Occupations in Palestine and Iraq

Well, tonight’s the night that the Israeli occupation of Palestine (and Golan) will finally have lasted exactly for ten times as long as the US/UK occupation of Iraq.
If both occupations carry on another 10,783 days (roughly, 29.5 years) then the occupation of Palestine will have lasted twice as long as the occupation of Iraq.
Let’s not even think about that…
I do just hope, meanwhile, that people in the US who prior to 2003 had only the vaguest idea (if any at all) of what rule over another people through foreign military occupation actually involved will now have a more vivid understanding of what is meant when people in the world community talk about “the continuing occupation of Palestine.”
Rule through military occupation is absolutely, and inevitably anti-democratic. It was never envisioned as being a status that would last for anything beyond the few months or very small number of years required to fashion a permanent peace treaty. And of course, the implantation by the occupying power of members of its own citizenry into the land temporarily held under the rules of “belligerent military occupation” is absolutely and quite rightly forbidden under international law.
This is quite understandable if you look at the terrible effects that the settler-implantation projects launched by the German occupiers in East and Central Europe and the Japanese occupiers in China and elsewhere had on the populations of those occupied lands.
At least the US in Iraq (unlike Israel in Palestine and Golan) has not sought to implant its own citizens as settlers in the occupied land. The US “merely”, in an earlier era of the occupation, sought to establish its own domination over the entire economy and political system of the country. But even that project has now been effectively abandoned as unfeasible…
Time to roll back both these military occupations, and give the indigenous peoples of these lands their right to self-determination as fast as possible.

Ending the occupation rule of Palestine and Golan

After 42 months of US occupation rule in Iraq, have we in the US finally learned a few truth about the true nature of rule by military occupation?
First and foremost, this: Rule by a foreign military occupation force– like any form of military rule– is inherently anti-democratic.
As we learn this fact, can we finally start to convince our fellow-citizens here in the US that Israel’s exercise of military occupation rule over some millions of its neighbors is a situation that has to be brought to a very speedy end?
And can we accept that our government here in the US, including successive administrations from both parties and the vast majority of members of Congress from both parties, has actually enabled and colluded in perpetuating this inherently oppressive, anti-democratic situation… which has been proceeding now for nearly 40 years? And therefore, that we as US citizens have a special responsibility to end the extremely generous financial and above all political support from our government, that has enabled this highly discriminatory form of rule to continue…
This includes bringing to a definitive end Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, its occupation of the rest of the West Bank, its continued occupation-at-some-distance of Gaza, and its continued occupation of Golan. Golan is part of the sovereign territory of Syria (and Israel’s ‘annexation’ of it in 1981 has no standing whatsoever in international law.) The West Bank and Gaza are territories that the UN unequivocally allocated in 1947 to a fully sovereign Palestinian Arab state, though this state has never been allowed to be born. And Palestinian East Jerusalem– like Israeli West Jerusalem– is territory that the UN had allocated to a special “corpus separatum”. Whether that latter idea is now revived or not, still, Israel has no claim to ownership of East Jeruslaem except by virtue of its conquest of the area in 1967– and the UN has repeatedly, and quite rightly, underscored the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.
Running a prolonged military occupation over another nation’s people is, self-evidently, very harmful to the wellbeing, and often even to the lives and physical security, of the people thus occupied. But it is also– as many Israelis and Americans can now attest– extremely harmful to the moral and spiritual quality of the community doing the occupying. In fact, it is harmful all round– except for the small number of entrepreneurs and shysters who in any such situation arise to make money off it. (I’m thinking of shareholders in companies like Halliburton, the private security companies that have proliferated in both Iraq and the Israeli-occupied territories, the real-estate and construction companies that have been making a huge killing by exploiting, basically, looted lands and resources in Palestine and Golan, etc etc…)
Because occupation is so harmful, and so deeply anti-democratic, I think we should work just as hard to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands as we do to end the US occupation of Iraq.
Imagine living under military rule for nearly 40 years!
Anyway, I’ve put a couple of new resources up on the front-page sidebar here on JWN, to help people understand more about Israel’s occupation rule over E. Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan. One is the link to “Occupation magazine” that’s just below the second of my occupation “day-counters” there. I have to say that site is not perfectly organized. But it certainly has a large amount of (mainly, Israeli-sourced) material.
The other resource, a bit further down on the sidebar, is the link to the five-part series I wrote about “The human dimension of the Golan issue” in 1998, based on a quick reporting trip I made there in March that year. It’s a bit dated, obviously. But still, not many people write about the human dimension there, viewing Golan only as a chunk of strategic geography instead of as a beloved homeplace to its indigenous people– both those who still live there, and those who fled in 1967. (This piece, by Gideon Levy in today’s HaAretz, is also about Golan.)
.. And if we want any more “proof” about the parallellism of the two occupation forces, just look at all the efforts they have both made to stoke extremely harmful “divide-and-rule” actions among their subject peoples. As if things weren’t bad enough already for the people of Gaza and of Baghdad without having all these added layers of fear, divisionism, and suffering heaped onto them… God save them all.

Memories of the French Resistance

Our trip in Europe continues. We’re in southern France now, heading north in three or four days.
Earlier this week we had breakfast in Gordes, a spectacularly beautiful hill town in (I think) the Cotes de Ventoux area of Provence. We went there early, and had coffee and croissants on the tiny balcony of the local “Cercle Republicaine”. Inside the Cercle’s main room there– a bar-cum-coffee-bar– local townspeople sat and talked vociferously about politics and (of course) France’s meteroic rise in the international football stakes.
Afterwards, we walked around the town’s ramparts. At one point we came to the crowded cemetery. One whole portion of had been enclosed by a low wall and looked particularly clean and well-swept. It contained the bodies of a dozen local people who had died in the course of resistance activities against Germany’s WW-2-era military occupation of France. It was very moving. There was a man and his new bride, killed within days of each other. There were two brothers, killed the same night. Several of the (newly refurbished) information plates on the headstones said simply “fusille par les allemands” (“shot by the Germans”).
In the center of the town there was also a war memorial on which the names of these anti-occupatiion heroes had been chiseled.
In Iraq or Palestine, 60-plus years after these people’s (eventual) liberation from foreign military rule, do you think each hero of the resistance will be remembered with similar loving attention? I should imagine so.

Chaos, closure, and the Gaza greenhouses

One commenter wrote that when I wrote here recently about the greenhouses in Gaza that an American Jewish group helped hand over to the Palestinians last year, the source I quoted, Khaled Abdel-Shafi “had not told the whole story.” That commenter, RB, then helpfully provided URLs to some earlier versions of this story, which featured accounts of some serious looting of greenhouse paraphernalia that took place immediately after the “handover”.
This September 13 story referenced by RB tells us that, “Jihad al-Wazir, the deputy Palestinian finance minister, said roughly 30 percent of the greenhouses suffered various degrees of damage.”
Actually, Abdel-Shafi did tell me about the looting. He explained to me that because of the Israelis’ firm insistence on not coordinating any aspect of their departure with the PA, it was almost impossible for the PA to arrange to deploy sufficient security forces into the greenhouse region, or to make a plan on how to secure the greenhouses, before the IOF soldiers simply up and left the greenhouse areas in, as I recall it, the wee hours of one morning in early September.
However, despite the setback caused to the Palestinians’ plans by the looting, the Palestinian Economic Development Company did manage to get some decent-sized crops of specialty items out of those greenhouses– as did the owners of other existing large Palestinian greenhouse operations up and down the Strip in the most recent (indeed, ongoing) growing season.
But the most recent part of this story remains the fact that the Israeli government has not lived up to its commitment under last November’s “Rafah Agreement” to keep the Karni goods crossing– the only way for these ultra-perishable goods to reach the international markets for which they were grown– fully open to expedite their transit to these markets.
Reuters told us yesterday that,

    [A] report, prepared by a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, estimated agriculture losses in Gaza due to the closure of the Karni crossing at more than $450,000 per day.
    The Palestine Economic Development Co., which manages the greenhouses left behind by evacuated Jewish settlers, has been losing more than $120,000 a day, the report estimated.
    The greenhouse project was launched with much fanfare late last year as a sign of Gaza Strip’s potential after Israel’s withdrawal.
    A border deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was supposed to clear the way for Gaza to increase sharply its agricultural exports.
    But a World Bank report released on Monday found “no sustained improvement” in the movement of goods across Karni before or after Israel’s Gaza pullout, completed last September.
    Israel closed Karni for 21 days between Jan. 15 and Feb. 5. It was closed again on Feb. 21 after a mysterious explosion in the area and has remained closed because of “continued security alerts”, the army said.

The phenomenon of the looting in the abandoned Israeli settlements and the greenhouses reminds me of the story of the looting in Baghdad in the days aftere the fall of Saddam Hussein. In both cases, you had these elements:

    (1) A population that had been living under a lot of socioeconomic pressure for a long time, and in which many of the norms of respect of property rights had seriously broken down,
    (2) A population, moreover, that lacked trusted police forces, and
    (3) A much more powerful military actor that through its actions had caused the change that left the major security vacuum, which some — though certainly, in both cases, far from all– elements of the population sought to exploit… and an actor that crucially had made no preparations at all to deal with the very foreseeable probability of this security breakdown— indeed, that seemed almost wilfully oblivious to such consequences.

I think this case needs to be included in my intermittent study of military occupation-ology. Today, I drove back through northern Gaza from Gaza City to the Erez Crossing. The landscape was generally very bleak. The population density throughout the Gaza is enormous, and vast portions of the landscape are covered with raw concrete dwellings, two, three, and four stories high. Trash and sand blew across the rutted streets, and there were vast areas of rubble from the remains of former Israeli settlements and military bases. Actually, the most colorful thing is the election-related flags that still fly high above the buildings and utility poles… green for Hamas, yellow for Fateh, and red for the Popular Front. They are so numerous! And today they were all snapping smartly in a brisk wind.
Anyway, as we drove those few miles, I thought: what a contrast here, or in Iraq, with the situation in Germany or Japan after just a few years of US military occupation… In those earlier occupations, the US made it clear from the get-go that it had no ambitions to control either the land, the resources, or the population of those occupied areas, and that it would not maintain its military-occupation rule over them for any longer than was absolutely needed. In both areas, moreover, the occupying had a long-prepared and well executed plan for the rehabilitation of the indigenous society at all levels, including the socioeconomic and the political.
But Israel in the West Bank and Gaza? … Or the US in Iraq? What terrible betrayals, in both cases, of the “trust” that running a temporary military occupation over someone else’s country represents.
(Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is coming up to its 39th burthday this June.)

Living under foreign military occupation

Ever since I came to live in the US in 1982, I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking around the country, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Over the years, it became increasingly clear that many of the concepts that people who’re “experts” on the Middle East toss around so easily in our discussions– “occupation”, “settlements”, “resolution 242”, etc– are not readily understood by the general public here… So I’d try to back up, and give a thumbnail explanation of what each such concept meant.
Take “occupation”. In the pre-November 2001 world, few Americans had any direct experience with this particular– and intrinsically anti-democratic— form of rule. I think in much of Europe, where there are more vivid folk-memories of what happened to countries that came under Nazi military occupation and then under (less malevolent) Allied military occupation for a number of years, there’s generally much more understanding of the concept.
Then, too, many American citizens seem to have little ability even to exercize an empathetic imagination and really think through what it must be to live in a society that is– as all non-US societies are– very different from their/our own. You could call this moral laziness, or just (more charitably) a general lack of awareness.
Since November 2001, Americans have no excuse whatsoever for such moral laziness on the issue of rule by “foreign military occupation”– to give this form of government the full name it has in international law. That was the month that a US-led but UN-sanctioned coalition toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and started running an FMO in that country.
Seventeen months later, in April 2003, a US-led (and never UN-sanctioned) military force toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And since then, the US and its paltry band of allies have been running an FMO in that country, too.
The juridical situation in Afghanistan changed somewhat earlier this month when Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the country’s first “popularly elected” leader. I am, however, unfamiliar with the exact content of the extensive “security agreements” that are still in force between Krazai’s administration and the US-led force, so I can’t say for sure whether the rule-by-US-diktat actually has ended there or not. (I strongly suspect not.)
Regarding Iraq, however, the occupation as such most certainly still continues… And likely will continue for many months even after next month’s election to a transitional assembly.
So what is it like to actually live under a foreign military occupation?

Continue reading “Living under foreign military occupation”

Golan– the human dimension

The Sharon government has been hinting that, in the absence of any credible peace diplomacy toward the Palestinians, it might be prepared to resume the long-stalled talks with Syria.
What else is new? The tactic of “threatening” to turn away from one track of the so-called “peace process” (a.k.a. the peace-free process: all process and none of the peace) is an old, old one for Israeli leaders of both major parties.
And then, just as those hints about possible talks with Syria start going around, the Sharon government announces a massive new settlement-building project on the Golan.
Again, so what else is new?
If I seem slightly jaded by all these extremely repetitive shenanigans it’s because back in December 1999 I published a (pretty good) book about the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations of the 1990s– and yes, I really do feel that I’ve seen all of this before.
The book, by the way, builds heavily on interviews I conducted with decisionmakers and analysts in Israel, Syria, and the United States. So it provides a pretty rounded picture that I don’t think is available anyplace else. Check it out!
The two sides actually did come pretty close to nailing down a very multi-dimensional peace agreement during “crash” talks they held under US auspices at the Wye Plantation, in early 1996…

Continue reading “Golan– the human dimension”


MILITARY OCCUPATIONS, PART 3: I first met Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist, in a PLO office in Tunis in the mid-1980s. Uri has sure hung in there over the years! (I saw him at the Tel Aviv offices of his present organization, Gush Shalom/ the Peace Bloc, just last June.) Today, I got an email from GS, in which Uri had penned some very thought-provoking notes about the present US-Iraqi war. Among them were the two notes that follow:
[I should note that I’m a little troubled by Uri’s apparent recourse to group-stereotyping in the title of the first of these notes. But that’s what he chose. And the content of what he writes there is really important. Plus it tracks totally with what I wrote in my recent lengthy screed on comparative military occupations. Anyway, over to Uri… ]
# Beware of the Shiites.
The troubles of the occupation will start after the fighting is over. Here is a personal story and its lessons:
On the fourth day of the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon, I crossed the border at a lone spot near Metulla and looked for the front, which had already reached the outskirts of Sidon. I was driving my private car, accompanied only by a woman photographer. We passed a dozen Shiite villages and were received everywhere with great joy. We extracted ourselves only with great difficulty from hundreds of villagers, each one insisting that we have coffee at their home. On the previous days, they had showered the soldiers with rice.
A few months later I joined an army convoy going in the opposite direction, from Sidon to Metulla. The soldiers were now wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, many were on the verge of panic.
What had happened? The Shiites received the Israeli soldiers as liberators. When they realized that they had come to stay as occupiers, they started to kill them.
When the Israeli troops entered Lebanon, the Shiites were a down-trodden, powerless community, held in contempt by all the others. After a year of fighting the occupiers, they became a political and military power. The Shiite Hizbullah is the only military force in the Arab world that has beaten the mighty Israeli army.
Sharon is the real father of the Shiite force in Lebanon. Bush may well become the father of Shiite power in Iraq. The Shiites, 60% of the Iraqi population, have been until now down-trodden and powerless. When they will realize that the Americans intend to stay, they will start a deadly guerilla. Bush does not intend to leave Iraq, as Sharon did not intend to leave Lebanon.
Then what? America will argue that Iran, the great Shiite neighbor, is behind the Shiite guerilla. In Iran there is a lot of oil. That?s the next target.
# Germany.
Germany is against the war. Against any war. In no other country was the anti-war outburst so authentic, emanating from the innermost feelings of the masses.
And who is furious about this? Israel, the country of the Holocaust survivors. How do they dare, these damn Germans, to object to the war?
A sad irony of history: all German TV stations show citizens, intellectuals and ordinary folk, who pray for peace, all Israeli TV screens show retired generals, obviously enjoying themselves, discussing with great relish how to employ giant bombs and other instruments
of death.

… So folks, if you want to see more of what Uri writes, and what his organization does, go to their site. Toda and Shalom, Uri.


MORE ON OCCUPATIONS– JAPAN AND IRAQ: What I forgot to mention in my earlier long screed on comparative occupation-ology was that there’s a great article by the historian of modern Japan John Dower, in the current issue of Boston Review in which he elegantly and to my view convincingly debunks the idea that we can make a meaningful analogy between what the American occupation of Japan achieved and what we might expect the American occupation of Iraq to achieve.
(In that same issue, there’s also my piece on Syria and the prospect of democratization, and a good piece by Neta Crawford on pre-emption.)


MILITARY OCCUPATIONS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE POSSIBLY UGLY: Okay, George Bush has set us on the path of war, and in the days ahead Iraqi people, Iraqi conscripts, the fighting members of the all-volunteer US and British armies and numerous other human groups near and far from the battlefield have, as a consequence, been put squarely in harm’s way.
I, of all people, don’t want to elide that fact.
However, soberly speaking, there is every prospect from what we know that the US military will “prevail” militarily. So it is really important to start looking at what comes next…
Earlier today, I wrote an incredibly long post that surveyed various military occupations over the past 60 years, judging which seemed to have worked well, and which not… For the whole text of that post, go here. And this was my bottom line:
Which leaves us as Americans where?
Paying the cost of this occupation ourselves. And we can ask the Israelis how high those costs might be.

Dangers of Occupation: Taking a lesson from post-war Japan

BOSTON REVIEW: The paper copy of the latest (Feb/March) issue of BR dropped into my mailbox today. Hey, there’s still something special about hard copy– like the way you can mark it up with a real red pen or read it in the bathroom. Anyway, this one is a Special issue on the theme of “War and Democracy”.
Okay yes, I draw it to your attention because there’s a piece by me in it: a fairly long piece of reporting about my December trip to Damascus, and some info about the imprisonment of my Syrian friend and colleague Ibrahim Hamidi.
But in addition, there’s a lot more good stuff, including a piece by John Dower, an excellent, wise historian of modern Japan. Dower directly takes on the arguments heard from some members of the current pro-war crowd, to the effect that “General” Rumsfeld’s war can end up having the same salutary effects for Iraqis as the post-WW2 occupation of Japan had for the Japanese.
(Talking of Rummy, where’s Cheney these days? Back to the secure location?)
Anyway, Dower’s warning for the gung-ho crowd is dire. “The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned,” he writes, noting the many, many differences between the two cases.
Well, obviously you should read it. (And mine! And mine!)
Trouble is, BR don’t seem to have updated their website yet. So maybe wait a couple of days. Either that, or call ’em and start subscribing to the paper edition…
Someone else who should maybe read Dower’s piece is Rend Rahim Francke, the longtime head of the DC-based Iraq Foundation. January 13, the Washington Post ran an interesting, human-interest-y story by former Middle East reporter Caryle Murphy, who had trailed around Greater DC’s Iraqi-opposition community with her notebook at the ready.
One of her interviewees was Francke, who joked that she would be “on the first U.S. tank” going into Baghdad. Francke confessed to Murphy that she had recently picked up a book at Second Story bookstore about the history of the U.S. occupation of Japan, to learn as much as she could from it.
Maybe that was one of Dower’s excellent books on the subject? Maybe she should talk to Dower as well?
* * *
Also significant in Murphy’s piece was her report that, “Of more than a dozen Iraqi [exiles] recently interviewed, none said they plan to permanently return to Iraq if Hussein is removed.”
And yet, these people are taken seriously as they sit around in their comfy georgetown exile making plans for how Iraq will be governed in the future? Does something smell funny here?
Even Francke told Murphy that she planned to establish only part-time residence in Baghdad after she’d gotten there on her tank.