautions to respect civilian lives, and reminding them to 'choose appropriate means and methods of attack'.
‘I won’t say we changed the open-fire regulations, but we’ve taken a slightly tougher approach with people around here,’ Brigadier General Tamir Yadai, the Israeli army commander in the West Bank, said last month. ‘In places where we used to fire tear-gas or rubber bullets, we now fire Ruger bullets and sometimes live bullets.’ Yadai was talking to residents of Halamish, an Israeli settlement, who had complained about the worsening security situation.
The decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, to open 'a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine' could have a concrete political impact in Israel/Palestine, but not because the ICC will end up charging officials for carrying out war crimes. The ICC has yet to address any violations carried out by Western liberal states. Simply put, the geography of the ICC's investigations – from Côte d'Ivoire to Uganda – both reflects and reproduces an old colonial frame of justice. Even within this blinkered framework, the court's success rate has not been particularly impressive: in its 12 years of existence, the ICC has carried out 21 investigations; only two people have been convicted. Given that record, why has Bensouda’s announcement provoked such outrage in the Israeli government?
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
‘Settlement through excavation is the same as settlement through building,’ according to Yonathan Mizrachi, an archaeologist who works with Emek Shaveh in Jerusalem. The organisation explores the connection between archaeology and politics in Israel and Palestine, particularly in and around Jerusalem. Earlier this year it published a report, written by Mizrachi, called From Territorial Contiguity to Historical Continuity: Asserting Israeli Control through National Parks in East Jerusalem.
Israel's justifications for its assault on Gaza have shifted more than once since Operation 'Brother's Keeper' was launched on 12 June, supposedly in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. The rockets 'raining down terror' on Israel (they have so far killed three people, giving them a kill rate of 0.1 per cent) were the reason given for the launch of operation 'Protective Edge' on 8 July; the ground invasion of Gaza on 17 July was said to be aimed at destroying a series of tunnels leading into Israel.
This week the European Union, with Angela Merkel at its head, fired off a communiqué over the signatures of José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy slapping sanctions on Russia after last month's downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. In the self-important way of these texts, it bemoans Vladimir Putin's failure to accord the EU the respect that it sees as commensurate with its sense of its own importance. Apropos the dusty greeting that the Russians have given its previous communiqués, the Union tut-tuts that our call has been, in practice, left unheeded. Arms and fighters continue flowing into Ukraine from the Russian Federation. Strong Russian State sponsored nationalist propaganda continues supporting the illegal actions of armed separatists. In a parallel world, recognisably similar to but at some distance from our own, EU gnomes behind their plate-glass kraal in Brussels solemnly debate sanctioning Israel for wrecking hospitals and the wholesale murder of civilians, such as blowing children playing beach football in Gaza to pieces.
The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, denounced the bombing of the UN school in Gaza as ‘outrageous’ and ‘unjustifiable’. His officials have described the massacres as a ‘disgrace to the world’. Who stands disgraced? The UN General Assembly has regularly voted in favour of an independent Palestine. It is the Security Council that has vetoed the very thought and the Security Council, as everyone knows, is dominated by the United States; on this issue, Russia and China have remained on message.
The Palestinian body count in Gaza has passed 1000, with more than 5000 wounded. Over 70 per cent of the casualties are civilians, including more than 200 children. Extended families have been wiped out. Children playing on a beach have been targeted and killed by Israeli gunboats. Over two thousand homes have been damaged or destroyed. According to an IDF spokesman, 120 one-tonne bombs landed in the Shaja'yya neighbourhood alone. Yet, with three Israeli civilians and 40 Israeli soldiers killed, Israeli leaders and their US allies insist on describing the carnage as a war of self-defence.
Judith Butler in the LRB, 21 August 2003: It will not do to equate Jews with Zionists or Jewishness with Zionism. There were debates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as to whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state, whether the Jews had any right to lay claim to land inhabited by Palestinians for centuries, and as to the future for a Jewish political project based on a violent expropriation of land.
‘We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,’ Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that it isn't killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.
One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile. Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
In late April, an amateur video of Israeli army aggression in the occupied West Bank began to circulate online. The content was neither new nor surprising: a soldier shoving, kicking and pointing his gun at unarmed Palestinian teenagers in Hebron’s old city. What was new, however, was the form and scale of the public response. When the soldier was suspended, the Israeli public mobilised on social media in unprecedented numbers to support their ‘brother in arms’. Pundits called it the army’s first ‘digital rebellion’. Thousands of soldiers uploaded mobile snapshots of themselves holding handwritten protest banners: ‘We are with David the Nahalite’ (the suspended soldier was in the Nahal Infantry Brigade). In some of the selfies, the message was written on the soldiers’ half-naked bodies; in others it was spelled out in ammunition. The meme then spread to civilians, who uploaded pictures of themselves at home or at work, with pets and household objects rather than guns.
On 10 May, Amos Oz criticised the so-called 'price-tag attacks' carried out by Israeli settlers. The label is used by the culprits themselves to describe retaliatory violence against Palestinians: beatings and arson as well as racist graffiti sprayed on the walls of churches and mosques. Oz described the perpetrators as 'Hebrew neo-Nazi groups'. The next day, he said: The comparison that I made was to neo-Nazis and not to Nazis. Nazis build incinerators and gas chambers; neo-Nazis desecrate places of worship, cemeteries, beat innocent people and write racist slogans. That is what they do in Europe, and that is what they do here.
Imagine if a prominent Member of Parliament openly declared Pakistanis a ‘cancer in our body’. Shortly afterwards, she apologises for this remark – to cancer victims. Not only does the MP keep her job, she escapes any official rebuke at all. At around the same time, Molotov cocktails are thrown through the window of a nursery school attended by the children of asylum seekers in a poor part of London. A month later, there’s a violent riot against asylum seekers on a bloody night of looting, assaults and broken glass. Taxis and buses are stopped and searched for ethnic minorities; one of the rioters wears a T-shirt saying ‘Death to Pakistanis’; women voicing support for asylum seekers are told they should be raped; agitators make monkey noises at a group of black asylum seekers; and throughout, during the beatings and window-smashing and racist chanting, the police stand aside, looking on.
Johnathan Gurfinkel’s movie S#x Acts, which opened last month in Israel and the US, begins with a teenage girl (played by Sivan Levy) taking selfies on her laptop, her sometimes smiling, sometimes pouting face periodically illuminated by the flash of the computer’s camera. Gili has just transferred to a new high school in a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb, and is trying to attract the attentions of Tomer (Roy Nik), a richer, more privileged, more popular boy in her class. In the next scene, Tomer and his friend Omri (Eviatar Mor) are leaving a cinema in a mall. Pulling out their phones, they see Gili has posted one of the pictures on Tomer’s Facebook wall. ‘Look what a loser this girl is,’ he says. But Omri soon convinces him to call her.
Ten days ago some 200 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea marched to Jerusalem to protest against their mistreatment by the Israeli government. They had left a new 'open' detention facility in the Negev desert, where they are obliged to spend the night and attend three role calls during the day. They walked for about six hours to the nearest city, Beer-Sheva, my hometown. After spending the night at the bus station, they marched on to Nachshon, a kibbutz that had agreed to put them up for the night. The following day, they continued to the Knesset by bus.
'Omer Post Office – For Omer Residents Only!' says the headline in a pamphlet distributed by a party running in the local elections in the rich southern suburb near my hometown, Beer-Sheva.
Uri Avnery’s latest column: Rouhani is the very opposite of his predecessor. If the Mossad had been asked to sketch the worst possible Iranian leader Israel could imagine, they would have come up with someone like him.
This is the way the results of the elections are being presented in the Israeli press: Centre Left Bloc Right Bloc Other, perhaps more accurate ways to present the election results:
At 2.30 on Sunday morning, the Israeli army removed 250 Palestinians from Bab al-Shams, a village in the so-called E1 corridor: 13 square kilometres of undeveloped Palestinian land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank with a population of 40,000. Israel has had designs on E1 for more than a decade: colonising it would realise the vision of a 'Greater Jerusalem', and eliminate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. After the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would build 4000 new settler homes in E1. The high court issued a six-day injunction against his order to 'evacuate' Bab al-Shams, but Netanyahu was in no mood to wait. Once the Palestinians had been driven out, the land was declared a closed 'military zone'.
Uri Avnery's latest: “Palestine, from the Jordan to the Sea, belongs to us!” declared Khaled Meshal last week at the huge victory rally in Gaza. “Eretz Israel, from the sea to the Jordan, belongs to us!” declare right-wing Israelis on every occasion. The two statements seem to be the same, with only the name of the country changed. But if you read them again carefully, there is a slight difference. The direction.
Why is Israel calling up 75,000 reserve soldiers, when during the last ground invasion of Gaza it called up only 10,000? Such a massive mobilisation is no minor matter, not least because its cost to the Israeli economy is enormous. There are four possible motivations: 1. The call-up of reservists is meant to deter the Palestinians. 2. Israel intends to invade Gaza; however, it needs to take into account the change of government in Egypt and deter its southern neighbour from joining the fray. 3. Israel is worried about developments in Jordan and will consider deploying forces to help King Abdullah if the protests there gain momentum. 4.
Despite his deserved reputation as an extremist and rejectionist of the first order, Binyamin Netanyahu, unlike most of his predecessors, had until this week never initiated a war. He appears not to have planned one this time either. Bibi’s template for the current assault on the Gaza Strip may well have been the events of September 1996, when 17 Israeli soldiers and 70 Palestinians were killed in the clashes that followed Israel’s festive opening of the Western Wall Tunnel in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem. It happened during Netanyahu’s previous term in office, and consists of three simple steps. 1. Launch an outrageous provocation guaranteed to elicit an armed response. 2. Use overwhelming firepower to kill Arabs and remind them who is boss. 3. Mobilise foreign parties to quickly restore calm on improved conditions.
In response to a recent upsurge in tit for tat strikes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel decided to ratchet up the violence even further by assassinating Hamas’s military chief, Ahmad Jabari. Hamas, which had been playing a minor role in these exchanges and even appears to have been interested in working out a long-term ceasefire, predictably responded by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, a few even landing near Tel Aviv. Not surprisingly, the Israelis have threatened a wider conflict, to include a possible invasion of Gaza to topple Hamas and eliminate the rocket threat. There is some chance that Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’, as the Israelis are calling their current campaign, might become a full-scale war. But even if it does, it will not put an end to Israel’s troubles in Gaza.
Maariv, once Israel’s highest-circulation daily paper, until yesterday was facing imminent closure. It was founded in 1948, three months earlier than the state of Israel. A group of journalists resigned from Yedioth Ahronoth, which had been going since the late 1930s, and set up Maariv as a co-operative. It billed itself as an open and independent paper, as opposed to its competitors, many of which were tied to political parties. Yedioth’s owners, the Mozes family, swore revenge for what they called ‘the putsch’. In the build-up to the 1967 war, Yedioth Ahronoth was freely distributed to the soldiers, and eventually it paid off: a decade later it overtook Maariv.
A few weeks ago I told the story of my friend Hussein, who had to advertise his flat under the pseudonym Rami in order to rent it out. The other day, my neighbor Yifat, who owns two flats in our block – she lives in one with her two children and rents the other out – told me about her attempt to raise the rent from 4000 to 4500 shekels a month. The tenant, she said, tried to haggle, offering her 4100 shekels. Yifat was willing to come down to 4400, arguing that many military bases are being relocated to the Negev, which would surely lead to a steep increase in rents. Indeed, an air-force pilot had already contacted her and was willing to pay 4500. The tenant didn't yield. She said she was willing to meet halfway, but no more.
Uri Avnery on protests in Israel and the West Bank: At the end of [last] summer, the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, nominally a member of the Labor Party, sent his “inspectors” to demolish the hundred tents in the Boulevard. The protest went into prolonged hibernation over the winter and good old “security” pushed “social justice” off the agenda. Everyone expected the protest, like the sleeping beauty, to come to life again this summer. The question was: how? NOW IT is happening. With the official beginning of summer, June 21, the protest started again.
Thirty years on, Uri Avnery on the causes and consequences of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Sharon's 'plan for a new Middle East':
My friend’s wife was accepted to a PhD program at McGill University in Montreal. They decided to move to Canada with their two children at about the same time that I was offered a fellowship at Princeton and decided to move with my family to New Jersey for a year. Hoping to rent out our apartments while we're away, we both posted ads on the most popular website in Israel. I received about five calls a day and found a tenant within a couple of weeks. My friend received only three calls in four weeks, and none of the people who called came to look at his flat. A few days ago he removed his ad from the website and posted a new one, only this time he changed his name from Hussein to Rami. Rami is an ethnically indeterminate name – it can be either Jewish or Palestinian – but there are no Jews called Hussein.
In 2010, the Israeli novelist Nir Baram caused a small scandal at the International Writers’ Festival in Jerusalem by daring to point out that 'we are witness to the systematic violation of the rights of non-Jews in the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories.' Festival director Tal Kremer told Haaretz that 'in the end, his speech did no harm,' and she frequently cites it to persuade pro-Palestinian writers to attend. 'I don't think my job is to put up barriers and engage in censorship,' she said. However, 'in light of what happened with Nir Baram' – which she calls 'a production error on our part' – 'we asked this year's authors to give us the text of their speeches' in advance.
Binyamin Netanyahu recently paid for advertising space on Facebook: Dear citizen: In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us, but our enemies will fail. I invite you to join my Facebook page. Happy Passover. After this campaign, Netanyahu's page boasted ten times as many ‘Likes’ as that of Sheli Yechimovich, the leader of the Labor Party. But her staff revealed that only 17 per cent of them were from Israelis. More than half were from Americans, and 5000 were from admirers in Indonesia.
Uri Avnery on the assassination of Zuhair al-Qaisi:
For weeks now, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have tripped over one another in the frenzied competition to announce their love for Israel. Mitt Romney has promised that it will be the first country he visits as president. Rick Perry insists that he will confront Iran head-on to protect Israel from being 'wiped off the face of the earth'. Newt Gingrich took it to another level when, in an interview with the Jewish Channel, he said that the Palestinians are an ‘invented people’. He repeated the assertion a few days later, comparing himself to Ronald Reagan for having the 'courage to tell the truth'.
As assassinations go, last Wednesday’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist was unusually competent. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who worked at Iran’s Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, was blown up when a passing motorcyclist slapped a magnetic bomb onto his car that killed everyone inside but left the area around the vehicle unscathed. It was the fourth killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in the last two years. An explosion at a missile base near Tehran on 12 November 2011 killed 18 people including Brigadier General Hassan Moghaddam, the architect of Iran’s missile programme. Take into account the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked the centrifuge system at Natanz, not to mention several defections of key scientific personnel, and it is clear that ‘non-diplomatic’ solutions to the Iranian impasse have become the norm.
During Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Eastern Europe in the summer, the governments of Romania and Bulgaria agreed not to vote in favour of the Palestinian state at the UN. Israel has since arranged several thousand work permits for Romanian and Bulgarian builders. This is supposedly a win-win deal that shows the creativity of the Netanyahu government (he also suggested replacing striking Israeli doctors with physicians from India). On the one hand, Israel wants to speed up cheap construction to solve its housing crisis. On the other, Romania and Bulgaria will earn foreign currency and reduce unemployment. The deal will also strengthen Israel's ties with Turkey’s European neighbours. When my grandfather Hezi Holdengerber arrived in Israel from Romania after the Holocaust, he and his brothers built roofs together. Now Jews work in construction only as bosses or engineers.
From the age of Jabotinsky to the age of Sharon, the Israeli right has dreamed of driving the Palestinians into the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, calling it Palestine, and declaring the Palestinian problem solved. The vision of Jordan as Palestine, the so-called Jordanian option, is the dream that never died, a vital corollary of a Greater Israel. It's also Jordan's biggest nightmare. Uri Avnery explains why.
Last week WikiLeaks published a confidential cable that Martin Indyk, the then US ambassador to Israel, sent to the White House and State Department after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995. Here's Uri Avnery's take on it:
On 14 July, months before the first protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park, Israel’s version of Occupy Wall Street began when Daphni Leef, a 25-year-old filmmaker, found herself unable to pay her rent and pitched a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. July 14th was the day the public conversation in Israel began to change. For decades Israeli politics had been stuck in an endless debate about the Palestinian issue, but while they quarrelled among themselves Israel’s citizens had failed to notice that a large part of Israel’s economy was now in the hands of 14 families. From being the most egalitarian country in the developed world, Israel had become the second most unequal one. But since the protests began, Jews and Arabs have been discovering solidarity and the welfare state.
Elie Wiesel is not known for his sympathy towards the Palestinian cause for self-determination. He was recently made the chairman of the board of the Elad Association, also known as the Ir David Foundation, an organisation that has been actively erasing the Palestinians’ cultural heritage and facilitating the confinement of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. In 2002, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority hired Elad to run the City of David national park, in the densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Elad has spent millions of dollars trying (unsuccessfully) to demonstrate King David's presence in that area.
Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September fell considerably short of Yasir Arafat’s electrifying 1974 speech from the same podium. Nor did it compare with Haidar Abdul Shafi’s dignified – and unanswerable – call for justice at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. Yet it may come to be seen as a historic turning point in the fortunes of the Palestinian people. Abbas’s agenda was transparent. He was sending the Americans a message: grow a spine, stop appeasing Israel and launch credible negotiations – because if you don’t, my next failure will be my last. There are several problems with his approach.
Among the many astonishing claims that Barack Obama made in his recent speech opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood was that ‘peace will not come through statements and resolutions.’ This is, at best, an odd thing to say for a president whose ascendancy to power itself depended on the compelling use of rhetoric. Indeed, his argument against the power of statements and resolutions at the United Nations to achieve peace was a rhetorical ploy that sought to minimise the power of rhetorical ploys. More important, it was an effort to make sure that the United States government remains the custodian and broker of any peace negotiation, so his speech was effectively a way of trying to reassert that position of custodial power in response to the greatest challenge it has received in decades. And most important, his speech was an effort to counter and drain the rhetorical force of the very public statements that are seeking to expose the sham of the peace negotiations, to break with the Oslo framework, and to internationalise the political process to facilitate Palestinian statehood.
More from Uri Avnery on the UN vote on Palestinian statehood:
Uri Avnery on divisions in the tent protests in Tel Aviv: Something very strange – or perhaps not so strange – happened to the media on this occasion. All three major TV stations covered the event live and at length. Itzik’s speech was carried in its entirety by all three. But in the middle of Daphne’s speech, as if on orders from above, all three stations cut off her voice and started broadcasting “comments” by the same tired old gang of government spokesmen, “analysts” and “experts".
When the Israeli tent protests began, some of the movement’s fiercest critics – outside the Israeli government – were progressive Arab intellectuals and activists. The protests seem to draw inspiration, tactics and even slogans from Tahrir Square, but to many people in the region they look a lot like ‘Israeli falafel’: a bland imitation of the real thing. Omar Barghouti described the protesters' failure to target the illegal occupation of Palestinian land as a ‘hysterical denial of the colonial reality’. But the denial may not last. While the army raises the spectre of a ‘radical Islamic winter’, Israeli demonstrators and the press are beginning to ask tough questions about the corruption of the military-industrial elite.
Such terrifying dogs have not been seen since the Hound of the Baskervilles. They have been bred by an ardent admirer of the late ‘Rabbi’ Meir Kahane, who was branded a fascist by the Israeli Supreme Court. Their task is to protect the settlements and attack Palestinians. Our TV stations have reported on them at length. All in preparation for ‘September’.
On Sunday night, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak called a cabinet meeting to argue against going to war in Gaza. The meeting lasted four hours, as these unlikely doves made the case for 'restraint'. They were, in a sense, arguing against themselves. After the attack in Eilat last Thursday, in which eight Israelis, five of them civilians, were killed, Netanyahu and Barak had immediately blamed the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, an armed movement of militants from different factions. If they had any evidence of PRC involvement, they didn't share it: the best an IDF spokeswoman interviewed on the Real News could manage was that the attackers used Kalashnikovs. The PRC denied responsibility; Hamas was even more sheepish: the last thing it needed was another Operation Cast Lead. A more likely story was that the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants in the Sinai,
Largely shielded from the European and American financial crises, the Israeli economy has been growing at an astonishing rate over the past five years: 4.7 per cent in 2010 alone. But the wealth isn’t evenly distributed: most Israelis living inside the 1967 borders struggle to make ends meet because of the high cost of living and relatively high taxes, which are largely spent on security and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The House of Lords will this afternoon be looking at the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. Among the sections they’re likely to scrutinise are those that deal with the question of universal jurisdiction, the principle according to which a state has the right to arrest and prosecute people accused of committing crimes against humanity outside its borders. Last year the former (and probable future) Israeli foreign minister Dzipi Livni abandoned a visit to Britain because she might be charged with war crimes over ‘Operation Cast Lead’. William Hague told the Israelis that the law would be changed. A foreign office spokesman said that this would not reflect a change in the law regarding universal jurisdiction, but would prevent interest groups misusing the law in ways that could damage Britain's foreign relations.
Camp Ofer near Ramallah is an Israeli ‘incarceration facility’ for detaining and processing Palestinian prisoners, including children (there are currently more than 200 Palestinian children in Israeli detention; a fifth of them are under 16). A delegation of three British Labour MPs who visited Camp Ofer last December told Amira Hass in Haaretz what they saw. More than two-thirds of detained children said they had been beaten. They were all ‘better off pleading guilty regardless of whether they had done something, because if they were detained until the end of proceedings, this could be three times longer than their punishment’. One of the MPs was disturbed to hear from his escort that this was a relatively good day: the children’s hands were cuffed in front of them rather than behind their backs.
It has become commonplace to describe the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as Facebook or Twitter revolutions; and almost as commonplace to respond that the role of social media in popular insurgencies has been exaggerated. Less attention, however, has been paid to states’ use of these technologies as PR and counterinsurgency tools. Look at Israel, for instance.
Imagine you were a Palestinian teenager, born in Jerusalem, when the Israelis took charge of your city in 1967. Imagine you received an ID card, giving you the right to residence in the place of your birth. That permit was in order when you left in the 1970s to study in the US. When you returned 20 years later, having graduated, married and started a family, you presented your document at the airport, only to be told it had been revoked. This is the story of Munther Fahmi,
Hosni Mubarak was the Israeli government’s favourite dictator, so it was hard for them, and for the mass media, to say goodbye to him. Coverage of the uprisings elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East has been fairly supportive of the protesters, but Egypt was a special case. As Gabi Ashkenazi, the recently retired head of the army, put it, ‘stability is preferable to democracy.’ The refrain throughout has been: 'Israel is anxiously following events.’ But on 26 January, the Israeli establishment was hopeful that its neighbours would fail in their struggle for democracy. The daily Ma'ariv, under the headline 'Trusting Mubarak', said: 'Israeli officials are optimistic: Egypt will overcome’ – ‘Egypt’ here and elsewhere meaning the despotic administration, not the people.
The 'Palestine Papers' being published this week by al-Jazeera confirm in every detail what many Palestinians have suspected for a long time: their leaders have been collaborating in the most shameful fashion with Israel and the United States. Their grovelling is described in grim detail. The process, though few accepted it at the time, began with the much-trumpeted Oslo Accords, described by Edward Said in the LRB at the time as a ‘Palestinian Versailles'. Even he would have been taken aback by the sheer scale of what the PLO leadership agreed to surrender: virtually everything except their own salaries. Their weaknesses, inadequacies and cravenness are now in the public domain.
The CIA announced yesterday that it has set up a task force with a rude acronym to assess the damage caused by WikiLeaks. So far, more trouble seems to have been caused by the bare fact of the leak, and the sheer scale of it, than by the content of any of the published cables.
For the most part we see able, professional diplomats doing their best to understand and report on the places where they’re stationed, as anyone familiar with the State Department would expect. Those I have looked at (mostly from or concerning the Middle East) are classified up to ‘secret’, which is supposed to mean the information in them would cause ‘grave damage’ to national security if made public. One lesson is that over-classification, which is a form of bad security, is even more prevalent in the State Department today than it was in the British diplomatic service when I served in it.
Imagine a sheriff offering the head of a criminal gang the following deal: ‘If you agree to stop stealing from your neighbours for three months, I’ll give you cutting edge weaponry and block any efforts by other law enforcement authorities to restrain your criminal activities.’ Sounds absurd? Then how about this: in return for a three-month freeze of illegal construction in the occupied West Bank (but not in occupied East Jerusalem, where it may continue), Barack Obama has promised to deliver 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel, a deal worth $3 billion.
Would Meryl Streep, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon be willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and its policies in order to receive public funding for feature films that they star in, direct or produce? In Israel, the far-right Knesset member Michael Ben Ari has proposed a bill that would require entire film crews to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and to declare loyalty to its laws and symbols, as a condition for receiving public funding. It’s just one of more than ten bills to be discussed during the Knesset’s winter session that several commentators in Ha’aretz have characterised as proto-fascist.
I recently returned to the US from a week in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. I arrived in the city on Sunday, 26 September, the day the temporary freeze on Israeli settlements was set to expire. I was staying with a friend in Sheikh Jarrah, metres away from where two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes last year; more are expected to be forced out in the coming months. As the end of the settlement freeze came and went, what struck me most about it, and about the latest round of peace negotiations of which it was a part, was their utter irrelevance to the realities of Palestinian life.
Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv claims to be the largest university in Israel. Its official goal is to cultivate and combine ‘Jewish identity and tradition with modern technologies and research’. Fifteen years ago, after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by one of its students, the university set out to temper its right-wing tendencies and become a more liberal institution guided by ostensibly neutral professional procedures and regulations. Bar-Ilan may have continued to provide accreditation for two colleges in illegal West Bank settlements, but it also developed an excellent gender studies programme and hired a number of left-wing academics.
The UK supplies Israel with a steady stream of arms on a 'case-by-case basis', although none of them are supposed to be used inside the Occupied Territories. In practice there is no way of knowing what Israel does with the kit it buys, so British companies are restricted from selling things, including fighter parts and missile systems, that have been used in the Occupied Territories in the past. But under the current rules the US can still tranship this kind of hardware to Israel through the UK.
Two months before Richard Reid tried to blow up American Airlines 63 with his high-tops, he took a flight to Israel on El Al. The airline's security team questioned him, as they do all passengers, and couldn't find a reason not to let him fly; but his body was searched, his luggage was put through a decompression chamber and hand-checked, and an air marshal was put in the seat next to him. El Al likes to boast that the 9/11 hijackers would never have succeeded on one of their planes: I don't disbelieve them. Last week I flew from London to Tel Aviv and back on El Al.
Last week, Israel permitted the transport of jam, halva and shaving razors into Gaza. Since September 2007, goods entering Gaza had been limited to a 'humanitarian minimum' of approximately 70 items of foodstuffs and medicines (4000 items were allowed in before the blockade). During a visit to Gaza in February 2009, John Kerry discovered that Israel had banned pasta but not rice, because the latter was considered a necessity while the former was a luxury.
On Thursday, the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul held a funeral for the dead from the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships of the Gaza flotilla. Many of the mourners were activists from IHH, the Islamic charity that organised the flotilla. Children swung Palestinian and, in some cases, Hizbullah flags; women in black chador wore green 'We are all Palestinian' headbands; others were in Turkish headscarfs and matching outfits; still others, jeans and T-shirts. From the packed mosque courtyard came shouts of 'Katil Israil' and 'Kahrolsun Israil' ('Murderer Israel', 'Damn Israel'). It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those words in Turkey, but it was a striking moment. Turkey and Israel have always, at least officially, been allies in a region where Israel has few friends. The flotilla incident has probably changed their relationship for ever.
In Israel, almost all of the protests against the navy’s assault on the relief flotilla took place in Palestinian space. Palestinian citizens in almost every major town and city, from Nazareth to Sachnin and from Arabe to Shfaram, demonstrated against the assault that left nine people dead and many more wounded. The one-day general strike called for by the Palestinian leadership within Israel was, for the most part, adhered to only by Arab citizens. In Jewish space, by contrast, business continued as usual.
It has become a pattern. Israel takes shocking action, as in Lebanon in 2006 where it killed 1000, Gaza in 2008-9 where 1400 people died (mostly civilians in both cases), and now its act of state terrorism on the high seas against a humanitarian mission to relieve the siege of Gaza. Then Israeli leaders complain that those who criticise their actions are 'delegitimising' the state of Israel. A real friend of Israel would tell its leaders that it is mainly their own actions that are undermining Israel’s standing in the world – actions that are not legitimate by any standard of international law, morality or even common sense. The deeper story here is the illegal blockade by Israel (with the connivance of Egypt) of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants who live in the world’s largest open-air prison.
Tariq Ali speaking outside Downing Street after the attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza: His talk on 'Obama's War', delivered on 19 April, will be available on the LRB webs
Michael Rubin of the National Reviewwrites: One final note on proportionality: Fifteen “peace” activists dead is a tragedy, but they represent only one one-thousandth of the death toll of a French heatwave.
On 22 September 1979 at about 1 a.m. GMT, a US Vela satellite passing over the South Atlantic detected a double flash of light in the vicinity of Prince Edward Island. The satellite had been launched in 1969 in order to detect atmospheric nuclear tests. When a nuclear weapon explodes in the atmosphere, the heat of the fireball strips the electrons off the atoms and molecules of the surrounding air. For a fraction of a second the ionised air is opaque, until the blast blows it away. The resulting double flash is the signature of a nuclear explosion. At the time the Vela had successfully detected 41 such explosions. Guy Barasch of Los Alamos, the laboratory which ran the Vela programme, concluded that ‘naturally occurring signals would not be mistaken for that of a nuclear explosion’ and that
Since the publication of his UN report charging Israel (and Hamas) with war crimes, Richard Goldstone has been subjected to a well-orchestrated delegitimisation campaign by Israel. Most recently, new 'revealing information’ was disseminated to the press, accusing the Jewish Zionist South African judge of sentencing 28 black South Africans to death during the apartheid years. 'The judge who sentenced black people to death,' said the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, ‘should not be allowed to lecture a democratic state defending itself against terrorists.'
The ongoing character assassination of Goldstone isn't an isolated case, but should be seen as part of a large-scale state-branding exercise by Israel. In 2004, the Foreign Ministry hired a number of international PR firms to improve Israel's global reputation. In the words of Ido Aharoni, the head of the ministry's brand management team:
Last Thursday John Mearsheimer gave a talk at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, entitled 'The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews v. the New Afrikaners': The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.
In the wake of Vice President Joe Biden’s ill-fated trip to Israel last week, many people would agree with the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's remark that ‘Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975… a crisis of historic proportions.’ Like all crises, this one will eventually go away. However, this bitter fight has disturbing implications for Israelis and their American supporters. First, the events of the past week make it clear in ways that we have not seen in the past that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States, not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was. Specifically, the Obama administration has unambiguously declared that Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, are doing serious damage to US interests in the region. Indeed, Biden reportedly told the Israeli prime minister, Binyahim Netanyahu, in private: This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace. If that message begins to resonate with the American public, unconditional support for the Jewish state is likely to evaporate.
In early October the Palestinian Authority dropped its draft resolution calling for a discussion of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court. The 575-page report was, by all accounts, one of the most exhaustive and withering studies to date of Israeli war crimes. It also chastised the PA’s rival, Hamas, for firing rockets at Israeli civilians. The PA, which looked on at the Gaza war from distant Ramallah, would seem to have nothing to lose in light of the report's findings, and everything to gain. Yet the PA’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, was persuaded that going forward with its resolution would give the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a pretext to avoid resuming negotiations – and the resolution would, in any case, be vetoed by the Obama administration.
Haifa al-Khalidi says that she's not a librarian. Fine. But the al-Khalidi collection on 116 Bab al-Silsilah Street in the old city of Jerusalem doesn't pretend to be anything other than a library so maybe Haifa simply means she's not a scholar, even if she's now acquainted with a thousand rare manuscripts and many more works in print that are housed here. One of the first she shows us is a beautifully decorated Arabic translation of a work on poisons and remedies by a 12th-century Indian physician. (Later I learn it contains a tale about metabolic resistance and how it's possible, carefully and slowly, to administer a poison to a subject whose antibodies enable him to survive, even though someone else who touches him will die.
Last week in the Occupied Territories, a bunch of (mainly) British writers, guests of the Palestine Festival of Literature, were asked to run workshops for the students at Birzeit. I was paired up with Robin Yassin-Kassab, the author of The Road from Damascus. Our workshop title was 'the role of writing in creating new political realities'. Right. Something about change then. Yassin-Kassab is a novelist; he knows what it is to ring the changes. I'm a journalist; I know how to change an inkjet cartridge. But we both agree that shouting tends to lock 'old' political realities in place, so why not turn this into an experiment about making a point without banging a drum?
A good way to grasp what's happening to East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories is from the air. Google Earth can do that for you, but there's a history of contention: in 2006, users created tags for Palestinian villages that were destroyed during the war of 1948-49; the following year Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades were said to be checking potential Israeli military targets against Google Earth pictures; last year there was a controversy over the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam, when a user called Thameen Darby posted a note claiming it was formerly a Palestinian locality 'evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war'. Kiryat Yam, its residents protested as they reached for the nearest lawyer, was built in the 1930s.
Last week, the Palestine Festival of Literature organised a discussion about travel and writing at the Dar Annadwa cultural centre in Bethlehem. One of Palfest's star guests, touring the West Bank and East Jersualem, was Michael Palin, whose early glories, before his reinvention as a traveller, were much on people's minds. He spoke well about growing up in Sheffield and cultivating a passion for Hemingway, but the audience was delighted when someone suggested that living under Israeli occupation was a bit like being in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. As the panellists stood up and tidied their books, a young Palestinian in the seat in front of me said she couldn't believe we were all with Palin in Bethlehem – Bethlehem! – and no one had thought to ask about Monty Python's Life of Brian. But with two other writers on the stage, there'd been a lot of ground to cover.