Friday, December 13, 2013

Belated Review (2): IT’S JUST ZIONISM

                       IT’S JUST ZIONISM

The Jordan Valley and the Zambezi Valley are alike frontiers today of the free world.”
South African Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.

Recessionary times being what they are, I ordered my second-hand copy of Sasha Polakov-Suransky’s The Unspoken AllianceIsrael’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa online from the USA. It arrived with a tag on the cover identifying its source as Timberland Regional Library, but with “OFFICIALLY WITHDRAWN FROM TIMBERLAND REGIONAL LIBRARY” stamped on the first fly-leaf. Presumably some local Zionist(s) in Washington State had complained so bitterly about the book that the library was terrorised into withdrawing it. If this interpretation is correct, it says a lot about the relentless attention to detail of the US Zionist lobby, and a great deal about its contempt for the free dissemination of information. (You can read a generous extract from the book here.)

The Unspoken Alliance disseminates a great deal of information about the mutual love-affair between apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel. This affair lingered long after even the United States had joined the sanctions campaign against apartheid, and was accompanied by the same barrage of official lies that has typified Israeli propaganda (hasbara) since the state’s foundation.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death the book has acquired fresh relevance, clarifying as it does in exhaustive detail just why Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might not have been welcome guests at the funeral of the same former “terrorist" who, according to  Israeli diplomat Elazar Granot as cited by Polakow-Suransky, asserted at a gathering of the Socialist International in 1993: “The people of South Africa will never forget the support of the state of Israel to the apartheid regime.” (p.219)

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel threw cold water on the claim that “high travel costs” explained Netanyahu’s decision not to fly to the funeral. "Netanyahu is not a welcome guest in South Africa today. I think it was right of him not to go…" More doubtful is Liel’s thesis that Peres would have been more welcome: "Peres is a whole different story. Peres has an entire history and he represents a different policy. It's a shame he didn't go.” The “history” in question is marked by flagrant hypocrisy. Although Peres had the effrontery to state that “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew” (Polakow-Suransky, p.188), he presided for thirty years over deepening economic and military links between Israel and apartheid South Africa that helped the latter hold out against international opprobrium. The dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass has recently epitomised Peres’s historical role with great clarity: “Peres played a major role in the security and economic ties Israel established with the racist regime in South Africa and its pro-Nazi founders. As one of the founding fathers of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and the instigator of the ‘functional solution,’ he bears a large responsibility for the policies of ‘separate development’ that prevail [in Israel/Palestine].”

Polakow-Suransky rightly has a particular antipathy to “the ever sanctimonious”  Peres (pp. 233-4). Given the bizarrely idealised reputation Peres enjoys in the USA (and elsewhere in the West) this may be one explanation why The Unspoken Alliance disappeared from the shelves of Timberland Regional Library. However, he is almost equally critical of the less blatantly sanctimonious but long since canonised Yithzak Rabin, Peres’s rival and eventual accomplice in devising the Oslo Accord, a massive confidence trick perpetrated against Palestinian rights. Polakow-Suransky quotes Liel (p.197) on his, Liel’s, attempts to make a case for sanctions against South Africa in 1986: “[With] Rabin, we knew we could not go through the moral arguments, we had to go through the realpolitik” – i.e. Rabin, who opposed sanctions (p.193), was impervious to political morality. When in 1987 Israel bowed to international pressure and “unveiled a comprehensive sanctions package”, Rabin “assured the South Africans that the changes would be ‘mainly symbolic’ and would be announced publicly to ‘lessen the negative effects of contact with the RSA,’ which was damaging Israel’s image.” (p.204)
While I hope that the renewed focus on the Israel/Apartheid South Africa link will lead more people to read this book, I have some reservations about its political slant. Although Polakow-Suransky ruthlessly dismembers Israeli hasbara concerning the links with apartheid, he seems all too willing to take it at face value in other respects.

He believes that Israel was founded by “socialist idealists” (p.5) and refers to “the strong socialist leanings of Ben-Gurion’s government” (p.23): assessments that only make sense if you believe that ethnic cleansing is compatible with idealism and exclusivist nationalism with socialism.

He tells us that in the early 1960s “most Israeli government officials opposed apartheid on moral grounds” and quotes Ben-Gurion’s assertion that “[a] Jew can’t be for discrimination” (p.31), a slogan that Peres was clearly echoing with his cynical “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew”. However, as I have pointed out in the preceding blog, “between 1948 and 1966 the Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a gruelling system of de facto military dictatorship” which “allowed for the expulsion of population, the arbitrary summoning of any citizen to a police station at any time, arrest and detention without trial, the imposition of curfews, and curtailment of the freedom of the press and expression.” To have “opposed apartheid on moral grounds” while implementing such a system of de facto apartheid against Palestinian Israelis itself implies a racist double standard.

We read that prime minister Golda Meir, who apparently saw Africa through a “moral prism” (p.73), sought to “fulfil… a dream of Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl, to assist in the redemption of the Africans” (p.28). In return, she “was… revered by the leaders of Africa’s anticolonial revolutions… as a foe of racism and colonialism” (p.32).

This is the same Golda Meir who proclaimed: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” To “revere” someone with such views as “a foe of racism and colonialism” is a mockery.

In his Prologue, Polakow-Suransky assures us that “[t]his book does not equate Zionism with South African racism, as a 1975 United Nations resolution infamously did” (p.10). However, UNGA Resolution 3379, determining that “Zionism is a form of racism”, did nothing of the sort: it recalled resolution 3151 G (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973 which condemned “the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism” (my emphasis) which is, after all, the theme of Polakow-Suransky’s book.

In the Epilogue we read that “the apartheid analogy is an imperfect one”, a claim Polakow-Suransky backs up by enumerating the differences between Israel and “white South Africa and many other colonial regimes” (pp.236-7). One might indeed counter this by listing developments since the book’s publication that make the analogy more apposite, but this would also be missing the point: apartheid is not an analogy, but a crime, and as such is condemned under international law – most notably the UN’s 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Professor John Dugard’s take on this is worth quoting at length:

Apartheid features as a crime in the Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind adopted by the International Law Commission on first reading in 1991 without any reference to South Africa and in 1996 the Draft Code adopted on second reading recognized institutionalized racial discrimination as species of crime against humanity in article 18 (f) and explained in its commentary that this “is in fact the crime of apartheid under a more general denomination”…  In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court included the “crime of apartheid” as a form of crime against humanity (art. 7). It may be concluded that the Apartheid Convention is dead as far as the original cause for its creation – apartheid in South Africa – is concerned, but that it lives on as a species of the crime against humanity, under both customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (My emphasis)

Strangely enough, at no point does Polakow-Suransky refer to apartheid as a crime under international law, so when he claims that “[t]he apartheid analogy may be inexact today, but it won’t be forever” his argument, whether accurate or not, remains beside the point. Zionism is a political ideology that cannot be implemented without the perpetration of “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them” and the implementation of “measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group” (1973 Convention). In a word: Zionism is institutionalised racism, and hence a form of apartheid.

It is insufficient, therefore, for Polakow-Suransky to call upon Israel to “move soon to dismantle West Bank settlements on a large scale and create a viable Palestinian state” that would consign Palestinian Israelis to permanent second-class citizenship within a Jewish ethnocracy while denying the Palestinian right of return. Just as South Africa had to shed apartheid before it could become a democracy (with all its admitted imperfections), Israel must shed Zionism before it can be admitted, in the words of its so-called Declaration of Independence, “into the family of nations”.

Indeed ultimately it must become possible to cease “equating” or “comparing” Zionism with apartheid: the term “Zionism” must eventually be seen as sufficiently infamous in itself.
Do these flaws discredit The Unspoken Alliance? On the contrary. The very fact that Polakow-Suransky holds views that one might describe as “liberal Zionist” lends added weight to his meticulously documented critique of Israel’s behaviour (although not  in the eyes of the ultra-Zionist Commentary, in which James Kirchick denounces the author’s whole project as “manipulative, irresponsible, and offensive”. To be thus slated by Commentary is itself a badge of honour). The Unspoken Alliance is a mine of information and a brisk, compulsive read. The members of Timberland Public Library should protest against their deprivation.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Two Belated Book Reviews (1)

This is the first of two articles in which I wish belatedly to review two important books on the Palestine issue that I have only just got around to reading. Actually, such a delay may have its own advantages: after the rush of interest in a new book has subsided, it may be that the belated reviewer can help to revive it.

First published in hardback by Yale University Press in 2011, celebrated Israeli historian Ilan Pappé’s The Forgotten Palestinians has now been reissued in paperback.  This “history of the Palestinians in Israel” radiates Pappé’s dedication to the cause of justice for Palestinians, whether their dispossession and displacement took place outside or inside what is now the state of Israel.

The title is well chosen, because the “1948 Palestinians” tend to be left out of account by those for whom the Palestine issue is primarily defined by the 1967 Occupation. When they are mentioned, it tends to be in a tone that is at best guarded and at worst dismissive: they are non-participants in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, or even collaborators with the oppressive state that grants them inferior citizenship as long as they keep their heads down. Pappé’s sympathy with them is palpable and unconditional. Recalling that “[i]n years to come, a younger generation of Palestinians would look with disdain at their elders and accuse them of succumbing too easily to Israeli humiliation”, he counters by characterising “their steadfastness and stubborn determination not to fall prey to the Israeli policies” as “a chapter of heroism not defeatism…” (p.48).

“Our Palestinians”, as the Israeli state caricatures them, are “the citizens of the state who have no collective rights – apart from formal democratic rights such as voting. Unlike the Jewish majority, they have no right of land ownership, cannot identify in public with their national movement and cannot build autonomous educational or cultural systems. For most of the time this was sufficient for presenting Israel as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, but the apparition disappeared when… the Palestinians in Israel increasingly demanded collective rights. Then, in October 2000, the state reacted brutally and violently to drive its message home.” (p.268)

This refers to the beginning of the second Intifada (uprising, literally shaking off) when the Israeli police shot dead thirteen of their Palestinian citizens who were protesting against the then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative visit to the Haram Al-Sharif, the holiest Islamic site in Palestine. Indeed this book is dedicated to their memory. For Pappé this confrontation is seminally linked to other crises in Palestinian history such as the 1948 Nakbah (catastrophe) that saw the initial “ethnic cleansing of Palestine” (the title of another Pappé book) by Jewish forces, the 1976 “Day of the Land” when Israeli police and military shot dead six Palestinian citizens demonstrating against land expropriation, and the first Intifada (1987-92) which shook the Zionist establishment to the core and ultimately led to such pacifying measures as the Oslo Agreement and certain superficial improvements in the status of “our Palestinians”.

For me, the most important chapter of this book is the second – The Open Wound: Military Rule and Its Lasting Impact. It is remarkable how rarely commentators refer to the fact that between 1948 and 1966 the Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a gruelling system of de facto military dictatorship. Indeed, writes Pappé, this period “is still repressed by the traumatized victims and the guilt-stricken victimizers” (p.46 – it’s debatable whether the victimisers are particularly “guilt-stricken”). The “elaborate system of control and oppression” (p.48) allowed for the expulsion of population, the arbitrary summoning of any citizen to a police station at any time, arrest and detention without trial, the imposition of curfews, and curtailment of the freedom of the press and expression. 

As Pappé points out, despite the blatancy of this heinous system of legalised discrimination imposed on its Palestinian minority Israel still justified itself in the world’s eyes as “the only democracy in the Middle East” because these second- or third-class citizens were allowed to vote.  This fact justifies utter scepticism regarding the continued use of that phrase by Zionists and their present-day fellow-travellers. Indeed “the vote” remains a more than usually useless privilege in the hands of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, by now 20% of the population, who have never been represented in any of the wild and woolly coalition governments running the Israeli state.

While military rule was officially suspended in 1966, it went underground (without entirely disappearing) within “sovereign” Israel only to resurface in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. In today’s Occupied Territories, the Palestinians live under a totalitarian military regime, and do not have even the limited influence over their own lives enjoyed by their sisters and brothers in Israel. Nonetheless Israel, as if mysteriously unconnected to this quasi-fascist system, continues to adduce its “democratic” character to differentiate it from those reviled Mukhabarat-run Arab and Persian neighbours to which Pappé nonetheless provocatively compares it (pp. 271-2 - the Mukhabarat are the secret police in Arab countries).

Pappé’s humane and passionate book provides a detailed historical context for the evolution of this profoundly anomalous and inhumane state of affairs. It is neither the first book of its kind (ground-breaking precursors by Elia Zureik and Ian Lustick are among those discussed in Pappé’s Appendix) nor the most recent (Ben White’s Palestinians in Israel came out in 2012, Shira Robinson’s Citizen Strangers in 2013). There is no excuse for “the forgotten Palestinians” to remain forgotten.

In the second of these articles I’ll be discussing The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa by Sasha Polakow-Suransky.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

This Green Paper should never become a White Paper

Alan Shatter, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, has produced a Green Paper in anticipation of a “White Paper on Defence [which] will be completed early in 2014 and will set out Ireland’s Defence policy framework for the next decade.”

The Green Paper explicitly claims to “give expression to an active vision of our neutrality” (section 1) entailing “a willingness to project Irish values and priorities including the promotion and preservation of peace, disarmament, human rights, and support for humanitarian operations through the development and deployment of the Defence Forces…” However, this unexceptionable statement is followed by a less reassuring one: “Ireland’s approach to security is underlined by its engagement in EU Common Security and Defence Policy…” The Paper never comes to grips with the contradiction between “neutrality” and commitment to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”.

It goes without saying that the most flagrant violation of Ireland’s traditional military neutrality – the de facto delivery of Shannon Airport to the US Air Force as a transit hub for its troops flying to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – merits not a single mention in the Green Paper; this is probably its most eloquent omission.

In 2.6 we learn that “Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality has its origins in the country’s declared neutrality during the Second World War. Against this background… a decision was taken in 1949 not to join the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”. Nonetheless, Ireland is now a part of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”, to which former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern committed us in 1999 despite having campaigned for election on the rejection of “Irish participation in… NATO-led organisations such as Partnership for Peace”, particularly without a referendum. The fact that full NATO membership, unattainable without a referendum, was avoided suggests a conviction that “Irish values and priorities” were incompatible with such membership; the fact that Minister Shatter is not openly moving in that direction suggests that nothing has changed in the interim.

In 4.2.4, The EU and NATO, we read that “[a]s both organisations cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis-management operations, the NATO Strategic Concept underlines the importance of improving the NATO-EU strategic partnership.” All in all, the Green Paper gives the impression that Minister Shatter is eager to blur the (already purely notional) distinction between membership of PfP and full membership of NATO, evoking the suspicion that it is merely a matter of time until the latter is presented to us as a necessity.
Section 2.1 tells us that “security… has demands that differ from those of the past” in that “threats to national security are much broader than those of interstate conflict…” This is elaborated as follows (2.2):
“Globally and regionally, the last decade has seen an increased emphasis on collective security, which reflects the evolution of threats in the defence and security environment… These threats include: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime, cyber security, energy security, climate change and piracy. Ireland has proactively engaged in the collective security response through the UN, the EU and NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP). The development of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP) [sic] both underscore the Union’s emphasis on a comprehensive approach…Ireland continues to play a full role in both the CFSP and CSDP.”

This is followed by the worrying assertion (2.3) that “[t]he boundaries between the internal and external aspects of security are becoming increasingly blurred.” Perhaps an example of such “blurring” was the Criminal Justice Act 2013grant[ing] the Minister for Justice and Equality [i.e. Alan Shatter again!] the power to temporarily shut down a mobile phone network in a given area, if it is thought that a mobile phone service could be used in the mechanics of a terrorist event.” Prompted by the G8 Summit in Fermanagh in June 2013, the signature of this liberticidal act was fast-tracked by President Higgins.

Section 2.7 deals with the so-called “Triple Lock” whereby overseas operations by the Permanent Defence Force are conditional on “the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or General Assembly of the United Nations…(,) a formal Government decision(,) and…  the approval of Dáil Éireann.”

Traditionally – and after all, the Green Paper purports “to project Irish values and priorities” – the Irish people have, rightly or wrongly, looked to the UN as a guarantor of international law. For the Paper, however, “[t]he benefits of a formal legislative requirement for UN authorisation must be weighed against the possibility that this constraint may lead to an inability to act on occasions where there is a pressing moral or security imperative and overwhelming international support to do so, but where UN sanction is not forthcoming, in circumstances where a veto is exercised by a permanent member of the Security Council acting in its own national interests.”

Since Minister Shatter has always displayed an eagerness to align Ireland with the United States, we can be clear that the hypothetical permanent member in question is not the one that most frequently uses its veto, i.e. the USA. In a 2012 article, Stephen Zunes pointed out that “[s]ince 1970, China has used its veto power eight times, and Russia (and the former Soviet Union) has used its veto power 13 times. However, the United States has used its veto power 83 times, primarily in defense of allies accused of violating international humanitarian law. Forty-two of these US vetoes were to protect Israel from criticism for illegal activities, including suspected war crimes.” 

The Green Paper, therefore, is proposing that the Triple Lock – specifically, the “UN authorisation” component – should be abandoned if and when the USA identifies “a pressing moral or security imperative” to do so. The “overwhelming international support”, as we know, can amount to a few vassal regimes within the US sphere of influence. The deployment of the adjective “moral” (much favoured but selectively used by Minister Shatter) for a hypothetical by-passing of the Security Council should be seen in this context.

So when the Paper concludes that “[o]n balance, the advantages of retaining the [Triple Lock] mechanism can be seen as outweighing the disadvantages” but deems it “an issue worthy of discussion in advance of the adoption of a new White Paper”, we can be pretty sure which side of this discussion the Minister will be backing.
A series of “Policy Questions” (2.8) ends with the following query: “How can Defence further contribute to economic recovery e.g. options for increased engagement with Irish Industry?”

Section 2.5 had already cited the NATO buzz-word “interoperability”, i.e. the requirement that Ireland’s defence forces should be equipped according to standards – very costly ones – established by NATO. We are told that “[t]he percentage of Government expenditure allocated to Defence in Ireland is one of the lowest in the EU”, something that many of us might celebrate, although lamenting that the money thus saved is not more productively expended on social infrastructure. Instead, the Paper’s reflection that “[i]n the short term funding constraints may prevent us from making commitments or carrying out activities which might be otherwise considered desirable when the Exchequer finances have been put on a more sustainable footing” suggests that “in the long term” Minister Shatter may indeed have plans to waste more of our financial resources on military hardware.

However, the implications of the “policy question” are more far-reaching. Section, European Defence Agency, tells us (in sickening jargon) that “Ireland’s participation in the Agency is focused on the development of military capabilities for UN-led or UN mandated peace support operations and leveraging the contribution which the Irish Defence Forces in partnership with Irish Enterprise can make in delivering high end research and technology in support of such capabilities.” Section 5, Defence support to economic development, merits more extensive quotation:

“In July 2011, Government approval was received, pursuant to s. 8(5) of the Science and Technology Act, 1987 whereby Enterprise Ireland would support Defence by raising the awareness of and engaging with, Irish-based enterprise and research institutes, including third level colleges that are engaged in relevant activities related to Defence Forces capability development. The primary objective is to support Defence Forces capability development and also to support innovation, growth and jobs in Irish based industry, particularly in the security and defence (dual use) sector, which can contribute to Ireland’s economic development and recovery. In addition, the Government agreed that Enterprise Ireland could also support Irish based enterprise and research institutes, the Department of Defence and Defence Forces Capability Development, where appropriate in relation to European Defence Agency ongoing activities.”

Complete clarity is required here: the European Defence Agency (EDA) is a front for the international arms trade. The Green Paper is in fact proposing the doctrine of military Keynesianism, i.e. “ the position that the government should increase military spending in order to increase economic growth” (Wikipedia) or, according to the late Professor Chalmers Johnson, “[t]he economic disaster that is military Keynesianism.” This also clarifies the repeated, almost obsessive references in the Green Paper to “cyber-terrorism”, seen as a potential spur to deepened involvement of the military in the lucrative sphere of internet research and development. The reference to “third level colleges” hints darkly at the kind of military engagement in academia that has so compromised academic independence in Minister Shatter’s favourite countries, Israel and the USA. This is a potential development that should be viewed with the deepest suspicion, particularly at a time when cutbacks in education at all levels are biting.
Finally, section 6 of the Green Paper muses on “possible future trends”, and suggests some general reflections on its own presuppositions. While the Paper accepts that “the risk of a conventional military attack on Ireland’s territory from another State will remain very low”, it fails to ask why this is the case and whether indeed a perception of Ireland, however inaccurate, as a neutral state uninvolved in US military adventures might have contributed to such a low risk. If “[t]hreats to the EU, to European interests and to wider security are now threats to Ireland”, as the Paper asserts, could this not be a result of successive Irish governments’ decisions to soften up our neutrality and subject ourselves to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”? 

But of course the new bogey is no longer exclusively this or that state, but supposedly free-floating “terrorism”. The paper cites the UN Panel of High Level threats, “Terrorism attacks the values that lie at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations: respect for human rights; the rule of law; rules of war that protect civilians; tolerance among peoples and nations; and the peaceful resolution of conflict”. However, these words could equally be applied to the USA and its satellites, most notably Israel, which are quick “to use unlimited violence to cause massive casualties”, a phrase applied exclusively to terrorists by the Paper. If “Spain, France, Sweden, Germany and the UK have been targeted by credible terrorist plots”, could this not be traced back to the involvement of these states in neo-imperial adventures outside their borders?

Yet even in relation to international terrorism, the Paper concludes that “the direct threat to Ireland… is currently assessed as low. However, the State shares the common risk that arises for western democracies generally.” But why does it arise? Is it because “they hate our freedoms”, as George W. Bush claimed, or because they hate the resurgence of western imperialism, which all too frequently leads to brutal military intervention and/or to drone warfare against their civilians? If the latter, then surely a meaningful policy of military neutrality would be a more rational and indeed more moral strategy? Instead, Shatter’s Green Paper, while disingenuously proclaiming its allegiance to neutrality, proposes to align this country unambiguously with western imperialism. This should be vigorously opposed.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shatter, Apartheid Roads, and Staking the Vampire Irony

Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence (or Injustice, Inequality, and the Defence of Israel) in the current pro-Zionist Irish government, has outdone himself with his latest whizz: IRIS, the Joint Ireland Israel Programme on Road Safety. The acronym is a little puzzling: surely it should be JIIPORS, which, evoking "jeepers", might sum up the only possible reaction to such a piece of idiocy? I'm so flummoxed by this, that I'm not even going to write about it. Instead, let me quote a 2010 Guardian article by the excellent Rachel Shabi about just one of Israel's apartheid roads:

If you didn't glance to the sides of Israel's highway 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, then it wouldn't smack you in the face that the road is – how shall we put it? – segregated. As it is, you can't help but notice that when the 443 passes by the Israeli town of Modi'in and heads east into the occupied West Bank, some of its side-routes are blocked. Concrete boulders, metal barriers, rubble and heaps of rubbish halt roads from Palestinian villages such as Beit Sira and Beit Ur al-Fuka.

And if you stop at one of those barricades, a complicated coping apparatus comes to light: cars deposit weary Palestinians who work inside Israel at these blocked routes; on the other side, lines of parked Palestinian cabs await to resume the interrupted journey home.

And here's what Hasan Afif El-Hasan had to say in the Palestine Chronicle just last month:

All Jewish-only settlements have been connected by access Jewish-only roads to adjacent Jewish-only high-ways even if the number of settlers that may use the roads was very low. Examples: Seven miles road was constructed to connect Kaddim settlements, home for 160 settlers, to the main highway. Six miles road in a rocky terrain was built for 170 settlers of Eshkolot Settlement to connect them to Lahav settlement in the Hebron Mountains. The Jews-only highway arteries that ensure free traffic among the settlement blocks can be characterized as octopus arms surrounding Palestinian population centers.

The Israeli planners diverted the Palestinians’ transportation from the existing roads to less efficient secondary roads with limited capacity.  Many by-passes and bridges were added to the West Bank apartheid roads in strategic locations for supporting roadblocks where the Israeli military can close major Palestinian traffic at any given moment. The Israeli army has been using more than 500 checkpoints, roadblocks and earth mounds to restrict Palestinians’ travel and the transit of goods or shut off entire Palestinian areas from each other at very short notice. Roads have been closed quite often as collective punishment, interrupting trade, education, health services, access to religious sites and all facets of normal daily life.

But none of this is of any importance to über-Zionist Shatter, for whose office "both countries [Ireland and Israel] have successfully reduced the level of road fatalities very significantly and the purpose of the meeting today was to exchange experiences and information on the road safety programmes operating in both countries and to learn from each other on successful initiatives undertaken by the relevant authorities." Did they discuss such "successful initiatives" as those described by Shabi and El-Hasan?

Irony is like a vampire: its death is repeatedly announced, but it invariably rises again. However, with this obscene initiative Minister Shatter may have definitively thrust a stake into its heart.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Framing "The Gatekeepers"

As everyone knows by now, The Gatekeepers is a 2012 Academy award-nominated documentary film made by the Israeli director Dror Moreh. Moreh succeeded in interviewing the last six heads of Israel’s General Security Services, better known by its Hebrew acronym Shin Bet. These gentlemen display considerable frankness about the nature of their past activities, their belated advocacy of a two-state solution to the Palestine issue and their negative views of successive Israeli governments.
It’s not my purpose here to write another review of this much talked-about but surprisingly uncontroversial film. Interesting articles, both of which discuss it in conjunction with the Israeli/Palestinian film 5 Broken Cameras, may be read here and here. Instead, I wish to reflect on some worrisome aspects of the film’s framing and reception in public discourse, and to suggest that its propagandistic effect is dependent on such framing.
First of all, the six subjects of this film tortured, murdered and criminally conspired on behalf of a rogue state. It is as if six capi di tutti capi, who had somehow escaped conviction, were to describe in gory detail their protection rackets, vendettas and other enormities, and then cheerfully opine (these Shin Bet men chuckle a lot) that the Mafia could probably have achieved its ends by other means.
It’s also likely that Shin Bet’s current Director, Yoram Cohen, is at present engaged in the torture and murder of Palestinians. When he retires, no doubt he too will “become a bit of a leftie” (Yaakov Peri, Director from 1988-1994) and criticise the government that employed him for its failure to pull out of the West Bank, a policy that he will have actively conspired to implement. He will then be succeeded by another tough guy, and thus the cycle will continue – until it ends.
Moreh’s only previous film was a 2008 TV documentary about the mass murderer Ariel Sharon that was reputedly something of a whitewash. This could have aroused suspicions that, in its own way, Gatekeepers might also have a propagandistic agenda.
Such niceties eluded the astounding Melanie Phillips who wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:
We don't know to what extent these six were unaware how they would be used in this film. But it is astounding to see former intelligence chiefs shooting their mouths off with opinions that can only hearten Israel's enemies. For any former director of MI5, such behaviour would be utterly unthinkable.
Alan Johnson of BICOM (Britain Israel Communications Research Centre), who is as right-wing as Phillips but rather more shrewd, hastily took her to task in his Daily Telegraph blog. She was “unwise” not to realise that “friends of Israel must not dismiss” the film:
 by humanising the former Shin Bet heads, Moreh humanises Israel itself, opening up its security dilemmas to a more nuanced understanding, in which the ground tone of tragedy is present while the nonsense about “imperialism” is absent.
Phillips, Johnson accurately diagnosed, was in danger of messing up this clever propaganda ploy by taking the film’s supposedly critical stance at face value. And of course “tragedy” is a word commonly used by Israel’s defenders to imply that Palestine’s woes result from some kind of fatality, and not from purposeful political decisions on the part, precisely, of imperialist politicians, generals, and Shin Bet Directors.
However, while this little contretemps on the right is amusing, the film’s reception among putative liberals with no overtly Zionist axe to grind is far more instructive.
Philip French in The Observer  (in effect, the Sunday Guardian) is encouraged by “the manifest decency and reasonableness of these six honest, articulate men…”, a comment that some might find chilling given the atrocities these decent, reasonable fellows have perpetrated. He refers to “a seemingly hopeless conflict where the intransigence of both sides and the increasing pig-headedness of politicians have ensured that Israel may end up winning every battle but losing the war”, thus buying in to the standard liberal discourse that the Israel/Palestine issue is a “conflict” between two “intransigent” sides rather than a war of dispossession waged by a colonial regime, with full backing from the imperial West, against the practically defenceless Palestinian people. But then French also sees the “conflict” as “a war against terrorism”, so perhaps he’s not as liberal as all that.
Ian Dunt, editor of and an undoubted supporter of Palestinian rights, refers to the murder of two terrorists” by Shin Bet after the hi-jacking of an Israeli bus in 1984. Were they “terrorists”? They didn’t kill any of the passengers, and they released a pregnant woman who raised the alarm about the hi-jack. Or were they “freedom fighters”? However one defines these terms there’s no doubt that Dunt is adopting Israeli terminology. Of course throughout The Gatekeepers the term “terrorists” and “terror”, referring exclusively to Palestinians, are used repeatedly – with only Yuval Diskin (torturer-in-chief from 2005-2011) expressing some qualifications (“one man’s terrorist…”).
Dunt opines that the sextet “have clear scars on their conscience and clearly resent the insane, self-defeating hawkishness of Israel's political class”. But if the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe is correct and Israel is “a mukhabarat state” (the mukhabarat are the secret police in Arab countries), “run by an all-pervasive bureaucracy and ruled by military and security apparatuses”, then our six interviewees themselves belong to “Israel’s political class” and have done their considerable bit to perpetuate the hawkishness in question.
Here in Ireland, the programme booklet of the Irish Film Institute (IFI) refers to the six ex-Directors as “wily old warriors” who are “humanised by a recognition of the psychological and emotional toll of knowing you’ve killed innocent people along with terrorist targets.”
It was Alan Johnson who claimed that “by humanising the former Shin Bet heads, Moreh humanises Israel itself”. Thus the impeccably liberal, even lefty IFI nods in agreement with the British ultra-Zionist rightist. This “humanisation” entails commiserating with the pain of the murderer who knows he has “killed innocent people”, while in reality the “guilt” or “innocence” of Israel’s Palestinian victims is largely defined at the discretion of these same “wily old warriors”.
Would similar interviews with my hypothetical six Mafiosi not also have humanised them, and by extension the Mafia itself? Or is it only Israeli torturers whose humanisation somehow absolves both themselves and the rogue state they serve? The Western political unconscious, rightly uneasy because of Europe’s past persecution of its Jews, is always seeking alibis for Israel. That this leads merely to another form of exceptionalism brings it under the category of philo-Semitism (a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who loves Jews).
Paul Whittington in the Irish Independent writes a remarkably subdued revue by the rabid standards of that paper’s commentariat. Nonetheless, his language is also far from neutral or objective. He refers slavishly to “Shin Bet and the Israeli army… taking out terrorists from the air.” Note that “taking out resistance fighters from the air” has a rather more unsavoury ring to it.
For Whittington the Shin Bet operatives’ willingness to kill and torture Palestinians in the pursuit of expansionist Zionism is translated into “their absolutely unflinching commitment to defend their country by all means necessary”, a phrase that could have been dictated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Shin Bet’s – and the Israeli army’s – true responsibility is to inflict a reign of terror on the Palestinians to ensure that, in the immortal words of General Moshe Dayan, they “will live like dogs and those who will leave, will leave.”
Donald Clarke in the Irish Times cites a quotation once attributed to Orwell – “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” – and concludes that “the misquote gets at horrible truths about the modern state and its enemies.” In this reading Israel, instead of being a rogue state that serially violates international law, stands in for “the modern state”, while the Palestinians represent “its enemies”. Ireland is also a “modern state” (after all, our army is also designated IDF), so presumably the Palestinians must be our enemies too.
“The six men”, he continues, “deserve more enthusiastic congratulations for telling their grim stories.” Presumably, then, if Pinochet had given us a bloodcurdling personal account of the crimes committed under his dictatorship he would have “deserv[ed]… enthusiastic congratulations”? Surely the stories in question are not merely “grim” but “criminal”? Once again it appears that the Irish Times regards Israeli criminality as something not deserving our opprobrium.
For the IFI and the reviewers, therefore, Israel is simply a normal state that has had to resort to harsh measures in order to subdue its enemies, not a rogue military state founded in the dispossession of the Palestinians and committed by fair means or foul to completing that process. The Gatekeepers, far from being an indictment of that dispossession and the persecution it entails, is a homage to the humanity of “the wily warriors” of the Shin Bet who defend the “modern state” – of Israel, but somehow also of the whole civilised world – and by extension a homage to the humanity of Israel itself and consequently the inhumanity of its victims.
A viewer who knew nothing about “the conflict” would probably be persuaded by The Gatekeepers that Israel is a criminal state that, in its present form, needs to be disbanded. The film can only succeed as propaganda because its perspective has already become the common currency of our liberal media and cultural institutions.