Here’s a great quality video of my entire speaking appearance at University Friend’s Meeting in Seattle this past Monday night. I attended series of wonderful – and at times inspiring – events during my short stay in the Northwest and will be reporting on them in due course. In the meantime here’s a taste:
Every time a new new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is unveiled, diplomats and analysts will invariably urge the various players to summon the political courage to seize this latest “window of opportunity.” And sure enough – as I was reading an article on the latest revamping of the Arab Peace Plan, one Israeli leftist pundit was quoted tweeting:”"Historic opportunity for Israel. Will our government have the guts to seize it?”
As for me, I’m asking a different question: “Since Israel has all but annexed 60% of the West Bank through home demolitions, forced evictions, revocation of residency rights and unchecked construction of Jewish settlements, how could anyone think this government is even remotely interested in a viable two-state solution?”
How much longer does this have to continue until we are ready to admit the patently obvious intentions of Israel’s governments? Given the facts on the ground, the discussion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank is beyond absurd. Israel has been inexorably settling Area C and East Jerusalem while simultaneously depopulating those regions of Palestinian residents for decades. By this point, this process has become nigh well complete. Now Israel’s newest government coalition includes a major party whose official platform calls to annex Area C. One prominent Israeli settler leader calls the current government “a wet dream.” Are we really, truly going to continue to talk about a two-state peace process with a straight face?
According to a 2011 EU research report, in 1967, between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians lived in what is today called Area C. But since that time, home demolitions and Israel’s prevention of new building has caused that number drop to 56,000. In a similar period, the Jewish population in Area C has grown from 1,200 to 310,000.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass has convincingly argued that the creation of “Palestinian ghettos” in Areas A and B “were always the plan” even well before the 1993 Oslo peace process that created these zones. According to Hass, when new coalition party member Naftali Bennett calls for annexing Area C, he is only “following the logic of every single Israeli government: maximize the territory, minimize the Arabs:”
According to Bennett, about 60 percent of the West Bank – a.k.a. Area C – is annexable. What’s important about Area C is not whether 50,000 Palestinians live there, as democratic, benevolent Bennett claims, while suggesting to naturalize them and grant them Israeli citizenship, or whether the number is around 150,000 (as my colleague Chaim Levinson reminded us earlier this week).
Don’t worry. Even if there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C and all of them agree to become citizens, the Israeli bureaucracy will find ways to embitter their lives (the way it does the lives of the Bedouin in the Negev), revoke their citizenship (the way it does the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and leave them without the little share of their land they still have (the way it did to the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the 1948 borders).
This is why Bennett can allow himself to be munificent. The true story behind area C is that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living there today; the villages have not expanded in accordance with their natural population growth; the number of residents has not grown; the herders can no longer graze their flocks freely; many of the inhabitants lack access to water, electricity, school and medical clinics; Israel has not been taken to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for destroying the cisterns; there are no paved roads in and between villages…
As I have said a million times and will say another million times: Area C is a tremendous success of Israeli policy and its implementers, the army and the Civil Administration. It is part of a farsighted, well-executed, perfectly thought-out policy that has succeeded precisely in that there aren’t 400,000 Palestinians living in the area. Bennett is probably decent/honest enough to acknowledge the debt he owes to the previous generations of Israeli politicians and military officials who warmed the country up for his annexation plan, ensuring its acceptance would be as effortless as a knife cutting butter in the sun.
The long and short of it? If the international community is really interested in a just peace, it should stop trying to breathe life into a corpse of a peace process and hold Israel accountable for its ethnic cleansing/annexation of Area C. And at the same time, it would behoove us all to start exploring creative new solutions that would extend full civil and human rights to all who live on the land.
In this regard, I highly recommend this recent piece by journalist/blogger Mitchell Plitnick. Mitchell has long represented an important progressive voice on Israel/Palestine: consistently smart, well-informed and always underscored by an abiding political realism. Like so many of us, he has long clung to the paradigm of a two-state solution – but over the past year he has been openly exploring the compelling reasons why he believes that the door to this solution has now become irrevocably closed. In this recent article, he dares to explore out loud what a new one-state solution might possibly look like:
…In the end, Israelis will realize that the status quo can’t hold and they will have to find a way to give Palestinians their freedom and their rights. That can be done without losing the most basic elements of a Jewish homeland. But it will require abandoning the ethnocratic concept of the Jewish state that has characterized Israel since before it was Israel.
The state can still be a Jewish home, with a constitution that guarantees that any Jew fleeing anti-Semitism anywhere in the world can find a haven in Israel. It can be a state where Hebrew is still a national language and one that has a culture that draws heavily from Jewish roots, European, Middle Eastern and Iberian. It just can’t do these things exclusively. They will also have to apply equally to Palestinians.
It’s not such a leap. Palestinians would also be able to come to this reformed state to flee persecution. Arabic would also be a national language, as it officially is now. The culture of the state would reflect the Palestinian heritage as well as the Jewish one. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, would still be there, but there might also be memorials to the Palestinian villages that were destroyed. Palestinian refugees who wish to would have an opportunity to return gradually, through some bureaucratic process that both peoples would agree upon. Yes, that means the Jews will not be a majority, but a constitution would protect not only Jewish and Arab rights equally, but would ensure that the character of the state reflected both cultures.
That is important, and it is also the place where the vision of a secular, democratic state falls short. The biggest problem with that vision is that it ignores the strong sense of nationalism that exists among both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. As someone who has no use or liking for nationalism, I wish that were not the case, but wishing does not make it so. The future state cannot be a melting pot, a mere civic society, in the manner the United States strives to be. It must be a national home. Whatever the political formation may be, it must be reflective of the nations that have been created by Zionism among Jews and Palestinian nationalism among the Arabs of Palestine.
Obviously, this is a future that is not on the horizon. And it is clear that many people, probably most, would not be able to conceive that such a future is even possible. But the alternative for Israeli Jews will be the eventual total loss of any homeland in Eretz Yisrael. A state with democratic structures like Israel which deprives millions of people of human and civil rights is an inherent contradiction. A state with one set of laws for some people and another set for another group of people all under one sovereign is an apartheid state, and it is a thing the world no longer tolerates. Only Israel’s unique place as the state of the Jews, in the wake of the Holocaust has allowed that state of affairs to last this long.
Mitchell is certainly correct when he says that this future is not on the horizon as of yet. Soon enough, however, the world will see the patently apartheid nature of a state the privileges its Jewish citizens while warehousing Palestinians inside a “security” regime of walls and checkpoints. As this oppression become more undeniable, we’ll surely be hearing and reading similar visions to Mitchell’s. At present these ideas exist largely in the domain of academia, journalism and the activist community; might we dare to imagine that events on the ground will eventually cause them to be considered by the political elites?
As far as I’m concerned, that time cannot come soon enough.
Click here to listen to a podcast interview I did with Just World Books last February.
In this podcast, Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of ‘Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity,’ shared his reflections on his book and how it has impacted his understanding of “what to do” with his beliefs and convictions as well as provided his insights about the effects of Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza flotilla incident, and other Israeli actions on both the views of young American Jews and the Arab Spring. He also offers his opinion on what President Obama should do in his second term about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I’ve been pointing out for some time now that Israel has been increasingly building settlements in Area C of the West Bank, while evicting Palestinians from their homes there and moving them to far reaching sections of Areas A and B. The intention? To eventually annex Area C to Israel and warehouse the Palestinian population of the West Bank in disconnected, isolated, bantustans.
Now it’s come to this: Israeli coalition leaders are unabashedly bandying about this plan in public:
Israeli annexation of the West Bank’s Area C – where all settlements are located – received public support from two high-ranking Likud politicians on Tuesday evening, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein and MK Ze’ev Elkin.
“Lack of Israeli sovereignty over Area C means the continuation of the status quo,” said Edelstein, as he spoke about an area of the country that is now under Israeli military control. “It strengthens the international community’s demand for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.”
But Edelstein and Elkin cautioned that annexation was a process that should happen slowly, not immediately.
Together with the Netanyahu government’s stated intention to build in the critical West Bank territory of E-1, it is clearer than ever that the conventional liberal Zionist notion of a two-state solution is a dead anachronism. It’s even worse, actually: as long as we cling to a two-state paradigm, Israel will be given free reign to entrench this injustice in perpetuity.
I’ve also come to believe that its high time for those who are interested in a truly just peace between Israelis and Palestinians to come forth with some new creative thinking that might provide alternatives to an obsolete two-state model. In this regard, I was happy to learn that “Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay” by the great Israeli academic Yehouda Shenhav, has finally been published in English. Shenhav has long been providing precisely the kind of innovative thinking that I believe is so very lacking in political circles – and I’m delighted his work on this subject will now find a wider audience.
Using post-colonial political and critical theory, Shenhav challenges many of the fundamental paradigms and assumptions that have delineated the Israeli political “left” and “right,” while suggesting new and exciting models that might well help us to envision a better future for Palestinians and Jews in the land.
Here’s an excerpt, from his Introduction:
I am deeply concerned with the violation of the political rights of the Palestinians, but no less so with the future political rights of the Jews themselves. I believe that the combination of a persistent foundational state of emergency and blatantly racist legislation – which grows restrictive and bare-faced day by day – poses a threat not only to Palestinians, but to Jews in the Middle East. For this reason, I wish to unpack the Jewish-Israeli discourse on the conflict, to highlight the dangerous political zones within which it roams, and offer an alternative political vision in which the rights of both Jews and Palestinians are intertwined and co-determined…
In particular, I argue that the so-called “two-state solution” in the form proposed by the Israeli liberal left no only is unrealistic but in essence is based on false assumptions that sustain and reinforce the non-democratic Israeli regime and mask the essence of the conflict. Instead, I offer a different vision for political thought, which is not based on state terror or Jewish supremacy.
Shenhav is a well known thinker in Israel, but less familiar to American audiences. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, I hope you will at least be open to this sort of new thinking. I personally find it liberating – I do believe that these kinds of outside the box ideas serve to provide us with a ray of hope along what is otherwise a very dark road…
Two spot on responses to the recent NY Times article, “Church Appeal on Israel Angers Jewish Groups:”
The first comes from the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:
It seems to me that aid of all kinds should have basic human rights strings attached to it. I would have suspended all aid to Israel when it refused to stop its settlement policy on the West Bank, but that’s a little like being in favor of an immediate space station on Mars, given the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress.
So let me just reiterate something that has no chance of ever happening, but I might as well put on the record: we should treat Israel as any other recipient of US aid. If a country is occupying and settling land conquered through war, if it’s treating a minority population with inhumanity, the US should stand up for Western values. It should not single Israel out; but we have to stop treating Israel as the exception to every other US foreign policy rule.
Rev. Jim C. Wall (Contributing Editor of the “Christian Century”) in an unflinchingly honest blog post:
To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.
These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting. These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them, the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client…
The JCPA and its letter signers have no dogs in this hunt. They can be as outraged as they want. This is still a free country. But the 15 church leaders have made the right religious, not political, move. They are speaking the language of “moral responsibility” in a letter directed to the U.S. Congress on the matter of U.S. funds used by Israel to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.
Interfaith dialogue has always been nothing more than a device used by American Jewish groups to intimidate the American churches into keeping the ecumenical deal. By this intimidation, these groups have followed the example set by the government of Israel which has long used the so-called “peace process” to sustain its occupation and expand its borders, always to the detriment of the Palestinian people.
It is the right time for the leaders of the American churches to make their moral demand to the Congress. With their letter, they have done so, courageously, considering the political climate of our time. Interfaith dialogue can wait.
As things stand now, the Jewish groups have called for a “summit” for the top leaders of Christian churches to “discuss” the situation with them – and they are reportedly considering it. I hope the Christian leaders will stand firm. It is not the role of these Jewish organizations to dictate how Christian religious leaders can live out their conscience or their values. These Jewish leaders have chosen to walk away from the table – they are in no position to demand the terms by which “dialogue” may resume.
We can only hope this sad turn of events will lead to a more honest interfaith conversation about Israel-Palestine – one based on honesty, respect and justice rather than emotional blackmail.
Check out my wide-ranging and freewheeling conversation with Truthout’s Mark Karlin, which focuses on my book, but also touches on subjects such as Zionism, BDS, the two-state solution and Palestinian solidarity, among others.
Here’s a taste, below. Click here for the full interview.
Mark Karlin: Stereotyping any group of people is dangerous. In polls during peaceful periods, most Palestinians and Israelis appear to support peace. A lot of what Netanyahu appears to do is stir up the pot so that there will never be a long enough period to negotiate a peace. That’s not to excuse those in Hamas and Hezbollah who have their own motives in heating up the conflict now and then, along with other parties who have vested interests in stalling peace. When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?
Brant Rosen: At the end of my book I addressed this issue directly:
As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.
For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.
In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.
I’ve come to believe that solidarity should ultimately be driven by values, not tribal allegiances. It should be motivated by the prophetic vision that demands that we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful. Of course, in the case of Israel, this form of solidarity presents a very painful challenge to many Jews. I understand that. But at the very least, shouldn’t we be talking about this challenge and what it represents for us?
Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.
Here is a post I co-wrote with Rabbi Alissa Wise for the Forward Thinking Blog of the Jewish Daily Forward:
The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel this week urged a group of rabbis supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection to purge members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council from its ranks. The conservative groups claimed they were shocked by the inclusion in the “Rabbis for Obama” list of those whose “values are representative of a small and extreme group of anti-Israel activists.”
We are deeply dismayed by this cynical attempt at political gain through smears, half-truths and innuendos that only serve to create division in the Jewish community.
It is certainly true that many of on the JVP Rabbinical Council are deeply critical of Israeli policy (and the U.S. policy that too often enables it). It is not at all true, however, that such criticisms are “extreme” or marginal. Indeed, increasing numbers of Jews and Jewish leaders are finding the courage to speak out publicly against Israel’s practice of home demolition, forced eviction, settlement expansion and administrative detention, as well as its widespread restriction on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza.
Jewish Voice for Peace rabbis were not the only ones singled out by RJC and ECI’s smear. William Kristol included members of the J Street Rabbinical Cabinet and Rabbis for Human Rights as well. There are many perspectives within the American rabbinical community about how to create a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, we share a commitment to open and honest conversation about how a negotiated solution can ensure security and human rights for all.
By a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to the Public Religion Research Institute American Jews say that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 24% respectively).
This reality stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish donors to the Republican party, such as Sheldon Adelson, who has reportedly asked Romney to state publicly that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are a “waste of time.” Adelson is also pressing Romney for a firmer commitment to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what would be a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. These views lie far outside what most Americans would tolerate or expect from an American president.
We are saddened, but not surprised, by these smear tactics. They have long been the stock in trade of a Jewish establishment that demands lock-step agreement from Jewish rabbis and leaders – and Jewish neo-conservatives who do not hesitate to use divisive rhetoric and slanderous allegations against their own community members to achieve their political goals.
We are proud of the diversity of the American Jewish community and voice our hope that it will make room for all those who are dedicated to a future of peace, justice and dignity in Israel and Palestine. We are heartened that that by resisting calls to purge individual rabbis from their ranks, the leadership of “Rabbis for Obama” is remaining true to this inclusive vision.
Connect these dots:
From The Guardian:
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by more than 15,000 in the past year to reach a total that exceeds 350,000 for the first time and has almost doubled in the past 12 years.
Figures from Israel’s population registry show a 4.5% increase in the past 12 months. Most of the newcomers moved into settlements that many observers expect to be evacuated in any peace deal leading to a Palestinian state.
There are an additional 300,000 Jews living in settlements across the pre-1967 border in East Jerusalem, the pro-government and mass-circulation newspaper Israel Hayom reported.
Putting a finer point on these statistics, Dani Dayan, chairman of the settlers Yesha Council had this to say in a recent NY Times op-ed:
(We) aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not — as it is often portrayed — a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik. Even now, and despite the severe constraints imposed by international pressure, more than 350,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria. With an annual growth rate of 5 percent, we can expect to reach 400,000 by 2014 — and that excludes the almost 200,000 living in Jerusalem’s newer neighborhoods. Taking Jerusalem into account, about 1 in every 10 Israeli Jews resides beyond the 1967 border. Approximately 160,000 Jews live in communities outside the settlement blocs that proponents of the two-state solution believe could be easily incorporated into Israel.
…Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs — is an irreversible fact. Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile, and neglecting this fact in diplomatic talks will not change the reality on the ground; it only makes the negotiations more likely to fail.
In essence, Dayan is calling for a kind of a one-state solution here – albeit one that does not extend citizenship rights to non-Jewish residents. (Although in fairness to Dayan, he does say they should be given “freedom of movement.”)
Still can’t figure out what’s going on here? Let’s connect the final dot. While the Jewish population in Area C of the West Bank is increasing, Israel is demolishing homes, evicting Palestinians, and moving them into Areas A and B at an ever-increasing pace.
Here’s Mya Guarnieri, writing in +972:
At the same time that Israeli settlements are expanding unchecked, the state is putting the Palestinians and Bedouins who live in Area C under extreme, unrelenting pressure, as exemplified by this week’s report by Haaretz that Defense Minister Barak has ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages to make way for IDF training.
Demolitions of homes and structures in 2012 have seen an increase. According to a source at the United Nations, between January 1 and April 27 of 2011, 352 Palestinian and Bedouin were forcibly displaced from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The same period of 2012 saw “at least 487″ people lose their homes.
It’s a one-two punch intended to increase the Jewish population in the West Bank as much as possible and deplete the Palestinian population as much as possible to ready the area for annexation. Susya, a Palestinian village that is under threat of demolition, is an example of how this works. The village has been destroyed numerous times since the Jewish settlement of Susya was built there in 1983, despite the documents proving it belongs to Palestinians and the fact that this small community has no where else to go.
Israeli pressure on the Palestinian and Bedouin residents of Area C has resulted in a drop in the Arab population in the same area.
And then there’s the Levy Committee Report, which denies that there is an occupation and, according to some observers, lays the legal groundwork (at least in the mind of the Israeli government) for a unilateral annexation of Area C.
It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.
OK, I’ll say it for you: Israel has no intention of creating a two-state solution. It is creating it’s own “one-state” solution by increasing the Jewish population in the West Bank and warehousing Palestinians in Bantustans throughout Areas A and B. By any other name this would be called an “apartheid” state.
If there are those who disagree with my calculus, I’m certainly open to hearing alternative explanations. In the meantime, here are two questions I’m still unable to answer: when will our community be ready to call out this illegal and immoral behavior? And what will we be willing to do about it?
Just happened to glance at a blog post I wrote during the 2008 Presidential General Election campaign entitled “Go Rabbis for Obama!”
Man, what a difference four years makes. I think I can safely say it will be impossible for me to summon the kind of excitement I expressed in that giddy blog post just four short years ago.
Actually, if truth be told, it was just one year into his presidency when I concluded that Obama, from a foreign policy point of view at least, was essentially Bush 2.0. Now as his first term comes to a close, I’m daring to consider the possibility that he might actually be worse.
I’ve already written a fair amount about my disillusionment on this score – most pointedly in my Yom Kippur serrmon from earlier this year:
For some Americans the most salient lesson of 9/11 was that the world is a dangerous place and we must use military power to mitigate the danger. I include myself among those who learned a very different lesson: 9/11 taught us that when we intervene militarily abroad, we beget blowback here at home.
Many of us had hope that Obama truly believed this as well – that he would turn back the Bush doctrine and steer our nation’s foreign policy toward a saner course. But as it has turned out, the very opposite has happened. He has embroiled us in even more Mideast wars and has deployed even larger numbers of special operations forces to that region. He has also transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons to these countries and has continued to build and expand US military bases at an ever-increasing rate.
He also promised to prosecute the so-called “War on Terror” with greater attention to civil liberties, but that hope has been fairly dashed as well. During his campaign, note what he had to say about this subject:
“As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”
Well, it’s over two years later and Guantanamo is still open. This past March, the Obama administration announced it would be resuming military tribunals there. And just last week, we learned that our President did something truly unprecedented – our President actually approved the extra-judicial assassination of an American citizen in Yemen.
And it’s gotten even worse since then. More recently, we’ve learned that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama has been personally been maintaining a drone “kill list” which, according to the NY Times:
counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. (Emphasis mine).
Even more recently, the NY Times has revealed that President Obama has been secretly overseeing a massive cyber-war initiative against Iran (known as “Olympic Games”) that, among other things, almost assuredly represents the official kickoff to a global cyber-weapons race. As the article correctly concludes, the blowback to our nation from Obama’s cyber-adventures could potentially be devastating:
(No) country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.
But my disillusionment in the Obama administration is most profound when it comes to its handling Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I’ve written about this issue over and over as well – but if you still need more convincing that this administration has utterly caved to the Israel lobby and has abdicated any semblance of “honest broker” status in this process, it was recently reported that Obama unabashedly assured a group of Jewish orthodox leaders that his administration is “decidedly more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians.”
All this to say that I’m in a very different frame of mind as Obama now runs for reelection. The giddiness has been replaced with a dose of hard, cold realism about the role of the President in the 21st century national security regime:
Again, from my Yom Kippur sermon:
I’m focusing these observations exclusively on our Commander-in-Chief, but of course I realize that this issue is much, much larger than just one man. I know it’s natural to look to our primarily to our President, but in truth what we call “Washington” is really a massive bureaucracy that includes a myriad of interests. It’s a far reaching power elite that includes not only the federal government but the national security state, as well as the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. It also includes big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors, major corporations and any number of lawyers, lobbyists former officials, and retired military officers, all of whom hold enormous influence over our foreign policy.
So as we swing into summer and we listen to Obama and Romney trade salvos over foreign policy, don’t be fooled – at the end of the day there is less than an inch of daylight between the two. Mideast analyst Aaron David Miller, in a Foreign Policy post entitled “Barack O’Romney” only half jokingly suggested that if reelected, Obama ought to consider making Mitt Romney his new Secretary of State. Another respected analyst, MJ Rosenberg, has gone as far as to suggest that President Obama would actually be more likely to bomb Iran than a President Romney.
What should we do with all this hard political realism? As for me, I’m taking my cue from the classical Jewish text, Pirke Avot:
Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get too friendly with the government. (1:10)
And for good measure:
Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress. (2:3)
The events of these last four years have provided a painful education for me. I’ve learned more than ever that it is not politicians who create socio-political change – it is, rather, the people and the movements who make it impossible for them not to.
Yes, there are some important domestic issues at stake in this election (not least of which are potential Supreme Court appointments) but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the future of US foreign policy fundamentally depends on who we choose to be our Commander in Chief.
The real difference will depend on our readiness to hold him accountable once the election is over.
I’m sure there are many who watch Israel’s Jewish settlement policy unfold in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and ask themselves: is there actually a method to this madness? Among the most compelling answers to this question comes from veteran Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, co-founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
One of the truly great Israeli peace organizations, ICAHD has been indefatigably tracking the demolition of homes and evictions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 2007. Even more critically, Halper and Co. have been exposing Israel’s institutionalized displacement of Palestinians and their resettlement in concentrated areas throughout the West Bank.
In an interview last week, Halper offered a detailed – and profoundly troubling – picture of Israel’s resettlement of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories:
(Area C of the West Bank) contains less than 5 per cent of the Palestinian population. In 1967 the Jordan valley contained about 250,000 people. Today it’s less than 50,000. So the Palestinians have either been driven out of the country, especially the middle class, or they have been driven to areas A and B. That’s where 96 or 97 per cent of them are. The Palestinian population has been brought down low enough, there is probably somewhere around 125,000 Palestinians in area C, so Israel could annex area C and give them full citizenship.
Basically, Israel can absorb 125,000 Palestinians without upsetting the demographic balance. And then, what is the world going to say? It’s not apartheid, Israel has given them full citizenship. So I think Israel feels it could get away with that. No one cares about what’s happening in areas A and B. If they want to declare a state, they can…
In other words, we’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians have been confined in areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it.
To better understand Halper’s point, look carefully at the map on the top right of this post. Areas A, B and C refer to regions that were created through the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords. According to the agreement, Palestinians are responsible for security and for the civil administration of Area A; Area B is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil authority; and Area C is under total Israeli military and civil control. (In reality, however, the Israeli military has ultimate control over all three areas – for over a decade the IDF regularly has made incursions into Areas A and B with impunity).
According to the terms of the Oslo Accords, these three regions were intended to be temporary until 1998; today they have become permanent facts on the ground. As you can see from white portions of the map, Area C comprises the strong majority of the West Bank. It contains nearly all Israeli settlements; it is crisscrossed by Israeli-only access roads that connect the settlements to each other and to Israel proper; it includes large buffer zones and almost all of the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert (the large swath of white on the east).
As Halper points out, Israel is pursing policies that are systematically driving Palestinians out of Area C, to the extent that these regions now contain less than 5% of the population. The overwhelming majority of West Bank Palestinians now live in Areas A and B (on the map, grey and black) – which are essentially concentrated, disconnected cantons separated by checkpoints and choked off from Israel by the Separation Wall.
Bottom line? Israel has succeeded extending its control over the majority of the West Bank by moving Palestinian residents into what amount to “legal” open-air prisons – or as Halper calls it,”warehousing.”
(Warehousing) captures what’s going on better than apartheid. Warehousing is permanent. Apartheid recognizes that there is another side. With warehousing it’s like prison. There is no other side. There is us, and then there are these people that we control, they have no rights, they have no identity, they’re inmates. It’s not political, it’s permanent, static. Apartheid you can resist. The whole brilliance of warehousing is that you can’t resist because you’re a prisoner.
Prisoners can rise up in the prison yards but prison guards have all the rights in the world to put them down. That’s what Israel has come to. They are terrorists and we have the right to put them down. In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially, in taking out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons.
Halper actually predicted the warehousing phenomenon as long ago as 2008, in an important piece that offered an in depth analysis of Israel’s practices throughout the West Bank. Among other things, he compared Israel’s practice to South Africa’s creation of Bantustans, in which 3.5 million black South Africans were forced from their homes from the 1960s through the 1980s:
Warehousing…is in many ways worse than the Bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa. The ten non-viable “homelands” established by South Africa for the black African majority on only 11% of the country’s land were, to be sure, a type of warehouse. They were intended to supply South Africa with cheap labor while relieving it of its black population, thus making possible a European dominated “democracy.” This is precisely what Israel is intending – its Palestinian Bantustan encompassing around 15% of historic Palestine – but with a crucial caveat: Palestinian workers will not be allowed into Israel. Having discovered a cheaper source of labor, some 300,000 foreign workers imported from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Rumania and West Africa, augmented by its own Arab, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Russian and Eastern European citizens, Israel can afford to lock them out even while withholding from them a viable economy of their own with unfettered ties to the surrounding Arab countries. From every point of view, historically, culturally, politically and economically, the Palestinians have been defined as “surplus humanity;” nothing remains to do with them except warehousing, which the concerned international community appears willing to allow Israel to do.
Perhaps most crucially, Halper places Israel’s policies and practices within a larger global context. He refers to a “Global Palestine”: a new 21st century reality in which political considerations and human rights are jettisoned in favor of a corporate-military model that seeks to control, manage, contain (and profit from) “surplus populations.”
Again, from last week’s interview:
(Warehousing) does not have any legal reference today but we’d like to put that in because warehousing is not only in Israel. Warehousing exists all over the capitalist world. Two-thirds of the people have been warehoused. That’s why I’m writing about Global Palestine. I’m saying that Palestine is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world.
Even though Jeff Halper may be a secular Israeli anthropologist, I believe him to be a prophetic figure of the highest order. He has long been speaking hard truths on the wages of corrupt power in his country. Do we have the courage to listen to his message?