As you sow, so shall you reap

Israel is a militaristic state. For many years[1] now, it has ranked first in the Global Militarisation Index (GMI). By way of contrast, the USA ranks twenty-seventh, the UK seventy-seventh. The GMI bases its rankings on a set of quantifiable indicators, for example, GMI compares a country’s military expenditure with its Gross Domestic Product, and its health expenditure.  Notwithstanding this ranking, it seems to me insufficient evidence to justify what amounts to the charge laid down in my opening sentence: ‘Israel is a militaristic state’.

Militarism is not simply a matter of having armed forces, nor even the fact that a state might take pride in them. Rather, militarism is the expression, and propagation, of a totalising ethical, cultural, economic and political ethos such that the military, and ‘the military way’[2] of thinking, is the prism through which the world is viewed. Jeff Harper in War Against the People puts it thus:

Encapsulated in symbols, narratives, rituals, holidays, educational curricula and political discourse internalised by generations of Israeli Jews and reinforced by nearly universal military service, cultural militarism has become part of the natural order in Israel.

With the establishment of Israel in 1948:

Militarism was officially entrenched in Israeli culture and policy-making. The army became the primary instrument of nation building. Identification with the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] would define and mobilise “Israel-ness”…For Ben-Gurion, [Israel’s first Prime Minister]  Israel as a “nation-in-arms” should foster “a desire to fight and an ability to fight…Israel’s military culture keeps its populace in a constant state of mobilisation.”

It is because the ‘military way’ is Israel’s default setting, justifying both its existence and any action – vile and violent though they may be – that the charge of militarism can be sustained. Israel is a militaristic state.

Militarism, as a totalising system, must maintain and reproduce itself.  Special heed, therefore, is to be paid to the state’s young, in particular its Jewish young, for it is they that must – must! – carry forward the State’s ethnonationalist project of Jewish supremacy.

A key objective of the Israeli education system, the Jewish education system, is to prepare the young – from the very, very young through to the high school graduate – for military service; to prepare them for combat, for readiness to fulfil their role as controllers of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In other words, readiness to control Palestinians, children, women and men.  

August 20, 2021. Dir Jarir. Text and Photographs: David Shulman

‘Can a handful of adolescent criminals destroy an entire village? Yes, easily. Sadiq and Faris tell us the stories of the last few days…To put things simply: these shepherds and farmers are being relentlessly pushed farther and farther westward, away from their lands. We are talking about privately owned Palestinian land, with documents of ownership going back as far as Ottoman times—which means, Abu Rafa’ tells me, that they go back to the beginning of time.’

Touching Photographs

Dawn at Dir Jarir. One herd of sheep is already out on the hills with Khairi’s son. They’re grazing not so far from the noxious outpost of Maaleh Ahuvia, but for now things are quiet. No settlers in sight. That sentence reveals the story of Dir Jarir. Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight, and all the hours in between– demented teenage settlers can turn up at any moment, in the Palestinian fields, in their makeshift tents, and even in their homes. They threaten and bully them, often they beat them, and always they invade their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and grazing grounds, wreaking havoc. The shepherds and farmers live in a state of terror, and the apparatus of the State is unwilling to intervene. There are good reasons to think that the army in the area stands with the settlers. The police are reluctant to come to Dir Jarir without an army…

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Israel’s voracious appetite

An inherent, defining feature of Zionism, and therefore of the Israeli state, is its appetite.  An unrelenting, voracious appetite for that which is not theirs to consume: Palestinian land.  Zionism is this appetite, an appetite not capable of satiation until all – or practically all – Palestinian land has been consumed and digested by the Jewish state.

And what of those which the Israeli state finds indigestible – Palestinians – yet remain so naggingly present?  Well, they must be ‘encouraged’ to leave or accept a lesser life under the tutelage of the self-avowedly ethnonationalist Jewish state.  The state that is feted, funded, endorsed and protected by other states able, without blushing, to proclaim their commitment to democratic principles.

How to convey?

The means to convey what this unrelenting appetite for Palestinian land means in practice are so limited: words, pictures, personal testaments, sharing narratives of courage and resistance, all attempting to evoke the felt experience of, for example, the residents of Sheikh Jarrar threatened with eviction; the Bedouin attacked daily by settlers; of homes and the means to support livelihoods repeatedly destroyed by the Israel Defence Force – so inaptly and inaccurately titled –  working alongside Israel’s Border Police named thus, perhaps with paradoxical intent, since Israel has yet to formally agree its borders.

Israel, as I have elsewhere remarked, is the land of smoke and mirrors, of sleight of hand – little if anything is as on the surface it seems.

Except of course the iron fist, the ‘live’ bullet, the rubber-coated bullet, the tear gas cannister, the skunk water cannon, the handheld baton to beat unprotected Palestinian flesh. Here there is no sleight of hand, no smoke and mirrors, merely raw violence exerted by a militarised, hegemonic society intent on spacio-cide – clearing the land of as many indigenous Palestinians as it can. For the Israeli state, this is work in progress.  

ICAHD UK reports: ‘The Palestinian herding community of Humsa Al-Bqai’a (Khirbet Hamsa in Hebrew) was demolished yet again by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) on Wednesday, 7th July 2021 following previous demolitions in November 2020 and February 2021….

On Wednesday the ICA, accompanied by the military, held the residents at gunpoint and told them that they were to get on a bus and leave immediately but they refused. Therefore, the ICA proceeded to demolish a total of 27 structures including homes, animal shelters, and water tanks. All personal belongings were confiscated as were their food supplies and water. The residents were left without even milk for their children or fodder for their 4000 sheep.

Eleven households, comprising around 70 people, including 36 children, were left without shelter in yesterday’s scorching heat that reached 39 degrees C.  Included in the demolition was destruction of humanitarian aid that had been provided by donors including NGOs, EU Humanitarian Aid and European countries including the UK.’

June 11, 2021: Taybeh Junction. Texts and Photographs: David Shulman

‘I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.’
A haunting evocation of the evil Israel daily visits upon Palestinian Bedouins counterpoised by the quiet courage and persistence of those that resist it.

Touching Photographs

I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.

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State policy: dispossession, displacement, demolition

A state founded on an oxymoron – that Israel can be both democratic and yet in the exclusive control of one ethnonationalist group, in this case Israeli Jews – is unlikely to have a developed sense of irony. Irony, after all, requires, at a bare minimum, a capacity to notice a contradiction when it’s staring you in the face; and, more particularly, when you yourself are its author.

Certainly, Israel’s Foreign Minister appears to be a stranger to the ironic sense. As reported in Ha’aretz newspaper, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, is very angry – outraged in fact – with the Polish government. The Poles have passed a law that will prevent Jews from claiming the property they had to leave behind when fleeing the Nazi Occupation of 1939.  After the war that property was retained by the post-war communist regime.  And the current Polish Government intends to retain, without compensation, that property still. ‘This law is immoral’, the Israeli minister fulminated, ‘No law will change history. This is a disgrace that will not erase the horrors …’.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, back in the democratic, Jewish state, it has fashioned its own outrages. As the Ha’aretz correspondent, B. Michael, points out, if the Poles want to deprive people of their property, it should have sought to emulate Israel’s Absentee Property Law which does a more thorough job than does the Polish version. This law, passed in 1950, defines as ‘absentees’ people who were expelled, who fled, or who left the country – i.e. Palestinians – after 29 November 1947 as a result of the 1948 war that established the Israeli state. Those defined as absentees lose any rights to the property they owned within the newly founded state.  It legalises the theft of Palestinian property, placing it in the hands of the Israeli state and connected agencies for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews. 

Present absentees

But that move alone was not sufficient from the state’s perspective. In addition to the 750,000 Palestinians who left land, homes and property to find refuge in neighbouring countries, there were a significant number of Palestinians who were ‘internally displaced’, that is, they fled their original homes in what became Israel in 1948, but fled to other villages and towns that were within the boundaries of the new Israeli state.  

Internally displaced people in Israel are also known as ‘present absentees’ normally a contradiction in terms, which rather takes us back to the oxymoronic nature of the Jewish State. This is further exemplified by the fact that ‘present absentees’ have Israeli citizenship, but no right to live in the homes that they own. In normal circumstances the status ‘citizen’ would refer to, among other matters, a substantive body of rights held in common with other citizens.  This clearly is not the case here. 

The State of Israel has a right to exist…doesn’t it?

The ending of the latest fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in particular Hamas, has drawn attention yet again to the need for an end to over 70 years of conflict and this, it is said, requires a two state solution. I have explained in previous articles why it is that a two state solution is a chimera, but the possibility that others may explore it raises issues about the nature of a state.

In what sense does the state of Israel have rights and, if it does, how do they compare with the rights which a state of Palestine should have? Indeed, can states have rights? And how might such rights compare or conflict with human rights?

States and rights

States do not, cannot, have rights.  Yet it is a fundamental plank of Israel’s claim to legitimacy that it – the Israeli State – has a right to exist.  The Israeli claim goes further: Israel asserts that it has the right to exist as a specifically Jewish State.  These claims, deployed by Israel and its allies, in particular the USA and EU, act as a form of camouflage, concealing Israel’s rooted unwillingness to work towards justice in Palestine/Israel.  

Usually camouflage is deployed to conceal weaponry or key installations, but in the case of the assertion that the Israeli State has the right to exist, what is concealed is not weaponry, but the absence of a sustainable, coherent idea. A bit like the Wizard of Oz where the wizard is seen to be non-existent, Israel’s right to exist, when considered, is similarly pointing at an empty construct. And this has nothing to do with Israel as such and everything to do with what it means to say an entity – a State or organisation – has rights. 

A state, an abstract construction, is not capable of having rights though all people living within a state’s territory do, or should have human rights. It is the prospect of equal human rights for all that discomforts Israel.

We can apply a real-life test to the proposition that a state cannot meaningfully be said to have rights.

The United Kingdom claims no right to exist

Within the United Kingdom, one of its component parts, Scotland, is debating whether it wishes to remain part of the UK, or to declare its independence as a Scottish State.  Similarly, there are currents of opinion in Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed Cornwall, that favour divorce from the UK State, and hope for independence. Such aspirations may or may not be achievable, that is not the point.  So far as I’m aware, no charges of sedition have been laid against proponents of these fissiparous tendencies, nor has it been claimed the UK State has any rights that might be infringed by this prospective contraction of its borders.  Implementation of any one of the potential scenarios above would mean that the UK State, as currently constituted, would no longer exist. And of course history, even recent history, has examples of state formation and state dissolution.

When is the death of a child acceptable? An open letter from Dr Sara Roy to President Biden

I had intended that my next post – this one! – would take a look at ‘Israel’s right to exist’, a key phrase in the armory of the Israeli State. But I’ve deferred that subject to the next blog, and that because I happened upon the open letter to President Biden from Dr Sara Roy published by Counterpunch. Her letter is succinct, direct, heartfelt, but invested with moral authority. And timely.

Dr Sara Roy is an American political economist and scholar. She is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Both her parents survived the Holocaust, but 100 members of her extended family did not. Her father, Abraham, was one of the two known survivors of the Chelmno extermination camp, while her mother, Taube, survived Halbstadt (Gross Rosen) and Auschwitz. While confined in the Lodz ghetto she endeavoured to hide children destined for deportation to the Nazi extermination camps, but they were seized and despatched to Auschwitz.

Dear President Biden,

I am writing to you about Gaza, a place that I have studied and written about for the last 35 years, a place that I consider another home, filled with the kindest and most generous people you will ever meet—have you ever been there? But I am writing not only as a scholar of the region but as a Jew and one whose parents survived Auschwitz.

I have a question for you, Mr. President: When is the death of a child acceptable? Or perhaps I should ask the question this way: When does the death of a Palestinian child become unacceptable? You have experienced the unspeakable loss of your own children so you are better placed than most to answer my questions.

Last week after 87 Palestinians in Gaza were killed and over 500 wounded you stated that you had not seen a “significant overreaction” on Israel’s part to Hamas’s rocket attacks.  Among the dead at that time were 18 children. I did not know any of them but I know people who do. Would you please help me explain to my friends why the death of these 18 children does not constitute an overreaction?  This brings up another question I have for you, Mr. President: How many children must die in Gaza before you would consider Israel’s response excessive particularly since you have made human rights the center of your foreign policy? I need to know so that I can explain it to my friends. As I write this, over 60 Palestinian children have been killed by the government of Israel. Is that enough to qualify?

I know people inside our government who work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I need to tell you something I heard from one of them about the death of Gaza’s children. This individual implied that some of the dead were likely the children of Hamas officials so their deaths don’t really matter, that is, their deaths are acceptable. Is this the answer to my first question? Should this be the way I explain it to my friends? Please help me out here.

It is tragic that after more than three decades of research and writing, I still find it necessary to argue for the humanity of Palestinians, even to you.

One more thing before I end this letter if you’ll indulge me. It is about my mom. When she was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto during the Holocaust, she risked her life hiding children who were chosen for deportation to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The Nazis eventually found the children and sent them to their deaths.  But my mom tried to save them even though she knew she was powerless to do so. And I can assure you, knowing her and learning from her as I did throughout my life, she would have done the same for any child under threat, Jewish or Christian or Muslim. She would have been horrified by the senseless killing of children in this terrible conflict, both Palestinian and Israeli, and she would have railed at the injustice of it all. And this is my last question for you: Why haven’t you done the same?

Sincerely,

Dr. Sara Roy

First hand report from Jaffa

I thought readers of this blog may be interested in a piece by Matan Kaminer, a Jewish Israeli anthropologist and political activist living in the ‘mixed’ city of Jaffa. Matan reflects on the situation in Jaffa and the larger meaning of the crisis, arguing that it serves the Israeli far right’s agenda of eroding the already fragile fabric of joint Jewish–Palestinian life. The article was originally published in Jewish Currents.

These last few days in Jaffa, the most centrally located and deeply unequal of Israel’s mixed Jewish–Arab cities, a tense quiet has prevailed. The intercommunal mayhem that engulfed mixed cities like Acre and Lod since Israel’s horrific attack on the Gaza Strip began last week has for the most part passed us by. To even speak of what might have happened, and still might, seems like courting misfortune. But if the worst is to be averted, it must be imagined and faced head-on.

The conflagration within Israel’s 1948 borders, while unexpected, did not erupt spontaneously. The Jewish residents of the mixed cities have for years been targeted for proselytization by garinim toraniim—“Torah nuclei,” or groups of extremist West Bank settlers whose guru, Meir Kahane, is also the hero of street-brawling groups like Lehava and La Familia. The involvement of Palestinian residents in the indefensible destruction of Jewish lives, livelihoods, and places of worship as part of this violence should not be ignored or glorified. But the arrival of armed settlers in the mixed cities, Netanyahu’s framing of the troubles as Arab “terrorism,” the criminal justice system’s completely lopsided response, and the police’s naked provocations all point in the direction of a strategic agenda being served: ethnic cleansing, known euphemistically in Israel as “population transfer.” Netanyahu’s recent courting of Kahanism, through his promotion of the far-right Religious Zionism party, explicitly legitimates this agenda.

In a way, this is nothing new. The threat of “transfer” has hung over the heads of the Palestinians who managed to retain their homes in the state of Israel ever since the original ethnic cleansing of 1948. Just a few years ago it was touted by politician Avigdor Liberman—now a darling of anti-Netanyahu centrists—as a way of dealing with the Arab-majority area of Wadi Ara, which abuts the West Bank. But one should not expect the next round of ethnic cleansing to arrive in the familiar guise of camouflaged trucks and shouting soldiers. In the mixed cities, it may take the shape of further provocations by state and parastate actors, calculated to gradually destroy the texture of everyday Palestinian life, which relies on peaceable, if not always harmonious, interaction between Arabs and Jews.

The word “coexistence” is often applied to life in the mixed cities, but local activists are hesitant to use this simplistic term, which is all too often abused by romanticizing tourist agencies and see-no-evil dialogue groups. This tissue of common life is a scar over the broken flesh of previously lively urban centers, a direct result of the corralling of those Palestinians who managed to survive the Nakba into cramped ghettos. The foundational violence of 1948 has continued to mar the social life of these cities, many of which were packed after the war with Jewish immigrants nearly as poor as the locals. As in many other places around the world, here the effects of capitalism and racism are compounded through gentrification, and its slow violence has made survival even more difficult for residents of the sought-after beachfront neighborhoods of Jaffa. Braving poverty and discrimination, the Palestinian residents of the mixed cities have refused to budge, practicing sumud, the Palestinian national value of steadfastness. But here, where Arabs and Jews live in close proximity, patronize each other’s businesses, and even undertake cultural projects together, connections with Jews have been central pillars of the Palestinian strategy for survival.

The long-standing links between the mixed cities’ Palestinian communities and the Israeli Jewish left have given rise to political initiatives that play a role in protecting these communities from the combined violence of state and market. Most prominent in recent years has been the Tel Aviv/Jaffa municipal political party City for All, led by Jewish Knesset member Dov Khenin of the majority-Palestinian party Hadash (now part of the Arab-led Joint List). During its heyday as an effective opposition to the city’s neoliberal mayor Ron Huldai, City for All managed to secure an informal moratorium on the eviction of Arab Jaffans from housing that had been confiscated from Palestinian refugees and held by the public corporation Amidar. Along with a few other pockets—the higher education system, the hospitals—the mixed cities have become small islands of common living in what has become, since the beginning of the Oslo process, a sea of total segregation.

The mixed cities thus make a doubly attractive target for the far right in government and its parastate allies: Not only do their trapped Palestinian populations make for relatively easy targets, but their very existence represents the possibility of Jews and Arabs living together, a possibility these groups would like to eradicate. To an extent, they have already succeeded. As a Jew who has lived in Jaffa for over a decade, I had never felt the slightest concern about interactions in public spaces before this week. If I am now more cautious, how much more frightened must my Palestinian neighbors be, knowing that if conflict breaks out the police will not come to their aid as they would come to mine?

God willing, soon the attack on Gaza will end. But if Netanyahu’s jingoistic strategy succeeds in keeping him in power—as it probably will—then we can expect the onslaught on the mixed cities to continue, with the aim of pushing local Palestinian communities away from prime real estate and deeper into isolated ghettos, and destroying the texture of joint life. The emergency committee for self-defense established by the Palestinian community in Jaffa understands this, and has reached out to Jewish allies, who have responded warmly. The threat to sumud here is as dire as it has been in decades, but this community will not be destroyed without a fight.

The original wound

The original wound is still raw – septic. Yet the work of wounding continues, daily, without let, without hindrance.

The original wound

The original wound was inflicted in 1948 – the Naqba (Catastrophe) marking the expulsion of the settled, indigenous inhabitants of Palestine from their homes and land.  The methods: Intimidation and brute force at the service of the ethnic cleansing project that was, and still is, the modus operandi of the Israeli State. 

The State of Israel, a colonial and colonising State – a peculiar, almost ahistorical aberration seemingly out of time with the wider world where, for example, European countries were beginning to glimpse and face up to the inevitability of having to relinquish their colonial possessions. Israel – history in reverse.  Out of time.

Starting here, with the unhealed wound of 1948, alerts us to what has too often been obscured, that Occupation and Colonisation did not start in 1967, after the Six Day War. It started in 1948.

Between 1948 and 1967, Israel worked, as it still works, to erase Palestinian history. A patina of contrived forgetfulness lays upon the land. Walk where you will, look where you will, and you’ll not be far from a forest or institution, the presence of which masks, and is designed to mask, the Palestinian village or cemetery destroyed by Israel. Be that the Jewish National Fund’s South African Forest – billed an ecological-conservation-motivated project – which overlays the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya; or by Tel Aviv’s coastline, at the site of what is now the Etzel Museum, which was once part of the Palestinian village of al-Manshiyyah. Then there is Al-Shaykh Muwannis, which abuts the campus of Tel Aviv University. Down the road a large building that was once part of the Palestinian village is now a faculty club.

Where you walk in Israel, you walk on injustice.  This original wound has festered for seventy-three years and counting.

The perpetual wounding

Israel did not have to hold on to the West Bank, Gaza, still less East Jerusalem after the 1967 war. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported Senator Fulbright’s 1970 proposal ‘that America should guarantee Israel’s security in a formal treaty, protecting her with armed forces if necessary. In return, Israel would retire to the borders of 1967.…As Israeli troops were withdrawn from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank they would be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force. Israel would agree to accept a certain number of Palestinians and the rest would be settled in a Palestinian state outside Israel.’ 

But the wounding continued. The strategic Israeli aim of acquiring and retaining Palestinian land, but removing as many Palestinians from it as possible, has been and continues to be the principle and reference point of Israeli policy. What began in 1948 continues. It is now fifty-four years and counting, of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The Israelisation of British politics

It should be a matter of the gravest concern. A concern for the integrity of British politics.  A concern over and above those we have about the diverse causes we support.  

When it comes to thinking about, speaking about, using one’s best judgment about Israel and Palestine, too many of our politicians behave with the integrity of a pre-programmed talking machine. Forget human rights, international and humanitarian law, the evidence of any number of authoritative witnesses; and even the testimony of one’s own eyes and knowledge, all this counts for nothing once the censoring pro-Zionist lobby gets to work. This lobby’s purpose is to direct and shape all public speech about Israel.  This lobby has contaminated British political life, curtailing what may be said about Israel in the public realm.

Labour’s shame

Thus we have the sorry sight of Kier Starmer, Labour Party leader, withdrawing from a virtual Ramadan interfaith event after a pro-Israel lobby group alerted him to the organiser’s support for the boycott of Israeli dates produced in territories occupied by the Zionist state.

Note here that the dates proposed for boycott are grown in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, not in Israel proper.  In other words, grown on stolen Palestinian land. 

Despite initially agreeing to take part in the event, Starmer pulled out after the Board of Deputies, a pro-Israel lobby group, alerted him to the organisers’ Tweeted comments supporting the boycott of dates produced on Occupied Palestinian land.  The Board of Deputies’ Tal Ofer tweeted he was ‘glad to see that after I raised this issue Keir Starmer withdrew his participation from the event.’

The Muslim Association of Britain, however, was ‘disappointed’ to hear that the Labour leader had pulled out ‘due to the host’s support for boycotting dates grown in Israeli settlements’.

MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) in condemning the withdrawal said:

‘Numerous UN resolutions have affirmed that settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are in breach of international law. Meanwhile, support for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against goods grown on illegal settlements or through other means deemed in contempt of international law are a legitimate form of democratic activism to promote peaceful change, regardless of where in the world such acts are being committed’.