28 August, 2005
Kathleen Christison - Can Palestine be Put Back into the Equation?
Don't Think of a Jewish State!
Can Palestine be Put Back Into the Equation?
"When we demonstrate non-violently the world at least is with us," a young Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Bilin recently told British journalist Graham Usher. "When we resist violently, it isn't."
Usher, a veteran correspondent in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, was describing a non-violent protest against Israel's separation wall that has been running continually since February in this tiny village situated three miles from Israel's 1967 border. Palestinian residents of Bilin, Palestinian activists from neighboring villages, Israeli peace activists, and internationals from the International Solidarity Movement have maintained an almost permanent presence in Bilin to protest the confiscation of the majority of the village's farmland for construction of the wall. The protesters have committed themselves to non-violent tactics, even prohibiting stone-throwing. In response, Israeli security forces have fired live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets into the crowds, beaten and teargassed protesters and, in at least one instance caught on film, sent in provocateurs posing as Palestinians who threw stones at police, provoking an assault on the protesters and the arrest of several Palestinians. More than 100 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals have been injured by Israeli police and military. And construction of the wall moves on inexorably.
This Palestinian non-violence is an edifying spectacle, worthy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But one wonders how the young Palestinian's hope that the world will stand in solidarity with the Palestinians if they are non-violent can ever be realized. For how will the world ever know? How will Israelis and Americans, let alone the world, ever know that Palestinians and their few friends in the Israeli and the international peace movements are risking their lives for the principle that Israel's violence and aggression against Palestinians should be met with non-violent, non-aggressive resistance?
Who in the world cares? Apparently no one. A search of the Washington Post and New York Times archives for the name Bilin (including in its other transliteration, Bil'in) turns up nothing in the Post and only two items in the Times, both merely brief afterthoughts at the end of long wrap-up articles, both limited to two sentences about Israeli forces "clashing" with protesters, both dating five months into the months-long protest, and neither mentioning the non-violent nature of the protest or its duration. If CNN and the television networks have mentioned Bilin at all, the coverage has been minimal.
An even smaller village named Khirbet Tana in the north central West Bank fell into the same kind of oblivion, only worse, when in early July the Israeli military totally leveled it, and no one but Ha'aretz correspondent Amira Hass noticed. Almost every one of the village's structures, housing its 450 people and its large flock of sheep, was destroyed; only the 200-year-old mosque and two other structures still stand. But this small-scale ethnocide was of no interest to the self-described newspaper of record; the New York Times took no notice. Nor did any other major U.S. paper, perhaps because to do so would have required recognizing, as Hass did, that, besides destroying "a venerable social fabric," Israel's destructive action was "yet another method by which Israel attacks the broad margins of the Palestinian West Bank and dispossesses their occupants, in preparation for their annexation to Israel."
Palestine is fighting for its life in near-total political darkness. A particular horror always surrounds murders that occur in darkness, with no one to aid the victim or even tell the tale of his death throes. Atrocities like the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi arouse such horror, as do the murders of "desaparecidos" in 1970s Argentina, and the middle-of-the-night knocks on the door in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia that meant disappearance and certain death. Such horror is being committed against Palestine today. Israel is terrorizing an entire people, clearly intending to disperse this people as a unified national entity and prevent them from ever becoming a viable nation state. But virtually no one lights the pervasive darkness in the media and in public discourse.
Palestine is being slowly done to death by Israel -- and death is not too strong a word. It is death through ethnic cleansing. It is death through theft of life-giving land; through murder and intimidation of its people; through the removal even of Arabic road signs pointing to Palestinian towns, as if they no longer exist; through destruction of Palestine's agricultural base, its economic potential, its transportation system, its water, its infrastructure, its people's very homes. And hardly anyone in the world knows.
The common elements in the stories of Mississippi, Argentina, and the others are that the victims were terrorized in secret, that they were helpless, and that they were innocent of anything except being what they were: blacks or Jews, or their defenders, or peaceable seekers after justice. No one will ever know their real terror. But because these were innocents, our sense of outrage is limitless. And because they were helpless -- utterly without any means of rescue from a lynch mob or a dictatorial security apparatus -- our horror is palpable. But where is the horror on behalf of Palestine?
Everyone has something better to do. Most of America has gone shopping, or is on a five-week vacation while war and oppression rage, or has been out to lunch all along. Those who may know something don't care about the Palestinians, don't care to fight for simple justice, and don't fathom the long-range strategic import for the U.S. of continued support for Israel's oppressive regime. They don't get how deeply the Arab people feel about the U.S.-supported Israeli terrorism daily being imposed on the Palestinians, or that this is where genuine support for the Palestinians lies, and where hatred of the U.S. festers and terrorism is bred.
Those supposedly in the progressive camp fall broadly into two categories on this issue. In one category are those who actively buttress Israel: who oppose the occupation but believe that Israel-as-Jewish-state is a marvelous enterprise and who therefore cannot bring themselves to criticize Israel itself or to acknowledge Israeli atrocities. In the second category are progressives who may in their most honest private moments recognize the horrors of what is occurring in Palestine but who are so intimidated by fear of being labeled anti-Semitic that they turn away, or who believe that other things, like opposing George Bush or opposing the Iraq war, are more important.
The result is a pervasive silence about Palestine and its fate. Wherever on the spectrum these Zionist and non-Zionist progressives, or the fervent supporters of Israel on the right, or the Christian Zionist supporters, may fall, the bottom line is that virtually no one is paying attention to the death of Palestine. And the problem almost daily grows more serious. As time passes and other large events intervene, Palestine recedes ever farther into the background and is ultimately forgotten altogether. It has become an old story, after all, and it is such a difficult issue, so easy to push aside.
Everyone takes the easy way. Antiwar activists focus on the war where Americans are dying, not where Palestinians are dying and believe that for tactical reasons they should avoid introducing disunity by talking about this issue. Far too many moviemakers who turn out anti-Bush films ignore the Palestinian issue and Israel's role in U.S. politics altogether. Tikkun and its leader Rabbi Michael Lerner, who for years put themselves forward as the progressive religious voice opposing the occupation, have apparently concluded that they were getting nowhere with their effort to strike a balance between Israel and the Palestinians -- always a futile effort in this most unbalanced of conflicts -- and have now turned away almost completely, concentrating instead on a campaign to inject spirituality into U.S. politics.
Mainstream Christian churches, although taking some commendable steps toward condemnation of Israel's separation wall and divestment from companies that support the occupation, are hesitant and extremely slow. The issue is too contentious for most denominations; the brave but tentative steps the Presbyterian church has taken, which it has labored over with excruciating care for a year now without making any definitive move, have caused the church incredible heartburn, from congregants within and particularly from organized Jewish groups, and other Christian sects have feared to go even this far. Theologians and churches that led the way in the civil rights struggle in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and can construct brilliant theses against injustice elsewhere have little, and in some cases nothing, to say about Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Christian-Jewish dialogue groups for the most part ignore the Palestinian-Israeli issue altogether, refusing even to listen to the facts of the situation on the ground. The Catholic church, under both the present and the recently deceased pope, is so concerned with strengthening its now friendly ties to Judaism and atoning for its relationship to the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s that it too is loath to issue direct criticism of Israeli and U.S. policies toward the Palestinians.
Europe is hardly better. Tony Blair, never willing to look much beyond U.S. limits in setting British policy on the conflict, has apparently decided that his best political move is to capitalize on the London train bombings by emphasizing a new-found Islamophobia. He has become a blustering George Bush in miniature, utterly blinded to the notion that western depredations in the Arab and Muslim world inevitably arouse Arab and Muslim hatred against the West. As for France, a critic of Israel since the de Gaulle era and a stalwart of antiwar, anti-U.S. sentiment during the run-up to the Iraq war, it too has shrugged its shoulders over Palestine and now warmly welcomes Ariel Sharon to Paris. Again, Amira Hass has been the only one to notice the significance of this gesture. After listing the multiple instances of a constant Israeli strangulation of the Palestinians while Jacques Chirac embraces Sharon, Hass wonders, "Why should Chirac and other European leaders take an interest in the millions of trifles of the calculated dispossession, which dictate the lives of the Palestinian people? Trifles that add up to a clear picture: Sharon is determinedly striving to realize the master plan -- integrating most of the West Bank into the sovereign State of Israel." She concludes that Europe bears an historic and a moral responsibility for both Israelis and Palestinians and that this "should be enough to obligate Europe not to assist Israel in implementing its master plan."
But of course it will not be enough.
The notion of reframing public discourse has gained currency recently with the popularity of linguist and reframing guru George Lakoff's small bible on the subject, Don't Think of an Elephant! Written to help out-of-power Democrats regain the field from conservative Republicans who have spent three or four decades and millions of dollars on think tanks and media consultants to fashion a winning message with mass appeal, Lakoff's book urges progressives to use the conservatives' strategy but not their language to do the same for the left. His thesis is that the Republican message, or frame, has filled public discourse, becoming a never-questioned set of assumptions that, like an elephant, overwhelms us and takes over our thinking, to the exclusion of any other line of thought. The only way to counter this is not to confront the elephant directly but to develop and propagate a new framework for thinking that will gradually seep into the public mindset.
Such a reframing of the American mindset on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is most likely the only possible way in which the death of Palestine can be stopped. Some few activists on behalf of Palestinian independence have talked cogently of a campaign to reframe the conflict, of turning around the demise of Palestine by putting forth a new way of thinking about the Palestinians. Like the Republican elephant and the conservative frame of reference, the sacrosanct notion of Israel as a Jewish state and the fact that every reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict revolves around guaranteeing Israel's continued existence, overwhelms and fills public thinking in the United States so that all other possibilities are secondary and are judged in relation to how they might somewhere, somehow affect Israel's security and survival. The point of a reframing would be to open public thinking to other possibilities, such as recognition that Palestinian rights in Palestine -- the right to genuine independence, to the sanctity of homes and personal property, to a life free of human rights abuses by an occupying power -- are as important in a just world as Israel's right to exist.
But there is good reason to believe that any such reframing is a hopeless task, in no small measure because the Israel-as-Jewish-state frame, built up over decades and based in great part on compassion for Jews as a persecuted people, has such a firm lock on the media that it is utterly impossible to break into this essential conduit to change the message. Ultimately, the media are the only vehicle through which the thinking of antiwar activists, church groups, Zionist and non-Zionist progressives, politicians, and the general public might be changed. But the media will not cooperate. One small example: Amira Hass, almost the lone media voice telling the true story, reports that when she asked a European journalist why this other journalist did not write about the separation wall being built around -- that is all the way around, totally enclosing -- the East Jerusalem suburb of Anata, the answer was that the journalist's editors were interested only in the Gaza disengagement because it was action-packed and exciting; the editors were tired of the "repetitious details" of the damage the wall is doing.
Oppression is such a drag.
Something exciting did happen several weeks ago to a Palestinian, but this too went virtually unnoticed in the media. A group of teenage Israeli settlers from the West Bank, come to Gaza to protest the impending disengagement, nearly beat to death a Palestinian teenager as he lay unconscious on the ground, in full view of a group of Israeli soldiers who did nothing and an international press contingent. Newspapers throughout Israel had the grace to be horrified and termed the event a lynching, but the U.S. media ignored it. One has to wonder if the old puzzle about whether a tree falling in the forest makes any noise if there's no one there to hear it can be applied to the Palestinians: do Palestinians suffering oppression under Israeli occupation really suffer if the media fail to report it?
A comparison of media coverage of the evacuation of settlers from Gaza with coverage of the massive demolition of Palestinian homes that has been going on for years in Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem turns up the same pervasive silence about Palestine. During the disengagement, 900 journalists from around the world gave us day after day of the made-for-TV anguish of 7,000-8,000 settlers and the opportunistic fanatics who came from outside Gaza to support them, but no such theatrics have ever surrounded Palestinian anguish over the literally thousands of homes destroyed and the tens of thousands of innocents left homeless because Israel deemed their land to be in a "security zone" or too close to an Israeli settlement or in the way of the separation wall or simply lacking an impossible-to-obtain building permit. These are the mere repetitious details of oppression, not as emotional or evocative as Jewish pain.
Although the media in the U.S. and in Europe have gone silent about Palestine's death throes, they seldom miss an opportunity to lecture the Palestinians: Israel is taking a step of surpassing courage in Gaza ("the most significant and painful steps toward peace ever made in the Middle East" trumpeted one newspaper with spectacular hyperbole), and the future now depends entirely on whether the Palestinians behave. "Behaving" means not disturbing the Israelis, not disturbing the media's sense that peace is just around the corner if only the Palestinians cooperate. "Behaving" means not mentioning, certainly not complaining about, Israel's massive consolidation and expansion across the West Bank while the world watches Gaza.
"Behaving" means, essentially, surrendering. The new, post-Gaza media spin goes something like the dictum recently laid out on a Fox News Sunday talk show: Israel is out of Gaza, the separation wall has put an end to terrorism, the Palestinians have no remaining leverage and must therefore give up all their demands and "reach an agreement" -- meaning, surrender to whatever Israel dictates. Although this is a rightwing prescription, there is little enough difference between the right and the left on this issue that one is probably safe in assuming that something like this formula will become the new truth for the entire spectrum of the mainstream media in the U.S.
Those media commentators and editorialists most inclined to wag fingers at the Palestinians are the ones most likely to ignore what is going on in the West Bank. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, one of many, devoted an entire column just before the disengagement to his disappointment that the Palestinians had somehow not risen to the occasion. "Palestinian leaders," he pronounced with breathtaking myopia, "appear more focused on using U.S. mediators to extract concessions from Israel than they are on formalizing agreements with the Jewish state" -- all the while managing never to mention the West Bank or the multiple steps Israel is taking there to smother Palestine. The latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly carries a 20,000-word article on "How Yasir Arafat Destroyed Palestine" without ever mentioning settlement expansion in the West Bank, the extent of the separation wall, the destruction of Palestinian property, or any of the other ways in which Israel has destroyed Palestine. So goes the phenomenon of Palestine's disappearance from everyone's field of vision.
These examples are merely the tip of an iceberg called "the Jewish state": a framework for thinking and public discourse that sees everything Israeli as good, everything Palestinian as bad or, at best, as not worthy of attention, that sees all developments in the region solely in terms of how they affect the existence and survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus, Israel is always innocent, always the victim, always needing to defend its existence, whereas any Palestinian action, even non-violent resistance to Israeli aggression, is viewed in terms of how it might affect Israel's future. Almost inevitably, those who think in these terms will view anything the Palestinians do as threatening to that future.
The media are the principal purveyors of this "Jewish state" frame of reference and therefore the principal purveyors of the frame that regards the Palestinians and their plight as just so many repetitious details. The details of Palestinian oppression are always judged in relation to the media's sense of the importance of Jewish suffering. The media go silent on the daily Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians, including children -- in sniper shootings, in missile attacks, under bulldozed homes, "collaterally" in targeted killings of militant leaders. The killings take place in an atmosphere of what Human Rights Watch recently characterized as total impunity. Media silence and the western indifference that this silence spawns help create this atmosphere, in which Israeli soldiers have license to kill almost whenever they please.
Studies of U.S. and British media coverage show repeatedly that Palestinian civilian deaths receive little media attention while Israeli deaths get disproportionate coverage -- leaving the impression that Israelis are dying at rates far higher than Palestinians, when in fact throughout the intifada Palestinian deaths have consistently outnumbered Israeli deaths by three or four times. Few media consumers know the true story of these disproportionate Palestinian deaths. Journalist Alison Weir, director of IfAmericansKnew.org, has done extensive content studies of reporting in major mainstream newspapers and television networks and has found consistently that the media underreport Palestinian deaths by a factor of anywhere from three to 14. During the first year of the intifada (October 2000 through September 2001), for instance, Weir found that, despite the much higher Palestinian death rate, the media covered all Israeli deaths at rates three to four times greater than Palestinian deaths, and reported the deaths of Israeli children at rates up to 14 times greater than Palestinian child deaths. The disparity was just as pronounced in a similar study done by Weir of deaths and how they were reported during 2004, the third year of the intifada.
An in-depth 2004 study of British television treatment of the conflict, including both content and the impact of coverage on audience understanding and attitudes, showed similar distortions. In an article describing the book-length study (Bad News from Israel, by Glasgow University researchers Greg Philo and Mike Berry), a former BBC Middle East correspondent wrote that British radio and television coverage of the intifada was "in the main, dishonest -- in concept, approach and execution." Tim Llewellyn, who reported from the Middle East for ten years for BBC, endorsed the book's conclusions by observing that in his experience "the broadcasters' language favours the occupying soldiers over the occupied Arabs, depicting the latter, essentially, as alien tribes threatening the survival of Israel, rather than vice versa."
The Glasgow researchers studied British television broadcasts for two years and found that Israelis were quoted or appeared in interviews more than twice as often as Palestinians; that news broadcasts provided no historical information on the origins of the conflict or on the Palestinians' dispossession in 1948; that the occupation -- the word itself as well as the concept of Israeli control over Palestinian territories -- was never mentioned in broadcasts; that Israeli settlements and other features of the occupation such as land confiscations were never described as having a role in imposing the occupation. The researchers' survey of television-watching audiences in Scotland and England found widespread ignorance and confusion about the conflict. Gaps in audience knowledge closely paralleled the gaps in news coverage. Most viewers, not knowing the history and only rarely if ever hearing the word "occupation" used, did not know who was occupying whom. Only an astounding ten percent understood that Israel is occupying Palestinian territory and not the reverse, and most thought the Palestinians always initiated the fighting. As Llewellyn concluded from the study's findings, the result of television's "distorted lens" is that "the Israelis have identity, existence, a story the viewer understands. The Palestinians are anonymous, alien, their personalities and their views buried under their burden of plight and the vernacular of 'terror.'"
One hears these revelations with despair. How is a frame of reference so longstanding, so set in concrete, so much a part of the mindset of the public and the media and politicians ever to be changed? George Lakoff's formula for reframing the Democrats' position in the face of the right's massive investment of money and time toward putting their point of view forward is a very long-term one, which Lakoff measures in terms of years. Science tells us, he says, that the fundamental structure of thought is often deeply lodged in the brain and cannot be changed simply by hearing facts. Before facts will make sense, "they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us."
Some of this helps explain why media coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ignores the Palestinian point of view; it simply does not fit with the media's ingrained thinking -- or with the expensively financed and eminently successful lobbying and propaganda campaign of organized supporters of Israel. All this in turn is a major reason why the public does not know the Palestinian narrative; it is not part of the accepted, politically correct public mindset. Israel as oppressor does not fit the image of innocence and morality drummed into all of us, Israel as massively strong does not fit the picture of victimized Jews with which we have all grown up, Israel's soldiers as killers do not fit the concept of "purity of arms" that we have all been told is instilled in the Israeli military, Israel as perpetrator of ethnocide against a powerless people does not fit the victim-of-genocide image that is embedded in the brains of most Americans.
How to change the images before it is too late? Discussing the difficulty progressives have in reframing the conservatives' message, Lakoff points out that conservatives can appeal to an established frame and so their message need only be short and punchy to be instantly understandable, whereas progressives, with no such accepted framework to rely on, must go into long, more elaborate, and less appealing explanations. A conservative on television, he notes, can use two words, "tax relief," and be instantly understood, but the progressive must go into a paragraph-long discussion of his own view on taxes. This aptly describes the Palestinians' difficulty: Israel and its supporters can say "Jewish state" or "threat to Israel's existence" or "anti-Semitic" and be understood and empathized with instantly. The established framework is that the conflict is all about Israel's survival; we have all been led to believe for half a century that the Arabs want to destroy Israel as a state and kill Jews, and so the "frame" accepts that Israel -- with massive U.S. aid, of course -- must defend itself at all costs, that Israel's security is all-important. No further explanation is needed. In reality, the issue is not Israel's survival, which is not in danger, but the Palestinians' survival and the threat to the Palestinians' existence as a people and a nation. But in order to put this point across, Palestinians must, as a Palestinian woman once put it, "go into books and books of history just to explain why falafel is not an Israeli dish."
The day when a Palestinian can refer to the "threat to Palestinian existence" and be immediately understood and empathized with is far off. The process of changing a mental framework where books of history are required to explain the Palestinian story will necessarily be an extremely long and perhaps impossible one. Lakoff, who is trying to formulate an agenda for the Democratic Party for 2008, claims he believes that for progressives it won't take as long to change minds and establish a progressive political frame as the thirty years the Republicans took to establish their framework, but even he acknowledges that the process of establishing a new framework is a long one requiring the constant repetition of new facts.
No one has even started repeating the facts on behalf of the Palestinians yet. Lakoff's time frame for Democrats -- set somewhere vaguely between 2008 and thirty years hence -- is hardly encouraging for the Palestinians. In fact, one must assume that in the absence of some dramatic and currently unforeseeable change in the situation, the tight boundaries that constrict thinking and limit public discourse on the Palestinian issue will only grow stronger. The growth of the framework that surrounds the conflict -- a notably Israel-centered frame from the beginning and one that has always more or less ignored the Palestinian side of the equation -- has been a cumulative process over decades, going back not just half a century to Israel's creation but a century or more to the rise of Zionism, and such a structure of assumptions and misperceptions will not likely be easily undone. Indeed, the likelihood is very remote that anyone among the Palestinians themselves or the minuscule number of their supporters will ever be able to rearrange the thinking of those in Israel, among the American public, in the U.S. media, in Congress, and in the policymaking councils of the current or any future U.S. administration where the life and death of Palestine are ultimately determined.
Palestinians themselves will not disappear, despite Israel's best efforts, and they will not give up their struggle -- not now, after successfully fighting for sixty years against a concerted multinational attempt to make them disappear. But Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, this Israeli violence, is destroying any possibility of Palestinian nationhood, while the media ignore the occupation, politicians ignore Israeli violence, and western publics know and care little about any of it. Palestine and Palestinians are terrorized and murdered in darkness. No one helps them, few note their dying. They are helpless, facing the power of a massive Israeli military machine and a propaganda machine abetted by the major western media.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at: email@example.com
18 August, 2005
Christian Zionism - Interview with Michael Prior CM
The late Father Michael Prior had some very interesting comments to make in this interview. It is a few years old, but very relevant and important reading.
Christians and Zionism
An interview with Michael Prior
by Marianne Arbogast
On the platform, an Israeli student is telling thousands of supporters how the horrors of the year have only reinforced his people’s determination. "Despite the terror attacks, they’ll never drive us away out of our God-given land," he says. This is greeted with whoops and hollers and waving of Israeli flags and the blowing of the shofar, the Jewish ceremonial ram’s horn. Then comes the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, who is received even more rapturously. ... The placards round the hall insist that every inch of the Holy Land should belong to Israel and that there should never be a Palestinian state. These assertions are backed up by biblical quotations. It could be a rally in Jerusalem for those Israelis who think Ariel Sharon is a dangerous softie. But something very strange is going on here. There are thousands of people cheering for Israel in the huge Washington Convention Centre. But not one of them appears to be Jewish, at least not in the conventional sense. For this is the annual gathering of a very non-Jewish organization indeed: the Christian Coalition of America. – Matthew Engel, The Guardian, 10/28/02
The influence of Christian Zionists on American foreign policy is cause for concern among many who see their worldview – with its unqualified support of Israeli land rights – as potentially contributing to the outbreak of the world-engulfing apocalyptic battle they predict. Michael Prior, a Roman Catholic priest and biblical scholar at St. Mary’s College, University of Surrey, England, describes and critiques the development of political Zionism and the "dispensationalist" Christian theology which has embraced it. Prior, who is the author of The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique (Sheffield, 1997) and Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry (Routledge, 1999) and editor of Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Continuum, 2002), visited the U.S. in November 2002 on a speaking tour sponsored by Friends of Sabeel and other Palestinian advocacy organizations.
The Witness: How did you become involved with the issue of Zionism and justice for Palestinians?
Michael Prior: Probably the first time I became conscious of the situation in any kind of gripping way was during the 1967 war when I was a theology student. I remember gobbling my supper each evening in the seminary to watch the replay of what had happened that day or the night before. And at that time I was delighted by the victory of Israel – a little country which I understood to be under siege from a whole bunch of predatory and rapacious Arab neighboring states.
Then in 1972 as part of my post-graduate biblical studies I visited the land, and even though the concentration was entirely on examining artifacts from the past, I did absorb that I was witnessing some kind of apartheid system. And in 1981, I went with a group of students from my university in England to the University of Bir Zeit, which is about 18 miles north of Jerusalem, and the university was occupied by the Israeli military the day before we arrived. We couldn’t gain legal access to the campus, although we did get in surreptitiously. The university put a bus at our disposal, so we drove up and down the West Bank and into Israel proper. And being in the company of Bir Zeit students I began to appreciate much more readily the nature of the Israeli occupation and how it was impinging upon the indigenous Arab population.
In 1983 and 1984, I was living in Jerusalem for a year. It was very tense all the time, and I was shocked one morning in the spring of 1984 when I turned on the radio to hear that Jewish settlers had climbed over the wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock compound, and they had guns and bomb equipment and hand grenades, and they were attempting to blow up the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam. That was happening just down the road from me. And then, while they were in court, some of them were reading from the Psalms. So I was beginning to say to myself, good heavens, the oppression that I had begun to perceive in 1972 and that I was getting a better knowledge of from the inside – is it possible that this is being driven by religious zealotry of some kind?
I began the task of reading the biblical narrative from the point of view of the land–to do so adequately would have taken me altogether away from the subject of my study (the "Pastoral Epistles")–but in the early 1990s, again in Jerusalem, I returned to that subject much more systematically. I started typing out those texts in the biblical narrative that were about land in any sense – the promise of it, how it was related to the covenant, etc. What really shocked me was that the people entering the land – which was already inhabited by Canaanites, Hivites, Hittites and so on – were to exterminate the indigenous population. That came through in a number of texts, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy. It was bad enough to find that the business of genocide or ethnic cleansing was legitimate, but I was actually reading that it was a requirement of fidelity to the commands of God. And for some crazy reason I hadn’t noticed that in my previous reading of the biblical narrative – perhaps I became more sensitive by the recognition that, in fact, some of these texts formed part of the background for the maltreatment of the indigenous population.
And then, over the years I was becoming much more sensitive to what happened in 1948. I don’t think that I had known in any significant way that people had been kicked out of their homes in 1948 and 1949. I certainly didn’t know that 418 villages were destroyed to make sure that those who were kicked out would not be able to resume occupancy in their home villages.
The Witness: Where did the ideology of Zionism come from?
Michael Prior: Political Zionism is a 19th-century European export, carrying all of the arrogance that one associates with the European nation-states in their colonial zeal. The founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, a non-religious Jew, and his supporters – the vast majority of whom were not only utterly secular but anti-religious – saw it as being necessary to escape the manacled life that was imposed upon Jews in Europe in the ghettoes. At the time, the whole enterprise of political Zionism was regarded by the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, whom Herzl visited around 1896 or 1897, as an egregious blunder. Several of the chief rabbis in Europe were of the same mind – that this enterprise was contrary to Judaism and contrary to the sacred scriptures. Today, you would not get a chief rabbi anywhere who would hold that position. There are other Jews, mostly secular, who take a much more moral stance, in my opinion, but the majority of the leadership of the Orthodox communities throughout the world support Zionism now in an overtly enthusiastic way. So Zionism has gone from being a secular, anti-religious enterprise despised by the religious establishment to becoming virtually an integral part of the self-definition of Jews.
I have recently been examining the place of the state of Israel in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. One of the principles of Jewish-Christian dialogue – or indeed, dialogue between any two faiths — is that each faith acknowledges and respects the self-definition of the other. The Jewish partners in the dialogue are invariably religious Jews, and the dialogue has been tainted by the philosophy of political Zionism. You find the most extraordinary claims being made for Jewish rights in the land, and you find regularly a fundamental distortion of historical reality concerning the circumstances under which the state of Israel was brought into being – particularly the propaganda view that it was never the intention of the Zionists to expel the indigenous Arab population, and that this only happened in the context of the trying circumstances of war.
Not only is it absolutely established that hundreds of thousands were expelled at gunpoint with threats after massacres, but all kinds of horror tactics were used to expel the people from their villages and homes. It’s now emerged in the last 10 years from the study of the Zionist and Israeli archives that there is a clear line of development of the notion of what they called "population transfer." From the beginning, the prevailing and majority view was that, in order to establish a state, Israel must get rid of the non-Jews from the area.
The Witness: How did that process of transformation of a political philosophy into a religious idea come about?
Michael Prior: In the beginning of the 20th century there was a small group of religious Jews who identified themselves very quickly with the Zionist secular project. But probably most significantly was the coming to Palestine of a rabbi called Avraham Yitzhak Kook, who became chief rabbi in Palestine from 1921 until he died in 1935. He reinterpreted Jewish history and Jewish eschatology. He was moving away from the strictly Orthodox position that the restoration of the Jews to the land is the work of the Messiah, so any "scaling the wall" before the Messiah comes is blasphemous. He was saying that what these Zionists are doing, even though they don’t know it, is actually in conformity with God’s will. He established a center for the training of rabbis and, under the direction of his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, virtually all the major religious ideologues in the West Bank or in the settlements have come through that particular rabbinical school. And of course they were using the biblical narrative, "Wherever you put your foot is land that belongs to us," and also claiming that the biblical narrative determined the dimensions of the land.
The Witness: How did a version of Christianity that holds Zionist ideas come to develop?
Michael Prior: There were several strands within some of the wings of the Reformed churches that saw the restoration of Jews to the land as being a preliminary to the Second Coming of Christ. Much of it is due to the theological speculation of a man called John Nelson Darby, who was a minister in the Church of Ireland, but he left the church and joined forces with other people in establishing the Plymouth Brethren. He said that all of human history is divisible into seven dispensations, from the period of creation to the final period, which will be the reign of the Messiah. And the final stage requires the return of the Jews to the land. Darby fell out of favor with some of his co-Plymouth Brethren and came over to the States and began to have a strong influence on a number of critical evangelical preachers here – Dwight L. Moody, William E. Blackstone, C.I. Schofield and several other people. And that strand of dispensationalism and Armageddon theology has run down all the years. It’s represented nowadays by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and other people in that Christian Right evangelical constituency.
That wing of the evangelical world viewed the establishment of the state of Israel as the first clear sign of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the final countdown to Armageddon. Later, Israel’s "miraculous" victory over Arab armies in 1967 confirmed the prophetic scenario. The October War of 1973 gave further fuel to Armageddon theology. Jerry Falwell’s "Friendship Tour to Israel" in 1983 included meetings with Israeli government and military officials, a tour of Israeli battlefields and defence installations. His "Prophecy Trips" to Jerusalem heralded the immigration of Jews into Israel as the sign of the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Jesus would rapture true Christians into the air, while the rest of humankind would be slaughtered below. Then 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved. This could even happen while the evangelical pilgrims were in Jerusalem, giving them a ringside seat at the Battle of Armageddon. Biblical prophecy was striving toward its fulfillment in the Middle East today. Thus, Saddam Hussein was reconstructing Babylon, and the city would ignite the events of the end times.
The Witness: Is contemporary Christian Zionism primarily an American phenomenon?
Michael Prior: Well, it’s particularly prominent here. Christian Zionists number perhaps some 25 million worldwide, but their influence is greatest in the U.S., where they number some 20 million. I understand that includes several members of the cabinet of George W. Bush.
The state of Israel is prepared to work with these people – even though it’s part of their theology that Judaism will disappear, that only those Jews who recognize Jesus as the Messiah will be saved. When he came to power in 1977, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, realizing that the mainstream U.S. churches were growing more sympathetic to the Palestinians, directed Israeli lobbyists in the U.S. to work on the evangelical constituency. His Likud Party began to use religious language, and determined efforts were made to forge bonds between evangelical Christians and pro-Israel lobbies. Begin’s example has been followed by every Prime Minister since.
The Witness: How much influence do you think this has had on U.S. policy?
Michael Prior: The evangelical Christian constituency was a major factor in the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. However, his call for a Palestinian homeland in 1977 precipitated his downfall, and the evangelical right’s switch to Ronald Reagan in 1980 was a major factor in Carter’s defeat. The combined efforts of the Israeli lobbies and the Christian Right have continued since, and reached their climax in the present incumbent in the White House. While acknowledging the underlying oil interests, one cannot ignore the extent to which the Christian Right influences the administration’s worldview regarding the "war on terrorism" and appetite for "regime change" in Iraq.
The Witness: How do you see the involvement or complicity of the mainstream churches?
Michael Prior: I think "complicity" would be too strong a word, because by and large the mainstream Christian churches have never been sympathetic to the Zionist project. But whatever desire the Christian churches might have had to criticize the project of Zionism and its determination to expel the indigenous population, they weren’t going to voice that criticism, for fear of appearing to be supporters of the Nazi determination to rid Europe of its Jews. And it’s only as years have gone on, I think, that the extent of the disaster done to the Palestinian people has become more apparent, and Christians have begun to have a bit more sympathy for the Palestinian plight.
The Churches in the Holy Land manifest virtual unanimity with respect to the situation in Palestine. The first intifada which erupted in 1987 stimulated a new sense of unity, marked by ongoing ecumenical cooperation, and issuing in a number of significant joint statements, not least in criticism of the excesses of the Israeli occupation. And such views are mirrored in the mainstream churches outside.
But most of the mainstream Christian churches have settled – I think in a rather unprincipled way – for an accommodation between the oppressor – in this case the Zionists – and the oppressed. They talk about "balance." But there has been no systematic or moral critique of the ideology of Zionism, which I think is what the situation demands. Christian morality has some very clearly expressed fundamental positions – like, for example, if you do damage to somebody else, you must apologize for the damage you have done, you must make good the damage you have done insofar as that is possible, you must compensate the person who is disadvantaged insofar as that is possible, and you must commit yourself to working toward non-exploitation in the future. But, in the case of Zionism and the state of Israel, those principles are left aside. Instead we have church leaders advocating accommodations between the victim and the oppressor without demands for any of those kinds of things – like, for example, in practical terms, the return of refugees, which is a right under international law.
And if that is the situation in the churches, I am afraid that the situation in the educational academies is even worse. There is presently a serious programmatic attempt to mute any criticism of the state of Israel or of the Zionist project. The World Zionist Organization, at its Congress this summer, called on it members to challenge anti-semitism, anti-Zionism and Holocaust denial. Anti-Zionism, in that view, is put into the same category as the other two – whereas, in fact, Zionism is a 19th-century political project that has wreaked enormous havoc on the indigenous population of Palestine. Not only do I think it is legitimate to protest against this project, but I think it is a moral imperative to do so – as I would think it a moral imperative to protest against the policy of apartheid. And incidentally, I consider Zionism to be an evil of far greater profundity than apartheid.
The Witness: Why do you say that?
Michael Prior: Well, first of all, even though the apartheid regime did all kinds of injustices to the indigenous population of South Africa, it didn’t expel 80 percent of them. The Zionist project is much more severe – the Zionists wanted, simply, ethnic cleansing. I’m sure there are many people in Israel today who regard the Zionist project as having made their first major blunder in not getting rid of all of the Arabs in 1948. They got rid of 750,000, leaving behind approximately 150,000. That 150,000 has grown to a million. And there are very strong voices in Israel now that say the only way forward is to expel all the Arabs.
And, of course, we’re now in a situation where we could have a very, very serious war. We’ve had a whole pile of wars in the region, many of them related to the existence of the state of Israel, its policies of expansion and its militarism. I think it’s very easy to demonstrate that a lot of the militancy and the expenditure of the resources of the surrounding countries on arms has got to do with the fact that Israel is so well-armed. So it has brought a great sense of belligerence to the whole culture and it has seriously undermined the credibility of the United States’ foreign policy. Something like one-third of all American foreign aid goes to the state of Israel.
The Witness: Insofar as Christian religious ideas or interpretations of the Bible are used to justify this, how do you think we can confront them?
Michael Prior: This is a profoundly difficult task, since we are not dealing merely with the interpretation of texts, but, rather, with a whole worldview, and also, of course, with a personal philosophy and value system. There are obviously technical questions to pose about the nature of the biblical narrative. Crudely, not everything in the Bible in the "past tense" is necessarily history, and not everything in the "future tense" is necessarily calling out for fulfilment in political terms in each generation. But I consider the moral question to be even more fundamental. To begin with, I would wish to inquire into what picture of God is behind their particular interpretation of things – a God who rejoices in the slaughter of people in the Armageddon disaster? The God they portray looks to me to be a militaristic and xenophobic genocidist who would not be even sufficiently moral to conform to the Fourth Geneva Convention. How, I constantly ask myself, are such people so unconcerned about others being kicked out of their homes, children being shot, people struggling for survival against very oppressive forces of occupation? Instead of trying to give food to the hungry and sight to the blind, as Jesus exhorted, these people support institutions that make seeing people blind, put free people in prison, and make the poor poorer. But it is extremely difficult to make progress in the face of worldviews which are held tenaciously, and considered to be in conformity with the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. I go back to the fundamental question: Is God moral? Is God just? Is God a God of love, compassion, tenderness and justice? Or, rather, is God the great ethnic cleanser? Those are fundamental questions that I would like the evangelical Zionist constituency to consider.
I think that this particular question about the Holy Land – the cohabitation of people of three faiths and two nationalisms in the land – is presenting a massive challenge to the integrity of religion. If Christians don’t contribute to getting that right, I think they do a serious disservice to the whole religious project.
Marianne Arbogast is associate editor of The Witness.
10 August, 2005
Lana Habash - Divide and Conquer:The Politics of Palestinian Human Rights
I recently had occasion to talk with a professor at a well-known human rights center on the subject of Palestine. Although the center claims to derive its mandate from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a declaration whose very title insists on universal application - I quickly found that the professor's commitment to universality grew less firm when the rights in question belong to Palestinians. Although the Declaration is unequivocal in affirming the right of refugees to return to their homes and reclaim their property, the professor stated that she didn't support this particular right in all cases, specifically NOT in the case of Palestine. When I asked her about the validity of a Jewish state that practiced Apartheid, she told me that she saw the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian land as past history, and she didn't see the significance of debating it now. When I asked her what she thought of the ongoing practice of ethnically cleansing Palestinian communities within the Green Line (in what is now called Israel) in areas like the Naqab (Negev) through land confiscation and poisoning crops, she admitted that she knew nothing about it.
This conversation with a human rights professor at an academic institution wouldn't be a cause of great concern if it weren't also fairly typical of the human rights discourse on Palestine in American activist circles. This discourse is generally governed by two rules:
(1) The discussion of Palestinian human rights must be strictly limited to the rights of Palestinians after 1967. The human rights of Palestinians before this period must consistently be ignored, denied, or deemed negotiable; and
(2) The "Green Line" defines the players, their privileges, their rights, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their claims to protection under international human rights law.
These two rules have helped to ensure that the discourse on "human rights" does not serve Palestinians in a struggle to obtain their rights, but rather facilitates the ongoing colonization of their land.
* On human rights discourse and the rights of Palestinians before 1967
Imagine for a moment a discussion of the human rights of indigenous South Africans absent a discussion of the racism and colonialist ideology that laid the foundation for the oppressive policies of white South Africa. Those advocating for the human rights of South African native people would decry the prison conditions of jailed indigenous South Africans, denounce the horrifying exploitation of their labor, and would oppose the most repressive policies of white South African violence against popular resistance to Apartheid, but would say nothing about Apartheid itself. In such a case, one of the fundamental human rights violations "necessary" to maintain the privileges of a minority white population on South African land would be deemed acceptable (the system of segregation and racist laws called Apartheid) because the security of white South African "rights" (read dominance) would otherwise be threatened. Such a human rights framework would not only have been flawed because it failed to address the fundamental crime of Apartheid, but also because in doing so it would have failed to change in any way the human rights violations built on that foundation. It would rather have helped support the lie propagated by the Apartheid regime: the notion that Apartheid and human rights were compatible. Such a discourse would neither question nor oppose racism but only the most repressive manifestations of it and even this "opposition" would have been meaningless, since repression was a necessary consequence of the system of Apartheid.
In Palestinian human rights advocacy in America, this framework is the norm. The human rights of Palestinian people prior to 1967 are neither part of the discussion nor part of the aim of advocacy. In 1948, over 780, 000 Palestinians (over 82% of the indigenous population of Palestine at that time) were forcibly transferred from their land, in some cases at gunpoint, in other cases through threats of massacres like the massacre of over 250 Palestinians in Deir Yassin. 530 of an estimated 550 total villages were depopulated. Over 78% of Palestinian land was confiscated for the establishment of a state for Jewish people. The establishment of the Law of Return and the Absentee Property Law in the 1950's - racist laws which defined the boundaries of inclusion (Jewish people) and exclusion (indigenous Palestinians) - were cornerstones in the establishment of an Israeli Apartheid state that continues to this day. None of these facts are part of the predominant American human rights perspective on Palestine. All of the human rights abuses noted above are rooted in and justified through Zionism.
Zionism is a European colonialist ideology and political process of creating and maintaining a Jewish majority in Palestine, granting rights and privileges to Jewish people that supersede any rights of the indigenous people of Palestine. In Zionism, the process of "Judaizing" or "redeeming" the land (expropriating the land of indigenous Palestinians and using it for exclusively Jewish use) is used as justification for all policies, no matter how repressive, both preceding and following 1967.
This demographic war waged on the Palestinian people meets the definitions of both the crime of Apartheid and the crime of genocide as defined in international law. Recognition of these crimes is startlingly absent from most mainstream discussions of Palestinian human rights in America. Utilizing the framework of Zionism, "Palestine/Israel" peace groups maintain that Israeli rights to Palestinian land and resources (justified through racism and taken by military force) and Palestinian rights to their own resources and land (defined as specifically the West Bank and Gaza and not the rest of historic Palestine) are somehow equal.
In this framework, rights for Palestinians, like the right of return and the right to resist occupation, become debatable and negotiable because they threaten the existence of the Jewish state. This resembles the argument by the slave owner that freeing slaves might cause the economic collapse of the plantation. In both cases, a fundamental injustice becomes the justification for further injustice. In the human rights framework, racism and genocide should neither be morally acceptable nor morally defensible in any context. This is true in South Africa, it is true in the Americas, and it is true in Palestine.
* On Palestinian human rights and geography
The Green Line is the name given to the lines established in 1949 that constituted the de facto borders of what is called pre-1967 Israel, the part of historic Palestine militarily occupied by Zionists in 1948. It should be stressed at the outset that the Green Line has not been observed as any kind of "border" by the Israelis as demonstrated by continued expansion of settlements, Israeli bypass roads, water theft, and the Annexation/Apartheid Wall. In spite of Israeli attempts at disruption, contiguous Palestinian communities on both sides of the Green Line have remained deeply tied to one another through culture, family, and economy. The Green Line does not describe a real boundary in the world, not even a recognized political boundary. It exists almost entirely within "discourse."
Palestinians are denied and Israeli settlers granted privileges, rights, and legitimacy based on where they exist geographically in relation to this line. This involves definitions of who is a Palestinian, an "Arab Israeli", an Israeli "civilian", or an Israeli "settler."
To clarify, Palestinians currently living in the West Bank and Gaza are the most commonly understood definition of "Palestinian." There is a general acceptance in America that these Palestinians inhabit what is to be a future Palestinian state, that this land is under military occupation, and that the occupation of this land should eventually end. We will, for the moment, ignore the fact that the material circumstances that would make such a state possible are being eliminated daily by the occupier. The human rights abuses perpetrated against these Palestinians are well known, though they continue unabated despite extensive reporting and documentation. Collective punishment, home demolition, torture, illegal detention, illegal settlement, destruction of infrastructure and farm land, water and land theft are justified by proponents of Israel as necessary to preserve the "security" of the Jewish state.
The Palestinians currently living within the boundaries of the so-called Green Line are subdivided into "Arab Israelis" and the Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab. These Palestinians also live under military occupation (in their case since 1948). Racist laws and policies prevent these Palestinians from equal citizenship on their own land. Their villages within the Green Line are unrecognized on Israeli maps, making the process of "Judaizing the land" nearly impossible to oppose, as there is no acknowledgement by Israel that they exist in the first place. Palestinians in unrecognized villages within the Green Line pay taxes as citizens but are often denied water, electricity, and education. They are subject to the same type of severe military repression experienced by West Bank and Gazan Palestinians when they resist confiscation and settlement of their land. The history of Land Day illustrates this well: on March 30th, 1976 the Israeli government killed six Palestinians and injured hundreds to suppress a general strike protesting further theft of Palestinian land in the Nazareth area. Another example is the case of the thirteen Palestinian "Israelis" killed within the Green Line at the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000. This second Intifada has represented a serious threat to the Israeli colonization project. It is the manifestation of Palestinian resistance to colonial occupation on both sides of the Green Line.
In the case of the Palestinian Bedouin, an ongoing program of land expropriation and dispossession has continued since 1948, when the vast majority of Palestinian Bedouin were dispossessed of their land. The remaining Bedouin, like the rest of the Palestinian population, were placed under military rule from 1948 through 1966. Many were relocated to urban townships through a process of land confiscation, home demolition, and other coercive methods. The Israeli government has rendered Bedouin cultivation of their own land illegal and has poisoned their food crops with toxic chemicals to destroy their way of life.
In the case of both the "Arab Israelis" and the Bedouin, human rights violations perpetrated against Palestinians within the Green Line are not commonly discussed or known within the American human rights community. In fact, the "rights" of Palestinians within Israel are often paraded as part of the mythology of Israel's singular "democracy" in the region. On those rare occasions when the question is discussed, it is discussed as the problem of "a minority" struggling for equal rights within the state of Israel. This is another lie propagated by the discourse on Palestine by means of the Green Line: although the total population of Palestinians living within the boundaries of historic Palestine is now greater than or equal to the number of Jewish-Israelis, and Palestinian communities have maintained strong interdependent relationships throughout their historic land, the imaginary Green Line creates a false impression of separate communities so that one becomes a "minority" struggling for inclusion, and the other a "foreign people" struggling for independence.
The Palestinian refugee population living in Jordan numbers approximately 80% of the current Jordanian population. These Palestinians have historically engaged in resistance struggles to return to their land in historic Palestine and as a result have been repressed in horrific ways. In the case of Black September (September, 1970) over 3,000 Palestinians in Jordan were massacred by the Jordanian government as part of a regional attack on Palestinian resistance to colonial occupation of historic Palestine.
There is another significant Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon. This population has also suffered severe human rights violations. At Sabra and Shatilla in September, 1982 the now twice-elected Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon presided over the massacre of over 2,750 Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian Phalangists.
Finally, there is the wider Palestinian diaspora in areas outside of Jordan and Lebanon who have an internationally recognized right to return to their homes in historic Palestine. These Palestinians also suffer political repression when they attempt to advocate for the rights guaranteed to them. When members of the Palestinian diaspora living in the United States, for example, support anti-racist, anti-colonialist politics and support the right of return and the right of Palestinians to resist colonial occupation, they are typically deported, detained without trial, and in some cases tortured - all in the name of American and Israeli security. They are often marginalized as "fanatic" or "extremist" by the very human rights groups that claim to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Green Line functions in other ways to obscure the process of colonization. Israeli settlers so often mentioned in the news are defined as those Israelis who are in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. These settlers are armed and protected by the full force of the Israeli military. They engage in routine and unprovoked attacks on the Palestinian population, sometimes attacking children with knives, guns, and rocks in an effort to intimidate Palestinian families into relinquishing their property. When the Palestinian community attempts to defend itself against these attacks, the Israeli occupation forces march in to "restore order." The human rights community at best asserts that these settlers should be relocated to areas within the Green Line. As the Israeli government claims "disengagement" from Gaza and claims this as a concession for "peace", it promises to relocate these Gaza settlers to other areas now occupied by indigenous Palestinians (the Naqab within the Green Line, for example, and ironically, other areas of new and expanding settlements within the West Bank and Al Quds (East Jerusalem)). These individuals who have defied international law are being compensated by the international community for the "trouble" of resettlement to the tune of $227,000/settler.
"Israeli civilians" within the Green Line are portrayed quite differently from Israeli settlers of the West Bank and Gaza, despite the similarities in their material relationship to the indigenous people of Palestine. These people are often portrayed in American media as innocent individuals who "want to live in peace" with their neighbors. These "civilians" are also settlers on Palestinian land occupied through military force. They live in houses and on property that belongs to Palestinian refugees. They claim rights to land and resources that have been taken by force and over which they maintain exclusive control under a system of laws based on racist ideology. The vast majority of these Israeli civilians advocate for separation and segregation. Even the Israeli Peace movement continues to maintain that Israeli injustice in Palestine does not include the forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948, but rather only the occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. These civilians fight for the preservation of their privileges as Jews within Israel that allow them to buy land (Palestinians cannot), travel freely (Palestinians cannot), settle in historic Palestine permanently (Palestinians born and raised in historic Palestine cannot return despite international laws guaranteeing their right to do so), express their political opinions freely without fear of detention or torture (Palestinians who are considered Israeli citizens do not enjoy this freedom), enjoy education, electricity, and free use of the water of historic Palestine (Palestinian "Israelis" often have none of these freedoms in the unrecognized villages).
Israeli civilians are often armed and their privileges are protected by Israeli soldiers. In places like Nazareth, a Palestinian community within the Green Line, these Israeli civilians also engage in violent rampages against Palestinians. And, as in the West Bank and Gaza, if Palestinians within the Green Line resist, the Israeli military again marches in to "restore order." We who work for Palestinian human rights are not supposed to speak of how these Israeli civilians came to be in Palestine. We are not supposed to speak about how it is that these Israeli civilians own and continue to live on property previously inhabited by a majority indigenous Palestinian population, or how it is that they maintain racist privilege over indigenous Palestinians in historic Palestine. We are not supposed to talk about mass forced transfer of over 82% of the population, the thirty-five massacres, "present absenteeism", the 530 depopulated Palestinian villages, Apartheid laws and other laws preventing Palestinians from owning land or even earning wages for their labor, during the birth of the much celebrated "oasis of democracy."
If we turn away from the purely imaginary lines that have been drawn for the purpose of maintaining a discourse on Palestine, and turn instead to the historical and material realities of life in Palestine, much false "complexity" dissolves. Israeli settlers are settlers whether they settled in 1936, 1948, 1967, 1980, or 2005, and whether they settled in Jaffa (Tel Aviv), the Naqab (Negev), Khalil (Hebron), or Gaza. The "rights" of these settlers in all instances are based on land theft and racism against the indigenous population. The "rights" of these settlers in all instances are preserved through military force. The material relationship of these settlers to Palestinians will continue to be genocidal as long as they continue to live on stolen Palestinian land, utilize stolen Palestinian resources, and advocate for their privileges as Jews to do all of the above.
The indigenous people of historic Palestine are Palestinian whether they are refugees of 1948, 1967, or 2005, and whether they are the "internally displaced" Palestinians living within the Green Line called "Israeli Arabs", or Bedouin, or the "externally displaced" Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon, or the larger Palestinian diaspora. All of these Palestinians have the right to live freely in their homes in Palestine.
We are left, then, with only one essential human rights question to be answered. This question is capable of reframing the discussion in such a way that actually advances the cause of Palestinian human rights: Do the rights and protections of international humanitarian law apply to all Palestinians?
The bulk of human rights discourse has focused on applying humanitarian law to Israeli government policy in the West Bank and Gaza and has focused human rights advocacy on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Historically it has been shown over and over again that genocide begins with separation of the indigenous people. Once the work of separation has been accomplished, the work of the colonial power - whether it be in the Americas, South Africa, or Israel - is to split the indigenous population into subgroups to further the project of colonization. This is done through a variety of different methods, including all of the following: empowering a minority sector of the indigenous population to police its own people (as in the case of the Palestinian Druze); establishing racist Jim Crow laws which grant some "rights" to Palestinians within the Green Line while simultaneously assuring that these rights never challenge the fundamental racist privilege of Jews over non-Jews; negotiating "peace" treaties at gunpoint where chosen Palestinian representatives on the other side of the Green Line sign away rights and land while seemingly assuring (but not really) a limitation on the genocidal conditions imposed by the colonial power; and imposing collective punishment to isolate Palestinians who resist colonial occupation from larger communities of Palestinian support.
In accepting these divisions, the American human rights framework as it has been applied to Palestinians has not only failed to stop human rights violations, but has facilitated the colonization and genocide of Palestinian people. It has done this by accepting the validity of the Jewish state and by giving only limited and conditional support to certain human rights for certain Palestinians living in certain areas at certain times.
The American human rights framework as it currently functions in Palestine has become a tool used by Israel and its proponents to legitimize colonial land theft and genocide rather than oppose it. True human rights advocacy that supports the rights of the indigenous people of Palestine must start by acknowledging the rights of all Palestinians, whether they are from 1948 Jaffa, 1967 Nablus, or the Naqab or Jayyus of 2005. It means necessarily that we must discuss Zionism from its origins in Europe in the 1880's to its present manifestations in Palestine. We must reject the idea that colonialism, genocide, Apartheid, or any form of racism is ever justifiable or defensible. We must also reject the idea that colonial governments like the US or Israel will ever negotiate against their own interests. These are the first steps in creating true international solidarity that supports the Palestinian people's legitimate resistance against ongoing colonization, occupation, Apartheid, and genocide in all of historic Palestine.
Lana Habash is a member of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine, http://www.onepalestine.org
01 August, 2005
Toufic Haddad - Palestine, the antiwar movement, and the quest for genuine unity
A response to Ted Glick ZNet
Ted Glick’s article “Building Unity at a Time of Possibility” (Znet July 20, 2005) provides a window into the thinking of the UFPJ leadership and its vocal supporters regarding how best to build a broad and effective anti-war movement capable of bringing about the end of the brutal US occupation of Iraq. The thrust of the article attempts to tackle the division within the US anti-war movement organizers largely surrounding the question of Palestine, while providing a rationalization for why the UFPJ leadership has chosen to keep Palestine and particularly the question of the right of return out of the agenda of the anti-war movement.
The basis for Glick and presumably the UFPJ leadership reaching this conclusion rests upon his opening argument: “Narrow approaches are a dead-end for our movement. . . What is needed is an approach that can appeal to millions of people, that connects with and draws strength from the deep-seated traditions of struggle for justice among the peoples who make up this country.”
He then argues that although he “personally understand[s] and support[s] the right of Palestinian organizations to put this demand forward” and importantly recognizes that “no one can legitimately deny this just demand of the Palestinians”, he nonetheless concludes that “to put this particular demand forward rather than, say, a demand to end U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, can only have the effect of confusing, alienating or turning away potential participants in and organizers of September 24th, and not just in the white community.”
He further argues that tactically “It is not a demand broadly understood or supported within the United States, even within the U.S. progressive movement”, and that within “the context of the movement to force the United States to pull its military troops and military bases out of Iraq and end its neo-colonial plans to control Iraqi oil, this is a demand that will weaken and narrow that movement.”
Glick’s concerns should not be taken lightly, or for that matter immediately eschewed out of implicit purist idealism. Nonetheless, as I will argue in this article, he is wrong both with regards to the pre-assumptions to his argument, as well as with regards to the conclusions he draws, which I believe can only lead the anti-war movement down a dangerous path, built upon an untenable footing. This is made all the more serious and damaging within the context of the enormous human costs borne by the people of Iraq and Palestine, not to mention the lives of US soldiers, and the draining financial costs these policies are having domestically. I hereby put forth my arguments within the spirit of constructive debate and the desire to set the necessary political and methodological parameters for actualizing the long deterred goals of our movements.
Why is Glick wrong?
First it is important to clarify the severity and hence urgency of the political situation in Palestine, and the direct culpability of the US government, historically and into the present, for bringing this situation about. On this there should be no debate: US government support for Israel (spanning both Democrat and Republican legislators) in the form of virtually unlimited political, financial and military aid, forms the basis for allowing Israel to do what it does throughout Palestine. In its more ‘favorable’ interpretation Israeli policies are leading to the erecting of a brutal form of apartheid across historical Palestine, while in its more ‘critical’ interpretation, these policies aim toward transferring the Palestinians from their historical homeland be it in ‘slow motion’ (through walls, settlements and the making of the most elementary function of daily life intolerable), or in ‘fast motion’, if sufficient historical conditions arise (such as regional war).
Without US governmental support for these policies, Israel truly would be a pariah state. Here it is important to emphasize that the extent of Israeli policies is not limited to the brutality of its illegal 38 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, whose abuses are so numerous it would be impossible to cover in an article of this length. Rather, Israeli policies flow from its Apartheid-like structure which defines itself as “the state of the Jews throughout the world”, and not as the state of its citizens. This definition necessitates the structural discrimination of the Palestinian citizens of Israel (who number more than one million people – one fifth of the populace) and is incomparable to any other political regime around the world. It should be categorically rejected by progressives world wide, not only because it is fundamentally racist against the indigenous Palestinian population, but also because the way this ideology is activated on the ground both historically and in the present necessitates the exclusion, and indeed transfer of Palestinians to maintain a “Jewish majority”.
If one fifth of the citizens of the United States were excluded on religious bases from elementary rights such as access to land, (93% of which in Israel cannot be sold to non-Jews), or the ability to give their spouses citizenship (as is the case of Israeli citizens who marry Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza), it would elicit justified domestic and international opprobrium. Wasn’t this similar to the basis for the Civil Rights movement which fought against racial discrimination and segregation in the from of Jim Crow Laws? Wasn’t this also the basis of the movement against apartheid South Africa? It is the nature of the Israeli state, embodied in the Zionist conception of an exclusive Jewish state which guides Israel’s policies in the 1967 occupied territories, against its Palestinian citizenry, and which likewise prevents the legitimate return of Palestinian refugees to their lands and homes – a right which needless to say has been acknowledged in the UN General Assembly more than 110 times.
Here lies the importance of the inclusion of the latter demand (the right of return) within the agenda of the anti-war movement. Unlike the demand to merely call for the end of the 1967 occupation, which Glick seems more amenable to, the question of the right of return goes to the heart of exposing the nature and extent of the issues faced in the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” The Palestinian people categorically reject conceding their individual and collective right to return to their land and homes as they justly should. After bearing witness in recent years to the return of Afghan and Kosovar refugees, and after it is acknowledged quite openly among Israeli historians that Palestinians were intentionally driven off their land in 1948 to create “the Jewish state” in the first place, support for such a demand is an elementary human right which no reasonable person committed to progressive values can deny. The right of return has the tactical significance of being able to combine the pre-1967 historical oppression of Palestinians (yet to be recognized or amended by Israel), and the current racist nature of the Israeli state, which prevents their return because they are simply not Jews.
The point is that given the historical culpability of the US government in supporting Israeli policies, the US anti-war movement cannot pretend that it is blind to these abuses, nor that it does not have a role to play in their resolution. That is why the inclusion of a systematic and holistic critique of Israel, and more importantly Zionism – embodied in the demand for the right of return - is so important. Israel cannot remain Zionist and accept the right of return. An entirely new arrangement would have to be brought about if Palestinian refugees were accorded their long denied rights. Furthermore, the right of return does not allow for the question of Palestine to be reduced, as many have attempted, to the question of the oppression and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone. Many have forgotten that the PLO was formed in 1964 – three years before the 1967 occupation even began – and was founded as a movement of return for the 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were driven from their land, and the wholesale destruction of 532 of their towns and villages. This issue is an open wound not just in Palestine but across the Arab world, and has consistently been at the forefront of Arabs and Muslims internationally, including within the US. Attempts made at de-linking the right of return from the question of the 1967 occupation will end in failure as this right represents the heart and soul of the Palestinian national movement, without which there is no basis for a “solution” to the “Israeli Palestinian conflict” in the first place - whoever may negotiate on the Palestinian side.
Unfortunately that is exactly what Glick suggests, when he says that these issues “must be dealt with as part of the process of serious negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli government representatives, leading to an end to the Israeli occupation.” Since when is the anti-war movement limited in the setting of its agenda, to the actions and policies of various elites, rather than setting the principles for what must be the basis of human rights and historical justice? By the same logic, the anti-war movement is in no position to call for ending the occupation of Iraq and for “Troops out Now”, given that this is not something raised by the governments of Iraq and the US. Abstaining from setting the principles for what constitutes the basis for a genuine anti-occupation position based upon respect for human rights, the end of an unjust and illegal war and occupation, and the end to a dehumanizing and intolerable dispossession of an entire nation, means abdicating the responsibility of leadership to the agendas of organized power – the very same powers which brought about the occupations of Iraq and Palestine in the first place.
The anti-war movement must clarify whether it wishes to set principles for what constitutes genuine anti-war, anti-occupation, and anti-racist positions, or whether these are in fact negotiable issues. If these principles are non-negotiable, then there should be no reticence in including these demands as part of the anti-war movement agenda. If they are in fact negotiable then the anti-war movement is attempting to erect itself upon a footing which by necessity concedes its principles and power to elites. There can be no middle ground on these questions (though certainly tactical considerations are another question, once this has been determined.) This is also why Glick’s implicit description of such demands as “narrow approaches” that will “weaken” the movement is a mischaracterization. On the contrary, failing to establish principles of what constitutes the rights that we are fighting for is a recipe for building a movement which does not truly know what it is fighting for, resulting in an ambiguity which can only confuse the movement, making it subject to disorientation by the spectacle of “Iraqi elections”, the “writing of the Iraqi constitution” or the next “Palestinian-Israeli peace summit” etc. Over time this can only result in the movement’s ineffectuality, demoralization and the depleting of its ranks.
Once this principled question is answered by the anti-war movement - a question which is actually independent of the particular context of Iraq or Palestine, but which is actualized through it – only then can an effective movement be built. The lack of political clarity around the reasons for this war; the feeling amongst many in the anti-war movement that the UN could stop it; that the problem was the Bush administration (and not US imperial policies in the region), and hence the need to back a pro-war Democratic party candidate (who could ‘do the job better’) are indeed the reasons for the splintered, ineffectual state of the US anti-war movement today. The movement simply cannot repeat these mistake again, or the consequences for Iraq, Palestine, and the American people will be devastating.
Determining the need for erecting the anti-war movement upon a sound political basis whose values it sets, is the best way to rebuild the movement upon an effective footing. Doing so also necessitates that the anti-war movement not be in the pocket of the Democratic party which cynically takes its support for granted while functionally supporting the war in Iraq, the “war against terror”, the occupation of Palestine, and the Zionist nature of Israel.
Only once this fundamental question is resolved can the question of raising tactical considerations be addressed. Here, Glick indeed does have a point that we must not be ashamed to concede. The question of Palestine overall, the right of return, and all aspects surrounding it, are indeed impeded by the fact that there is not sufficient political clarity in the US in general, and within the anti-war movement overall, regarding these issues. Additionally it should be clearly noted that there is also a vocal minority within the anti-war movement that is pro-Zionist and which strives to perennially scuttle addressing the issue of Palestine in a just way as part of its agenda.
But if clarity around the need for a principled anti-war movement is determined, the politics and orientation of the anti-war movement will naturally flow. Rather than making attempts to force out Palestine as an organic element of anti-war movement organizing, the anti-war movement must move towards forcing out the Zionist elements within it, as a corrupting and contradictory force which sews ideological confusion within its ranks. Hereafter the anti-war movement can begin to take up the issue of addressing the need for a broad based educational campaign around the issue of Palestine, in order to clarify the outstanding questions which remain and are in need of clarification: the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism; demythologizing the “peace process”; understanding the exclusivist racist nature of Zionism etc.
The need for such a campaign will also have important theoretical contributions to the movement for ending the occupation of Iraq and for bringing the troops home. This is because the occupation of Iraq is not an isolated byproduct of a deranged American president, but the aggressive expansion of US imperial policies in the region – policies it is worth pointing out which are supported by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Senate. US support for Israel represents a core axis of US policies in the region, of which the direct US occupation of Iraq is merely an extension. While Israel has worked furiously since its inception defending the interests of it imperial backers (including ensuring access through the Suez canal, destroying pan-Arab nationalist regimes and leftist movements, defending pro-American Arab dictatorships, ensuring that no counter-hegemonic anti-US imperialist project emerges to ‘threaten’ access to this crucial geo-strategic region etc.), the US now works to secure control of the oil spigot itself, so as to be able to leverage control over this crucial resource against its economic competitors, particularly the EU, Japan and China. Iraq and Palestine thus represents two wings of one US imperial strategy, and the sooner the anti-war movement internalizes this, the sooner it can begin to develop effect counter strategies and movements.
The de-linking of Iraq and Palestine within the US anti-war movement is illogical when viewed in this light. Furthermore, the pre-assumption that anti-war activists don’t sufficiently understand the question of Palestine and hence would leave its ranks if it were to be included in its agenda, is also illogical. On the contrary, including Palestine within the anti-war movement’s agenda necessitates having a holistic critique of the causes of this war (US imperial ambitions, and US capitalist competition against its competitors), and can only serve to galvanize, orient and engage anti-war movement actors for the long haul. In this we must have no pretensions: the occupation of Palestine has already lasted 57 years, and despite the enormous human costs witnessed so far, the US occupation of Iraq is merely in its infancy. If we look to the historical experience of Vietnam, the US ruling classes showed that they were willing to kill 2-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, and 60,000 US troops in its failed effort to ensure that this region did not fall beyond its bounds of control. How then will these same forces act to defend their interests when 60% of the world oil reserves are at stake? The anti-war movement must soberly pose the question of how many Iraqis, Palestinians and US soldiers the US and Israel are willing to let die to ensure that the US maintains control of Arab oil.
I believe all genuine anti-war forces in the US can achieve and internalize this understanding, without serious dissention. The problem with anti-war movement organizers is that both UFPJ and ANSWER/ TONC do not trust their own constituencies – as though only the leaders can understand these supposedly complex issues. Both coalitions act as though their agendas, with or without the inclusion of Palestine, is a fait accompli, without seeing the need to address and dialogue with their constituencies about the need to set firm principles upon which the anti-war movement is to be based, and then to work to develop and educate the movement as a whole to address their respective educational insufficiencies – be it regarding Palestine or Iraq. Needless to say, let there be no illusions as to the fact that plenty of educational work also needs to be taken up around the issue of Iraq, given the gross misunderstandings and indeed dehumanization that exist within the anti-war movement surrounding issues like the right of Iraqis to resist, their right to self-determination etc.
UFPJ drew the conclusion after the last US presidential campaign that their movement needs "to reach potential new allies and expand our base. . . An education working group will be created to develop the long-term educational strategy to reach new constituencies." What new constituencies is UFPJ talking about? The increasingly organized Right-wing? As Glick himself acknowledges, the statistic polls already show that the majority of Americans are against the war in Iraq. This is the anti-war movement’s constituency – a constituency which proved its forces even before the war in Iraq began in the largest demonstrations witnessed in the history of the planet. UFPJ’s strategy mirrors the policies of the Democratic party which believes it must “reach out” to “red staters” – as though there is a middle ground on issues like the war in Iraq, or a woman’s right to an abortion. The role of the Left must be to organize its real and potential constituency around its principles, trusting that its values and interpretation of reality are applicable and necessary for the American people to live in freedom, equality and at peace with other people around the world. It must not see its role as organizing the Right. The problem with the anti-war movement was not that it wasn’t big enough, but that it was not organized around a set of politics which could tackle the reasons for this war, and what it would take to stop it.
Is it is any wonder then, that while UFPJ heads off in search of “new constituencies”, Arab and Muslims in America – representing a constituency severely effected by the wars in Iraq and Palestine, the bogus “war against terror”, and domestically targeted and scapegoated by everyone from “homeland security” to the Columbia University administration – are distancing themselves as far as possible from this wing of the anti-war movement? Is it any wonder that Arab and Muslim representation at the UFPJ conference was virtually non-existent, when beneath the banner of “inclusiveness” UFPJ bumps out Palestine, so as not to alienate open Zionists? Is it any wonder why Arab and Muslim organizations like the National Council of Arab Americans and the Muslim American Society are calling the UFPJ demonstration on September 24th “segregated”, when advocates like Glick characterize the inclusion of Palestine and the right of return in the agenda for the anti war movement as “troubling”? Tragically I am sure that the great majority of the UFPJ constituency would side with Palestinian rights if given a fair chance to hear and learn about the necessity to have Palestine within its agenda for the health of the anti-war movement as a whole, and for its ability to build an effective struggle. But when they are precisely prevented from doing so by the leadership of UFPJ beneath the bogus concern that it will “narrow and weaken” the anti-war movement, the result can only be further splintering of anti-war movement ranks, and deeper confusion over the anti-war movement’s trajectory. All this indeed during “a time of possibility” when the everyday scandals, lies and incessant blood-letting of the war in Iraq provides the anti-war movement with more than enough fodder to expose and demythologize the US campaign in Iraq for the savagery and colonialism that it is.
As for ANSWER and TONC, both coalitions should indeed be credited for their principled and courageous stand, and for seeing the political and organizational importance of the inclusion of Palestine at the forefront of the anti-war movement’s agenda. Acknowledging this however does not excuse their anti-democratic methods of organizing, which have also tragically shown themselves to be incredibly destructive for movement building as a whole. Each demonstration they organize is like a carbon copy of those organized years ago, as though history is static and new circumstances and questions have not arisen that need to be addressed. Although in name ANSWER says it is a coalition, in reality the decisions it makes are done behind closed doors and are not accountable to needs and demands of what should be anti-war movement priorities. I know this from experience, after having attended one such meeting in which I attempted to raise a political disagreement regarding the question of whether the anti-war movement has achieved an anti-imperialist consciousness. The next day I received word from one of ANSWER’s main national organizers that “The ANSWER meetings have brief political updates/orientations, followed by short discussions on the various points, and then breakdown into working groups. They are organizing meetings and are not meant to be forums for carrying out political debates...”
If ANSWER is a genuine democratic coalition made of groups and individuals committed to building an antiwar movement, why would it eschew political debate? In fact without political debate, the movement remains constipated and insular, unable to process and adapt to the changing reality on the ground, thereby aborting its ability to undertake the challenges a changing reality poses to movement organizers in building effective struggle. If the methods of ANSWER organizing are not seriously reformed they will over time (if they haven’t already) lead the movement and its constituency in ANSWER-organized cities, into political obscurity.
Needless to say, as the anti-war movement experience throughout the course of the past few years has shown, the process and methods of organizing cannot be separated from the goals we are trying to attain. Likewise the goals we strive for cannot be separated from defining the movement’s independent elementary principles and values, which must uphold the categorical rejection of occupation, colonialism, and racism while defending the right of self-determination, the right to resist an illegal occupation and the need for historical justice. Without having all these elements combined within democratic structures that encourage political debate, the unity we all strive for to once and for all put an end to the inhuman occupation of Iraq and Palestine, will never materialize.
Needless to say the urgency of immediately and comprehensively addressing these issues is made all the more stark in the context of the destruction Israel is preparing to inflict upon the Gaza Strip as part of its unilateral disengagement from Gaza – a plan which aims at nothing less than permanently transforming Gaza into an open air prison, expanding and annexing Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, and dealing a crushing blow to the Palestinian national movement in the process. As Israeli Gen. Eival Giladi recently stated, "Israel will act in a very resolute manner in order to prevent terror attacks and [militant] fire while the disengagement is being implemented" and that "If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people." It would be a genuine catastrophe for the people of Palestine and for the US anti-war movement as a whole if on September 24th, the anti-war movement cannot formulate a united position on this impending blood bath. Worse yet, if UFPJ led demonstrations entirely ignore the issue of Palestine like an ostrich putting its head in the sand. Without a radical transformation of the approaches and agendas of the anti-war movement, the blood flowing from Iraqis, Palestinians, and US soldiers will be so plentiful and mixed together that it threatens to soak into every hole, where every ostrich burrows its head.
26 July 2005