Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory does not only exist above ground. Since 1967, Israel has systematically colonized Palestinian natural resources and, in the field of hydrocarbons, has prevented Palestinians from accessing their own oil and gas reserves. Such restrictions have ensured the continued dependence of Palestinians on Israel for their energy needs. The Palestinians’ own efforts to develop their energy sector fail to challenge Israel’s overarching hegemony over Palestinian resources. Rather, they pursue growth and state building within the reality of the occupation, further reinforcing — even if inadvertently — the asymmetric balance between occupied and occupier.
The Energy Crisis Israel Imposes on Gaza and Palestine
Within the space of a few years, Israel has moved from being a regional gas importer to acquiring the potential to become an exporter. As Israel became awash with gas, the Gaza Strip’s pitiful reality became starker than ever.
The Gaza Strip has been under blockade since 2007. The Gaza Power Generation Company (GPGC), the sole company of its kind in the Palestinian territory, currently runs on liquid fuel that is purchased and transported into the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
To supplement power from GPGC, Gaza purchases electricity from the Israeli Electricity Company as well as from the Egyptian electric grid — in line with the Paris Protocol, enshrined between Israel and the PLO as part of the Oslo Accords. Even so, fuel purchased for power generation in Gaza is insufficient to meet local demand, and the Strip has suffered from chronic electricity shortages since Israel imposed the blockade.
In early 2017, protests swept throughout Gaza as inhabitants of this coastal enclave protested having electricity for only three to four hours daily. Aside from the tremendous restrictions these shortages put on mundane facets of life, electricity outages have a crippling impact on the economic activity of the private sector, healthcare, education, and life-sustaining facilities such as water sanitation plants. Stunted operations in these areas have consequences that are both immediate and lasting, impacting rising generations.
Blame for Gaza’s energy crisis is fired in all directions. Protesters flooding the winter streets blamed Hamas’s government, the PA, and Israel. Anger was directed at Hamas’s government for allegedly diverting funds from the purchase of fuel necessary to run Gaza’s only power plant toward other activities, including the building of tunnels.
Frustrated demonstrators accused the PA of supporting the blockade by controlling fuel purchases and transfers into Gaza. The power company itself, a privately owned operation, is repeatedly criticized for supposedly making profit off the backs of ordinary Gazans who suffer from these shortages.
To mitigate the particularly painful winter months of late 2016 and early 2017, interventions into Gaza’s energy sector were forthcoming from Turkey and Qatar in the form of fuel supplies that allowed the resumption of power generation from GPGC. These measures are at best short-term palliatives that will carry Gazans through another chapter of a chronic crisis.
In this wave of popular anger and recrimination, the impact of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and Israel’s broader colonization and control of Palestinian resources is diluted, if not pushed to the background.
Yet Palestinians discovered gas reserves almost a decade before Israel’s gas bonanza. In 1999, the Gaza Marine field was discovered off the coast of Gaza, and the license for exploration and production was awarded to BG Group, the major British oil and gas company since acquired by Shell.
In the early days of the discovery, this national treasure was hailed as a breakthrough that could offer Palestinians a windfall. At a time when the Oslo Accords that had been signed in 1993 still seemed plausible, the resource discovery was viewed as something that could provide Palestinians with a much-needed boost toward self-determination.
With an estimated 1 tcf of gas, Gaza Marine is not sufficiently large to act as an exporter. But the gas volumes it holds are sufficient to make the Palestinian energy sector entirely self-sufficient. Not only would Palestinians not have to import Israeli or Egyptian gas or electricity, but the Gaza Strip would not suffer from any electricity shortages. Moreover, the Palestinian economy would enjoy a significant source of revenue.
That move to sovereign rule was not to be. Despite persistent attempts by owners of the field and investors to develop Gaza Marine, Israel placed unyielding restrictions that have prevented any measures from taking place. This is despite the fact that exploration and production from Gaza Marine would be relatively straightforward given the shallow depth of the reserve and its location close to Palestinian shores.
According to documents uncovered by Al-Shabaka, Israel initially prevented the development of this field as it sought commercially favorable terms for the gas produced. After Israel discovered its own resources, it began citing “security concerns” that were heightened with Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Although Netanyahu allegedly considered allowing Palestinians to develop Gaza Marine in 2012 as part of a broader strategy to stabilize the Gaza Strip, these efforts have yet to materialize. Given the recent acquisition of BG Group by Shell, and the latter’s global asset divestment program, it is likely that Gaza Marine will be sold off.
Until Israel ends its stranglehold on the Palestinian economy, this Palestinian asset is likely to remain stranded. Indeed, the manner in which the Israeli and Palestinian gas discoveries have shaped economic development in Israel and the Palestinian territory elucidates the power disparity between the two parties. Unlike Israel, which rapidly secured energy independence after the discovery of its gas fields, Palestinians are unable to access a resource they discovered close to two decades earlier.
Rather than addressing the root cause of the blockade and the occupation regime that has prevented their control of resources such as Gaza Marine, Palestinians are instead forced to seek immediate measures that mitigate the pressing misery they face. Although this is understandable in the context of a brutal occupation, efforts to enhance quality of life under occupation overlook the longer-term strategic goal of securing energy independence within the broader goal of freedom from occupation and realization of Palestinian rights.
Economic Peace and Normalization
Israel’s gas discoveries are often heralded as potential catalysts for a regional transformation. The positioning of the Israeli state as an energy supplier to resource-poor neighbors is considered a sure way to facilitate economic integration between countries such as Jordan and Egypt as well as the Palestinians.
The economic benefit that cheap pipeline gas could offer these countries is seen to offset any social and political concerns among their citizens regarding dealings with Israel. This line of thinking assumes that through economic integration, the pursuant stability would diminish prospects of volatility in an explosive region as Israel and its neighbors become integrated in mutual dependency.
The notion of “economic peace” has a long history in the region and has manifested itself in various forms, including recently in Secretary of State John Kerry’s economic development proposal. This view also appears favored by the Trump administration’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Rather than directly addressing the political impasse caused by Israel’s prolonged occupation and other violations, such proposals address issues related to quality of life, trade, or economic growth, presumably as a stepping stone to peace. With similar thinking, once the Israeli gas discoveries were made, the Obama administration began to explore ways to position Israel as a regional energy hub.
Proponents of this approach of separating national and political rights from economic incentives would argue that there is an obvious commercial advantage for Israeli gas to be used within the Palestinian territory and Jordan. Israel now has an excess of gas, and these regions are still dependent on energy imports.
In the case of the Palestinian territory, dependence on Israel already exists, and not only in Gaza: close to 88 percent of Palestinian consumption is supplied by Israel, with the West Bank importing almost the entirety of its electricity from Israel. Advocates for economic peace believe that prospects for instability diminish when such mutual dependency is reinforced.
The Dangers of Truncated Sovereignty
There are several national and regional dangers to the push for closer integration through gas deals in the absence of a concurrent effort on the political front.
The first danger is that Palestinian energy security is pinned to Israel’s goodwill. Israel can and has in the past used its power to effectively turn the taps off for Palestinian consumers. The most evident (and violent) manifestation of Israel’s willingness to withhold power to Palestinians is its decision to destroy without hesitation the sole power generation company in the Gaza Strip during its bombardment of the coastal enclave in 2006 and again in 2014.
Secondly, this approach legitimizes the Israeli occupation, soon entering its fiftieth year. Not only is there no cost to Israel’s prevention of Palestinian state building, there is rather a direct reward in the form of revenue from the sales of gas to territories maintained indefinitely under Israel’s territorial control.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, such energy exchange and trade in the pursuit of economic peace in the absence of any political prospects merely entrenches the power imbalance between the two parties — the occupier and the occupied. Such integration propagates a fiction of normative sovereign relations between an occupying power and a captive economy in the West Bank and Gaza.
One might think back to similar quality of life initiatives that were put forward in the 1980s, with the direct encouragement of the Reagan White House, as a failed alternative to political engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The constant efforts to circumvent Palestinian political demands through such measures has allowed Israel to manage, rather than resolve, the conflict.
The case of gas demonstrates most starkly how Palestinian state building efforts through the development of national resources have been elided in favor of alleviating energy crises within the framework of truncated sovereignty. Instead of addressing Palestinians’ inability to explore their own natural resources, American diplomats are actively working with Israel to facilitate negotiations that enhance Palestinian “quality of life” that ultimately leaves them bound to Israel in perpetuity.
This approach carries regional dangers as well. Jordan is currently dependent on Israel for around 40 percent of its energy imports. Jordan’s willingness to enter into this kind of commitment, despite several geostrategic disadvantages, advances Israel’s normalization in the region even as it maintains its occupation of Palestinian territory.
This disposition heralds several threats at a time when the Trump administration is proposing the pursuit of “outside in” diplomatic measures that might entirely circumvent the Palestinians.
Strategies for Pushback
In normal conditions, mutual dependency and economic development are indeed anchors against instability and hold the benefit of advancing the quality of life of the inhabitants of the region. However, they must not be viewed as an end in their own right, and certainly not as a substitute for the realization of Palestinian rights. Such a depoliticized view can only go so far. Focusing solely on economic peace has detrimental consequences precisely because it overlooks the broader historical context that has led to Palestinian, and possibly regional, dependency.
Economic growth will never remove Palestinian calls for sovereignty and rights or the demand for self-determination. That was a lesson that was fully articulated with the eruption of the first intifada close to 30 years ago, after decades of normalized economic relations between Israel and the territories under its military occupation. While “economic peace” could offer short-term relief, it will only pave the way toward greater stability if it is built on a foundation of equality and justice.
Palestinians’ right to their own resources is subject to final status negotiations with the Israelis. The current gas agreements being pursued will create an infrastructure of dependency that will be difficult to untangle in the case of a negotiated settlement. More importantly, given the vanishing hopes of a negotiated two-state solution, these agreements merely concretize the status quo.
Therefore, while economic relations may have to be pursued to avert humanitarian suffering, as the case might be with increasing fuel and electricity supply to Gaza, the PLO and PA as well as Palestinian civil society and the Palestine solidarity movement must continue to use all the tools at their disposal to push for justice and rights for Palestinians.
At the same time, the PLO/PA must use such economic negotiations as a means of securing accountability from Israel rather than as a way of acquiescing to enforced dependency. In particular, the non-observer member state status that Palestine has secured at the UN must be used to lobby at international legal forums such as the International Criminal Court to push Israel to meet its responsibility as an occupying power under international law. This means it is tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the livelihood of inhabitants under its control, including the provision of electricity and fuel, and it is accountable for decisions it might make to “turn the taps off.”
Certain elements of economic peace may serve the Palestinians in the short term by underpinning economic growth and development. But these cannot come at the expense of an indefinite state of dependency and truncated sovereignty. Palestinians must work on two fronts: They must push to hold Israel’s occupation accountable in international forums. And they must ensure that prospects of forced economic integration and any attempt by Israel to impose a one-state apartheid reality is met by a call for rights and equality. Whichever political vision is pursued for Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian leadership must formulate a strategy around these gas deals and contextualize notions of economic development within the wider struggle for Palestinian liberation.
By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
English speakers all know: To sound smart (or insufferable), use French. That movie has a certain je ne sais quoi; my grandmother exhibited a true joie de vivre. French has been fancy since 1066 when the conquering Normans ate boef while the lowly English peasants cared for the cū.
Or to sound open-minded (or stoned), use Sanskrit. No one will be surprised to learn that the first recorded use of the word “karma” in a popular U.S. publication was in 1969 — in the California-based Surfer magazine.
These days, another word is making inroads into the American English lexicon. It’s “inshallah” — an Arabic Islamic expression that means “God willing.” Inshallah first made its English debut in the 19th century, but it’s only since 9/11 that the word has become fashionable among non-Muslim, non-Arabic-speaking Americans. You’ve probably heard it already in passing, which is my point. The Atlantic’s James Fallows has tweeted it. Even actor Lindsay Lohan has made a faltering attempt. I’ve heard it in meetings, on the metro, and at a casual Sunday brunch in Brooklyn.
For all these inshallah-invokers, the phrase seems to combine the prestige of French and the multiculturalism of Sanskrit — with an added thrill of risk.
President-elect Donald Trump is stacking his administration with supporters who believe that Islam is inherently violent, dangerous, and threatening. Some who evince this view believe that anything associated with Islam has a diabolical power, an insidious evil that has to be guarded against at every turn as the Puritans guarded against witchcraft.
Michael Flynn, a retired intelligence officer whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped for national security advisor, has called Islam a “malignant cancer” and believes that sharia, or Islamic law, is creeping into U.S. laws and institutions. Conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, who advised Trump during the campaign and is “good friends” with Steve Bannon, the president-elect’s senior strategist, has previously written that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency logo contains a hidden star and crescent, the symbol of Islam, and that it thus suggests “official U.S. submission to Islam.” It’s an argument that comes out of the world of Christian fundamentalism, which has long sought out occult symbols in the most innocuous of sources.
This fear extends to the Arabic language. In 2013, Gaffney criticized John Brennan as President Barack Obama’s pick to head the CIA, deeming him the “single most important enabler of the Islamic supremacists’ agenda in government today.” One piece of evidence Gaffney gave for this assertion? Brennan speaks fluent Arabic. After listing the names of several terrorist organizations at a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in May 2015, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham reportedly quipped that “everything that starts with ‘al’ in the Middle East is bad news.” Al, of course, is simply Arabic’s definite article, equivalent to “the” in English.
It should come as no surprise, then, that inshallah has found itself in the crosshairs of these rising Islamophobes. In June, when BBC presenter Nicky Campbell ended his usual segment with crossed fingers and a poorly inflected “inshallah” — “We’re in Uxbridge next Sunday for a special, asking, ‘Are we facing the end of the world?’ So we’ll see you then, inshallah” — it set off a right-wing media firestorm.
Breitbart wrote that the “incident comes just days after the BBC’s Head of Religion admitted that Islamic State is rooted in Islam.” Jihad Watch, a popular anti-Islam website, commented: “A conquered, colonized people adopts the language and practices of its conquerors.” In April, a University of California, Berkeley, student of Iraqi origin was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic on his cell phone; he had ended his conversation with “inshallah.”
The latent Islamophobia the word can conjure seems to be part of the its growing appeal among progressive urbanites in the United States. As the Islamophobia industrial complex has expanded, so has a cultural push against it. Garnishing your conversation with an inshallah or two is a small act of resistance, a direct jab at the belief that Islam — and by association, Arabic — is sinister.Garnishing your conversation with an inshallah or two is a small act of resistance, a direct jab at the belief that Islam — and by association, Arabic — is sinister. It’s the linguistic equivalent of donning a headscarf in solidarity for World Hijab Day. Or the spoken version of the anti-Trump ad near Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a large population of Arab-Americans, which was written in Arabic and read: “Donald Trump can’t read this, but he is scared of it.” It’s a subtle political statement, a critique of Republicans who believe certain sounds, like incantations, must cross the lips in order to defeat evil (“radical Islamic terrorism”) whereas other sounds (“inshallah,” “Allahu akbar”) must remain taboo.
But why inshallah and not some other Arabic word? There are dozens of other common Islamic expressions, including bismillah (in the name of God), barakallah (blessings of God), and alhamdulillah (praise be to God), that haven’t crossed into English (though bismillah makes a cameo in Queen’s 1975 classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
The reason is that inshallah is a charming, maddening, and undeniably useful expression. On paper, the word is very similar to “God willing,” its Christian, English equivalent. It’s an acknowledgment of the human inability to foresee or control the future while harking to the belief that a Greater Being holds humanity’s fragile plans in its omnipotent hands.
But unlike the English “God willing,” inshallah also serves as a convenient preordained excuse for what may go wrong. If your toilet is broken and your plumber says he’ll come “tomorrow, inshallah,” you may be in for quite a wait. In countries such as Egypt, inshallah has expanded into a society-wide verbal tic invoked by Muslims, Christians, and even the nonreligious for occasions as mundane as ordering a hamburger or riding an elevator — a phenomenon that a 2008 article in the New York Times dubbed “inshallah creep.”
That’s what has made it so easy for visitors to pick up. Inshallah conveys an uncertainty that “hopefully” lacks. “The project will be done by 9 p.m., hopefully” implies that a sense of control still resides in your hands and thus a lingering amount of responsibility if the deadline isn’t met. “The project will be done by 9 p.m., inshallah,” by contrast, indicates that some outside force — an indolent contract worker, slow trains, spotty internet, even fate itself — is now in the driver’s seat and that if things go wrong, it’s not your fault.
It’s also exotic in a way that the down home “God willing” can never be. That phrase conjures images of church pews and pro-life protests outside Planned Parenthood — nothing that progressive Americans typically want to associate with. Throwing inshallah into a sentence here or there — “Tom will be filing that report tonight, inshallah!” — signals membership in a well-educated, well-traveled, and tolerant urban elite.
Arabic-speaking Americans don’t seem to mind this bit of friendly borrowing. Marya Hannun, a Palestinian-American doctoral student based in Washington, D.C., called the trend “charming,” explaining that when speaking Arabic, non-Muslims as well as Muslims use inshallah. She described its use among Americans as “solidarity and finding meaning in a language other than your own.”
“I say it every now and then,” said Thorstan Fries, a New York-based consultant who told me that he picked it up from a college friend studying Arabic. “I started saying it much more frequently after a trip to Morocco a couple years ago. They say it all the time, and I think it’s cool.”
Of course, to view a Middle Eastern import as exotic is also to risk condescension. The very first recorded use of inshallah in the English language was not just atrociously Orientalist — it was also incorrect. In his 1857 work The Kingdom and People of Siam, John Bowring, a British politician and the fourth governor of Hong Kong, wrote, “Inshallah! Such promptitude was, I believe, never before exhibited in an Asiatic Court.” But inshallah is used exclusively for events that have not yet occurred. What Bowring likely meant was mashallah, an Islamic phrase expressing amazement at an existing set of circumstances.
The first to use it in natural speech, not in a grandiose reference to foreign peoples, was T. E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence viewed Arabs with respect, lived among them, and adopted some of their customs — including, apparently, the habit of checking plans against the divine’s schedule. “I have been photographing this last week—and will more next. Developing too inshallah,” he wrote in a letter dated 1911.
Britain’s entanglements in the Middle East, North Africa, and India put it in intimate contact with Muslim peoples decades before the United States became similarly involved. Inshallah followed on the heels of colonialism. For the British upper classes, Arabic was a sign of distinction; the Arabists dominated Britain’s Foreign Office for decades, and Prime Minister Anthony Eden — who sent Britain’s reputation in the Middle East plummeting with the Suez crisis — prided himself on his fluency.
At the time, American English was far more preoccupied with the apparatchiks and cosmonauts of the Cold War. It wasn’t until the expansion of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, particularly after 9/11, that the region became a national preoccupation. (Though the growing number of Muslim and Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States has also helped popularize the word. One person I spoke to learned it from Arabic-speaking students she encountered at her university; another googled it after he saw Muslim friends posting the word on Facebook.) The study of Arabic has blossomed across the United States, and a legion of American military officials, diplomats, journalists, government contractors, NGO workers, academics, and students flowed in. Upon their return home, many brought with them the ubiquitous, malleable, and easily pronounceable inshallah.
It’s now common currency among the younger generations at the State Department, journalists who’ve spent time in the region, and soldiers who deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan — and, increasingly, among the people who travel in the same elite circles as these folk. As one colleague, who uses the word but has no background in the Middle East, told me, “I learned it because everyone at every damn development NGO uses it.” Others I know say they picked it up from artifacts of contemporary popular culture, like Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, which was adapted into a movie in 2007, and Rabia Chaudry’s book, Adnan’s Story, published this year.
There’s now a good chance inshallah may find a permanent home in English. But those afraid of creeping inshallah should take heart. This wouldn’t be the first time that the word has imbedded itself in a Western language. Ojalá is a common Spanish word often translated as “hopefully.” In fact, ojalá is merely the Hispanicized pronunciation of inshallah, which made its way into the language during the centuries of Muslim rule in Spain that ended in 1492. Yet as far as I can tell, despite this obvious case of linguistic jihad, neither Spain nor the 20 other countries where Spanish is the official national language has yet fallen to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Nor has asking a waitress for more pancake syrup — from the Arabic sharab, a versatile word that the West acquired during a previous episode of war-induced cultural cross-pollination, the Crusades — ever proved to spontaneously convert anyone to Islam. Nor has spending hours studying algebra — another one of those menacing “al” words — ever made anyone more inclined to funnel one’s life savings to al Qaeda.
It turns out short vowels, sibilants, and fricatives might not be as magical as some have been urging us to believe. Donald Trump and his national security team would be wise to take note. God willing.
By Joshua Schreier & Mira Sucharov
The Israeli government has expressed elation in reaction to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Likud MK Yehuda Glick invited Trump to visit the territories to “see with his own eyes that settlements are the way to peace.” Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister, expressed hope that the president-elect would fulfill his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
And Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who has called for annexing parts of the West Bank, insisted that Trump’s victory signals that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
There are at least two lessons to be learned here.
First, while it may be disturbing to those who had pinned their hopes on a two-state solution, Bennett’s declaration makes clear what has already been obvious for some time: Israel already is governing a single entity from the river to the sea. Linking equality for Palestinians to an ever-distant two-state solution has become not only unrealistic, but also dangerous. Waiting for an imaginary state to materialize means that the struggle to bring democracy to the one state that does exist is being denied. Instead, we must push for all the area’s residents — some of whom are citizens and some of whom are stateless — to be granted equal rights, justice and protection of life and limb.
The parallels between Trump’s America and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel are many. In the lead-up to 1948, the forerunners to the Israeli army forced the majority of certain ethnic groups to leave, and after independence, Israel prevented those fleeing from returning. Israel has fashioned an immigration policy around religion and ethnicity, and since 2003 has been building and maintaining a wall to keep out undesirables. Mind you, Trump’s proposed wall between the United States and Mexico would follow a legitimate international border, whereas Israel’s West Bank barrier snakes through areas that Israel currently governs, in many cases separating Palestinian residents from access to land and livelihood.
Trump’s proposal to force all Muslims in the United States to register with a federal agency is especially chilling. But this, too, bears striking similarity to Israel. Until 2005, Israeli identity cards classified citizens according to ethnic origin; now the ethnicity/religion distinctions are contained in the records of Israel’s national population registry. The sticker system used by Israeli airport authorities signaling whether the traveler is Jewish or Arab, among other things, is by now well known. These parallels between Trump’s vision for America and contemporary Israel are important.
Let us be perfectly clear: We don’t advocate a turning away from America; Americans and those close to them must continue to fight for democratic values of equality and inclusion while actively standing in solidarity with those most vulnerable. Neither do we suggest a turning away from Israel. But being pro-Israel in an inclusive sense will mean a different form of engagement. It will mean direct pressure — in various non-violent forms — to demand justice and human rights. This won’t be easy for the many American Jews who are accustomed to expressing their identity in terms of automatic support for Israel. But when it comes to dignity and human rights, the time has passed for exceptionalism. Racism and exclusion are unacceptable everywhere, be it in friendly states or hostile ones, and we need to be consistent.
Coalition-building has become central among progressive groups in North America. Groups like Black Lives Matter, Students for Justice in Palestine and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights have linked the struggle for tolerance and inclusion in the U.S. and abroad. These groups already count many Jewish members or supporters. And those involved in specifically Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Center for Jewish Nonviolence and T’ruah have placed human rights in Israel-Palestine at the core of their Jewish identity. Obviously, we may disagree with each other on certain issues. But taking a unified stand against all forms of intolerance and hatred is far more urgent than the particular issues that may divide us.
Given the deep ties between the two countries, the fate of America and Israel — including the Palestinians under Israeli rule — are intertwined. To this end, American Jews have a crucial role to play.
A new public relations video by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs erases Palestinians from the narrative of the Holy Land, promoting an ahistorical version of the past that endorses claims to exclusive Jewish ownership of the land.
The state-sponsored PR clip , or hasbara, is designed for an English-speaking audience and presents a crude discourse about competing claims over historic Palestine, one in which modernity, in the form of the Israeli state, triumphs in a clash of civilizations.
The clip, entitled “Welcome to the Home of the Jewish People,” shows a secular Jewish couple, Jacob and Rachel, living in a comfortable, modern home called the “Land of Israel,” which is invaded by Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, the British, and other would-be usurpers.
The Jewish couple, who are white and enjoy modern technology, are helpless as hoards of foreign invaders – likely played by Mizrahi Jewish actors – try to take over their home. Oscillating between lazy and violent, the stereotypes of each “visitor” are crude. The Assyrians, for example, speak an indecipherable language and are quick to anger.
After the Greeks and Romans, the Arabs arrive. As the groups fight among each other, Jacob and Rachel move to another part of the house. Baffled by modern technology, Jacob pleads with a crudely dressed Arab to stop playing with his stereo, in one scene. “In the early Arabic era, they were really into music,” Jacob says, before Hava Nagila, a Jewish folk song, starts playing and the Arabs begin dancing.
After the Crusaders and the Ottomans, who are depicted as providing relative calm, the British arrive. After realizing that he is “not in Europe”, the British officer gives the couple a state of their own. The final knock is from a Palestinian couple, hitherto absent from the history of the “Land of Israel.” They look expectantly inside the house, before a speechless Jacob shakes his head in bewilderment.
The political propaganda is less than subtle. History is an arc, the video implies, which begins with the ancient Jewish kingdom and ends with the State of Israel. Jews, who are indigenous to the “Land of Israel,” have been subject to foreign invasions for 3,000 years. Only the State of Israel has provided them with a safe haven, one that must be protected at all costs.
This is a distorted narrative that combines historical revisionism with racism. Over 2,000 years of non-Jewish history and civilizational achievements in historic Palestine are reduced to a series of fleeting encounters with violent foreign invaders. The Jewish Diaspora, political Zionism, and the Holocaust go unmentioned. It is presented as indisputable that Jews are indigenous to the land and have never left – while the Nakba and Palestinian society are erased all together.
Produced by the Israeli government, such propaganda is far from benign. It legitimizes an expansionist policy over internationally recognized Palestinian land, explicitly denies the existence, and rights, of Palestinian refugees, and rejects all Palestinian claims to any part of historic Palestine – undermining any possible peace process.
While the Babylonians, Romans, and other empires have long disappeared — together with their claims to the land — Palestinians remain stateless, displaced, and dispossessed, the living memory of a history, and right to self-determination, consciously denied by the Israeli state.
The Arab world is going through the bloodiest period of its history. Every day the body count grows higher. Pictures of dead bodies, maimed children and burned out villages and neighborhoods flash on TV channels. Images of floating dead bodies splatter screens. This has been going on now from some time and we all wonder when it will stop. A region that once prided itself on being almost crime free has now turned into a battlefield. And although it is painful to see that transformation, there is no use in finger pointing. The blame essentially lies with us. Years of societal neglect and deprivation along with the absence of structures that could have created a civil society that respects the rights and dignity of the people planted the seeds for what is happening today. While the 1960s, 70s and 80s saw a world on the move and people turning toward technology, civil rights and better awareness, the Arab world and its media were extolling the “virtues” of the “strong leader”. Dictators thrived and on the other side, religious fervor instead of instilling spirituality in people and a quest for good deeds created extremism and a hate psychosis. The youth, who gathered around self-appointed religious leaders in the absence of role models, began to be drawn to perpetrators of hatred and violence. A failed Arab Spring, which led to a political and social vacuum, further created unrest. Many Arab leaders could not understand that the reason for this was that people wanted a life of dignity and economic equality and to have a say in their lives. But that is all history now. Today, wars are going on and Arabs are killing Arabs directly or through proxies. I see armies, militias and foreign troops traverse the land and destroy cities hunting for murderous thugs like Daesh. And I wonder why they have not been able to take out these mercenaries! Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other areas are going through hell due to the intransigence of those in power. All these super powers are killing their own “enemies” in Syria and Iraq. The Arabs have no choice but to observe. They moan about foreign conspiracies, which to me as a political realist are as clear as the sun. But we have allowed this to happen. A failed Arab League and a total collapse of communication between leaders and Arab institutions, along with a subservient media that parrots the calls of its masters have thrown us into this bloody mess. Netanyahu has used this period of time to kill more Palestinians and start a pogrom of the inhabitants of the land. Hordes of Jewish terrorists roam the occupied lands shooting Palestinian women and children at point-blank range. And there is glee and a surge of happiness in Israel. In the words of one Israeli writer about the conflict in Syria and even the Arab world: “May it never end.” That message has not been recognized by the Arabs. For that, they will pay a heavy price! The writer is Editor-at-Large.
by Ramzy Baroud, October 20, 2016
“The United States has the power to decree the death of nations,” wrote Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe.
Kinzer’s article was entitled: “The media are misleading the public on Syria.” In his piece, the scholar at a Brown University Institute contested that his country’s media misinformation on Syria is leading to the kind of ignorance which is enabling the American government to pursue any policy, however imprudent, in the war-torn Arab country.
The US government can “decree the death of nations” with “popular support because many Americans – and many journalists – are content with the official story,” he wrote.
Kinzer, in principle makes a strong point. His article, however, was particularly popular among those who sees the Syrian government entirely innocent of any culpability in the ongoing war, and that Iran and Russia are at no fault whatsoever; better yet, their intervention in Syria is entirely morally-guided and altruistic.
That said, Kinzer’s assertion regarding the US government’s dangerous meddling in Syria’s affairs, renewed Cold War with Russia and ill-defined military mission in that country, is all true.
Neither is the US, nor its western and other allies, following rules of war nor adhering to a particularly noble set of principles aimed at ending that most devastating war, which has killed well over 300,000 people, rendered millions displaced and destroyed the country’s wealth and infrastructure.
So what is the truth on Syria?
In the last five and a half years, since a regional uprising turned into an armed rebellion – turned into civil, regional and international war – “the truth on Syria”, has been segmented into many self-tailored “truths,” each promoted by one of the warring party to be the one and only, absolute and uncontested reality. But since there are many parties to the conflict, the versions of the “truth” communicated to us via copious media, are numerous and, most often, unverifiable.
The only truth that all parties seem to agree upon is that hundreds of thousands are dead and Syria is shattered. But, of course, each points to the other side for culpability of the ongoing genocide.
An oddly refreshing, although disturbing “truth” was articulated by Alon Ben-David in the Israeli Jerusalem Post last year.
The title of his article speaks volumes: “May it never end: The uncomfortable truth about the war in Syria.”
“If Israel’s interest in the war in Syria can be summarized in brief, it would be: That it should never end,” Ben-David wrote.
“No one will say this publicly, but the continuation of the fighting in Syria, as long as there is a recognized authority in Damascus, allows Israel to stay out of the swamp and distance itself from the swarms of mosquitoes that are buzzing in it.”
Of course, Israel never truly “stayed out of the swamp”, but that is for a separate discussion.
Aside from the egotistical, unsympathetic language, Israel’s “truth”, according to the writer, is predicated on two premises: the need for an official authority in Damascus, and that the war must continue, at least, until the fire burns the whole country down, which is, in fact, the case.
Russia’s supporters, of course, refuse to accept the fact that Moscow is also fighting a turf war and that it is entirely fair to question the legality of Russia’s actions in the context of US-Russian regional and global rivalry while, at the same time, attempting to underscore Moscow’s own self-seeking motives.
The other side, who are calling for greater American firepower, commit an even greater sin. Not least, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US has not only scarred, but truly devastated the Middle East – killing, wounding and displacing millions – and has no intention of preserving Syria’s territorial integrity or the human rights of its people.
That group’s plausible hatred for the Bashar al-Assad regime has blinded them to numerous facts, including the fact that the only country in the region that Washington is truly and fully committed to in terms of security is Israel, which has recently received a generous aid package of 38 billion dollars.
Keeping in mind Ben-David’s reasoning, it is no surprise that the US is in no rush to end the war in Syria, if not intentionally prolong it.
The American “truth” on Syria – reiterated by its European cheerleaders, of course – is largely centered around demonizing Russia – never about saving lives, nor even – at least not yet – about regime change.
For the US, the war is largely pertinent to American regional interests. After suffering major military and political setbacks in the Middle East, and considering its ongoing economic misfortunes, the US military capabilities have been greatly eclipsed. It is now, more or less, another powerful western country, but no longer the only dominant one, able to “decree the death of nations” on its own.
So, when Secretary of State John Kerry called recently for a war crime investigationinto Russian bombings in Syria, we can be certain that he was not sincere, and his impassioned appeal was tailored to win only political capital. Expectedly, his accusations were parroted in predictable tandem by the French, the British and others. Then, soon after, they evaporated into the augmenting, but useless discourse, in which words are only words, while the war grinds on, unabated.
So why is the truth on Syria so difficult to decipher?
Despite the proliferation of massive platforms for propaganda, there are still many good journalists who recognize that, no matter what one’s personal opinion is, facts must be checked and that honest reporting and analysis should not be part of the burgeoning propaganda war.
Yes, these journalists exist, but they fight against many odds. One is that much of the existing, well-funded media infrastructure is part of the information war in the Middle East. And good journalists, are either forced to, albeit begrudgingly, toe the line or to stay out of the discussion altogether.
But the problem is not entirely that of media manipulation of facts, videos and images. The war in Syria has polarized the discourse like never before, and most of those who are invested in that conflict find themselves forced to take sides, thus, at times abandoning any reason or common sense.
It is rather sad that years after the war in Syria ends, and the last of the mass graves is dug and covered, many unpleasant truths will be revealed. But would it matter, then?
Only recently, we discovered that the Pentagon had spent over 500 million dollars in manufacturing propaganda war videos on Iraq. The money was largely spent on developing fake al-Qaeda videos. Unsurprisingly, much of the US media either did not report on the news, or quickly glossed over it, as if the most revealing piece of information of the US invasion of Iraq – which destabilized the Middle East until today- is the least relevant.
What will we end up learning about Syria in the future? And will it make any difference, aside from a sense of moral gratification by those who have argued all along that the war in Syria is never about Syrians?
The truth on Syria is that, regardless of how the war ends, Syria has been destroyed and its future is bloody and bleak; and that, regardless of the regional and global “winners” of the conflict, the Syrian people have already lost.