Special Report from the Fronts: June 1967

Israel

Egypt

Syria

Jordan

Iraq

USSR

US

Lebanon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(OK, I got carried away.  This was intended to be short and timely reflection on the Occupation, but the historian kicked in and produced this swollen document.)

Fifty years ago last month Israel began the Six Day War (5-10 June) by launching air strikes against the Egyptian Air Force. Initially the Israelis claimed they were attacked first, but later admitted they had struck the initial blow in their own defense, a “preemptive strike” in reaction to a build-up of Arab forces on their frontiers and Egypt’s closing of the Straits of Tiran, through which most of Israel’s maritime trade passed.  Israel had warned Egypt that blocking the Straits would be considered an act of war and in part had gone to war in 1956 because of precisely that.  President Nasser claimed that Israeli warships in the Gulf of Aqaba threatened Egypt and that Egypt had not signed the international convention declaring a right of passage through the Straits.  Ironically, Israel would later use the reverse argument when they were accused of violating the Geneva Convention in the Occupied Territories: the Palestinians had never signed it.

In any case, the Israeli population certainly felt seriously threatened, and because unlike the Arab forces the Israeli militia-army could not be kept on high alert for very long, Israel was forced to settle the issue more or less immediately. On the other hand, while the preemptive strike may be justified by the closing of the Straits, this was in many ways the beginning of the legitimizing of military action without a traditionally accepted casus belli.  Now we have invaded Iraq because we thought they had chemical weapons and might use them, and Israel, a nuclear power, threatens Iran with air strikes because they might be making a nuclear weapon.

The Six Day War took place just as I was graduating from college, and while I was on my way to becoming an historian of antiquity, my understanding of Israel was still shaped by the popular image of Exodus, of David versus Goliath, of the beleaguered democracy, of making the desert bloom.  I was thrilled by the marvelous victories of the Israeli Defense Force and the triumph of Jewish democracy over Arab autocracy, taunting a pair of Lebanese brothers who lived in my dorm.

This all changed rapidly as I learned more of the history of modern Israel and of the war itself.  Did two millennia of persecution and the Holocaust really justify displacing the Palestinians, who were certainly innocents in what Europe had done to the Jews?  Initially, in fact, Theodor Herzl and the Zionists simply wanted a state for Jews anywhere, recognizing that as part of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine was clearly not an option for state-building.  And the creation of a Jewish homeland was hardly high on the list of European priorities.

Theodor Herzl

With the outbreak of the Great War, however, the situation changed.  The desire of both the Allies and the Central Powers to cultivate European Jewry because of their supposed financial resources (yes, governments actually believed some of the anti-Semitic fantasies) provided the Zionists a more receptive audience.  On the other hand, British (and to a lesser degree French) military and political interests in the Arab regions of the Turkish Empire also provided a forum for Arab nationalism.  The Allies of course dealt with all this by making clearly conflicting promises to everyone in the region.

Arthur Balfour

The pivotal moment came in November 1917 with the publication of the intentionally vague Balfour Declaration:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The political calculation behind this seems to have been to garner support from German, Russian and American Jews, who would, respectively, undermine the German war effort, keep Russia in the war and attract more American support (another case of dramatically overestimating Jewish influence and power).  None of these things would happen.  Instead, already suspicious Arab allies were outraged, and Britain ended up being saddled with Mandatory Palestine for the next thirty years.  Many later labeled the Balfour Declaration one of the worst mistakes ever made by the British Empire.

For centuries Muslim, Christian and Jewish Palestinians had lived peacefully as neighbors, but that changed with the establishment of the British Mandate in 1920.  Jews began to pour into the territory: in 1920 they constituted about 11% of the population; in 1936 it was close to 30%, a huge increase given the high Arab birth rate.  The financial backing of the Jewish settlers was immense compared to that of the Muslims, allowing them to buy land and develop infrastructure.  Muslims considered the Jews a People of the Book, but having occupied the land for more than a millennium, they certainly did not share the enthusiasm of the Christian West for the resurrection of ancient Israel, which policy was increasingly viewed as another example of European imperialism.

The growing influx of European Jews was seen – quite understandably – as an invasion supported by the British, and most Arab leaders refused to cooperate in creating Muslim-Jewish institutions.  Sectarian strife began in the twenties, producing the first Palestinian terror groups, and a full blown Arab revolt exploded in 1936, Arabs attacking Jews and destroying their farms and the British Army, supported by 6000 armed Jewish auxiliaries, attempting to suppress them.  When the revolt ended in 1939 some 5000 Arabs, 200 British and 400 Jews were dead.  The British, incidentally, began the policy of collective punishment of Palestinians by destroying their houses, a policy later adopted by the new state of Israel.

Jews leaving Jerusalem

Arabs “escorted” from Jerusalem by British troops

A British-Jewish Special Night Squad

Palestinian fighters

Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad “General Commander of the Revolt”

Dead also was any idea of peaceful coexistence.  The Jews responded to Arab opposition and terrorism by organizing their own militias, such as the relatively disciplined Haganah, which would become the core of the Israeli Defense Force, and less savory groups, like the Irgun and Lehi (Stern Gang), outright terrorist organizations.  Meanwhile, the British soldiers, who ultimately were targeted by both sides, were likely cursing the name of Arthur Balfour.

Irgun: bombed Arab bus 1947

Stern: assassination of peace mediator Folke Bernadotte 1948

Avraham Stern – founder of Lehi (and supporter of the Nazis)

Irgun: King David Hotel 1946

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Supreme Commander of the Irgun

Irgun: hanged British soldiers 1947

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second World War brought matters to a head.  The slaughter of some six million European Jews could hardly fail to magnify the Zionist cause and the guilty consciences of Europe and America, which had turned away many Jewish refugees before the war.  The British Empire was in full retreat, and London was certainly open to any measures that would get them out of Palestine.  Finally, the war had produced an organization, the United Nations, which could serve as an international mechanism for the creation of a Jewish state.  Also crucial was the immense power of post-war America, whose President, Harry Truman, favored the creation of a new Israel, despite the objections of most of his advisors.  Joseph Stalin also supported the idea, which makes one wonder.

In November 1947 the UN voted to partition the Mandate, creating separate Jewish and Arab states and an international status for Jerusalem.  In hindsight the Arabs, now seemingly forever caught in a growing apartheid web of Israeli occupation, clearly should have taken the deal, but the Arab world did not see the self-determination talked about by the Americans, just another exercise in western manipulation of their affairs.

World Zionist Organization 1919 territorial claim

UN Partition Plan 1947

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zionism was a European phenomenon, the Holocaust (and to a great degree the persecution of Jews in general) was a European phenomenon and there had not been a Jewish state for almost two millennia. Why should there be one now?  And more important to the Arabs, why here?  Palestine had been Muslim and under the control of Islamic states for more than a thousand years (and had generally treated the Jewish minority far better than the Christian west).  I certainly could feel at least a twinge of the outrage when having met Arab families who could demonstrate possession of their land back into the nineteenth century and further, I had to listen to someone speaking English with a New York accent explain how it was in fact his land.

Well, for all the persecution and hatred of the people who “murdered the Christ” ancient Israel and Judah were an inseparable part of Christianity, which had after all accepted the Hebrew Testament, and Israel was where Jesus had walked. Today, many American Protestants, notably Evangelicals and sundry fundamentalists, are enthusiastic supporters of not just Israel but of its most extreme policies.  The British had painted themselves into a corner with the Balfour Declaration, and Hitler had made that corner virtually inescapable for them and the Americans.

The immediate response to the partition was violence, as Arab armies converged on the territory assigned to Israel, and it turned into inter-state warfare when Israel proclaimed her status as a sovereign state on 14 May 1948.  Here was the first of the “David versus Goliath” wars, at least in popular imagination.  In fact, Israel fielded almost twice as many troops as her opponents, and the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) estimated that Israel would handily defeat the forces of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

And so they did.  When the war ended in March 1949, Israel had acquired 60% of the territory initially assigned to the Arabs and now had a foothold in Jerusalem.  More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled; yes, contrary to the popular mythic version of their history, the Israelis did engage in ethnic cleansing.  (In the next three years about 700,000 Jews entered Israel, many fleeing Arab countries.)  In the state of Israel itself some 400 Palestinian villages (against 10 Jewish communities) were emptied of people, creating a class of Internally Displaced Persons among the Arab citizenry, and by 1950 one in four Israeli Arabs was an IDP, barred from their homes and land, which were confiscated by the state.  The laws applied also to descendants, so the situation continues to this day.

King Farouk I of Egypt

King Abdullah I of Jordan

1948 Arab-Israeli War

First Israeli Expansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Palestinians this was al-nakba, “the Catastrophe.” In 1950 Jordan annexed the remaining non-Israeli territory, the West Bank (Gaza was occupied by the Egyptians), and offered the inhabitants Jordanian citizenship.  Many Palestinians turned this down, and only Britain recognized the annexation, while the Arab states, anxious to keep the Palestinian question alive, pressured the Jordanian King, Abdullah I, to declare the annexation “temporary.”  This temporary arrangement would last 17 years and be replaced with something much more onerous.

In 1956 Israel joined in a secret coalition with Britain and France, who were responding to the nationalization of the Suez Canal, and fielded 175,000 troops (twice that of her allies) to attack Egypt. Worldwide outrage erupted, mainly directed against the French and British for their blatant assault on a sovereign state in order to protect their imperial interests, and domestic and international pressure soon forced them to withdraw, leaving President Nasser in power.  Israel was primarily – and understandably – concerned about regular terrorist attacks coming out of Gaza and Soviet weaponry going into Cairo and would be delighted to see a weakened Egypt without Nasser.  They occupied Gaza and Sinai and refused to leave when their erstwhile allies gave it up, and it took two more weeks of threats of sanctions and lifting of American aid by President Eisenhower (the first and last American President to stand up to Israel) to finally force them out.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Prime Minister David Ben Gurion

President Gamal Abdel Nasser

Suez Crisis

 

Unlike the humiliated French and British, Israel benefited from the brief war, her defiance of the US and international community winning important guarantees: a UN presence in Sinai and the opening of the Straits of Tiran, which had been closed by Egypt in 1951. Nasser kept the canal and his power and emerged with an enhanced reputation, but he failed to understand that he had been saved by American diplomacy not the Egyptian military.  While the Israelis correctly concluded that their citizen soldiers were better trained and could conduct large scale operations, Nasser deceived himself and his people by concluding that his forces could take on the new kid on the block.

The Suez Crisis set the stage for the Six Day War, suggesting to Egypt, Syria and Jordan that together they could defeat Israel. They could not, and while much of the world marveled at tiny David facing the Arab Goliath again, the CIA in fact concluded that it would take Israel less than two weeks to defeat the Arabs.  It took less than one, and Israel made out like a bandit.

Battle for Sinai

Battle for the Golan Heights

Battle for the West Bank

(Whether the Egyptians shot retreating soldiers or the Israelis murdered some POWs is still debated, but another more disturbing incident of the war is now perfectly clear: Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats deliberately attacked the intelligence ship USS Liberty, killing 34 and wounding 174 American sailors; see my post “Our Best Ally and the USS Liberty” (https://qqduckus.com/2012/06/07/our-best-ally-and-the-uss-liberty/) 

Prime Minister Levy Eshkol of Israel

 

President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt

 

King Hussein I of Jordan

 

Sallah Jadid of Syria

President Abdul Rahman Arif of Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Lyndon Johnson

 

General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Washington finally forced the Israelis to accept a ceasefire (they were ultimately dependent on American resupply), they had seized Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Eretz Yisrael had attained its greatest territorial extent – ever – and possession of all of Jerusalem, which meant control of sites sacred to all three Abrahamic religions: the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the el-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.  (Perhaps the most iconic image from the war is that of jubilant Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall; less well known is the immediate destruction of 135 Arab houses and a mosque to create the plaza that now fronts the Wall.)

The Second Israeli Expansion

Israeli soldiers at the
Western Wall

Clearing the area before the Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Israelis now also controlled the West Bank, which was promptly named the Judea and Samaria Area, though the term did not come into regular use until Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. The territory of the West Bank was in fact the heart of ancient Israel, Judea being the southern state of Judah (which ended up composing the history found in the Old Testament) and Samaria the northern state of Israel (completely maligned in the Bible).  A great irony of the creation of modern Israel is that inasmuch as the partition was based on demographics most of ancient Israel fell to the Arabs.  And this is certainly on of the central facts behind the sad fate of the Palestinians.

Ancient Israel Based on the Bible

Israel and Judah 9th century BC

 

Israel now occupied all that “homeland” (real or imagined), and while Israel was initially concerned with security – the occupation would quickly fuel Palestinian terrorism – the extremists saw the possibility of recreating ancient Israel, or at least the swollen image of it in the Judah-edited Old Testament.  Reestablishing a state that had ceased to exist two millennia earlier was questionable enough, but claiming territory for that state on basis of a clearly unhistorical holy book strikes me as absurd.  But because Christianity has also accepted that book as sacred, many clearly do not see Israel’s actions as absurd – or as violations of international law.

Before the end of June Israel brought East Jerusalem and surrounding land under its administration, calling it “municipal integration,” but it was clearly annexation, which was confirmed by the Jerusalem Law of 1980.  The occupied Golan Heights were to be retained for security reasons and settlements began to appear, leading in 1981 to the Golan Heights Law, by which the region was formally annexed.  Only Costa Rica recognized the Jerusalem annexation and Micronesia the Golan annexation – one wonders why these two states.

One of the fundamental provisions of the post-World War II international agreements, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Charter, is the prohibition of annexing or settling territory acquired through war, whatever the reason.  Israel apparently felt exempt from this, for security reasons but increasingly in the West Bank simply because it was believed to be the land of Israel.  These settlements were not merely “obstacles to peace,” as the United States calls them, but gross violations of international covenants the United States is pledged to uphold.  Nevertheless, Israel was continually protected from hostile resolutions of the United Nations by the American veto in the Security Council.

Already in 1967 Israel reestablished the old settlement of Kfar Etzion, whose inhabitants had been massacred in the 1948 war.  More ominous was the foundation on the outskirts of Hebron of Kiryat Arba in 1968: the land was confiscated from Palestinians on the grounds of military needs, but it was in fact intended for a Jewish settlement.  Because of the connection between Hebron and Abraham (who might have once been a local cult figure), the city is sacred to everyone and has attracted a particularly nasty group of Jewish settlers, who are holed up in the old town, protected by the Israeli military.  Kiryat Arba has a park dedicated to Meir Kahane, whose Kach party is considered a terrorist organization even by the Israeli government, and nearby is the grave of Baruch Goldstein (an associated shrine, attracting thousands of visitors, has been bulldozed by the government), who slaughtered 29 Palestinians praying in a mosque. Both these men grew up in Brooklyn.

Kahane Tourist Park

Meir Kahane

Kiryat Arba

Baruch Goldstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The confiscation of land for Jewish settlements became standard policy during the 1970s, though it was denied by the Israeli government.  When a Likud government under Menachem Begin (former leader of the terrorist Irgun; a later Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, led the Stern Gang) took power in 1977, the process accelerated, and later the government began subsidizing housing in the settlements (which continues to this day), drawing huge numbers of Israelis who were moved far less by the dream of ancient Israel than by cheap available housing.  Whatever the motivation, these colonists were creating the “facts on the ground,” a growing Jewish population that made it more and more difficult for the land to be returned to the Palestinians.

Ytizhak Shamir, Prime Minister and former terrorist

Menachem Begin, Prime Minister and former terrorist.

Yasir Arafat, President and former terrorist

 

 

 

 

In 1983, as part of the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel removed the settlements from Sinai, and in 2005 those in Gaza, in both cases facing serious resistance from the settlers.  Unfortunately, with Israel controlling Gaza’s frontiers, waters and air space this rump Palestinian state became the world’s largest open air prison, periodically blasted by the IDF because some Hamas jerk shoots a rocket into Israel.  As of today, approximately 1,730,000 Palestinians are living in a semi-wasteland, and malnutrition has become a serious problem.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population in the Occupied Territories continues to swell, as increasingly right wing governments blithely paint Israel into a corner.  There are now some 800,000 Israeli Jewish citizens residing in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and a growing number of Israeli-only roads slicing up Palestinian territory.  Israeli and foreign governments still talk about the “two state solution,” but it has become an impossibility.  Even were the government willing – an extremely unlikely development – attempting to evacuate the settlements would almost certainly lead to extreme violence and civil strife.

What then?  There are now some 2,754,000 Palestinians in the West Bank (and 5,000,000 in Arab countries), and their birth rate is much higher than that of the Jews – excepting the ultra-Orthodox Haredi (who are producing a growing number of Israeli males who know virtually nothing but the Torah).  They certainly cannot be simply expelled, and that leaves two possibilities: annex the territory and give the citizenship to the Palestinians or continue with the current policy.  The first will not happen because Jews would then be a minority, a difficult proposition if Israel is to be a “Jewish” state, and one could expect the new voters to be unsympathetic to many Israeli institutions.

That leaves the status quo, which can lead only to some form of an apartheid state, which is already taking shape in the West Bank.  I visited Israel/Palestine about twenty-five years ago, when the settler presence was much smaller and the Israelis-only road network was just getting underway, and even then the West Bank was beginning to look like something out of the Middle Ages.  The settlements are for the most part on hill tops or ridges, looming like little fortified cities over the Palestinian communities below.  The traditional whitewashed houses of the villages, where water is increasingly in short supply, are in dramatic contrast to the modern accommodations, malls and swimming pools of the settlements, which are like bits of American suburbia planted in the Holy Land.

Settlement life

Israel has now occupied Palestine longer than the Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe, a tragedy for the Palestinians and ultimately the Israelis.  The Palestinian leadership, such as it is, has been frequently corrupt and seems to have a special knack for doing just the wrong thing, but consider a half century of rather unpleasant (by contemporary western standards) occupation: how would you feel after a lifetime of second class status – at best – and watching your ancient homeland being recolonized?   Or seeing your home destroyed because someone in your family was arrested (collective punishment, another violation of international law)?  Or being shot with relative impunity because you were defending your olive trees from settler vandals?

Back a quarter century ago I and a companion visited a Palestinian family in Bani Naim, five miles east of Hebron, and when we entered the children began crying.  They thought we were Israelis.

The sad history of Palestine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Joshua Redux

The current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems the embodiment of intransigence and resistance when it comes to the West Bank and peace with the Palestinians, but he appears almost liberal when compared to his Economics Minister, Naftali Bennett. Bennett is head of the extremist Jewish Home party, the third largest group within the coalition currently controlling the government, and he is willing to bring that government down should “Bibi” continue showing such weakness. His is a sweeping mission: “My task is to keep Judaism alive, to make it stronger and to fight its enemies.” Inasmuch as slightly more than half of world Jewry lives outside Israel, his mission statement might be a bit too sweeping, but conservative Israeli politicians seem to feel that Israel is Judaism.

Joshua Redux

Joshua Redux

In his struggle Bennett’s main concern is the West Bank, the territory that in the eyes of the world is to become the Palestinian state. In the eyes of Bennett, however, the West Bank is Israel. He actually has a point, at least to the extent that this territory was once Judea and Samaria, the heart of ancient Israel. But that was a couple of millennia ago, and one can hardly claim, as he does, that the land has belonged to the Jews for 3000 years. There have certainly been Jews living in the area all that time, but the state of Israel disappeared in antiquity and until the creation of modern Israel Jews were a minority. If any group can claim the land on the basis of continuous habitation, it would be the Arabs. Bennett’s reply to this argument is simple: anyone who makes it does not understand history, at least history as he imagines it. Thus, referring to the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank is completely wrong, because, as Bennett puts it, “You can’t occupy your own land.”

 

 

This is of course nonsense, and in any case, claiming territory on the basis of prior occupation, especially so long ago, is an extremely dangerous principle. But Bennett would doubtless point out that Israel is a special case because of the history of the Jews and especially the Holocaust, a proposition perhaps more palatable to the West because ancient Israel and its “history” are so important to Christianity. Special case or not, the problem is that people who are not Jews have been living on this land for more than a thousand years and are wondering why they must be displaced because of the actions and guilt of the West. Palestine was manifestly not, as the Zionist catchphrase put it, “a land without a people,” and in 1948 the Palestinians saw half of their homeland given to the Jews by an international organization created and dominated by a country whose President was anxious to secure the American Jewish vote for his reelection.

armed non-people

armed non-people

But historical fact notwithstanding, Bennett, like many others, fervently believes Judea and Samaria are part of Israel, and consequently, settling Israeli citizens in the West Bank, seen as a gross violation of international law by the rest of the planet (quietly by the US), is quite proper. And like the Lord of Hosts once smiting the idol worshippers in the land He gave unto His people, there is the Israeli Defense Force, smiting their modern enemies, though they are no longer idol worshippers. These are the Chosen People, chosen a second time by the United States, the closest thing earth now has to a Judge of the Nations. The world is treating Israel unfairly, according to Bennett, an ironic supposition given that under the protection of the United States Israel is permitted behavior condemned by international covenants (which we are pledged to uphold).

 
Bennett believes time is on his side since the settlement program, despite the (empty) objections of the Washington, is actually accelerating, and every Israeli colonist is, as they say, a fact on the ground. There are already more than a half million Israelis (including almost half the ministers in the Netanyahu cabinet) living in the West Bank; send in enough and it is Israel, regardless of quibbles about silly international law. But Bennett is not an unreasonable man and is willing to compromise. Israel will annex only Area C, which is to say, 68% of Palestinian territory, and the Arab inhabitants (180,000) will be offered the blatantly second class citizenship already enjoyed by their cousins in Israel proper. The other 32% of the West Bank will be administered by a toothless Palestinian Authority, protected of course by the Israeli Defense Force and Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police. This sounds a lot like the Generalgouvernment, the Nazi administrative structure that ruled Poland. And sooner or later the entire area would almost surely be annexed.

Apartheid plan

Apartheid plan

Bennett and friends apparently do not see the underlying problem in all this – or they simply do not care. Apart from the fact that outright annexation of that much territory, acquired through conquest, is likely to be difficult for even ever compliant Washington to swallow, Israel would then control a huge and ever growing Arab population, confined to obvious Bantustans. Not only would this guarantee eternal hostility and instability, but Israel would be not just a Jewish state but also an Apartheid state. On the other hand, so long as the United States puts up with it, what do the Israelis care what the world thinks? The Palestinians are doomed. Where are the Romans when you need them?

 

 

(I just discovered a related news item regarding the West Bank, one that demonstrates the strength of Israel in American politics.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition and happened to refer to the West Bank as “occupied territory,” which characterization did not please the crowd.  He promptly apologized to billionaire Zionist Sheldon Adelson for his “misstatement,” though of course the West Bank is as much occupied territory as Poland was under the Germans.  The UN resolution of 1947 created the state of Israel, and the West Bank and Jerusalem were not part of that state.  That the Arabs did not accept the partition is irrelevant; the resolution also created a Palestinian state, the territory of which Israel is now occupying (and settling).  And the American media?  A former White House hack, Bill Burton, responded to a question from Candy Crowley of CNN by saying that the remark showed that Christie is “not on top of his game,” which is perhaps true if he dared to speak the truth to this particular audience.  But Crowley then told viewers that presidential candidates are “all going to make really stupid mistakes, which that was one.”  She could not be bothered to even mention that this “really stupid mistake” involved stating a fact.)

 

 

And question it they did. Former Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday that Christie’s remark is “the sort of thing that shows he’s not on top of his game like you need to be when you’re a presidential candidate.” Instead of pointing out the absurdity of Burton’s statement, Crowley validated his point, saying, “They’re [presidential candidates] all going to make really stupid mistakes, which that was one.” Just like that, the self-described “most trusted name in news” assured viewers that there is no Israeli occupation of Palestine.

A Just Peace

(The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks engineered by Secretary of State John Kerry reminded me of similar negotiations that took place some seventy years ago.)

In a deal brokered by the American Secretary of State the German Chancellor today announced that Minister for Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop would be traveling to Warsaw in an attempt to revive the peace process with Poland, which has been occupied by German troops since the 1939 war. Chancellor Hitler repeated his commitment to the “two state solution” but cautioned that “minor adjustments” would have to be made to the pre-1939 frontiers.
The Chancellor insisted that there be no preconditions for the talks, a clear attempt to circumvent the question of the Polish Right of Return. “Everything is on the table,” said Ribbentrop, noted for his earlier arrangement of a peace agreement with the Soviet Union. “We are willing to discuss every issue, even the difficult ones, in order to secure a just and lasting peace that will provide for the security of both the German Reich and the Polish people. We will settle for nothing less.”
Ribbentrop’s enthusiasm and optimism is, however, not shared by some observers. “There are simply too many serious problems that the Poles have shown no inclination to address,” explained Governor-General Hans Frank, who is opposed to the “two state solution” because it would eliminate the Reich-supported Governorate General, which he administers. “Our construction projects in the Governorate General have produced jobs for Poles and raised their standard of living in areas such as Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belżec.”
A particularly thorny issue is the German settlement program. It is estimated that there are some two million Germans living in the occupied territories, two thirds of them brought in as new settlers. The remaining third are pre-war inhabitants rescued from Polish terrorism. The settlements are widely considered a violation of international law, particularly the fourth Hague Convention, but the Reich contends that Poland has never really been a defined national state and consequently international conventions are not applicable.
The creation of a Polish state would pose a serious problem for these Volksgenossen. Remaining in their homes would result in their being an oppressed minority, especially considering the primitive nature of Polish society and culture, which naturally views Germans with envy and hatred. But most would resist leaving their homes and land, which could only lead to violence, especially since the Poles have less regard for life than the Germans and other civilized peoples.
The case is also made that most of the territory claimed by the Poles is in fact German. The issue of West Prussia and Posen is of course clear to everyone: this obviously German territory was stolen from the Reich by the Versailles Treaty and must be returned. More controversial is the land that comprises central Poland. While this area has not been part of the modern German state, it was once German territory, as evidence by the large number of Germans living their prior to the 1939 war. It was inhabited by Germans as long ago as the third century, when the area was controlled by Vandals, Goths, Burgundians and other groups that made up “Germania,” which stretched from the Rhine to beyond the Vistula.
This is, however, an extreme view, and the Chancellor has indicated a willingness to make concessions to the Poles, such as granting them Warsaw and Lodz. In return the Poles must publically recognize the existence of the Reich as a “German” state. Any new Polish state would of course be demilitarized, and the Reich would maintain control of key strategic areas, such as the Vistula River. Such measures would be necessary to protect the Reich from any attacks emanating from Polish territory.
The Chancellor meanwhile commented on the current situation, denying emphatically that the condition in the Governorate General could be characterized as “apartheid.” He pointed out that the areas and roads restricted to Germans are solely for the purpose of protecting the population from Polish terrorism, and he explained how these measures also helped protect the Poles, who could be hurt by the high speed roads and unfamiliar machinery.
Finally, Chancellor Hitler addressed the recent bombing of Cracow. “Terrorists throwing rocks at German citizens cannot be allowed to go unpunished or the violence will only spread. If the casualties in Cracow seem disproportionately large, it is of course because the terrorist criminals were using innocent civilians as human shields.” He also noted that indefinite detention is in complete accordance with the laws of the Reich, as is the use of moderate physical pressure in obtaining information that could well save lives, both Polish and German. “We are not barbarians!”

Polish terrorist

Polish terrorist

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Polish negotiator

Polish negotiator

This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, unto Jacob, and unto Bibi

(Pre-blog note: We celebrate a fantastic achievement for mankind: landing a one-ton nuclear powered science vehicle on Mars, all without human direction.  Unfortunately, most writers for the general media feel compelled, perhaps inevitably, to add that it cost $2.4 billion, implying that this is perhaps too expensive.  Why then do articles about the war in Afghanistan never mention that this war costs $2 billion a week?  The $2.4 billion Curiosity will operate for at least 104 weeks and actually produce something of value to humanity, which seems like a much better deal.  Perhaps if Curiosity carried weapons no one would notice the price tag.  Three cheers for my fellow geeks at NASA and JPL!)

 

The mainstream American media typically reports news involving Israel only when the Israelis do something spectacular, like invading Lebanon, or when American politics are involved, such as Mitt Romney’s brown-nosing comments about Jerusalem and the Palestinians.   Hardly surprising then that most American newspapers and television stations made no mention of the Levy Report, despite its important implications for Palestine and American policy in the area.  To be fair, some major newspapers, such as the NY Times, carried the story, but clearly most Americans, even those who keep abreast of the news, are unaware of the report, being inundated with the apparently more interesting details of the lives of mass murderers.

Regarding their occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Israel has (when it bothered at all) traditionally excused its clear violation of accepted international law by pointing out that inasmuch as there is no Palestinian state the strictures of such international instruments as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Charter do not apply.  This rationale of course places Israel in what should be uncomfortable company: Hitler in part justified his monstrous treatment of the Soviet Union by noting that they had never signed the Geneva Convention.

This has apparently changed.  Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a three member commission, headed by former High Court justice Edmund Levy, to investigate the legal status of the so-called “illegal” settlements, that is, those not authorized by the government.  The implication of course is that all the other settlements are legal, despite their obvious violation of basic international law.  But what the panel concluded goes way beyond the issue of the handful of “illegal” settlers, and it is breathtaking in its self-serving cynicism and implications.

Basically, they determined that that the “illegal” settlements – and thus all the settlements – are not illegal because they are not in fact in occupied territory.  This conclusion might seem a bit surprising since the Israeli army has been obviously occupying the West Bank for 45 years, and this is territory designated as part of the Palestinian state created by the same UN resolution that created Israel.  The commission, however, concluded that since Israel has been in the West Bank for such a long time that this is unique occurrence and thus not actually an occupation.  Bingo, all the settlements are perfectly legal in the light of international law.  As, I suppose, would be the German colonization of Poland if they had only hung on longer.

Israeli politicians either hailed this as a triumph of jurisprudence or remained silent, and I am unaware of an official response from the US government, which is in the midst of an election, when even the faintest criticism of Israel is viewed as political poison.  As a signatory of all the international conventions Israel is currently violating, it would be awkward for the US to officially accept the colonization of the West Bank, and our official position is that the settlements are unacceptable.  But no American president has dared take any action on the issue, and so far as I know, no administration has even publically referred to them as violations of international law.  Instead they are “obstacles to peace” or some such euphemism, despite the fact that as a High Contracting Party America is legally bound to “ensure respect” for the Fourth Geneva Convention, which the settlements blatantly violate.

The self-serving and perfectly silly arguments of the Levy Report are designed to satisfy the all-important settler block in the present extremist Likud coalition, but what are the wider implications if this position becomes the official policy of the Israeli state?  This would essentially amount to an annexation of the West Bank, and while the US has pretty much turned a blind eye to the annexation of the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, this would be very different and disastrous for Israel and perhaps the US.

Annexing the West Bank, even if the word “annex” is avoided, would certainly create a crisis for Israel, which would be faced with only two options.  Israel could enfranchise the 2.3 million Palestinians who live there, but that would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state and is inconceivable.  The alternative is to create (or formalize what is already the case) an apartheid system, which would be the end of Israel as a democratic state.  The second solution would appeal to many religious fanatics, but it would mean the end of US support and the complete isolation of Israel unless it chooses to ally with blatantly undemocratic states like Russia and China.

Well, it would probably mean the end of American support.  American politicians of both parties have a very well established tradition of prostrating themselves before Israel for reasons that are actually becoming less compelling as relentlessly liberal American Jews reconsider their unqualified support of an increasingly illiberal and sometimes outright intolerant Israel.  Israel has become so imbedded in our political arena and its excesses so constantly ignored that it is not a certainty that American politicians, especially evangelically inclined conservatives, would actually abandon it.

We have been quite willing to call Israel a model democracy in the Middle East despite the clear evidence that Palestinian citizens are not just treated as second class but are actually legally disabled.  And in the eyes of many Americans every Arab is suspicious anyway, and the Palestinians have always been terrorists, right?  That Palestinians would be treated as American Blacks were before the civil rights legislation or as South African Blacks were under the apartheid government would clearly be no problem for many conservative Americans.  Yes, we finally severed relations with South Africa, but this is different.  Israel is vital to American security (at least that is what we have been told for a half century) and in any case this is the land the Bible says is special, the land where Jesus walked and where the end of days will take place.  Would Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann be bothered by any of this?

Many conservatives in Israel are not bothered.  Dani Dayan, head of the Yesha party, has just argued in the NY Times that because Arabs have called for the destruction of Israel and because the West Bank was the heart of ancient Israel, it is not just reasonable but actually moral for Israel to acquire this territory.  Think of it as Judea and Samaria rather than Palestine and you will see the moral imperative to annex.  American evangelicals, who seem to have an incredible capacity for ignoring the truth, especially when religion is involved, would surely endorse this idea, particularly since it involves not just their religion but also national security, which for some has become a quasi-religious concept.

To be sure, because of its unqualified support for Israel and Arab dictators and monarchs, its massive military presence in the Middle East and its expanding program of assassination by drone, America already has little credibility in the Arab world.  But accepting an apartheid Israel would surely end our credibility as leader of the democratic world and spoil our relationship with Europe, whose politicians (even in Germany) are not pathetically subservient to the interests of Israel.

For an historian this is of course all fascinating stuff, but for an American, especially one already concerned about the road we are taking, this is scarey stuff.

And Breathed in the Face of the Foe As He Passed

Nations, certainly the more democratic ones, feel compelled to engage in often blatantly hypocritical action when dealing with “friends” considered vital to national interests.  Consequently, the United States, which has constantly trumpeted to the world its support of democracy and human rights, has seen no problem in supporting and cooperating with sundry dictatorial regimes with abominable human rights records.  During the cold war this generally took the form of supporting any military dictator who claimed to be fighting a communist insurgency, which policy could actually go as far as participating in the overthrow of a democratically elected government, as in the case of Chile and Iran.  Now one only need replace the word “communist” with “terrorist” or “Islamicist” to see the same policy continuing, as recently in Yemen with Ali Abdullah Salah.  And of course there is oil and convenient military bases.  How often have you heard Washington, full of praise for the Arab Spring and condemnation of rulers like Assad and Ahmadinejad, complaining about the bloody repression of protestors in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia?

Of course, nations do not typically have friends but rather interests, and maintaining those interests, which seem inevitably to fall under the wonderfully vague term “national security,” often conflicts with the stated values of a democratic nation.  Perhaps that is simply life in the big city.  Certainly, American voters are going to be far more concerned with the price of gas than the plight of peaceful and justified demonstrators getting their heads beaten in by our friends, even if those friends operate a political and social system that is more at home in the 11th century than the 21st.  Squishy sentimentality about human rights or idealistic notions of international law cannot obstruct the business of the nation.

This all makes sense if your priority is the welfare of your own nation regardless of how the inhabitants of some other country might suffer.  What is harder to understand, however, is violating the traditional norms of international behavior and injuring the reputation of the country pursuing actions that not only do not serve national interests but in fact injure them.   And taking such action in the face of massive popular opposition, which on the face of it might seem imprudent for a democratically elected government.  But in the case of bombing Iran, apparently not.

The stated aim of this prospective madness is protecting what actually must be a friend, Israel, since it is very difficult to see how this ally has ever served American interests.  Our intelligence agencies have stated that it will be at least three years before Iran can produce even a crude deliverable weapon, and any objective analysis of the Iranian government strongly suggests that for all their sometimes bizarre behavior they are not irrational and suicidal enough to launch a nuclear device at a country that possess several hundred easily delivered nuclear bombs.  The militaries of both Israel and the US do not want to attack Iran.  The majority of the populations of both these democracies do not want to attack Iran.  Some 70% of all Americans do not want to attack Iran and want to dissuade Israel from doing so, and even 69% of Republicans agree.

So why the hell are we on the verge of doing this?  For the simple reasons that the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces serious domestic problems and needs to satisfy the extreme hawks and – let us be honest – aspiring fascists in his coalition and that this is a Presidential election year in the United States.  Obama is not stupid, but he is political, and despite the evidence of widespread anti-war sentiment and the fact that American Jewry is rapidly losing its traditional unquestioning commitment to Israel he nevertheless cannot resist the half century old political imperative to NEVER criticize or obstruct our “most important ally.”  It must seem particularly important to him to pander to a foreign government (which he clearly despises) since the Republican candidates have almost come to blows in their claims to be the ultimate Zionist.  They have already savaged him for throwing Israel under the bus, seemingly for not being enthusiastic about the colonization of the West Bank, despite the absence of any bus anywhere on the horizon.

Allowing your foreign policy to be determined by domestic politics is never healthy for a country, even one as powerful and militarily invincible as the United States.  But to alter your foreign policy judgments and act counter to the clear will of the voters because of a largely imaginary political advantage is incomprehensible.  The historian is reminded of the Great War, during which the political leaders of Britain, France and Germany all fell over one another making promises (which they had no intention of keeping) to the Zionists because of the completely imaginary gentile notion of an incredibly powerful and united world Jewry.

Because, at least initially, of European and American guilt, the huge American Jewish community, the astute propagandizing of the young and very western Jewish state and the intransigence and foreignness of unattractive Arab dictatorships, America allowed herself to fall into exactly the kind of “passionate attachment” George Washington warned against.  The result has been the unqualified and for us counterproductive support of a country that routinely and blatantly violates the international law this country is in fact sworn to uphold, making us look like hypocritical fools when we legitimately protest the aggressive and inhumane actions of other nations.  How can we complain about Russian and Chinese vetoes of UN action against Bashir Assad when the US, alone except for American territories and apartheid South Africa, consistently vetoed even the mildest criticism of Israeli behavior?  And remember, the deliberate Israeli attack in June 1967 on the USS Liberty, resulting in 34 dead American sailors, is still officially considered, against all evidence, an “accident.”

And now we are on the edge of the precipice, on the verge of a disastrous (and immoral) war against Iran, which would certainly disrupt oil supplies and dramatically affect the global economy, possible turning the recession into an outright depression.  Which party, I wonder, will get the blame when gasoline prices in America soar?  All this because of the political needs of a small handful of individuals in Israel and the United States.

The image of the tiny democratic David holding off with our aid the evil Arab Goliath was never quite accurate and is now a sick joke.  The most powerful military and the only nuclear weapons between France and Pakistan belong to Israel, which has now settled a half million colonists on territory belonging to the Palestinians, with no end in sight except the ultimate creation of a greater apartheid Israel.  The current government in Tel Aviv, with the seeming connivance of the judiciary, has already limited free speech in Israel and is allied with the ultra-orthodox communities, which are completely at odds with the essentially secular society of the majority.

Shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War Israeli philosopher Yeshaya Liebowitz wrote: In the first stage we shall see euphoria, upon our return to our ancient sites.  Next we shall see the emergence of a messianic, radical and dangerous nationalism.  In the third stage we shall see Israeli society becoming more brutal and the emergence of a police state.

It is coming true, as Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians and its own minorities engages in a more and more convincing impersonation of the Third Reich.  We are complicit.  Worse, we are becoming Israel.

A Light Unto the Nations

The village of Shaab al-Buttum, home to hundreds of people, is in the hills south of Hebron in Palestine.  The community is made up of shepherds, formerly nomadic but forced to settle permanently in the area when the West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967.  Unfortunately for the villagers, their home is in Area C, which comprises some 60% of the West Bank and is directly administered by Israel, which requires permission for any construction projects, permission that is virtually never given to Palestinians.  The impact of this restriction is evident in the demographics of Area C: 150,000 Palestinians and 310,000 Israeli settlers.

As a consequence Shaab al-Buttum has no roads, no water and no electricity, while two nearby Israeli settlements are well supplied with all the necessities of life.  This disparity exists despite the fact that the Israel settlements are considered “illegal” by Tel Aviv, a distinction baffling to anyone outside the Israeli and American governments, since all the half million Israeli settlers in the West Bank are there illegally according to several international covenants, which in fact the United States had sworn to uphold.

Three years ago two Israeli doctors began a program of installing solar panels and wind turbines to supply electricity to Shaab al-Buttum and other communities in the area, and today some 1500 Palestinians benefit from the project, largely funded by Germany.  Not for long.  Citing the lack of building permits, Israel has declared that all the facilities are illegal and will be destroyed.  And it is probably just a coincidence that this Israeli decision comes in the immediate wake of a recent European Union report (surprisingly) critical of Israel’s settlement program.

Foreign funded projects in the West Bank and Gaza are continually being destroyed by Israel, generally under the rubric of security and military necessity, as in the case of the now obliterated Gaza airport, financed by the EU.  Lack of a building permit has been the traditional and well-used pretext for destroying Palestinian homes, but it is now apparently being employed against foreign investments as well, particularly when even the Israeli military would have trouble imagining a security threat.

Could it be that investment in the infrastructure of Palestine is at odds with the Israeli policy of colonization and that there is a message here for foreign meddlers?  Or is it just another example of the incredible pettiness that characterizes the Israeli occupation?

The plight of Shaab al-Buttum and its neighbors is far from unique or rare.  This sort of petty and destructive behavior is a sad commonplace of the half century occupation.

Ironies from Israel #3: Lessons of History

"We're here to help you!"

On March 27, 2002 Palestinian militants killed 30 Israeli civilians at the resort town of Netanaya, part of a wave of suicide attacks that accompanied the Second Intifada.  In response to this assault, on March 29 the IDF publically announced the implementation of Operation Defensive Shield, a large-scale military incursion into the West Bank that involved the activation of 20,000 Israeli reservists.  The operation had actually begun unannounced a month earlier, making the March 29 invasion the second wave to move into Palestine.

The IDF entered every Palestinian city, but the most serious fighting was in Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat was besieged in his presidential headquarters.  The most intense combat was in Jenin, where according to UN reports both sides engaged in excesses, though a rumored massacre in the Jenin refugee camp proved unfounded.  In the entire operation 30 Israelis were killed and 127 wounded, while the Palestinians suffered 497 dead and 1447 wounded, with 7000 detained.  The World Bank estimated the Palestinian economic losses at $361 million.

The Israeli goal, stated before the Knesset by Prime Minister Arial Sharon, was to capture or kill terrorists and destroy the infrastructure that supported them, which was to include anyone who resisted the Israeli troops.  Palestinian and neutral observers claimed that the operation was also directed against the police, officials and general infrastructure the Palestinian Authority. In its report Amnesty International stated that “the IDF acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians.”  Human Rights Watch determined that “Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Urban warfare, particularly for the aggressor, is extremely difficult and destructive, especially when the defenders have the time to prepare, as in Jenin.  Though they used helicopter gunships, because of American pressure the IDF could not simply bomb the city into submission and was forced to conduct house to house fighting, resulting in more casualties than it was accustomed to when operating against Palestinians.  The IDF ultimately developed effective tactics employing armored bulldozers, and lacking heavy weapons, Palestinian forces were defeated.

With little experience in this type of intense urban warfare the IDF studied the accounts of other militaries that had engaged in such actions.  One of the most pertinent of these concerned an operation carried out in Poland from January to May 1943 by the German Wehrmacht: the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto.