Volume 11 | Number 2 Spring 2009
AQSA Journal Labour Friends of Palestine Martin Linton
Baby Girlâ€™s Power Struggle with Israel Jonathan Cook
Israel Investigated, But Will it Repent? Ramzy Baroud
Myths, Rhetoric and Hidden Agendas Dr Maria Holt
Why One State? Ismail Patel
Volume 11 | Number 2 Spring 2009
Editor Ismail Patel Sub-Editor Rajnaara Akhtar Design and Layout Shoayb Adam
We welcome contributions to Aqsa Journal. Referenced articles, comments and analysis related to the Middle East conflict can be submitted to the Editor for consideration. Topics may include history, politics, architecture, religion, international law and human rights violations, amongst others. We also offer a range of books related to the Palestininian issue for Review. To review a book, contact the Editor. All submissions should include the authorâ€™s full name, address and a brief curriculum vitae.
Published by Friends of Al-Aqsa PO Box 5127 Leicester, LE2 0WU, UK T: 0116 2125441 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.aqsa.org.uk ISSN 1463-3930
CONTENTS VOLUME 11 NUMBER 2 SPRING 2009
Comment Labour Friends of Palestine
Baby Girlâ€™s Power Struggle with Israel
Israel Investigated, But Will it Repent?
Analysis Myths, Rhetoric and Hidden Agendas: A History of Failed Peace Processes between Palestinians and Israelis
Dr Maria Holt
Why One State?
Book Reviews Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation
The Holocaust is Over We Must Rise From its Ashes
Sara Roy Reviewed By Dr Maria Holt
Saree Makdisi Reviewed By Arwa Aburawa
Avraham Burg Reviewed By Ismail Patel
Benny Morris(Ed) Reviewed By Sarah Irving
E D I T O R I editorial AL
May Allah’s blessings be upon all His Prophets from Adam to His Final Messenger Muhammad (SAW)
elcome to Aqsa Journal. It has been 11 years since Volume I of the previously named ‘Al-Aqsa Journal’ was launched. During that time, contributions have been made by a number of academics, politicians, journalists, campaigners and other interested individuals. The one common thread between all of these contributors was their belief in the right to champion justice and the hope of the Palestinian people to live their lives in peace and with dignity. Now more than ever, we appreciate the need for international pressure on Israel to end its occupation and enter unconditional and meaningful negotiations to achieve peace. Placing the burden for peace on Palestinians has been a well-executed decoy, and the ever shifting goalpost for the achievement of peace has been revealed for the façade that it is. Israeli actions have spoken louder than the carefully crafted words of Israeli politicians. In December and January, in just 23 days, Israel killed 1,400 in Gaza. Checkpoints still persist, Israel’s separation wall continues to be built, and settlements resulting in misery for adjacent Palestinian towns and villages are still expanding. The siege of Gaza has led to the largest man-made humanitarian catastrophe of the decade. The illegal settlements continue to be built despite posing the single greatest obstacle to peace as far as our government is concerned. The War on Gaza has heralded a new dawn for governments of the world to help achieve a peaceful resolution to the the Palestinian issue. This level of suffering imposed on the Palestinian people has not been witnessed in the history of this conflict. The global
community is no longer complacent about the Palestinians and as a result, the issue has come to the forefront of initiatives by human rights organisations and civil society. There is, finally, widespread recognition of the need to bring war criminals to justice. In Paris, a coalition of 350 European and Arab civil society organisations has filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Israeli army. Amnesty International is calling for a global arms embargo against Israel and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has called for an enquiry into the bombing of UN buildings in Gaza. The public response to the Palestinian issue is markedly different now to when we started over 11 years ago. The early years were an uphill struggle to convince the public about the reality of the occupation. Now, in unprecedented numbers, people are joining hands to help towards the liberation of the Palestinian people. This public awakening is a positive sign reflecting a building momentum towards change. Our duty now is to coalesce these partners for justice and peace in order to bring about a meaningful change and an end to the occupation.
Ismail Patel EDITOR AQSA JOURNAL
C O M M E Ncomment T
Labour Friends of Palestine Martin Linton MP
Baby Girlâ€™s Power Struggle with Israel Jonathan Cook
Israel Investigated, But Will it Repent? Ramzy Baroud 4
Labour Friends of Palestine Martin Linton MP Martin Linton MP is Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine. Labour Friends of Palestine seek to provide a voice for the people of Palestine within the Labour movement and to the wider public. They are committed to a two-state solution with viable and secure Palestinian and Israeli states, but believe this can only be achieved once Israel complies with her international obligations. Before becoming an MP, Martin Linton was a journalist with the The Guardian (1981-97).
hen I told people in the autumn of 2008 that we were going to set up an organisation called ‘Labour Friends of Palestine’, the universal reaction was ‘about time too’. There has long been a feeling that ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ has too much influence on Labour governments and that we need a corresponding organisation for friends of Palestine in the Labour movement. As soon as we sent out the first invitations, it was clear there was a huge unmet demand. And by the time we officially launched Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East in the House of Commons on January 13th – in the middle of the Israeli assault on Gaza – we were inundated with Labour MPs and Labour supporters who wanted to join. We are still in the process of building up our national membership but we already have 98 Labour MPs on our letterhead. That is a substantial proportion of the 360 Labour MPs, especially when you remember that that the 90 MPs who are ministers do not normally join groups like ours (though a few have). If we had set up this organisation a few years ago, I doubt whether we could have got more than 30 or 40 to sign up but now there has been a sea change in support for the Palestinians not only among the general public but also in Parliament. Our job is to ensure that that this change in public and parliamentary opinion is reflected in a change in the policies of Her Majesty’s
Government. And there has never been a time when there has been greater need – or opportunity – for a strong lead from the UK government. They have shown some willingness to use their influence in the right direction. The UK was one of the first countries to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. David Miliband flew straight to New York to work behind the scenes to get American support for a ceasefire resolution. He was also one of the first to call for an investigation into war crimes allegations. We obviously agree with Friends of Al Aqsa and many other organisations that the UK Government should have gone much further and condemned the Israeli conduct of the war. We also think that it is totally unrealistic to expect that an internal inquiry conducted by the Israeli Defence Force will be enough to bring out the truth. What we need is an investigation mandated by the UN Security Council which would be able to enforce cooperation or at least impose sanctions for non-cooperation on the Israelis and I have tabled an early day motion in Parliament to that effect. In one sense we have the best chance of peace for years. In another sense we have the worst. We have a new US President – Barack Hussein Obama – who has made it clear he wants to tackle the Israel-Palestine conflict at the beginning, not the end, of his term. At the same time we have a new Israeli prime minister who publicly opposes the resumption AQSA JOURNAL
of peace talks and an Israeli foreign minister who lives in an illegal settlement. We know they don’t want peace because they are still building the wall through the West Bank, they are still erecting more checkpoints and roadblocks (there are currently 630) and they are still expanding illegal settlements. This will make it more difficult to secure progress, but at least we know where we stand with this Israeli government. We won’t have the situation we had with Livni or Olmert or Sharon where they claimed they were in favour of the peace process, but constantly stalled or imposed impossible conditions. With Netanyahu and Lieberman we know that it’s no good trying to exert diplomatic pressure. We will have to drag them to the negotiating table. And the only way to do that is by imposing a cost on them if they refuse. We can stop giving the Israelis preferential tariffs. We can not merely suspend the upgrade of the EU-Israel trade agreement, but impose a downgrade or suspend the entire agreement. It is after all dependent on a human rights clause. We can re-impose the arms embargo. We can investigate the war crimes and pursue war criminals. We can boycott settlement produce and, if they won’t identify settlement produce adequately, we can extend it further. John Ging, the highly-respected head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, has a simple answer when asked what needs to be done: symmetry of approach, he says. The UK must treat all countries in accordance with the rule of law. The Geneva Convention does not impose obligations only on countries at war. It also puts obligations on the countries that act as guarantors of the Convention. The UK is a guarantor of the Geneva Convention, but there hasn’t been a meeting of the guarantor countries since 2002. It is against the Geneva Convention for an occupying power to settle its own citizens in occupied territory. It is even more unquestionably illegal and provocative to expand those settlements. Israel has 149 settlements in the West Bank and is still expanding them. It is also illegal to annex occupied territory or to evict people on ethnic grounds, as the Israelis are doing in East Jerusalem. I don’t mean to make it sound easy, but we do have measures that we can take. This For6
eign Secretary has taken a stronger line than his predecessors, but we need to support him and encourage him to go further. There are already a number of organisations campaigning on this issue on an all-party basis, including Friends of Al Aqsa and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The job of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East is not to duplicate or compete with the excellent work they are doing. Our job is to recruit and organise and lobby within the Labour movement so that we can bring pressure to bear on Labour MPs and MEPs and, through them, on Government ministers and Labour policy-makers. We are already busy building up our national membership and lobbying ministers, up to and including the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. If you are a member or a supporter of the Labour Party, I very much hope you will join us in this task.
You can join Labour Friends of Palestine, or contact them: LFPME c/o Battersea Labour Party, 177 Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5TE. E: email@example.com W: www.labourfriendsofpalestine.co.uk
Baby Girl’s Power Struggle with Israel Jonathan Cook Jonathan Cook is a British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His articles have been published extensively around the world, and he regularly writes for leading newspapers including the Guardian, the Observer, The Times and the New Statesman. His latest book is ‘Disappearing Palestine, Israel’s Experiments in Human Dispair’ (Zed Books).
ittle Ashimah Abu Sbieh’s life hangs by a thread – or more specifically, an electricity cable that runs from a noisy dieselpowered generator in the family’s backyard. Should the generator’s engine fail, she could die within minutes. Ashimah suffers from a rare genetic condition that means her brain fails to tell her lungs to work. Without the assistance of an electric inhalator, she would simply stop breathing. That nearly happened late last year when the generator broke down during the night. Her parents, Siham and Faris, woke to find the 11-month-old’s face blue from a lack of oxygen. They reconnected the inhalator to a set of car batteries and then battled to fix the generator before the two hours of stored power ran out. The desperate plight of Ashimah’s parents is shared by thousands of other Bedouin families caring for chronically sick relatives who live in communities to which Israel refuses to supply electricity. The Physicians for Human Rights in Israel organisation’s latest report, titled “Sentenced to Darkness”, calls the Israeli state’s denial of essential services, including running water and electricity, to 83,000 Bedouin in the southern Negev desert, “bureaucratic evil”. Wasim Abas said the lives of Bedouin patients who need a reliable supply of electricity, to refrigerate medicines and special foods, run air-conditioning or power nebulisers and inha-
lators, are being put in grave danger by official Israeli intransigence. According to the report, 45 Bedouin villages have been denied services as a way to pressure them to renounce their title to ancestral lands and their traditional pastoral way of life. Instead, it is hoped they will move into a handful of deprived and land-starved Bedouin townships specially built by the state. Concrete homes in the so-called unrecognised villages are under permanent threat of demolition, forcing many residents to live in tin huts and tents, and the national utility companies are barred from connecting them to services. The Bedouin languish at the bottom of the country’s social and economic indices, with 70 per cent of children living in poverty. Israel has also located a chemical waste dump and a massive electricity generating station close to several of the Negev’s unrecognised villages, though it refuses to connect them to the grid. Mr Abas said the lack of an electricity supply in particular posed a severe threat to the Bedouin community’s health. A fifth of all residents of unrecognised villages suffer from chronic illness, particularly asthma and diabetes, and require a reliable electrical supply to their homes for their treatment. Most must travel long distances, usually over dirt tracks, to reach health clinics and hospitals. “We found that a lack of electricity contributed to a deterioration in the condition of these AQSA JOURNAL
patients in about 70 per cent of cases, and directly resulted in death in two per cent of cases,” Mr Abas said. Hopes that Israel would be forced to connect the villages to the national grid were dashed in 2005 when the courts ruled against the family of a three-year-old cancer victim, Enas al Atrash, who was demanding electricity for the family home. Doctors had warned that Enas might die without reliable refrigeration of her medicines and an air-conditioned environment. Instead, the judges criticised the family for living in an unrecognised village, though they recommended that officials contribute to the family’s large fuel bill so they could continue running a generator. The Physicians for Human Rights report notes that the enforcement of planning laws in the case of Bedouin villages, most of which pre-date Israel’s creation in 1948, contrasts strongly with the treatment of the many Jewish communities that have been established illegally under Israeli law. Dozens of individual ranches in the Negev and at least 100 of what are called settlement “outposts” in the West Bank have been set up without permits from the Israeli authorities but nonetheless have been connected to services by the national utility firms. Yeela Livnat Raanan, a lecturer in research methods at Sapir College in the Negev town of Sderot who works with a Bedouin lobby group, the Regional Council for the Unrecognised Villages, called the situation of Bedouin families “intolerable”. She said a joint health survey conducted by the council with Physicians for Human Rights last year showed high levels of chronic illness among Bedouin children in the unrecognised villages, with 13 per cent suffering from severe asthma. “There are numerous reasons for the high incidence of respiratory problems,” Dr Raanan said. “There is no trash collection, so garbage has to be burnt. The tin huts many Bedouin are forced to live in offer little protection from the extreme temperature range in the desert. The huts are heated with coal but cannot easily be ventilated, and the electricity generators themselves are polluting.” Given the traditional large size of Bedouin families, she said, the problems associated with caring for a chronically sick relative afflicted many, if not most, of the Bedouin. 8
“The suffering of the Bedouin just does not register for most Jews in Israel,” Dr Ranaan said. “They prefer to trust government officials who tell them that the Bedouin are primitive, stupid and hostile, and that they are trying to take over state land. We have to challenge this racism.” Ashimah’s family live in the 750-strong community of El Bat, which was finally recognised a year ago as part of a plan to develop more townships for the rapidly growing Bedouin population. Nonetheless, the residents’ chances of being connected to the electricity grid are still far off. The state is presenting endless delays in approving the planning maps we need,” said Ibrahim Abu Sbieh, Ashimah’s grandfather and the village leader. “There are no plans to build schools, clinics or roads. We expect things to change very slowly.” He said the family finally dared to replace their tin hut with a concrete home seven years ago, when notified that recognition was imminent. But they have still been served with a demolition notice and are paying off a series of fines to avert destruction of their house. Ashimah’s mother, Siham, said she lived with the constant fear of the generator failing and being unable to get her baby daughter to the nearest hospital, 35 km away in Beersheva, in time. “Israel cuts off the electricity to Gaza and the world is outraged,” Mr Abu Sbieh said. “But we’ve been living like this for decades and no one cares.”
Israel Investigated, But Will it Repent? Ramzy Baroud Ramzy Baroud is an author, and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (Pluto Press, London), and his forthcoming book is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza the Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London)
ny variation of the words “Palestine” and “massacre” are sure to yield millions of results on major search engines on the World Wide Web. These results are largely in reference to hundreds of different dates and events in which numerous Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army or settlers. But references to massacres of similar nature precede the state of Israel itself, whose establishment was secured through the everexpanding agenda of ethnically cleansing Palestinians. Throughout its history, this bloodletting project has been carried out for one specific purpose; the illegal acquirement of land and the suppression or extermination of those who dare to resist. Israel has denied almost every massacre it has committed. Those too obvious to deny, were “investigated” by Israel itself, which predictably, mostly found its soldiers “not guilty” or culpable of minor misconduct. Israeli “investigations” served the dual purpose of helping Israelis retain their sense of moral superiority, and sending a highly touted message to international media of Israeli democracy at work and the independence of the country’s judiciary. With the Gaza tragedy of December 2008-January 2009 being the latest in the ever growing list of Palestinian massacres, little seems to have changed in the way Israel views its action, with the full approval of the US and the half hearted position of much of the international community.
Nonetheless, on 3 April 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Richard Goldstone, a South-African Jewish judge to further investigate what the council had already resolved, in a vote on January 12, as “grave” violations of human rights by the Israeli army, in reference to the 22-day Israeli onslaught in Gaza, where over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and over 5,500 wounded. Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP, in response to the UNHRC decision that the investigation was “not an attempt to find the truth but to tarnish Israel’s reputation and to join efforts led by some countries to demonize Israel.” He added, “The investigation has no moral ground since it decided even before it started who is guilty and of what.” Palmor went on to exploit Israel’s ever winning card: “democracy”, claiming that democratic nations didn’t support the call to investigate the Gaza murders. But the truth is, the UNHRC didn’t jump to conclusions, but was following up on massive evidence, all pointing to the same inference: that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza. The work of UN human rights investigator Richard Falk itself represents an inescapable indictment of the Israeli army. His statements and reports of recent months maintained that the Israeli blockade against Gaza is “an unconditional violation of international humanitarian law”, and that “massive assault on a densely populated urbanized setting, AQSA JOURNAL
subjected the entire civilian population to “an inhumane form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm”. The illegality of the Israeli war and the violations of human rights committed throughout the Israeli violence are not only made clear by the international legal standards used by Falk; many others made similar assessments. For example, on 23 March 2009, UN human rights experts accused Israel, of using Gazans as human shields, highlighting the case of an 11-year-old boy. UN secretary-general’s envoy for protecting children in armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy stated that Israeli “violations were reported on a daily basis, too numerous to list.” Coomaraswamy “explained that the Israeli army shot Palestinian children, bulldozed a home with a woman and child still inside and shelled a building they had ordered civilians into a day earlier,” Press TV reported. But these were “just a few examples of the hundreds of incidents that have been documented and verified”. The Israeli onslaught and ongoing siege has cost Gaza dearly, destroyed its humble economy, ruined its arable land and continues to starve its population. Reports of such facts are easily available. The words “Gaza” and “destroyed” are also sure to yield ample results. Falk, a well-regarded Jewish professor knew fully the underpinnings of his statement when he said in late January that the Israeli actions in Gaza are reminiscent of “the worst kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto”. Still, Palmor, like most Israelis, is not convinced, and continues to sermonize on morality and democracy and the rest of the ever predictable terms. But if Palmor indeed be-
lieves of such an international conspiracy of ‘undemocratic’ countries to “tarnish” Israel’s otherwise prefect “reputation”, he might wish to revert to Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s extensive coverage of Israeli soldiers’ testimonies of their own conduct in Gaza. “It feels like hunting season has begun,” Haaretz quoted an Israeli soldier who served in Gaza as saying. “Sometimes it reminds me of a Play Station (computer) game. You hear cheers in the war room after you see on the screens that the missile hit a target, as if it were a soccer game.” “There was one house with a family in it... we put them into some room. Afterward, we left the house and another company went in, and a few days after we went in there was an order to release the family. We took our positions upstairs. There was a sniper positioned on the roof and the company commander released the family and told them to take a right,” said another soldier. “One mother and her two children didn’t understand, and they took a left. Someone forgot to notify the sniper on the roof that the family had been released, and that it was okay, it was fine, to hold fire, and he... you can say he acted as necessary, as he was ordered to.” In a better world, many Israeli political and military leaders would find themselves before an international criminal court answering difficult questions. For now, they remain adamant that the Israeli army is the “most moral” in the world. One must hope that the term “justice for Palestine” will quit being simply a popular search item, and in fact reflect a tangible reality; so that the extensive list of Palestinian massacres will finally come to an end.
Note from Editor The articles published in this journal do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board.
A N A L Y Sanalysis IS
Myths, Rhetoric and Hidden Agendas: A History of Failed Peace Processes between Palestinians and Israelis Dr Maria Holt
Why One State? Ismail Patel 12
Myths, Rhetoric and Hidden Agendas:
A History of Failed Peace Processes between Palestinians and Israelis Dr Maria Holt ABSTRACT Why have all the peace initiatives since 1967 failed to bring any real and lasting peace to Palestinians and Israeli’s? The current dangerous and apparently hopeless stalemate has been reached due to various failures. Maria Holt takes a look at the deeper issues that have led to Middle East peace initiatives failing and the consequences of these failures for all those concerned and for future peace prospects. Dr Maria Holt is a lecturer in the Democracy and Islam programme at the University of Westminster. She was educated at the Universities of Toronto, Exeter and York. She completed her PhD in 2004. Her research areas include Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon; the impact of Islamic resistance movements on women in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; the Arab-Israeli conflict; Muslim communities in the UK; and political Islamist movements in the Middle East. Besides her academic research, Dr Holt has also worked for many years as a political lobbyist on Middle East issues.
hen Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in December 2008, to many Palestinians watching aghast from afar or cowering in the rubble of their destroyed homes in Gaza, it felt like their situation had never been worse. Had the peace process been, in Abu Nimah’s words, an exercise in ‘chasing mirages’?1 In the 41 years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began, there have been numerous attempts to make peace but, far from moving closer towards a just settlement of this long-running conflict, it now seemed, to Palestinians and Israelis alike, that an acceptable solution was unattainable. This raises the question of why all initiatives since 1967 to end the conflict have failed. Are there perhaps deeper, more complex reasons for the endless procession of failures? I would like to suggest, in this article, that there are reasons on both sides to account for the current dangerous and apparently hopeless stalemate and that the myths, rhetoric and hidden agendas of both need to be examined more closely. Middle East peace-making, as Siegman
notes, ‘has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms’2 and, in this article, by trying to understand the points of divergence between the competing narratives and their accompanying claims to justice, I will examine failed peace processes since the Six Day War of 1967. I will argue that, on the one hand, the unassailable moral position of the Palestinians as victims of dispossession in 1948 and violent occupation since 1967 has been undermined by an inept political and military leadership, the superior strength and rhetoric of their enemy and the reluctance of the international community to take a stand; and, on the other hand, the apparent unwillingness of Israel to compromise, preferring instead to impose solutions by force, both moral and military. Peace-making between 1967 and 1990 Before 1990, there was very little formal peace-making between Palestinians and Israelis. On the contrary, while Israel pursued a policy of negating Palestinian identity and thwarting national aspirations, the Palestinians sought to recover their land by military AQSA JOURNAL
means. Following the 1967 war, the United Nations issued Resolution 242 which emphasized the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security;3 this became the basis for an eventual peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Palestinian East Jerusalem was unilaterally annexed and the entire city proclaimed by Israel to be its ‘eternal capital’, and the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories began. In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ‘turned the preservation of the post-1967 territorial status quo into a sacred mission that precluded any peaceful settlement of the dispute with the Arabs… She said “no” to every peace plan during her premiership and had none of her own to put forward’.4 She also famously remarked that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian people’. In the 1970s, Israel conducted what has been described as a ‘reign of terror’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in order to quash Palestinian resistance. Its agents carried out assassinations of leading Palestinians; the state deported individuals, including lawyers, academics and municipal leaders, from the occupied territories. The international response was muted; in May 1977, US President Jimmy Carter stated that the Palestinians are entitled to a homeland; in June 1980, the European Economic Community (EEC) issued the Venice Declaration which stated that Israeli settlements and the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem are illegal; and the following February, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev produced a plan calling for an international peace conference, Palestinian statehood, and security for all states in the region, including Israel, within the 1967 armistice lines. For their part, Palestinians, under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to opt for military struggle as the most effective way of protecting their national identity and regaining their homeland. In retrospect, this appears to have been a mistaken policy as the PLO was never any match for the Israeli army, but it succeeded in establishing Palestinian credentials as a national liberation movement. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in the summer of 1982, confirmed to many observers that Israel was more interested in vanquishing the Palestinians than negotiating with them. 14
In September 1982, in the wake of the terrible destruction of Beirut, US President Ronald Reagan called for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and for the West Bank to be linked to Jordan. Also in September 1982, an Arab League summit announced the ‘Fez Plan’, which included Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, the dismantling of settlements, Palestinian selfdetermination under the PLO, and UN supervision of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to statehood; the ‘Fez Plan’ was accepted by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting in Algiers in February 1983. The UN General Assembly, in December 1983, added its voice to calls for an international peace conference. But all proposals to negotiate with the Palestinians were rejected by Israel. One could argue that the Israelis did not choose to engage in peacemaking because they did not need to. There was a growing belief that Israel could ‘win’ the conflict with the Palestinians through violence, repression and the denial of Palestinian rights. By the start of the first Palestinian intifada, in December 1987, during which Israeli policies of repression and punishment intensified, most Palestinians had reached the conclusion that Israel was more interested in dominating than negotiating. At their 19th meeting, in Algiers, in November 1988, the PNC proclaimed an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital; it accepted UN Resolution 242 and called for ‘peaceful coexistence’ with ‘all states and peoples’.5 Following the declaration, 24 Arab and African states recognized the new state of Palestine. The next month, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution supporting Palestinian calls for an international peace conference. This, as Nakhleh observes, is ‘the heart of what is known as the two-state solution...many observers believed that an independent Palestinian state was the only viable solution to the PalestinianIsraeli conflict’.6 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in February 1989, announced a twostage peace plan, calling for Palestinian autonomy; but there was no mention of ending the occupation. More peace plans followed to end the intifada. In July 1989, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat announced a four-point peace plan and, the following month, Egypt revealed its own peace plan; but again all were rejected by Israel.
Peace negotiations in the 1990s Following the first Gulf War in 1991, when the US received the support of Britain and several Arab states in the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, President George H W Bush promised to turn his Administration’s attention to the stagnant Palestinian-Israeli conflict. An international conference was arranged in Madrid, to which the governments of Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon were invited, together with non-PLO representatives of the Palestinians. In a general election in Israel in June 1992, Likud was replaced by the Labour party led by Yitzhak Rabin. Although both these Israeli parties were opposed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Rabin ‘favoured a freeze on settlement activity and promised to be more forthcoming in the peace talks than his rivals, with priority to go to reaching an agreement on Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank’.7 But, as Shlaim notes, ‘Rabin’s offer of autonomy to the Palestinians did not go significantly beyond Likud’s’8 and therefore the Palestinian delegation was not prepared to accept his terms. Nonetheless, although the Madrid talks were inconclusive, they were symbolically significant. They contained ‘several breakthrough elements’: to begin with, they were the first negotiations to be conducted ‘within a comprehensive framework designed to address the outstanding issues between Israel…and the Palestinians’; secondly, the Palestinians, for the first time, were ‘sitting at the negotiating table as an independent party’; thirdly, many Arab parties were also involved in the negotiations, which broke ‘the Arab taboo against sitting at the table with Israel’; and, finally, the negotiations ‘benefited from the active engagement of the US government at its highest levels’.9 The talks indicated a shift in attitudes. On the Palestinian side, a move towards pragmatism was evident while, for Israel, it seemed that the intifada was taking its toll. In the meantime, however, secret talks had been taking place in the Norwegian capital Oslo between representatives of the Israeli government and the PLO. These led, in 1993, to what became known as the ‘Oslo Accords’ or Declaration of Principles (DOP). Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat,
chairman of the PLO agreed to the creation of a ‘Palestinian National Authority’ in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank; the process also included mutual recognition between the two parties: the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist while Israel accepted the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The DOP, which was signed in Washington on 13 September 1993, represented, in the words of Avi Shlaim, ‘a major watershed in Israeli politics’. The signing of a formal agreement between the two parties was a significant departure from the longstanding policy of ‘bypassing the Palestinians to negotiate with the Arab governments’; it also signalled recognition by Israel that ‘thePalestinian people have national rights’, rather than its previous insistence that the ‘Palestinian problem is essentially a refugee problem’10 The Oslo agreement was, in reality, a phased plan of how to move towards peace. Unfortunately, the most contentious issues, such as the question of Israeli settlements on occupied land, the future status of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees were postponed until ‘permanent status talks’, at some undefined point in the future, and one could argue that the refusal to discuss substantive issues, together with Israel’s ‘hidden agenda’ of creeping colonization meant that the DOP was bound to fail. Following the signing of the agreement, embryonic state-building commenced in the West Bank and Gaza, the PLO returned to the occupied territories, and ‘an interim selfgoverning authority’ was established with responsibility for some aspects of Palestinian life, such as health and education. For a time, there was optimism among Palestinians that this might be the beginning of independence and self-respect. Many observers argue that the ‘Oslo Accords’ were doomed from the start as they sought to strike a balance between two massively asymmetrical parties, one in control and backed up by considerable resources, the other weak, poorly organized and desperate. Roy argues that the Oslo agreements ‘and the processes to which they gave shape were not about peace or reconciliation but about security and Israel’s continued control of Palestinian resources’.11 Edward Said, too, speaks of ‘a weak, unprepared and essentially divided Palestinian population… being forced into positions on the ground that AQSA JOURNAL
have already been prepared by the Israelis’.12 Their words suggest that Israel has no intention of agreeing a genuine and lasting peace with the Palestinians and, instead, will continue to find excuses on the grounds of both its own ‘security’ and Palestinian disorganization, to avoid a final settlement. President Clinton’s role in the peace process In the period since Oslo, the PLO ‘has largely given away the essence of the Palestinian position… On three of the crucial components of that position; settlements, refugees, and international protection of Palestinians in the occupied territories; it is now the Israeli rather than the Palestinian interpretation that prevails, both in the territories where it always had the power of military force and internationally, where it did not’.13 As the Oslo accords floundered and both parties expressed dissatisfaction, US President Bill Clinton, who had been closely involved in bringing the agreement to fruition, stepped in to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to address the outstanding issues between them. In July 2000, he arranged a summit at Camp David between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Palestinian demands included the principle of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and full sovereignty over al-Haram al-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem. Israel, for its part, offered Palestinians 92 per cent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, and a land swap in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Crucially, Israel would retain border control and Jerusalem was not on the table. The meeting ‘concluded without agreement, but both sides agreed to continue the negotiating process’.1 Roy observes that, despite ‘their lack of specificity, the Israeli proposals put forth at Camp David, which clearly reflected the terms and parameters of the Oslo agreements, precluded contiguous territory, defined and functional borders, political and economic sovereignty, and basic Palestinian national rights’.15 She adds: ‘Palestinians, who had already compromised by conceding 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine to Israel, were now being asked to compromise on the remaining 22 per cent that was the West Bank and Gaza Strip’.16 It must 16
have been clear to outside observers that the Palestinian leadership could never accept such a deal. To do so would risk the anger of Palestinian public opinion, both in the occupied territories and the Diaspora. By this time, dissatisfaction and anger in the Palestinian areas was intense. Following a deliberately provocative visit by Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon to the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a second Palestinian intifada began. In response, Clinton, in the final days of his presidency, made a final push for peace. In December 2000, what became known as the ‘Clinton Parameters’ offered ‘proposals for dealing with the most protracted problems: settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees’. The plan offered Palestinians control over a sovereign, contiguous and viable state; sovereignty over al-Haram al-Sharif; control over Palestinian sectors of Jerusalem, which would also become the capital of the new Palestinian state; and a settlement plan for refugees, which would give them several options for their future. It offered Israelis the right for approximately 80 per cent of West Bank settlers to remain; security guarantees; control over the Jewish sector of Jerusalem; and access to all the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem. Although there was tentative agreement between the two sides, it was never finalized,17 reflecting anger and frustration on the ground. In a last-ditch effort, just before he handed over the presidency, Clinton organized talks at the Egyptian resort of Taba in January 2001. According to reports, Israel proposed holding on to six per cent of the West Bank while the Palestinians were willing to cede 3.1 per cent. There were also disagreements over the questions of refugees, land swaps and sovereignty over al-Haram al-Sharif, (or the Temple Mount). The two sides were unable to reach a final agreement.18 Some observers argue that President Clinton’s efforts at peace-making were flawed by a tendency to support Israeli over Palestinian claims. The Arab peace initiative (2002) At the 18th Arab League summit in Beirut, in March 2002, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia presented the outline of a possible Arab peace agreement with Israel. This plan, which became known as the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, stated that the Arab states were willing to
recognize Israel and to establish normal relations if Israel agreed to withdraw from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, to accept the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and to find an acceptable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This historic Arab offer was ignored by Israel and the US, much to the dismay of the Arab states. However, Abu Zayyad suggests that the Arabs were ‘partly to blame because they did not prepare the ground or market their initiative effectively, either in the relevant international circles including the US or within Israeli public opinion’.19 In March 2007, during an Arab League summit in Riyadh, the Arab Peace Initiative was revived which, as Majdalani notes, ‘was a clear indication of their resolve to opt for a strategic solution, and not a provisional or tactical one meant to buy time or to weather the crisis in relations between the Arab countries and the international community’.20 He refers of course to the crisis in Arab-western relations caused by the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US and subsequent actions. Majdalani argues that one of the main obstacles to the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative ‘is the lack of seriousness and readiness on the part of the Israeli leadership to conclude a historic peace agreement with the Arab states’; he adds that ‘the Israeli leadership is unwilling to pay the requisite price for peace or to attempt to sell it to its own constituency at a time when Israeli society is becoming more intransigent and shifting increasingly towards right-wing policies’.21 His analysis is supported by Israeli actions on the ground such as the blockade of Gaza since 2006, assassinations of leading Hamas figures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the continuation of settlement activities. Nusseibeh-Ayalon Principles (2002) Another attempt at peace-making, this time at grassroots level, was formulated in 2002 by Ami Ayalon, a former director of the Israeli security services, and Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian president of Al-Quds University in the West Bank. The ‘Nusseibeh-Ayalon Principles’ proposed that: Israeli and Palestinian sovereign states should be recognized; permanent borders, based on pre-1967 lines, should be established; a land swap should take place
between the two states to facilitate minor border modifications; all Israeli settlers would be removed from the Palestinian state; Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of both states; an international fund would be created to compensate Palestinian refugees and, therefore, the refugees would be able to ‘return’ only to the state of Palestine; and the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, its security protected by the international community. The ‘Principles’ attracted 100,000 Israeli and 70,000 Palestinian signatures and many felt that a momentum for peace had been established. The following year, the Geneva Initiative, which built on the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Principles and was further developed by Yossi Beilin, Israel’s former justice minister, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority’s former minister of information and culture, with reference to the December 2000 ‘Clinton Parameters’ and subsequent Taba negotiations,22 was revealed in ‘an attempt to gain public support and thereby pressure political leaders to seek a negotiated peace’.23 Although this appeared, to some, to be an attractive compromise, others, especially Palestinian refugees outside the occupied territories, were critical of the clause asserting that Palestinians would give up their right of return and would settle either in the new state of Palestine or their host countries. President George W Bush tries his hand at peace-making In the meantime, the Administration of President George W Bush in the US, in return for British support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, promised to address the problem of Palestinian self-determination. The so-called ‘Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, devised by a ‘Quartet’ comprising the US, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN, was adopted. However, it placed much of the responsibility for achieving progress on the Palestinian side; for example, the Palestinians were told they must ‘immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence’ and also undertake ‘reform of [their] political system and security forces’, whereas Israel was asked only to undertake ‘supportive measures’ and ‘to help normalize Palestinian life’.24 Against the backdrop of the Palestinian AQSA JOURNAL
Intifada and increasingly repressive Israeli measures on the ground, such as a proliferation of military checkpoints throughout the West Bank, mass arrests of Palestinians, and the construction of a defensive barrier or, as many called it, an ‘apartheid wall’ in the West Bank, the weak and highly partial ‘Roadmap’ could never hope to succeed. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, following the Palestinian election of January 2006, the Islamist party Hamas came to power. Its refusal to overtly recognise Israel’s right to exist or to honour previous agreements was used by the international community as grounds to stop supporting the Palestinian government, and European and American aid was withdrawn which resulted in the situation on the ground deteriorating. For many Palestinians, however, Hamas is seen as a welcome antidote to the corruption and inaction of the former ruling party Fateh; they are widely admired for standing up against Israeli aggression rather than making agreements to the disadvantage of the Palestinian people. In 2007, in his final year as president, Bush embarked on a more intensive quest for Middle East peace. The Annapolis Conference took place in Maryland on 27 November 2007. It was followed by a visit to the region by President Bush. However, as before, uncritical American support for Israel and its refusal to deal with the Hamas government ensured that nothing was achieved on the ground; on the contrary, following the Bush visit, there was a 219 per cent rise in the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis. Abu Nimah asserts that Annapolis ‘was just an exercise to buy time for a horde of international operators whose sole concern was reduced to repeatedly reviving and reinventing the peace process without ever undertaking a meaningful assessment of why all their efforts failed, or of the dangers of continuing on the same path’. Far from laying foundations for peace, he adds, ‘it provided Israel with the needed assurance that it was immune for at least another year from any pressure to curb its settler-colonial aggression’.25 Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza Ariel Sharon, who was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 2001 and re-elected in 2003, 18
instigated Israel’s ‘unilateral disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, including the dismantlement of all Jewish settlements in Gaza. This, claimed Israel’s rulers, gave Palestinians an unprecedented opportunity to start building a state of their own. However, Israel retained control over airspace, territorial waters and all boundaries, except the border with Egypt and, rather than becoming a ‘Dubai on the Mediterranean’,26 Gaza felt more like a ‘big prison’. Building on what many Israelis believed was a successful strategy, Sharon established a new political party in Israel, Kadima, and, claiming that there was ‘no Palestinian partner for peace’, vowed to continue his policy of unilateralism. With the disengagement from Gaza, as Roy notes, ‘the Sharon government was clearly seeking to preclude any return to political negotiations, including the roadmap, while preserving and deepening its hold on Palestine’. And it did so, as she adds, ‘with the explicit support of the US and the international community’.27 The escalating conflict between Hamas and Israel came to a head in December 2008 when, in response to the firing of rockets by Palestinian groups across the border into southern Israel, the Israeli army launched a massive attack into Gaza. In the ensuing battle, a high number of Palestinian civilians were killed and much of the property and infrastructure of Gaza destroyed or damaged. The breakdown of relations between the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank regime of President Mahmoud Abbas seems to epitomize the inability of the Palestinian side to construct a strong negotiating position. While Palestinian fragmentation is an unfortunate reality, it also provides a convenient excuse for Israel to suspend ‘peace talks’. Israelis can legitimately claim that neither the security situation nor the Palestinian leadership permit meaningful negotiations to take place. One wonders, however, whether this – far from representing a setback – is regarded with satisfaction by some of Israel’s leaders who have sought excuses not to make peace. Both President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ‘have spoken endlessly of their commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict’ but they have seemed more interested in bringing down Hamas and building up the moderate Abbas. Palestinian moderates, as Siegman observes,
‘will never prevail over those considered extremists, since what defines moderation for Olmert is Palestinian acquiescence in Israel’s dismemberment of Palestinian territory’.28 One of the stumbling blocks to a settlement of the conflict is the use of emotive language in which the conflict is framed. Since the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, Israel has sought to link its own problem with the Palestinians to a broader ‘war on terror’. By defining groups engaged in a national liberation struggle, such as Hamas, as ‘terrorist’, Israel can affirm a commonality with the ‘civilized’ west and use this as an excuse not to negotiate with the Palestinians. But Palestinians, too, have agency and it would be a mistake to view them ‘either as no more than helpless victims of forces far greater than themselves, or alternatively as driven solely by self-destructive tendencies and uncontrollable dissension’.29 Competing narratives of national rights and entitlements It is now over 40 years since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and, rather than glimmers of peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, the region continues to witness more increasingly destructive wars. At the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lie competing narratives of rights and entitlements. In order to justify its dispossession of the indigenous population and the expropriation of their land in 1948, the Zionists created a nationalist mythology based on claims of ancient and sacred ties to Palestine. For their founding myth to be effective, it had to be internalized by the Jewish inhabitants of the newly established state of Israel and accepted without question by the wider international community. It was equally necessary that the Palestinian version of history was discredited and the Palestinians themselves demonized as aggressive and duplicitous. However, as Khalidi argues, ‘Palestinian history has significance in its own right. It is a hidden history, one that is obscured, at least in the West, by the riveting and tragic narrative of modern Jewish history’.30 Bresheeth, too, has discussed the competing stories of Palestine and Israel. In his words: ‘The narratives of Zionism, annulling Palestine, denying its oppression by Israel, and telling the one-
sided story of Zionism as a liberation movement, decimated the space for Palestinian cultural work after decimating the physical space that was Palestine’.31 Armed with a narrative that presents ‘the Israelis as the continuing victims of those they have decisively defeated, dispossessed, and dispersed’32 and having delegitimized the Palestinian struggle as ‘terrorist’, Israel is in a strong position to reject ‘peace’ negotiations. Conclusion The disastrous history of ‘peace-making’ between Palestinians and Israelis, as I have illustrated, raises the question of whether the two sides really want peace. Kelman argues that peace is possible ‘only when the parties’ perceived interests dictate a compromise solution… If the parties are to engage seriously in a negotiating process that is both costly and risky…they must feel reasonably reassured that what they will find at the end of the process will be something close to what they need’. In order to achieve this, he suggests, there needs to be ‘the mutual acknowledgement of the other’s nationhood’.33 The possibility of mutual acknowledgement seems further away than ever. In February 2009, a general election took place in Israel; the result, which seems to indicate a shift to the right in Israeli politics and a growing intolerance towards a negotiated peace, gives great concern for Palestinians, the Arab region and the international community. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu was invited to form a government. His views on peace negotiations with the Palestinians are well known; he has indicated that, as the Palestinians are divided, they are not ready to negotiate and therefore the immediate concern should be to work towards an ‘economic peace’ in the West Bank and Gaza. As Graham Usher observes, one of the most crucial shortcomings of the Oslo accords was that ‘Israel has succeeded in imposing, and getting, PLO and international covenant for a definition of “peace” that rests on unconditional security for Israel but extremely conditional security for the Palestinians’.34 Siegman too has written that ‘Israel’s disingenuous commitment to a peace process and a two-state solution is precisely what has made possible its open-ended occupation and dismemberment of AQSA JOURNAL
Palestinian territory. And the Quartet…has collaborated with and provided cover for this deception by accepting Israel’s claim that it has been unable to find a deserving Palestinian peace partner’.35 Faced, as Siegman says, with the dismemberment of Palestinian territory, an independent Palestinian state is looking increasingly unlikely. There is dissension between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; a new Israeli government even less committed to negotiations with the Palestinians has assumed power; and the Palestinian people, both living under occupation and in the diaspora, are more demoralized than ever. The incoming US president, Barack Obama, has shown little inclination to support Palestinian claims to justice and independence and the EU remains divided and weak. It would appear that the Israeli ‘narrative’ has triumphed and, for the time being at least, there is little need for Israelis to engage in the pretence of ‘peace-making’. Notes 1 Abu Nimah, Hasan, ‘Chasing Mirages in the Middle East’, The Electronic Intifada, 18 February 2009. 2 Siegman, Henry, “Gaza: The Lies of War”, London Review of Books, 29 January 2009. 3 UN Security Council Resolution 242, 22 November 1967. 4 Shlaim, Avi, “The face that launched a thousand MiGs”, Guardian, 16 August 2008. 5 The Palestinian Declaration of Independence, Algiers, 15 November 1988. 6 Nakhleh, Emile A, “Palestinians and Israelis: Options for Coexistence’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXII, Number 2, Winter 1993, pp.5-16, p.6. 7 Shlaim, Avi, “Israeli Politics and Middle East Peacemaking”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXIV, Number 4, Summer 1995, pp.20-31, p.21. 8 Ibid, p.23. 9 Kelman, Herbert C, ‘Acknowledging the Other’s Nationhood: How to Create a Momentum for the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXII, Number 1, Autumn 1992, pp.18-38, p.19. 10 Shlaim, “Israeli Politics and Middle East Peacemaking”, p.23.
Roy, Sara, Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, London: Pluto Press, 2007, p.235. 12 Said, Edward W, Peace & Its Discontents: Gaza – 11
Jericho 1993–1995, London: Vintage, 1995, p.24. Usher, Graham, Palestine in Crisis: The Struggle for Peace and Political Independence after Oslo, London: Pluto Press, 1995, p.79. 14 Pan, Esther, ‘Middle East: Peace Plans Background’, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 February 2005. 15 Roy, Failing Peace, p.247. 16 Ibid, p.248. 17 Middle East: Peace Plans Background. 18 Ibid. 19 AbuZayyad, Ziad, “The Arab Peace Initiative”, Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol 14, No 4, 2007. 20 Majdalani, Ahmad, “The Arab Peace Initiative: An Opinion or Strategy for Peacemaking?” PalestineIsrael Journal, Vol 14, No 4, 2007. 21 Ibid. 22 Brookings Institute, “The Geneva Initiative: A Blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian Peace”, November 2003. 23 Middle East: Peace Plans Background. 24 ‘A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’, Office of the Spokesman, Washington DC, 30 April 2003. 25 Abu Nimah, ‘Chasing Mirages in the Middle East’. 26 ‘The issue for Palestinians is no longer about how they resist the Israeli occupation in Gaza, but whether they build a decent mini-state there – a Dubai on the Mediterranean’ (columnist Thomas Friedman, quoted in Roy, Failing Peace, p.311). 27 Roy, Failing Peace, p.328. 28 Siegman, Henry, ‘The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam’, London Review of Books, 16 August 2007. 29 Khalidi, Rashid, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006, p.xxx. 30 Ibid, p.xxix. 31 Bresheeth, Haim, ‘The Continuity of Trauma and Struggle: Recent Cinematic Representations of the Nakba’, in Ahmad H Sa’di & Lila Abu-Lughod, editors, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, p.178). 32 Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p.183. 33 Kelman, Herbert C, ‘Acknowledging the Other’s Nationhood: How to Create a Momentum for the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations’, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXII, Number 1, Autumn 1992, pp.18-38, p.29. 13
Usher, Palestine in Crisis, p.80 Siegman, ‘The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam’.
Why One State? Ismail Patel
ABSTRACT As the Israel/Palestine conflict enters its seventh decade, peace in the region remains a distant dream for many on both sides of the borders. Since negotiations with Palestinians began, Israeli politicians have promoted the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict. However, the developing facts on the ground appear to preclude any viable Palestinian state. Ismail Patel looks at the issues at the heart of the debate and proposed the need for a One-State solution to the conflict. Ismail Patel is chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa. He also holds a number of positions in other organisations including acting as Advisor to the Conflicts Forum and spokesperson for the British Muslim Initiative. Ismail Patel is also a writer and commentator; having authored several books including Palestine Beginner’s Guide and Medina to Jerusalem. He has participated extensively in media discourse concerning the Middle East issue.
he conflict in the Holy Land, now entering its seventh decade, has claimed tens of thousands of lives; causing injury to many more and brewing animosity far beyond the borders of mandate Palestine. Years of violence and misunderstandings has pitched the respective communities towards the ‘political’ right making prospects for peace all the more remote. On the global front, one can easily argue that the central generator of animosity between the colonialist western world and the colonised eastern world germinated from the failure to resolve this problem. Realpolitik is fashioned around the idea that the political vision of superpowers need to be fulfilled, and thus this demands that conflict resolution in the Middle East must be viewed from the optic of the US and its ally Israel, rather than objectively for a sustainable peace with justice. Since the inception of the conflict, Zionists have been successful in getting the US to champion its aspirations. Thus, when in 1947 the UN was asked by Britain to settle the differences between the Zionists and Palestini-
ans, the only option on the table, with the directions of the US, was to separate the two people by partitioning the land rather than working to unite them within a single territorial state. In the ensuing 60 years of ‘peace plans’ based on partitioning mandate Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states, the stark failure to achieve peace must lead us to consider the alternative suggestions put forward by thinkers, academics and politicians like Ilan Pappe, Virginia Tilley, Joel Kovel and Ali Abuminah, and finally further explore the merits of a single democratic state for both Israelis and Palestinians, based on ‘one man one vote’ from the Mediterranean sea to the river Jordan. This paper will not cover the intricate political details of such a solution, nor explore the steps needed to scale down the conflict. Rather, it will outline four realities which expose the bankruptcy of pursuing the option of a two-state solution. There is no call for a unitary state by the present power brokers; however, if assessed objectively, it is clear that this is in fact imperative to pursue this goal in order to ethically and morally achieve justice. The call for a single-state is at present being AQSA JOURNAL
promulgated by a small band of people who form the vanguard for the most plausible solution for a sustained peace and fruitful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. Geography From the outset, the Zionist aspiration for Palestine was to create an exclusive Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian people. David Ben Gurion addressed a meeting held in 1919, stating: “But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf and nothing can bridge it…I do not know what Arabs will agree that Palestine should belong to the Jews… We as a nation want this country to be ours, the Arabs as a nation want this country to betheirs.”1 For the early Zionists, the price for the pursuit of their goals was never too high and extreme political efforts were put into motion by the Zionists during and after the Second World War to ensure a partition of Palestine. The United Nations, under the influence of the US, and Europe which was recoiling from the horrors of the holocaust, obliged. It decided to partition mandate Palestine granting over 600,000 Jewish immigrants 57% of Palestine. Overall, the proposed Jewish State would swallow up 40 per cent of the land populated by Arab Palestinians,2 at a time when real ownership by Zionists only covered 9 per cent of the land [See Map 1]. The Zionists, of course, rushed to welcome the proposal. Ben Gurion, the leader and architect of Israel’s independence push, was among those who argued successfully for its acceptance. This was later revealed to be a diplomatic manoeuvre to gain leverage with the British and UN for further efforts toward achieving Israel’s real goal. “Erect a Jewish State at once, even if it is not in the whole land,” Ben Gurion wrote in 1937. He concluded that the “rest will come in the course of time. It must come.”3 On the other hand, the Palestinians, of course, objected to the proposal and questioned its legitimacy as there was no consultation or representation allowed on behalf of the Palestinians. Following the vote in favour of the partition, they approached the International Court of Justice for intervention but their call went unheeded. The resultant violence within Mandate Palestine did, however, 22
lead the US to called for the suspension of UN efforts to partition Palestine on 19 March 1948. This was, however, to no avail, as the Zionists efforts to claim a homeland was well under way. The Israeli myth that the Jewish community defended itself and succeeded in repelling the combined Palestinian and Arab forces was put to rest by a Zionist historian, Benny Morris. He revealed that the Jews in fact enjoyed an advantage over the Arabs in all indices, including “national organisation for war, trained manpower, weaponry, weapons production, morale and motivation and above all command and control.”4 According to Morris, at the end of November 1947 the Zionist had 16,000 light weapons; 1,000 machine guns; and 750 light mortars. Most important of all, he states that 300 Jewish villages entered the war with well-prepared trench works, bunkers and bomb shelters with barbed wire perimeter fences and minefields. Thus, the superior arms and coordination of the Zionist army meant that the subsequent war resulted in the forced partition of Mandate Palestine and the Zionist forces occupying 78 per cent of the territory [See Map 2]. The remaining 22 per cent was then occupied by Israel in 1967. It is erroneously believed that any future Palestinian state will sit on this 22 per cent of land. In reality, between 1967 and 2009, this 22 per cent has been further fractured and segmented by Israel in a deliberately orchestrated policy intended to expand the state of Israel beyond its internationally recognised borders. Jewish only settlements have been built housing half a million Israeli’s5 within this 22% of land. Palestinians who owned the land were dispossessed without compensation. Road blocks scatter the territory, Jewishonly roads zigzag across the land and the separation wall annexes large tracts of the West Bank. The ‘Jewish-only’ policy has been scathingly labelled as ‘Apartheid’ in practice and its impact on the viability of a Palestinian state cannot be understated [See Map 3]. To add to this, the building of Israel’s separation wall will ensure that a further 50 per cent of Palestinian land will be lost, fracturing the West Bank and creating cantons [See Map 4]. The impact of the Zionist expansionist policies in the West Bank has been the destruction of any possibility of creating a Palestinian state. There would
MAP 1 AQSA JOURNAL
MAP 2 24
MAP 3 AQSA JOURNAL
MAP 4 26
be no sovereignity over borders; no territorial contiguity and no control over natural resources; all of which are necessary in order to establish an independent viable entity that can be referred to as a nation state. Demography Demographic projections clearly suggest that in the coming years, barring a large-scale disaster, the Israeli and Palestinian populations will be substantially more numerous than they are today. Consequently, among other things, this contested region will become even more densely populated than it is already. The population densities of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip today are around 350, 450 and 4,300 persons per square kilometre respectively, and are expected to increase to approximately 500, 1,000 and 12,500 by 2050.6 According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics the country’s population stands at 7,337,000. Some 5,542,000 of the population (75.5 percent) are Jewish Israelis, 1,477,000 (20.1%) are Israeli Arabs and the remaining 318,000 (4.4%) are not registered as Jews by the Interior Ministry, including 200,000 foreign workers. There are 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza, over 2.4 million in the West Bank and a further 5 million refugees scattered around the globe. Thus, the population of Jews and Non-Jews (Palestinians) within Mandate Palestine today is equal. However, with a greater birth rate in the Palestinian community Professor Arnon Soffer of the University of Haifa predicts that by 2020 there will be 6.3 million Jews and 8.8 million Palestinians.7 Even if Israel actually ends its occupation of Gaza, the reality is that the natural growth in the population cannot be sustained within the confines of the tiny strip and this will have implications for Israel. A similar scenario is enfolding in the West Bank and therefore the Zionist state of Israel will have to take extreme measures in order to retain a Jewish majority in the area. According to Netanyahu, the real demographic problem is “not because of Palestinians, but of Israeli Arabs.”8 He argued that “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens.” In the Declaration of Independence, Israel was to be a Jewish and democratic state. In Netanyahu’s view, in order to
ensure the Jewish character was not engulfed by demography, it was necessary to ensure a Jewish majority. Clearly, if Israel’s Arabs become well integrated and reach 35-40 per cent of the population, there will no longer be a Jewish state but a bi-national one. However, if Arabs remain at 20 per cent but relations are tense and violent, this will also harm the state’s democratic fabric. The dilemma needs a policy “that will balance the two,” in Netanyahu’s opinion. With the new Israeli government established, it remains to be seen what draconian policies are implemented to deal with the Arab ‘threat’. It is clear that the requirements of an expanding population, especially in the Gaza Strip, all point towards the need for a single state which can cater for all the people in Mandate Palestine with respect to housing; agricultural and social needs. The demographic reality strongly favours the pursuit of a OneState solution. Water With the expected population expansion in the region, the demand for water will also increase. With the river Jordan as the only major source of water, the impact of water shortages are already being felt. The Jordan River is shared by Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. It flows 360 km from its headwaters to the Dead Sea where the fresh water becomes salty and of no benefit. Israel normally uses 1,600 million to 1,800 million m3 per year from all sources. Jordan has usually derived between 700 million and 900 million m3 per year of usable water from all sources.9 With dwindling water resources and increasing demand, it is likely that conflict over water in the region will become more open. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Israel has employed aggressive policies to siphon water away from aquifers and rivers for its own use. Israel has already been in conflict with all of its neighbours over water. Ariel Sharon acknowledged in his autobiography that the 1967 war with Syria was over water: “People generally regard June 5 1967 as the day the Six Day war began. That is the official date. But, in reality, it started two-and-a-half years earlier, on the day Israel decided to act against the diversion of the Jordan. While the border disputes AQSA JOURNAL
between Syria and ourselves were of great significance, the matter of water diversion was a stark issue of life and death.”10 Since at least 1974, Israeli water planners like Elisha Kally had their eye on Egypt’s Nile. Rumours were rife in the 1990s that Israel was anxious to gain a piece of Egypt’s North Sinai Agricultural Development Project which had been underway since 1987 and was projected to cost $1.5 billion. As far back as 1979, articles had appeared in the Egyptian press expressing fears that Nile waters were destined to end up in Jerusalem. Egypt’s then President Anwar Sadat had openly courted the Israelis with promises of shares in the Nile if they made political concessions on Jerusalem in return.11 Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon had been planned long before the PLO had found refuge there. In 1948 Ben-Gurion12 had planted the seed for such an invasion to fulfil the Zionist aspiration of controlling the Litani River, as proposed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.13 Israel’s un-quenching thirst for water has been felt most harshly by the Palestinians. More than 80% of water from the West Bank goes to Israel. The Palestinians are allotted just 18% of the water that is extracted from their own land. Palestinian villages and farmers are monitored by meters fitted to pumps and punished for overuse. Jewish settlers are not so constrained, and permitted to use more advanced pumping equipment that means the settlers use 10 times as much water per capita as compared with each Palestinian.14 Tilly argues that it is “the scarcity of water that most objectively precludes full Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank. Indeed, more than any other factor, water graphically demonstrates the indivisibility of this delicately balanced, ecologically sensitive territory.”15 This reality reflects the intense difficulties already being faced by Palestinians on this life or death issue. A two-state solution would mean that conflict on the issue of water is likely to impact on any peace efforts. A One-State solution would require all the people of Mandate Palestine to share their resources and work towards a common goal. Right Wing Politics The exclusivist agenda of the Zionists has 28
been of concern to many people around the world, including people of the Jewish faith, since its inception. It is evident that the historic foundation of the state of Israel was based on Zionism as a colonialist project in nature whose objectives have been to rid Palestine of its indigenous people. As the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl in 1895 instructed, that he did not favour sharing Palestine with the natives. Better, he wrote, to “try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by denying it any employment in our own country ... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” If the words written a century ago seem harsh, then today’s descendants of Zionism give us even greater cause for concern, both by their words and their deed. In his notorious May 2004 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Arnon Soffer, an architect of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, explained that the approach “doesn’t guarantee ‘peace,’ it guarantees a Jewish- Zionist state with an overwhelming majority of Jews.” Soffer predicted that in the future “when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful.” He was unambiguous about what Israel would have to do to maintain this status quo, stating “If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” Soffer hoped that eventually, Palestinians would give up and leave Gaza altogether.16 The recent political lurch to the right is of grave concern as collective punishment of Palestinians is now openly being advocated by Israeli politicians. Israel’s policy of collective punishment was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier in 2006. “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”17 To those who have studied history this is a Nazi tactic. And perphaps if anybody had any doubt about the Zionists evoking Nazi policies, this should have been corroborated in early 2008 when Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai called for ‘a Shoah (holocaust) on Gaza’18 and he further proposed to “stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and
medicine, so that it would come from another place”. These comments are a reflection of the new thinking inside the Israeli defence and political establishments about where next to move Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. It is now up to the international community to wake up to the fascist reality emerging in Israeli politics. Perhaps the writing is on the wall when blue chip Israeli politicians raise the alarm, as was done by Avraham Burg the former Speaker of Knesset who stated in 2003 “Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A [Zionist] structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing…” We need to face reality and acknowledge that the State of Israel is an immoral phenomenon because it was established on the basis of the destruction of another people. Zionism is a colonialist, racist, and evil phenomenon that stole another people’s land by force and continues to oppress them.19 The failure for a two state solutions lies in the racist, expansionist policy of Zionism and hence past thinkers are now being joined by the masses right across the globe to help usher in a post Zionist era- which advocates equality and true democracy. Those proposing a post Zionist era understand that the conflict in the Holy Land is not a struggle between religions; it is a struggle to expose the colonial settler movement. It is a struggle to eradicate Zionism which is a struggle against the structure that allows and condones occupation and oppression of others. As Ilan Pappe states, “The truth is that what lies in the deepest layers of the Israeli national consciousness is far worse from what appears on the surface. And let us hope that this remains there forever and does not bubble to the surface. These are deposits of dark and primitive racism that if allowed to flow over will drown us all in a sea of hatred and bigotry.” This is now being acknowledged by even Avraham Burg who laments the schism in the language of his people, “I am increasingly convinced that the language of my land – not the spoken Hebrew but what is prac-
ticed - is based on a false premise. Israel accentuates and perpetuates the confrontational philosophy that is summed up in the phrase, ‘The entire world is against us’. I often have the uneasy feeling that Israel will not know how to live without conflict. An Israel of peace and tranquillity, free of sudden outbreaks of ecstasy, melancholy and hysteria will simply not be. In the arena of war, the Holocaust is the main generator that feeds the mentalities of confrontation and catastrophic Zionism.”20 Unfortunately these fears materialised during the 3 week Israeli war on Gaza of December 2008/ January 2009, when right wing Politicians and Generals received a blessing from the Rabbis, who called upon the soldiers to show no mercy to the Palestinian civilians. The pamphlets distributed amongst Israeli soldiers posed rhetorical questions: “Is it possible to compare today’s Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?” Rabbi Aviner is again quoted as saying: “A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land ... They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country ... Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence.”21 The Haaretz newspaper, Israel’s daily, exposed the calls of the Rabbis and further quoted Rabbi Aviner, who described what he deemed to be the appropriate code of conduct in the field: “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. ‘A la guerre comme a la guerre.’” This view is also echoed in publications signed by Rabbis Chen Halamish and Yuval Freund on Jewish consciousness. Freund argues that “our enemies took advantage of the broad and merciful Israeli heart” and warns that “we will show no mercy on the cruel.” In addition to the official publications, extreme right-wing groups managed to bring AQSA JOURNAL
pamphlets with racist messages into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to “the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg” - the former rabbi at Joseph’s Tomb and author of the article “Baruch the Man,” which praises Baruch Goldstein, who massacred unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. It calls on “soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law ‘kill the one who comes to kill you.’ As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy.”22 The Israeli elections of February 2009 brought to power the right wing Netanyahu and ultra right wing Lieberman. Lieberman’s campaign included a call for an oath an allegiance by all Israelis and “anyone who isn’t prepared to sign an oath of loyalty to the state, because of his personal views, cannot receive equal rights; he can’t vote for the executive authority. People here are gradually coming to understand what needs to be done concerning a person who is not loyal.”23 Two years ago, with the help of like-minded colleagues, he designed a plan called “exchange of territory and population.” In practical terms, this meant redefining the borders of Israel in a way that regions heavily populated by Israeli Arabs would be annexed to a future Palestinian state. In exchange, Israel would get to keep clusters of settlements and the so-called “demographic threat” posed by Israeli Arabs would be diminished. Israeli Arabs who no longer live within Israel would have their Israeli citizenship revoked. Those who remain would be asked to pledge an oath of loyalty and perform military or alternative national service (from which they are currently exempted) in order to keep their citizenship.24 These are dangerous signs and as Burg observes “..I believe racism [in Israel] is rampant”.25 Burg is prudent with his words and confesses “we are not like Nazi Germany” but what he sees is the socio-political environment that resembles pre Nazi Germany. These views in Israel would create grave dangers for any future Palestinian state in a two-state solution, as the Palestinians would always face a threat and be considered as lesser beings.
Conclusion The physical face of the present day occupation is bare for all to see. The destructions of Palestinian homes and fields, road blocks, military curfews, encroachment of settlements, wholesale imprisonments and the all imprisoning Wall are the tangible factors that form topics of discussion around the globe. The occupied people have no means of matching Israel’s sophisticated armoury. On the other side, the occupier may have to feign physical harm from Palestinians but the psychological impact on their society is colossal. A new generation of Israelis is emerging that is blasé about ethnically cleansing the land of Palestinians. There is deeply rooted hatred; the result of nearly seven decades of Zionist propaganda. The four factors of geography, demography, water and the victory of the ultra right wing politics in Israel should sound alarm bells for all concerned people. The Palestinian people have been threatened with ethnic cleansing for decades. A One-State solution is the only real chance for peace in the region. Only when Palestinians and Jewish Israeli’s become countrymen will the years of hatred and hostility stand any chance of finally being put to rest. Notes 1 Morris, Benny, Righteous Victims, John Murray (London), 1999. p. 91 2 Tilley, Virginia, The One-State Solution, The University of Michigan Press, 2005. p. 77 3 Tilley, Ibid. p. 79 4 Morris, Supra note 1. 5 270,000 in the West Bank and 250,000 in East Jerusalem. Shraqai, N., ‘Settler population growing three times faster than rest of Israel, study says’, in Haaretz, 15 December 2008 6 Chamie, Joseph, ‘3, 2 or 1 State Solutions: Israeli-Palestinian Population Projections’, Center for Migration Studies, New York, NY 7 Abunimah, Ali, One Country, Metropolitan Books (New York). 2006. p. 57 8 Benn, Aluf, ‘Netanyahu: Israel’s Arabs are the real demographic threat’, in Haaretz, 18 December 2003. 9 Gleick, P, and Yolles, p, ‘Water, war and peace in the Middle East’, in Environment, 1 April 1994.
Chanoff, David, Warrior: An Autobiography of Ariel Sharon, London: MacDonald, 1989 11 Ronald Bleier, ‘Will Nile Water Go to Israel? North Sinai Pipelines and the Politics of Scarcity,’ Middle East Policy, vol. V, no. 3, September, 1997, 113124. 12 Patel, Ismail, Palestine Beginner’s Guide, Al-Aqsa Publishers (Leicester). 2005. P. 152. 13 Robert Brenton Betts, ‘Water and Power’ (book review), Middle East Policy, vol IV, no. 3, March, 1996, 191. 14 McGreal, Chris, ‘Deadly thirst’, in the Guardian, 13 January 2004. 15 Tilly, Supra note 2. p 64 16 Abunimah, Ali, ‘Israel lurches into fascism’ in the Electronic Intifada, 12 February 2009. 17 Francis, David, ‘What aid cutoff to Hamas would mean’, in the Christian Science Monitor, 27 February 2006 18 Cook, Jonathan, ‘The real goal of Israel’s blockade of Gaza’, in Counterpunch, 17 November 2008. 19 Abunimah, Supra note 7. 20 Burg, Avraham, The Holocaust is over we must rise from its ashes, Palgrave Macmillan, (New York) 2008. 10
Harel, Amos, ‘IDF rabbinate publication during Gaza war: We will show no mercy on the cruel’ in Haaretz, 26 January 2009. 22 Ibid. 23 Feldman, Yotam, ‘Lieberman’s anti-Arab ideology wins over Israel’s teens’, in Haaretz, 7 February 2009. 24 Galili, Lily, ‘All is heaven with Avigdor Lieberman’, in Moment, available online, http://www.momentmag.com/Exclusive/2007/2007-02/200702-JewishLIfe.html (last visited 14 March 2009) 25 Burg, Supra note 20. p. 192 21
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Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict By Sara Roy Reviewed by Dr Maria Holt
Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation By Saree Makdisi Reviewed by Arwa Aburawa
The Holocaust is Over We Must Rise From its Ashes By Avraham Burg Reviewed by Ismail Patel
Making Israel By Benny Morris (Ed) Reviewed by Sarah Irving
Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict By Sara Roy Pluto Press; London, 2007 ISBN 10 0745322344 pp. 408, £16.99
Political economist Sara Roy has been highly praised for her scrupulous scholarship and her principled approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Edward Said wrote of her: “The special thing about Sara Roy’s writing is its combination of very high quality research with an equally high level of personal integrity and commitment”. Roger Owen described her as “one of the world’s foremost experts on the de-development of Gaza’s economy, the unravelling of its society and the degradation of its physical environment”. This volume, which reproduces already published articles dating back to 1991, with a series of updated introductions, provides an excellent overview of Roy’s work. Failing Peace also includes an introductory section entitled “Learning from the Holocaust and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” in which Roy, by drawing on her own family background as the child of Holocaust survivors, highlights the importance of “the ethic of dissent” which, she says, “is often considered a form of…betrayal, particularly in times of conflict”. Although, as she says, the Israeli occupation of Palestinians is not the moral equivalent of the Nazi genocide, the occupation aims to deny the Palestinians their humanity “by denying them the right to determine their existence”. What sort of meaning, she asks, “do we as Jews derive from the debasement and humiliation of Palestinians?” Through her writing and the example of her parents, Roy faces squarely the denial of Palestinian humanity. The second section of the book discusses the first intifada and the process Roy has called de-
development, which she defines as “the deliberate, systematic and progressive dismemberment of an indigenous economy by a dominant one, where economic – and by extension societal – potential is not only distorted but denied”. Although the intifada was a period of relative optimism for Palestinians living under occupation, it ultimately failed to shift the goal posts or end the occupation. One chapter, originally published in 1993, is devoted to women in the Gaza Strip. While the taking of Palestinian land, as Roy observes, is usually presented in political terms, “its impact on the home, the family and women is deeply and profoundly personal”. Women’s homes, “literally and figuratively, have been destroyed”. For now, she concludes, “it is not just a question of preserving dignity or defying humiliation… It is a question of whether a home exists at all”. In the third part, Roy discusses the Oslo peace process of 1993 and “the grossly diminished realities imposed upon the Palestinian community during the seven-year long peace process”. The agreements, as she says, “did not lessen the dependency of the Palestinian economy on Israel”. On the contrary, they “formalized and institutionalized the loss and fragmentation of Palestinian land according to Israeli intentions”. Oslo is regarded by many observers as an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians. Rather than creating an embryonic independent Palestinian state, it has succeeded only in consolidating Israeli rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip but with Palestinians, rather than Israelis, in control. This has resulted in “the steady weakening of the Palestinian family” and the rise of Islamist movements such as Hamas. Despairing of any coherent future, young men joined gangs. The mutaradin, as they are known, “are a social, not political, phenomenon, a function of the continuing erosion of social control”. Roy provides a succinct analysis of why Oslo failed. She speaks of “the extreme disparity between the political pact secretly agreed to in Oslo and its actual implementation” and argues that, “through the prolonged closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a variety of new economic measures…the Israeli government has not attempted to institutionalize a separation of the Occupied Territories and Israel…but has pursued a restructured form of integration”. The damage incurred by the Palestinian economy since 1993 has been immense and Roy provides extensive statistical and analytical information about the decline and disintegration of the society; she attributes this to the Israeli policy of long-term closure. There are important differences, as Roy points out, between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and this book is primarily about Gaza where Roy AQSA JOURNAL
has conducted intensive fieldwork over a period of more than 20 years. She cites countless eyewitness accounts and also discusses the differences between civil society organizations such as trade unions and women’s organizations. But it is her evoking of the real human pain and humiliations experienced by ordinary people as their lives slowly diminish and become engulfed in hopelessness. In response to the failure of the Oslo process and the perceived corruption of the Fateh-led government, Islamist groups started to grow in popularity, based on their ability “to deliver vitally needed services”. As Roy remarks, “the Islamist are trusted by the poor, Gaza’s overwhelming majority, to keep their promises and are perceived to be less corrupt and subject to patronage than their secular, nationalist counterparts”. A chapter is devoted to Islamic activism in the Gaza Strip. Historically as she points out, “popular support for Hamas and other Islamist factions was strongest in the perceived absence of political progress”. Although she argued, in 1995, that Hamas’s political vision is “of limited appeal”, the change of circumstances following the start of the second intifada in 2000, together with the growing militarization of society, meant that support for Hamas grew. Gazans use Islamic-based services, she notes, “not because they support Hamas or radical Islam but because they need the services, and
perhaps they seek an identity, intimacy and anchor that Islam is able to provide”. The question of identity and, in particular, the weakening of Palestinian national identity, is crucial. Some analysts argue that Israel is attempting to extinguish Palestinian nationalism once and for all. The book ends with the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 and the possibility that Gaza might become, in the words of columnist Thomas Friedman, “a Dubai on the Mediterranean”. Given the increasingly desperate economic conditions and the policies adopted by Israel, the Strip more closely resembles a prison than a booming economy. Israel, as Roy says, “has always engaged in a zero-sum struggle for control of Palestinian land in the West Bank, and with the Gaza Disengagement Plan it clearly believes the struggle can finally be won”. Roy’s conclusion is utterly pessimistic. Palestinians, demonized as terrorists and imprisoned in their territorial enclaves, are rapidly sinking into hopelessness and impoverishment; Israel appears to have won the “zero-sum struggle”. In the end, as Roy says, “the only solution to the conflict lies in restoring what has been lost to both peoples – human dignity”.
Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation By Saree Makdisi W.W. Norton & Company, 2008 ISBN 978-0-393-06606-7 pp. 343, £15.99
cal writer. He’s a professor of English literature at UCLA, and whilst you may think that this disqualifies him from adding to the already crowded field of the Palestine/Israel conflict, his work is quite simply a breath of fresh air. His book, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, is not about historical findings and it does not contain in-depth political analysis. Rather, it is a book about the daily struggles of ordinary Palestinians dealing with passes, permits, curfews, checkpoints and closures; the loss of control over their inner and outer lives and how the occupation has become, as it were, an everyday occupation. It explores how the Israeli state has isolated Palestinians from their land, livelihoods and each other and how they can regain their freedom through a single, secular and democratic state solution. The introduction sadly ignores convention by failing to address the historiography of the conflict, nor to explain the chapter structures or aims of the book. This leaves the reader feeling a little bit lost as the layout of the chapters is quite unusual. The book goes headfirst into the personal story of Sam Bahour who received orders from the Israeli government to leave his home, family and livelihood in the West Bank
Saree Makdisi is no historian; he isn’t a political commentator, activist or even a semi-politi36
Reviewed by Dr Maria Holt University of Westminster
never to return. As Makdisi states, these stories of personal struggle may not be spectacular “since they occur on an individual and intimately personal scale”, “silently and invisibly” but they are pushing the Palestinians to the edge of dissolution (p.5-6). “A politically charged vision, having assumed the neutral and technical language of administration procedures and bureaucratic regulations, is played out in government offices, at roadblocks and checkpoints, and in planning applications; housing permits; citizenship, identity and residency documents- and, of course visa stamps” (p.5). This political vision sees Israel as an entirely Jewish state, aiming to solve the ‘demographic problem’ of the Palestinian people by making their lives unbearable in the hope that they will simply leave. The first chapter titled ‘Outsides’ explores how the construction of the Wall has created clear boundaries around who ‘belongs’ whilst pushing Palestinians ‘outside’ their lands and also ‘outside’ a normal, peaceful existence. It looks particularly at the ‘Seam Zone’- an area between the 1967 border and the wall- and how 60,500 Palestinians who now live in this area are denied access to their own land and emergency medical care (p.24). The extent of the devastation is illustrated by personal accounts of accidents turning into fatalities when Israeli soldiers refuse to grant access to hospitals without ‘relevant permits’ (p.23-8). Makdisi also explains how the Oslo agreement played a vital part in this ‘hyperregulation’ as it institutionalised the checkpoints, curfews and roadblocks which have “led to ever-greater immobilization and paralysis, political infighting, soaring unemployment, and economic collapse” (p.85). The second chapter, ‘Insides’, considers the personal and intimate impact of the bureaucratic controls which dictate “who one is, where one can go, where one can live and work” (p.102). This is demonstrated through the demolition of homes and the separation of families who do not have the correct permits and family unification papers. Hence, “all the normal markers of inside, home life- the relationship of family members to each other, the legality of their existence as a family, the security of their most intimate domestic space- are undone” (p.119, emphasis added). Another aspect of this is the fact that illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are strategically planted to fragment the pre-existing Palestinian communities. Even Jewish homes are specifically designed to encourage surveillance and inspection, and therefore control, of the surrounding Palestinian population (p.122-4). Vulnerability of Palestinian inner space is portrayed by the personal story of Maryam alNatsheh, whose home was intruded by armed
Israeli settlers in Hebron. Her nine-year old son, Falah, was beaten up whilst her other son Ahmad was stabbed in the back. Shockingly, such attacks are common occurrences (p.139-40). These policies form part of an Israeli strategy to ‘encourage “voluntary” transfer’ and so displace yet another Palestinian family. The third chapter, ‘Outside In’, looks at how certain Palestinian communities have become virtual open-air prisons. For example, Israel’s tight regulation of Gaza’s borders, imports and exports, agriculture, and electricity supply has cut them off from the outside world and destroyed any hope for economic and social recovery (p.156). Gazans are subject to frequent Israeli raids and bombardments, arbitrary curfews and closures which block the export of agricultural products and the flow of medicine and medical equipment. As a result, “more than half of the families in Gaza now eat only one meagre meal a day” (p.166-70). Such disproportionate military reactions to Palestinian resistance and the ‘collective punishment’ of entire populations have been condemned as war crimes by the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, John Dugard (p.176-7). The fourth chapter, ‘Inside Out’, highlights how Israeli settlers, under the protection of Israeli soldiers, are taking over entire cities such as Hebron and forcing Palestinians out as part of a permanent process of dispossessing Arabs. Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing is confirmed by the fact that “Palestinians are routinely denied building permits, and their homes are frequently demolished, but there are government incentives making it easier for Jewish individuals and families to buy or rent space in settlements built in the occupied territories” (p.12). Recent access to Israel’s military archives has also allowed academics to reconstruct the true extent of the Nakba and confirm the basic Palestinian account of 1948 as a war of expulsion. This has allowed shocking statistic to emerge which demonstrate the true extent of dispossession; for example 531 Palestinian towns and villages have been destroyed or depopulated since 1948 (p.233). The personal accounts which illustrate the deeply individual impact of the occupation are central to the book’s theme. They are honestly touching, poignant, even haunting and their words remain with you. For example Laila el-Haddad who waited at the Israeli controlled border with Egypt for hours on end, day-after day describes her experience: “There is something you feel as you stand there for hours at a time, waiting to be let through the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. It is something of your humanity slowly drifting away. It is gradual, but unmistakable. AQSA JOURNAL
And you are never quite the same again” (p.158). The statement of Moshe Nissim, an Israeli soldier who operates armoured bulldozers, is horrifying and depicts the unnerving malice which simmers in the mind of the aggressor: “I got a real kick out of every house that was demolished because I knew that dying means nothing to them, while the loss of their house means more to them. You destroy a house and you destroy forty or fifty people for generations. If one thing bothers me about all this, it is that we didn’t wipe out the whole camp” (p.184). Whilst the book does focus on personal stories, it is not at the expense of clarity as there is enough history and politics to ensure the novice readers can understand the conflict. Major historical events such as the Nakba, the 1967 war, the Intifada and Oslo are all covered throughout and the final chapter focuses on more recent events such as Annapolis, the electoral success of Hamas in 2006 and the subsequent siege of Gaza. The final installation also elaborates Makdisi’s conviction in a one-state solution which grants both the Palestinians and Israeli’s equal rights, including Palestinian refugee’s right of return, to help secure a just and lasting peace. The only drawback is that the book is repetitive in places, especially in its effort to condemn
Israel for failing to adhere to human rights standards as defined by international law. Makdisi constantly cites U.N Security Council resolutions, alongside Geneva Conventions, International Law and the International Court of Justice as if Israel could be shamed into submission. Overall, however, this book is a vital shift from an academic audience to the general public who will require a readable and humanist portrayal of the on-going conflict. It is powerful, thoughtprovoking and deeply moving. The harrowing accounts of oppression, personal attacks, deaths, control and crippling sieges which Palestinians face gives you real a sense of the suffocation of life occurring. Nonetheless the author maintains that there is room for hope as the struggle for equality within a single, secular state is a cleaner, more popular and ultimately more powerful struggle, which will succeed with a little compromise from either side (p.292). As he puts it so eloquently: “Palestinians have to realise that they will never recuperate Palestine as it was before the arrival of Zionism, and Israelis will never realise a purely Jewish statethey must both put their two impossible ideals aside for the sake of a common future” (p287).
The Holocaust is Over We Must Rise From its Ashes By Avraham Burg Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 ISBN 0-230-60752-7 pp. 253, £15.99
painful revelations about the overriding psyche of the modern Israeli people. Avraham Burg failed to achieve the leadership of the Labour Party in 2001, and although this may have muted his political aspirations, his activities since then have drawn more attention than ever before. During the 2002 Israeli war on Lebanon, Burg publicly led the anti war demonstrations in Israel. His article of 15 September 2003 in the Guardian titled ‘The end of Zionism - Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy’ showed his intellectual and moral shift away from Zionist ideology. His critique of Zionism in the article exposed the reality that, “Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A [Zionist] structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing… Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in
The author of this book was a pillar of the Israeli establishment who earned the wrath of many in Israeli society for his critical and often 38
Reviewed by Arwa Aburawa, Freelance writer, Manchester
hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism.” Burg is not the first Jewish person to realise the disastrous impact of the Zionist ideologies, nor will he be the last. However, what gives value to his thought currency is his pedigree. Burg’s family lineage provides him with a tangible Zionist profile. His father Yosef served as a minister in the Israeli government from the time of David Ben-Gurion’s government, and his mother was from the early immigrants in Hebron. Although he served in the Israeli army as a paratrooper, he remained on the ‘left’ of Israeli politics. He was one of the few Israelis who were against the first Lebanon war and narrowly escaped a grenade attack by a right-wing fanatic on a Peace Now protest in 1983. His background ensured his rise within the Israeli political establishment, and in 1985 he became an adviser to the then Prime Minister Shimon Peres. In 1988, he became a Knesset member and in 1995 he was appointed Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, and resigned from the Knesset. As head of the Jewish Agency, he worked to recover Jewish property lost during the Holocaust. In 1999, Burg succesfully returned to the Knesset and was elected Speaker; a position he held until early 2003. Following Barak’s defeat in the 2001 election for Prime Minister, Burg ran for the Labor Party leadership, but lost. Nevertheless, he retained his seat in the Knesset in the 2003 elections. The views espoused by Burg are not new; Joe Kovel and Ilan Pappe are two well-documented individuals who preceded him. Kovel was especially tough regarding the Shoah (Holocaust), and stated, “There is no room for Holocaust deniers but neither is there a crevice left to crawl under for those who have derived legitimacy from it. …One certainty about the Shoah is that it put the matter of Zionism on a radically different footing. What had been a turbulent sideevent in the welter of international politics up until 1938 suddenly found itself in the centre of the world stage …” The exclusive role of judaephobia in the Holocaust was also previously challenged and whether “Israel has made good on its promise to safeguard and liberate the Jewish people.” However what is markedly different is the source. Burg’s book is a personal journey through Israeli politics and the Jewish faith, and was surprisingly a best-seller in Israel. Its translation into English provides the English speaking world with an insight into this deeply disconcerting issue for Israelis. Burg argues that Israel has been consumed by its obsession with the Shoah. This has led to the undermining or even abuse of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history. The impact of the Shoah has been the creation of a “victim
mentality” by the strongest military community in post WWII history. He argues that there is an urgent need to place the Shoah in its historical, political and geographical context to help Judaism again become the light to the nations and free it from the “Judaism of the ghetto”. Burg laments the schism in the language of his people, stating (p.14): “I am increasingly convinced that the language of my land – not the spoken Hebrew but what is practiced – is based on a false premise. Israel accentuates and perpetuates the confrontational philosophy that is summed up in the phrase, ‘The entire world is against us’. I often have the uneasy feeling that Israel will not know how to live without conflict. An Israel of peace and tranquillity, free of sudden outbreaks of ecstasy, melancholy and hysteria will simply not be. In the arena of war, the Shoah is the main generator that feeds the mentalities of confrontation and catastrophic Zionism.” There is no doubt that many Jews in Israel and outside carry his sentiments but his courage to speak out publicly reflects immense courage. Burg makes a profound statement when he says (p.16): “The Shoah is more present in our lives than God”. There is an obvious fear that this discourse may provide ammunition to the anti-Semites, however, if entered honestly and with the future of the Israeli people in mind, it is of vital importance. The idea of Shoah becoming a Jewish experience and one which is fogging (Jewish) humanism is aptly highlighted in an encounter Burg has with an Israeli Mr D, (p.34), where he states “..I asked him what happened in Poland that cut his visit short. ‘I couldn’t bear it any more’ he replied. ‘Everything came back to me. I landed in Warsaw and it was cold and snowy…. Polish trains are too much for me. Everything came back to me. The following day, I hopped on a plane and came back’. Burg later called him to clarify a few things. “Where are your parents from?” “From Iraq” he answered. How could it be that everything “came back” to him, I wondered, if he or his parents had never been there?” The destructive force of clutching onto the tragedy of Shoah is highlighted, (p.78) when Burg writed: “We have pulled the Shoah out of its historical context ... and turned it into a plea and generator for every deed. All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah and therefore all is allowed – be it fences, sieges ... curfews, food and water deprivation or unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to behave.” The strongest criticism that this book has drawn centres on Burg’s comparison of Israel to pre-Nazi German. Burg points out that Israel AQSA JOURNAL
actually reached, arguably “too soon”, a “hasty reconciliation” with Germany after the Second World War. Burg suggests that the quick and rapid reconciliatory moves and normalisation of relations with Germany stifled the Jewish people from a necessary grieving period following the Holocaust, and thus blame was shifted to others (p.78/79). He states: “We will never forgive the Arabs for they are allegedly just like the Nazis, worse than the Germans. We have displaced our anger and revenge from one people to another, from an old foe to a new adversary, and so we allow ourselves to live comfortably with the heirs of the German enemy – representing convenience, wealth and high quality, while treating the Palestinians as whipping boys to release our aggression, anger and hysteria, of which we have plenty.” Burg highlights with great bravery, reflecting on personal experience, the “rampant” racism that exists in Israel (p. 192). He is greatly disturbed by the fact that Israeli society has allowed the right wing, and to some extent the army, to operate with impunity in the barring of Israeli Arab representatives from key posts and in particular the stifling of any alternative political thought in Israeli politics. Burg views this as being synonymous to an era in Germany that helped usher Hitler to power. However, Burg is prudent with his words and states (p.192) “we are not like Germany” but what he sees is the socio-political environment that resembles pre Nazi Germany. In Chapter 8, the book focuses on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which should have represented “the end of the Shoah and the beginning of the
post-Shoah period.” However, Burg notes that in reality “the opposite happened... The Shoah discourse had begun.” He goes on to condemn the cheapening of the Shoah: “What I criticise in the Eichmann trial and the entire Shoah industry is the contempt, the cheapening attitude of the public system; everything is Shoah. It legitimises everything, it explains everything, and it is used by everybody.” The pain that Burg feels at his revelation about the concept of “Never again?” is palpable. “We have made ‘never again’ possible for ourselves. What about never again for others? Never again? On the contrary, it happens again and again because of our indifference.” Here, he is trying to reach out to his countrymen and shock them into realisations so that the Jewish Israeli people may again become a beacon of liberty for Jewish history and experiences. Part of this process, he argues, is for Israel to replace the Holocaust as a memory exclusively for Jews and use it instead to become the vanguard of the “struggle against racism and violence against the persecuted” throughout the world. A rhetorical question is being asked by many in Israel regarding Burg. Is he the new prophet of Israel? Most probably not, and surely his society is not ready to hear the message that he is propagating. Avraham Burg is a man before his time in Israeli society. However, what he has achieved is the much needed nudge on the vaulted door of Shoah contemplation, encouraging sincere debate in order to better Israel. Reviewed by Ismail Patel Leicester
Making Israel By Benny Morris(Ed) University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2007 ISBN 978 0 472 03216 7 pp 384, £17.50
Benny Morris is a controversial figure in the history and historiography of Palestine and Israel. One of the ‘New Historians’ of the 1980s and 1990s, he was once hailed by pro-Palestinians as one of a group of brave scholars who had challenged the propagandist tendencies of much Israeli history and helped to reveal the truth about Israeli actions in 1948. Morris’ later career, however, has demonstrated that being a critic of ‘official’ Israeli versions of the events of 1948, and a challenger to hardline Zionist schools of scholarship, does not necessarily correlate with a concern for modern-day Palestinian rights or experiences, or rejection of the theory and intent behind the expulsion of Palestinians from the current state of Israel in 1948. Ilan Pappe, for instance, another of the New Historians and now an integral figure in the Palestine solidarity movement in the UK, now has a relationship of vitriolic conflict with Morris. In response to a Morris review of his book A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, which accused Pappe of allowing political ideology to override historical fact, Pappe accused Morris of “abominable racist views” regarding Arabs in general, and particularly Palestinians and of being a good chronologist, but not in any way a proper historian. More importantly, Pappe claims that Morris’s work is tainted by a fundamental anti-Arabism which means that he concentrates too closely on official Israeli sources, written in Hebrew, biasing the outcomes of his research because of the partial nature of its evidence base. From the opposite camp, Morris has also been targeted by
mainstream Israeli historians who also claim that he, and other New Historians, are partial and biased in their use of evidence around events such as the expulsion of Palestinian villagers. This book is, in some respects, Benny Morris’ opportunity to answer some of his critics. He presents it as an opportunity to “provide the English-speaking reader with in-depth coverage of the controversy” of the ideological and informational conflicts between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Historians. In his introduction, however, he does not deny himself the opportunity to get in an occasional blow in some of his ongoing battles. One passage, presumably aimed at Ilan Pappe, states that: “Other [historians] were deliberately not approached on the grounds that – in my view – their work fails to attain a minimal level of ‘scientific’ accomplishment or objectivity. Streets – Israeli or Palestinian – awash with blood and political commitments can drive people around the bend.” Despite this, the book’s introduction is a neat (though not necessarily complete) potted history of the genesis of the New Historians movement, such as it was, and if the personal feuds are filtered out, it provides an interesting account of this phase in Israeli historiography. Morris highlights the ‘outsider’ status of many of the New Historians, such as Tom Segev or Avi Shlaim – as journalists rather than conventional academics, or as scholars who had studied overseas and had the opportunity to acquire new perspectives. He is also realistic about the impact of the New Historians, acknowledging that they did play an important role in questioning ‘official’ narratives and challenging some of the founding myths of Israeli society, but challenging the idea that they had a particularly major role in political shifts towards contact with the PLO leadership and the genesis of the Oslo peace accords. These, he insists, must be put down to “pressing political, economic and security needs” and not attributed to “the scribblings of a handful of historians.” Morris also contextualises some of the developments in Israeli history of which the New Historians were a part. Rather than being an independent set of trailblazers, he points out that they were in part responding to the opening up of official archives which allowed them access to accounts of the events of 1948 which provided documentary evidence of expulsions and massacres, and of the workings of the commanders of the Israeli troops who carried them out. As such, he to an extent defends the Old Historians’ tradition, by noting that they were working in a much more heavily censored academic and political atmosphere. While Morris may be accurate in terms of the facts of the opening of Israeli archives, some of the Palestinian writers cited in Mustafa Kabha’s closing chapter AQSA JOURNAL
including famous names such as Ibrahim abuLughod and Edward Said, point out that to question and explore history and identity is often easier to do from a position of established power, such as that inhabited by Israeli writers, particularly those of Ashkenazi origin, by the late 1980s. Other suggested influences are wider academic discourses arising from postmodernism. Like many academic texts which deal with controversial issues, many different writers compete to claim that they are impartial and objective, and given the emotive subject matter it is unsurprising that many of those criticising their counterparts for bias are also happy to use inflammatory language. Thus for Yoav Gelber, Arab histories of 1948 are “usually polemics or apologetic memoirs and propaganda, rarely scholarly research.” Even the more balanced Bar-On tends towards words such as ‘onslaught’ to describe Arab offensives in the 1948 war, maintaining the very sense which he purports to be debating of the massive numerical advantage held by Arab forces. As with some manifestations of the Israeli peace movement and its US and European sympathisers, most of the issues touched on in this book are concerned with cleaning up the inside of Jewish Israel’s own house, not with restoring justice to Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel, living under Occupation or in the Diaspora. To note that Morris and his companions in the New Historians have useful information to impart – whether on the history of the New Historians or on the much wider concerns of the events of the Naqba in 1948 – should not be confused with believing that they are necessarily interested in modern-day Palestinian rights. Mordechai Bar-On’s attempt to illustrate how dominant narratives of the 1948 war developed in Israeli society, by comparing various camps’ accounts to his own experiences as a soldier in the Jewish ranks, firmly asserts that however much he might believe that the truths of 1948 need to be revealed, he is not significantly concerned with the political or ethical implications of admitting that Palestinian villagers were forced to flee rather than given a choice, or of conceding that the ‘David vs Goliath’ story of the tiny, valiant Jewish resistance might not be entirely accurate. “The desire of the New Historians to enlist historiography in the cause of peace is morally praiseworthy, but it does not provide us with better historiography,” he says, stressing that if he was 19 again he would take part in the same battles of which he was part in 1948. The establishment of the State of Israel was, he asserts, the act of a people “regaining its national sovereignty.” This book should perhaps be called ‘Making 42
Israeli History,’ not ‘Making Israel,’ because it is first and foremost a reflection on debates within Israeli academia and views of history in Israeli society. As such, it is likely to disappoint anyone looking for an education in the wider events of the Nakba and 1948 (although individual events are described as illustrations of broader points, such as the account in Morris’ own 1988 opening essay of the brutal suppression of an Arab ‘revolt’ in Lydda, or the first-hand account of military service by Mordechai Bar-On, Jewish soldier turned peace activist). For anyone with a basically pro-Palestinian position, some of the language used and assumptions and generalisations made will be distressingly biased, even racist. But if the reader can get past this, there are many reasons to read and value this, book, even if they are not the ones the writers and particularly the editor might have intended. It incorporates many useful facts, some of which give nuance to many overarching versions of the 1948 conflict. While, for example, the failure of many accounts to acknowledge the extent of the violence which drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, it is also important to know that one of the reasons that some Palestinian communities remained within Israel, for instance in Nazareth, is that not all Israeli military commanders were willing to go beyond local military conquests and expel entire populations. As discussed above, it amply reveals the difference between the academic interest of many New Historians in questioning dominant Israeli identity and discourse, and any sense that this might translate into an interest in justice for the Palestinian people. As noted by Mustafa Kabha, Edward Said pointed out that in his encounters with New Historians they continually stressed the notion that their version of history and historiography was somehow a search for objective truth, whereas Palestinian and other Arab versions of events were necessarily emotional and propagandist. A brief reference to Said’s theories of Orientalism illustrate how such a stereotype is just as embedded in loathsome caricatures as that of the money-grabbing Jew. But despite this, some of the Palestinian historians cited by Kabha and many Western pro-Palestinian activists have confused the usefulness of a certain amount of the New Historians’ work in uncovering facts with their political and ideological allegiances. This is an issue which goes beyond history and historiography and needs to be considered by wider pro-Palestinian activists. It is vital that solidarity with the Palestinian people includes an element of recognising that there are honourable, honest, committed people and
organizations within Israel who defy dominant discourses and are genuinely striving for a more just society for people of all ethnicities. But there are also many soft-left Israelis and their supporters in the UK and beyond for whom questioning history is an intellectual exercise or a convenient means for them to feel that they are somehow detached from the dominant Israeli paradigm, whilst continuing to idly benefit from it and the privileges it bestows on them. They have no real
interest in change, or indeed in pursuing some of their information to the logical conclusions it implies. This book manages to include both sets of writers, and one of the readerâ€™s tasks is to sort their way through the mix and pick out the items of use and value. Reviewed by Sarah Irving Freelance writer and researcher, Manchester.
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BOOKS AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW
Friends of Al-Aqsa have a number of books that are available for review. Reviews are included in our journal, newspaper and/or website. The following titles are currently available:
The Middle East in International Relations, Power, Struggle and Ideology By Fred Halliday
Disappearing Palestine, Israel's Experiments in human Despair By Jonathan Cook
The Israel-Palestine Conflict, One Hundred Years of War (New Edition) By James L. Gelvin
A Case for Palestine, An International Law Perspective (Revised and Updated) By John Quigley
A Quiet Revolution, The First Palestinian Intifada and Non-violent Resistance By Mary Elizabeth King
Israel's Vicious Circle, Ten Years of Writings on Israel and Palestine By Uri Avnery
The Returns of Zionism, Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel By Gabriel Piterberg
Last Chance, The Middle East in the Balance By David Gardner
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Poets for Palestine By Remi Kanazi
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