The Israeli elections turned on the ‘ideological’ question of whether Binyamin Netanyahu should be prime minister or not. Other, less crucial topics – including the occupation of the West Bank, which has entered its second jubilee; the siege of Gaza, which has entered its 13th year; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the status of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; the complete lack of negotiation with the PLO; the growing inequality in Israeli society; the deteriorating health system; the housing crisis and more – were all left largely undiscussed.
On 19 November, Airbnb announced that it had removed from its website around 200 properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The global travel agency explained that it had decided to 'act responsibly' after considering the settlements’ 'disputed' character and their contribution to 'human suffering'.
On a Saturday morning in July I travelled to the South Hebron Hills with a group of Israeli and international activists. Around midday we arrived at a Palestinian area called Bani Naim, near an outpost of the Israeli settlement Pnei Hever. Elderly men with kefiyas and canes were climbing the unpaved road along with younger Palestinians to gather in front of the outpost. The Palestinians who owned the field below had brought a tractor to plough their land as an act of protest against the further expansion of the Israeli settlement. Two children reached up to attach a Palestinian flag to a metal pole. Within moments the Israeli army arrived.
The recent decision by the Trump administration to drastically cut its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has left the Palestinian refugees in a more precarious position than ever. A conference was recently held in Rome to raise money to allow UNRWA to continue its vital work providing education, health and other social services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Given a projected budget deficit of nearly $500 million in 2018, UNRWA’s funding prospects look dim.
Late yesterday evening, ‘a senior administration official’ confirmed that the United States will today recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Given that the policy is to be announced by Donald Trump, a volatile airhead presiding over a highly fractious government, it’s still far from clear how – or even whether – Washington will put forward a new position. But if, as expected, the US does proceed with this measure, the physical relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be the least of it.
David Rubinger died on 1 March at the age of 92. His photograph of three Israeli paratroopers gazing at the Western Wall, taken minutes after Israeli forces seized Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was widely revered as a symbol of Zionism’s triumphant destiny. Rubinger, however, was not particularly fond of the picture: ‘Part of the face is cut off on the right side,’ he said, ‘in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there’s only half a face … photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo.’
‘So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like … I can live with either one,’ Donald Trump said at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister appeared to exult in Trump’s presence, until the president suggested he hold off on building more settlements while Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states worked out a deal – a ‘bigger deal’, rather. The oldest conflict in the modern Middle East – it’s a century since the Balfour declaration – has become a quarrel over real estate.
In the last month Theresa May has given striking evidence of a tilt towards Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel. On 29 December, her spokesman sharply criticised a major speech by John Kerry, who was signing off after years of labouring for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He had told some home truths about the Netanyahu government, describing the current coalition as the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. Asked by the BBC whether he was surprised by May’s reaction, Kerry said: ‘What I expressed in the speech has been the policy of Great Britain for a long period of time … An honest answer is yes.’
It has been a bizarre week for US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On 23 December, the Obama administration narrowly avoided becoming the first since Harry Truman’s to leave office without a single United Nations Security Council resolution censuring Israel to its credit. Washington has spent the past eight years shielding what John Kerry on 28 December called ‘the most right-wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements’ from international scrutiny.
Writing in the Guardian in 2011, Shimon Peres, then president of Israel, welcomed the uprisings that were spreading across the Middle East. Israel wanted to see ‘improvements in our neighbours’ lives’, he said, which was the reason it was helping Palestinians in the West Bank develop their own economy, institutions and security forces. ‘Israel was born under the British mandate,’ he went on.
In Munich, Steven Spielberg’s fictionalised account of Israel’s response to the massacre of 11 of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, Makram Khoury plays the writer and PLO spokesman Wael Zuaiter. Unaware he’s the first of the 11 Palestinians targeted for assassination by Mossad, he gives a talk on his Italian translation of the Thousand and One Nights at a café in Rome, does some shopping, and is gunned down in the hall of his apartment block. At the end of the movie, the chief assassin exiles himself to Brooklyn, wondering if he has merely inspired more violence. He is told that he is a small part of a bigger story: Mossad had other teams on the job. The newly completed World Trade Center is visible in the final shot of the New York skyline.
The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end.
Even through the rose tint of my 3D glasses, the architects’ rendering of Rawabi is a dizzying sight. Their animated introductory film swoops down on the central square, where men sit with shisha pipes in one hand and iPads in the other, glamorous women go shopping, young couples stroll by, businesspeople talk on the phone, and boys and girls (with and without the hijab) play football together. At a cost of $1.2 billion, Rawabi will be Palestine’s largest ever private sector project, and its first planned city. It’s the brainchild of the US-Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar Masri, who is funding it with backing from Qatar.
Uri Avnery on the myths and realities of the 1948 war: According to the Arab version, the Jews came from nowhere, attacked a peace-loving people and drove them out of their country. According to the Zionist version, the Jews had accepted the United Nations compromise plan, but the Arabs had rejected it and started a bloody war, during which they were convinced by the Arab states to leave their homes in order to return with the victorious Arab armies. Both these versions are utter nonsense - a mixture of propaganda, legend and hidden guilt feelings. During the war I was a member of a mobile commando unit that was active all over the southern front. I was an eye-witness to what happened....
I am writing this in the car on the way from Haifa to Ramallah. Cell phones beep as we cross between Israeli and West Bank coverage. The view out the window has changed from the dark green mountains and manicured landscapes of northern Israel to the rocky textures of the West Bank mountains. On 23 May, more than a dozen writers will arrive in Ramallah from different parts of the world to take part in the Palestine Festival of Literature, which I help organise. Every year since 2008, it has put on public literary events with Palestinian and visiting writers in different cities in the evenings. Over the course of the week, it also aims to show the visitors something of Palestinian history and present-day reality. A lot of time is spent on the road, travelling through the geography of occupation: the checkpoints, the walls, the segregated motorways.
Some people call the wall in the West Bank a ‘security fence’; others refer to it as an ‘apartheid wall’. The International Court of Justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion declaring the construction illegal, called it simply ‘the wall’. Media style guides tend to suggest ‘West Bank barrier’ or ‘separation barrier/wall’.
But the wall doesn’t only separate; it segregates. In 1963, Malcolm X gave a speech in which he spelled out the difference: separation is between equals; segregation is forced on the weak by the strong. A segregated community is ‘regulated from the outside by outsiders’.
Earlier this month Southampton University spiked a conference on International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, organised by an Israeli-born professor of law and philosophy at the university, Oren Ben-Dor. It had promised to explore ‘the creation and the nature of the Jewish state’ and ‘the role international law can play in political struggles’. The idea had got about that Southampton would be throwing a shindig for aspiring jihadis and Zion-deniers, thanks to the Henry Jackson Society, Eric Pickles and the Daily Express, who demanded that the event be squelched.
Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on 'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict', accuses Hamas and others of carrying out 'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.' The report reiterates a formal symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians (previous reports have accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge), asking both parties to take all precautions to respect civilian lives, and reminding them to 'choose appropriate means and methods of attack'.
‘I won’t say we changed the open-fire regulations, but we’ve taken a slightly tougher approach with people around here,’ Brigadier General Tamir Yadai, the Israeli army commander in the West Bank, said last month. ‘In places where we used to fire tear-gas or rubber bullets, we now fire Ruger bullets and sometimes live bullets.’ Yadai was talking to residents of Halamish, an Israeli settlement, who had complained about the worsening security situation.
The decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, to open 'a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine' could have a concrete political impact in Israel/Palestine, but not because the ICC will end up charging officials for carrying out war crimes. The ICC has yet to address any violations carried out by Western liberal states. Simply put, the geography of the ICC's investigations – from Côte d'Ivoire to Uganda – both reflects and reproduces an old colonial frame of justice. Even within this blinkered framework, the court's success rate has not been particularly impressive: in its 12 years of existence, the ICC has carried out 21 investigations; only two people have been convicted. Given that record, why has Bensouda’s announcement provoked such outrage in the Israeli government?
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
‘Settlement through excavation is the same as settlement through building,’ according to Yonathan Mizrachi, an archaeologist who works with Emek Shaveh in Jerusalem. The organisation explores the connection between archaeology and politics in Israel and Palestine, particularly in and around Jerusalem. Earlier this year it published a report, written by Mizrachi, called From Territorial Contiguity to Historical Continuity: Asserting Israeli Control through National Parks in East Jerusalem.
We pulled up to the shining blue facade of the main hall of the Islamic University in Gaza in the summer of 2012. The Palestine Festival of Literature was running a seminar and an afternoon of workshops with students from the Arabic and English departments. Jamal Mahjoub, Selma Dabbagh and Amr Ezzat spoke to a packed auditorium of around 200 students, mostly young women, all veiled. The university enforces a dress code. Someone smiled at me from the crowd and it was a full three seconds before I recognised my friend and colleague Rana. She is not normally veiled. But this is the university with the best facilities.
Israel's justifications for its assault on Gaza have shifted more than once since Operation 'Brother's Keeper' was launched on 12 June, supposedly in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. The rockets 'raining down terror' on Israel (they have so far killed three people, giving them a kill rate of 0.1 per cent) were the reason given for the launch of operation 'Protective Edge' on 8 July; the ground invasion of Gaza on 17 July was said to be aimed at destroying a series of tunnels leading into Israel.
The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, denounced the bombing of the UN school in Gaza as ‘outrageous’ and ‘unjustifiable’. His officials have described the massacres as a ‘disgrace to the world’. Who stands disgraced? The UN General Assembly has regularly voted in favour of an independent Palestine. It is the Security Council that has vetoed the very thought and the Security Council, as everyone knows, is dominated by the United States; on this issue, Russia and China have remained on message.
The Palestinian body count in Gaza has passed 1000, with more than 5000 wounded. Over 70 per cent of the casualties are civilians, including more than 200 children. Extended families have been wiped out. Children playing on a beach have been targeted and killed by Israeli gunboats. Over two thousand homes have been damaged or destroyed. According to an IDF spokesman, 120 one-tonne bombs landed in the Shaja'yya neighbourhood alone. Yet, with three Israeli civilians and 40 Israeli soldiers killed, Israeli leaders and their US allies insist on describing the carnage as a war of self-defence.
Judith Butler in the LRB, 21 August 2003: It will not do to equate Jews with Zionists or Jewishness with Zionism. There were debates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as to whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state, whether the Jews had any right to lay claim to land inhabited by Palestinians for centuries, and as to the future for a Jewish political project based on a violent expropriation of land.
‘We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,’ Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that it isn't killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.
One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile. Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
In late April, an amateur video of Israeli army aggression in the occupied West Bank began to circulate online. The content was neither new nor surprising: a soldier shoving, kicking and pointing his gun at unarmed Palestinian teenagers in Hebron’s old city. What was new, however, was the form and scale of the public response. When the soldier was suspended, the Israeli public mobilised on social media in unprecedented numbers to support their ‘brother in arms’. Pundits called it the army’s first ‘digital rebellion’. Thousands of soldiers uploaded mobile snapshots of themselves holding handwritten protest banners: ‘We are with David the Nahalite’ (the suspended soldier was in the Nahal Infantry Brigade). In some of the selfies, the message was written on the soldiers’ half-naked bodies; in others it was spelled out in ammunition. The meme then spread to civilians, who uploaded pictures of themselves at home or at work, with pets and household objects rather than guns.
On 10 May, Amos Oz criticised the so-called 'price-tag attacks' carried out by Israeli settlers. The label is used by the culprits themselves to describe retaliatory violence against Palestinians: beatings and arson as well as racist graffiti sprayed on the walls of churches and mosques. Oz described the perpetrators as 'Hebrew neo-Nazi groups'. The next day, he said: The comparison that I made was to neo-Nazis and not to Nazis. Nazis build incinerators and gas chambers; neo-Nazis desecrate places of worship, cemeteries, beat innocent people and write racist slogans. That is what they do in Europe, and that is what they do here.
The way into the Montaza II police station in Alexandria is along a narrow ridge of broken concrete tiles and wet sand. A pool of black and green water with soft grey matter floating in it covers what must once have been a parking lot. There are more than 60 people detained inside, most of them Palestinian Syrians, half of them children under ten, their faces spotted with mosquito bites. On the third floor there's a pile of sand with parts of a broken toilet sticking out of it. A dirty blanket folded over a string separates the women and children’s quarters from the men’s. The detainees were all arrested for trying to get to Europe by boat.
I first met Oday al-Khatib in 2006, when he was 15. He had travelled from Al Fawwar, a refugee camp in the West Bank, to Italy and other European countries for a series of concerts with Dal’Ouna, a group founded by the Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan. They played a fantastic set of Palestinian and Arab songs, but it was Oday’s voice that made their performance most memorable.
At 2.30 on Sunday morning, the Israeli army removed 250 Palestinians from Bab al-Shams, a village in the so-called E1 corridor: 13 square kilometres of undeveloped Palestinian land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank with a population of 40,000. Israel has had designs on E1 for more than a decade: colonising it would realise the vision of a 'Greater Jerusalem', and eliminate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. After the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would build 4000 new settler homes in E1. The high court issued a six-day injunction against his order to 'evacuate' Bab al-Shams, but Netanyahu was in no mood to wait. Once the Palestinians had been driven out, the land was declared a closed 'military zone'.
Uri Avnery's latest: “Palestine, from the Jordan to the Sea, belongs to us!” declared Khaled Meshal last week at the huge victory rally in Gaza. “Eretz Israel, from the sea to the Jordan, belongs to us!” declare right-wing Israelis on every occasion. The two statements seem to be the same, with only the name of the country changed. But if you read them again carefully, there is a slight difference. The direction.
The European Coal and Steel Community and the other elements from which the EU springs were explicitly intended to make war between France and Germany ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’. That aim has been achieved, though America and Nato also played their part. But what contribution has the EU made to peacemaking elsewhere? I restrict my thoughts here to three conflicts in which I have been personally involved as a diplomat: Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
Uri Avnery on protests in Israel and the West Bank: At the end of [last] summer, the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, nominally a member of the Labor Party, sent his “inspectors” to demolish the hundred tents in the Boulevard. The protest went into prolonged hibernation over the winter and good old “security” pushed “social justice” off the agenda. Everyone expected the protest, like the sleeping beauty, to come to life again this summer. The question was: how? NOW IT is happening. With the official beginning of summer, June 21, the protest started again.
Uri Avnery on the assassination of Zuhair al-Qaisi:
For weeks now, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have tripped over one another in the frenzied competition to announce their love for Israel. Mitt Romney has promised that it will be the first country he visits as president. Rick Perry insists that he will confront Iran head-on to protect Israel from being 'wiped off the face of the earth'. Newt Gingrich took it to another level when, in an interview with the Jewish Channel, he said that the Palestinians are an ‘invented people’. He repeated the assertion a few days later, comparing himself to Ronald Reagan for having the 'courage to tell the truth'.
From the age of Jabotinsky to the age of Sharon, the Israeli right has dreamed of driving the Palestinians into the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, calling it Palestine, and declaring the Palestinian problem solved. The vision of Jordan as Palestine, the so-called Jordanian option, is the dream that never died, a vital corollary of a Greater Israel. It's also Jordan's biggest nightmare. Uri Avnery explains why.
Elie Wiesel is not known for his sympathy towards the Palestinian cause for self-determination. He was recently made the chairman of the board of the Elad Association, also known as the Ir David Foundation, an organisation that has been actively erasing the Palestinians’ cultural heritage and facilitating the confinement of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. In 2002, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority hired Elad to run the City of David national park, in the densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Elad has spent millions of dollars trying (unsuccessfully) to demonstrate King David's presence in that area.
Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September fell considerably short of Yasir Arafat’s electrifying 1974 speech from the same podium. Nor did it compare with Haidar Abdul Shafi’s dignified – and unanswerable – call for justice at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. Yet it may come to be seen as a historic turning point in the fortunes of the Palestinian people. Abbas’s agenda was transparent. He was sending the Americans a message: grow a spine, stop appeasing Israel and launch credible negotiations – because if you don’t, my next failure will be my last. There are several problems with his approach.
Among the many astonishing claims that Barack Obama made in his recent speech opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood was that ‘peace will not come through statements and resolutions.’ This is, at best, an odd thing to say for a president whose ascendancy to power itself depended on the compelling use of rhetoric. Indeed, his argument against the power of statements and resolutions at the United Nations to achieve peace was a rhetorical ploy that sought to minimise the power of rhetorical ploys. More important, it was an effort to make sure that the United States government remains the custodian and broker of any peace negotiation, so his speech was effectively a way of trying to reassert that position of custodial power in response to the greatest challenge it has received in decades. And most important, his speech was an effort to counter and drain the rhetorical force of the very public statements that are seeking to expose the sham of the peace negotiations, to break with the Oslo framework, and to internationalise the political process to facilitate Palestinian statehood.
More from Uri Avnery on the UN vote on Palestinian statehood:
When the Israeli tent protests began, some of the movement’s fiercest critics – outside the Israeli government – were progressive Arab intellectuals and activists. The protests seem to draw inspiration, tactics and even slogans from Tahrir Square, but to many people in the region they look a lot like ‘Israeli falafel’: a bland imitation of the real thing. Omar Barghouti described the protesters' failure to target the illegal occupation of Palestinian land as a ‘hysterical denial of the colonial reality’. But the denial may not last. While the army raises the spectre of a ‘radical Islamic winter’, Israeli demonstrators and the press are beginning to ask tough questions about the corruption of the military-industrial elite.
Such terrifying dogs have not been seen since the Hound of the Baskervilles. They have been bred by an ardent admirer of the late ‘Rabbi’ Meir Kahane, who was branded a fascist by the Israeli Supreme Court. Their task is to protect the settlements and attack Palestinians. Our TV stations have reported on them at length. All in preparation for ‘September’.
Largely shielded from the European and American financial crises, the Israeli economy has been growing at an astonishing rate over the past five years: 4.7 per cent in 2010 alone. But the wealth isn’t evenly distributed: most Israelis living inside the 1967 borders struggle to make ends meet because of the high cost of living and relatively high taxes, which are largely spent on security and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Camp Ofer near Ramallah is an Israeli ‘incarceration facility’ for detaining and processing Palestinian prisoners, including children (there are currently more than 200 Palestinian children in Israeli detention; a fifth of them are under 16). A delegation of three British Labour MPs who visited Camp Ofer last December told Amira Hass in Haaretz what they saw. More than two-thirds of detained children said they had been beaten. They were all ‘better off pleading guilty regardless of whether they had done something, because if they were detained until the end of proceedings, this could be three times longer than their punishment’. One of the MPs was disturbed to hear from his escort that this was a relatively good day: the children’s hands were cuffed in front of them rather than behind their backs.
The revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world has caused no little stress in Washington, but until Wednesday (27 April), it was reassuring in at least one way: Palestine hardly figured among the protesters' list of complaints. For many Western journalists in Tahrir Square, this was a sign of a newfound Egyptian political 'maturity', as if it were immature for Egyptians to be concerned about a blockade of their Arab neighbours that was partly facilitated by their own government. True, the question of Palestine was not entirely absent – Egyptians made plain their displeasure with the blockade, and with the sale of natural gas to Israel at a discount by Hussein Salem, one of Mubarak’s cronies who has since fled the country – but it was not prominent, either.
Imagine you were a Palestinian teenager, born in Jerusalem, when the Israelis took charge of your city in 1967. Imagine you received an ID card, giving you the right to residence in the place of your birth. That permit was in order when you left in the 1970s to study in the US. When you returned 20 years later, having graduated, married and started a family, you presented your document at the airport, only to be told it had been revoked. This is the story of Munther Fahmi,
The 'Palestine Papers' being published this week by al-Jazeera confirm in every detail what many Palestinians have suspected for a long time: their leaders have been collaborating in the most shameful fashion with Israel and the United States. Their grovelling is described in grim detail. The process, though few accepted it at the time, began with the much-trumpeted Oslo Accords, described by Edward Said in the LRB at the time as a ‘Palestinian Versailles'. Even he would have been taken aback by the sheer scale of what the PLO leadership agreed to surrender: virtually everything except their own salaries. Their weaknesses, inadequacies and cravenness are now in the public domain.
Last weekend the Observer carried a dramatic account of 'The Gaza Youth Manifesto', written in English by a handful of young people in Gaza and posted on Facebook. Given the thousands of people in the West who have said they 'like' it on Facebook or posted positive comments, the manifesto is said to herald a new movement for change in occupied Palestine.
The CIA announced yesterday that it has set up a task force with a rude acronym to assess the damage caused by WikiLeaks. So far, more trouble seems to have been caused by the bare fact of the leak, and the sheer scale of it, than by the content of any of the published cables.
For the most part we see able, professional diplomats doing their best to understand and report on the places where they’re stationed, as anyone familiar with the State Department would expect. Those I have looked at (mostly from or concerning the Middle East) are classified up to ‘secret’, which is supposed to mean the information in them would cause ‘grave damage’ to national security if made public. One lesson is that over-classification, which is a form of bad security, is even more prevalent in the State Department today than it was in the British diplomatic service when I served in it.
Imagine a sheriff offering the head of a criminal gang the following deal: ‘If you agree to stop stealing from your neighbours for three months, I’ll give you cutting edge weaponry and block any efforts by other law enforcement authorities to restrain your criminal activities.’ Sounds absurd? Then how about this: in return for a three-month freeze of illegal construction in the occupied West Bank (but not in occupied East Jerusalem, where it may continue), Barack Obama has promised to deliver 20 F-35 fighter jets to Israel, a deal worth $3 billion.
I recently returned to the US from a week in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. I arrived in the city on Sunday, 26 September, the day the temporary freeze on Israeli settlements was set to expire. I was staying with a friend in Sheikh Jarrah, metres away from where two Palestinian families were evicted from their homes last year; more are expected to be forced out in the coming months. As the end of the settlement freeze came and went, what struck me most about it, and about the latest round of peace negotiations of which it was a part, was their utter irrelevance to the realities of Palestinian life.
Last week, Israel permitted the transport of jam, halva and shaving razors into Gaza. Since September 2007, goods entering Gaza had been limited to a 'humanitarian minimum' of approximately 70 items of foodstuffs and medicines (4000 items were allowed in before the blockade). During a visit to Gaza in February 2009, John Kerry discovered that Israel had banned pasta but not rice, because the latter was considered a necessity while the former was a luxury.
On Thursday, the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul held a funeral for the dead from the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships of the Gaza flotilla. Many of the mourners were activists from IHH, the Islamic charity that organised the flotilla. Children swung Palestinian and, in some cases, Hizbullah flags; women in black chador wore green 'We are all Palestinian' headbands; others were in Turkish headscarfs and matching outfits; still others, jeans and T-shirts. From the packed mosque courtyard came shouts of 'Katil Israil' and 'Kahrolsun Israil' ('Murderer Israel', 'Damn Israel'). It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those words in Turkey, but it was a striking moment. Turkey and Israel have always, at least officially, been allies in a region where Israel has few friends. The flotilla incident has probably changed their relationship for ever.
In Israel, almost all of the protests against the navy’s assault on the relief flotilla took place in Palestinian space. Palestinian citizens in almost every major town and city, from Nazareth to Sachnin and from Arabe to Shfaram, demonstrated against the assault that left nine people dead and many more wounded. The one-day general strike called for by the Palestinian leadership within Israel was, for the most part, adhered to only by Arab citizens. In Jewish space, by contrast, business continued as usual.
It has become a pattern. Israel takes shocking action, as in Lebanon in 2006 where it killed 1000, Gaza in 2008-9 where 1400 people died (mostly civilians in both cases), and now its act of state terrorism on the high seas against a humanitarian mission to relieve the siege of Gaza. Then Israeli leaders complain that those who criticise their actions are 'delegitimising' the state of Israel. A real friend of Israel would tell its leaders that it is mainly their own actions that are undermining Israel’s standing in the world – actions that are not legitimate by any standard of international law, morality or even common sense. The deeper story here is the illegal blockade by Israel (with the connivance of Egypt) of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants who live in the world’s largest open-air prison.
Tariq Ali speaking outside Downing Street after the attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza: His talk on 'Obama's War', delivered on 19 April, will be available on the LRB webs
Michael Rubin of the National Review writes: One final note on proportionality: Fifteen “peace” activists dead is a tragedy, but they represent only one one-thousandth of the death toll of a French heatwave.
Last Thursday John Mearsheimer gave a talk at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, entitled 'The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews v. the New Afrikaners': The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.
In early October the Palestinian Authority dropped its draft resolution calling for a discussion of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council or the International Criminal Court. The 575-page report was, by all accounts, one of the most exhaustive and withering studies to date of Israeli war crimes. It also chastised the PA’s rival, Hamas, for firing rockets at Israeli civilians. The PA, which looked on at the Gaza war from distant Ramallah, would seem to have nothing to lose in light of the report's findings, and everything to gain. Yet the PA’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, was persuaded that going forward with its resolution would give the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, a pretext to avoid resuming negotiations – and the resolution would, in any case, be vetoed by the Obama administration.
Haifa al-Khalidi says that she's not a librarian. Fine. But the al-Khalidi collection on 116 Bab al-Silsilah Street in the old city of Jerusalem doesn't pretend to be anything other than a library so maybe Haifa simply means she's not a scholar, even if she's now acquainted with a thousand rare manuscripts and many more works in print that are housed here. One of the first she shows us is a beautifully decorated Arabic translation of a work on poisons and remedies by a 12th-century Indian physician. (Later I learn it contains a tale about metabolic resistance and how it's possible, carefully and slowly, to administer a poison to a subject whose antibodies enable him to survive, even though someone else who touches him will die.
Last week in the Occupied Territories, a bunch of (mainly) British writers, guests of the Palestine Festival of Literature, were asked to run workshops for the students at Birzeit. I was paired up with Robin Yassin-Kassab, the author of The Road from Damascus. Our workshop title was 'the role of writing in creating new political realities'. Right. Something about change then. Yassin-Kassab is a novelist; he knows what it is to ring the changes. I'm a journalist; I know how to change an inkjet cartridge. But we both agree that shouting tends to lock 'old' political realities in place, so why not turn this into an experiment about making a point without banging a drum?
A good way to grasp what's happening to East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories is from the air. Google Earth can do that for you, but there's a history of contention: in 2006, users created tags for Palestinian villages that were destroyed during the war of 1948-49; the following year Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades were said to be checking potential Israeli military targets against Google Earth pictures; last year there was a controversy over the Israeli coastal town of Kiryat Yam, when a user called Thameen Darby posted a note claiming it was formerly a Palestinian locality 'evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war'. Kiryat Yam, its residents protested as they reached for the nearest lawyer, was built in the 1930s.
Last week, the Palestine Festival of Literature organised a discussion about travel and writing at the Dar Annadwa cultural centre in Bethlehem. One of Palfest's star guests, touring the West Bank and East Jersualem, was Michael Palin, whose early glories, before his reinvention as a traveller, were much on people's minds. He spoke well about growing up in Sheffield and cultivating a passion for Hemingway, but the audience was delighted when someone suggested that living under Israeli occupation was a bit like being in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. As the panellists stood up and tidied their books, a young Palestinian in the seat in front of me said she couldn't believe we were all with Palin in Bethlehem – Bethlehem! – and no one had thought to ask about Monty Python's Life of Brian. But with two other writers on the stage, there'd been a lot of ground to cover.