Trump has announced the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in six months. Will Jared be there for the ceremony, or under house arrest like Paul Manafort?
Free speech hypocrisyAmid a national furor of the claimed right of Nazis and white supremacists like Richard Spencer to speak on college campuses, establishment media and politicians seldom criticize the growing censorship around Israel.But journalist Glenn Greenwald commented that the move by Dickinson again demonstrates that “the greatest and most frequent threat to free speech in the West is the attempt to criminalize and outlaw activism against Israel.”
The identification also stems from the shared history that Northern Ireland was created through imposed partition, for the benefit of a settler-colonial group, against the wishes and rights of the indigenous population, just like Israel’s 1948 creation in Palestine.The DUP “identify with Israel fighting for its survival, and they feel the international media is unfairly hostile to Israel just as they believe it was hostile to their own cause,”
“reminds me more than ever of the unionists in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s,” he observed. Like Israelis, unionists were a community “with a highly developed siege mentality which led them always to see themselves as victims even when they were killing other people. There were no regrets or even knowledge of what they inflicted on others and therefore any retaliation by the other side appeared as unprovoked aggression inspired by unreasoning hate.”
At the very least, he doesn’t seem fully aware of his surroundings.
Australia distances itself from the concluding statement of the Middle East Peace conference in Paris, where countries met to try to revive the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Federal Government defends its foreign aid program following criticism from former prime minister Tony Abbott of the money sent to help the Palestinian Authority.
From race baiting to fear mongering to warning of liberal media conspiracies against him, the Republican presidential candidate is doing exactly what Netanyahu did to get re-elected. But the Israeli prime minister had something Trump doesn’t. There is a lot about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that is worryingly reminiscent of Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral antics, particularly his willingness to say just about anything, regardless of the consequences as long as he thinks it might be politically expedient. Beyond style and personality, however, the tactical similarities in their respective campaigns’ final stretches are even more disturbing. In particular, Trump’s recent, wildly unspecified warnings…
The truth about Syria and what is happening in Syria is all here, in the video below, outlined and documented during this press briefing by the U.S. Peace Council (USPC).We cannot be sure how l…
Source: U.S. Peace Council returns from Syria: “It is not President Assad against his own people, it is President Assad and the Syrian people, all together, against outside mercenary forces, terror organisations, supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United States, and underneath it, Israel” | the real Syrian Free Press
There’s free speech, and then there’s speech free of a moral base. Michael Brull explains the difference. We constantly hear about how freedom of speech is under attack in Australia. Mostly, these calls ramp up when someone says something offensive about Muslims or Aboriginal people. If people request an apology, that is treated as someMore
Militants in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo continue to receive help from foreign powers that support the forces opposing President Assad’s troops, the Financial Times reports. That’s despite Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists forming a large part of the opposition.
By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – – The Egyptian news site the Arab Observer Network reports that the …
If you’d have said a year ago that the US State Department, Google, and Al Jazeera had been collaborating in pursuance of regime change in Syria, chances are you’d have been casually dismissed as a ‘crank’ and a ‘conspiracy theorist’.
France’s foreign minister has said Turkey may no longer be a viable partner in the fight against Isis in Syria, while Syrian state media has claimed the failed coup in the country was fabricated by President Erdogan to tarnish the military’s reputation.
The so-called “dissent channel” cable urges attacks against Bashir al-Assad’s regime for its persistent violations of a shaky ceasefire aimed at bringing an end to
Bernie Sanders is not only taking on the Washington establishment in his campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, he is also challenging many of the received truths that make up the ideological foundations upon which its power rests.
Michael Brull spoke at a one-day symposium in Melbourne last week, organised by Australians For Palestine. Following is an edited version of that speech. In speaking today, I was asked to discuss why Australian journalists go on propaganda tours of Israel, instead of looking at how Israel oppresses the Palestinians. For some journalists, the answerMore
Remarks by the most outlandish Republican candidates represent, in the best case scenario, the more moderate positions of Israel’s prime ministers since the state’s founding. By Abed Abu Shehada Let’s imagine for a second that…
The operation transporting them to Israel almost brings to an end the Jewish community in Yemen, which once numbered around 60,000 people and dates back some 2,000
By IMEMC | – – Palestinians are joining the Middle East exodus to Europe in greater numbers because of the …
A group of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans, who call themselves ‘Breaking the Silence’, are trying to expose the reality of IDF actions in the occupied territories. However, it stands accused of posing a threat to Israel by the country’s top politicians.
I still remember that smug look on his face, followed by the matter-of-fact remarks that had western journalists laugh out loud. “I’m now going to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq,” G…
What’s happening in Syria has some chilling historical resonances.
Source: Mummy, how do wars start?
Three generations of Palestinian women reflect on how female fighters have always been a part of the resistance.
Michael Brull explains the recent escalation in violence in Palestine and Israel, which is centred around a series of knife attacks.
Michael Brull explains the role of Fatah in the spate of recent stabbings in Israel and Palestine.
Palestinian leaders call Israel’s decision to withhold tax transfers an act of piracy and ‘collective punishment’
Israel has halted transfers of the tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinians in retaliation for their move to join the international criminal court in the Hague, according to Israeli media.
The Palestinians announced earlier this week that they are joining the international criminal court in the Hague to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel. The move is meant to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories that Palestinians demand for a future state.
The move drew threats of retaliation from Israel and criticism from the US government, which called it “counterproductive”.
The daily newspaper Haaretz reported on Saturday that Israel had decided to withhold the taxes it collects for the Palestinians under the current interim peace accords and transfers each month to the Palestinian Authority. December’s tax transfer is about $127m, according to Haaretz.
An unnamed Israeli government official confirmed the substance of the reports but refused to elaborate.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat lashed out at the Israeli manoeuvre, calling it an act of piracy and a “collective punishment” against the Palestinian people.
“If Israel thinks that through economic pressure it will succeed in diverting our approach from freedom and independence, then it is wrong,” Erekat told the Associated Press. “This is the money of the Palestinian people and Israel is not a donor country.”
Israel has stopped tax transfers before but such freezes have been short-lived.
Withholding the funds is just one of several actions Israel could take against the Palestinians, including expanding West Bank settlement construction and curbing certain privileges. Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Saturday night that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would convene his cabinet in the coming days to discuss further retaliatory steps. The US government has not said how it will react, but it provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.
Turning to the international court at the Hague marks a major policy shift, transforming Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile.
Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to take stronger action against Israel amid months of rising tensions over the collapse of US-brokered peace talks last spring, a 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza over the summer, a recent spate of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis, and unrest over access to a key holy site in Jerusalem.
Richard Falk, a Nation editorial-board member and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, was the UN’s special rapporteur for occupied Palestine from 2008 to 2014. This article is adapted from his Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture, delivered at Columbia University on October 20, 2014.
Although there are many eloquent, courageous, inspiring and culturally creative Palestinians, none have managed to extend their influence as widely and deeply as Edward Said did, particularly during the post-Orientalism phase of his life, when he combined superb and seminal cultural criticism from a progressive standpoint with perceptive and influential commentary on the ups and downs of the Palestinian national struggle.
My main focus will be to reflect upon Edward’s fascinating essay “On Lost Causes,” which combines intriguing literary assessments with his complex understanding of the Palestinian ordeal and destiny. This essay was one of his last major interpretive contributions, being the published form of a Tanner Lecture given at the University of Utah in 1997. According to his friend and associate Andrew Rubin, Edward regarded it as the publication that satisfied him most in the final period of his life.
Part of my interest in this theme of “lost causes” derives from a rather tense encounter I had with the French ambassador to the United Nations at a private dinner at the end of my term as UN special rapporteur for occupied Palestine. Our host, who had invited a dozen or so diplomats to comment upon the Israel-Palestine conflict, started the ball rolling with a very provocative statement: “Let’s face it: the conflict is over, Israel has won, the Palestinians have been defeated, and there is nothing more to be done or said. I am not happy about this, but this is the reality. We should move on.” What follows can be seen as a more considered response to this diplomat’s stance of cynical realism: it is my insistence that Palestine is not a lost cause, and that even if it were a lost cause from the perspective of realism, a continued commitment to it is greatly preferable to defeatist resignation and indifference toward such a grossly unjust outcome of such an epic struggle.
My deeper conviction is that the appearance of Palestinian defeat is an optical illusion that hides the probability of eventual Israeli defeat—that while Israel is winning one war due to its military dominance and continuous establishment of “facts on the ground,” Palestine is winning what in the end is the more important war, the struggle for legitimacy, which is most likely to determine the political outcome. If we examine conflicts over the past fifty years involving struggles against foreign and especially colonial occupation, we come to the astonishing conclusion that in most cases, the side that was weaker militarily controlled the political outcome. The side with the greater perseverance and resilience, not the side that controlled the battlefield, won in the end.
As the US government should have learned in Vietnam, military superiority has lost most of its potency in politically and ethically oriented conflicts against foreign—especially Western—domination. The lesson was captured by the extraordinary ending of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers, in which the seemingly defeated Algerian national liberation movement miraculously achieved victory over French colonialism. As George W. Bush discovered in Iraq, it is possible for the Western intervenor to win the first type of war easily, and yet go on to lose the vital legitimacy struggle that follows. “Mission accomplished” is acknowledged, many deaths later, as “Mission impossible.”
* * *
Some years ago, I lent emotional support to a Hawaiian native-rights movement and came to know its inspirational leader, Kekuni Blaisdell. Blaisdell, who was from a leading Hawaiian family, succeeded professionally as a medical doctor in the Westernized world of modern Hawaii, more or less ignoring his own background and the degree to which traditional Hawaii was a casualty of American colonizing ambitions. Awakening to his native past in midlife, Kekuni learned the Hawaiian language and its songs, dedicating himself to the small but determined independence movement and to the memory of the lost Hawaiian kingdom. Surely this was the adoption of a lost cause, a life choice in contradiction to that of the opportunist who joins what realists would identify as the winning side. Yet Kekuni became fulfilled in ways that far transcended his earlier professional success or the kind of life experience of Hawaiians who passively accepted the historical verdict of their defeat. Somehow, his luminous dedication generated a love and devotion that was quite unrelated to the awareness that his vision of a restored Hawaii seemed doomed.
In a similar vein, Edward in his essay on lost causes refers to the Japanese veneration of “noble failure” as a superior course of action in life. His prime literary example is Don Quixote, whose absurd mission to revive the chivalric way of life in Spain is also doomed to failure, but who achieves personal distinction by embodying in his life a redemptive vision. This faith in the unrealizable achieves a fulfilling repudiation of what history has brought to pass, even if the glorified past cannot be reclaimed.
Edward is careful to distinguish cultural tropes in the domain of literary imagination from the realities of political struggle. In the essay, he identifies a lost cause as one “associated in the mind and in practice with a hopeless cause: that is, something you support or believe in that can no longer be believed in except as something without hope of achievement.” He goes on to say, “The time for conviction and belief has passed, the cause no longer seems to contain any validity or promise, although it may once have possessed both.” At that point, he poses what he calls “the crucial question,” which is to decide whether such a judgment hinges on interpretation alone or is based on objective circumstances. In this respect, the lostness of a lost cause is itself problematized. Edward himself refers to the example of Hawaiian independence, observing that what seems lost at the moment may become attainable at some future time when circumstances change beyond our powers of anticipation, as they constantly do. Ironically, of course, this was the experience of the Zionist project, which would almost certainly have remained a lost cause without the drastically changed circumstances brought about by the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust.
But there exists a contrary view that effectively denies the contingency of experience and places its trust in the reliability of appearances, an attitude expressed by the French diplomat. Edward describes such an outlook as that of “a strict determinist about the survival only of powerful nations and peoples.” In that case, as he points out, “the cause of native rights in Hawaii, or Gypsies or Australian aborigines, is always necessarily a lost cause, something both predestined to lose out and, because of belief in the overall narrative of power, required to lose.”
Before turning to the present phase of the Palestinian struggle, an additional line of thinking suggested by the antirealism of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek seems relevant. In effect, they argue, it is only lost causes that possess the empowering potential to address the challenges confronting humanity. In this sense, abandoning the Enlightenment legacy of relying on the guidance of instrumental reason, Zizek argues for “faith in lost Causes, Causes that, from within the space of skeptical wisdom, cannot but appear as crazy.” It’s worth remembering an ironic quip common among early Zionist settlers: “You don’t have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps.” The point is that a burning faith in the unrealizable creates the possibility, however remote, that what seems beyond reach will at some point be reached.
But why strike such a posture? Zizek’s response, which I share and which is very different from the focused craziness proposed by the early Zionists, is expressed as follows: “The problem, of course, is that, in a time of crisis and ruptures, skeptical empirical wisdom itself, constrained to the horizons of the dominant form of common sense, cannot provide the answers, so one must risk a Leap of Faith.” Put more simply, the realm of the feasible, which is the theater of everyday politics theorized as “the art of the possible,” cannot address the challenges confronting people existing in circumstances of oppression, occupation and servitude. From their perspective, a dedication to what seems impossible from a realistic viewpoint is, in truth, the only realism with emancipatory potential. It provides the only alternative to the sullen acceptance of the intolerable. In a global historical sense, this insight is most vividly demonstrated by the inability of the powers-that-be to solve the challenges of nuclear weapons and climate change, which imperil the future of human civilization and even the survival of our species.
In this regard, Zizek quotes approvingly the provocation of Samuel Beckett—“After one fails, one can go on and fail better”—which for Zizek contrasts with the prevailing posture of “indifference” toward the human condition that “drowns us deeper and deeper in the morass of imbecilic Being.” The courage to embark on a utopian project of the sort associated with revolutionary movements, despite the history of disillusionment and failure, contains what Zizek calls “a redemptive moment” because it displays the willingness to struggle and even die on behalf of a better human future. Without such a willingness, we humans seem doomed to extinction.
Since we can never know what the future holds, and since much that once seemed impossible has happened, no worthy cause is definitively lost. Related to this affirmation is the idea that dedication to a noble cause, whether viewed as lost or not, is itself individually and collectively redemptive. We should also realize that the history of struggle for freedom and justice, despite being obstructed by the brutal forces of reaction, needs to continue. Without such aspirations and struggle, the world and those of us in it are lost. Goethe expressed this thought in the patriarchal language of his day: “He who strives, him we may save.” This brings to mind Sisyphus, consigned to push a heavy boulder forever up the side of a mountain, knowing that near the top it will fall to the bottom, with the process repeating over and over. When Albert Camus says that we can imagine Sisyphus “happy” with this destiny, he is also conveying a pessimistic version of this insight—that the best we can hope for in life is to struggle for what is better, even if while doing so we know that failure is inevitable and hope irrelevant.
* * *
When Edward turns in the middle of his essay from literature to his own existential connection with the theme of lost causes, he asks two preliminary questions: “What if we try to grapple with lost causes in the public political world where efforts on behalf of causes actually take place? Is there the same ironized inevitability there, or do subjective hope and renewed effort make a lost cause something to be refused as defeatism?” Edward here poses in the abstract the crucial issue of whether what is noble in literature becomes ethically unacceptable in the lifeworld of political struggle. He personalizes this issue, saying: “Here I can do no better than to offer my personal experience as a politically active Palestinian as evidence, particularly as these have crystallized since the watershed Oslo agreement of September 1993.”
It is worth noting that 1993 was what I would call the second awakening of Edward Said in relation to the Palestinian national movement. The first is well-known: the impact of the 1967 war, moving Edward from immersion in his professional role as a prominent literary critic to an activist role as a leading public intellectual espousing the Palestinian cause. In other words, it was in the wake of what appeared to be the most humiliating political and military defeat for the Palestinians that Edward decided to devote his mind and heart to the struggle.
Less well-known is his 1993 turning point, when Edward’s mounting skepticism about the direction of the PLO’s leadership reached a climax in reaction to the Oslo accords, which most non-Palestinians at the time hailed as a breakthrough for peace. It was Edward’s judgment that Yasir Arafat and the PLO leadership, by agreeing to a diplomatic framework slanted heavily toward Israel, had effectively surrendered, thus accepting that their struggle had indeed become a “lost cause” in the falsely definitive sense. Edward resigned from the Palestinian National Council, pointedly refusing to walk down this path of defeatism. More than twenty years later, the principled wisdom of his position is finally being widely acknowledged.
To explain his different phases of engagement with the Palestinian cause, Edward contrasts the resurgent nationalism that occurred after the 1967 experience with the defeatist diplomacy leading up to and following from 1993. Indicting PLO defeatism, Edward observes that “it seemed neither appropriate nor really possible to see ourselves in terms of other dispossessed and forgotten peoples like the Armenians, American Indians, Tasmanians, Gypsies, and Australian aborigines.” Putting aside his controversial and mistaken presumption that these defeated peoples are “forgotten,” his point of contrast is sharp: “On the contrary, we modeled ourselves on the Vietnamese people, whose resistance to U.S. intervention seemed exactly what we should undertake.” Edward acknowledged the inspiration he received from the writings of Frantz Fanon and the exploits of Vietnam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. It is crucial to understand that the “we” in his phrasing is a reference to the Palestinian people of his persuasion, not to the leaders who represent Palestine on the global diplomatic stage.
From the perspective of “lost causes,” Edward’s choice of Fanon and Vietnam is illuminating. The Vietnamese were somehow able to turn their seemingly lost cause on the battlefield into a miracle of political victory. This capacity for resilience and steadfastness—what Palestinians call sumud—on the part of the peoples of the South during their struggle against Western colonial rule is a reality that the United States and Israel have yet to appreciate, as borne out by their failed interventions in the period since the 9/11 attacks (Israel in Gaza and Lebanon; the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria).
Edward was careful to put his commitment to the Palestinian lost cause in a global context: “We saw ourselves as a Third World people, subjected to colonialism and oppression, now undertaking our own self-liberation from domination as well as the liberation of our territory.” In a later passage, he faults the Palestinians for falling into the tactical and propaganda trap set by their adversaries of being perceived as “terrorists,” which he contends was never the true ethos of the movement. He insists that the Palestinian movement was and should remain secular and democratic in its essential ambition, and thus profoundly different from politics elsewhere in the region, which he considers postnationalist and oriented around some form of Islam. He believed that the Palestinian outlook was “a distinct advance over those of the Arab states, with their oligarchies, military dictatorships, brutal police regimes.” The question he confronted was whether, as a Palestinian, he should adopt a hopeful or defeatist view of what presented itself as a lost cause. In opting for the former, he was challenging the lostness of the Palestinian cause, while the PLO leadership, in opting for Oslo, was agreeing to swallow the bitter pill of defeat and its resulting humiliation of permanent subjugation in their own homeland.
* * *
Edward addresses the challenge of apparent defeat and the accompanying feelings of hopelessness, both in literature and in relation to the Palestinian situation, and gives a very different answer than my French ambassador. In effect, he turns away from this kind of worldly realism as irrelevant and affirms instead that the only true choice is between surrender and resistance. He chooses resistance—or, put differently, he declares a refusal to accept the unacceptable, however unfavorable the “facts on the ground.” In so doing, Edward inverts this sinister formula frequently invoked by Israel, one used to obtain Washington’s acceptance of the “realities” that trample upon Palestinians’ rights under international law.
To appreciate Edward’s rejection of Oslo, it is necessary to consider what was wrong about it from a Palestinian viewpoint. I would point to four features:
1. The fragmentation, under the Oslo II agreement of 1995, of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C, making territorial coherence untenable.
2. The idea that Palestinian goals could be achieved only on the basis of Israeli consent, despite the fact that in 1967 the Security Council had unanimously mandated withdrawal from the territory occupied during that war.
3. The designation of Washington as the permanent intermediary for negotiations, despite its partisan alignment with Israel, which was already in the driver’s seat from a diplomatic perspective.
4. Perhaps most important of all, the exclusion from the negotiations of international law and UN authority, which had been the trump in the Palestinian deck of cards.
International law is clearly on the side of the Palestinians regarding their main claims and grievances, including borders, refugees, settlements, water rights and the status of Jerusalem, as well as the day-to-day practices associated with the occupation. Without the inclusion of Palestinian rights under international law, diplomacy degenerates into a bargaining process, which ensures that power disparities will be embodied in any negotiated solution.
Palestinian objections to Israeli settlement expansion as unlawful were rebuffed by Washington as unhelpful obstructions to the peace process. Palestinian humiliation was vividly expressed in Arafat’s acceptance of Oslo’s 1993 Declaration of Principles, which did not even refer to Palestine’s inalienable right of self-determination.
George W. Bush acquiesced in Israel’s unlawful activities, validating them outside the negotiating framework in his letter to Ariel Sharon of April 2004, in which Bush agreed that any end to the conflict must include the incorporation of settlement blocs into Israeli territory. When she was Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton added to this hegemonic sanction of illegality by referring to the settlement phenomenon as “subsequent developments” that must be acknowledged by the Palestinians.
The unreasonableness of the Oslo approach as a means to achieve a just peace is accentuated by the PLO’s 1988 Declaration of Independence, which, by acknowledging the UN’s 1947 partition plan and subsequent UN resolutions, effectively accepted Israel’s existence within the 1967 borders. Such a bold unilateral initiative, supported by Edward upon its announcement, renounced the PLO’s earlier refusal to accept the existence of Israel in any form and exhibited a willingness to swallow a territorial arrangement that accorded the Palestinians only 22 percent of historic Palestine. As is well-known, this was less than half of what the UN had offered in its 1947 partition plan, which at the time seemed grossly unfair, given the relative size of the Jewish and Palestinian populations. The fact that such a unilateral diplomatic initiative by the Palestinians failed to yield any acknowledgment from Israel, much less a reciprocal gesture, raises doubts as to whether Israel was ever really interested in achieving a two-state solution.
These elements of the overall situation are descriptive of the defeatist period of the Palestinian leadership, which seemed ready to settle for arrangements that disregarded Palestinian rights under international law. There was considerable anxiety among Palestinian intellectuals during the 2000 Camp David talks that Arafat might make a deal that accepted the settlements and relinquished the rights of several million Palestinian refugees. In fact, the second intifada was commonly interpreted as a grassroots Palestinian warning to the Palestinian Authority leadership as well as a rebuff to Israel. There were further disquieting developments in the Oslo period, including massive settlement expansion; a refusal by Israel to respect the 2004 International Court of Justice findings calling for the dismantling of the separation wall; an apartheid structure of occupation in the West Bank; a process of incremental ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem; and a harsh regime of collective punishment imposed on Gaza, which in the course of the last six years has endured three Israeli campaigns of state terror. These attacks were unprecedented in locking the civilian population into a combat zone and disallowing even women and children to claim refugee status by crossing the border or seeking secure sanctuary within Gaza.
* * *
Yet these dispiriting realities are far from the whole story of Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian leadership may have taken the defeatist route, but Palestinians as a people have kept their faith, by and large, in the necessity of resistance and of not giving up their long quest for a just and sustainable peace.
We need to remember that Edward transferred his energies from the bankruptcy of top-down diplomacy to the empowering potential of bottom-up militancy. This kind of activism can be seen most dramatically in the first intifada, a mobilization of Palestinian resistance from December 1987 to the early 1990s that was overwhelmingly nonviolent, yet withheld all forms of cooperation with the occupier. It was reinforced by the second intifada of the early 2000s, which was also in part a populist reaction to Israeli policies but lacked the nonviolent discipline of the earlier uprising. In 2005, a joint appeal from 170 Palestinian civil-society organizations to launch a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign represented a further shift in the direction of civil-society leadership and toward a movement of global solidarity that has been gaining momentum. This momentum was further accelerated by the moral outrage—especially strong in Western Europe—generated by this year’s fifty-one-day Israeli attack on Gaza.
What seemed a defining moment in 1993 has now been superseded by a cluster of events that created a new defining moment in 2014, which involves a reformulation of perceptions in relation to the struggle. In some ways, the situation from the Palestinian perspective has never seemed darker, undoubtedly making the cynical realist write-off of the conflict more prevalent. Consider the following developments:
§ In the latest direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu rejected any solution that would end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The collapse of the talks last spring confirms the futility of the Oslo approach. This posture is reinforced by the latest readings of Israeli public opinion: the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs released a poll in October showing that three-quarters of Israel’s citizens oppose the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders (even with settlement blocs incorporated into Israel); oppose withdrawal from the Jordan Valley in a peace agreement even if international peacekeeping forces replace the Israeli army; and oppose the division of Jerusalem. This suggests that even if Israel’s government truly sought a peace agreement that allows a two-state solution, the Israeli public would repudiate it.
§ The Arab gulf countries were passive accomplices in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza, in the summer of 2014, which fit their own agenda calling for the destruction of any grassroots Islamist political actors in the region.
§ Israeli public opinion was, according to the Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, 99 percent behind last summer’s Gaza campaign, in which Israel killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, injured another 11,000 and traumatized the entire population. In Israel, there were high-level government and other public incitements to genocide, with numerous unrepudiated statements calling for the wholesale destruction of civilian society in Gaza. The vivid testimony given in September at the Russell Tribunal by Canadian-Israeli journalist David Sheen provides persuasive documentation of the incitement charges.
§ Congress remains as unconditionally committed to Israel as ever, though there have been some signs of discomfort at the White House, which seems to want to sustain the credibility of the Oslo approach—despite all the evidence that Israel uses these periodic negotiations for the purposes of delay and propaganda, even as Palestine loses time and territory.
Israel thus faces little diplomatic pressure to resolve the conflict by negotiations and has no incentive of its own to do so. For Palestine, there exists only a fragile unity between the PLO and Hamas, and a debilitating dependence on Israel and the United States for the funds needed to maintain order in the territories under their administrative control. Despite this, one of the most brilliant Palestinian analysts of the conflict, Ali Abunimah, writes these startling sentences at the very beginning his fine new book The Battle for Justice in Palestine: “The Palestinians are winning. This might seem like hubris or even insensitivity. After all, in so many ways things have never looked worse.”
We must ask what Abunimah means by “winning,” and why he’s hopeful. He is, in effect, telling my French diplomat to look deeper at the overall picture if he wants to understand the reality of the conflict. “It is not a matter of how long you look that matters,” he says, “but what you see.” What should we see?
There are a few factors to consider: the discrediting of Oslo, the growth of the global solidarity movement, the moves toward Palestinian political unity, and the recognition of Israeli criminality and American complicity as pressure grows on the Palestinian Authority to take its case to the International Criminal Court. In addition, there is growing evidence that Israel is more worried about what it calls “the delegitimation project” than about the threats posed by armed resistance.
What Abunimah sees that the realist’s blinkered vision misses are the psycho-political dimensions of conflict in our postcolonial world. These dimensions center on the fact that denial of a population’s inalienable right to self-determination and other elemental rights has a powerful mobilizing effect. Such a denial of rights creates a deep awareness of illegitimacy that is further heightened by Israel’s defiance of international law, UN authority and universal standards of morality. These factors strengthen the will of Palestinians to resist and create a climate that encourages more militant forms of global solidarity.
* * *
Let me end with two sets of conclusions:
1. The Palestinian struggle will remain a lost cause in the French sense so long as the Oslo approach continues, which reduces Palestinian representation to “moderate” forces, excludes Hamas and endows the United States with the role of mediator. Though the recent recognition of Palestinian statehood by Sweden, Britain, Spain and France was welcome, it was also ambiguous to the extent that these countries justified their decision as support for the “moderate” Palestinians who could revive direct negotiations for a two-state solution. In effect, the message being sent is: “Oslo is dead—long live Oslo.” If an agreement is to work, it must reflect the will of the Palestinian people, not their current unrepresentative leaders, and it must not remain locked in a two-state mantra that has become irrelevant.
2. The Palestinian struggle is more than ever a lost cause in Edward’s uplifting sense of being centered on a commitment to self-determination achieved by resistance, reinforced by a global solidarity movement. This Palestinian resistance has gained momentum in its latest phase by relying primarily on nonviolent tactics of increasing militancy and by rejecting the defeatist notion that the Palestinian Authority speaks for the people as a whole. This public consensus also rejects, by and large, the view that Hamas speaks for the people, despite its recent popularity even in secular circles due to its resilience in last summer’s assault on Gaza.
This second commitment to the Palestinian “lost cause” is premised on the realization that people throughout the world have demonstrated historical agency in relation to the right of self-determination, and especially in relation to European colonialism. Such a resolve also includes accepting what Edward so often stressed: that Palestinian rights should never be realized through a second dispossession, that of the Jewish presence in historic Palestine. In effect, this presupposes Palestinian acceptance of the core Zionist idea of a Jewish “homeland” while rejecting both the notion of a Jewish state and the maximalist Zionist view, currently being implemented, that such a state should include the whole of historic Palestine, including the West Bank and Jerusalem. It is a hopeful sign that the Palestinian civil-society consensus explicitly accepts a permanent Jewish presence in historic Palestine.
Let me finish, then, with a reaffirmation of the complex relationship between our limited knowledge, especially of the future, and our political and moral will, which has the irreducible freedom to create its own horizons. It is for this reason alone that it is empowering to join with Edward Said in declaring our defense of lost causes, in this instance that of the Palestinian people, who have endured an unspeakable ordeal of victimization for so long. As in South Africa, where whites were able to remain after the collapse of the apartheid regime, it will take a comparable political miracle to reach a just and sustainable peace in Palestine, one that upholds the equal dignity of both peoples. In this spirit, I end with the enigmatic plea of the poet W.H. Auden: “We who are about to die demand a miracle.”
Syrian state TV claims Israel has bombed two installations, one near Damascus and one near the Lebanese border
Syria accused Israeli jets of bombing two installations inside the country on Sunday, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border.
The report by Syrian state television described the attack as “an aggression”. It said the air raids occurred near Damascus’s international airport and in the town of Dimas.
The state news agency Sana said: “The Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus international airport.” It said no casualties were reported.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials.
Speculation in the immediate aftermath suggested that the target of the strikes might have been advanced Russian-made S300 surface-to-air missiles.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the country’s civil war through a network of activists on the ground, said the strike near the Damascus airport hit a warehouse, and it was unclear what was in the building.
The Observatory said around 10 explosions could be heard outside a military area near Dimas. It had no word on casualties in either strike.
Israel has carried out several air strikes in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to take military action to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated weapons to its ally Hezbollah.
In June, Israel struck targets inside Syria, including a military installation, following a cross-border attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel said at the time that it had struck nine military targets inside its northern neighbour and had confirmed “direct hits”.
Palestinians pray in front of Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
The Israeli government is dropping the pretense of balancing the state’s Jewish and democratic nature.
The “Jewish nation-state” law, already approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday and yet to be presented for a vote in the Knesset this Wednesday, will enshrine in statute a situation that has been palpable on the ground for decades. Its discriminatory character, turning a large Arab Israeli minority into second-class citizens and delisting Arabic as an official language, will only confirm the ongoing discrimination that members of this group have been subjected to well before the drafting of the new law.
The fallout from this piece of legislation is likely to be purely symbolic, marking a shift in the Israeli ideology hailed by some right-wing elements of the Netanyahu government as a return to the basics of Zionism.
The schizophrenic self-presentation of the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic is coming to an end in a clear choice of the polity’s Jewish and non-democratic fibre. But exactly what does a “Jewish nation-state” mean?
The ideologues of the regime are quick to point out that there is no inherent tension between France being a French and democratic state, or Germany being a German and democratic country. But neither Frenchness nor Germanness is equivalent to Jewishness. Even if the majority of citizens in France and Germany are Christian, these states are not declared to be “Christian nation-states”.
Definition of Jewishness
So what if Jewishness were not identical to Judaism, that is to say, to the Jewish religion? In fact, the official discourse in Israel has been, for a long time and purposefully, blurring the distinctions between religion, nationality, and ethnicity.
The very definition of Jewishness according to the 1950 Law of Return is ambiguous, seeing that the two possible criteria are: having a Jewish mother or converting to Judaism. The first criterion is biological, while the second is religious.
Amendment 2, passed in 1970, accentuates the religious component, bestowing the right of immigration on “a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion”. In other words, it is not enough to have been born of a Jewish woman in order to be considered a Jew; the act of conversion from Judaism to another faith would be grounds for excluding the convert from this definition. One wonders what happens under the Law of Return to the self-professed atheists born of Jewish mothers.
It is apparent that non-Jewish citizens of a Jewish state will find themselves in a limbo, regardless of the vacuous guarantees of “equal personal rights” under the law awaiting approval. But, as I have mentioned above, their predicament has been dire well before the drafting of this bill. The question, then, is why is the Israeli government dropping the pretence of its ability to balance the state’s Jewish and democratic nature now, at this precise moment?
Beyond the politicking considerations of a coalition dominated by right-wing hardliners, there are at least two possible explanations for the timing of the proposed piece of legislation.
Major stumbling blocks
First, it attempts to codify a narrative that equates the land occupied by the State of Israel with the “historic homeland of the Jewish people”. With these words enshrined in the law, yet another obstacle will arise on the path to peace with the Palestinian people, who will be not only materially and symbolically, but also legally dispossessed of their land and their history.
The words I have cited from the draft legislation usurp the historic origin as the exclusive property of one group of citizens and turn a deaf ear to the rightful claims of another group. Moreover, they render the Jewish attachment to a distant past more important than the ongoing presence of non-Jewish inhabitants in the same territory. All these are major stumbling blocks in the peace process, which will be guaranteed to stay fruitless if future Israeli governments are bound by the “Jewish nation-state” law. For instance, in accordance with it, the right of return for Palestinian refugees will be outright denied on the grounds that the territory claimed by Israel was not their historic homeland.
Second, and more cynically: Could it be that the current rulers of Israel have made a calculated, conscious choice to weaken their emphasis on democracy? Although, in order to gain admission into the international community, it is still necessary to present one’s state as democratic, the time of this requirement’s non-negotiability might be coming to an end.
Widespread passive acceptance of technocracy and the dictates of the “Troika” in the European Union are the telltale signs of a gradual departure from democratic rhetoric and political practice. It would not be surprising that the Israeli right-wing politicians are ahead of the curve in an avowed abandonment of democratic discourse, and that the draft bill is but a symptom of this lamentable development.
Michael Marder is IKERBASQUE Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. His most recent books include Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics (co-edited with Gianni Vattimo), The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, and Pyropolitics: When the World Is Ablaze.
There is a feeling of déjà vu as we witness the events currently unfolding in Jerusalem. Yet, like all déjà vus, some things are fundamentally different. The latest round of violence occurred on Wednesday, when a Palestinian teenager was critically wounded by police gunfire in East Jerusalem. On Tuesday, two Palestinians wielding meat cleavers, an ax and a gun murdered five people in a synagogue—four of them while praying, along with a police officer who tried to save them—before they were shot dead by an Israeli policeman. A day earlier, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his bus, and while the Israeli pathologists claimed he had committed suicide, the Palestinian pathologist disagreed, maintaining that he had been murdered.
While these were just the most recent casualties in the Holy City, it is crucial to remember that other structural forms of violence directed against its Palestinian residents have been deployed without restraint over the past weeks. Jewish settlers have embarked on yet another round of expansionist real estate schemes in Arab East Jerusalem, taking over Palestinian houses. Simultaneously, Palestinian neighborhoods in the city have been blockaded, restricting the movement of thousands of residents, as the Israeli government decided yet again to build new apartment units on expropriated Palestinian land. The old British Mandatory practice of demolishing homes belonging to the families of suspected terrorists has been reinstituted as a form of deterrence. And, perhaps most importantly, Members of the Knesset and right-wing groups have launched a concerted campaign to nullify the existing status quo on the Temple Mount—whereby Jews pray at the Wailing Wall and Muslims at the Haram al-Sharif—by allowing Jews to assert their sovereignty over this sacred Muslim site.
This last bit is crucial for understanding one of the alarming transformations taking place in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One might recall that the second intifada erupted immediately after Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif compound in late September 2000. At the time, Palestinian demonstrators hurled stones at Israeli police, who fired back tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets. Demonstrations rapidly spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it took several years and thousands of fatalities before Israel managed to quell the popular uprising.
This time around, events are influenced by other theaters of violence in the Middle East. Put differently, the nationalist discourse of Sharon—as well as Yasir Arafat—is now being successfully hijacked by a religious rhetoric. Members of ISIS are threatening to smash all national borders until they reach Jerusalem, while in our neck of the woods, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is invoking religious tropes to condemn Israeli efforts to change the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites in the hope of garnering support among a constituency that has become more religious over the years.
Naftali Bennett, the right-wing economy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet, retorts by calling Abbas “a terrorist because he said that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount.” Bennett and his allies in government are thus playing into fears of Muslim fundamentalism in the West, even as they present Jewish fundamentalism as innocuous. This transformation is dangerous not necessarily because nationalist struggles are less bloody than religious ones—they are not—but because it is fueling extremism on both sides.
This, it should be stressed, is precisely what the Israeli government wants. It would like to present the conflict as a clash of civilizations à la Samuel Huntington, rather than as a Palestinian struggle against colonial domination. Alongside the government’s attempt to pit fundamentalist Jews against Palestinians, most Israeli politicians on the right, which now dominates the country’s electoral landscape, have been working overtime to bolster the “no partner for peace” myth as another justification for their ongoing refusal to resume negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinians are not only part of a different and barbaric civilization, they claim, but their leaders are terrorists, or at the very least support terrorism.
A few hours after the synagogue massacre, Netanyahu maintained that the attack was “a direct result of the incitement lead by Hamas and Abu Mazen [President Mahmoud Abbas].” And in a televised address that echoed Bennett, he averred that the Palestinian leaders are “saying Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount, that we intend to destroy the holy sites and change the prayer routines there. These lies have already exacted a very heavy toll.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman added that “Abbas has intentionally turned the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict into a religious one between Jews and Muslims, and the systematic incitement he leads against Jews—who he says cannot visit the Temple Mount because they are ‘impure’—is the ‘go-ahead’ for these despicable terror attacks.” Bennett concluded that “Abbas, one of the biggest terrorists to have arisen from the Palestinian people, bears direct responsibility for the Jewish blood spilt on tallit and tefillin while we were busy with delusions about the [peace] process.
This is the moment when the déjà vu becomes most apparent. Arrows just like these were shot at Arafat in the years and months before his mysterious death a decade ago. This time around, however, there was an unexpected intervention that exposed the lie behind the demagogic scare tactics: Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel’s secret services, also known as the Shabak, weighed in against Netanyahu and his cabinet members.
On the day of the attack on the synagogue, Cohen asserted that no one among the Palestinian leadership is calling for violence. “Abu Mazen is not interested in terror,” he explained, “and is not leading [his people] to terror. Nor is he doing so ‘under the table.’” The head of Shabak went on to blame the Israeli leadership for the religious turn. He warned that the Palestinian reactions in East Jerusalem were exacerbated due to “a series of confrontations centering around the Temple Mount—including the ascent to that holy site by MKs [Knesset Members], as well as proposed legislation that would change the status quo in the compound.”
Wittingly or not, Israel’s top security officer thus accused the prime minister and his comrades of incitement and spreading lies, exposing how these political leaders are fueling religious tensions as well as producing the “no partner” myth in order to sustain the strife. This is not a minor event, since it is the first time in Israel’s history that the head of the secret services—during his tenure in office—has contradicted the prime minister and has publicly revealed his duplicity.
If even the Shabak, the organization responsible for torturing and assassinating Palestinians during forty-seven years of occupation, thinks the Israeli leadership has gone too far, then matters are becoming really scary. Yes, there is a sense of déjà vu, only this time it seems that Israel’s political entourage has already fallen into the abyss
Palestinian women are blocked by Israeli security forces outside the al-Aqsa mosque compound [AFP]
Despite the uproar over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet passing the new “Jewish nation-state” bill, its discriminatory contents are part and parcel of Israel’s long history of marginalising and discriminating against the country’s Palestinian minority.
The bill, which still needs to be passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, defines Israel as the “nation-state for the Jewish people” and enshrines the Zionist principles that the state was founded on at the expense of all Palestinians more than six decades ago.
Its defenders point out that it protects “the personal rights of all [the state’s] citizens”, ignoring that it only guarantees “communal rights” to Jews, who, regardless of their ancestral origins, have always been permitted to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship.
Within Netayahu’s cabinet, the bill was passed by a 14-6 vote and reportedly sparked a passionate debate. As usual, that debate didn’t focus on the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the total population, but centred on the state’s Declaration of Independence and founding ideology of Zionism.
For the 1.7 million Palestinians who were forced to take Israeli citizenship and continue living in what became Israel after the Nakba, this bill is nothing more than Israel finally taking off its mask in front of the world.
The debate it has thus far sparked is also nothing new: Despite our nominal citizenship, we have always been rendered second-class citizens with limited rights, for no reason other than not being born Jewish.
Discrimination from day one
Whether Netanyahu’s latest bill passes is irrelevant to Palestinians everywhere – in present-day Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the diaspora, where millions of refugees are waiting to return to the lands they were violently expelled from in 1948.
For those of us living in present-day Israel, the law is merely symbolic, as there are already dozens of laws that “discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures,” as Adalah Legal Centre has revealed.
Was it not already clear that Palestinians in Israel are living under the same occupation as Palestinians in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the imprisoned Gaza Strip? Treating us as a “demographic threat”, Israel champions our citizenship in front of the world as alleged proof of its democratic nature, while simultaneously attempting to limit our presence and influence in society.
Following the state’s declaration of independence, the first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, dismayed at the number of Palestinians who stayed in their ancestral lands, lamented that Israel wouldn’t be able to “clear the entire central Galilee region” of the then 100,000 remaining indigenous residents without a war.
But Israeli leaders have actually attempted to do so, even in peacetime. In recent years, a plan to demolish the Galilee village of Ramiyya and expel its people is one example of attempts to make Ben Gurion’s dream come true. As Professor Hilel Cohen of the Hebrew University said, “The project of ‘Judaizing the Galilee’ commenced when the state [of Israel] was founded and has continued in various guises to the present day.”
In the Negev region, Palestinian Bedouins with Israeli citizenship have been exposed to home demolitions and denied basic services, such as water, electricity and education. Living in more than 40 “unrecognised” villages across that region, an estimated 53,000 men, women and children face impending eviction.
Al-Araqib, for instance, has been razed by Israeli bulldozers 78 times since July 2010. Its residents, however, refuse to leave, returning and rebuilding it each time. Was it not already clear to them that Israel’s leaders viewed us as second-class citizens from day one? And can a Jewish “nation-state” bill, largely devoid of practical content, possibly make their daily lives any more difficult?
The opposition to the law by Israel’s so-called “centrists” and “liberals”, such as finance minister Yair Lapid and justice minister Tzipi Livni, exposes the whole affair as yet another case of Israel’s political establishment debating over and controlling our future without our input.
A failed project
Nonetheless, Palestinian political parties in Israel continue to sit as lawmakers in the Knesset. Ostensibly convinced that they could impact the laws being pumped out of the parliament, they continue to vie for our votes and encourage us to support them each time campaign season comes around.
But this has proven to be a failed project. Despite giving the opportunity to speak in the Knesset, they have not made our daily reality any better. The onslaught of racist laws hasn’t slowed down, the incitement from Israeli politicians has also grown and our ability to organise as a unified political force has been impeded by internal divisions and competition between the Arab political parties.
Palestinian lawmaker Hanin Zoabi was recently expelled from the Knesset for six months after remarking that Palestinians who kidnapped and killed three Israeli settlers this past summer were not “terrorists”.
Now, Netanyahu and his rabid rightwing cohorts are pushing a new bill to expel Knesset members “who in a time of war or military action against an enemy state or terror organization offers public support for military struggle”. It was aptly named the “Hanin Zoabi bill” by its sponsors.
Israel’s claim to not be an apartheid state has always relied on the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote and participate in the Knesset. Do we need any more proof that this was a facade from the outset?
With a law that outright declares that this state exists solely for the Jewish people, it’s high time that Palestinians in Israel drop the idea that participating in this theatre of absurdity that is the Israeli political process will improve our lives and further our cause.
It is time to take steps to dissolve our political divisions and build ties with our compatriots in the occupied Palestinian territories and the diaspora in order to build a joint struggle capable of posing a serious challenge to world’s last settler colonial occupation.
Waad Ghantous is a Haifa-based Palestinian activist and a member of the Al-Awda organisation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Israeli activists dressed up as members of the Ku Klux Klan as a critique of right-wing politicians at the annual human rights march in Tel Aviv in 2011.
“A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.
Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.
The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.”
Netanyahu’s measure is much worse than that of Mississippi fundamentalists who want to declare Mississippi a principally Christian state and want to celebrate the white-supremacist Confederacy as part of the state’s heritage.
I wrote earlier of this kind of development when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was planning it out:
“So either way Netanyahu defines Jewishness, it disenfranchises substantial numbers of self-identifying Israeli Jews. If it is a matter of maternal descent, it leaves 300,000 or so out in the cold. If it is a matter of belief and observance, it leaves nearly 2 million Israeli Jews out of the club.
In addition, of course, 1.7 million Israelis, about a fifth of the population, are Palestinian-Israelis, mostly Muslim but some Christians. They are, in other words, a somewhat greater proportion of the Israeli citizen population than Latinos are of the US population (Latinos are about 17% of Americans). If current demographic trends continue, Palestinian-Israelis could be as much as 1/3 of the population by 2030.
Saying Israel is a “Jewish” state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the US is a “white” state and defining Latinos as “brown.”
And saying Israel is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the United States is a Christian state even though about 22% of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel). The point of the US first amendment is to forbid the state to to “establish” a religion, i.e. to recognize it as a state religion with privileges (the colonists had had bad experiences with Anglicanism in this regard). While we can’t stop other countries from establishing state religions, we Americans don’t approve of it and won’t give our blessing to it, as Netanyahu seems to want. In fact our annual State Department human rights report downgrades countries that don’t separate religion and state.
While some countries have a state or official religion, that is different from what Netanyahu is demanding. Argentina’s constitution says Roman Catholicism is the state religion. But Argentina is not a “Catholic state” either in the sense of being mainly for people of Catholic religious faith (only 20% of Argentines are observant) or for being for persons descended from traditionally Catholic populations. Indeed, Argentina has about half a million Muslims, who are not discriminated against in Argentine law the way Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against (their villages not ‘recognized’) in Israel. Anyway, as I said, in the U.S. we don’t approve of that part of the Argentine constitution. If all Netanyahu wanted was that Judaism be the ‘state religion’ of Israel, that could surely be achieved by a simple vote of the Knesset. He wants something much more, something that requires that outsiders assent to it.
Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds either way (and I’m not just talking about the human rights of Palestinian-Israelis).”
Elsewhere I pointed out that Israel is moving in the opposite direction from Morocco, Tunisia and other more successful Middle Eastern states, which have new constitutions affirming citizen equality and freedom of conscience and avoiding specifying Islamic law (sharia) as the main source for law, in the way this new Israeli measure specifies Jewish law (halakha) as the inspiration for Israeli legislation. Netanyahu’s Israel looks more and more like the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt of now-deposed President Muhammad Morsi.
“Netanyahu is also moving in the opposite direction from the more positive developments in the Middle East itself. Iraq’s old Baathist Arab nationalism (qawmiya) had racialized Arabness (which is really just a linguistic group) and had excluded the Kurds, who speak an Indo-European language, from full membership in the Iraqi nation. Interestingly, many Arabic-language news items on Netanyahus speech translate his use of “national” by the Arabic qawmiya, which has overtones of extremist nationalism of a racist sort. The new Iraqi constitution rejects that kind of racist nationalism. It recognizes Kurdish as a national official language (and Turkmen and Aramaic as provincial ones). Without denying the Arab or Muslim identity of the majority, it recognizes the right of the minorities to their own ethnic identities within the nation. It doesn’t say that Iraq is only a homeland for the Arab-Shiite majority.
And Morocco suffered deep political divisions between its Arab majority and Berber/ Amazigh minority in earlier decades. But its new constitution finally recognizes Berber/ Amazigh as an official language and celebrates Amazigh identity as one of the key heritages of all Moroccans, including Arabic speakers. The constitution does say that Islam is the religion of state, while guaranteeing freedom of belief and religion to the country’s Jews and adds:
… the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, is forged by the melting together of its Arab-Islamic, Berber [amazigh] and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences.”
So could we really expect Netanyahu to say that Judaism is the religion of the Israeli state and that:
… Israel intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity is forged by the melting together of its Jewish and Palestinian components, nourished and enriched by its Hebraic, Arab and Mediterranean influences.”
No. Netanyahu is talking of an indivisible national identity, but its unity is achieved by exclusion, not by melting and inclusion. He does not celebrate Israel’s Arab heritage, but wants to exclude it from any claim on the national homeland, wants to make it lesser. (Arabic is an official language of Israel, but Netanyahu’s rejection of the idea of a binational state makes it clear he thinks it is very much a de facto and unfortunate component of Israel, not something to be celebrated).
Interestingly, the Israeli left has a different objection. They mind the idea of Israeliness, of the Israeli national identity (akin to the Moroccan national identity in the constitution, quoted above) being demoted in favor of a Jewish identity. Haaretz’s Hebrew edition wrote on May 5:
“Yesterday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained why he is promoting a new Basic Law: ‘The Nation State of the Jewish People’: ‘Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not given sufficient expression in our Basic Laws, and this is what the proposed Basic Law is meant to do’… For 66 years now ‘Israeliness’ has attempted to gain recognition and win independence, and has been rejected repeatedly by the establishment. It has been described as the ‘slivers of people-hood’ whose existence has not been proven, while at the same time, no one seeks to enact a law that will define and protect it. Again and again it is forced to bow before its ‘big sister’, the Jewish state… The creation of Israeli literature, Israeli art, Israeli music, Israeli theatre, Israeli humour, Israeli politics, Israeli sports, an Israeli accent, Israeli grief – are these not enough to speak of an ‘Israeli people’…?” [From [Hebrew language] editorial of left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz]. – [Trans. via BBC Monitoring]
Opponents say proposed law would reserve ‘national rights’ for Jews and not for minorities that make up 20% of population
A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.
Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.
The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.
Arab Muslims and Christians make up 20% of Israel’s population.
The cabinet passed the bill by a 14-7 majority after reports of rancorous exchanges during the meeting, including between the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his justice minister, Tzipi Livni.
The bill, which still requires the Knesset’s approval to become a law, comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians rise sharply, and friction within Israel’s Arab minority grows.
Opponents include two of the more centrist parties in Netanyahu’s fragile coalition – which say the bill is being pushed through with forthcoming primaries in the prime minster’s rightwing Likud party in mind – and senior government officials including the attorney general.
According to many critics, the new wording would weaken the wording of Israel’s declaration of independence, which states that the new state would “be based on the principles of liberty, justice and freedom expressed by the prophets of Israel [and] affirm complete social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender”.
Among those to voice their opposition was the finance minister, Yair Lapid, who said he had spoken to the family of Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman killed in last week’s deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.
“What will we tell his family? That he is a second-class citizen in the state of Israel because someone has primaries in the Likud?” he asked.
Netanyahu argued that the law was necessary because people were challenging the notion of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
“There are many who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians refuse to recognise this and there is also opposition from within.
“There are those, including those who deny our national rights, who would like to establish autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev.
“Neither do I understand those who are calling for two states for two peoples but who also oppose anchoring this in law. They are pleased to recognise a Palestinian national state but strongly oppose a Jewish national state.”
According to reports in the Hebrew media, the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, has also expressed concern, shared by some ministers, that the new law would effectively give greater emphasis to Israel’s Jewish character at the expense of its democratic nature. A number of Israeli basic laws use the term “Jewish and democratic”, giving equal weight to both. The new law would enshrine only the Jewish character of the state.
Netanyahu appeared to confirm that there would be differential rights for Israeli Jews and other minorities. He said that while all could enjoy equal civil rights, “there are national rights only for the Jewish people – a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel and other national symbols.”
Cabinet ministers, including Netanyahu, separately proposed stripping Palestinian attackers of their residency rights in occupied East Jerusalem in response to a wave of deadly violence.
“It cannot be that those who harm Israel, those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel, will enjoy rights like social security,” Netanyahu said, adding that the measure would complement house demolitions and serve as a deterrent.
Critics, however, have condemned the measures as racist said that they could further escalate tensions.
The cabinet met as fresh reports of continuing violence emerged. In Gaza, the Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces had shot dead a Palestinian on Sunday, the first such fatality since a 50-day Gaza war ended in August.
In the West Bank, a Palestinian home was torched on Sunday. No one was hurt in the fire, which gutted the home in the village of Khirbet Abu Falah near Ramallah, local residents said.
“The settlers came here and they hit the door, but I refused to open,” said Huda Hamaiel, who owns the house. She said they then broke a terrace window and hurled a petrol bomb inside.
“Death to Arabs” and another slogan calling for revenge were also painted on the walls of Hamaiel’s home, hallmarks of Jewish extremists’ so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinian dwellings and mosques and Christian church property.
Nazareth – The killing of a 22-year-old Arab youth by Israeli police on November 7, has highlighted tensions that have been building rapidly between the Israeli authorities and the country’s 1.5 million-strong Palestinian minority.
Kheir al-Dein Hamdan’s shooting in the Galilee town of Kafr Kana, near Nazareth, sparked protests in most Palestinian communities inside Israel, in some incidents turning into violent clashes with the police.
A general strike was widely observed on November 8 and simmering anger is still bringing the youth out onto the streets at night in Kafr Kana and elsewhere.
Hamdan is one of scores of Palestinian citizens of Israel who were killed by police in unexplained circumstances over the past 14 years. His death, however, has magnified a mood of intense anger and frustration among the Palestinian minority, which comprises a fifth of Israel’s population.
The atmosphere was set earlier this year with a wave of violent attacks carried out by Jewish settlers targeting Palestinians in Israel, rather than Palestinians in the occupied territories, burning mosques, defacing churches and vandalising cars. Police have mostly failed to identify the culprits.
A series of events then followed, including the gruesome killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem at the hands of Jewish extremists in early July. Israel’s war on Gaza, which left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, also incensed the Palestinian minority.
The widespread protests over the summer were marked by frequent clashes with the police reaching a level not seen since the start of the second Intifada in 2000.
Police responded with hundreds of arrests, including of many children, often in heavy-handed, night-time raids on homes that have become a familiar sight in the occupied territories. Leading human rights lawyers in Israel have described Hamdan’s death as a police “execution”.
The intensifying efforts over the past few weeks by government officials and Jewish extremists, backed by the Israeli police, to assert greater control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem has added another layer of distress.
Many Palestinians accuse the police of enforcing racist policies that dehumanise all Palestinians, ignore their rights and concerns, and brook no dissent, whether peaceful or violent.
For the minority, this incident was yet another graphic and shocking illustration that they are seen not as citizens but as the enemy.
Over a decade ago, that was precisely the conclusion of a state commission of inquiry into the police’s killing of 13 Palestinian citizens in towns across the Galilee in October 2000, at the start of the second Intifada.
During demonstrations against the Israeli army’s assault on Palestinians in the occupied territories, the police fired live ammunition and rubber bullets on unarmed protesters and deployed, for the first time, an anti-terror sniper unit.
The head of the commission, Justice Theodor Or, found that the police viewed Palestinian citizens in similar terms to the army’s conception of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza: As an enemy to be crushed with brute force.
Justice Or also identified systematic and institutionalised discrimination against the Palestinian minority over many decades as a major contributing factor in their protests.
But what Justice Or failed to understand, or perhaps admit, was that the attitudes of the police, government and the Israeli public were shaped – and still are – by a more general political atmosphere that derives from Israel’s founding ideology, Zionism.
Israel’s Palestinian minority is viewed as the state’s Achilles’ heel; an opening for Palestinians in the occupied territories to undermine the state’s Jewishness.
The threat is seen as two-fold.
Demographically, Palestinian citizens can erode the Jewish majority by reversing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian population in 1948 through, for example, winning citizenship for spouses from the occupied territories. Israel closed that door in 2003 with legislation effectively barring such marriages.
And ideologically, Palestinian citizens have risked exposing Israel’s lack of meaningful democracy by proving, through their own treatment, that a Jewish state cannot be fair to them.
|That the prime minister [Netanyahu] tells Arab citizens who protest that they should leave for the West Bank sends a message that getting rid of us is a legitimate political option. Transfer has entered the mainstream, and with it the right to use state violence to solve political problems.|
A political campaign by the minority for equality – urging Israel’s reform from a Jewish state to a “state for all its citizens” – is officially classified as “subversion”.
Israeli Politicians – from the right and the left – share a common view, often expressed or implied, that Palestinian citizens can never truly belong to a Jewish state. Instead, they are described variously as a “fifth column”, “Trojan horse” and “demographic time bomb”.
At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu told his interior minister to examine ways to strip of citizenship anyone who “acted against the state” or attacked the police.
The next day, Netanyahu told demonstrators to leave Israel and “move to the Palestinian Authority or Gaza”.
His comments have consciously blurred the distinction between the legitimate anger unleashed by Hamdan’s killing and the spate of recent attacks by Palestinians from the occupied territories on Israelis in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv. Dangerously, Netanyahu has implied that they are all part of the same “terrorism”.
His two most senior coalition partners have echoed him.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the officers for acting “resolutely and effectively”. Naftali Bennett, the economy minister, called Hamdan “a crazed Arab terrorist” and described the police response – killing him when he posed no threat – as “what is expected of our security forces”.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has ordered the justice ministry’s police investigations unit, Mahash, to investigate Hamdan’s killing. But the unit is already deeply distrusted by the Palestinian minority.
A recent report by Adalah, a legal centre for the Arab minority, found that Mahash closed 93 percent of the complaints against the police between 2011 and 2013. More disturbing, Adalah found cases were closed even when there was strong evidence of police use of excessive force.
That reflected similar failings by Mahash to properly investigate the police officers responsible for the 13 deaths in October 2000. None were ever indicted, Adalah noted.
The current police chief, Yohanan Danino, pre-empted the current investigation by saying the officers involved not only had his “full backing” but that criticism of them was “unfounded” and “irresponsible”.
However, suggestions that Hamdan’s killing will ignite a new Intifada, this time in Israel, may prove premature.
Much as in the West Bank and Jerusalem, a sense of hopelessness in the face of Israel’s entrenched racism and refusal to make political concessions has built to the point where it has found an outlet in spontaneous protests and outbursts of violence.
But Palestinians are more divided territorially, and their leaders ideologically, than they were at the start of the second Intifada.
Israel is offering no solutions, which is stoking the anger, but the Palestinian leaderships appear to have no credible answers or plans for how to challenge Israel. That lack of direction is stifling the organised resistance necessary for an Intifada.
Nonetheless, Hamdan’s killing and the protests of the past few days mark another milestone in the steadily deteriorating relations between a self-declared Jewish state and its Palestinian citizens.
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According to Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Human Rights Association in Nazareth, the emphasis on protecting Israel’s Jewishness at all cost is pushing both sides towards ever-greater confrontation.
“That the prime minister [Netanyahu] tells Arab citizens who protest that they should leave for the West Bank sends a message that getting rid of us is a legitimate political option,” Zeidan told Al Jazeera.
“Transfer has entered the mainstream, and with it the right to use state violence to solve political problems.”
That message has been on prominent display recently in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, where efforts have intensified to eradicate the minority’s political parties and representatives.
Earlier this year, the Knesset raised the electoral threshold sufficiently high that none of the Palestinian parties is likely to reach it.
A leading legislator, Haneen Zoabi, has been suspended from the Knesset, for a record six months, for expressing her opinions and is in danger of being put on trial. And Netanyahu has again compared the main Islamic Movement in Israel to ISIL and vowed to outlaw it.
It is clear to Palestinian citizens, both from incidents like Hamdan’s killing and from the contempt for their representatives, that their future in a self-declared Jewish state is growing more tenuous by the day.
For that reason, if no other, the fires burning in Kafr Kana, and other Palestinian communities in Israel, are not likely to die down any time soon.