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.


Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

Continue reading “Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings””

The WaPo’s intrepid Ruth Eglash, Part 2

Here she goes again...
WhereWhat she wroteHC analysis
Headline"In Jerusalem neighborhood, an unlikely center of Palestinian grievance"At least, we have the P-word here, not the obfuscating "Arab". But the whole tone & framing of this headline makes a possibly distracting attempt to be some kind of "sociological", as opposed to political analysis. Okay, let's see how it goes...
Byline/dateline"By Ruth Eglash, Sufian Taha, and Griff Witte, July 5 at 6:18 PM/ JERUSALEM--Well, at the foot, we're told that Griff Witte is still "reporting" from London. But no content here is sourced from anywhere close to London. So the WaPo high-ups are evidently still having cub reporter R. Eglash closely supervised by co-bylined Griff, from London. Was it his idea, or hers, to have local informant "Sufian Taha" elevated to the byline from his previous footnote? Maybe my earlier analysis had some effect in this regard?
Lede"Like many residents of the prosperous East Jerusalem neighborhood of ­Shuafat, Waleed Abu Khieder lives a life in two cultures: His neighbors are predominantly Arab, but his boss and customers at a popular West Jerusalem bakery are Jewish./ It’s a dualism that has worked for years. But in recent days, the delicate balance has fallen apart."Eglash and her editors are *still* intent on wilfully mis-spelling this family's name... But notice the classic colonialist-style framing here: that the poor, benighted Palestinians of Jerusalem would have had no economic opportunities were it not for the beneficent Jewish (Israeli) companies that provide them with jobs. No word from Eglash here about Israel's long-running, deliberate suppression of the Palestinians' own indigenous economic opportunities. Instead we're led to think, why, how very "kind" of Israel to give them jobs, eh!
Para 3"Since three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered last month, the 51-year-old Palestinian said he has been attacked several times by Israeli extremists wielding pepper spray and eggs."She is saying that this one Palestinian resident of Israeli-occupied E. Jerusalem has been attacked by "Israeli extremists". But maybe she could have inserted a sentence or two here noting (1) how widespread this phenomenon has been over the past few days, and (2) the role that avowals of the need for "revenge" from PM Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have played in inciting such violence? Or no, maybe better to keep it as one man's story here?
Para 4"Then on Wednesday, his nephew disappeared before dawn. The charred body of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder was later found in Jerusalem Forest, and Shuafat was instantly transformed from a quiet middle-class community to the newest focal point for decades of Palestinian grievance."She is obstinately still refusing to correct the spelling of the family's name. (Oh well, they're "only" Palestinians, what the heck, Ruth?) Equally interesting, though, is her apparently having bought into the longstanding Zionist idea that if you can only give Palestinians enough economic opportunity, then they'll forget about all their nationalist/political rights and claims. But oh dear, Ruthie, this theory doesn't seem to have worked out too well in Shuafat, eh? Time for a rethink?
Para 5"In many ways, Shuafat is an unlikely venue for protests that many fear could herald a new intifada, or mass uprising, against the Israeli occupation. Unlike the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Israelis and Palestinians rarely, if ever, interact, the Palestinian residents of Shuafat have regular contact with Jews living on both sides of the invisible line dividing this city between east and west. Many Palestinian residents go to work across town, in the city’s largely Jewish west, and Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat... ""Unlike the West Bank and Gaza"?? What on earth is she saying here? In truth, Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is not only *part of * the West Bank but actually *the natural capital of the whole region*. Just because Israel unilaterally (and quite illegally) annexed an expanded version of occupied E. Jerusalem in 1968 and declared it "part of Israel", does not mean that the WaPo or anyone else should thinks that E. Jerusalem is in any way "separate from" the rest of the West Bank. Or, gasp, do Eglash, Witte, and the WaPo think that Israel's act of annexation is actually quite okay? ... Then, we have this intriguing reference: "Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat" What on earth does that "still" mean? In what previous period was Israel's intentionally reconstructed language, Hebrew, "widely understood" in Shuafat"? It is so unclear what she's trying to say here. In truth, Palestinians in E. Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank probably, on average, have a far stronger grasp of Hebrew, after 47 years of living under the IDF's military jackboot, than Jewish Israelis have of Arabic, which by and large they deride as inferior. (Given the evidence, Ms. Eglash shares this disdain.)
Para 6"On Saturday, protests spread to several predominantly Arab towns in northern Israel — other places where cross-cultural interaction has continued through decades of conflict. The demonstrations included one in Nazareth, the largest majority-Arab city in Israel."Fascinating! Note the abrupt segue from talking about "Palestinians" previously, including in E. Jerusalem, to talking about "Arabs" here. An unwary reader might think we're talking about two different kinds of people, there, no?
Para 7"The outpouring of anger in Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel could be a worrying development for Israeli officials because those places are far more difficult to isolate than Gaza and the West Bank, both of which are effectively walled off. Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s overall population, and they represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem."If you read this carefully, it's clear that she's saying that (East) Jerusalem is one of the "Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel". The "Arabs", she's telling us, not only make up 20 percent of Israel's population but they also "represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem". In truth, West Jerusalem, which has been controlled by Israel since 1948, is one of the most thoroughly and completely ethnically cleansed areas of the whole of 1948 Israel. The numerous, lovely, "Arab-style" stone homes that are still found there were all forcibly emptied of their Palestinian builders and residents in the fighting of 1948. So the "Arabs" in what Israel today defines as "Jerusalem" are nearly all non-Israeli Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. Eglash could and should spell this out. These are residents of an occupied Palestinian territory. They are not random Arab "residents" of an area that anyone (apart from, I think, Palau and Micronesia) recognizes to be actually a part of Israel.
Para 11"Palestinians in Shuafat are convinced convinced that Mohammad Abu Khieder was killed in a revenge attack perpetrated by extremist Jews. And they say it’s not the only attack they have faced. "Ah. By now, the people previously described as "Arabs" are being identified as "Palestinians". And finally, we're told that other E. Jerusalem Palestinians have also been subjected to attacks, not just (as in Para 3) Waleed Abu "Khieder".
Para 17"After speaking with Israeli Arab leaders Saturday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called for calm... "Oh come on. Peres has zero constitutional power and (being one of the architects of Israeli nuclear-weapons program and the prime architect of the mega-lethal 1996 Israeli assault on Lebanon), zero credibility as a "peacemaker" with anyone except a few gullible US politicians. Why trot him out here, rather than noting, for example, the failure of the Israeli police to reveal any details at all about the "investigation" they're allegedly undertaking, into Muhammed Abu Khdeir's gruesome killing?
Para 18"... rocket fire from Gazan militants continued unabated Saturday. The Israeli military reported that 20 rockets had been fired Saturday toward Israel and that 135 had been launched since the three Israeli teens were abducted. Israel has responded to many of the attacks with airstrikes."Whoa, here it is again! Those unstoppably "violent" Palestinians in Gaza have been launching rocket attacks against Israel, for no reason except that, you know, they are congenitally "violent"... and there is the worthy IDF merely "responding" to those attacks. Give me a break, Ruthie. Really.
Para 20"'I think what is happening now is that the failure of the peace negotiations has left a vacuum that is unfortunately filled with other kinds of activities,' said Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. 'Add to this the Israeli occupation, expansion of Israeli settlements and violence against Palestinians by settlers — it all leads to a very frustrated Palestinian society.'"It is good that Eglash gives us this context-rich quote from a respected Palestinian political figure-- even if she and her editors place it extremely low in the piece. But Khatib is not just "a lecturer at Bir Zeit". He is also a former (perhaps current? I forget) "minister" in the PA government. He's a significant political figure, and should be identified as such. Ah, but what would Ruth Eglash and the waPo know or care about such things?
Para 21"Revenge is on the minds of many in once-tranquil Shuafat... "Evidence for this?? Oh, but who needs evidence, when don't we all know that (see above) Palestinians are just, you know, inescapably "violent", with or without cause. QED.

Iraq, Palestine, and America’s fetishization of ‘constitutions’

I watched BBC World News as long as I could tonight. It was the dreadful Katty Kay on again. In the story on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, her guest was– L. Paul Bremer! Oh my goodness, the BBC are such lapdogs, these days. So Kay gave Bremer (and he took) every opportunity to whitewash the effects of the invasion and subsequent ten years of U.S. military occupation of Iraq… At the end, he said the thing he was “proudest of” regarding the years he spent as the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, was that “Iraq now has the most liberal and progressive constitution of any country in the Arab world.”

This, on a day in which at least 65 Iraqis were killed in vile, sectarian bombings that demonstrated to everyone worldwide (if this still needed demonstrating to anyone?) that the country still has very deep, unresolved issues of internal political difference that plague the lives of all of its 33 million people.

So a “constitution”– that is, a piece of paper with words on that at one point in time  a certain number of “parliamentarians” who were elected in complex circumstances and under the jackboot of the occupying force signaled their support for, but that the ruling powers transgress on a daily basis, anyway– is supposed to somehow make all this terrible and continuing grief worth while?

Americans have such a strong capacity to fetishize constitutions! It is almost unbelievable. I mean, even though Bremer was talking to the representative of a (nominally) British news outlet, he somehow thought everyone around the world would join him in seeing that a “constitution” in Iraq could be counted as a signal achievement?

Britain, I note, has never had a constitution– and nor have a number of other countries. In some of them (e.g. Israel), internal conflict is deepseated but is managed in ways other than through recourse to a constitution. In others, including Britain, the internal conflict is not so deep; but when it occurs is generally fairly effectively managed through a plethora of other national institutions.

For Americans, I think, having a constitution is one of the only things, really, that draws and keeps this disparate group of settlers and immigrants all united. That probably accounts, at the domestic level, for the high regard in which the idea of a “constitution” is held. (Even if the constitution in question denied the vote, at the time of adoption, to women, indentured people, enslaved people, and native Americans… ) And then, Americans at the official level are so solipsistic that they think that whatever they value for themselves, must be ipso facto, valuable for everyone else, too!

But I bet that more than a few of them also see the whole idea of trying to foist  “constritutions” and “constitutionalism” off onto captive peoples as an alternative to actually resolving the deep issues of national sovereignty and self-determiation, as more than a little bit attractive. (Plus, how many American people’s careers have been made, or substantially  enhanced, by the wor they have done in “training” Iraqis in the finer points of constitution-writing?)

The other main example I’m thinking of in this regard is Palestine. Remember how, back in 1993-94, the PLO and the Israelis agreed that there would be created in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank a “Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority” that would perform certain functions in some parts of the OPTs on an interim basis, pending the conclusion within the next five years of a final status peace agreement (between the PLO and Israel, I not– and NOT between the PISGA and Israel)?

Well, very soon indeed after that interim agreement was reached at Oslo, two things happened. One was that everyone started treated the PISGA– soon renamed the “PA”– as if it were a Palestinian government. The other was that many otherwise fine people in the Palestinian movement started getting very engaged and tied up in knots over fine points to do with the constitution of the PISGA— as if it were, indeed, a government!

Meantime, as we know, Israeli control over all the OPTs continued; additional settlers were systematically pumped into the OPTs; and the lives of the OPT Palestinians became more and more thoroughly curtailed an controlled by the Israeli occupying authorities.

What a dangerous distraction that whole exercise in “constitutionalism” turned out to be… In Palestine, as in Iraq.