Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Israel has the right to defend itself"

That's the defense you always hear of Israel's [insert latest military operation here].

Here's a shocker: so do the Palestinians.

This post has been rattling around in Spot's head for a few days now, but a quote for its opening presented itself this morning while reading Mercury Rising:

This brief review [contained in the article] of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. [quoting Avi Shlaim in the U.K. Guardian]

Actually, it's Professor Shlaim of Oxford University and former member of the Israeli army. And please read the whole article; it's sobering, to say the least.

Professor Shlaim recounts the expansionist intentions of the Israelis virtually from the founding of the country, and especially since its occupation, or perhaps colonization is a better word, of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.

Gaza and the West Bank, the so-called "Occupied Territories" are the most familiar ones, but they aren't the only ones. This is from a recent post by Juan Cole, the professor of middle eastern history at the University of Michigan:

Israel's policies were not merely defensive, contrary to the propaganda one constantly hears from New York. Moshe Sharrett's diaries demonstrate conclusively the expansionist character of the regime. Israel's leaders badly wanted the Sinai Peninsula and therefore a commanding position over the trade of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the 1950s and 1960s. There was also some petroleum there. Israel used superiority in armor and air power in 1956 to take the Sinai, in conjunction with an orchestrated Anglo-French attack on Egypt's position in the Suez Canal (which Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized that summer). President Dwight D. Eisenhower, afraid that vestiges of Old World colonial thinking would push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets, made Israel relinquish its prize. But hawks in Israel took the Sinai from Egypt again in the 1967 war, in which Israel again demonstrated that armor plus air superiority always defeats armor that lacks air cover (Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian air force early in the war).

Professor Cole goes on to tell how Egypt in effect won back the Sinai in the 1973 war, which was a prelude to the peace treaty concluded between Israel and Egypt. Israel has also occupied land belonging to its northern neighbors, until recently the Shebaa Farms area in southern Lebanon, from which it withdrew under pressure from Hizbullah, and the Golan Heights, which it annexed - and has since populated with Israelis - in 1981.

But the subject of this post is Gaza, and to some extent the West Bank, so let's return there. Here's more from Professor Shlaim:

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

And again from Professor Cole, here's what Gaza and the West Bank look like today:

And Avi Shlaim tells us what it was like in Gaza after Israel "withdrew":

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

And this is what Israel left behind:

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Golly, Spotty, that sounds kind of like Apartheid in South Africa, doesn't it?

That's what Jimmy Carter called it.

And yet, when Hizbullah or Hamas try to do anything about it, Israel goes ape shit and bombs 1.5 million people in a cage.

More to follow.

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