It’s a nonviolent, rights-based movement that represents the concerns of all Palestinian stakeholders—and the reasons for its existence are increasingly urgent.
By Yousef Munayyer JULY 9, 2015
It represents the concerns of all Palestinian stakeholders. Unlike other recent Palestinian movements that have had to deemphasize certain stakeholders in the outcome of the Palestinian national question like Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees, the BDS movement’s three pillars place the rights of all Palestinian stakeholders on equal footing. The traditional Palestinian leadership, which had accepted the Oslo process, will likely never admit to forgoing the interests of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, but the Oslo process undoubtedly compromised the interests of those two groups. BDS, which remains laser-focused on rights, does not have to worry about threats to the legitimacy of the movement emerging from dangerous and unjust compromises. Recent public opinion polling among Palestinians shows that support for boycott efforts against Israel (86 percent) is greater than the support for Fatah, Hamas, and all other political parties combined.
It is decentralized. The BDS movement is based on a set of principles and tactics and operates largely among global civil society. No one person runs the movement, and anyone can engage in BDS activity. A community in North Carolina, Egypt, Malaysia, or Scotland can independently and spontaneously start a BDS initiative to address their own community’s complicity in Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights. The decentralized nature of the movement makes it far more difficult to anticipate and to repress.
It gives concerned people a plan of action. People around the world who are concerned about the rights of Palestinians have often wanted to do something to change the situation, but found few ways to do that. BDS offers an answer. In the United States in the past, countless legislative advocacy efforts have been made on Capitol Hill, which is as occupied by Israeli interests as a hilltop in the West Bank. People grew tired of banging their heads against the wall that is Congress. Grassroots fervor never dissipated, however, and instead took off in the direction of BDS organizing. But interestingly enough, these BDS efforts have contributed to a shift in US public opinion, particularly among progressives, which is laying the foundation for reengaging Congress in the future.
Its reason for being still exists and is getting more urgent.This is perhaps the most important driver behind the BDS movement’s growth and success. BDS exists as a response to Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights, and with an occupation as entrenched today as ever before now nearing its 50th year and a right-wing government insisting on continuing it, more and more people are realizing that BDS is the only worthwhile place to invest their energy and activism. When the “peace process” was dominating action, even as it became a parody of itself over the years, many argued that the process should be allowed to play out. But now even this is gone, and all that remains is de facto apartheid, necessitating pressure on Israel to bring it down. Of course, this means Israel truly has in its grasp the single most important weapon it can use to bring an end to the BDS movement—it can take away the movement’s raison d’être by choosing to end its abuses of Palestinian rights. But this would require bold, honest, and visionary Israeli leadership, something very different from what exists today.
For all these reasons, the BDS movement has grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years and is set to continue on this pattern in its second decade.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2015
The United Church of Christ Palestine-Israel Network (UCC PIN) is pleased to announce that today the plenary of the 30th General Synod taking place in Cleveland passed Resolution #4, calling for boycotts and divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
“As disciples of Jesus, we hear and seek to heed his call to be peacemakers, responding to violence with nonviolence and extending love to all,” said Rev. John Deckenback, Conference Minister of the Central Atlantic Conference of the UCC, which submitted the resolution to the synod. “It is in that spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a desire to support Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for freedom, that the United Church of Christ has passed this resolution.”
“In approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality,” said Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Christian Palestinian and Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, who travelled to Cleveland for the synod. “For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel, enduring the destruction of their homes and businesses, the theft of their land for settlements, and living under blockade and siege in Gaza, this action sends a strong signal that they are not alone, and that there are churches who still dare to speak truth to power and stand with the oppressed.”
The vote, which was 508 in favor, 124 against, with 38 abstentions, was the culmination of a process that began in 2005, to end the Church’s complicity in Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation and other abuses of Palestinian human rights. It also comes as a response to the Christian Palestinian community’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, as embodied in the Kairos Palestine document, which seeks to achieve Palestinian freedom and rights using peaceful means, inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid movements.
In passing Resolution #4, the UCC is following in the footsteps of sister mainline churches like the Presbyterian Church (USA), which passed a similar resolution last year divesting from Israel’s occupation, and the United Methodists, who voted to boycott products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and whose pension board divested from G4S, a prison service company, due in part to its dealings with the Israeli military.
UCC PIN expresses its gratitude to Synod delegates, who faithfully carried out their duties in a thoughtful and responsible manner, giving the proposal the careful deliberations it deserved. UCC PIN also expresses its gratitude to our many allies, including those in the Jewish and Palestinian communities, for their indispensable and cherished support.
UCC PIN hopes that this modest initiative will help encourage the Israeli government to end the occupation, and looks forward to working in covenantal relationship with the UCC Pension Boards and the UCC Funds to implement this resolution moving forward.
Ali Abunimah – Lobby Watch – 28 June 2015
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has distanced itself from comments attributed to the former director of its US office that it sought to assist Israeli government propaganda against the movement for Palestinian rights and accountability for Israeli crimes.
Uri Zaki, who was initially identified by Ynet as the director of B’Tselem USA, told the Israeli publication that his organization’s efforts to help combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement had been rebuffed by the government, which only wanted to work with more right-leaning organizations.
“Uri Zaki’s term of employment at B’Tselem USA ended in May 2013,” B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli told The Electronic Intifada in response to an inquiry about the Ynet report. “If quoted accurately, his comments were not expressed on behalf of either B’Tselem or B’Tselem USA, nor do they reflect the policies of either.”
Ynet later updated its article to describe Zaki as the “former” director of B’Tselem USA.
Michaeli did not elaborate on why Uri Zaki left the organization but the former staffer’s comments nevertheless raise troubling questions about how B’Tselem’s US advocacy arm has functioned, even after his departure.
Driving a wedge
The 28 June Ynet article titled “Rift in Foreign Ministry prevents effective fight against BDS” looked at philosophical differences within Israel’s state hasbara, or propaganda, apparatus on how best to block the momentum of the Palestinian rights movement.
In a 2010 strategy paper that shaped the approach of Israel and its international lobby, the Reut Institute, a think tank with close ties to the government, argued that Israel should work closely with mild, liberal critics of the country’s policies the better to isolate so-called “delegitimizers” – those who support BDS.
According to Ynet, Reut’s director of policy and strategy Eran Shayshon “has been explaining to government representatives over the past few years that it is important to divide and drive a wedge between the leaders of the BDS campaign, but they were unable to reach a consensus on the issue, especially when it came to the political echelons.”
“To achieve this goal,” Shayshon says, “we explained to the government representatives that we have to operate with as large a base as possible; meaning, recruit not only right-wing agencies and groups to the fight, but also left-wing groups who criticize the government.”
B’Tselem and the US Israel lobby group J Street are offered as prime examples of such “left-wing” assets in Israel’s fight against BDS.
“Among other things, meetings were held in Washington and in Israel between representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry with J Street (which represents the Jewish left in the US), B’Tselem and others,” Ynet reports.
B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s question about the group’s participation in such meetings.
The Ynet report continues:
“It’s a major missed opportunity,” B’Tselem’s former US Director Uri Zaki says. “I went to universities in the United States, specifically on Apartheid Week, in order to explain that I was an Israeli patriot, and to oppose the boycotts. Like the Jewish left-wing groups in America who joined the fight against the boycott, our position has great influence. It is true that we will not fight a boycott of settlement products, but our efficacy in the fight over sovereign Israel’s good name is very obvious, much more than that of right-wing groups.
“It’s a shame that those who took over the hasbara efforts are excluding us for political reasons,” he adds.
Incidentally, B’Tselem has already proven its contribution when it strongly criticized the Goldstone Report, which greatly embarrassed South African jurist Richard Goldstone. Even now, after the release of the UN report on Operation Protective Edge, the fight against the boycott would surely be more effective if a way can be found to include Israeli human rights groups.
The Goldstone report, an independent inquiry commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, found evidence of extensive war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel during its 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza.
In 2012, B’Tselem and its US office came under strong criticism from Palestinian human rights organizations for proclaiming that it was a “proud sponsor” of a J Street gala featuring former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as a keynote speaker.
Olmert had been in charge during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza which, together with other actions by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza during his term of office, killed more than 3,000 Lebanese and Palestinians.
In an effort at damage control, B’Tselem’s then executive director Jessica Montell had claimed that the email announcing the organization’s sponsorship of the Olmert gala had been a “mistake.”
But Montell also angrily scolded Palestinian human rights organizations for their “conduct” in speaking out against B’Tselem’s participation in the gala.
Yet B’Tselem did not apparently learn anything from the “mistake.” In September 2013, B’Tselem USA once again openly aligned itself with Israel lobby efforts to defeat the Palestinian rights movement.
It touted its “strategic cooperation with J Street” and promoted its participation in the J Street conference. “We are encouraged to know that this conference will feature remarks by US Vice President Joe Biden and many other distinguished partners and allies and proud [sic] to share the stage with them,” B’Tselem USA proclaimed.
Biden, a staunch defender and abetter of Israeli crimes as part of the Obama administration, was joined at the conference by Israeli war crimes fugitive Tzipi Livni.
This was four months after Uri Zaki’s departure, indicating that B’Tselem’s “strategic” alignment with anti-Palestinian groups was not the product of a lone individual’s vision.
J Street has a long record of staunchly supporting Israeli military attacks on Palestinians including all the major assaults on Gaza, opposing key Palestinian rights including the right of return, and proclaiming itself a leader in the battle against BDS.
Signs of change?
Jessica Montell stepped down as the director of B’Tselem in March 2014 and was replaced by Hagai El-Ad.
Nonetheless, B’Tselem USA continues to count among its advisors such figures as “liberal” Zionist pundit Peter Beinart, who is on record opposing “full, equal citizenship” for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
There is no doubt that over the years B’Tselem has done important documentation of Israel’s crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. But such work is entirely incompatible with taking any sort of role in Israeli state propaganda and requires explicit condemnation of such whitewashing.
Even if it has yet to make a clean break, B’Tselem’s new leadership may have become more reluctant to align itself so publicly with Israeli war criminals and anti-Palestinian lobby groups.
There is no doubt B’Tselem must do more if it is to retain any credibility.
Under the leadership of a new king, Saudi Arabia is reversing course on its Russia policy from 2014
RI Staff Sat, Jun 20
In Riyadh, there’s a new king in town, and he is a very different man than his brother before him. After shaking up the government and replacing the chief executives of Saudi Arabia’s two biggest corporate behemoths (SABIC & Saudi Aramco), his new majesty seems to have the right people in place to carry out what appears to be an entirely new set of policies.
Case in point was this past Thursday’s meeting in St. Petersburg where President Putin received the Deputy Crown Prince and Saudi Defense Minister Muhammad bin Salman (a son of the current King Salman), along with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and the all-powerful Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi. The two sides signed a total of six new cooperation agreements that included the nuclear and military spheres.
The delegations also took the opportunity to address ways to improve bilateral relations, particularly in the fields of technical cooperation, housing, oil and gas, and investment opportunities.
From the Saudi delegation, the real power in the room was of course the vaunted Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, who sounded quite confident about a rise in the price of oil in the near future. Naimi was quoted as saying, “I am optimistic about the future of the market in the coming months in terms of the continuing improvement and increasing global demand for oil as well as the low level of commercial inventories.” This, the minister said,“is expected to improve the level of prices.”
Naimi went on to praise the enhanced bilateral cooperation between Riyadh and Moscow, stating that, “This, in turn, will lead to creating a petroleum alliance between the two countries for the benefit of the international oil market as well as producing countries and stabilizing and improving the market.”
A ‘petroleum alliance’ between Saudi Arabia and Russia to stabilize the global oil market? It sounds unlikely, particularly with all the talk about the U.S. and Saudi Arabia secretly agreeing to collapse Russia’s economy by crashing the price of oil in 2014, not to mention how the two countries diametrically oppose one another on issues such as Syria, Iran, and Yemen.
But again, Saudi Arabia is under new leadership and is not the same country it was a year ago. The delegation sent to Russia this past week was of the absolute highest level, and the fact that the statement was given directly by Mr. Naimi, as opposed to some all-too-common ‘senior official’ or ‘unnamed source’, speaks volumes.
Naimi — the redoubtable 80-year-old boss of Arabian black gold — is a living legend in the Kingdom (he started his career with Saudi Aramco at the age of 11), and wields more power there than anyone who isn’t the king. Statements from him on Saudi energy policy are not thoughts or opinions. Rather, they are facts and policies; and they would never be stated without the explicit approval and authority of the king.
Put simply, Mr. Naimi just declared a new direction in Saudi Arabian foreign policy.
This is just the beginning of a new chapter in Saudi-Russian relations. During his meeting with President Putin, Prince Muhammad publicy announced that his father had offically invited the Russian president to the Kingdom, stating, “I have the honor to pass on an invitation to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as we regard Russia as one of the important states in the contemporary world, and our relations have roots in the past.”
Mr. Putin accepted the king’s invitation to visit the Gulf state and in turn announced that he had invited the king to Moscow, which the deputy crown prince confirmed had been accepted. These meetings — if and when they take place — will be events to be followed very closely.
Published on Thursday, June 11, 2015
by Foreign Policy In Focus
Even as Obama admits there’s no military solution in Iraq, the Pentagon is pouring more U.S. troops and weapons into its floundering war on the Islamic State.
by Phyllis Bennis
Almost nine months after President Obama admitted that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to challenge the Islamic State — and just days after he said he still has “no complete Iraq strategy” — the non-strategy suddenly has a name: escalation.
According to reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is poised to send 400 to 500 additional troops to Iraq immediately, and to build a new U.S. military base in restive Anbar province to house them — and potentially many more.
These troops would not be limited to the officially narrow training mission of the 3,100 U.S. troops already on the ground in Iraq. They would still be considered trainers and advisers, but their mission, according to the Times, would be “to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi and repel the Islamic State.”
The escalation isn’t exactly the massive deployment of ground troops called for by some hawks in Congress and by neo-conservative commentators, who continue to blame the rise of the Islamic State on Obama’s earlier withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq — rather than on George W. Bush’s initial invasion and occupation of the country, which actually led to the creation of the group in 2004.
But the Journal still recognized that “the new plan is a marked if modest expansion of the U.S. military role in Iraq. It would expose American forces to greater risk of being drawn into direct combat with Islamic State forces that already control territory around likely sites for a planned U.S. training base.”
A Series of Setbacks
The official reason is linked to the Islamic State’s recent seizure of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and a key city only 70 or so miles from Baghdad. (As Business Insider so nicely put it, Ramadi is closer to Baghdad than New York is to East Hampton.)
Obama and other top U.S. officials initially attempted to downplay the significance of Ramadi, describing the inability of the Iraqi military to defend it as simply a “tactical retreat.” But there’s no question that the loss of the city, followed quickly by the Islamic State’s seizure of the strategic Syrian city and ancient ruins of Palmyra, reflected a serious consolidation of the group’s military power.
Since then it’s been a rough few weeks for Obama’s war on ISIS.
On June 2, news broke that the Iraq military had managed to lose 2,300 armored Humvees, at least 40 M1A1 tanks, 74,000 machine guns, and 52 or more howitzers, mainly to the Islamic State. Weapons were abandoned by fleeing troops, captured on the battlefield, and in some cases likely sold to ISIS and other militias. In a Reuters article caustically titled “Dude, Where’s My Humvee?” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi admitted blithely, “we lost a lot of weapons.”
The Reuters writers were equally direct: “The United States is effectively supplying the Islamic State with tools of war the militant group cannot otherwise hope to acquire from its patrons.”
Despite the bluster of hawks who crave a deeper war in Iraq and Syria, it isn’t true that Obama has no strategy against the Islamic State. There is a strategy — but it’s wrong, and it’s losing.
The Obama administration has so far been unable or unwilling to act on its own oft-repeated understanding that “there is no military solution” to the so-called ISIS crisis. Instead, the U.S. strategy has relied almost solely on military action, with little or no investment in the funds, personnel, or political capital to wage the kind of powerful diplomacy that’s so desperately needed. If anything, the ongoing air war — and the flooding of the region with arms — is making a diplomatic resolution less likely.
Same Old Mistakes
As the war escalates, Congress is largely sitting on the sidelines.
A new measure sponsored by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy calls for a prohibition on ground troops being sent to Iraq or Syria. But while symbolically important, it would have a very limited impact on the ground, particularly since — on paper at least — Obama has already staked out a similar position. Murphy has made clear that his real goal is to limit potential troop escalations by a post-2016 Republican president.
For now, the latest escalation — like those before it — is taking place without any congressional authorization, indeed without even any discussion or debate.
And it could get a lot worse before anything gets any better.
Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon’s top general, is retiring soon. He will be replaced by Marine General Joseph Dunford, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is credited with persuading Obama to slow down the U.S. withdrawal from the country. His appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may signal a broader new commitment to escalating Obama’s global war on terror.
That would mean repeating many of the same mistakes we’ve already made.
In May, the Pentagon said it was sending 2,000 anti-tank rockets to the Iraqi military to use against ISIS car bombs. In response to Iraq’s recent loss of U.S. tanks and Humvees, the Pentagon announced its intention to send 1,000 more anti-tank weapons to the Iraqi military — to use against the same tanks it had sent previously, now in ISIS hands.
Bookmakers haven’t yet announced their predictions for how long it will be before those rockets end up in the Islamic State’s hands as well. But at the current rate of escalation, they won’t be the last things to blow up.© 2014 Foreign Policy In Focus
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer,Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer, Ending the Iraq War: A Primer, and most recently Ending the Us War in Afghanistan: A Primer. If you want to receive her talking points and articles on a regular basis, click here and choose “New Internationalism.” You can find her on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/PhyllisBennis
Posted on June 11, 2015 by dandelionsalad
with Chris Hedges
talkingsticktv on Jun 9, 2015
Talk by Chris Hedges author of “The Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt” recorded June 8, 2015 at Town Hall Seattle.
[Q&A begins at 57:37]
Published on Tuesday, June 09, 2015
by Foreign Policy In Focus
The Saudis and the Turks are scaling up their support for Syrian jihadists while the Israelis contemplate a new war with Hezbollah.
by Conn Hallinan
A quiet meeting this past March in Saudi Arabia, and a recent anonymous leak from the Israeli military, set the stage for what may be a new and wider war in the Middle East.
Gathering in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, newly crowned Saudi King Salman, and the organizer of the get-together, the emir of Qatar. The meeting was an opportunity for Turkey and Saudi Arabia to bury a hatchet over Ankara’s support — which Riyadh’s opposes — to the Muslim Brotherhood, and to agree to cooperate in overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
Taking Aim at Assad
The pact prioritized the defeat of the Damascus regime over the threat posed by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and aims to checkmate Iranian influence in the region. However, the Turks and the Saudis are not quite on the same page when it comes to Iran: Turkey sees future business opportunities when the sanctions against Tehran end, while Riyadh sees Iran as nothing but a major regional rival.
The Turkish-Saudi axis means that Turkish weapons, bomb making supplies, and intelligence — accompanied by lots of Saudi money — are openly flowing to extremist groups like the al-Qaeda associated Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, both now united in the so-called “Army of Conquest.”
The new alliance has created a certain amount of friction with the United States, which would also like to overthrow Assad but for the time being is focused on attacking the Islamic State and on inking a nuclear agreement with Iran.
This could change, however, because the Obama administration is divided on how deeply it wants to get entangled in Syria. If Washington decides to supply anti-aircraft weapons to the Army of Conquest, it will mean the United States has thrown in its lot with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar — and that the “war on terror” is taking a backseat to regime change in Syria.
Not that the Americans are overly concerned about aiding and abetting Islamic extremists. While the U.S. is bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration is also training Syrians to overthrow Assad, which objectively puts them in the extremist camp vis-à-vis the Damascus regime. Washington is also aiding the Saudis’ war on the Houthis in Yemen. Yet the Houthis are the most effective Yemeni opponents of the Islamic State and the group called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, against which the United States is waging a drone war.
The Turkish-Saudi alliance seems to have already made a difference in the Syrian civil war. After some initial successes last year against divided opponents, the Syrian government has suffered some sharp defeats in the past few months and appears to be regrouping to defend its base of support in the coastal regions and the cities of Homs, Hama, and Damascus. While the Syrian government has lost over half of the country to the insurgents, it still controls up to 60 percent of the population.
Turkey has long been a major conduit for weapons, supplies, and fighters for the anti-Assad forces, and Saudi Arabia and most of its allies in the Gulf Coordination Council, representing the monarchies of the Middle East, have funneled money to the insurgents. But Saudi Arabia has always viewed the Muslim Brotherhood — which has a significant presence in Syria and in countries throughout the region — as a threat to its own monarchy.
The fact that Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party is an offshoot of the Brotherhood has caused friction with the Saudis. For instance, while Turkey denounced the military coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, Saudi Arabia essentially bankrolled the takeover and continues to bail Cairo out of economic trouble.
But all that was water under the bridge when it came to getting rid of Assad. The Turks and the Saudis have established a joint command center in the newly conquered Syrian province of Idlib and have begun pulling the kaleidoscope of Assad opponents into a cohesive force.
A War on Hezbollah?
Three years of civil war has whittled the Syrian Army from 250,000 in 2011 to around 125,000 today, but Damascus is bolstered by Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters. The Lebanese Shiite organization that fought Israel to a draw in 2006 is among the Assad regime’s most competent forces.
Which is where the Israeli leak comes in.
The timing of the story — published on May 12 in The New York Times — was certainly odd, as was the prominence given a story based entirely on unnamed “senior Israeli officials.” If the source was obscured, the message was clear: “We will hit Hezbollah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can,” the official said. But “we do not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.”
The essence of the article was that Hezbollah is using civilians as shields in southern Lebanon, and the Israelis intended to blast the group regardless of whether civilians are present or not.
This is hardly breaking news. The Israeli military made exactly the same claim in its 2008-09 “Cast Lead” attack on Gaza and again in last year’s “Protective Edge” assault on the same embattled strip. It is currently under investigation by the United Nations for possible war crimes involving the targeting of civilians.
Nor is it the first time Israel has said the same thing about Hezbollah in Lebanon. In hisSalon article entitled “The ‘hiding among civilians’ myth,” Beirut-based writer and photographer Mitch Prothero found that “This claim [of hiding among civilians] is almost always false.” Indeed, says Prothero, Hezbollah fighters avoid mingling with civilians because they know “they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.”
But why is the Israeli military talking about a war with Lebanon? The border is quiet. There have been a few incidents, but nothing major. Hezbollah has made it clear that it has no intention of starting a war, though it warns Tel Aviv that it’s quite capable of fighting one. The most likely answer is that the Israelis are coordinating their actions with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Tel Aviv has essentially formed a de facto alliance with Riyadh to block a nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. Israel is also supporting Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen and has an informal agreement with Riyadh and Ankara to back the anti-Assad forces in Syria.
Israel is taking wounded Nusra Front fighters across the southern Syrian border for medical treatment. It’s also bombed Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. In one incident, it killed several Hezbollah members and an Iranian general advising the Syrian government.
The Realm of Uncertainty
The Saudis have pushed the argument that Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are really about Iranian expansionism and the age-old clash between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Hezbollah is indeed a Shiite organization, and the majority of Iraqis are also members of the sect. Assad’s regime is closely associated with the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, and the Houthis in Yemen follow a variety of the sect as well.
However, the wars in the Middle East are about secular power, not divine authority — although sectarian division is a useful recruiting device. As for “Iranian aggression,” it was the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States, that started the modern round of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting when Iraq invaded Iran in 1981.
If the Israeli Army attacks southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will be forced to bring some of its troops home from Syria, thus weakening the Syrian Army at a time when it’s already hard pressed by newly united rebel forces. In short, it would be a two-front war that would tie down Hezbollah, smash up southern Lebanon, and lead to the possible collapse of the Assad regime.
As Karl von Clausewitz once noted, however, war is the realm of uncertainty. All that one can really determine is who fires the first shot.
That the Israelis can pulverize scores of villages in southern Lebanon and kill lots of Shiites, there is no question. They’ve done it before. But a ground invasion may be very expensive, and the idea that they could “defeat” Hezbollah is a pipe dream. Shiites make up 40 percent of Lebanon’s sectarian mélange and dominate the country’s south. Hezbollah has support among other communities as well, in part because it successfully resisted the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation and bloodied Tel Aviv in the 2006 invasion.
An Israeli attack on Hezbollah, however, would almost certainly re-ignite Lebanon’s civil war, while bolstering the power of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The Turks might think that al-Qaeda is no threat to them, but recent history should give them pause.
Creating something like the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya is not terribly difficult. Controlling them is altogether another matter.
“It Always Seems to Blow Back”
“Every power in the Middle East has tried to harness the power of the Islamists to their own end,” says Joshua Landis, director of Middle Eastern Studies at Oklahoma University. But “it always seems to blow back.”
The Afghan mujahedeen created the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the U.S. invasion of Iraq spawned the Islamic State, and Libya has collapsed into a safe haven for radical Islamist groups of all stripes. Erdogan may think the Justice and Development Party’s Islamic credentials will shield Turkey from a Syrian ricochet, but many of these groups consider Erdogan an apostate for playing democratic politics in secular institutions.
Indeed, up to 5,000 Turkish young people have volunteered to fight in Syria and Iraq. Eventually they will take the skills and ideology they learned on the battlefield back to Turkey, and Erdogan may come to regret his fixation with overthrowing Assad.
While it hard to imagine a Middle East more chaotic than it is today, if the Army of Conquest succeeds in overthrowing the Assad government, and Israel attacks Lebanon, “chaos” will be an understatement.© 2014 Foreign Policy In Focus
Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. Hallinan is also a columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and an occasional free lance medical policy writer. He is a recipient of a Project Censored “Real News Award.” He formally ran the journalism program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was also a college provost. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A recently declassified document again shows the United States’ complicity in the rise of ISIS.
by David Mizner
n October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden publicly criticized US allies for backing ISIS. The previous month, General Dempsey had told the Senate Armed Services Committee that America’s “Arab allies” were funding the group.
US officials were trying to distance themselves from the ISIS-supporting actions of their allies without harshly condemning them. Biden suggested that their arming of ISIS was unintentional and quickly apologized to them. (Responding to Dempsey, Senator Lindsey Graham actually defended them: “They were trying to beat Assad. I believe they realize the folly of their ways.”)
This mild criticism of allies came amid the effort of American officials to sell the decision to start bombing ISIS. By this time, the group was already entrenched in eastern Syria and western Iraq. But there’s no evidence that in the months and years prior, the Obama administration had made any attempt to prevent its client states from helping ISIS become a regional power.
The United States itself continued to send arms into Syria despite the certainty that some would end up in the hands of ISIS. “We have good relations with our brothers in the FSA,” said ISIS leader Abu Atheer in 2013, referring to the US-backed Free Syrian Army. He said ISIS bought anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons from the FSA.
A recently declassified US military intelligence document is further evidence of US complicity. Formerly classified as “secret,” an August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report was among a batch of documents obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
The mainstream press and Republican politicians have focused on other documents in the collection: those related to the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Largely overlooked is this document, which contradicts the official narrative not just about the rise of ISIS but also the makeup of the opposition in Syria and its relationship with foreign backers.
“The August 5, 2012 DIA report confirms much of what Assad has been saying all along about his opponents both inside and outside Syria,” says “terrorism analyst” Max Abrams.
The report concerns a period in time when the escalating violence in Iraq had ceased to be a prominent topic in the US press and when its coverage of the war in Syria — mirroring the discussion in Washington — focused on the Assad government, not the forces aligned against it. This may be hard to imagine now that ISIS has become the US government’s favorite monster, but during these months President Obama and his team gave major speeches on Syria that didn’t even mention the group.
Even after ISIS took Fallujah in January 2014, discussion of the group in establishment outlets was scarce. It wasn’t until later in 2014 — after continued battlefield victories and heavily publicized beheadings of westerners — that Islamic State became Public Enemy Number 1.
American officials claimed the ascendancy of ISIS had caught American intelligence by surprise. Yet in the 2012 report — which was circulated widely through the US government — the DIA foresaw the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. It also said that Islamic State of Iraq could “return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi” and declare an “Islamic state” in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
More than that, the report says the creation of an Islamic state was precisely the goal of the foreign governments that support the opposition:
If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).
The document previously identifies, in a slightly different context, “supporting powers” as “Western countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey.” Even if one interprets the document to exclude the United States from the “supporting powers” — indeed, why would its intelligence agency tell the US government what its policy was? — it reveals that at least as early as 2012, the United States knew that its client states sought the creation of an “Islamic state.” Two years would pass before the United States offered its peep of performance protest.
More broadly, the United States participated in a war against the Syrian government that turned Islamic State of Iraq into a regional power encompassing — and devastating — large parts of two countries. Such an outcome was predictable — and indeed predicted by the US government itself.
While American politicians and pundits have blamed the ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and Assad — or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency in Syria. Brad Hoff of the Levant Report, the first journalist to analyze the DIA report, says it shows that “A nascent Islamic State became a reality only with the rise of the Syrian insurgency . . . there is no mention of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst.”
Maliki warned that the war in Syria could engulf Iraq, yet the United States and its allies kept supporting the insurgency. The American bombing of ISIS, relatively light and sporadic, has only intensified the belief of many Iraqis that the United States doesn’t want to defeat the group.
According to the official storyline, the US has sought to weaken ISIS in Syria by supporting “moderate” rebels. (President Obama has faced constant criticism for not arming opposition groups in Syria despiteconstantly arming opposition groups.)
The decision of the US to train its own force was an acknowledgement that it’d been unable to find moderate groups to support. Former US Ambassador Robert Ford has admitted as much, saying that “for a long time, we have looked the other way” as US-backed groups worked with al-Qaeda’s affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq spinoff al-Nusra Front. Many “moderate” rebels — “entire CIA-backed rebel units” — have joined al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Earlier this year, the main US-backed group, Harakat al-Hazm, couldn’t beat al-Nusra Front — so it joined them.
The 2012 DIA document confirms that reactionaries dominated the opposition from early on. “The Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” it says. It also notes that “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning.”
This is the long-obscured truth that the DIA report underscores: that after the initial stage of the war in Syria, simply to support the war on the Syrian government was to help ISIS.
American complicity in the rise of ISIS would hardly be an anomaly. At various times since World War II—most infamously in Afghanistan in the ’70s and ’80s — the United States has armed, allied with, or otherwise strengthened jihadists (and their precursors) for the purpose of undermining its more immediate and authentic adversaries.
And one need not consult history for an antecedent. Right now, as its effort to build a force from scratch founders, the United States is encouraging its proxies in Syria to work with al-Nusra Front and has green-lighted a new coordinated effort of Gulf countries and Turkey to arm an opposition coalition that includes al-Nusra Front and other reactionary groups.
If the United States really wanted to defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda, it would stop empowering them.
WEEKEND EDITION JUNE 5-7, 2015
by DOUGLAS VALENTINE
Lia Tarachansky’s heart-wrenching documentary, On the Side of the Road, reveals the Big Lie at the heart of the myth of the creation of Israel.
Tarachansky had to break through a lot of personal and social barriers to produce this often infuriating film about the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948, when approximately 750,000 Palestinians (a number that has grown to 1.5 million refugees living in camps over the ensuing 67 years) were expelled from their homes and forced into squalid camps, where they are denied basic human rights.
Tarachansky’s toughest challenge was overcoming her own deeply ingrained assumptions. Born in Kiev in 1984, her youth, as she described it in a previous interview, was “a shifting, uncertain reality. While I was only learning to read, my parents split, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor blew up, and the Soviet Union collapsed. I was too young to understand what was happening when we evacuated the city and prepared for what would turn into years of economic uncertainty.”
A Zionist, her mother took Lia and her sister to Israel where, she told her children, “banana-eating monkeys sit in palm trees,” and “everyone is Jewish.”
Those were among the first myths to fizzle out. A computer engineer, Tarachansky’s mother found work changing diapers in a retirement home, while Lia went from “being the only Jew in my Soviet kindergarten to being the only Russian in my Israeli elementary school.”
“We went from the façade of ‘equality for all comrades’,” Tarachansky said, “to the façade of ‘equality for all Jews’.” As she discovered, “Israel is a striated society, even among Jews, in terms of access to economic justice and rights.”
As she grew into adolescence in the settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank, Tarachansky also heard rumors of non-Jews inhabiting the land. As strange as it may seem, the settlers had no contact with the Palestinians living all around them. The Arab inhabitants of Israel were stereotyped as “terrorists” intent on slaughtering Jewish settlers, to be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, these stereotypes resonate as indisputable truth in America, which officially backs Israel’s war of attrition against the Palestinian peoples. Witness Illinois’s recent, unanimously passed law making it illegal to invest state pension funds in organizations that support the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement.
As in America, racial, cultural, class and religious prejudices dictate unjust social norms in Israel and determine its government’s repressive policies. The result is that Jewish Israelis celebrate and legalize their ethnic superiority and moral right to discriminate against Palestinians.
Crashing the Party
Having been a Zionist settler, Lia Tarachansky empathizes with Israeli Jews. Instead of condemning them, she examines and tries to understand her personal transformation, and that of other Israelis who are seeking to escape from embedded but false assumptions. Tarachansky’s film is about people who are struggling to deal honestly with the Nakba. This capacity for critical thought and self-examination is what enables Tarachansky to show so convincingly how and why the Zionists have locked themselves in a prison of their own making.
As she explains, the film is shot from the point of view of “return.” Perhaps even a return to sanity.
The documentary begins on balmy May 15th, Independence Day, with fireworks exploding in the night sky and Eitan Bronstein from Zochrot (an NGO dedicated to exposing the truth and raising awareness about the Nakba) posting signs and handing out fliers that show an Arab holding a key to his former home.
Recoiling in horror at what she views as a mortal threat, an Israeli woman proudly proclaims, “I’m a racist.”
She says to Bronstein, “It’s a pity people like you are even alive.”
What Bronstein is doing isn’t popular. And it’s not just public opinion he is challenging. At the time the documentary begins, the Israeli government is enacting a law to repress the true history of the Nakba, and in the process, wash away Israel’s sins. The proposed law will make it illegal to mourn ‘the catastrophe” on Independence Day. It will turn what Bronstein is doing into a crime. It’s an anti-democratic, racist, and discriminatory law, but, as we learn, Dov Yermiyah was the only Jewish member of Knesset to speak against the law, which passed by a vote of 37-25. The full 48 members of the opposition at the time did not vote against this bill, most simply abstained.
Going against society is never easy, even when the society embraces immoral positions. But heroic individuals do exist, and Tarachansky’s documentary also features Tikva Honig-Parnass. Raised in a Jewish community in Palestine, Honig-Parnass fought in the 1948 war and later served as the secretary of the Unified Workers Party in the Knesset (1951-1954). Over 30 years ago she broke with Zionism and joined the Socialist organization known as Matzpen. Since then she has played an active role in the movement against the second phase of the occupation that began in 1967, as well as in the struggle for Palestinian national rights.
Tarachansky films Honig-Parnass while she visits a village she helped destroy, and records her while she speaks about her personal struggle to overcome denial. Tikva explains why she and her comrades were prepared to believe the lies they were told by their leaders in 1948. As the deputy mayor of Kedumim settlement, Shoshana Shilo, says later in the film, they were told it was an “empty land” consisting only of “Arabs and malaria.”
The cause was said to be just, but Jews were a substantial minority in Palestine prior to 1948, with most arriving in 1948 only after the purge. Moreover, the Anglo-Americans who ruled the United Nations partitioned Palestine without consulting most Palestinians, while those who were consulted, rejected the plan. Although the UN plan was not implemented, as Gary Leech explains, “the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.”i
“By the end of 1949,” Leech said, “Israel had destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost a million Palestinians, who ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. In other words, with the Jewish people having just endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists were now carrying out, according to Pappe, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.”
“We didn’t care where they went,” a veteran who fought with the Palmach tells Tarachansky. ‘Ruhu el Gaza, Go to Gaza,’ we told them, as we expelled them.” Referring to the massacre at Burayr, a village in the south of the country, he says remorsefully, “We killed 70 people there.”
Facing the Facts
Lia Tarachansky began her own research into the Nakba after her mother remarried and the family moved to Ottawa, Canada. Lia was 16 at the time. In Canada, half a world away from settlements and Israel’s closed society, her personal transformation began. She met anti-Zionist Jewish students, read many books, including Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and, as she told Sarah Levy in a previous interview, met a Palestinian for the first time.ii
“The strongest thing for me was having a conversation with a Palestinian for the first time, when I was at school in Canada. I was standing somewhere in the university and this guy comes up to me and asks for directions. And we start talking and he says, “You have a strong accent, where are you from?” and I say, “Oh, I’m Israeli,” and he says amiably, “Oh yeah? I’m a Palestinian!”
“So he asks for directions and then he goes on his way. And as he walks away I realize that I’m holding my purse just a little bit tighter, that my whole body is kind of uptight, and it takes me a couple minutes to calm down from being terrified for my life. But then out of that brief interaction I realized: he knows I’m an Israeli, he told me he’s a Palestinian, and he didn’t try to kill me. That was revolutionary for me because, I’d been told my whole life that Palestinians are just brainless, emotional, primitive murdering anti-Semites who just want to kill Jews all the time. And here was this totally polite sensible nice guy and yet he was a Palestinian.
“I know it sounds horrible, but for me, that was something that didn’t fit with anything I had known before. So it actually began a very violent process of tackling a lot of the mythology that I thought was true about the conflict.”
While a student at the University of Guelph, Tarachansky read Stanley Cohen’s monumental book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. As her awareness grew, she shifted her career path from medicine to journalism and eventually got a job with The Real News Network. She eagerly became its correspondent in Israel and Palestine, where her research became a part of her job. She went to archives, looked at maps, and located villages that had been abandoned and destroyed during the Nakba. She also located veterans of the 1948 expulsion, one of whom, Amnon Noiman, she interviewed over a period of four years for the documentary.
Noiman is the central character in the documentary. A droll octogenarian, he wonders if his marriage of 56 years will last. He’s smart and funny, but tormented. He grapples with his guilt as he and Tarachansky visit places where he and the Palmach (the strike force of the Hagana) massacred people and expelled them from their villages, later burning them to the ground.
“It’s been eating me up,” he says. “They ran away and we shot them… I was 19. I was a fool. That’s why I’m in such despair. Because there will always be new 19 year olds.”
When Arabs would return to prune vines their families had tended for centuries, the Zionist militias would wait in ambush and shoot them.
“Most people left on their own,” Eitan Bronstein explains, “because after a few massacres and after you shoot a few people in the head…you don’t need many for people to flee.”
“The main project since Forty-Eight,” he adds, “is to shut the door, to prevent their return. The Nakba is this central point of preventing return. And since then, we’ve prevented and denied their right of return.”
“Without understanding 1948 you simply don’t understand where you live, and we Israelis simply have no idea what the conflict we live in is all about.”
Palestinians were driven from land they’d lived on for thousands of years, so Jews could prosper. And while the film is not about Palestinians as much as it is about the self-delusions that pervert the collective Israeli consciousness, it does include the perspective of Khalil Abu Hamdeh, whose grandparents were expelled in 1948 and whose families have been living in the West Bank under the yoke of Israeli occupation ever since.
Tarachansky films Hamdeh after he gets a permit to leave the Asqar Refugee Camp where he lives, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The camp looks like bombed-out Belfast, with scrawny kids playing in rubble. Together they visit Qaqun, the village where his grandmother fled. Qaqun is now a national park. His grandfather’s village, near Jaffa, was razed to the ground.
“How can it be,” Tarachansky asks of one of the veterans in her film, “that three years after the Holocaust the Jewish people kill, massacre, steal, rape, and pillage what was left?”
Honig-Parnass responds: “It’s a mistake to think that a personal experience, such as losing family in the Holocaust, is motivation for a more humanitarian worldview. Quite the opposite, it’s not the personal experience but the ideology that you use to interpret it.”
The documentary ends a year after it began, with Eitan Bronstein crashing another happy Israeli Independence Day celebration. The police are irritated because he intends to distribute fliers with names of villages that were destroyed in the Nabka. The cops say his fliers are inciting materials and a disturbance to the peace.
A bystander IDF soldier watching the ruckus turns to Tarachansky’s camera and says “You’re lucky the cops are here. If we had the chance, we’d shoot you one by one.”
The cops smile.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Lia Tarachansky. She and I are not strangers. Lia contributed a poem to an anthology I edited, With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century.iii Her poetry, like her film, deals largely with the contradictions of Israeli society. Before we begin the interview, I’d like to present a prose-poem she wrote about the on-going Nakba:
The Wife of the Accused
The wife of the accused is 23. She is eight months pregnant. She still has pimples on her face. She is very pale. She stands her elbow at a right angle against her back. Like an old, old woman. The day her husband went missing she left her house.
She knows too well the ways of the army. She doesn’t want to die when they come to demolish the home. They didn’t come with charges, or a warrant. They came with sledgehammers and broke everything. She stayed at her parents’ place. The next night they came with dogs. And sledgehammers. And broke the broken rubble. The next night they came with an army jeep to her parents’ place and took her. They drove to her home and made her watch. They blew up her house, and made them watch. The wife of the accused and her unborn baby.
DV – Hi Lia. Many thanks for answering some questions about this difficult subject. In a recent interview you said that the latest attack on Gaza brought a lot of the fascists out of the closet. How is fascism manifesting itself in Israel? Is the Nakba law a manifestation of Israeli fascism and racism?
LT – Israeli fascism is complex and manifests itself in many different ways. By the early 20th century understanding of fascism, meaning a social movement that forces all to align to one communal line of thinking, and bans all others Israel is not a fascist state because the State exerts little pressure on Israeli Jews to conform. However, the pressure comes from the society itself. In essence, it is easy to indoctrinate a people that wants to be indoctrinated. Since everyone is a part of the army, or at least knows and loves someone in the army, the army’s actions are considered outside of what is legitimate to criticize, and along with it, the bigger policies of the Israeli security echelon. There are many elements to it, from Israeli media to politicians, to school education. They all play a part in Israelis’ collective ignorance of the reality they impose on the Palestinians and the justifications for that reality. They also play a major part in reinforcing Israelis’ collective denial, as we talked in our interview. In this kind of environment it is easy for fascistic movements to arise, as we’ve seen they’ve come and gone throughout Israel’s history and are now getting stronger. During the Gaza attack this summer we saw people attacking anyone who speaks Arabic or looks Arabic on the streets of Jerusalem, mobs running through major streets in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv screaming “death to Arabs” and “Turn Gaza into a Cemetery” as you can see in my reports for The Real News Network. These people believe Israel is a Jewish state and should be Jewish-only, and that anyone who thinks differently must be silenced, if necessary, by force. I do not put the blame for their behavior at the feet of a few radicals, but squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister himself, who incites and allows politicians within his government to incite the masses in such a way. Further, I think since the very essence of Zionism has never been defined – what does it mean a Jewish state? A Jewish-religious state? A Jewish-majority state? A Jewish-only state? These ambiguities allow for all kinds of interpretations, including fascistic ones.
DV – What exactly is the Nakba law?
LT – The Nakba Law was proposed in 2009 and a diluted version of it passed in 2011. Essentially it forbids any body that receives any part of its budget from the government (such as funds, community centers, or schools) to commemorate the Nakba on the Israeli day of Independence. If they do, their budgets get slashed by a certain amount. The main impact of the law wasn’t so much the punishment that it legislated but the cooling effect that it had on the Palestinian (20% of the population) and other citizens of Israel from commemorating the tragedy that began in 1948 when two-thirds of the Palestinians who lived on this land became refugees. It basically criminalized history and the commemoration of the survivors’ pain and sent a clear message that only one version of history is legitimate, the version of the victor.
DV – What is life like in the various Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, as opposed to life in a Palestinian refugee camp?
LT – Living in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank is similar to any North American suburb. The town is even structured like American suburbs and usually serves a commuter town for people who work in the center of the country and want a bigger back yard than they would be able to afford living near their workplace. There are few jobs in the settlements themselves, except for the nine industrial parks (where the majority of jobs are staffed by West Bank Palestinians anyway). In a way, because these are gated communities surrounded by fences and walls, and checkpoints, and the military, they create a bubble in which generations are born and grow up in blissful ignorance of their surroundings. Until I left the settlement I didn’t even know the names of the Palestinian villages directly around Ariel, and have of course never met anyone who lived there. I was brought up to believe that we were on the frontier of defending the land of Israel from its unnatural, enemy inhabitants, and saw all those Palestinian communities as something dangerous and alien. I wouldn’t pretend to know what life in a refugee camp is like as I come from the privileged, Jewish population but from my many visits and friends in Palestinian refugee camps, I can tell you life there is very hard. In essence, whatever territory UNRWA was given for these camps when these people first became refugees, whether in 1948 or 1967 is the same territory they still have. Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, in the Northern West Bank for example is one square kilometer. On this territory now three generations live, in intensely dense conditions, where streets look more like tiny alleyways. These communities have also limited access to electricity and are stuck in a legal limbo regarding their rights and are therefore left in a precarious situation. This is why it is no surprise that much of the armed resistance comes from these camps. When people are left with nothing to lose, they are willing to do the unimaginable.
DV – How do Palestinians earn a living in Israel?
LT – About a quarter of a million Palestinians work inside Israel. Many get permits from the Israeli administrative body in charge of the West Bank, known as COGAT. This body works with Israel’s various security agencies in deciding whom to give permits and whom to deny. Primary on the list of people denied are anyone whose home was demolished or whose relatives have been killed by Israeli forces as they are at “a higher risk to seek revenge”, according to COGAT’s regulations. Most, therefore, sneak into Israel to work in precarious work without a permit. This attests to two things, the first is that the so-called Security Wall, or Segregation Wall has not helped in preventing suicide attacks, as the Israeli government claims, because if anyone can just sneak in, so can terrorists. This goes to prove that the Wall is indeed used to cement Israel’s land grab, as attested to its route going deep into the West Bank in most places, and not running along the 1967 “Green Line”. The second thing that this proves is that the vast majority of Palestinians simply want to live in dignity, to earn money and raise their children, something that should give the Israeli people hope.
Most Palestinians who work in Israel either work in construction or in the lowest positions in the service industry, such as dishwashing or cleaning. They leave the West Bank for weeks at a time, sleeping either at their workplace (if they work construction) or three/four people to a bed in rented apartments and returning to their families every few weekends to give them the money they make. I have to add here that according to the Oslo Agreements, Israel collects these workers’ taxes and is supposed to then transfer these taxes to the PA to be returned to the workers, but this has never happened, so in essence these workers work pay taxes to Israel, yet are not citizens of Israel, and do not benefit from the government’s use of their taxes, which in many cases go to support the Occupation infrastructure.
DV – Are there economic reasons for the oppression of the Palestinians? Do they serve as a source of cheap labor for Israelis?
LT – Yes, but that’s not the main reason: as we’ve seen since the Second Intifadah, their use as a cheap labor source can be easily replaced with migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe. The economic benefit is more complex than that. First of all, the Palestinians are a captive market for many Israeli goods, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. Secondly, Israel’s number one industry is the arms industry, which benefits immensely from having a population on which it can routinely test its inventions, be they crowd-dispersal weapons, drones, or other weapons, and especially technologies developed for Homeland Security, which Israel exports around the world. These are Hi-Tech surveillance and intelligence gathering tools with which the various Israeli intelligence agencies monitor the Palestinian population and which are then sold around the world.
These are just two ways Israel benefits from the Occupation. If you want to know more about the economic element of it, I recommend the work of Shir Hever, who wrote The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation, the database Who Profits, the research centre Al Shabaka, or the work of Dr. Neve Gordon, whose website http://israelsoccupation.info has a ton of great resources.
DV – Do you feel the BDS movement will help force Israel to moderate its oppressive policies toward Palestinians?
LT – I don’t know, but I think the tactics used so far haven’t helped in bringing the powerful to the table to negotiate in good faith. Perhaps this kind of pressure will work as it did in Apartheid South Africa, but I hope that our “day after” will be far better than theirs.
DV – Short of Israel giving back everything it’s stolen from the Palestinians, what is the solution to this problem?
LT – Well, I wouldn’t simplify this conflict like that, but there are many solutions on the table. As I’m sure you know there is the well-known Two State Solution, but also the One State Solution, and more recently, variations of the Swiss Solution, meaning a multi-national federation or confederacy. I shy away from the kind of thinking that believes that every problem has a solution, or that everything that breaks can be made whole again. I think the work that we have to do to repair the massive damage that was done is a multi-generational and extremely complex work, but of course the first step is equality, from the river to the sea.
DV – Will Palestinians ever be allowed to return to their homes?
LT – I don’t know how to read the future, but I think that any solution that doesn’t include the Palestinian refugees will be refused by a Palestinian leadership that wishes to survive to the handshake at the end of the agreement.
DV – There is a huge information war going on to rationalize international support for Israel. How does Israel manage to successfully define itself as a victim when it is openly racist and the aggressor?
LT – I think that Israel is a different context than the colonial regimes in Africa, in the sense that it was created because of oppression. If it was not for European anti-Semitism, Israel would not exist. It was therefore created as a result of centuries of crimes against the Jewish people, and that has created a sense of victimhood in our collective psyche that’s going to take longer than a few decades to repair. That, however, is separate from Israel’s policies. The Israeli government plays on that psyche, on that consciousness both at home and abroad to recruit the Israeli people and to enlist the support of its friends abroad. I think that more importantly than that, however, is that Israel serves as a convenient laboratory for those said friends, and its collapse (largely due to the racist and aggressive policies you’ve alluded to) will be the end of a long experiment both in colonialism but also in the idea that you can have a state for one group, at the expense of others. That you can have an “Ethnocracy”, a term defined by Oren Yiftachel as the kind of state Israel is, and the kind of state many Europeans wish their countries were. Right now we’re seeing this idea battle itself out in the laboratory that is Israel, and there are many victims of it, the Palestinians of course but also the African refugees, the migrant workers, and I would argue the Israeli Jewish people themselves as they are increasingly incited against living in a multicultural and therefore stronger society that is based on the values of democracy and equality and not perpetual war.
DV – People who advocate BDS are often slandered as anti-Semitic. Is it an unstated but intentional Israeli policy to publicly slander people as anti-Semitic if they criticize Israel?
LT – I don’t know what the Israel government does intentionally or unintentionally but it is a perversion of real anti-Semitism to claim that criticism of the state of Israel is anti-Semitic. I think that it blinds us from deciphering what real anti-Semitism is (and I have seen that it is still alive and well) and is in my opinion this kind of perversion is very dangerous.
DV – In an attempt to limit the free speech of US citizens, representatives in Illinois voted unanimously to prevent state pension funds from participating in BDS. The US Congress sends $3 billion of US tax dollars to Israel every year, over the objections of an increasing number of its citizens. How does Israel manage to retain the unconditional support of US and Canadian politicians?
LT – I think you should ask American and Canadian journalists that question.
DV – You have toured the US, Canada, Europe and Israel with your film. How has it been received? How and why are reactions different in different regions? Are non-Israelis aware of the Nakba? Do they care?
LT – I have been very lucky to have screened my film in Europe, Canada, and the US, as well as in Israel/Palestine and I would have to say that the reception has been incredible. Most people find the film thought-provoking, which is the highest honor a filmmaker can hope for from her audience. Many people of course find it very hard to watch, as it reflects a certain reality in Israel that many wish either wasn’t there or wasn’t seen. I have been doing my best to continue my communication with the folks who found the film particularly hard, but it’s a full-time job to be in so many communications at once. I invite people to go visit and see the reality for themself, and hope that my film will help them, in as much as it can, understand what they see when they get there.
DV – When will your audience be able to buy DVD’s of your documentary film, “On The Side of the Road”?
LT – This summer. I invite your readers to check atwww.naretivproductions.com for the exact release date of the DVD.
DV – Are you working on a new project? Can we look forward to another documentary from you?
LT – I have recently completed another documentary with Canadian journalist Jesse Freeston. You are welcome to read more about it on our site www.naretivproductions.com It is a film entitled ETHNOCRACY IN THE PROMISED LAND: ISRAEL’S AFRICAN REFUGEES, and as the title says it profiles the kind of state Israel is, and why it refuses to give asylum even to those who have never been in conflict with it, and who seek refuge from war and hunger. The film was a commission of TeleSUR TV and will be screened in Spanish and English this summer.
DV – Thank you very much.
LT – You are very welcome.
Douglas Valentine is the author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.
For anyone who wants a simple proof that Palestine existed before 1948, here’s a coin from 1927 worth 10 Mils (this currency is no longer used). Also note that the word “Palestine” is written in both Arabic and Hebrew indicating not only a Jewish presence, but a prominent one. Jews and Arabs DID live side by side in peace. The Zionist idea that they cannot coexist is an absolute fallacy.