Thursday, February 7

MCC Palestine Update #39

MCC Palestine Update #39

The drive from Jerusalem to Hebron was surprisingly smooth, only thirty minutes while the same road several weeks before had taken one hour. In the fragmented, canontized reality that is the West Bank, accessibility varies greatly. Hebron and Jericho, for example, have been open for the past week or two, with fewer restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the Israeli military. In the north, however, travel to and between cities such as Nablus and Tulkarem proves challenging to impossible.

The reason for this trip was to attend the graduation of 40 women from a backyard gardening course organized by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Beit Kahl village next to Hebron. In addition to giving the women skills in providing food for their families in a time of rampant unemployment, the course also meant a carton (24 cans) of MCC canned beef for each graduate. MCC has done very little material relief in Palestine since the 1950s and plans to do very little in the future; unfortunately, however, the 18 months of siege in the West Bank have pushed unemployment in the Hebron district to 70 or so percent. So when MCC in Akron had some extra canned beef, MCC in Palestine offered to distribute it through the Union's food-for-work and food-for-training program. It is our sincere hope that the need for such programs will soon disappear.

Below are four pieces. The first, by Hebrew University professor Baruch Kimmerling, updates Emile Zola's "J'accuse!" for today. The second, by Ha'aretz journalist Amira Hass, provides a poignant reminder to all who preach the path of nonviolence to Palestinians: yes, nonviolence may in fact be the most "effective" form of resistance, we can note how counterproductive Palestinian violence has been, but we must also recognize that mass nonviolent action (and even limited nonviolent action) by Palestinians against the occupation would most likely be met with violence. That does not make nonviolence wrong, of course, but provides a sober reminder to those of us in relative comfort and safety who would advise others to use nonviolence. The third piece, by a Christian Science Monitor reporter, gives a chilling overview of what is becoming increasingly respectable within Israeli political discourse: discussion of the "transfer" of Palestinians from the "Land of Israel." Could this horrifying discourse be translated into reality? Finally, four, Edward Said provides more of his typically astute analysis of the current moment in Palestine/Israel.

1. I Accuse
Baruch Kimmerling
Kol Ha'Ir (Israeli Hebrew Weekly), 1 February 2002

I accuse Ariel Sharon of creating a process in which he will not only intensify the reciprocal bloodshed, but is liable to instigate a regional war and partial or nearly complete ethnic cleansing of the Arabs in the "Land of Israel."

I accuse every Labor Party minister in this government of cooperating for implementation the right wing's extremist, fascist "vision" for Israel.

I accuse the Palestinian leadership, and primarily Yasir Arafat, of shortsightedness so extreme that it has become a collaborator in Sharon's plans. If there is a second Naqba (Palestinian Holocaust), this leadership, too, will be among the causes.

I accuse the military leadership, spurred by the national leadership, of inciting public opinion, under a cloak of supposed military professionalism, against the Palestinians. Never before in Israel have so many generals in uniform, former generals, and past members of the military intelligence, sometimes disguised as "academics," taken part in public brainwashing. When the judicial committee of inquiry is established to investigate the 2002 catastrophe, they too will have to be investigated alongside the civilian criminals.

I accuse the administrators of Israel's electronic media of giving various military spokespeople the access needed for an aggressive, bellicose, almost complete takeover of the public discourse. The military is not only controlling Jenin and Ramallah but the Israeli radio and television as well.

I accuse those people, of all ranks, who order the black flag hoisted above them, and those who follow their unlawful orders. The late philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz was right-the occupation has ruined every good part and destroyed the moral infrastructure upon which Israeli society exists. Let's stop this march of fools and build society anew, clean of militarism and oppression and exploitation of other people, if not worse.

I accuse everyone who sees and knows all of this of doing nothing to prevent the emerging catastrophe. Sabra and Shatilla events were nothing compared to what has happened and what is going to happen to us. We have to go out not only to the town squares, but also to the checkpoints. We have to speak to the soldiers in the tanks and the troop carriers-like the Russians spoke to their soldiers when they were ordered to retake control in Red Square-before entry into Palestinian cities turns into a murderous urban warfare.

And I accuse myself of knowing all of this, yet crying little and keeping quiet too often.

* Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at Hebrew University.

2. On the edge of the non-violent demonstrations
Amira Hass
Haaretz, 6 February 2006

If Israeli TV cameras had bothered to follow the Israeli peace activists from the coexistence group Ta'ayush last Saturday when they went to Ramallah, they could have provided Israelis an answer to the question of what the IDF would do if thousands of unarmed Palestinians marched on the army's positions.

Some 300 men and women from the Israeli group, which calls itself a Jewish-Arab partnership, met last Saturday in Ramallah with Yasser Arafat and central activists from Fatah, feminists, and representatives from Palestinian non-governmental organizations. After a meeting in Arafat's office, they went outside to demonstrate opposite the tanks poised on a hill outside the Palestinian government complex. They marched toward the tanks. They were not armed. Not with guns, stones, or even posters.

All they had was a single hand-held loudspeaker, and people aged from 17 to 75, 300 in all. They were exposed, open, and walked toward the soldiers, also Israelis, who hid inside four tanks and a single jeep. It would have been very difficult to think the soldiers weren't there, because they did what every IDF force in the territories does: They started their engines with a deafening noise, moved the cannon barrels up and down and left to right, as if aiming it at the demonstrators, issued white and black smoke from the engines, and rolled back and forth on the tank treads, those steel teeth that have chewed up the asphalt and sidewalks that European countries spent a lot of money improving.

It's doubtful the voice coming from the loudspeaker reached the soldiers. But they must have known that every person marching toward them was an Israeli. The IDF takes a great deal of pride in its sophisticated technology, which enables daylight or nighttime identification of sources of fire. That day in Ramallah, a pair of opera glasses would have sufficed for the soldiers in the tanks to know who was marching outside. Who knows, maybe they recognized a neighbor, or their older sister's philosophy teacher.

In fact, maybe the Hebrew voice reached the soldiers. The speaker, a Ph.D. in history, was emotional as he shouted "We invite the soldiers to come home." The rest of the marchers began chanting "Soldiers come home," and with perfect orchestration, the soldiers responded immediately with two stun grenades. Don't be afraid, said an Israeli woman with some experience in these kinds of events. That's nothing but noise. It's just meant to frighten us.

That's not exactly true. When a stun grenade falls inside a crowd, and not away from it, the way they are supposed to, it can burn, harm eyes, wound, even break a bone. Dozens of Palestinians who stood unarmed over the past year opposite soldiers have been wounded that way. During the last 16 months, the Palestinians tried dozens, if not hundreds, of times to hold non-violent demonstrations against IDF forces.

It's impossible to march on the settlements. Banks of tanks and machine guns, fortifications, reinforced outposts and roads for Jews only block direct access to the settlements. The IDF Spokesman's Office has spun a myth that every clash that ended with Palestinian casualties was a conflict between two armed sides.

IDF and Border Patrol troops have made clear innumerable times that any gathering of people opposite its forces is considered a dangerous "disturbance of the peace" that requires a response. Sometimes clubbing and violent dragging, then come the stun grenades, maybe tear gas, and very quickly firing live ammunition into the air and then shooting rubber-coated steel pellets into the crowd. The steel pellets are covered with a thin layer of rubber, sometimes it's live ammunition.

Sometimes the shooting starts before any of the demonstrators have managed to throw a stone. Often, the shooting is in response to stone-throwing by teenagers who hide behind improvised barricades. Sometimes they are shot in the head, sometimes the pellets strike protesters standing in albeit dangerous places, but dozens of meters away from the stone-throwers. To someone who has been at these non-violent demonstrations in recent months, it appears the IDF has long since gone past what was thought to be its limits. The Israelis that day in Ramallah decided not to test the limits, and dispersed on their own, going to their next meeting with the Palestinians.

For Palestinian activists to organize dozens of non-violent demonstrations that would march simultaneously toward IDF forces, they would need some guarantee that the soldiers wouldn't cross the red lines into mass murder. Only Israeli society can provide that guarantee. Israeli society must widen the circle of those asking about the nature of the IDF's activities in the territories captured in 1967. It must ask what its frightened and frightening children are doing at the checkpoints, before those children become casualties of the "Let me die with the Philistines" war. Israeli society must ask more and more questions about the IDF's rules of engagement and the money the government spends on developing the settlements and on the welfare of their residents, while its disabled citizens are left to live as beggars.

3. Israeli Expulsion Idea Gains Steam: The Moledet party's media blitz for the mass expulsion of Palestinians is gaining momentum.
Ben Lynfield
The Christian Science Monitor, 6 February 2001

Spurred on by public despair, Israeli advocates of a mass expulsion of Palestinians are gaining strength and legitimacy as the toll of Palestinian attacks inside Israel continues to rise.

Tourism Minister Benny Elon of the far-right Moledet party this week launched a campaign advocating "transfer," a euphemism for expulsion, which he says can also connote an agreed relocation of Palestinians.

In addition to Mr. Elon's push for transfer in a series of interviews on Israel's television channels and in major newspapers, Moledet has put up billboards in Tel Aviv saying that "Only transfer will bring peace."

The idea of a removal of Arabs - voluntary or otherwise - is almost as old as Zionism itself, but today it is taking on fresh legitimacy with the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the demise of the implicit bargain of land and eventual Palestinian statehood for peace.

Elon says that under conditions of war, Israel has the right to bring upon the Palestinians "another nakba," or catastrophe, similar to 1948, when an estimated 700,000 of them were expelled or fled during the Arab- Israeli war.

"There is great disappointment and confusion. People are saying we have had enough, we have seen wars and we have seen the Oslo agreement with all of its bloodshed," says Elon. "I want to
remind them of this platform and to remove the taboo from public discussion. It is intolerable that the Arabs should think that, every time, they can drain our blood and then we will negotiate with them."

The transfer idea is dismissed outright by Likud Justice Minister Meir Shetreet, who often reflects centrist Israeli opinion. "It is unacceptable to us in every form. We want to live with the Arabs in peace and quiet," he says.

But significantly, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not repudiated the idea of a mass expulsion. Sharon, says his spokesman, would like to expel the Palestinians, but does not believe this can be carried out under the present conditions.

"There is a difference between wishful thinking and realpolitik," explains Sharon's spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin. "If the Palestinians would have a change of heart and move elsewhere, OK, but Sharon realizes transfer cannot be done because of the stance of the Israeli public. What Elon is saying is not something that today seems possible."

Mr. Sharon appeared to endorse mass expulsions of Palestinians in October. In a Knesset speech, he lauded assassinated Tourism Minister Rehavam "Gandhi" Zeevi of Moledet, whose career was based on the transfer idea, as a true heir of Zionist founding fathers and vowed: "Gandhi, we will be victorious."

Ha'aretz newspaper called on Sharon Sunday to expel Elon from the coalition or else be tainted by "the disgrace of the transfer idea."

Intensified espousal of extremist solutions on the right is coinciding with increasingly strident voices at the other end of the political spectrum: doves who argue that it is the Jewish settlers, not the Palestinians, who should leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They have been boosted by a protest letter from 50 reserve officers and soldiers who announced two weeks ago that they would refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of moral difficulties with army practices.

Dozens more have since signed on to the letter, which derides the fighting as "the war for the peace of the settlements."

According to Israeli media, the number of soldiers refusing to serve had reached 147 at the start of the week. A Likud minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, has called for the soldiers to be stripped of their ranks and released from the army.

The heightened espousal of the "transfer" idea also parallels a surge of extremism within Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and an increase in Palestinian support for Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement that advocates Israel's replacement by an Islamic state.

Mr. Elon is part of a seven-member bloc in the Knesset known as the National Union-Israel Beiteinu, among whose legislators statements of sympathy for the idea of expelling Arabs have been increasing in recent months. Right-wing rabbis allied to the settler movement have also issued a series of writings advocating expulsions and, in one case, leveling entire Palestinian villages as a deterrent to suicide bombings.

And within Sharon's Likud party, a plan has been put forward by legislator Michael Eitan to erect high fences around each of the Palestinian self-rule enclaves. "We are not talking about ghettos, people will be able to enter and exit through a security gate," explains Yossi Yair, an aide to Mr. Eitan.

Tom Segev, a left-wing commentator, says "the idea of transfer is very embedded in original Zionist ideology and was very much on the minds of some of the fathers of modern Israel, such as David Ben-Gurion. The idea has been very central, but usually it was not conceived of as violent."

He says Chaim Weizman, a Zionist leader prominent in the 1930s and 1940s, played with the idea of raising money to pay Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia to take the Palestinians in. The transfer idea receded after Israeli statehood and during and after the 1967 Middle East war there was a sense that the expulsions of 1948 should not be repeated, Segev says.

Segev says frequent Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians since the latest confrontation broke out in Sept. 2000 "have made it legitimate for Israelis not only to hate Arabs but to wish them away. I'm afraid this idea does have a chance to catch on."

Sharon, he says, "is capable of initiating transfer as part of a war. He can expel whole populations. He will say this is necessary and that the Arabs brought it on themselves."

But Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrachi, pointing to the letter of the army reservists, says there is "no way" a mass expulsion could be carried out. "They won't have an army to do it. Even if only 10 percent of the soldiers refused, it would paralyze the army."

4. The screw turns, again
Edward Said,
Al-Ahram Weekly, 31 Jan. – 6 Feb. 2002

It falls to the victim to show new paths of resistance, writes Edward Said

History has no mercy. There are no laws in it against suffering and cruelty, no internal balance that restores a people much sinned against to their rightful place in the world. Cyclical views of history have always seemed to me flawed for that reason, as if the turning of the screw means that present evil can later be transformed into good. Nonsense.

Turning the screw of suffering means more suffering, and not a path to salvation. The most frustrating thing about history, however, is that so much in it escapes language, escapes attention and memory altogether. Historians have therefore resorted to metaphors and poetic figures to fill in the spaces. And this is why the first great historian, Herodotus, was also known as the Father of Lies: so much in what he wrote embellished and, to a great extent also, concealed the truth. That it is the powers of his imagination that make him so great a writer, not the vast number of facts he deployed.

Living in the United States at this moment is a terrible experience. While the main media and the government echo each other about the Middle East, there are alternative views available through the Internet, the telephone, satellite channels, and the local Arabic and Jewish press. Nevertheless, so far as what is readily available to the average American is drowned in a storm of media pictures and stories almost completely cleansed of anything in foreign affairs but the patriotic line issued by the government, the picture is a startling one. America is fighting the evils of terrorism. America is good, and anyone who objects is evil and anti-American. Resistance against America, its policies, its arms and ideas is little short of terrorist.

What I find just as startling is that influential and, in their own way, sophisticated American foreign policy analysts keep saying that they cannot understand why the whole world (and the Arabs and Muslims in particular) will not accept the American message. And why the rest of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, persists in its criticism of American policies in Afghanistan; for renouncing six international treaties unilaterally, for its total, unconditional support of Israel, for its astonishingly obdurate policy on prisoners of war. The difference between realities as perceived by Americans on the one hand and by the rest of the world on the other, is so vast and irreconcilable as to defy description.

Words alone are inadequate to explain how an American secretary of state, who presumably has all the facts at his command, can without a trace of irony accuse Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not doing enough against terror and for buying 50 tons of arms to defend his people, while Israel is supplied with everything that is most lethally sophisticated in the American arsenal at no expense to Israel. (At the same time, it needs to be said that PLO handling of the Karine A incident has been incompetent and bungling beyond even its own poor standards.) Meanwhile, Israel has Arafat locked up in his Ramallah headquarters, his people totally imprisoned, leaders assassinated, innocents starved, the sick dying, life completely paralyzed -- and yet the Palestinians are accused of terrorism.

The idea, much less the reality, of a 35-year military occupation has simply slid away from the media and the US government alike. Do not be surprised tomorrow if Arafat and his people are accused of besieging Israel while blockading its citizens and towns. No, those are not Israeli planes bombing Tulkarm and Jenin, those are Palestinian terrorists wearing wings, and those are Israeli towns being bombed.

As for Israel in the US media, its spokesmen have become so practiced at lying, creating falsehoods the way a sausage-maker makes sausages, that nothing is beyond them. Yesterday, I heard an Israel Defense (even the name sticks in one's throat) Ministry official answering an American reporter's questions about house destruction in Rafah: those were empty houses, he said, without hesitation; they were terrorist nests used for killing Israeli citizens; we have to defend Israeli citizens against Palestinian terror. The journalist didn't even refer to the occupation, or to the fact that the "citizens" were settlers. As for the several hundred poor homeless Palestinians whose pictures appeared fleetingly in the US media after the (American-made) bulldozers had done their demolition, they were gone from memory and awareness completely.

As for the Arab non-response, that has exceeded in disgrace and shamefulness the already abysmally low standards set by our governments for the past 50 years. Such a callous silence, such a stance of servility and incompetence in facing the US and Israel is as astonishing and unacceptable in their own way as what Sharon and Bush are about. Are the Arab leaders so fearful of offending the US that they are willing to accept not only Palestinian humiliation but their own as well? And for what? Simply to be allowed to go on with corruption, mediocrity, and oppression. What a cheap bargain they have made between the furtherance of their narrow interests and American forbearance!

No wonder there is scarcely an Arab alive today for whom the word "regime" connotes more than amused contempt, unadulterated bitterness, and (except for the circle of advisers and sycophants) angry alienation. At least with the recent press conferences by high Saudi officials criticizing US policy towards Israel there is a welcome break in the silence, although the disarray and dysfunction concerning the upcoming Arab summit continues to add to our already well-stocked cupboard of poorly-managed incidents that demonstrate needless disunity and posturing.

I do think that the adjective "wicked" is the correct one here for what is being done to the truth of the Palestinian experience of suffering imposed by Sharon on the West Bank and Gaza collectively. That it cannot adequately be described or narrated. That the Arabs say and do nothing in support of the struggle., That the US is so terrifyingly hostile. That the Europeans are (except for their recent declaration, which has no measures of implementation in it) so useless. All this has driven many of us to despair, I know, and to a kind of hopeless frustration that is one of the results aimed for by Israeli officials and their US counterparts. To reduce people to the heedlessness of not caring anymore, and to make life so miserable as to make it seem necessary to give up life itself, comprise a state of desperation that Sharon clearly wants. This is what he was elected to do and what, if his policies fail, will cause him to lose his office, whereupon Netanyahu will be brought in to try to finish the same dreadful and inhuman (but ultimately suicidal) task.

In the face of such a situation, passivity and helpless anger -- even a kind of bitter fatalism -- are, I truly believe, inappropriate intellectual and political responses. Examples to the contrary still abound. Palestinians have neither been intimidated nor persuaded to give up, and that is a sign of great will and purpose. From that point of view, all Israel's collective measures and constant humiliation have proved ineffective; as one of their generals put it, stopping the resistance by besieging Palestinians is like trying to drink the sea with a spoon.

It just doesn't work. But having taken note of that, I also firmly believe that we have to go beyond stubborn resistance toward a creative one, beyond the tired old methods for defying the Israelis but not sufficiently advancing Palestinian interests in the process. Take decision-making as a simple case in point. It's all very well for Arafat to sit out his own imprisonment in Ramallah and to repeat endlessly that he wants to negotiate, but it just is not a political program, nor is its personal style sufficient to mobilize his people as well as his allies. Certainly it is good to take note of the European declaration in support of the PA, but surely it is more important to say something about the Israeli reservists who refused service on the West Bank and Gaza. Without identifying and trying to work in concert with Israeli resistance to Israeli oppression, we are still standing at square one.

The point, of course, is that every turning of the screw of cruel collective punishment dialectically creates a new space for new kinds of resistance, of which suicide bombing is simply not a part, any more than Arafat's personal style of defiance (all too reminiscent of what he said 20 and 30 years ago in Amman and Beirut and Tunis) is new. It isn't new and it isn't up to what is now being done by opponents of Israel's military occupation in both Palestine and Israel. Why not make a specific point of singling out Israeli groups who have opposed house demolitions, or apartheid, or assassinations, or any of the lawless displays of Israeli macho bullying? There is no way that the occupation is going to be defeated unless Palestinian and Israeli efforts work together to end the occupation, in specific and concrete ways. And that, therefore, means that Palestinian groups (with or without the PA's guidance) have to take initiatives that they have been shy of taking (because of understandable fears of normalization), initiatives that actively solicit and involve Israeli resistance as well as European, Arab and American resistance. In other words, with the disappearance of Oslo, Palestinian civil society has been released from that fraudulent peace process's strictures, and this new empowerment means going beyond such traditional interlocutors as the now completely discredited Labour Party and its hangers-on, in the direction of more courageous, innovative anti-occupation drives. If the PA wants to keep calling on Israel to return to the negotiating table, that's fine, of course, if any Israelis can be found to sit there with the PA. But that doesn't mean that Palestinian NGOs have to repeat the same chorus, or that they have to keep worrying about normalization, which was all about normalization with the Israeli state, not progressive currents and groups in its civil society that actively support real Palestinian self-determination and the end of occupation, of settlements, of collective punishment.

Yes, the screw turns, but it not only brings more Israeli repression, it also dialectically reveals new opportunities for Palestinian ingenuity and creativity. There are already considerable signs of progress (noted in my last column) in Palestinian civil society: an intensified focus on them is
required, especially as fissures in Israeli society disclose a frightened, closed-off and horrifyingly
insecure populace badly in need of awakening. It always falls to the victim, not the oppressor, to show new paths for resistance, and the signs are that Palestinian civil society is beginning to take the initiative. This is an excellent omen in a time of despondency and instinctual retrogression.

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