What’s Next for Palestine/Israel? – by Noam Chomsky

On July 13, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin issued a dire warning to the government of Israel: either it will reach some kind of two-state settlement or there will be a “shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality — a state `from the sea to the river’.” The near inevitable outcome, “one state for two nations,” will pose “an immediate existential threat of the erasure of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” soon with a Palestinian-Arab majority.

On similar grounds, in the latest issue of Britain’s leading journal of international affairs, two prominent Middle East specialists, Clive Jones and Beverly Milton-Edwards, write that “if Israel wishes to be both Jewish and democratic,” it must embrace “the two-state solution.”

It is easy to cite many other examples, but unnecessary, because it is assumed almost universally that there are two options for cis-Jordan: either two states – Palestinian and Jewish-democratic — or one state “from the sea to the river.” Israeli commentators express concern about the “demographic problem”: too many Palestinians in a Jewish state.  Many Palestinians and their advocates support the “one state solution,” anticipating a civil rights, anti-Apartheid struggle that will lead to secular democracy.  Other analysts also consistently pose the options in similar terms.

The analysis is almost universal, but crucially flawed.  There is a third option, namely, the option that Israel is pursuing with constant US support.  And this third option is the only realistic alternative to the two-state settlement that is backed by an overwhelming international consensus.

It makes sense, in my opinion, to contemplate a future binational secular democracy in the former Palestine, from the sea to the river.  For what it’s worth, that is what I have advocated for 70 years.  But I stress: advocated.  Advocacy, as distinct from mere proposal, requires sketching a path from here to there.  The forms of true advocacy have changed with shifting circumstances.  Since the mid-1970s, when Palestinian national rights became a salient issue, the only form of advocacy has been in stages, the first being the two-state settlement.  No other path has been suggested that has even a remote chance of success.  Proposing a binational (“one state”) settlement without moving on to advocacy in effect provides support for the third option, the realistic one.

The third option, taking shape before our eyes, is not obscure.  Israel is systematically extending plans that were sketched and initiated shortly after the 1967 war, and institutionalized more fully with the access to power of Menahem Begin’s Likud a decade later.

The first step is to create what Yonatan Mendel calls “a disturbing new city” called “Jerusalem” but extending far beyond historic Jerusalem, incorporating dozens of Palestinian villages and surrounding lands, and furthermore, designated as a Jewish City and the capital of Israel.  All of this is in direct violation of explicit Security Council orders.  A corridor to the East of this new Greater Jerusalem incorporates the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, established in the 1970s but built primarily after the 1993 Oslo Accords, with lands reaching virtually to Jericho, thus effectively bisecting the West Bank.  Corridors to the north incorporating the settler towns of Ariel and Kedumim further divide what is to remain under some degree of Palestinian control.

Meanwhile Israel is incorporating the territory on the Israeli side of the illegal “separation wall,” in reality an annexation wall, taking arable land and water resources and many villages, strangling the town of Qalqilya, and separating Palestinian villagers from their fields.  In what Israel calls “the seam” between the wall and the border, close to 10 percent of the West Bank, anyone is permitted to enter, except Palestinians.  Those who live in the region have to go through a highly intricate bureaucratic procedure to gain temporary entry.  Exit, for example for medical care, is hampered in the same way.  The result, predictably, has been severe disruption of Palestinian lives, and according to UN reports, a decrease of more than 80% in number of farmers who routinely cultivate their lands and a decline of 60% in yield of olive trees, among other harmful effects.  The pretext for the wall was security, but that means security for illegal Jewish settlers; about 85 per cent of the wall runs through the occupied West Bank.

Israel is also taking over the Jordan Valley, thus fully imprisoning the cantons that remain. Huge infrastructure projects link settlers to Israel’s urban centers, ensuring that they will see no Palestinians.  Following a traditional neocolonial model, a modern center remains for Palestinian elites, in Ramallah, while the remainder mostly languishes.

To complete the separation of Greater Jerusalem from remaining Palestinian cantons, Israel would have to take over the E1 region.  So far that has been barred by Washington, and Israel has been compelled to resort to subterfuges, like building a police station.  Obama is the first US president to have imposed no limits on Israeli actions.  It remains to be seen whether he will permit Israel to take over E1, perhaps with expressions of discontent and a wink of the eye to make it clear that they are not seriously intended.

There are regular expulsions of Palestinians.  In the Jordan Valley alone the Palestinian population has been reduced from 300,000 in 1967 to 60,000 today, and similar processes are underway elsewhere.  Following the “dunam after dunam” policies that go back a century, each action is limited in scope so as not to arouse too much international attention, but with a cumulative effect and intent that are quite clear.

Furthermore, ever since the Oslo Accord declared that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible territorial unity, the US-Israel duo have been committed to separating the two regions.  One significant effect is to ensure that any limited Palestinian entity will have no access to the outside world.

In the areas that Israel is taking over, the Palestinian population is small and scattered, and is being reduced further by regular expulsions.  The result will be a Greater Israel with a substantial Jewish majority.  Under the third option, there will be no “demographic problem” and no civil rights or anti-Apartheid struggle, nothing more than what already exists within Israel’s recognized borders, where the mantra “Jewish and democratic” is regularly intoned for the benefit of those who choose to believe, oblivious to the inherent contradiction, which is far more than merely symbolic.

Except in stages, the one-state option is an illusion.  It has no international support, and there is no reason why Israel and its US sponsor would accept it, since they have a far preferable option, the one they are now implementing; with impunity, thanks to US power.

The US and Israel call for negotiations without preconditions.  Commentary there and elsewhere in the West typically claims that the Palestinians are imposing such preconditions, hampering the “peace process.” In reality, the US-Israel insist upon crucial preconditions.  The first is that negotiations must be mediated by the United States, which is not a neutral party but rather a participant in the conflict.  It is as if one were to propose that Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Iraq be mediated by Iran.  Authentic negotiations would be in the hands of some neutral state with a degree of international respect.  The second precondition is that illegal settlement expansion must be allowed to continue, as it has done without a break during the 20 years of the Oslo Accord; predictably, given the terms of the Accord.

In the early years of the occupation the US joined the world in regarding the settlements as illegal, as confirmed by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice.  Since Reagan, their status has been downgraded to “a barrier to peace.” Obama weakened the designation further, to “not helpful to peace,” with gentle admonitions that are easily dismissed.  Obama’s extreme rejectionism did arouse some attention in February 2011, when he vetoed a Security Council resolution supporting official US policy, ending of settlement expansion.

As long as these preconditions remain in force, diplomacy is likely to remain at a standstill.  With brief and rare exceptions, that has been true since January 1976, when the US vetoed a Security Council resolution, brought by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, calling for a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border, the Green Line, with guarantees for the security of all states within secure and recognized borders.  That is essentially the international consensus that is by now universal, with the two usual exceptions – not just on Middle East issues, incidentally.  The consensus has been modified to include “minor and mutual adjustments” on the Green Line, to borrow official US wording before it had broken with the rest of the world.

The same is true of the negotiations that may take place soon in Washington.  Given the preconditions, they are unlikely to achieve anything more than to serve as a framework in which Israel can carry forward its project of taking over whatever it finds valuable in the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders, while maintaining the siege of Gaza.  And doing so throughout with the critical economic, military, diplomatic and ideological support of the state running the negotiations.  One can of course hope for better, but it is hard to be optimistic.

Europe could play a role in advancing the hopes for a peaceful diplomatic settlement, if it were willing to pursue an independent path.  The recent EU decision to exclude West Bank settlements from any future deals with Israel might be a step in this direction.  US policies are also not graven in stone, though they have deep strategic, economic, and cultural roots.  In the absence of such changes, there is every reason to expect that the picture from the river to the sea will conform to the third option.  Palestinian rights and aspirations will be shelved, temporarily at least.

If the Israel-Palestine conflict is not resolved, a regional peace settlement is highly unlikely.  That failure has far broader implications – in particular, for what US media call “the gravest threat to world peace,” echoing the pronouncements of President Obama and most of the political class: namely, Iran’s nuclear programs.  The implications become clear when we consider the most obvious ways to deal with the alleged threat, and their fate.  It is useful, first, to consider a few preliminary questions: Who regards the threat as of such cosmic significance?  And what is the perceived threat?

Answers are straightforward.  The threat is overwhelmingly a western obsession: the US and its allies.  The non-aligned countries, most of the world, have vigorously supported Iran’s right, as a signer of the Non-proliferation Treaty, to enrich Uranium.  In the Arab world, Iran is generally disliked, but not perceived as a threat; rather, it is the US and Israel that the population regards as a threat, by very large margins, as consistently shown by polls.

In western discourse, it is commonly claimed that the Arabs support the US position regarding Iran, but the reference is to the dictators, not the general population, who are considered an irrelevant annoyance under prevailing democratic doctrine.  Also standard is reference to “the standoff between the international community and Iran,” to quote from the current scholarly literature.  Here the phrase “international community” refers to the US and whoever happens to go along with it; in this case, a small minority of the international community, but many more if political stands are weighted by power.

What then is the perceived threat?  An authoritative answer is given by US intelligence and the Pentagon in their regular reviews of global security.  They conclude that Iran is not a military threat.  It has low military expenditures even by the standards of the region, and limited capacity to deploy force.  Its strategic doctrine is defensive, designed to resist attack.  The intelligence community reports no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but if it is, they conclude, that would be part of Iran’s deterrence strategy.

It is hard to think of a country in the world that needs a deterrent more than Iran.  It has been tormented by the West without respite ever since its parliamentary regime was overthrown by a US-British military coup in 1953, first under the harsh and brutal regime of the Shah, then under murderous attack by Saddam Hussein, with western support.  It was largely US intervention that induced Iran to capitulate; and shortly after, President George Bush I invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the US for training in advanced weapons production, an extraordinary threat to Iran.  Iraq soon became an enemy, but meanwhile Iran was subjected to harsh sanctions, intensifying under US initiative to the present.  It constantly subjected to the threat of military attack by the US and Israel – in violation of the UN Charter, if anyone cares.

It is, however, understandable that the US-Israel would regard an Iranian deterrent as an intolerable threat.  It would limit their ability to control the region, by violence if they choose, as they often have.  That is the essence of the perceived Iranian threat.

That the clerical regime is a threat to its own people is hardly in doubt, though regrettably it is hardly alone in that regard.  But it goes well beyond naiveté to believe that its internal repression is much of a concern to the great powers.

Whatever one thinks of the threat, are there ways to mitigate it?  Quite a few, in fact.  One of the most reasonable would be to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region, as strongly advocated by the Non-aligned movement and particularly by the Arab states, and indeed most of the world.  The US and its allies voice formal support, but have hardly been cooperative.  That is once again clear right now.  Under NPT authority, an international conference was to have been held in Finland last December to advance such plans.  Israel refused to attend, but to the surprise of many, in early November Iran announced that it would take part, without conditions.  The US then announced that the conference was cancelled, repeating Israel’s objections: that a conference is premature before regional security is established.  The Arab states, Russia, and the European Parliament called for immediate renewal of the initiative, but of course little is possible without the US.

Details are murky.  Little documentary evidence is available, and all of this has passed without inquiry. In particular, the US press has not inquired, or in fact even published a single word on the most reasonable and practical efforts to address what it reports as “the gravest threat to world peace.”

It is quite clear, however, that Arab states and others call for moves to eliminate weapons of mass destruction immediately, as a step towards regional security; while the US and Israel, in contrast, reverse the order, and demand regional security – meaning security for Israel — as a prerequisite to eliminating such weapons.  In the not-very-remote background is the understanding that Israel has an advanced nuclear weapons system, alone in the region; and is alone in refusing to join the NPT, along with India and Pakistan, both of whom also benefit from US support for their nuclear arsenals.

The connection of Israel-Palestine conflict to the alleged Iranian threat is therefore clear.  As long as the US and Israel persist in their rejectionist stance, blocking the international consensus on a two-state settlement, there will be no regional security arrangements, hence no moves towards a establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone and mitigating, perhaps ending, what the US and Israel claim to be the gravest threat to peace, at least to do so in the most obvious and far-reaching way.

It should be noted that along with Britain, the US has a special responsibility to devote its efforts to establishing a Middle East NWFZ.  When attempting to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq, the two aggressors appealed to UNSCR 687 of 1991, claiming that Saddam violated the demand to end his nuclear weapons programs.  The Resolution also has another paragraph, calling for “steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction…”, obligating the US and UK even more than others to undertake this initiative seriously.

These comments naturally only scratch the surface, and leave out many urgent topics, among them the horrifying descent of Syria into suicide and ominous developments in Egypt, which are sure to have a regional impact.  And indeed a lot more.  This is how some of the core issues appear, to me at least.

So it’s OK that Israel has Chemical Weapons but not Syria or Iran…Why?

By  Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM, Sep 23 2013 (IPS) – “Does Israel have chemical weapons too?” is the question posed by the U.S. publication Foreign Policy, citing a newly uncovered CIA document from 1983 which alleged that Israel is likely to have developed such weapons. Written ten years after the 1973 war in which Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, the CIA document revealed in Foreign Policy alleged that “Israel undertook a programme of chemical warfare preparations in both offensive and protective areas.” True or not, the report underpins Israel’s doctrine to deter frontline Arab states from attacking it by tilting the balance of power in its favour, Prof. Shlomo Aronson, Israeli weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) scholar at the Hebrew University Jlem tells IPS. “Since the Arab states started to produce chemical weapons, it would be quite natural that Israel has something similar. They have chemical weapons. We must have them as well.” “Syria produced chemical weapons to balance the threat of Israeli nuclear weapons,” Ziad Abu Zayyad, former head of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks on Arms Control and Regional Security (1991-1996) tells IPS.

“Since the Arab states started to produce chemical weapons, it would be quite natural that Israel has something similar.”

“While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,” the CIA report said, “several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and non-persistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.” It’s been known since the early 1970s that chemical tests are conducted at the secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research located in the town of Ness Ziona, 20 km south of Tel Aviv. The secret Intel file identified “a probable chemical weapons nerve agent production facility and a storage facility at the Dimona Sensitive Storage area in the Negev desert,” – that is, in the vicinity of the nuclear research centre where it’s widely assumed that nuclear warheads have been manufactured. Whether Israel retains the alleged chemical stockpile is unknown. Officially, it neither confirms nor denies the existence of a chemical weapons programme – let alone of a nuclear weapons programme – and intentionally shrouds in ambiguity its suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme, only exhibiting chemical warfare protection drills and gas mask kits distribution centres. Aronson deciphers the Israeli WMD doctrine – “not to admit the existence of WMDs before peace prevails; not taking the Arab people hostage to the behaviour of their leaders; not committing publicly to any red line in the realm of unconventional weapons.” Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (September 1993) which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of such arms, but never ratified it. If implemented, the convention would endow chemical weapons inspectors with intrusive powers, notes Aronson. “The treaty could allow inspectors in Israel’s facilities, including the nuclear facility.” Abu Zayyad believes that after Syria, Israel should disarm from its chemical weapons. “There should be a linkage,” he tells IPS. “We’re aiming at a WMDs-free Middle East.” Israel rejects any demand to link Syria’s chemical disarmament with a ratification of the Convention that would lead to the dismantlement of the arsenal it reportedly has. “The big difference is Syria, not Israel, uses chemical weapons,” Aronson points out. “Conventional Israel was never accepted. Unconventional Israel was, and is, accepted. Our very survival rests on unconventional weapons.” “Peace is the sole solution to Israel’s security predicament,” counters Abu Zayyad. Israel declines to answer queries by foreign journalists, opting instead for more discreet reactions in the local media. “Some of the countries in the region don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist and blatantly call to annihilate it,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted in the liberal newspaper Haaretz.” “In this context, the chemical weapons threat against Israel and its civilian population is neither theoretical nor distant,” the official said by way of rationale for not ratifying the Convention. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Jerusalem to brief Netanyahu about the U.S.-Russian framework agreement on terminating Syria’s chemical weapons the day after it was a done deal. “If we achieve that,” Kerry declared, “We’ll have set a marker for the standard of behaviour with respect to Iran and North Korea.” “The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to Kerry. “If diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.” Netanyahu knows that the U.S., after having precisely adopted such a two-pronged approach on Syria, cannot afford not to back Israel publicly on Iran, even as Tehran is signalling readiness to compromise on its nuclear programme. And for the time being, demands for Israel to disarm from its alleged poison gas arsenal are bound to evaporate into thin air.

 

 

It is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners – Albert Camus

We must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of the country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes explosive, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated by race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of the thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.

10 things you should know about the Arab and Israeli conflict

1 . Not an ancient conflict

In the late 19th century, Palestine’s Jewish population stood at less than 5 per cent. Tensions between the region’s Jews and Arabs did not begin to rise until after 1917, when British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour declared that the British authorities “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.” After the first World War and the breakup of the Ottoman empire, the League of Nations granted Britain a “mandate” to rule over Palestine. The first serious outbreak of violence there came in 1929. A parliamentary inquiry later determined that “there had been no recorded attacks of Jews by Arabs” in the previous eight decades and that the aggravating factor had been British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

2. Colonial realities

Many of the laws and practices that would later become essential to Israel’s governance of its Palestinian population were inherited from the colonial regime. The British Defence Regulations, codified in 1945 and incorporated into Israeli law three years later by the first legislative act of the new Jewish state, allowed for the prosecution of civilians by military courts, indefinite “administrative detention” without trial, home demolitions, official censorship, the criminalisation of “unlawful associations”, the establishment of “closed military zones”, the imposition of curfews and restrictions on travel, and the arbitrary confiscation of land and property. All of these measures would be used against Palestinians in Israel and, after 1967, in Gaza and the West Bank as well.

3. Refugees, infiltrators, emigres

By 1949, when Zionist forces defeated Palestinian militias and the armies of several neighbouring Arab states, more than 700,000 Palestinians had fled or been expelled from their homes. Some ended up in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which fell under Egyptian and Jordanian control. Others began lengthy exiles outside historic Palestine. In 1949 the Israeli military adopted a “free fire” policy, allowing soldiers to shoot returning refugees on sight. By 1956, 2,700-5,000 such “infiltrators” had been killed. There are now more than seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. By contrast, any individual with one Jewish grandparent, regardless of their place of birth, is entitled to emigrate to Israel and become a citizen of the Jewish state.

4 An illegal occupation

After six days of fighting in June 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai peninsula. Five months later, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territories it had occupied. Israel had at that point already established its first civilian settlement in the West Bank, though international law forbids occupying powers from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. In the years since, Israeli governments of both the left and right have consistently encouraged the settlement enterprise with financial, infrastructural and military support. About 500,000 Israeli citizens now live in more than 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in more than 100 “outposts” not yet formally approved by the state. Forty-two per cent of the land in the West Bank currently falls under settlers’ control.

5 The peace that wasn’t

In September 1993, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat signed an agreement that, along with several subsequent treaties, would be collectively known as the Oslo Accords. “The fact is,” wrote the scholar Edward Said at the time, “that Israel has conceded nothing.” Meant as a temporary measure until “permanent status negotiations” were complete, Oslo divided the West Bank into zones of Israeli and Palestinian control, giving the Israeli military control over 61 per cent of the West Bank. The deal created the Palestinian Authority and delegated to it responsibility for the security, health, and education of Palestinians living in the 18 per cent of the West Bank over which it exercises a highly limited form of authority. Israel still controls Palestinian borders, movement, economic relations, airspace, telecommunications, and access to water and other resources. The PA frequently acts as Israel’s proxy, suppressing protests and potential resistance to the occupation on Israel’s behalf.

6 Segregation and the wall

In 2002, during the Second Intifada, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon ordered the construction of a physical barrier to separate Israel from the West Bank and prevent the entry of Palestinian suicide bombers. The barrier – which in some places takes the form of a 2m electrified fence, in others an 8m concrete wall – has since grown to 709km, twice the length of the internationally recognised boundary between Israel and the West Bank known as the Green Line. Despite its ostensible security purpose, the barrier has functioned primarily to seize Palestinian land: 85 per cent of its length falls within the Palestinian side of the Green Line, annexing nearly 10 per cent of the West Bank. It snakes deeply into Palestinian territory, separating communities from one another and farmers from their fields. The Israeli architect and theorist Eyal Weizman has described the wall as “a discontinuous and fragmented series of self-enclosed barriers that can be better understood as a prevalent ‘condition’ of segregation . . . rather than one continuous line neatly cutting the territory in two.”

7 Permits and checkpoints

In the early 1990s, Israel began requiring Palestinians to obtain permits before entering Israel or moving between the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. During the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, the military began establishing checkpoints, not only along its borders but within the territories it occupies, restricting movement in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Palestinians are now in many cases required to apply for permits to visit and farm their own land. More than half of the nearly 100 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank regulate travel within Palestinian territory, preventing the free movement of people and goods, and making fear, humiliation, and uncertainty an elemental part of Palestinian life. Checkpoints are frequently sites of clashes, and of Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces.

8 Courts and prisons

Israel administers separate legal systems for Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank. Israeli citizens are subject to Israeli civil and criminal law, with extensive due process protections. Palestinians live under martial law and are tried by military courts in which they lack even basic procedural rights. Nearly all West Bank Palestinians have at least one relative in prison and nearly 40 per cent of all Palestinian males there have been in detention at some point. In 2010, the last year for which figures were released, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military court system was 99.74 per cent. Israel now holds more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners. More than 400 are children and nearly 600 “administrative detainees”, held on secret evidence without charge or trial. More than 50 prisoners are on hunger strike to demand the freedom of Bilal Kayed (35), who was placed on administrative detention in June immediately after completing a 14½-year sentence.

9 The siege of Gaza

In 2005, by order of then prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israel evacuated all settlements in the Gaza Strip. One year later, the Islamist party Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections. Months of fighting between Hamas militants and forces loyal to the secular nationalist party Fatah followed. Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip while Fatah, under PA president Mahmoud Abbas, maintained power in the West Bank. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, limiting the import of food, fuel, and all goods into the Strip, which had been walled off since the mid-1990s. In the years since, responding to sporadic rocket fire from armed groups there, the Israeli military has launched three major “operations” against Gaza, killing more than 3,800 people, nearly two-thirds of them civilians and a quarter children. In the 15 years since Hamas first fired rockets into Israel, projectiles from Gaza have killed 30 Israeli civilians, about the same number that die in traffic accidents each month. According to the UN, the devastation Gaza has endured may render it uninhabitable by the end of this decade.

10 Boycott

Inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, in 2005 170 Palestinian civil society groups put out a call for a nonviolent, international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The campaign has lately won some major victories, with several multinational firms and national investment funds breaking ties to Israeli firms. It has also come under attack. In a speech to pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton characterised the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, and several US states have passed laws to penalise those that boycott Israel. In May, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan affirmed that those advocating boycott hold a “legitimate political viewpoint” and that the Irish Government “does not agree with attempts to demonise” them. Last year, Ireland imported more than €90 million of Israeli goods, and sold more than €1 billion of Irish products to Israel.

The Ruining of Egypt

From The Economist
IN EGYPT they are the shabab al-ahawe, “coffee-shop guys”; in Algeria they are the hittistes, “those who lean with their backs to the wall”; in Morocco they go by the French term, diplômés chômeurs, “graduate-jobless”. Across the Arab world the ranks of the young and embittered are swelling.

In most countries a youth bulge leads to an economic boom. But Arab autocrats regard young people as a threat—and with reason. Better educated than their parents, wired to the world and sceptical of political and religious authority, the young were at the forefront of the uprisings of 2011. They toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and alarmed the kings and presidents of many other states.

Now, with the exception of Tunisia, those countries have either slid into civil war or seen their revolutions rolled back. The lot of young Arabs is worsening: it has become harder to find a job and easier to end up in a cell. Their options are typically poverty, emigration or, for a minority, jihad.

This is creating the conditions for the next explosion. Nowhere is the poisonous mix of demographic stress, political repression and economic incompetence more worrying than in Egypt under its strongman, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

The Middle East is where people are most pessimistic and most fearful that the next generation will fare worse than the current one. Arab populations are growing exceptionally fast. Although the proportion who are aged 15-24 peaked at 20% of the total of 357m in 2010, the absolute number of young Arabs will keep growing, from 46m in 2010 to 58m in 2025.

As the largest Arab state, Egypt is central to the region’s future. If it succeeds, the Middle East will start to look less benighted; if it fails, today’s mayhem will turn even uglier. A general who seized power in a coup in 2013, Mr Sisi has proved more repressive than Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in the Arab spring; and he is as incompetent as Muhammad Morsi, the elected Islamist president, whom Mr Sisi deposed.

The regime is bust, sustained only by generous injections of cash from Gulf states (and, to a lesser degree, by military aid from America). Even with billions of petrodollars, Egypt’s budget and current-account deficits are gaping, at nearly 12% and 7% of GDP respectively. For all of Mr Sisi’s nationalist posturing, he has gone beret in hand to the IMF for a $12 billion bail-out (see article).

Youth unemployment now stands at over 40%. The government is already bloated with do-nothing civil servants; and in Egypt’s sclerotic, statist economy, the private sector is incapable of absorbing the legions of new workers who join the labour market each year. Astonishingly, in Egypt’s broken system university graduates are more likely to be jobless than the country’s near-illiterate.

Egypt’s economic woes stem partly from factors beyond the government’s control. Low oil prices affect all Arab economies, including net energy importers that depend on remittances. Wars and terrorism have kept tourists away from the Middle East. Past errors weigh heavily, too, including the legacy of Arab socialism and the army’s vast business interests.

But Mr Sisi is making things worse. He insists on defending the Egyptian pound, to avoid stoking inflation and bread riots. He thinks he can control the cost of food, much of which is imported, by propping up the currency. But capital controls have failed to prevent the emergence of a black market for dollars (the Egyptian pound trades at about two-thirds of its official value), and has also created shortages of imported spare parts and machinery. This is stoking inflation anyway (14% and rising). It is also hurting industry and scaring away investors.

Sitting astride the Suez Canal, one of the great trade arteries of the world, Egypt should be well placed to benefit from global commerce. Yet it lies in the bottom half of the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index. Rather than slashing red tape to set loose his people’s talents, Mr Sisi pours taxpayers’ cash into grandiose projects. He has expanded the Suez Canal, yet its revenues have fallen. Plans for a new Dubai-like city in the desert lie buried in the sand. A proposed bridge to connect Egypt to Saudi Arabia sparked protests after Mr Sisi promised to hand back two Saudi islands long controlled by Egypt.

Even Mr Sisi’s Arab bankrollers appear to be losing patience. Advisers from the United Arab Emirates have gone home, frustrated by an ossified bureaucracy and a knucklehead leadership that thinks Egypt needs no advice from upstart Gulfies—mere “semi-states” that have “money like rice”, as Mr Sisi and his aides are heard to say in a leaked audio tape.

Such is Egypt’s strategic importance that the world has little choice but to deal with Mr Sisi. But the West should treat him with a mixture of pragmatism, persuasion and pressure. It should stop selling Egypt expensive weapons it neither needs nor can afford, be they American F-16 jets or French Mistral helicopter-carriers. Any economic help should come with strict conditions: the currency should ultimately be allowed to float; the civil service has to be slimmed; costly and corruption-riddled subsidy schemes should be phased out. The poorest should in time be compensated through direct payments.

All this should be done gradually. Egypt is too fragile, and the Middle East too volatile, for shock therapy. The Egyptian bureaucracy would anyway struggle to enact radical change. Yet giving a clear direction for reform would help to restore confidence in Egypt’s economy. Gulf Arabs should insist on such changes—and withhold some rice if Mr Sisi resists.

For the time being talk of another uprising, or even of another coup to get rid of Mr Sisi, has abated. Caught by surprise in 2011, the secret police are even more diligent in sniffing out and scotching dissent. But the demographic, economic and social pressures within Egypt are rising relentlessly. Mr Sisi cannot provide lasting stability. Egypt’s political system needs to be reopened. A good place to start would be for Mr Sisi to announce that he will not stand again for election in 2018.

Islamist Violence

Interview conducted by Claudia Mende

Islamist violence is “in part a product of Western disdain”

Karen Armstrong, British scholar of comparative religion, finds that there is a long and inglorious tradition of distorting Islam in Europe. She criticises the notion that Islam is essentially more violent than Christianity and speaks about the genesis of Western disdain for the Arab world. Interview by Claudia Mende

Ms Armstrong, in an article for “The Guardian” you wrote that the barbaric violence of IS may be “at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain”. Would you write that again now, after the Paris attacks?

Karen Armstrong: Yes, most certainly. If the attack on “Charlie Hebdo” was indeed inspired or backed by al-Qaida, it was politically as well as religiously motivated. In Paris, it attacked the sacred symbol of mo­dern secular Western civilisation: freedom of expres­sion. Freedom of expression was an Enlightenment ideal; it was essential to capitalist society that people were free to innovate without being suppressed by the restrictions of Church, class or guild. In Paris, the terrorists were saying in effect: “You attack our sacred symbol (the Prophet Muhammad); then we will attack yours! Now you see what it feels like.”

But what does this have to do with Western disdain?

Armstrong: The Prophet has been caricatured in the West as a violent, epileptic, lecherous charlatan since the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages; this distorted image of Islam developed at the same time as our European anti-Semitism which caricatured Jews as the evil, violent, perverse and powerful enemies of Europe.

So yes, the attack on the magazine was in part a product of Western disdain. The attack on the Jewish supermarket, which seems to have been backed by ISIS, was directed against Western support for Israel. Here too, there is an element of disdain: there has been little sustained outcry against the massive casualties in Gaza last summer, for example, which seems to some Muslims to imply that the lives of Palestinian women, children and the elderly are not as valuable as our own.

Where do you see the roots of this disdain?

Armstrong: The Enlightenment ideal of freedom was, in practice, only for Europeans. The Founding Fathers of the United States, who were deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, proudly proclaimed that “All men are created equal” and enjoyed the natural human rights of life, liberty and property. But they felt no qualms about owning African slaves and driving the Native Americans out of their ancestral lands.

John Locke, the apostle of tolerance, wrote that a master had “absolute and despotical” rights over a slave, which included the right to kill him at any time. This continues: many of those who marched for freedom of expression in Paris were leaders of states that have supported regimes in Muslim majority countries that denied their subjects basic freedoms; Britain and the US, for example, continue to support the Saudi regime. Again, a disdain: ourfreedom is more important than yours.

Shouldn’t we also look at certain Koranic verses and their interpretation throughout history to explain the phenomenon of Islamist terror?

Armstrong: “Throughout history”, these Koranic verses have not inspired terrorist activities. Any empire depends upon force; this is true of the Indian, Chinese, Persian, Roman, Hellenistic and British empires and it is also true of the Islamic empires. Furthermore, until the modern period, Islam had a far better record of tolerance than Western Christianity. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they slaughtered the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of the city in a massacre that shocked the Middle East, which had never seen such unbridled violence. And yet it was 50 years before there was any serious Muslim riposte. There is more violence in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament than there is in the Koran.

Most Christian theologians would disagree.

Armstrong: Those theologians who claim that there are no passages in the New Testament like Koran 2.191–93 have perhaps forgotten the Book of Revelation, which is the preferred text of many Christian fundamentalists who look forward to the battles of the imminent End Time that will destroy the enemies of God. They interpret these texts literally and quote them far more frequently than the Sermon on the Mount. The aggression towards the enemy commanded in Koran 2:191 concludes: “If they cease hostilities, there can be no further hostility.” (Koran 2. 193). No such quarter is allowed those who fight the Word of God in the battles of Revelation.

Why is this never mentioned in debates on this subject?

Armstrong: One might argue that this book is uncharacteristic of the New Testament as a whole, but exactly the same can be said of the “sword verses” of the Koran. Even Jesus, who told his disciples to love their enemies and turn the other cheek when attacked, warned his followers: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth; it is not peace I have come to bring but the sword.” (Matthew 10: 14). All scriptures have violent passages that can be quoted out of context, given undue importance, and made to cancel out the irenic teaching that inspires all faiths at their best.

There is a popular understanding that Islam has violence incorporated into its beliefs from the very beginning. What do you think?

Armstrong: This popular belief originated at the time of the Crusades, when it was Western Christians who were attacking Muslims in the Near East; it may reflect a buried anxiety and guilt: Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies not to exterminate them. The conviction that Islam had always been a religion of the sword was promoted by learned monks during the twelfth century: they were projecting their concern about their own behaviour onto their victims.

But what about the beginnings of the Islamic empire?

Armstrong: In the early years, while the Muslims were an embattled minority in Mecca, the Koran forbade them to retaliate and attack their aggressors. But when they were forced by intensified persecution to flee Mecca and found an infant state, the Muslims, like any state-builders, had to fight, and the Koran endorses this. But military historians tell us that Muhammad and the first caliphs are almost unique in building empires more by diplomacy than by violence: Muhammad, by uniting the Arabian Peninsula, which had previously consisted of warring tribal societies, and imposing the Pax Islamica there; and the first caliphs, the Rashidun, in the cultivated lands of the Middle East.

Another difference between East and West is the lack of separation between state and religion in the Arab world. Why does secularism have such a difficult stand?

Armstrong: The secularism that developed in the West during the eighteenth century was a radical innovation. Before the modern period, religion permeated all human activities because people wanted to make their lives significant. The idea of “religion” as a personal, private quest essentially separate from all other pursuits was unknown in pre-modern Europe as well as in the rest of the world. No other culture has anything like it. Words that we translate as “religion” (such as “din” in Arabic or “dharma” in Sanskrit) refer to an entire way of life. Trying to take “religion” out of politics would have been as difficult as taking the gin out of a cocktail. This was not because they were too stupid to distinguish two entirely different activities but because such questions as the plight of the poor, the maintenance of public order and public security, and justice were matters of sacred import.

So secularism is perceived as an essentially Western concept?

Armstrong: It is a Western innovation; we were able to develop it under our own dynamic and not at somebody else’s behest. It was essential to our modernisation and many therefore found it liberating. But in the Arab world, it was merely a foreign import; it was imposed by colonial powers and came with political subjection rather than political freedom. When the colonialists left, it was often imposed so cruelly that it seemed positively evil.

When Ataturk secularised modern Turkey, he closed down all the madrassas. His policies of ethnic cleansing forever associated secularism with the violence of the Young Turks, a secularist group who had seized power in Ottoman Turkey and committed the Armenian massacres during World War I. These rulers wanted their countries to look modern (that is, European), even though the majority of the population had no familiarity with Western ideas.

What about Egypt, the motherland of Islamism?

Armstrong: After an attempt on his life in 1954, Gamal Abdel Nasser incarcerated thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the innocent along with the guilty minority. Most were imprisoned without trial for doing nothing more incri­mi­nating than handing out leaflets or attending a meeting.

One of them was Sayyid Qutb. As he saw the Brothers being beaten, tortured and executed in this vile prison and heard Nasser vowing to secularise Egypt on the Western model and confine Islam to the private sphere, secularism seemed a great evil. In prison he wrote “Milestones”, the “bible” of Sunni fundamentalism, the work of a man who has been pushed too far and was executed, at Nasser’s special request, in 1966. The other Brothers were radicalised in these terrible prisons; when they were released in the 1970s, they took their extremism into the mainstream.

ISIS explained – by Ramzi Baroud

In 1999 there were no so-called “jihadis” espousing the principles of “jihadism”, whatever the interpretation may be. On the outskirts of Baghdad was a military training camp, not for “al-Qaeda”, but for “Mojahedin-e-Khalq”, an Iranian militant exile group that worked, with foreign funding and arms, to overthrow the Iranian Republic.

At the time, the late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, used the exiled organization to settle scores with his rivals in Tehran, just as they, too, espoused anti-Iraqi government militias to achieve the exact same purpose.

Iraq was hardly peaceful then. But most of the bombs that exploded in that country were American. In fact, when Iraqis spoke of “terrorism”, they only referred to “Al-Irhab al-Amriki” – American terrorism.

Suicide bombings were hardly a daily occurrence; in fact, never an occurrence at all, anywhere in Iraq. As soon as the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, all hell broke loose.

The 25 years prior to 2008 witnessed 1,840 suicide attacks, according to data compiled by US government experts and cited in the Washington Post. Of all these attacks, 86 percent occurred post-US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, between 2001 and the publishing of the data in 2008, 920 suicide bombings took place in Iraq and 260 in Afghanistan.

A fuller picture emerged in 2010, with the publishing of more commanding and detailed research conducted by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism.

“More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation,” it emerged.

“As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq … total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically – from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009,” wrote Robert Pape in Foreign Policy.

Tellingly, it was also concluded that “over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.”

When I visited Iraq in 1999, “al-Qaeda” was merely a name on the Iraqi TV news, referring to a group of militants that operated mostly in Afghanistan. It was first established to unite Arab fighters against the Soviet presence in that country, and they were largely overlooked as a global security threat at the time.

It was years after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1988, that “al-Qaeda” became a global phenomenon. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US’ misguided responses – invading and destroying countries – created the very haven that have espoused today’s militancy and terror.

In no time, following the US invasion of Iraq, “al-Qaeda” extended its dark shadows over a country that was already overwhelmed with a death toll that surpassed hundreds of thousands.

It is hardly difficult to follow the thread of ISIS’ formation, the deadliest of all such groups that mostly originated from “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, itself wrought by the US invasion.

It was born from the unity of various militants groups in October 2006, when “al-Qaeda” in Mesopotamia joined ranks with “Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq”, “Jund al-Sahhaba”, and the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI).

ISIS, or “Daesh” has been in existence since then, in various forms and capacities, but only jumped to the scene as a horrifically violent organization with territorial ambitions when a Syrian uprising turned into a deadly platform for regional rivalries. What existed as a “state” at a virtual, cerebral level had, in fact, morphed into a “state” of actual landmass, oil fields and martial law.

It is easy – perhaps, convenient – to forget all of this. Connecting the proverbial dots can be costly for some, for it will unravel a trajectory of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention. For many western commentators and politicians it is much easier – let alone safer – to discuss ISIS within impractical contexts, for example, Islam, than to take moral responsibility.

I pity those researchers who spent years examining the thesis of ISIS as a religious theology or ISIS and the apocalypse. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. What good did that bring about, anyway?

American military and political interventions have always been accompanied by attempting to also intervene in school curricula of invaded countries. The war on Afghanistan was also joined with a war on its “madrasas” and unruly “ulemas”. None of this helped. If anything, it backfired, for it compounded the feeling of threat and sense of victimization among tens of millions of Muslims all around the world.

ISIS (Daesh) is but a name that can be rebranded without notice into something entirely different. Their tactics, too, can change, based on time and circumstances. Their followers can mete out violence using a suicide belt, a car laden with explosives, a knife even, or a truck moving at high speed.

What truly matters is that ISIS (Daesh) has grown into a phenomenon, an idea that is not even confined to a single group and requires no official membership, transfer of funds or weapons.

This is no ordinary fact, but in a more sensible approach should represent the crux of the fight against ISIS (Daesh).

When a French-Tunisian truck driver rammed into a crowd of celebrating people in the streets of Nice, the French police moved quickly to find connections between him and Daesh, or any other militant group. No clues were immediately revealed, yet, strangely, President François Hollande was quick to declare his intentions to respond militarily.

Such inanity and shortsightedness. What good did France’s military adventurism achieve in recent years? Libya has turned into an oasis of chaos – where Daesh now control entire towns. Iraq and Syria remain places for unmitigated violence.

What about Mali? Maybe the French had better luck there.

Writing for Al Jazeera, Pape Samba Kane described the terrible reality that Mali has become following the French intervention in January 2003. Their so-called “Operation Serval” turned into “Operation Barkhane” and neither did Mali became a peaceful place nor did French forces leave the country.

The French, according to Kane are now Occupiers, not liberators, and according to all rationale data – like the ones highlighted above – we all know what foreign occupation does.

“The question that Malians have to ask themselves is”, Kane wrote: “Do they prefer having to fight against jihadists for a long time, or having their sovereignty challenged and their territory occupied or partitioned by an ancient colonialist state in order to satisfy a group allied with the colonial power?”

Yet the French, like the Americans, the British and others, continue to evade this obvious reality at their own peril. By refusing to accept the fact that Daesh is only a component of a much larger and disturbing course of violence that is rooted in foreign intervention, is to allow violence everywhere to perpetuate.

Defeating Daesh requires that we also confront and defeat the thinking that led to its inception: to defeat the logic of the George W. Bushes, Tony Blairs and John Howards of this world.

No matter how violent Daesh members or supporters are, it is ultimately a group of angry, alienated, radicalized young men seeking to alter their desperate situation by carrying out despicable acts of vengeance, even if it means ending their lives in the process.

Bombing Daesh camps may destroy some of their military facilities but it will not eradicate the very idea that allowed them to recruit thousands of young men all over the world.

They are the product of violent thinking that was spawned, not only in the Middle East but, initially, in various western capitals.

Daesh will fizzle out and die when its leaders lose their appeal and ability to recruit young men seeking answers and revenge.

The war option has, thus far, proved the least affective. Daesh will remain and metamorphose if necessary, as long as war remains on the agenda. To end Daesh, we must end war and foreign occupations.

It is as simple as that.

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The Poem for Which Dareen Tatour’s Under House Arrest: ‘Resist, My People, Resist Them’

Arabic Literature (in English)

The year 2015, according to a new report by Hamleh (The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media), saw a surge in the number of Palestinians being arrested, in Israel, on the charge of “incitement through social media.”:

tatourOne of the most prominent cases is of the poet Dareen Tatour, who was arrested last October, charged in November, and spent several months in prison before being placed under house arrest — with no access to the internet — in January. She is currently confined to a Tel Aviv apartment and had her first court hearing this month, charged for Facebook postings and a poem posted to YouTube.

According to Nadim Nashef of Al-Shabaka, “The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a non-governmental organization dealing with prisoners’ rights, estimates that more than 150 arrests took place between October and February 2016 based on Facebook posts expressing opinions on the uprising.”

Nashef writes…

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Did the Arabs Betray Palestine

by Ramzi Baroud

At the age of 21, I crossed Gaza into Egypt to pursue a degree in political science. The timing could have not been worse. The Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had resulted in a US-led international coalition and a major war, which eventually paved the road for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. I became aware that Palestinians were suddenly “hated” in Egypt because of Yasser Arafat’s stance in support of Iraq at the time. I just did not know the extent of that alleged “hate.”

It was in a cheap hotel in Cairo, where I slowly ran out of the few Egyptian pounds at my disposal, that I met Hajah Zainab, a kindly, old custodian who treated me like a son. She looked unwell, wobbled as she walked, and leaned against walls to catch her breath before carrying on with her endless chores. The once carefully-designed tattoos on her face, became a jumble of wrinkled ink that defaced her skin. Still, the gentleness in her eyes prevailed, and whenever she saw me she hugged me and cried.

Hajah Zainab wept for two reasons: taking pity on me as I was fighting a deportation order in Cairo – for no other reason than the fact that I was a Palestinian at a time that Arafat endorsed Saddam Hussein while Hosni Mubarak chose to ally with the US. I grew desperate and dreaded the possibility of facing the Israeli intelligence, Shin Bet, who were likely to summon me to their offices once I crossed the border back to Gaza. The other reason is that Hajah Zainab’s only son, Ahmad, had died fighting the Israelis in Sinai.

Zainab’s generation perceived Egypt’s wars with Israel, that of 1948, 1956 and 1967 as wars in which Palestine was a central cause. No amount of self-serving politics and media conditioning could have changed that. But the war of 1967 was that of unmitigated defeat. With direct, massive support from the US and other western powers, Arab armies were soundly beaten, routed at three different fronts. Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank were lost, along with the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley and Sinai, as well.

It was then that some Arab countries’ relations with Palestine began changing. Israel’s victory and the US-West’s unremitting support convinced some Arab governments to downgrade their expectations, and expected the Palestinians to do so, as well. Egypt, once the torchbearer of Arab nationalism, succumbed to a collective sense of humiliation and, later, redefined its priorities to free its own land from Israeli Occupation. Without the pivotal Egyptian leadership, Arab countries were divided into camps, each government with its own agenda. As Palestine, all of it, was then under Israeli control, Arabs slowly walked away from a cause they once perceived to be the central cause of the Arab nation.

The 1967 war also brought an end to the dilemma of independent Palestinian action, which was almost entirely hijacked by various Arab countries. Moreover, the war shifted the focus to the West Bank and Gaza, and allowed the Palestinian faction, Fatah, to fortify its position in light of Arab defeat and subsequent division.

That division was highlighted most starkly in the August 1967 Khartoum summit, where Arab leaders clashed over priorities and definitions. Should Israel’s territorial gains redefine the status quo? Should Arabs focus on returning to a pre-1967 situation or that of pre-1948, when historic Palestine was first occupied and Palestinians ethnically cleansed?

The United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 242, on November 22 1967, reflecting the US Johnson Administration’s wish to capitalize on the new status quo: Israeli withdrawal “from occupied territories” in exchange for normalization with Israel. The new language of the immediate post-1967 period alarmed Palestinians who realized that any future political settlement was likely to ignore the situation that existed prior to the war.

Eventually, Egypt fought and celebrated its victory of the 1973 war, which allowed it to consolidate its control over most of its lost territories. A few years later, the Camp David accords in 1979 divided the ranks of the Arabs even more and ended Egypt’s official solidarity with the Palestinians, while granting the most populous Arab state a conditioned control over its own land in Sinai. The negative repercussions of that agreement cannot be overstated. However, the Egyptian people, despite the passing of time, have never truly normalized with Israel.

In Egypt, a chasm still exists between the government, whose behavior is based on political urgency and self-preservation, and a people who, despite a decided anti-Palestinian campaign in various media, are as ever determined to reject normalization with Israel until Palestine is free. Unlike the well-financed media circus that has demonized Gaza in recent years, the likes of Hajah Zainab have very few platforms where they can openly express their solidarity with the Palestinians. In my case, I was lucky enough to run into the aging custodian who cried for Palestine and her only son all those years ago.

Nevertheless, that very character, Zainab, was reincarnated in my path of travel, time and again. I met her in Iraq in 1999. She was an old vegetable vendor living in Sadr City. I met her in Jordan in 2003. She was a cabby, with a Palestinian flag hanging from his cracked rearview mirror. She was also a retired Saudi journalist I met in Jeddah in 2010, and a Moroccan student I met at a speaking tour in Paris in 2013. She was in her early twenties. After my talk, she sobbed as she told me that Palestine for her people is like a festering wound. “I pray for a free Palestine every day,” she told me, “as my late parents did with every prayer.”

Hajah Zainab is also Algeria, all of Algeria. When the Palestinian national football team met their Algerian counterparts last February, a strange, unprecedented phenomenon transpired that left many puzzled. The Algerian fans, some of the most ardent lovers of football anywhere, cheered for the Palestinians, nonstop. And when the Palestinian team scored a goal, it was if the bleachers were lit on fire. The crowded stadium exploded with a trancing chant for Palestine and Palestine alone.

So, did the Arabs betray Palestine? The question is heard often, and it is often followed with the affirmative, “yes, they did.” The Egyptian media scapegoating of Palestinians in Gaza, the targeting and starving of Palestinians in Yarmouk, Syria, the past civil war in Lebanon, the mistreatment of Palestinians in Kuwait in 1991 and, later, in Iraq in 2003 are often cited as examples. Now some insist that the so-called “Arab Spring” was the last nail in the coffin of Arab solidarity with Palestine.

I beg to differ. The outcome of the ill-fated “Arab Spring” was a massive letdown, if not betrayal, not just of Palestinians but of most Arabs. The Arab world has turned into a massive ground for dirty politics between old and new rivals. While Palestinians were victimized, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and others are being victimized, as well.

There has to be a clear political demarcation of the word “Arabs.” Arabs can be unelected governments as much as they can be a kindly old woman earning two dollars a day in some dirty Cairo hotel. Arabs are emboldened elites who care only about their own privilege and wealth while neither Palestine nor their own nations matter, but also multitudes of peoples, diverse, unique, empowered, oppressed, who happen at this point in history to be consumed with their own survival and fight for freedom.

The latter “Arabs” never betrayed Palestine; they willingly fought and died for it when they had the chance.

Most likely, Hajah Zainab is long dead now. But millions more like her still exist and they, too, long for a free Palestine, as they continue to seek their own freedom and salvation.

Israel is occupation-addicted – By Gideon Levy

“The drug addict who is your friend, if you give him money, he will really care about you. But are you really caring about him?” asked Levy, who called Israel’s almost 50-year-old illegal military occupation of Palestinian land “criminal,” “brutal” and “rotten.”

He was speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the annual Israel’s Influence conference. The event, held on March 18, explored the close relationship between the American and Israeli governments, and the impact it has on the rest of the Middle East.

The U.S. gives more than $3.1 billion in unconditional military aid to the Israeli government every year. Israel is by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid (Egypt comes in second, with $1.5 billion annually). And yet, in protest of the U.S.’s nuclear deal with Iran, the Israeli government is pushing for even more, up to $4.5 billion in tax dollars per year.

“Every single thing the Israelis do today is with the total approval and total financing of the United States,” Levy explained.

He criticized U.S. politicians, and particularly lawmakers, for their ignorance of basic facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Most American legislators know nothing, and what they know is a product of” propaganda, Levy said.

He proposed giving U.S. politicians a tour of the occupied Palestinian territories. Levy suggested that anyone who doubts that Israel oppresses the indigenous Arab population should spend “just a few hours in Hebron,” a Palestinian city (known in Arabic as al-Khalil) in the occupied West Bank.

“I’ve never met an honest human being who went to Hebron and didn’t come back shocked,” he added.

In Hebron, illegal Israeli settlers live in the middle of the city. Palestinians must travel on separate roads, which are patrolled by Israeli soldiers. They often walk under enormous nets that look like cages, and settlers drop objects — and even urinate — on them from their windows above.

Levy described Israel’s occupation simply as a form of apartheid.

“It looks like apartheid, it walks like apartheid, it behaves like apartheid; it’s apartheid,” he said.

He juxtaposed the conditions of Palestinians living under illegal military occupation in Hebron to those of Israelis just one hour away in the large Israeli city Tel Aviv.

“There’s not one single American legislator who can imagine himself what it means to live as a Palestinian under the occupation,” Levy continued. “He cannot imagine one day of the humiliation, of the danger, of the lack of hope.”

“As long as this is the case, the chances for hope are so small.”

Escalating violence

The Israel’s Influence conference is organized by the nonprofit foundation the American Educational Trust and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, told Salon that the conference is based on meetings her organization had organized in the past. In early March, Code Pink held a similar event, the 2016 Summit on Saudi Arabia, which explored Saudi influence in U.S. politics and called into question the U.S. relationship with the theocratic absolute monarchy, which funds and exports extremismthroughout the world. Salon reported on this summit as well.

Levy lit up the room with his lighthearted yet somber assessment of the situation in Israel-Palestine.

“Life in Palestine now is the cheapest ever,” he explained in the keynote address. “Never was it so cheap, never was it so easy to kill Palestinians.”

For Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel has illegally occupied since 1967, violence has become a part of everyday life under military occupation. In recent months, however, this violence has greatly accelerated. Since October 2015, approximately 180 Palestinians have be killed, along with around 30 Israelis. Almost every day, there is yet another story of yet another death.

Every few years, Israel wages a war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, upon which Israel has imposed a blockade for almost a decade. The Israeli government controls everything that enters Gaza and controls its waters, airspace, electromagnetic field and even population registry, unofficially occupying the densely populated strip that it officially occupied until its 2005 withdrawal.

Israel meted out the largest yet surge of violence in its summer 2014 war on Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military, which human right groups accused of committing war crimes, killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of whom were civilians, including more than 550 children, according to U.N. figures. On the other side, 66 Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians. 92 percent of the people killed by Palestinian militants were soldiers.

Levy argued that, if the U.S. stopped giving billions in aid and guaranteeing impunity for Israel at the United Nation, the occupation would end within mere months.

If a president were committed to actually using punitive measure to pressure Israel to end the occupation, it would end, he claimed. “Israel would never be able to say no to a decisive president.”

He hence pressured Americans to take action against the occupation. “The key is now in your hands, America,” Levy said. “The key is now in your hands, activists, scholars.”

Rise of “fascism”

“The chances to change society from within Israel are so limited,” Levy lamented.

He is very critical of both the ruling right-wing Likud party and the centrist Israeli Labor Party. He noted that “to be a leftist in Israel is a curse.” Leftists in Israel are frequently called “traitors.”

In some of his columns, Levy has warned Israel is witnessing the rise of fascism — and he does not use the term lightly. Other politicians have not been so cautious. In 2012, right-wing Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev proudly declared on a TV interview that she is “happy to be a fascist.” Regev now serves as the minister of culture in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government.

During Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza, Levy received daily death threats for criticizing the Israeli military’s actions, and had to even hire a body guard to protect him. Israeli veterans have admitted that they were ordered to kill Palestinian civilians in the war — and killed Gazans because they were bored.

He said at the time that he saw the “first signs of fascism” in Israel. Since then, Levy argues things have gotten even worse. The year 2015, he wrote in a column, “heralded the start of blatant and unapologetic Israeli fascism.”

Although the violent, overtly racist far-right is on the rise in Israel, with fascistic groups like Lehava chanting “death to Arabs” in the streets and organizing anti-miscegenation squads, Levy argued this extremism masks the violence that is normalized in mainstream politics, which whitewashes the occupation and the Israeli government’s crimes against the Palestinians.

The mainstream “decides to cover its eyes to what is happening in its own backyard,” he said. “And then the right-wingers can do whatever it wants.”

“You have your right-wingers and we have our right-wingers,” Levy told the American audience, referencing the rise of the radical right in the U.S., with presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“I don’t know who is worse than who,” he joked.

Other speakers

Gideon Levy was perhaps the highlight of the conference. Yet the prominent Haaretz columnist was joined by a slew of distinguished speakers.

Among them was journalist Rula Jebreal, who discussed Islamophobia, racism and sexism in the the media, and how this has helped fuel the rise of far-right demagogues like Donald Trump.

Journalist Jim Lobe, founder of the popular foreign policy website LobeLog, spoke of the history of neoconservatism and the Iraq War, and the centrality of hard-line pro-Israel politics within the American neoconservative movement.

Phil Weiss, the founder and co-editor of progressive news outlet Mondoweiss, also detailed pro-Israel bias in the U.S. media, and particularly in The New York Times.

Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa spoke of an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department for allowing billions of dollars of tax-deductible so-called “donations” to go from the U.S. to Israel in order to fund illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Maria LaHood, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, spoke of the many ongoing attempts in the U.S. to silence criticism of the Israeli government, particularly on college campuses.

Col. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for George W. Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell, also addressed the enormous influence of Israel in U.S. foreign policy. In recent years, Wilkerson has become an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. Salon sat down with Col. Wilkerson for a lengthy interview, which will be published separately.

Both C-SPAN and The Real News filmed the speeches and panel discussion at the Israel’s Influence conference, and have made the videos available online.

Legendary musician Roger Waters, former leader of the band Pink Floyd, also attended the conference. Waters, whom Levy called a great activist and friend, has established himself as a leading voice in the international solidarity movement for Palestinian human rights. In August, Levy published a lengthy profile on Waters in Haaretz, describing the musician-activist’s views.

Waters declined an interview with Salon.

Distinguished activist Ralph Nader was also present. He declined an interview as well, but briefly answered a few questions.

Nader blasted U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine, arguing the American government has “pretty much abandoned the peace process.” As for the Obama administration, he said it appears to have lost interest in the issue; “they’re occupied with Syria, Iraq and all the other battlefields.”

“Three regimes”

The Israel’s Influence conference came just days before the annual policy conference of the most influential pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. All of the presidential candidates excluding Bernie Sanders spoke at the conference. Sanders turned down the invitation.

Levy characterized AIPAC as an enemy to peace in the region. He also harshly criticized U.S. policy in Israel-Palestine and the so-called peace process.

“The chances for the two-state solution are totally gone,” Levy said, referring to the decades-old proposal that Palestinians should have an independent state.

“I believe that neither America or Israel ever wanted a two-state solution,” Levy continued, arguing that “the two-state solution was a trap” from the beginning.

What furthermore unites the U.S. with Israel, he argued, is the widespread anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination in both countries.

“There are very few Israelis who perceive Palestinians as equal human beings. Very, very few,” Levy said. “Most Israelis do not perceive Palestinians as equal human beings.”

He said he reads the Israeli and U.S. media and “you can’t believe how many lies can be spread so easily.” The prominent columnist blasted the media, which he called “the biggest collaborator with the occupation.”

Thanks to this misreporting, Levy argued, “Israeli legislators know nothing; Israeli young people know nothing.”

Journalists “get so much hatred” in Israel and the U.S. for depicting “Palestinian children as human beings,” he explained. “This is a crime in our country.”

The Israeli government, he said, “doesn’t treat them as regular human beings.”

Levy articulated three different forms of government in Israel: a democracy for Jewish citizens; a semi-democracy for Palestinian citizens of Israel, who “are discriminated on any possible basis”; and an “apartheid regime” in the occupied territories.

Israel, Levy noted, “may be the only country in the world not only with no borders, but with three regimes.”

“Justice is very black and white”

Levy argued that Israel’s “addiction” to occupation is not just dangerous to Palestinians; it is even dangerous to Israel’s own future.

“The first victims are obviously the Palestinians, and in many ways the entire Middle East,” he said. “But the occupier, look what happens to the occupier,” Levy continued, pointing to examples of the radicalization of Israeli society.

In December, the Israeli government banned schools from teaching a book depicting an interracial relationship, Levy recalled.

He also drew attention to Netanyahu’s infamous remarks on the day of the March 2015 election, in which the hard-line right-wing prime minister implored Jewish citizens of Israel to got out and vote because the left was supposedly busing Arabs out for the election “in droves.”

Levy argued that frequently rehashed talking points about Israel being the “only democracy in the Middle East” (Turkey and Lebanon are both democracies, albeit very imperfect ones) give Israel “the right to do whatever it wants to do.”

Levy also joked about Israel’s claims that it has  the most moral army in the world. “Don’t you dare tell us we are the second-most moral,” he quipped.

The prominent journalist said he can’t quite be hopeful, but you never know what could happen. The Soviet Union unexpectedly collapsed in a matter of months, he pointed out, and the same could happen with the occupation.

In the meantime, Levy stresses that the violence in Israel-Palestine “is not a complicated conflict.” It is Israel that is oppressing the Palestinians.

“Those who portray it as a very complicated situation don’t want to find a solution,” Levy said.

He added, “Justice is very black and white today in Israel-Palestine — very, very black and white.”