Promised Land

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

For more than a week Palestinians have been shelled from the sea, bombed from the air, maimed and collateralised to death in Israeli-occupied Gaza. There’s little place to hide on the 25-mile sliver of coastline that is home to some 1.7 million people. At least four Israelis and more than 120 Palestinians, many of them children, have died. Over a thousand victims have been wounded. Four years ago in “Operation Cast Lead” the aerial bombardment was followed by an Israeli ground invasion which rapidly – under plumes of searing white phosphorous – pushed the death toll to 1,400. “Operation Pillar of Cloud” has confirmed Israel’s power to punish and terrorise with impunity.

The usual cover story – that Israel was merely defending its citizens against rockets fired from Gaza – has been offered. The facts are different. On 8 November, Israeli occupation forces entered Gaza, levelling crops and firing indiscriminately. Ahmed Daqqa, 13, was fatally wounded as he played football in front of his home. On 10 November, Palestinian resistance fighters attacked an Israeli army jeep wounding four soldiers. In the next three days Israel attacked civilian neighbourhoods – including a football playground – killing 7 Palestinians and wounding 52 others. Rockets were launched from Gaza.

Despite the provocations on both sides Reuters reported on 13 November that a truce had been brokered after 5 days of mounting violence. On 14 November an Israeli air-strike killed the Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. Reuters said the attack “appeared to end a 24-hour lull in cross-border violence that surged this week”. The Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” reported that just hours before his assassination Jabari had received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky, Director of the Centre for Research on Globalisation, scorns the media consensus that “Pillar of Cloud” was an ad-hoc response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. He says the US government was directly involved in the planning and implementation of the attack on Gaza through the US-Israeli “Austere Challenge 12” military exercises.

“In the month prior to the attacks, the US and Israel were involved in the conduct of the largest joint war games in Israeli history. The objective of the war games was to test Israel’s missile air defence system against attacks from far and near, namely from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas… The military exercises were conducted over four weeks overlapping with the US elections (November 6) and culminating with the commencement of the Gaza bombings (November 14)… It should be understood that the joint US-Israeli war games were intended to lead towards an actual military operation. “Pillar of Cloud” was planned well in advance. It had been “embedded” into the structure of the joint US-Israeli war games.”

The Israeli-Arab conflict is often presented as an intractable problem because of its peculiar history. The truth is much plainer. Israel has never defined its borders because it has always intended to expand and expropriate all Palestinian land. Under partition in 1947 Israel got 55 percent of Palestine. It captured an additional 23 percent in the 1948 war. None of the 750,000 Palestinians displaced by the war or systematically expelled are allowed to return. In 1967 Israel captured the 22 percent left to the Palestinians and almost immediately began the movement to settle Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Since then the occupied territories have been ghettoised, imprisoning the Palestinians in isolated enclaves surrounded by Israeli settlements and occupation forces. Movement is stringently controlled by permits and separate roads for Arabs, curfews, check-blocks, patrols and casual brutality. An electronic fence has surrounded Gaza since 1994 and “The Wall” 700 kilometers long now cuts deep into the West Bank joining the large settler blocks to Israel. Jewish settlement in the West Bank has almost doubled in the past 12 years. In the 62 percent of the area administered by Israel, 350,000 Jews outnumber 150,000 Palestinians. The rest of the 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank are pressed into 38 percent of the territory.

Like the architects of apartheid Israelis face the problem of constructing and sustaining an ethnically defined state. They could annex all of Palestine in violation of international law –like East Jerusalem in 1980 – but that would mean treating the Palestinians in the occupied territories as citizens in a Jewish state, and they already have 1,5 million of those. The solution is to confine the Palestinians in the occupied territories to ever shrinking Bantustans until they can be expelled or forced to seek refuge in neighbouring states leaving “Greater Israel” to the Jews. This requires the crushing of resistance, by force as in “Pillar of Cloud” and by siege and blockade that makes malnutrition a weapon.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, author of the groundbreaking book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” says Israel and the West need to acknowledge that ethnic cleansing happened in 1948, and that it continues to be state policy in Israel. “This would open the way for Palestinian normal life. And I think only then can you ask the Palestinians to accept the Israelis. I think there are similar events in history where people have gone through this process: First acknowledge something happened, and then take responsibility. This is the Israeli part of the deal. And then the other side forgives and accepts the new life.”

This is unlikely to happen anytime soon. A recent poll of Israeli Jews commissioned by the New Israel Fund found that a majority believed Israel practices apartheid. What’s more, they’re in favour of separate schools, roads and buildings, laws banning Arabs from voting and the “transfer” of Arabs from Israel to the occupied territories. Gideon Levy writing about the poll in “Haaretz” says, “Israelis have never appeared so pleased with themselves, even when they admit their racism. Most of them think Israel is a good place to live in and most of them think this is a racist state. It’s good to live in this country, most Israelis say, not despite its racism, but… because of it.”

Popular support is not the only thing going for the Israeli government. Far more significant is the fact that it is in step with an American policy intended to dissolve the states of the Middle East and partition them between their rival ethnic and sectarian communities. It’s a policy that staves off Israel’s biggest threat, secular Arab nationalism. All of this has been made possible by the war on terror, and the revived myth of a clash of civilisations, triggered by the 9/11 attacks. Jonathan Cook, based in the West Bank, says this ensures Israel’s domination of the region, its privileged alliance with Washington and its “unchallenged right to continue the creeping process of ethnic cleansing of the occupied Palestinian territories”.


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