Thursday 30 July 2009

Israel = Prussia on the Mediterranean?

The title for this post comes from an interesting article by Roane Carey in the online edition of The Nation magazine. Prussia was often described as an army masquerading as a state. It seems that Israel is well and truly far along that road. In his article Carey outlines the extent to which Israel is far removed from the liberal, tolerant democracy that it is portrayed as in the West. As he puts it - "How can a state that imprisons 4 million Palestinians behind ghetto walls, bypass roads and a blockade, and treats another 1.5 million as second-class citizens, be democratic? ....... If Israel continues along its current path, the repression will necessarily intensify, and the avenues for free expression will become ever more constricted." The whole article can be accessed here.

There is in fact much evidence to back up this notion of Israel as an aggressive militaristic state. Recently the Israeli's have even gone so far as to once again commit an act of piracy on the open sea when they boarded, kidnapped the 21 people on board and confiscated the Free Gaza ship which was trying to bring much needed provisions to the Palestinians living in Gaza - still an open air prison strangled by Israel. You can see a Free Gaza video here. For further views on the Israeli action as piracy, see this article.

Of course it is the Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem who suffer the most from Israeli violence and aggression. It is all too common for Palestinian families in the West Bank to find that their houses have been demolished and their olive trees have been cut down or burned. These acts of terrorism are carried out with impunity by Israeli settlers living near-by, often with the collusion and sometimes outright support of the Israeli army. These acts are nearly always in defiance of Israeli court orders - but the settlers, with army support simply ignore them. Where are the reporters and camera crews from the BBC, ITV or Sky when these terrorist acts occur? An example this kind of terrorism can be found in this report from the International Solidarity Movement.

Further evidence of the role of the Israeli army in supporting the aggression of the settlers comes from the ongoing work of Ta'ayush, a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership. The name Ta'ayush is Arabic for "life in common". For the past three months or so members of Ta'ayush have tried to accompany Palestinian farmers from Safa to their lands and help to protect them from attacks from settlers living in the near-by settlement of Bat Ayin. This has proved to be a very difficult and dangerous venture with the Israeli army offering no support for members of Ta'ayush and seeming to take the side of the settlers at all times. Thus despite the area being for a time a closed military zone to all Israelis, somehow the settlers managed to get past the IDF and cut down fruit trees and burn crop fields. For a full report with video, see this article in Mondoweiss. The article's title tells it all - A day in the West Bank shows ‘the soldiers are settlers but in uniform. They both symbolize the occupation.’

The most worrying evidence of Israeli aggression comes however in East Jerusalem. Not because it is particularly violent, but for what it tells the Palestinians and the rest of us about the Israeli mind-set. As the title of a recent post in Mondoweiss puts it - "While the US and Israel spar over settlements, Israel continues ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem." This process of ethnic cleansing proceeds in two stages. The first started shortly after the 1967 war and involved the building of the Jewish settlements that now ring East Jerusalem. The second stage was to try and reduce the number of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. This was to be achieved by controlling the entry of Palestinians into the city and by the restriction of construction permits for Palestinians. The clear aim of Israeli policy is to turn the whole of Jerusalem into a Jewish only city. All these actions are of course completely illegal as East Jerusalem is under international law recognized to be occupied territory. As such Israel is prohibited from either implanting its own population as settlers or in any other way materially changing the lives of the city's indigenous Palestinian residents. Israel is not much interested in allowing for “natural growth” among Palestinians. Only Jewish settlers are entitled to this benefit. Here is a succinct account of Israeli action in East Jerusalem by veteran commentator Helena Cobham.

The Mondoweiss article, which you can get here looks at the Israeli actions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The writer ends his piece with this despairing call - "What is so perplexing and enraging is that by continually implanting Jewish neighbourhoods in the midst of Palestinian communities, Israel is sabotaging its own determination to be a permanent, Jewish-majority, internationally accepted, democratic state with defined borders." One can leave aside for the moment whether the notion of a permanent Jewish-majority is compatible with a democratic state. The key point for me is that all the actions referred to above are the last desperate actions of a country and its leadership that has lost the plot. Israel's actions are counter productive to its declared aim of achieving a two state solution. So, how genuine is Israel's commitment to achieving a lasting peace?

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