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Israelis Criticizing Israel

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Issue: 11 Section: Features Geography: Middle East Israel, Palestine

December 1, 2003

Israelis Criticizing Israel

The occupation of Palestine from the inside, out

by Jon Elmer

bulldozed.jpg
A dusty expanse is all that remains of 400 houses in Jenin razed by Israeli bulldozers. photo: Valerie Zink/FromOccupiedPalestine.org
Jessica Montell is the Executive Director of B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. [Read the full interview]

Jon Elmer: Three Jewish settlers from the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin were convicted on September 17 of plotting to bomb a Palestinian girls school in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of At-Tur, as well as a hospital. Judges said that scores of school children would have been slaughtered if the attack had not been foiled. Back in April a group calling itself Revenge of the Infants hurled grenades into a high school in Jenin, injuring 29. Can you discuss Jewish settler terrorism?

Jessica Montell: Over the past three years we have seen an increase in violence against both Israelis and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It seems that as part of this intifada, people on both sides are taking the law into their own hands and committing acts of violence against the other community.

From a human rights perspective, we are more concerned with the response of the Israeli authorities and the responsibility of Israel to enforce the law and to punish people who violate the law. The Israeli authorities are, on the whole, much more lenient toward Jews who break the law-including acts of violence-than they are toward Palestinians.

The intensive investigations, arrests, interrogations, and prosecutions in the case [of the settlers from Bat Ayin] stand in stark contrast to what we see as very lax law enforcement against the routine violence by settlers toward Palestinians.

"People go about their life, their work, their studies, their coffee shops, while just a few kilometres away, a whole society is dying."
We've issued three reports in this intifada, and several before that, about the lax law enforcement [toward settlers]. The findings are that in contrast to incidents of violence by Palestinians, where law enforcement is extremely severe (to the point of collective punishment and violations of the human rights of innocent Palestinians), in the case of violence by settlers, the Israeli authorities tend to be overly forgiving. They turn a blind eye, and do not take enough measures to protect Palestinians and their property.

Jon Elmer: In B'Tselem's report Land Grab (2002), you conclude: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world." Is that not a textbook definition of apartheid?

Jessica Montell: Apartheid has symbolic value because of the South African context. You can draw plenty of similarities, and you can also see lots of differences between apartheid South Africa and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I think the word apartheid is useful for mobilizing people because of its emotional power. In some cases, the situation in the West Bank is worse than apartheid in South Africa. For example, the roads network in the West Bank, where Jews are allowed to travel on roads that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on, or the separation fence, which Palestinians call the Apartheid Wall.

I was recently at a conference with John Dugard, who is now the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights for the Occupations Palestinian Territories, and is originally from South Africa. He was (jokingly) offended that apartheid was being maligned [by its comparison the Israeli occupation]. In South Africa you didn't have apartheid on the roads, you didn't have walls being constructed...

There are, however, clear similarities between apartheid South Africa and Israel's policies in the West Bank, and over the past three years they have become even clearer as the separation has intensified. Every area of life-legal rights, benefits, privileges, allocation of resources, the justice system, criminal prosecution-now has two separate tracks, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.

* * *

Tanya Reinhart is a professor of linguistics and media studies at Tel Aviv University and Utrecht in the Netherlands. She is the author of Israel-Palestine: How to end the war of 1948 (Seven Stories Press, 2002) [Read the full interview]

"Every area of life-legal rights, benefits, privileges, allocation of resources, the justice system, criminal prosecution-now has two separate tracks, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians."
Jon Elmer: Gideon Levy wrote in Ha'aretz recently: "Every day of quiet in Israel is another day of crass disregard for what is going on in our backyard. If there is no terrorism there are no Palestinians." What is your feeling on that statement?

Tanya Reinhart: It is true that the Israelis view the Palestinians only through their effect on Israeli society. It is really amazing how life in Tel Aviv goes on normally when there is no terror. People go about their life, their work, their studies, their coffee shops, while just a few kilometres away, a whole society is dying.

What is happening in the Territories is a process of slow and steady genocide. People die from being shot and killed, many die from their wounds--the number of wounded is enormous, it is in the tens of thousands. Often, people cannot get medical treatment, so someone with a heart attack will die at a roadblock because they can not get to the hospital. There is a serious shortage of food, so there is malnutrition of children. The Palestinian society is dying-daily-and there is hardly any awareness of this in Israeli society.

The established Israeli peace camp actually collapsed in the Oslo years. From their perspective, they were fully willing to accept that in the Oslo Accords Israel had in fact given the Palestinians back their land. There were a few technicalities to still go over in the coming years, but essentially the occupation was over.

No facts on the ground-like the fact that the number of settlers doubled since Oslo, that the confiscated Palestinian land increased in size, and that the one million Palestinians in Gaza were locked in a prison surrounded by massive electronic fences, with the Israeli army guarding the prison from outside-none of this was actually perceived by the Israeli peace camp.

* * *

Uri Avnery is a founding member of Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc). In his teenage years he was an independence fighter in the Irgun (1938-1942) and later a soldier in the Israeli Army. A three-time Knesset member (1965-1973, and 1979-1983), Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organization leadership, in 1974. During the war on Lebanon in 1982 he crossed "enemy lines" to be the first Israeli to meet with Yasser Arafat. He has been a journalist since 1947, including 40 years as editor-in-chief of the newsmagazine Ha'olam Haze, and is the author of numerous books on the conflict. [Read the full interview]

Jon Elmer: Can there be a solution to the conflict that does not properly and justly deal with the Palestinian right of return?

Uri Avnery: The Palestinian right of return has many different aspects. There is the moral aspect, the political aspect, and the practical aspect. I believe that Israel must concede to the Palestinian right of return in principle. Israel must, first of all, assume its responsibility for what happened in 1948, as far as we are to blame-and we are to blame for a great part of it, if not for all-and we must recognize in principle the right of refugees to return.

In practice, we have to find a complex solution to a very complex problem. It is manifestly idiotic to believe that Israel, with five million Jewish citizens and one million Arab citizens, will concede to the return of four million refugees. It will not happen. We can wish it, we can think it's just, that it's moral, but it will not happen. No country commits suicide.

Now the question is: how do we solve the problem by allowing a number of refugees to return to Israel, allowing a number of refugees to return to the Palestinian state, and allowing a number of refugees to settle, with general compensation, where they want to settle? It is not an insolvable problem; there are possible solutions to this problem that concerns human beings. It is not an abstract problem, it involves four million human beings, and more than 50 years of various sorts of misery. It is possible to find a solution for them, and it can be done. It involves some good will and a readiness to give up historic myths on both sides.

Jon Elmer: It is a popular refrain-in North America at least, where I live-that there is no hope. The two sides have been fighting for thousands of years and there is just no solution. Israelis and Palestinians will always kill each other. After all your experience, from independence fighter, to frontline journalist, to member of the Knesset, to peace activist, what is the solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Uri Avnery: The solution is perfectly clear. All parts of the conflict have been amply debated and discussed. Many plans have been put on the table-hundreds. And everybody knows by now exactly the parameters of a peace solution. We at Gush Shalom have published a draft text of a peace agreement, and I am fairly certain that when peace comes about, it will be more or less on these lines.

The solution is this: there will be a state of Palestine in all of the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The so-called Green-Line, the border that existed before 1967, will come into being again. There may be small adjustments, a small exchange of territories, but [the Green-Line] will be the border between Israel and Palestine. Jerusalem will be the shared capital-East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine, West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. All settlements must be evacuated. The security must be arranged for both people, and there must be a moral solution and a practical solution.

On these lines, there will be peace. And if you ask me, they could make peace in one week. The trouble is that both people find it very difficult to come to this point. And when I say both people, I don't want to establish a symmetrical situation-there is no symmetry here: there are occupiers, and the occupied. And as the occupier, we have the responsibility to lead this process. This is what I, as an Israeli patriot, tell my own people.

* * *

Jeff Halper is an anthropologist and the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). [Read the full interview]

Jon Elmer: Do you see a long-term political plan within Israel? Or is it just reacting?

Jeff Halper: Well, Sharon is accused of not having a political plan and just blindly hitting out against the 'infrastructure of terror,' as they call it. But I think there is a very definite political plan: apartheid. Sharon calls this plan cantonization: a Palestinian state on about 42 per cent of the West Bank in three or four islands, all controlled and surrounded by Israel.

The plan involves making the Palestinians submit by getting a weak Palestinian leadership that will sign off on this Bantustan, this cantonization. It involves getting rid of the Palestinian middle class that would oppose it by what we call 'quiet transfer'-forcing them out of the country with bad housing, bad education and no economic life, in order to create a very malleable Palestinian mass that would then simply passively accept a Bantustan. Sharon is not saying that explicitly, he is leaving things deliberately vague, but that is where he is going.

Jon Elmer: Noam Chomsky has said that Israel is essentially an offshore American base. What strategic role does Israel play in the American empire, and what does that mean for activism within the United States, in terms of ending the occupation?

Jeff Halper: I don't completely agree with Chomsky-I think he underestimates the proactiveness of Israel, and how Israel manipulates the United States. In a way, if you did a rational analysis, you would say that [America's support of Israel] is counter-productive for the United States. It is messing up the whole Muslim world, it is messing up oil, and now there is occupation of Iraq and its comparison to here. The alliance of America and Israel made sense in the Cold War-we used to have a joke within Israel that we were America's largest aircraft carrier. Maybe then it made sense, but today?

The key that everyone is missing, though Chomsky has picked up on it because this is what he studies, is that Israel has located itself very strategically right in the centre of the global arms industry. Israel's sophisticated military hardware and military software are very important to weapons development in the United States. Israel has also become the main subcontractor of American arms. Just last year, Israel signed a contract to train and equip the Chinese army. It signed another multi-billion dollar contract to train and equip the Indian army. What is it equipping them with? It is equipping them with American weapons.

Israel is very important, because on the one hand it is a very sophisticated, high-tech arms developer and dealer. But on the other hand, there are no ethical or moral constraints: there is no Congress, there are no human rights concerns, there are no laws against taking bribes-the Israeli government can do anything it wants to. So you have very sophisticated rogue state-not a Libyan rogue state, but a high tech, military-expert rogue state. Now that is tremendously useful, both for Europe and for the United States.

For example, there are American congressional constraints on selling arms to China because of China's human rights problems. So what Israel does is it tinkers with American arms just enough that they can be considered Israeli arms, and in that way bypasses Congress.

For the most part, Israel is the subcontractor for American arms to the 'Third World.' There is no terrible regime-Columbia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile during the time of the colonels, Burma, Taiwan, Zaire, Liberia, Congo, Sierra Leone-there is not one that does not have a major military connection to Israel. Israeli arms dealers are there [acting as] mercenaries. The guy behind Noriega was Michael Harari, an Israeli, who got out of Panama. Israeli mercenaries in Sierra Leone go around the UN boycotts of what are called blood diamonds, same in Angola. Israel was very involved in South Africa, of course, during the apartheid regime. Now Israel is developing missile systems with England, developing a new jet aircraft for Holland, and it just bought three sophisticated submarines from Germany. So Israel is playing with the big boys.

Israeli arms dealers are at home, they're like fish in water in the rough and tumble countries that eat Americans alive: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Indonesia, these countries where Americans just cannot operate, partly because of business practices and partly because they have [congressional] constraints and laws.

So this is the missing piece. If you read the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) website, the main pro-Israel lobby in the US, there's one piece called "Strategic Cooperation." The United States and Israel have a formal treaty, a formal alliance, which gives Israel access to almost all of American military technology.

When AIPAC sells Israel to Congress, it doesn't go to congressmen and ask them to support Israel because it is Judea Christian, or because it is the 'only democracy in the Middle East,' which it also does. It sells it on this basis: "You are a member of Congress and it is your responsibility to support Israel, because this is how many industries in your state have business links to Israel, this is how many military research people are sitting in universities in your district, this is how many jobs in your district are dependent on the military and the defence industry," and they translate it down to the extent to which your district is dependent on Israel. Therefore, if you are voting against Israel, you are voting against the goose that lays the golden egg.

In most of the districts in the United States, members of Congress have a great dependence on the military. More than half of industrial employment in California is in one way or another connected to defence. Israel is right there, right in the middle of it all. And that is part of its strength.

And then we (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, for example) come to a member of Congress, we talk about human rights, about occupation, about Palestinians, and he says: "Look I know, I read the papers, I'm not dumb, but that is not the basis on which I vote. The basis on which I vote is what is good for my constituents."

* * *

For additional interviews with Israelis and Palestinians, visit FromOccupiedPalestine.org.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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