Category Archives: Palestine

Seismic shift: Authoritative Israeli human rights organisation brands Israel an Apartheid State

It’s as good as official: Israeli human rights group – B’tselem – defines Israel an Apartheid State. Other organisations have made that evidence-based judgment, not least the UN and Al-Haq, but the B’tselem report has special significance – it represents a radical break in its previous position and implcitly calls to account those that have given Israel comfort by treating it as a normal state.

My posts have unfailingly labelled Israel a racist, Apartheid State. And over a number of postings I have presented evidence to support that designation.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that, for many, it’s a designation too far, not least for some at the liberal end of the political spectrum. 

To a significant extent liberal thought, along with its Zionist liberal variant, generally revolves around what are considered universal values: human rights, political, civil and religious rights for all, in this case understood as mutual entitlements both for Palestinians and for Jews.  In the abstract, there is little of contention here, but in the brute light of history and the day-to-day lived experience of Palestinians under Israeli rule, these precepts amount to no more than wishful thinking. 

The historical distinction: The Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel proper

A key aspect of some liberal thinking, and indeed of more centrist thought, is that a distinction must be made between Israel proper (i.e. Israel within the Green Line) and its Occupation of Palestinian territory, i.e. Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  This distinction forms what might be called the ‘standard paradigm’ within which Palestine/Israel questions have traditionally been considered.  There is Israel, and there is the OPT.  Israel is a democratic State – so it says of itself – and there is Israel in the OPT.  It shouldn’t be there, of course, but, according to the standard paradigm, the ‘solution’ to that state of affairs is to hand: Israel must withdraw from the OPT. 

Thus far the conventional approach – the standard paradigm – has not paid too much attention to what goes on within Israel, specifically as it affects its non-Jewish citizens and residents, but focuses on, and works to counter, human rights abuses in the OPT; and to press for an end to the Occupation. 

No distinction: an alternative paradigm

But what happens if the standard paradigm is wrong? Or at least, were it ever right, it is wrong now, and has been for some time. If the paradigm is wrong or outdated, then it becomes not a tool for thought, but a constraint upon it. 

Facts on the ground have for some time made redundant the idea that there is a firm distinction to be drawn between Israel proper and the OPT. Israel’s writ runs throughout both territories; on both sides of the Green Line, that writ is a racist, Apartheid one.  For a range of motives and reasons, this characterisation of the Israeli State has been unpalatable for many. 

Those reasons and motives need not detain us in this post, but the reluctance to stare reality in the face results in, and is based on, denial, this perhaps particularly the case for those I’ve characterised as of liberal persuasion. From this perspective, Israel’s often acknowledged misdeeds, misbehaviours and cruelties can be laid at the door of the Occupation. It is the Occupation that is the mutant gene, corrupting an otherwise healthy Israeli body politic. Ending the Occupation, therefore, is conceived as a salve that, once administered, will create the conditions for the restoration of the ‘true’ Israel, the fabled democratic state that resides in a ‘tough neighbourhood’. 

Seismic shif

In what amounts to a seismic shift in thinking and analysis, the well-regarded, authoritative B’tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – has declared Israel a racist, Apartheid State; a State that controls the entirety of the territory bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan: Israel proper, the OPT and East Jerusalem.

Historically, B’tselem devoted itself to documenting Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights but only in the OPT – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – but not in Israel proper within the Green Line demarcation border. It has now come to a different analysis, this based on documented facts on the ground. 

‘A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid’

Under the heading set out above, B’tselem explains:

The common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area [between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River], separated by the Green Line….

…Over time, the distinction between the two regimes has grown divorced from reality…. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now reside in permanent settlements east of the Green Line, living as though they were west of it. East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel’s sovereign territory, and the West Bank has been annexed in practice.

Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. All this leads to the conclusion that…There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.

It goes on to say:

In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians….

Jewish citizens live as though the entire area were a single space (excluding the Gaza Strip). The Green Line means next to nothing for them: whether they live … within Israel’s sovereign territory, or east of it, [in illegally held territory] is irrelevant to their rights or status.Where Palestinians live, on the other hand, is crucial….The geographic space, which is contiguous for Jews, is a fragmented mosaic for Palestinians…

…A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. Israeli apartheid, which promotes the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians…is a process that has gradually grown more institutionalized and explicit, with mechanisms introduced over time in law and practice to promote Jewish supremacy. These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive – all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.

A change in the ethical grammar

Robert A. H. Cohen, in his reliably excellent blog, is clear that the B’tselem report changes not only the acceptable vocabulary on Palestine/Israel but also the ‘ethical grammar’ which hitherto has both shielded and sustained Israel.

Israel is and has been sustained through massive financial support from the USA and the EU, along with close military and ‘security’ cooperation; joint arms’ development and sales; and protected from criticism by demonising Israel-critical speech as prima facie anti-Semitic.

The B’tselem report implicitly calls into question the role the political class has played in turning a blind eye, and cosying up to, Israel.  It similarly calls to account all those organsations and individuals – civil society – that have given Israel comfort, not least by treating it as a normal State.

The B’tselem report blows a hole through many of the policies and practices designed to neutralise or vanquish criticism of Israel.  The Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, for example, will presumably need to take pause to consider, and attempt to refine, their approach to defending Israel. The Labour Party Leader, Keir Starmer, may come to feel he has misstepped in his handling of the of anti-Semitism issue within the labour Party. Or at least he should.

The Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, may feel the ground has been cut from beneath his feet in his attempt to force universities to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Memorial Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, along with examples of what may indicate anti-Semitism. One of those examples I discussed in an earlier blogDenying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. In the light of the B’tselem report, how can it now feasibly be suggested that Israel is not an Apartheid, racist State?  And on what ground now does the oft-critiqued IHRA defintion of anti-Semitism stand – quicksand?

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Then there is the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it also the subject to vilification and threats.  The B’tselem report draws a parallel – not an exact one, but sufficient for the purpose – between the Israel Apartheid State and what was the South African Apartheid State.

BDS played a significant role in isolating that regime, and by doing so aided its demise.  This surely, then, is the moment when those who have offered Israel the benefit of the doubt, in part because they based their analysis on what I have called the standard paradigm, need to reappraise both their analysis and the actions that may be required of them.

BDS is a significant tool in the struggle against Israel’s State-induced oppression and needs to be more widely supported. It’s always struck me as odd that many of those who actively opposed South African Apartheid, not least by supporting the BDS campaign of its day, have been somehow quesy about supporting its current iteration in respect of Israel’s Apartheid State.

Turning a blind eye, not confronting the reality – the humiliations, brutalisations, home demolitions, killings that Palestinians daily endure – can no longer be an option.

Endword

To coin a phrase: There is an elephant in the room that this blog occupies.  

The B’tselem analysis rests upon the fact that there is but one regime that governs both Israel within the Green Line, and Palestinians within the OPT, including annexed East Jerusalem.  The elephant therefore thinks it inevitable that we ask ‘What of the two State ‘solution’? Is it tenable? Was it ever really tenable? And if it is not now tenable, what is the way forward for justice within Palestine/Israel?

I think this needs to be the subject of the next post.

So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part One

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maitenance requires much effort.

This is the first of two articles, the second to be published next Monday, 28 December. This first one discusses Israel’s strenuous efforts to appear a normal democratic state and the way it has deployed accusations of anti-Semitism to intimidate its critics. The next article will pursue this theme showing how our – the UK and the West’s – commitment to democratic values and free speach are endangered by an over-strident Israel lobby. This post is about a five minute read.

A key objective of the Israeli State is to appear to be a normal state, one adhering to the modalities and conventions associated with a legitimate political entity. Because Israel, in vitally significant ways, does not in fact conform to those modalities and conventions, it must therefore expend much energy and money directed towards creating and sustaining what is, fundamentally, a false image.  The problem with falsity, however, is that it is only effective for as long as the veneer of falsehood is maintained.  Such maintenance requires much effort.

The mechanism deployed by Israel both to eulogise its purported achievements and to intimidate its actual and potential critics is called hasbara.

Hasbara is propaganda directed at an international audience. It aims to influence the conversation so that Israel is portrayed in a positive light. Israel well understands the power of media and works assiduously to shape and direct the narrative on Palestine/Israel matters.  Such is the importance that Israel accords to propaganda that there is a Hasbara Ministry, headed by a government minister.

Hasbara, then, is well resourced, sophisticated and unrelenting. Israel-critical voices are demonised as anti-Semitic, a point I shall return to below. Palestinian voices and perspectives are erased or vilified.  Mainstream western media is shamefully complicit in the marginalisation of Palestinian perspectives.

Hasbara and its local helpmates

To be effective, hasbara must work through locally based groups and organisations – some very influential – who expend much energy patrolling the boundary of what they consider to be acceptable speech about Israel. However, to have extensive reach, upwards towards government and national institutions, and downwards towards local government and civil society – for example football clubs and university student unions – requires a self-reinforcing, unifying theme,  one that, superficially at least, appears manifestly, incontrovertibly, both necessary and true.

In a move of tactical brilliance, it was realised that a highly effective way of intimidating and demonising critical voices was to accuse Israel-critical and Zionist-critical individuals and groups of anti-Semitism. And, indeed, the tactic has been highly effective to the extent that even Jews can be accused of anti-Semitism, which certainly puzzles many of us.

Nevertheless, one would normally expect a degree of caution, not to say scepticism, to be brought to bear when assessing the validity of anti-Semitism charges if only because they are so promiscuously deployed. But no, to be charged is to be guilty, and through a process of demonization critical voices are silenced, hounded and marginalised.

Israel-critical and Zionist-critical analysis and speech is curtailed, in part through self-censorship born of the fear of being publicly vilified; and in part because the platforms – the halls, venues, papers, social media sites  – available for speech are  withdrawn and access debarred. There is a chilling hint here of the Salem witch-hunts whereby certain actions and forms of speech are deemed heretical and must at all costs be both punished and silenced.

Within its own terms, witch hunting has an underpinning rationale which, once accepted, forms the basis of the accusations that follow. One approach was to test the accused’s ability to flawlessly recite a New Testament biblical passage or the Lord’s Prayer. Stumble over a word or words, and the witchcraft charge is confirmed, for only the maliciously deviant are so far from god’s grace that holy words become unspeakable.

Spurious authority: Working definition of anti-Semitism and examples

And so it is that Israel advocates seized on a profoundly weak document – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) flawed and muddled ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism – as the basis for accusations of anti-Semitism. And, via this vehicle, a closed system of thought was instituted based on the assertion that almost all critical speech and writing about Israel and Zionism is, in and of itself, anti-Semitic.

The IHRA’s non-legally binding, working defintion of anti-Semitism:

‘Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’

In the same way as scripture, new or old testament, has an accompanying body of commentary to help elucidate the meaning of the sacred texts, the ‘definition’ had appended to it a concoction of notional ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism to illuminate potential areas of misspeak; that is, where anti-Semitic utterance could be said to have occurred.

Nothing to do with anti-Semitism

But the actual purpose of the IHRA’s so called definition, and a significant number of its notional elucidating examples, have little or nothing to do with countering anti-Semitism but has everything to do with erasing knowledge of Israel’s brutal fifty-two year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, to say nothing of the discrimination Palestinians face within Israel (i.e. as distinct from the occupied territories). 

The tactic here is to weld criticism of Israel to a self-serving set of examples that link Israel-critical and Zionist-critical comment to anti-Semitism, thereby neutering negative comment and analysis, and condemning the critic to obloquy.

There are six highly questionable examples which it is claimed may constitute anti-Semitism. The full list can be found here.  For now, I’ll concentrate on only one:

‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’

In 2018 the Israel Knesset (Parliament) passed the ‘Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People’.  Extracts are given below in italics.

The law’s title actually says it all: Israel is the Nation-State of the Jewish people. This further clarified in the clause:

‘The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.’

Palestinians and non-Jews comprise around 20% of the Israeli population but only Jews have the ‘unique’ right to self-determination. ‘Unique’ equals ‘exclusively.

‘The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.’

Only Jewish immigration, not Palestinian. Palestinian’s have no right to immigrate – or ‘return’ – to Palestine/Israel.  This particularly affects the approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were effectively expelled from their homes and country in the 1948 Naqba ethnic cleansing by the nascent Jewish State.

‘The state’s language is Hebrew not Arabic. 

Notwithstanding around a 20% Arab population.

‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.’

Note the development is of Jewish settlement. The settlements, properly called colonies, are situated on stolen (West Bank) or illegally annexed (East Jerusalem) land. The theft of Palestinian land is carried out with the aid of JCB British, militarised bulldozers, the Israel Defence Forces, and Israeli Border Police.  This process continues and in fact has recently been significantly stepped up. Israel does this with impunity. 

Notwithstanding any other indicators that define Israel a racist endeavour, surely the Basic Law clauses set out above confirm that the current State of Israel’s very foundations are racist, and it acts accordingly.   

Does what I have said here constitute the offence of anti-Semitism?

Next week’s article will discuss the real and present danger current hasbara practices represent to free speech and the need for a unified front against all forms of racism, not simply anti-Semitism. This is both an ethical point, and a pragmatic one.

2019 Eurovision Song Contest – Songwashing occupation, discrimination, apartheid

Tel Aviv is to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest

What’s Tel Aviv like?  This from Business Insider:

‘From the Mediterranean shores of Tel Aviv, Israel’s fraught geopolitical position is almost non-existent. Tourists and locals alike sip Goldstar, Israel’s ubiquitous dark lager, as the waves roll in and out. Children laugh and splash in the water. A group of teens play volleyball as the sun sets.

It feels like a much nicer version of the Jersey Shore: The sand is softer, the water is clearer, and the beer tastes better.’

Tel Aviv, Israel: Tourists eating in outdoor cafe, Tel Aviv Yafo, Israel

Poster child

Tel Aviv is the Israeli state’s poster child, projecting an image of a country that is modern, open, welcoming and, of course, democratic.  But it is only an image, a mirage, a shimmering falsehood that does not in fact exist – certainly not if you’re a Palestinian.

From: Haaretz:

Settler Violence Against Palestinians Is the Escalation to Fear in the West Bank

Rise in attacks against Palestinians likely to continue as army, police, Israeli society stand by passively or encourage attacks

What actually exists is an Apartheid state that has enshrined in law – the Nationality Law – Jewish supremacy.  And lest there be room for doubt about the law’s intent, Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) Member Avi Dichter, a sponsor of the Nationality Law, provided confirmatory commentry: ‘We [Israel] are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizen (sic).’   It is this state that is to host, in May 2019, the Eurovision Song Contest.

Songwashing Continue reading

Palestine/Israel: Reflections on a visit

Extract: War on Want Briefing to MPs

Israel’s use of military force against Palestinian civilians is a prominent feature of its occupation regime. This militarised repression of the Palestinian people extends beyond  the scenes of checkpoints and bombings we have unfortunately become accustomed to; Israel’s military and security services maintain an intense regime of surveillance, physical violence against people, and destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, and properties. Israel’s use of excessive force has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, and has been deemed unlawful by human rights experts. This violence and destruction is made possible by Israel’s trade in arms with dozens of countries, including the UK. Since 2014, the UK Government has approved over £500m worth of military technology and arms exports to Israel, including for weapons of the type used in clear violation of international law.

This means that the UK is providing material support for Israel’s illegal use of force, and is complicit by providing an infrastructure to sustain it through the ongoing trade in arms

From the Occupied Palestine Territory, 23 October – 13 November 2018

Evil is being done here: systemised, institutionalised and unrelenting.  Its manifestations are threefold: physical; bureaucratic; and psychological. The three distinct but interconnected aspects coil, python-like, round the Palestinians, asphyxiating their capacity for agency, all aimed at extinguishing the possibility of hope.  The extinguishment of hope is part of the point: it is an Israeli tactic to embed the idea that it will always be dominant.  To achieve this requires a refinement in the modes of cruelty that can be visited upon people.  This surely is part of the motivation in requiring a person to demolish their own house, a standard practice.

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM

The Israeli authorities have ordered the Palestinian citizen Murad Hsheima, 38, to demolish his own house in Ras al-Amud in Occupied Jerusalem. Otherwise, the municipality would carry out the demolition and force him to pay 60,000 NIS and serve two months in jail. 

Ensuring the house came down

According to Palestinian sources, 19 houses have been demolished in Jerusalem by their owners since the beginning of 2018. The Palestinian Information Center

The overarching aim of the current Israeli regime is the Judaisation of Palestine/Israel – ugly word, ugly concept.  To achieve that purpose a key condition must be met: That the number of Jews in the area controlled by Israel must be greater than the number of Palestinians. That is the rationale and driving motivation of establishing Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land.

In order to achieve the goal of population supremacy, Palestinians need to be removed from their land and properties and/or be corralled into semi-isolated enclaves within which they may constitute a majority but their sovereignty is limited, curtailed by Israeli domination of virtually everything, including receipt of tax remittances, control and withholding of infrastructure (water, utilities, roads, travel routes etc). This stifling of Palestinian life can only be achieved by a sophisticated, multi-layered, physical and psychological attritional war of relentless coercion and control. Continue reading

Palestine/Israel: What oppression looks like

I have just returned from a trip to Palestine/Israel. My purpose: to understand more; to interview/have conversations with people; to report back to those who might already be interested and, fond hope, to encourage more widespread interest – and action. 

The bulk of my time was spent in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), taking the opportunity to have conversations in Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Hebron.

The Palestine/Israel conflict receives relatively sparse coverage in the mainstream media and where it does, coverage seems to me and many others to lean heavily towards an Israeli state narrative that seeks to frame the conflict in terms of  Israel’s security concerns, terrorist threat and the absence of a Palestinian ‘partner for peace’. One aim of this and the next post(s) is to attempt, in however minor a way, to offer a counter narrative that helps illuminate the institutionalised viscousness of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Having said that, most of the examples I offer in these posts cover the West bank and illegally annexed East Jerusalem.

Israel society is, for the present, ensnared in the current regime. This has got to change. 

The one thing the current Israeli regime fears is loss of  international support, in particular of  the USA, UK, and EU.  Israel’s occupation, and it’s colonising programme are utterly dependent on the willingness of the USA, UK, EU to  actively support it (see Trump’s USA, but in fact practically every administration), turn a blind eye, or to offer ritualised statements of regret at this or that incident or policy, with no further consequence. Yet all these countries have to hand the levers that can help contrain, and turn round the worsening situation.  

This post offers a little backround to the conflict, and a few examples of  what Israeli policy means in practice. It’s not pretty.  Subsequent post(s) will offer a commentry on the situation and try to expose some of its essential, underlying features.  

We start in Occupied East Jerusalem:

Hashimi Hotel, Old City (Palestinian) Jerusalem, 25 October 2018. in the part of Jerusalem illegally annexed by Israel in 1967 after the six day war of that year

I’m writing this from the rooftop terrace – by no means a ‘luxury’ terrace, but fine – of the hotel with a view of the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Islam after Mecca and Medina.  The hotel has quite a number of Muslim pilgrims based here.

Jerusalem is awash with a variety of pilgrimage groups from virtually everywhere in the world.  You can’t walk in the Old City without encountering a snake of seemingly welded-together pilgrims on their way to Al Aqsa or, this for Christians, walking the Via Dolarosa  (the Way of Tears) and pausing at each of the Stations of the Cross.  There is also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over what is believed to be the site both of Jesus’s crucifixion and his burial tomb, a site for often emotional veneration.

Jews (my lot, in general terms) are at it too, for they head towards the Wailing Wall which is ‘a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall’.  Together, the entire area incorporating the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Mosque is known as Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif  by Muslims.  This is an area of sharp contention, religious passion and naked political power games, further destabilised by virtue of Israel’s annexation of the city and its own less than commendable agenda. Which I shall no doubt come to.

Welcome?

Not infrequently, one can get a sense of a place, a sense of ‘what’s going on’ by way of a series of vignettes, actual incidents that illustrate, in shorthand form, essential features of a wider canvass. I was at the threshold of the country, queuing at passport control to enter Israel.  The manner of greeting can say a lot about the nature of a home.

My queue contained a group – a family group: mum, daughter, three lads, probably in their twenties – all obviously Muslim. The lads had what I suppose we think of as typical beards, one or two wore skull caps, and one had that long garment, the name of which escapes me.  I was next to them and so heard them talking – talking in northern British accents and clutching their British Passports ready for examination. We started chatting.

They were already prepared for some at least not to be allowed through passport control without being interviewed, and perhaps denied entry.  Sure enough, the three lads were turned back and walked past me smiling as they went to the interview area. Mum and daughter got through. Continue reading

So what’s new? Israel’s Nationality Law

Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has this July passed its Nationality Law by sixty two votes to fifty five. In brief, it enshrines, and in effect crows about, Israel’s status as an apartheid state.

The law confirms that ‘Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it’. Note ‘exclusive’.  In addition, the Arabic language is downgraded from its co-equal status as an official language with Hebrew to a lesser ‘special status’.  By way of reminder, Israel’s Palestinian Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the nine million population.

The law also affirms that ‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.’  Note ‘Jewish’. Note, too, ‘settlement’, which in fact refers to the construction of Jewish-only colonies built on historic Palestinian land cleared by Israel in an unrelenting programme of house demolitions, land seizures, and crop destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and in (illegally annexed) East Jerusalem. Continue reading

A State’s ‘right’ to exist?

Abstractions cannot have rights.  States are abstractions.  States therefore cannot have rights.  At first blush, this may seem no more than a quibble, or an excursion into constructing a syllogism simply for the pleasure of it.  In terms of the subject I want now to address, it is neither.

Before proceeding, it’s worth stating an opposite but positive proposition:  Rights adhere to, and are embodied in, people. People have rights, States do not.  These are important distinctions, ones that are foundational when considering, and reaching positions on, for example, the Palestinian/Israel conflict.

Qualified Support

There are significant indications that there are increasing numbers of non-Jews and Jews critical of Israel’s policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and towards Palestinians within Israel itself.  More and more people are finding the wanton shamelessness with which Israel pursues and promotes its institutionalised racist policies and practices hard to stomach.  Israel, we might say, gets away with murder, so it barely registers surprise when the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proclaims there are ‘no innocent people’ in Gaza, a statement presumably designed to justify the killing of (as at 25 April) forty Gazans and the wounding of 5,511 protestors, including children.  This is the nature of Israel’s response to essentially peaceful protests on the Gazan side of the border fence.  Yes, that’s right, Israel shoots through and over the fence to wound and kill protestors on the Gaza side.

And yet…..

Support but unease

And yet, despite the institutionalsied and calculated brutality of the Israeli State,  I get the sense there are many people – whose natural sympathies and political commitments revolve around respect for fundamental human rights – who hesitate to offer more vocal and active support for the Palestinian cause.  One aspect of this hesitation, the one I want to tackle here, is concern and even dismay at the reluctance or refusal of some Palestinian political entities to recognise the right of the Israeli State to exist and, in particular, the refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.  Though note that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised Israel, rightly or wrongly, to its benefit or not, in 1988.  Yet the issue of recognition remains, and is likely to remain, a salient one for some time to come.

A first and necessary step to unpicking this is to take a conceptual leap and perhaps an emotional one too, and hold fast to the understanding that States, in principle, have no rights.  It follows that Israel has no more right to exist than does, say, the United Kingdom, a proposition adequately demonstrated by the political movements – the broadly accepted legitimate movements – promoting Scottish and Welsh independence.  This recognition of the legitimacy of the movements says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the proposed constitutional changes, but, in affirming the legitimacy of the pursuit of independence, one is at the same time granting the legitimacy of the potential dismantling of the UK State.  And such projects are, in principle, permissible.

There is a further move to be made: notwithstanding the status of any State, for those committed to universal human rights, these are indivisible, and in principle transcend national boundaries. In the UK example, irrespective of the structure of constitutional arrangements, that is, whether people are citizens of a United Kingdom or of a future English, Scottish or Welsh State, each individual retains their universal rights. From a human rights’ perspective, it is the State that is or should be the protector and promoter of those rights.

And here we come to the first difficulty in ascribing legitimacy to the current Israeli State, for it neither protects still less promotes the human rights of all those within its borders. The Israeli State is formally founded on an opposing principle: the denial of human rights to, in particular, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and foreign workers.

Note that my concern in this particular article is not to delve into the various political moves and strategies, whether historical or current, of the contending parties. Rather, I am attempting to peel back the layers of propaganda, the standardised tropes – e.g. charges of antisemitism deployed as a shield to protect Israel from criticism – that obscure, and are specifically designed to obscure, questions of principle.  And that principle is that a State that does not protect the rights of all those within its borders has by its own actions raised questions as to its legitimacy. Note further that raising questions about the legitimacy of a State has no bearing on, nor does it dilute, the indivisible rights of all those who live within its borders, this extending without qualification even to those who promulgate and implement the rights-denying policies and practices.

I turn now briefly to the relatively recent call by Israel that it should be recognised specifically as a Jewish State. I have discussed this in an earlier post. Suffice to say that to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish State is to recognise and grant legitimacy to a formally constituted Apartheid State.  To grant such recognition would be the same as endorsing as legitimate the South African Apartheid State. No State, organisation or person should find this a tolerable proposition.  That Israel does, or at least the current political leadership of Israel does, again raises questions as to the current Israeli State’s legitimacy.  It is already an Apartheid State. It should be morally and politically impermissible to formally embrace it as such.

The line of argument advanced thus far seems to me to raise questions as to the merits of what has come to be called the ‘Two State Solution’, meaning one Palestinian State, the other, a Jewish State.  As I understand it, a Palestinian State would raise no particular ethical issues provided it accorded to all those residing within its borders individual human rights, and all citizens having equal rights and obligations irrespective of, for example, religion or ethnic background.

However, a difficulty arises once one starts thinking about what a specifically Jewish State might entail, not least because 20% of Israel citizens are Palestinians. (Cautionary Note: as detailed in an earlier post, the Israeli State’s version of ‘citizenship’ does not denote a condition of equality between ‘citizens’. Rather, along with the category ‘nationality’ it is the vehicle for the systemic, institutionalised discrimination of those not Jewish, in particular, Palestinians.)

I cannot see how a two state solution could be radically different from the discriminatory State that currently exists.  No doubt were such a ‘solution’ – when is a ‘solution’ not a ‘solution’? – to be implemented various strategies would be devised to ensure an embedded demographic imbalance in favour of the Jewish population, this designed to reduce the existential anxieties of those Jews who fear they will be outnumbered at some point by Palestinians.  But pity the nation that weaves fear, neurosis, exclusion and discrimination into its fundamental constitutional arrangements – though this may be apt description of the current state of affairs.

Conflation

I have suggested that there has been a conflation of incompatible ideas and concepts, namely, not drawing proper distinction between support of and commitment to individual human rights no matter the race, religion, sexuality, culture of an individual, and the misplaced notion that a State has rights. This conflation, I have suggested, serves to obscure, and in my view is designed to obscure, the nature of the current Israeli State and to legitimise its discriminatory regime.  ‘Rights’ as deployed in this context is a very loaded word, one deployed to direct attention away from the nature and actions of the Israeli State.

Distinction between a Regime and a State

My argument leads me back to the UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) report  ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’, referred to in an earlier post.

The UNESCWA report drew attention to an important distinction: that between a State and a Regime. Although the distinction of itself provides no easy pathway to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli State conflict, at the conceptual level at least, noting the distinction helps counter the tendency – propagated by the Israeli State – to automatically equate the ending or evolution away from a discriminatory political Zionist State to a different dispensation as necessarily the ‘destruction of Israel’. In the words of UNESCWA report:

‘…identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus, some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way affected the country’s statehood.’

 Another type of State is in principle possible.

STOP PRESS: WE FAILED

In my 27 March post ‘Nineteen days and counting to Israel’s destruction of another Palestinian village’ I reported that the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was under threat of demolition by Israel. Those nineteen days have now elapsed and Israel has not been persuaded to relent.

This from a report by the Israel Campaign Against House Demolitions UK (ICAHD UK):

‘After years of harassment by the authorities and endless demolition orders, after the village’s resident, math teacher Ya’akub Abu Al-Qi’an was killed by the police and falsely accused by a government minister of being “a terrorist” – Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran finally  yielded.

Threatened with Israeli demolition and forced displacement, the inhabitants signed an agreement with Israeli authorities to leave their homes “on their own accord” and move to the town of Hura…’

Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minoroty rights In Israel, which represented Umm Al Hirran’s residents in courts for 15 years, compared Israel’s behaviour in Umm Al Hirran to South Africa’s Apartheid regime:

‘Adalah sees the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and forced displacement of its residents as an act of extreme racism, embodying Israel’s colonialist land policies with the backing of the entire Israeli court system. Israel is moving forward with the destruction of Umm al-Hiran in a plan – reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa – to build a new Jewish-only town on its ruins.’

ICAHD UK Conference 19 May 2018

The two-state solution is gone buried under Israel’s ‘matrix of control’, the confiscation of Palestinian land, its Kafkaesque laws and Israeli Supreme Court rulings ignoring international law. Israel continues to act with impunity and no Western government or international body is calling it to account.

The time has come to start actively campaigning for one-state.

Palestinians and Israelis have joined together to form the One Democratic State Campaign which seeks to provide leadership, direction and a viable way forward.

However, with obstacles and difficulties that impede engagement and communication between Palestinians and Israelis:

  • How can they come together for a one-state solution?
  • How can Israelis, living in a militarized society where Arab are demonised change their view of the Palestinians?
  • How can the Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation that traumatized their society heal, and be able to share statehood with their oppressor?

Speakers (more to be announced):

  • Dr Jeff Halper, Co-Founder & Director of ICAHD (Jerusalem), Professor of Anthropology, activist & analyst, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; author of An Israeli in Palestine, War Against the People & Obstacles to Peace
  • Dr Nadia Nasser Najjab, Research Fellow, Exeter University formerly at Birzeit University
  • Daphna Baram, Director, ICAHD UK, analyst, journalist, author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel.