Thursday, 14 August 2014

Resources for reality-based discussion of Israel/Palestine

I want to use this page to record links to important information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is useful for busting myths put about by either side.

Firstly, this book by Michael Palumbo is in my opinion a well supported critical analysis of Israel's role in the Nakba.  It uses a lot of neutral sources, especially foreign and UN observers.  Although I don't think he can establish his case that the Israeli authorities had a deliberate prior masterplan to expel the Palestinians from a wide area of the country, he does establish clearly what Israeli forces did, where and when to force Palestinians out.  The main virtue of the book is its disproof of the myth that the Palestinians were not expelled from Israel in 1947-8.  It can be found second-hand online.  His critique of Benny Morris and the Israeli revisionist school in general is here.

The second is background rather than news, a myth about the Palestinians that is more stubborn than all the rest: that Arafat rejected a wonderful Israeli peace offer at Camp David in 2000. This was a version of events put about by Denis Ross and Bill Clinton, and repeated by people who don't realise that several other witnesses to those talks give a different view...

Robert Malley, special assistant to Clinton: "it fails to capture why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer."  Or in the words of Aaron David Miller, Ross' assistant: "There was not a formalized, written proposal that covered the four core issues. There was no deal on the table. None of the issues were explained enough in detail to make an agreement..."   And anyone who wants to take the time to understand the Pal point of view can read this account by a member of their negotiating team.  Lastly, here is how Gush Shalom visualised what Barak was suggesting.  So, please, no more of this myth from anybody who hasn't taken the time to consider different points of view provided by a variety of witnesses.

There have also been two exposés of the failure of recent (2014) Israel-PA negotiations.

Thirdly, regarding the fighting in Gaza in 2014, the scale of misinformation over Israel and Gaza was mind-boggling. Firstly, the original kidnapping was apparently carried out by a rogue Hamas affiliate, not Hamas HQ.  [Edit: a Hamas leader later made a claim of responsibility in the name of the organisation.]  Secondly, the Israeli government apparently knew the boys had been quickly killed, but gagged the media from revealing this and took the crisis as an opportunity to "mow the grass" as it were in the West Bank.  Thirdly, the government apparently lied about tunnels infiltrating into kibbutzim to target kindergartens and other civilian areas.  It was also problematic for critics of Israel that while they debunked many such claims from the government during the fighting, they had nothing to say about the real existence of Hamas' tunnels, and thus failed to shift the government's best argument for justifying its military actions.

Fourthly, a lot of Liberal Zionists seem to operate with an out-of-date concept of what Israeli society and politics are like.  People need to realise that Israel today is not the Israel of the mid-'90s, where relatively tolerant, liberal people led the culture. Years of both trauma and incitement, and the ballooning of the extreme right wing, have transformed public culture so that hatred, racism and vengeance against Palestinians are rife, and humane, peace-loving people are hounded as traitorous "leftists". A selection of relevant examples: Please note, it is Jewish Israelis themselves who describe their country so - I will put one or two examples below - but for an unvarnished look at the Israeli right wing, this book is essential.

A couple of those examples:
But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits - some cynical, some sincere - who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.
All the seeds of the incitement of the past few years, all the nationalistic, racist legislation and the incendiary propaganda, the scare campaigns and the subversion of democracy by the right-wing camp – all these have borne fruit, and that fruit is rank and rotten. The nationalist right has now sunk to a new level, with almost the whole country following in its wake. The word “fascism,” which I try to use as little as possible, finally has its deserved place in the Israeli political discourse.

Fifthly, more comment than fact, I want to add my voice to calls for a non-violent protest strategy for the Palestinians.  Far be it from me to lecture Palestinians on how to respond to oppression. But I agree with Mustafa Barghouti, Mubarak Awad, and others, that non-violent resistance is the only game in town. There is Palestinian non-violent resistance going on all the time, but, so long as there is a terrorist threat, Israel is able to continue tear-gassing and shooting down protesters with impunity. The real threat of terrorism covers a multitude of Israeli sins. But imagine if the militants gave up their weapons, and thousands of unarmed Palestinians converged on the Wall, on East Jerusalem, into the settlements, onto their stolen olive-groves... even AIPAC could not contain the outrage that would result from the IDF using violence against resolutely non-violent mass protests - if there were only no terrorist threat to dilute and distract from the raw reality of Israeli occupation and oppression. (As if to confirm the Israeli response to non-violent protest, Mustafa Barghouti's resolutely non-violent PNI had its offices sacked during Operation Brother's Keeper.)

There is a case to be made that the best the Palestinians have ever done at invoking international support was at the time of the First Intifada, and that this uprising was perceived abroad (if not by the Israeli public and despite stone-throwing) as an overwhelmingly non-violent one: only 14 Israeli soldiers were killed in occupied territory, 1987-91, and Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom wrote, two years in: "Practically no weapons have been used against the occupation army. No one doubts that secret arsenals of guns exist in the occupied territories - they are, in fact, used to execute informers - yet the decision not to use them against the occupation soldiers has been generally obeyed. This is all the more remarkable, and perhaps even unique, if one considers that thousands of close relatives of people killed, maimed and imprisoned are seething with rage."  That quotation and much more in this book.

I don't know if a fully non-violent national campaign would succeed in moving US policy towards pressurising Israel in the event that the Israeli government continued to deny a state to a non-violent Palestinian people.  There is some historical warrant for hoping so in the criticism and pressure directed towards the Israeli government by the Bush senior administration.  However Bush blamed the Israel lobby for his failure to win re-election, which illustrates its power to control US policy.  Its influence over Congress is especially strong.  I don't know if non-violence would achieve sufficient public and political pressure in the US to push Israel into conceding a viable Palestinian state; I don't know if it would be a largely sufficient factor.  But I do think it is a necessary one.  I just can't see a Palestinian state emerging while Hamas is militarised: the Israeli government will certainly never allow a state that is not demilitarised, inhabited by militants who are not defanged and conciliatory; and the US government will never go very far to pressure the Israelis if they under any sort of threat.

I am a little unusual, I think, in that I am both highly critical of Israel's regime of oppression of the Palestinians, and scathingly critical of Hamas for its criminal, quixotic and counter-productive strategy of armed, largely terroristic struggle.  The Palestinians would be able to struggle much more effectively for a state and a just settlement of the right of return (e.g. compensation) if the Hamas extremists did not futilely strive to destroy Israel.  Unlike most critics of Israel, I think Hamas bears the largest part of the blame for the failure of the Palestinians to gain something close to an independent state since the Oslo Accords.  I'm not sure that most people critical of Israel today realise that Hamas embarked on suicide-bombing campaigns in the 1990s precisely to destroy the peace process.  As Amira Hass, the Israeli journalist, who was living in Gaza at the time explained it: "[suicide bombing] had a clear political motive on the part of Hamas, and this was to foil the Oslo agreements, or to push to a corner the Palestinian Authority. This is, I think, is obvious."  It can be debated whether Hamas opposed the peace process out of refusal of two states in principle, or else more narrowly because they regarded this particular peace process as a "security arrangement" and continuation of occupation in a new form through the Palestinian Authority rather than a genuine peace process.  Leaders made statements of both kinds and I suspect Hamas was divided and ambiguous on this issue then as now.

I am not so naive as to imagine Hamas would ever declare decisively for non-violence.  And when a necessary condition for a realistic peace is impossible, the issue becomes academic, and only a despairing expectation of more of the same spasmodic violence and death is left.

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