By Sami Al-Arian, Counterpunch, 8 December 2015
Back to Basics: Clearing the Fog of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
In his novel 1984 George Orwell introduced the lexicon of Big Brother’s Doublespeak in which “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.” In today’s Western political circles and mainstream media coverage of Palestine/Israel and political Zionism, one may add a host of other phrases to this Orwellian Newspeak. Expressions that would fittingly describe this coverage might include “racism is democracy, resistance is terrorism, and occupation is bliss.”
If individuals were to rely solely on Western media outlets as their source of information regarding the increasingly volatile situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially Jerusalem, they would not only be perplexed by the portrayals of victims and oppressors, but also confused about the history and nature of the conflict itself. For instance, in the past few weeks, in their coverage of the latest Palestinian uprising, most Western mainstream media outlets, such as the New York Times, CNN, FOX, and BBC, virtually omit the words “Israeli occupation,” or “illegal Israeli settlements.” Seldom if ever do they mention the fact that Jerusalem has been under illegal Israeli control for the past 48 years, or that the latest confrontations were set off as a result of Israeli attempts to change the status quo and force a joint jurisdiction of the Islamic holy sites within the walls of old Jerusalem.
Oftentimes Israel and its enablers in the political and media arenas try to obfuscate basic facts about the nature and history of the conflict. Despite these attempts, however, the conflict is neither complicated nor has it existed for centuries. It is a century-old modern phenomenon that emerged as a direct result of political Zionism. This movement, founded by secular journalist Theodore Herzl in the late 19th century, has incessantly attempted to transform Judaism from one of the world’s great religious traditions into a nationalistic ethnic movement with the aim of transferring Jews around the world to Palestine, while ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population from the land of their ancestors. This is the essence of the conflict, and thus all of Israel’s policies and actions can only be understood by acknowledging this reality.
It might be understandable, if detestable, for Israel and its Zionist defenders to circulate false characterizations of history and events to advance their political agenda. But it is incomprehensible for those who claim to advocate the rule of law, believe in the principle of self-determination, and call for freedom and justice to fall for this propaganda or to become its willing accomplices. In following much of the media coverage or political analyses of the conflict, one is struck by the lack of historical context, the deliberate disregard of empirical facts, and the contempt for established legal constructs and precedents. Are the Palestinian territories disputed or occupied? Do Palestinians have a legal right, embedded in international law, to resist their occupiers, including the use of armed struggle, or is every means of resistance considered terrorism? Does Israel have any right to old Jerusalem and its historical and religious environs? Is the protraction of the so-called “cycle of violence” really coming proportionally from both sides of the conflict? Is Israel a true democracy? Should political Zionism be treated as a legitimate national liberation movement (from whom?) while ignoring its overwhelmingly racist manifestations? Is Israel genuine about seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict? Can the U.S. really be an honest peace-broker between the two sides as it has persistently promoted itself in the region? The factual answers to these questions would undoubtedly clear the fog and lead objective observers not only to a full understanding of the conflict, but also to a deep appreciation of the policies and actions needed to bring it to an end.
Occupation, Self-Determination, and International Law
There should be no disputing that the territories seized by Israel in June 1967, including east Jerusalem, are occupied. Dozens of UN resolutions have passed since November 1967, including binding Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, which the Zionist State has stubbornly refused to comply with. In fact, if there were any “disputed” territories, they should be those Palestinian territories that Israel took in 1948, through a campaign of terror, massacres, and military conquests, which resulted in forcefully and illegally expelling over 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, villages, and towns, in order to make room for thousands of Jews coming from Europe and other parts of the world. Consequently, UN Resolution 194 mandated that these Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes … should be permitted to do so.” This resolution has now remained unfulfilled for 67 years. There is also no dispute in international law that Israel has been a belligerent occupier triggering the application of all the relevant Geneva Conventions as the Palestinian people have been under occupation since their “territory is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.”
Furthermore, the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people and their right to resist their occupiers by all means are well established in international law. In 1960, UN resolution 1514 adopted the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.” It stated that, “All peoples have the right to self-determination”, and that, “the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights and is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.” Ten years later the UN adopted Resolution 2625 which called on its members to support colonized people or people under occupation against their colonizers and occupiers. In fact, UN Resolution 3246 reaffirmed in 1974 “the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation form colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.” Four years later UN Resolution 33/24 also strongly confirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle,” and “strongly condemned all governments” that did not recognize “the right to self-determination to the Palestinian people.”
As for occupied Jerusalem, the UN Security Council adopted in 1980 two binding resolutions (476 and 478) by a vote of 14-0 (the US abstained and did not veto either resolution.) Both resolutions condemned Israel’s attempt to change “the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure, (and) the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.” It also reaffirmed “the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem,” and called out Israel as “the occupying power.” It further considered any changes to the city of Jerusalem as “a violation of international law.”
The Use of Violence, Resistance, and the Deceptive Peace Process
Living under brutal occupation for almost half a century without any prospect for its end, the Palestinian people, particularly in Jerusalem, have, since late September, embarked on new mass protests against the latest Israeli incursions on their holy sites and revolted once again against the ceaseless occupation. As a consequence, the Israeli army, aided by thousands of armed settlers roaming the West Bank, have intensified their use of violence, which resulted in over 100 deaths, 2200 injuries, and 4000 arrests in less than two months. The Israeli army and the settlements-based armed gangs, though forbidden under international law and the Geneva conventions, have regularly employed various violent means in order to force Palestinian exile or compel submission to the occupation. The Israeli harsh tactics include: settler violence and provocation under full army protection, targeting children, including kidnapping, killing, as well as arresting children as young as 5 , burning infants alive, the constant use of collective punishment and house demolitions, the use of excessive prison sentences for any act of defiance including throwing rocks, storming revered religious sites, and the deliberate targeting of journalists who dare to challenge Israeli hegemony.
The Palestinian people, whether under occupation or under siege, in exile and blocked by Israel from returning to their homes, or denied their right to self-determination, have the legitimate right to resist the military occupation and its manifestations such as the denial of their freedom and human rights, the confiscation of their lands, or the building and expansion of Israeli colonies on their lands. Although most Palestinians opt for the use of nonviolent resistance as a prudent tactic against the brutality of the occupation, international law does not, however, limit their resistance only to the use of peaceful means. In essence, the right to legitimate armed resistance, subject to international humanitarian law, is enshrined in international law and cannot be denied to any people including the Palestinians in their struggle to gain their freedom and exercise their right to self-determination. Furthermore, international law does not confer any right on the occupying power to use any force against their occupied subjects, in order to maintain and sustain their occupation, including in self-defense. In short, aggressors and land usurpers are by definition denied the use of force to subjugate their victims. Consequently, as a matter of principle embedded in international law and regardless of any political viability, strikes against military targets including soldiers, armed settlers, or other tools and institutions of the occupation are legitimate and any action against them, non-violent or otherwise, cannot be condemned or deemed terrorism.
Furthermore, the argument regarding the validity of using armed struggle against oppression and denial of political rights by tyrannical and colonial regimes is well established in its favor. Patriot Patrick Henry rallied his countrymen prior to the American Revolution in 1775 in his famous call “give liberty or give me death.” Civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. even rejected pacifism in the face of aggression. He only questioned its tactical significance when he stated “I contended that the debate over the question of self-defense was unnecessary since few people suggested that Negroes should not defend themselves as individuals when attacked. The question was not whether one should use his gun when his home was attacked, but whether it was tactically wise to use a gun while participating in an organized demonstration.” Mahatma Gandhi saw active resistance as more honorable than pacifism when he said “I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defence her honour than that she would, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.” Nelson Mandela reflected on this debate when he asserted that he resorted to armed struggle only when “all other forms of resistance were no longer open”, and demanded that the Apartheid regime “guarantee free political activity” to blacks before he would call on his compatriots to suspend armed struggle. Accordingly, the debate over whether the use of armed resistance against Israeli occupation advances the cause of justice for Palestinians is not a question of legitimacy, but rather of sound political strategy in light of the skewed balance of military power and massive public support from peoples around the globe for their just struggle.
Yet, the reality of the conflict actually reveals that the Palestinian people have overwhelmingly been at the receiving end of the use of ruthless Israeli violence and aggression since 1948. With the exception of the 1973 war (initiated by Egypt and Syria to regain the lands they lost in the 1967 war) every Arab-Israeli war in the past seven decades (‘48, ’56, ‘67, ’78, ’82, ’02, etc.) was initiated by Israel and resulted in more uprooting and misery to the Palestinians. Still, since 2008 Israel launched three brutal wars against Gaza with devastating consequences. In the 2008/2009 war, Israel killed 1417 Palestinians and lost 13 people including 9 soldiers. In the 2012 war, Israel killed 167 Palestinians and lost 6 including 2 soldiers. And in the 2014 war, Israel killed 2104 Palestinians, including 539 children, with 475,000 people made homeless, 17,500 homes destroyed, while 244 schools and scores of hospitals and mosques damaged. In that war Israel lost 72 including 66 soldiers. In short, since late 2008 Israel killed 3688 Palestinians in its three declared wars and lost 91 including 77 soldiers. Shamefully the deliberate targeting of Palestinian children has been amply documented as over two thousand have been killed by Israel since 2000. This massive Israeli intentional use of violence against the Palestinians, especially in Gaza (which has been under a crippling siege since 2007) was investigated, determined to constitute war crimes, and condemned by the UN in the Goldstone Report, as well as by other human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The 1993 Oslo process gave rise to the promise of ending decades of Israeli occupation. But the process was rigged from the start as many of its participants have recently admitted. It was an Israeli ploy to halt the first Palestinian uprising and give Israel the breathing room it needed to aggressively and permanently colonize the West Bank including East Jerusalem. It was an accord with a lopsided balance of power, as one side held all the cards and gave no real concessions, and a much weaker side stripped of all its bargaining chips. During this period the number of settlements in the West Bank more than doubled and the number of settlers increased by more than seven fold to over 600 thousand including in East Jerusalem.
The world has none other than Benjamin Netanyahu to acknowledge that Israel has no intention of withdrawing or ending its occupation. After serving his first stint as a prime minister, Netanyahu (shown here in a leaked video) while visiting a settlement in 2001, admitted to his true intention of grabbing as much as 98 percent of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and halting the fraudulent Oslo process. Believing that the camera was off, he spoke candidly to a group of settlers about his strategic vision, plans, and tactics.
On his vision he assured them that “The settlements are here. They are everywhere.” He stated, “I halted the fulfillment of the Oslo agreements. It’s better to give two percent than 100 percent. You gave two percent but you stopped the withdrawal.” He later added, “I gave my own interpretation to the agreements in such a way that will allow me to stop the race back towards the 1967 borders.” As for the tactics, Netanyahu freely confessed his strategy of causing so much pain to the Palestinians that they would submit to the occupation rather than resist. He said, “The main thing is to strike them not once but several times so painfully that the price they pay will be unbearable causing them to fear that everything is about to collapse.” When he was challenged that such a strategy might cause the world to consider Israel as the aggressor, he dismissively said, “They can say whatever they want.” He also implied how he was not concerned about American pressure. To the contrary he asserted that he could easily manipulate Israel’s main benefactor when he stated “America is something you can easily maneuver and move in the right direction. I wasn’t afraid to confront Clinton. I wasn’t afraid to go against the UN.” Even though world leaders consider Netanyahu a “liar” and they “can’t stand him” as shown in this exchange between former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Barak Obama, no Western leader has stood up to Israel, even though a British parliamentarian stated that 70 percent of Europeans consider it a “danger to world’s peace.” But the obstructionist posture and expansionist policies of Israeli leaders are not restricted to the Israeli right. Former Labor leader Ehud Barak was as much determined in 2000 at Camp David not to withdraw from the West Bank, Jerusalem, or dismantle the settlements.
For decades the world waited for Israel to decide its destiny by choosing two out of three defining elements: its Jewish character, its claim to democracy, and the lands of so-called “greater Israel.” If it chose to retain its Jewish majority and claim to be democratic, it had to withdraw from the lands it occupied in 1967. If it insists on incorporating the lands and have a democracy it would have to integrate its Arab populations while forsaking its Jewish exceptionalism in a secular state. Yet sadly but true to its Zionist nature, Israel chose to maintain its Jewish exclusiveness over all of historical Palestine to transform itself into a manifestly Apartheid state.
Political Zionism and the True Nature of the Israeli State
For over a century political Zionism has evoked intense passions and emotions on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: its ardent supporters as well as its critics and hapless victims. Zionists hail their enterprise as a national liberation movement for the Jewish people while its opponents condemn it as a racist ideology that practiced ethnic cleansing, instituted racial and religious discrimination, and committed war crimes to realize its goals.
On November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 3379 that determined Zionism as a “form of racism and racial discrimination.” However, it was revoked 16 years later under tremendous pressure from the U.S. and other Western countries in the aftermath of the first Gulf war in 1991. Oftentimes, the public is denied unfiltered information about the true nature of political Zionism and its declared state. And unfortunately the media conglomerates rarely cover that aspect of the conflict, which contributes to the public’s confusion and exasperation.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has passed laws and implemented policies that institutionalized discrimination against its Arab Palestinian minority. In the aftermath of its 1967 invasion, it instituted a military occupation regime that has denied basic human and civil rights to millions of Palestinians whose population now exceeds the number of Israeli Jews in the land within historical Palestine. In addition, in defiance of international law, Israel has obstinately refused to allow the descendants of the Palestinian people that it expelled in 1948 and 1967 to return to their homes, while allowing millions of people of other nationalities the right to become citizens of the Israeli state upon arrival simply because they are Jewish.
Zionist leaders from Ben-Gurion to Netanyahu have always claimed that Israel was a democracy similar to other Western liberal democracies. But perhaps the best way to examine this claim and illustrate the nature of the modern Zionist state is through a comparative analogy (a similar example could also be found in Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s book).
What if a Western country claiming to be a democracy, such as the U.S. or the U.K., were officially to change its constitution and system to become the state of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs)? Even though its African, Hispanic, Asian, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim citizens as well as other minorities would still have the right to vote, hold political offices, and enjoy some civil and social rights, they would have to submit to the new nature and exclusive character of the WASP state. Moreover, with the exception of the WASP class of citizens, no other citizen would be allowed to buy or sell any land, and there would be permanent constitutional laws that would forbid any WASP from selling any property to any members of other ethnicities or religions in the country. Its Congress or parliament would pass laws that would also forbid any WASP from marrying outside his or her social class, and if any such “illegal” marriage were to take place, it would not be recognized by the state. As for immigration, only WASPs from around the world would be welcome. In fact, there would be no restrictions on their category as any WASP worldwide could claim immediate citizenship upon arrival in the country with full economic and social benefits granted by the state, while all other ethnicities are denied. Furthermore, most of the existing minorities in the country would be subjected to certain “security” policies in order to allow room for the WASPs coming from outside. So in many parts of the country, there would be settlements and colonies constructed only for the new WASP settlers and consequently some of the non-WASP populations would have to be restricted or relocated. In these new settlements the state would designate WASP-only roads, WASP-only schools, WASP-only health clinics, WASP-only shopping malls, WASP-only parks or swimming pools. There would also be a two-tier health care system, educational system, criminal justice system, and social welfare system. In this dual system for example, if a WASP assaults or kills a non-WASP he would receive a small fine or a light sentence that would not exceed few years, while if a non-WASP murders a WASP, even accidentally, he would receive a harsh or mandatory life sentence. In this system, where the police is exclusively staffed by WASPs, the Supreme Court would routinely sanction the use of torture against any non-WASP, subject to the judgment of the security officers. Such a system would clearly be so manifestly racist, patently criminal, and globally abhorred that no one would stand by it or defend it. But could such a regime even exist or be accepted in today’s world? (I realize that some people may argue that many of these practices had actually occurred in the past against certain segments of the population in some Western societies. But no government today would dare to embrace this model or defend its policies.)
Yet, because of the Zionist nature of the Israeli state, this absurd example is actually a reality with varying degrees for the daily lives of the Palestinian people, whether they are nominal citizens of the state, live under occupation or under siege, or have been blocked for decades from returning back to their homes, towns, and villages. Such a system would not only be condemned but no decent human being or a country that respects the rule of law would associate with it or tolerate it.
From its early days, prominent Jewish intellectuals have condemned the racist nature of the Zionist state. Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt wrote in 1948 condemning Zionist leaders of Israel who “openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state.” Israeli scientist and thinker Israel Shahak considered Israel as “a racist state in the full meaning of this term, where the Palestinians are discriminated against, in the most permanent and legal way and in the most important areas of life, only because of their origin.” Renowned American intellectual Noam Chomsky considers Israel’s actions in Palestine as even “much worse than Apartheid” ever was in South Africa. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé argues that “The Zionist goal from the very beginning was to have as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it as possible,” while American historian Howard Zinn thought that “Zionism is a mistake.” American academic and author Norman Finkelstein has often spoken out against the racist nature of the Zionist state and condemned its manipulation of the Nazi Holocaust to justify its colonization of Palestine. British historian Tony Judt described Israel as “an anachronism” because of its exclusive nature in comparison to its “non-Jewish citizens.” Former UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine Professor Richard Falk called Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories “a crime against humanity” and compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of the Jews and has said, “I think the Palestinians stand out as the most victimized people in the world.” Very recently, prominent American Jewish academics posed the question: “Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people?” Their answer was an emphatic call for a complete boycott against the Zionist state.
Furthermore, Israeli politicians and religious leaders regularly use racist rhetoric to appeal to their constituents and articulate their policies. In the last Israeli elections in March, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted to the Israeli public, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.” Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated new ethnic cleansing through “the transfer” of Palestinian citizens from the state. One prominent Rabbi considered “killing Palestinians a religious duty,” while another declared that “It is not only desirable to do so, but it is a religious duty that you hold his head down to the ground and hit him until his last breath.” Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, one of the most senior religious leaders in Israel ruled that “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza.” Racism in Israel is so pervasive that a Jewish settler stabbed another Jew, and another settler killed a fellow Jewish settler not because the perpetrators were threatened, but because the victims looked Arab. Israeli racism is so widespread among its population that noted journalist Max Blumenthal, who investigated the Israeli society’s attitudes towards the Palestinians, was himself surprised to “the extent to which groups and figures, remarkably similar ideologically and psychologically to the radical right in the US and to neo-fascist movements across Europe, controlled the heart of Israeli society and the Israeli government.”
In short, the ideology of political Zionism, as it has amply been demonstrated within the state of Israel, with its exclusionary vision and persistent policies of occupying the land and subjugating its people, has proven without any doubt that it represents a relic of a bygone era that utterly lacks civilized behavior or claims to a democratic system. Therefore, any discussion, coverage, analysis, or debate of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that sidesteps the nature and ideology of the Israeli state is not only disingenuous and lacks credibility, but also contributes to the deepening of the conflict, the continuous suffering of its victims, and the illusion of finding a potential just and peaceful outcome.
Dr. Sami Al-Arian is a Palestinian academic and intellectual. He lived for four decades in the U.S. before relocating to Turkey in 2015. Because of his long activism for the Palestinian cause and defending human and civil rights, he was a political prisoner in the U.S. and spent over a decade in prison and under house arrest until the charges were dropped in 2014. He can be contacted at email@example.com.