Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Deconstructing the War on Terror

Here's a link to my talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Forgive the screwed-up face. It's the fault of those Palestinians that took me dancing -

I wrote the following for a Norwegian newspaper to introduce "Deconstructing the War on Terror", a seminar at Chateau Neuf (Storsalen), Slemdalsveien 11, Oslo, from 12-7pm Sunday 22nd February. George Galloway, Massoud Shadjareh, Yvonne Ridley and Dr Erik Fosse will speak. I'm giving a talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Did the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 provoke an unprecedented rupture in American relations with the rest of the world, specifically the Muslim world? Was that day really the day everything changed, as much of the media tells us?

Almost immediately after the attacks a taboo was imposed – most strongly in the US itself, but also in Europe – on serious debate concerning the motivations of the terrorists. (This is the same taboo Israeli society has imposed on itself since 1947). In the new rhetorical climate, to ask why was to justify. “You’re either with us or against us,” announced President Bush in typical Global War on Terror language. Indeed, the control of language has been the most distinctive domestic tool of the GWOT, working by simplification, generalisation, and suspicion of critical thought.

So what were the causes of September 11th? First, ‘blowback’ from America’s longstanding alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi-nihilist stooges – useful idiots who had contained the Soviet Union and then revolutionary Iran on America’s behalf but in the name of ‘jihad’. Second, Arab and Muslim rage at unconditional American military, financial and political support for Israel’s steady colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Third, tremendous anger at the suffering of the Iraqi people under the US-led sanctions regime, which two assistant secretary generals of the UN described as ‘genocidal.’

None of these American policies changed fundamentally in the Bush years. America gave up its alliance with the Afghan Taliban, but continues to work with the Saudi dictatorship and to fund Wahhabi extremists from Iranian Baluchistan to Lebanon. In fact, America has been more wholehearted than before in its support for a Sunni extremist world view, encouraging its Arab clients to sectarian rabble-rousing and scaremongering over an imaginary ‘Persian-Shia crescent’.

US (and European) support for Israel solidified even as the last chance for the two state solution was strangled, and as Israel launched murderous onslaughts on Lebanon and Gaza. The mainstream American media equated America’s amorphous war with Israel’s war on the Palestinian people. The torture tactics of Abu Ghraib and Bagram were refined for Muslim victims by Israeli ‘expert’ input. Neoconservative ‘Israel-firsters’ ran policy from Washington.

Sanctions against Iraq were replaced by an invasion which resulted in the disintegration of the country’s ancient social fabric. At least a million Iraqis have died as a result of the war. At least four million are now refugees. Many Iraqi cities and villages have been ethnically cleansed.

There was a fourth factor behind September 11th: America’s support for brutal dictatorships across the Muslim world. This was less of a taboo issue; ‘democracy’ was belatedly adopted as justification for the Iraq war, and Condoleezza Rice even made a few speeches about the need for Arab democratic reform. Again, however, all that really changed after September 11th, and only for a few years, was the rhetoric. Dictators in places like Egypt continue to rely on American money and miltary bases for protection, despite increasing repression of their people. Israel and the West demanded elections in Palestine, but then refused to accept the results. Shamefully, Europe has been fully complicit in the ongoing seige of Gaza, sanctioning not the occupiers but the occupied, the repeat-refugees who have dared to exercise their democratic rights.

So what came after September 11th was more an intensification of existing trends than a radical break. In that respect, GWOT was an illusion. Its importance was as discourse, as culture, as myth.

No less a figure than former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that “constant reference to a ‘war on terror’ … stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.”

The terror threat to the West is real, but vastly exaggerated. In its name military budgets swell and potential dissenters are intimidated. There were 498 terrorist incidents in Europe in 2006, only one of which was attributed to Muslims, yet half of terrorism-related arrests were of Muslim suspects. In Britain the Prevention of Terrorism Act, particularly its criminalising of the ambiguous ‘glorification of terrorism’, has led to many abuses. In the US, the Patriot Act’s curtailment of civil liberties was smoothly accepted by a terrified populace while organisations like Campus Watch rooted out anti-Israel dissent in academia. A dragooned ‘popular culture’ endlessly represented images of evil, irrational Muslim terrorists in conflict with the forces of good.

With the election of Obama, the most extreme rhetoric of GWOT seems to have had its day. (It may be to Israel’s long term cost that it used GWOT rhetoric to package the recent massacre in Gaza, just at the moment when GWOT had been discredited in the West.) But if fundamental pro-Zionist and imperialist policies did not in fact change during the Bush years, not much will change, practically, in the post-Bush years. The passing of the War on Terror is as illusory as its sudden birth after September 11th. It is likely that economic decline will now limit the scope of Western intervention in the Muslim world, but the same old policies are set to continue with minor adjustments under Obama’s leadership. Linguistically, morally, and militarily, we continue headlong into disaster.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Four Solutions

This was published at The Palestine Chronicle.

“I do not hate (Israelis) for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation. It is difficult to forget what was done to us. But if the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible. But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about 67 or 48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.”

– Said Sayyam, martyred in Gaza January 2009, to Ha’aretz, November 1995.

All Palestine is controlled by Zionism. The Palestinians (not counting the millions in exile) are half the population of Israel-Palestine, but they are victims of varying degrees of apartheid. The Jewish state has already lost its Jewish majority, and is more hated by the Arab peoples than at any time in its brief, violent history. Let’s take it as given that continuation of the present situation is untenable for everyone concerned. We need a solution.

There are four solutions. The first is for the Arabs to push the Jews into the sea. On the surface this seems like a reasonably just solution. It is, after all, what the Algerians and Vietnamese did with the French, what the Kenyans and Indians did with the British, what the Chinese did with the Japanese: they expelled their oppressive colonist class in order to achieve national independence. In the Palestinian context, all Jews who arrived with the waves of Zionist invasion would be sent home. And this is what most Palestinians understood by the ‘democratic secular state’ which the PLO called for until the 1980s.

There are two problems. The first is that most Israeli Jews don’t have a home to be sent to. They captured their colony not only out of desire for plunder, but also out of the trauma of displacement and genocide. Several generations of Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews have now been born in the colony. They have their own distinct culture and national identity. In these respects they are similar to the Afrikaans-speaking Boers of South Africa, to contain whom the British invented the concentration camp.

The second problem with the Swimming Jews Solution is that ‘the Jewish state’ possesses a vast fleet of war planes, massive financial, political and military support from the rich white world, and nuclear bombs. It is quite impossible for any combination of Arab or Muslim forces to physically annihilate the settlers without large chunks of the Arab world also being annihilated.

The second solution is called in Israel ‘transfer’. It means pushing the Arabs into the sea. This solution is difficult to distentangle from the present situation, as a slow ethnic cleansing – through destruction of homes, disruption of education, massacres, land confiscation, theft of water resources – has continued after the mass expulsions of 47/ 48 and 67. The ‘transfer’ solution involves another mass expulsion, of the Palestinians in the ‘occupied territories’ or of those in ‘Israel proper’, or of both. Open proponents of transfer now have more seats in the Knesset than the Labour Party. (This means that the ‘centre-left’ of the Israeli spectrum is occupied by those responsible for the Gaza massacre.) Avigdor Lieberman’s ‘no loyalty, no citizenship’ slogan points to Zionism’s growing discomfort with its existential demographic crisis. Inside ‘Israel proper’ Palestinians are 20% of the population, and more fertile than the Jewish population. If circumstances (such as a major regional war) permit, these Arabs could be driven out. If circumstances don’t permit, the Jewish state will have to intensify its concentration of these people and turn partial into total disenfranchisement. The heads of Likud, Labour and Kadima all called for Arab parties to be banned from the recent elections. The high court didn’t allow it this time, but it’s a sign of things to come. It goes without saying that a further mass expulsion will be vigorously resisted by all forces in the region. It is unlikely that even Zionised America would stand for it.

Disenfranchisement and the concentration of populations into ghettos brings us to the third solution: partition. And this looks like the consensus solution. Olmert, Barak and Livni support it. All the Arab states support it. George Bush and Tony Blair support it. Liberal ‘peace activists’ the world over support it. Abbas and Dahlan support it. Since the late 80s the PLO and then the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly declared that they would accept a state on 22% of Palestine. Hamas too has repeatedly expressed its willingness to abide by any solution accepted by the people, and has said specifically that the conflict would become ‘cultural’ if the occupation of the territories captured in 1967 ends.

22% of their own country. Has any other people throughout history made such a compromise? But the best the Palestinians have ever been offered (at Camp David 2) was 16%. According to Ali Abunimah, the Israeli offer

“...depicted a Palestinian ‘state’ in 76.6% of the West Bank, broken into pieces, with all the major settlements remaining in place under Israeli sovereignty. Israel would annex 13.3% outright and continue to occupy the remaining 10.1% for a period of up to thirty years, during which time there would be no restriction on Israel continuing to build settlements and infrastructure....It should be noted that even before these percentages were calculated, the Israelis already subtracted East Jerusalem and the territorial waters of the Dead Sea, so, in fact, the 76% offer was based not on 100% of the occupied territories, but only on those parts that Israel was prepared to discuss. Leaving aside the disjointed nature of this ‘state’, its territory would amount to just 16% of historic Palestine..”

When Arafat turned this down, Israelis including the pretend peace camp, with the help of Bill Clinton and the western media, trotted out the old propaganda line about the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Everyone that mattered agreed that there would never again be such a generous Israeli offer. The unofficial Beilin/ Yasser Abd Rabbo Geneva Plan – which excited liberal peacelovers so much – didn’t dramatically change the shape of the imagined ‘state’: Palestinian cities would be cramped between annexed settlement blocks and so would have no room for growth. Palestinians would have non-sovereign autonomy over little bits, following the South African bantustan model. Whatever the rhetoric, every partition plan centres on securing Palestinian agreement to bantustan autonomy.

There will never be two sovereign states peacefully coexisting between the Jordan and the sea. Gaza – cramped behind a wall, impoverished and traumatised, cut off from its natural markets – is a better image of what the two state solution would look like.

Partition would involve tremendous pain for both Jews and Arabs. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers would have to be moved. Jews would never be able to live next to their holy sites on the West Bank. (The West Bank has far greater historical and religious significance to Jews than the coastal plain where the Jewish population is currently concentrated). Palestinian refugees would never be able to return to their villages and cities in the Jewish state.

Even if the will was there, a viable partition is no longer possible. Israel-Palestine has one highly integrated transport and water infrastructure. It’s a great infrastructure; the problem is that many roads are for Jews only, and the water for settler swimming pools rather than for Palestinians to drink.

And even if partition was possible, if there was a sovereign state on all of the 67 lands and no return of refugees to Israel proper, Israel’s demographic crisis would continue to grow. Even with two states, solution number two, the transfer solution, would become inevitable.

Unless we think creatively – which means thinking beyond the dominant forms of Zionism. It means thinking of the fourth solution, which is in fact the only solution: one binational state, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians have equal rights and responsibilities, in which both Arab and Jewish histories and identities are respected and protected. It’s hard to imagine, but we can start by thinking of Israel-Palestine as it is now, but without walls, fences and checkpoints, without Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, without discriminatory laws. The state would still house a thriving Hebrew culture, but it would also allow a Levantine Arab culture to fully express itself.

Israeli Jews worry that, as a minority, they would be oppressed or expelled. The answer is that the constitution of the state would have to guarantee communal as well as individual rights. The constitution could in turn be guaranteed by the United Nations and a collection of superpowers. An American threat of force to defend a democratic constitution would make a lot more sense than current American threats to defend apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

It isn’t easy for a settler society to get over its fear of the oppressed. F. W. de Klerk said,

“For white South Africans acceptance of a one-man, one-vote solution evoked very much the same fears and reaction that could be expected from Israelis were they ever asked to consign their fate to a one-man, one-vote election in a greater Israel/ Palestine in which they would be heavily outnumbered.”

But still in South Africa the settler society, when faced with native resistance and international sanctions, managed to confront its fears and to move to a better future.

Israeli Jews may also worry that Palestinians intend to build an Islamic state. After all, didn’t the Palestinians vote for Hamas? This fear betrays ignorance of the Palestinian people, who voted for Hamas in protest against Fatah’s corruption and collaboration with the occupation. Many Palestinians are strict Muslims, but opinion polls show that only 3% support the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic state. Hamas knows this, which is why it has made no moves to impose sharia law since it came to power. In any case, if Islamist ideas strengthen in the future, creative thinking offers ways of allowing religious and secular, Islamic and Jewish communities to coexist. There are already three education systems available to Israeli Jews: secular, orthodox and ultra-orthodox.

Before Zionism, not very long ago, relations between Jews and Arabs were generally good. Sometimes Arab sectarianism targetted Jews (and sometimes Shia and other groups), but the more representative story is of Jews living safely and prosperously in the Arab world. Nothing remotely resembling Hitler’s racist genocide or the Russian pogroms happened to Arab Jews. On several occasions Arab and Muslim powers gave sanctuary to Jews fleeing European persecution. Even after the bitterness of this conflict, Jews and Arabs could be friends again, and more than friends. A state with a large and powerful Jewish population would no more offend its Arab neighbours than a state with a large and powerful Christian population (Lebanon) or a large and powerful Shia population (Iraq). And once Palestinians receive the rights they deserve, they will have no reason to be angry and resentful. Recognise them as equals, seek to understand them, and your fear will dissolve.

This was a response to Ali Abunimah’s excellent little book “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.”

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Non-Violence? Finkelstein and Gandhi

(This was published at The Palestine Chronicle)

When Western liberals call on the Palestinians to renounce violence and to adopt Gandhian passive resistance instead, I usually become enraged. My first response is, they’ve tried non-violence, and you failed to notice. For the first two decades after the original ethnic cleansing of 1947 and 48, almost all Palestinian resistance was non-violent. From 1967 until 1987 Palestinians resisted by organising tax strikes, peaceful demonstrations, petitions, sit-down protests on confiscated lands and in houses condemned to demolition. The First Intifada was almost entirely non-violent on the Palestinian side; the new tactic of throwing stones at tanks (which some liberals consider violent) was almost entirely symbolic. In every case, the Palestinians were met with fanatical violence. Midnight arrest, beatings, and torture were the lot of most. Many were shot. Yitzhak Rabin ordered occupation troops to break the bones of the boys with stones. And despite all this sacrifice, Israeli Jews were not moved to recognise the injustice of occupation and dispossession, at least not enough to end it. The first weeks of the Second Intifada were also non-violent on the Palestinian side. Israel responded by murdering tens of unarmed civilians daily, and the US media blamed the victims. Then the Intifada was miltarised.

Was it really, or only, non-violence which liberated India? In colonised India there were hundreds of thousands of Indians to each British officer, so the cause of independence had sheer numbers on its side as well as time. The British people certainly came to love Gandhi and to respect the moral courage of his non-violent strategy, but the British officials who counted could also see the tide of violent anti-imperialism rising behind Gandhi, a tide that would dominate if Gandhi’s method failed. Likewise in the American civil rights struggle: behind Martin Luther King stood Malcolm X. It’s a lot easier to deal with the nice guy when you see the nasty guy rolling up his sleeves.

My third point: I’ll listen to the call for non-violence if it comes from the mouth of a genuine pacifist. From someone who believes, as Ghandi did, that Nazism could have been better resisted non-violently. From someone who would himself engage only in peaceful action after seeing his own child killed, his own flat bombed. And of course from someone who realises that Palestinian violence is as nothing when put next to the staggering violence of Zionism.

Another problem is that not all Palestinians are capable of suppressing their desire for revenge. I’m not insulting them; God knows that I, comfortable in front of my screen many miles away from the trouble, am thirsting for revenge. In the Palestinians’ circumstances, violence is natural. So if the Palestinians have to prove they deserve justice by acting nice, there will never be justice. We have to get beyond condemning the inevitable violence of a traumatised refugee population to condemning the causes of the violence – dispossession, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, occupation, massacre.

Norman Finkelstein’s reading of Gandhi (I’ve never read Gandhi, so I’ll have to trust Finkelstein) settles many of my reservations. Gandhi argues that violent resistance is acceptable by the conventional moral standards of our times. He says that an oppressed and humiliated population must resist its oppressors violently if it is incapable of non-violent resistance. According to Gandi, the worst of failures is to submit.

With specific reference to Palestine, Gandhi said this in 1938:

“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French…What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct…If (the Jews) must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs…As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regard as an unacceptable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”

In his lecture, which can be watched or read here, Finkelstein suggests what could be done:

“A massive mobilization of Palestinians building on the non-cooperation tactics of the first intifada (commercial and tax strikes, popular committees) could again make the Israeli occupation ungovernable. Is it so far-fetched to imagine an “army” of Palestinian satyagrahis converging on the Wall, their sole “weapons” a pick in one hand and a copy of the ICJ opinion in the other? The ICJ stated that the Wall was illegal and must be dismantled. The Palestinians would only be doing what the world should already have done a long time ago. Who could fault them for enforcing the law? No doubt Israel would fire on Palestinians and many would be killed. But if their supporters in North America and Europe publicized the ICJ opinion, and if Palestinians found the inner wherewithal to persevere nonviolently, it seems probable that far, far fewer than 5,000 Palestinians would be killed before Israel were forced to desist. No one writing abroad from the comfort and safety of his study can in good conscience urge such a strategy that entails so much death. But Gandhi’s point nonetheless stands: if Palestinians have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay the ultimate price, doesn’t it make sense for them to pursue a strategy that has a better likelihood of success at a smaller human price?”

Dismantling the wall. Gazans dismantling the border fence. Marches of Return from the West Bank and Gaza and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to the border fences and the Israeli bullets. The numbers would have to be huge, and the coordination with the world's official and alternative media incredibly efficient. It would require a mobilisation that neither the corrupt and collaborative PA nor the hunted and secretive Hamas could command. It would take a concerted simultaneous effort by the Palestinian people and their supporters around the world to shine the light on Israel and on Palestinian history. As Palestinians marched and died, people in the West would have to boycott and divest. It seems farfetched in the present blood-soaked bitterness, but it's worth thinking about.

The latest massacre has changed things. Perhaps the world is ready to see now. Perhaps.

I don’t agree with Finkelstein’s desire to limit discussion to the two state solution, although I understand his tactics. For reasons that I will write of later, reasons of justice but more importantly of pragmatism, I am a supporter of some kind of one state solution. I speculate a world in which a non-violent campaign against the wall spawns a non-violent campaign for Israeli passports.

In any case, I support bringing injustice into the light. 94% of Israeli Jews supported the Gaza massacre. 40% – an incredible statistic – believe Jews were a majority in Palestine at the end of the 19th Century. We have to engage Israeli ignorance and paranoia, the dark products of Zionist indoctrination. The 6% of Israeli Jews who can think more critically could be our allies in this.

I continue to believe that Zionism is the enemy, but by Zionism I mean the Iron Wall Zionism of Jabotinsky that has come to determine the character of the mainstream, from the Labour Party to the openly fascist fringe. Those Zionists, however, who are interested in a cultural home and refuge in Palestine on terms of equality and brotherhood with the Palestinians – those could be allies.

I feel something has snapped in mind and heart since December 27th. I’m trying to get beyond the snapping. I find the concluding paragraph of Finkelstein’s lecture both educative and humbling:

“The Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire once wrote, “There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.” Late in life, when his political horizons broadened out, Edward Said would often quote this line. We should make it our credo as well. We want to nurture a movement, not hatch a cult. The victory to which we aspire is inclusive, not exclusive; it is not at anyone’s expense. It is to be victorious without vanquishing. No one is a loser, and we all are gainers if together we stand by truth and justice. “I am not anti-English; I am not anti-British; I am not anti-any government,” Gandhi insisted, “but I am anti-untruth—anti-humbug, and anti-injustice.”(188) Shouldn’t we also say that we are not anti-Jewish, anti-Israel or, for that matter, anti-Zionist? The prize on which our eyes should be riveted is human rights, human dignity, human equality. What, really, is the point of ideological litmus tests such as, Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist? Indeed, it is Israel’s apologists who thrive on and cling to them, bogging down interlocutors in distracting and endless intellectual sideshows—What is a Jew? Are the Jews a nation? Don’t Jews have a right to national liberation? Shouldn’t we use a vocabulary that registers and resonates with the public conscience and the Jewish conscience, winning over the decent many while isolating the diehard few? Shouldn’t we instead be asking, Are you for or against ethnic cleansing, for or against torture, for or against house demolitions, for or against Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, for or against discriminatory laws? And if the answer comes, against, against and against, shouldn’t we then say, Keep your ideology, whatever it might be—there’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory?

May we all, seekers of truth, fighters for justice, yet live to join the people of Palestine at the rendezvous of victory.”

Akiva Eldar on Israeli perceptions of the conflict.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sectarian Rabble-Rousing

Al-Ahram Weekly, the English language twin of the Arabic daily, is an Egyptian state organ. The Weekly has a broader range of opinion than the tame daily, and does often contain interesting articles. The great Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara, for instance, can be found in the Weekly. Unfortunately, however, Egyptian regime nonsense concerning the Persian-Shia ‘threat’ is also fed into the mix. This article by Galal Nassar is a sad example. Below is my response to his piece:

Dear Mr Nassar

I am not a Shia Muslim. If I were, I would not be a supporter of the velayat-e-faqih system. I agree with you entirely that the velayat-e-faqih concept is a perversion of traditional Shia ideas. I also agree that velayat-e-faqih leads to authoritarian government, to the detriment of Iranian society.

If it is authoritarianism that bothers you, however, I wonder why you single out Iran, which is at least a semi-democracy. The dictatorship in Egypt seems a much better target, especially after the mass arrests of recent weeks. Another good target is the barbaric dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. As a Sunni Muslim, I am outraged by the Wahhabi perversion of Islam that holds sway in that country.

Your argument leaves logic behind when you write of the Egyptian Ikhwan, “I simply fail to understand why a group with such a long history of suffering, apparently in defence of Islam and Muslims, subscribes to the concept of velayat-e faqih. Cannot they see that all Iran wants is to establish sectarian governments everywhere and use them as satellites of a revived Persian Empire? Haven’t we learned anything from the events in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza?”

The Ikhwan do not subscribe to the velayet-e-faqih concept. Of course they do not, as a Sunni movement, aim to import Shia heresies. What Mahdi Akef said is that he does not fear Iranian influence in the region, and in this he is entirely correct. The idea that Egyptian or Syrian or Palestinian Sunnis are about to convert en masse to Shi’ism, or to begin obeying every whim of Khamenei, is quite absurd. So is the implication that Hizbullah or Hamas are Iranian creations. Both of these movements are rooted in their own societies. It is true that Iran, to its honour, has helped these movements (and also true that Hizbullah, as a representative of Lebanese Shia, chooses to identify itself with the Iranian revolution). If the Egyptian dictatorship offered help to Hamas and Hizbullah, as the Egyptian people would like it to, then there would be no need to seek help from further afield. I do not approve of everything that Iran has done in Iraq (nor of everything that Saudi Arabia has done there), but I am not so blind to the history of that country as to believe that the Shia revival has nothing to do with Ba’athist suppression of the Iraqi Shia.

I wonder if you can really believe that the imaginary ‘Persian empire’ is more of a problem than the very real American empire, with its military bases in almost every country in the region, and its near-total control over the foreign policies of key Arab states, Egypt included. The real division in the region is between those forces who are supine before American imperialism and Zionism, and those forces, much more democratic, that believe in resistance. Sectarian rabble-rousing serves as a distraction from this division, and it is extremely dangerous to the health of our societies.

Yours sincerely

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Sunday, February 01, 2009

After the Massacre 1 – Palestine and Israel

(A version of this was published at The Electronic Intifada)

Hamas isn’t Hizbullah, and Gaza isn’t Lebanon. The resistance in Gaza – which includes leftist and nationalist as well as Islamist forces – doesn’t have mountains to fight in. It has no strategic depth. It doesn’t have Syria behind it to keep supply lines open; instead it has Mubarak’s goons and Israel’s wall. Lebanese civilians can flee north and east; the repeat-refugees of Gaza have no escape. The Lebanese have their farms, and supplies from outside; Gaza has been under total siege for years. What else? Hizbullah has remarkable discipline. It is surely the best-trained, best-organised army in the region, perhaps in the world (I’m not talking of weapons, but of men and women). Hamas, on the other hand, though it has made great strides, is still undisciplined. Crucially, Hizbullah has air-tight intelligence control in Lebanon, while Gaza contains collaborators like maggots in a corpse.

But Hamas is still standing. On the rare occasions when Israel actually fought – rather than just called in air strikes – its soldiers reported “ferocious” resistance. Hamas withstood 22 days of the most barbaric bombing Zionism has yet stooped to, and did not surrender, and continues to fire rockets.

Let’s put this in context. In 1947 and 48 Zionists drove out over 800, 000 Palestinians without too much trouble. In 1967 it took Israel six days to destroy the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian armies, and to capture the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. In 1982 it took Israel a week to reach Beirut. That was Zionism’s last victory, if it was a victory.

The long and bloody occupation of Lebanon gave birth to new forms of resistance. Where Arab states and armies had failed, popular resistance removed American and French forces from Beirut, and then steadily rolled back the Israelis. The first suicide bomber of the conflict was a Marxist woman of Christian background. The human bomb was a tactic to which Israeli troops had no answer. Hizbullah formed, and developed into the power that would drive Israel from almost all of Lebanon by 2000. In 2006 Israel returned, in an effort to finish the resistance once and for all. What happened was a historic turnaround: for five weeks Israeli troops bled in the border villages, and failed to move beyond them. For the first time, the hi-tech, first-world savagery of the Zionist army, supposedly the fourth strongest army in the world, was kept at bay. Israel of course killed far more civilians than Hizbullah did, and performed its usual rampage against civilian infrastructure, but in terms of the soldiers in battle, casualties were roughly equal. A lot of rubbish is talked, especially by Arab collaborators, about Hizbullah being an Iranian proxy. While Iran does, to its great honour, assist Hizbullah with weapons and funds, the Lebanese resistance is Lebanese, the creation of the villagers of the south and the families of the Dahiyyeh. It was the people themselves who turned Zionism back.

One reason given for this latest massacre in Gaza (it’s by no means the first) was Israel’s desire to restore its deterrence after the 2006 debacle. Certainly the Arabs now know (as if they didn’t know before) that any whisper of resistance will be met by the most fanatical violence. Certainly Hamas and others will have to factor this into their tactical decisions. But in strategic terms the Israeli deterrent looks even shoddier than it did a month ago. The Arabs are no longer scared of Israel, whatever Israel throws at them. A psychological tipping point has been passed, and this, in the long term, counts for more than nuclear bombs.

I have already written a little about the incredible devastation unleashed on Gaza. The siege continues, even as Western and Zionist officials grin and hug, and the people in Gaza are now facing starvation. I don’t intend to belittle this suffering, or to pretend to know the political ramifications it will eventually have for the resistance. Thus far, however, the suffering seems to have strengthened the resistance, as you would expect. The communities of south Lebanon and south Beirut, those which suffered most in 2006, have redoubled their loyalty to Hizbullah. Our friend who lost 42 family members in Aita ash-Shaab adores Shaikh Nasrallah with a burning passion.

According to Angry Arab, ‘from a very reliable source in Beirut’, Hamas has lost only 5% of its military capacity. In Palestine, and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, Hamas and the resistance option it represents is immeasurably stronger. The ridiculous no-longer-president-of-anything Abbas, and the Dahlan gangs, are much weaker. It wasn’t Abbas but Khaled Misha’al who represented Palestine at the Doha summit. While the Abbas-Dahlan traitors arrested Hamas activists, and tried (and largely failed) to suppress solidarity demonstrations on the West Bank, the resistance was standing firm against Zionist terror.

In solidarity with the resistance, the so-called ‘Arab-Israelis’ organised the biggest demonstrations in their history. There is no doubt to which nation these Palestinians belong, especially in the eyes of the main Israeli political parties – which sought to ban Arab parties from standing in the approaching elections on the grounds of ‘disloyalty’ to the apartheid state.

What now? Enough nonsensical talk of peace processes. Peace might be nice, but it isn’t, and never has been, on the agenda. It is time to build a new PLO, as elected as possible, to represent all Palestinians, both Islamist and secular, from the lands stolen in 48, the lands stolen in 67, and outside. The PA should be abolished; and the Oslo/Road Map farce officially abandoned. Then Palestinians have to decide what their aims and strategies will be. I suggest that the two state solution is no solution, but I’ll write more about that at a later time. There is a huge amount of work to do. All Palestinians should agitate for the new organisation.

Now Israel.

This massacre was never about Hamas rockets. The rockets were a minimal, if growing, threat, and the rockets stopped during the ceasefire. Israel broke the ceasefire by entering Gaza and killing six people, and by besieging the prison territory. If Israel had wanted to stop rockets it could have stopped besieging Gaza. The real aim of the massacre was to destroy the will and political identity of the Palestinian people. Beyond that, Zionism intends to make of Gaza an international basket case, run by gangs, begging for aid from Europe. This is why over 50% of agricultural land in the prison territory was blasted beyond repair.

The fact that a sheepish Jewish-Israeli public swallows the rockets propaganda, that even when a hundred caged Palestinians are killed for each Israeli, they still feel like the victim, that the Zionist leadership is only now beginning to realise, with shock and surprise, how much this massacre has turned world public opinion against them, points to a deep psychosis. Most Israeli Jews are mentally, morally and spiritually sick. It is to be hoped that one day they will find health. Until then, talk of peace with them is as absurd as talk of peace with the Nazi party or al-Qa’ida.

Why the psychosis? One reason is their need to repress knowledge of the truth: that the land is not theirs, that they have stolen their homes from the people who now live in refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere. When the whining inhabitants of Sderot complain about the occasional projectile, they know somewhere in their dark hearts that the man who fired the projectile himself comes from Sderot, or more properly, from the bulldozed village upon which Sderot is built. The settlers and cleansers must shout ever louder of their victimhood and righteousness, precisely because they know their own guilt. This is the way white Americans used to behave, all of a righteous fury, when the remnants of the native tribes fired an occasional arrow their way.

Another reason for the madness is the sad story of European Jewish history. The Holocaust, specifically. “The place of the non-Jew in the Jewish imagination is a complex affair growing out of generations of Jewish fear,” the Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld told Philip Roth. The endless comparisons of Arab or Muslim leaders – Abdul Nasser, Arafat, Saddam Hussain, Ahmedinejad – to Hitler, and calling the victims of genocide genocidal, is not merely propaganda to dazzle the Western world. Many Israeli Jews actually believe this delusional nonsense, as a result of Holocaust trauma. Trauma freezes the psyche in the moment of pain; many Jews are frozen in the 1940s. Of course, most actual Holocaust survivors have died by now, and over half of Israel’s Jews are Arabs. But Zionist education creates new generations of Zionists by erasing distance from the Holocaust. It’s happening today! screams Israeli culture. The Arab is the German! The Muslim is the fascist! That impoverished refugee in his breezeblock hovel is a Gestapo man pointing to the gas chamber!

European oppression of the Jews generated Jewish fear, and also Jewish envy of the Gentile. Zionists accuse anti-Zionist Jews of self-hatred, but it’s the other way round. In Israel’s early years, Aharon Appelfeld said, “ ‘Never again like sheep to the slaughter’ thundered from loudspeakers at every corner.”

Not like sheep. Rather, like the slaughterer. We’ve gone wild, gone mad! they exult, overjoyed at their own violence, living the image of the fat-fisted anti-Semite.

And Jewish anti-Semitism found in raped Palestine a newly externalised target: the Palestinians. The Palestinians are, after all, Semitic descendants of the ancient Israelites and Judeans. The Palestinian is religious, bound to tradition, obedient to dietary prohibitions, dark-eyed, bearded, heavily-nebbed. The Palestinian is, most of all, weak – the very picture of the ghetto Jew.

The best part of it is that European Jews and European Gentiles could now agree on a target. This is how they ‘healed’ the wounds of the Holocaust, in a brotherhood of oppression directed at the filthy hook-nosed irrational Arab, whose women wear headscarves, who breed too much.

According to opinion polls, over 90% of Israeli Jews supported the Gaza massacre. The Israelis are so convinced of their righteousness they can’t believe that anyone reasonable would consider them wrong, in anything. Zionist education has produced a generation which is not only wrong, but now profoundly irrational. What they’ve just done is like a man humiliated by a smaller man in a bar (Hizbullah, 2006) who goes out into the street and finds a small child to beat to a pulp. When he’s finished, he feels strong again. He can’t understand why passers-by give him funny looks (of course, none of them stop him). This is psychodrama, not strategy. It’s as insane as Abu Musab az-Zarqawi. And, in a very very sad and frightening way, it’s encouraging. Zionism is now in its insane age, its mind broken by its own insane contradictions, and it is slowly but surely dying.