Israel investigates… Israel

The Israeli military killed four small boys on a beach last summer.

It was widely reported at the time, and people were rightly horrified.

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2014/jul/16/gaza-israeli-strike-kills-four-children-beach-video

But thankfully, Israel, that proudly proclaims itself to be the only democracy in the Middle East, subsequently launched a thorough and exhaustive investigation into its own behaviour to find out what happened – after all, journalists and eyewitnesses can hardly be relied upon.

The investigation is now complete and Israel has released the findings.  The Guardian reported on it, but I can offer you a pithier, clearer summary.  Here you go:

The children were to blame.

They shouldn’t have been on the beach when the soldiers fired the bullets – clearly children playing on a beach are a provocation for the poor, heavily armed soldiers – and everyone understands that, right?  How can you possibly be expected to cope with the pressure of being confronted at a great distance by four small unarmed boys?

The parents were to blame.

And anyway, why weren’t their kids indoors? The Israelis could have bombed their house and nobody would have noticed four more dead children in the rubble – there were so many other children that died that way in last summer’s attacks by Israel on Gaza.  Letting their children play outside is just so irresponsible of the Palestinians – don’t they care about how Israel’s image will suffer in the world’s press when incidents like this happen?

The kids’ school was to blame.

Gaza is so resource-rich, with no impediment to economic prosperity, that we have to ask why the school didn’t organise a nice summer camp for the kids to keep them out of mischief.  The headteacher should be held accountable for failing to provide adequately for the children: barely having any schoolbooks or pencils for classes is no excuse for not putting on a summer school with exciting outdoor and indoor games.

Hamas was to blame.

The shabby beach hut with fishing tools in it was so easily confused for a Hamas navy(!) building. It is a typical tactic of these wicked people to put military premises in populated areas and disguise them as beach huts and the like. After all, there’s so much space in Gaza: I know that there are about 1.8 million people in 360 square kms in Gaza, but just because it’s one of the most densely populated parts of the world doesn’t mean there must not be somewhere nice and isolated for a tool shed – sorry, Hamas navy command centre – to be placed away from built-up areas.  After all, a civilised country such as, say, Israel, has its “Defence” Ministry out in the middle of nowhere as the red marker on this Google satellite image of downtown Tel Aviv shows. Oh.

The sunshine was to blame.

It gets very sunny in the Middle East in the summer, and the soldiers were probably struggling with the glare. Maybe they had left their sunglasses at home that day – it’s easy to forget little things like that when you know you’re going to be faced with fighting against deadly enemies such as four small boys.  After all, I regularly forget my sunglasses when I put myself under similar pressure if I have to go to the local shops to buy some bread and milk just as the local school is on lunch break and the place is full of school kids.  It’s absolutely terrifying.

The main conclusion of the Israeli investigation of itself is that Israel Is Not To Blame.

And that’s ok then, isn’t it?

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

The four boys who were killed were:

  • Mohammad Ramiz Bakr, 11
  • Ahed Atef Bakr, 10
  • Zakariya Ahed Bakr, 10
  • Ismail Mahmoud Bakr, 9.

As the Guardian report notes, in that attack on these children, three others were also injured: Hamad Bakr, 13 and his cousin Motasem, 11; and Mohammad Abu Watfah, 21.

May we not forget them, their families, and all the countless other victims of the Israeli attacks on Gaza last year.

Are things moving in relation to Israel?

In yesterday’s blog post I spoke of ‘wishful thinking’ – but it seems as if there really might be some positive change occurring in relation to Israel.  I was not expecting to write another blog on this topic so quickly, but I do want to capture a remarkable change in mood.

Of course, British readers will probably giggle at the thought of me quoting Nick Clegg, but despite everything he IS the deputy PM, and is significant in that regard.  Haaretz reports him as saying:

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reneging support for a two-state solution, saying that if the Israeli leader does not backtrack from those remarks, Britain would have no choice but to recognize a Palestinian state.

Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called Netanyahu’s vow not to create a Palestinian state “alarming,” the Guardian reported Thursday.

Netanyahu, while campaigning Monday, said that if he were to be reelected, a Palestinian state would not be created, in a definite disavowal of his 2009 speech, in which he had voiced support for the principle of two states for two peoples.

Peter Beinart, writing in the same newspaper, discussed American disillusionment with Netanyahu, which is obviously far more significant than anything Clegg might come out with.  This is in particular in relation to the ‘there will be no Palestinian state’ comments from Netanyahu before the election, which seem to have finally made the Obama Administration wake up (a spokesperson explicitly rejected attempts to explain that comment away – Netanyahu’s damage limitation efforts do not appear to be working).  Beinart wrote:

It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.”

… most of the discussion is about policy. One policy option is to let the Palestinian Authority collapse and let Bibi deal with the calamity that follows. Early this year, Israel began withholding more than $100 million in tax revenue to punish Palestinians for trying to join the International Criminal Court. Since then, the Obama administration has been going around, cup in hand, trying to get European and Persian Gulf countries to give the Palestinian Authority the money to stay afloat. US officials estimate the PA can survive only another month or two without an infusion of cash. Already, the PLO has voted to suspend security cooperation with Israel. And although Mahmoud Abbas has made such threats before, this time Obama administration staffers think he is serious.

From a security perspective, Obama officials think Netanyahu would have to be insane to let the PA—which effectively serves as Israel’s West Bank subcontractor—go belly up. If it does, they predict terrorism, anarchy, and young Israelis having to directly patrol every Palestinian village and town. But they think Netanyahu, especially surrounded by a right-wing government, may be reckless enough to let that happen. And after this election campaign, they’re not sure they want to keep saving him from himself.

In another Haaretz piece, Beinart makes a point that many Americans will be feeling: “If Israelis have the right to vote for permanent occupation, we in the Diaspora have the right to resist it.”

These comments have all been from the Israeli Haaretz paper (sometimes compared to Britain’s Guardian). But American papers offer no solace to Netanyahu either.  Here, Judi Rudoren and Michael D Shear of the New York Times explain the Obama Administration’s changing position:

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday that regardless of the prime minister’s clarifications, his [Netanyahu’s] pre-election statements demonstrated that he was “no longer committed to a two-state solution,” which “means that the United States is in a position to re-evaluate our thinking.”

A day after other White House officials suggested that the administration might now support a Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a sovereign Palestine roughly along the pre-1967 lines that divided Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, Mr. Earnest said Mr. Netanyahu’s statements “do have consequences for actions that we take at the United Nations and other places.”

The standoff showed the lasting damage done to Mr. Netanyahu’s already-strained relationship with Washington during a divisive Israeli campaign. The tensions were worsened when the prime minister spoke to Congress, against White House wishes, to protest the emerging nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran.

Of course, whilst this is all welcome (and long overdue), neither the USA nor the UK are about to become staunch defenders of BDS, cut military aid (gifts) to Israel, and suspend financial support.  But it may be that UN Security Council protection is going, and whilst Netanyahu has assiduously cultivated relationships with important countries like India (a huge market for Israeli arms, in particular), India does not have a veto on the UNSC – America does.  Losing the automaticity of the American veto might be come as a bit of a shock to Israel, which is used to behaving shockingly badly and getting away with it.  William Saletan has written about the situation, interestingly making several of the points I made yesterday, and pointing to what the consequences might be:

We [Americans] have enabled this behavior, and we must end it. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. We must clarify the price Israel will pay for continuing to flout international norms and commitments. The challenge is to find the right measure. It can’t be destructive, vengeful, or disproportionate. That rules out sanctions, cutting military aid, and subjecting Israel to prosecution under the International Criminal Court. It also rules out supporting a Palestinian-backed United Nations resolution that would demand the establishment of a Palestinian state within a year, with no corresponding promises to Israel.

The right vehicle is a different resolution, floated three months ago by France, which would authorize a two-year timetable for resolving the terms of statehood. It would stipulate a “non-militarized” Palestine, as well as a “full-phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces.” The terms of the French draft aren’t much different from what the United States informally accepts. But by endorsing the resolution and making clear that we will no longer use our veto in the Security Council to fend off such measures, the United States would signal to Israel that our patience has run out. Israel can join the discussions and move toward recognition of Palestine. Or it can stand alone.

No revolution then, but nobody should expect that. However, something really does appear to be changing here, and not before time.  Let’s hope it isn’t just posturing.

Some thoughts on Netanyahu winning the Israeli elections

Binyamin Netanyahu and his party/partners have won the Israeli elections.  Of course, ‘democracy’ in Israel is ‘only paper thin’ as Chris Doyle of CAABU noted yesterday:

The sad reality is that Israel’s democracy is only paper thin, and is only accepted as long as the Israeli Jewish component calls all the shots. In this election the Joint List (that includes the Palestinian parties) has shaken up the political system threatening to become the third or fourth largest block in the Knesset. A true democracy would celebrate this but sadly this is not Israel and will not be until it genuinely becomes a state of all its citizens.

Winning an election that several million residents in the (de facto) single state of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories therefore doesn’t mean that much, even if Palestinians within Israel-proper were entitled to vote (those are the ones Netanyahu was worried about in the message Doyle is reacting to; if you want a satirical take on Netanyahu’s concerns, try Karl reMarks).

Here are some brief thoughts on a couple of issues about Israel and the elections, concluding with a further comment on Israeli ‘democracy’ and what it means.

Nuclear disarmament

Israel, of course, will not disarm, and will instead continue to pontificate about others’ nuclear weapons whilst maintaining its own.  But this would have been the case no matter which Zionist party had won.  Regarding Iran, there is some concern that the situation may worsen as a result of the election, but no mainstream Zionist Israeli party would particularly like an outcome that does anything positive for Iran.  Barack Obama and his allies simply(!) need to be aware that Netanyahu, despite divisions in the Israeli electorate, will see himself as having a mandate from the Israeli electorate to meddle more actively, and they need to resist that.

Occupation of Palestinian land

Apart from the Sinai, Israel currently controls the blue and the pink areas - basically Mandate Palestine and parts of Syria. www.passia.org

Apart from the Sinai, Israel currently controls the blue and the pink areas – basically Mandate Palestine and parts of Syria. http://www.passia.org

Netanyahu is absolutely committed to maintaining Israeli control over the entirety of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – everything from the Jordan to the sea.  Just before the election, he announced that he would never agree to a Palestinian state emerging from the Palestinian Authority (PA) that sort-of controls some elements of the Occupied Territories, thereby confirming what many of us have argued for years, that the so-called traditional ‘two state solution’ is dead.  The ‘two-state solution’ seeks to have Israel in the blue areas of this map (the 1948-67 borders) and Palestine in the pink West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem (the Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1973, and Israel still illegally occupies the Syrian Golan Heights).  Both the Israeli and the Palestinian states would be safe, secure and sovereign entities, sharing Jerusalem in some form; there would also be a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee situation.  Netanyahu has just categorically written all that off.  It has been clear to many that this is his de facto position, but it is now explicit and harder for external actors to ignore.

Therefore the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)/PA (though these lines are often deliberately blurred), has no partner to negotiate with – Israel’s new PM is not seeking an end to the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one.  Since this is now crystal clear to all, I want to engage in some wishful thinking on two levels, in brief:

  1. the Palestinian Authority, that has essentially negotiated away rights for Palestinians (in part) because it was continually pressured to do so by Israel and the West (including by the detestable Tony Blair), should just dissolve itself.  This would put explicit responsibility for the occupation back where it belongs – in Israel’s hands.  It is already there, but Israel uses Palestinians to do much of its work of occupation for it, which has two positive aspects for Israel: (a) it can blame Palestinians when anything goes wrong, e.g. an attack on Israelis; (b) it’s free, because all this is subsidised by (in particular) European aid, and though the EU has been slow to respond to the consequences of Israeli destruction of EU funded infrastructure (see e.g. this report from a few days ago), that might well change as Israeli intransigence continues, not least since in a financially worsening European context, it is not clear why the EU should be funding projects that Israel destroys with wanton abandon but never pays for.
  2. if the PA did dissolve, it would be much easier for the EU and others to take a fresh approach to the situation.  Once a two-state solution is off the table altogether because the Palestinian side have clearly shown that there is no Israeli partner for peace (to use a well-known phrase in this region…), a reconfiguration of external powers’ position to Israel can more easily take place.  This is unlikely to be explicitly advantageous to Israel, though we can expect all resultant costs for Israel to be born by the long-suffering American tax-payer (as already happens: Israel can only sustain the occupation because America pays for it, to the tune of several billion US$ a year).  In connection with this, the place of international law might finally begin to play a stronger role; indeed, the otherwise rather pathetic response of the PA’s Saeb Erekat to the election indicates precisely this:

    All of this could, in theory, happen without the PA dissolving itself, but that is a totally unrealistic expectation, whereas if the PA dissolves itself, it becomes easier for others to act.  The PLO declared Palestinian statehood in 1988, in parallel with recognition of Israel, and reaffirmed this in 1993 in the context of the Oslo agreements.  Giving up the PA is not a renunciation of that, but a declaration that this particular route to achieving statehood has been stymied by the Israelis, who have never recognised Palestine and show no intention of doing so.  The PLO’s declaration of Palestinian statehood and recognition of Israel still holds.

In tandem with all of this, the pursuit of Israeli war crimes has a high priority, as Erekat pointed out in the statement above.

Israeli ‘democracy’ and consequences for external actors

Andrew Stroehlin of Human Rights Watch commented this morning:

The problem we have, I think, is that we are often reluctant to take democracy seriously when it throws up results we don’t like.  We all like to think people are ‘sensible’ and will vote ‘sensibly’ – and that means people should vote the way I would vote, of course, because who’s more sensible than me?!  (Of course, it’s not just folk on the left who think this, those on the right do so too!)  Israelis, however, have, to use Saeb Erekat’s words, chosen to vote for ‘settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people’.

It is not that Israelis were hoodwinked by a campaign.  Israelis knew what they were voting for with Netanyahu.  Alex Shams explains:

On days like these, when an Israeli election again demonstrates the widespread Israeli support for warmongering, racism, and apartheid, that I remember words I once heard spoken at a talk. I have trouble remembering who said them, but I remember the words clearly:

“Let’s take for granted for a minute Israel’s claim to be a democracy and to have freedom of speech, unlike its neighbors. Now, according to this claim, Israelis have control over their electoral and political system, and they also have complete access to a wealth of information that describes to them in bloody detail exactly what the Israeli military does to Palestinians. There exists Israeli media actively and freely transmitting information constantly about what is happening to Palestinians under occupation on a daily basis in Hebrew to Israelis, and yet they consistently choose to ignore or justify that news, and they also consistently vote into power warmongering brutes who regularly slaughter and massacre Palestinians as well as ensure that a system of racial apartheid that makes daily life miserable remains in place.

Isn’t this the biggest indictment of Israel and Israeli society today? That in a ‘free and democratic’ state, they repeatedly choose to validate by a vast majority the horrific actions of their government in all their ferocity? At least in some ‘dictatorship’ you could argue that the people have no knowledge or no choice in the evils perpetrated by their government.

But in Israel, the knowledge and information are there. The choice is there. And a wide majority of the Israeli public repeatedly and consistently expresses its full-hearted support for the vicious war crimes being committed against Palestinians since 1948.”

It is my opinion, again validated by this clown contest of an Israeli election between “racist” and “more racist,” and between “dumb” and “dumber,” that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel is the only way to change the situation. All other strategies to ensure accountability have been tried and failed. BDS is the only way to force Israeli society to realize that the world cannot stand by and watch them excitedly continue their destruction of the entire Palestinian nation.

Those of us who are concerned about rights for Palestinians and Israelis must recognise that Israel is deliberately and repeatedly choosing a particular kind of government, and is thereby showing itself to be a country in which breaking international law, perpetuating racism and denying human rights of millions of people is an accepted norm of society.  Netanyahu is dreadful, yes, but having been elected again and again, we need to accept that he is the chosen representative of Israel – and that key word, representative, describes him and Israeli society.  I think too many Western liberals are in denial about this, pointing to the tiny Israeli peace movement as evidence that Israel is not ‘all bad’ – of course there are some honourable Israelis, but let’s not pretend Netanyahu won the election by accident.  His racism, his militarism, his aggression, his war crimes, his despising of democracy – this is what Israelis have voted for and what Israel really stands for.

If we want justice to come, as Shams argues, we need Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).  This has so far proven to be the only mechanism with which external actors have been able to exert meaningful pressure on Israel in order to delegitimise occupation and aggression (not to delegitimise the existence of Israel, as Zionist propaganda has it).  Even though Israelis seem happy to vote for endless conflict and the ongoing moral corruption of long-term military occupation (though BDS will also help them to move away from such disastrous policies), people of conscience cannot let Israel continue as it is because doing so entails the extinguishing of Palestinian aspirations for life in all it’s fullness.

Therefore, a failure to use BDS when it is the only tool shown to have had any significant effect on Israel is to be complicit in Israel’s destruction of Palestinian lives.

Appeal of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III For a World Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria

I have been sent the letter below through one of my academic mailing lists and I thought it worth reproducing here.  Whether prayer and fasting is your kind of thing or not, I think this letter is something worth reading, considering the horrific consequences of the ongoing war. Western media have largely supplanted serious reporting about the civil war in Syria in favour of a fixation on “ISIS” – whilst I understand the reasoning behind this, let us not forget that Assad has killed many more people than ISIS, and, as Jill Kestler-D’Amours (Do follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours) points out in this article that primarily highlights electricity problems: “Four years later, the conflict appears far from abating, and its impact on ordinary citizens is widespread: 3.3 million Syrians have become refugees, at least 7.6 million others have been internally displaced, and 210,000 people have been killed, according to recent estimates.”

Chilling Syrian numbers: 83% of electricity cut, life expectancy drops 20 years

Chilling Syrian numbers: 83% of electricity cut, life expectancy drops 20 years

Here is Patriarch Gregorios III’s letter:

Damascus 24/02/2015

Appeal of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III

For a World Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria

15-16 March 2015

“Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17: 21)

This fast is the Fast of Great Lent prior to the Resurrection: a fast that prepares the faithful to celebrate the glorious Feast of the Resurrection. Lent is a way of the cross, and we are in the fifth year of the way of the cross of our Arab countries, especially in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but also in Lebanon, which is influenced in a dramatic way by the wars that have flared up around it. Today, Lebanon has received at various stages and been hosting refugees and displaced persons from Palestine, dating back to 1949, and from Iraq several times from 2003 onwards and from Syria since 2011. Our countries’ Golgotha is very great: the greatest tragedy of the region’s territories and even of the world since the Second World War. As bishops, our role is to be with our people, alongside our people, before our people, behind our people and in the service of our people. We want to wash the feet of those who suffer, as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Yet we ask forgiveness from our faithful, because, despite our efforts, we are unable really to meet all their needs which are increasing on a daily basis. We are at a loss before the great pain and great suffering of our people in all its Christian and Muslim communities. This is tragedy and suffering on a global scale, which affects everyone. All have been affected by poverty, hunger, cold, lack of clothing, illness, sufferings and disability. The great majority of our faithful suffer from all that, especially in Syria. All are equal now in this kind of suffering. And as we said, this is the case also for all Arab countries, especially, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and also Libya, Egypt and the Yemen.

Emigration

We notice with great sadness that many of our faithful are leaving or going away, in various ways, both legal and illegal. How many stories we have heard of their suffering in this flight! Some are going away and leaving the country for good reasons, others, so to speak, without pressing reasons. We urge everyone to stay, to be patient, strong, always to hope and to hang on to hope, faith and trust in God’s will. We can never oblige anyone to stay: but it is a personal decision and is up to each person’s or family’s responsibility.

But we, as pastors are staying with all those who are staying, and are serving them whole-heartedly and with all our strength. We are making continuous efforts to help everyone, by all means at our disposal, of communication, travel, correspondence, reports, congresses etc. We thank all those who help us in this difficult task: local and international, civic or religious, Christian or Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran institutes and others.

Pope Francis speaks to us in our difficulties

We thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, especially for his prayers, his concern, his appeals, his speeches and also for his material assistance through the Roman dicasteries and the various organisations related to the Vatican. In particular, we should like to thank him for his special letter that he addressed to the Christians of the Middle East for the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity and the civil New Year, and we have the pleasure of mentioning here passages which are very beautiful and significant for us and for all our fellow-citizens.

“I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. It is the ecumenism of blood!

“Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough.

“The greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance!

“Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.

“The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal.

“You are not alone. I do hope to have the chance to come to you in person and to visit and to comfort you.”

Suffering a school of faith

We say all this in the hope of strengthening the faith of our children. Besides, we hear the witness of many of our faithful who tell us about their faith, resistance and experience of God’s protection, and that He protects and preserves all citizens from many disasters. We as bishops, feel that we are being taught by the faith of our faithful.

We thank God for all that, just as we are also rejoicing over the return of some faithful, some citizens to their towns: so for example, at Ma’alula, at Qusayr, some districts of Homs and elsewhere. We are also happy to see and learn that there are now building yards open to begin rebuilding homes and churches at Ma’alula, Nabk, Homs and Yabrud. We are also glad about the compensation given by the State and for the aid of our faithful and we also thank all the international institutions and our friends who are helping us in this direction.

The flame of hope

We turn to all our children and all fellow-citizens, as we did in our previous letters with the Holy Father, Pope Francis who said, “Do not let the flame of hope be extinguished in your hearts.” We launched the initiative, “The flame of hope for peace in Syria” at Christmas time. We again ask everyone to light this flame daily in their homes and hearts, in their souls and feelings. May it be a real inextinguishable light (despite the occasional lack of electricity or gas or oil!) to lighten the way for all citizens.

Fear not! I love you!

I should like to mention some verses from the prophecies of Isaiah, in which we find great consolation and a strong dose of fortitude, of which we have great need:

“I the Lord will hold thine hand, and will keep thee. Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.. every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him..” (Isaiah 42: 6, 43: 5a, 7)

Appeal for a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria 15-16 March 2015

From the very depths of our suffering and pain in Syria we cry out with our suffering people, who are walking on the bloody way of the cross, and appeal to the whole world: Enough! Enough! Enough of war on Syria!

We believe in the power of the prayer and fasting in this Great Lent, and we call for a day of solidarity with Syria, a day of fasting and prayer for hope and peace in Syria.

+ Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Palestine and the International Criminal Court

Palestinians, occupied and oppressed by Israel for decades, are not blessed with competent leaders.  In part, of course, this is because Israel has systematically sought to kill off (at times literally) any emergent leadership.  But in part it is because of ambiguity on the part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership about the best way forwards (there is even ambiguity over the PLO/PA role in negotiating with Israel and the wider international community).  This ambiguity is exemplified by Palestinian incompetence over this week’s UN Security Council decision on Palestine, as Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst for Al Jazeera, showed in a blog posting earlier today.

At times like this, I am reminded of Edward Said, a sorely missed advocate of Palestinian rights, who understood the need for a clarity of vision on the conflict that is often lacking today:

Ambiguity about our purposes is a useful tactic in the short run, but it cannot be a productive long-term strategy. Unless we produce a political discourse today that specifies as well as embodies what our struggle for self-determination is about, and unless we do so in a way that does not betray the values that have fueled struggle, we risk entering the final stage leading to self-determination unprepared for its outcome, a Palestinian state. If such a state is simply a mirror image of other states in the region, it would be a monster. — Edward Said, The Nation. Dec. 5, 1981 (posted today on Facebook by a friend; I haven’t verified the quotation)

Apartheid Wall, Palestinian side, Bethlehem, 2010

Apartheid Wall, Palestinian side, Bethlehem, 2010

Over 25 years of engagement with the conflict, researching and writing about it professionally, living in the region and having contact with folk of all persuasions and backgrounds in Israel and in Palestine, continually reinforces my understanding that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward one of injustice and theft of land by Zionists.  Zionism is an irredentist and nationalist movement based on 19th century settler-colonial ideology.  I don’t think it is possible for such a movement not to resort to morally problematic actions, for example, legitimating murder and dispossession (the classical imperial strategy of ‘they made us kill them’ is evident again and again, as Rania Khalek described in a report earlier today).  However, the ‘world community’ has sought to learn from such mistakes, and although haltingly and imperfectly, has created some legal mechanisms to deal with such matters.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the PA has today finally signed up to some of the key treaties that will help in this regard, of which the most immediately significant is perhaps the International Criminal Court:

This is not an anti-Israel move, even though Israel will probably claim that. Rather, it is a way to encourage justice, which will benefit both Palestinians and Israelis – of course the occupation and ongoing oppression of Palestinians is terrible for them, but being an occupier and oppressor is not doing Israel any good either!

Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, occupied East Jerusalem, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, occupied East Jerusalem, 2010

Although I don’t expect anything immediate to change, returning to a legal framework for transforming the conflict is the only viable way to move forwards, since negotiations in their current form have clearly failed: for over 20 years Israel has used the so-called ‘peace process’ to steal ever more land whilst pretending to negotiate, and nobody has tried to restrain it in any way.  The possibility, at least, of legal sanctions, means that there might be some hope for change in the future (and let’s be clear, it is no more than a possibility at the moment).  At the end of a calamitous year for Palestinians, this is one tiny glimmer of light that might make 2015 a marginally better one, though it will need more coherent action from the Palestinian leadership, and global support for any attempt at legal redress.  If you want to engage more with these questions in 2015, I would suggest the following as deserving of your support:

There are many more, but these are well worth becoming involved in to begin with.  If you’re not in Scotland or the rest of the UK, there will be similar movements in your country.

Happy New Year – and may 2015 be a better year for Palestinians and Israelis than 2014.

Update, 2.1.15
This short blog by Juan Cole shows why the ICC might become a real concern for Israeli leaders. The risk of prosecution grows over time, and it becomes a matter of when, not if, one of them is finally charged.

“Recognising” Palestine – too little too late (but Britain should do it anyway)

Both the Guardian and the Telegraph have this week carried articles urging the House of Commons to “recognise” Palestine when it debates the issue on Monday (by the way, did you notice anything unusual about the authorship of these two pieces?  It is interesting that both of these papers carried these articles).

It is possible the motion will be successful. Whilst I support it, I do so in a qualified way. Why only in a qualified way?

The idea of “recognising” Palestine is seen by many establishment figures as a way of supporting the “peace process” and, in Vincent Fean’s words in the Guardian, it “would help to preserve the two-state solution which is, after all, the policy of the three main political parties” (I presume he means the Westminster parties, though the SNP also supports the two-state solution).

This is well-intentioned, but pretty meaningless, as Fean will know. There is no “peace process” – and there has not been for a very long time. Britain “recognising” Palestine might have been of significance had it happened at the latest in the early 1990s, but now it has no real meaning (most of the rest of the world already recognises Palestine, with – broadly – Western states the ones who are just catching up on this issue).  Recognising Palestine as a state implies a two-state solution, but Israel has de facto created a one-state solution, leading to a situation of apartheid, as Virginia Tilley argues (along with Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and countless others). All we have in the Middle East is “process” and not “peace” – an endless meandering of diplomats, the furthering of lucrative careers of apparatchiks in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government, the bloating of the international NGO sector, and futile “interventions” from foreign officials. This “process” serves to obscure the ongoing illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory, involving violent repression and blatant human rights violations, all with the aim of dispossession and theft of Palestinian land and resources. There can be no peace whilst Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, is allowed to continue to occupy Palestinian land.  Palestinian resistance (even armed resistance) is no match for such a military colossus.

Even before the first intifada began in December 1987, Meron Benvenisti, former (Israeli) deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek, said that the number of Israeli settlers (better: colonists) in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories made a two-state solution impossible – the infrastructure of the colony-settlements was too tightly bound to Israel’s infrastructure to make a separation of the two possible (note that every single one of the Israeli colonists in the occupied territories is there illegally). In 1987 there were several tens of thousands of illegal Israeli colonists in the occupied territories; now there are over 500,000. How can a two-state solution work under such circumstances? Even if Benvenisti had been wrong in 1987 – and the so-called “peace process” was ostensibly predicated on this kind of assessment being wrong – there can now be no doubt that Israel will not willingly relinquish the occupied territories; indeed, the illegal occupation has become an integral part of Israeli identity – the colonists need the army, and the army needs the colonists.

So what to do? There are some really creative ideas emerging from a variety of different parties that offer some hope – none of them predicated on a two-state solution as traditionally understood. Many of these are variations of the one-state solution, and I can recommend some interesting reading on this:

  • Virginia Tilley, The One State Solution, University of Michigan Press 2005 (a brilliant book, now in a 2010 edition); see also her short piece in the London Review of Books, 6.11.2003;
  • Leile Farsakh, Time for a bi-national state, in Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2007;
  • Nathan Witkin, “The Interspersed Nation-State System: A Two-State/One-Land Solution for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” The Middle East Journal 65, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 31-54 (apologies: this may only be accessible via a university/paywall);
  • Leila Farsakh, “The One-State Solution and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Palestinian Challenges and Prospects,” The Middle East Journal 65, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 55-71 (apologies: this may only be accessible via a university/paywall);
  • Mark LeVine/Mathias Mossberg (eds.), One Land, Two States, University of California Press, 2014 (a ground-breaking effort involving Israeli and Palestinian authors working on the idea of ‘parallel states’).

But in the meantime, what to do? Should we support the move to get Britain to recognise the State of Palestine, even though it cannot conceivably come about in the present circumstances? I believe we should do so, for two main reasons:

  1. Palestinians are themselves asking us for this and as they are the oppressed party, we should pay heed to what they see as a viable strategy for changing the situation they are in (in the same way that many of us support the 2005 call for boycott, divestment and sanctions).  For example, Hanan Ashrawi argues that recognition is a “human, moral, legal, and political imperative.” Palestinian church leaders have said: “From Jerusalem, our occupied capital, we send our urgent message to the whole world and particularly to Europe: We are yearning for justice and peace. Recognizing Palestine and defining Israel’s borders is a first step towards that goal.”
  2. Israel pays no heed to simple condemnations (as Fean puts it in the Guardian article, “We have deplored [Israel’s actions] frequently, to no avail.”), and so further external pressure needs to be brought to bear – recognising Palestine will not do much, but it will do a little.

Ultimately, all of this is about a very simple issue: it is about bringing Israel into compliance with international law and finding a way forward for the conflict to be transformed.  In the eyes of many, Israel is “a rogue state” in that it ignores UN resolutions it does not like, contravenes countless international laws (e.g. Geneva Conventions, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Convention against Torture, and so on), and generally behaves as if it has complete impunity.  Demanding accountability for Israel’s actions in the occupied territories is essential for a just and lasting transformation to the conflict.  We are a long way from that at the moment, but recognising the Palestinian right to a state is a little step along the way.  The situation will constantly change, possibly for the worse, but if there is to be a chance of any improvement it needs to include a change in the behaviour of the occupier, and it has to be worth utilising every possible avenue for creating pressure to make that happen.

You can support the moves towards recognition by clicking the image below, which will take you to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s action page:

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Palestine Solidarity Campaign