2017: A crucial year for the Palestine Question

Several people have been noting that next year, 2017, will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and Golan. But the imminent arrival of this somber– and truly mind-boggling– anniversary reminds me that 2017 will mark important anniversaries of three other crucial developments in the Palestine Question, too. These are:

  • The centennial (100-year anniversary, no less!) of the Balfour Declaration, the diktat from the British Foreign Secretary that imperial London would support the creation of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine– whatever that meant… but would do so only provided that the “civil and political rights” of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine would not be adversely affected. (Fat chance!)
  • The 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine– which gave Israel (along with its conjoined twin, the never-born Palestinian Arab state) the only “birth certificate” it has ever had in international law; and
  • The 30th anniversary of the launching of the First Intifada, which started in Gaza on December 9, 1987, spreading rapidly through the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Make no mistake about it: 50 years of rule by a foreign military is already a terrible travesty, and a crime against the whole Lockean concept that government can only legitimately be exercised “through the consent of the governed.” When the international community most recently codified and regulated the whole concept of rule by “military occupation”, in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (especially the 4th one), it was only ever envisaged that military occupation by a foreign military power would be a temporary, or short-term situation, pending the conclusion of a conflict-resolving final peace treaty.

But for Palestinians and the legitimate indigenous residents of occupied Golan? No. For them, occupation has hardened into a 50-year-old force that because of Israel’s massive (and completely illegal)  policy of moving of large numbers of its own civilians into the West Bank and Syria’s Golan region now looks harder than ever to reverse or displace.

I remember back in early 1987, when pro-peace (or pro-peace-ish) Israelis first started facing up to idea that their occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan was about to hit the 20-year mark. They were nonplussed! “How did this happen!” some of them exclaimed. That was back then, when there was still a fairly large “Peace Now” movement in Israel…

Six months after June 1987, the first intifada broke out. What heady (and painful) days those were for Palestinians. It may be hard to remember now, but traveling among all the cities of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and between those cities and Gaza was still relatively easy to do. Jerusalem was the organizing hub for the whole intifada. Throughout the six years that followed, the occupied territories were abuzz with numerous, very creative forms of nonviolent resistance…

Oslo, and the “return” soon thereafter to the OPT’s of the PLO leadership apparatus, put an end to all of that. Oslo ushered in, in quick order, the severing of Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank by an Israeli ring of steel; and then the progressive quadrillement of the whole of the West Bank– its dividing-up into tiny, mutually impenetrable cantons– by the new Israeli road system that had been specifically allowed by the PLO leadership as part of the Oslo arrangements; and the cutting-off of Gaza which later allowed Israel’s imposition on it of a debilitating, total siege…

At this point, nearly 30 years after 1987, I think the most constructive and realistic way to view “the occupation” is not as a singular step that started in 1967 that was somehow a “deviation” from what “should” have been Israel’s rightful path, but rather as a continuation of the settler-colonial process that started to gain international political traction with Lord Balfour’s declaration of 1917… and then won a serious (and troublingly “colonial”) international imprimatur from the infant United Nations in 1947…and has certainly continued since 1967 with Israel’s increasingly blatant colonization of the West Bank (and Golan.)

So let’s not just look at 1967. Let’s look at 1947, too– the year just 20 years earlier than 1967 when (a) the United Nations voted to give half of Palestine, lock-stock-and-barrel, to its overwhelmingly recently arrived population of Jewish settlers– this, in an era when everywhere else in the world de-colonization was already underway; and (b) the leaders of the Zionist yishuv in Palestine took the Partition Plan as their carte blanche (as Ilan Pappe has so rightly documented) to start launching their program of anti-Palestinian ethnic cleansing in–and soon enough also beyond– the areas the Partition Plan had allotted them. Yes, as Pappe has shown in his work, the Nakba started in November 1947.

And yes, the period of time that Israel has controlled the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan is far, far longer than the earlier period during which it controlled “only” the area within its pre-1967 boundaries (which were already, as we know, considerably broader than what the UN gave to the “Jewish state” in the Partition Plan.)

… And let’s look, too, at 1917, the year that Chaim Weizmann, Lord Rothschild, and other Zionist leaders managed to persuade British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour to issue his infamous declaration, which was later incorporated into all the post-WWI peace agreements– as part of which, by amazing happenstance, Britain emerged with a neo-imperial “Mandate” from the League of Nations to rule over Palestine (and Jordan and Iraq)… just until these countries’ own inhabitants should be “ready” to exercise self-rule, you understand.

1917 came 32 years after the infamous Conference of Berlin,  in which the European powers sat round and solemnly carved up the whole of the African continent amongst themselves, to let each participating power engage in settler colonialism, looting, and rapine within its designated zone, exactly as it wished. But still, by 1917, the tide of global opinion was already starting to turn against settler colonialism and the “rights” of all the world’s peoples were much on the lips of diplomats.

Zionists have often tried to portray their movement as one of “national liberation” from foreign (including British) rule. In truth, though, they have always relied on the patronage of other, much larger, globally powerful states in order to realize their settler-colonial objectives in historic Palestine. That was the case in 1917. It was the case in 1947. It was the case in 1967. And it remains the case, today. Without the support that Washington has lavished on Israel– within its current, expansionist borders– for several decades now, there is no way that Israel could have defied all the norms by which the whole of the rest of the world community has to abide… and could have done so, continuously, for the whole of the past 50 years.

The publishing company that I founded in 2010, Just World Books, has published numerous great books on the Palestine Question. You can see the whole list of our publications here. Now, we are  working on our plans for the books we’ll be publishing later this year, and in 2017. (Stay tuned!) And we’re also, along with our friends, allies, and partners, planning to organize a great series of events around the whole United States in 2017, so that communities everywhere around the country can better understand what is happening in Palestine/Israel. More people in the United States than ever before are now hungry for good information about what’s happening in Palestine, and eager to understand both how the situation got to be where it is today, and what our own country’s role in that has been.

There’s no doubt that 2017 will be a crucial year for broadening the discussion of what’s happening in Palestine/Israel. But we shouldn’t just be looking at 50 years of occupation. We need to look, too, at 100 years of Western-supported Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine, the 70-year anniversary of the Partition Plan and the Nakba that it sparked, and the 30-year anniversary of the First Intifada. When we look at all these anniversaries and put them into perspective alongside each other, then we can much better understand the state of the Palestine Question today.


Israeli spooks vacuuming up American ‘faceprints’

Today’s NYT Business Section has an interesting article about the increasing use of facial recognition software in security/access systems in the U.S. The main subject that the writer, Natasha Singer, was describing was the emergence of serious questions about the ethics of the whole business. The piece was subtitled, “What hath facial recognition wrought? A pioneer in the field now warns of its potential for invading individual privacy.”

The pioneer in question is Greek/French physicist Joseph Atick; and Singer quotes his views at some length. For counter-point, she provides a description of– and some quotes from– an ardent advocate of the use of facial recognition, a guy called Aharon Zeevi Farkash, whom she introduces simply as the chief executive of a company called FST Biometrics which, she does admit, is Israeli.

This man wants to vaccum up YOUR face, Americans!
This man wants to vacuum up YOUR face, Americans!

But Farkash (shown left) is no ordinary corporate CEO. This is how FST’s own website describes him:

From 1990-1993, he headed the prestigious Israel SIGINT National Unit (8200), after which he held senior positions in the [IDF’s] Planning Branch for five years. Promoted to the rank of General in 1998, he subsequently served as Head of the Technology & Logistics Branch until 2001; he then was appointed to lead the Directorate of Military Intelligence (Aman), where he served until retiring from the IDF in 2006.

Farkash thus spent 16 years in significant leadership positions in the Israeli military-intel system. Palestinian rights activist Kawther Salam, who tries to document the responsibility of individual Israeli commanders for gross rights abuses, writes about Farkash:

He was responsible for planning and implementing the assassinations of 544 Palestinian between 2002 and 2006.

… During 2004 he ordered the assassinations of 112 Palestinians. During the operations to carry out these assassinations, an additional 172 children were murdered.

Due to demolition orders given by Zeevi-Farkash, 2366 houses were destroyed.

… The actions of Aharon Zeevi-Farkash in office constitute genocide and ethnic cleansing in international laws and statutes which have also been signed and ratified by Israel.

I’m not sure I agree with Kawther that Farkash was responsible for giving the orders in these cases. But undoubtedly, he was responsible for the preparation of the plans given to the political leadership for these actions. (Maybe he would claim that in preparing those plans, he was “just following orders”. Have we heard that before somewhere?)

Singer’s article today describes two places in the United States where Farkash’s company– whose ‘C’ suite is stuffed with other men who are similarly proud to flaunt their experience in the IDF– has already installed its facial recognition systems. One is Knickerbocker Village, “a 1,600-unit redbrick apartment complex in Lower Manhattan,” which Singer describes as “a showcase for FST Biometrics”. The other is an un-named private high school in Los Angeles.

Singer writes of Farkash:

In essence, he started FST Biometrics because he wanted to improve urban security. Although the company has residential, corporate and government clients, Mr. Farkash’s larger motive is to convince average citizens that face identification is in their best interest. He hopes that people will agree to have their faces recognized while banking, attending school, having medical treatments and so on.

If all the “the good guys” were to volunteer to be faceprinted, he theorizes, “the bad guys” would stand out as obvious outliers. Mass public surveillance, Mr. Farkash argues, should make us all safer.

Really? And who is the “us” he was talking about there? For me, as a U.S. citizen, I certainly do not feel safer knowing that there are places in my country where a company run by a bunch of Israeli intel experts has been vacuuming up my “faceprint”.

Do such systematic capturings of my “faceprint” require any form of permit? At present, I believe not. (Singer’s piece provides a pretty good exploration of the many privacy issues these new technologies present, and is worth reading on that score.) But I am outraged that a company so closely associated with Israel’s SIGINT bureaucracy is allowed to be vacuuming up this kind of data anywhere in America.

I would hope that the residents of Knickerbocker Village and students and faculty at the un-named L.A. school would be outraged as well, and would work to terminate these very harmful contracts as soon as possible.

Mearsheimer writes obituary for ‘two-state’ option

Prof. John Mearsheimer gave a great talk at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on Thursday, under the title “The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners.”
His most important conclusion was this:

    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. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.

(I should note that there is more than one form of Zionist dream. Judah Magnes and other pioneers of the revival of Hebrew language and Jewish life in Palestine in the early and mid-twentieth century had a “dream” of a binational state there. That dream can still be revived today. But Mearsheimer does recognize that stream in Zionist thought, as well– see below.)
Mearsheimer also gave this good, short analysis of the situation in American Jewish community:

    American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”
    Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. They also understand that the Palestinians paid an enormous price to make it possible to create Israel in 1948. Moreover, they recognize the pain and suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967. Finally, most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state. In essence, they believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end. Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.
    To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
    On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state. These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. This is not to say that the new Afrikaners think that apartheid is an attractive or desirable political system, because I am sure that many of them do not. Surely some of them favor a two-state solution and some of them probably have a serious commitment to liberal values. The key point, however, is that they have an even deeper commitment to supporting Israel unreservedly. The new Afrikaners will of course try to come up with clever arguments to convince themselves and others that Israel is really not an apartheid state, and that those who say it is are anti-Semites. We are all familiar with this strategy.
    I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.
    The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews. The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.
    There is no question that the present balance of power favors the new Afrikaners. When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them. The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time. This situation is due in good part to the fact that most American Jews – especially the elders in the community – have little understanding of how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled and where it is ultimately headed. They think that the two-state solution is still a viable option and that Israel remains committed to allowing the Palestinians to have their own state. These false beliefs allow them to act as if there is little danger of Israel becoming South Africa, which makes it easy for them to side with the new Afrikaners.
    This situation, however, is unsustainable over time. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state.

Far-right Israeli gov’t cracks down– on members of US Congress!

Well, they do say that those whom the Gods want to destroy, first they make crazy… And here is the evidence that it this is indeed happening in today’s Israel. The ultra-right in Israel has always attacked many members of the ethnic-Palestinian leadership in Israel for being “anti-patriotic”, “traitorous”, or a “fifth column”. But in recent weeks, a really vile proto-fascist organization called Im Tirzu has come out with a campaign of unprecedented vituperativeness against such pillars of the left-Zionist establishment as Naomi Chazan, a former deputy Speaker of the Knessset who is the chair of New Israel Fund.
Just scroll down in this recent post by the indefatigable Didi Remez to see the grotesque caricature of Dr. Chazan that Im Tirzu published recently.
And now, Israel’s hard right has gone even crazier. Yesterday, the foreign ministry, which is headed by the ultra-rightists Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, even intervened to prevent four visiting members of the U.S. Congress from meeting Israel’s president, the veteran politician and former prime minister Shimon Peres!
The four are are William Delahunt (D-Mass.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Mary Jo Kilroy (D.-Ohio)
The foreign ministry reportedly sought to block their visit with Peres because the short regional tour on which the four are traveling was organized by J Street, the newish Jewish organization in town that proudly describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”, and Churches for Middle East Peace, a much smaller pro-peace advocacy group that is also a staunch supporter of Israel’s existence and security. (Full disclosure: I sit on the Leadership Council of CMEP.)
No word on whether Peres himself, who used to the head of the Labour Party and who always used to pride himself on being pro-peace, tried to over-ride the foreign ministry in the matter.
This morning, Rep. Delahunt issued a statement noting that the group had just returned from Sderot in southern Israe, “where we had a very emotional meeting with the Mayor and residents from whom we better understood the trauma and pain they have endured…
He added,

    We were puzzled that the Deputy Foreign Minister has apparently attempted to block our meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office and Foreign Ministry – questioning either our own support of Israel or that we would even consider traveling to the region with groups that the Deputy Foreign Minister has so inaccurately described as “anti-Israel.”
    In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship.
    We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations. There are undoubtedly a range of opinions in this country as there are in the United States on how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region.
    It is unwise for anyone to take disagreements as to how to accomplish our common goals and purpose – which is to achieve peace and security – and to misrepresent those differences as questioning support and concern for the state of Israel itself.

Delahunt, I should note, has been one of the wisest members of congress on issues relating to Iraq in recent years. Back in 2007, he sponsored some key hearings in which he made an honest attempt to listen to, understand, and engage with the range of views of the elected parliamentarians in Iraq– including parliamentarians who were strong opponents of the US’s continued military presence there.
At a broader level, it’s important to note, too, that support for Israel has nearly always, historically, been a lot stronger in the Democratic Party here in the US, than in the Republican Party. If Lieberman and Ayalon now feel ready to treat four Democratic members of congress in such a humiliating way, that marks a sea-change in US-Israeli relations.
Of course, these four courageous members of Congress will need all the help they can get from fair-minded citizens in their own constituencies and around the country, because almost certainly the chorus of anti-J Street organizations in this country, from AIPAC on down, will most likely seek to punish them during the coming months as they seek the funds they’ll need to get re-elected next November.