Archive for September 2008

Racism is part of the problem in Israel-Palestine, not the solution

Tikvah Students for Israel’s false accusations that SJP members are behind hateful vandalism at UC Berkeley exacerbate campus tensions and endanger students on campus rather than defuse the situation

Anybody who has studied the Israeli occupation of Palestine knows that supremacist arguments and narratives frame much of the dissent against and support for Israeli state policies. These points of view cover the range from some Israeli ministers who believe that all Arabs should be kicked out of Israel and the West Bank, some people who believe that all Jews in Israel should return to Europe, and even those who believe that Jews and Arabs inherently cannot mix and must live segregated from one another.

Approaching Israel and Palestine from a perspective that is not rooted in one of these racist points of view is essential to, first of all, finding hope in human resilience and resistance against systems of oppression, as well as finding a place where principled activists can situate themselves vis-á-vis US support for Israeli state policies regardless of their backgrounds.

With that said, yesterday evening a hate crime occurred on the UC campus when pro-Israel propaganda at a bus stop was tagged with a swastika. Nobody should accept these kinds of hateful messages, regardless of who they come from. As somebody who passed by this particular sign on more than two occasions last night, I can attest that the two messages that were on the board were likely not placed by the same person. On my way to a student government meeting around 8:45PM, I passed by the board and noticed that it was tagged with the phrase “Free Palestine.” On my way out only about a half an hour later, I noticed that a swastika was added below the message. What this indicates to me is that these are two separate messages, possibly added by different people, at different times– maybe even somebody trying to frame a connection that does not exist between the two messages. Continue reading “Racism is part of the problem in Israel-Palestine, not the solution” »

The Israeli government’s demographic chess game

According to Haaretz, Danny Ayalon, the ex-Israeli ambassador to the US and newly annointed member of Israel’s fascist Yisrael Beiteinu party (whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, recently suggested that the Israeli state should do what it can to expel the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian), issued the following ‘warning’:

“If the government of Israel does not act to have a Jewish majority in the North, then the Arab majority in the Galilee will declare independence and [demand] international recognition on the basis of the precedents of Kosovo, Abkhazia and [South Ossetia].”

The Israeli government moves ordinary Jews and Arabs around as if it is playing chess. Don’t like the demographics of this particular sub-region of Israel? Give an incentive to Israeli Jews to move there by subsidizing settlement construction or with other ‘perks’–maybe even help out Jews around the world to acquire Israeli citizenship and move into one of these new settlements. This strategy is not new at all when it comes to Israeli state designs–in fact, this sort of “acting to have a Jewish majority” is the very premise of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon’s settlement plans in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which were introduced in the late 1970s. What is interesting, however, is that it is being applied to an area already under Israeli sovereignty in order to prevent the possibility of a future secessionist movement.

When it came to the West Bank and Gaza, settlement construction became a government policy for two reasons: one, it provided the army with a pretext to continue occupying Palestinian land because it placed Israelis in the middle of what could be framed as a “dangerous” situation; and two, because it would create “facts on the ground” which could lead to a “demographic transformation” that could give Israel a pretext not to withdraw from all of the occupied territories, and to make the consolidation of a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

And while the Israeli government attempts to orchestrate the living patterns and dynamics of Jewish populations in settlements, it also wreaks havoc on the Palestinian people. Ordinary Palestinians are viewed as obstacles to the state’s grand plans for Jewish-stateness, and efforts must be made to get rid of them. In 1947 and 48, Israel’s pre-state terror squads razed villages killing men, women, and children, causing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee in terror. Today, the Israeli government uses means just as explicit to make life unlivable for Palestinians, by putting them under siege, preventing them from moving freely within their own lands, and disallowing their refugee relatives to return back to their homes. If a Palestinian town is “inconveniently placed” when it comes to Israel’s own state interests, it builds a wall around it to disconnect the residents from their agricultural lands, jobs, and surrounding towns, crippling their economy and encouraging them to leave to make way for Jewish-only settlements.

While the rhetoric of Yisrael Beiteinu party members, including Danny Ayalon, some tell us, is not mainstream in Israel (the party is currently part of the government), its underlying logic of demographic control of the population and a forced sort of gerrymandering is very much a mainstay of Israeli politics. When Avigdor Lieberman threatens to expel Palestinian citizens of Israel from the state, he shares already the government’s official understanding of those non-Jewish citizens as “threats” to the state, even if some of the softer Zionists believe there is room for a group of people in Israel that is by necessity institutionalized as a minority. He is only willing to be more bombastic about it. When Ayalon says that Jews must move to the north of Israel to prevent a Palestinian secession, he already shares the Israeli state’s historical position of re-settling Jews and expelling Arabs in order to produce a claim to sovereignty.

In short, in a state which defines itself as being a Jewish state–since states can have religions these days–demographic control is everything. It is the key element in all state strategy, and it is the measuring stick by which ‘stability’ and ‘sustainability’ are assessed. Everything else–including things like democracy, freedom, equality, justice, peace, which are not present in the Israeli state’s calculus when it comes to Palestinians, citizens or not–is of a lesser, disposable priority and, quite often, antithetical to the state.

"Nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction." - Jose Saramago, All the Names